Message Boards Message Boards

Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Questions regarding two experiences

Toggle
Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
8/25/10 3:54 PM
Hi everyone,

I recently stumbled across MCTB, and I only wish I had found it sooner. My sincere thanks to Daniel for taking the time to write this book and then giving it away free online. (I bought the dead tree edition anyway, but the free online edition makes it much easier to share the information with others.) Reading MCTB rekindled my interest in two meditation-related experiences I've had over the years. I would like to hear your (as in y'all) thoughts on how these experiences fit into the framework laid out in MCTB.

The first experience occurred around ten years ago, when I was in high school and first experimenting with meditation. (I'm 26 now.) In those days I would often stay up all night and sleep until afternoon. On one such occasion I was meditating on my breath in the middle of the night when something strange happened. The rest of my family was asleep, and the only sound was the hum from my computer in the next room. After a few minutes of meditation (my sessions back then usually didn't last too long anyway) I suddenly found myself --- for lack of a better word --- dissolving. One moment I was sitting on the floor, aware of my breathing body and the hum of the computer behind the wall to my left. And then there was no longer an 'I' or a body, but rather the hum of the computer seemed to rush out and fill the universe. There was consciousness, but no 'I' or a separate body, just the all-encompassing hum. Almost immediately thoughts like "wow", "I must be getting somewhere" and "ah, non-duality" appeared, and that was the end of it: I was back in 'my body' and 'my mind' as usual.

Whereas the above experience was obviously an altered state of consciousness of some kind, the second experience is superficially more mundane, but actually left a deeper impression on me. I'm quite certain it happened before I ever heard of meditation, but I paid more attention to it once I had been exposed to the dharma, particularly the idea of no-self and certain koans. ("What was your original face before your parents were born?" comes to mind.) This experience is even harder to describe in words than the first one; I've been trying to write this message for several days now. I'm sorry if the following sounds like some kind of abstract intellectual thought exercise quite far removed from real practice. I assure you that the experience is one of direct, almost instantaneous nonverbal perception, but when I try to put it into words it sounds more like a dry philosophical argument that I've been digesting for years.

The Rousing, as I just decided to call this experience, has so far always occurred spontaneously and uninvited in daily life rather than in formal meditation. I call it the Rousing because it resembles rousing from a daydream, except that the 'daydream' is my ordinary day-to-day consciousness. The experience begins with a sudden feeling that rather than actually living my life, I have, for as long as I can remember, been completely absorbed in a kind of complicated and abstract role-playing game that I like to call life. Examining the game more closely, I see that it's actually a collection of separate subgames, such as 'university studies', in each of which I have a separate character, such as a 'student'. Each subgame has its own goals and rules. I realize that the 'I' whose solidity, continuity and unity I normally take for granted is actually just a ragtag collection of characters in a collection of games. The characters and the games constantly being redefined, and games and the characters with them come and go. Yet for some reason I seem to walk around every day thinking of this collection of characters as a permanent 'I' and of this collection of games as life or reality.

The first reaction to this realization is to feel my body quite vividly and identify with it strongly. When I'm absorbed in my games, I am aware of my body, but somehow quite vaguely; it's just one of my character's many attributes. My character happens to be human, and humans happen to have bodies; that's all there is to it. Once I enter the Rousing, however, I realize that the reality of my body is actually far more absolute than the reality of my various characters whose games I constantly worry about. Games and characters come and go, but my body has always be
en present as long as I can remember. Thus I think "I am this body, I really am" and wonder what it would mean for the body to die or what it meant for it to be born and find that I have no
idea.

As soon as my sense of my body solidifies, however, it proceeds to dissolve, as I realize that my body is primarily a sensation just like the 'outside world'. I note that my thoughts and emotions are also perceptions. The games and the player of games are perceptions. I realize that I cannot be these perceptions, since I'm perceiving them --- and I realize that I have no idea who or what I am beneath all this or what 'I' means or what it means that I exist. Yet amidst this confusion I also have a strong intuition that this problem could somehow be resolved, and it's hard to imagine going back to my normal life without discovering that resolution. I find it very puzzling that I can walk around worrying about myself all day all year, when I clearly have no idea what 'myself' actually is.

As far as I can remember, the Rousing always subsided after a while, with a whimper rather than a bang; eventually I just forgot about it and continued playing my games as usual. On the other hand I'm quite sure having had this experience several times was one of the reasons the dharma immediately seemed to make sense to me when I first encountered it. I already had a strong intuition that I had a tendency of ascribing solidity to transitory (or even illusory) phenomena and that much of my dissatisfaction in life stemmed from misunderstandings like that. I haven't experienced the Rousing for quite some time now, either because the idea has become sufficiently integrated in my everyday consciousness that I no longer feel the baffled surprise associated with the experience in the past, or perhaps because my practice has just been too wishy-washy for a long time. emoticon

Anyway, I would like to know where you think my experiences stand with respect to the path to awakening (particularly as discussed in MCTemoticon and how they should inform my practice. For example, would it make any sense to make attaining one or both of these 'states' as a first goal? Does the fact that I've had these kinds of experiences spontaneously say anything about what forms of practice might be best suited for me? Ever since I noticed that certain koans seem to point me towards the Rousing (although I experienced the Rousing before I ever heard of koans) I've been thinking that it might be useful for me to try to use the Rousing as a meditation object once my concentration is stable enough, but I was never confident enough to go ahead with it.

Oh well, time to meditate and sleep!

Kristian

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
8/26/10 4:05 AM as a reply to K N.
hi kristian,

welcome to the dho.

both your description of the experience of sound filling the universe and of the experience of what you call 'the rousing' are interesting, and it is easy to understand how those experiences would have had a strong impact on the direction of your concerns. rather than attempt to fit those events to the progress of insight, however, i would prefer to ask what your goals are.. what is it you are looking to do here?

tarin

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
8/26/10 2:45 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:

both your description of the experience of sound filling the universe and of the experience of what you call 'the rousing' are interesting, and it is easy to understand how those experiences would have had a strong impact on the direction of your concerns. rather than attempt to fit those events to the progress of insight, however, i would prefer to ask what your goals are.. what is it you are looking to do here?


Thanks for your response, Tarin. I want to gain stream entry; that being said, I realize that I'm probably far away from that right now, so that's more of a long-term goal. I've finished reading the first two parts of MCTB (well, my first pass anyway --- I'm sure I'll end up rereading most of it), and based on what I've read so far, it seems that my immediate goal should be to attain the first samatha jhana. Once I can reach that 'base camp' with some confidence, I want to start scaling the mountain of insight. emoticon I want to resolve the 'question' that I've encountered during the experience that I (arbitrarily) named the Rousing, and I have a feeling that insight meditation is the way to go. Does that answer your question?

Based on what I've read so far, I would guess that the first experience was (a brief flash of) some kind of concentration state, and the Rousing is somehow related to the progress of insight, but I'm curious to know if you or anyone else here can say anything more concrete about them.

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
8/27/10 7:52 AM as a reply to K N.
K N:
tarin greco:

both your description of the experience of sound filling the universe and of the experience of what you call 'the rousing' are interesting, and it is easy to understand how those experiences would have had a strong impact on the direction of your concerns. rather than attempt to fit those events to the progress of insight, however, i would prefer to ask what your goals are.. what is it you are looking to do here?


Thanks for your response, Tarin. I want to gain stream entry; that being said, I realize that I'm probably far away from that right now, so that's more of a long-term goal.


and yet, as that is something that happens in the context of your own body and mind, you are ever only as far away as an attention-length from it.


K N:

I've finished reading the first two parts of MCTB (well, my first pass anyway --- I'm sure I'll end up rereading most of it), and based on what I've read so far, it seems that my immediate goal should be to attain the first samatha jhana. Once I can reach that 'base camp' with some confidence, I want to start scaling the mountain of insight. emoticon


daniel does mention somewhere in mctb, i believe, that the first samatha (concentration) jhana and first vipassana (insight) jhana are more or less identical.. and insofar as he means a rather soft jhana.

so you may reach that 'base camp' with some confidence and then start scaling the mountain of insight... or you may start scaling that mountain of insight and reach that 'base camp' on the way.

what is your current practice like?


K N:

I want to resolve the 'question' that I've encountered during the experience that I (arbitrarily) named the Rousing, and I have a feeling that insight meditation is the way to go. Does that answer your question?


Based on what I've read so far, I would guess that the first experience was (a brief flash of) some kind of concentration state, and the Rousing is somehow related to the progress of insight, but I'm curious to know if you or anyone else here can say anything more concrete about them.

your guesses seem good, and the first experience does read like a short period of clear concentration ... and while the second experience does, likewise, read like something which might occur along some early stage of the progress of insight, without further information (particularly as regards the way it was experienced at the level of sensation) i can't say which.

tarin

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
10/6/10 1:48 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:

K N:

I've finished reading the first two parts of MCTB (well, my first pass anyway --- I'm sure I'll end up rereading most of it), and based on what I've read so far, it seems that my immediate goal should be to attain the first samatha jhana. Once I can reach that 'base camp' with some confidence, I want to start scaling the mountain of insight. emoticon


daniel does mention somewhere in mctb, i believe, that the first samatha (concentration) jhana and first vipassana (insight) jhana are more or less identical.. and insofar as he means a rather soft jhana.

so you may reach that 'base camp' with some confidence and then start scaling the mountain of insight... or you may start scaling that mountain of insight and reach that 'base camp' on the way.



Hmm, I somehow got the impression that it would be prudent to attain the first samatha jhana first and only then start insight practice. From what you're saying, it sounds like I could just start with insight practice right away and develop the necessary concentration as I go along. Is that what you meant?

Do you recommend some particular practice? After reading MCTB as well as the chapter by Mahasi Sayadaw in Jack Kornfield's Modern Buddhist Masters, I feel drawn to noting.


what is your current practice like?


Until I read MCTB, I basically just practiced zazen with the breath as my object. I've mostly been sitting at home for 20 minutes at a time, sometimes twice a day, mostly a bit more haphazardly. When I first began my practice, I followed a guide by my local zendo and counted exhalations. I remember never being able to get to 10 without forgetting my practice and drifting off. emoticon I suppose my concentration skills gradually improved, but the distractions got more subtle: at some point I noticed that I could be fairly distracted most of the time, and yet almost never lose count. After some time at this stage, I had my first (and so far last) chance at dokusan. Based on my description of my practice the teacher suggested that it was time to drop the counting and just stay with the breath, so that's what I've been doing until I ran into MCTB.

Now I feel that one of the reasons why my practice has been so haphazard was that I had no idea what to expect between my practice now and the vague, seemingly distant goal of kensho. I had no way of knowing whether I was progressing towards my goal or not, which made whole-hearted practice difficult.

your guesses seem good, and the first experience does read like a short period of clear concentration ... and while the second experience does, likewise, read like something which might occur along some early stage of the progress of insight, without further information (particularly as regards the way it was experienced at the level of sensation) i can't say which.

tarin


Actually I think that's enough information for now, thank you. emoticon I'm afraid I couldn't tell you that much more anyway because the experiences are so old and I've thought about them enough that I remember my mental "story" about the experiences more than the raw experiences themselves.

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
10/6/10 2:32 PM as a reply to K N.
K N:

Hmm, I somehow got the impression that it would be prudent to attain the first samatha jhana first and only then start insight practice. From what you're saying, it sounds like I could just start with insight practice right away and develop the necessary concentration as I go along. Is that what you meant?

yes.


K N:

Do you recommend some particular practice? After reading MCTB as well as the chapter by Mahasi Sayadaw in Jack Kornfield's Modern Buddhist Masters, I feel drawn to noting.

if you are drawn to noting, then find and read the first section of 'practical insight meditation' (its text is available online), which details noting practice. also, re-read the chapter on the three characteristics in mctb. using this information, figure out how you want to proceed.

i recommend that you make sure to do some walking before sitting. don't expect to get much jhanic depth while practising walking, by the way.. i mention this so you are not put off by its absence and do it with the focus and whole-hearted intent that its effective practice requires.

K N:

Until I read MCTB, I basically just practiced zazen with the breath as my object. I've mostly been sitting at home for 20 minutes at a time, sometimes twice a day, mostly a bit more haphazardly. When I first began my practice, I followed a guide by my local zendo and counted exhalations. I remember never being able to get to 10 without forgetting my practice and drifting off. emoticon I suppose my concentration skills gradually improved, but the distractions got more subtle: at some point I noticed that I could be fairly distracted most of the time, and yet almost never lose count. After some time at this stage, I had my first (and so far last) chance at dokusan. Based on my description of my practice the teacher suggested that it was time to drop the counting and just stay with the breath, so that's what I've been doing until I ran into MCTB.

when you do noting practice, do not allow even a part of your mind to be distracted. if you find that you have the mental capacity to note and also be distracted, then you clearly have the mental capacity to note more closely.


K N:

Now I feel that one of the reasons why my practice has been so haphazard was that I had no idea what to expect between my practice now and the vague, seemingly distant goal of kensho. I had no way of knowing whether I was progressing towards my goal or not, which made whole-hearted practice difficult.

don't be discouraged. keep at it and things will show up on their own time.. a consistent engagement with the practice of the method here and now will ensure that.


K N:

Actually I think that's enough information for now, thank you. emoticon I'm afraid I couldn't tell you that much more anyway because the experiences are so old and I've thought about them enough that I remember my mental "story" about the experiences more than the raw experiences themselves.

what can you find that does not require a mental 'story' to practise with? practise with that.

tarin

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
10/6/10 4:55 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:
K N:

Do you recommend some particular practice? After reading MCTB as well as the chapter by Mahasi Sayadaw in Jack Kornfield's Modern Buddhist Masters, I feel drawn to noting.

if you are drawn to noting, then find and read the first section of 'practical insight meditation' (its text is available online), which details noting practice. also, re-read the chapter on the three characteristics in mctb. using this information, figure out how you want to proceed.


Will do. The first chapter of Practical Insight Meditation looks very similar to the chapter by Mahasi Sayadaw in Kornfield's book. (Now that I think about it, I believe Daniel mentioned somewhere in MCTB that Kornfield's book has a "partially castrated" version of PIM.)

I have one question regarding noting that may be silly, but it's been bothering me. Do I have to note verbally, that is, explicitly think of a word for every thing that I note, as if I were mentally speaking to myself? It seems like that would slow me down a lot regarding how fast I can note, sort of like subvocalizing while reading would only allow me to read as fast as I can speak. Another problem with words is that I'm very pedantic about language, and I might not be able to prevent myself from worrying about how accurately a word I've chosen actually describes the phenomenon that I'm noting. emoticon This issue is further complicated by the fact that I regularly think in at least three different languages. Is it enough to recognize the phenomenon without necessarily trying to decide on a specific word for it?

Now that I think about it, explicitly thinking of a word actually seems to get in the way of clearly perceiving the sensation itself. For example, actually thinking of the word 'rising' while observing my abdomen rising as I breathe actually allows me to perceive less of the sensation than if I just wordlessly recognize what my abdomen is doing.

i recommend that you make sure to do some walking before sitting. don't expect to get much jhanic depth while practising walking, by the way.. i mention this so you are not put off by its absence and do it with the focus and whole-hearted intent that its effective practice requires.


You mean that I should walk (as in walking meditation) before each sitting session? How much would be enough? Walking may be hard to arrange without actually going out for a walk, as I live in a small apartment and my girlfriend is often around. emoticon


when you do noting practice, do not allow even a part of your mind to be distracted. if you find that you have the mental capacity to note and also be distracted, then you clearly have the mental capacity to note more closely.


I think I know what you mean. On the flip side of the coin, do I need to worry about 'noting enough' as long as I feel that my noting takes up all my mental capacity at that moment?


don't be discouraged. keep at it and things will show up on their own time.. a consistent engagement with the practice of the method here and now will ensure that.


Thank you.

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
10/6/10 6:52 PM as a reply to K N.
K N:

I have one question regarding noting that may be silly, but it's been bothering me. Do I have to note verbally, that is, explicitly think of a word for every thing that I note, as if I were mentally speaking to myself? It seems like that would slow me down a lot regarding how fast I can note, sort of like subvocalizing while reading would only allow me to read as fast as I can speak. Another problem with words is that I'm very pedantic about language, and I might not be able to prevent myself from worrying about how accurately a word I've chosen actually describes the phenomenon that I'm noting. emoticon This issue is further complicated by the fact that I regularly think in at least three different languages. Is it enough to recognize the phenomenon without necessarily trying to decide on a specific word for it?

yes, i would recommend noting verbally (silently) as if you were mentally speaking to yourself. while doing this may slow you down some, it has the added advantage of including in the exercise the 'verbal part' of your mind, which means it won't have reign to wander and proliferate all sorts of things that are irrelevant to the exercise and go unnoticed. if you want to note more quickly, you can note meaningless syllables (like 'dit') so long as you are noticing the sensations experienced and keeping the mental note on time with the experience that is noted.

as to which language(s) you should note in, i would say to note in whichever language(s) you are comfortable enough to proceed with. whether you note 'worry', 'huoli', or 'oroa' makes no difference so long as you notice the experience of worrying clearly and the note you make follows quickly and automatically after the experience.

as to the issue of how important it is that the word chosen describes the phenomenon noted, it is not very important.

and as for the speed of noting (this is a bonus answer to a question you didn't ask), there are different takes on this. dan ingram has recommended developing the capacity to note very, very quickly (up to 10 notes per second) and i got great benefit from learning to do this (though at first it did make me feel like my brain was bleeding). others have recommended noting at a slower pace (perhaps 1 or 2 notes per second). either way has been demonstrated to work to get you to the knowledge of arising and passing away, at which point the noticings will happen on their own anyway (and your job will simply be to proceed with both energy and care).


K N:

Now that I think about it, explicitly thinking of a word actually seems to get in the way of clearly perceiving the sensation itself. For example, actually thinking of the word 'rising' while observing my abdomen rising as I breathe actually allows me to perceive less of the sensation than if I just wordlessly recognize what my abdomen is doing.

while that is true, one of the strengths of noting practice lies in how one is directed not only to apprehend that one's abdomen's rising (or falling) occurs, but also to apprehend that the very noticing of such rising (or falling) is itself an occurrence. noting practice develops this faculty rapidly, which will come in handy.


K N:

i recommend that you make sure to do some walking before sitting. don't expect to get much jhanic depth while practising walking, by the way.. i mention this so you are not put off by its absence and do it with the focus and whole-hearted intent that its effective practice requires.


You mean that I should walk (as in walking meditation) before each sitting session? How much would be enough? Walking may be hard to arrange without actually going out for a walk, as I live in a small apartment and my girlfriend is often around. emoticon

i would recommend no fewer than 5 minutes of walking... preferably up to 20... and optimally up to an hour if you have the time and interest to sit for another hour after that. if you only have 20 minutes total in which to practice, i recommend you divide it between walking and sitting equally (though you may not feel that 10 minutes of sitting is enough, in which case you will naturally extend the sitting period).

as for the length of your walking track, even 5 to 10 steps is sufficient. if you are able to take even 5 steps in a straight line, and are able to turn around and take 5 steps to arrive back to where you started, then you have enough room.

while walking, pay especially close attention on the turn-arounds (don't space out)... and when it comes time to sit, make sure to perform the transition with the same intent focus as you applied to the walking and will apply to the sitting. do not take even a split-second's break in between.


K N:


when you do noting practice, do not allow even a part of your mind to be distracted. if you find that you have the mental capacity to note and also be distracted, then you clearly have the mental capacity to note more closely.


I think I know what you mean. On the flip side of the coin, do I need to worry about 'noting enough' as long as I feel that my noting takes up all my mental capacity at that moment?

no, but note the worry if it occurs.


K N:

Thank you.

you're welcome.

i also recommend that you read through the threads in the mahasi/noting/vipassana category of the forum to see other people's questions and responses as you may find some of them helpful. this section can be found here.

tarin

RE: Questions regarding two experiences
Answer
11/28/10 2:48 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
tarin greco:

i recommend that you make sure to do some walking before sitting. don't expect to get much jhanic depth while practising walking, by the way.. i mention this so you are not put off by its absence and do it with the focus and whole-hearted intent that its effective practice requires.


Why do you recommend this?

I was reading through this thread before meditating, and I saw this advice and followed it partly, walking for a few minutes before sitting down for 30. I also had just re-read "Practical Insight Meditation" and really stepped up the noting. I had a really good session. I would think the noting was the main thing that helped keep me focused, but do you find that walking right before a sit helps one to focus?

About the meditation: During the walking I ended up doing "up, forward, down, down" for each step (one down for heel, second down for toes), plus many other notes. When sitting, I noted "rising, falling" for breath, many times up and down, plus "pain", "vibrations", "{COLOR}", where {COLOR} is any of the colors I was currently seeing, etc. I was seeing and noticing (not noting) visual flickering this whole time, and just noting mind wandering, mental conversations, and extraneous details. Really good for focusing! The 30 mins went by fast, though I also think I'm in Equanimity now so it has become easier to sit.