Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi everyone,

I'm new the DhO, so I thought I'd dip my toe into the hive mind for some practice-oriented advice...
First, some minimal background for context: I've been doing the dharma on and off for 11 years, since my early-20's (lots of bright lights and holy living at the beginning followed by a slump—MCTB helped to shed some light on that). For the past 2 years, I've been mostly committed to a daily-ish practice. I currently live in Japan, where I've done surprisingly little Zen, but some interesting work and a few retreats with a Western-based vajrayana sangha (not Shingon). More recently I've returned to an insight-oriented practice (as opposed to the foundation work of vajrayana). I recently did a short retreat at IMS when I was back in the States for a visit and am looking to do 1-2 months next year at Spirit Rock or IMS.

Question: During my daily practice, I start with a breath focus, which stabilizes quickly. I then expand focus to include a whole body field of awareness. At this point (and often before I begin “formal” mindfulness), bliss arises somewhere in the left of my torso, and often scoots up and around towards my head, teasing my crown chakra. Can anyone offer specific advice for working with this bliss, vis-à-vis the three characteristics. I have experimented with tuning into the vibrations (i.e., the moment-to-moment sensory experience), but this often leads to a mellowed-out (but very refreshing!) jhanic state, with sadly little insight. On the other hand, when I dial-up the concentration and try to move into samadhi territory with bliss as the object, it can get intense quickly, with visualization (lots of organic images recently) and (less and less often, thankfully) monolithic fear. With things heat up, I will on occasion back away gently with some metta.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can pass my way!

Russell
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Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hi Russell,

Welcome to the DhO! Thanks for providing some background information about your practice.

One idea that helps me push through uncertain aspects of my meditation practice is that whatever is manifesting (or, presenting itself) at this moment is what needs to be experienced in order for progress to occur. So, if by tuning in to the energy in your torso brings feelings of jhanic bliss, than that bliss is your new object. The same goes for the monolithic fear. When the fear comes, I would avoid doing metta practice to make it back away. The fear is there to be experienced.

I like the way Shinzen Young puts it... Whatever arises within your experience, infuse the experience with mindfulness and equanimity. Pay attention, and don't grasp it or push it away. That's all. If the fear comes, stay with it. What happens if you stay with it? Does it change? Does it get stronger or weaker? Where is it located? Get curious, and let it be. Try it, and let us know what happens.

Jackson
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
"Can anyone offer specific advice for working with this bliss, vis-à-vis the three characteristics."

I don't mean to dispute Jackson's excellent advice, but I do want to offer a somewhat different perspective vis-a-vis your question.

The bliss starts in one place and moves around, I'm guessing that it varies in intensity, too. So, it isn't permanent, it is transient, i.e. impermanent. There is one of the three characteristics for you.

Bliss is bliss, highly desirable. What is not to like? But it clearly doesn't satisfy you. It isn't bringing insight or freedom. There is your second characteristic. It is so much easier to see number 2 when it is something we don't like, but when doing Insight practice we need to see how pleasant experience isn't ultimately satisfactory. Beats the hell out of pain, but still isn't the answer. If the only thing Daniel ever said was, "Remember, the kind of renunciation that brings insights is seeing the true nature of things. If you can see the true nature of the sensations
that make up a fun and healthy life, there is no need for any other type of renunciation!" (MCTB pg 214) I would say that he had done more than his share spinning the Wheel of the Dharma.

Is the bliss you? Does it define you in some way? If it goes away, do you wink out of existence? Does it have a self that is independent from you? If it isn't an independent, indivisible billiard ball, what is it made up of? #3.

Now, "Pay attention, and don't grasp it or push it away. That's all." Jackson/Shinzen Young.

Ed
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Thank you both for the great advice! I agree with you, Jackson, that since the bliss is what's been happening for a while now, it becomes--for better or worse--the new object. Also, Ed, the most traction that I've gotten out of the bliss has been watching it move, so thanks for reminding me that's what I need to keep doing. I'm trying to watch for dukkha in the bliss, but so far it's been pretty evasive. I gotta be honest...it's nice. When it disappears (which it does from time to time), OK, there's a recognition that "Well, the jhana isn't really going to keep me entertained forever", but there's not a lot of depth to that insight. As with most practitioners, pain has been very productive (and painful)...I had a nice insight into anatta during my last retreat during a particularly painful / frustrating sit. Of course, I'd like to work with the bliss with this way. Isn't there a Matrix metaphor floating around somewhere...why eat the gruel when you can get the same nutrients from a gourmet meal?

Also, I wanted to address the "monolithic fear" issue that Jackson responded to. This fear is something that I try to stay with when it arises--I'm intimate with the idea that the unpleasant stuff fuels progress. But I gotta tell you, this "thing" is the real deal (or precisely not that). Face melting; witheringly intense. I'm not always in a safe environment with a teacher present (although this community seems to offer some kind of safety-net). I did speak to a teacher at IMS about the fear, and he agreed that metta was a good antidote when things started to get out of hand. Since that interview, I've been working with the metta / fear dynamic and find that I've been able to go further and further into the fear.

Russell
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Actually, there is a lot of depth to that realization, it is just a matter of how deeply you realize it.

Ed
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Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hey Russell,

I certainly don't wish to give you advise converse to what your teacher at IMS gave you. If doing metta is helping you to experience the fear without pushing it away or ignoring it, I think you've got a good thing going there.

For me, when pain or fear comes up, it is best to treat it as a friend who needs a good listening ear. "Pay attention to me!" it screams. In those situations, the best practice for me was to go head first in to the sensation(s) and note "This too. This too." Even "this" needs my attention and acceptance in this moment.

It's scary as hell, but it will not hurt you. It's all smoke and mirrors. Expand your attention to include it all, and hold it with compassion. I think this is where metta might come in handy. You may even treat the pain or fear as an individual you wish to be happy, at peace, and free from suffering. Just a thought. Somehow, the more inclusive I was with this stuff, the more quickly I was able to befriend it and carry on with my practice.

Jackson
Wet Paint, modified 12 Years ago.

RE: Wallowing (stuck?) in bliss

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the continued advice! Ed, originally, I had written, "there's not a lot of depth to that insight *yet*," but it got deleted in the final draft. I guess this bliss will have to disappear a few hundred more times before the inherent dukkha really sinks in--unless there's a more efficient way to go about doing it.

The fear issue may merit its own thread. While, like many of you, I look forward to those times when I can work with the sensations that arise due to something unpleasant--hunger, back pain, an argument with a colleague, airplane turbulence, isolating sadness, shame, etc--the fear that I'm referring to seems different in some qualitative way than those other unpleasant feelings. It's very destabilizing, non-specific (i.e., though it must be content based, I have no idea what content it's rooted in), and very, very difficult to stay with. This is why I referred to it before, rather vaguely, as "monolithic". If anyone has had similar experiences with this kind of capital "F" fear, I'd love to hear how you've managed to stay with it at the level of bare experience.

Again, I can't say enough how much I really appreciate this forum and the chance to easily talk about practice issues.