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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

What was that? 1st Jhana / Fruition / Mad Crazy access concentration?

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Dear Cosmo,

There's something I noticed and I'm not quite sure what it is. Some changes occured in practice & off pillow & correlations may not be causations and so on.

It was January 2017 and I was in the second 10 day period sitting a goenka retreat, Day 2 of anapana sati towards the evening sit. Leading up to this I had worked a year doing dishes in a restraunt that was by donation and popular, so right livelyhood was down and I was sort of using the dish-doing as a practice "Just this dish!" / "What is this?" / "May they be happy"... Dogen spoke to me a lot at this time "Walking in the mountains, notice the phenomena of mountains walking. Mountains walking is just like human walking" --> "Doing the dishes, notice the phenomena of dishes doing!" emoticonemoticonemoticonemoticon Provide this as means of background to perhaps provide context about what may be the strength of this experience only 2 days in.

So it was one of the evening sits, perhaps the 6pm group sit. 

The following occured: 

LEAD UP: Breath continuity is there, in / out, "just the breath" (had been this way during the day), I was noticing Day 1 and Day 2 the way thoughts would cause the breath to quicken or grow deeper and also how calming would make the breath shallower. Focus is in up in the nose up in the right nostril, feeling the sensations on this narrow area around there, about the last quarter of the nostril perhaps.  

Notice this getting shallower. Really generally feel "fixed" there. Sits had been going, applied effort, followed by "champagne bubbles" / "flicking electricity" in a kinesthetic (not seemingly visual) way. The shallowness of the breath causes to go "deeper / calmer" more fixed. 

Then the continuity of the "breath" broke up... into tiny particles...

1, 2, 3 (maybe 4)

Each particle seemed like a whole "world" with full absorbtion in each, sort of seemed both whole / complete and at the same time fractured / like dust... 

Around 2nd or 3rd particle I have a sense of the face or "a face" (that's happened before in an earlier experience - although extended over time and not momentary like this one - [adhoc. practice of 'mu' back in 2014-2015 before I had approached any teacher or asked for any instruction] ). Koans like "what did your face look like before your parents were born?" seem literal with this experience. It's simultaneously my face and not my face - someone elses. That this showed up in this experience with different conditions & surrounding experiences as another was interesting. [This experience is also what I have in mind when I read about stuff like 'yidam' practice in tantra or whatever]

After the 3rd particle: lights out. 

Then resuming: I felt the deepest calm I have ever felt in my entire life, like cool... very cool, and refreshing. I had felt quiet calm and tranquil pleasure before but this was off the scale. What struck me was also this experience seemed to happen entirely to my "head" and not my whole body. The face I mentioned earlier, in other experiences was with my whole body, I associated this as perhaps "some experience of anatta" and when I read suttas was what my mental model of "tathagata" was (one thus come / one thus gone - one that's me / not me - here & not here). I don't know how long the "lights out" was. The time factor: it felt like lifetimes or perhaps a second. The lead up (1,2,3 - the fracturing of the breath and break in continuity, also the "fixed" like I was merged with the particles was in the order of less than a second) So after this calm bliss wave, Immediately I saw some excitement register, like "I am feeling this" then I craved the "coolness" and I simultaneously knew this was a mistake, all within about half a second but by then the act was over and I knew I couldn't get back there, so I just had to deal with the intense cravings and mind blowing craving for getting back to this state even though I knew it was a mistake to do that. 

This was the peak of the retreat and I got on with body scanning after this but seemed to lose its allure, I was a little bit "Addicted" to anapana for the rest of this retreat, taking a lot of time with it before resuming body scanning, and trying to get these really "fixed" states of attention that become more difficult to move around the body (some of the body scans maybe were 2 hours in total, such was the slow and steady rate I was examining things on this retreat, kinda ridiculous, but yeah)

After this retreat and I got home, things got a bit weird. Some sits I would have weird time dilation and flips into what seemed to be other worlds inhabiting a different body and so on, and kinda made me a bit worried I was going crazy so I stopped practicing and deliberately jammed up my life with some past behaviors like smoking and drinking and I just dropped formal practice totally (but the auto-scanning body thing always there in the background). I rationalized this away as the effects of strong concentration when something like a mental image / imagination came to mind, seemingly that being all there was. But one distinct difference with all imaginative experience prior was that my sense of self in each of these "day dreams" / "flashes" was completely different. I flagged this also as 'perhaps this is what the sutta's are on about with past lives, but it's probably just strong concentration & imagination") After this "flash" like white lights or something featured when practice concentration, sometimes being extreamly strong, like you could swear someone just zapped you with lightning, othertimes being soft like maybe someone flicked on and off a light switch in the room with your eyes closed. I must say though I haven't seen this for several weeks now. But it used to feature regularly on each sit. 

What was this?

I've gone through thinking its everything from Nirvana to first jhana to a random experience like any other. I mentioned it to the teacher right after the sit, he just said "don't cling to this, it's just an experience". I kinda could guess what he would say. Later on I got all confused in the technique and was asking many questions about how it "should be done" and so on, and he said like "you should know this already". But I was trying to follow all instructions to the tee! Even if there was some more tranquil or better state (like really going hard on metta and then anapana then body scan for 1 hour usually produces a state, it didn't seem like the equanimous thing to do - that is to follow all instructions as they are given completely sincerely without trying to manipulate one's meditation to a 'better' state and so on. Saying that, I did follow the instructions in the same way I would do dishes at the restraunt, just accept each one and do the best.

I have since read in the Pa Auk Sayadaw meditation manual talk of the anapana sati mentioned that they should try to attain to it being like "white lights" - I've seen this when focused on the breath for short periods of time and not given it any importance (taking as rule 1 : "be equanimous / aware" vs trying to manipulate ones own experience , but sounds like something they are trying to cultivate to a point there is only the white light, haha, interesting, didn't know you could go that far. The manual also talks of something like a "hole" or something that you go down into - that can be frequently mistaken for nibban - this is the first time I've heard something similar to my experience with anapana sati on that 1 sit that 1 time over 18 months ago described. If it wasn't for this, I'd think the Pa Auk Sayadaw meditation manual to be woo woo. [BTW: daniel if you read this, *you* think you have a "hardcore dharma book" you should read that assuming you haven't already - that shits wild]

The year afterwards was good, improvements across board in relationships and work and seeking new experience after what seemed like a few years stagnated, also seemed to be able to get things done without the worries / anxieties around doing things. This might just be like the weather and not a result of this experience. Just flaggin it there - also things separated out - so like peoples thoughts about me I no longer feel responsible for, it's their business, whereas before I felt completely attached to and responsible for like something I had to "manage" - this again, is hard to pin point when this came online but it's way better now and it might just be normal psychological development.

Anyway, thanks for your attentions and may you all be happy emoticon 

Daniel

RE: What was that? 1st Jhana / Fruition / Mad Crazy access concentration?
Answer
8/3/18 2:19 AM as a reply to Daniel Jones.
I should just say my purpose / reasoning for airing this...

I feel like the narrative of this experience and the story of it is something that has really gummed up my practice. The strong cravings for being in that state have been around, (ever since it happened, and the moments afterwards, really) also seeing it as a possible endpoint. When I read about "cessations" and what not, this is the experience that comes to mind. So in many ways it might be a corruption of insight, I am totally open to anything right now, techniques, what not. I have doubts about many except for the very basics: focus on breath & just sit and notice what happens to you. Noticing anicca, dukkha & anatta. Honestly seems like my practice has gotten worse overtime, even though there's been interesting "fireworks" / "peak experiences" and what not, and attentional skills developed, I recently sat a 10 day and almost in its entirity was spent in tape-loops of the mind and narrative distractions (I studied philosophy and have read way too many dharma books probably). 

Kind regards,

RE: What was that? 1st Jhana / Fruition / Mad Crazy access concentration?
Answer
8/3/18 4:29 AM as a reply to Daniel Jones.
Daniel, I had a very similar experience in my practice. Years later I now think of it as an A&P event. I too was living a very straightforward life, had good ethics, etc. and was doing a lot of awareness training off cushion. I went on a retreat and maintained awareness and at the end (actually on my way home) I experienced a quick build up and then a time gap. And that experience changed my baseline awareness and sense of self.

It seemed very much like stream entry when I first read about it in MCTB although I continued to hold the possibility that it was an A&P Event. This confusion/uncertainty did bother me for a long time.

Anyway, about a couple years later I was working more closely with a teacher, went on a few retreats, and oddly enough at home during normal sitting practice, I had the SE experience. In many ways the time gap was similar, but the lead up and post events were different. There was no build up to SE, except for being in a very high state of EQ and I was meditating on the mindstream (taking thinking itself as a meditation object). This level of equanimity/centering/concentration was unavailable to me two years previously. Also after SE I had basically instant access to (light) jhanas and could clearly tell the difference between J1, J2, J3, J4. Also within a year, I went through another cycle with a lot of jhana and body/mind rewiring which was very obvious and annoying.

So my best guess is it was a very strong A&P Event and a slow slide into Dark Night -- which is actually progress. And the fact that you are seeing mindloops is great. It might be worth taking them as a meditation object. Use the feel/sound of thinking as an object, like you can do with sensations of breathing.

But that's my best guess. I couldn't say for sure.