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My Introduction and Background (dbn)

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My Introduction and Background (dbn)
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8/12/18 3:20 PM
Everyone,

I did not see a specific place for introductions on the message board, but I thought that this section might be the best context in which to introduce myself.  In brief, I'm a forty year old man, and I've been practicing for approximately one year.  Further details below if you are interested.

I say one year, but in reality, the process began fifteen years ago for me, when I took acid for the first time.  I was always of an exploratory nature, and I had a friend who tripped frequently and promised to watch me through the whole process, so I felt safe enough trying it.  Most of the details of what happened are not really relevant, and those that are, I had no context for at the time.

Early in the experience, my group of friends and I were watching television, and an advertisement for hair dye came on.  The advertisement had strong elements of red in it, and as the color flashed on the screen, I observed a cascade of thought through my mind as the color linked to a memory, which linked to a feeling, which attached to a concept that was then expressed symbolicallly.  The whole process happened with extraordinary speed and clarity that left me with the impression that I'd seen something very important about the function of my mind.

A few hours later, I was sitting on the couch watching the conclusion of Pink Floyd's 'Pulse' concert.  In the video, as they perform "Brain damage / Eclipse," numerous images of politicians are displayed behind the band, doing things that are reflected in the lyrics.  I turned to my friend and said "I didn't know this song was about politics?"  He looked back at me at replied "That's one of the things that it's about," and my head exploded with images.  There could have been as few a two dozen or as many as a hundred, each taking only a fraction of a second but extremely distinct.  At this remove, I can only remember two - a child, and a tank in a grassy field - but the total content was far more than it seemed the concious mind could hold.  At end end of it all, I was left with the strong impression of a question: what is the human experience? - and then, immediately after, a wave of total bliss and equanimity that I thought at the time must be the way that God sees the world - perfect, all suffering reconciled and balanced by beauty.  This lasted ten seconds or so, before I went outside and saw the world gleaming as if I had just been born.

Many of you may be able to predict what happened next.  My sensory perceptions gradually began to decohere and ceased to signify anything.  The sensation of food in my mouth was indistinct from any other sensation, and I choked when I tried to eat because I couldn't tell where food was in my mouth.  The sensations of breath were just sensations; I couldn't tell if I was breathing.  My heartbeat was just a sensation; I couldn't tell if my heart was beating.  Everything fell apart into an animal terror, as I could no longer tell if I was living or dying.  When everything began to line up again, the misery that followed was a relief.  It lasted several months.

I periodically returned to these experiences over the next decade and a half, feeling that they were important in some way, but no one I discussed them with (even others experienced with hallucinogenic substances) could provide any context or explanation for them, and eventually I gave up.  Until, a year ago, I stumbled on a read Daniel's book, and saw how my experience seemed to map neatly onto the first part of the insight cycle.  Until then, I had come to the conclusion that what had happened to me, though important, was likely idiosyncratic and I would never encounter a broader context into which I could place it.  To finally be able to do so was an enormous relief in itself, and even if nothing else were to have followed, I owe Daniel my thanks for this.

I decided to try to complete the process, and so I started meditating a half hour a day, eventually making it to a full hour over the course of a month, taking the breath in the abdomen as my focus and concentrating on following it moment to moment.  Eventually, I got to the point where I would rapidly settle into a state where following the breath was effortless and mildly pleasurable.   Periodic shivers of europhoria would arise, and could sometimes be sustained with focused concentration.  It wasn't unpleasant, but it wasn't really what I was looking for, either.  At the same time, I was also searching the internet and reading multiple other ancient and contemporary dharma sources to see what other practices were out there that might be interesting.  I stumbled on Shinzen Young's See-Hear-Feel approach, and thought it might be a good way to pass the hour that I walked back and forth each day in my commute, and decided to combine it with noting practice while I was sitting.

So this is what I started doing: a half hour walk to work, doing See-Hear-Feel, a half hour noting on the train with the breath as focus, work, a half hour noting the breath on the train, a half hour walking with See-Hear-Feel, and then an hour at home, noting the breath.

This went on for a month or two, and eventually See-Hear-Feel seemed a little... slow... so I just started doing Mahasi noting while walking, ramping up the speed to where it seemed quick but not uncomfortably so.  It didn't take me long at this point before the headaches started, typically in my right jaw and then spreading over my forehead.  It was predictable; as soon as I sat down and started noting, the pain began, only letting up when I stopped.  At first it was annoying, but then I began to see it as an guidepost as to whether or not I was appropriatley concentrated.  This seemed to last for several weeks, at the end of which, the pain had spread to my upper back and shoulders as well, which really was uncomfortable but could be alleviated a bit by laying down.  Fortunately, this didn't last that long.

One Sunday, I woke up from an intense series of homoerotic dreams (not my normal preference), feeling like I had just swalled a half dozen cups of coffee.  The pain with concentration was entirely gone, and I spent the daylight hours walking through the city, noting continously hour after hour after hour before returning home and picking up again with breath-focused practice in the evening until around midnight.  There were lots of sensations of energy moving up and down the spine, but nothing analogous to the explosion or euphoria of my LSD experience.  Only endless reserves of calm energy and focused clarity.

The next morning, I woke experienced one of my periodic night terrors just before waking up where I was paralyzed, but percieved the presence of something else in my bed moving around.  Immediately after the fear came a difficult-to-enunciate realization that there was nothing moving around the bed, only a sensation within my mind that something was moving around the bed.  At this realization, the sensation stopped, as did the fear.

I got up, looked in the bathroom mirror, and realized that something was completely off with my perception.  At the time, I didn't have the language for what seemed to be going on, but after reading The Mind Illuminated, the best explanation for what I seemed to be experiencing was a razor clarity in my field of background awareness, combined with a blurring of the central focus of attention.  At the time, the best way I could phrase what had happened to me is that my senses had been donut-holed.  As the day progressed, I found myself constantly distracted by sensations as they vanished from my field of peripheral vision or hearing, which compounded the general sense of a central blurriness.  As the day progressed, so did a sense of "flavorlessness," as if life had lost all color or savor.  I knew that I might be in the dukkha nanas, and resolved not to stay there any longer than necessary.

I haven't mentioned the vibrations previously, but they were always in the background before.  That evening, they seemed to come to the foreground, and they were absolute chaos.  The only image that came to mind was that I was in a boat at sea during a storm, and all I could do was keep the rudder pointed.  According to the clock, I spent five hours meditating that night.  I have no subjective perception of doing anthing but clinging to the breath for an endless period.  Eventually, it got easier, and the waves seemd to calm into a faint buzz.  Something kept trying to build up, to happen, but when it did, simultanously, a sense of excitement would rise up as well, and spoil the whole process.  Exhausted, I eventually, I fell asleep.

The next day, during my walk to work, I realized that noting was still happening, but that it was happening automatically, without any sense of effort or even intention.  As the day progressed, even the sense of noting faded, and I began to feel completely ordinary, which made me wonder if I was sliding backwards in some way.  I decided to practice anyway, so after work, I went to a local park and spent an hour with my eyes closed, noting.  Nothing else seemed to happen, and after the events of the previous evening it all seemed a little anticlimatic, until walking home from the park, I realized that everything I could point to as myself, and everything I could point to as not-myself, was seemingly projected, movie-like, onto the same screen, a single unified group of sensations.  It was early evening, and the streetlights were coming on, and as I walked underneath one, I noticed it was making a loud, 60 Hz buzz.  This seemed annoying, so I stopped and looked up at it.  The intention rose that the noise should stop, and it did.  So, satisfied, I walked on until I reached the next light, which was making the same buzzing sound.  I repeated the process of looking at the light, intending it should be silent, listening as it fell quiet, and then moving on.  After I had done this a half dozen times, it occurred to me that this was not normal, but by then, I was home.

That evening, as I was meditatating, over and over again I would encounter the sense that something was trying to happen, but it was being suppressed over and over the the desire that it happen.  Eventually, though, a sense of equanimity won out and two things happened.  First, something undescribable that lasted a fraction of a second, then a pause, followed by a discontinuity in the cycle of my breath.  At one point I was noting one point in the breath, and the next, I was at another point in the breath cycle with nothing between.

"That was it?" I thought - it seemed like a serious anticlimax - and then a wave of euphoria hit me that felt like the end of some horrible pain, and I was suddenly wide awake.  Except I was still in pain - I had a headache from my bad habit of crossing my eyes when focused on the breath.  It didn't seem right to me that I should still be in pain during this momentous occasion, so I turned my attention to the headache, and decomposed it into composite sensations of spacial locality, time variability, pressure, none of which, when examined, registed as "pain" to my mind.  Sorting through them, I even found a small sensation of pleasure amidst the others, and turning my attention to it, I found I could amplify it to the point where once my head had been hurting, it was now filled with intense pleasure in the same distribution.  I spent the next two hours flipping in and out of the lower jhanas, and manipulating perceptions of energy flow and sensation ad libidum.

The next morning, I woke up early, and when I tried going back to sleep again, found that as soon as I closed my eyes, the vibrations of vipassana would begin, and that as long as I kept my eyes closed, I had no choice but to painlessly meditate through various vibration phases until I blipped out again, the whole process taking about 15 or 20 minutes and seemingly out of my control.

For the first few days, this happened every time I closed my eyes, but gradually it began to space out, though it would grow more insistent again if I tried to avoid cycling.  With the passage of several weeks, this happened less and less often, until, finally, everything became solid and it stopped happening at all when it meditated.  That was five or six months ago.

I realize that I'm telling this story in a way that implies stream entry, which is obviously what I think happened.  I think there are some reasons to agree, but I also think there are some arguments against.  If you've read this far, feel free to add in your ten cents.

Against:
1) The whole cycle happened relatively quickly, in under a year, with no retreats, with the last part taking only a few days.  In fact, I went to work during the whole process, though at home I tried to "monastacize" my life as much as possible in the last week.  This does not seem to be a typical experience.
2) The part of this "cycle" that I percieve as the A&P did not contain any peak experiences, or anything analagous to what I went through on LSD.  It was just a day of high energy, high motivation, quick vibrations and easy, flowing practice.
3) The phase with chaotic vibrations that I think of as re-observation was not really painful or distressing; if anything, it was a little exhilirating
4) Supposedly, you percieve "formations" during equanimity.  I don't remember percieving anything as dramatic as what is described in MCTB.
5) The mini-cycles have stopped.  I can find vibrations, but they're deep down, as far below the perceptual level of my heartbeat as my heartbeat is below the perceptual level fo the breath.  Sometimes, which I'm in the second jhana, I flip transiently to a vibratory state, but this never lasts for long.  Largely, I'm living in solid-land.
6) Others that I may not have thought of.

Arguments for:
1) Although I didn't mention it, there was a strong vibratory perception associated with everthing from my "A&P day" forward though my "re-observation night".  The vibrations were different and distinct with each stage - quick and variable, out of phase with breath, buzzy, and finally chaotic, with the chaotic vibrations I'm associating with a re-observation stage being extremely distinctive, to the point where they dominated all other characteristics of the stage in my experience and recollection.
2) This process repeated, painlessly, for several weeks.  I experienced the "blipping" a number of times, and each time it was an absolute discontinuity followed by a wave of euphoria.
3) Although nowhere near as strong as they were in the immediate aftermath, my concentration skills are much better.
4) I percieve the three characteristics (four, if you count voidness, but they're all interrelated anyway) in everything, which has changed my relationship to my thoughts and emotions in a way that decreases suffering.  At a meta level, I have to keep in mind that most other people don't seem to see the way the world I do now in order not to seem like a smart-ass.  The perception of a center/self still exists, but is annoying.  Occaional insights (which happen from time to time) will disupt it momentarily, but it always reforms.
5) Others that I may not have thought of.

Thanks for reading this far, and it's a pleasure to meet everyone.  Please forgive my numerous spelling and grammatical errors.

RE: My Introduction and Background (dbn)
Answer
8/12/18 6:09 PM as a reply to David.
Hi David,

Really enjoyed your post, many thanks for sharing, felt you a lot while reading emoticon

Will limit my comment to the statements I'm completely sure about, and leave the rest to more experienced practitioners that are present here.

1) The whole cycle happened relatively quickly, in under a year, with no retreats, with the last part taking only a few days.  In fact, I went to work during the whole process, though at home I tried to "monastacize" my life as much as possible in the last week.  This does not seem to be a typical experience.
Happened to me in under a year too. Planned my first retreat in advance hoping to reach SE during the retreat but it happened a month before it, so I am in the same position as you are in that sense. There are other people like that here. Reaching SE in less than a year is also not statistically unusual from my very humble observations.

2) The part of this "cycle" that I percieve as the A&P did not contain any peak experiences, or anything analagous to what I went through on LSD.  It was just a day of high energy, high motivation, quick vibrations and easy, flowing practice.
I guess it is very specific how different people pass different stages, there's no point to put too much attention or worry here.

5) The mini-cycles have stopped.  I can find vibrations, but they're deep down, as far below the perceptual level of my heartbeat as my heartbeat is below the perceptual level fo the breath.  Sometimes, which I'm in the second jhana, I flip transiently to a vibratory state, but this never lasts for long.  Largely, I'm living in solid-land.
That happened to me about a month ago. Was keeping a diary of mind states and stages during the day at the Review stage following Daniel's advice, after some time (took me 1.5 months for the whole Review stage) noticed that I'm not cycling anymore and it was just 3C with pains etc, guess that's just a mark of completion of the Review and beginning of a new Progress of Insight (2nd Path).

Congrats by the way, and good luck! Hope that was of some help for you :-)

RE: My Introduction and Background (dbn)
Answer
8/18/18 9:58 AM as a reply to Konstantin Alexandrov.
Happened to me in under a year too. Planned my first retreat in advance hoping to reach SE during the retreat but it happened a month before it, so I am in the same position as you are in that sense. 

Thanks for your reply and insights, Konstantin.  That's what happened to me as well; everything seemed to unfold about six weeks before my first retreat.

I seem to live with mind/body awareness just under the surface, and about 20 minutes of noting is enough to bring cause/effect into clarity, so maybe I am in the next cycle.  Currently, though, I'm focused on samatha practices, which have brought some previously subconcious moral concerns to the forefront of my awareness.  It's progressively clearer to me that all three trainings must be pursued.

RE: My Introduction and Background (dbn)
Answer
8/18/18 11:22 AM as a reply to David.
Hi David,

By themselves the Jhanas don't confer any automatic wisdom.  You definitely attained samadhi, which is your post-meditation laser-like focus ability to pause, dissect, analyse, and basically do with your awareness what you will.  If you "forgot", or did not know to take the time to inspect this Self of yours, you might very well have come out of that experience without having cashed in on stream entry.  But don't despair, because whether or not that's what happened, it's not like this was your last shot.

Don't stop training in meditation.  You have set up a really awesome dedicated practice, on and off the cushion.  Get back into those jhanas, travel them up and down if you can do that, get back into a samadhi when all the conditions align, and then take your laser and start shooting at all the things you want to get insight on.

Your biggest obstacle is probably going to be desiring this now.  You might have serious trouble getting into the jhanas, or even higher concentration, but even this is something you can overcome.  Observe your mind, and carry on, business as usual.

Best wishes to you.

Edit: if you did attain SE, plan on it taking a longer period of time for this new mode of being to settle.  Doubting SE is probably normal, things are just too crazy when everything is fresh.  Oh, and the thing about there still being a center/self.  I can only go with my own experience, and I saw the Self for the illusion that it was.  You will always still "feel" human or whatever, and you occupy space, but you should have somewhat of a sense that...yes, this is a new beginning, the old me has dissolved, thank god it's like this, oh it's so nice to be free.  Something like that.