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JC's retreat log, and questions about review cycling

The following are some notes I took from my retreat last spring. Basically I was in review the whole time and trying to force my way out of it. I'd like to hear people's thoughts.

I also listed some questions about review cycles.

Also included is an exercise I did at the retreat involving visualizing a spinning buzzsaw or fan blade - it's similar to the Swinging Swords exercise in MCTB.

3/30/18 – 3/31/18, Day 2 or 3?
M&B blocky 1-2 Hz, C&E
noted through 3Cs, freq increasing to 3-4 Hz, blips came easily
thought it was DN – then found myself in A&P
noticed impermanence – blips of reality stood out
went into DN – Diss – spacey – thoughts of things ending
 
4/1/18, Day 4     (start Adderall 20/20, Alpha GC, Vit B, B12)
worked through DN – increased 5-12 Hz
noting came quickly, easily, saw blips of reality
saw vibrations, shaking, sense of observer strobing
20-30 Hz ended in Eq – tried to “break through” but could not. Eq ‘pause’ – blips stopped, sputtered out, landed in 4th jhana
 
4/2/18, Day 5 (20/20)
realized I was in review when in Eq & made resolution for fruition
immediately dropped into A&P, tension and buzzing went away, rainbow circle
3 review cycles from A&P forward -> close look at suffering
                need to accept reality as is to move on, can’t rush it
                desire is suffering, lost in thought is suffering
walked outside - noticed feeling of reconnecting with observer – M&B
made resolution – go back in review so I can know stages
back in review starting at M&B
Eq – saw cycle speed increase – sense of observer strobe in & out
strobing sense of observer grew to encompass more & more parts of me (30-60 Hz)
took a few review cycles to get the hang of review – thought I was doing it at first, after a few cycles just started watching
 
[2] 4/3/18, Day 6 (30/20)
resolution – out of review till 5/1/8
started noting – noting came quickly
thought I was still in review – frustrated – couldn’t tell
again made intense insistent resolution – no review in April
looked closely at noting – seemed to be a ‘choice’ – let blips come or pay close attention to noting, physical and mental echo.
noting difficult 0.5-1 Hz M&B
kept saying “no review” when noting started to get automatic then slowing back down so that I was carefully & precisely noting each note
noted up to Eq – 10-20 Hz – wasn’t sure I could get there without it going auto, but I did, it just took a few tries
finally I let it go auto ~ 10-20 Hz
it went up to 30-60 Hz, strobing sense of observer – “spinning buzzsaw”
it stayed like that for a while so I tried “throwing things” in it i.e. focusing on the thing I wanted to throw in as the vibrations tore it apart and it got incorporated into the strobing
did this w/ sense of planning, observer, witness, agency, ownership, possession, control, my body, my life, my past, my possessions, my future, each year of my life, narrator, money, sex, enlightenment, emotions, time, suffering, pain, speaker, words, sense of permanence, sense of self, family, other people, body parts – noted changes to my relationship to these things as I did.
[3] as I added each thing I felt the strobing enlarge. Everything got added except “current perceptions” – that evaded the blade perfectly. Added my reflection while looking in mirror – noticed change in my sense of possession of reflection when I did this.
added the one who is adding things – felt the strobing “come around” but buzzsaw remained
tried adding other crazy things:
                sense of separation between sense doors – noticed shift, got panoramic vision
                sense of duality, separation from divine
                sense of distance, spatial separation – shift, space felt thick and rich
                sense of anything except the present moment
                sense of sep. between inside and outside
                any separation at all
feel wobbly, detached from body – greatly reduced sense of ownership/self/agency/control
went to bed – noticed I was in review
 
[4] 4/4/18, Day 7 (30/20)
still feel wobbly, disconnected from body, arms swinging
sat through 4 review cycles – cycles were blurry, DN not so dark, hard to distinguish stages
made resolution to stay out of review until 5/1/18 or next path
started noting – key saying NO review as noting got faster – didn’t feel like there was a danger of falling into review this time. kept slowing down noting so that the words didn’t get ahead of the actual blips. Noted M&B -> Eq. Diss very black & deep & beautiful
DN – hard to stay in time with blips – kept wanting to note faster – was worried I was in review a few times so I stopped to make sure no blips came & slowed noting to make sure I was doing it clearly and precisely.
Frequencies seemed slower this time – everything seemed about half the frequency as usual. Fell back into DN at lunch. It was very difficult to get out of – my notes, the action of noting, and the blips of reality seemed out of phase & had trouble lining up. Finally got back up to Eq but again at about half the frequency ~ 15-30 Hz? Again fed stuff through the buzzsaw. Realized I could also just note stuff.
Noted a lot of the things from before – possession of my thoughts, feelings, & separation between hearing my thoughts and hearing the outside world – seemed to make a big difference. Each thing I fed through led to a shift – sometimes I fed something through a few times.
[5] I flipped over while taking a walk but as before the buzzsaw seemed to keep going for a little bit afterwards. Greatly diminished sense of agency/ownership/possession. In review – went through 3 review cycles. In 3rd cycle during High Eq I moved the buzzsaw up and down my head noting internal/external distinction & any remaining feeling of agency – after fruition it now feels like my head is gone, just open air there.
Not sure what that was – review cycles got shorter and shorter in length until I just started having fruitions in a row over and over again & then 1 really big one – then the rapid-fire fruitions continue
started noting various things related to agency & ownership of my thoughts – the thinker, narrator – felt like something shifted – thoughts feel detached & floating & disembedded. I got so lost in thought before b/c I was identified with thought, splitting off the rest of the world and blocking it out.
fell asleep. woke up after a few hours. rapid-fire fruitions continuing. looked at feelings – the feeler – fruitions then slowed. started looking closely at suffering. I had previously wondered, if there can be thoughts without a thinker, why can’t there be suffering without a sufferer? It’s because suffering requires duality – part of the undivided whole splitting itself off from the other part, saying it doesn’t like the other part – fundamental aversion. I looked closely at fundamental ignorance, craving, and aversion. A big shift happened. I felt something unify and heal as I did that. I feel whole now. The rapid-fire fruitions stopped when that happened.
[6] Seems like I need to let the reviews play out – like my brain was saying ‘you keep cutting reviews short so I better get this all in now.’ What’s the difference between review and non-review cycles? Post-arahat, they’re the same – before that, it’s selfing. You’re doing the non-review cycles with whatever bit of selfing you have left, while the review cycles are being done.
 
4/5/18, Day 8 (30)
I feel like something’s been completed. It’s interesting how the faster and faster review cycles led up to the shift and it happening on its own, in the same way that noting faster and faster leads to a fruition – fractal patterns. I wonder if this is 2nd path – I tried out holding the frame from Mahamudra – Lion’s Gaze – and it seemed to make more sense than before.
M&B -> Eq
I seem to be in review now. Noting is happening on its own and going at the ‘proper’ frequencies instead of the reduced ones – but I seem to be ‘stuck’ at Eq. I tried just letting it go, I tried adding in and noting – everything I could think of, but no shift and it won’t turn over. Noted my frustration, confusion, desire to finish the thing.
I just resolved to be out of review for the day and nothing changed so maybe I wasn’t in review.
Couldn’t sleep well last night – didn’t get back to sleep – now feeling very tired and cranky. Lots of mind wandering and internal narration. I feel reconnected to the observer now – thoughts/narration still feel tricky. Still some selfing/identification/lost in thought there.
[7] So it turns out I was in review earlier today. When I sat down again the noting was just going on its own again. I had to tell it several times I wanted to be out of review before it let me go. Like trying to quit a game and dialogues pop up ‘are you sure you want to quit?’, ‘are you really sure?’
When I finally got out it was very difficult to note my way to the A&P. Noting was very slow (0.5 Hz or less) an there was lag time involved somehow so I kept missing. It was hard to get the noting to speed up. And I noted very carefully to make sure I wasn’t in review.
This level seems much harder. Before if you did repetitive mantra-like noting it would sometimes help speed up the blips. But here, there’s a penalty for it and it actually slows them down. There’s a penalty for missing by a little, so you have to be very precise. There’s also a penalty for doing the same type of note multiple times in a row. So even if I noted the touch of my back perfectly several times in a row it would make the noting slow down.
Finally I figured out there’s a bonus for switching back and forth between different categories of notes (touch, rise, fall, hear, see, 3Cs) and so by using as many categories as I could I finally got through the 3C nana, which was brutal and painful, and into A&P. (20-30 Hz)
Once I got into A&P things went very smoothly – DN, oddly enough, was actually pleasant for once. I dropped into Diss at about 5-7 Hz with a smooth rolling slowdown and the A&P lights kept going for a while.
[8] By noting multiple categories and rapidly shifting back and forth between them I was able to smoothly increase the speed up through Eq without a lot of the usual trouble or negativity.
I had been holding the Lion’s Gaze frame but I’m not sure it did anything.
I got the buzzsaw going around 20-30 Hz and let go and started feeding it the usual: agency, ownership, possession, separation between inside/outside, separation of sense doors, separation of me from the outside world, aversion, suffering, craving, etc. Noticed a few little shifts but I just decided to stop feeding it and let it do its thing on its own. It grew faster and deeper and richer and encircled me. I kept thinking it would finish but it kept going. At a couple points I tried to pull up the mahamudra image but I couldn’t hold onto it – as soon as I brought it up it started spinning and shrinking as it spiraled away.
As it finished there was a mound, round like an egg, with a little blinking radio beacon on it. I kept staring at the beacon as it finished. When it was done it was quiet for about 30 seconds and then the blips for M&B started. The whole thing took about 6 hrs straight through. Now in review but I’m not sure if a cycle has finished.
[9] 4/6/18, Day 9 (30)
Woke up twice during the night to fruitions but was able to go back to sleep. After the sleep deprivation of the last few days I finally got some solid sleep w/REM – had sexual dreams and I’m glad to see I still have sensual desire.
Just sat for 1 hr – was in review at the start w/ everything flickering very fast, at least 20-30 Hz. Told it to stop review a few times and made resolutions at the start of the sit but they wouldn’t stick and I couldn’t get out of review. Tried to note as if in M&B slowly & carefully but the flickering just took over. I kept saying ‘no review, get me out’ but it didn’t work.
I threw stuff in the buzzsaw & decided to do some body scanning – noticed my attention & concentration falling a lot, mind wandering, thinking of words/narration. When I did the speed of the flickering would slow down and I’d notice and reconcentrate and the speed would increase.
Finally at the end of the hour I again resolved to get out and it worked. Went back & made resolution out loud to stay out of review today to try to get one more cycle. When I next sat down I found I was still in review but it was fainter. I kept telling it to stop and noting slowly and carefully. I found it very frustrating that the review kept coming back. Also at this sit Goenka’s instructions were very long. I noticed myself getting extremely irritated at his stupid talking and wishing he would die! (Yes, I know he’s already dead.)
[10] I kept pushing through and trying to note. Finally I remembered to note my irritation, frustration, annoyance, confusion – it’s all suffering! I realized every time I said ‘no review’ I was really noting suffering – no wonder that helped speed things up!
Noting the suffering really helped me get past the review, which makes sense. The suffering is very much ‘me’ experiencing it, so paying attention to it and noting it helps push the automatic/review stuff to the background and helps emphasize this is me noting, not the automatic review. Paradoxically, this is the opposite of noting anatta – I guess because the final phases of one cycle are about anatta whereas the initial phases of the next are about anatta/dukkha, so emphasizing dukkha helps push me to the next one and so I am noting from the parts where there is still selfing.
Once I realized that, things got easier, but it was still difficult to push past A&P. I had to really strain to get past it and gaining speed took a lot of concentration and effort – I pushed past it right at the end of the 2 hr sit. Doing the multiple categories thing helped, but not as much as last time, and adding in no-self towards the end helped too, but mostly it was just intense all-out pushing and holding it there as long as I could. Kinda reminded me of fucking really hard when you’ve come a few times and having trouble coming again and you just have to go all out.
Now in Diss.
[11] Weird – I sat down again and the noting was going on its own – I wasn’t sure if I was in review or not! I still seem to be in Diss. I made another strong resolution, no more review today till I get a path, and the auto-notes seemed to die down. I still seem to be in Diss – dark, open, spread out, 5-7 Hz
I figured it out! When I sat back down I noticed pretty soon the auto-notes came back, fast and buzzy in the background, and I just tried to ignore them and note my annoyance with them – and then, of course, I realized they were the secondary DN frequency Daniel talks about in MCTB. (15-20 Hz or so)
Once I realized that I actually started to like the DN – the two different frequencies are kinda fun – and I was able to continue up through Eq. (20-30 HZ or so)
Eq, weirdly, was actually pretty rough – maybe because Goenka’s annoying lectures today were extra long and repetitive, but I found myself pretty cranky and irritated. I made sure to note it. I was lost in thought a lot of the time and the spinny flickery thing wouldn’t go on its own. I had to keep very intense concentration to have it keep increasing in speed or else it would die out.
I threw a few of the usual things at the buzzsaw – I kept working on agency & thoughts feeling like me. I think I got a little bit of give on the thoughts.
[12] So finally I just stopped pushing things at it. Pushing things at it was making it lose speed. It was so unstable that when I breathed in or out my breathing would “catch” on it – my attention would switch over to the breath for a second and that would slow it down.
I had a lot of trouble stabilizing it & speeding it up. It helped to sort of look to the side and breathe really slowly. I couldn’t look right at it or it would slow.
Finally I discovered I had to use the mahamudra lion’s gaze view. I looked at a point behind my head and held the whole view at once, looking to its source, and imagined a child in a temple in awe just taking the whole thing in at once. This was the only way I could get it to stabilize & speed up. I had to hold it that way for about an hour and it was very intense concentration – felt very taxing and I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I got it to turn over. It had the blinking beacon and as it sped up there was a ‘point of no return’ where my visual field filled up and solidified a solid grey. I let it go and it kept spinning at that point, and as the review mind & body blips started I quickly pushed through a few things, the self, sense of agency, my thoughts, craving, aversion, and each of them caused what felt like a big freeing shift, like something solid dissolved away leaving a big empty space where my body was.
Weird that the shifts happened when I pushed the things through and not at the fruition moment – I don’t really understand that.
[13] I was left feeling really light & free, like a major shift happened & something had been completed. Vision was sharp & clear like a frame had been taken away & perspective was psychedelic. My body felt wobbly and loose. My thoughts felt more loose & free – less like I was doing them.
I went through a little review but didn’t finish a cycle. I resolved to leave review for the night and felt a snap and review stopped. Working my way up to the A&P from M&B was pretty straightforward – it felt like I was starting all over again, ‘normal’ again, but the noting took off very quickly. A&P was really, really bright and seemed to last a while.
DN was buzzy like before & had ‘echos’ like Daniel describes but I went through it very quickly to get to Eq. But I couldn’t get Eq to turn over. It was very stable but just stayed there.
 
4/7/18, Day 10
Felt crappy & irritable this morning so I resolved to be back in review to get a sense of things. I went back in review, but still felt crappy and realized that I had already crossed the A&P and would be dealing with DN stuff, so I resolved to come out of review. In the first sit today I got back up to Eq and stared at the flickering some more. Again, the DN buzziness was easy to get through but Eq wouldn’t turn over.
[14] The next sit was a metta sit so I just resolved to be happy. I’m not sure what happened – as I got into the metta sit & filled with love and happiness I think I may have turned over – either that or my brain was just like ‘fuck it’ and went back into review. Either way I am definitely in review now and feel much better.
So, I’d like to know what you think of all this. It sometimes was very difficult to tell if I was in review or not, and the last cycle went very quickly. I didn’t finish a review cycle before the last cycle, so even though I resolved to be out of review and carefully noted and made sure it was me noting, maybe it was like a review cycle?
And because of the ‘Twelve Path’ thing it’s hard for me to know where I am – was everything just a review cycle? Which were major paths and which were minor paths? How do I tell and what do I do now?
I have questions about how to make stuff happen – am I just trying to force stuff and should I just let it happen? I still need to put diligent effort in. Who is it who wants to get this done? Who is it who wants to know where I am? Who is it who wants to know what to do next?

[A1] Causing Shifts By Breaking Down Constructs With The Vipassana Buzzsaw
At certain points in the insight cycle, A&P and Eq, I found I was noting at very high frequencies. At these times, I found it useful to try to use vipassana to see through, or break down, certain mental constructs or abstract concepts.
The traditional texts use the analogy of seeing a snake and looking closer to realize that it’s actually a line of ants. In this analogy, the snake is the construct to be broken down, and each individual ant is one moment in time.
I think of the flickering sensations at the A&P and Eq as a rapidly spinning buzzsaw with blades slicing at high frequencies. By taking a construct and running it through the buzzsaw, it loses its solidity across time and gets broken into individual moments.
When I did this with certain constructs, I found it caused shifts in perception – strangely, it wasn’t always path or fruition moments that triggered the shifts, but rather the act of feeding the construct through the buzzsaw. Shifts I got this way included changes in sensory perception like panoramic vision, changes in the perception of self, changes in the ownership feeling of thoughts & my body, and changes in the feeling of agency.
I think of it as similar to the hidden tiger picture. The hidden tiger picture has a clearly visible tiger in the foreground, but it also contains the hidden tiger. You can look at the picture for hours without seeing the hidden tiger, but once you see it, it’s impossible to look at the picture without seeing the hidden tiger – it will just pop out at you.
[A2] I confused these shifts with path moments at first, but though they can cause major changes in perception, they are not necessarily path moments.
There are a few ways to use the buzzsaw to break down objects:
  • note the object you want to break down.
  • note it several times.
  • bring it up and look closely at it in slow motion
  • zoom in on the very beginning of the object. bring it up repeatedly and zoom in a little closer each time
  • visualize the flickering of sensations as a rapidly spinning blade and hold it in the background. then focus on the object and try to hold it as a solid object with the spinning in the background. visualize combining the object with the buzzsaw by pushing the object into the buzzsaw as you hold the object steady and try to maintain its solidity.
I found this last visualization to be especially effective. You could also try visualizing a hot flame of intense purity that flickers faster and faster as it heats up.
Here are some objects I found useful to feed into the buzzsaw:
I                               agency                  I am the doer                     I am the observer
me                           ownership             I am the owner                  I am the perceiver
my                           possession            I am the possessor             I am the thinker
mine                        control                  I am the controller             I have free will
myself                     my body               I am in control                   I am the chooser
my self                    my thoughts         I am the witness                 I make choices
self                          my life                  I am the watcher                I am the feeler
 
[A3]
These words are mine                    my family                           my past               my finances
These thoughts are mine                my friends                          my future            my choices
These feelings are mine                 my possessions                   my career           my relationships
These perceptions are mine           my history                          my sexuality       my goals
aversion                                         craving                                ignorance           suffering
separation between me and the world                                      distance               space
separation between the six sense doors                                    time                    separation between objects
separation between inside and outside my head                      anything besides the present moment
anything besides perception                                                     anything besides awareness
any separation                                                                          any duality
any permanence                                                                       anything lasting more than a moment
sense of making decisions                                                       wanting things to be different than they are
sense that anything could be other than it is                            sense that anything should be other than it is
wanting                                seeking                                        I am the one who wants
desire                                   the seeker                                    I am the one who desires
Who am I?                                                                               Who is doing this?
Who is thinking this?                                                              Who is feeding things into the buzzsaw?
my reflection in the mirror                                                      center point
special vantage point
 
Obviously there is a lot of repetition here. I found it helpful to phrase the same thing in several different ways, as if you were feeding it through the buzzsaw at a different angle each time.
Also, this is an iterative process. After you feed an object in and trigger a shift, sometimes your mind will reconstruct the object in a different way after some time, or you’ll reconnect with the observer or reach a new base state or default, and you’ll be able to feed it in again.
[A4]
I also found that feeding an object in several times in a row can be useful sometimes.
Another thing I noticed is that sometimes with the buzzsaw visualization I would have to hold the object steady for a few seconds and ‘push’ it to get it to break down. When something breaks down there’s a pop or fizzy feeling and a feeling of healing, freedom, and wholeness.
I sometimes found that at Eq, feeding enough things in would trigger fruition. I’m very curious about the relationship between manually breaking down objects and just letting Eq take you to a fruition – do they have the same effect? If you didn’t push anything in manually would the fruition trigger different shifts? Does manually processing things like this interfere with the cycle at all? I found it sometimes slowed down the flickering, as if rotational energy of the buzzsaw was being transferred.
 
[B1] Questions About Review
After returning from retreat, I have a few questions about review cycles.
What is the difference between a normal cycle and review cycle? Do they feel different to do in terms of sense of agency or control? Do the stages show up differently?
When in review, is it possible to speed up or slow down the cycle by noting along with review or trying to note faster than the review is going?
A lot of times it seems like I’ll be in review and the blips of reality are going slower than they usually would at that stage of the cycle. I can note faster – up to the normal maximum at that stage – and the review notes go faster along with me for a few seconds, but then if I stop noting faster the review notes slow down again – why does that happen? What’s going on with that?
I noticed I seemed to be able to make resolutions to get myself in or out of review, but it didn’t work perfectly, and sometimes the review notes would continue faintly in the background or pick up again when I tried to start noting – is it always possible to ‘override’ review by consciously manually noting anyway and ignoring the background review notes? What happens if you do this? What happens if you try to skip or avoid review? Is it possible?