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Was that a Nimitta?

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Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/12/18 1:13 AM
In my last Goenka retreat a few months ago, I started getting really concentrated at around day 6. I would be focusing on my breath, then eventually I would notice a shift in perception, like things became more vivid all of a sudden.

Then I would notice that I am just aware of my breath and more vaguely my entire surroundings. But now I wasn't really trying anymore, it was sort of just relaxed and happening if that makes sense. After sitting like this for a few minutes in this really quiet state, I would start to feel like the concentration sort of accelerates.  It's like as long as I would stay calm, not move or think about anything I would become exponentially more focused until....

I no longer feel anything in particular. I think my body has gone away, but I don't dare move my attention to check; otherwise I'll lose concentration. I also don't really notice my breath anymore but there is this sense of being sucked into a point. I don't know how else to describe it. Then, out of nowhere, my entire field of vision becomes completely consumed in the most powerful light that I've ever seen. The best way to describe it is as if there were billions of 4th of July sparklers filling every possible space inside and outside of me all going off at once. 

Next, my heart started to pound uncontrollably and I became terrified. Then it went away and I came out of meditation so quickly that it was as if I just sat down. 

I have been able to repeat this over and over and over again. After a few times, I was able to eliminate the fear, but then it changed to excitement. So I'd get really excited the next few times it happened which would have the same effect. It would fizzle out, and end my meditation.

Finally, I am where I am now, which is that I can easily get to the lights after about 20 minutes of concentration practice. There is no fear or excitement, but my heart has a mind of its own and starts pounding ferociously until it shakes me out of my meditation. 

So I did some research online, and this looks like what is called a nimitta, but it is not a point of light... it is my entire field of vision. Not a single area is empty of light. The light is sparkly but the color is indescribable. Not like anything I've seen in real life. Kind of a goldish silvery look. 

The second question is, if it is a Nimitta, how do I deal with the pounding heart? I have been trying to get past this for months now. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/12/18 6:53 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Hi Ricky,

Sounds like you're getting into some interesting territory, whatever it is! "Nimitta" is one of those terms that has been hotly debated forever, but what you're describing sounds to me more like the A&P nana followed by dissolution/fear. Daniel describes all this very well in the MCTB2 chapter on insight as well as various other places. I particularly like the graphs he made here. Read it all for yourself to see if it fits your experience.

What has worked well for me to get through fear/pounding heart/sympathetic nervous system gone into overdrive is to focus attention on sensations in my lower abdomen while increasing the length of my exhalation. And then trying to leave little gaps between the end of the exhalation and the next inhalation, and in the gap trying to notice the sensations of blood pulsing in my abdominal aorta deep in the lower abdomen. This tends to be energetically grounding and it helps the parasympathetic nervous system kick in and override the sympathetic nervous system which has your heart pounding.

When you can do that, then you will likely be on to the next stage which will present a different set of challenges and rewards. It sounds like you might be already getting there when you say that your meditation "fizzled out." Just because the meditation becomes less exciting doesn't mean it isn't good meditation at all, quite the opposite in fact. A key skill in continued progress is learning to appreciate the subsequent stages which can be something of an acquired taste, like stinky blue cheese or Brussels sprouts emoticon

At any rate, take all of this with a grain of salt because I am just taking my best guess at what's going on. But play around a bit and see if any of that helps.

Best wishes for your practice!

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/12/18 11:12 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Thank you so much for your response! I didn't realize that the Nimitta subject was something controversial.

I just began doing some research on what I was experiencing and this idea of Nimittas kept coming up. I have seen the maps that you suggested earlier this year and also own Daniel's book (2nd edition). I also have read the short book by Mahasi Sayadaw, titled Practical Insight Meditation.

I learned about Nimittas while researching my symptoms online and also through a book that I recently purchased called Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond by Ajahn Brahm. The way that he explains the experiences leading up to the lights that I speak of are pretty spot on.

Following the breath, a feedback/building of concentration, a shift in perception, effortless focus on the breath accompanied by an equanimous bliss from the relief of some letting go of the senses followed by this overwhelming light that completely takes over my experience. Of course then I get the palpitations. I will give your suggestions a try, by the way!

I have been trying to use the insight maps that Daniel created, but I feel that they can a bit broad and ambiguous. Even looking around this forum, just about anything that anyone experiences is labeled as A&P. I don't mean this to be critical, only that I feel that it may be too broad. I find it difficult to come to terms with the idea that after 100s of hours on and off retreat, practicing very diligently, that the entire broad range of my experiences have all simply been Arising and Passing Away experiences.

With complete honesty I really feel like I have been all over the map, past the stages of A&P. But I do think that I've also regressed to it quite a few times. According to the way the A&P is described, I don't think that I have ever been anywhere before it. At least not since I was a very small child. This is not meant to be a critism of your diagnosis! I am really airing grievances more than anything else! emoticon

That being said, I know that I have a ways to go before achieving any level of permanent reduction in suffering. When I got off retreat earlier this year, I felt so incredibly peaceful for about a week. I remember that nothing could touch me. It felt as if 'this is the new me'. Then it all went away. In some ways I wish that I had never felt this way because it has caused me to suffer even more now that I don't have it. In other ways, it has made it easier to imagine what a particular level of peace can feel like. 

Essentially I am at a point where if I can't figure out how to break out of this cycle, I may just take a break from meditation for a while. This plateau of cycling between the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen to fear, to excitement, back to mundaneness is just exhausting!

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/13/18 5:54 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Ricky Lee Nuthman:

That being said, I know that I have a ways to go before achieving any level of permanent reduction in suffering. When I got off retreat earlier this year, I felt so incredibly peaceful for about a week. I remember that nothing could touch me. It felt as if 'this is the new me'. Then it all went away. In some ways I wish that I had never felt this way because it has caused me to suffer even more now that I don't have it. In other ways, it has made it easier to imagine what a particular level of peace can feel like. 

Okay in that quote above what you are talking about is exactly what you don't want to get attached to. That is not the peace we are looking for and practitioners have wasted their entire lives trying to get back to something that it is just a pernicious fantasy. States like that are inherently unstable and impermanent. They sure are nice and you may experience similar things again, but they will never last.

As for the rest of your post--

Don't worry, I have a LOT of grievances about the maps and models myself and air them frequently! ;) Personally, I have not used them much in my own practice because they mostly just seemed to tangle me up, slow me down, and cause me a lot of needless grief. But you really don't need all those labels as long as you are practicing with good technique and plenty of traditions don't use them at all. 

So one of the really tricky things is that while concentration and insight practice sound like totally different things in theory, in reality most of the time we're doing some blend of the two. So maybe there was a nimitta in there. But pure concentration tends to be quite tranquil and doesn't lead to heart palpitations and fear. As for not recognizing the pre-A&P stages--yeah, I had a hard time relating to the descriptions as well. I think the most commonly diagnosed stages tend to be A&P and dukkha nanas probably in large part because they are usually the most impressive and easiest to recognize whereas the others are more subtle, difficult to accurately describe, etc. Just one of many reasons to hold the maps and models very lightly, in my opinion. People spend their lives getting bogged down in theorycrafting but IMO one's time is rarely wasted in method-oriented practice with a focus on refinement of the fundamentals.

And yeah, totally exhausting to keep oscillating between something incredibly beautiful, to fear, excitement, etc., and until you learn to progress through that it will continue to be exhausting. But you used a key phrase there: "back to mundaneness." If you are encountering "mundaneness" in your sits after that exciting stuff, that's probably where you need to pay extra special attention because NOTHING in our experience is actually mundane. That's your door: that right there is where you need to start probing with your attention. Notice how you want to attach to those beautiful experiences instead of moving into a vague uneasiness, something less exciting and more disquieting. Feel the resistance you have to that. FEEL THE RESISTANCE. (I put it in caps, so you know it's important.)

This mystical quest is not about beautiful experiences, but about opening up to whatever is.

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/15/18 3:02 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Ah, so we are not looking for a reduction in suffering, or we are not looking for peace? From my understanding, this is the entire purpose of what we're doing, otherwise why are we doing it. It's a somewhat rhetorical question, perhaps I'm being a bit facetious.

For me, during that week after the retreat, the experience was not so much blissful as it was neither here nor there about negative or positive sensations. I call it peace because I seemed to be impervious to stimulus that would normally cause me to react very strongly; be that positively or negatively.

I have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that one can be attached to letting go, if that makes sense. I do understand where you are coming from, though. Getting attached to good feelings is still attachment.

I think that the difficult part about vipassana is that the goal itself is a bit unclear. It's as if I am trying to build a car, but I don't know what a car is, what it does, what it looks like, or why I want to build it (I thought I knew the last one but now not too sure! hehe). When asked what a car looks like, I'm told it is unexplainable (fair enough) but I need to just keep building and eventually by trial and error a car with emmerge.

I suppose the best thing for now is to just keep practicing with the confidence that someday I'll untangle what it is that I need to untangle. I will start off as you suggested by looking closely at that mundane experience after the light show! 

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
10/15/18 6:32 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Ricky Lee Nuthman:
Ah, so we are not looking for a reduction in suffering, or we are not looking for peace? From my understanding, this is the entire purpose of what we're doing, otherwise why are we doing it. It's a somewhat rhetorical question, perhaps I'm being a bit facetious.

I recently had an interesting conversation with a senior Tibetan teacher named Ken McLeod. He said he and another teacher, forget who, had been thinking that actually the word "struggle" was a better English translation for dukkha than "suffering." Thus the 4 Noble Truths say "There is struggle," etc. So at the most advanced level of practice, it becomes second nature to simply rest without struggle in the most painful physical and emotional sensations that life can throw at us. In my opinion the parable of the two darts works a lot better with the translation "struggle" as well. 

I think the problem with practicing to reduce "suffering" is that it all too easy to buy into comforting illusions of a future where we are totally safe and nothing bad really happens to us, which is basically a Buddhist version of Heaven (yep, made that mistake). Or to get confused and practice to get rid of "suffering" that is conventional and should be addressed with conventional treatments like therapy, self-help, etc.

So the point of vipassana is just to see clearly in the present. If you go into it with the goal of reduced suffering or whatever in the future, having that future-directed orientation can really distort things and gunk up your practice. If I recall correctly, Daniel used the intention "For the next X minutes I will carefully investigate all of the sensations which make up my reality" or something like that. This is a much better goal for vipassana practice. You actually aren't building anything at all--the opposite, in fact. You are tearing down, dismantling, deconstructing. Your goal is simply clear perception without trying to avoid, cling to, or ignore anything in the sensory field. Forget about the rest.

Good luck and keep us posted on how it goes!

RE: Was that a Nimitta?
Answer
9/11/19 7:59 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Thanks, Andromeda. This makes sense to me. What you are saying is pretty much in-line with what I've been thinking. I have imagined that 'being awakened' is just like not being awakened except for now you no longer struggle with pain. Not that you don't have it, it just simply doesn't bother you.

I have definitely had small experiences of this while on retreat where I would get to a point where my neck or back would be hurting really badly, but it didn't bother me. It was very peculiar! Like okay, I feel the pain and can adjust myself but honestly I could take it or leave it.