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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat

I'll break this up into two parts, since there seems to be a lot of writing: part one will be going through mind & body up to equanimity on retreat; part 2 will be the following days of dark nighting, with strong experiences which culminated in an apparent fruition.

part 1: 5 day retreat

Attitude on arrival: I had 5 days to go as far as I can (striving mistake made many times). I vowed to note my experiences every moment of the day. I was pumped up from Tarin's reformed slacker's guide to stream entry (highly recommended read). This was a zen sesshin with a lot of sitting and little walking. I took the bathroom breaks and downtime as either naps or walking meditation. I followed their schedule, but stuck with noting-style vipassina, because it's what I knew and have precious little time for retreats.

primary techniques:
sitting: follow breath at nose, belly, or choicless position. For me they are in order of decreasing concentration but increasing investigation. Once I start to get visualizations, I choose them as my object and investigate by describing how and where they appear. Physical sensations get peppered in as they present themselves.

walking: begin with noting the foot meeting the ground, increase to 'where on the foot,' occasionally allow the position of sensation in my body become the meditation object. Again, I find success in choicelessness.

day 0 (8-10:30pm) rode my excitement in with meditative exuberance. good concentration, good investigation. Felt a brief (~10 s), but very pleasurable opiated stage which I took to be mild A&P, but in retrospect was probably an above average 'mind and body.'

day 1: strong physical pain from sitting with an injured back and knees (from regular life). It took a little time to find the optimal posture for extended sitting, but even after I did, I had strong recurring back pains for the entire sesshin. With 4 days ahead of me, I seriously considered leaving the retreat; I was fortunate to be held back by a fear of failure.

conclusion: All I wanted to do was dry vipassina so I could make the most progress possible on this retreat. Samantha has a nice way of making pain managable and I learned this lesson too late.

day 2: I was probably in the dark night most of the day. Strobing visuals with negative emotions. I admit a prejudice against dealing with emotions on the cushion, because I fear getting lost in the stories. Instead I alternated between avoiding meditation and actually getting lost in fantasies and powering through with dry vipassina.

conclusion: what actually got me past this stuff was noting some of the 'stuff' coming up: relationship issues, feeling like a bad meditator, feeling like a failure, feeling like I wouldn't get enlightened, feeling like I should just drop all this meditation business. My existing prejudice against this was the problem, noting it loosened me up a bit.

day 3: Joyous morning with strong energy and rapture. This kicked in my christian upbringing and I felt I was giving myself up to God. If only every morning could start this way! My thought at the time was: this must be what heroin is like. At the time I ascribe this to a samantha jhana, but it was almost certainly the A&P event. I rode the positive feeling for a the better half of the day before going back to vipassina and falling into the dark night and battling up to low equinimity by the end of the day. Was hallucinating motion and patterns on walks during the day and by the end had trouble walking to the meeting with the roshi and difficulty remembering how to bow. On the cushion I was occasionally lucid dreaming; was a bit out there.

conclusion: At the time I was trying to avoid absorption into the pleasure, but in retrospect, the healing was probably healthy and the time spent in it was probably valuable.

day 4: Fell back into the dark night. I must not have admitted to myself the extent to which things were sucking, because I wasted half the day absorbed in stories and fantasies. I had to acknowledge the pain and suffering of these stages and rally up the courage to go through it again. It's like being a medic that has to run through the crossfire repeatedly to retrieve injured soldiers... ok, maybe not that scary. Dry vipassina through the stages with occasional concentration breaks to steady my head. On one hand, I was having trouble keeping up with the events of the dark night and the concentration breaks helped steady me. On the other, I think I was avoiding my reality with concentration and wimping out of the tough parts. It was a battle of a day, but by the end I was accepting the pain and suffering and breaching into equanimity territory again.

conclusion: Insert your Greek tragedy here. I'll go with Sisyphus.

day 5: fall back to the dark night and giving up. 2 dimensional damn!! The first being that I have to deal with this crap again and the second being that I'm giving up because I don't think I can make it to fruition by 6pm. Well let me tell you, giving up here sucks. I didn't get to avoid this problem as much as I tried and wanted. I rallied myself up for one or two more 'goes' at getting back to equanimity, but really threw in the towel by about 2:30. The last day added an extra challenge of "you're out of time." I noted that a couple times, but I bet it got the better of me in the end.

conclusion: I spent the end doing pure concentration breathing just to settle the throbbing in my forehead. I had energy lodged in my third eye and scalp for at least a day and that and the back pain was wearing on me. The samantha helped settle the strobing, but didn't solve the problem. In fact, despite Daniel's warning about leaving a retreat in the dark knight, I still vented my anger on the toll booth operator on the drive back. In my defense, he did give me 3 dollar coins emoticon I'm obviously kidding about the 'defense' because it was such trivial thing, but I lashed out saying "yeah, but these dollars suck!" Whoa, where did that come from? re-observation... crap.

Afterthoughts: My great thanks to Daniel for his book and Tarin for the reformed slacker's guide. I didn't get to where I wanted, but I got as far as I did, because of the advice in your writings.

Mini post-game analyses: I could really use some advice here. Many things seem clear to me today that didn't on retreat. Does anyone find it helpful to set aside 15-30 minutes at the end of the day to figure out what happened and set the goals for the next day? It goes against Tarin's "meditate at all times when awake" and "analysis is not the same as meditation" but seems like it could be a skillful way to do this.

RE: thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat
1/23/11 10:52 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
part 2: re-observation aftermath and 'was that it?'

the two days after: Mostly this sucked. Life was really vivid after retreat and I was handling a lot of negative emotions. Retelling a story (Hyakujo's Fox) from a dharma talk that had brought a few tears on retreat sent me in to violent sobbing. Actually, it was pretty interesting to observe, but nevertheless hurt to experience. I was seeing the 3 characteristics of events in my regular life. Specifically, the arising of negative feelings which didn't seem to come from me, caused suffering, and would vanish soon after. Had a strong aversion to meditation and generally avoided it.

and on the 3rd day:heavy exercise with the intent of using up some energy and smoothing out the bumps. Moments of great focus, but generally difficulty with concentration.

After about 3 1/2 hours of late night phone conversation, I went to bed between 2-3 am. I was very tired at the time and visualizations came right away. Shortly into things there was a bright pop of light that only lasted a moment and really caught me off guard. I still don't know what that was, but it happened the next night too.

I was sleepy, but had little fight left in me, so I just went with whatever came up. Hit the dark night again and sailed through by relaxing my jaw and something else in my head... I forget. It was easy this time and I just feel lucky. Soon after I saw maybe three flashes of an object just off center to the lower left. It was 2D and amorphous with some color to it. I remember green, but feel like others were present. Then a moment of darkness that was fairly unremarkable.

I would have thought nothing of it if it weren't for the crackling in my head that lasted maybe a minute. It felt like pop-rocks were in the base of my skull. I remember hearing Kenneth Folk say something about that when he reached 1st and 2nd path in an interview (which I think is on buddhist geeks, but can't find). Kept meditating, got into some crazy equanimity stages with what had to be formations. I can't say I saw all 6 sense doors, but definitely sights, sounds, and touch simultaneously... wild. I felt different as a person afterwards and had wondered what I had done. 'Did I just kill myself,' I thought? I was mournful for the loss, but really didn't feel that different after about 15 minutes. I felt very normal, in fact

Immediately after I went to the bathroom and looked at my body in the mirror. I looked different... ok, it's 3 am, my hair's messy, I need to shave, and need some serious sleep. I looked at my hands and felt detached from my body, but still in control of it. Like I was puppeteering myself. Also, the yellowness of the incandescent bulb was very obvious. My skin looked yellow.

I felt out of the dark night for sure and in the ~5 days after, I feel generally out of trouble. I've had little time to sit, but haven't experienced any blipping out when I did, which is what I'm doubtful this was the real deal. I do feel like I go through A&P, dark night, and occasionally equanimity, but there's no obvious blink out. My concentration does feel stronger, but I did come off a retreat a week ago. More sitting to do, more investigation.

RE: thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat
1/23/11 4:04 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
Jeremy P:

Mini post-game analyses: I could really use some advice here. Many things seem clear to me today that didn't on retreat. Does anyone find it helpful to set aside 15-30 minutes at the end of the day to figure out what happened and set the goals for the next day? It goes against Tarin's "meditate at all times when awake" and "analysis is not the same as meditation" but seems like it could be a skillful way to do this.

in considering this matter, a good question to ask might be: 'will whatever i figure out in reflecting and deliberating and basically getting caught in the content of my experience for 15-30 minutes at the end of the day make up for the momentum i lose by ceasing to practise absolutely continuously?'

as far as an intensive vipassana retreat is concerned, the answer is almost certainly 'no'. and as far as an intensive vipassana retreat is concerned, the reason for this answer is that such a retreat serves its purpose best when it is an entirely uninterrupted affair; every second one is conscious is meant for immediate practice. if you have the mental resources to think about what happened earlier in your day or to plan what you should do the next day (beyond the stray reflections that almost inevitably occur from time to time), then you are not allocating your mental resources properly. simply put, there is no need to reflect or to plan while on a vipassana retreat; future insight cannot be planned, and whatever you experienced earlier in the day is of no immediate relevance to noticing the three characteristics here and now. do anything that takes away from your capacity for such noticing and reduce your chances of noticing what those characteristics really indicate here and now.. which is presumably what you're on a retreat to look at. is it? another good question to ask.


RE: thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat
1/23/11 4:09 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
no thoughts on whether you got path or not, by the way. do you remember what you thought about after thinking along the lines of 'was that it?'

how's walking around in everyday life?

RE: thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat
1/23/11 7:26 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
Hi Tarin,
Thanks for reading and for an answer to the analysis question; it's helpful to hear your perspective and helps color your guide a bit more. This is my first go at the non-stop noting and found plenty of stretches where I'd realize I hadn't been noting for some time. Things got better as the days passed.

I found I was too worked up by the end of the retreat and the chilling out afterwards helped me get through some dark night territory post retreat. I thought a little reflection time might have helped me direct myself.

As for my thoughts immediately after the questionable event, they were something like:
-I don't feel the same, like part of me is missing
-along those lines, I was a little mournful and apprehensive about what just happened, but that was assuming a fruition happened.
-I looked at the mental impression of the event to see the click click gap. I wasn't clear if the gap was a gap or if I just wasn't paying attention for that moment.
-When I felt I was puppeteering my body, I thought that was both the most I had ever felt something I'd call the watcher and the most present in a moment I had ever felt. The presence was most strongly noticed in my vision, particularly the hue of light and the detail in my arms and hands.
-like I said, I don't think I would have thought much about this were it not for that crackling at the base of my skull/top of neck. I never came across that and it didn't seem like something I was used to from meditating. The formations I had later were also new and surprising, but still seemed like meditation stuff. The crackling seemed like something that couldn't have come from meditation; like a physical change in my body as opposed to an observation of something that was always there.

-maybe 15 minutes after, I lost that sense of there being something very different in my life
-the days after just felt conspicuously normal. I felt the loss of the re-observation noise that had been plaguing me.
-today (4 days later) I continue to have a zeal for being present with my life, but I'd just as easily ascribe that to being on retreat recently.

Nothing is that clear to me. I'm going to get some more sitting done and see if I, uh, fruit. I've heard people say that you can invite fruitions, but having not seen this too clearly, I don't know that I know what I'm asking for. I'll update when I think I have something either way.

RE: thought I hit stream entry, have serious doubts now: 5 day retreat
1/24/11 12:53 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
I completely agree with Tarin's every second should be practice point.