Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

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Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 12:33 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 12:33 AM

Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
So, I just got back from 6 months of service and sitting at a S.N. Goenka retreat center. While I was there, I met someone who showed me this website and the MTCB book (Thank God). Instantly, I felt an affinity for the style of this place. And, for a while now, I've wanted to take advantage of this forum more. So, I'm gonna jump right in and see how it goes. I've got a ton of curiosities, but since this is the Dharma diagnostic clinic forum, I'll start with that. I decided to split my post in two, just in case people don't like to read long posts and only want to read one. This one is the back story, and the other one will be more recent.

The quick back story:
I pretty much got the big spiritual slap in the face that started me down this path about ten years ago. At the time it seemed like a big awakening (I even called my sister and told her that I was enlightened, and I was a buddha. I was 20 years old at the time). I was having some seemingly wild energetic experiences (though now they seem rather tame to me) and some profound general insights, and a big sense of some kind of "perfection" of everything. It was a combination of quantum physics at UC. Berkeley, being exposed to eastern philosophy for the first time (through The Tao of Physics) falling DEEPLY in love, drinking LOTS of alcohol, and generally just being something of a nutcase to begin with. Thinking that everything was perfect, I married the woman. Two months later we broke up. I stopped talking to all my friends (or anyone for that matter), became somewhat bi-polar (so it seemed - not a technical diagnosis), spent most of my time alone practicing yoga and meditation and reading every spritual book I could get my hands on. About a year later, I had begun to make friends again, but I dropped out of school (Later I went back.)

Looking back on this, it reads a little like what's been described as crossing the A&P and later entering the Dark Night. But, given more thought, I don't think I've crossed the so-called A&P. I think it was probably entering the early A&P, and the darkness that followed was probably just a drop back out of the A&P. Or, perhaps it was even just a powerful Mind-Body experience?

Fastforward ten years, during which I learned Vipassana (and completely missed the point of it) at Suan Mokh in Thailand. And, also I did a LOT of "self-help" and other spiritual type stuff. (In fact, the job I recently put on pause was something of a "self-help" coach.)

Anyway, about a year and a half ago I did a Goenka retreat, and once again I was hooked. The retreat was incredible up until day 9, but on the evening of day 9 it went from incredible to game-changing paradigm shifting wow (for me). The whole retreat, I was experiencing solid pains. On the evening of day 9, two iron rods in my neck suddenly popped, turned into little snakes and crawled up right into my brain, sorta near where I'd imagine the pituitary gland to be. Then, a flash of light in my head. Then, an intense bliss like the best orgasm ever started to rise from my first chakra. It rose to my solar plexus when I started to freak out, and I came out of it. From what I've read, I'd diagnose this as crossing from Three Characteristics into A&P. Things felt really good (almost too good) for a while after that.

That was when I started taking this seriously. I decided first to make a commitment to sit two hours a day for one year while maintaining my daily life. And, I told myself that if I 1)succeeded at balancing meditation and responsibilities, and 2)still was into meditation - then at the end of the year, I said I would allow myself to pursue meditation as deeply as I felt called. And, my calling was to quit my job, leave my girlfriend behind, and go move to the Goenka center for 6 months. This totally felt right, as I was wanting to get out of my job anyway, and I was having difficulties with my now ex- girlfriend.

There was some more darkness over this year or so that I was sitting regularly at home. But, again I'm not thinking it was dark night, but rather just the fall from A&P. (see my next post for more on how it progressed from there).

So, that's my assessment. It took me a long time to figure all this out. And, I'm sure I spent too much time thinking about it. I'm curious what anyone else would think. Perhaps I'm way off. Sometimes I think I'm a complete meditation disaster and that I haven't even entered insight territory. Sometimes I think that I'm way farther than all that.

If no one has any thoughts on it, well at least it's kinda fun to share my story with you all. And, it's an interesting challenge to monitor and work with the self-judgements, etc that come up around posting my "attainments" here. No matter what, I'm sure it couldn't be as embarrassing as telling my sister that I was a buddha. emoticon

A little more backstory... when I was a kid, I'm told that I was very much a natural meditator. When other kids were playing, one of my favorite activities was to sit and watch. When asked what I was doing, I even said that I was "doing nothing," and doing it very purposefully too. When I was fifteen, I had my first lucid dream, and I've been a lucid dreamer off and on since. Ok... phew... now all my "significant attainments" are on the table. I feel kinda naked... and it feels good. emoticon
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Dark Night Yogi, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:24 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:24 AM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Thanks! i can relate to your story. Im 26. Been a bit crazy too. I've had cool experiences as a kid. I got a weird childhood which led to me sorta screwing up my growing up and my teenage years in a variety of ways.. Ive been a bit crazy myself and still continue to be sometimes. I guess a lot of people discover dharma that way. It's cool that you devoted that much time! 6 months! I work contractual. told my boss if i could take a 2 month leave at the end of my contract and still hope to be re-hired again. thats in february! i aim to make the most out of that time and meditate like i was on fire. as the days tick away, i still cant believe i really will do it. happy new year!
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Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:31 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:31 AM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Daniel, thanks for telling your story. Very similar to mine.

BTW, I think your experience at 20 is textbook A&P - dark night. One thing I have learned by experience is that this progress of insight thing is not a monotonous process - it's a back-and-forth, cycling, ping-pong motion between the "beginning" and the "cutting edge", i.e. the furthest point we've reached so far. Strong practice tends to push the cutting edge forward.

Nice to have you here,

Cheers,
Florian
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Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:07 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:07 PM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Florian Weps:
One thing I have learned by experience is that this progress of insight thing is not a monotonous process - it's a back-and-forth, cycling, ping-pong motion between the "beginning" and the "cutting edge", i.e. the furthest point we've reached so far. Strong practice tends to push the cutting edge forward.


Mmmm.... totally. That hits home. Thanks for that.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:58 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:58 AM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 3232 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I suspect both times you crossed the A&P and ended up in the Dark Night, then fell back down, as is standard, etc.

Thanks for your tales from the path. Most of us here have gone through or are going through similar stuff. It is good to have this community of kindred wayfarers, isn't it?
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Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:33 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:33 PM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
First off, thanks for the reply Daniel. Your book was a huge help for me, and it's cool to actually get a response from you in the Real Deal style that you seem to be about.

Daniel M. Ingram:
I suspect both times you crossed the A&P and ended up in the Dark Night, then fell back down, as is standard, etc.


Ok, cool. I think maybe that actually makes more sense. I think the reason I didn't diagnose it as that is because reading descriptions of A&P (or Bhanga in Goenka terminology), it sounded like it'd be more fantastical - bright lights, total dissolution of mind and matter. I mean, it was cool, but it's not like the entire universe dissolved and I was one with god or anything like that. Goenka really hypes it up Bhanga-Nana! Total Dissolution!!! The Entire Field of Mind and Matter - nothing but mere vibrations! Arising! Passing! (I can hear his voice in my head now)

The other reason I didn't think that I'd crossed the A&P is because then I thought well, then maybe I've had fruitions, which would mean I'm a stream enterer or something. But, that sounded way too absurd for me. Lol... Me a stream enterer?! It gives me a chuckle. But, anyway...

I'll describe one of the possible fruitions and you give me your take. It was right after I read your book. My next 10 day retreat, I resolved only to focus on continuity of practice. That was it. Just continue, continue, continue.

By day 3 I was in excrutiating pain. By day 5 I could hardly walk. But more than just physical pain, it was like my mind was completely betraying me. I felt like I was playing a game of Operation (the one where you can't touch the sides) - because if I had believed a single thought that was going through my head, I would've gotten the buzzer! If I indulged a thought even for a second, I would spin off into serious dukkha. So, I just stayed steady... "notice sensations, don't indulge the content."... And, this made it increase more and more, and the more dukkha my thoughts and feelings became, the more I had to really see them as anatta, that they weren't me or mine at all. This was the only way I could possibly proceed.

Then, at I think about day 8, I don't remember exactly what happened, but I just kinda gave in. And, I'm not sure what happened next. At some point I took a nap or something. But, then the next thing I remember I was meditating again and I was totally cool with it. And, I reflected back on what happened, and it felt like I had just gone through some kind of bizarre ego-bending vortex. Very much like you're description of the dukkha door to fruition. Like I had done something terribly wrong, but "wrong" was bending back upon itself. (man, this stuff's hard to describe).

Then, things were cool, and I was back in what I'd describe as the A&P, things felt mostly good again, energy was flowing, I was equanimous.

But, now that I read this, it sounds like maybe this was just a movement from Dark Night to Equanimity, like you said. Dunno.

The other thing, is that I've never seen anything like a "formation" in the way described in MCTB. And, I've never had any experience I would describe as "flickering like frames in a movie" like you describe in the A&P. I always percieve it more as a constantly changing flow, but I haven't seen individual frames. Maybe that's just in my interpretation?

Anyway, whatever it is... it's all just a fun rollercoaster ride of human madness! emoticon

Oh the other reason I didn't diagnose myself as having crossed the A&P is that Goenka says that before one reaches Bhanga (by which, I think he means the A&P event transitioning into dissolution). Before that, one must reach a stage where one feels sensation on every part of the body! First on every part of the surface of the body, and then one penetrates to feel sensations inside and outside, then one moves through the spinal chord, and then... finally, one will reach Bhanga. I never felt anything like this, I don't think. Or maybe I'm just misunderstanding.

Daniel M. Ingram:
Thanks for your tales from the path. Most of us here have gone through or are going through similar stuff. It is good to have this community of kindred wayfarers, isn't it?


Yes, it's awesome!! This site is perfect for me in more ways than you even know.

Thanks for your insights.

- Daniel
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 1/8/10 3:31 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/8/10 3:31 PM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 3232 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Alright,

First piece of advice when applying the maps:
Everyone is different. The maps I and many others provide give all sorts of data points from the wide range of how things present.

Try reading my descriptions of some A&P events to see the wide range of what is possible and why mapping is as much art as science: http://www.interactivebuddha.com/theAandP.shtml

Second piece of advice:
Everyone is the same. Meaning, despite all the marked variation in the trappings, adornments, side effects, and particulars, the progression down the path is very predictable in its fundamentals.

As regards wondering if that was the suffering door: try to repeat fruitions. If you are a stream enterer, you should be able to sit down in the A&P, an abbreviated, and much less dramatic version, then hit the Dark Night rapidly, then, with some practice, get through that to Equanimity just by letting things happen plus whatever augmentation of practice advice, and then get more Fruitions. Learning to describe the doors is also a art and takes times to get good at, if they are what is happening.

Third piece of advice:
Keep going and see what happens. This will obviously happen anyway, so you don't have to worry about this one.

Helpful?

Daniel
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Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 1/8/10 3:44 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/8/10 3:44 PM

RE: Assessing the first ten years of my practice (or lack of)

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Yes, helpful. I think the third piece of advice is the most important. Gonna do that.

I get the feeling that it won't be another year or two, at least, until I can really look back on this and be able to asses where I was.

thanks

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