JP's Practice Log

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JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:12 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:12 PM

JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
Hi everyone!

I've been active over on the Stream Entry subreddit for a while, and thought it'd be a good idea to start posting portions of my practice log over here.  I've got a longer set of practice logs written up over there, and will be posting some of the highlights as replies to this post.  

Meditation History:  I began meditating last summer after reading a lot of David Chapman's various websites.  I did a few months of walking meditation using Shinzen's noting system and hit the A&P with a unitive experience in August 2016.  Stopped meditating and noting for a couple months, and then picked it back up using Headspace.  I read MCTB in February of 2017 and have been very motivated about my practice ever since.  I went through a period of practicing using The Mind Illuminated and Loch Kelly's Shift Into Freedom, but recently I've had a lot of success with practicing straight from MCTB using a ceiling fan as a kasina object.  I've also been using a lot of things from the KFD/Hamilton Project yogi toolbox like using the Witness, specific neutrality, bystander noting, etc.

Current Path/Stage Status: I think I'm pre-stream entry, but there's a chance that I'm working on second path.  I've had a few bursts of static while falling asleep that could have been cessations.  

My cutting edge jhana is a medium-strength fourth vipassanna jhana when using the ceiling fan as a kasina.  I've had three occasions where I've dropped down into fifth jhana while dreaming (sensations of being sucked downwards followed by dispersal into a larger space).  I can sometimes get into the Witness or do the thing where objects in the visual field are felt to be watching the center point.

On the Progress of Insight side, I think I'm way up in High Equanimity.  I'm definitely getting the space and consciousness aspects, and think that I may have just started picking up on the nothingness aspect. 

I've had a wide variety of short-lived visual and kinesthetic shifts from the ceiling fan kasina practice and from the Shift Into Freedom Mahamudra glimpse exercises, but nothing has quite stuck with me as part of my baseline perception.  I think I'm a bit less emotionally reactive than before all this, but it's somewhat hard to say.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:16 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:16 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
This is a historical log from my first time practicing using a ceiling fan as a kasina object.  I think in retrospect this was a profound Mind & Body experience rather than A&P or stream entry.

APRIL 25TH - MAY 16TH, 2017

I had a series of interesting experiences about two weeks ago while experimenting with using a ceiling fan as a kasina while on a family trip. The practice itself is pretty simple -- you just lie on the floor and try to keep watching the ceiling fan with your eyes open while repeating a mantra in your thoughts. Since the fan is faster than your eyes can keep track of, there are a variety of different visual effects that can arise -- sometimes there's a black disk, sometimes the center of the fan seems to dissolve into a rotating visual afterimage, or you can get all sorts of different rotating images. I was also focusing on maintaining a sense of equanimity towards whatever emotional or body sensations might arise, and had occasional spikes of fear and nausea/dizziness during the sit. The variety of different visual effects made it very easy to stay concentrated.

At the end of my first 70 minute sit, I was very deeply concentrated. I was startled by a noise and stood up, but after I realized it wasn't important, I just stood as if tranquilized by the kitchen counter. I had all sorts of thoughts about what I should start doing, but neither they nor the environmental sounds and images had any of their usual pull and I just stood there for 15-20 minutes watching the thoughts go by. I then came back out of it enough to move and do things, but still felt very little or no sense of self. I then did some of the Mahamudra glimpse exercises from Shift Into Freedom, but they felt kind of superfluous -- of course awareness is all around in all sorts of things in the different sense fields, where else would it be? I had a ton of extremely vivid hypnagogic images as I was falling asleep, and I'm pretty sure I momentarily dropped into the 4th and then 5th jhana a little later on.

The next day I felt a sense of spaciousness and freedom, and it felt like nothing that came along could disturb me. I also had a hard time putting a finger on any identifiable sense of self -- there didn't seem to be the usual temporary felt sense of "Oh yeah, I'm this collection of emotional and body sensations in my head". That sense faded over the day, was gone for the next two days, and then returned for another entire day. I did some more ceiling fan kasina practice over the course of those days, but ran into more dullness or distractions during the subsequent sits and didn't end up as concentrated.

It's been about two weeks since then, and my on- and off-cushion practice has been all over the place. I've been fascinated with what it's like to have a sense of self again, and frequently check in on what that feels like. I've mostly been coming back to my TMI practice, where I'm ranging all the way between stages 3-6 over the course of a sit. Off-cushion, it's been a bit strange coming back after the trip. The trip was difficult at times, but I felt like I could respond to it flexibly since the circumstances were so different. Coming back into normal life and work has revealed a lot of negative conditioning and associations to me that were absent on the trip, and I've been struggling to respond positively.

Map-diagnostically wise, I'm guessing the kasina-related experience was either the A&P or EQ in some form. It goes to show that it's worth taking some time before you make assumptions about what an experience is -- I was 80% sure it was stream entry as soon as I felt that way the next morning, despite the lack of an obvious cessation event.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:20 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
Possible A&P and static bursts when falling asleep.

MAY 16TH - MAY 25TH, 2017

I've also been noticing some meditation-related stuff as I fall asleep. I spent about two hours one night in a quasi-meditative state: little sense of volitional control, light piti all over the body, and a sense of awareness and trying to relax deeper. I've also had about 5 instances where I was falling asleep, felt very relaxed and without much going on, and then have been abruptly awake after 2-3 seconds of white noise/audio static. I was able to confirm with my wife that there was no external sound when this happened last night, and had the same sequence repeat a few minutes later. I know this is consistent with various descriptions of cessations, but haven't had a noticeable on-cushion cessation and am trying to keep an open mind and proceed with my practice without fixating at being at a certain point on the maps. 

Apparently white noise when falling asleep can also just be a hypnagogic audio hallucination according to Wikipedia.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:24 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Return to the ceiling fan as a kasina object and a longer-duration off-cushion perception shift with lots of piti.  Began exploration of cross-sensory field awareness.

MAY 24TH - MAY 29TH, 2017

This week, I started doing more practice using a ceiling fan as a kasina object, since I'd seen four weeks ago that it could be a useful practice method for both concentration and insight. I'd tried it several times previously, but was usually really sleepy for most of those sits and found it hard to focus while lying down. I started getting some better sleep and was able to focus much better on it in the mornings.

My usual practice has been to lie down and watch the ceiling fan while either noting or using a mantra. There are a lot of different visual effects that can appear, and make it easier to focus on. It’s also a very good demonstration of impermanence, since they arise and pass away so quickly. I usually feel some quasi-jhanic feelings arise while I’m lying down, and try to just remain equanimous to them. After I’ve done that for most of my sit, I get up and do some of the Mahamudra glimpse exercises from Shift Into Freedom, which mainly involve trying to move the location of your attention/awareness in a way that hints at what it’d be like to be fully enlightened(i.e. every object of awareness aware of every part).

When I just was doing the glimpse exercises on their own, they were frustratingly vague and inaccessible. I had a couple of sporadic incidents where I was able to get partially pick up on the qualities and perspectives that they’re trying to point out. I’d put them aside in my practice since I wasn’t able to access them directly. However, this week I’ve found that doing the ceiling fan kasina practice first seems to make them much more reliably accessible. It also seems to magnified by how long I’ve been doing the ceiling fan kasina first — they made some sense after doing it for 25 minutes on Friday, but had way more impact on Saturday when I was able to do the ceiling fan kasina for 65 minutes first.

There’s one of the glimpse exercises where you turn the visual field awareness around — instead of “you” looking out at stuff out there, you have some portion of the visual field become aware of your bodily sensations and emotions. This worked completely for me on Saturday, and persisted for a couple hours off-cushion. It was really weird — like my body perception was being projected back from everything in the environment. When I went up, or down stairs, it was like the shifting environment was reconstituting me incrementally with each steps. It stopped happening by default after a few hours, but I found that I could intentionally tune into it by trying to be aware of a non-visual area of awareness from the visual field, or just by trying to be aware of some area of perception from a different area that I don’t normally use. Each time I did any of these, I’d get some intense wavelike piti.

I wasn’t able to sit on Sunday or Monday since we had company with us this weekend, but was still able to tune into the mutual awareness stuff. I’m looking forward to returning to both the ceiling fan kasina and the glimpse exercises this week and to see how they go. I’d also be curious to hear how the ceiling fan kasina works for other people, and would be glad to answer any questions people have about the details of how I’ve been doing it. I haven’t had a chance to try the candle flame kasina yet, so I’m not sure how it compares to other visual kasina methods.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:31 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Deepening into the ceiling fan kasina practice and playing around more with awareness. Mining people's descriptions of path shifts and things to do in equanimity for different things to try.

MAY 29TH - JUNE 7TH, 2017

I have been following two main threads in my practice: continuing the ceiling fan kasina practice for developing concentration and insight, and investigating awareness more informally.

The ceiling fan kasina practice has been going well. This week I've returned to The Mind Illuminated as a framework for approaching my practice with it. Even though Culadasa recommends the breath as an object, there's still a lot of valuable ideas and suggestions in TMI when you're using an alternative object. I think I've been mainly in Stages 6-8 this week. Some subtle distractions and occasional subtle dullness do come up, but the vividness of the visual patterns in the ceiling fan is very useful for staying focused. I've mostly been trying to engage in close following while dropping effort whenever I can. I've also been trying to develop and encourage a sense of specific neutrality / equanamity towards all sensations.

The typical trajectory for my sits is to apply effort/intention for a while to stay focused on the ceiling fan. I get a lot of kriyas with odd breath patterns/holds and involuntary body movements, and just try to keep attention on the fan through them. During my better sits, one of two things happen: some sukkha arises and I do a 2nd jhana -> 3rd jhana -> 4th jhana descent, or the specific neutrality wears through without intermediate jhanic feelings and I find myself straight in the 4th vipassana jhana(back of head sucked down against the floor, equanimous feeling, little sense of self-identification).

This should theoretically be a really good place for obtaining insight -- I'm in at least a light 4th jhana, and my eyes are open with an intention to closely follow the impermanence of an immediately obvious strobing visual field. But it keeps on going nowhere in a variety of different ways:
  • Self-identifying with mind movements and popping myself out.
  • Messing around with awareness(see below) and triggering some piti/kriya that pops me out of 4th jhana.
  • Avoiding the first couple problems but then sitting around feeling like there's something else I should be doing or investigating or whatever.

I've been working on developing specific neutrality towards more things and trying to develop more willingness to just sit and hang out and observe. It just feels like it's so close and that I just need to look at the right thing or do something slightly differently and I'd be there.

The awareness side of my practice is a result of a few different things. One side is the theoretical side. One common thread that runs through people's descriptions of their post-4th path experience is that of mutual awareness -- the idea that all the elements of the different sense fields are all mutually aware of all the elements of all the sense fields. There's a really good description of this by Pawel on the DhO that I'm having trouble tracking down, but it basically goes like this:

All sensations that are present in awareness are linked together. Normally this connection isn't obvious, but you can strengthen it through meditation until it's stronger than anything else. At that point everything is just mutually aware of everything else.

This has also been prompted a bit by my observations into the selfing process. If you watch it, you'll notice that the self is constructed out of some fairly basic sensations -- stuff like muscle tension in the head, a sense of presence behind the eyes, and occasionally thoughts and emotions that are "mine". But if that was all, it'd be really easy to see through. There's also a strange sense of knowing and certainty -- you're really convinced that those parts of you are watching and aware of everything else. I think that that awareness, certainty, and knowingness in the felt sense of self is just a restricted and more obvious version of the full mutual awareness that's actually present behind the scenes. This is complete speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if the brain's default mode network is the hardwiring of this sense -- just designate a few subminds as the aware ones and limit the sense of awareness to them.

Based on this theoretical conjecture, I've been trying an eclectic assortment of methods of playing around with awareness. One of the foundations is the Mahamudra glimpse exercises from Shift Into Freedom, which have a number of techniques for becoming aware of the ground of the different sense fields rather than specific objects in them. I think it's really helpful to get a feel for different sense fields as themselves. A few techniques that have helped me with this:
  • Repeating "blah, blah, blah, ..." in your thoughts, and trying to be aware of the space/awareness that's present in the gaps between blahs (from Shift Into Freedom)
  • Moving meditation focused on the body, so you feel the subtleness or fluidity of the body.
  • Breath meditation where you get an "acquired appearance" of the breath and feel it in much more detail.
  • Focusing on the breath sensations at first, then focusing on the perceptual ground that they're arising within (from Shift Into Freedom).
  • Feeling like your hands and head feel huge after meditating (it's because they have more nerves).
  • Projecting metta to others and feeling emotions outside of your body.
  • Visual kasina practice for an extended period of time
  • Try to become aware of the space in the room you're in and the potential for you to see something there.

I've also been experimenting to try to get one sense field or object to become aware of another one, with that same sort of certainty/knowingness of awareness that the self has. For example:
  • Once you're aware of the space in the room, try to get the space in the room to be aware of your bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts (from Shift Into Freedom).
  • Look up at a corner of the room and feel that it's the centerpoint watching the rest of the things you see. Then imagine it also becoming aware of your body, etc. (from Shift Into Freedom).
  • When you've got an unpleasant or negative emotion that you identify strongly with, focus on the internal physical senations that characterize it. Then become aware from them of everything else you see/hear/think/feel.
  • When you're eating something, have what it tastes like and what the food feels like become aware of each other.
  • Do the blah-blah-blah exercise from before, and have the space thoughts move through become aware of the physical space around you.
  • Focus on a part of the visual field like a tree. Repeatedly think the word "tree" while being aware of the space it is in. Try to have the thought being aware of the space and the space being aware of/producing the thought.
  • Trying to make everything you see aware of everything you here and also aware of everything you feel. (triggers rapid piti / may be similar to the Witness)

But really, once you accept the basic idea that every aspect of your existence should be mutually aware of other part and you've got some idea of what it feels like, you can just keep on trying to make more things aware of other things. Most of the time when I do these exercises, I start to get it for a fraction of a second and then some piti of varying intensity kicks in. There have been a couple dozen times in the last week where one of these felt like it was going to end up being stream entry, but that all passed. I've had similar piti/kriya experiences recently when reading people's practice logs and descriptions of path moments, as well as with general dharma reading. I especially liked the Hamilton Project's Testimonies of Equanamity and Stream Entry. I wanted to share a few random such things that made an impression on me recently:
  • Mentally zipping together the sensations of ease and extreme effort.
  • "Throw yourself backward into the abyss behind you."
  • Once you've got a handle on the different sense fields, think about how that's all that there is and there's no self beyond it.
  • When you're interacting with other people, try to let go of the sense of being an observer of the visual events and just let it be the other people there talking.
  • Try to be aware from the reflection of yourself in a mirror. Bonus points if you've got multiple mirrors set up so that there's more than one of you there.
  • If you've had an experience that you thought at the time was a cessation even if it could have been microsleep or a hypnagogic illusion, try to recall the feeling of the experience itself or what it felt like immediately after.
  • "I'd been aware of a slow, clunky vibration, a kind of chop-chop-chop muting of sensations, and the image I pictured for this was 'idling helicopter rotor sound'... I received the priceless advice from a good Dharma friend to pay attention to this, note it, stay with it, grab hold of it".

This has been a strange period of practice to navigate. I feel generally more zoned out than usual. It's felt time and again like I'm in the instant of really comprehending what's going on, but every time it's been inconclusive or interrupted. It's kind of frustrating when you can get all sorts of different perceptual micro shifts that evaporate instantaneously. I feel like I'm trying to sneak up on myself to reveal something consciously that I already know unconsciously.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:37 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:37 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
Continuing with the ceiling fan kasina, starting to investigate the center point / Witness. Beginning of resting in broad panoramic awareness of the different sensory fields, similarly to what Ken McLeod calls the primary practice.

JUNE 7TH - JUNE 12TH, 2017

I'm still feeling the same sort of "close to something big" feeling as before, although not necessarily as energetically so as last week. I'm still regularly getting lots of moments that seem like they could be the start of really getting it, but I either get excited or get distracted by piti or kriyas. Last Friday, I felt a strong motivation and resolved to practice diligently to get stream entry.

On the concentration/formal practice side, the past few days haven't been as deep as before -- my deepest was 2nd jhana, versus hitting effortless 4th jhana twice last week. I've been sleepier and a little sick, with less overall sleeping time. I think I've also been distracted by switching to trying to get to the Witness or trying out yidam mid-sit. I have had some good results from trying apply lessons from earlier stages of TMI when using a ceiling fan as a kasina object, and am hoping to write something up soon on my experiences using an object other than the breath.

On the off-cushion awareness experiments side of things, I've been trying a few things. One general category is trying various witness/center point/still point variations. I was re-reading Knowing Is Not "Me or Mine" and found this comment by airbenderaang about identifying his self's spatial reference point very helpful. I got a lot of intense piti when I tried it out and a couple times since. I also tried to grab it, pinch it in half, and pull it back through itself turning it inside out. That probably the single most intense meditative experience that I've had -- everything got fluid and weird and I felt energy coursing all around.

The other general category of off-cushion awareness practice I've been doing is to try to maintain broad awareness of all the different sense fields. At the simple end, this resembles an extended version of the the first step from TMI's four step transition to meditation -- just being aware of all thoughts, images, sounds, etc. that are currently present, without getting sucked into a chain of thought or a particular sensory object. It's also interesting to try to do tasks or interact with people while maintaining that awareness -- while it seems more difficult, there seems to be less clinging and selfing involved when you maintain wider awareness. I've also been trying to gain awareness of as many of the actual sense fields as possible, like I discussed last week. This week, I've been mainly just resting into simultaneous awareness of the different sense fields rather than trying to force one of them as viewing another one. I can sometimes be somewhat aware of two or three at a time if I try hard.

Trying to guess where I'm at map-wise just seems strange. I've had a couple cases in the past few days where I was meditating in my sleep, which is supposedly a good indication of being in the A&P. On the other hand, I've been feeling pretty equanimous about everything and feeling like I'm on the edge of putting it all together. I guess we'll see. Last week I said, "I feel like I'm trying to sneak up on myself to reveal something consciously that I already know unconsciously," and I think that still holds. I also feel like I've been using up some of the off-cushion techniques I've mentioned -- they don't seem as powerful when you consciously expect something as when you just are trying them out.

My goals for practicing this week are:
  • Apply techniques from TMI well to continue progress with the ceiling fan kasina
  • Stick with a strict ceiling fan kasina for formal practice unless I've made it into the 4th jhana
  • If I'm in 4th jhana, try objectifying more and more phenomena, possibly with noting.
  • Off-cushion, continue to try to keep broad awareness of the different sense fields whenever possible.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:43 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:43 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts
Getting the hang of The Witness, with some theorizing about why it works.

JUNE 13TH - JUNE 19TH, 2017

I think I'm finally getting into the Witness. I'd been reading Kenneth Folk's advice about disidentifying from and objectifying all mental phenomena that you can, and began applying it during my ceiling fan kasina sits. I started using third-person noting(e.g. "it watches" / "it feels" / "it thinks"), which felt kind of creepy but also seemed very helpful for disidentification. I also began trying to drop down to using just 3% of normal effort, and to actively relax using the 6 Rs from TWIM whenever I noticed tenseness or clinging. This got me to a light 4th jhana where I was disidentifying with and objectifying quite a lot of stuff. From there, I tried to use some of the things I'd been reading about from Ron Crouch's practice journal and other places:

  • The Witness feels kind of looped in, like space loops around from behind your head to in front of you.
  • The Witness seems linked to sensations in the back of your head.
  • In the Witness, it feels like objects are watching you rather than the normal situation where you watch objects. (This is similar to the Shift Into Freedom exercise where you move attention to a corner of the room and let it watch you.)
  • There's an "attention tendril" that you can feel going back and forth between the felt sense of self and external objects.
  • All the stuff on the still point, focusing on a point behind and slightly above your eyes, etc.

I'm still not quite sure how to properly explain what it feels like to slip into the Witness, and it's not something that I have reliable access to on demand. But I found that when I was in fourth jhana, with it feeling like my head was getting pulled down against the floor, that some aspect of all those descriptions was helpful and that I was able to tune into it. It also felt at times like objects looking out from behind the back of my head at me. It takes a lot of active work to stay disidentified, since normal habits are strong. But when I was able to put my focus on the right general area and actively relax and disidentify into it, I found that I was able to ride the jhanic arc from first through 4th jhana while in the state. Each time through was a little deeper and a little less effortful, with more and more close following of visual sensations each time.

My personal theory is that the Witness state is what happens when you proprioceptively fool the mind into thinking that you've turned your eyes around backwards and are looking out the back of your head. This fits with the feelings of looping space, the reversal of orientation of seeing, and the feeling that the back of your head is between the objects and you. It could even explain why it's such a pure feeling of self without the normal self-specific sensations. Selfing seems to consist of having a bundle of eye orientation/close-in visual field/facial muscle sensations that are arbitrarily assigned to be the subjects observing everyone else from a certain location. It's hard to get away from since you've got so much lived experience associated with it. But when you swap out the facial sensations for the back of your head, it's so unfamiliar that the bundle disappears into the constituent sensations and you're left with the feeling of pure consciousness.

I first hit the Witness in a 90 minute sit on Thursday. I found it somewhat accessible off-cushion, and was able to replicate the experience in a 70 minute sit on Friday. I also had a lot of pulsing at my third eye chakra throughout the day Thursday and Friday, despite not really being a huge believer in chakras/subtle body stuff going into this. I also had a kind of clamping sensation around the back 2/3rds of my head. I was only able to sit this morning since then, and didn't really replicate the experience that time -- possibly due to going directly for the proprioceptive/attention placement aspects before cultivating the disidentification, relaxation, and effortless qualities first.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:47 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 7/6/17 1:47 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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Struggling to reliably get into The Witness, more off-cushion work with resting into the different sensory fields, and starting to do so in my ceiling fan kasina sits(probably equivalent to High Equanimity).

JUNE 20TH - JUNE 26TH, 2017

I take back what I said last week about getting a hang for the Witness. I hit it consistently a couple times during my sits, but most of the rest of the time was spent trying to relax, getting to effortlessness, and trying to disidentify. Some of my "better" sits were just straight up concentration work trying to get ever-deeper visual detail when using a ceiling fan as a kasina object. I think I'm going to try to just observe vibrations in the third eye area, with an MCTB-style focus on the Three Characteristics.

Off cushion, I've been doing a lot of work with what Ken McLeod calls the primary practice:
Let me introduce you to a practice which is a complete practice in its own right and performs many functions. And some of you will have run into this before. It goes by various names: one name—this is from a friend of mine—is the primary practice. And what this consists of is progressively opening to all aspects of experience.

Now, the first aspect of experience which we are most familiar with is sensory experience. And one can start this process, usually it’s started with opening to visual experience, but one can start it with the kinesthetic experience or breathing or auditory experience, taste and smell are a bit fleeting, they aren’t usually the best places to start. And you just open to all of that. And eventually you open to all five senses simultaneously.

And then the next step is to include the sensations of thought and emotion. Ordinarily, when thoughts and emotion arise, we don’t experience them as sensations. We experience them as facts and fall into confusion. But in this, you raise the level of energy in the attention so that you just have the sensation of thought. But the thought comes and goes, it’s fine, emotions come and go. They’re just there. So we start opening to the sensations associated with all the internal material.

And this is progressive. You keep adding. You don’t move your attention from one to another, you just keep including.

Then when you can rest in that field, you find yourself resting in a field of experience. Normally we say, “This is inside, and that’s outside.” But actually, it’s just experience. When you open to it as just experience, then inside and outside get a little dubious.

Then the next step is to open your heart. We may be able to open to all of that, but we still keep something a little closed in here. You open the heart, that allows another whole level of emotional opening to experience to arise. And then finally, you open to awareness. And you do that, as you are sitting in this whole field, by asking, “What experiences this?” Not with an intention of answering that question. But when you ask that question, there is a shift in you, and so now you become, in a certain sense, aware of awareness.

I've been doing this both on- and off-cushion whenever I remember, and especially when walking or running. I can usually get the body and visual fields in panoramic attention when I do this, but usually have trouble getting sounds and internal sensations to also enter into it. I've noticed an interesting phenomenon a couple times that when I get deeper in fourth jhana or the Equanimity nana, there's a sort of sudden pleasant feeling and then all the different internal and external sensory fields kind of seamlessly come into attention and awareness, without really feeling like I'm outside watching them. One of my sits last week ended after I'd done that, and I noticed a lot lower felt sense of "self" in my head, and more like my intentions and actions were coming from my whole body and the visual environment around me. It faded after a while, but I felt like it was really good practice to try and talk with people and live daily life as much as possible with that sort of expanded sense of awareness.
shargrol, modified 6 Years ago at 7/7/17 6:28 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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If you are getting vibrations in the third eye area, just use those as the mediation object and become initmate and absorbed in them. No need to "deconstruct" them using any intellectual paradigm (e.g. 3 characteristics). Just get curious about the nature of the vibrations and the gaps in between.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/10/17 3:16 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Thanks! I haven't had frequent and noticeable off-cushion vibrations in the third eye area for a few weeks now. If I scan around looking for them, I can find some that seem to be in the general location, although more.  There was more a clamping/pulsing feel to this when I first experienced, and I can cause one to happen with some use of the jaw or neck muscles.  Is it worth hunting for them or artificially producing them, or is lmore just something that's a fruitful practice avenue when the third eye vibrations are presenting themselves naturally?
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/10/17 3:17 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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JUNE 27TH - JULY 10TH, 2017

I've missed a few daily sits over the past couple weeks due to travel and lack of sleep. Practice has mostly been continued ceiling fan kasina practice, with some randomness as to whether I get deeply into equanimity or if I just bounce in and out of light versions of first/second jhana. I also did a couple of the Dharma Ocean guided somatic descent meditations while I was traveling, which was an interesting change of pace.

I had an interesting sit last week. I've been periodically playing around with fluttering my eyelids upwards, which is a method that some post-stream entry people can use to induce a cessation. I mostly just get a deepening first jhana when I do it. I was interested in using it for an extended period in a sit, but it takes some effort to blink on purpose. So what I did was to set up a strobe light using my phone flashlight while doing the ceiling fan kasina at night for 70 minutes. It was fairly intense, but I think it advanced the cutting edge of my practice fairly deep into High Equanimity.

Adding the strobing along with the moving ceiling fan turns the entire visual field into a moving and rotating mass of flashing lights which would also flicker in and out in its totality. I mainly practice by closely following the arising and passing away of visual items, but I also occasionally try to include the sense of the "I" that's watching that as it arises. The first part of the sit was spent just acclimating to the sheer volume of different things going on. After a bit, I started focusing on just the center of the ceiling fan as it blinked in and out. Usually when I sit, I go through indistinct unpleasant/hard to concentrate periods with bodily twinges that I think line up with Cause and Effect/The Three Characteristics and then the dukkha nanas. This time I sailed right through in clearly jhanic territory with my body seeming to rotate around relative to the room.

Once in equanimity, I settled back into watching the impermanence in primarily the visual field. After a while, it felt like my attention zoomed out to encompass impermanence across the different sensory fields -- diverse bodily vibratrions, the hum of the air conditioner and the fan, thoughts, etc. A lot of the sense of the center seemed to drop out as well. I hung out with this for a bit, and then started feeling how the different sensations across the sensory fields were distributed through space, which seemed to remove some of the felt sense of being bounded in a room or a body. I then started tuning into the fact that I'm aware of all these different sensations arising and passing away, and it felt like concern about the particular content of individual sensations dropped away, replaced by awareness of the whole set of sensations that was mutually aware of itself in some sense. I could turn my head to see different parts of the room, but it just felt like stuff popped in or out and that didn't really matter. I then started trying to very subtle ignore/tune out of all of that, but that felt like I was just kind of tuning into an actively felt kind of nothingness or silence. I may be scripting myself, but I think this is all indicative of getting into High Equanimity followed by the Space/Consciousness/Nothingness aspect.

If I get into similar territory on future sits, is there something else that I should be doing or investigating? Or just try to keep including more and more with a strong emphasis on experiencing the Three Characteristics without intellectualizing them?

I'd also be really curious to hear anyone else's experience trying out using a ceiling fan as a kasina. I haven't done much with other kasina objects, but it seems like there's just something to it that makes impermanence experientially much more obvious than other objects. It's also such a vivid object that subtle dullness and distractions aren't as big a deal even if they're present. I wouldn't recommend starting off with the strobe light, and it'd probably be most beneficial for someone who's developed concentration and insight to at least a moderate degree.

Off-cushion, I've been trying to notice when I'm being emotionally reactive, try to figure out why, and inject emotions/attitudes that help provide more perspective and space. More metta practice would probably help, but I've noticed that I'm feeling a bit blocked with feeling strong kindness. I've had some positive results so far from trying to cultivate more impersonal openness -- less "I'd do anything for a friend" and more "Of course I'd be happy to courteously provide directions to a stranger." I'm still feeling a lot of emotional distance distance from others and from my own felt emotions. I'm going to be trying hard to cultivate the brahmaviharas off-cushion and while meditating during my commute, and to try to delve more deeply into the felt experience of my emotions through somatic descent or somatic experiencing.

I also just ran across this quote from Ona Kiser on a thread on Awake Network and feel like it's something I need to deeply consider for how I've been approaching my practice:

I think in my own small experience I am a lousy, lousy judge of what's best for my practice, in a certain sense. It has been really, really, really eye opening to work formally with a teacher now, in a way I hadn't since working with Alan during year 1. The whole bit in between was 'follow the gut'. And I have a good gut, and a lot of things got worked out. But when I am in a position now of 'voluntary obedience' and am told to do this that or the other practice, or more of this and less of that, it becomes super clear how deeply attached I was (still am) to that me who was smarter than most people, knew better than anyone, had it all worked out, knew what to do, etc. Even my quite astute tendency to 'dive into the hard territory' - which on its good side leads to a courage and perseverance in difficulty - has a less healthy side which is just about wanting to impress people by being hardcore. Hardest practice ever? Doing something really little, boring, and insignificant feeling. Where's the heroics? Where's the stories to tell? OMG, I'm no better than the next frumpy middle aged lady sitting next to me.

And so I have come to see how much of my practice/life revolved around maintaining certain vain impressions of myself, and how cool I was, and how smart I was, and how super hardcore wacky my practice was.
shargrol, modified 6 Years ago at 7/10/17 6:40 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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JP Lewicke:
or is more just something that's a fruitful practice avenue when the third eye vibrations are presenting themselves naturally?

Just when it presents itself, for sure. emoticon
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/24/17 12:19 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Last week, I'd had a lot of negative content coming up as both felt emotional body sensations and as various internal auditory thoughts linked to a big personal issue that's come up recently. I found a lot of value in re-reading MCTB's sections on Reobservation and especially From Content to Insight:
Thus, if you have an issue that keeps bugging you, try taking the time to see the Three Characteristics of the sensations that make it up as you go about your day, thinking, “The pattern of sensations that make up the Big Issue are quick, transient, and observed. I will do my best to notice this as those sensations occur. When speaking of the Big Issue to others and to myself, I will try to keep my descriptions at an insight-oriented level. By seeing this Big Issue as objective and transient phenomena, I will not be lost in my negative and painful thoughts about my Big Issue. I will be able to bring more clarity and spaciousness to the Big Issue, able to bring more intelligence to the Big Issue, able to bring more common sense and balance to the Big Issue.

I resolved to try to more closely follow what my experience really was when the negative content came up, and to try to experience not just the content itself but also which sense fields it manifested in, where or to what it seemed to be manifesting, any sense of effort/pushing/pulling. I did this whenever I felt like I was starting to feel overwhelmed, doing something despite knowing that I shouldn't, or just whenever things seemed stressful and I remembered to . It felt a lot easier to say "In addition to experiencing this, I'm going to try to be aware of my meta-experience of this" than to say "I'm going to experience this and still refrain from acting until I can find some skillful way to reframe the situation."

After a day or two of doing this, I was able to see that the actual experience of the content wasn't so bad after all, and became a lot more equanimous towards it. I also had a good sit that I think was somewhere up in mid Eq, and both the frequency and intensity of the negative emotional content dropped off considerably. My felt emotional state over the last couple days has been pretty happy and relaxed, which has also helped with the issue that prompted all the negative emotional content in the first place. I've also discovered a whole set of interlinked habits, thoughts, beliefs, plans, and worries that seem to work together to create a zero-sum attitude in my relationships, and will be trying to gently question whether they're actually useful and true when they come up, sort of CBT-style. This seems to be somewhat similar to "Remove beliefs" in Noah's Pragmatic Morality map, with the observation step from the last paragraph being sort of similar to "choiceless awareness of stressful states". Definitely going to be checking out the rest of the map and trying to apply it in my practice.

On the practice side, I've been focusing on sensations ending and passing away, and on the effects of fluttering/blinking my eyes, which is supposed to induce cessations in people who've passed stream entry. At first when I started trying the blinking/fluttering trick, this would feel like being propelled into first jhana with a lot of piti. I still get that at first when I try it, but it's changed so that the sensations of "me"/"I" very rapidly retreat from the front of my head, and there's a strong clamping feeling throughout the front half of the crown of my head. A couple days ago, I tried adding some blinking in the middle of one of my ceiling fan kasina sits. At first it was just the first jhana/"I" retreat stuff from before, but then I tried to relax and do it again, and this time just had a lot of just sukkha arising.

Another day I ran home from work noting "gone" every time an object vanished from the visual field. By the end, this felt a bit like mid-high equanimity or the Shfit Into Freedom shifts, with the emphasis on the centerpoint more muted and a corresponding increase in awareness of stuff happening in the visual field and body without my control being necessary. Washed dishes and did some laundry with a focus on luminosity/allowing the visual field to just be itself and do its own thing. It's actually kind of magical to just watch stuff happening on reflex without needing to "do" it.

As I was lying in bed that night before falling asleep, I tried to focus on noticing just the endings of subtler body sensations and noises. This felt really calming and right, and I kind of allowed stuff to get dreamy and float. I think the focus remained on the endings, but it was all rather indistinct and tuned out. I had a vague impression of getting close to something big, but it was interrupted when my wife came upstairs to go to sleep. This was partially inspired by rereading Nikolai Halay's journal and a corresponding DhO thread:
Cessation is happening constantly everywhere in every instant. It feels good and the mind is drawn to it. I have found that there is a sort of energy gradient between sensations and their cessation which, when harnessed, can do work. Think of a waterwheel. I do a lot of meditation with attention to waves of cessation. So do many people I suspect, but experienced as waves of pleasantness. "Fruition", as I understand it, is commonly used to describe a particularly intense bout of cessation which happens to people who have attained one or more paths according to the Theravada model. Think of it as a big energy differential, and imagine a turbine or something which could utilize its energy. It sounds to me like Nikolai has learned to stabilize the energy differential of fruition and to harness the energy to do whatever.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 7/31/17 1:51 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've been doing a lot of sits where I've been working with rapid eye blinking, visualizing my eyes turning around and focusing on the center of my head, and focusing on vibrations at the center of my head / in my third eye chakra / at the centerpoint.

The rapid eye blinking/fluttering is a technique that supposedly can induce cessations for stream enterers. It just leads to various jhanic factors for me, but does so pretty rapidly. It's more pronounced in effect if I focus on the center of my head, or if I do it while rolling my neck.

When I visualize my eyes turning around and focusing on the center of my head, there's a gradient of increasing mental resistance surrounding the point where they're turned 100% around. I follow this gradient back until I'm looking back towards the point I'm looking from, which sometimes moves when I do so. If you think of the visual field as a cone coming out from the perceived centerpoint, this practice is essentially trying to place attention as close as possible to the point of the cone. It also can work with trying to rapidly change the direction the cone is facing. The practice also still works once you actually get into jhana. One sit last week, I entered the third jhana and started feeling conical with a flexible connection to something fixed -- like I was looking out from a desk lamp or a sunflower. I would then turn around to look dead-on at the stalk, which had some vibratory resistance to doing it. I think this thread and this thread are talking about something similar.

This doesn't always happen, but in some sits either the blinking or the "cone turning" lead to rhythmic contractions in the center of the head, sometimes with a physical clamping feeling from the palate up to the temples and crown. There's an associated sound when that happens that's similar to the nada sound in being made up of lots of easily divisible sound moments. Sometimes it feels like other sense vibrations also trigger a head-center vibration, or that head-center vibrations cause them. Other times there's a feeling like the centerpoint is a little gyroscopic ball that's turning on its own. On Shargrol's advice, I've been trying to just tune in to the vibrations when they're felt strongly and consistently. This can feel like "I" am fluctuating or moving, like a rapid oscillation between a "here" and a "there", and occasionally with a certain pushing/pulling suffering-inflected kind of feeling. Focusing on them arising and passing away seems to lead to a sort of "slipping away" feeling, like everything's calming down and I'm dispersing out the back of my body.

So most of my sits have been a free-form combination of these focuses, which all seem related to various explorations of the centerpoint. In most of my recent sits, I'll take twenty minutes or so to effortfully do them, which pumps up the piti and sukkha a lot. I'll then coast into a third or fourth vipassanna jhana and keep investigating less forcefully. It remains helpful to try to disidentify and disembed from thoughts, attention, etc. I don't know exactly why I think it, but it feels like I'm really close to stream entry -- even had some sits where I remember thinking I was close and was still noticing the thoughts and excitement dispassionately without identifying.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 8/8/17 2:24 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I feel like I've been cycling between Equanimity and Reobservation roughly every week or two, with occasional periods when I feel up or down a lot over the course of a few hours. I usually get back into Eq based on either a good sit or just by having strong determination to dig into the way I'm suffering without trying to make it go away. With reobservation, it just feels like negative emotions get stickier and I get caught up in always noticing how I'm suffering, and can't distract myself from that or cheer myself up.  I'm sure it could be general life stuff instead of actual cycling, but I generally find it helpful for both life and practice to treat the tougher negative state as if it really is Reobservation.

Sitting has been mainly the rapid blinking and other stuff from last week. The rapid blinking can establish a really intense base of piti and sukkha that propels me into third and fourth jhana, especially if I do 10-20 minutes of it as walking meditation first. I also think I may have gotten formations in one of my sits -- at least the sense of observing is included in everything coming up. Can get down to almost everything being blips across the sense doors. One thing that helps is trying to get your thoughts to match the blips from the physical sense(e.g. Visualize the random stuff that you see behind your eyelids or think the same noises that you hear.)

I've also been experimenting with another variation on the Witness state where you just watch your personal subjective experience and see how you pretend that there's continuity across the changing sensations that make it up your self. Not doing as much searching for an ultimate watcher or watching from a specific location -- kind of just tuning in to what you feel like is going on. It's weird, since external stuff actually seems more luminous when I do this. I did a sit playing around with it, and there seems to be a powerful feedback effect here where pleasant or relaxing feelings get magnified exponentially. It's like you're telepathically connected to someone else's experience and respond to what they feel, only it loops around and causes positive feedback. I wasn't able to use this to get into jhana because I kept on trying to control the effects to take the edge off the powerful feedback rather than just settle into it.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 8/15/17 8:50 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I think I may have hit stream entry, and have definitely been cycling quickly through lots of different meditation-related things. It's been interesting adapting to the intensity of it all, and am trying to getting used to being "on the ride" in the midst of daily life. I feel like my fundamental point of view changes every few hours. Here's a rough chronological outline:

Last Monday-Tuesday: Lots of negative emotional content and strong awareness of suffering. Some ability to concentrate on rapidly vibrating things like sound, but not too much meditation-wise.

Wednesday: Much stronger concentration, and got up to third and fourth jhana. I did some magick while concentrated that was focused on strengthening my intention towards stream entry. Focused on the vibrations in the center of my head for about 90 minutes while falling asleep. This was quite dull and hypnagogic throughout. Had one moment where I snapped awake and went "What was that?" but without any strong awareness of what preceded it.

Thursday: Extremely spacy feeling all day. It felt like if I wanted something to happen, the right way to do it was to allow the intention to bubble up as a clearly-seen thought and then allow the action to happen. I was able to get some interesting results by just stating that I'd like to be aware of something without expecting a result, sort of along the lines of the Shift Into Freedom glimpse exercises. For example, I'd say "I'd like to be aware of the visual field" and it would be more obvious. I also started to get periodic access to a panoramic perspective where everything seems to be in one big box, including the sensations that imply watching. When I'm doing it, "I" am not attached to any sensations or necessarily stuck behind my eyes, although it's still centered on me. It's seemed a bit like a development of the Witness stuff I was doing previously, only now all the subjective experience of watching stuff is being watched too. It seems really similar to what DreamWalker was talking about in this comment.

Friday: Less spacy during the day and mostly just a regular day, although I still had occasional moments of the panoramic perspective . That night, I was engrossed in some type of meditation while dreaming, possibly focused on head vibrations or something else I've been doing. I hadn't really been conscious of meditating while dreaming, but felt like I was abruptly brought into the dream when I heard an old friend say "Say the word". Everything froze up in complete surprise. There was white light, and I'm genuinely not sure if there was or wasn't some part of me watching this all happen. Then there was a sense of all or almost all of everything coming back online, followed by being sucked across an immense distance into another dream, from which I woke up quickly in shock and adrenaline at what happened. When I woke up, the panoramic perspective before reasserted itself more strongly then ever, with no sense of anything being outside what I was experiencing but without actually being any of what I was experiencing. I then did some of the 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis practices, and the void dakini point of view(where existential terror is reduced by awareness that you're aware of exactly the things you're aware of) made complete visceral sense.

Saturday: The day was spent mostly in the same intensified version of the panoramic perspective I've mentioned, with overlays of relaxation, gratitude, and nothing being missing. I did some more 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis practice in the morning, and felt that some of the qualities it developed resonated strongly with how I was feeling when in the more panoramic perspective.

Sunday: I had smaller flashes of the panoramic perspective, and had a heightened awareness of how unskillful actions or thoughts would quickly push it away. Even though it faded somewhat, my sense of well-being was actually stronger than the day before. It felt quite A&Pish with high energy levels, prominent body vibrations, and involuntary meditative vibration-following while falling asleep.

Monday: Woke up feeling mostly normal, but am now feeling sort of out-of-phase after a couple meditation sessions that reached High Equanimity. The panoramic perspective has been mostly gone from today except during those sessions and shortly afterwards. However, some other stuff has changed -- for example, I'll be talking with someone and will be aware of them at the level of fluctuating visual images and sounds. It also feels like I'm strongly scrutinizing the impermanence of my thoughts, nonverbal emotions, and sense of "doing."

I'm not going to claim an actual fruition until I get something that verifiably happens on cushion when I'm not dull and am in territory where it should be possible, but this week has certainly been strange enough that I think I might have first path now. I'm trying to decide now how to best balance integrating this in my life while still keeping strong investigation going in order to get to a definitive on-cushion fruition.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 8/24/17 9:46 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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August 15th - 23rd

I'm really grateful to Adam for suggesting last week that I might just still be bouncing around High Eq rather than actually having hit stream entry. I had a couple more near misses last week, and have been continuing to practice diligently in order to keep momentum going.

The last couple weeks have honestly been quite draining. I've been doing a lot of rapid cycling, mostly between a kind of spacy panoramic state and a state with more suffering, lots of spinning, mild nausea, and sweating. Interspersed with that have been shorter episodes where I feel like I really "get" no-self and some of the Mahamudra awareness stuff, A&P episodes, and the occasional feeling off-cushion that I'm about to be sucked down into infinite space. It sometimes feels like it won't let up, and I'm getting disenchanted with even the nicer parts of the A&P and Eq experiences. On the other hand, I feel like I'm learning a lot very fast -- both in terms of insight progress and in terms of what kinds of attitudes and meditation practices increase the suffering and which alleviate it. It increasingly feels like anything forceful or aimed at generating lots of piti is just a bad road to go down, and that just gently holding the intention to have a very broad and panoramic awareness is the only thing that's not going to go badly. Ken McLeod's guided meditations on 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis have also been extremely useful and centering for me during all of this, and for providing ways to engage in daily life skillfully.

On top of all of this, I've also started having some purifications related to some inner child stuff that seems really fundamental. I'm almost surprised by how unaware of it I was, even though it's clearly linked to a lot of other stuff that I was aware of. The Perfect Parent Tantra that Noah was doing seems like it could be a really powerful method for working on these sorts of issues. I'm sticking with 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis for the moment, since I'd like to complete first path and integrate it before intentionally diving into this content, although I'm glad to welcome any purifications that happen to come up.

Meditation reports from the near-misses:

August 17th

I was lying down in bed before falling asleep while doing a body scan focused on my crown chakra area last night. I started to get into a mode where every action, intention, and sensation that came up was seen clearly for what it was as a causal process that "I" wasn't doing, and occasionally would mentally label them. I haven't been doing any noting, but this seemed like I was suddenly doing it and quite well. Things got jhanic, and I think I went into either fourth jhana or one of the formless realms. I then went through several waves where everything would start to get rhythmically synced up, I'd get pulses that felt kind of dreamy in my head, and then everything would start to get softer and dreamier and slip back a bit. I was labeling everything clearly through all of this. This went on for around 75 minutes total, and then I came out of that jhanic state. For the next 3 hours or so, I was still awake and paying attention to the buzziness of my skin and various noises. From here, I'd periodically slip into that same sort of rhythmic dreamy feeling, although stuff was less clear and I was more dull for most of this. There were definitely some weird moments with stuff like my full normal sense of self manifesting in a different place from where I was observing, or multiple sense of selves forming at once, or the whole thing diffusing through everything that I was experiencing. Pretty sure I didn't notice any actual discontinuities in experience throughout this. I was still in kind of the same "clearly knowing everything" mode the next morning, albeit tired from lack of sleep.

August 22nd

Got into high Eq during walking meditation, then started thinking about leaving a trail of past "me"s around as I walked. That segued into continually reforming as a staccato sequence of "me"s. Started feeling something in between the frames of each change, then had a sudden surge of joy and things suddenly felt very smooth and joyful, with mostly sukkha and a little piti. That whole afternoon everything felt like it was inclining me towards jhana, with a sense of sliding smoothly into spinning in the background. Started off meditating this morning from a very nice feeling vipassanna second jhana instead of needing to go through my normal rounds of first jhana. No successful repeats the next day.

JP, modified 6 Years ago at 8/28/17 10:39 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've been re-engaging with Shinzen's Young noting system over the past few days, and finding it useful for my practice. Some of the techniques I'd been using previously felt like they needed a lot of "doing" and direction in order to work right, but it's become clear that it's important to practice in a manner in which there's very little effort being consciously directed by "me". So now when I note, I try to do it in a spirit of believing that I'll become calmly aware of each sensation as it arises, recognize it as not-me, and then let it pass away. I'm not trying to actually note every single sensation that I become aware of, but am instead using it as an anchor to repeatedly return to broad panoramic awareness across the difference sense fields. I've been mostly sticking with Shinzen's basic groupings(Hear In/Hear Out/See In/See Out/Feel In/Feel Out) for walking and seated meditation, and have started using an even more abbreviated version(In/Out) for off-cushion noting sensations of the perceived center rather than the rest of the world. I'm not really concerned about the dark night/cycling risk, since I've been cycling pretty rapidly anyway(3 A&Pish things in the past two weeks) and being able to note off-cushion has been helpful for skillfully disengaging from negative content off-cushion when I'm in a rougher patch of the cycle.

I'm still getting up into the dreamy part of High Eq in a lot of my sits, and think I'm getting a bit better at treating it like just another phenomenon that comes up rather than as a big deal. I may not be hitting it with enough previous concentration or when deep enough in jhana, since a lot of the time some anticipation and a sudden increase in heartbeat will arise. This may also be attributable to navigating up to Eq when that's not where I seem to be in the off-cushion cycling. It's still a bit confusing where to map myself at the moment, but I'm going to continue to act as if I'm in pre-stream entry Equanimity. I'm increasingly convinced that it's important to have a probabilistic view of your own path attainments since there's a lot of room for uncertainty and both positive and negative bias.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 9/5/17 3:21 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've been practicing fairly intensively for the past five weeks, and have been feeling somewhat burned out with both the intensity of cycling and with some overly effortful methods I've been using. At the same time, perceptual shifts that were available infrequently are now much more readily available, and I feel like I am starting to touch on a deeper and more peaceful state. No-self in the visual field is fairly well established, and it often feels like I'm walking around as both my body sensations and the space in the visual field in front of me.  I've also started experiencing a state where it feels like I'm just watching all the facial tension and associated emotions arise but it's not me.

For a couple days last week, I could experience almost everything I experienced passing away, with a visceral sense that even an otherwise indistinguishable sensation wasn't the same as what I had just experienced.  This was incredibly calming, and it felt like I'd found an instant improvement to everything since I could watch anything that felt permanently bad disappear within a few seconds.  In retrospect, that was just an A&P on what was a quite clear progression through each of the nanas from 3 Characteristics through Misery. It's gotten much less textbook since then, with random shifts between reactivity and high mindfulness and a panoramic focus. Still not sure whether I'm cycling around pre-first path or if I'm on second path now, and will be continuing to practice diligently nevertheless.

I've been reading Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McLeod, and really like how it reframes the Tibetan Buddhist path in secular terms of learning to progressively dismantle reactive patterns of perception and action.  I'm only part way through, but it's an interesting alternative approach to developing morality.  It's already encouraged me to do a lot of work on trying to be extremely mindful of reactive patterns.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/3/17 10:19 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/3/17 10:19 AM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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Cycling has died down a lot, which is quite welcome. I've been focusing my practice in two main directions: slowly building up my concentration practice from scratch by just using repeated non-effortful intentions, and an off-cushion investigation of emotional reactions that's loosely based on Wake Up to Your Life.

I've felt for a couple weeks now that my prior effortful meditation techniques just weren't cutting it anymore, and were only producing tension rather than doing anything useful. So I've been back to working with the ceiling fan kasina and the Witness, but this time I'm doing it with the lightest touch possible to return to the object. I'm trying to do it without any sense of internal push/pull/pressure, and just by letting a verbal thought like "more details" arise and be acted on. Dullness is definitely present and will be something to gently work on later once I'm staying a little more stably centered on the meditation objects.

I feel like once I started trying to look for habitual emotional reactions, I started to see them in almost every single thing I did. It feels a bit like when you start meditating and you suddenly see how chaotic your verbal thoughts and emotional sensations are. I think I'm used to monkey mind at the level of sensations now, but seeing how most of my thoughts and emotions are just predictable defense mechanisms is similarly disorienting. I thinking I'm scraping along somewhere in the dukkha nanas or low equanimity, so there's plenty to do. On the practice side, I've been working with a couple of Ken McLeod's approaches. One is to examine a given reactive pattern and to break it down into the basic reaction style from the 5 Elements and a narrative from the 6 Realms. The other is to just try to examine each step in the reactive pattern and experience it fully the way you would if you were in a lucid dream ( vivid but insubstantial and fleeting).
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/3/17 10:21 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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The last 3 weeks have been mostly focused on deliberate purification and emotional integration, along with a continued investigation into emotional reactive patterns and defense mechanisms. I'm pretty confident that the rapid cycling in August was stream entry & first path review. Whatever it was, I went into September feeling like I was alternating strongly between a deep pervading peace in which nothing could be wrong and a reactive, suffering self that wasn't sure it was running the show anymore. A lot of older painful emotional content started coming up, and I started to use the techniques from Wake Up To Your Life to observe reactive patterns. I started feeling like both these states couldn't work -- the reactive sense of self was so obviously not working, and the deep peace felt like I was trying to just check out and leave all the pain behind.

What's worked for me is to shift my mindset away from the idea that meditative peace will replace my suffering towards the idea that I finally have enough emotional space to consciously, fully, and compassionately express my suffering without adding to it by clinging or aversion. I started making some time (10-20 minutes) for resting in awareness and consciously experiencing the depth of my suffering and negative emotions, both from the day and from older pain. If there's a portion of me that feels like a suffering separate part, I don't try to investigate and vipassanize that suffering to make it stop -- I just allow the other non-suffering sensations to express compassion toward the parts that are. I also have the more peaceful portion try to gently show the more reactive part some cool meditation stuff that can help put the suffering in context -- stuff like watching sensations arise and pass away, dwelling in the Witness, or the various kinds of resting into awareness from Ken McLeod's 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis practice.

Intentionally experiencing negative emotions in this way does seem to intensify them, especially when experiencing them while in the Witness or resting in awareness. I sort of expected that intensifying them this way would be cathartic, but that I'd be less mindful and aware than before it happened. Instead, I've found my way into states of deeper presence while doing the intentional purification. I've even noticed off-cushion that escalating and proliferating negative emotion actually brings me back into awareness and mindfulness instead of further from it, which definitely feels weird. It kind of feels like: "trigger event -> default reactive pattern kicks in -> proliferation -> emotional disregulation rises -> becoming aware of the reactive pattern -> rest back into awareness, but with a higher heart beat and a little adrenaline." This is kind of cool, because part of my inspiration for getting into practice was David Chapman's articles on how tantra could unclog difficult situations through deliberate intensification of how emotions are experienced, and I feel like I'm seeing some results that are similar to that now.

Beyond that, I feel like doing the purification work has really aligned my intentions quite well, and I feel like the more reactive/suffering parts of me are also ready to move along with concentration and insight practice. I had a few days where nothing was really satisfactory and I was looking around for something to make it better on a second-by-second basis. Eventually, I felt completely willing to drop the search for something external and just observed the wanting process with some gentle noting. Since then, things have been mostly fine. Not sure if that was 3 Characteristics into A&P or Reobservation into low EQ from a Progress of Insight perspective, but either way I feel ready to move along without being worried about part of me being left behind.

Current formal practice is alternating between kasina work with a ceiling fan, Ken McLeod's 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis yidam practice, dwelling in the Witness and free-form vipassanna, and trying to start over with TMI using extremely gentle intentions and no efforting. It's kind of funny -- I can pretty often get the acquired appearance of the breath even as I'm still encountering gross distractions, since I've had a lot of experience at breaking stuff down into sensations but haven't been trying for stable attention.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/9/17 10:48 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I think my deliberate purification/integration efforts are continuing to be very important in my practice. Every night, I try to set aside 10 or 20 minutes where I lie down and try to experience how it felt to suffer at various points in the past. I'll usually start by trying to visualize or recall past memories. After a bit, something painful will come up and I'll find myself in the midst of the suffering. At that point, I switch over to trying to liberate that suffering somehow. That can be as simple as doing a bit of vipassanna to illuminate that the pain really does arise and pass away and that it's not a permanently suffering solid self. I'll also sometimes try to rest in the Witness or in awareness depending on what seems appropriate and possible. This doesn't usually take that long before something very cathartic feeling comes up, and this feels like an incremental relief to something that's been previously a hidden solid pain. Sometimes, a minute or two later there'll be a surge of extreme gratitude and incredulity that this felt so solid but it was really so transient.

I've noticed a number of different phenomena afterwards, including sometimes like I've unblocked something and there's a subtle background flow that inclines me towards jhana, like a subtler version of what happened after one of my possible fruitions. Sometimes I stay awake in a light quasi-jhanic state, but usually have no urge at all to try to snap out of it and get to regular sleep or any frustration that I didn't. I've also been noticing a large increase in spontaneous autobiographical memories, which I think is very good news if Mark Lippman is right that subconsciously suppressing memories to protect oneself from past trauma can be a bad thing.

On-cushion practice this week was mainly ceiling fan kasina practice using a strobe light. I think I'm getting up into mid-high Eq dreamy territory when doing so where everything breaks up into pulses of individual sensations. I've also been working some more with TMI, which has been somewhere in the Stage 4-6 range. I think I've got good introspective awareness from the vipassanna I've been doing, but I'm still working on extremely gently stabilizing attention.

Off-cushion, perceptual states and my level of mindfulness continue to fluctuate. I think I've been noticing a decent number of emotional reactions as they're coming up, which seems to defuse them before they really get going. I've had a couple days where I was catching almost all of them, and it really seemed like everything could be completely fine with the world as long as I was catching them. This seems to feel a bit like being in a deeper layer of consciousness than the emotional reactions. I've also started noticing a Witness-like phenomenon where it seemed like I was noticing some sensations related to the experience of first-person self-hood arising together, along with an internal narrative about what was going on. Another time, I also had thoughts vividly popping out again as "not mine" in a different channel.

So practice and life is going really well even if it's somewhat weird, and I'm not really sure at all where I'm at on the Progress of Insight. I'm completely fine with that, which in itself makes me suspect that I'm in Equanimity, except that I always think I'm there.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/16/17 2:47 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/15/17 7:39 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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I had a very interesting no-self experience a few days ago, and am still puzzling it over.  Most of my brief no-self experiences have been the sort of thing that I'd expect to see from second or third path -- a certain of luminosity where sensations are just where they are, a sense of self that's dispersed in some fashion across the different sense fields, usually a subtle sense of center, urge to get/do/be muted but still there, and an ongoing narrative.  This will require a bit of a digression to set the scene, so please bear with me for a moment.

I've thought for a while now that humans evolved to hunt by simulating the minds of their prey.  We evolved in an environment where we were at a sensory and physical disadvantage to our prey, and so we adopted a style of hunting known as persistence hunting. Persistence hunting ( )is a general hunting strategy in which a hunter chases their prey over a very long distance(15-30 miles). Eventually the prey becomes weak and succumbs to exhaustion. On its own, that's not very special -- both dogs and hyenas adopt a very similar hunting strategy. The key difference is that humans lack the extremely sensitive sensory abilities that are used by other persistence hunters.

In the absence of such senses, early hominids had to predict where prey would go and accurately pursue them over very long distances based on very small amounts of visual evidence. In short, early hominids hunted by simulating the minds of their prey. If you look at this documentary on persistence hunting, you can watch some Kudu tribesmen literally simulating where an antelope will go.

It certainly seems to me like lucking into an evolutionary niche where you get caloric benefits that are directly linked to how well you can simulate the fairly-complicated minds of your prey is pretty much a recipe for extreme selective pressure in favor of general intelligence. Portia spiders are the smartest type of spider, and it seems like they also rely on extensively simulating how their prey will react when hunting.

So I've thought this since before I started meditating, and started thinking about it again last Thursday on my way to work.  After wondering for a bit what it would be like to simulate myself in this way, I suddenly found myself in a quite different state where it really felt like I was simulating myself -- but the "I" was completely missing.  Sensations were all where they were across the different sensory fields, there was absolutely no sense of an observer or watcher, none of the usual Witness-like senses of self were arising, no apparent sense of center, and no urge to get or do things "for me".  In the background was a sense of enormous relief and ease, and everything seemed straightforward and uncomplicated.  I don't think that thoughts or feelings felt any more or less "me" than the rest of the sensations, and didn't seem sticky at all.  I tried to meditate to make it stick -- not because I wanted to, but just since that's the sort of thing that I would do in that situation.  Excitement was arising, but just because I would be excited in that situation.

It faded after 30-45 minutes, and I'm still wrapping my head around it.  It really seems like it was a flash of 4th path, which kind of makes me wonder if I'm right about the evolutionary history and enlightenment is just about cleaning out some later additions and getting back to that original kind of self-simulation.  If anyone with 4th path is reading this and wants to try slipping into the mindspace of what it'd be like to be an animal they're familiar with, I'd love to hear more. 

I have to admit that as nice as it was, it's also freaking me out a little bit -- namely because it's so very hard to pinpoint what's different now that makes me so convinced that I'm not still just simulating what I would be doing and doing that.  There's some fundamental resistance to looking at that too closely, and the memories feel a little inaccessible from daily life.  I can get a portion of the perspective back if I re-familiarize myself with it, but a lot more resistance is arising now that I know that there's a huge shift involved.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/16/17 2:48 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/16/17 2:47 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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A few interesting things have been going on. I’ve been playing for a while now with the idea that the mind has a method, space, or way of looking at things that allows us to consider the relationships or connection between sense perceptions across all the sense doors. I’ve also been assuming that unlike normal perception, there’s no primacy given to the sensations of self in this space — they’re treated 100% the same as everything else, so that we can reason abstractly about our relationship with others and the world. I’ve also been assuming that part of the perception shift needed for MCTB 4th path is to route more and more default perception through this channel. Despite not actually having made it into sixth jhana, I’ve also been assuming that it brings this sense of connection and objects being linked in awareness to the forefront, and that this linkage has a certain silver/white light synaesthetic color to it. Furthermore, I’ve been assuming that that same type of light from being aware of the omni-linkage of stuff is what starts to come to the foreground with Tibetan practices. I know that’s a huge unjustified pile of assumptions, but it’s actually been quite interesting to try it out in my practice.

The first way I started using it in my practice was with the 5 Elements/ 5 Dakinis yidam practice by Ken McLeod that I’ve been doing. In the completion phase of yidam practice, you’re supposed to merge with a visualized entity either by dissolving your bodies into each other or by the entity becoming a ball of light and coming down the center of your body starting at the crown chakra.

This worked pretty well, but it seemed to be working much better when working within the abstract relationship space I discussed earlier, which I’ve been calling the “context network.” So when getting ready to merge, I’d do the following:

Prime myself to be aware of the spatial and other relationships between me, the visualized entity, and the environment.
Move “me” up from the center of the head sort of into the context network while keeping track of all the spatial locations of sensations of self.
Become the context network, keeping track of the sensations of self and the visualized as parts of myself that felt like they’re down below.
Complete the visualization and merging like this, moving the sense of self through the context network to the visualized entity.
So I started doing this in that yidam practice I was doing, and I found after a while that I was staying in that “context network” for nearly the entire practice session.

I woke up last night in the middle of the night, and it was like I was sort of weirdly stuck in that viewpoint for about an hour. There were also some weird raw/unprocessed sensations, moderately buzzy piti, some sort of synaesthetic thing, and I mostly just spent the time scrutinizing sensations of self.

I did some more ceiling fan kasina practice this morning with a strobe light. After getting somewhere up into mid-high Eq, I added in the yidam practice. After doing a couple of the merges, it felt like I’d dispersed out the top of my head into the room. Afterwards, it felt like the things I saw and heard were being perceived where they actually were and without me watching them, and I still feel kind of open on the crown of my head.

No idea whether any of those assumptions are true, but it’s definitely been interesting to check out and to imagine that it exists.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/16/17 2:48 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/16/17 2:48 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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Practice is getting a little weirder again, both on- and off-cushion. I had a couple strange no-self experiences last week, one while I was sleeping and another where I was experiencing more what it would be like to be me rather than how I normally am. The latter experience was fairly profound and I feel like I've got some better sense now of what absolutely no agency or sense of possible agency, no centerpoint, and no felt sense of self could feel like. It felt much better than I think I've ever felt before, but at the same time I'm feeling a great deal of recoil arising from the experience. I'm trying to balance letting the feeling of the experience sink in deeper, investigating the recoil, and still being gentle about not pushing too hard too fast on the no-agency side. It's a little bizarre though, since it seems very hard for me to find anything that's different now that stuff is partly back to normal.

On the practice side, I've mainly been working with blinking my eyes as a meditation object in tandem with noticing the end of the out-breath. Each blink or end of the breath feels like a complete end to what's going on, similarly to Shinzen's "Note Gone". I've worked with the blinking before, but adding in the breath puts the focus even more on the complete cessation of a sensation and sets up a complex pattern of moving between the two. I feel like I'm moving higher into the High Equanimity during these sits, and think I've been spending the majority of the time hanging out in that sort of dreamy zone. I've been focusing on gently noticing the dreaminess and other stuff going on. It almost feels like the dreaminess wants you to experience a little story from the perspective of someone, with no sense of self being felt. Rolling with the theme from my recent experience, I've been going with the idea that in the dreaminess I'm going to settle into the story that I'm experiencing myself practicing in the dreaminess, etc.. I've been getting up into this dreamy zone for more than two months now and hanging out there for much of my practice, but I feel like now I'm starting again to pick up the feeling of something good in between the waves of sensations. I was getting the same feeling back in August before what might have been the first path fruition.

Off-cushion, I've been experiencing spontaneous moments where it feels like I'm concentrating on something I'm not consciously perceiving, or where a train of thought will leave my mind watching itself very carefully. It's also feeling a lot like my sense of self is precisely that hard-to-define thing that I'm concentrating on. I haven't attained most of the formless jhanas, but it really seems like there's some similarity to 8th jhana involved. The dreaminess from High Eq has also stayed with me sometimes off-cushion, along with the sense of being in a narrative. This all feels like it should be freaking me out more, but it's somehow not. So I'm tentatively leaning towards this actually being Mid-High Equanimity of second path, for whatever that's worth. This has all been quite weird, and in some ways the weirdest part is how OK I am with all of it.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/30/17 1:07 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/30/17 1:07 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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Practice this week has been all about gently looking for tension/craving and letting it dissolve in awareness, and integrating this as a reflexive action. It feels like there's less and less stickiness to everything, and that I'm increasingly able to just let reactive thoughts, emotions, muscle tensions, and perceptual patterns just sort of pop up ephemerally and then go away again. Everything mostly feels just fine, even when I do get caught in a reactive pattern or lots of dullness or distractions show up in meditation. I've been getting used to dropping effort and the sense of "doing", and sometimes it feels like they don't even make sense anymore.

I'm pretty sure that I'm getting into High Equanimity of second path, at least some of the time. I've been having a lot of the dissolution-style dropouts that Daniel Ingram mentions in MCTB. For me, this seems to mostly feel like normal life is put on pause while some facet of experience is impersonally investigated without "me" trying to do anything. For example, I was writing something last week and paused midway when a spontaneous investigation began of the "felt sense" of the meanings of the words I was writing and the concepts I was trying to convey. At first it felt like I just couldn't think of what to write, but then it moved over to feeling the felt sense as an entire sense field and started to feel the sensations from it come out one by one. Eventually the felt sense of the words left the center of my head and started to feel linked to the actual words on the computer screen.

The "letting go" reflex has also led to some interesting Equanimity-esque stuff. There were a couple nights last week when I felt really relaxed in the evening and as I was going to sleep. So it felt easier to let go of more and more stress, which leads to a very slippery feeling and an inclination towards jhana. One night after I'd let go of quite a lot, I think I perceived a single formation after thinking "What would I be aware of right now?" -- it was kind of a little blip of everything that felt strangely synaesthetic. I've felt at a few times that I'm not far from second path, but it's also lost all urgency and sense that it's something that I need to do -- it feels more important to just keep on letting go rather than caring about the attainment, even if it would make my life better. I did decrease my formal sitting over the last half of the week due to getting less sleep than normal, but that also doesn't feel like a problem even though I know I should try to get some more time in so I don't fall back to Reobservation.

On the whole though, life has been great. I ran a half marathon on Sunday and it was just such a pleasure -- I felt like I was released from year's worth of negative attitudes and thoughts that would have come up before when running a race like that. I felt diffused across the different sensory fields for most of the race, and was just very happy and thankful for the volunteers, scenery, and having the opportunity to be part of all of it. Being able to take everything as just sensations one moment at a time and not needing to engage with the future or how much further I had to go also led to a much more fulfilling experience of the second half of the race when I was more tired.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 10/30/17 1:08 PM
Created 6 Years ago at 10/30/17 1:08 PM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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I'm going to be trying to put aside a focus on the Progress of Insight and dry insight for now, since I think I was getting overly focused on being close to "getting" second path. I've had some mounting dissatisfaction with my ceiling fan kasina practice, and am going to start trying out the Dharma Ocean somatic practices. While I was able to use the combination of the ceiling fan and a strobe light to reliably make it up into High Equanimity, I've found that it has started feeling too intense, disconnected from a sense of universal compassion, head-centered instead of body-centered, and just generally goal-oriented rather than letting go. I'm only one session in to the guided somatic meditations, but it already feels like the right direction to be taking for formal practice.

My work on trying to deliberately and compassionately integrate difficult emotions has continued to deepen, and I feel like a lot of different parts of me are increasingly working together to try to help each other. I usually start off similarly to the Mindful Review practice from TMI by thinking about unskillful emotional reactions or actions from the last few days. I'll go through them one by one to identify the primary emotional and self-identity feeling from each of them, and will link those feelings to my past to see why I might feel that way. After I've gotten that context, I'll try to broaden my awareness to include sounds, the visual field, and any other sensations that wouldn't normally be felt as "me". I'll then encourage a feeling of general compassion towards the suffering emotional parts that are felt as self, and try to give that feeling of suffering my full attention while still maintaining a broad awareness and compassionate intent. When I started, I was primarily doing this either as first-person vipassinazation of the emotional sensations, or resting as the Witness. I feel like now it's doing itself -- yesterday the whole process played out like it was taking place in the hazy post-8th jhana zone where stuff gets dreamy and first person narratives happen but you're really not any part of it or doing anything. I stayed like that the whole time as someone went about broadening awareness, feeling the compassion, and welcoming the suffering parts. This felt like it opened the door to experiencing even deeper feelings of suffering and compassion. From there I think it went into something like a brief powers experience with visions of battle and war, and continuing on to feeling immense gratitude to the dharma for showing a way out of the solidity of suffering.

I feel like off-cushion this practice has helped a lot of emotional reactions naturally start to defuse, especially certain kinds of sorrow and insecurity. This week I've started feeling very intense feelings of anger and have begun working with it in a similar way as well as with the fire element meditations from Ken McLeod's 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis practice. When an emotion comes up and it then ping-pongs over to "So what are you going to do about it?", I've started to have increasing access to a mode where I just go right back to the emotion that came up. This feels a bit like an emotional version of the Witness, but feeling more centered in the throat and chest and with less emphasis on the head / visual field / centerpoint.

I've also been thinking a lot recently about trying to write a series of articles discussing awakening from the perspective of rationalists coming here from the Slate Star Codex review of MCTB. I think one of the strengths of a lot of dharma is in laying out the view before diving into practice, and having some Sequences-style posts taking people from their default solid model of the world through the different sense fields could be very helpful, along with possibly explaining why doing any of this is extremely worthwhile instead of just a ticket to endless bipolar-style cycling.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:13 AM
Created 6 Years ago at 11/13/17 11:20 AM

RE: JP's Practice Log

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Formal practice has continued to be mainly the guided 10 points somatic descent meditation from Dharma Ocean. I'm getting more familiar with how to identify as various kinds of bodily tension and to allow the tension and identification to dissolve in awareness. I can usually allow most areas of tension/identification to subside over the course of a session, at which point I've shifted mostly into a different kind of awareness. I think I'm going to stick with the guided practice for another week or so, and then try to do it unguided. The 3-fold belly breathing practice has also been useful at releasing tension/identification when I've had time to do it. I've also tried to do the earth descent/earth breathing guided practice, but this seems to be difficult if there's any sense of remaining identification. I've started becoming way more aware of muscle tension, posture, and all the little injuries and muscular imbalances in my body.

I've also been working a lot off-cushion with the "felt sense", inspired by starting to read Folding by Mark Lippmann. The felt sense is all the subtle little feelings and meanings that we use to think about stuff and organize our lives. For example, when there's an idea we want to convey, we'll refer back and forth from a feeling to the actual words that we're writing. Or we might have an intuitive feeling about how something works, which the book calls "felt models". So there's a certain feeling about how a process like water running down a drain or cars moving down a street functions and feels. There's also stuff like the "sense of self" or the feeling of different mental states or actions. The author is a former DhO regular and has read both MCTB and TMI and is inspired by both, which makes it more applicable to serious practice even though it's more aimed at subtle investigation of psychological phenomena than at awakening. For example, he talks about how Daniel Ingram's description of the mental "afterimage" of a sensory event is actually an example of a sensation from the felt sense. I've also noticed that I associate different indescribable feelings with different people, and that is a large part of what I'm noticing when I see them or hear them talk. I've been trying to observe how all these different feelings/tastes arise during the day, and I think it's starting to reveal a whole class of sensations that were de facto solidified for me -- almost a "Mind & Body" type thing of how the sensations are popping out.

My daily review has continued to be possibly the most important part of my practice. I realized the other day that the practice has been very similar to one that is described in the Harnessing the Energy of the Defilements section of MCTB:
Try this little exercise the next time some kind of strong and seemingly useless or unskillful emotion arises. First, stabilize precisely on the sensations that make it up and perhaps even allow these to become stronger if this helps you to examine them more clearly. Find where these are in the body, and see as clearly as possible what sorts of images and story lines are associated with these physical sensations. Be absolutely clear about the full magnitude of the suffering in these, how long each lasts, that these sensations are observed and not particularly in one’s control.

Now, find the compassion in it. Take a minute or two (no more) to reflect on why this particular pattern of sensations seems to be of some use even though it may not seem completely useful in its current form. Is there a wish for yourself or others to be happy in these sensations? Is there a wish for the world to be a better place? Is there a wish for someone to understand something important? Is there a wish for things to be better than they are? Is there a wish to find pleasure, tranquility, or the end of suffering? Sit with these questions, with the sensations that make them up, allowing them to be strong enough to see what is going on but not so strong that you become completely overwhelmed by them.

I started doing this a couple months ago at the end of the day, initially focused on very strong "negative" emotions that felt overpoweringly strong, sticky, and unendurable. Experiencing all of these emotions as actually impermanent and not really "me" felt like a huge weight of my shoulders. It felt like those parts of me could finally just watch and observe without needing to fight for space or project a certain feeling into consciousness. This in turn has led to unification of mind and really strengthening my concentration, especially when doing my daily review practice at the same time and place. Lately the practice has evolved a bit and it feels more like I'm just resting as awareness while going over stressful/unskillful memories of the day and dissolving the feeling of what happened into individual felt sense sensations.

The last three weeks have been somewhat tougher off-cushion -- most of the time I was still somewhat identified with a more reactive set of emotions and felt kind of stuck in my head, very resistant to metta, very averse to the way things were, and really craving a big cathartic resolution to my feelings. I think that I've accepted and partially seen through those particular sets of tensions, and am back with a more expanded sense of awareness and a greater sense of available compassion. Part of this was changing my daily review to focus more just on what actually arises in my day rather than "me" trying to direct it to a big cathartic opening. I'd still love to hear what people do to try to get the metta flowing off-cushion when they feel resistance, especially when the usual stuff like accepting the resistance and sending it metta is not working.

Finally, I've been very interested in trying to figure out why it is that my life seems to "special" in a certain sense and why I fundamentally buy into the narrative of the moment, even though nothing feels "special" in the same way when I remember it. So this is something that I've been playing around with when in the High Equanimity dreamy space, when hypnagogic while falling asleep, when remembering dreams, when remembering memories, when imagining things, when I'm lost in thought, etc. It just seems like a really central question of why "what it's like to be me" is so similar in practice to "what it would be like to be _______" and yet there's some dividing factor that makes all the difference. I had a really profound no-self experience a month ago while contemplating one possible explanation for this, but am still fascinated with why it seems to work like this.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:03 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I didn't get in very much formal practice time last week due to lack of sleep, and will be trying to re-establish both an earlier bedtime and waking up early again for practice. Still working with mainly the 10 points practice from Dharma Ocean when I do sit.

I've been working on metta off-cushion, and have found that allowing it to be creative really helps with getting more into it and produces less of the "I'm trying to be compassionate. Why can't I do that? I'm bad for not being compassionate" negative reinforcement. The tips from 23SigmaTropic and Visu Teoh's guide to metta in everyday life have definitely been helpful with this. So instead of just staying with the standard phrases, I'll try to hope that people driving have a safe and happy trip, that dogs being walked will both be happy and have a nice warm place to curl up when they get back home, visualize arches over the road and wish happiness for anyone passing through them, imagine kindness ping-ponging between all the people I can see, etc.

I haven't been trying to track Progress of Insight intensively, but sometimes it's more obvious that something's going on. This week I rolled vividly through the A&P on Tuesday through Dissolution, Fear, & Misery on Thursday-Saturday. It's mostly been something that's just happening without feeling sticky or having much of an effect on my behavior. I've been feeling happy/excited when unskillful/sticky thoughts show up, since that means that I have the opportunity to accept them, integrate hurt parts of me, and to have an opportunity to vipassanize them. So it kind of feels like I'd be fine even if I just kept rolling through the dukkha nanas. This almost makes me suspect that this is just the fractal model at work, and that I've been looping through the nanas while in Low Equanimity of second path.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:04 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've been getting my formal practice back together again after letting it slip for a couple weeks. Still working on-cushion on mostly the 10 points practice and 3-fold breathing from the Dharma Ocean introductory meditations. I've tried to do the earth breathing/earth descent one a few times, and am running into a lot of resistance there, some of which may just be frustration that it's something that it feels like I should be able to do(and could sort-of do a few months ago).

I've been experimenting more off-cushion with the felt sense, which is the set of sensations that correspond to our non-auditory feelings and thoughts about stuff, as well as being part of how we implicitly organize the world into self and other people. I find it difficult to write about it, since writing requires resting attention on the felt meaning of something -- and so writing about investigations of the felt sense requires resting attention on the felt meaning of the whole concept of "resting attention on the felt meaning of different things", and hence is kind of paradoxical feeling and koan like. With that said, a couple of things have been interesting. One is that when I get lost in my work as a computer programmer trying to figure out the details of a complex problem, it's clear that almost all of that time being lost in thought is actually manipulations of the felt sense of the different aspects of the problem. When I'm lost in thought like that, the typical sense of self and the world drops away entirely and instead I temporarily become the problem, albeit still with just a pressing need to resolve it as there is for the rest of our ordinary problems. And when you come out of a longer period working like that, sometimes everything feels a little bit hazy and unreal ( and did even before I started meditating). So that's made trying to go deeper at work more interesting from a practice perspective, and possibly explains why I was a bit averse to that kind of deeper immersion in problems for a while.

It's also been helpful to retroactively vipassanize when I notice that I was momentarily identifying more. The mental after-image of a sensation that MCTB talks about is based on the felt sense. Since the selfing process is likewise mostly built on sensations from the felt sense, you can use the memory of a moment of identification to partly pull that particular sense of self back out and notice it in more detail. Now I've got occasional access to a background sense that everything that I'm experiencing could very rapidly change into being very different, and that I shouldn't be taking anything for granted.

Another interesting thing is that I'm now more interested in more verbose noting styles that note action verbs like lifting, touching, grabbing, etc. The felt sense for an action or event can sometimes be accessed from thinking a verbal description of the action. So from this perspective, it seems like a more descriptive noting system would have you automatically uncovering the conceptual associations of various actions in a way that might be less automatic when doing the Shinzen Young-style noting that I've historically done. I haven't really got started on off-cushion noting like this though.

I've also been coming back to the 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis practice for working on relaxing into awareness from various fundamental types of emotional reactions. This continues to be helpful from both a conduct viewpoint and for developing insight. The yidam/tantra part of it has evolved somewhat based on the other meditation I've done, and now it feels much more like I'm somehow imagining the whole situation including "myself" as the observer rather than just imagining the external situation.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:05 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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The last couple weeks have been fairly focused on getting the conditions right for establishing good habits and building on existing ones. So I've been re-establishing a longer formal sit in the mornings, getting to the gym more, doing more stuff around the house, working more efficiently, off-cushion noting, etc. I've been trying to do all of this without making a big deal out of "making effort" to do it, and just letting it be the outcome of what I would have already chosen to do if I hadn't had various reactive processes stopping me from doing the right thing. Noah's conduct posts on the DhO have been helpful here -- they inspired me to set my homepage to the Mr. Money Mustache random blog post link in order to add in a positive mindset model, and I also really like his comment on how right conduct is the price for keeping and growing the peace from the perceptual shifts:

This direct knowledge is then applied (either automatically or purposefully) to belief structures which are the seeds of behavioral & emotional patterns, including negative ones. Harmful behavioral & emotional patterns are not compatible with the direct knowledge of emptiness. They reduce the inherent pleasure from the perceptual shift & go against the visceral lessons of interdependence.

I was starting to encounter some situations where I'd see some appealing reactive urge come up, fully realize that it was based on a dualistic reactive pattern, and then say "Well, I've understood it completely and so it's safe to do from an insight perspective." But at least on average, those kinds of actions still had detrimental effects in the long term or reinforced other less pleasant reactive patterns. So I've started letting more of them go by without acting on them, and it has definitely helped with both catching more reactive patterns and with feeling greater ease in my relationships and life.

On the other hand, it feels like I'm cycling through some subconscious stress in the background. I haven't had that many opportunities recently to do a daily review where I can really freely dig into the times when I felt stressed, and so there are fewer times when it feels like I can really let it all go. A few times a day I'll feel a brief burst of extreme sadness with an urge to cry, and have also been periodically a bit freaked out by surprise moments of insight throughout the day. So I don't think that I'm feeling the same level of unconscious alignment with meditation that I had back in mid-October when I was really digging into my stuff regularly. On the other hand, things feel basically fine almost all the time, and I think I'm handling the emotional stuff properly when it arises and have still been having periodic purification experiences when starting to fall asleep that seem to periodically clean out the issues that persist and pop me solidly into Eq for a few days. I've also been able to start noticing some more detail on other reactions -- for example, I occasionally have a bit of an external locus of control issue where it feels like other people or a situation are making me do something. I've started not just stopping the reaction when that happens, but have also been noticing the felt sensations that correspond to the actual "external locus" feeling.

Formal practice continues with the Dharma Ocean somatic meditation. This week was mainly the 10 points relaxation process, but I'm hoping to get back to the earth descent practice soon. I feel like I'm still finding all sorts of tensions to let go of with the 10 points. I've been doing more of the 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis yidam practice on my commute this week, and I think some of the Dharma Ocean lower belly breathing has helped clear up the earth element practice, where you visualize a yellow gem at the lower dan'tien. When I direct attention to a spot in that area in either practice, there's a sense of resting attention on a spot where there's no tension, which leaves everything else happening loosely in awareness around it without feeling like you're focused on anything. And so the somatic experience of that particular spot seems very related to the wisdom component of the earth element, which is all about relaxing into the moment-by-moment cessation of sensations without needing to grasp onto anything.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:06 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Over the past week, I started to feel a bit of a mismatch between my practice and my motivations for practice. My on-cushion practice had been the introductory Dharma Ocean somatic practices like 10 points / earth descent, supplemented with Ken McLeod's 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis yidam visualizations during my commute. My primary motivation has been growing clearer over the past few weeks, and it has changed to be primarily focused on meeting suffering wherever I encounter it in my experience, accepting it, and doing my best to liberate it no matter how unpleasant it may be. Encouraging this kind of unconditional compassion has been very empowering/energizing for my 5 Elements practice since I'm opening up to deeper wounded parts of my experience, and I've felt strong feelings of devotion arising for both the idea of a universal compassionate urge underlying all my experience and for specific Buddhist representations of this like Ksitigarbha. On the other hand, I felt like I had to be somewhat guarded when practicing unless I was willing to cry a lot on the subway. So I've decided for now to put the somatic meditation aside for a bit and dive deeper on-cushion at home into some of my "stuff" with the goal of seeing the memories and the reactive patterns really clearly. So far it's been a free-form mix of stuff from Wake Up to Your Life, perfect parent tantra, vipassanna while remembering stuff, and just whatever feels right at the time. And this change feels like the right move -- that I already have the tools I need to dive in deeper and free some stuff up as long as I'm willing to experience the suffering that some parts of me sometimes feel.

Off-cushion, everything has been fine almost all of the time for the past couple weeks. Feelings, trains of thought, and emotional reactions just don't feel as sticky. I don't feel as much need to try to pin down who/what is experiencing everything, and whether I felt stuck in my head or diffused across different sense fields. There's also been a lot of mental silence. I might be wrong, but I would be surprised if this isn't Low Equanimity. I noticed some agitation and an uptick in some reactive behavior after a couple days of diving into my stuff, so Eq is by no means locked in and I still need to keep an eye on stuff. I'm not going to mention the plot, but I had a nice time watching the new Star Wars movie since I feel like from meditation I now understand what the Force might feel like.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:07 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Practice has been a mix of 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis tantra and diving into my "stuff" a bit more deeply, like I mentioned last week:
So I've decided for now to put the somatic meditation aside for a bit and dive deeper on-cushion at home into some of my "stuff" with the goal of seeing the memories and the reactive patterns really clearly. So far it's been a free-form mix of stuff from Wake Up to Your Life, perfect parent tantra, vipassanna while remembering stuff, and just whatever feels right at the time. And this change feels like the right move -- that I already have the tools I need to dive in deeper and free some stuff up as long as I'm willing to experience the suffering that some parts of me sometimes feel.

The results so far have been varied and difficult to evaluate objectively, other than to say that digging into your "stuff" really does bring a lot more "stuff" to the surface. I've had a lot more free-floating anxiety and sorrow, and have had a lot of defensive thoughts and reactions flash up both in my life and when evaluating my practice. I've been able to catch most of them before they flow through to my actions, but have had my share of slip-ups and unconscious/nonverbal reactions. On the other hand, I've had my share of times when I'm feeling more equanimous/compassionate. On the whole, it feels like a weird mix of thoughts and emotions freaking out and being half-sticky -- like part of me sees right through them and part of me is getting caught up in them, with the portion going either way fluctuating over time.

It has been kind of hard to decide where to go with practice due to all the many varied emotions that are seemingly entangled with it. I really trust and honor the compassionate intent that's guided me towards looking at my dukkha more closely. I know that it's all stuff that I'll need to process and integrate at some point on the path, and I feel like I do have a lot of tools for working on it. On the other hand, my practice in working with it is very freeform/imaginal and I don't have the guidance from either a teacher or a formalized technique like TMI or noting that would say that it's the right practice for me right now rather than later on. I'm considering moving more towards perfect parent tantra.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:09 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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The past three weeks have been tough and a bit paradoxical, but I think stuff is getting better. Formal practice has been consistent at around an hour a day but I'm feeling both aversive to it and like it's completely necessary. I think the central issue/non-issue I've been orbiting around is how much to look at my sense of self/centerpoint and related psychological content. It's kind of maddening how trying to look at anything else seems like I'm excluding it, but if you look directly at it then it doesn't want to be examined. I've had a number of times where I use a different more panoramic way of seeing/accepting that have popped me into a more equanimous state for hours or days, but I don't yet seem to have sufficient internal agreement that I should go right back to that way of looking if it falls away. Although it does seem to be coming back more quickly and persisting for longer, so maybe slogging through it is slowly working.

So I keep going through different practice methods to try to move forward, while also trying to make sure that the "I" who's choosing practice methods isn't being overly determined by the content. Sometimes that doesn't work and I'm overly forceful in some fashion, which seems to hurt both my practice and my mood over the next day or two. I've been thinking a lot about one of Shargrol's comments a lot lately, and feel that it really applies to my practice at the moment:
Again, go slow, the hardest thing is to simply be aware of what is going on in our traumatized mind. Many times people want to move too quick and just create a new way to retraumatize ourselves. The buddhist way is the gentle way. Find a time and place where you feel safe and not rushed, and then gently investigate your mind as it is. Listen to it like you would listen to a friend having trouble, like a friend who just wants to tell his story and have someone listen to it. Don't try to fix your friend, just listen. Your friend (your traumatized mind) will feel better and become healthier over time.

I did about a week of the RAIN method that the comment recommends, and maybe started using it a bit forcefully. So now I feel like I'm trying to apply that practice at a meta-level: generate intentions to practice peacefully, accept that I'm going to go too hard at times, and back off and readjust when that happens. Some less formal practice has been helpful too -- I've been doing an exceedingly sleepy TWIM session on my morning commute on the subway, and when I run home I've been trying to keep attention on my body and visual field as embedded in a single sense of space, kind of like the advice from this Ken McLeod article:
The first is to keep the field of attention open when you are working with sensations in the body. That is, instead of focusing attention on the part of the body where the sensations arise, hold your whole body in attention and experience the discomfort as a sensation that arises in a field of attention that includes your whole body. A simple instruction for this is, “Crown of the head, soles of the feet, hold these both in attention, and experience everything in between.” This approach keeps the sensations associated with the block in attention without leading energy into the pool of stagnant energy. The open field of attention allows the stagnant pool to dissipate over time and the block may also release.

I'm also sorting through some emotionally difficult stuff in my relationships -- kind of hard to tell what's bleedthrough from meditation, what's my own issues, and what actually needed to be addressed.

Finally, I found the following bit of advice from Angra Mainyu on how to handle the experience of other people's suffering incredibly helpful despite being somewhat cryptic:
if you are good at dukkha-sukkha conversion process on your own suffering but somehow cannot deal with other people dukkha efficiently then perhaps you need to increase energy sending power to non-local entities and also treat them as kind of mind resources to allow your mind-mind control techniques to work efficiently in actually converting dukkha to sukkha in place, even in minds in people who normally send you their stuff.

I'm going to try to unpack it a little bit since I found that it popped me out into EQ temporarily and resulted in a few experiences in which it felt like I was experiencing events simultaneously as everything/everyone that I could perceive. I know that so many of these meditation pointers are hopelessly vague and frustrating until one day they aren't, so hopefully a different way of putting it will help slightly.

I believe that the "dukkha-sukkha" conversion process refers to the way that paying close attention to suffering actually can make it pleasant and produce jhanic factors, since directing awareness to suffering sometimes relieves it. We perceive other people in 4 main ways -- the 3 physical senses of sight/sound/touch, and a fourth conceptual/emotional/"felt sense" of the essence of that person and how they act. If someone is feeling a certain emotion, then we also pair the "felt sense" of that person up with the "felt sense" of the emotion. And since you're aware of all these sensations inside your own mind, it's kind of like you're simulating how they'd feel in the current situation -- and if the part of your mind simulating them isn't keeping a close eye on what's going on, it'll blithely simulate their own experience of suffering. The standard advice in this situation is to look at your own response -- but that assumes that all the suffering will be subjectively experienced somewhere in your body, while maybe in reality a decent part of it is subjectively experienced in the "felt sense" of other people.

So the way out of this is to get the part of your mind that's tracking a suffering person and allow it to start observing the suffering it's creating. The genius part of this advice is twofold: doing it in-place, and associating the responsibility for it with your experience of other people. Trying to "do" stuff from "you"/the centerpoint/the "felt sense" simulation of you experiencing the world isn't that effective most of the time, but it's particularly ineffective when you're trying to look at your subjective experience of other people's experience. It's almost like there's an enormous invisible privacy wall around the "felt sense" experience of other people in our minds, and we're conditioned to flinch away from it when we start to look too closely at it. So by somehow doing it in-place without the subjective sense of self doing anything, it can slip past the privacy wall. And by associating it with your experience of other people, you can train that other-simulating part of your mind that this is something that it can do itself before it projects other people's experience into the rest of consciousness, which reduces your felt experience of aversion to other people's suffering.

I know this sounds like a ridiculous hack to get around experiencing other people's suffering, but I've found so far that when I can access this way of seeing that it actually opens up more room for empathy, love, and appropriate compassionate action.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:13 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've found it more difficult recently to write about practice. I've got a few possible reasons why, but am not sure what's really driving it:
  • I've been continuing to change practices up fairly frequently, and feel at a certain level that I'm doing it wrong and everything would go better if I just established a solid metta or concentration practice. On the other hand, I feel like my ever-changing practice is actually working for me and that I'm getting better at seeing what's going on and that I'm gradually building up more and more trust in awareness, in compassion, and in the process.
  • When I think about my practice, I've got a lot of tacit intuitions about what I'm trying to do and what my experience is like -- and it's hard to properly convey those intuitions.
  • Writing about meditation feels more like actually meditating. I've mentioned before that I've been trying to look at the difference between what feels different between my actual experience, my memories of dreams, my memories of prior experiences, my imagination of how I'd act in a certain situation, etc. It increasingly feels more like there's no fundamental difference between all of those -- except that there's a certain tension around the current moment not wanting to see that. So writing about meditation puts all of that in play -- I'm trying to write about my memories of trying to look at the difference between my memories and my actual experience. I'm getting a third eye headache just trying to write that down.
  • I feel like I've partially transitioned into performing some actions from awareness rather than as the sense of self/centerpoint, but sitting down to write something isn't quite one of them. So I need to start writing partially as a deliberate act, even though the content needs
  • My practice has been way more psychologically-focused for second path than it was for first path. I've been trying to consistently look at the stress that comes up in my actions, ideas, and sense of how I relate to others. So I think there are lots of parts of me that feel very exposed but yet connected to my practice -- it's just barely fine to look at some stuff when I'm the only one who's aware of it, let alone to have to look at it in the course of explaining how my practice is doing.
  • I thought I'd have second path by now and my sense of "I'm a great meditator" would be appropriately challenged if I posted my practice log and it continued to be "bouncing between Reobservation & Low Equanimity".
  • I recently started seeing a therapist who uses kundalini yoga along with talk therapy. It's been good working with her so far, but also tough. When you've never talked about your practice in person before, it's even more difficult to fully articulate what's going on if you're trying to explain it to someone from a different tradition who uses different conceptual frameworks. It's helped bring some stuff to the surface, especially around the whole theme of being exposed/seen/judged. The kundalini yoga techniques that I've tried so far do seem to be effective and useful -- I just had a somewhat intense A&P after using them to work through some emotional stuff that came up.
  • It's tricky to describe my level of suffering accurately -- enough stuff comes up that it doesn't feel like my experience is mostly peaceful, but I also don't feel like it's nearly as bad as it used to be. I feel like I could write up a description of how everything's going and it could either come off as "everything's fine" or "I'm having a legimately tough time", and neither would be accurate.

For all these reasons, it's easier to write about writing about my practice than to actually just write about my practice.

On a final note, it's been just about a year now since I first read MCTB and started seriously pursuing the path. It's been really great so far despite the ups and downs, and I can't thank this community enough for all of the ways you advise and support both me and everyone else here. You are all awesome.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/21/18 9:17 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Practice is all over the place still. I've been working with some interesting/trippy insight techniques that have gone pretty deep. Cycling has become much more regular, and some transitory states with no "doer" apparent anywhere have been hard to deal with off-cushion. I think I may have had a second path fruition, but am not really sure and will continue to evaluate. Regardless, I'm planning to try to rebalance my practice back towards metta by listening to the guided metta meditations from the r/streamentry Beginner's Guide.

I've been playing around with what Nikolai Halay writes about in this blog post about volition, where there's a seemingly irresistable urge to complete a thought/spoken sequence once it's started. So being really aware of that quality of an irresistible need for it to continue. It would probably work well to just observe it, but it's really interesting if you actively interrupt it and switch between several sequences associated with different things. For example: "Old McDonald had a / Super-cal-i-frag-i / They're taking the hobbits to / I take refuge in the / farm, E-I, E-I / -list-ic-ex-pi / isengard, they're / Buddha and / etc.." I've been saying the phrases aloud rather than thinking them, since stream entry partially deleted my sense of ownership of what I'm saying -- the intention to say something is still usually mine, but the resulting sounds aren't. So saying it loud adds an extra not-self kick to it.

I've been doing an Inception style thing recently where I'll set up nested imaginal scenarios, with the start of them based loosely on how Ken McLeod starts his 5 Elements / 5 Dakinis meditations:
So just take a few moments, let the attention rest. And after your mind and body are somewhat settled, then rest in the sense that everything you experience, including your own body, is like a dream, like a rainbow. That is, everything appears vividly, but nothing has any actual substance to it, particularly your own body. Normally we associate solidity with body but now we’re going to feel, imagine that it is simply an appearance, like a rainbow, like a dream.

When I'm doing it, I'll get to the end and then start over again "And in your dream, you let your mind and body settle. In your dream, you rest in the sense that everything you experience is like a dream or like a rainbow..." and then start over a few more times. This gets pretty deep fairly fast, and I feel at the end like I'm just a hair's breadth away from recognizing that there's essentially no difference between my nested imagining of myself and what it feels like to be myself in the first place.

I've also been occasionally just trying to focus on predicting what I'd do in the current situation. What actions would I feel right now? How would I be feeling? What would I think? What would my body feel like? What would I see? And then whatever arises, I then think "Oh yeah, that's exactly what I would be experiencing." So allowing it to seem really important to model myself completely and to simulate how I'd feel. This and the prior nested scenario thing are both inspired by a deep glimpse I got when trying to "persistence hunt" myself back in October. There's a good review of a book called Surfing Uncertainty which discusses how most brain systems even for stuff like movement operate by making predictions and changing the state of the body to make the predictions come true. This somehow seems very wrong from the perspective of an untrained person since they have the sense of doing/thinking/controlling/etc. But I feel reasonably confident that the sense of self/doer/controller/thinker is just a prediction/simulation of what it would be like to be you making decisions and experiencing things, along with a huge UGH FIELD around looking at the actual nature of that experience. Tanha is the built-in desire for your what it would be like to be you experience to be a what it is really like to be you experience, and dukkha is the unpleasant cognitive dissonance that's triggered since those can't consistently line up.

I've been doing about 15 minutes of kundalini yoga exercises to start my session. They're pretty intense, but I can see why they're effective -- they seem to mainly be targeting movements and eye positions that directly demonstrate the impermanence/not-selfness of the centerpoint and spine with stuff like clenching the palate, gazing with eyes closed at places you'd never normally look at, etc.

I've also been noticing some stuff around muscle tension both while I'm exercising and when I'm resting. If I go for a long-ish run and try to just generally observe what's happening, I seem to vaguely cycle up through the nanas to Equanimity. And when I'm doing strength training, if I just rest right after doing something hard, it's much easier to just relax into awareness. I've also been making the water extra hot at the end of my showers and running it over my face and shoulder muscles, which seems to again help with relaxing into awareness.

So all those practices have been putting me fairly deep into High Equanimity of second path when I sit. Sometimes all sense of possibility of doing/controlling/etc. seems to drop away and I'm just there with everything being fine. And then I get up to start my day and I run from that mode for the first few minutes, and that's particularly freaky -- because nothing has changed at all, all the sensations are the same, and the subjective experience seems the same except for some unnameable quality that's completely different. I had a big A&P a week ago, and started cycling up to High Equanimity on Friday. On Saturday I did a long trail run and cycled up very strongly to High Equanimity over the course of it. I got home to take a shower and things seemed to settle out into being normal for a few minutes. I was relaxing deeply at the end of a shower when I noticed a sudden discontinuity -- everything sounded different, it felt like I'd moved a bit, and it just seemed different. I didn't have a bliss wave right afterwards, but a few minutes later I was almost manically happy about something. Since then cycling has been pretty rapid with some unpleasant states, and I've had a couple bursts of static just as I'm falling asleep. Not sure if these are actual fruitions or just near misses. Whatever they are, I feel like my level of insight is definitely outrunning my tranquility, compassion, and acceptance -- so I'm going to be rebalancing towards metta by doing the guided Rob Burbea meditations instead of more trippy stuff for at least the next few weeks.
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/26/18 3:25 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I've been trying out some DIY eye movement desensitization and reprocessing/EMDR to see if it'll help clear up some psychological habits & reactive patterns that I've felt stuck on. The basic idea is that you try to synchronize a movement across both sides of your body (like tapping your fingers on both hands or moving both eyes) while keeping a negative/stuck image/concept/somatic sensation in attention. The psychological theory seems to think that the additional workload allows for more difficult material to be processed more easily. My experience with it so far makes me more inclined to think that it works similarly to meditative purification mechanisms -- attention interleaves between the stimulus and the felt sense sensations making up the stuck reaction, and at some point the felt sense sensations are clearly seen on a granular level and their solidity disappears.

It does seem to be an effective tool -- I've been using it since last Thursday, and had a lot of success at breaking up various things I felt stuck on. The bilateral aspect seems to be important to getting it to work -- trying to see whether my fingers are landing at the exact same time is very tough, and really zooms in on a very granular time level. Sometimes the fingers seem very out-of-phase despite my best efforts, and then seem to sync back up as the sensation gets closer to breaking up. The eye movements have been a good backup for using when the finger tapping doesn't work, and vice versa.

I spent a decent amount of time on the weekend noticing various triggers as they came up and applying it to them, which led to a fairly deep experience "Woohoo, no limits can bind me" that I think was either a profound Mind & Body or A&P. As you'd expect from doing insight on psychological material, Re-observation has been incredibly rough so far -- lots of moment-by-moment looping through fixating on a particular life issue that came up recently and feels incredibly urgent to do something about right now, partially out of fear that I won't do anything if I wait. So for now I'm just trying to just stick with tapping my fingers until I'm solidly into Equanimity and trying to keep it to a sensory-only level if I can, with a commitment to return to that particular issue once all the reactions around it don't feel sticky anymore.

For morning sitting practice, I'm still doing kundalini yoga followed by the Rob Burbea guided metta meditations, which have been great.
Yilun Ong, modified 6 Years ago at 2/26/18 8:34 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Hi JP, interesting to know you do Kundalini yoga. May I know what are the effects that you have observed from doing it? Specifically, I am wondering if I should add in physical components to my practice and if it is necessary to add them to meditation-only practice. I am very inflexible physically and I think yoga will be a challenge. Other than physical benefits, is it worth the time/effort to do it by taking time away from meditation? 

Wishing you all the best! emoticon
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 2/27/18 11:00 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Hi Yilun,

The effects of it seem to be the same as any other meditation that rapidly demonstrates impermanence/no-self in the center of the head and along the central channel/spinal column.  I get fairly harsh piti at various points, mixed in with both blissful/clear-feeling states and with crying/shaking.  Yoga in general might be good at developing flexibility, but the kundalini yoga exercises I've been doing don't seem to be targetting that.  I'm pretty sure that I move up through the nanas as I do the exercises, and sometimes it feels like a good way to fully express whatever psychological/somatic/energetic stuff is coming up.  I've been told that they progress up to a full system of energy practices like Vajrayana has.

I've been doing these practices in sequence: (with additional instructions to picture negative emotionally tinged imagery flicker by while doing the movements, and to also feel light moving up through the spine out the top of the hands at the end) (for 3 minutes -- this one is particularly agonizing) ( also 3 minutes, internally think "Sat" on the inhale and "Nam" on the exhale, focus eyes at the brow point)

I'm fairly new to it myself, and would be interested what you notice with it.  Take care!
Yilun Ong, modified 6 Years ago at 2/28/18 4:19 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Thanks JP! I'll take a look and try them out - I might just quit though hahaha... emoticon
JP, modified 6 Years ago at 3/5/18 1:32 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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This was a pretty rough week and I'm going to be taking a break from practice for a while.

A large part of my practice recently has been focused on seeing the impermanence of various emotions/senses of self. This has usually felt very freeing from not being "stuck" in a particular mindstate/situation anymore. Over the last couple of weeks I really started seeing through one of my core psychological defense mechanisms. This was tough at first, but seemed to get much easier once I realized that I was using it to cover up a lot pain/woundedness that's usually deeply buried and disconnected from consciousness. So I went ahead and looked at the impermanence of those sensations of suffering, which actually felt very liberating at the time. Unfortunately, that both kicked off an intense Progress of Insight cycle and brought some trauma-associated subminds into consciousness, which left me feeling alternately numb or very agitated. Either would be hard to handle on its own, but I definitely can't recommend the combination. I am feeling much better now though.

So I'm going to be taking a break from practice for the moment and trying to switch to a therapist who specializes in EMDR and somatic experiencing, with the hope that some time working through that mode will help. I can't really in good faith continue to recommend pursuing vipassanna-based emotional purifications the way I did in this thread last week. I'm also planning to try to see some more friends, do some new activities, etc.

As a final note, I read a book by one of Willoughby Britton's collaborators on Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness after this had started happening and found it very informative. It's very easy to look at the MCTB Progress of Insight stages and to think "Wow, there's so much room for negative experiences in the dukkha nanas -- being in those stages must be the primary cause for difficulties in meditation. Since I'm aware of these difficulties and have learned to navigate through those stages both meditatively and in managing my life off the cushion, I won't run into a different class of issue." This book doesn't discuss Progress of Insight at all, but does identify another class of issues when dealing with emotional content that's linked to past traumatic experiences -- that just having trauma-linked sensations in consciousness can be enough to trigger either the fight-or-flight response or the "freeze" response, both of which disengage the "social engagement system" which is normally present in consciousness. So the challenge with working with traumatic material is to do so in a way which expands our "window of tolerance" so that we're not just alternating between those two extremes.
Yilun Ong, modified 6 Years ago at 3/5/18 11:17 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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Hi JP, I am sure you will find the answers you are looking for in your new quest. I think that will be most interesting to many of us, so please come back and tell us more! I suspect what you find will be relevant to me...

All the best! emoticon
JP, modified 5 Years ago at 5/14/18 2:53 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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It's been a few weeks, and I'm still very gradually working my way through the trauma-linked fight or flight states (mostly previously repressed anger, but also some associated shame and anxiety). My somatic experiencing therapist has had me working with a few core techniques:
  • Allowing any protective-seeming body movements like moving an arm or a leg to create safe physical space around me.
  • Settling into grounding with neutral or pleasant body sensations like the legs or feet, the texture of clothing, or the heaviness of the body when sitting down.
  • Tracking and reinterpreting some physical sensations as protective (like those body/muscle movements), and others as signs of a bit of a release(energetic piti, heat in the body, exhales, yawning, crying).
  • Orienting to pleasant visual sights and actively engaging with the environment.
  • Engaging socially with other people.

This has all helped. I've especially noticed with the social engagement -- a couple weeks ago I felt like I suddenly started really noticing and appreciating social openings that people offered, like a particularly friendly store clerk. It's also started to feel very rewarding to engage in pro-social behavior like being extra-scrupulous about yielding to other drivers or pedestrians, holding doors for people, being nice to coworkers, etc. Self-validation has also been huge.

The past couple weeks the movement exercises have started to be accompanied by tons of energetic piti. If I have enough time to thoroughly do them for my whole body, then the tension of the fight-or-flight state mostly goes away and I'm left with the ability to go about things very straight-forwardly.

So it generally feels like I've expanded my ability to self-regulate when this stuff comes up. On the other hand, it feels like I've worked through the more peripheral stuff and now deeper, stickier, and harder to handle stuff is now right here -- and from its own perspective, it wants to be addressed all at once rather than at the gradual pace that will prevent retraumatization.  I wish I could say that I've got a consistent policy towards not trying to go too fast, but it's still a struggle.
JP, modified 5 Years ago at 6/25/18 3:00 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I'm looking for a teacher to work with as I return to seated practice after taking some time off to work with a somatic experiencing therapist on handling some past trauma.   It's been pretty stressful the whole time, due to both dealing with layer after layer of difficult emotions and due to a variety of escalating relationship issues.  I feel like this period has actually led to a lot of progress in insight, but am hoping to find a teacher to work with on meditation as a grounding and calming element in my life, and so that my practice won't become imbalanced due to lack of external feedback.
JP, modified 5 Years ago at 7/16/18 3:00 PM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I met with a local teacher last week and it went well.  Despite participating here, my practice has so far been fairly personal and I haven't discussed it much in-person with anyone.  So I definitely had some worries going into it around how receptive he'd be to me coming from a pragmatic dharma background, how he'd evaluate my practice history and possible attainments, and whether he'd judge me for being careless with the practices that led to the start of my trauma issues back in March.  Unsurprisingly, none of these were an issue emoticon.  He'd read MCTB as part of his lineage's training program, and said he'd met Daniel Ingram at some point, and was also familiar with TMI.  He listened carefully to my descriptions of some perceptual changes that happened at various points, and it sounded like he'd be more comfortable discussing new attainments as they come up in the course of working together rather than trying to play detective on whether I really hit stream entry last August.  He wasn't put off by me mentioning using a ceiling fan as a kasina object, and was very understanding on the trauma.  

For practice, he suggested that I get started again by just trying to focus of my hands in contact with each other, and to note "Thinking" if I've got a thought.  I've been doing it for 25 minutes in the morning for the last few days, and it's been going well so far.

Life and relationship stuff has been going much better than the last time I posted.  Still getting occasional waves of either dissociation or intense irritiability from the trauma stuff, but my subjective sense is that I'm working on deeper and deeper layers of that particular onion and that some stuff from earlier on is better integrated now.  One interesting thing is that I used to have a stutter when I was a kid and it cleared up over time.  When I'm tuned in to the "sense of self" associated with some of the trauma stuff, the stutter actually comes back.  I've been noticing a certain amount of word-finding difficulty recently, and think it might be related.
JP, modified 4 Years ago at 6/4/19 10:46 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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I keep on meaning to write up a thorough summary of how everything's been going over the last 6-8 months, but my designs on actually covering everything have kept me from providing smaller updates that would have eventually covered the same ground.

Practice over the past few months has been a mix of seated metta practice for 30 minutes in the morning, self-inquiry/investigation throughout the day, kriyas/spontaneous movements, metta during my running commute home, working with a couple great therapists, bringing metta and meditation into my running and other physical activities, and some sort of unconscious/automatic examination process that happens while I'm sleeping.

Progress is pretty good and feel like I'm getting more emotionally grounded as this continues. I've been burping a ton, which my SE therapist says is a good sign that I'm moving from a fight/flight response to rest/digest. Lately I've been having some cognitive dissonance when I'm feeling various physical sensations that used to have a certain emotional "meaning" that meant I needed to do something to prevent them from arising, but now I'm able to just continue along fine.

I would map everything since the incident in March as more or less one big insight cycle where I noted and did a variety of things to get up through the A&P in August, switched to metta since then, have had a lot of successful purifications, and am now somewhere in Equanimity.
JP, modified 4 Years ago at 6/4/19 10:48 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

Posts: 175 Join Date: 3/31/17 Recent Posts

Everything is going oddly well. My formal practice is still metta, and after talking with my teacher we've moved one step along in the categories to adding in the "Dear One" (a close friend). Not much fireworks in the practice itself, but I feel like it's building a capacity to be with whatever suffering/distraction is coming, put it on pause for a second, and return to genuinely socially connecting to someone and wishing them well. I've also been appreciating more and more the second step in the metta instructions that I've been using, which is to connect with the intention for the other to be happy/peaceful/well. In a way connecting with that intention seems almost like some kind of pointing-out instructions -- it feels like if I were able to clearly experience where the intention was coming from and why it's there, then that would be equivalent to being fully awakened in that moment. I can't really pinpoint where that intuition is coming from, but I'm nevertheless impressed that that's in the instructions.

I've had a couple of extended experiences off-cushion that seem to be a metta/social connection version of the "persistence hunting" experience I had last year. That was all about toying with the idea of seeing if I could predict what I would do and what it would feel like. Trying that out led to it feeling like exactly what life had always been like in terms of the actual sensations that make it up, but without any fundamental suffering or identification. This time, it feels similar, but now expanded a bit towards experiencing a bit of the quality of what it would be like to be the people around me, an awareness of what would help them feel better, a recognition that "I" would like that, and automatic-feeling actions to bring that about. That's combined with my experience feeling a lot more spacious, heightened recognition of impermanence, a recognition that my habitual triggered actions are only doing the best that they know how even if they're not what I would have chosen.

I've generally been feeling like I'm heading deeper into Equanimity of this path. I've had a return of static at the sleep transition, more dreams with endless falling/formless elements, some whacky rainbow lights. Everything also feels increasingly inclined towards impermance, and following the ends of strange lines of thoughts. I feel like I'm on the cusp of mostly working through the emotional and relational issues that kicked off the trauma-related disregulation in March, and have been noticing a big uptick in some of the memories from that time, such as the novel I was reading. I'm still having occasional panicky moments when I suddenly notice the 3Cs off-cushion, but the intensity and duration of that panic is definitely coming down. I'm a bit scared that I'm about to have path moment and that if I do the Review phase could have a lot more emotional disregulation than I've been used to recently, but I am confident in the methods and support structures that I've been using to work through all of this.

One thing that I've been working on with my therapist is to have an increased sense of agency in my feelings and decisions, and to slow down or stop if I feel like I'm going too fast for part of me to handle. I feel like I'm at a point where most of the stuff I do every day can be done without "me" "doing" it, so there's an increased capacity for me to go faster than all parts of me are comfortable in at least the short run. But by slowing down and trying to really hear all the concerns from different parts of me, there's a feeling that my choices are increasingly mine rather than something I'm being forced into. Ironically enough, this increased sense of agency and alignment quickly sets the stage for feelings of agencyless and automaticity that are experienced pleasantly.
JP, modified 4 Years ago at 6/4/19 10:49 AM
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RE: JP's Practice Log

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JUNE 4TH, 2019

I've recently taken TMI back up again, and it's a little weird since I've had a lot of other practice experience but am simultaneously working through a lot more emotional material/trauma/distraction than I had when I first tried TMI two years ago. These are a few things that seem to be helpful:
  • Really taking my time going through the 6-stage prep (Motivation, Goals, Expectations, Distractions, Diligence, and Posture). For Motivation, I take the time to figure out what's agitating me right now, and try to envision how I can imagine practice transforming and improving the aspects of my life that I'm concerned about without repressing how I'm feeling right now. And then that feeds into how I set Goals for the sit. I just reread the interlude on the hindrances, and that helps a bit with connecting my current emotional state to how I'd like stuff to change. (For example this morning I was feeling angry, and identified that as Aversion, where the antidote is meditative joy -- so I set a really strong intention to cultivate relaxation, notice neutral areas of the body, provide positive reinforcement for noticing distraction, and back off of emotionally-laden thoughts and onto neutral/pleasant sensations.
  • The part about noticing the "aha moment" and rewarding it is super-important, and ends up feeling really counterintuitive and surprising when you're doing it right. When you're practicing with a lot of emotional purification under way, the default way of handling stuff is pretty simple -- a part of our experience that we've ignored grabs our attention, obsesses about it for a little bit, we notice that we've stopped following the breath, then we blame ourselves subtly and quickly for messing up, and then we drag attention back to the breath. But when you're consistently reinforcing the the aha moment, everything changes. The first part plays out the same (Ignored submind grabs attention, obsesses, we notice, even the subtle blame starts to kick), but then we remember that we're trying to say thank you, we thank/accept the distraction and the noticing of it, and that's super-surprising. There are lots of parts of ourselves that we've never really thanked or accepted before, and it's both surprising and very healing for them to finally be accepted not just grudgingly as they are but as having gotten something exactly right by noticing the distraction. I'm still bumping along in Stage 2 most of the time, but I feel like the sits are doing something healing with these little continuous micro-validations. I spend a lot of time in the Goals stage of the 6-stage prep thinking about how I want to make sure that this happens during the sit.
  • I feel like I finally have a pretty thorough awareness of the types of sensations that show up as distractions during practice, and am using precise labels to describe them. I set a goal to label them in the Goals phase of the 6-stage prep, and then go through them and any recent life events in the Distractions phase. Right now, I've got the following: "movie thought" for snippets of imagery and narrative from movies I've watched, "book thought" for the same for books, "sports thought" for running and werightlifting, "relationship thought", "work thought", "practice thought", "hearing", "family thought", "yawn", "itch", "urge" for involuntary urge to move, "breath hold", "Witness" for subtle muscle tension in the head/core being interpreted as a controller/doer, "anger thought", "shame thought", and "fear thought". I can usually tell the kind of thought just a little bit after it starts, but it takes some time to disembed.
  • I feel like in general that my awareness of different distractions is high enough that I could probably force myself into a much higher stage, but I'd rather reinforce relaxation/backing off/enjoyment/patience even if it takes longer.
  • I have a ton of involuntary movements and haven't been trying to do anything to stop or change them other than relaxing, reinforcing pleasant sensations, labeling, and trying to return to the breath.
  • I've been closing with 5 minutes of metta to try to start my day with less agitation.

I would say that in general I feel really tense and stressed most of the time, despite being pretty sure that I'm handling stuff as best I can off the cushion by being thoughtful about others, seeing friends, etc. Sleep has also been disturbed, with some nightmares/emotionally significant dreams, night sweats, etc. Exercise has been helpful, especially starting to work out at a local powerlifting gym 2 months ago.