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Shargrol's Posts Compilation


Table of Contents


All of the text which follows were suggestions to specific meditators posting about their specific practice on the DharmaOverground. The writing was not really designed to be stand-alone “teachings”, so please take this into account as you read it. It can be helpful to follow the DhO link (at the end of each entry) and see the context in which the advice was given.

I think it is important for meditators to hear/read a lot of different teachings and figure out what makes sense for themselves. Please make sure you “own” your practice. Don’t give your power away to teachers or institutions. Helpful teachers and supportive institutions will help people develop and find more autonomy, they won’t make the person weaker or dependent. 

There are many ways to support good work in this world. Are you taking more than you are giving? Ask this question often and learn to be creative in your generosity. 

Books Recommended

Here are some books I found very helpful along the way. (I’m not saying “they are right” and I’m definitely not necessarily endorsing the teacher, all the teachings, or any associated institution.):
  • The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey
  • The Science of Enlightenment: Teachings and Meditations for Awakening Through Self-Investigation, Sounds True Audio CD, by Shinzen Young
  • Essential Wisdom Teachings by Peter & Penny Fenner
  • Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa
  • Embracing Emotions as the Path: Colours and Elements in Tantric Psychology by Ngak’chang Rinpoche and Khandro Déchen ( link ) 
  • The MindBody Code: How the Mind Wounds and Heals the Body (CD recording) by Mario Martinez
  • Practical Insight Meditation: Basic and Progressive Stages by Mahasi Sayadaw
  • Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel M. Ingram
  • The Path of Serenity and Insight, especially the hard-to-understand yet oddly confidence-boosting diagram on page 169-170, by Henepola Gunaratana
  • Wake Up to Your Life by Ken MeLeod
  • Clarifying the Natural State by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal
  • Seeing that Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising by Rob Burbea
  • Journey without Goal by Chogyam Trungpa
  • The Zen Teachings of Huang Po translated by John Blofeld
Other books that are worth exploring:
  • The Mystical Theology of the Eastern [Christian] Church by Vladimir Lossky
  • Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters by Robert Augustus Masters
  • Them and Us: Cult Thinking and the Terrorist Threat by Arthur J. Deikman
  • In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness by Peter A. Levine
  • Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness: Practices for Safe and Transformative Healing by David A. Treleaven
  • Mental Health First Aid training, a skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance-use issues. ( link )  
How to get the best advice in an online forum

With the limited time I have, I occasionally respond to people's online practice reports on DharmaOverground  and on Reddit. I try to help in a public way so that others might also get some benefit. 

The online world is an incredible resource... and can be a source of frustration and despair. To get the greatest benefit from having online discussions (with any teacher or sangha), make sure you consider following the steps below. I see the worst way to get advice happening all the time on online sites: the person describes a simple experience without any context, and then asks "what is it and how should I practice now?" People will rarely get good advice if they go about it that way. Someone might reply... but is it really going to be good advice? If you want to get really good advice, here's what I recommend as a general format to ask a good meditation question:

(1) First, a warning: make sure you have a consistent, daily, intentional, non-heroic meditation practice before trying to seek additional information on fine tuning. A classic guideline is don't start second-guessing yourself until you have sat consistently for about 30 days in a row. Most "problems" just need time to resolve or evolve. If you don't have this kind of consistency, then any event you experience can only be considered a random occurrence that is just part of human life. Meditation advice is really only relevant to someone who has an ongoing meditation practice. A corollary to this is that while drug experiences seem similar to meditation experiences, they are not the same. Know that things that happened while on drugs can only be considered a random occurrence that is just part of human drug use. (But if a drug experience makes you want to try meditation, great!) 

(2) Put your question up front: in a short sentence, describe what you were doing, what happened, and what advice you are looking for. Imagine that most people will only read this sentence, so be as clear and direct as you can be. Spend some time figuring this out. Contemplating, formulating, and asking good questions about practice is an important part of practice. You are training your ability to see clearly and communicate with the sangha clearly.

(3) Describe the past six months of practice in a short paragraph. What method have you been using?, how much time do you practice a day?, what has the typical sits been like? If sits have been changing/evolving, describe how they changed/evolved over the last six months.

(4) Describe what the cutting-edge of your practice is. What challenging aspects of meditation have you been working on?

(5) If you are going to use mapping terminology, you have an extra responsibility to describe _how_you_know/think_ you are at the stage you are claiming to be at. This applies to TMI maps, Progress of Insight maps, it applies to every mapping system. This does NOT mean simply describing an experience that is consistent with the stage you think you are in. (e.g., not "I'm calm so I'm in Equanimity"). Rather, describe how you know you have gone through previous stages in the past and how you move up and down through stages during a single sit. Also describe where your average stage is --- it's likely further down from where your cutting edge is.

(6) With this context, now describe the situation that you are uncertain about in your own words and ask your question. Don't use meditation jargon here! Just describe it as if you were talking to a non-meditator using normal words that describe sensations, images, emotions, and thoughts. I guarantee that describing things that way will give a much clearer picture. People do not use/apply terms like A&P, Dark Night, Equanimity, Kundalini, nimitta, consciousness, energy, concentration, insight, void, etc. in the same way... so it is nearly impossible to understand what you are saying if you use those terms -- use your own words!

(7) And finally, give your best guess on what the answer is. This is really important. Be brave and put your best thoughts out there. This is part of becoming a self-sufficient and independent meditator. And in many cases, this is where the real clues about what you are overlooking or confused about will become apparent. Many times people are 80% clear about what happened and what to do about it and more experienced meditators can fill in the other 20%.

(8) Also understand that simply preparing a write-up like this will sometimes give you your answer. If that happens, go with it and test it out for a while. Do the experiment!!! You'll find that you can mostly trust your natural intelligence and learn to fine tune your own practice. This becomes more and more common over time. You become your own teacher and develop into a perceptive, curious, clear-minded, investigative, experimental, responsible, independent, sane, imperfect but evolving adult. That's the goal of meditation, good job! :)

These points are what most experienced meditators look/listen for when choosing what to respond to online with their limited time. In practice, your questions will actually be shorter than my list above. I can guarantee you that learning to communicate and ask questions well will help you get good answers from message boards and teachers. 
The Middle & Higher Paths

Centering instead of Concentration. People use the English word "concentration" for this, but a much better word is "centering". Centering gives the right idea of calming and centering. The word concentration in English implies too much effort, especially for retreat practice. You don't need to try hard on retreat. You need to simply be with your experience in a direct and intimate way. Trust that it will happen if you stay with your experience.  (DhO)

Insight into what Jhanas actually are. Jhanas are the mind looking for a refuge within seclusion and renunciation. It starts off as gross bodily pleasure, but each of the first four jhanas in turn has a limitation which doesn't satisfy. First is interesting but too buzzy, second is satisfying but too sweet, third is blissy but too numb, four is wonderfully simple but there is still the tension of "a witness". So then the mind tries to find refuge/pleasure in aspects of the witnessing and knowing. Endless space feels spacious but the witness has a position, endless consciousness is full but has "knowing", nothingness is nothing but even that is something (it's nothing), and neither perception nor non-perception still has some kind of beingness that is recognizable by it being unrecognizable beingness. 

All of the jhanas have allure because there is a kind of false refuge that seems possible. The self must find the refuge and it becomes more and more subtle. Just like all aspects of samsara, so to speak, has an allure because it promises a refuge in excitement, satisfaction, bliss, equanimity, space, consciousness, nothingness, indefinableness. Those things that make jhana seductive are what make samsara seductive if you look closely enough. 

But this is simply this. So where is the problem? Why does there need to be a refuge?

So I mostly agree with the sutta that enlightenment is "achieved through close and precise observation of and dispassion towards the jhanas and their factors". But my practice was somewhat weak in jhana, at least compared to others, but I could quickly understand how the glimpses of jhana basically exposed the building blocks of everyday samsaric experience, with jhanas giving clues to what those are. Once you can see how jhanas are a false refuge, samsara is clearly seen as a false refuge. And when the false refuge is understood, then the self-which-must-find-refuge is also seen for what it is. (DhO)

Forcing attention.  Forcing attention on breath by willpower basically trains force. Usually when force is being applied, there are a lot of other feelings and thoughts which are being suppressed. When force is dropped, these feelings and thoughts can become very strong. But even that's okay, you get to see what the real nature of your current mind is. (DhO

A gentler approach. The gentler approach is to have the intention to stay on the breath, allow for both success and failure to happen, and when failure eventually happens (which of course it will, that's built into the practice, no big deal) --- then the important part of practice happens: noting what was so seductive to the mind. The important thing isn't to get a A+ in class for staying on the breath, it's to learn about how your own mind works. It's learning directly what seduces the mind, and once we know, we can't be very confused anymore. Over time, with the gentler approach, the mind will follow the intention and stay on the breath and it will be a much more sustainable. It won't require effort because your practice didn't require effort with the gentler approach. The mind can hold breathing in awareness without a big struggle. (DhO

Awareness and counting of breath. Awareness and counting of breath is a great practice. For what it's worth, a good, practical combination is:  
  1. Awareness of breathing as the meditation object 
  2. Counting of breath as the meditation method 
  3. When the count is realized to be lost, "note" what is currently in the mind. What did you wake up to?  Sensations, emotions, or thoughts in mind? Note what is currently in mind. e.g. "planning thought", "discomfort", "frustration", "pleasure", etc. 
  4. Give yourself a mini congratulations that you woke up from distraction. Yeah!! 
  5. Find the breathing sensations again 
  6. Count the breath again 
The whole point of this method is to learn (over time!) how to gently center the mind around awareness of the breath and to sensitize the mind to "waking up" from distraction. Of course the mind has a mind of its own, so to speak, so you don't force this to happen. You're more like a parent watching a toddler learn to walk. The mind "learns to walk" on its own. And if you rush it or get angry or frustrated, you're just freaking out the baby!  Although this sounds like a simple practice, it puts you directly in touch with mindfulness and it greatly increases awareness -- don't underestimate it! (DhO

Lack of Concentration vs Aversion. Energy is one thing. It is okay to adjust by sitting up straighter and breath with more intention if there is too little energy/dullness. It's okay to relax and slump a little and breath more gently if there is too much energy/struggle.

But a lot of times what we call a lack of concentration is actually an aversion to what is happening. Concentration just means you are able to note what is happening, you can describe what is occurring. But often times we say there is a lack of concentration when all that is occurring is dullness, confusion, irritation, boredom, discomfort, distraction, lack of interest, daydreams, etc.

Meditation really takes off when you can become a newsroom reporter and just observe and note what is actually occurring. Then all hindrances actually become FUEL for practice, because you use the awareness of them AS your practice. No matter how crappy the sit, if you were there for it, it's a great sit. No matter if you get distracted 1000 times, if you come back from distraction 1000 times then you will have learned much more about the mind than if you were only distracted and came back once.

Meditation can be counter-intuitive at first. The quality of it is not judged in normal, conventional ways of good, better, best. Actually the worst sits are the best in a very real sense.

So don't worry much about how it goes. Just keep your consistent daily practice and stay interested in what naturally arises as you sit.

When you get to the point that you can actually investigate what it feels like to be dull, confused, irritated, bored, in discomfort, distracted, lacking interest, daydreaming... then a whole world opens up. You'll actually hope for hindrances to show up so that you can get a good look at them and be able to learn Mara's tricks, so to speak. (DhO)

What Compassion is. Compassion is technically the ability to be with someone who is in suffering, without projecting your own needs onto them. (Com= with, passion = suffering). It doesn't mean you suffer because someone else suffers, but rather you can be present and fully witness another's suffering. So no rescuer complexes, no borderline personality disorder, no repression, no projection... A first step in actually helping someone is just to be able to be present and understand their sense of reality. A lot of the time, that's what people really want, someone to be with who isn't also triggered. Just having someone there allows the person to accept and let go...

The compassion that happens through practice is mostly from going through your own shit and processing your own neuroses. It allows you to more easily recognize it in others, not get triggered by their baggage, and generally have a sense of what might help. You never really know if you can help someone though. It's as much up to them as up to you, and communication is never perfect, so there aren't easy 100% cures... (DhO

Meditation, Compassion and Morality. This is how meditation does seem to work. By becoming aware and sensitive, we often become conventionally moral. The compassion that comes from practice happens the same way: more sensitive and aware of difficulty in our self, we automatically start noticing in others and have compassion. It's a much more deep and resilient and mature kind of morality than just following rules.  And it has less repression and more flexibility: you simply know that a daily habit of added calories, numbing, and energy the body needs to devote to detoxification aren't worth it, but you probably also know that if eventually you have a drink sometime in the future, you're allowed to enjoy it and it isn't the end of the world.  It really is amazing how meditation evokes all of these changes, but without relying on repression or dogma. (DhO

Noting, Metta, Tranquility. Noting has a way of taking away the "I'm doing this practice" side of things that comes with other methods. You just note what happens. You don't care what happens, you just note what happens. That's a totally different attitude toward practice than cultivating metta, etc.

Metta has a way of taking away the "I'm special, only I feel this way" side of things. You notice how non-objective we are about our own wants and needs -- it feels like something that should drive our life, but actually everyone has the same kind of visceral desires and feelings of lack. It really takes off when it gets to the point where you say "wow, this is what shame feels like. Everyone that feels shame feels like this. Since I'm feeling shame anyway, may I take on the world's feeling of shame so that can be rid of it for a while. May it all come to me during this sit. May the rest of the world experience relief while I take on their shame”. That later part is "taking and sending" practice, which is a another form of metta.

Tranquility has a way of highlighting how we are our own worst enemy and make things needlessly complicated for ourselves. We sit and our only goal is to relax and be tranquil. Yet our stuff keeps coming up. Part of our mind notices the "ill-will" and it seems like part of our mind/body isn't affected by ill-will, so we go to the not-ill-will part of our experience with our intention. We sigh, we let go, we relax, we feel it. We go into that feeling of relief and it deepens... yet before you know it there is another ill-will -- the same one but stronger or weaker, or a different one -- that somehow became our focus of attention. So we repeat the process. This "letting go of ill-will" is a totally different training than the other two.

So I would go with the "do all three" approach, but just make sure you aren't switching around too early. Like a good workout, you need to get to your cutting edge and hang out there for a while, regardless of the specific meditation practice you are doing.  (DhO)  

Metta is the heart of meditation. Metta is the heart of meditation. If you can hold "the other" in your mind with a sense of goodwill, then the entire path of practice will simply unfold. Sometimes other is other individuals or groups of people, but other is also body sensations, emotions, and thoughts.

It all comes down to becoming more and more sensitive to ways we have "ill will" toward reality and then -- not changing anything -- simply holding that ill will with a sense of goodwill. It's like welcoming a broken off part of the self back into the heart and mind, welcoming it back home. 

You'll find that it's very natural to have compassion toward our flaws, resistances, old wounds, fears, ill will. But it takes a certain faith and bravery to go into those experiences and really know them intimately. But once the intention is made to go into those experiences, it all unfolds very naturally. And each time metta is extended to something that was previously resisted, you can feel your sense of power and effectiveness increasing. It's a paradoxical situation where surrendering leads to empowerment, where embracing your ill will leads to even more goodwill. (DhO

Brahma Viharas. (How to?) Go to the body. In otherwords, imagine and induce feelings of happiness in your own body and imagine that others/all beings have that feeling in their body. The most direct way of feeling happiness is to cultivate acceptance (equanimity), friendliness (metta), caring (compassion), and appreciation (mudita), also known as the four immeasurables.

May all beings be calm and at ease
May all beings be healthy, rested, and whole
May all beings be safe and free from danger
May all beings face the difficulties in their life, but avoid unnecessary problems
May all beings awaken
May all beings be free from suffering
May all beings be happy                                   (DhO)

Hypnosis: a dominance/submission mechanism. My theory is that hypnosis makes use of the dominance/submission mechanism that makes children listen to parents. In other words, it's a kind of trance state where kids don't have free will, but rather follow parental direction. This mechanism makes evolutionary sense because a child would not survive without the parent until they are ~15 years old or so, so there has to be a "command voice" that is pretty powerful.

This mechanism also needs to somehow suppress cognitive dissonance. It has to work even in the case of really bad parents, because unfortunately, even bad parents will keep the child alive longer than if the child just ran off by themselves... So another aspect of the mechanism is the child will follow commands, even if the parent seems wrong or the direction seems wrong. The child somehow rationalizes the parent as "knowing what is best" and rationalizes the command as making sense. Which is why a hypnotic suggestion can make an adult be convinced that they are a chicken. I just googled, there are 99,000 video hits on "hypnosis act like chicken".

But hypnotherapy can also be used to help a patient become aware of aspects of their experience that they are otherwise ignoring, which can help induce positive changes in their life. For example, they can be made aware of the feeling of emotional emptiness that fuels binge eating and they can be made aware of the pleasures that come with exercise... which can help make permanent changes toward their eating habits and health.

In this case, a hypnotic trance is directing the patients awareness to aspects of their pathological trance which has been ignoring aspects of their thinking/behavior. Sort of fighting fire with fire.

I feel like there have been aspects of my meditation practice where I've used intentions to "self-hypnotize myself" to explore a particular aspect of experience... sort of like inducing relaxation and clearer perception through intention. Intentions are statements we make by ourselves and to ourselves... basically using the "command voice" on ourselves!

Ultimately, a well-developed human will have more conscious control of this inner "command voice" and will, in a sense, be able to command themselves, rather than relying on an external voice. I suspect that most adult are still susceptible to external  "command voice". In other words, the mechanism possibly never quite goes away during adulthood. This is all just my hunch. (DhO

A blend of Concentration and Vipassana. I never had super-pure samatha meditations, it was always a blend of concentration and vipassana. So when I encountered what you are experiencing I balanced doing two things: (1) gently feel for sensations of breathing at the nose; (2) gently notice the sense of "ill will" you have about what is happening (difficulty finding sensations, doubts, frustrations, etc.)

Notice how your mind tends to alternate between relaxing into the sensations of breathing and a different, more aversive and self-critical, mode. No big deal, that's completely normal. But when you notice the tone of "ill will" let yourself take a slightly fuller breath, feel that ill will, and kinda sigh, "ahhh...."

The point here is that you are training the defensive/survival instinct to relax a little and allow yourself to enjoy the very simple sensations of breathing. When ill will clouds the mind you both acknowledge that sensation and indend to relax a little. Don't try to push the ill will sensation away (that's more ill will!) but rather just acknowledge it but intend to soften it.

This kind of practice is very healing and is what is often needed for really being able to be present with the sensations of breathing. Even so, it's completely normal to drift in and out of attention on breathing --- that's why this is a training, a practice.

One last thing, anyone can stay on the sensations of breathing if they take the attitude "I'm going to crush my mind onto this object". Imagine a group a shoulder chanting in/out as they are breathing on a forced march --- sure you're aware of breathing, but it misses the point entirely. The point is to allow the body to breath naturally and to allow the mind to settle on the object naturally. Success is not how often you are on the breath, but rather the gentleness of the mind that rests on, slips off, returns, slips off, returns, etc. You are trying to train >instinctual< concentration, not brute effort. The technique to re-train our instincts includes lots of low-effort, high-repetition practice. You are training yourself to do it with just your intention, not effort, so be gentle about it, notice the subtle sense of ill will that goes with your judgement "this isn't happening right", and simply return to whatever sensations might be present. (DhO

Kneading the dough image. When concentration states arise, soak in them. sooooaaaaaaak in them. Feel any arising of sweetness and just dwell in it and revel in it. There is nothing wrong with that, it makes the mind soft and pliable. 

If a little part of the body/mind has light jhana, put your mind into that part of experience. Cultivate that feeling-vibe. Only after it feels full and complete in that area, then start expanding a little, right at the boundary of that jhana feeling... Allow the feeling to expand at it's own rate. Like stretching a piece of dough. Dough has to rest after its been stretched, and after it's rested, it can be stretched even further. Fill your experience with the guilt-free feeling of jhana.

... You have flour-salt and water-yeast and you try mixing it together. It's all soupy and powdery ---- no big deal. Don't try to fix it, just experience the actual nature of the mixture. Your own hand will know where to move, to slowly move more water into the flour and more flour into the water. All it takes is intention and time and then the dough starts to come together. But it's still a shaggy dough, over dry in some places over wet in others --- no big deal. Don't think that somethings wrong, this is how it is supposed to be. Keep gently working the dough. Don't worry if the ball of dough falls apart into little pieces, keep bringing it back together and apply gentle pressure. Soon the dough stays together as a ball. Now delight in the feeling of the dough and start kneading. Again, your hands seem to know what to do and the dough becomes fun to work. It becomes soft and elastic, nothing falling apart and it starts developing a skin and a fleshiness to it. Wow, it's fun to knead it now. But at a point the dough simply cannot be improved and your hands and eyes seem to know. Done. Stop working. Delight in what you have. Let it rest, let it rise on it's own...

The early stages of dough making are like starting retreat and doing vipassina. You have to follow the schedule, put in the hours, and do the work to soften the psyche's knots. Then once a critical mass is done, then jhana naturally starts happening, like the dough coming together. Then you knead jhana into your mind, until the entire mind is soft and piable. Then you rest and simply dwell -- this is like dzogchen or mahamudra.

Each phase of this work has their own style of insights that happen. On retreat, you need all three. But the trick is you let conditions determine what you do. You don't force practice into one particular mode or another. Your mind is smarter than the ego. It will show you what you need to do. It won't feel so linear ... it will feel more cyclical, more fractal ... (DhO)

Concentration and Vipassana aren’t so different. The difference between Concentration and Vipassana isn't as big as it sounds like on the written page. That's what makes it hard to learn from a book or without feedback from other people. In both cases, you need to be aware of what is happening, in both cases you need to drop greed, aversion, and indifference to what is occurring. Both involve relaxation, seeing clearly, and acceptance.

In both cases, typically the felt sensations of breathing are used as a meditation anchor. Perhaps the main difference is that when doing concentration practices, as soon as a non-breathing-related experience is noticed, one moves back to noticing breathing sensations. In vipassana practices, it's okay to notice the non-breathing-related experiences for a while, as long as you maintain objectivity. As soon as a vipassana meditator notices they are caught up in a long string of discursive thinking, then they return to noticing breathing sensations. So vipassana includes more exploration of experience.

Notice that in practice this isn't a clear line, it’s more of a moving slider that you push more toward concentration or more toward vipassana. Many schools do not make the distinction and just let the student move the slider based on their own interest, curiosity, and instinct. Obviously to wake up, you need to both develop concentration and clear seeing, so no one with a good practice only does one or the other (despite what they might say!).

Here's the next level: notice how all of the above assumes that we are in control of our mind and attention? Is that true, or are we somehow watching all of this occur? It's possible to watch how the mind itself will focus on breathing sensations. It's possible to watch how the mind itself will get greedy for pleasurable sensations or adverse to negative sensations or be indifferent to neutral sensations. It's possible to watch how the mind will explore other non-breathing-related experiences. It's possible to watch the mind get caught up in a long string of discursive thinking. And it's possible to watch the mind come back from thinking/daydreaming trances and return to the meditation object.

In the paragraph above, you can see that the sense of "a watcher" is being developed. This is an important next stage in meditation practice. At first we start off trying to actively fix our mind by developing focus and attention. At a certain point, a meditator should notice how focus and attention "do its own thing" and actually are something we experience after it happens. This is a big insight! Once you see that we really don't control meditation, but rather have to go through what is already happening, then meditation really starts to do its work.

This might sound goofy or strange, but in reality is the same thing that every athlete in the world understands. You don't force or control the body in sports. You form an intention and let the body do its thing and you try to get out of its way. You stay aware of what is happening and the body itself learns over time what works and what doesn't. What happens is much more nuanced than our thinking mind. "I'm going to run faster" means nothing to the body, it's just our little worried mind trying to act like it can make things happen. To run faster you have to feel what running feels like and notice anything that feels like resistance. The body will want to drop that resistance but will need to learn how to become more coordinated, smooth, and efficient over time. It's at the level of body, not the thinking mind. Making an extra effort often gets in the way of high performance. You need to trust that your body is an amazing performing and learning machine and just spend the time doing the sport and letting the changes occur.

The same thing is true in meditation. At first you need to show up to practice and learn some basic skills. You have to get to the point where you have a consistent daily practice --- and that takes determination. But once it is a new habit, then you need to let meditation take on its own shape and lead you through what you need to go through. Everyone is different. That's why there are 10,000 different meditation practices/methods. But in all cases, it's about finding a practice that seems interesting enough to keep us on the cushion and productive enough to give us incremental progress -- whether it is greater relaxation, a purification of emotions, or interesting insights into the nature of mind itself.

"Progress" can be counter-intuitive, so we benefit from talking about our practice with others. The biggest problem we have is that we can become dogmatic about the practice method and what is supposed to happen during practice. But if we realize that for every meditator it is an interesting and personal exploration -- and no one has done it the same way -- then there is a lot more enjoyment and flexibility to focus on what we are trying to get out practice and to make practice work for ourselves. And if we start seeing 1) our own natural wisdom is working during practice and we can trust it, and 2) the main goal is always to see greed, aversion, and indifference clearly so that the mind will instinctively see it like a burning coal and drop it from our hand.

If we don't trust our inherent wisdom and don't clearly see how we lose equanimity and suffer because of our reactivity, then we won't make much progress in meditation.

But if we have a sense of faith/trust/intuition and investigate how we resist what we experience, then those resistances drop away and we lose suffering and become profoundly joyful, even in difficult situations. (DhO)


What to get out of insight practices. Conventional practices to find happiness are all about prefering one state to another and rejecting the bad one and going toward the good one. But the happiness found in meditation is making peace with all states --- profound equanimity --- while gently allowing practice to deepen -- by innate wisdom, not calculated cunning -- over time. (DhO)  

Who can get something out of insight practices. Meditation is good for people who are at least vaguely aware that they have neurotic defense mechanisms. People with mostly pathological or immature defense mechanisms or who are completely embedded in neurotic defense mechanisms probably won't get much out of meditation. See: That said, none of this is simple/clean and we all can have knots of pathology that are resistant to awareness. That's why we need practices and/or peers and/or teachers and/or therapists to help us become aware of unconscious habits/worldviews.  (DhO)

Meditation is not about gains but about losses. Meditation is often talked about as if you "gain" insights from the practice -- like "I'm going to get stream entry" -- but really it's about loss. It loosens the self-other construct and loosens the solidity of our mental representations of the world. The good news is there is a lot of love, compassion, and freedom that is found, but the flip side is there is a lot of loss of self-pride, loss of emotional distance, and loss of faith in various intellectual structures/dogma/models. You feel more vulnerable and are less protected, yet you have greater resiliancy and equanimity. It's paradoxical, ultimately, so somewhat hard to talk about.

As others have said, these effects are fairly common. It's kind of ironic... when well-balanced people start meditating and go through changes, they often become off-balanced.  When off-balanced people start meditating and go through changes, they often become re-balanced. 

Ultimately things might stay the same, might continue to change. The changes also take time to become normalized. Many insights happen and feel weird for a while, but then become the new normal. One thing I will say is that "the self that knows" does not change -- and that's a big hint right there. So it can feel insane at times, but if you think about it, the self that knows is aware of these changes and remains the same. Everything else really isn't the self.

... Meditation has a way of pointing out our resistances, defenses, and clingings. It's a very deep practice that radically rewires how we relate to the world. You can see why changes in morality can be correlated to practice -- any resistance, fear, or ill will gets magnified and turned into a problem that you have to address to make progress. Practice points out all the ways self creates itself and forms an attitude of greed, aversion, or indifference to the other. This isn't an insight into some abstract aspect of self and other, but rather how self and other is created in every single moment and how greed, aversion, and indifference show up in every single viewpoint.

This can be a very hard thing for people to see if they have a very solid worldview. These insights are in some ways easier for people who have already gone through trauma or are suffering, because it also points to a way beyond all these rigid views of their situation. The way out is to hold on to things a little more loosely and provisionally, while identifying less with conditions and more with "the one who knows". (DhO)

Meditation works subconsciously. Meditation is a much different practice than anything that's conscious or intellectual. It works very subconsciously, outside of really being able to percieve the changes that are happening --- until the changes become big enough and then it's obvious. (DhO)

The verbal mind is just another phenomenon of the body-mind. When we are growing up, sometime around age 4 or so, we start talking to ourselves. ALL THE TIME. If you listen to kids, at a certain point they start narrating their life "I put this block here. The doll goes here. I go get the crayon..." As you are watching the kid, you might be tempted to say "you don't need to say everything you are doing. Just do it."  But it is part of developing the verbal mind.

The weird thing is that this odd behavior becomes so ingrained and pervasive in adults --- it becomes the verbally thinking mind. And 99% of adults are so identified with the verbal mind that they think that is what I am. I am my thoughts.

Meditation is usually the first time an adult starts seeing the verbal mind as just another phenomenon of the body-mind. Like you said, you can actually "watch" the mind be tumbling around in thought. Sometimes people call this "glimpsing the mindstream". The interesting thing about this state is you can't really "think" about what you are seeing, because that would be more thoughts, but the witnessing/awareness aspect of the mind can start to see thoughts as thoughts.

This can be shocking, but thoughts have always been thoughts, sensations have always been sensations. Without meditation, there really isn't much nuance in peoples mind. But the more you observe and understand your own mind, you will see how experience is made of a lot of component experiences, subtle sensations, sensations, urges, subtle emotions, emotions, proto-thoughts, one-word thoughts, and full sentence thoughts... It will be obvious that experience always was this way, but you just didn't see it before.

There can be a crisis of confidence that "if I see my thoughts as thoughts they are unreal and will go away, leaving me without thoughts". That's not really true. There might be an adjustment period when you are thinking less and less compulsively, but it is more like you arrive at a new healthy balance for urges, emotions, and thoughts. Usually this is a lot less, a lot more calmer, a lot more "clear", than your life pre-meditation... but they don't really go away completely.

The last thing you will see is that "good/bad" is actually a full body experience. We might initially think "I need my thoughts to figure out good and bad", but really it's something that is part of every aspect of experience. It's actually very common to start navigating life more morally and responsibly by tuning into the "felt" sensation of the world. In other words, feelings and emotions can actually be more accurate than clunky word-thoughts for moment by moment navigation.

Notice that you mostly don't "verbally think" how to catheterize a vein. By now you probably look and "feel" like a nice straight surficial vein would make a good target. Your body knows that the "sensation" of having a relaxed but calm hand sensations means you are ready to start the needle moving. You "feel" for the pop, you "notice" the flash, you withdraw the needle along the path of least resistance, you feel the right pressure under your thumb which stops the blood as you tug off the tourniquet, you know in your gut if you have a patent IV, but you hook up the line and then see, and you watch your feelings as part of deciding are they getting a good flow...

It's true that we all talk to ourselves while doing job stuff... but it's also true that the real skill shows up in a non-verbal way. It's just we don't notice it very often.

So basically, you are starting to "see" thoughts. You could say you are seeing the not-self aspect of thoughts and are starting to identify with awareness more than the content of awareness.  

A big trap at this stage is thinking "oh I'm awareness. And when I'm awareness everything is nice and no problem... therefore contents of mind are the problem!" NO no no!  Contents of mind are just fine, no problem. The point is to learn to see everything as it is. See sensations as sensations, urges as urges, emotions as emotions, thoughts as thoughts, states as states. You don't need to do this verbally (e.g. labelling everything with words) but it can be good practice at first, like the 4 year old that learns to label their actions. A meditator learns to label their inner experience. But ultimately, you can just "notice" rather than note, like you did on your 30minute walk home. (DhO)

Glimpses along the way. It's almost ALWAYS the case that we get a "glimpse" of new stuff and then it takes days, weeks, months before another glimpse. That's just normal, it doesn't mean anything is wrong. Also, the mature version of what we glimpse is usually less extreme/profound over time... it becomes kind of normal. So be on the lookout for trying to make experiences into "very special things that show how very special I am".  Of course, it's totally okay to get excited about new developments in our practice, but just don't buy into the hype about different spiritual states. (DhO

Beginner's luck. There seems to be a bit of beginner's luck a lot of the time... People can have quick experience when they start sitting, almost like a sneak preview, and then it takes a while to work back to that cutting edge. So don't be surprised if the next time you sit it doesn't go the same way. Pretty much the whole path of practice is sitting, glimpse of something, losing the something, sitting for a long time and getting frustrated, but then (usually when you give up on making progress) the something comes back and more, then it's lost, then you work up to it again, etc ... (You may be) primed for this kind of work in one sense, but also maybe a little fragile in another sense.

... It is HIGHLY recommended that you develop your support team before getting into disruptive stuff. Finding a local practice group and teacher is best. Many of us have worked with meditation teachers/fellow practioners via skype/google hangouts and that has worked well, too.

You have been given a nice sneak preview -- how very kind of the universe! But now take precautions and set up things so you can do this practice and make progress without really disrupting your life. (DhO

Before beginning, think about your intentions, goals and the means to the goals. Why do I want to practice? What do I want to get out of this? Is meditation the best way to get what I want? Meditation isn't a silver bullet, it doesn't magically get you what you want. What am I practicing? Do I understand the method, maps, and experiences that might happen? Do I really think I can handle it? Do I have people I can talk with about practice? Are there people in my life that will support me in my practice? Do I have enough time to really do this? Does this fit into all the other things I want to do with my time?

One of the best things you can do is find a practice group with a senior student or teacher. In fact, I would say, it's better to spend two years looking for the right support group than it is to spend 10 years practicing. I know that sounds crazy from someone in the "practical dharma" world, but I truly believe it. (DhO

There is no need to rush into practice. There is a saying that is very true: "well begun is half done".  

Trust your intuition and stop meditating until your intentions are right and your mindset is correct.  Instead, use your time to investigate things further ...  Read about different meditation methods. Visit different teachers. Have Skype conversations with other meditators. Read about cults and how to recognize and avoid them (for example the book "Them and Us" by Deikman). Whenever some one is offering "a dream come true" -- watch out! Read about basic psychology (Defense Mechanisms) and adult development (Cook Greuter). Focus on building a strong foundation of physical health, education, good employment, and friendships. Honestly, a good foundation will make you go further, faster, with less suffering. (DhO)

Three broad categories of meditators. In Path of Purification (book) there is a description of the three broad categories of meditators. It's a generalization, but a useful tool. Usually we have one dominant pattern and then a secondary pattern that sometimes comes into play. Link: The 3 Buddhist Personality Types: Which One Are You?  

(In a) pretty classic aversive type, in the absense of distraction and in the openness of quiet, the meditator instinctually take an adversarial relationship to the situation. Lots of self judgement. I can remember a classic greedy type on one of my retreats: he started breathing deeply and with a sound that allowed him to focus (like victory breathing in yoga) and got so into it -- but really was unaware how selfish and distruptive he was. An ignorance type would zone out and not even be aware that they are on retreat. (DhO

Too much, too soon. There's a real danger in trying to do too much too soon. No one gets strong in a day. No one awakes in a day. Keep practicing consistently and you will be amazed at where you are in a year. But if you go too far too fast, you're just traumatizing and re-traumatizing the body and mind. That's not how you actually make progress. You make progress by slowly expanding your equanimity to include more and more. It takes time and intentional cultivation/practice. (DhO)

Spiritually Ambitious People. The people who really suffer are those that treat meditation/spirituality as something that makes them more and better. More wise, more intelligent, more perceptive, more accomplished, more grounded and better than everyone else without a practice. In essence, their practice is all about getting ahead and separating themselves from the rest of humanity.

The people who seem to make quick work of it are those who already know that life is up and down, fame and blame, wealth and loss, success and failure, but who seem to key into the sense of there being a basic, human sanity that is possible to develop and refine. A sanity that connects to the simplicity of being a perceptive human mind and a simple enjoyment of a human embodied experience. This is more a motivation of "I know I will be better for myself and all beings if I see through my compulsive ideas, behaviors, and endless competition with other people."

Practice "with a gaining idea" or being "spiritually ambitious" can really mess things up.

No one is totally pure of heart, so I'm not saying you need to get rid of your shadow desires before starting --- that's impossible. But I am saying that there should be some humility and groundedness from the beginning, otherwise all of the insights -- which basically destroy conventional defense mechanisms -- will feel like "losses" and instead of feeling intimacy with life, you'll feel isolated and lost.

All of this is paradoxical, so it isn't easy to describe... but although spiritual practice DOES make you feel isolated and lost, if there isn't ambition, it also allows you to better intimately connect. And even though you DO become more wise and perceptive, you also clearly see all of your incomplete development and stupidity. Hopefully it turns you into a good human, but if intentions are all wrong, it can turn you into a neurotic wreck.

In some sense, there really isn't a choice you need to make... life will kinda point to what you probably should do. But, to the extent that you can, think about intentions and consequences. Meditation kinda takes away the ways you can hide, so be clear about what you want to be. Meditation also wakes you up to the life you have, not some other life, so also make sure you are doing your best to make it a good one. Don't rely on meditation to fix all your life problems. (DhO

Dealing with a psyche that strives, that wants, that needs. It's very very very hard to learn to deal with the part of our psyche that strives, that wants, that needs. It is such a core part of who we are. The only problem is we don't know how to turn it off or let it go. So we spend our entire life running towards the horizon, never catching it.

Ambition is fine, but the point is to consciously use ambition skillfully, and not be used by a primitive ambition-urge unconsciously and unskillfully. 

Normally, we think that 10% of what we need to know is right here and 90% of what we need to get is over the horizon. That's the way our brain tends to be wired, especially in modern life, where we read things and hear theories and believe those things more than our actual bodily experience in the world. It's only over time that we can actually appreciate that the experience that we want isn't over the horizon. It's actually more like we should be spending 90% of our mind just experiencing the reality of right now, and spend just 10% of our brain thinking about what we could do next in the future.

When you look back on your meditation history, you will see that all of your "failures" pretty much had to happen. Our mind needs to be confronted by the consequence of having greed, aversion, and ignorance. Greed for better future, aversion for who we are now, ignoring the present moment. (DhO)

What Buddhist practices are about. Buddhist texts are basically written in a kind of code that sounds philosophical or religious -- and of course they work on that level -- but the real essence of it is how they practically get applied to our actually lived life in our actual body. So "dukkha" is basically "stress", "absence of greed, aversion, and indifference" is basically "tranquility", "meditation" means many things but it includes "cultivating equanimity", etc. Once you learn how to decode Buddhism, it becomes very practical. 

I would say that Buddhist practices are about developing basic sanity and as an co-occurrence there are deeper/subtler insights into the nature of self... but many times people put the cart before the horse and think that Buddhism is about insights into the nature of self that "give you" basic sanity. 

In practice, you become aware of where you are physically-emotionally-intellectually "knotted", you put awareness on that feeling of stress/ill-will/resistance (which can be difficult, it can be "difficult to find" or "scary to investigate"), but then when that experience can rest in awareness, without us wanting to change it or push it away, then the body-mind figures out how to understand the experience and let it go. This last stage tends to "happen" rather than being something that we make happen or "do".

"Vipassana" is "clear seeing" -- in meditation we clearly see our stresses, how they are created and held in the body-mind, and this leads to "Nibbana" which is the "extinguishing" of the stresses. (DhO)

Nibbana is not a fixed state of happiness, it’s how the last moment translates into this moment and the next moment without any resistance. The real trick of meditation, and what Buddha was pointing at, is not nibbana as a fixed state of happiness but rather it's the lack of doing battle with what already is while also being free to do worthwhile things. Appreciation and freedom. Nibbana is how the last moment translates into this moment and the next moment without any resistance. Time is always releasing the past and becoming the present --- but we rarely live our lives that way. Any fixed state goal always falls apart, but there are indeed people who are very effective at navigating the ups and downs of life. And it is true that some of the most resilient people are meditators.

We are basically handed this present moment and we can fight it or get depressed about it and all the subtle versions of negativity as well --- or we can meet the truth of the moment and live from there. Nibbana is how the current moment is always in flux, how it it always miraculously now, and therefore now is the only "time" that we can ever make contact with our actual life. 

We live a lot of our life living in hope and fear about the future and living in pride and shame about the past. In the current moment we get hung up on winning and losing and praise and criticism. But with basic sanity, we can have some choice in whether we get hung up in hope and fear and pride and shame and winning and losing and praise and criticism. Sure, all those things will happen to us in our life, and all of those things can be good information at times, but there are a lot of options for how we create our sense of self. (DhO)

The human mind is usually in a "fix it" or "improve it" mode, but we learn to drop this during meditation. In a way practice is very very simple: be aware of this moment... and this moment has already happened so there is nothing more you need to do. It can get so over complicated but this is the foundation for awakening.

The human mind is usually in a "fix it" or "improve it" mode, but we learn to drop this during meditation. That's why the breath is often used as an initial meditation object - you can't stop and hold onto "the breath", it's always moving and changing and you learn that to "fully experience it" you have to just let it go and go along with it, so to speak. So it gives the beginner something to pay attention to that also leads them into insights...

The tricky thing is that we kinda half-ignore the things that seem like "me" -- the questions, the thoughts, the planning, the analysis, the getting worried, the doubting, the second-guessing, the uncertainty. BUT as soon as someone understands, "oh, all these thoughts and emotions are just more things to let happen and fully experience" then they are truly becoming a meditator. 

It's possible to watch any bodily sensations in the same way as watching the breath. It's possible to watch emotions in the body in the same way as watching the breath. It's possible to watch thoughts in the same way as the watching the breath. So all of experience can be included in meditation.

Then the final thing is to learn how to not indulge or complicate experience. So if the emotion of "uncertainty" shows up, can you just let uncertainty show up? Or does it lead to a lot of emotional reactions and thoughts and drama? If the emotion of "doubt" shows up, can you just experience doubt? Or does it lead to a lot of emotional reactions and thoughts and drama? Things like thoughts or doubts or uncertainty are not really a problem in themselves. It's only when we solidify and complicate them that nirvana becomes samsara -- in samsara we go round and round with our human dramas.

But the interesting thing about thoughts and emotions is they pass as soon as they arise. Look closely at a troubling thought: where does it come from, where does it stay, where does it go? It's almost like thoughts pass as soon as they arise. Same thing with emotions: they flair up momentarily and maybe what sticks around is some body sensations, but the inital burst of emotional meaning is very short lived.

And over time --- years, realistically --- thoughts and emotions become less of a problem. Their vivid and empty nature becomes more obvious and thoughts and emotions are more nirvana than samsara. Nirvana means "extinguishing" and with good practice, it's possible to see thoughts and emotions extinguishing themselves as soon as they arise. And the good news is that even with just a little practice, we can learn to see thoughts as thoughts and emotions as emotions and they become less and less sticky and problematic. (DhO)

May I awaken, but gently please. Fast progress tends to be fairly energetic and disruptive. And I'm just making a joke that while in the beginning we want to make fast progress, after we've experience what fast progress does to the body and mind, most experienced meditators say something like "I hope things are gentle" rather than "I hope I make fast progress".

Meditation pretty much always opens up psychological and physiological stuff, including physical effects that are variously described as kundalini, chakras, etc. While perhaps some people have textbook kundalini awakenings, the vast majority of meditators will go through various stages where it feels like the body is rewiring and all sorts of different sensations, spontaneous movements, energetic feeling will happen.

As always, don't try to fit your experiences into a model or expect that things will happen one way or another, just because some book or tradition says so. There is a lot of variation. And when there are a lot of openings, insights, new territory being uncovered, it is also more likely that the extreme stuff (that Daniel cautions about in his book) is possible. 

So don't be in a rush, just treat each sit as just a sit. As Kenneth Folk says "consistency, not heroics" . If physical/energetic stuff shows up, don't resist, let it do its thing. And if it seems like too much, trust your conscience, slow down or stop practicing, walk around, see a movie, hang out with friends, chill for a bit. A big part of becoming a meditator is learning how to adjust the intensity of practice so the pot keeps simmering rather than boiling over. (DhO)

Meditation is much closer to playing a guitar. Meditation is a very esoteric practice: mind looking at mind to figure out what mind is. Self-investigating self to figure out what self is. It's pretty crazy when you think about it. It's much closer to playing an instrument. You can talk about it and describe how to play a guitar, but that will never allow you to play a guitar. It's all time spend training the body and guitar mechanics, developing the ear, developing a sense of rhythm/time, learning how to bend strings to the right pitch --- on and on and on. No one can say "just do this". You basically have to be like Slash or Hendrix and walk around all the time playing on and playing with your guitar...

Same thing with meditation. The only way to develop the machinery to see how mind creates a simulation of reality is to develop "mind looking at mind" ability. Learn how to distinguish sensations, urges, emotions, and thinking patterns. Learn how experience becomes modified by fears, resistances, past traumas, inhibitions, etc. Develop the ability to look at thoughts as thoughts. To notice how awareness requires no effort. Lots and lots of little things...  A teacher can usually help figure out what direction might be helpful, and usually practice itself points the way. Whatever is interesting or annoying about meditation usually has an insight somewhere in there... 

So ultimately, it simply can't be said, which is why it doesn't get said. I could say "there is no mind" or "it is all mind" or "mind is self" or "the sense of self is just a sense of self" or "there is no self" or "suffering is personalizing pain" etc. if that would help, but it isn't quite the insight itself and I have a hunch that for 99% of people it would become just another unquestioned belief. The important thing is to peel away the illusions of mind and the illusions of self until, quite by accident you realize what others have realized. Then you really got it.

So this style of teaching is really just repeating practice instructions... if things seem solid and real, investigate them a bit more, you might find that they are both 100% vivid and real and 100% empty displays of mind. Until you can see how both are true, samsara is a trap. When you see both are true, you see how samsara is nirvana. (DhO)

Blend of sensory clarity & relaxing. The path to SE is an interesting blend of sensory clarity AND relaxing. We tend to use the word "concentration" to mean an effortful directing of attention, but almost a better word for meditative concentration (jhana) is "centering". There is less and less effort the more and more centered you get. (DhO)

Not a new stability, but rather an ability to navigate in a world of ambiguity. After a certain point, meditation really does become about dropping defense mechanisms (in the psychological sense) and purification. A lot of our old ways of thinking/coping become blatantly obvious and seen as childish, and in its place is not a new stability, but rather an ability to navigate in a world of ambiguity. (DhO)

Being free and awake is terrifying to our simple sense of self. While there are many intellectual insights and spiritual thoughts that happen, at the end of the day: are we living in reactivity and limitation or not? Being "free" and "awake" is terrifying to our simple sense of self. No matter what books we read or ideas we have, we need to actually be able to fully experience what shows up in meditation as a practice, so that we can do the same in life. It sounds so simple, but as anyone who practices knows, meditation is extremely challenging. We inevitably confront our own shadows and fears. We inevitably need to let go of our own self-comforting and psychological defense mechanisms (except the mature ones)... For better or worse, the mind is both brilliantly smart and primitively stupid. We can have many spiritual insights, but still have unhelpful confusions in our mind and in our body. The only way to awaken is to enliven all these dead spots and uncover all of our psychological baggage. (DhO)

Getting burnt out in meditation. If you are getting burnt out in meditation, figure out why. Are you pushing too hard? Are you trying to skip steps? Are you focused on the fantasy of achievement and not on what is actually occurring? Are you intellectualizing the work instead of doing the work? Are you ignoring the fact that you don't understand what you are supposed to be doing? Are you failing to seek expert advice? Do you not allow enough time for the work? Are you doing what you "should" do instead of what you deeply "want" to do? Are you going through the motions but not really committing? Are you failing to celebrate your accomplishments? Are you beating yourself up for your failures? Are you managing time to allow for success? Are you investing in the tools, books, workshops that would inform your efforts? Are you getting enough food, exercise, and rest to support your efforts? Do you have friends/associates that you can talk with and share ideas? Are you getting incremental results that inspire you?

Notice how all of these questions/problems are relevant to meditation practice and for every other pursuit in the world. And notice that the real wisdom comes from having problems and finding solutions along the way. And then those solutions are really tailored to you, they are exactly what you needed to learn. 

The key thing here is the feeling of being burnt out IS the teacher. Don't try to avoid it (because then you won't be working as hard as you could) or make it go away (because then you just set yourself for bigger problems), but rather be sensitive to it and spend time figuring out the root cause when it arises. Over the course of getting good at something, you have many many many lessons about burn out as you become better and better at what you do. Experts have just as many problems as beginners, it's just that they have better problems.

People often overlook the one in the middle of that paragraph: Are you doing what you "should" do instead of what you deeply want to do? Life is short and there is only so much that can be done. So spend your time well. It's perfectly fine to experiment with lots of things and try them out, but at a certain point it should become clear that nothing worth doing is going to be easy. But if you are seeing results and you want the results, then there is motivation. 

And then the rest is simply arranging your life so that you can do that thing. You can never fit an additional new into your life, you have to give up stuff to fit it in. Unfortunately, people keep adding and adding stuff until they can't do anything well. 

One last koan from a high-level athletic trainer: you don't even have to like the workouts if you LOVE the results. I certainly felt this way about meditation practice for years. Didn't like the experience of sitting, loved what it was doing for my basic sanity. (DhO)

Learning to balance effort and relaxation is what provides the mental sanity and healing that we ultimately want out of practice. Most people do not try hard enough in meditation, which is why most books/teachers emphasize effort. But the few people that are actually putting in the hours and retreat time tend to be the ones that try too hard. As a result, they kind of shoot past equanimity … too much effort kept me looping (A&P <–> DN nanas) and didn't allow me to settle into EQ … The good news is that a much more gentle approach will not only lessen the "heat", but it will also lead to a stable EQ and eventually SE. And much more importantly, the VERY VERY good news is learning how to do that is what provides the mental sanity and healing that we ultimately want out of practice. SE really doesn't change the person that much. It is all the work leading up to SE, learning to balance effort and relaxation, that’s what really changes a person. (DhO)

Sailing across the ocean image. It is important to go slower and with patience and be much more accepting of how the mind naturally balances itself. You will find you have much more stable access to jhana and the dark night nanas become interesting rather than disturbing/"hot". It will still require effort/dedication, but a different kind of effort. It's much more like sailing across an ocean. You need to learn to follow the wind and adjust the sails ... and you will get there. If you start paddling really hard because you want to make quicker progress, you just burn too much energy, become exhausted, and eat up all your food before you get across. (DhO)

Mountain climbing image. I have found that maybe out of the 10 times I'm contacted by someone, only 1 seems to want to really dive into the challenges of their practice. The other 9 are looking for some way to avoid having challenges or who underestimate the work it takes to practice daily and go on a few retreats a year. Meditation is a very serious activity, almost like mountain climbing, where people need to be very dedicated and focused on working on weakness and turning those weaknesses into strengths. It's also like mountain climbing in the sense that it is a personal accomplishment, but no one else really cares, so after you climb the mountain you are not a hero in everyone's eyes or if someone does idolize you for a while it doesn't last long. So it's important to be really personally curious rather than driven by ideas of power, riches, or fame. (DhO)

Wasted Time. It really feels like 95% of meditation is wasted time, but in retrospect we'll see how the "wasted time" was actually when we were learning about how our mind really was. It's sort of like if someone was learning to dance, the first year or two might mostly be "feeling clumsy" and not dancing, but learning how to dance is all about learning to feel the body as it is so that the intelligence of the body figures out how to move more gracefully. If you are actually brave enough to feel the clumsiness of being clumsy, then you are actually learning to dance. In the same way, time spent noticing all the ways the mind gets seduced by greediness for progress, aversion to reality, and fantasies about ideal performance is a great meditation practice and not wasted time at all. People have a tendency to berate themselves for not doing it right when hindrances appear, but that's completely wrong. If you are aware of the hindrances then that's good meditation. If you are actually curious about and investigate hindrances, then that's GREAT meditation. (DhO

Sitting should be fairly pain free. Muscle aches are fine, but pain isn't good. An achy body should recover between sits ... Switch positions often enough that there is no pain. Support your lower back against a wall, like monks sitting at the base of a tree. If sitting causes pain, then stand. If standing causes pain, then lie down. If you can't meditate while on your back (too prone to sleeping) then do walking meditation. Don't trash your body before a retreat.

Investigate what is making you continue to sit through pain. Are you trying to get "strong"? Are you afraid of being weak? Do you have doubts about the practice or the method? Sometimes we force ourself to do stuff when we're trying cover up something we don't want to face. Adjust, adjust, adjust. Be skillful. (DhO)  

A successful sitting can be short or long, but it should put you face to face with all of your imperfections.successful practice can be short or long, but it should put you face to face with all of your imperfections. You should be seeing how your own greed, aversion, and confusion prevents you from simply sitting and being a breathing body for the length of your sit. All of us have those cravings that prevent us from doing this simple thing. It's amazing when you think about it, but that's what makes practice so interesting.

Why is it so complicated to simply sit? That's what you need to see.

If practice is showing you all the different ways you have ill will for simply sitting, that's good practice. Investigate that sense of ill will. Can you see how your own attitudes make things complicated and cause suffering?

If metta practice is showing ways that you resist having good intentions for your self and others, that's good practice. Investigate that sense of ill will. Can you see how not having good intentions complicates your relationship to yourself and others?

Time on the cushion >plus intelligent investigation of the causes of suffering< is very good practice. 

Practice doesn't just "give" you results or allow your to avoid the mess. You need to participate in practice and discover your own path through the mess. 

... Sometimes less is more (regarding the lenght of the practice). The point is to sit and be aware of your actual experience -- sensations, cravings, emotions, and thoughts. You can use the breath or noting to help keep you present, but it should be a presence that allows all of those four things to arise and be seen ...  a military platoon can march for hours, never losing track of their footsteps and never stopping breathing/counting one-two-three-four... but that is unlikely to lead to awakening. They're putting in hours, they are attentive, they are successful in their practices... but it doesn't work that way. (DhO

Hindrances are actually the teacher. Focusing on the breath is fine, but it’s almost more important to stay interested in the hindrances themselves that are showing up. Those hindrances are actually the teacher. You don't need to silence hindrances by drowning them out with a focus on breath. In fact, a really good approach is to hold both the hindrances and the breath in the same awareness and get interested in both. People who do multi-week retreats don't have perfect minds with no hindrances, but rather they create a big enough space for the hindrances so that they arise and pass in awareness, like a tiny kid on a giant stage in a huge auditorium. And they don't need to ignore the kid either, but rather put a spotlight on the kid and really appreciate the kid's performance, so to speak. I struggled with this stuff for a few decades before I realizing that getting interested in how the mind gets seduced by hindrances is actually the easy and interesting and wisdom-creating and fastest path forward. (DhO)

“Know yourself and you heal yourself. Heal yourself and everyone else is healed”. This is the little prayer/metta meditation I do … Self forgiveness is really the heart of this thing. Meditation gets described as some kind of "I'll get smarter and see reality" thing, but that's just the bait and hook. In fact, what meditation really becomes is "I knew I was fucking myself up, but I never understood how until I sat with myself for a while... and now I realize that I used to fuck myself up the same way that everyone else is fucking themselves up." That's where compassion really starts to become real and the idea of forgiving others becomes possible. (DhO

A confused, tangled mind is like a hand that is holding onto something. At first, the hand is kind of numb and we might not even realize how tightly we're holding onto it. But as we practice and grow older/wiser, we realize that indeed we're holding really tightly and it's a lot of work for the hand. We might imagine "oh, I'll just let go", but our hand has been holding on so long that it really can't just let go. But we can create a little bit of space, a little bit of movement through practice, which is encouraging.

Unfortunately, when we start waking up the hand and learning how to move it a little, we start recognizing how much discomfort is there. Whatever we're holding onto is causing pain. It's sharp sometimes like a knife. Other time it's blunt and hurts like a sledgehammer. We might stop there, because we don't want to let free whatever is inside of our hand.

But we might also notice that when we open our hand, the tissues of the hand are starting to get bloodflow and the muscles are starting to unfreeze and the nerves become alive. So whatever is in the hand, it's still scary but opening the hand feels kind of good. Well actually, first it hurts a little even though we know what we're doing is right. Yeah, it still hurts and if anything, there is a temptation to stop, not go forward. But something in us knows that going through life with our hand permanently clenching around something limits our life -- and we're drawn to fixing the problem, even though we don't know how it's going to happen or how long it takes, or what the thing in our hand is.

Each time we move the hand a little, we realize things about ourself that drove the clenching. We think grabbing onto something will give us protection, make us safe, make us smart, make us loved, make us wise, make us respected --- we see how our mind thinks and how our body behaves due to our very subtle intentions. 

So we keep trying to move the hand, wake it up a little, and more muscle and nerve pain occurs, but we start to see more and more progress. At a certain point, we're almost able to see what is in our hand and we want to rush to open it --- and we go too fast too soon and reinjure our hand and it locks up again. And then we realize, it isn't our decision, we have to work with the hand not against it. We have to practice but also allow ourselves to recover from practice. We can't bite off more than we can chew. We can't carry more than we can lift. Otherwise, we just keep injuring ourself. So we need to learn about pacing and sensitivity and self-care...

Eventually at some point, our hand softens enough that we can open and close it a little, we can actually feel a range of motion and be present with the hand. This is like going through the stages of insight -- awareness is maintained throughout many flavors of mind and there isn't a desire to escape, but rather to be with what is occuring as it occurs.  The things that made us grab tighter don't have the same reaction anymore. We can be with body discomfort, bliss, fear, misery, disgust, a desire for deliverance, and nothing-much-going-on... and we don't quit sitting. We sit right through it all. The hand begins to feel safe and cared for and opens even more... And maybe we get a glimpse of what's inside ---- and we develop an insight that the big thing that we were holding on so tightly to... maybe isn't there. Maybe we've been holding on so tightly to our own hand, cripping our own hand, out of fantasy and fear. Wow!

So this would be like 1st Path. But here's the thing: even though that glimpse gives you new confidence, guess what's involved in the later paths? More relaxing, healing, and opening the hand. And awakening is actually having the hand completely open and seeing that there is nothing at all in the hand. So it is all about learning to relax, heal, and open the hand. That's it. That's everything in this practice.

In this example, it might be tempting to say that getting that first peak into the hand is what makes a big difference ---- but hopefully I've poetically shown that the real benefit happens every time you sit. Your mind gets better and better the more you can "loosen the hand" and this is where the real work and the real benefit occurs. And we would never get a glimpse of the nothing in the hand if we didn't do the easy and consistent work of trying to loosen it a tiny bit every day.

So nothing heroic is needed and there isn't a special method beyond daily practice and daily recovery. Quality practice and then living your life with the new awareness, eating well and sleeping well, and then doing it all again. It's the only way. It's not really hard practice, but it's long practice. Long and easy is the way to go. Be kind with yourself, don't rush, don't slack off. Trust that your own mind is smarter than you and you'll learn over time. It's really amazing, even though we don't know right now, the mind figures all this stuff out, step by step. That's why there are meditation maps -- there is something innate and predictable about how we slowly discover this stuff over time. (DhO)

Anger. Anger is always hard to deal with. It is one of the "fastest" reactions, it quickly colors the mind from just short exposure to triggers (memories, thoughts, the presence of enemies, etc.) The adrenaline and cortisol lingers in the body for a while too. It's a hard emotion to work with.

It's particularly hard because underneath anger is hurt. I'm not saying 100% of the time, but pretty darn close to 98% of the time so to speak. So anger is an interesting form of self-protection. Anger feels bad and screws up our mind and actions... but it keeps us from feeling the hurt underneath.

The challenging thing about dealing with old wounds is that if you don't bring enough attention and space to the wound, remembering it or thinking it or reliving it just retraumatizes you. It reinforces the anger protective mechanism, rather than making peace with the old hurt.

So it really is a matter of going slow, exploring the anger-hurt on multiple levels, mind and body and personal history. No one should expect a quick cure for anger. 

Usually the hurt has an element of overwhelming physical trauma, or a psychological a loss of innocence, in general a failure to protect the innocent. There is usually a sense of personal sense of guilt about the whole thing. Teasing out all the dimensions of it is hard work, but it really frees up our heart and mind.

Frankly, just finding a safe place/method to slowly explore all of this is the main challenge. Don't overlook psychology as a method as well. If you google "mind body code" there is some interesting stuff that combines elements of meditation and psychological practices. Check these videos: Dr. Mario Martinez – Insights At The Edge Podcast w/Tami Simon PART 1 of 2 and Dr. Mario Martinez – Insights At The Edge Podcast w/Tami Simon PART 2 of 2 . In this third video, it's the specific one that talks about -- well a lot of thought provoking ideas-- but specifically also how to combine righteous anger along with the four immeasurables in order to ensure no spiritual bypassing or repressions: Embodying The Four Immeasurables with Dr. Mario Martinez That get discussed around 30 minutes in, and in particular around 34 minutes in.  (DhO)

Exploring Anger: it never shows up if we don't believe the accusation/implications at all. Anger is usually a protective mechanism that is often overblown, but at the core there is usual a very true sense of injustice or wounding. Perhaps your co-worker not respecting your time or your skills. Go to what is motivating the anger. The trick is not to stay with the sense of being outraged, but to explore the next layer. It's important recognize that you wouldn't be angry if you didn't honestly perceive yourself as unrespectable or unskilled too.

It's important to recognize that anger never shows up if we don't believe the accusation/implications at all. The co-worker would just be seen as crazy. The anger floods in if we are vulnerable about something and feel like we need to protect our self. Keep looking for this thing about the situation that is both unjust yet also somewhat true. This is digging out the subtle "ignorance" of the situation.

Once you find it, now you have a much more complex and strange knot to deal with. On one hand, someone is being unfair. On the other hand, they are pointing out something that you really don't want to see. On one hand, they are at fault. On another hand, there is an element of truth. And you have the you, right now, observing all of these dimensions. 

Now sit with both extremes of anger being right and wrong, unjustified and justified, and you being a participant and an observer, you as being trapped by the situation and you being independent of past history --- all the polarities of the situation. 

If you hold this complex tangle of emotions/sensations/ideas it will slowly untangle. Usually with an "ah ha!" kind of realization about other times this circuit of anger was triggered. There is no way to hold someone's hand and lead them through this, but by digging around, reliving it, and investigating it, usually there is a critical thing that hasn't been seen before, something that would actually prevent a similar thing (hours of post-event anger) from happening again. Maybe something you can do at work to document things better or communicate things better, maybe something you need to work on psychologically ---- it really can be amazing to see the burst of creative thinking/seeing that happens after the "knot" of the event is digested.

And then you need to flip the whole situation and see that this idiot at work actually helped point you towards something important, so in a way was very helpful, so you thank that person, too. And then kinda marvel at how the world works, how strange and interesting and painful and exciting and enjoyable. It really is an amazing adventure. (DhO)  

Emotional Reactivity. The short story is we believe our emotional reactivity will "protect us", because at an earlier stage of development it sorta did.  But only through a lot of investigation as an intelligent and very attentive adult will that protective urge be seen as the cause of suffering rather than the protection from suffering. Constantly protecting an imagined future self is exhausting. But we can't just intellectually decide to stop it. We need to feel the suffering caused by it... and then we (eventually) drop it like a hot coal. 

... The difference between (being) unskillful and suppresion is basically the degree of awareness and the ability to change. For example, anger can be a healthy emotion, but it can also be the most destructive emotion. So when someone shoves you on the streets of Chicago, good anger can clear your mind and put your body into ready mode ---- but the important thing comes next: is your mind truly clear? Are you already bought into a lot of assumptions about truly being in danger, needing to attack, etc.? Are you equally able to respond with a duck if a punch is coming and respond with a laugh if it turns out it's your friend playing around? All our human wiring is useful --- to the extent we don't believe it 100% and stay open to new information.

Probably the only way to not feel tense is to allow yourself to have the emotion but make a study out of it: is it really helpful? Does it make life better? Is it true? Is it reliable? Eventually you'll discover what everyone has discovered: that most blind/reactive emotions are simplistic ways the body/mind tries to protect itself, but the degree to which they aren't 100% fully experienced means we have, to some degree, gone unconscious and are in an non-thinking trance. That unthinkingness is what gets us.

For example, my wife was on a packed subway and some guy kept moving his foot against her foot. (The subway was packed and she wasn't facing him.) She would move a little, and the man's food would creep toward hers again, until she was feeling the press of the side of his foot against the side of hers.... eventually the car clears of enough people that she is able to turn around... and the guy has leg braces and is having trouble standing. There is no place for the poor guy to sit. So of course my wife was happy to let him help brace himself against his foot.  But can you see how all sorts of assumed ideas about the situtation could lead to all kinds of suffering until she is able to turn around? So emotions are great for pointing you toward the appropriate information to investigate, but they aren't dependable as a complete source of truth.

Anyway the point is that it is entirely possible to have fear, anger, lust, misery, etc. arise and not have the mind get locked into trance. Over time, you can, for example learn to have all the clarity of anger without the lashing out or seething hatred of anger. This is basically the idea of tantra. That a full experience of greed/territorialism leads to generosity, a full experience of aggression leads to clarity, a full experience of obsession leads to compassion, that a full experience of paranoia leads to appropriate action, and a full experience of confusion/depression leads to intelligence. --- This is basic 5 element practice. (DhO)  

It is definitely possible to climb out of patterned behavior. It's important to realize that most people live their lives as if their emotions are true. They lash out when they are angry, they indulge what makes them feel good. They are basically trapped in their emotions. But emotions are just emotions, they don't necessarily need to translate into action. There can be a lot of freedom around emotions if you can learn to just let them be as they are, but not necessarily react to them all the time. I have hunch that your practice with emotions is allowing you to see this.

And this probably led to the next observation that "beliefs are just beliefs". This is a major realization. Even more people are trapped in their beliefs, but beliefs are just beliefs and they don't necessarily need to translate into action. There can be a lot of freedom around beliefs as well... but unfortunately, the first true realization that beliefs are beliefs can feel like a scary void.

We all have ways of reacting to void/absence/lacking... basically lots of different overreactions: freaking out, shutting down, distracting ourselves with drama, having sex, self-medicating, reckless behavior, guilt/shaming ourselves... All of us have our own flavor of dealing with fear of the void. It's strongly conditioned by how we dealt with it in the past. It usually is a combination of how our parents related to us and how we instinctually dealt with the absence of the parent; plus how we dealt with presence/absence as children, teenagers, etc.  It can be be amazing to see all the ways we live in patterns... 

The trauma cycle is a pattern too, of course. I have a hunch you were starting to see how traumatized people tend to shut down and how that weakness makes them even more vulnerable to abusers. Abusers tend to hunt for previously abused people to abuse, and they find them by noticing when people shut down. Tragically, abusers are usually abused people themselves, trying to gain power over their trauma by being an abuser, which just continues the pattern. It's fucked up. It's a horrible set of recurring patterns.

But it is definitely possible to climb out of patterned behavior. The biggest challenge is learning how to be with the kinds of feelings that caused us to shut down or overreact. That's the goal of psychology and meditation: being able to experience things without falling into patterned behavior. 

The bigger the feelings, the more beneficial it is to work with therapists and meditation teachers. Therapy really is the most direct method for dealing with difficult feelings. Some people use meditation but it just takes too long, why waste time? So much better to grow past the major traumas. Meditation is probably better at subtle stuff, but it makes a great combination with therapy. Folks that do both seem to make the quickest and deepest progress. (DhO)

Purification and insight arise together. The key to the entire universe of meditation and psychology and yoga: when you put your awareness on something you would otherwise normally avoid, the mind's intelligence figures out how to release or "purify" the discomfort. And the body/mind will non-verbally know or have an "insight" into how to release the discomfort. Purification and insight arise together.

A longer explanation, skip to the bottom for the short answer:

If you are doing yoga and stretching the body and encounter tightness, then you simply hold the position and put your awareness on the tightness. In time, the body will realize that it is not in danger and will _slightly_ relax. So the tightness has been "purified" and the body will "know" that it can move into that extended position. There is a limit of course on what you can do in a day and consistent practice is necessary to make further progress.

If you are in psychotherapy and encounter a resistance or defensive reaction, then you simply put your attention on the thoughts and feelings of it. Other associated thoughts and feelings will show up and you welcome those too. You continue to hold the sense of resisting or defensiveness in attention and eventually it becomes clear that this habit is based on something in the past, something that you now see clearly, and you are safe and can let go of that resistance, you don't need to defend yourself. So the defensive mechanism is "purified" and the mind has an "insight" into the nature of mind. Of course, there is only so much progress you can make in a day, but it can be amazing how lifelong problems can be seen through in a short time, but only if you continue therapy until you reach that goal.

If you are in meditation, using whatever meditation method, and encounter any form of dukkha and hold it in awareness, then all of the above things will happen of course --- you will release body knots and psychological complexes --- but it has the potential to also include much more subtle releases related to fundamental clinging/identity. Regardless, the mechanism is the same whether by body scanning or noting or other methods: if you put your mind on ill-will/dukkha the natural intelligence of the mind will see the discomfort involved with clinging, aversion, or indifference and the mind itself will "release" the ill-will/dukkha. In meditation, progress can happen very quickly and very deeply, because it is working with the very primal aspects of clinging, aversion, or indifference which is the base of all our problems. All meditations "purify" the mind of these three poisons and give us "insights" into the nature of mind.

So many different meditation traditions and many different therapeutic methods all have the same basic core: if you put your awareness on something, the natural intelligence of the mind will try to find the least-stressful way of relating to it, whether it is in body, psychology, or deep mind.

So long story short: you will get the same purifications and insights using either Mahasi technique or Goenka technique. You are completely free to use one or the other or both. Meditation techniques are all tools for helping us put our attention on things we would rather avoid and to keep us directly experiencing the ill-will/dukkha until the mind instinctually figures out how to release dukkha. (DhO

Catharsis is rarely the answer. ... Experiences may or may not have a deep meaning. A lot of meditation experience just happen. It may simply be a fleeting experience. It's worth noting if there is a resistance to this "fleetingness". Often there is an emotional tone that feels uncomfortable. Our sense of a solid and persistant self doesn't like fleetingness...

You can think of experience as having two aspects: its raw power and its meaning.  Sometimes we shut down because of the pure intensity of an experience. Sometimes we shut down because an experience is confusing or contrary to our normal beliefs/frameworks. Perhaps both during really intense/stressful events. Many experiences that bubble up during meditation is due to them not being fully experienced/understood the first time around and it will keep bubbling up until it is.

There are many many different meditation practices because each approach provides a framework for certain kinds of investigations. Tantric approaches tend to be about developing the ability to be present within the pure power of experiences. Psychological approaches tend to be about how the experience is framed and what meaning an experience has. Adult development frameworks are more about off-the-cushion attitudes/beliefs and capabilities which make it possible to live a full life. Advanced meditation practices are about the subtlest of ways we resist experience and try to protect a sense of self.

Catharsis is rarely the answer, only because real catharsis happens so rarely. Most of the time, people are actually re-traumatizing themselves and surviving it again, which sort of feels like progress but is probably just spinning their wheels. The hardest thing is to investigate our mind's reactivity with intimacy and curiousity, with love you could say. 

Insight is a good word for what you want. You want to have an insight into your own mind, how experience come and go, how beliefs form, how attitudes color what is experienced, how greed/aversion/indifference "poisons" what simply is. (DhO

How to 'liberate' Dukkha. We "liberate" dukka by holding it compassionately within a caring and respectful awareness. Then it releases, lets go, unknots. And sometimes will give us an insight into why it was there, like maybe we had an over-solidified sense of identity and we weren't flowing/adapting to life's changes, maybe we thought we were more fragile then we are and were over-protecting ourself, maybe we're just acting out a family pattern, maybe we were just avoiding the truth of things, etc.  

- If we fight dukka, the knot tightens.
- If we avoid dukka, it starts expanding until it can't help but fill our attention again.
- If we try to kill dukka, it might go away only to respawn again.

It's an interesting video game. The way to win it is by acceptance, friendliness, caring, and appreciation. (DhO)

3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years. One paradigm that I've found really helpful is 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years. These are all the crisis points for starting something new. After 3 days, the glamor wears off and meditation is just meditation. After 3 weeks, the time commitment becomes obvious and you start fantasizing about all the awesome things you could be doing. After 3 months, the sits begin really truly working -- which means you start going through developmental/psychological changes -- which is somewhat uncomfortable and it seems easier to quit. After 3 years, you know the benefits and you have also made A LOT! of improvements, but part of you doubts whether continuting is worth it and you think, maybe I can scale back, but this often leads to quitting and not getting all the benefits.

The number one way to be successful is to block out time in advance and PROTECT that time. It is for your meditation practice, period. It is for your practice but it will benefit everyone you meet, so it is important for everyone that you have this time. Don't let yourself or others down by skiping your sit. Start with short sits, but don't skip a day. Ironically, the more consistent your are, the easier it is to be consistent. Consistency makes consistency easier, simple as that. 

... If you can avoid the whole "angsty meditator" syndrome that often happens after initial "excited meditator" phase, then you will be ahead of the game. Many people get caught in a whole meditator identity-and-shadow-side thing. They start meditating, have initial success, it gets somewhat difficult, they deny the problems they are having, and then their sits become about intellectualizing experience. 

The way to avoid that is so simple, but it takes maturity. Basically, keep doing a daily practice. When things are great, then great! When things suck, then great! Keep practice going, gently and consistenly, and it will work out. Sitting is about making progress, then reaching a plateau, getting stuck for a while, and then suddenly going -- oh, now I "see" that thing that was causing problems. I was ignoring it or resisting it, but now if I can just experience it without doing anything, it isn't a problem. There is no reason to be angsty. We need to experience problems so we actually find solutions. It's just how this works. But the good news is being a part of the progress is fascinating. Wow, the mind is amazing! So each time a problem happens, cool! This is a chance to work on the next thing. And the next thing is seen and the mind is just a little clearer and saner. (DhO)

Start with a home retreat. Don't skip steps. Life really happens when you meet it half way. A 1 day retreat, then a 3 day retreat, then a 5 day retreat, then a 10 day retreat, then a 14 day retreat. 

Don't worry about big plans now except figuring out how you can do a 1 day retreat. Simple. Life can't be lived all at once. And "our life" really happens when you meet it half way. We are responsible for taking the next step... and then life kinda happens in a way that shocks and surprises us. 

It's important to spend some time truly visualizing what we want. When we visualize, pay attention to the body. A true vision is nourishing, with a little bit of a fearful edge. A fake vision is pure pleasure, like too much sugar. Or a fake vision is all ambition/aggression, like too much coffee and adrenaline. A true vision has heart.

And once you have the vision, figure out "what is the next smallest step I can take?" Focus on that. Don't skip steps. Make it really really simple. Like let's say you want to do a one day home retreat. The first thing you'll need is a place to sit. Tidy up your sitting space --- done! Nothing fancy, but you are now a step closer. 

The tricky thing about vision is that we get too attached to our plans to get there. The purpose of the vision is to help clarify the next step. We can only do the next step in life. This moment, the next step. And if our steps wind up giving us more information about reality (like "a 13 day retreat kicked my ass") then we adjust our next step, rather than clinging to our original plan. "Okay, that was too much, too soon. Gotta build up to that."

Vision, next step, adjust. We need to take the middle path between lazy and ambitious.  (DhO

A general rule for retreats. A general rule for retreats is similar for a general rule for working out: go slow, develop a good foundation, and slowly increase the training intensity. So for a generic person, this would be a reasonable progression:

1. Practice 30 minute sits at home
2. Practice 1 hour sits at home
3. Practice 1 hour sits every day for six months to a year at home
4. Continue practicing 1 hour sits every day at home and sometimes do a sit, walk, sit for a 2-3 hours home retreat on weekends
5. Do a one day retreat (10 to 16 hours of alternating sitting and walking, with one guided meditation in the beginning of the day and listening to a dharma talk at the end of the day). 
6. Continue practicing 1 hour sits every day at home and sometimes do a one day home retreat
7. Do a weekend or 5 day retreat.
8. Practice 1 to 2 hours every day at home and sometimes do weekend retreats
9. Do a 7 to 10 day retreat
10. Practice 1 to 2 hours every day and do another 10 - 14 day retreat
11. Consider a month long retreat.
12. Practice 1 to 2 hours every day and consider a three month retreat.

This advice is for retreats where there isn't much one-on-one guidance. If a retreat encourages complete beginners (and says that specifically) and includes several guided meditations a day and daily teacher one-on-one guidance and the ability to leave the meditation hall and go for a walk instead of meditating so much... then maybe someone could do those retreats earlier in their practice. In general, someone could skip one step or so, but I would never jump ahead too much. It would be sort of like trying to bench press too much weight too early in training. (DhO)  

... Retreats can be really difficult without a solid psychological foundation or solid meditation practice preparation. Some people are so mentally tough and well-adjusted that they can walk into a 10 day retreat with no meditation experience and roll with the punches… But most of us are simply not ready for it. Generally, I would say a year of consistent daily home practice is about the minimum foundation for a retreat.

There are places Iike IMS (which I do highly recommend) where they are perfectly fine with you not keeping the sit/walk/sit schedule and where you can go off for long walks to calm your thoughts and exercise your body. They still insist on no socializing and only talking during group and personal interviews, so being “alone” in the midst of everyone can still be difficult. Of course, some people are surprised how nice it is to “just be” for a while and not have to be social or be a particular way in public. (DhO)

A month long retreat is not for beginners. I wouldn't advise a month long retreat to a beginner. My advice to someone with very little experience going on a month long retreat would be: TAKE IT SLOW.  Honestly, if you treat it more like a vacation than a retreat, you are almost guaranteed to have more benefit than if you practice like your hair is on fire. Simply do the retreat, but don't strive --- just be a human body and a human mind on retreat, and notice what happens.

... A month is a seriously long retreat, especially for someone with ambition. The odds are that if you continue to strive for that length of time, it's more likely going to end badly than be of value. It's basically like being in solitary confinement. What happens to most people under those conditions? 

Retreats are designed in a way that opportunities for progress are almost guaranteed. It's much more likely that someone will burn out and quit. Or become manic and have a mental break. Or become so depressed they give up. Or it becomes so hard that they do another practice to entertain themselves. I hope you appreciate my honesty here. 

... I honestly wouldn't advise going on retreat unless you feel you can take your: (1) relationship to feeling tone and; (2) letting go of grasping goals into retreat with you. Those two skills are basically essential. Over the course of retreat, there are many many times where you need to accept the tonality of your body and mind, and there are many many many many many many times where you need to let go of your goals and just be HERE.

HERE is the goal. Equanimity with exactly what is appearing right NOW. The whole point of retreat is to let the mind do what it does and notice that it all comes back to the present moment. And when you are back to the present moment, you notice that there is a simplicity and calmness and easiness that is available if we just let ourselves let go of clinging and just sit, just walk, just eat, just shower/bathe, just sleep, just shit, just pee, just burp. 

Retreats are for learning all the ways we make things difficult for ourselves. And when we actually stop making things difficult, all the nanas come and go by themselves. You don't need to make nanas or jhanas or paths happen. They occur on their own. Forcing it or craving faster progress will almost guarantee suffering, exhaustion, and burn out. (DhO

Five classic negative habits that show up on retreat. (1) Straining or forcing ourselves to make progress happen. This kind of controlling is the exact opposite of being in the present moment with mindfulness and equanimity. It makes the current moment into a big problem that must be fixed and makes finding peace something that can only happen in the future. Peace is found right here, right now. 

(2) Pushing negative thoughts and feelings out of the mind, until they roar back and overwhelm us. This is basic psychological repression. If negative thoughts or feelings come up, they must be welcomed and treated gently. You almost have to be like a loving parent to your worries and concerns. You have to let your inner fears be heard and acknowledged.

(3) Indulging in our own certainty about how things are, good or bad. Retreats make the mind really powerful and we can have lots of positive creative thoughts that send us off track... or lots of catastrophizing (look it up) thoughts that exaggerate how wrong things are and make us despair. The mind is particularly strong, making good practice possible, but also can lead to forgetting about practice completely.

(4) Intellectualizing practice. The whole point of meditation is to learn how to fully experience the present moment, without covering it up with greed, aversion, or confusion. This might sound like an intellectual exercise, but it is more about simply being aware of what is occuring, not thinking about it, not planning for the future, not getting hung up on the past. It's so simple, but very hard for humans to do, because were always thinking "about it", not experiencing it. It's very common to think more about practicing while on retreat than actually doing the practice. (Almost all of us have been on retreat and started to plan how we would practice when we got home, what new cushions we were going to buy, maybe some new incense too... and before you know it, 20 minutes of daydreaming about practice has taken place.)

(5) Making things complicated. Meditation practice is simple. Relax, and experience what is. If you have a habit of getting lost, use the breath or noting practice as a way to get back into the experiences that are occuring right now. When in doubt, if you are aware of body or breathing sensations, then you are in the present moment. Rest in the present moment. Notice when worries come up, note those worries, and then rest in the present moment. Notice when all forms of ill will show up, note those forms of ill will, and then rest in the present moment. Simple. Simply doing this will allow you to become more sane and fully awaken. The mind will naturally drop bad habits and adopt good habits, and all you have to do is see them clearly. When you see them clearly, the mind will want to drop them. But that means really looking at the yucky stuff in our hearts and minds. That's the hard work: being brave enough to see things clearly. But it's simple work too, just relax and experience what is occuring right now. (DhO)

Pacing is everything on a long retreat. Pacing is everything on a long retreat and you have to find out what actually works for you. Think about intensity of practice, schedule of practice, and methods of practice before you go. This is my personal advice, but only you know if it works for you.

For some people "practice your butt off" is the way to go. For me, I just burn out every single time I take that approach. You might feel compelled to do that approach, but I can't in good conscience recommend it.

I actually recommend the "for every single moment of retreat, I will go into the experience of actually being on retreat. I will become intimate with everything I sense, feel all the primal urges, experience all the tones of emotions, and notice what I think as thoughts." I also throw away all goals and say "may whatever happens on retreat be for the benefit of all beings, including myself. May all beings benefit from me being on retreat. May I experience on retreat whatever will bring the highest benefit for myself and all beings." Goals are great, but why not have the highest goal?

So without bringing an external agenda besides my mode of practice, I go deep into the feeling of being an actual human on retreat. I find that this keeps me grounded and whole. Retreat becomes delicious. Hard at times for sure, but always rich. Rich with pleasure, rich with wonder, rich with times of endurance, rich with times of rest. That richness of experience is the main thing to keep constant. The actually tone of the richness will change throughout the retreat. Don't script yourself into thinking it always needs to be torture to make progress. Absolutely not true. It can and should be a delight to rest in the pleasure of seclusion, as the suttas say.

The other side of it is I keep to the practice schedule, unless there is a very good reason not to. So if it's sitting time, I'm sitting. If it's walking time, I'm walking. This becomes very hard after a while. There can be a desire to mix it up, to make it more interesting. But I find that these urges are avoidance mechanisms. Look into the ill will that wants to mix things up. Chances are you'll find greed, aversion, and ignorance. Now of course fine tune the schedule to work for you. I know I wake up early and benefit from a post lunch nap, so that's what I do. I know I don't stay up as late as other people and want to go to sleep early, so that's what I do. Within that, I find alternating hours of sitting and walking to be just about right.

For walking, you want to focus on relaxing the body, relaxing the aches, freely swinging the joints to help keep your body recovering from all the sitting practice. You will feel sore and tired, but gently walk, gently flush the muscles. It's totally normal to go through a period of deep aches and pains. Make sure you vary the pace and walk both quickly and slowly at times, feeling what seems right. You don't need to walk slowly, this is a weird hang up people have. The mind is very very very fast. You can stay mindful as you walk somewhat briskly. If you are feeling dull, try walking a little quicker. If you are feeling manic, SLOW DOWN. The main thing is to walk at the pace where you stay mindful of what you are doing and walk at a pace where you can feel yourself relax. 

Remember mindful eating, mindful peeing, mindful shitting, and mindful showering, mindful putting on clothes, mindful taking off clothes, mindful brushing of teeth, mindful combing of hair. Never come off retreat. Always be richly in your actual experience. Big experiences happen at the strangest time (flipping the lid on a shampoo bottle) so always stay richly in your actual experience. Every experience is important. I kinda want to put that in caps: EVERY EXPERIENCE IS IMPORTANT. (DhO

Vision Field and Identification. Vision is an interesting thing. It can be very strange to suddenly get that there are big parts of the visual field that have been ignored in the past. Normally people only see at the focus point, kind of like they are looking through a tube. When you take away the tube, suddenly the experience is much more panoramic, 3-d, immersive, and odd. We can be strangely aware of the space within a room or how high the sky goes over our head -- even when we don't intend to notice it. We can also get a weird depth perception thing where suddenly we notice parallax, how different objects past us  differently depending on how far away they are.

Adding on: it could be interesting to notice that when we spread our vision and "identify" with the edges of vision, we have a stronger sense of self-in-the-body, as if we are separate from our seeing eyes. When we identify with the middle of vision, we have a stronger sense of union with vision, as if we are vision itself. During certain states, these "views" can become really strong as they impart those insights.

Yup strange. But here's the thing --- you never really controlled vision in the first place. A lot of meditation is just noticing things that were always occuring but that were never able to be seen before. One phrase that might be helpful is that "meditation is getting used to it." (DhO

Cultivating Spaciousness isn't typically for beginners. Spaciousness isn't typically a focus of on-cushion practice in the beginning, because beginners are typically somewhat disassociated from their body and feelings (they mostly dwell in thought). So a lot of practices really emphasize connecting to the felt experience of sensations and emotions --- sometimes even labelling them to help build the ability to detect and distinquish nuances in felt experience. In the beginning it's less about dwelling in spaciousness mind and more about noticing resistances and aversions which fill the "space" of mind.

A beginner's experience typically is: "the more spacious I'm trying to be, the more stuff keeps coming up, what am I doing wrong?" The answer is they aren't doing anything wrong, this is what needs to happen. Old undigested memories and new awareness of the body/mind is being developed. Perfect!

When most of the raw psychological material is cleaned-up, then a meditator might begin to notice space in the mind. Then the practice becomes more about "how can I dwell in ease and simplicity and spaciousness? what distracts, destroys, or corrupts this ease and simplicity and spaciousness?"

Eventually, practice becomes "even though I prefer ease and similicity and spaciousness, how can I accept the coming and going of it? how can I avoid greed for good mindstates, aversion for bad mindstates, and indifference to boring mindstates?".

And eventually, practice becomes "why do I have preferences? why do I think I control the past, present, or future? am I making a 'spiritual problem' about normal existance? what is this urge/instinct behind my preferences? to what extent are my problems really problems?". 

As practice continues spaciousness become less literal (space) and more subtle (emptiness). Real-time emptiness of all experiences are seen, and eventually the emptiness of spiritual ambition is also seen. As the saying goes, at some point we quit being spiritual ambitious... but don't quit too soon! (DhO)

Inquiries on the Observer. Inquiry isn't about verbal answers, it's about gently and intimately going deep into the subtly of experience. If it makes you manic and desparate... that's not on the path. If it makes you curious about the mystery, that's on the path.

Are you the observer? What knows the observer? ... The reason I mentioned this inquiry question is that's the direction this process tends to go. We start off by assuming that "I am what I feel and what I think" and then gets to the point "I am the observer that is aware of feelings and thoughts"... but the next stage --- and really the domain of meditation, not many other practice keep going --- is noticing how even aspects of "being the observer" can be observed... and this is what leads to a deep understanding of the non-dual nature of experience, so to speak.

Meditation is mostly: (1) discovering how needless dukkha arises through unskillful reactivity, and (2) seeing through the experiential felt-sense of being an observer. (DhO

Balancing the spiritual and the conventional. As you look through DhO and AN, you'll probably be surprised at the lack of conflict between having a consistent personal practice and "the conventional world". Many people have progressed far along the path with limited and even no retreat sessions, simply doing 30 minutes to an hour once or twice a day. In the early days of DhO, there was a smallish community of people posting their daily practice and people providing feedback. Pretty much everyone that had a consistent practice went pretty far, regardless of their daily family (single, married, married with kids) or working life (unemployed, easy work, lots of drama work). So it really isn't about balancing the spiritual and conventional, the real challenge is simply finding a way to organize your life so that you have a consistent sitting practice. (DhO

Awakening happens in a case by case basis, there is no formula. Theoretically speaking, awakening reduces the pain of believing that there is a thing called self that needs protecting. That's it. But the reality is that awakening involves psychological development as a foundation for awakening. Psychological development reduces needless emotional and intellectual suffering. The reality is also that most meditative practices involve an element of bodywork, because to be able to sit and walk on retreat for 12 hours a day, there needs to be good spinal alignment and a looseness in the body.

There is no formula for optimizing awakening, psychological, and bodywork ---- this has to be done on a case by case basis, tailored to the specific person. Some people can just meditate and it all works out. Some people need psychological tools or therapy as part of the process. Some people need physical training or yoga or physical therapy for their body.

The most important thing is for each person to own their practice, be responsible for their life, and be honest about what kinds of support they need to develop maturity, sanity, and health. (DhO)

The body/mind changes slowly. That's just how it works. Many times when things are progressing slowly in meditation, we're basically recovering from some trauma (physical, social, drug-induced chemical) or we're developing psychologically (e.g., going from young adult to adult, etc.) and so there is a very good reason why things are going slow. It very very very very very very rarely makes sense to try and make or force progress happen. Usually that just results in more psychological instability. (DhO)

Dedication time required to be ‘significantly done’. Attaining Stream Entry depends on the person, but something in the range 1 to 7 years is about right for SE. Ironically, it doesn't take a lot of practice, but it does take >good< practice. It's not about time on the cushion (although that helps) it's about being clear-minded enough to notice and note. (DhO)

(The whole 1-4 paths) really isn't too difficult to pursue while being part of the working world. I would say that daily meditation, two or three 10-14 day retreats a year (two vacations), plus 3 to 6 four day retreats a year (long weekends) for 7 years is much more than enough to get it "significantly done" … My experience is that the hardest part about making the work-dharma thing happen is using your calendar to make it happen. Intention or will power isn't enough. You need to schedule your vacation-retreats, schedule your long weekends, block out the time on your daily calendar for sits, and prioritize exercise and sleep (over things like internet/entertainment) so that you stay healthy and recover. (DhO)

Better than looking for short-cuts, have basic sanity as a goal. It's important to think about what the short cut is leading to, much much more than trying to find the short cut method. If you have a clear goal, all of this stuff about meditation will make much more sense and our practice path will be much more obvious. I'm going to suggest that the goal is basic sanity. Not being entrapped by limited development, reactive patterns, bad habits, repressive thinking, fantasy, infatuations and regressions. It means stepping out of the role of a child that is dependent on the parent, and becoming an independent adult. Awakening, both the first little steps and the last little steps, should always lead to greater sanity, well-being, compassion, resilience, independence, and self-sufficiency. 

Methods and practices that say "hey, give up your critical thinking for a while, listen only to the teacher, report your findings using only our terminology and ignore things that don't fit the model" always seem to offer short term benefits, but in the long term, they trap you in dependence. It's always fine to experiment with different methods -- but always keep your independence and personal power. 

And be sure to experiment with different psychological methods and theories. In many ways these are 75% of what it takes to awaken. It is very difficult to have a decent sitting practice if every time you sit you are retraumatized by old memories or are covering up the present moment with lots of fantasies and intellectualizing. That said, many "meditation methods" are basically psychological practices it's important to see that, too.

There are many things that can be "hacked" in spirituality -- you can give yourself interesting experiences through sleep or food deprivation, you can have odd cathartic moments by overstimulation and retraumatization, you can intellectualize developmental insights so that you can parrot the words without really being at that developmental level, you can be marketed or hypnotized or brainwashed into thinking and doing many things. The power of imagination and self-deception is amazing, too. It really is endless. It's a minefield.

But the nice thing is you really can't lie to yourself. If you let yourself relax and be at ease, you'll know if practice is really helping or not. Go to your body. Are you actually more relaxed and at peace? Or are you buzzy and frantic with lots of thoughts and ideas and ambition? How do you really feel about your Self and the present moment. Is it simply so? Or is it a heroic adventure to greater and greater accomplishments and --- aha!, if this is the way your mind is going then your present self and the present moment is just a means to an future end and you really aren't able to be at home in the present moment. If you are always future oriented, you're not crazy but there is probably an aspect of basic sanity that is being overlooked. 

In terms of what it means to have these insights in a modern world, this paper does a great job of talking about adult development. You will notice that it sets a very high bar for adult development. Many of us never get close to the end stages and all of us over estimate where we are at! Check: Cook & Greuter “Nine Levels Of Increasing Embrace In Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory Of Vertical Growth And Meaning Making”  Link to PDF   (DhO

Only basic sanity creates the conditions for happiness. Basic sanity allows us to go through the ups and downs of life without becoming decadent or freaking out. If we have a lot of psychological patterns that aren't healthy, then it's nearly impossible to have happiness. So go for sanity if you want happiness. And meditation may or may not be a part of that pursuit. It doesn't have to be. Really the best combo is some kind of psychological therapy along with some kind of meditation. That's a powerful combo. (DhO

... Even though life is full of joyful, interesting, curious, suprising experiences, somehow those don't count as meaningfull -- we go out of our way to look on the other side of the coin for reasons to call them meaningless. But when it comes to all the things that seem meaningless, we don't spend any time looking on the other side of the coin. We just accept it at face value. We don't critique our "life is a shit sandwich" theories with the same intensity that we critique our "life is interesing and can be rewarding" theories.

Basic sanity is about seeing both sides of the coin, accepting the normal ambiguity in life, the normal ups and downs, the normal justices and injustices, and taking ownership and responsibility for the little piece of the world that is under our control, which is mostly our attitude and actions -- not the outcomes -- and so we simply do what can be done in existing circumstances, as best we can.

A good sense of humor is essential --- especially to counteract our tendency to take our own negativity so seriously. (DhO

Basic Sanity is clarity of sensations, emotions, and thoughts while not 'believing' any of them. Then sensation hunting, emotional drama, and complex thought is a lot less compelling. At the heart of things, the implications of this current moment are uncertain. Are things going in a good direction? Are things going in a bad direction? There seems to be a very primal part of our brain that is always assessing this. In Koan language, this is "the great matter of life and death", you could say.

Pretty much everything extra in our experience is more complicated thoughts and emotions about the situation. If thoughts aren't seen as thoughts and emotions aren't seen as emotions --- and simply best interpretations in the moment -- then we can dwell and elaborate and intellectualize etc. and it can lead to overthinking thoughts and overjudging emotions. 

... (T)he original experience of sensation is overlooked when we intellectualize and emotionally dramatize. Sensations are the bedrock of thoughts and emotions, but we spend so little time with them.

And what we can realize if we watch this whole sensation-emotion-thought dynamic is that greedy and aversion and ignorance is involved: (1) If we just stayed at the level of sensations and we didn't want more good sensations, to avoid bad sensations, or to ignore boring sensations... then we wouldn't have strategic emotions. Because 99% of the time, we overlook the fact that sensations are just fine, being embodied in this moment is good enough; (2) If we stayed at the experience of strategic emotions and didn't want more good emotions, to avoid bad emotions, or to ignore boring emotions... then we wouldn't have strategic thoughts; (3) If we just stayed at the level of strategic thoughts and didn't want more good thoughts, to avoid bad thoughts, or ignore boring thoughts... then we wouldn't over intellecualize. 

Basic sanity is clarity of sensations, emotions, and thoughts --- while not "believing" any of them. Sensations are sensations and can change in the next moment, emotions are emotions and can change in the next moment, thoughts are thoughts and can change in the next moment. Until this is truly "seen", we'll have false fears and false confidence in different sensations, emotions, and thoughts. But when we can truly experience these things, sensation hunting, emotional drama, and complex thought is a lot less compelling. (DhO)

Meditation is like getting more therapy in between your actual therapy sessions. There have been a lot of people that have combined therapy, prescribed medication, and sitting practice in a helpful way. It seems like gentle forms of sitting where thoughts are allowed to pop into the head and be noticed is a "moderate" practice. Basically, it is like pretending that you showed up a therapy session, the therapist asked "what is going on in your thoughts and feelings?", and you tell them --- except that you simply watch your thoughts and feelings as an observer. Sometimes you will get caught in a thought or emotional story and get lost in a daydream of sorts, but eventually you will notice it. Then just start again. It's like your therapist let you rant and then asked "that's interesting, and what else?" So you do it all over again. It's like getting more therapy in between your actual therapy sessions.

That said, there is nothing perfectly "safe" so that's why it is important to work with a professional when having real challenges. Plus, working with a pro is the fastest way through this stuff. They can bring additional skills, techniques, or tools into the treatment. Might as well use every method and tool that is available.

Meditation and therapy will always have some element of destabilizing the current sense of self, then reintegrating a "cleaner" sense of self. In this case, you want to destablize the identification with depressive thinking and axious catastrophizing -- and basically see them as bad habits that you can drop. But there is usually some slightly beneficial reason for depression/anxiety, like it provides a sense of finding control in a situation where there isn't much control, or it provides a tangible although not ideal way to protect or care for yourself, which can be why it becomes a habit. A good therapist will help you tease that apart so that you can find more beneficial approaches to deal with negative self/worldviews and uncertainty. Meditation points out "oh look those are just thoughts and feelings" but many times some psychological work is needed to make a real difference. 

... The important thing is to connect with that part of yourself that seems to be wise and cultivate it. And little by little it really adds up. There are tipping points along the way, too. Moments when 90% of mania or depression goes away. Life really does change.

It can be easy to turn practice into spiritual pride (I'm doing superior practices, the world doesn't effect me the way it does others), but as you say, that's just a defense mechanism to pretend that "stuff" isn't there. The sad thing is it works for a while, then the house of cards comes crashing down.

The thing that fixes stuff is seeing it clearly and deeply realizing it isn't helpful. Of course if it was as simple as saying that, there would be no problem. The challenge is that there is usually some positive stuff confused (literally fused with) negative stuff. So dealing with stuff means untangling things. Ironically, the way stuff gets tangled is we try to do too much, fix too much, achieve too much --- we're our own worst enemy. That's why sitting down and doing nothing except watch the mind do its thing for a while is so important.

Spirit world stuff and sensitivity can be fine. It's part of being human. Lots of meditators old and new have that tendency, too. The important thing is to find a good balance so that it doesn't turn into a blind fantasy or become traumatizing. In general, it's better to have a foundation of basic sanity and bodily health before opening up to the subtle and unstable stuff.

Yeah, we're never quite done with stuff, but as you get used to listening to your body/mind, you develop a sense of when to explore and when to stay home, when to deconstruct and when to stabilize, when to open up and when to stay closed, etc.  The pattern in therapy and meditation is experience, integrate, experience, integrate... in nice manageable bites so that we don't choke. (DhO)  

A whole body/mind/heart approach: three domains of development that occur in parallel during meditation. There are three domains of development that occur in parallel during meditation practice: (1) cleaning up "psychological pathologies"; (2) conventional "adult development"; (3) and insights into emptiness/mind nature. These are so intimate with each other that they interact with the other, but making the distinction leads to greater clarity and a better ability to fine-tune practice/teaching.

What is interesting is different methods under the big category of "meditation" have different emphasis which relate to these three domains...

Psychological Pathologies: "Monkey Mind" is basically the mind distancing itself from an intimate experience of the current moment and this is the early phase of practice. We have to initially lose our enchantment with our own mental chattering. (Doesn't have to go away, just lose interest in it). Then there are more subtle repressions/defense mechanisms/layering over traumas. This clearly comes up in meditation practice and it's clear to me that this has been the intention of Buddhism's pointing toward "outflowings" --- the automatic reactive patterns that are running on autopilot and get triggered whenever we encounter a condition that we can't experience with compassion (i.e. fully experience with sensitivity and equanimity). Basically, it initially seems like our sense of personality is going away because we identify with these habitual psychological patterns, but loosening up the knots results in a better expression of our true personality and unhindered intelligence. This is more of a relating to things as they are, so an "intelligence" domain. So that's all psychological. 

Ego Development: Then there are the stages of ego development, which can be hindered by lots of psychological pathologies, but is a different "context" for holding the sense of identity.  I always point to the Cook-Grueter 9 States of ego development as the best resource I've found. As one loses a backlog of pathologies, an adult is likely to move along the ego development stages, but this is much more highly influenced by a person's culture. It is very difficult to grow beyond certain stages of identity without having models or being around people who are at these highest stages of development... because each stage of growth loses a kind of easy certainty about who we are and what is meaningful in life. I don't know what to quite call this, but I would say that this is more of a "wisdom" spectrum, but each stage has it's own wisdom and frankly a good hearted person at a lower stage is better for the world than a pathological higher level person. I think it is probably possible to be psychologically "clean" but at different stages of ego development, likewise it's possible to be have advanced ego development but lingering psychological pathologies that overwhelm the person -- so you can get evil geniuses, so to speak. In general, however, the further the ego development, the less suffering there is from one's own internal material, but unfortunately one's ego identity can clash with the dominant cultural ego identities... which creates a different kind of suffering, a feeling of being on the fringe, so to speak.

Meditation: Then the third aspect is the domain of meditation, and like it or not, it's all about the emptiness of mind nature. Like I said, the other aspects dominate what happens in meditation, but meditation investigates mind nature in a way that goes beyond these domains. One way I would say it is that there is a kind of "optimizing" that occurs in the previous two domains. Meditation seems to go beyond finding states in which "one feels whole and complete". Meditation recognizes that too as a "state" of being, which has characteristics and an experiential "tone". And people who go really deep into meditation are curious about that and "what recognizes/experiences this state?" This leads into very subtle investigations, really below the domain of words/ego identity and prior to fully development psychological pathologies, and teases apart a very subtle knot of suffering/identity. The same language of psychology and ego development can be used to explain this, but really there aren't words for this and there certainly isn't external authority for this. It's a very personal investigation and oddly enough, everyone's awakening looks slightly different, even though there is a kind of universality that makes it possible for it to be recognized. 

The interesting thing about awakening is while the person has to be fairly psychologically clean and ego developed, they don't need to be fully so. So this is why you get all the fucked-up guru/teachers. I think it's a losing battle to argue, "oh you don't know mind nature" because they might, but it is not the point. So it's much more direct to say: hey fucked-up guru/teacher you are psychologically regressed and at a low stage of ego development and so you think criminal actions are okay. We're going to treat you like any other criminal, into the courtroom and the prision you go. You see what I mean? This would be a case where the meditation domain is much more advanced than the psychological and ego development and being clear about this makes things much easier to understand.

So, pursuing meditation to the exclusion or as a work-around for the other psychological and ego development is pretty much a failure. If you want psychological clarity, be clear on that and focus on it. (Meditation methods can be used, but focus on the psychology aspect of it). If you want ego development, be clear on that (yes, meditation methods can be used for this, but focus on the ego development aspect of it.) If you want awakening, make sure you are getting your psychological and ego development together, because what you will wake up to is the psychological and ego development that still needs to be done! 

Anyway, I hope this helps people think about their practice and why there is a lot of value in really taking a whole body/mind/heart approach to practice rather than struggling to complete something according to someone else's model/map. Only you know what is giving you trouble in your life. Honor practices that work on the things you need to work on. Don't blindly follow a method or map. Become your own expert of your own condition and follow a path that makes sense to you. (DhO)

Just to make sure I made my point clear: this is a 3 overlapping domains model, not any statement about sequential stages (which is what I think of when something is characterized as a 3 stage model). 

Basically, the "turning toward" ill-will/suffering/resistance/discomfort causes progress in all three domains (faster developmental feedback loop), yet each domain can be distinguished if you want to optimize for one. (DhO

I am the heir to my (workable) karma. That’s interesting Daniel [ a practice where you review all possibilities and determine that this was the best possible rebirth and lifestream to go down ]. I like that a lot. Just recently, I was playing with something similar, inspired by Noah’s discussion of the “examplar tantra” or "perfect parent" meditation.

I went back to all the major junction points in my life, the really crappy and painful and difficult parts of my life, the failures of character, and explored to what extent I was “protected” during those times. What is interesting is that every fork in the road could have gone much, much worse – which is obvious when you look at it, basically a truism, but sometimes that’s hard to see that when we have more of a victim mentality and overly focus on what could have been better.

Then I traced all of those paths and lessons learned to my current abilities and wisdom and saw how all of these situations were a kind of purification and wisdom-creating event. And it is clear to me that my selfish and narrow-minded “me” in the past could never have gotten to where I am now without those hard, karmic lessons.

Looking at the past like this has a kind of atemporal/tautological feeling to it -- much like “victim mentality” does -- but it seems much less claustrophobic. However, it’s clear that “you were/are protected” could be taken as another extreme view.

So the middle path seems to be an attitude that’s much more accepting that “I am the heir to my karma”, yet also to see it as “workable” or maybe “evolvable”… and not to begrudge tough situations quite so much. (DhO)

Deal directly with depression and isolation rather than hope that meditation will fix it. Meditation is kind of a weird pursuit with a lot of technical aspects to it... and it is only sort of related to getting out of depression and social isolation. Although there is a lot of hype about meditation -- and I'm a big fan obviously -- sometimes people talk about it like it cures everything you want it to, but that's not quite right. That's sort of like all those people saying that yoga or nutrition or a positive mental attitude or religion or politics or exercise or (insert anything here) is a magic cure that will fix all of our problems. Sure, good stuff is good stuff, but one thing doesn't fix everything. 

That's why some meditation websites have information on basic health and mental well being, like this: health and balanceThat said, there are books like 10% Happier  and others that talk about how meditation can help. Maybe other folks will have suggestions, too.

My own view is it's much better to deal directly with depression and isolation rather than hope that meditation will fix it. Meditation is great for looking at the mind and see all the ways we make things worse for ourselves. Sometimes it isn't obvious that we worry too much or second-guess ourselves too much. It can be bizarre to look at our mind and realize how our attitude can be like driving with the parking break on. This can help us realize we want to change things, including learning to be easier an kind to our selves.

Changing things like depression and loneliness takes more than just realizing it's going on... it takes doing something. And this is the weak link of a meditation-only approach. The thing that seems to help depression is decreasing the amount of time worrying and doing more little activities, to get the body and mind doing things and less focused on itself. It is similar to loneliness. What seems to help is decreasing the amount of time worrying and doing more things around people. Little by little, doing some things that seem uncomfortable. Unfortunately, some people think that if you do enough meditation then everything will become comfortable. I personally never experienced that. It's always challenging to do new things. I think meditation helps a little, but we still need to be brave in the middle of feeling some discomfort and attempt to make changes...

Obviously everyone is different and how this change happens will be different for everyone. Some people can just jump in and start making little changes. Some people will use access to health care and can have doctors and therapists help them, then they can also use them to help figure out better nutrition, medication, and therapy techniques to help make change happen. Some people will use exercise. Etc etc. Depression can be challenging, which is why there are professionals who devote their professional life for helping people deal with it. People who have a therapist AND have a meditation practice seem to make the fastest progress, I've noticed. (DhO

Sitting must be an intelligent investigation. With all the striving one probably overlooks some of the basic dynamics of how positive, negative, and neutral experiences create greed, aversion, and ignorance. My experience is that it's possible to do quite a lot of sitting, but have things fall apart because we are never quite looking closely enough and instead we're kinda ignoring what's happening while thinking about progress and the goal. (Happened many times to me!) Basically, meditation will beat us up until we take a step back and reconsider what we're doing in the first place. Just sitting and noting without progress feels like masochism, because it is.

Sitting must be an intelligent investigation. It isn't about how many breaths you can count in a row or about how continuously you note. The whole point of sitting is to provide an opportunity for the mind to see that there is a difference between sensations and emotions. Sensations are just sensations, and emotions are too... but usually we see emotions as "I" and we suffer. We experience an emotion and old habits of reacting kick in, and we make a mess of things.

So sitting is about noticing what is occuring, including more and more of our subjective experience into awareness, and --- most importantly --- seeing how our attitudes toward sensations of self lead to suffering. Watching the breath and noting is designed to help us look >right now< at how our very primal attitudes toward very primal experiences create suffering. Normally the natural intelligence of the mind will tease this all apart for us if we just sit and use the breath or noting as an anchor... but sometimes we get so fascinated with the anchor (or our thoughts about how well the practice is going) that we need to be pointed back to the actual experience of the sit.

At any given moment, there is a sense of being, a sense of self. Those sensations change. So does our feeling of self worth. It's not as simple as as when we feel pleasure, we feel good, and when we feel discomfort, we feel bad. It's bizarrely complicated (yet completely knowable). Sometimes we feel good when we're in pain because we think we're making progress. Sometimes we feel bad when we feel pleasure, because where ashamed of feeling pleasure. And of course, sometimes pleasure makes us feel good, pain makes us feel bad, and neutral sensations lull us into ignoring what is going on (followed soon by fantasizing).

Once you get a sense of what you are looking for, meditation becomes endlessly fascinating. Look at this subjective experience of "I having an experience". Notice the I-ness. Notice the quality of the experience. Notice how those relate to each other. Notice how we are trying to pull some kinds of experience toward us (want it!) and how we push some kinds of experience away (no!). And wow, seconds later, it's a whole difference experience. In a thirty minute sit, we can be reborn about 200 different times. Each "birth" creating a new moment of grabbing, avoiding, or ignoring. How exhausting and how strange, since all we are doing is sitting on a cushion doing absolutely nothing.

So why do we put such trust in the reality of this mind?

After a while, it becomes easier and easier to see how the reality of the mind just happens and is constantly changing and is, at best, a good guess at reality. So you don't take it as seriously. Yet all the time spent sitting makes the mind very sensitive, so it's more accurate than ever. Except where it is still inaccurate, which causes suffering. Eventually you don't worry about suffering appearing, you actually welcome it, because you know that where there is suffering, something important is being ignored. So you welcome suffering and you investigate it, which is a totally different way of going through life.

Nothing throws you off track anymore, suffering has become >fuel< for investigation, for intelligence in meditation. And all the nanas and paths happen.

It's pretty much that simple. If you are having a shitty time in meditation, take a look at your attitude. Why is just sitting around, breathing, and doing nothing beside being aware so shitty? If it is just the pain of sitting, it's okay to adjust your position or try standing instead. But if it is thoughts and emotions, what is your relationship to them. Are they "you" or are they occuring in your awareness? Can you experience them as not-you but within-you? Does suffering increase or decrease when you do that? At the contact point of experience, do you see how your habits of mind react to sensations of pleasure, discomfort, or neutral sensations with greed, aversion, or ignoring?

The closer you can look at that point of contact where sensations becomes suffering, the better your natural intelligence will tease apart how suffering is created. 

If there is no suffering, then simply rest in the experience. Allow yourself to rest as awareness.

This cycle -- rest, suffering, investigation, rest -- simply happens many thousands of times during practice, unteasing the whole problem of suffering. (DhO)

Not enough honesty, not enough investigation, not enough acceptance. Meditation basically has three aspects: an honest experience of one's condition and balancing the effort/investigation and the relaxation/acceptance of that condition. 

Not enough honesty and it becomes fantasy/spiritual bypassing.
Not enough investigation and it becomes indulgent daydreaming.
Not enough acceptance and it becomes aversive manipulation.

This is basically ignorance, greed, and aversion as applied to practice itself! I agree that after a while, this becomes more of an instinct rather than a practice, so there is less doing of it, but still the activity of it --- and a trusting of that activity. It's basically a situation where the heart/mind has learned that rather than "push away suffering to others" to "turn inward, notice the clinging that causes suffering, and -- seeing it clearly -- it gets dropped". (DhO

Motivation Check: don't rely on meditation to fix all your life problems. The people who really suffer are those that treat meditation/spirituality as something that makes them more and better. More wise, more intelligent, more perceptive, more accomplished, more grounded and better than everyone else without a practice. In essence, their practice is all about getting ahead and separating themselves from the rest of humanity.

The people who seem to make quick work of it are those who already know that life is up and down, fame and blame, wealth and loss, success and failure, but who seem to key into the sense of there being a basic, human sanity that is possible to develop and refine. A sanity that connects to the simplicity of being a perceptive human mind and a simple enjoyment of a human embodied experience. This is more a motivation of "I know I will be better for myself and all beings if I see through my compulsive ideas, behaviors, and endless competition with other people."

Practice "with a gaining idea" or being "spiritually ambitious" can really mess things up.

No one is totally pure of heart, so I'm not saying you need to get rid of your shadow desires before starting --- that's impossible. But I am saying that there should be some humility and groundedness from the beginning, otherwise all of the insights -- which basically destroy conventional defense mechanisms -- will feel like "losses" and instead of feeling intimacy with life, you'll feel isolated and lost.

All of this is paradoxical, so it isn't easy to describe... but although spiritual practice DOES make you feel isolated and lost, if there isn't ambition, it also allows you to better intimately connect. And even though you DO become more wise and perceptive, you also clearly see all of your incomplete development and stupidity. Hopefully it turns you into a good human, but if intentions are all wrong, it can turn you into a neurotic wreck.

In some sense, there really isn't a choice you need to make... life will kinda point to what you probably should do. But, to the extent that you can, think about intentions and consequences. Meditation kinda takes away the ways you can hide, so be clear about what you want to be. Meditation also wakes you up to the life you have, not some other life, so also make sure you are doing your best to make it a good one. Don't rely on meditation to fix all your life problems. (DhO

Who are the people that seem to make real progress. In all the years since KFD I've noticed that the people that seem to really progress in meditation practice are the ones who are also very interested in their psychology. Sometimes it's by combining therapy and practice, which is ideal if you can get a good therapist, but other times it's just by being psychologically literate and noticing stuff like that while sitting. By psychological literate, I mean understanding things like defense mechanisms, immortality projects, personality disorders, shadow/repression/projection, trauma/PTSD/addiction, etc. (DhO)

I think people who make "quick" progress are the same people that become intimate with the actual physical experience of confusion and suffering/ill-will in their bodies. To some extent thoughts are analyzed, but it doesn't become an intellectual exercise. There is an intuition that things currently are a confused tangle of sensations and urges and emotions which needs to be seen clearly at the level of sensation, urge, and emotion. And so actual sensations, urges, and emotions become objects of investigation.  

I think the people who are going slow -- which is totally fine and something worth considering as a good thing -- are easing into this non-verbal and semi-conscious territory of investigation. It can be terrifying to explore the primal, shadow, non-verbal side of experience. There is no benefit of just retraumatizing ourselves by going too quickly into this difficult stuff. If people are confused about why they might be so slow, they probably need to look at how they are using meditation techniques and maps of meditation... They are often using meditation to avoid experiencing their inner tensions. They are often using the maps of meditation to stay at level of the intellect.

The people who seem to combine morality and meditation well are generally those people who see the nature of urges and emotions very clearly. It becomes very clear how suffering is created when we adopt an orientation of anger, greed, desire, ambition, and pride (5 realms). It becomes very clear how these orientations can seem like answers to our problems if we don't see the nature of primal defensiveness, evasion, stimulation, busyness, and confusion (5 elements). When you see how our own emotions and urges create suffering when we buy into them... then the alternative  -- which isn't quite definable except by saying it is the middle path -- becomes much clearer. Well, I guess you could say it is friendliness, caring, appreciation, and acceptance (4 Brahmaviharas).

At its core, morality is mostly dropping our tendency to resist change, dropping our superficial quests for emotional satisfaction, and dropping the need to "be somebody". Having done that, it then opens up the entire space of being alive and responsive to whatever experience we meet. (DhO)

Meditation as a feeding process. You could say it is that meditation brings the full picture of feeding into clarity, both the obvious side and the shadow side. Feeding makes perfect logical sense and so that's the way we are wired. 99% of the path is all about instinctively learning to feed on more and more refined mind objects. We go through increasing levels of seeking from material desires, to psychological desires, to existential desires. But gradually we see how this whole feeding process is never ending: Samsara. This continuous craving and seeking and obtaining and lacking and craving once again loop goes on and on. At some point in practice the mind even jumps to narrow bandwidths of perception -- jhanas. And even the jhanas take on a more and more refined nature, until getting to things like "neither perception nor not-perception". It really is amazing. 

In the end, the mind turns around and looks directly at seeking/craving itself, which we have always felt as self, and sees THAT. It's closer than close, but we "blink" it out of awareness all the time. When we see that, that's basically 4th Path. You can't be confused by mind nature after seeing the craving self. And yet life goes on! ... which is shocking to hear, but as 4th path approaches, so much of the false identifications and limiting views have been seen through, so losing a contiguous sense of self is no big deal.  (DhO)

Bad habits, lizards & wasps. Basically, we don't drop these bad habits unless we feel the pain that they cause. It would be nice if we were intelligent beings that responded to reason, because then you could simply say "did you know smoking is bad for you?" and people would quit.  Or we would notice "Oh, I'm 20 pounds overweight" and then we would eat less. But the mind-body doesn't really work that way. Deep down, our brain is a very stupid lizard than needs to be put into direct contact with the negative consequences of its habits otherwise the lizard never changes.

This is why, after a certain point in becoming a mostly-sane person, meditation is >necessary< to make any more progress. All the intellectual and philosophical approaches will somewhat conceptually support training the stupid lizard, but it never quite does the trick.

So we have to sit on a cushion and directly feel our special hells if we want to keep refining our mind. 

A lot of it is slowly training the lizard, but lizards are also smart in their own stupid way. If a lizard eats a wasp and gets stung, it won't even try to eat a wasp any more. Many meditation insights are like that. Once we get it, once we are really "stung", we surprisingly find our bad habit suddenly gone. (DhO)

When we really see how much we hurt from our bad habits, we automatically make the change. Most of the time, we don't really notice how much we avoid really experiencing things. That's why there is such a backlog of material that comes bubbling up during meditation … Here's one of my favorite statements by Krishnamurti: “If I recognize that I am crude without wanting to change, without trying to become sensitive, if I begin to understand what crudeness is, observe it in my life from day to day - the greedy way I eat, the roughness with which I treat people, the pride, the arrogance, the coarseness of my habits and thoughts - then that very observation transforms what is”. 

“Similarly, if I am stupid and I say I must become intelligent, the effort to become intelligent is only a greater form of stupidity; because what is important is to understand stupidity. However much I may try to become intelligent, my stupidity will remain. I may acquire the superficial polish of learning, I may be able to quote books, repeat passages from great authors, but basically I shall still be stupid. But if I see and understand stupidity as it expresses itself in my daily life - how I behave towards my servant, how I regard my neighbour, the poor man, the rich man, the clerk – then, that very awareness brings about a breaking up of stupidity … Watch yourself talking to your servant, observe the tremendous respect with which you treat a governor, and how little respect you show to the man who has nothing to give you. Then you begin to find out how stupid you are; and in understanding that stupidity there is intelligence, sensitivity”. (DhO)

“Consistency, not heroics”. My own advice is to pick a reasonable amount of practice to do a day, like an hour of sitting. And then completely forget about practice for the rest of the time and just really enjoy/participate in your normal everyday life. That's it. I know this sounds contrary to the whole "hardcore" approach, but ultimately I think Kenneth Folk has it exactly right when he says "consistency, not heroics". The thing is, you need to build in a lot of down time to digest and re-wire your body/mind when you're doing meditation practice. This is heavy stuff. Lots a material comes up. Some of this stuff is psychologically really difficult. If you neglect recovery time, then it's just like over-exercising. You make initial progress, but then can't recover and wind up injuring yourself. When meditation gets heavy, there should be lots of recovery time. Lots of walking outside. Lots of sleep. Lots of hot baths. (DhO)  

One of the side benefits of regular sitting practice is it gives you feedback on normal stuff that's required to be healthy. When you are sitting there, it becomes clear if you are getting enough sleep, exercise, etc. Sometimes it even becomes obvious how to adjust your diet to make your mind clearer (lighter meals, less coffee/alcohol, etc.) (DhO)

Being heroic, yet loving (towards hindrances). Progress comes from being heroic (bravely facing what arises) and yet loving (equanimity with what is arising, not manipulating what is occurring, being interested in the details of the experience, not pushing it away). But sometimes you can overload the system and heroism is stupidity. The key thing seems to be whether you can muster enough compassion for what is actually occurring, so that your heroism isn't just stupid bulldozing with fierce determination.  

Early in practice, it's all about "overcoming" hindrances: developing a regular sitting schedule, staying on the cushion for the entire time, learning to return to the meditation object when our mind drifts...

But quite soon afterwards -- we get a strong hint of this in the dark night nanas, but we have to keep re-learning it -- it's all about learning the nature of the so-called hindrances. Basically taking the hindrances/suffering AS the meditation object. So the hindrances actually become fuel for practice, not obstacles to practice. It's a great thing when we see this clearly. Practice takes on a whole new momentum and vitality.

Ideally, this bravery and compassion/love that is so essential for sitting practice becomes who we are, our orientation to all of our life, hence why meditation seems to correlate to refinements in morality. Although we can mess this up, too. (DhO

Traversing the whole Stream Entry path isn't about conventional effort, it's about consistent practice. It's important to understand what "work diligently, continually, every second from the moment you wake up to the moment you sleep" means. It's not about effort as we conventionally think of it. It's not about intensity, straining, grunting, grabbing, or intellectually investigating. If it was like that, then almost every philosopher or psychologist or professional athlete or soldier would be enlightened. Those four categories of people spend many hours a day investigating their mind, their mind-body connections, and/or their environment with an intensity beyond what 99.9% of the people in the world do.

Many pre-stream entry meditators think that effort is the way to get through the Dark Night, but when you look closely at what is going on --- they actually are using the idea of effort and willpower as a way to address their underlying doubts and fears that they will never make progress. The greater the doubt, the greater they need to believe that "they can make it happen with effort". That's fine for establishing a personal practice at home. No one created a new habit of daily meditation without effort, that's true.

But let's talk about advanced meditation, meditation that goes beyond basic mindfulness, that goes through dark night, that withstands Reobservation, that continues into Equanimity, that persists and persists through many ups and downs into EQ down to DN back up into EQ for many cycles, that continues to stay practicing when nothing much is happening in EQ and into the daydreamy High EQ, and is confident enough to let the mind seem to drift in High EQ --- and suddently falls into Stream Entry.

Traversing the whole Stream Entry path isn't about conventional effort. It's about consistent practice. 

There is no way any human can maintain practice for 16 hours a day for 30 days with conventional effort. But the nice thing is the mind is naturally aware, so really it's about letting the mind do its thing and being objective about what is happening. All that has to be done is for the breathing body to be felt and to note a single mind object (sensation, urge, emotion, thought) occuring in experience on every outbreath. About 12 notes a minute. Simple.

This doesn't take conventional effort. It simply is a matter of simple noting. To be aware is effortless, to note is like barely lifting a finger. Almost no effort is needed. But it gets difficult because the mind-body will want to resist or fix what is happening in experience (body aches, primitive urges, uncomfortable moods, unsettling thoughts). This is where it gets complicated. You need to actually see those desires, rather than being under their spell. You need to see them objectively and note them. 

You will momentarily go into trance (being embedded in body aches, primitive urges, uncomfortable moods, unsettling thoughts). There is no preventing that. You can't fight that basic aspect of human nature. But when you return to presence, what you do next is very important. If you use effort to try and prevent ever going into trance again or prevent ever becoming embedded again --- then you are meeting resistance with resistance and over hours and days, your practice will go into an extreme (manic, depressive, apathy, extreme doubt). But if you come out of trance and RELAX and simply note what happened and note what is happening in presence. Then you maintain a simple and consistent practice. You are keeping it simple and fresh.

That's the kind of practice... 
* that will stay practicing when the body rebels during Three Characteristics,
* that will naturally fall into super short mind moments in Arising and Passing,
* that will keep practicing through the apathy of Dissolution,
* that will see fear as fear and not anything more in Fear,
* that will understand that sadness is a simple way of self-comforting in Misery,
* that will notice how the mind lashes out as a way of self-protection in Disgust,
* that will notice how we try to "game the system by developing elaborate practice ideas" in Desire for Deliverance,
* that will simply watch with fascination how all of our personal trigger-issues come up during Reobservation,
* that will give up trying to force practice and simply sit and do the basics and enter Low Equanimity, 
* that will notice that giving up and not trying to change things is Equanimity
* that will notice that Equanimity can extend to any state or mood, even if it seems like you are falling back into Dark Night or cycling through the nanas
* that will finally understand that the mind does its thing, there is no effort or control that is needed, even when thoughts are dreamy or wispy in High Equanimity
* that will allow effortless, natural awareness to be just as it is... which allows the mind for the first time to notice the >nothing< that supports all experiences instead of >something< that we notice in our tangible experience, which is Stream Entry.

... So be very clear about what "effort" is needed. It's the kind of effort that simply remembers to note something in the present moment on each outbreath. It's the kind of effort that remembers to note what distracted us when we come out of a trance. It's the kind of effort that remembers to continue practicing again by noting something in the present moment again. 

That's the effort you need. It's a bit of a paradox, which is why I think it's important to say it. Again, the paradox is: the effort you need to apply is the effort of not applying too much effort. The paradox is the effort you need to apply is the effort to keep things simple and fresh. (DhO)


Different styles of Noting. There are lots of different noting styles. Ultimately, the goal is be able to have a technique that allows someone to develop momentary concentration and clarity about what is presently occurring.  Lots of ways to miss-use different noting styles, too. Focusing on breath can be dulling if it is used as sort of a mindless mantra and sensations are not seen clearly. Focusing on rapid fire noting could just enhance a busy narrative mind and be superficial. Noting without structure can sometimes lead to an avoidance of certain types of mind objects (e.g., ignoring feelings or not seeing thoughts as thoughts), but Shargrol's structure noting (which actually is very similar to some of Kenneth's teachings) can be too rigid for people past the beginner's stage. My belief is people really don't know a practice well unless they can articulate its downsides, too.

Meditation is like riding a horse --- you want to stay loose in the saddle, but you don't want to fall off. You need relaxation AND alertness. That balance is only something that is learned over time, by hours in the saddle. Same thing with noting practice, it works but it also takes someone willing to put in the time and learn how to balance noting and noticing. It takes hours on the cushion. Shargrol structured noting is really for developing the foundation (or going back to basic for those who over-complicated their noting practice or is less-developed in one of the four categories of mind objects). Mahasi’s Practical Insight Meditation really holds the hand of someone who can notice the nanas showing up in their practice.  (DhO)

Shargrol’s Structured Noting Practice Sample.  Noting is simple and powerful, and it's okay to dive in if you are ready. The nice thing about noting is it takes you where you need to go. Something really amazing about the mind sort of points the way. The main challenge is that you must get used to (over time) being on the level of direct experience rather than interpreted experience. The more intimately you can be in experience, the more likely the experiences leading to legitimate insights into the nature of experience happen. The more abstracted and intellectualized the relationship with experience, the more likely experience will be shallow and the insights will be somewhat abstracted or intellectualized. This is a whole different domain than philosophy or therapy. The idealized 1+ hour version of a good noting session is:

1. Let mind get settled into practice mode, slowly letting day's thoughts get replaced with the intention to practice.

2. Let the body get settled. Sit. Rock left and right and forward and backward until you find the place of a stable upright spine. Move your head around until it is centered on your shoulders. Move your shoulders back and down so that they are hanging down and resting on your torso. Rotate your elbows without moving your shoulders and rest your hands in your lap. This should be a good comfortable position.

3. Take slightly longer and deeper breaths, just 20% deeper and hold it 20% longer. Start feeling that combination of relaxation and invigoration.

4. Now let the breath do itself normally. While the body breath itself, feel the relaxation of the out breath and count breaths from 1 to 10. If you miss a count, start over again. If you get to ten, start again at one. No big deal, just be honest. If the body can naturally breath itself and the mind can naturally from 1 to 10 three times then the mind is nicely settled. (It’s easy to get this part wrong by using too much effort. Anyone can count breaths if they use a lot of effort, like a soldier counting push-ups. This breath counting should be basically effortless, the body breathes, the mind counts, no effort.)

From this foundation starts the basic noting phase…

5. For 5 to 10 minutes, have the intention to notice sensations in a very intimate and direct way. On each out breath, note just one of the sensations that is present. This is a very easy rate (10 to 12 times a minute or so) which leaves plenty of time for directly noticing sensations. The mental note is a way to see if you haven’t entered a trance of sorts. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing sensations again.

6. Next slowly switch into urges and emotions. For 5 to 10 minutes, switch to urges and emotions in the same way. Urges are like little non-verbal motivational intentions that rise up, usually clinging/greed or aversion/resistance. Emotions are longer lasting non-verbal moods or feelings (different than the momentary sensations). If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing urges and emotions again.

7. Next slowly switch into thoughts. For 5 to 10 minutes, switch to “categories of thought” in the same way. In this step you don’t become imbedded in thinking, but you don’t stop it either. You let your mind think the way it naturally does, but you pay attention to it as thinking, and on every outbreath you note the general category of thoughts you are having. You might be planning your day, thinking about the past, worried about making progress, doubting the effectiveness of the method, etc. Perfect! You would simply note “planning thoughts”, “remembering thoughts”, “worrying thoughts”, “doubting thoughts”, etc. You can make up your own categories or style of labels. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing categories of thought again.

8. At this point, the mind is now very good at being mindful and discriminating (in the good “distinguishing” sense) between  sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. Now for 5 to 10 minutes, let yourself note any one of these things while you let your body and mind do what it wants. This is basically freestyle noting. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing and noting again.

This all sounds very easy, but very few people are capable of following the instructions above. Most people jump into freestyle noting, which is totally fine, but you need to be honest and admit if you are having any difficulty with any of the four categories of mind objects. You can't go wrong with checking in on all four before freestyling. But if one of the categories of sensations, urges, emotions, or thoughts is more difficult, you might want to spend more time on it. It might be you spend focused time on sensations and thoughts before going freestyle if you are already good with urges and emotions. It might be that you need to spend a lot of time on urges or emotions before going freestyle. Etc. Basically, you are trying to design a practice that uncovers what is non-conscious or confused in your experience and what kinds of stuff you avoid by going into a mindless trance. Again, the path and goal is at the level of direct, intimate, visceral experience, including the direct experiencing of thoughts as thoughts. Definitely a different domain than therapy or philosophy (but obviously it supports both of those).

Now for the next phase….

9. Now simply sit for 5 minutes without applying any techniques. Let the mind transition from a practicing mind to a normal mind. Notice what observations from practice linger and what you might want to bring with you off cushion. What can you work on off-cushion during your normal life?

10. Dedicate merit

11. And now let the effort of practice go. It is important to have not practicing time to let the mind non-consciously digest what happens during practice. Yes, it’s okay to work on some stuff off-cushion, but don’t become neurotic or obsessive. Just like with physical exercise, you actually build muscle/mindfulness during your recovery from your workouts/meditation. Sleep is really important, too. Strange things can happen overnight in terms of developing awareness, attention, mindfulness, subtle distinguishing, etc.

The last thing I’ll say is that the direct and intimate experience of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts are like a gateway. We assume we know what these things are, but honestly we really don’t. If you can simply have the direct experience of these things, then some amazing progress is made and the seemingly mythical progress described in the traditions all makes sense. And practice does lead to nanas, jhanas, cessations, and awakening. Yes, don’t crave these experiences, but also don’t write them off as unimportant. You’ll be amazed at the powerful experiences that do happen. But the gateway to all of this is simply intimately and directly experiencing sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. Don’t underestimate the power of doing these very simple practices. Also use caution with these very simple practices, the results can be destabilizing. 

In the same way that you tear muscle to build it back to become stronger, you tear apart confusions (fused-with-ness) about experience so that your mind grows clearer. (DhO)

Structured vs Unstructured Practice. A big part of the road to SE is developing a bunch of techniques and learning to intuitively use them. As you are seeing, it can be great to go back to basics sometimes. The simple 1 to 10 (Zen counting) meditation is often given to beginners, but the comfort of having a basic structure and the space around the counting all give a nice frame to even advanced meditator's practice.

The pros of a continuous object is it builds the muscle of attention, the cons of a continuous object will eventually become tiring and oppressive over time.

The pros of a more open non-continuous framework is there is an opportunity for broad awareness to develop, the cons are that it's easier to get lost in vague awareness/dullness.

Expertise in meditation comes from intuitively understanding that there are always + and - for a practice... The pros of noting practice is that it keeps you periodically disembedding from the flow of experience so you don't get too distracted, the cons of noting practice is that it can separate you from the intimate experience of the current moment.   

The most basic kind of meditation is a very unstructured "how is the experience of this moment?" or even better "what is the experience of how this moment changes?"  More framework can be added to help the meditator, but no framework is required. We don't even need to have words to explain it, but if we can intimately be with the current moment that's enough. And if we want or could benefit from a framework, then that's fine too. The fundamental nature of the current moment isn't altered or corrupted by what is in it. Another way to say it is the application of the framework is still part of the experience of the changing moment, too. (DhO)

Noting doesn't have an idealized end goal. One thing that is different about noting is it doesn't have an idealized end goal. In other words, your aren't doing it wrong if you can't follow the breath, don't see the deity, don't develop heat, don't develop pleasure, don't develop space, don't develop clarity. Eventually all of those things will happen, but Mara (so to speak) will try to get you to want to cling to these things and make it an end goal --- which will stop progress. Those are all golden prisons. The important thing is the insights into what actually causes suffering and limitation in our actual experience. (DhO)

A great noting practice. Noting in and out plus other simple notes while watching the breath is a great practice. You can also add some additional notes to help you work on your challenges. For example, if you get lost, make sure you make a note of whatever was occurring during that trance --- was it a pleasurable sensation? a bunch of emotions? a memory? a thought about the future? searching for something to note? a judgement about what was happening? Find a good-enough word or very short expression for what happened, "remembering" "blissing out" "judging" "planning" "searching" etc, and then return to the in/out of the breath.

When noting becomes difficult -- this is very important -- note what is actually causing the difficulty. Note pain, discomfort, frustration, confusion, dullness, controlling, manipulation, effort, etc. In other words, turn your difficulties into notes. That way, even challenges become fuel for noting practice. 

If the difficulty becomes too much, then it is okay to go slow or stop. The point here is not to create even more suffering. The point is to better understand the nature of suffering... and the way to do that is to gently go into the experiences that are difficult. Usually we will see that either there is some past fragment of memory or sensation that we still need to digest (basically making peace with things that happen in the past) or there is some resistance or fighting of what is happening. (DhO

Noting Speed. The idea that more noting means more progress is partially true, partially false. Consistent daily practice is what makes progress, noting practice or any other practice. You just need to note often enough that you stay present in the body and don't drift too far off into thoughts. Thoughts can and will happen, but you should have a slight bias toward feeling body sensations and noticing thoughts >as thoughts< rather than thinking about things.

If you are trying to "make progress happen" by noting -- then you are actually trying to manipulate/control the sit. Meditation is not about manipulation or control, it's about directly looking at how life is experienced, how experiences arise and pass away in real time. 

If you can note fast without trying to make progress happen, then no problem. Experience definitely happens quickly, so there are plenty of things to note. Daniel is a big advocate for fast, but you have to make your practice your own. Try fast and slow and medium and no noting. When you are done practicing, record how the sit went, and make your own conclusions overtime. Frankly, some sits might even be prone to fast noting, others slow noting, others just noticing... no problem, do what seems right for you.

My recommendation is if noting that fast makes you neurotic, manic, speedy, etc, then try to notice the urge that is driving you. Chances are it is some kind of greediness (maybe greed for progress), aversion (maybe aversion to some sensation or thought that is occuring, which you are trying to cover up by noting other things), or ignorance (you are just noting to distract yourself from really feeling and being present with the actual moment). Be sure to note that greed, aversion, or ignoring -- seeing those urges are a big part of the path.

Same thing if noting slowly makes you dull, drifty, distracted. Take a look, are you greedy for easiness? Are you avoiding the work of meditation? Are you just ignoring what is going on? Be sure to note that greed, aversion, or ignoring.

A lot of rules are really more like guidelines. Make your practice your own. Let experiences arise on their own, notice them, note an experience every so often, and practice consistently. (DhO)

Balancing TMI and MCTB approaches. TMI and MCTB describes two sides of the same coin. TMI is all about adjusting attention/awareness to minimize distractions. MCTB is all about recognizing the flavors of distraction that often corrupts attention/awareness unless it is seen objectively. TMI talks about the nature of attention/awareness, MCTB talks about the nature of distraction, all meditators need to learn to objectify distractions and adjust attention/awareness -- how they choose to abstractly describe that process is a choice. 

For what it's worth, I think the balance between the two approaches is keeping attention on the breathing sensations, using that to become settled, and then after that point "noting" whatever is the distraction from that attention on the breath. This is from something I wrote for another yogi:

"When you get distracted from the sensations of breathing, look at your mind and notice some aspect of the distraction and simply label it with a word. The classic types of distractions are: 1) body sensations (discomfort, pleasure, pressure, tingling, itchiness, aches, interesting textures etc.) 2) urges (attraction, aversion, the urge to ignore or overlook) 3) emotions (joy, curiosity, sadness, frustration, confusion, depression, excitement) 4) "proliferation of thought" which is really how our mind just kind of creates a whole series of thoughts without really "thinking/analyzing" but rather just "work today was stupid I had to make that call and he wasn't there and now I need to send an email and..." What we do for that kind of distraction, for example, is we just label the whole string of thoughts as one thing "work thoughts".

So to put this all together... You sit and let your body get settled for about 5 or 10 minutes. (Don't worry about how long, just let your body and mind calm down from all the stress of the day.) Then transition into mindfulness of breathing. Do that until you feel ready for the next step, maybe 5 or 10 more minutes. Next, keep doing the same thing, but now whenever you are distracted, notice the nature of the distraction, and just label one aspect of it, a sensation, an urge, an emotion, or a category of thinking. Make up whatever label makes sense to you -- there are no rules here. The point is to be able to more clearly see and understand what distracts you.

And here's the interesting thing: you should have no worries about how many times you get distracted. In fact, you should even think "I hope I get distracted a lot, so I can have lots of opportunities to clearly see what distracts me."

(Adding in: and I do really recommend the 5 minutes of sitting without using a method at the end. Oddly enough, this seems to really catalyzes progress.)

"So that's what I would recommend as a next step. This practice does two things. It adds in "vipassana" or insight practice to your breath meditation which is mostly a "samatha" or calming practice. But the coolest thing about it is it allows you to use distractions as fuel for practice, because you turn all the things that distract, frustrate, confuse, depress, worry etc. into things that you note and label with a word and use to make your mindfulness practice stronger."

Hopefully you can see that there are ways to tweak practice to fit the individual yogi and that having an intentional structure really reduces the tendency to kind of be lazy during big parts of hour long sits. It is often better to do a good 45 minute sit rather than sit too long. All a longer sit does in this circumstance is train the being-lazy behavior. 

So for example, during your tranquilizer dart sit, if you spent that sit doing mindfulness of breathing, but then noted all the sensations, emotions, and thoughts which made up the overall sense of being tranquilized. Noting something at least as often as every outbreath, or even a little more frequently to ramp up the energy of attention. That's the gateway to either moving from dissolution to misery (in the progress of insight stages) or your dullness would turn into the airy, tingly, and cool body tone of the third vipassana jhana. You don't need to change anything about those kind of sits, except ramp up the mindfulness of the experience, so that it becomes an intimate object of investigation. In other words, you change a dull trance into mindfulness of the experience and the intimate mindfulness will induce further concentration. If you never quite break out of the dull trance after 45 minutes, end it there. No sense training yourself to be in a trance. If it happens again, then practice in the standing position.

You see, a yogi has to learn how to adjust both effort and method to the conditions that arise during practice. A teacher can definitely help, but so much of this is true trial and error on behalf of the meditator. We all need to learn how to meet our own experience and intuitively learn to use different "tools" to break out of trance and cultivate mindfulness. Sometimes I think meditators aren't given enough of an endorsement to make the practice into their own art. But it really is an art, not a formula.

And it's very subtle, because mindfulness of a trance-like state looks and feels a lot like being in a trance, but the attention/awareness has a definite flavor of "knowing" the trance. So every state is workable, we just need to get the energy of attention higher that the intensity of the trance. The trance doesn't need to completely go away. In fact, you kinda want it to stick around so you can really investigate it -- Why is it so seductive? What lies does it tell about itself? What does this numbness want to hide or protect? How is this trance a confused form of compassion? What if I had compassion for the natural instinct to go into trance but looked at what is happening objectively? Is this trance really going to relieve tension, resistance, suffering, problemness, etc? If you get interested in the what and why, even "difficult" sits are very very engaging! (DhO

Every yogi should have multiple techniques in their toolbox if they wish to attain Stream Entry. There's no need to be polemic about this stuff: 
  • Just sitting is helpful when getting started
  • Noting is helpful to develop momentum.
  • Sensations of breathing is helpful when there is momentum and senstivity.
  • Penetrative investigation is helpful during A&P.
  • Noting is helpful in the aftershock of A&P and the beginning of the dark night.
  • Sensations of breathing and noting is helpful when digesting the dukkha that comes up during the dukkha nanas.
  • Bittersweet purfication sensations are helpful in cleaning up the dukkha nanas.
  • Soaking in jhana is helpful when they start showing up.
  • Noting is extremely helpful when Reobservation hits like a brick wall.
  • Just sitting is helpful when EQ starts to develop.
  • Very gentle noting or saying "yes" on each outbreath is helpful for continuing EQ after the initial impact becomes normal.
  • Inquiry is helpful when there is stagnation.
  • Soaking in playful 4th jhana, meditating on the mindstream (the sound of thoughts), and while sleepy is helpful in late EQ.  (DhO)
A potential problem with ‘Just Relax’ practices. Different teachings work for different people. ‘Just Relax’ is a great teaching for people who have a sharp mind but too much energy... but for some people that teaching just leads to a bunch of "meditators" who just wallow in dullness. The problem with the ‘Just Relax’ teaching is some/many people, after they have reduced their tension somewhat, do not look for and notice subtle greed, aversion, and indifference. It's basically a continuation of letting go of bigger tensions, but the benefits are much more profound. (DhO

Alternating Samatha and Dzogchen. Some say that in a perfect world, Samatha + Dzogchen would be an ideal practice. I really empathize with that sentiment. I felt very much the same way a long time ago --- all the more complicated methods seemed to be another layer applied on top of experience. (I've modified that view over time, but I very much get your point.)

My overarching view right now is that almost all meditation methods will hit you at the level you _can_ work. So I'm much more inclined to recommend people follow their interest, do the work they can do with the practice that interests them, and then re-assess every few months. The point is to stay interested and stay practicing. This requires a level of honest however. If someone is merely reading about interesting practices and doesn't have a daily sit -- i.e., if they aren't practicing and just trying to intellectually figure out psychology, adult development, and awakening -- then "following their interests" is really just intellectual entertainment. It's fine, no big deal, but it probably won't lead anywhere...

So loosely speaking:

For Dzogchen... Do you understand the basic idea that mental objects self-liberate? That they are empty displays of mind? Can you simply sit and watch mind objects come and go? Can you mostly let yourself rest in experience? (You don't have to be perfect! )

For Samatha... Can you notice that when there are resistances to experience, when there is tension not resting, can you accept that they arise as part of habitual patterns? Can you trust that awareness of those patterns -- not applying some kind of antidote, but rather clearly seeing those patterns -- is what will ultimately release those patterns? And so, can you simply accept these flaws and imperfections and let them be dissolved in awareness over time without resisting their arising? Can you remember to relax into experience, just as it is? (You don't have to be perfect!)

It seems like a good pattern of practice would be letting the two methods alternate -- "clear seeing" when you can, "noticing tension and then having the intention to not resist" when you must.

If you can do this with consistency, it will feel like psychological "knots" and emotional "confusions" will start bubbling up and will untangle by themselves. This is a very serious yet playful practice -- not much to do, no roadmap to follow, just trusting that your inner wisdom and awareness is enough, that all it takes is time for the knots and confusions to bubble into consciousness and be seen as displays of mind and be self-liberated. Most knots and confusions don't let go the first time you see them, so don't get frustrated or think you are doing it wrong. Things take time. (DhO)

Where I differ with approaches like TMI: the job isn't to discipline oneself and force one's way past dullness, but basically to listen and love that state to death. I don't think of "flatness" as a problem with concentration necessarily... I usually attribute that to subtle avoidance and an unwillingness to go "into" experience. Even though it is tempting to think of flatness, confusion, dullness, vagueness, etc as "bad", to me it means that something is being hidden/avoided, mostly subconsciously, and that if I can uncover the reason why the mind is suppressing itself, I'll have unlocked another aspect of my psyche. So whenever my mind is less than ideal, I get interested and excited in that fact. I know that a good insight lies on the otherside of flatness, confusion, dullness, vagueness.

This is where I differ with people like Culadasa and approaches like TMI. If my mind is less than ideal, that's what it is. I don't want to change or fix it right away --- I want to understand it. I know that "mind" isn't anything, so when it solidifies into a state -- any state -- that means it struggling with something. There is probably a good reason why my mind is going flat. My job isn't to discipline myself and force my way past that state, it's basically my job to listen and love that state to death. emoticon I find that this is truly the fast path and the insightful path. The "forcing a fix" path is like doing battle with oneself, and I think it reinforces whatever subconsciousness avoidance/resistance is there.

It's sort of like doing physical training with a slight sprain that is throwing off your form. Lets say you're doing a backbend and there is a spasm in a small muscle along the spine. Sure you could force your external body into a backbend and someone outside looking at you would think "oh they can do camel pose"... but internally you know something isn't right with your body. Your spinal erector muscle might spasm further "hey dude, I told you I was tender and now you are forcing me into a strained position, you're an asshole and I'm going to spasm more!" It would be much better to massage, adjust, gently adjust the spinal erector muscle and get it to release and then do the camel pose. Then the muscle would be like "thanks dude for taking care of me, let's really explore this camel pose since I'm feeling much better" and maybe now you get a little deeper stretch/strengthening because you are doing the pose in a healthy way.

So you can see where my advice is heading... I think the number one thing on retreat is to honor the responsibility of the session (walking vs sitting) and then focus on exploring aversion, greed, and ignorance. Notice if there is the slightest element of ill will present and investigate: why do I have a problem with this experience? what is bothering me? what am I defending myself against? what am I avoiding? what am I fantasizing about, what do I wish was happening instead of what is happening now? (All of this is done more at the level of sensation/emotion --- feel the situation out in this way, don't think intellectually about the situation.) When there is a little ickyness noticed, then don't try to get rid of it. Feel the ickyness, feel the ill will. "Oh our poor ego, having a problem... Come here poor little ego, let me experience this problem with you, it will be okay..." You see what I mean? It's like a therapy session, but not at the level of verbal discourse. It's at the level of experiencing the moment.

In this way, you will be able to clean up your psyche... and almost as a bonus, your concentrating (relaxed and centering) of your mind will go very very deep --- because you are cleaning up the knots in your psyche. This is when the jhanas become formless, because the body and mind are comfortable enough to let go. When we're in "forcing and fixing mode", the body and mind are doing battle with each other and there isn't relaxation and centering.

I say all of this because second path has a way of really being a deep internal purification, mostly at the level of body/emotion. Third is more about clinging and emptiness and is more "open". The path to second is more about the eruptions of the sankaras, rollercoaster of vipassina-jhanas, and a visceral sense of losing control/letting go.

So when this messy stuff happens, it's important to know that nothing is wrong. Actually, this stuff is exactly what needs to happen. But without this kind of information, it's easy to think we're doing something wrong and it needs "forcing to fix it".

A last point: you need to start getting really really really used to the idea that you are not in control of what shows up during a sit. Your only job is to fully experience it. This is unsatisfying to the ego, but it is the heart of really mastering meditation. It might feel like "I'm powerless and this is hopeless" to the ego, but if you can stay on retreat and sit/walk in the midst of THAT experience it truly is mastery. Slowly the ego learns to let go of its problem orientation and then you wake up to the actual experience of the moment.

The ego is like a anxious child that is afraid of the monster under the bed. All the child needs to do is actually look under the bed, but that's the last thing it will do. It will pray, promise to be a good kid, throw food under the bed, etc. "Please don't eat me!" emoticon But when the child can feel its fear and look under the bed --- aha, the insight is there is nothing really there.

In the same way, a meditator will throw all sorts of techniquest to fix a mediation problem, but without actually getting curious about the problem itself. All problems are just constillations of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts --- it's only our confusing all of those things, melting and fusing those things together, that creates "problems". It is much better to sit with the sense of problemness than to try to create some ideal state like concentration/jhana. But we must do it with a sense of faith that the natural intelligence of the mind will untangle the problem for us. If we try to step in and force an untangling, chances are it just tightens the knot even more.

The good news is this is the easy path to fast progress. The bad news is that it is also the difficult path -- because it is the direct path. (DhO)

"Four Gears" of practice in Ken McLeod's Wake Up to Your Life . (Note: the idea of four gears in this section is a playful riff on Kenneth Folk's "three gears" using practices from KMcL's WUTYL. Rather than rely on this short DhO post, it's much better to read the book itself!) 

... There is a story level and beneath it an "urge" level. The urge level has the same dynamic, but it is pre-verbal, a kind of established reactivity habit that was created over time. The urge level is faster and more primal than story.

The "5 Elements" training is an approach that creates a framework for understanding/noticing these super fast pre-verbal reactions and bring them into awareness... where the same sort of alchemal transformation takes place in open, wondering, accepting awareness. 

5 Elements is probably one of the most sophisticated buddhist frameworks, really getting to the subtle heart of the matter. It's what ultimately creates a foundation for true mahamudra/dzogchen/zazen type practices because those are really beyond technique and require a very very sensitive mind that can naturally/instinctually "self-liberate" the very subtle remnants of needless dukka. 

My favorite version of this is Ken McLeod's: some free stuff here.

One way to think of it is there is an initial reaction to open space, and then the mind freaks out a little and solidifies around one of the 5 elements, creating the seed of the story. The earth element makes up for the agrophobic and vunerable feeling of open space by grabbing on to something, creating self and other that way. Water is the reaction of finding something to push away or avoid. Fire is the reaction of intensifying and over-indulging. Air is the reaction of busyiness or too much activity. Void is the reaction of confusion or depression. 

These reactions happen in 1/4 a second when the rug is pulled from under us. We're groundless and then we react. We're primally reborn, you could say, as a reactive pattern, as an element.

If we're not aware of this, then from this seed, we're psychologically reborn in another 3/4 of a second. This is the 6 realms teachings. Very few people can work with the 5 elements, but the 6 realms are understandable even to children --- and it's one you can rely on when life gets overwhelming. (What world am I in?) We'll develop a worldview and a story about what comes next. If we're reborn in hell, we fight something. If we're reborn as a preta, we feed an addiction. If we're animals, we follow a routine. If we're humans, we weigh and pursue our desires with a kind of cost-benefit calculation. If we're asuras, we compete. If we're gods, we try to maintain what we have.

The cheat code in the 6 realms is the human realm. The human realm can do a cost-benefit calculation on desire itself, being reborn itself, and thus escape rebirth so to speak.

The lynch pin in the 5 elements is awareness itself. Developing the sensativity to see the 1/4 reactive pattern means you aren't embedded in the reactive pattern.

When that is possible, then simply sitting and watch karma lose it's moment is possible. And then we finally glimpse how selfing is based on the false premise that there is something special ("me") that needs to survive as an ongoing idea. Once this "I need to survive into the future" habit is seen, it's seen as needlessly painful to have all the time, and so it becomes right sized and not an addiction that needs constant feeding.

Sort of a four gears approach: noting, 6 realms, 5 elements, mahamudra ... KMcL clearly describes that pattern/progression in his book. (DhO

Mental health is very important. It's possible to have a spiritual experience with a lot of mental disorder or with a very clear mind. Sometimes the first "glimpse" occurs when people are not that psychologically healthy, so the spiritual experience is mixed with a lot of insanity. 

So the path forward is to reduce the amount of psychological confusion and increase the amount of mental clarity. Psychological confusion causes the most amount of suffering in life, so definitely it's important to find a therapy that helps clarify why mania and depression happens and create better worldviews for living one's life. Mental health is very important.

Meditation practice can help, but it can also sometimes exaggerate psychological confusion. Sometimes people meditate with too much effort and become even more psychologically imbalanced. Meditation can sometimes lead to depresssion, depersonalization, mania, etc. 

Meditation isn't required to live a good life. But if someone with mental illness is really interested in meditation, then the most direct path to making healthy progress is to use some kind of psychological therapy to reduce psychological confusion and to use meditation to increase the amount of mental clarity. (DhO)

Teachers & Students

Finding a teacher. Finding a teacher, mentor, spiritual friend(s) is probably the most significant thing that will help your practice at a certain point. Of course, not all teachers are a good match … The one thing I always advise is "never give away your power" to a teacher. Don't let them tell you what to do, what to think, how to feel, etc. Their role is to provide good advice, which when tested through practice time leads to better practice and more independence for you. You get to decide if their advice is helpful and if after testing it for a reasonable amount of time it is not helpful, politely end the teacher-student relationship. Rule #1: If you find yourself becoming more dependent on a teacher and doubting more and more your own abilities as a meditator, i.e. you feel less independent and less sane --- get the fuck out. The teacher must inspire confidence and growing independence. And if the teacher is violating basic respect for your finances, emotions, family and friend relationships, psychology, privacy, etc --- get the fuck out. Remember that they should be even more respectful than your friends in this regard, so if you wouldn't be friends with a person acting this way, don't have them for a teacher. (DhO)

Teachers and Camping. It's like the boy-scout motto for campsites: teachers should leave the students better than when they first found them. And it's like camping: you don't become a great camper by living forever in the first campsite you encounter. It's okay to camp in other campsites. You can have several teachers in a lifetime. A good teacher will want to empower a student to explore and own their own development, even if it means leaving the teacher-student relationship. (DhO

Working with a good teacher is very much like a traditional apprenticeship. I trained with a few pragmatic teachers... For what it's worth, it is very rare for a teacher to go into the nuances of technique, even pragmatic dharma teachers, because in theory, the techniques of meditation are very simple: pay attention, fully experience, notice where there is resistance, notice what the resistance feels like, and fully experience that resistance. And also because the whole point of meditation is to have a bunch of problems and then investigate the nature of those problems. 

Typically when you work with a pragmatic teacher (I'm not going to recommend any particular teachers, but everyone I've worked with is well-known and can be found with basic pragmatic dharma, personalized meditation googling), you schedule "check-ins" every week or two or three (the better meditator you are, the longer between check-ins). During the week, let's say, you practice daily and do the best you can. Then when you meet, you describe how the week went and any particular problem you might be having. A lot of the time the teacher will say "that sounds like good practice" and remind you about basic meditation instructions. Many times problems come from forgetting to do the basic instructions in the heat of a "bad" meditation. Sometimes they give encouragement, but they can also be kind of cold…

But then the most important thing happens after you have had a problem for a while yet continue to practice... only then will the teacher point out something very subtle, some kind of habit or resistance you have but never noticed, and here's the important thing: you needed to have the problem for a while for it to become noticeable.

So my experience is that working with a good teacher is very much like a traditional apprenticeship -- you don't get a lot of hand-holding but you do get good advice when it's appropriate. But a lot of the time, it's you trying to figure it out on your own --- which actually trains you to be independent and own your practice. A teacher that tries to be helpful all the time creates a horrible dependency in their students, which is just about the worst possible thing for a meditator.

Meditation practice is like shooting free-throws -- it involves a lot of very simple actions, it's very clear when things are going through the hoop or not, and when they are not, you need to do more free-throws and "feel" your way to a better shot. No teacher can give you the feel.  But every so often, a teacher/coach will mention something simple "you need to soften your hand" or "don't tense your forehead" and it's only because you have done so many free-throws that those simple suggestions actually make a difference. 

To me there are a few real benefits in working with a teacher: 
  1.  owning your practice - you have to contact them, work with them, and decide if it is worth it. You have to take the steps to research, choose, work with a teacher for a while, and decide if it is worth it. You might have to say "nope, this isn't working for me. I have to end working with this guy", or "dang, she is really good. I can tell. I just need to trust this gal for three months try to practice exactly as she says". You can’t turn off your critical thinking. It keeps you in the role of being responsible for yourself. 
  2. understanding "good fit" - the teacher will also decide if they think they can work with you. They know that a miss-match in interests and approach will simply waste both people's time. You can learn a lot by being interviewed and rejected by a teacher. This often happens.
  3. accountability - it sucks to have a skype call and say you blew off practice for a few days in the previous week. For most people, this makes you practice more consistently.
  4. they help you adjust your practice or use a new practice that fits your interests, goals, and the types of problem you have. The worst teachers will force you to do their technique and assume any problem you have is because you are a bad student. The best teachers have a variety to suggest and if there isn't a good match, they may say "it's not worth it for you to train with me anymore. But you might want to check out..." -- they recognize there are thousands of ways to approach meditation.
  5. they normalize the difficult and weird stuff that happens during meditation practice and during life as a meditator ("yeah, I had that problem for six months, it passed." "yeah, having images of eyes looking at you when you close your own eyes is strange," "yeah, it can be really blissful sometimes", etc.) 
  6. and lastly, they force you to work on your own problems -- the sign of a good teacher is they keep you struggling but interested. A bad teacher will spoon feed you intellectual answers or give you too many practice instructions. All of us have to (productively) struggle through meditation, the struggle is where we learn about how we create our own suffering. If a student isn't willing to struggle a little, traditional meditation probably isn't the best practice for them. 
No matter what, meditation is going to be a struggle. A teacher can never take that away (and shouldn't). But it should be a productive struggle. (DhO

Cutting Edge. The most important part of practice is the cutting edge -- what experiences are still difficult to be present with? Where does resistance occur? What are we clinging to and what are we avoiding?  Those things are were the real work is done and it doesn't matter what nana/path someone is in. We need to focus on our weak link in the chain, we have to be interested in developing our cutting edge. When working with a meditation friend/teacher, it's very important to be able to describe this weak link or cutting edge. That's probably the most important thing to be able to communicate. (DhO)

Generosity is an essential aspect of developing wisdom and awakening. It really is amazing that Generosity isn't discussed more, but it's also a very triggering topic. Many people have been taken advantage of in their life or have a fundamental feeling of poverty and when they are asked to be generous, they feel like they are being played for a sucker and being further taken advantage of. Some people are also so greedy and clever that when they are asked to be generous, they essentially pretend to feel taken advantage of or behave as if they are have a psychology of poverty/lacking, they will protest, "the dharma should be free!" when in fact they are just being manipulative and greedy. It can be striking how bad this can get with some people. It's very obvious despite how clever people think they are being.

But fundamentally I agree that generosity is an _essential_ aspect of developing wisdom and awakening. Wisdom is a profound appreciation of the interdependence of all beings and forces in our lives and how suffering breeds suffering and wisdom breeds more wisdom through all of these relationships.  There is no way that someone can awaken without a profound contemplation of this interdependence. And good evidence of this understanding is the generous nature of such people. 

Generosity doesn't come easily. It does have to be a training. We need to both learn how to give and also how to not develop a martyr complex. We need to practice giving until it hurts just a little, but no more. Like all things, the middle path between extremes needs to be discovered.

I've found that one of the easiest ways to start in these modern times, is to intentionally purchase something that was either stolen or donated. For example, maybe you have MP3s that you downloaded off the internet and you really appreciate the music. Maybe the band is inspiring or the music has improved your mood many times in your life or maybe the lyrics have led to some profound thoughts. Well, how about buying the album to put a little money in the band's pocket? J This feeling of paying back will feel good, I guarantee it. And maybe the guys and gals in the band will be able to afford something besides instant ramen noodles.

And it is the start of realizing how this can be an entire way of life. What if you supported people who were doing good things in the world with your money? Wow, what a concept! But it really is endlessly fascinating and depressing to really pay attention to how your financial actions create this world we live in. 

And from there, it's a natural extension to being giving of your expertise and presence. This becomes an expression of awakening.

But at the end of the day, humans do very much need to be onguard for the use of shame to manipulate self-serving generosity. This can get really bad in religious institutions. Institutions often forget that the only measure of success is the development of individuals, and they often stray into redefining the measure of success as the success of the institution. This is obviously something that buddhism is not immune from --- so we need to pay attention even within buddhist circles.

Like a smart person, I won't say much about morality/ethics, except to say that it is none other than basic sanity and as such, is endlessly nuanced. Because of all of the nuance, there is an inherent human desire to simplify and solidify it into fetishized actions. Many times people look for actions which abstractly symbolizes Sila, instead of pursuing the basic sanity that naturally produces morality and ethical behavior. The highest sila is doing what is appropriate in the situation and also realizing that perfection is unlikely so staying aware of how the action plays out and adjusting is essential. Again, this is the expression of awakening.

Ultimately, if we're going to untangle the confusion of the sense of self that seems to need to be protected, we're going to need to investigate how we try to protect "over here" by not giving and withdrawing  from  "over there"  -- training in generosity helps clarify this confusion. Ultimately, if we're going to untangle how we fall into unconscious trances and habitual reaction, we're going to need to investigate how we interact mindlessly and with too much self-interest --- training in contduct helps clarify this confusion. Meditation is important for untangling the big knots in our psyche, but in later paths especially, the distinction between on-cushion and off-cushion practice needs to become less distinct and the subtle confusions which only show up in instantaneous relationships need to be seen and resolved. So yeah, dana and sila is important. But again, this is something that needs to be discovered and it is different than institutionalize financing or stale orthopraxy. (I'm trying to be a little provokative there, hope no one takes great offense.) (DhO)

Three levels of being empowered. The first is direct, like the Zen idea of "action" -- that there isn't a separate self that does an action, but rather there is aware action itself. Not unconscious or trance state, but awake.

The second is self, where one's own self does an activity as "a self doing an activity", for its own sake, for its own exploration, taken up and left behind without complication. But this has some suffering in it, the pain of birth and death of an identity associate with the activity. Make it harder to drop it when the activity isn't needed anymore because it feels like a little death.

The third is the internally mediated approach, were we mimic others/look for their approval --- which must be related to the innate behavior of children imitating adults as a way to learn about the world. This is much more painful, because it's infused with a kind of paranoia. "Am I doing it right? Do others approve? What if I'm not good enough?" When you are an adult, however, maybe it's time to see through the limitations of that approach, or at least use it consciously rather than unconsciously. (DhO

My favorite books. MCTB2 by Daniel Ingram. “Wake Up to Your Life” by Ken McLeod. “Essential Wisdom Teachings” by Peter Fenner. “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Timothy Gallwey (seriously, really good!). “Think on these things” by Krishnamurti. (DhO)

I'm a big fan of Ken McLeod's book "Wake Up to your Life".  It is basically a description of the Tibetan three year retreat and it is written without a lot of jargon or metaphysics. So far it's one of the best books I've read, maybe tied with Daniel Ingram's MCTB2. WUTYL is very good because it presents a broad discussion of foundational practices before talking about Mahamudra, so the reader has a sense of what needs to be in place before getting the most out of MM. There's no big problem with using MM before a foundation is in place, but the practice will be more like "mindfulness" than true MM. So no harm, but perhaps less benefit...

I've found that when people are interested in this stuff, they'll use a book like WUTYL as a menu of different practices and will jump around doing what is interesting. And then eventually they reach a point where they realize they need to work with a teacher to figure out what they are missing. It really is a great book. (DhO

At a certain point, MCTB needs to be left behind and WUTYL needs to be picked up. Somewhere along the path, I usually recommend Ken McLeods Wake Up to Your Life. At a certain point, MCTB needs to be left behind and WUTYL needs to be picked up. Don't worry, comming back to MCTB happens again a bit down the road.

One piece of advice on WUTYL: don't try to read it straight through like a book. It's too dense. Just flip through it and let yourself be caught by something, something that seems curious, bizzare, or interesting.  Be random and playful.

"There is..." is a great variation of noting. Another good variation of noting, for people who do NOT have depersonalization problems, is "look at it..."  Basically you treat your experience like a third person narrator, including any internal material that arises. 

So "look at it worry, look at it struggle, look at it debate, look at it being frustrated, look at it being bored, look at it fidget, look at it get depressed, look at it making excuses, look at it becoming prideful, look at it being ambitious..."

There's a heirarchy in noticing/noting. The highest level is Ken McLeod's "directly experience the moment, be in the moment without worrying about survival, control, or trying to be somebody". Normally he teaches is by the following sequence:

(1) Be mindful of something and develop attention
(2) Without losing attention, be mindful of the entire field of experience that surrounds attention and develop awareness, (This is like walking through a crowd with a full bowl of scalding hot soup -- you need to watch the soup so it doesn't spill but you also have to be aware of the crowd so you don't bump into anyone.)
(3) Now include internal psychological material, like the many flavors of anxiety and ambition. (This is like not repressing fear or frustation as you move through the crowd, so the psychological pressure of moving through the crowd never builds up and blows up.)
(4) Experience all at once --- this is presence. Now keep including all experiences within presence. Directly experience whatever arises in this moment.

That direct experience of the entire field of the moment is pretty much the highest form of noticing.

When attention or awareness is degraded, then the various noting methods provide the necessary scaffolding. There is... Look at it... etc.  The downside of noting is that it doesn't do much to chip away at the sense of an independent observer, which is where fundamental duality and fundamental unease is created. 

So, the next phase after noting is noticing. And the challenge of noticing is not lack of mindfulness (lack of attention) it's the lack of a full field of awareness. Usually it's the subtle emotional/psychological material that prevents full awareness.... and the solution is to find those knots of emotion and _include_ it in awareness. When you bring past psychological conditioning/patterns into awareness the energy of the knot is released. Awareness and fixed patterns can't co-exist for long.

The core challenge with awareness based practices is that when we are truly present, we aren't "somebody". So moving into awareness often has an edgy feeling, a argophobia feeling, almost like we're afraid of dying or disappearing. And that basic tension quickly complicates into having preferences about the moment (we want it to be different from what it is and focus on that instead of the moment) and that quickly complicates into having an identity in the moment (I am someone who is doing something to get somewhere besides this moment). It all happens in about a half a second.

So in the same way that with noting we get lost and then we wake up and return to noting a mind object... in awareness practices we fall from direct presence and get lost in feelings of preference and ideas about identity, but then we wake up return to presence. And it's the waking up and returning that is the practice, so it's no big deal if we get lost 1,000,000,000,000,000 times because that means we have trained waking up and returning to presence 1,000,000,000,000,001 times! 

Another BIG aspect of moving from MCTB to WUTYL is a focus on noticing "psychological imperatives". These are how a "somebody" is created by reacting to experience rather than fully experiencing an experience. So looking at your reply above, lots of great material that could be explored. "Can't be dull, can't be slow, can't be dumb, can't be diffused, can't be unclear, can't be chunky.... must be clear. Can't learn from it, must be different." ---- all of this is a reaction to experience.

These are likely pointing to something deeper in your psychology, probably some flavor of "not being good enough" or "need to perform well" or "need to change" that runs in background all the time... basically really subtle ways of devaluing your experience in this moment and looking for something in the future that will somehow add the value you think you need. (It might seem like a exaggeration, but these things really are clues for where we are psychologically defending ourself from experience. This is the subtle work of the higher paths.)

To generalize, MCTB approaches (forgive me Daniel for glossing like this, it really isn't true, I'm exaggerating to make a point) focus on discrete mind objects, WUTYL brings in reactive patterns and ways we make meaning, especially the "imperatives" that seem like self. These unquestioned imperatives are exactly where the false self hides from investigation. 

... No worries, not much else to do beside digest what is happening. Meditation is sorta like therapy, except there is less of a focus on "the story" and 1000x more focus on the experience itself.

In general, therapy provides a kind of narrative framework to help us make sense of our life "of course you are exhausted from anxiety, you never felt safe as a child and then adult stresses started piling up, and you never learned how to rest and recover".  So it helps us understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. And this can reduce suffering immensely.

In general, meditation does some of this, but soon leave the story behind and moves into the felt experience. This is somewhat similar to somatic therapy, except it attends to very very subtle yet very very pervasive stuff. Most people doing somatic therapy haven't developed the sensitivity that a meditator has. So meditation works on much more subtle and pervasive level of material. This stuff doesn't tend to be outright trauma stuff, it's more the odd creepy crawly, unease, haunting, abstract anxiety stuff --- stuff that is weak, but because it's so weak it gets overlooked and underappreciated. This is the subtle stuff that makes us drink or overeat or smoke even when we really aren't that stressed. It's more the vague feeling of being "less than" that motivates us to do something to fill the void.

The trick here is any "less than ideal state" is still just a state. If we can hold the state in attention, it no longer traps us --- we see it as a state "in" us, but not truly who/what we are. That means we can still take appropriate actions even though we don't feel 100% okay --- and that's how these subtle clingings and aversions and ignorings get defeated over time.

Eventually, these "state traps" are completely seen for what they are and they lose all power... but it takes time. It takes time to build capability to hold these states in attention. It takes time to appreciate that this really is the important work we need to master. And it takes time doing it well in order to eventually defeat the pattern. Slow, consistent, non-heroic training. High repetition, low intensity.

So no need to rush, just slowly develop an appreciation that this is the sort of work that comes next. (DhO)

Cook-Greuter: Nine Levels of Increasing Embrace In Ego Development: A Full-Spectrum Theory Of Vertical Growth. Babies have no self, but there are urges. Following their urges, toddlers develop a self. As language develops, they learn and engage in constant self-narration/self-talk. ("I put this box on this box. I walk now. I am hungry.") That self-talk and pure emotionality becomes our early sense of self. Teenagers and adults develop refinements on the narrative self by expanding categories of thought and complexity of thought, while developing distance from purely reactive emotionality, but still have the core "narrator/observer". Pretty much all of adult life is about developing and protecting a superior sense of self, for all the benefits and suffering it brings.

Meditation puts the spotlight on inner experience as an experience, which in a sense turns it into an outer experience. Maladaptive self strategies become really obvious (like trying to be "100% good" or suppressing emotions, or denying our actual ambitions) and get refined, spurring adult development. 

Eventually the effort involved in reflexively holding and protecting a sense of self becomes more obvious, along with developing a familiarity with "the void" when no selfing occurs. It's sloppy to say this, but you could say that enlightenment is basically being okay with a sense of self coming and going, without feeling fear of annihilation, along with the other associated maturation that occurs during the road to enlightenment.  This Cook-Greuter article argues quite persuasively for this view

On Morality and Interdependence. I finally read Wilfred M. McClay's article: The Strange Persistence of Guilt . Pretty deeply flawed. Basically says we need a Judeo-Christian metaphysics in order to be responsible people, because a sense of guilt is needed to correct for sinful actions and guilt is only possible with the framework of god. But I think a number of frameworks can work, including the Buddhist idea of seeing the inherent suffering of actions that are colored by greed, aversion, and indifference. There are many systems, including Christian monasticism, which show that by looking at your actual lived experience, you can refine your moral compass. It becomes clear that our lives are interdependent and that we cannot hurt others and remain unhurt. The metaphysics for this are many and varied, but almost unimportant. 

The author also makes the fatal flaw in not realizing that Freud's critique of civilization (that it requires the sublimation of passions into socially acceptable forms) is equally applicable to any authoritative structure including religions. Unless someone does their own introspection and investigation, all authority structures create a shadow side of repressed emotions/desires, victim identities, and possibilities for claiming exemption from responsibility. We've seen this time and time again in Christianity and pretty much every other religion under the sun including Buddhism. There is plenty of victim identity in Christianity and Buddhism.

The author really mischaracterized Freud, Nietzsche, and atheist critiques of religious/cultural guilt -- perhaps we need enough emotional guilt to motivate responsible action, certainly in our developmental years, but an oppressive sense of guilt is not helpful and there are more adult ways to develop further responsibility than emotional guilt. Nietzsche was critiquing this oppressiveness, Freud was identifying this oppressiveness as a part of the self (Superego) but recognized that there was some validity in the Superego if it was moderated (Ego). 

Finally, the author wants the reader to really believe that our current world has more oppressive guilt, but I don't get that impression reading about recent history... seems like there was plenty of guilt in recent history as well as the distant path. I'm sure that a farmer spending a lifetime raising sentient animals for slaughter felt the guilt. I'm sure that a woman giving birth to many children only to see most of them suffering and dying before adulthood also felt the guilt. I really don't believe there is such thing as "more" emotion in a given time period. The specifics change, the emotion is timeless.

So I conclude that the author is basically arguing that we need belief in a god for practical reasons, that's his purpose in writing an essay. I don't think he's successfully argued it …  okay, on closer looking, I agree that he wasn't explicitly arguing for return to a belief in god/sin... He's really saying, hey sin/god worked, what we have isn't god and it isn't working, and I don't know what else would work. So, I was inferring a position he didn't explicitly state, but I feel it is not unreasonable to say it is implied. 

So here's the odd thing... if he was simply talking about the global scope of the consequences of our actions and the need to be responsible at that scale, then that would be fairly straightforward article, right? But I feel this article is doing something else by creating straw man arguments (an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent's real argument) about psychology, atheism, etc. and using the language of guilt, sin etc. 

Regarding the "what do we do?" question. Honestly, the basic answer is "be suspicious of things that are convenient", "recognize the mass effect of your actions", "understand the life span of materials", and "basic sanity/renunciation". 

This modern world gobbles up resources so easily because all the systems are in place to make it easy. Capitalism has been wonderful in making it easy to buy a 25 cent pencil that contains paint from oil from the middle east, rubber from Africa, graphite from somewhere else, wood from somewhere else, all shipped to a manufacturing plant and then shipped and trucked to a store. Amazing. But then it's easy to treat a pencil like it is only worth 25c -- but really it is creating effects around the entire world. It's easy to always grab a plastic bag whenever you go to the grocery and buy vegetables. They're free. But they are not impact free. Etc.

The next is to imagine that the world is full of 9 billion "you"s. So imagine everything you do done by 9 billion people. Imagine that if you re-used a plastic bag three times, then suddenly the world is using 1/3 less bags. If you have 10 kids, then the world is now 45 billion people (replacing two adults with 10 kids = 5x growth). If you have marble countertops an entire mountain of marble has to be levelled. Thinking of it that way helps us see the mass effect of our personal decisions.

The next is to understand the lifetime of materials. Anything made of wood needs to last longer than the tree that made it or it is unsustainable. Anything made of stone and metal will be sustainable if it last as long as it takes for the next mountain to grow. Anything made of geological oil is sustainable if it lasts until more organic material can be buried and crushed by the earth's weight. Plant oils and fibers have a quicker lifecycle. 

Renunciation really is a beautiful thing in the way I'm using it, basically the same thing as the Shaker's "simplicity". People really complicate their lives with material stuff. But the only way to really be secure getting out of the rat race is to deeply connect with the absence of greed, aversion, and delusion --- otherwise you'll always feel some kind of lack that you need to fill with stuff. It takes very little to maintain sane humans. You can't make other people sane, you are unavoidably responsible for working toward your own sanity.

And a big part of being sane is to recognize that what happens in this world is beyond your control and you are a mortal being, so make your limited time on this earth a good one and don't expect that your life can be without challenges. Search for ways to have good and better problems, not "no problems" because that is impossible. 

I guess another way to say this is: become very intimate with interdependence. (DhO)


Why Maps. The maps are useful like a 2D topographic map is useful for understanding 3D terrain, even though a topo map doesn't have individual trees, plants, animals, clouds, smells, etc on the map. The best thing about the maps is what they >provoke< in us. If there is curiosity or a sense that more might be possible, that's worth checking out. No one is able to practice for us, so these maps need to be used to inform our own practice as inspired by our inner conscience about these things. If the maps aren't helpful or meditation is of no interest -- that's fine. It's a big universe with lots of things to do. But if this pursuit is a calling and meditation is part of your daily life, then these maps are wildly helpful, even with the gray areas.

I still remember what it was like trying to figure this stuff out and practice well before 2007(?) when MCTB1 came out. The difference in my own practice between pre- and post-MCTB was like night and day. Still as difficult and challenging as ever, but I was able to orient myself and better understand where to look for subtle ill-will and fantasy. I am very thankful for Daniel's book (MCTB2) and even though I'm reading it very slowly and reading the sections out of sequence, I'm enjoying version 2. (DhO)

About maps. In general, the maps don't work too well for non-retreat practice. In home practice, the mind tends to move up and down the nanas in a much more unpredictable ways... and people don't tend to have a "place" on the map that is stable … It's my experience that the distractions and variabilities in non-retreat life has an effect on being able to precisely map where people are. That said, the progress of insight maps are the best thing available, so basically those are good guidelines, just know that it's going to be more sloppy in actual experience. (DhO)

The Progress of Insight (POI) map only reliably works for First Path. The POI map somewhat works for Second Path but the practitioner will likely experience more vipassana jhanas than the dry nanas. The POI map is almost not applicable to 3rd and 4th Paths. (DhO)

Where you are on the map rarely changes the practice instructions. Very minor thought should be placed in mapping, unless there is a problem showing up in meditation. Where you are on the map rarely changes the practice instructions of most meditation methods, which is usually some version of: pay attention, don't cling or push away,  investigate how the situation creates unnecessary suffering, investigate resistance to experiencing pleasure/joy. 

Sometimes the maps are good reminders to turn problems into something that can be noticed and noted and investigated with curiousity.

The maps are also good reminders that it is natural to feel certain experiences so that we don't get identified with them, such as rapture in the second vipassana jhana, numb bliss in the third vipassana, clarity and spaciousness in the fourth vipassana jhana. (DhO)

Map obsession and noting thoughts. Map-obsessions can be fine during free-reading time, but they really are a hindrance during sitting practice or retreat. If you are thinking, you aren't collecting new data about the current moment. Even strategizing about practice is largely unhelpful. This is where noting practice can really short circuit and contextualize the whole obsession. Simply note/label "mapping thoughts", "judging thoughts", "comparing thoughts", "strategizing thoughts", etc. as these big blocks of thoughts come up. So, if find yourself coming out of a trance where you had spent the last 2 minutes thinking about where you are on the map, note "mapping thoughts" and then return to whatever your meditation object/anchor like the sensations of breathing in the nose or belly, or body scanning, or whatever. 

If your mindfulness is strong, you may not need to label it, but just notice oh, look at the mind doing those mapping thoughts, judging thoughts, comparing thoughts again. You can even take those thoughts as objects --- obviously this is only possible with strong EQ/mindfulness. To further objectify discursive thinking and use a slightly "inquiry" based approach, you can even take the orientation or internally say "oh, I wonder what my next thought will be?" These last two approaches shouldn't be rushed, they aren't any better than simply noting what occured with a label and returning to the meditation object. (DhO

The Progress of Insight. The Progress of Insight is what happens when we take the things that we identify with and notice them as objects in awareness. It follows a predictable pattern, but there are limits to the extent that it applies to a given person's practice.

The important thing to understand about the progress of insight is that it reflects patterns seen in meditators on retreat doing a particular practice. The further you get from that context, the less applicable it is... but it is amazing how it appears to have some pretty good applicability to lay people doing consistent high-quality home and off-cushion practice.

Basically, it's the old unpeeling the onion metaphor. There are layers and layers of identification, but a finite number. 
  • If someone steps out of the trance of normal discursive thinking about their life, the first thing they notice is that they have thoughts and sensations in their body. Mind & Body.
  • If someone investigates Mind & Body, they will see that they influence each other. Cause & Effect.
  • If someone investigates Cause & Effect, they will see that most of what we do is actually driven by a visceral reaction to the unsatisfactory aspects of experience. Three Characteristics.
  • If someone investigates the visceral reactions to the Three Characteristics, they see how these reactions are like dominoes hitting one then the other then the other. Arising & Passing.
  • When they can simply watch all that happen, the body might have a small taste of the space between the dominoes. Arising & Passing Event
At this point, meditation is a comedy of errors, which comes from trying to "not see" what is actually happening. It's a more detailed map because this is where people really need help. 
  • Instinctually and somewhat unconciously, the person will try to "find" the spiritual experiences of the A&P and of the nothingness of the A&P event. They don't find it and instead it feels like everything good is slipping away. If they actually just watch that happen, then they get the insight into the nature of Dissolution -- things don't stick around.
  • Instinctually and somewhat unconciously, the person will have a sense of loss of control and be surprized by something and that evokes primal terror. If they don't see fear as an experience in awareness, then the meditator gets lost in thinking about all the things that evoke fear. If they actually just watch that happen, then they get the insight into the nature of Fear -- surprise is surprise, no big deal, and even fear is fear, no big deal. 
  • Instinctually and somewhat unconsciously, the person will want to protect themselves from surprises and will instinctually create an ongoing, low-level sense of Misery to fill up the space. It's a coping mechanism. But if the person sees misery as misery, then they get the insight into the nature of Misery.
  • Likewise with Disgust. Long term misery feels awful. Disgust is an empowering coping mechanism that allow someone to feel more in control and more powerful. "I am disgusted!" But if the person sees disgust as disgust, then they get the insight into the nature of Disgust.
  • Likewise with Desire for Deliverance. The person is somewhat empowered and thinks, "there must be a way out of this". There is a focus on problem solving, perfecting practice, finding better teachers, etc. It has the flavor of some confidence and passonate seeking. But if the person see this as another reactive pattern, then they get the insight into the nature of Desire for Deliverance.
  • Likewise with Reobservation. The person is now reobserving everything they went through, all the strategies, all the attempts to find the experience they think will make them happy. It has the flavor of desperation and failure. If they see this desparate feeling of "nothing works" as just another reactive pattern, then they get the insight into the nature of Reobservation.
  • Low Equanimity is finally realizing that fighting experience or trying to find a difference experience other that what is actually happening is impossible.
  • High Equanimity is being mostly at peace with this and continuing to sit, mildly curious about "if all of these experiences occur within awareness, then what is awareness? what is mind? what is knowing?"
  • Stream Entry happens when the pervasive non-reactivity of equanimity (not grabbing at objects, not searching for objects) allows for momentary non-grabbing. The meditator doesn't "do" anything. It's more like when a sun runs out of fuel and it collapses into itself.  (DhO
[ For a shorter and more informal description of POI, with a bunch of sensorial and emotional pointers, check this thread. ]

Climbing up the nanas is not so linear. The tricky thing about at-home practices is the climb up the nanas isn't so linear. It's actually very common to start over from mind and body each time you sit down, but the movement through the early nanas can be very quick. It's very common to go through multiple A&Ps and multiple Dark Nights and multiple Equanimities as one progress toward Stream Entry. Interestingly, 99% of the benefits of practice actually come from the early nanas, not SE. SE is kinda like getting a diploma after 4 years of school. You don't learn anything from your diploma.

One of the main problems with using the maps is people look for and try to find the sensations/emotions/thoughts that match the stage that they think is next. Experience always has some elements of the various nanas, so it's very easy to selectively see what you are looking for. This selective looking will eventually stall out. It's much better to get intimate with the whole experience, all the randomness, all the +/-/neutral sensations, all the chaos of moods, all the monkey mind of thought. Seeing the truth of what is going on matters most. 

The person that would make the quickest progress would be someone who never knew the maps and simply noticed what was actually occurring as it occurred. That way there isn't another conceptual overlay, judgement, interpretation of the experience. So the maps are very much a double edged sword. (DhO)

The goal is not to bypass nanas. Getting "stuck in a ñana" could also be described as "learning a ñana" or "developing knowledge of the ñana". There is something in these mind states that need to be experienced before they are understood and sometimes it takes a while before we understand. The goal is not to bypass nanas but rather to fully experience and understand the nanas. And it's interesting how the mind seems to know where to go to give us the lesson we need. (DhO)

The fractal nature of a ñana is simply the progression of understanding: first there is the basic effort to see the ñana, then there is the powering-up of investigation and a fast growth in understanding, then there is the collapse of what we are capable of and a need to develop new ways of thinking about the ñana, then there is the mature stage where the simplistic view of the ñana is replaced with much more nuanced and wise. (DhO)

Concentration and nanas. If you do not have strong concentration (centering and relaxing) then you will experience the progression as the vipassana nanas, i.e. the nanas (mind and body, cause and effect, three characteristics, arising and passing, dissolution, fear, disgust, misery, desire for deliverance, reobservation, equanimity).

If you have strong concentration, then you experience Vipassana Jhanas, i.e. 1) mind and body, cause and effect, and three characteristics will also have aspects of the first vipassana jhana, 2) arising and passing will have aspects of the second vipassana jhana, 3) dissolution, fear, disgust, misery, desire for deliverance and reobservation will have aspects of the third vipassana jhana, and 4) equanimity will be equanimity which is basically the fourth vipassana jhana. 

If you have very strong concentration, then you experience the samatha jhanas.

What happens in practice is we move in and out of concentration as we go up and down the nanas, so it can be a confusing mix of ñana and jhana... but in time it becomes more obvious. 

As Daniel Ingram describes: “The Vipassana Jhanas are like the Samatha Jhanas in some ways, but they involve direct perception of the Three Characteristics of sensations: impermanence at a very fine level (many times per second), no-self (that things arise on their own and are not an observer), and suffering (the fundamental painful tension created by how the mind holds itself to prop up the illusion of a self, center-point, agent, observer, doer, etc.). Each jhana has its sub-jhana aspects, like finer parts of a fractal. (DhO

Debate on POI. MCTB has been hugely important to many people, at least it was for me and was easily the most significant and helpful guidance in my early meditation practice ... (That said,) the Progress of  Insight (POI) was not an original teaching of the Buddha, but rather something that was developed over time and became formalized much later. In other words, it was the result of many people going through the awakening without that map, collecting reports, and only then coming out with that useful map.

Talking with a senior teacher in a Japanese/Tibetan school, he told me about 30% of students do not experience jhanas but still make progress and awaken. It seems to be something hard wired. So jhanas correlate to progress, but aren't necessary.

The idea of cessation being a reliable milestone is debatable. When it occurs very clearly, of course it's a clear marker. But there are many "near misses" that seem like cessations but are hard to diagnose, and there are many people who do not report cessations yet clear have deep insight into the nature of mind.

Lastly, the using the phrase "all meditators" is really problematic. For example, there are entire groups of people who awaken without >any< unusual experiences. Alan Chapman describes it as "creeping normalcy" where progress is made but so seamlessly that the change isn't obvious.

From a video he had:
"Although I talked about methods and traditions as a means of supporting your expression of the responsibility to experience enlightenment, it’s important that we also recognize that the technique or the method of the tradition that we work with will determine a good deal of the superficial surface features, if you will, of the process of awakening. There are certain experiences or perspectives or views that you will only get with certain traditions. The difference between using centering prayer, say in a Christian mystic sense, compared to straight-up noting practice from the theravadan buddhist tradition are quite marked. There are certain things you will get from one tradition that you won’t get with another, and it’s very easy for someone who works with one tradition to dismiss any person’s experience from another tradition as not dealing with the same process of awakening based on these superficial features, and then it's very easy for that person to give over the power and responsibility for enlightenment not only for themselves but for everyone else to the particular tradition they work with. So it’s important that we recognize that there are superficial differences; however, there are also deep features that are common to the process of awakening. I find it of great value to explore more than one tradition that you might resonate with and work with those traditions for a certain amount of time to recognize those differences, but also to gain a comprehensive view of the similarities of the deep features that are involved."

"In terms of the deep features, we can say that there are three kinds of unfolding of the process of awakening, at least in terms of my experience. There are some people that might awaken in what we call a very wet sense, in that there are a lot of mystical experiences, staggered stages, peak, partial, and then full awakenings that are involved in the process. This was certainly the case for me. And then there are people who perhaps don’t have, we could say, is a completely dry process. They don’t have the mystical experiences, the peak and partial awakenings, they sit for a long time, it’s very dry, and then one day they are suddenly awakened. They experience the awakening moment. Now, how much of that is down to the actual technique or the tradition they work with is a matter of speculation, but it could play a part. And then there are those people who go through the process of awakening, but in such a way that creeping normalcy is the predominant factor. Creeping normalcy only mean that although things change, they change in such a slight and slow manner that you do not recognize any big leaps or changes, but at some point you look at things and recognize how vastly things have change, to the point that people are actually awakened. So there are these three types of deep features to the process of awakening, and again it’s important that we don’t dismiss our own practice or the practice of others, or our own process or the process of others, based on the idea that everyone’s experience must be staggered stages with lots of fireworks --- or that everyone’s experience must be so dry that there aren’t any experiences of awakening to the extent that we actually dismiss the idea of awakening, which is very common to zen practioners who have experienced this slow creeping normalcy of awakening." (DhO

Variety of Maps: the priests argue, but the monks agree. Detailed maps definitely are more applicable to specific practices... but even so, there is so much similarity that I really don't find it hard to understand other traditions maps. It's the old saying "the priests argue, but the monks agree" -- as soon as you get into semantics it becomes endlessly debatable, but in terms of experiences, it's very easy to understand.

Take a totally different tradition - Kashmir Shaivism. People should still be able to recognize the progression of more and more subtle sense of self... basically going from conventional duality, to more of a witness consciousness, to more of a rarified consciousness (god consciousness, all objects as god/luminosity), and then a unity consciousness which is almost like the original duality consciousness yet something appreciated that wasn't appreciated before, that THIS IS IT. So very much the same arc of progress. Batgap: Panel Discussion on Kashmir Shaivism.  Or as another fairly different model, Shingon, you can see the same trajectory over their 10 stages: Ten levels of Mind . 

... I'm happy to notice the general correlations and patterns and to think it's neat and feel a warm fuzzy feeling about humanity. But yeah, I also notice how the mind seeks patterns and finds them, very dependent origination-ish-ly. This is probably what is at the heart of the buddhist caution about believing "views". 

Classic parable: A man was walking alone down a forest path. The Devil and his assistant were following at a distance. The man bends over and picks up something. The Devil's assistant, horrified, exclaims, "Oh no, Master! The man has discovered Truth!" The Devil smiles and says, "Don't worry, I'll help him organize it." (DhO)  

Adopting ideas of perfection as a practical goal for meditation practice is not helpful. There is always a human desire for perfection, but generally it's not helpful to adopt ideas of perfection as a practical goal for meditation practice. At least not as an interim goal.

For what it's worth, my hunch is that your model for stream entry (absence of subject/object and absence of unchanging knower) is going to hinder your own practice by being so idealized. But obviously you get to decide your model. For what it's worth to others, I really don't recommend the original poster's view. There have been 2500 years of scholarly debate (citing scripture and authorities) about "what the buddha meant" and it's not likely to be resolved in this lifetime. Much better to not spend too much time figuring this out intellectually and instead focus on personal practice. It's best to assume that the answer will become obvious if we put in the time for serious meditation practice (1-2 hours a day, a few weekend retreats a year, 10-14 day retreats annually). There is an old expression "the priests argue, but the monks agree."

There is a big misconception about Ingram's model that people overlook: in his model there is still plenty of human development after arhartship, this is the ongoing training in morality, life in this world - which is characterized as the first and last training: Morality, The First and Last Training

What happens in arhartship (in Ingram's model) is a fundamental realization that jhanas (including equanimity, 4th jhana) are not an answer in themselves, and that very very very subtle greed, aversion, and indifference creates conceit, restlessness, and a blindness to the actual nature of self.

There have been many folks that have taken the approach you've taken: take ideas of the complete perfection ideal and pin that to arhatship and then pin arhartship to SE. The only problem is these same people can't make the rest of the system work: what is second and third path in a system that has no subject/object and absence of separate knower as the first path?

And there is also a challenge of trying to find all those perfect people which proves that buddha's teachings are indeed possible. If arhat is perfection and you can become an arhat in seven years like the buddha said... where are all the perfect people? There should be millions! :) All contemporary teachers are clearly imperfect, even monastics, even monastery abbots (this becomes clear if you have every had direct contact with them and it is very clear when you are able to hear the stories of people who have ordained and witness monasteries from the inside). And so what is the point if perfection is impossible even for monks over decades... ?

It make much more sense to see that there is a fundamental, yet very deep and profound, insight about how a so-called "self" dictates and compels our perceptions and this insight can be obtained through buddhist (and of course other tradition's) practice methods. This insight is extremely rare (maybe 1 in 10,000,000 or 100,000,000 people?) but not impossible in a decade of work. This insight doesn't create perfect morality, but it creates a morality that is significantly different than someone who operates out of the perspective of "the self is me and it needs to be protected". So arhatship is possible, achievable, and yet doesn't create perfection, except for the perfection of not being confused by believing in a vulnerable self.

It also makes much more sense to see that religious institutions (and national institutions that use religion as a backbone of their society) have a vested interest in saying that perfection is possible but only for members of the religious institution and not for lay people. This can be heartbreaking to see clearly, it's so disappointing, but clearly there are some power plays that exist in buddhist countries, in the same way that religions are used in power plays in every other country on the planet. :( But that's life on this earth, nothing unique to buddhism.

It's really worth better understanding Ingram's model. I find that it has a better structuring of developmental progress which is more consistent with actual meditation practice. It can be that way because it is focus on meditator's progress, not institutional dogma, orthodox, orthopraxy, or power. Of course it's a model so it will always be imperfect in some ways, but I find it supports incremental progress (and understanding the roadblocks to incremental progress) much better than any other model. The important thing, however, is that it is a very complete model that doesn't lend itself to "soundbite" summaries. It has to be read and understood, ideally along with having a serious meditation practice.

If you have gotten this far, I just want to really recommend reading Ingram's work. It's free here: MCTB2 - Table of Contents (Reddit)

The Pragmatic Dharma Approach. The pragmatic dharma approach to answering a question is to focus in on what specifically is giving you problems in your own practice and to specifically address them. The whole reason that the PD approach exists is that approaching practice theoretically or dogmatically tends to be more about pondering and less about getting it done.

At a framework level, every system or model or theory -- even the framework of pragmatic dharma -- has its strengths and weaknesses. But when a framework is applied >in practice< about 99% of the so-called problems and issues are irrelevant and the practioner can focus on the actual things that are causing challenges, seek feedback on ways to address them, learn something, and move on to the next challenge. 

... What is overwhelming or confusion are all the options, all the methods, all the theories, all the antidotes to hindrances... Yet it is important to realize that all of these approaches exist for a reason, they simply work in certain contexts. And yet they don't work in other contexts. So the pragmatic approach is to be very specific about what is or isn't working for someone in their own personal context, i.e., what is pragmatic in their situation. 

... Ultimately, I don't think the framework matters as much as people want to think. 30 minutes to an hour of practice a day will put someone face-to-face with their actual problems. Facing our actual problems and being able to experience that fully is what the practice is about. It's not about never having any problems. It's not about never having difficulty. It's about having the right kind of problems, the kind that come from seeing the way we habitually emotionally react to the world around us, rather than more fully experiencing the world and responding.

With dedicated practice, people move through both psychological and existential insights. Psychological, because we see our emotional reactivity and patterns of confused thinking. Existential, because a lot of our problems are defense mechanisms that try to protect something that really doesn't need to be defended. (DhO)

DharmaOverground back then and now. I would say the early days of DhO were as chaotic as now. Probably the only distinction was there was more of a "backlog" of frustrated yogis that had searched for some way to make sense of practice and events that they had experienced. Everyone had a dedicated daily practice and would pretty much honor the idea of being clear about what they had experienced vs. what they were trying to understand. So conversations were a little bit more about practice and a little bit less about models. Basically, it was more about trying to understand the degree to which models could be reconciled with the realities of practice, rather than the other way around. 

The most important thing is that people don't give away their personal intelligence and power of practice over to someone else or their model. What happens in meditation >is< what is happening in meditation. Each of us have the truth of our experience, the results of our practice method, and each of us have to be honest about what seems to work and what doesn't. There really isn't a perfect map or a perfect method, it has to be worked out individually. No one can teach or direct someone into enlightment. It's basically a lot of personal investigation of the mind on the cushion. Is there tension/suffering/ill-will? What causes it? What reduces it? 

If you read the biographies of past masters, you will find that each of them advocated different practices, used different language, taught their students differently, and were regarded differently by their peers/culture. Their path and results are uniquely theirs, no two masters are the same. So while the four path model generally can act as an umbrella for their path and results, when it comes to the details, the model is basically just a sketch.

Forums like this allow people to see more of the confusing events of people's practice. My guess is that if we sat with masters of old, we would find all of these same confusing events -- discussions about maps, about proper practice, about results, about proper behavior and cultural roles after obtaining results. What would it have been like when Buddha was trying to grow a community of practioners and had to establish lots of little rules to keep people practicing? It would probably be a lot like a messy internet forum.

Ultimately, meditation solves our own problem, the problem that lies right in the heart of our discontent. It doesn't do that by fitting our experience to a model or by giving us something called an attainment or path or enlightenment. It does it by going to the essence of discontent, which goes beyond any particular experience. When we see how the habit of discontenment can't be solved by any experience, but rather by seeing it as a habit that seems to be "I" -- then we see how all the attempts to systematize and organize chaos into order has been a source of our discontent since the beginning of this "I".

The main thing is to follow one's own path, really deal with the actual problems along the way, and don't abstract things to a point where the gritty reality is overlooked. Awakening is possible, but it means becoming intimate with every experience that seems like a problem in our own mind.  (DhO

Stream Entry

Access Concentration needs as much presence as it takes to shuffle a pack of cards. Access concentration is actually more of a gentle effort thing... kind of like how much presence it takes to shuffle a pack of cards. Enough control that the cards don't go flying everywhere, enough effort to bend and snap the cards, but enough looseness and lack of rigid control that allows the cards have the room and ability to snap out of your hands, and enough sensitivity to feel the sensations and adjust the energy of the the shuffle. Imagine you are gently shuffling an endless deck of cards - that's a good mental image, except the deck of cards here is the meditation object (awareness of the texture and sensation of breathing).

(You may be) "concentrating" too hard. The word concentration is unfortunately used to mean "really trying hard at something", but the real intention of getting concentrated is becoming more and more "centered" around the meditation object. Being centered is about balance, a gentle kind of adjustment of effort.

So actually your early stages of sitting are probably access concentration. Try sitting and putting your attention on the breathing sensations... and simply do that. Try using less and less effort while still gently holding the breath in awareness. That's it. If you actually stay with that, gently returning to the attention of breathing if your mind wanders, you will naturally develop a light jhana and go through all of the nanas, through Stream Entry and beyond. 

... For what it is worth, you can use the tingling as a meditation object, too. This tends to bring out jhana, and also lead through the nanas. (DhO

Nanas are our teachers. One thing we've seen on DhO is that maps are both empowering and distracting. If you spend too much time trying to map where you are, it gets in the way of developing the "momentary concentration" that is the feature of Mahasi Sayadaw style noting practice -- i.e., concentration that is developed by noticing the impermanence of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts --- rather than through settingly on a single object.

Concerns about "mind throwing up distractions" is very common --- but distraction isn't a concern with noting practice. Instead of just staying on the breath and trying to get away from distraction, noting practice uses all experiences, even experiences of distraction and dukkha, as _fuel_ for practice. By simply noting the distraction -- in that moment you are not distracted. By noting "negative" sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts -- in that moment you are mindful. So even the "worst" sits are fuel for developing attention and mindfulness.

That's what makes the noting practice so powerful. No particular mindstate is required, just momentary attention which leads to momentary concentration... which leads to a gradual uncovering of different aspects of confusion as described by the nanas. 

If you feel stuck in a nana, chances are you are making the sensation, urges, emotions, and thoughts of that nana into a problem. I often recommend people who are interested in the maps to at least understand that each nana has an insight that is available because of the challenge of the nana. So the nanas, while sometimes difficult, are our teachers. They give us a basic insight. The nanas are also only partial answers, so they have a basic flaw to be seen, too. This is why each nana leads to another... 

If you are very geeky, this is a great table of nana characteristics to print out and have on the wall. (DhO)

The classic A&P experience. The classic A&P experience is pretty bizarre. The mind zooms into the arising and passing of sensations and thoughts and keeps zooming into the micro-sensations and micro-thoughts which seem to make up the sensations and thoughts. Everything is made up of vibrations and it's hard to tell if it is external or internal. There can be a "gap" event, similar to a cessation, that really blows your sense of dualistic (inside/outside, self/other) reality. Your highest likelihood for the extreme versions of this experience is on retreat, where it is easy to maintain fairly consistent practice, but consistent home practice can get you there too.  (DhO)

A&P and energetic spots. If you are getting vibrations in the third eye area, just use those as the meditation object and become intimate 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. (DhO

Kundalini is very stage-dependent. Most people experience Kundalini stuff in a very stage-dependent way. Adults will occasionally pass through the A&P and will experience the blissful, energetic, and visual aspects of that stage. It all feels very "spiritual". Some people will then try to recreate those experiences and get trapped in cycles of no motivation, motivation and A&P, then dark night with no guidance, then no motivation again... and this could be their entire spiritual life. They might deride people who have gone past this, because deep down they are convinced that this is all there is.

If people find a spiritual practice that includes valuing sitting through the dark night and keeping practice going during equanimity, then they have a shot at equanimity, high equanimity, and stream entry. (DhO)

Kundalini symptoms: nothing wrong or insightful, just the body rewiring itself. There will always be new sensations as the body re-wires itself (post SE), so in that sense Kundalini is inevitable -- it's happened to everyone I know with a long-term practice.

But it also seems like resisting and indulging make it worse. Sometimes people try to forcibly ground themselves and that effort makes it worse. Sometimes people try to make it happen more extremely and more quickly and that effort makes it worse.

The people that seem to get through it best are the ones that have time to stay gently physically active (walking, working) during the day, use something other than the Kundalini  symptoms as meditation objects, eat good food, and then let themselves rest at night. Sleeping can be goofy, but it is important to slightly fatigue the body during the day and also have enough food and rest/sleep where the mind can do its modifications. 

People tend to make things >>worse<<< by exercising too hard and exhausting themselves, focus on the Kundalini symptoms as meditation objects, eating too little and/or just fruit/carbs, and not letting themselves lie down for long enough during the night.  

Basically, a lot of the time people resist or indulge in Kundalini symptoms and that makes it worse. It's important to understand that there is nothing "wrong" or "insightful" about Kundalini symptoms, it's just the body rewiring itself. Unfortunately, there is too much legend about K that makes it seem like a super special thing, but it's closer to the body farting as it is digesting food. (DhO

Eventually all these kinds of experience become the new normal or are no big deal. We're all going to want to experience cool stuff and make progress... so we look for confirming experiences. Totally natural. As you continue, you'll have many many many experiences that will line up with all the things you've read about. The meditation path is a weird combination of "wow!" and "oh, that's it?". Eventually all these kinds of experience become the new normal or are no big deal.

There are whole traditions that make these side effects into some metaphysical model of reality (e.g., the body really has chackras, which have particular colors, which have particular spins and frequencies...) but with more experience you'll see that there is some general basis for this, but reality is a lot more complicated/sloppy.

I really like the idea that most of these things are artifacts of the body/mind complex re-wiring itself, side effects so to speak. Most people's body/mind goes through a period of change during 1st and 2nd paths especially. The general domain of 3rd is usually less body-changing and more perception-changing. The general domain of 4th tends to make the body go flat for a while, followed by a rapid recalibration, followed by much more groundedness/stability/resilience.

Taken as a whole it sounds like a lot of change, but it just happens one day at a time... not too different than being a teenager again. Kenneth Folk sometimes compares it to going through puberty -- and that's about right. (DhO

Dark Night nanas: physical vs mental people. Everyone experiences the DN nanas differently. Some people are more "mental" and they experience it mostly as emotions and visual images. Some people have a more "physical experience" with lots of energetic releases, body movements, vibrations, etc. 

It seems extremely strange (since it isn't talked about openly), but it's par for the course for serious meditators. Basically there are very subtle reactive patterns in the body that get triggered over time. During the dark night nanas you actually have those experiences during a very mindful context and there are insights into the nature of those experiences. Hard to put in words but it's like "oh fear is a state of severe aversion with images of a future suffering just a few seconds from now." "oh misery is soft achy sensations with mild aversion and images of a distant future suffering that is of a long duration" etc. Basically you _have_ these experiences, you are not them. You aren't afraid, you experience fear.

People who have more physical experience tend to feel like they are being wrung out like a wet towel or maybe "beat up" like being in a washing machine. After the sensations die down, there is a sense of being "cleaner" and "less solid" --- the classic detoxing feeling. 

Reading practice journals may give you some context. There are a whole bunch on on both the Dharma Refugees and the Kenneth Folk Dharma discussion boards.  A number of people have been guided through the dark night on those boards. (DhO)

A&P – Dark Night loop. Effort is fine and good, but there is a limit to what you can "make happen" on a retreat. The big difference between a dark night yogi and someone who reaches SE is the ability to become intimate with what is occurring in experience, but without struggle or striving --- this is equanimity. And the ability to dwell in equanimity is what makes people prone to SE. It’s very common for people to want to try harder and harder and harder to be unaware that this whole effort is often a way to cover up the feelings that come out on retreat, like shame and guilt and misery and feeling that we are bad meditators. This is what makes someone get trapped as a dark night yogi. They feel all the dark feelings and then they try harder. We push those feelings aside and try harder! This exactly the WRONG thing to do. 

The dark night stages are a time when we need to continue to welcome all the dark stuff in our psyche to come out, but to do so in an intelligent and adult way. We need to welcome the laziness, fear, misery, disgust, and frustration into our meditation ---- and study it! What does it feel like when we have these feelings, what thoughts are associated with the feelings, why are these states so seductive and powerful? How does greed, aversion, and indifference work during these feelings/stages? How do our emotions keep us trapped in samsara?

In other words, the dark night is where we learn all of the lessons that limit our meditation and our life. If we go rushing past all of that, we will never develop the stability to dwell in equanimity and reach SE. If people try to rush past the dark night stages and jump to SE, what usually happens is they get caught in a loop where they go through dark night stages, but go back to A&P because they are not relaxing into EQ. When that happens, all sorts of spiritual and psychic experience happen --- which feels like progress because it is so different from normal reality. But when an experienced meditator sees this, we know that the person is running away from fully experiencing difficult dark night emotions, and is trying way too hard. 

The mind is MUCH MUCH MUCH smarter than we are. All we need to do is pay attention to what naturally arises on retreat. Simply doing this for 16 hours a day while walking, sitting, shitting, peeing, eating, and bathing is more than enough to give you the necessary centering and relaxing to reach SE. 

When we finally learn to not be seduced by the dark mode AND not try to avoid dark mode, then we can stay with any sensation, urge, emotion, or thought that arises, which is equanimity. Then this deepens and our whole experience becomes Equanimous, which is the stage of Equanimity. And when we dwell in EQ long enough, really relaxing and soaking in it, then our mind might jump to SE. There is nothing you can do to make SE happen, except practice gently and consistently and make friends with the dark mode and to dwell in EQ when things become Equanimous. (DhO)

Dark Night as an opportunity to handle all the human triggers that send us into trance or traumatic over-reaction. The main thing is to not take the attitude of "dealing with it" but rather to think of the dark night as an opportunity and to "learn from it and master it". All the primal dark night urges/emotions/thoughts that come to the surface are EXACTLY the kind of stuff that humans need to learn to see clearly and make friends with if we're ever going to become more than barely-intelligent monkeys. The stuff of the dark night are all the human triggers that send us into trance or traumatic over-reaction, and there is no way to develop a stable and courageous mind unless we can handle these things. So the dark night is a great opportunity. That's the way to think of it. (DhO)

There can be a lot of benefit in studying the dark night stages and then writing out how this shows up in your life... and how to meet those challenges. Like if misery totally dominated your psyche, what would that look like? What are your misery triggers? How does misery show up in sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts? What is the best thing about misery? What is the worst? What allows you to simply be with experiences of misery? What would you like to learn more about the whole mechanism of a state of misery? What do you tend to avoid or ignore about misery?   This kind of analysis helps you sensitize yourself to the sorts of things you might experience, how you might react, how you might sabotage yourself, how you might learn something about yourself. (DhO)

A dark night yogi basically needs to develop a very consistent daily practice, never missing a day, never quitting too soon. That's a little bit of an exaggeration, but essentially correct. They need to be dedicated to objectifying the "dark" or "negative" aspects of their thoughts/emotions and develop tools (jhana, metta) and have access to high-quality support: teachers & dharma friends. They need to read texts that support the >actual stuff< that is showing up and difficult, which could be reading about the nanas or particular psychological disorders/treatment methods. And they need to think of their practice as a life-long practice of healing and growth. Otherwise they binge and purge with practice, trying too hard and then not enough, being "heroic" which usually fails, instead of being "consistent" which usually works. (DhO)

A dark night yogi is so classic for anyone hanging on this board (DhO) that it's almost a 80% chance that it is the case. Yes, it's completely also consistent with depression, post-trauma, bipolar, mania, etc etc so it makes no sense to completely attribute it to some meditation thing ---- but then again meditation has also been around a lot longer than psychological diagnoses, so it's also interesting to ponder how much of "spirituality" is an ancient form of post trauma healing and a framework for cognitive development... 

It's interesting to notice how much of manic/depression cycles are similar to dark night cycles. It's interesting to watch the mind go through this while on retreat where you can really observe how the mind creates problems that are not there, as a dysfunctional form of coping with uncertainty... it's a wild thing to observe happening in your own mind, while sitting in a beautiful meditation room, on nice soft cushions, being served vegetarian food three times a day, wow -- where does all this drama and suffering come from? All I can say is that there is a certain kind of logic the mind has, even when it is completely dysfunctional, but it takes a lot of sitting and observing to tease it out and notice: oh, the mind/ego is just trying to protect itself from fear and shame and "others".... (DhO

Urges, emotions and thoughts. It’s both true and untrue that body scans make the affect conscious. In theory, it definitely should work this way, but I've also encountered enough people that seem to be perfectly able to experience sensations and yet be blind to emotions, or urges, or thoughts. So I think it's possible that, for some people, they can connect with body sensations and never quite access suppressed/repressed emotions and thoughts. It surprised me the first time I encountered it, someone being able to tell me phenomenologically what they were experiencing in terms of sensations, but when I asked them if they noticed they were adverse/angry (which was obvious) they didn't connect to it. (DhO)

I also remember someone who could connect to what was obviously doubting, uncertainty, and always mapping/comparing their practice, but couldn't report their thoughts about it. In both of these cases, they were doing a combination of body awareness and noting ---- but were not noting whole  categories of mind objects (emotions and thoughts). 

This is why I think working with a teacher helps. We all have blind spots. In both of those cases, it was clear that they need to do dedicated noting of sensations for a period of their sits. Similarly the other person needed to do dedicated noting of "practice thoughts" during their sits. My sense is that body scanning was not going to be the answer for them. But who knows?

I think the biggest factor for Equanimity and SE is actually getting good at noticing urges (pre-emotions) and thoughts-as-thoughts, especially thoughts about practice.  (DhO)

Practices that say "focus on bare sensations" are a very good way to build a foundation for practice, but at some point the meditator also has to pay attention to how urges (of attraction, aversion, and indifference), feelings/emotions (like anger, frustration, confusion, ambition, etc.) and thoughts (practice thoughts, planning thoughts, comparing thoughts, etc.) show up within the mind.  It involves allowing sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts to occur without manipulation, sort of like seeing them as "mind objects" that automatically appear in the space of the mind. And it also involves fully experiencing them, so we get the full impact of the experience. What is interesting is just clarity and intimacy (and time) is enough for the mind's natural intelligence to drop unhelpful habits. (DhO)

In time, you realize that the purpose of mind is to detect greed, aversion, and ignorance... but we identify too much with the sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts so it's difficult to detect those things. When we develop the ability to be mindful of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts AS THE DISCRETE sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts THAT THEY ACTUALLY ARE -- then the knots loosen and we get insights into how all of these little harmless flashes of experience can create greed, aversion, and ignorance and huge amounts of suffering. Equanimity comes from being clear about what is being experienced and not becoming beguiled by aversion, greed, or ignorance. It's hard to describe what different Paths and awakening feels like, but "greater awareness and equanimity" is pretty close. (DhO

Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance. Here's what you need to keep in mind: in the dark night, dissolution, fear, misery, disgust, a desire for deliverance, and a freak out mind are all likely to occur ---- as mind states. You are basically being shown a movie of all of your hang ups, your shadow, your history. It's not because you are bad or flawed or unworthy. It's because your mind really does want to digest this old material and move beyond it. There is no way to move through things like trauma or PTSD or Dark Night without going through some difficult mind states. It's simply the nature of healing.

There can be a lot of guilt and shame that also arises when we face our old material, shadow self, and past history. Again, this is not because you are bad or flawed or unworthy. It is because the mind wants to protect itself and avoid stuff until it can move through it. 

The nature of mind is such that it wants to be safe AND it wants to heal. Healing involves going into those yucky sensations, awkward emotions, and oppressive thoughts with mindfulness, appreciation, friendliness, caring, and acceptance. When you go through these mind-states with awareness you realize that they are old baggage, not relevant, weather that is here now and gone later, not the same as the Self, transitory. You also can connect to the witnessing/aware mind that SEES all of this. This is what develop the more adult and sane mind that is resilient. 

A mature, sane, and adult mind can experience fear, misery, disgust, desire for deliverance, and momentary freak out and say "oh, look at all these fears, look at all this misery, look at all this disgust, look at all these desires for deliverance, look at the mind momentarily freaking out." Ironically, it really is that simple. Of course, when we identify with the mind we tend to think/feel "I AM afraid, I AM miserable, I AM disgusted, I AM desiring for deliverance, I AM freaking out."

There really is no one on earth that can "teach" you to switch from one to the other. In the end, we need to GRADUALLY let ourselves be exposed to these difficult mind states and let them happen and notice how they come and go.

A last point: as developing humans, we can become very paranoid about these difficult mind states because we don't see the good in them. Why on earth should we sit on the cushion and go through all of this? What does it get us?

All these difficult mind states will also have a piece of wisdom connected to them, sort of hidden within the noise. There is a >positive intention< that is within each state: 
  • Fear just really wants to keep us safe. 
  • Misery really wants the world to be more fair and just. 
  • Disgust really wants us to make better choices and care for ourselves. 
  • Desire for Deliverance really wants us to work carefully toward improving. 
  • Reobservation really wants to give us a guided tour of all of our silly trigger thoughts/feelings so that we see that freaking out isn't helpful. 
So on one level, meditation is giving you a personally guided tour of all of the nonsense in our mind so that we can re-connect, re-interpret, re-evaluate the thoughts and feelings we have toward ourself and the world. 

This is also why meditation improves psychology and morality --- we have to go through this character growth in order to be able to rest in Equanimity as a stable state. If we don't grow and develop, then any little Dark Night blip of discomfort will throw us around. When Equanimity is mature, aspects of the dark night pop up as little purifications and we can even go through a Reobservation-like mind state without being freaked out.

The normal human progress for developing resiliency is:

(1) First we are only stable when the body and mind is stable,
(2) Then we can be stable when the body is freaking out but the mind stays clear,
(3) Finally we are so grounded in the Self that we can be stable when the body and mind is freaking out

It really is amazing what is possible... but we have to gradually develop these skills. While meditation on the battlefield is theoretically possible, we can't start a meditation practice there. We would just traumatize and re-traumatize our self. We have to gradually develop calmness in the face of challenges. And these challenges should be at an appropriate dose, so that we can develop resiliency over time.

You have to learn your weaknesses and take them into account. Are you someone that rushes foolishly into too much intensity? Are you someone that represses and avoids direct experience? Are you someone that fantasizes that suffering is heroic and a good thing? Are you someone that fantasizes that suffering means you are a failure and will never be any good? We all have tendencies toward greedy, aversive, or delusive modes of relating to our inner experiences... it's important to learn the ways we cling, avoid, and are indifferent to our experience. (DhO)

Stuff bubbling up. Both modern psychology and traditional Buddhism talks about stuff "bubbling up" when you meditate. Basically, we seem to have a natural instinct to control/contain the messy aspects of our mind by kind of putting them aside and not thinking about them. When we relax the mind through meditation, these incomplete thoughts and feelings --- even "vile and depressive" thoughts and feelings --- will bubble up into consciousness.

The interesting thing is while this seems like it will open up an endless flow of more suffering... actually we only have about ten or twenty thought patterns that give us problems. There are a lot of variations to those patterns, but our mental problems are really pretty basic, childish in a way, and not very complex once you see the pattern. We basically make odd assumptions about ourselves and life and then create odd stories that we completely believe, without question.

Whether it is worth it or not is ultimately a choice, but progress in meditation necessarily means sitting with and experiencing all the dark aspects of our minds. Anger, greed, fear, lust, ambition, and pride is going to come up. Depressive thoughts like "I'm flawed", "I'm not safe", "I'm not worthy of love", "I'm a failure", "I didn't reach my potential" are going to come up -- this is the normal human mind. 

The only way you will make progress is if you can learn to accept and be interested in all the vile and depressive stuff that comes up. Basically becoming a detective, your own psychologist, and getting very interested in how the mind works. What is true and untrue about the vile and depressive stories you tell yourself? How can you accept and live with your past, yet see every day as blank slate? 

The problem with pure "mindfulness" practices is they tend to open up the mind, but they don't really give people any tools for working with the dark stuff. Normally that's fine, because most of the time we can just explore our mind and a kind of natural intelligence leads us along... but if we are hitting roadblocks, then we need the help of a professional psychologist and/or meditation teacher to help us see that these roadblocks are very interesting! And worthy of investigation. Usually the roadblocks have some "message" within them that we are failing to see -- and that's why we keep hitting the roadblock. It is as if the mind is saying: pay attention to this first. 

Hidden in almost every problem is some piece of wisdom that is being overlooked. Meditation involves a lot of just sitting and exploring all the variations of greed, aversion, and ignorance. The wisdom is usually in the form "I can't believe I was thinking about X in that way! I thought X meant I had this problem, but actually X was pointing me toward the solution. I just wasn't seeing it."

And it's funny, most of the time the solution is to just let things be. A lot of the time, we're just making things into a bigger problem than they actually are. Sometimes the problem is in the past, which we can't change. Sometimes the problem is in the future, which we can't know. When we're sitting in normal meditation practice, we're safe and have nothing else to do... so any so-called "problem" that comes up is just the part of our mind that seems to make problems in order to feel busy and protected. That's the part of the mind that we can learn to calm down, simply by letting it have problems. We don't need to do anything, except notice them and welcome them and not push them away. Just let it bubble up. Simple. (DhO)

Reobservation. Center and background changes as you look. So if you look out the window and see a tree, the center of attention is the tree and everything else is context. And if you look at the window pane, everything else becomes context. But if you ask yourself "what is it that is seeing the tree?", you'll probably notice that your vision goes wide and your eyes sort of glaze over a little as you start thinking of "yourself". Now the entire visual field is background and your sense of being a self is in the center of attention. So you never quite get to "look at" the background, it's always in the background... except sometimes you can catch it by "going wide" and "inclusive". So if you look at the tree the eyes focus, then ask "what is seeing the tree?" the vision widens and eyes glaze, and then say to yourself, the entire field of perception is mind and I am the same thing as mind  --- then sometimes you vision goes wide but there is also sharpness or present-ness. It has a sense of space and depth. 

This works in noting practice by getting a sense that we often focus on noting things in the center of attention... which is very interesting for a while, but then it begs the question: what is the observer of all of this? What am I? And so we'll start noting the aspects of what seems to be the sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts of being an observer. 

But our sense of self starts falling apart when we put it under observation -- because suddenly we're exposing all the sensations, urges, thoughts, and emotions that we use to orient our self in this world. All of a sudden we realize, maybe unconsciously, if I'm looking at the center, then I'm not the center am I?, where am I?, and a primal kind of panic happens.

During Reobservation, all of our insecurities come out because the normal way of being a self, which we try to protect by kinda ignoring it or overlooking it, is now being exposed as not really the self. We think the self is the center of experience, but those aspects of experience that make us feel in the center are now being seen ---- so where are we? What is the I? Time to panic!

Initially the mind can't handle this exposure, this lack of center/solidity --- so we sort of freak out, but that happens by having all of our psychological defense mechanisms being triggered. In other words, the mind protects itself by doing it's usual kinds of freak-outs. That's why Reobservation is so provocative. That's also why Reobservation is so specific to a person. Each person has their kind of classic primal feelings of freaking out --- probably created back when were a baby and we felt our parents go away --- and each person has their own psychological patterns of freaking out --- defense mechanism created as children and teenagers as we learned to "protect our identity/self".

And that's why Reobservation is shitty, but one of the best teachers out there. We simply have to watch ourselves squirm, meanwhile realizing that all we're doing is sitting down in a safe place and watching our mind freaking out.  

The things that are important to note in Reobservation are the things that tend to convey "I am having a hard time during this stage known as Reobservation and I want to either get through it quickly or quit practicing". What sorts of things in our experience make Reobservation known as Reobservation?

Remember that the dark night stages are not simply called dissolution, fear, misery, disgust, desire for deliverance, Reobservation --- but rather "knowledge of dissolution" "knowledge of fear" etc. In other words, to really "get" a stage you need to do more than simply experience it, you need to have the knowledge of it, the knowing of how these stages are created by mind. You need get "meta" and understand both objective experience and how the subjective experience is created. So the urges, emotions, and thoughts are almost more important than the sensations after you have developed a foundation of mindfulness. Many people stay on just sensations, so they remain trapped by urges, emotions, and thoughts. The things we tend to overlook are the things "on the periphery" or "in the background" or "on this side" -- because those are the things that we identify with as self, even though they are actually just sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts that are not (normally) in the center of attention. (DhO)

Reobservation usually passes with a bit of crying and deep acceptance of the reality of how flawed we are --- but it doesn't need to stop progress. Reobservation is a wonderful teacher that humbles us and keeps us honest. For better or worse, it's like holding a mirror up to our self and really getting a good look. (DhO)

The Challenge of Dark Night. A big part of the challenge of the dark night stages is that you can't make it into what it isn't. In other words, it tends to be moody, subtle, vague, sloppy, uncontrolled... and if you try to make it bright, obvious, distinct, precise, and under control then you'll just suffer. There is a lot to "see" in the dark night (how insidious reactive patterns are, yet how thin and ghost like they are, so is it a big problem or actually a tiny problem?) but you have to look at it directly and not assume something is wrong or needs to be a different way. (DhO

Time off when having a hard time. Time off is good. But it is really clear that without practicing, we kind of slide backwards. Like paddling up a river, you find some rate of paddling at some sustainable pace and make slow progress, sometimes hitting slow current and making faster progress, sometimes fast current and slow progress, but if you stop you kind of go shooting backwards. Consistent daily practice is the secret. (DhO)  

[ Time off may be a good choice when having a hard time with Dark Night ]. I would just focus on enjoying the next two days. I would do the things I enjoy and make me feel grounded and calm. Cleaning up my place, washing clothes, cleaning my body and maybe a haircut, slowly shopping for groceries, taking the time to prepare healthy and delicious and simple food, going for walks outside, seeing a movie that would interest me and get me out of my own normal world and thinking patterns, giving to charity or just doing some good like donating things I don't need, hanging out with friends, going to a bar and enjoying a drink without getting wasted, going outside at night and watching the stars or in the city watching the nightlife, waking up early and going to breakfast at a diner, going for a long drive or commute on a train/bus... that sort of thing. Basically stop practicing and simply and without greed let yourself enjoy the mundane pleasures of being alive. Of course, if there is work or school or family obligations, do those things too. Calm and responsible, calm and content.

I would also accept that there is never a good time to practice and the future is uncertain, so making progress in this life is important for me. So ultimately, if I'm meant to go through this stage now, then that's my karma and I will do the best I can under these conditions. (DhO)

Allow yourself to experience pleasure if it arises when in DN. It is important for a dark night yogi to allow him/herself to experience pleasure when it arises. Rather than thinking "concentration" think "centering yourself". When pleasure arises, put yourself in the center of it. Delight in it. Enjoy it. Know that Buddha highly recommended this kind of karma-free delight. Don't worry about vipassana when pleasure arises --- this will feel wrong to a dark night yogi, but this is actually why someone is a dark night yogi. When delight arises, enjoy it and wish for all beings everywhere to also experience delight in their life. Be like a light sending out this joy and delight to everyone.

There will be hard crashes as well. Dark night yogis have guilt complexes, persecution complexes, fears, deep feelings of inadequacy. It's important to remember that you are noticing all of these things in awareness, but you are not these things. These are old habits of mind that are showing themselves to you, so that you can clearly see them. You can clearly see how they are primitive urges that are trying to be helpful, trying to protect you, trying to keep you safe... but they are simply not appropriate anymore. It's time to let them go. Don't force them away, but simply allow them to come and go. Let those primitive states of mind feel your attention, even send them some love and kindness. Be gentle with the shadow side of your psyche, all it really wants is your love and respect.

Sometimes it can be helpful to zoom into whatever feels "bad" or like "ill will" and ask: is this greed, aversion, or ignorance/fantasy? That can be an interesting question, although you don't necessarily need an answer every time. Regardless, after you spend some time being curious about it, send that bad feeling some metta or good will.

A dark night yogi kinda secretly wants to have all the bad stuff beaten out of him/her. A dark night yogi often is intimidated by love, healing, and joy. Use this retreat to drop the masochism and build new habits. Be gentle with yourself, but stay disciplined. Be kind to yourself, but keep the practice schedule. (DhO)

There is no way to truly and completely avoid going through some hard stuff in DN. But that said, if you feel like your practice has momentum and aspects of joy, rapture, pleasure, or bliss are coming up in your meditation, Kenneth Folk's main point is that it is absolutely a good and productive thing to center yourself within those nice feelings. You won't be wasting your time. You will be doing the conditioning that helps make the mind slippery and more likely to slip into equanimity and SE. (DhO)

Late Dark Night. My favorite meditator quote about Reobservation comes from Tarin, one of the original Dharma Overground participants: “The Dark Night territory - particularly late dark night - has a habit of making me unsure which methods are best to employ in practice. Should I note? Should I use open awareness? Should I pay attention to the wide vibrations? Should I go with the discomfort? Should I observe the questioning? etc. I would feel very dissatisfied with anything I tried. Eventually I realized that the nature of Re-observation was to have a cow with anything and everything and when I realized this it mattered a whole lot less what I did since I knew I would have no way of knowing if it was effective practice or not! Regardless, my recommendation would be to note or observe frustration, pain, doubt, boredom, distraction, gaming, predicting, expecting, etc when and where they arise and make sure - I mean really make fucking sure - that if you're killing yourself trying to meditate that you note that too."  (DhO)

Notice how the mind works. No one completely dis-identifies from mind, it sort of comes and goes in waves where you are your thoughts and then you are observing your thoughts. The goal is not to find some third place to camp out and observe everything, but rather notice how the mind works. Some people find it useful to simply notice that regardless of the experience, the framework of observation, experience is simply "known". (DhO

Clinging, Releasing, Non-tangibility of Thoughts. Unfortunately the only way we learn to see our clinging is by buying into the drama and then seeing our mistake. Same thing with releasing, the only way we learn to allow impermanence is to resist/fight it and then see our mistake. There is nothing better at showing us the non-tangibility of our thoughts than catastrophizing, believing it, freaking out, and then realizing what we've been doing, and hopefully finding the cosmic humor in it too. It helps to laugh at ourself! (DhO

See thoughts as thoughts and don't fully believe them. See emotions as emotions and don't automatically react to them. (When you believe you're about) to breakout of your pattern of fear and spiraling, it's time for some tough love: A really big part of this is getting over yourself.  Dukkha/ego/small self/unawakening is basically that thing that needs to make everything into a big problem. 

Whether or not you are strictly in reobservation -- time to re-read this: MCTB2 ➝ Re-observation.  

A big part of the fear spiral is wanting to be free and in control at the same time. We want to save ourself and be the hero. Sounds awesome. But it means both having a problem all the time and trying to fix a problem all the time. It seems like the right thing to do, but the freedom comes from seeing the other side of it: we are the one who is destroying ourself with all of this drama. So what we really need to do is JUST STOP.

How do we stop? We see what an idiot we are: 
  • How many times do you believe a "I need to get off this ride thought"? Is the belief making your life better? 
  • How many times do you believe a "I need to do more to save myself thought"? Is the belief making your life better?
  • How many times do you believe a "this meditation method won't work for me thought"? Is the belief making your life better? 
  • How many times do you believe in a "this small experience of fear right now means that I'll be doomed in the future thought"? Is the belief making your life better?
  • How many times do you believe in a "I am missing something important that I need in order to escape from this thought"? Is the belief making your life better? 
The answer is right there in front of you. See thoughts as thoughts and don't fully believe them.

How many times do you not recognize emotions as emotions, including doubting, uncertainty, fear, imbalance, not-knowing, worry, anticipation, hope  --- and instead you get caught in the loop of "I am doubtful, uncertain, afraid, imbalanced, don't know, worried, anticipating, hoping..."?

The answer is right there in front of you. See emotions as emotions and don't automatically react to them.

These are all the kinds of thoughts and emotions that spiral us ENDLESSLY in samsara. Tiny little wispy thoughts and fleeting little emotions that we believe and they propel us with fear and ambition and hope and yearning... but the answer is simply, simply, simply to notice how this is how samsara works. It all completely falls apart when you can actually notice these thoughts as thoughts and emotions as emotions.

The opposite of samara is "nibbana" which means extinguishing. When these thoughts are seen as thoughts and the associated emotions are seen as emotions, then they can end. It's our own clinging that keeps thoughts and emotions everpresent. It's in their nature to arise and pass at the speed of mind -- but like big dummies, we cling and keep them here. We need to see how doing this doesn't make our life any better.

There is nothing wrong with having these thoughts and emotions. They shouldn't be repressed or ignored, they contain a small piece of useful information. The big problem is making them bigger than they are.

There can be a lot of grieving when we really understand what we've been doing to ourselves for all these years. There can be a lot of crying when we finally get it, when we finally realize that we've been our own worst enemy... and we've made life difficult for those we love. 

You are about to make a big leap in your practice, but you still probably have a lot of bad habits with pushing too hard. So my best advice is very short, very simple meditation sits: 30 minutes of the real practice of seeing thoughts as thoughts and emotions and emotions. Then go for long walks and think about how "problemness" is constantly created and carried with you through mental habits. Short, high-quality sits as someone said above, plus lots of space and ease as someone said above. This is the magic combination for this kind of work.  (DhO)

After a certain point in meditation, it really does become about dropping psychological defense mechanisms and purification. Basically, after a certain point in meditation, it really does become about dropping defense mechanisms (in the psychological sense) and purification. A lot of our old ways of thinking/coping become blatantly obvious and seen as childish, and in its place is not a new stability, but rather an ability to navigate in a world of ambiguity. If folks are really comfortable in their life, then short meditations as a sort of adult "quiet time" is probably fine... but if you increase the dose with meditation retreats or serious daily practice, then things _will_ change. 

One thing that seems clear to me in retrospect is so much of our habits and behaviors are kind of wired into our body. As a result, when we start turning over rocks in our psyche, it is a full mind-body process and it feels a bit like a slow-speed drug detox. 

Now that said, if you go through it all, then it is very easy to say "good riddance" to all those defense mechanisms and it is very easy to prefer the results of meditation... but it is a lot like saying I just spend 7 years going to the gym every day and my body is stronger and healthier --- well it should be with all that effort! 

So yes, anything more than short recreational meditation should come with a warning label. It can be disruptive and difficult. It definitely makes you both more sensitive and resilient, but you have to go through phases where it is quite difficult -- old stable perspectives are falling apart and no new comforting perspectives take their place, except for a very adult (and paradoxical) sense that "meditation gives you stability by becoming acquainted with instability". 

Just a few other cautions:
  • People have lots of horror stories and glamour stories of what meditation does (you find no self, you find true self, you have no agency, you're on autopilot, you are empowered) -- my experience is while there are states that suggest these have an element of truth, in the end there is an appreciation that these are simply states that people cling to. It's much more accurate to say everything becomes an honest "middle path" between extremes states of self and no self, intention and no agency... etc. etc. 
  • People have a lot of ideas about what philosophies someone who has gone through the whole deal would have (vegan, omnivore, pacifist, warrior, meek, wrathful, etc. etc.) -- my experience is while all of these are valid views in their own way, again in the end there is a lot more appreciation for both their truth and falseness and living life becomes -- rather that living out a particular philosophy -- much more of navigating life on a case by case, moment by moment basis. Again, very middle path when it comes to views.
  • There are many people (myself included) who started meditation in part as a way to get away from the shadow part of their psyche --- these people often have an idealized version of what meditation is and does... and it can be a harsh wake-up call when meditation gives them much more complex insights and results.
  • Ultimately, meditation will point out our very very very basic sense of "woundedness and lack" and shine a big spotlight on it. It will never heal that wound or fill that lack, but rather point out how we were confused in the first place about being wounded and lacking. It's a very strange process to describe, but by going deep into how we relate to the world as self and object, interior and exterior, we eventually see that there is a very basic coping mechanism of trying to put the world "over there" so it can't really hurt us, and me "over here" so I'm in control. The end result is the boundaries become much more porous and flip-floppy and there is a greater clarity and intimacy with what is experienced. It is a bit like waking up from a dream, waking up to the obvious.
To wrap it up, I was personally compelled to really do the work and "get" what this was all about. It was basically something that haunted me my whole life. I don't push meditation on my wife, family, or friends. It's not essential for a pretty good life, especially if the person is trying to be a good person and create a good society for everyone. That said, yes there is something deep in this stuff that people who do not do the practice will miss out on, they will not have the same deep sense of "knowing oneself" as a meditator. But maybe that's no big deal. My hunch is that when people reach their developmental limit and feel the stagnation, then they are probably ready for it and will hunger for a meditation practice. (DhO)

Becoming absorbed. Daniel Ingram’s warning against "solidifying jhanas" is more for people who come up through a concentration based practice, not for people who have been practicing noting/vipassana. Vipassana people have the opposite problem, they are so used to investigating, probing, inspecting, doing, doing, doing... that they don't ease up. Becoming absorbed (which means becoming very intimate with your experience) is about the best thing that can happen for a post A&P and pre-SE yogi. Kenneth Folk’s article speaks to it, see the section "How does a yogi know whether to practice samatha or vipassana?" (DhO)

On Vibrations. Vibrations can be interesting gateways... and great training tools. Notice how you have to pay attention to them with a gentle attention otherwise they get "squashed" by too much effort. Kenneth Folk talked about how much effort it takes: it is like you are standing in the ocean, waist deep in the water, and there is a ping pong ball floating by you. It is bobbing up and down gently in the ripples. And your job is to put your finger on the ball and let it still float up and down, but with your finger never losing contact. So you must be very sensitive and very very gentle. One thing to notice about vibrations is how the mind tends to notice the strong part of vibrations, but pays less attention to the "gaps" in between. Without using too much effort, also be curious about the gaps. What do gaps feel like? Is there a sensation there? A sound, perhaps?  Buzzy vibrations in the head can be interesting, too. Those sensations are very close to where we feel "I am" in the head... so sometimes "I am" starts vibrating too.  (DhO)

Regarding annoying vibrations, they can sometimes be seen as "they are over there and I am over here being bothered by them". Even saying "I'm going to be Equanimeous to them" sets up this distancing. My best advice is actually to feel like you are sticking your face into the middle of them and ideally immerse and swim in them. To do that, you'll need to get interested in all of the subtlety and waves and interference patterns and your mind will become very concentrated. Seems like your mind is trying to help you go deeper! (DhO)

My Post A&P / Pre-SE Cheat Sheet. Here are my notes from when I was at that post-A&P / Pre-SE stage of practice. My best advice is to make your own cheat sheet that fits on one page and post it where you sit. Write it in your own words, so that it really feels like the voice in your head is reminding you how to practice well. 

(1) Motivation for Daily Practice. Insight can’t be forced, but it can be nurtured and given the opportunity to arise. 

(2) Right View of the Path. Experiencing the sensation of the moment is the only experience that qualifies as meditation. Thoughts are linked moments of the sensations of thinking. Stay at the level of bare sensations. Time is a sensation. 

(3) Right Effort on the Path. Clearly and strongly renouncing speculation and committing to simply attending to the expression of this very moment is the right effort in the beginning. Gently returning again and again to the moment is the right effort in the middle. Letting the moment reveal itself is the right effort for the mature part of the path. Insight is always a surprise and cannot be forced, but it is cultivated by returning to attending to this moment. 

(4)  Noting
  •  If things look solid: note!
  • If you are lost in thought: note!
  • If you are feeling ungrounded: note!
  • If it all feels useless: note those sensations, too!
Noting is better than floundering.
“Don’t need your wants.”
“If you are looking for a solution, you aren’t seeing the problem.”
“Less is more.” 

(5) Perceiving Vibrations 
  •  If you are able to perceive vibrations of your object: do so as completely and consistently as possible.
  • If you are feeling that you can perceive vibrations of not only your object but also other things simultaneously: do so.
  • If you can perceive vibrations of not only your object but broad things like space, consciousness, thought, memory, intention, investigation, effort, suffering and the like: do so.
  • If at any point you find that you can't perform at the level you were functioning at, drop back down the hierarchy as far as you need to, perhaps back to noting. 
(6) Application to Stages 
  • When you enter the second vipassana jhana, aka the Arising and Passing Away (A&P), most people can drop the noting, as it is just too slow.
  • After this stage fades, many will need to go back to noting until they stabilize, as Dissolution can cause regression as we get used to its wider, more out of phase field.
  • When the Dark Night arises, many will need to note at points to keep from getting lost in their stuff. (DhO)
Transition to Equanimity. Equanimity is something that can easily be accessed during home practice, it isn't some mythical high state that is only accessed on retreat. EQ happens when we get out of our own way, let things be as they are, stay curious, and apply the lessons we learned about all the ways we needlessly make things more difficult. So, consistent daily practice with no pressure to get anywhere or accomplish anything. If it sucks, enjoy the sucking. If it is great, enjoy the greatness. Both states are known as they are. Don't try to fix anything on the cushion, there is plenty of time to try to figure things out later. Just sit and let things be exactly as they are.  Sit for your normal productive length of time. For some people it's 45 minutes, while for others it's closer to 60 minutes. (DhO)

Real & False Equanimity. Equanimity should have a flavor of kindness, ease, and space. False equanimity is often actually aversion and indifference. (DhO)  

Equanimity, aversion, greed and ignorance. Equanimity comes from being clear about what is being experienced and not becoming beguiled by aversion, greed, or ignorance. It's hard to describe what different Paths and awakening feels like, but "greater awareness and equanimity" is pretty close. 

… It is important that aversive types learn to dial back the effort and add a lot more self-respect, allowing, and trust into their practice. You need to see that there is an aware part of your mind that can realize how hard you are making it for yourself and realizing "I really exhausted my body, maybe there is an easier way?" 

Noticing how "awareness" or "mindfulness" really require no effort. Our mind creates awareness like our skin creates the moisture that is always leaking out of our pores. Experiment letting your mind naturally explore and loosen knots, rather that forcing it. I can GUARANTEE you that all the same releases and insights can happen with much less effort. But you have to trust the natural intelligence of your mind.

Once I really understood that mindfulness was, in a way, smarter that "me", I went on a 14 day retreat and had THE BEST time of my life. It was so wonderful. The insights happened. I enjoyed the retreat. I slept well. And I came back home knowing that I can't really lie to my mind. It knows when I'm using too little or too much effort. I just need to trust that intuition and keep becoming good at a more and more subtle balancing of mind. And for me, that meant dropping my habit of using too much aversion and effort.

In time, you realize that the purpose of mind is to detect greed, aversion, and ignorance... but we identify too much with the sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts so it's difficult to detect those things. When we develop the ability to be mindful of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts AS THE DISCRETE sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts THAT THEY ACTUALLY ARE --  then the knots loosen and we get insights into how all of these little harmless flashes of experience can create greed, aversion, and ignorance and huge amounts of suffering. (DhO)

Going towards pain. Actually, I think "going towards pain" is what needs to happen in meditation as well [ as in Psychoanalysis ]. I don't think the dissolving happens without going towards and inhabiting "pain" consciously.  

Basically, introspection is needed when normal habitual attraction, aversion, and indifference no longer works. The old habits (which may have helped us survive or thrive in the past) just aren't delivering happiness or success anymore. That's when we have to stop "taking up" attraction and develop a bit of disenchantment, we have to stop "pushing away" aversion and instead put ourselves in the middle of it, and we have to bring awareness to the things we are indifferent to (which often results in a new appreciation of how much "ease" surrounds us, because we're always focused on attraction and aversion and getting pushed and pulled everywhere). When we're able to stay conscious in attraction and aversion and indifference without falling into old trances... then the system seems to recalibrate and get the new data it needs for the next challenge or the next stage of life.

The trick really is to go towards pain but not losing "objective awareness" of the pain i.e., without going into the trance again. Then the truth of the complexes are understood, that they are reactive "shortcuts" which sometimes work but mostly just mess up life. And I DEFINITELY agree that the next step definitely has to be healthy actions... otherwise there is understanding without the actual ability to follow through and act. (Lots of people think the insight is enough, but in a certain sense, insight is the halfway point.) (DhO)

Balance as a metaphor for Equanimity. I like to use "balance" as a metaphor for EQ...  There really isn't such a thing as passive balance or static balance or "just completely letting go" , rather its a ongoing state of very gentle and subtle yet active adjustments. Balance looks easy, but it requires skill --  you can imagine someone learning to land a plane or ride a bike and the problems beginners have with  being stiff and ridgid and overcorrection, basically you wreck the plane/bike if your adjustments aren't developed enough.

Regarding posture, much of the quality of mind relates to how we hold the body. In EQ, it can really help to think of balancing the body on the spine: naturally stacking the vertebra so that the body rests on itself like a stack of poker chips --- this too is a skill that is developed over time, but eventually sitting can be a very low-effort thing. That said, perfect posture is not a requirement for SE. Again, the ego tends to think that everything needs to be perfect, but really everything needs to be balanced.  (DhO)

Low Equanimity. The classic mistake people make at this stage is they stop practicing because everything seems fine, no dukkha, nothing much to work on... The correct approach is to keep _gently_ practicing every day, and notice how things like space, ease, non-clinging, acceptance, openness, etc. are still experiences which can be noted. In other words, notice all the aspects of equanimity as a mind state too. There are still many aspects of mind to be curious about in these more simple states. It's easy to remember to investigate weird energies and jolts and pressures... but also make sure you continue to sit and use a very gentle effort to investigate normalness, ease, and even the minor sense of confusion. (DhO

The Housecleaning Phase. So, you've probably have experienced all the Progress of Insight nanas in some way. But merely experiencing them is different from the true "knowledge of" the nanas. You sorta know about the Dark Night nanas of Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance, and Reobservation... but you still kinda hate them. You know about Equanimity but you have trouble dwelling in EQ. And everytime you spend time in EQ for a while, you seem to get sent back into the dukka nanas again. What's the deal?

Maybe that big experience was actually Stream Entry and now you're cycling? Yeah!!!!! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Don't believe it. It's very easy to create fantasies of progress to cover-up our feelings of lack of progress. Don't do it. Just be honest and clear: you have made progress but now you're feeling stuck.

You've entered the Housecleaning phase of practice.

It's the refinement phase. You're not learning something new, you're learning things _well_. After a meditator has had an A&P big experience and has suffered through the dukka nanas and has touched on EQ and now has no doubt that there is something to the Progress of Insight map... there is still a lot of work to do. Sorry, but I'm being honest.

The housecleaning phase involves what seems like an eternity of going through dukka nanas, reaching Equanimity, experiencing a new clarity of mind, and then going back through the dukka nanas and seeing something new that was overlooked before. Each trip through the dukka nanas involves less suffering and more acceptance. Each trip through the DN makes us realized even more deeply how our reactive habits create our suffering. Each trip through brings an increased ability to be in the presence of discomfort without overreacting. It's not uncommon to eventually go up and down several times in a single sit.

This isn't post-Stream Entry cycling, this is pre-SE housecleaning.

Here's my best metaphor for this phase: It's like you have a dirty rag and you are going through your house and cleaning all the surfaces, then you get to the sink and trickle of water comes out of the faucet and you can rinse out your rag a little. Then you see how dirty the house still is and so you go through the house with your slightly clearer rag and you wipe down the surfaces again. Maybe you start seeing what is below the dirt a little more... You eventually get to the sink again, and there's a little trickle of water, and wash the rag a little again, and you can see that the house could be a little cleaner so you wipe down the surfaces again...

This is what happens every time we touch on Equanimity. Our mind gets a little cleaner, we are a little more sane, we see our reactive patterns a little more clearly. But our reactive patterns are still seductive and confusing, so we need to re-experience all our bullshit again to see it more clearly as the bullshit it is. And the insights don't happen all at once. It takes a lot of _refinement_ over time. And it can even feel like things are getting worse, because we're starting to see our reactive patterns more and more clearly.

Sort of like how the more you clean your house, the dirtier it seems. There's all this dirt you didn't notice before you started cleaning. (DhO)

In Equanimity, the minds wants to go back and re-experience the earlier nanas but with more awareness. Equanimity is a big taste of the sanity that comes with this practice -- it's like 85% of what awakening is like. As you can see, it doesn't mean "Meh", but actually an appreciation for the richness and freedom that are available pretty much all the time, but which we can overlook when we're so ensnared by our drama.

Equanimity has it's own challenges, though. Typically people slack off practice because their normal life gets better and more interesting. People can also develop a whole new set of angst, the whole "why is it taking so long for this sit to turn into Equanimity?" drama. :) Equanimity is like taming a wild deer, you need to spend a lot of time just sitting and being calm and nice... then the deer feels safe and comes up and boops your nose. If you get aggressive or rushed, the deer is like "I'm out of here, that guy is too wound up." :) 

What can often happen is that now that the mind feels a new kind of safety, it wants to go back and re-experience the earlier nanas but with more awareness --- so sometimes a taste of Equanimity is followed by a recurrence of the dark night nanas --- which is Great!!!! Now you get to look at those experiences in a whole new way. "Wow, look at my mind needlessly freaking out. Sure life can sometimes be sad, or angry, or injust, or frustrating, or confusing --- but that doesn't mean I need to tie my mind into a knot. I can just let my feelings and thoughts come and go, while recognizing them and appreciating them as temporary feelings and thoughts. And having the dark night nanas show up again gives me a safe place to practice being Mr. Chill !"

Some people even experiment with bringing up difficult mindstates while in Equanimity - "okay, let's look at the old fear, that old emotion that I'm always so worried about."  A lot of what freaks us out is just the human condition, something that we all have to live with. When we take a close look at old worries, we realize how much in common we share with everyone else in this world. (DhO)

When in Equanimity… Active investigation is what keeps us sitting and moving through the nanas... but there is a time when it needs to be mostly dropped, leaving the natural curiosity of the mind to take over. When solidly in EQ, it's time to rely on the natural awareness and curiosity of the mind. Notice how the mind is naturally aware and awareness itself doesn't require any effort. Notice how the mind has its own curious nature, and will move from object to object on its own. Participate in this process (go where the mind goes) and don't try to force the mind to go somewhere in particular. The gentle nudges at this stage are more along the lines of not allowing very subtle resistance to be >fully< experienced. Usually the resistance takes the form of thoughts about practice. Something says "this isn't it, this is wrong"  and we try just a little bit harder to figure it out.  It can be useful to occasionally note thoughts about practice itself. Instead of "trying to make sense of identification" and  "questioning my identification with certain sets of sensations", simply allow that tendency to want to investigate happen and note "practicing thought" or "trying to figure it out thought" or something like that.  (DhO)

... In EQ it can be very helpful to very gently inquire: "who/what is experiencing all of this?". Not looking for a verbal answer, but rather to see what blindspots/resistances are left when we're in a state with almost no blindspots/resistances. (DhO

... If dull, sit up a little straighter, breathe with more intention, brighten your outlook. If agitatated, frustrated, having difficulties... then relax by softening the posture, softening the breath (try sighing a little, ahh...), and remind yourself this is a long term practice so no need to force some accomplishment in a particular sit.

Be sure your "notes" include all the "lack of motivation" "spinning" "worries" "planning" "not really trying" "just sitting" etc.  All of those experience are states that you can recognize. They aren't "you", they appear in you.

Even boredom and lack of motivation can be turned into an investigation. What _is_ lack-of-motivation? What are the sensations that make it up? What are the feelings of the emotions that make it recognizable as lack-of-motivation? What are the typical patterns of thoughts that go with it? Get curious about boredom and lack of motivation.

If you want to try an "inquiry" type practice, when things are flat and nothing much is happening (usually 20-30 minutes into a sit), form the intention and ask the question "Resistance?" Ask it like you are asking the universe to show you where there might be any remaining resistance in your experience. Then just sit and let the answer come. It will come as a feeling or a flash of an image or a piece of a thought. Just experience that and feel it. Let it arise, linger, and pass. When things are flat again, you can ask "Resistance?" again. Only do this three to five times in a sit. Don't turn it into a meaningless mantra. (DhO

Equanimity is about mastering the middle path. The whole challenge of this Equanimity phase of practice is really mastering the middle path. If you have a consistent daily practice, then the answer usually isn't to practice noting like your hair is on fire, nor relentlessly concentrate and enter formless realms, nor drop all effort and bask in empty presence... it's really finding a home in the middle of all those extremes.

This will potentially feel uncertain and may lead to doubts like "Am I on the path? Am I doing it correctly?" but that's really just the "egotistical I" losing it's momentum. There isn't as much ego-propping-up in Equanimity, because everything just sort of "is" and the sense of "being an observer of what is" doesn't feel very solid. That's actually exactly on track, even though it sort of feels wrong to the "I am a meditator" identity.

Your mind is much smarter than "you". What shows up, needs to shows up. What shows up needs to be experienced. Experiencing what shows up is what leads to progress. Like everything with meditation, the instructions are so darn simple but so darn hard to remember! That's why meditation is so humbling for everyone. It keeps showing us that "I" isn't that clever. 

The main trick for this stage of the practice: is to change your attitude toward your so-called defilements and welcome them as objects worthy of mindfulness. Rather than trying to get rid of reactive patterns, internal voices, urges -- which will only result in frustration -- welcome them and make a study of them -- which will result in fascination! You don't even need to make them go away, just learn to see them as _objects_within_the_mind_. Defilements really are not "the mind" but they are "objects within the mind". Very simple change in view, but extremely extremely powerful and rewarding. "You" are not your defilements. Take a good look and see!

So try to make peace with what shows up. Forcing Metta towards what shows up might even be "too much" effort. Equanimity is what you need as both the path... and the goal. And the heart of equanimity is "letting". LET it show up, LET it display itself, LET it be, LET it stay, LET it go, no need to control it at all just LET it do what it wants -- just pay attention.

How much effort should you put into your attention? The mindfulness "touch" you need is very very light. Almost maddenly light because the "doer" wants to hold, crush, penetrate, etc. etc. because that feeds the sense of "I am a mighty meditator". This works for A&P but for EQ you go in almost the opposite direction. you try getting used to using as little effort as possible. A very very light touch and very very sensitive awareness, that's what needed. (DhO)

EQ, the floating peanut & mindstream of thoughts. The mindfulness "touch" you need is very very light. My favorite metaphor (from Kenneth Folk) is that you are standing in the ocean in waist deep water. A peanut is floating in front of you, going up and down in gentle waves. You job is to put a finger on the peanut as it floats up and down, but not lose contact and without pushing it deeper into the water. So enjoy and be curious about eq, stay present/participating with what arises with a light touch. For me, I also found that going into the "mindstream of thoughts" was useful. And a lot of people notice mental "vibrations" (almost like feeling the thump of thoughts) and it can be helpful to wonder what is the gaps between vibrations. (DhO)

The real trick in Equanimity. The real trick in EQ is first getting good at noticing sensations as sensations, urges as urges (pre-emotions), emotions as emotions, and thoughts -- especially thoughts about practice -- as thoughts. And then radically let them be exactly as they are without avoidance or manipulation. Neither clinging to, nor avoiding. But the tendency is to always have thoughts "about it". Once you can watch your self have thoughts... then you are very close. When you can notice thoughts about the self or thoughts about thinking... then you are right on the doorstep. When you can listen to thoughts and they become sounds that seem to hit the mind like little pulses... then you are stepping through the door. And when you are sitting in meditation, meditating on the mindstream, and you step through the door, you will fall into a hole, and then you land in the place you are already sitting.  (DhO

One way to go wide in Equanimity. One way to go wide is to notice the sensations of breath. After several minutes, include the sensations of the body around the breath (include them like two hands on the piano playing the same song -- not two hands fighting to be heard. Making music.). After several minutes, include the sounds of hearing (again sensations and sounds now make a rich, single field of experience, they are not in conflict, they are making wholeness). After several minutes, add sights (either closed eyes or open eyes).  

Marvel at how everything is happening, creating a rich alive experience. Dwell in that rich experience of being alive. If thoughts, doubts, resistances, unconfortableness arises -- include that too in the rich alive experience. Feel free to smile and feel simple joy. Include that in the rich alive experience. And feel free to be amazed by what is happening and curious about how all of this comes to be. (DhO)

You can't really "maintain" mindfulness, instead encourage interest in direct experience. You can't really "maintain" mindfulness. That's an error.  If you are "maintaining" it, then there is some part of your mind that is willfully trying to crush some other part of the mind --- it's possible to have short term results that way, but it always fails in the end. It always leads to burnout. 

What you can do is encourage interest in direct experience. You can get excited about really having complete experiences of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and pass. You can develop a sense of joy with devoting time to practicing that. It's endlessly interesting once you get into it. 

Gravitating towards the sensations of breathing is a great way to say it. By using less and less effort, yet also being willing to start again once we get lost in trance, we learn to prefer mindfulness naturally. If we force the mind to be mindful, it's a matter of will. If we learn to prefer mindfulness, then it becomes natural and easy. (DhO)

Equanimity isn't just the clear, calm, open 'state'. Another bit of advice for equanimity... States and stages are fine to notice, but recognize that retreats create the "container" of equanimity. You become better able to be with all of THIS because it is all within mind, all within awareness, not in a particularily special way, but in a very very natural way... 

If things are going fine as they are, you are allowed to enjoy the lived experience of being present. Enjoy being "here". If there are thoughts that "I need to practice harder" that's a mind movement. If there are thoughts that "I'm almost there" that's a mind movement. If there is a thought "I'm dropping out of equanimity, I'm getting farther away" that's a mind movement, too. Connect with your lived experience whatever it is. Try to live in this present and immediate way all retreat.

As a little trick: physical sensations are always immediate. You can rely on feeling physical sensations as a refuge, a way to reconnect with  immediate experience.

When you are "here", it is a very simple state. Nothing really breaks it. Nothing really can be added to it. It IS.

Sometimes this is-ness is kind of concentration state inducing and you'll want to close your eyes. That's fine, you can go deep into inner awareness. That is still "here". 

Sometimes this is-ness is so immediate that thoughts become nearly silent or like a trickle, and you wonder "am I even practicing?". That's still being here.

Sometimes this is-ness evokes a splash of creative thinking and you wonder "should I try to capture all these ideas or should I try to stop all this thinking?". Basically, don't worry about it. Let the mind do what it does. Limit note taking to a few words or a few sentences, but let thoughts happen. Trust that if it is a good thought, it will come back after retreat.

(I've been seduced many times into creative writing for 30 minutes on retreat when 3 minutes was more than enough. Basically, my mind was bored/creative and was kind of trying to avoid being present.)

Sometimes there will be a storm of worries and concerns and feeling like everything is a catastrophe. Don't worry. That's your friend reobservation. Now is a perfect time to say "oh, look at this mind worry and freak out. I'm going to study how a mind freaks out."

Sometimes you need to move the body, walking meditation, stretching, etc.  -- do so, do it mindfully and experience what it is like to be right "here" in a body. 

Finally make sure you sit each evening until you are really ready to go to sleep (like head-nodding, etc.) Sit until you head-nod three times, then mindfully get into bed. Be "here" in bed until the body disappears as you go to sleep. Be "here" in mind as your mind goes to sleep and intend to notice your frist experience when waking finally happens. Let yourself sleep how ever you sleep, dream however you dream, don't worry about that, sleep will do it's own thing on a retreat, listen to your body needs for sleep, maybe it needs more, maybe it needs less.

Equanimity isn't just the clear, calm, open "state". Mature EQ seems to seep into any mind state. It is an objective and intimate knowing of what is "here".

Once you are here, you don't need to "do" anything besides dwell in this simple pleasure that arises from seclusion. So simple, so complete. Nothing to be added. Nothing to take away. Any resistance or ill will is so obvious and so irrelevant, the mind just trying to find a problem, but you know that it's just a habitual movement of mind, so including that mindstream of worries in this experience of being here.

Poor mind, so troubled for all these years. It wants to worry because it just wants to protect us. That's fine mind, do your thing. I won't repress you, but I won't indulge you either... 

So thoughts come and go, emotions come and go, urges come and go, body sensations come and go... all within this space of knowing. Sometimes this knowing is on the exterior world, sometimes on the physical body, sometimes on the inner space of mind... all of this is known. And this knowing is the essence of mind nature. No extra effort or attention is needed. You can relax and let the mind know. Let the mind know. (DhO)  

Balancing Vipassana and Samatha: give yourself permission to feel pleasure, and get used to being a passenger instead of the driver.  One of the biggest challenges for a dark night yogi is that it can be hard to balance vipassana (investigation) with samatha (ease, release, absorption). I would advise that you do two experiments when appropriate: 

(1) during moments of pleasurable sensations (or, when it seems somewhat easy to do: induce pleasurable sensations by giving yourself the heart-felt permission to feel pleasure, and then roll the eyes or do whatever helps induce blissy feelings), spend some time hanging out in the blissy space of meditation. Let yourself experience that without guilt. These experiences can help balance the mind and, frankly, tend to be more like the mind condition that leads to Stream Entry after one has already gone through the A&P. So it's very much win-win. Enjoy the pleasure while conditioning the mind for SE.

(2) during the yuckiest most difficult sits, experiment with giving up on effort. You might be amazed that you vipassana habit continues to investigate and do all of the deconstructing on its own. Watch how merely observing sensations leads to vipassana. Get used to being a passenger instead of the driver. This kind of experience helps balance efforting and once again tends to be more like the mind condition that leads to Stream Entry.  This will help you get past Reobservation, where it feels like all your buttons are being pushed, everything you try fails, and you can't meditate well anymore. During that time, you need to just watch how all of that is arising on it's own and passing on its own. You don't need to do anything. Eventually meditation will lead you to the space where the "meditating self" becomes an object of investigation, but to get there you need to learn how to allow things to happen.

So to summarize: try going into and dwelling in pleasurable sensations, try letting go and noticing how sensations arise and pass on their own without needing a lot of vipassana effort. (DhO

Let yourself 'die' in Equanimity. To put it kind of poetically, now you need to let yourself die in Equanimity. I don't mean anything dramatic, actually more like a slow easy death. When you have a lot of intellectual power and a lot of self-actualization, the hardest thing is to _just_be_in_equanimity. Ironically, it can feel awful to someone who is used to accomplishing things, but you really have to get past that shit. Give up the attitude, give up the control, give up the scheming, give up the triangulating and strategy, and just sit in equanimity.

What tends to happen is jhanas arise as a sort of protective/comforting mechanism. Great, no problem! Sit in the comfort of jhana and _just_be_in_jhana. 

Many people have a kind of puritanical aversion to just sitting in equanimity or jhana. Watch your mind and see all the ways it tries to trick you out of just sitting there. There is nothing wrong with taking time and just sitting, so why all the aversion? This is also the domain of some deep and primal psychological insights, which is part of why meditation is so transformative. But don't get tricked into making the investigation a new form of avoidance or aversion! (You will get tricked, but eventually you'll get better at noticing when it happens. ☺) Let your mind be naturally curious about your aversion or ill will toward experience, but don't turn it into an intellectual exercise.

... If you want the next stages you have to really make friends with the do-nothing accomplishments of dwelling in equanimity and jhana. Ironically, when all your "doing/judging/strategizing" weakens and you start really enjoying accomplishing nothing during your sits, then all the next stages happen. (DhO)

The transition from Low-EQ to High-EQ. The transition from low-EQ to high-EQ is all about going the step beyond "just this" and getting gently curious -- very very very gently curious -- about "what notices just this?" In other words, after clinging and aversion have slacked and EQ dominates, it's time to get curious about the knowing mind itself. What knows "just this?" What is mind? This is something that is before language so the question isn't answered with words, but rather discovered by connecting directly with the mind that knows.

Often there will be states that solidify (clarity, calmness, jhanas, etc.) which are great to dwell in for a while, it's totally good practice to really savor them. These states help condition the mind. But as they fade you can ask, what knew that? And what knows that it is now fading? Hope you keep consistent daily practice going. It's very easy to experience a kind of ‘divine apathy’ during EQ and slack off on practice! (DhO)

Higher levels (nanas) are not really more difficult, but they are more easily thwarted by greed, aversion, and fantasy. If you are greedy for spiritual experiences, adverse to what is happening, and fantasizing about something different --- then progress rarely happens. Seems like at this point you need to get used to being in deeper, more subtle equanimity. Or you could say, you need to use this equanimity to notice subtle habits of greed, aversion, and fantasy. (DhO

Pre-SE depression. I am definitely not saying "oh, just ignore your depression and keep practicing". Actually, more of the reverse. A lot of time depression/dukkha nanas is tangled up with unconscious identification/pride... 

Being far away from SE oriented practice is probably the best place to be. The fantasy gone and left with where you really are and what your life is really like. The most important thing to ask your self is what do you really want from practice? Not quoting anybody about what practice will do, but what truly is your own motivation for practice?

Sometimes the best thing about practice is just that moment in time where you can sit with yourself, just as you are, and BE. No method, no progress, no change. Just a moment of rest from being somebody to just being...

Sometimes the best thing about practice is the intellectual curiousity that comes from being able to investigate our minds, so even the "malfunctioning" is actually interesting and still is an amazing functionality... what actually is this depression, how is it actually made, why do humans fall for it...

Sometimes it's the mini releases that come from putting attention on resistance, how things start creaking and popping and releasing when you bathe it with awareness...

Sometimes it's the psychological insights into clinging that are so engaging. Ah, this is how I take an idea and a sensation and create a emotional mood, which creates a psychological context that reinforces the mood, a self-referential trap... and here's another way, and another way...

Sometimes it's returing to reading about meditation and getting intellectually interested again... or getting interested in the actual persons who wrote the book, what their lifes were actually like as human beings living in a changing world...

Sometimes it can just be making the connection with that inner wise guide that seems to be behind all of practice... we know there is something in us that is working, even if we have no idea where things are leading or what we need to do next. Sometimes just connecting with that essence/spirit/soul/Self is the heart of why we practice.

And sometimes it can be >completely unrelated to practice<. There can be aspects of our life that we have been neglecting. Exercise, diet, friendship, entertainment, travel, music, art.

So just a quick word of advice from someone that has gone through pre-SE depression and dukkha nanas and disenchantment with practice many times over a couple decades (!) before my practice really got traction --- sometimes it passes in a day or two, but when it feels like something deep is involved, it's usually trying to tell you something. 

The best practice seems to come from working on whatever "weak link" that presents itself and then follow wherever it leads and then address the next weak link... rather than following methods that assume that progress is going to go in a particular way.  (DhO

The paradox of meditation. A lot of times life challenges will re-trigger our reactive patterns associated with the lower nanas... but definitely don't assume that's wrong or needs to be quickly noted away. This is part of the way the mind "figures out" external life. It will try reacting to the situation in a bunch of simplistic ways to see if it works, but eventually we figure out the core lesson of what external life is trying to teach us --- and then the simple reactions tend to go away. (And sometimes anger or getting away, etc is the right answer for specific situations -- so these nanas can be appropriate, which is another reason why we shouldn't be complete averse to having these experiences!) 

The interesting thing is by seeing how external life triggers these things we become more and more used to seeing them as simplistic patterns, possible hypotheses, rather than always believing them as real. And we'll move them very quickly in external life if they aren't appropriate, sometimes in 10 minutes, sometimes in a minute, sometimes in a second. So I doubt they ever complete go away, but they become quicker and looser. 

Some people want to skip to things becoming quicker and looser without fully allowing and experiencing the reactive patterns --- this never works. Ironically, when we really allow and accept the reactive patterns to hit us intimately and directly, then we start seeing their illusion even more clearly. Such is the paradox of meditation! (DhO)

The challenge of EQ/SE is not getting "tempted" by A&P. One way to think of the challenge of EQ/Stream Entry is that it is learning to sit without getting "tempted" by A&P. The conceptual mind gets a little bored in EQ, the sense of self gets a little vague in EQ, and A&P comes along and says "Hey dude, want to score some orgasmic mindblowing explosion?" Just say, "nah, I'll just sit here." Just say no.   

Now that said, A&P has a way of happening again and again as we approach SE, because our practice can climb up and go back down the nanas several times in a sit --- it's not like you're doing it wrong if it happens naturally. (Ironically, the less you seek A&P, the more profound the A&P is when it happens naturally.)

But try to figure out to sit with low effort, full presence. Learn to aquire a taste for this simple and calm and intimate pleasure. We should start to lose our attraction to A&P. "Oh yeah, another orgasmic mind explosion... cool, but so what, it isn't nibbana." A&P is sex, but EQ is love. ☺

So, in your case, it's basically learning not getting seduced by A&P nor being triggered by Reobservation. (DhO

Enjoy the simplicity of EQ. Don't assume SE too soon. Keep practicing, don't second-guess. Straight ahead! The trick to EQ is that there is no particular trick. It's all about maintaining consistent, non-heroic, daily practice and letting the intensity of "trying to get somewhere else" to naturally relax.

Practice every day, stay interested in the present moment while practicing, and when you are done practicing don't obsess too much about meditation maps and don't create lots of doubts. A gentle retreat can be helpful, too, because the more you can sit and walk and not obsess, the closer you get to Conformity Nana and Stream Entry. EQ is practicing for life off-cushion, too. Notice how life is so much better when we're interested in the present moment and not full of plans and obsessions and doubts. Get used to enjoying the simplicity of EQ.

In EQ we can try to develop all sorts of strategies, thoughts, plans and then they don't work as we expected and we have all sorts of frustrations --- and now we're back to something closer to desire for deliverance and reobservation again. This typically happens many many many times until we start to learn the lesson!

A&Ps can happen again, too. Basically the mind wants to jump to "emptiness" but doesn't know how, so it goes back to a subtle or big A&P which can seem like Stream Entry but it isn't. 

There can be lots of "unknowning events" where the mind becomes very quiet or starts to fade away (like sleeping while awake) and there can be other near misses (often very brief experiences of formless jhanas) that seem like SE but they are not. So even if something happens, still keep consistent, non-heroic, daily practice. Don't assume SE too soon!

The most common teaching for EQ is "straight ahead!". Keep practicing, don't second-guess. Just sit according to your normal schedule and don't worry. Straight ahead!

So the trick is to notice (and noting with a word label can really help) how we try to manipulate and game the experience of being in EQ. Notice mapping thoughts, planning thoughts, doubt, frustration, confusion, curiousity, happiness, wanting more, wanting less, wanting things to stay the same --- none of these are problems, they are just thoughts and emotions that are occuring in the present moment while in EQ. Notice subtle greed for more, aversion to what is, and especially indifference to the present moment while in EQ. Often we make problems when there isn't a problem because we feel we need to "do something" or "get something" or "fix something". You don't need to do anything except experience what is already happening in this present moment. If you get lost, notice sensations as sensations, urges as urges, emotions as emotions, and thoughts as thoughts. It can be helpful to "note" one aspect of present experience every breath or so. Gentle, easy, and consistent noting can help.

Anything that seems like a problem can be noted and then it is not a problem because you are experiencing the problem that is already happening in the present moment! If you "believe" there is a problem and start thinking about something to do or get or fix, then you are momentarily trapped --- no big deal, you will fall out the trance of being trapped soon. And when you do, just note how you got trapped and note something in the present moment. "Oh, I was thinking about going on a long retreat for the last minute! But now I can feel the weight of my body on the cushion. I'm back in the present!" So simple! "Oh, I was trying to map where I am on the progress of insight map for the last two minutes. But now I can feel the smile on my face. I'm back in the present!" This might happen a thousand times in a sit, great! That's a thousand times the mind has learned to get out of a trance!

Sometimes gentle inquiry keeps it interesting: what is this? what is experience? what is the mind? what is knowing? The goal of these questions is not a verbal sentence that answers the question --- the goal is a much greater appreciation and intimacy with the experience of this present moment, the feeling of having a mind, the way the mind "knows" what it knows. 

Most of all, enjoy the EQ nana! No one said practice has to be hard to make progress! If you are aware of the present moment you are practicing well. If you aren't aware of the present moment, then the moment you notice it your are aware of the present moment again! Perfect!! Don't make it into a bigger problem. EQ is about falling out of the present moment and realizing it and being back in the present moment. This will probably happen a million times, no big deal. 

My favorite metaphors for EQ to SE is a sun burning out of fuel and becoming a black hole, or a satellite losing momentum and slowly spiraling back to the earth. In these cases, it seems like the sun is going to burn forever and the satellite is going to orbit forever... but when the fire becomes small enough or the satellite loses enough speed, the end happens quickly ---- just like EQ to SE.

So don't despair and don't second guess yourself. Just commit to consistent, non-heroic, daily practice. Straight ahead! (DhO)

Finding a supporting practice framework for EQ. The further you go in practice, the more it is about the basics and finding a supporting practice framework that helps keep that focus. 

(1) It could be continuing to note: sensations as sensations, urges as urges, emotions as emotions, and thoughts as thoughts. 

(2) It could be cultivating depth in jhana and making the mind pilable and sensitive for insight.

(3) It could be dependent origination: how do positive, negative, and neutral sensations become greed, aversion, and indifference?

(4) It could be 6 realms: is there prejudice/worldview that says oppose, take, just survive, desire/frustrated enjoyment, achieve, or maintain?

(5) It could be 5 elements: what is the reactivity that happens when confronted by emptiness: grab for security, push away and avoid, intensify emotions, become frantic, or shut down/become depressed? 

(6) It could be a dzogchen like binary analysis: are you initimately present with what is occuring or is there resistance/ill will? (DhO)

Letting go is really just letting be. Do you realize you perfectly allowed Reobservation to burn itself out and then you popped into Equanimity? That's what it takes. Simply stay on the cushion and let all the frustration, fear, desire for extinction, wanting everything to just go away, desire to exist, yet not exist, confusion all bubble up and acknowledge it as it is, without reacting and without suppressing.

Letting go is really just letting be. No repression, no freaking out, just letting the mind do it's thing. In time, the mind figures out that none of the frustration, fear, desire for extinction, wanting everything to just go away, desire to exist, yet not exist, confusion --- none of that helps. And soon enough, it gives it up. It drops all of this nonsense.

So now it's just a matter of time. Keep the daily practice going, don't push hard and don't slack off. Just sit and acknowledge what shows up. 

Your mind is still going to do it's freak out thing, it's desire for deliverance thing, it's having your buttons pushed thing... no big deal. Just sit through it all. And soon your scared little lizard mind will realize, I really can just sit through this stuff. And if I can do it on the cushion, I can do it in "real life", too.

But don't rush it, don't expect overnight success. Just keep sitting. It's just a matter of time now. (DhO

Letting go: letting be within awareness. Letting go is essential, but it is a particular kind of letting go which is combined with awareness. Letting go means being aware of urges of greed, aversion, and indifference -- and allowing them to play out within awareness. It's a bit of a paradox, but if we try to fight/resist/get rid of greed, aversion, or indifference, it just creates more of it. Samsara just goes round and round, one desire fueling another desire, a craving feeding a craving, on and on. If we try to just simplistically let go of samsara without awareness, it's really nothing more than ignorance.

But if we allow it to play out within awareness, then we get a tiny sense of how stupid it is to want more of what we already have, resist what is already happening, and try to ignore something that is already present. The three poisons have to be exhausted and the only way to do it is by letting go... and letting go means "letting be within awareness".

So "letting go" needs to have a sensitive mind that can see greed, aversion, and indifference in real time. And letting go needs to have a stability that doesn't get triggered into yet another reaction. (DhO

Include and Relax. I had one teacher who taught "include" as his main advice, very similar to your "let it in". "Include and relax" might be a good practice pointer for you. Your present mind determines your future path, so give up hope for manipulating the future. Include and relax. Let it in and relax into it. 

Also be aware of the subtle paradox: All experience is already included (it's just that the small-self-that-tries-to-survive divides up experience into important/not-important, focus and background). And the mind is already relaxed (awareness itself is effortless -- try using a lot of effort and no effort, are you still aware?).

This kind of paradox is the heart of High EQ "practice". How to I practice better or worse if I can only be present? Am I really practicing or not? Is it really as simple as this? etc.

That's why the other classic EQ advice is "straight ahead". What more can you say? All we can do is intend to participate fully in the present moment, intend to soften resistances and to be in conformity, but we really don't know how to do it --- it is beyond our control --- yet it happens! The natural wisdom of the mind is at work here, not our little intellectual and language-based mind.

If people aren't averse to the word "faith" then "have faith, straight ahead!" also works. 

Consistent, daily, non-heroic practice. Include and relax. Straight ahead. Have faith, straight ahead. (DhO

Sensations are a gateway of sorts to not-self. (Further down along the path,) body sensitivity gets more and more refined and more sensitive. It becomes clearer that the mind "thinks" with the body, that the mind isn't just in the head somewhere.

There is also a sense of an extra gaps between visceralness, reaction, and identity. By that I mean, things feel raw and there doesn't need to be a reaction. But there can be a reaction, that's not inherently problematic (the meat machine needs to be programmed some way, although old clumbsy maladaptive reactions do go away).  But there is much less of a sense that "I" am feeling and "I" am reacting. The I seems to see it from a bit of distance, even while in the midst of it. 

... Sensations really are a gateway of sorts to not-self. Sensations are closer than close and not quite self and not quite other. Really studying sensations exposes our uncomfortable dualistic framing of sensations. If you "watch" how sensations are experience, you see that our framing is illogical: some senations are me and good, some are other and bad, some are bad and me, some are other and good... this is normal and what happens when we look closer. And yet we kinda know, but aren't all sensations basically just experiences in the mind? So how and why does all of this sorting and judging occur...?

The trick noticing how in some way this watching of sensations feels like the search for a self. "If I can really see the difference between self sensations and other sensations, I'll realize the self and know what I need to love and protect..." (At least that's how I would attempt to put words on this core feeling of searching.) Not to give it away, but ... maybe sensations are just sensations and not really a problem to solve. It's true, when we realize that it is effortless to experience sensations (they arise on their own) and that there is no need for mapping them (they are where they are), then practice enters a whole new dimension of equanimity and insight.  (DhO)

Some 5 element work transform EQ into High-EQ. There's absolutely nothing wrong with emotions -- they are fast packets of information that are extremely useful and faster than narrative thought. The problem is the embroiling of thought and emotions that gets triggered afterwards due to psychological baggage and immaturity. But without the extra triggered stuff, emotions and urges are very very useful and practical.

A lot of cleaning up and transformation is needed sometimes, but the emotions shouldn't be repressed until they have been fully experienced. (A good video here  how to think about doing Embodying The Four Immeasurables practice without repression.) 

For what it is worth, you might find the ideas behind 5 elements practice useful. Here's one write up that's online: Embracing Emtions as the Path.  The best write-up, in my opinion, is in the book Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McLeod.

This practice can be thought of as a kind of combination of gestalt and jungian liminal type work. There needs to be a basic sensitivity to seed emotions and how they can be informational or oppressive depending on how they are "held" by awareness. For example, anger and aggression would be considered the water element, because of the way it pushes against and flows away from how things are (and how we get swept away by the flood of it). At the root is a core fear and helplessness that isn't fully able to be experienced. But when mindfulness and maturity is strong enough to experience the fear and helplessness and experience the anger and aggression --- and to see it as true and vivid displays within the space of mind --- then it transforms into _clarity_. Fear and anger creates vivid and useful clarity about the situation. But if mindfulness and maturity is not strong enough, then this collapses into an unconscious/habitual lashing out (or some other form of aggressive defense mechanism). 

These reactive patterns takes place in about 1/4 of a second. After that, the mind is doing it's embroiling thing. But it is definitely able to catch things earlier and earlier and to emphasize the full experiencing of the seed emotions. This can be learned to be done in real time with practice.

The way 5 elements is practiced is by using creative imagination to evoke the seed emotion _in_the_body_ . This work is about the kind of sensory clarity and "power" of attention which allows the full experience of an emotion in the body. (Wake Up to Your Life has scripted meditations and there are some bad recordings of 5 Element retreats on I personally think that these can be modified to use our own emotionally-resonate material, and I've done that in my own practice. It has a feeling of a kind of Jungian exploration of imagination and subconscious.

Lastly, it sounds like you are finding a home in EQ. One thing that is interesting is that the realm of High Equanimity is very similar to the imagination space of semi-subscious, so pursuing some 5 element work isn't contrary to "meditation to attain Stream Entry". In fact, with this kind of practice EQ transforms into High EQ. The meditator, through all of their previous work, can enter into daydreamy states without losing the "knowing" of it. It sort of feels like regression, but this kind of loose but consistent monitoring of the mind is what high equanimity is about. The clarity aspect isn't as predominant.

(In other words, Stream Entry doesn't happen by more and more clarity. What happens is beyond a certain point, the mind becomes able to "know" clairity and non-clarity with the same knowing mind. It becomes clear that knowing is beyond conditions and it's somewhat beyond our controlling. Even the internal voice of thought is seen to be it's own input stream, kind of like the body, which has its own bandwidth and content stream. So the preference for somatic precision and absense of thought also slowly drops away. Thought is just word sounds. Emotions are sensations-urge packets. EQ extends to more and more mental states beyond clarity. It's seen that none of this is wrong experience, only the greed, aversion, and indifference around sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts create subsequent embroiling and struggle. And so the mind starts becoming very sensitive to very subtle greed, aversion, and indifference and learns to release those corruptions. All it takes is a moment without greed, aversion, or indifference -- that's the momentary clarity of the conformity nana. And then the rest of path fruition occurs...)

Anyway, High EQ sits can be very flowing and organic and non-manipulative, which would seem like monkey mind in a less-experienced meditator, but here the meditator knows what is occuring so it is actually a different thing entirely. (DhO)

Just fully experience greed, aversion, indifference and let them speak to you, feel them, don't try to fix them. Where you want to go (towards is) no preference to what is experienced, no manipulation of experience, but a kind of intimacy with experience and a very gentle attention to when there is "expectation" and "interpretation" --- expectation is a form of ill will ("what is occuring isn't important, what matters is what comes next)", interpretation is a form of ill will ("this experience needs to be interpreted to be significant, it is meaningless as it is").

When you let experiences be exactly as they are, that's when the insights happen. Ironically, insights don't need interpretation. They come to us -- almost from "outside" ourselves -- without us making it happen. So don't even change greed, aversion, or indifference into something else. Just fully experience it and let it speak to you, feel it, don't try to fix it. 

Obviously this is advice for someone who already has a strong practice, already is psychologically stable, already gone through the nanas, who already has developed a basic level of absorption, who can also rest in the experience of momentary concentration/mindfulness, and who is trying to discover where the "knot" of wilfulness is that makes us unintentionally keep avoiding the experience of nibbana. When we stop "going somewhere" and stop "penetrating right here" we resonate with the experience-as-it-is and into nibbana.

It's like we have been swinging our mallet all over the place but finally we actually "hit the bell" and the sound is is nibbana. Ironically, the bell is always right here, as it is.

Maybe noticing "wilfullness" might help? When things get active, notice the experience of wilfullness itself. 

In any case, trust that if you give up directing your sits, your sits will go where they need to go. You have the necessary skills/foundation for this kind of practice. The mind is much much smarter than our thoughts. It knows where to take us. No one has ever "figured out" how to experience nibbana. Thoughts are just mind objects, like sensations, urges, and emotions. Neither the answer nor a problem. (DhO)

Intimacy really is the name of the game in EQ. (Being aware of the) Cutting edge (in your practice) is a less relevant consideration when the yogi is mostly in EQ. In a way, EQ is more about becoming intimate with whatever experience the mind shows. So maybe "degree of intimacy" is a better measure. 

It can be tricky, though. Another thing that EQ provokes is a sense of trying to get past the last blockage, the last barrier, to finally get stream entry. All of this thinking and worry needs to be seen as more mental drama. The truth is no one knows when cessation will occur, no one knows how to make cessation happen, and you will only ever be aware of cessation after it happens ---- so the futility of trying to game the practice, manipulate the experience, make something happen should be remembered whenever meditation ambition strikes.
Intimacy really is the name of the game in EQ. What is my experience? Can I allow this experience to express itself? Can I rest my mind within this experience? Can I let myself be infused by this experience? Can my awareness infuse this experience?

When you try to be intimate too fast, that's clearly no good either. So another part of intimacy is allowing and giving the proper time to courting too :) 

The mind will dip into other nanas, sort of like cleaning the house. That's fine and good, no big deal. As always, nothing can really break EQ because EQ allows all experiences. EQ is kinda paradoxical. (DhO)

Cultivating acceptance towards absolutely everything is the gateway to High-EQ. Cultivating acceptance towards absolutely everything lets your practice float in ease and comfort. That's the gateway to High EQ and eventually Stream Entry. Part of you thinks that the effort of investigation will get you to Stream Entry, but part of you recognizes that this kind of effort seems to maybe slow things down by just adding things into practice. This is kind of an obvious statement, but I hope it makes you feel better --- I really don't know any other way to be able to radically accept everything, except by first trying all sorts of different ways to game the meditation and failing at it. No one is just going to radically give up on their first sit and BAM -- stream entry!

Rather, all of our sits are ways that we slowly learn to ease up and let reality happen without manipulation and without instinctively creating an observer-observed duality ("I'm over here, looking at reality over there"). Slowly, over time, we can eventually move into radical acceptance and then we notice -- oh, seeing sees! hearing hears! feeling feels!  And in High EQ we start noticing how -- oh, thinking thinks! 

Again, no one just starts sitting and says, okay I'll treat thinking as a mind object and see it as not-self and BAM -- stream entry! It takes time. 

At this point in your practice, keep doing what you are doing, exploring the things you're exploring, but also build in about 10 minutes or so when you are your most established in presence (usually about 30 minutes in) and just notice how seeing sees, hearing hears, feeling feels, and thinking thinks. It will be awkward at first, but if you can just let awkward be awkward, you might find yourself moving into the somewhat fuzzy, floating, dreamy-but-still-present High EQ. 

No one spends lots of time in High EQ, but multiple visits over multiple sits seems to make falling into Stream Entry more likely. And it's a fun nana, no pressure, lots of ease, kinda blissy.

Keep doing what your doing, but keep exploring radical acceptance of everything -- especially when all the gross problems seem to fade away and you find yourself basically "okay" but with maybe a slight feeling of subtle resistance. (DhO)

Relax and stay gently curious in High EQ. Relax and stay gently curious in High EQ and soak in it. When you are saturated with High EQ you'll probably drop into a weak EQ-like state which seems kind of normal. Relax and be gently curious there too. The popping could occur within High EQ, but it's more likely to occur during just a normal EQ-ish like state when nothing much is happening.

Yes, at various times you will be ported into formless jhanas. No big deal. If you use a lot of effort, looking to get a big POP, you might get ported into A&P again and have some fireworks. You might experience weak fruitions from the previous path. All no big deal. But what you are looking for is to lose your striving so that you collapse into a path fruition like falling into a black hole --- not shooting out into space like a rocket. Use less energy and effort. Cut that in half. Cut that in half. Really drop striving and just be there.

Focusing on the feeling of "ending" associated with the out breath can also help. Stay gently curious about the beginning of the next breath. End of breath. Rest. Curious. Ah next breath. End of breath. Rest. Curious, etc.  It can help to remember that NO ONE can predict when a path fruition will occur. It is always a surprise. (DhO)

Solidifying EQ. Solidifying EQ into a 4th jhana would be much more like zoning out and only noticing a vague "suchness" of things -- but without even noticing that they were doing that. You can see people become overly attached to "Presence" without even realizing that presence is still a known state --- therefore there must be aspects of presence which allow it to be recognized as presence ---- you see what I mean? Some people just loose all traction with experience when they get into EQ. 

Remember how there is the fractal aspect of EQ? Imagine if you were in the dissolution fractal of EQ --- it would seem solid but vague and mushy and comforting --- that's another way to talk about the problem of EQ solidifying into 4th jhana. Now that said, if you simply noticed the mushiness and comfort you would instantly be vipassana-ing again. You see how easy it is to not be trapped? So yes, there might be people who get trapped in mushy an comfort and think that's enlightenment and do that for 20 years... but hopefully you can tell that it is very unlikely you will have that problem.

In fact, it's important to understand that the fact that you made a list shows how you are in no danger of being absorbed in a problematic way!!

Kenneth Folk says that the supposed danger of solidifying EQ is unlikely for most western students. And it's more likely that they will neurotically work against themselves by specifically not relaxing and over analyzing instead. Like Kenneth says, most western students can't completely turn off the investigation/analyze aspect of their meditation. They have to be told, reassured, and reassured again: it's okay to groove out and soak in the calming, relaxing, juicy aspects of meditation. It isn't all work, work, work. You are allowed and encouraged to dwell in it. Or as one teacher said, "revel in it". 

Sometimes a little metta practice as part of sitting can help. Simply saying these words (or make up your own) and connect with the meaning of calm, ease, safe, etc. In other words, when you say calm, let your body connect with the feeling of calm. When you say ease, let your body connect with the feeling of ease. I found that saying these words to myself, or out loud, without feeling like I was being dishonest or lying, really helped my intention to be friendly with myself and go deeeeeep into EQ. 

Really connect with calm, ease, health, rest, wholeness, safety, bravery, wisdom, awakeness, sanity, freedom from suffering, happiness. And then let EQ develop on its own and yes you will learn a thousand different instinctual ways to induce EQ, increase EQ, enjoy EQ. You are 100% allowed to enjoy the fruits of your meditation, enjoy jhana, enjoy just sitting, enjoy watching the mind move. When I reached SE (at home, not on retreat, just doing normal evening sits before bed) I was in a nice delicious state and just watching my thoughts go by. Wow, look at those thoughts... (DhO)

Dreamlike state in EQ. The trick is to let yourself go into the dreamlike state WITH awareness. Be aware of what it is like to drift off. It really is that simple. 

A big problem in most teaching is that the beginning practice to develop mindfulness (paying close attention, feeling in control of mindfulness, etc) is applied in mature stages too dogmatically. As a result, way too much manipulation and control can occur. And when we are using too much effort, the mind doesn't dwell in equanimity and fall into nibbana. When we use too much effort, the mind goes back to earlier stages. It can feel like progress, but it's really just a loop.

One way to think about it is like you are an over-active sun that is burning up it's fuel and as less and less effort is used, while staying aware, you suddenly collapse into a black hole. Or another way to think of it is like you need to "drop into" nibbana, not climb up and grab nibbana. Less and less effort is appropriate in late EQ. 

It can be useful to notice: awareness doesn't require effort. The mind is already aware. The self-directed manipulation of experience requires effort, but awareness itself (seeing, hearing, feeling) requires no effort. 

I had one retreat where I kept going from EQ to mind-blowing A&P to EQ to A&P, but my mind was getting more and more exhausted and my entire mind and body was frazzled after two weeks. I was simply trying waaaay too hard to "get" nibbana. After that retreat, I started working with a mentor and he basically said less vipassana more samadhi. He knew I had solid vipassana skills, but like most westerners, I wasn't loose enough.  He helped me enjoy watching where the mind would go on its own. The mind goes where it goes and awareness is already there. No extra effort needed... Months later, sitting at home, in a daydream/hypnagogic-like state with full awareness (I was aware I was in that state) the mind fell into nibbana.

It's never something you can "do", you never know when it will happen... which is great! That means it's not up to you, which takes a lot of the striving and performance pressure away. So less effort and let yourself get dreamy (it's fine to even fall asleep), but keep sitting through it and notice how awareness is already right there in the experience. Keep the consistent daily practice going and experiment with less and less effort. While you are in EQ you simply get curious about the nature of awareness that is present in all experiences.  

Mature EQ is about allowing all experiences to arise as the experience itself, even things like doubt, certainty, confusion, clarity, daydreams, super-attentive mind, wandering mind, no-thought mind, etc. etc. --- which can be counter-intuitive since the early stages of practice are all about using certainty to get rid of doubt, using clarity to get rid of confusion, using super-attentive mind to get rid of daydreams, etc. For this to work, mindfulness needs to be well-developed. Paradoxically, once it is well developed we can stay aware of experience where attention itself isn't strong. Sounds weird, but entirely possible. Almost paradoxical like "lucid dream" - awake dreaming. 

It's totally normal and even helpful to allow the mind to go into the first four vipassana jhanas during the road to SE. This means losing the strict clarity of experience and having more of the jhana factors show up (intensity of 1st, pleasure of 2nd, bliss of 3rd, richness of 4th). To have this show up, the mind needs to be a little "loose" and be allowed to go to those jhana sensations. It will naturally at times, but you have to let the mind go there. 

It's also totally normal and even helpful to allow the mind to momentarily drop into hard versions of the first four jhanas and even drop into formless realms during the road to SE. This occurs naturally as the mind "searches" for nibbana. (DhO

While in High EQ, see the weirdness of self. Notice that it's conventional language to say "I am moving through these last phases". But the gateway and domain of high EQ is seeing the weirdness of being a self... It's fundamentally weird to notice our own mind, right? Our mind being aware that we have a mind, how does that even work? Is the self a mind? Or is everything mind? Where does mind begin and end? Is awareness the same thing as what arises IN awareness? If we are truly an observer, then how can we be aware of observing? What is it that can notice observing? What is it that can be aware of awareness? 

The point here is not to find some verbal story you can tell yourself, but rather to look at the experience of EQ and notice how truly weird it is. The clear boundary of mind and not mind, self and other, awareness and experience... it all gets very loose and kinda confusing... and is the mind that is aware of being confused a confused mind, or is it a clear knowing mind that is aware of confusion? (DhO

Classic High-EQ experiences. In high equanimity, we become more and more sensitive to how our mind is continuously structuring perceptions to make it self and other. It can get strange, like "we're watching how our mind watches our mind". Or "we're listing to how we listen to sounds". Or "we're seeing how we see". (DhO)

There's no pressure, trust the mind and go along with the ride, very little effort is needed, almost try to be what you observe, rotor sounds and gaps. You're in a very good place with your practice right now. Definitely on track and definitely keep doing what you are doing. My advice would be to:
  • Take away all performance anxiety about meditation. No one knows when stream entry will happen, no one knows how to "make" stream entry happen (otherwise we would tell you!), and no one is aware that stream entry happened until afterwards --- so there is no pressure, because there is absolutely nothing you can do to make it happen. Only the mind itself figures out what to do, it really isn't up to us.
  • A great attitude to have is knowing that you are going to meditate after SE, so this is just another day of sitting, who cares if it's pre or post, it really doesn't matter.
  • the essence of this stage of meditation is to sit down, let the body and mind settle, and then see what naturally arises. Trust that the mind is going where it needs to go and go along on the ride.
  • It can be helpful to realize that after we've developed a foundation of mindfulness (which you have), awareness is already aware, so very little effort is needed. Notice how awareness is already aware. And so try experimenting with using less intentional effort, less intentional investigation (don't try to understand, penetrate, see clearly), which means letting the mind go where _it_ wants, and let it be drifty, dreamy, or even dull -- but keep verifying that you are aware of being drifty, dreamy, or dull by simply noting it. If you can note it, then you have enough energy of awareness.
  • Definitely don't fight dullness, dreaminess, vagueness, or confusion at this stage, simply say yes to those mindstates. If you can recognize them as mindstates, you are mindful enough. (This obviously isn't the standard meditation advice that's given to complete beginners. This is why the maps are so important. When someone is regularly getting to EQ, when they can experience "joy in seclusion" during their sits, then they can let go of controlling the mind and allow the mind to take them beyond what they "know" to do.)
  • Also experiment with evening sits, when the mind is kinda tired and calm, when the "yang" energy of the day has already played itself out and the "yin" energy of the evening is here. Practicing while the mind is on the edge of sleep can be interesting. You might even want to try sitting without any timer for your evening sit. Just sit until you've nodded off a few times and then mindfully crawl into bed.
  • Slowly play with dropping the distinction between I AM observing THAT and almost try to "be" what you observe. It's all your mind, so let go of a sense of someone observing the mind. Be the mind.
  • Rotor like sounds are very very promising. A perfect balance of Sam & Vip. Sometimes nibbana is found in the gap between those pulses, between those vibrations.There can be something interesting about that drum-like, rotor-like beating. And be curious about those gaps in the rotor ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta sound. How do we hear those silences? So the next time those show up --- and no need to "make" them show up, let them show up naturally --- when they show up, let yourself "be" the vibrations. Let your sense of self be the same as those pulses. Let your mind be the sound and be the gaps in the sound. 
  •  One way to find the balance of being with the rotor sounds is to gently ponder while listening: "Are these sounds inside me or outside me? No one else can hear them, so they are inside me, but the sounds seem to happen to me which makes them seem like outside of me. What would these sounds sound like if they were nether inside nor outside me and what would "listening" mean in this case?" Experiment with different versions of that kind of curious and playful and yet serious attitude.
One word of caution: the Equanimity Nana is vast. There are lots of subtle nuances to it. So really this is just a matter of maintaining regular practice, not having a lot of expectations or ambitions, and having faith that the mind that got us from where we started is the same mind that will move us through SE and to awakening. So a lot of trust is involved too. Doubt may come up. But usually at this point people understand that practice is the only thing that will make a difference and that "advancing" is really beyond our control.
    People that come from religious backgrounds are often a little better at "keeping the faith" at this stage. :)  But it's also okay to have faith in "buddha (awake) nature" or the "nature of mind" or "innate intelligence". (DhO)

    Nibbana is in the spaces but the mind doesn't know how to find it. See if you can notice what comes between the gusts of wind, teeth of the gear, vibrations, third eye flickers, etc. In other words, it is obvious how these things "hit" but what is there in the gap between the "hits"?  Basically nibbana is in the spaces but the mind doesn't know how to find it. Eventually it will grab onto nibbana and that's stream entry.

    The other thing you can do is really drench yourself in any stilness or jhana that shows up. It has a way of conditioning the mind. Sometimes people will want to "vipassana-ize" experience too much. The other side of the spectrum is called for now: delicious non-judgmental and non-analytical initimacy with what is occuring. Your mind already is "insightful" enough, that's why you are getting the vibrations, now you need to relax, enjoy, and let your mind let go of its life-long tendency to grab objects and instead let it grab onto nothing/nibbana.

    ... It really does seem that looking at thoughts is really conducive to Stream Entry -- if someone has developed equanimity. If you can listen to the sound of thoughts and feel how thoughts kind of tap tap tap in the mind... that can be very interesting.

    ... The main thing is consistent daily practice and treating life like a retreat -- from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep stay aware and intimate with your lived experience. 

    Retreats are great, especially for big openings, but interestingly the intensity of the retreat experience and the pressure to get it done during short --- i.e. less than 100 day -- timeframe... well, let's just say it sometimes makes it hard to just simply enjoy the equanimous pleasure of the equanimity nana. But if you are able to do very simple, low-effort sits at home, it can take you there.

    It is entirely possible. Try to feel that in your bones. If you don't think it's possible, then of course it won't happen. But "nothing" is always here, always right within the gap of individual sensations. It doesn't take much to settle down, minimize effort, let reality and awareness just be as it is, dwell in equanimity, let equanimity get loose and dreamy, let the distinction between observer and observed get blurry... and then drop into nibbana. Very simple, just give yourself the opportunity for it to happen by consistent practice.

    ... Stream Entry doesn't need to happen on retreat. It didn't for me. I was just continuing my practice (actually a few weeks after a retreat) with nothing much changed in my life... Except:

    - I absolutely trusted that my mind (not intellect or superego) was leading the way. It just needed my daily practice to see what it needed to see, so to speak.

    - My "effort" dropped to almost nothing. How can I "work" or "try" to get stream entry? It's ridiculous!! I don't know what it is or where it is, how can I try to get there?

    - I let go of any state being the answer... and any state being a problem. What does it matter what arises? Equanimity is awareness and acceptance of whatever arises. It's almost too simple.

    - I didn't keep trying to "clearly objectify" anything. If I got sleepy or drifty, I let myself get sleepy or drifty. Was I aware of sleepiness or driftiness? Yes. Cool, that's all that is needed. No need to be clear or bright or lazer-minded. Drifty or confused or foggy --- those were all mind states that could be accepted, too.

    - The last thing that seemed to change was a willingness to just kind of dwell on the mindstream --- that flow of semi-verbal sounds in the head, that bubbling of proto-emotional urges, that vague sense of somatic being... the subtle flow of things became an object of meditation. Those things really aren't intellectually known and the super-ego doesn't like that stuff because it's bubbly and vague, but it had it's own attraction, hard to explain... except it sounds very similar to the tapping/flickering/vibrating that you mention above! 

    So basically just trust that it is a matter of time. Relax because "you" don't know how to do it and "you" will never know when it will occur. So really the only thing to do is relax in awareness, enjoy calm states, let go of worries, but keep a gentle and consistent daily practice going ... No big deal, just a matter of time.  (DhO

    Stream Entry is just about making vipassana-like curiosity and jhana-like relaxation a new baseline habit. Stream entry isn't about doing anything fancy, it's just about making vipassana-like curiosity and jhana-like relaxation into a new baseline habit.... and when you can rest in equanimity without struggle, when you can have thoughts come and go without struggle, when you can be on retreat without struggle, when you basically can practice without practicing, when you know it is completely useless to predict what will happen because no one can predict what happens... then you are in a good place. Hang out there and wonder about the nature of mind that knows all of this. When in doubt, notice what you are experiencing and rest in that experience, even in the experience of "not knowing" itself. (DhO)

    So EQ yogis: the point is not more aborption or more clarity. The point is investigating clinging, aversion, or ill will in all your mindstates. One of the worst things that can happen in any training pursuit, not just meditation, is an easy beginning. These are the artists that win their first art show, musicians who's first recording goes big, people who are naturally strong and lift heavy weights right off the bat --- these are the people that need to overcome their attachment to winning, popularity, or relying on natural ability --- they need to learn what it means to simply do their art/music/training. Similarly, the people that "tip" into SE early and easily are often naive and overwhelmed by difficulties later in the path and it's a real disaster. 

    Fundamentally, the thing that we want and need -- whether we realize it or not -- is a foundation of basic sanity that supports our entire life. Meditation helps create this if viewed correctly, but if viewed incorrectly can create more clinging, avoiding, and spiritual bypassing.

    It's also very difficult, I believe, to reach stream entry in a retreat that is "focused" on it. The retreats that seem to be successful are the ones that are the traditional 100 day retreats. Those seem to work because they are soooooo long that the meditator has to give up at some point. Give up trying hard, give up "improving", give up manipulating or gaming... but they still have lots of time to just sit.

    Ironically, more and more people seem to be reaching SE during home sitting. This usually happens after a crisis of confidence: "I'm not able to be on a long retreat, my absorption isn't going to be as strong on retreat, there is no way I can get into the same deep states as retreat, so my meditation practice is worthless.... but I feel it's good for me anyway, so I guess I'll still sit."

    Then the performance pressure is off and the mind is free to really see things without gamining, bias, urgency... and this innocent clarity of mind is radically different in an essential way. "This is actually my mind, my life, this experience, what _is_ it really..." Then the focus is on the essential thing: what clinging and aversion and ill will still remains within our experience, what causes it, what can be changed.

    (And usually "changing" clinging, aversion, or ill will means: "I will neither indulge nor try to force bad reactivity to go away, instead I will allow it to rest in my awareness and learn from it... until it's power fizzles out on it's own.")

    ... Your sits sound good, but it's obvious that you are inferring that absorption is in itself the answer to "good" meditation. That's both true and not true, but it takes a while to see it. All dark night yogis need to recover their sense of strength, personal power, and bodily well being. Jhanas are one of the best ways we instinctually learn that our body and minds are not broken machines, but rather are wonderfully "good"  in their pure essence. The mind is fundamentally amazing --- even though it's given us huge problems in the past. Like I said, this takes a while to feel in our bones and sitting in absorption seems to really help.

    But not being in absorption is also important, because then we can really investigate: where is there still clinging, aversion, or ill will in my mind? Is clinging, aversion, and ill will helpful? If it isn't helpful, what causes it?  (Usually, we have some kind of false belief that makes us continue a bad mood or habit or thought because we think it gives us something good. To see this, it usually takes really sitting and being with the experience of clinging, aversion, and ill will - really feeling it in the body, really seeing it in the mind -- until we see why we keep these bad moods or habits or thoughts. Eventually we see our mistake.) So aborption is useful for conditioning the mind, but there still needs to be investigation of dukkha. 

    The next stage --- and one that EQ/Jhana meditators often forget --- is recognizing the fundamental "goodness"and pervasiveness in awareness itself, regardless of the experience. Awareness itself is aware of lying in bed, putting on clothes, sitting the first morning sit, eating breakfast, walking the first morning walk, doing the second morning sit, doing the yogi jobs.... etc. etc.  What is this AWARENESS that is present when I take a shower? What is this awareness when I take a shit?

    It seems like "I" am awareness, not any specific experience, but what IS awareness?

    So EQ yogis: the point is not more aborption or more clarity. The point is investigating clinging, aversion, or ill will in all your mindstates. Jhana helps make the mind very subtle, so that very subtle dukkha can be uncovered. But shitty life stuff makes the mind very reactive, so that powerful dukkha can be uncovered.

    So really, the mindstate isn't as important as the investigation of "where in my experience is there still resistance to what already is?" "Where is there clinging, aversion, or ill will?" No special mindstate is needed. 

    And the interesting thing is "getting rid or letting go" of clinging, aversion, and ill will is really "letting it be". And letting it be  is non-manipulation. And non-manipulation allows seeing things as they are. And seeing things as they are is the Conformity nana. And Conformity leads to...    (DhO

    Stream Entry doesn't happen by more and more clarity. One thing that is interesting is that the realm of High Equanimity is very similar to the imagination space of semi-subconscious ... The meditator, through all of their previous work, can enter into daydreamy states without losing the "knowing" of it. It sort of feels like regression, but this kind of loose but consistent monitoring of the mind is what High Equanimity is about. The clarity aspect isn't as prominant.

    In other words, Stream Entry doesn't happen by more and more clarity. What happens is beyond a certain point, the mind becomes able to "know" clairity and non-clarity with the same knowing mind. It becomes clear that knowing is beyond conditions and it's somewhat beyond our controlling. Even the internal voice of thought is seen to be it's own input stream, kind of like the body, which has it's own bandwidth and content stream. So the preference for somatic precision and absense of thought also slowly drops away. Thought is just word sounds. Emotions are sensations-urge packets. 

    EQ extends to more and more mental states beyond clarity. It's seen that none of this is wrong experience, only the greed, aversion, and indifference around sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts create subsequent embroiling and struggle. And so the mind starts becoming very sensitive to very subtle greed, aversion, and indifference and learns to release those corruptions. All it takes is a moment without greed, aversion, or indiffernece -- that's the momentary clarity of the conformity nana. And then the rest of path fruition occurs...

    High-EQ sits can be very flowing and organic and non-manipulative, which would seem like monkey mind in a less-experienced meditator, but here the meditator knows what is occuring so it is actually a different thing entirely. (DhO

    When soaking in jhana, what remains un-jhanic? What I found helpful when I had good access to jhanas was to allow myself to cook up in them and then gently sense for residual resistance, tension, ill will, avoidance, etc.  This is a very light form of vipassana, combined with really allowing concentration/centering/jhana to happen. The bias is towards the jhana aspect. 

    This kind of approach doesn't get hung up on the meaning or drama of the residual proto-thoughts and proto-emotions that still "float around" while in jhana, instead it just senses the "tonality" of how some part of our mind still has orientation even in the midst of fairly hard jhanas. There is still something sensing or tracking or monitoring what is going on. Is it a joyous, participatory experiencer? Or does the experiencer feel some sort of unfullment/ill will towards what is happening?

    What I'm talking about is fairly strong jhanas and fairly weak sense of being an experiencer. I'm not talking about normal discursive noting practice. The style of practice I'm talking about is almost all sensing on the level of proto-thoughts and proto-emotions, those flickering little sort-of-thought and sort-of-feelings that co-exist with being centered/concentrated/jhana.

    What this often does is teach us how to tone down, even further, the intensity of the observer, the judger, the assesser, the predicter, the anticipater, etc.  Another way of saying it is that "the conceiver" weakens and the self becomes one and the same with the perception. The conceiving is dropped and it becomes percieving... and this takes us closer to the "conformity" that preceeds cessation.

    The tricky thing is we don't want get into the dynamic of trying to make something go away -- that's too much effort. The feeling is more like we "reduce the effort" or "relax the volume" or "ease the ill will" or "participate more fully in what we're sorta resisting". That sort of very very respectful gentleness.

    To me it sounds like you are in a good place to try this kind of stuff out. Mostly it means letting jhana happen when it happens (don't resist, don't indulge in doubt like "I should be doing noting practice" or anything like that, just go into jhana). Then really soak in jhana by putting your mind into where the "jhana-ness" shows up and soak in that state. Allow it to grow and grow and infuse other parts of the mind/body. 

    Only after it's really established ask, what remains un-jhanic? where is the residual?

    Often it will point you toward the thinking/concieving urge itself. It might have a little bit of "dog chasing its tail" feeling, like you are looking for what's looking, or thinking about what's thinking... no problem, totally normal! But now don't give up nor indulge... now just keep lower and lowering the intensity of the looking/thinking drive, gently "sensing" it but with less and less effort.

    There can be a lot of delight in these subtle states. They can also feel a little creepy. Enjoy the delight, it's fun! And gently sense "why is this creepy? where is this creepy?"

    This should have a feeling like your going up into the "thought stream" or the "concieving stream" and getting closer to where this all comes from.

    Not all sits will be jhanic or get this subtle, so it also takes a kind of maturity to let sits do what they need to do. I would guess only maybe 1 in three sits will take you to this subtle "thought stream" and "subtle tension" realm... and that would fine, good enough. (DhO)

    Fading & SE. Fading as an experience is not detrimental to SE. In fact, allow your experience and self to fade completely if that's what is happening naturally. The fading tends to mean the mind is drifting into light formless jhanas, which is a good sign. Let it happen. You don't need normal clarity of mind for SE. Most likely that's you trying to subtly stay in control of things. You have to let go of control. No one knows how to make SE happen. No one knows when SE will happen. It's beyond your control --- what a relief! If it's beyond control, that means you can really relax. At this point you have to trust the mind itself to lead to SE. (DhO

    Feeling close to SE. Feeling close is promising, but it can also make you use too much effort in your excitement. It's good that you are noting the features of EQ (space, calmness, ease, naturalness), those are just more things to be noted. It's good that you are including sensations that feel like self.

    The key thing is to keep easing into the experience of EQ and high EQ using less and less energy. Imagine that you are a satellite slowly losing speed in orbit. The earth is coming into view and suddendly you can see the details on the land, all the textues and colors. You know you're getting close and you think you know where you want to go, so you turn on the rockets --- but that just keeps you spinning in orbit. We all feel that way, but instead keep letting yourself drop out of orbit, using just enough energy to maintain your practice. At some point, you'll be sucked into emptiness. 

    Or another metaphor: eventually a star burns itself out and then collapses into a black hole. 

    So with the feeling of not controlling things, keep doing inclusive meditation. Let your body relax, let your mind get concentrated or clear. Notice how it wants to do that.

    Some days you wont drop in to concentration or spaciousness, no big deal, that's just the way it goes. Some days you might not reach your cutting edge, but that just means something else needs to be worked on. Trust the process and go where your mind takes you, investigate it.

    When you feel you are at your cutting edge, start relaxing there. Make that your home with less and less effort. When something seems distracting, simply include that experience. Let all go of any specific experience and try to experience all the bandwidths at the same time. Things might get concentrated, things might see very clear and plain -- it doesn't matter. Get a sense of the whole field of awareness that includes the self. Be aware of the breath, body, and mind as one field of experience. Stay gently curious: what is the ground that holds all experience? What knows experience?

    There can be times when you feel like you are both the experiencer and watching the experiencer. That's a good sign. Include both of those experiences and stay curious about what is experiencing those experiences. Include it all.

    As always, consistent practice will get you there. Keep putting in your time. Don't have big expectations, treat every sit as another sit in a lifetime of exploration. Just keep showing up for practice and let it take you where you need to go. The process is smarter than you.

    ... You can increase effort if that makes sense, but you can also not increasing effort and simply note "dreamy" "spaced out"  "wandering". I would start with the latter approach and then apply the former if you feel like you need it. Ultimately, if you get lost, no big deal, note when you come back. You don't need to control things, just note things. You don't need to "never get lost", you just note again when you are "back". This is ultimately an experiment you do yourself, stay playful, stay curious. Maintain your practice, but let every sit be different. (DhO)

    Just Before SE. Stream Entry didn’t happen to me on retreat. I was just continuing my practice (actually a few weeks after a retreat) with nothing much changed in my life... Except: (1) I absolutely trusted that my mind (not intellect or superego) was leading the way. It just needed my daily practice to see what it needed to see, so to speak; (2)  My "effort" dropped to almost nothing. How can I "work" or "try" to get stream entry? It's ridiculous!! I don't know what it is or where it is, how can I try to get there?; (3) I let go of any state being the answer... and any state being a problem. What does it matter what arises? Equanimity is awareness and acceptance of whatever arises. It's almost too simple; (4) I didn't keep trying to "clearly objectify" anything. If I got sleepy or drifty, I let myself get sleepy or drifty. Was I aware of sleepiness or driftiness? Yes. Cool, that's all that is needed. No need to be clear or bright or lazer-minded. Drifty or confused or foggy --- those were all mind states that could be accepted, too; (5) The last thing that seemed to change was a willingness to just kind of dwell on the mindstream --- that flow of semi-verbal sounds in the head, that bubbling of proto-emotional urges, that vague sense of somatic being... the subtle flow of things became an object of meditation. Those things really aren't intellectually known and the super-ego doesn't like that stuff because it's bubbly and vague, but it had its own attraction, hard to explain... except it sounds very similar to the tapping/flickering/vibrating (others mention). 

    So basically just trust that it is a matter of time. Relax because "you" don't know how to do it and "you" will never know when it will occur. So really the only thing to do is relax in awareness, enjoy calm states, let go of worries, but keep a gentle and consistent daily practice going. It can be good to sit without a timer/clock. If it feels good to keep sitting, keep sitting. If it feels like time to get up, sit a few minutes longer then get up. If it feels like you are falling asleep on the cushion, fall asleep on the cushion.  No big deal, just a matter of time. (DhO

    SE & plane landing. The road to SE is more like a plane landing, not like a firework. Most people think it's going to be like a firework, with a big explosion of light and sound at the end, but actually towards the end there is a sense of slowly losing speed, gliding, gliding, gliding, a feeling of being close but nothing that you can do... and then almost a surprise when the wheels touch the ground. So letting things slow down, spending more time in just the present moment, having nowhere to go... that's a good approach. Sitting and very gently wondering big things like "what is now? what is body? what is mind?" is enough effort, almost like daydreaming. Letting yourself get pulled into concentration states if the mind wants to go there is good, too. You can trust the mind, it knows where to go. It's taken you this entire way already. It's smarter than you. (DhO)

    Diagnosing SE. The best way I can describe it is that the experience of cessation seems to leave behind a bone-deep understanding that a sense of self is not essential for survival. It's an insight that the thing that needed defending 24/7 doesn't need defending. Again, it's non-verbal, so the words are approximations. And upon reflection, you realize that this insight would not have come without doing the practices leading up to it --- so you no longer think rites and rituals are the answer. 

    Whatever feelings a person has along with it will last for a while and then go away. An insight remains. But here's the deal: stream entry is a big event, but it's also the gateway into other more serious insights. The insight isn't a final insight. There is a lot more terrain to cover which is why motivation for more practice is still there.

    Yes, one explanation for people who seem to exhibit the signs of stream entry but who do not report a cessation is that they did experience the cessation, but didn't recognize it. But obviously that's untestable, so who knows? 

    This is why diagnosing stream entry is less about the event and more about the events leading up to it. If a person has gone through the progress of insight, spent a bunch of time in equanimity, seen formations, and then had an unknowing event --- odds are it is SE/cessation. If the person has gone through the stages, spent a bunch of time in equanimity, had awareness of formations, and then experiences life very differently and feels like something essential has changed, then it has a good chance of being SE even without awareness of a cessation. If someone has other events leading to "the big change" then it probably isn't SE. See what I mean? (DhO

    Checklist: a guided tour through the nanas and the path to SE/fruition. I would recommend a very simple session where you are mindful of the sensations of breathing in your nose, throat, chest, or belly (whatever feels most natural) and emphasize the body breathing itself (which it does automatically). Is your awareness both loose and clear enough that you can watch your body breathe?

    If so, can you hold both the breathing and the emotional tone of your mind in awareness at the same time? Sometimes emotions/feelings might feel more in front with breathing sensations in the background, sometimes it might be the otherway. Are you able to have a loose, clear, and wide enough awareness to do that?

    If so, keep doing that and watch how the breathing sensations and the emotional/feeling of mind changes. Can you notice the changing and somewhat unpredictible nature of the changes? Can you notice how the mind expands and contractions around positive and negative sensations? Can you notice how it does this on it's own?

    Is there a progression of jhana-like feelings (or even strong jhanas)? Can you feel the positive feedback you get from holding your mind on breathing sensations (first jhana), can you feel the warm and full feeling like basking in the sun (second jhana), can you feel how dark night stages have a cool blissy feeling like the sensations of fear but without the panic (third jhana), can you get that happy child in a happy home feeling of contentment and spaciousness (fourth jhana)? Can you experience this naturally without a need to manipulate your experience? 

    It's worth taking the time to really soak in jhana-like feelings. This is what helps move a yogi to SE/fruition.

    Can you simply rest and stay curious when not much else is happening? Can you actually rest in equanimity without needing to make something happen?

    If things get heady, giddy, weird, bizzare, can you continue to rest and just marvel at the mind looking at the mind?

    Are you in a hurry to experience something? Can you look at that urge and see it as an urge? Can you not beat yourself up about having urges and desires, but instead continue to rest in the experience and marvel at the mind looking at the mind?

    All of these things are good ways to check in with the state of your practice and kind of represent a guided tour through the nanas and the path to SE/fruition. 

    Remember SE/fruition just happens, so effort is needed at times to stay on retreat and keep doing simple practices (which seem boring to the discursive mind), but effort is not needed to make experience happen and effort is not needed to be aware. Awareness and experience happen effortlessly... and that can be paradoxically both a key method and ultimate insight in meditation practice. (DhO)

    An A&P event, Formless Realms and Cessation. Aspects of A&P events can very closely resemble the three main styles of cessation. Many times there will be an A&P event when someone isn't able to rest in EQ with enough centering. It's like the mind knows it wants to go higher but can't, so it grabs onto the closest equivalent. Very very common. That's why people need to know there will probably be 500 A&P events before first path. If most of this is off retreat, then maybe that number is 1000 or 2000 times. Calling an A&P event as Stream Entry is so common, when actually it's just another trip through the A&P ñana. It's very similar to how towards the end of second path there can be a "first-path-like cessation" instead of a "second path fruition" --- this happens all the time. Many times people will call it second instead of a repeat of first. (DhO)

    There are many different non-knowing events which seem to outside of time that aren't cessations, including dips into formless realms. And there can be many cessations which aren't path moments. (DhO

    ... One of the hardest things about truly diagnosing is that there is an "A&P event" which looks a lot like cessation, and there are also dropouts and brownouts during the dark night, and there are near-misses in EQ/high-EQ. All of these things can really give an insight into the conditional nature of experience and self, including the no-self aspect ...  The great thing about these insights is they can make practice much more powerful. Seeing not-self allows you to truly experience all the dark night stuff as mind objects -- within you but not you -- and really shine some daylight on the stuff that tends to scare and limit us. (DhO)

    ... (Early) in my practice I had an experience (which) years later I now think of it as an A&P event. I was living a very straightforward life, had good ethics, etc. and was doing a lot of awareness training off cushion. I went on a retreat and maintained awareness and at the end (actually on my way home) I experienced a quick build up and then a time gap. And that experience changed my baseline awareness and sense of self.

    It seemed very much like stream entry when I first read about it in MCTB although I continued to hold the possibility that it was an A&P Event. This confusion/uncertainty did bother me for a long time.

    Anyway, about a couple years later I was working more closely with a teacher, went on a few retreats, and oddly enough at home during normal sitting practice, I had the SE experience. In many ways the time gap was similar, but the lead up and post events were different. There was no build up to SE, except for being in a very high state of EQ and I was meditating on the mindstream (taking thinking itself as a meditation object). This level of equanimity/centering/concentration was unavailable to me two years previously. Also after SE I had basically instant access to (light) jhanas and could clearly tell the difference between J1, J2, J3, J4. Also within a year, I went through another cycle with a lot of jhana and body/mind rewiring which was very obvious and annoying. (DhO

    Normally the big difference between A&P and Path is the mind-blowing and energetic aspect of A&P. But a more "clean" or "dry" A&P can give more _profound_ understanding and creates a new kind of emotional sensitivity to things, which is what happened for me. The A&P event can be an explosion, but it can also be a cessation-like non-experience, like just the void that we feel after an A&P explosion without the explosion. Path really does seem like more of a non-verbal confirmation that feels like "oh yeah, there is no continuity of self, needing a constant and safe self is a fear response to death, interesting" kind of confirmation rather than big radically new insight. Also after SE, the body really does go through a kind of physical rewiring and the "crushing skullcap" phenomenon is also very common. Some people are naturally jhanic and will "have" them before SE. (Most other people will suddenly dip into them, but they aren't as sustainable). But after SE, jhanas start happening all the time, newer, deeper, more refined, and usually very confusing --- even in people who normally aren't very jhanic like myself. So when I hear reports of people who are post-SE but "don't have much jhana" or havent gone through these weird body rewirings, I get very suspicious. 

    The road to SE is a long road for most people. It's where we clear out 60% of our identification with thoughts and emotions and where we learn to drop a lot of crude defense mechanisms. It makes sense to take it seriously as a multi-year goal --- even though there are some people who go through it much quicker. But one thing I've noticed is that people that "tip" over into SE more easily... they will often have more problems with later paths. (Including struggling with their identity as "a meditator that makes progress".)  (DhO)

    Diagnosing A&P events, Cessations and New Paths. If the unknowing event was preceded by "energy, bliss, pleasure": A&P event. If the object being observed before the event feels intimate but separate and it feels like you "penetrated" the object: A&P event. If there is a feeling of energetic release after the event: A&P event. If the event was followed by a profound new understanding or wisdom: A&P event.

    If the unknowing event was preceded by a period of being clear minded, then getting slightly daydreamy: Cessation. If the "scene" that was being observed had the odd sense of "seeing the self seeing the object", that somehow "you" and "it" were being held in the mind at the same time, and got kinda confusing, and then you found yourself where you already were but somehow time must have passed: Cessation. If it feels like you fell into a hole and landed back inside your body somehow: Cessation. If the unknowing event was followed by a sense of things being plain and normal yet "completely at ease": Cessation. 

    If it seemed like a cessation, but it doesn't feel that satisfying: Cessation from a previous path. If the Cessation seems to confirm something you already knew, but because you already knew it it's no big deal, but you also feel glad something got done and leave that all behind: possible fruition from a new path, wait and see...  (DhO)

    Why the need of Cessation as a milestone. Experience doesn't come with labels. That doesn't mean definitions are meaningless, just that you have to understand the context/system in which the definition is made. In other words, definitions are arbitrary but not necessarily meaningless or capricious. 

    The short story for me is that experiencing prolonged equanimity during meditation practice, really experiencing the subtlety of mind, experiencing mind moments/formations, experiencing how the flow of pre-verbal thoughts occurs on its own, taking the mindstream as a meditation object, learning to follow the mind rather than control it, and going through cessation... all of that completely changes how you think of your "self" in a way that simply cannot compare to any intellectual thinking about self or not-self.

    It is EXTREMELY unlikely to me that someone fails to experience cessation at some point on their way to arahatship, so using cessation as a milestone along the way doesn't have a downside. Plus it delivers as promised: no possibility that the Self experience is "the essence of self", no possibility of thinking anything other than meditation will make a difference (no amount of thinking or rituals will do it), and absolutely no doubt that you have experienced something that is beyond conventional experience and something pointed to by the teachings --- frankly you become amazed that anyone has figured this stuff out and you are thankful to those who have pointed out the path. 

    The only thing that I disagree with Daniel Ingram is his focus of post-SE cycling and cessations (because not everyone "sees" the nanas so clearly so this can be missed and not everyone gets repeat cessations) but I do agree that a radical improvement in jhana is a key sign, beginning at A&P when you sit is a key sign, and perhaps most importantly: the road to Second Path soon follows which is marked by strong jhanic overlays on the progress of insight in a way that is new and confusing. It's really unmistakable and unavoidable if someone did experience SE. The way practice continues on to Second Path is probably the surest sign of SE.  (DhO

    Over-Calling. Over-Calling is just one aspect of somewhat inevitable narcissism that gets more clearly seen in practice... and then it's kinda embarrassing but excusable because, duh we're competitive mammals that do a lot of social status signaling ... I think over-calling is somewhat fine if there is also doubt and ongoing practice. It's is totally normal. But I get creeped out when people have a moment of not-knowing and are sure they are first path -- they really haven't thought critically about all the criteria for truly having mature knowledge of the nanas and for first path. And it's scary how quickly they start trying to _teach_ getting to first path! I also get creeped out if someone is claiming a later path and doesn't think they have had cessations. By 3rd path, someone should have had 1000s of small cessations. Could there be outliers? Sure. But it's sort of like claiming to have climbed Everest and saying "you know, I actually found there to be plenty of oxygen, but I'm sure it was Everest because the view is exactly how everyone described" --- well, maybe you weren't really on the right mountain, that seems more likely. I really appreciate people that hold high standards even in the midst of a community of people that are apparently "making more progress". It's important not to lie to oneself and keep working on what still creates reactions and areas of the psyche that are still opaque. That's where any value is derived. Paths mean almost nothing (and are probably over-calling) without being built on a foundation of consistent daily practice. As it obvious, even talking in terms of path can be dangerous because there is always the hidden demon of spiritual pride and all the culty pathologies that pride can create. But I'm grateful for the honest discussion of paths in MCTB, it made a big difference in my life. (DhO)

    Before and After SE. Before a cessation event there tends to be some fairly significant purification, months or sometimes years, either true dark night or a more vipassana jhana version where there is more concentration, less overt psychological material, but still a lot of deep resistances to sitting going away in an almost physical-release way. The person has to feel "wrung out" in a way that isn't traumatic (reliving old trauma can mimic dark night, but the transit through the dark night also includes a lot of healing of those old trauma and old outdated views of self and the world because they are seen very clearly and "digested"). Eventually this transitions into a period reduced practice and regaining perspective of what is important in life. Then if gentle, consistent practice continues, it will transition into a period of profound equanimity (usually weeks/months), where multi-hour sits become realistic and effortless, practice is automatic and deep, where all thoughts of progress just really don't matter anymore, and some profound acceptance of being a human while also appreciating the depths of meditation.

    Some of the biggest signs post SE is an ability to access the first four jhanas without much effort... and within 6 months the body goes through some very dramatic re-wiring, so to speak, that involves a lot of body and mind aches, discomfort, etc as well as the insight cycles begin again in a very confusing way because the experience of meditation is now colored strongly by the vipassana jhanas. 

    Years before, I had an A&P that mimicked SE. It was a very clean, non-energetic, non-visually colorful "event", in which time and space seemed to go away and it left me with a distinctly different relationship with life. I was completely sure that there was something real about the nature of spiritual practice and a big part of my desperate seeking was gone. BUT, no jhanas, no new insight cycle.

    Several years later, working with a teacher after a particularly difficult 15 day retreat, I re-established practice in a way that was very consistent and dedicated, day-to-day, and got very good advice on what how my "self" was still holding onto various mental frameworks. When SE occurred, during a sit at home, it was after a few weeks of radically Equanimeous sitting, where I didn't even care what happened anymore, I simply knew I was a life-long meditator and "making progress" was beyond me except for continuing to sit and develop interest and sensitivity to what was occurring moment by moment, and practice itself was leading me into a space of a gentle blend of concentration and insight practice, including feeling the "on task" pleasure of first jhana, the basking in the sun version of second jhana, the cool bliss of third jhana, the spacious clarity of fourth jhana, moments of falling into formless jhanas, vipassana ramping up such that being able to meditate on the thinking process itself where "pre-thought" urges were being seen clearly --- and none of this was done intentionally, it was more just an artifact or consequence of being very interested in the nature of body sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts --- and SE was such a minor event that it barely seemed significant... and yet afterwards, instant access to much harder jhanas and practice really took off in ways I could never have imagined, some of it very difficult, but also very interesting.

    So I say all of that just to paint a picture that there really is A LOT of terrain that is hard to imagine in approaching SE and beyond. Meditation is so interesting, but the gateway will always be a curiosity and investigation of our tangible experience of sensations, urges, emotions, and thinking. One common theme to all of the practice I did was asking "where in this moment is there resistance, discomfort, or ill-will? How does it change if I hold that sense of incompleteness or discomfort within my awareness and gently investigate what it really is and all the sensations and emotions and thoughts that seem tangled up with it?"  Many physical and psychological releases and insights came from that simple introspection, curiosity, and investigation. (DhO

    Review. Basically after SE, there will be a period where sitting is very jhanic. You sit down and are almost instantly on A&P and it's possible to quickly move through territory and have a fruition or multiple fruition. This is especially true for meditators with stronger jhana skills and those on retreat or practicing a lot. Some "dry" meditators will have much less fireworks along these lines, but sits will feel juicy and pleasurable.

    From MCTB: "In this stage, the meditator just keeps practicing largely as before. In this way, they will learn to master the stages of insight, as they must pass through them again each time they wish to re-attain Fruition. The first few times through the cycle after the path has been obtained can sometimes be quite intense and even very disturbing, as the mind tends to be exceedingly powerful for a few days after a path has been gained and yet is navigating in territory that is not yet mastered."

    "That said, when a progress of insight is completed, one may notice the mind simply not doing lots of useless things it used to do, and it may seem impossible that it even was able to do them. However, it may take some time to figure out what the permanent implications of the path are and what is just a product of its lingering and transient afterglow. It is likely to take quite a while to really integrate the understandings that come from a path into one's way of being in the world."

    It usually takes a few weeks for Review to settle down. Sometimes Review can get overwhelming and people want to slow down or stop for a while --- that's usually a >good< idea. It's a normal time for slowing down and integrating what has happened. (DhO)

    The fastest way to Stream Entry. People have mixed approaches for the fastest way to Stream Entry. I'm probably biased, but I found that I made more progress by really settling into meditation and letting the mind itself decide when to do jhana and when to do noting. If my mind was clearly in jhana, I would allow it to condition my mind and when I was in a vague or more busy mind state, I would gently note. I would drop noting again if I fell back into jhana. (DhO)

    Could Pointing-Out lead to SE? I wonder if "pointing out" could ever lead to SE if the student was able to handle the 3rd & 4th Jhana aspects of Equanimity? Hmm... thinking about it more, it's probably a one in a trillion odds. My guess is it necessarily takes many times through EQ before anyone could proceed seamlessly to SE. The 3rd Jhana dissolution-ish aspect would probably be interpreted as "losing EQ" by the first time EQ meditator and especially the 4th Jhana normalcy aspect would be interpreted as "it's gone now". (DhO

    Awakening (to whatever degree) is a double-edged sword. You become both freer and more aware of the "traps" that are still out there, including remaining internal resistances as well as institutional/social ones. This is really is the heart of the slightly humorous statement "suffering less, but noticing it more"... that's why I like to say that sanity/awakening leads to >better< problems, not to no problems.  (DhO)

    Two major ways of defining Stream Entry. In general, there are two major ways of defining "in the stream". One is more focused on a more "story like" version of dharma, where we take on/believe/use the framework of 8 fold path, three poisions, 4 nobleworldviews, and structured practice as the framework for our life. This is an important and inspiring phase of development. (It's also can be exclusionary, because it implies that only buddhists can be on their way to enlightenment...) In any case, this framing makes streamentry seem like all around good news from a social and religious view point... and even the sense of self "gains" something in the form of a new identity as a buddhist.

    The other is when we really appreciate the mystery of experience, especially the emptiness feature. Not "meaningless" or "unreliable", which is just nihlism, but more along the lines of radical  "groundlessness" or "nebulous".  And especially the experience that the self, the experience that is closer than close, is also groundless and nebulous. So a cessation-like experience, and the insights that come in its aftermath, are profoundly different. In this case, a big part of the certainity of "self" is lost and there can even be a sense of the religious/cultural aspects framework (the "rituals") being seen as not-quite-it. This definition of streamentry is where one truly enters the heart of real practice and the person is truly on the path of awakening that "does not depend on others".  Not there yet, but this different sense of path that is outside cultural/religious frameworks, is starting to be seen.

    So these two ways of defining tend to be the most common ways of defining streamentry. But of course, these are definitions, not necessarily TRUTH, but definitions. The definitions persist in time because someone is finding value in them. 

    ​​​​​​​If you go into experience itself, it is clear that experiences do not have little tags on them -- no little paper tags with holes punched in them and no pieces of string tying them onto a mind object and no handwritten words written in english or sanskrit or pali --- nothing giving the name of the experience. Experience doesn't come with labels. (DhO)

    What was I doing when attained Stream Entry. I was at home. A few months before I went on a two week retreat that had been amazing but left me wrung out and overwhelmed. Lots of concentration states, body movements, crystal clear equanimity, as well as floods of emotions like panic and anxiety -- but all of it experienced as states within awareness, objectified through noting. However, I was feeling very fearful and alone. (Ultimately, I was trying too hard to make things happen -- don't do this!  ) Anyway, I worked with a teacher for a few months, got my practice consistent again, and got back into just the joy of exploring the mind through meditation.

    I had confronted my own striving and controlling nature and seen how it caused so much suffering. I had given up on trying attaining anything in practice. By then, I just sat and did my practice and whatever happened, happened. It wasn't in my control, so why get frustrated by it? At the time before stream entry, I was in a kind of blissy state, looking at thoughts as thoughts, meditating on the mindstream, even the thoughts that seemed to be about the thoughts about meditating on the mindstream. It was nice and somewhat spacy/dreamy. And there was a small hiccup in reality, no big deal, and I kept sitting.

    It became clearer what had happened a few days later when I noticed things were different, but when had the change occurred? Oh there was that hiccup a few days ago... When I checked in with my teacher, who had been tracking my sits over the months, I barely started describing things and he kinda laughed and said "Yeah, stream entry." 

    These things are kind of predictable, yet no one knows exactly when it will happen. (My teacher had predicted SE a month earlier, but it just made me all ambitious and threw my sits off for a while!) People who are able to practice with a gentle touch, move through yucky stages with awareness, and continue to sit when nothing much is happening, without trying to control things or overly focusing on expectations... they are doing good work. Even if stream entry never happens, just going through that work makes you saner and happier than people who get angry and frustrated when they have to wait 5 minutes while standing in line...

    Retreats greatly help, do them if you can, but retreats aren't essential. However consistent practice is essential 99.999999999999% of the time. Teachers or spiritual friends really help, too. In fact, I was hanging out with two people from the DhO community at the time. One had recently gotten SE and one who had awakened. Seeing that they were normal humans, going to work, raising their families -- that helped normalize the whole deal, too. No big deal, just human awakening. (DhO)

    The Middle & Higher Paths

    Shargrol's 6 levels scaffolding guideline. I thinking along the lines of structuring the day as traditional sit/walk... and as a practice, using a basic scaffolding/heirarchy: 

    1. noticing experience as it is 
    2. when 1 is not possible, noticing attraction, repulsion, neutralness as it is
    3. when 2 is not possible, noticing greed, aversion, indifference
    4. when 3 is not possible, noting greed, aversion, indifference
    5. when 4 is not possible, noting sensations, urges, emotions, or thoughts
    6. when 5 is not possible, noting 6 realms or some other big categories of psychological views (DhO)

    Kenneth Folk’s 3 Gears Framework and the four Paths. Basically, do what works for you … but if there is a general pattern for meditators it would be first gear emphasis for 1st and 2nd path, then second gear emphasis for 3rd, and third gear emphasis for 4th.--- it's an over simplification, but I hope this paints a general picture.   (DhO) (DhO)

    A Four Path Model. We have a sense of self that tries to stay in control. At first we hold on through emotions and when that falls apart: A&P. Then we try to use thoughts and when that falls apart: 1st Path. Then the sense of self gets smart and says, maybe if I disassociate with objects and add in jhana mind states, then I'll keep my hold. But when thoughts and jhanas fall apart: 2nd Path. Then it gets really serious and starts using subtle worldviews and really strong jhanas ... but when worldviews are all seen as empty and jhanas are seen as golden chains and that falls apart: 3rd path. And when the sense of self that was driving all this inquiry gets seen, then the sense of self substantially falls apart: 4th Path. (DhO

    A Four Path Model, a summary. A&P is all the big "spiritual experiences/insights" people have; 1st Path is marked by moving through the nanas and a cessation. Although sometimes it isn't obvious; 2nd Path is marked by another slightly more confused path through the nanas and cessation, with the confusion created by much more access to jhana and vipassana jhana, making the nana terrain much less obvious; 3rd Path is marked by a real-time experience of emptiness... instantly accessible. Third Path is where perception becomes very different. Plus lots of clarity of nanas and jhanas...which eventually leads to the realization the nanas are jhanas are simply states and can't be the answer. No state is an answer and yet everything seems to be a state; 4th Path is marked by a return to normalcy. No desire to use "spirituality" or "perceptions" as a refuge, maybe for fun, but not for refuge. It's actually a very known realm of perception, the most shocking thing is we realize that we've always been in it but never quite noticed it. The closest description is that it is like an equanimity that isn't tied to a state. There isn't an argument with experience. THIS is IT. Unfortunately, there are lots of ways to be confused about whether we've found it or not. It's as subtle as it is deep.  (DhO)

    2nd and 3rd Path. The important thing about second path is it is completely confusing. The clean progress of insight starts falling apart and things get fractal (stages within stages). It feels like being on a roller coaster ride facing backwards... The most common statement I've made to people working through it is: Straight Ahead!  In other words, just keep doing the practice and stay curious …. Any semblance of a "clean progress of insight" completely falls apart on the road to 3rd Path... So maybe a messy 2nd Path is good preparation for what comes next.   (DhO)

    Post 1st Path four practice options. The not-doing dogma is a dogma like any other fixed view... I'm actually a fan of curiosity in practice. However, the warning against having a "gaining" mindset during practice is a good one. Not seeing that form of greed can causes all kinds of trouble. Here there are some quick possibilities: (1) nailing down the jhanas; (2) meditation on the mindstream; (3) meditation on subtle ill-will/dukkha; (4) meditation on greed/aversion/ignorance co-arising at the point of the experience of a mind object. (DhO)

    2nd Path. On the road to 2nd path everything becomes very very confusing. That's the main description. Post SE, the meditator has better perceptual ability, access to light to very hard jhanas, they are making progress on the nanas but can jump to pre-SE versions of the nanas, new psychological material comes up, and the body and mind feels like it is re-wiring itself with strange new sensations occurring in the torso and head. So it basically feels like being on a strange roller coaster that seems to be moving forward, but we have no idea what's going on! 

    Impermanence gets seen / experienced at a whole new level. The fractal view (stages within stages) happens too. So it is very important to adjust the effort of practice. Most of the time, all you have to do is sit down and close your eyes and the mind takes you on the ride.

    It's possible to cycle the dark night several times per day. Even several times per sit! There are no rules for how the dukkha nanas show up post-SE. For some people, it's easier now because they have access to jhana. For other people, new psychological material comes up. For some people, they use way too much effort and burn themselves out. For other people, it's a wild and strange guided tour of the mind. (DhO)

    Nanas in 2nd Path. 2nd path is basically a process of going through the nanas again. Be prepared for things to be a little stranger and hard to map because jhanas usually show up more strongly and practice takes on more of a vipassana jhana flavor. The idea of "fractals" in the nanas starts becoming apparent, too. (In other words, each ñana has a preliminary, early, middle, and mature stage that can feel like the entire range from the first to the last ñana, but it all takes place within a single ñana -- for example, a very mature "Misery" stage can feel like "EQ".) 2nd path tends to be very confusing.

    Some people who are inclined to jhanas can actually jump into "going up and down the jhanic arc". It won't go as fast as in this video, but a 2nd Path person inclined to jhana practice can start developing access to the material and immaterial jhanas.

    As always, the main thing is to keep a consistent daily sitting practice. Everyone has their own path. Your own path naturally leads onward by consistent practice. There is a certain amount of trusting the process involved; especially the more advanced a meditator you become. There's no particular way to "game" practice. You basically have to show up and go through it. 

    An interesting thing you will find, especially on retreat, is that aspects of the 1st Path will sometimes "pop up" when things are difficult when working toward 2nd. It's another part of the confusion of this path. For example, you might be having a difficult "Three Characteristics ñana" experience and a fruition will pop up, or you'll see lights and feel bliss. One possible explanation is that the mind is jumping to the first path fruition or first path A&P as sort of a comforting mechanism. This happens a lot in later paths. So it's entirely possible that your mind right now is going to the second vipassana jhana and A&P to help calm the sick body. (It’s also possible that this is simply more review of 1st Path, which can start with A&P.)

    It's a very wild ride with all of these different possibilities: old path, new territory, new and stronger jhanas, quick drops into formless jhanas in the midst of vipassana --- the real trick is not to worry too much about where you are on the map, but rather stick to the basics: body relaxed but alert, mind accepting and curious, invigorate practice when dull, relax practice when agitated. That's really all you need to know, but it can be years of practice to turn these basic instructions into instincts. 

    Also remember, the climb up the nanas isn't just a climb, it's up and down, up and down, sometimes climbing up into new territory, sometimes dropping down in a way that feels like backsliding --- but that's all fine. The mind goes where it goes and it is totally normal for it to go up and down, even a few times in a single hour sit. So don't think you are doing anything wrong if this happens. (DhO)

    Getting 2nd Path is similar but more subtle than 1st Path. You need to notice all your thoughts about practice are mind objects arising on their own. Don't make the mistake of thinking some aspect of experience is off limits. (DhO

    Most people report a total fractal mess... and yet progression happens just as it should. Basically, for second path you follow where things take you and apply the techniques you already know, based on what is arising. The nanas are a little more confusing and fractal and they almost always show up more as vipassina-jhanas rather than plain nanas. But it's the same sort of progression from work to momentum to AP event (which might seem like path) to frustrations (which aren't really frustrations but opportunities to drop ill will - dark night ) to having a and fixing a big problem (desire for deliverance) to losing you composure (reobservation) to giving up (early EQ) to acceptance (early-mid EQ) to having odd dropout and perhaps repeats of first path fruition (which might seem like path) or AP again (which is all late-mid-EQ) to a kind of innocence and wonder at the simplicity of living and even vague daydreaming-ness and a curious kind of normalness (high EQ). EQ can once again have a path in a path feeling, with lots of near misses or cessation-like experiences that don't quite go deep enough to really do the trick. But most people don't report such clear maps, most people report a total fractal mess... and yet progression happens just as it should. (DhO)

    Kundalini & Rewiring post SE. Post stream entry, the body will start re-wiring itself, almost to physically incorporate the new glimpse of emptiness/cessation. It's hard to describe, but in the same way that pre-stream entry we "think with our gut" or have "heartfelt feelings" or have "a lump in our throat" or feel "there is something on my mind" there are now re-wirings in all of those nerve centers that give us more expansive ways of having all of those body-mind ways of knowing.

    This will show up in different ways, for different people. Some people get skull crushing aches, some people feel love in their heart, some people will feel fear in their gut, some people will feel very sexual, some people will feel panic in their throat, some people will feel bliss in their third eye... and probably all of these will be felt at some time or another.  

    The tricky thing is people try to make this into a rigid system with a certain numbers of chakras, specific colors, and specific "spinning" at each location for healthy or unhealthy chakras... This is not so helpful. It's sort of similar to when people try to control their pre-stream entry meditation by trying to create an experience of the Progress of Insight nanas or trying to force the experience of the next ñana that they think is needed to make progress. Too much manipulation! Too much control!

    The truth of it is the body/mind does all of this stuff for us. We just need to sit and experience what is happening, the same way we just needed to sit and feel all the thoughts/feelings/emotions we felt during pre-stream entry practice. There isn't a way to make it go faster or to "game" the meditation. What is happening is what needs to be experienced.

    Probably the most helpful thing I can add is all of this is normal. Experience what is happening let your heart/body/mind rest within that experience.

    The old rules apply: if things seem dead, energize your sitting posture, brighten your mind, and play closer attention. If things see too overpowering, relax your posture, calm your mind, and even try walking practice to help bleed off the extra tensions/energy. If things are neither dead nor overpowering, experience what is happening and rest in that experience. (DhO)

    Kundalini is very much an up to 1st and up to 2nd path thing. Some people go through a lot of purification during first path, mostly associated with the dark night nanas, with experiences of negative sensations passing and the "release" that follows". This is has a feel of psychological-spiritual refinement, finding union with the shadow, etc. There is a lot of change, but the self/body doesn't really change that much.

    Pretty much everyone goes through a significant body rewiring up to 2nd path. This rewiring feels deeper that psychological shadow, more with the processing system, and the chakra "idea" becomes much more obvious as an experience. The rewiring really does cluster around the chakra areas, but it is also clear that much of the chakra descriptions are poetry and not literally specific colors or spins -- but definitely something is happening there. This is also when people can have fruitions and immaterial jhana experiences, which really adds a lot of dimensions to the psyche and the body/mind really feels like it has changed. In fact, people may begin to identify with these subtle changes and think that enlightenment must be the complete/deep rewiring of the body/mind.

    Ironically, this view of deep rewiring falls apart during the road to 3rd path. Instead of becoming "better" better wired, more sensitive, more pure... what actually happens is that the empty/meaningless aspect starts becoming evident. This is a huge shock to our pride. During second path we thought we were becoming the ultimate sage, pure body, pure jhanas, etc. While the changes keep occurring to some degree or another, depending on the person, what becomes really obvious is that all experiences come and go, so they can't be "it". So this stage tends to be when kundalini dies down. Also, the changes in purity and sensitivity, etc. just make it easier to see more subtle impurity and insensitivity -- in a weird way it feels like we have taken two steps forward and one step back. People find all sorts of ways to rationalize this and say that spirituality ends before 3rd path is reached.

    The road to 4th path is all about making peace with how things actually are, without sugar coating it, and yet still investigating, even investigating the investigating. It's a very subtle blend of inquiry and not-doing in a way that can't be appreciated by someone that hasn't gone through all the changes above. It is very very subtle and yet requires very very strong psychological resilience. It's looking right at nothingness and not loving, not hating, and not blinking. It has aspects of looking at the "I will die" sensation in the psyche. By this stage, there isn't much kundalini, except for odd moments when really strong jhanas will hit, almost like a protective mechanism, when things get too edgy or cut too close to "self". People find all sorts of ways to rationalize this and might say that spirituality ends before 4th path is reach. 4th path really clarifies the thing that drove the search in the first place in a paradoxical way, with the intention to search being what the searching was trying to find.  (DhO)

    There are whole traditions that make these side effects into some metaphysical model of reality (e.g., the body really has chakras, which have particular colors, which have particular spins and frequencies...) but with more experience you'll see that there is some general basis for this, but reality is a lot more complicated/sloppy.

    I really like the idea that most of these things are artifacts of the body/mind complex re-wiring itself, side effects so to speak. Most people's body/mind goes through a period of change during 1st and 2nd paths especially. The general domain of 3rd is usually less body-changing and more perception-changing. The general domain of 4th tends to make the body go flat for a while, followed by a rapid recalibration, followed by much more groundedness/stability/resilience. (DhO

    Dependent Origination work: notice the difference between feeling and craving. For DO work... I'd recommend not worrying about contact, but get really good at noticing the difference betweeen feeling and craving. This is a fairly tantric approach instead of a puritanical approach --- you don't stifle experience (puritanical) but you notice and cease only when it goes off the tracks (tantric).

    It will always go off the track at tanha/craving. Craving takes you beyond what is and into the domain of time and fear of not thriving. Craving convinces you "if I only experience/have/do X, then the future will be interesting, safer, better If I don't experience/have/do X, then the future will be boring, dangerous, worse." We go into a trance when we crave --- we really do think X and not-X means our future will be like that. Any sane person looking from the outside will see how crazy we are.

    In the moment, we're trapped in a snare and blindly trying to push past it. It's the whole momentum of if that ensares us. If we saw things clearly, the moment it tightened around our neck we would relax and flick the snare off our neck. 

    Sitting practice can consist of looking for the arising and passing of tanha.  (If you look with too little effort, the snares get you. If you look with too much effort, there's more tanha again!) (DhO)

    The Watcher, some ideas to explore. The still point is "within" each experience, in it's center, which is empty. so if you experience anger and go to the center of the anger, you'll find it isn't "angry" in there. you'll find that if you go to the center of the feeling of pressure on your butt when you sit, there is no pressure in the center. etc.

    The who that watches is in the visual field, vaguely associated with the location of our eyes. if you poke your finger toward your eyes, the place you are aiming at is the watcher.

    The who of the watcher is in the sense of "attention " that moves around to objects within awareness. it is "in" what is watched. you might be aware of the whole room, but you have one place/thing in attention, maybe these words, and "I" am seeing these words is a felt-experience... and it can feel like the "I" is actually in the words.  the who can be in this moving around "I-ness". the moving around I-ness can be very fast and precise during some sits/investigations, so not a still center, but a dynamic center that doesn't change it's essential "i-ness".

    Whenever you mostly calm down, but feel a sense of natural vulnerability or core sense of lack, that can often locate at the heart. it can feel very personal, very essential. I am vulnerable, I am imperfect, I am inadequate, I don't understand awakening... or even the reverse: I know who I am, I am powerful, I am knowing and intelligence, I am in control... these sensations are very often located right at the heart center. Many times when you say "I love you" and you point somewhere, you point to the heart. there are many practices that serve to awaken and make tender the heart area. classically "metta" is like this. so is "taking and sending". actually you can explore how the heart responds to all of the different meditation practices, it's very interesting. It clearly shows that greed, aversion, and indifference truly are poisons.

    It does seem that when the knot of self releases, the knot was located at the heart. But be gentle with this idea. Sometimes people want to force heart openings and wind up damaging themselves. The person has to be good and kind and aware...THEN the heart softens and opens up, on its own, like petals of a flower opening in spring. Never try to force open a flower by pulling back the petals.

    Hope this gives you some ideas to explore!  In general, I would explore them in this order, but have fun with it, choose your own approach based on what feels right, and make the exploration your own! (DhO

    Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta. Permanence and Impermanence, both need to be seen. Rob Burbea's essay has the section in it called "beyond permanent and impermanent - the true nature of things".

    Most people, however, start off with a preference for the permanence view and will look to Buddhist ideas like "the unborn" or "emptiness" or the western idea of "the soul" or Advaita Vedanta ideas to validate/reify the view that self is permanent. Eventually they may see the wisdom in the buddhist "experience is not a self" view.

    Some people, however, start off very nihlistic/avoidant and will be wallowing in a very unhealthy/pathologial "no-self" worldview. Those people can benefit from Advaita Vedanta and other ideas that sort of builds the ego/self up. And then, when the time is right, that view will need to be seen through again.

    People try to turn Buddhism (and Advaita Vedanta) into a philosophy, but it only really works as a practice. 

    It takes a strong foundation and practice to see the healthy buddhist version of "not-self", instead of falling into the traps of "self" and "no-self". Most people have to go through a few cycles of really believing in no self, self, no self, self etc.

    The path of awakening is actually more of a subtractive process and really these systems shouldn't be filling holes, but rather digging more and more holes until the whole house of cards comes down.  The ridgepole broken and no more building, as its said.

    ​​​​​​​But many many many people are looking for easy comfort and enjoyment -- and that's fine if they need it for a while... but the whole house of cards is coming down anyway, so it's actually a kind of comfort and enjoyment to explore it consciously through meditation and not have it lurking in the shadows. It's actually an enjoyable thing to do because its oddly exhausting holding up a ridgepole that doesn't exist. (DhO)

    The Middle Paths: Things get a little different in the middle area of the overall path to awakening. The older practices of really diving into sensations and the raw data of experience tend to yield fewer results at this stage. The progress of insight model tends to fall apart or at least is much less important... In the middle area, "views" become the most important aspect of experience to investigate. Notice how a "worldview" creates a "world". Of course, this is already obvious to some degree, but this is time for really refining things. To make it simple, you could simply notice how "ill-will" creates suffering. Or you could learn and apply the 6 realms ideas. Or you could learn some of the other Mahayana type techniques in “Wake Up To Your Life” by Ken McLeod. The main thing is to notice that "worldviews" creates suffering, not just resistance to raw sensations. (DhO)

    The goal in the middle paths is the transition from initial mindfulness to advanced understanding of emptiness. In 1st & 2nd Paths, it is all about noticing how individual sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts are not self and come and go. But the middle and later stage of the path is all about seeing how conceptual frameworks (views) are not self (empty) of a permanent truth, that they arise as hypotheses and come and go. Making progress requires samadhi/relaxation/concentration, of course, but it also involves these kinds of insights into the mind. And these insights into the mind tend to come when we are at ease, relaxed, and centered. Notice how both reinforce each other. (DhO)

    The path to 3rd Path. I would say that the path to 3rd Path is about seeing the "sameness" in every perception, including self, and that sameness is "emptiness". There are two aspects of this path:

    (1) concentration/jhanas seriously kick in, if you are wired this way. All the jhanas and formless realms are at least touched on if not dwelled in. This is (nearly) endlessly fascinating.

    (2) conventional perception, including the nanas, is really seen to be constructed from basic building blocks. As a result, there is a lot more freedom in life.  

    The mature side of 3rd Path comes with the depressing realization that the jhanas and the new freedoms are just even more whiz-bang experiences -- which if you are wise, you'll see as more evidence of the same emptiness of perception.

    When all of these perceptions/insights are really established, you can go through nana cycles as if it is running in the background. You'll probably have lots of fruitions. But one of nanas cycles will go deep enough (or really, it might be better to say, they will become so shallow as to be insignificant) and a third path fruition will occur. It will have the same sense of completion as the previous two paths.

    Just because all of this begs the question --- fourth path is very similar, except the concepts/perception of an independent/observing self and enlightenment are seen through completely. This is really subtle stuff and indeed relates to a very basic sense of "pride".

    Adding on: as far as practice goes, at this point mindfulness is probably a default state and noting/noticing happens fairly automatically. So practice can really do itself. All that has to be balanced is alertness and relaxation, the mind does its thing. The mind will go into concentration states and will instinctually investigate things that seem like ill will/hindrances. So it's mostly "getting out of your own way". Anything that seems like a road block should be investigated to find its inherent emptiness, concentration states should be enjoyed and dwelled in to condition the mind. It's a fascinating path so enjoy! (DhO)

    Lead up to 3rd Path. The observation/realization that the cycles do themselves was an instrumental observation for me in the lead-up to my 3rd Path moment. Basically I was on a 10 day retreat and meditation did itself for the whole time. I watched the mind get centered, watched it go in and out of jhana, watched in go in and out of mindfulness, watched an insight cycle come and go with no desire to push or pull on it, which really points out not-self in a whole different way. Not-self applies to both the sense of being a meditator and the sense of identifying with any quality of the mind itself. (DhO)

    3rd Path can be a kind of overall Dark Night of the whole 4th Path process. I'm in the "cycles aren't that helpful" camp. By now you can probably see that the cycles occur within awareness, so "what" is this awareness and "who" is aware? 

    My sense is that when people relate more to cycles than awareness late during the road to fourth, then they are probably trying to hard and overly identified with "focused attention". There can be a benefit in doing more spacious dzogchen/mahamudra practice, but it's also easy to turn those into just a slightly different flavor of "focused attention" practice. 

    It can also be worth pondering, what would "done" look like? Probably you'll feel a sense of bodily relaxation when you imagine being done --- that's the kind of relaxed awareness that should be cultivated. It's time to start trusting your wisdom more than your intelligence. (DhO

    Many people have a kind of dark night associated with the general domain of 3rd path. It can show up as depression... Whatever it is... it isn't going to be a simple "meditation insight" that's behind all of this. It's going to be a mixture of insight, psychology, and normal life worries/obligations.

    A big part of some of the latter stages of awakening involve seeing through some of the fantasies that meditation was "supposed to" provide to us. Immortality, fame, painless existence, complete rest, love, safety, respect, etc etc.  And when we don't face this sort of stuff, it can invert into a kind of depression... or a legitimate full-scale depression. Also mania. Also anxiety. 

    ... When we get confused with a state, it usually means we are trying to avoid one aspect of it's truth. We lock onto the tone of it -- and either wallow in it or run away from it -- but we don't really allow ourselves to look at it directly. It's like the fear of looking at someone directly in the eyes. 

    The only way to find peace is to see subtle greed, aversion, and fantasy for what it is. At this stage, you're beyond just labeling it and moving on to something else. That's fine for beginning practice, but it is aversion in advanced practice. If you want to untie this knot, you're going to have to start pulling on strings and figuring it out.

    ... Jhana is fine but only as a temporary tool. The real goal is making peace with normal, everyday, non-jhana experience. There is a danger for advanced meditators to seek a kind of refuge in jhana -- but that is just a very advanced form of aversion. It's okay to condition the mind with jhana, if that arises fairly naturally, but the way forward is by going into the experiences that we would rather push away or avoid. 

    Anytime we aren't at least "including" and ideally "going into" a hindrance to learn from it, chances are we're doing a form of spiritual bypassing. This really seems to be the case here. Many times it's things in everyday life that drive spiritual bypassing, some sin of commission or sin of ommission that needs correcting. 

    When hunting down this last stuff, it can be helpful to look at the last few fetters --- and to look at them poetically and practically as things that really do effect our mood and basic sanity: 
    • material-rebirth desire - obession for the good things in life, food, shelter, clothing, family, friends, education, occupation, entertainment and the first four jhanas.
    • immaterial-rebirth desire - obsession for the good stuff in meditation like the last four jhanas as well as other advance mental states.
    • conceit - the desire to be somebody, respected, but also the desire to feel "I AM" as a sense of security and comfort, this includes the desire to feel "I am enlightened".
    • restlessness - subtle seeking and doing, spiritual ambitiousness, never quite being able to find peace in the present moment.
    • ignorance - a very subtle avoiding of the truth of the nature of experience. a very subtle feeling that this moment is somehow wrong or not good enough. There can be a realization about the nature of time (present self vs. a future self) that can help reveal this ignorance as well. 
    I found it very important to find and "be with" any form of subtle ill will that was still present. Finding and being with Ill will is the way. Anything we avoid will wind up haunting us. (DhO

    A subtle sense of pride. From my own experience I'll say that another thing to be on the watch for is a subtle sense of pride that goes with going through a spiritual experience. This can show up as a background feeling that we have seen/experienced something that other people have not and that we have a slightly more advanced understanding of reality. This subtle sense of pride can kind of keep us locked into where we are, not really deeply investigating it with other meditation experts, not really analyzing it with therapists, not really working on making normal human life changes.

    When pride holds us back, it's hard to admit that we know we aren't completely mentally healthy, to admit that we know we aren't completely enlightened, and admit we know we don't have a complete normal human life... but deep inside we feel that another change is too risky, we might lose everything.

    When this happens, we avoid a lot of things. Most of all, we cut ourselves off from possible support. We avoid directly seeking help with mental challenges from true professionals, we avoid seeking help from true meditaiton experts, we avoid making changes in our life that would make things conventionally better. Sometimes we use the fear of anniliation as way to keep us stagnant. It's a real fear we have... but the fear simply isn't true. We can make changes in our life and in our thinking and the world doesn't end. We can take small tiny steps. We can even attempt things and fail and then try again. It's no big deal. 

    Pride and aversion can stagnate everything. Years can go by because we're too proud to seek a change and we almost unconsciously avoid the things that would support making a change. 

    I remember that when I honestly and actively starting working on making a changes... I felt a lot of sorrow and regret for the time I had wasted. It can feel horrible to experience the honest feelings of having lost years of life. But when you look closely at the sadness and regret --- that's your true self wanting to make a change. Deep inside, a part of your self knows what is going on and wants to make a change. If you connect to that inner intelligence, you will gradually find your own path. And it's really interesting how we find the people that want to support you when we actively seek out information and truly try to make changes.

    ... When years go by without a change, then that almost always means stagnation. The human body and mind naturally wants to continue to grow and refine itself, even after big spiritual events. And although a lot of people use fancy words like "no self" an "enlightenment" --- all of this meditation/spiritual work really leads to something much more human: basic mental sanity. The road to enlightenment isn't travelled by becoming more and more crazy, its travelled by becoming more and more sane. (DhO)

    Conceit and Agitation. Ultimately, I'm pointing squarely at conceit and agitation. Both of these things are so basic and so human, they hide in plain sight. They are not something unknown to the beginning meditator, but they are so essential that it's only someone with a strong practice that can actually isolate and work with these things.

    Conceit goes in three directions: I'm better, I'm worse, I'm the same as... All of those lock a self into some "thing", even if that thing is a value judgement. In a very deep way, it lets you know who you are. You are a strong practitioner, you are a deeply fettered practitioner, you're doing about the same as your peers. If you pick the version that seems to be most true, you can feel how your body settles. Of course everyone has all of these that show up and it can be useful to triad noting throughout the day "better", "same", "same", "better", "worse", "same". That will really highlight this fetter and make it unable to hide. It's also worth looking where the comfort zone is. For me it was mostly "same". I'm going through the same stuff my friends did in their practice, so I'm on the right track. Ahhh. I'm working with the right teacher, I'm doing the right methods, I seem to be making the same progress. Ahhh. But "same" is just as blinding and the other two, it blocks awareness of distinctions and the actual nature of what is. For some people, they only feel safe it they are better than others. Some people feel safe if they can point to someone else who is better and say "I'm worse". It's worth thinking about what "the middle path" would be. Being in a way where these considerations, while not denied, don't really seem to hit home as being the full story.

    Agitation is what is being pointed to when a solid sense of conceit goes away. It doesn't leave cleanly. In its place it leaves a rough textured sense of not really feeling right or feeling a little too right. Agitation goes in two ways. You'll have to find your own words. For me it was "inadequate" and "superior". For others it could be "wrong and "right". This isn't pointing to big moral or social statements. Just two shades of gray, one slightly warm and positive, another slightly cool and negative. Both of which are clearly seen as not self, that isn't the agitation, yet somehow they do agitate.

    Inadequate is the word I used for sensing that something wasn't quite right but any "method" would be a manipulation of what is. In a very very subtle way, I needed to do something. Again, I'm pointing to something very subtle. It's not the gross aversion that we see in early practice. This is an experience that appears very clearly, arises without creating a reaction chain, is known as a fetter, doesn't disturb the mind, disappears completely, is known as not self completely. So on one hand, no problem, yet it agitates by the very nature of it happening. It just seems wrong in some way. Like a speck of dust landing on your glasses that flies away the next moment. Nothing was really bothered, yet you don't like it. You get the sense that this little speck of dust could set off a whole reactive chain of aversion if your mind wasn't clear at that moment.

    Superior was the word I used for things feeling right. But again, this isn't the gross attraction/greed that is felt in early practice. It's an experience that appears very clearly, doesn't trigger a reactive pattern of clinging, disappears completely, is known as not self completely. Yet the fact that it happens seems wrong. You have a deep sense that this "superiorness" is an overlay that doesn't hurt anything, but it doesn't help, and maybe if our mind wasn't clear it could set off a greedy quest for something, so somehow this almost nothing experience seems to agitate deeply.

    Agitation is that subtle feeling of vulnerability or false certainty which is at the same time self-evident. It isn't a nana or a poison. It isn't the Fear nana or gross Aversion, nor the awesome A&P nana or gross Attraction. It's the subtlest form of these things that can be.

    This is another thing that you can note throughout the day. I found it very helpful to go around noting superior and inadequate. What is interesting to me is the right set of words eventually localized this experience in my body right at the heart. It was close enough to "the right side of the heart" that it made me all excited because lots of traditions make this observation. Then I noted "superior" and went on with my practice emoticon. It's helpful to also remember heart means mind in a lot of old languages, so treating this as something just in the body is probably too reductive. But this very subtle very basic agitation is very much the unenlightened "you".

    Then my teacher said, I'm sorry about this but there isn't anything more to teach. This would be cruel to say to a new meditator. But again, with being sensitive to fine distinctions, that helped point out any remaining subtle agitation. The practice I was given was no distraction, no control, no practice. It was on a short weekend retreat maybe a few months later that I "saw" what the subtle agitation was. It was me. The me that needed fixing for my entire life. And yet because it was seen as not me, I couldn't be confused again. But nothing else changed, so I still have a lot of work to do, so to speak. But I'm not able to stand apart and triangulate on what needs to be done anymore -- because that triangulation is in its essence an agitation, a conceit, ill will for what is, etc. -- so it also seems like things just change. And sometimes something comes up in my life that's so massively flawed in my personality,  that I marvel that I could have ever made such subtle meditation practice when I was overlooking this big elephant, a problem that I can triangulate on and work to fix because it is so basically wrong. I'm definitely not a perfect human being. All of these are true and they don't seem to conflict anymore. There seems to be a middle path that continues which isn't constrained by awakened or unawakened in the same solid sense anymore. (DhO

    Wrathful Dieties. I definitely tend to sidestep a lot of direct demon thinking/confrontation, but one of the most powerful things to have available -- in case of emergency, break glass -- is the intention/wish "if it will benefit all beings, may it happen", as in "if these circling demons might decend upon me, if will benefit all beings, may it happen. Whatever happens, may it benefit all beings."

    People who are new to this stuff should be aware that sometimes apparent demons are actually wrathful dharmic dieties who basically are teaching "If you think you can get completely out of the interdependent world, what about this?" Wrathful dieties should hopefully connect us to the empowerment of the deepest feeling of "this is bullshit and needs to stop". Basically, to really honor the wrathful dharmic deities, you need to recognize the existence of needless suffering they are pointing out and take action. Wrathful dieties are so blatently destructive to absolutely move us and motivate action. This motivation is so strong that it overrides our sense of needing to be perfect before taking action. Our actions will probably be imperfect and have residual, but no big deal, it then informs the next action.  The wraithful deities will find a way to take you out of your comfort zone and make you honor them through awareness and action. (DhO)

    6 Realms Teachings. A while ago I put some very very high-level notes on different 6 realms teachings here (Trungpa, McLeod, AroTer). 

    I highly recommend the 6 Realms framework as a way to discover how our unconscious orientations create our perceived experience. Basically, in each moment that is not awake, we will have an prejudiced orientation toward the world. This bias, which is closer than close and rarely seen, will determine what we look for and therefore how we react to the world. But if you are conscious of this, then suddenly we are much more responsive rather than reactive to the state of things.

    The basic Buddhist idea is that we keep getting psychologically reborn into the present moment, and we can be reborn as hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, titan, or gods. Each birth will be motivated by an unconscious orientation, in the hell realm it's anger/vengeance, in hungry ghost it's greed/addiction, in animal world it is automatic habits, in human it is desire, in titan it is ambition, in gods it is pride.  And from that seed, an entire worldview is created. 

    In a way, this is ultimately what Jungian individuation becomes--- looking upstream into how we "frame" experience through different paradigms, ultimately arriving at very primal structures in the mind. Thinking about it more, a basic framework could be Jungian shadow work, 6 realms work, and the 5 element work (5 elements is an even more refined framework, dealing with much more immediate flashes of un-awakeness which eventually lead to the 6 realms). 

    Ken McLeod’s “Wake Up To Your Life book” has good 6 realms and 5 elements discussion/practices. There are also good podcast/recordings on (DhO)

    Buddhist Psychology in 6 Realms. Each one of the realms has it's own internal logic, but has a blindness that maintain suffering. Hell realm being lash out against each other, recreating the harm that they are trying to prevent. Hungry ghosts consume so quickly and mindlessly that they never feel satisfaction. Animals double down on what has worked in the past, and repeat all their past mistakes. Humans invest in their desires, but never question why most desires don't satisfy except temporarily. Titans use their strength and power, but always go beyond their abilities and fail. Gods are so busy maintaining what they have, that they lose track of reality and get blindsided by small, incremental things that are not worthy of their attention.

    All of the things that reinforce suffering are perfectly appropriate in other contexts. Protecting from harm, satisfying needs, rewarding routines, creativity, ambition, and appreciation... but in the 6 realms they are focused on a very limited sense of self and there is no sense of interdependence or nuance ...

    People have a hard time seeing/admitting to ignorance. Again, I have a bit of a darwinian view of this. It is energetically costly to update a worldview, so out of efficiency the mind will tend to ignore stimuli that doesn't reconfirm the worldview. This makes good energetic sense. Then there also is a "suffering threshold" which says "reality is differing significantly enough from your worldview, so you need to pay attention, collect new data, develop new models". 

    In a way, buddhist meditation is a hack: by focusing on the suffering tone, adult development is spurred onward. It can be quite interesting to see how much development occurs in a decade among meditators versus others in their age group --- it really is night and day. Basically, by intentionally looking for discomfort or ill will within lived experience, the mind has motivation to develop a more real worldview that both sees and includes all of these subtle sufferings that are normally glossed over and ignored by most people. At the heart of it is the nature of creating a self, the defense mechanisms involved, and the limitations created by worldviews themselves --- the very meta worldview of someone who has, so to speak, awakened to these things. (DhO

    Classic emotions in 6 Realms. It is very common for us to avoid emotions we don't particularly like and instead focus on the sensations of it or the thoughts of it, but not the raw emotion itself. Emotions hurt, which is why they are so powerful. Emotions are also a very fast source of information, which is why after emotional habits are cleaned up, the mind will continue to have very fast yet very fleeting emotions as a source of very quick "thinking" yet without all of the clinging that is normally associated with emotions. It pays to look closely at the nature of emotions during meditation. 
    • Hell Realm: The overt emotion in this realm is anger/hate. Either you have hot and explosive anger or cold seething hate. There is also the "neighboring hells" which is basically a manifestation of very aggressive avoidance and "hating the hate", you keep fighting your own hate, trying to get away from it, but because you "hate your hate" you bring the emotion with you wherever you go. The dominant attitude is "oppose". If you go into a situation assuming you will have to oppose things, hell is sure to come...
    • Hungry Ghost: The overt emotion is manifestations of greed, an intense greed that can never be satisfied due to the speed of the world. Either a poverty mentality where nothing is enough and anything needs to be horded, a petty feeling of pseudo-injustice where you feel you can't enjoy what you have, or an intensity of greed that prevents any momentary satisfaction because you need to get the next thing. The dominate attitude is "take". If you go into a situation focused on what's there to take, you are already feeling poor and have an attiude that will blossom into greed.
    • The Animal Realm: This one is tricky because the reactivity in this world is not very "emotional" in the human sense. (And animals in real life are awesome, so the inherent prejudice against animals kinda rubs my fur the wrong way...) I even had to go online and read a list of 400 emotions to help me put this into my own words.... but here's the deal: the emotions in this realm are things like "obeying, following, nostalgia, resignation, numbness, or being stupefied" -- sort of non-emotion emotions. So an animal will follow it's instinct and often it's instinct is to obey/follow others. This is also the world of debilitating depression, being overwhelmed or confused. The dominate attitude is a very non-clever "just survive" mentality. Doing the least to get by, doing what has worked in the past, not developing as a person because "a leopard can't change it's spots."
    • The Human Realm: The emotion here is desire, what an interesting emotion. The human world is where there is never a time without a desire and where achieving the desire is so satisfying... for a while. But don't worry, another desire will overtake you soon enough!  The form of desire in this world is one that is carefully considered, unlike the greed of the hungry ghost world, humans consider pros and cons, cost and benefit --- we shop for our desires!  One way to think of the core human emotion is a bittersweet "frustrated enjoyment".  The core attitude is basically idealism -- making things more simple and more better than the reality of the world through a slight bias in the way we conceptualize things. Without this idealism, we wouldn't get completely seduced by our desires. And if we go into a situation with some form of idealism, we'll search out ways to find confirming evidence that proves our ideals, evaluating things against the ideal. Of course, the desire for awakening from desire is the way out of this mess. Clever humans!  Traditionally they say you can only awaken in the human realm.
    • Titans/Asuras - Wanting to be great!!  The dominant emotions are quiet feelings of inadequacy to more obvious forms of jealosy. This is an important world for over-achievers to ponder. Especially the tragic downfall that always occurs. A titan will always fail... because they never stop. They always go past their abilities and lose their investments, health, status, reputation. The dominant attitude is "Achieve". If you go into a situation thinking about what you can achieve by being there... then you are already on your way to being born as a titan in that situation.
    • Gods/Devas - I am great! The dominant emotions are superiority and pride. The dominant attitude is actually "maintain" -- which is a how the gods always are isolating subtle dukkha and trying to push it away. They shop in different stores, sit in sky boxes at sporting events, live in gated communities. The downfall of the gods is they don't pay attention to little things, they can't be bothered, and then like rust or termites their whole world slowly falls apart. Like the Hemmingway statement "How did you go bankrupt? First slow, then fast." The fall of gods is ironic -- they really have no friends because as soon as trouble hits (even in the slightest way) their "friends" isolate them and push them away! (DhO)
    My kind of fractal appreciation for 6 realms and 5 elements. I found 6 realms helpful early on, because the model of being reborn in these worlds helped me see the way I had a tangle of urges that kept me in a cycle of suffering. It's hard for me to describe what my life was like, it was very confusing to me, but I started to see patterns... 

    ... 5 elements was I think the thing that started creating a framework for how emotions drove my whole existance -- even though externally I was an intellectual. But soon emotions moved too fast and were too vague to be much of a guide/focus.... and I started seeing the 6 realms. 6 Realms was more important for giving me a wider perspective. 

    When I encountered the 6 realms teaching, I stopped getting distracted by the speed of emotions and started paying attention to the overall strategy and worldview that I was operating under. Regardless of what emotions where happening -- what was my general attitude? Anger? Greed? Wallowing? Wanting? Achieving? Pride?  I only had 6 categories to choose from. And I could see how anger just kept cycling in anger, greed in greed, wallowing in wallowing, wanting in wanting, achieving in achieving, pride in pride. Aha! So that's how it works!!

    It really sucked for a while because I saw that everything I did was failing in real life. But at the end of the day, I sat down and watched how memories of the day all kinda fit the pattern of the 6 realms and I got a little wiser each day. Less of the same mistakes. Ahhh. And finally, even some simple joy in plain old life. Wow! Teasing this appart got me through most of the dark night.

    Then Pre SE, the worlds became less important. Instead the whole thing was about intimacy with mind objects and cracking the big fractal of EQ. Mostly about appreciating how things were -- so simple, yet so impossible, until it wasn't.

    Post SE, Second Path and Third path it became important again, because there is a lot ambition and strategy that happens. It seems like "now I know what is going on, I'm in charge" --- which is funny in retrospect. Pretty much all problems in meditation come from trying to game the system, but it takes a whiile to learn that. Took me a while (but much less time that before) to realize it's all the 6 worlds again, but now with jhana and "emptiness"! ☺In fact, on my third path retreat, I spent about a week watching myself alternate between titan and god  i.e. "I need to understand and get this" and "I know what it is, I have it" -- both of which are not quite correct. ☺ I could feel ahh god and arrgh titian, in my mind and body, taking over my thinking, emotional, and body patterns --- quite amazing. 

    But what was it that "knew" all of this? -- that's the real question!

    Then 5 elements became important again, except on the very very very subtle level. I could see how my ego reacted when it "saw" emptiness. A whole reactive chain in about 1/4 of a second. Wow. A kind of clinging similar to 5 elements in the beginning, but so fast and so subttle that I never would have seen it when I started.

    So definitely a kind of fractal appreciation for 6 realms (and 5 elements). Same idea, but different levels of subtlety at different times. (DhO)

    Jung's stuff.  I think the challenge most people have with Jung is they want to create intrinsically real "thing" out of what get's encountered as these raw forces like superego and id become deconstructed into something much more creative, primal, and liminal. All the semi-lucid urges and semi-fantastic images have to be honored as just that, rather than trying to make experience into some pantheon of independent entities.

    This can also happen with the woowoo stuff that seems inevitable in medtation, the periods of almost channeled inteligence, encountering other beings within our mind, strange psychic intuitions, and magical synchonicities. These are easy to deal with if they are seen as momentary events consistent with those lables, which have already come and gone so no big deal. But human nature is to cling and reify and so people will always make more of a big deal than is appropriate and will always try to control/own/command these strange "powers". It's a fool's errand but we all need to take the fool's journey. 

    Jung's stuff has the potention to break worldviews out of their materialistic/elemental simplicity into something much more organic and creative... or people can freak out when they realize there is no controlling creativity and no guarantees and then they'll come up with a new system that basically shoves all the creativity back into box. (DhO

    5 Elements / Dakini. 5 Element/Dakini practice is all about seeing the reactive patterns that come from an experience of middle path/nothing in particular and points to an ever subtler version of "realm". In this practice, if you are slightly fixed/ridgid in the face of impermance (earth element), an experience of nothing in particular will feel vaguely unstabilizing, which will cause subtle grabbing to an aspect of experience to define yourself against. The metaphor is when the earthquake comes, you feel off balanced, and you grab onto something to hold. 5 Element practice is a combination of visualizing and acting out all of these very primal ways we instinctually (it takes maybe 1/20th or 1/10th of a second) react when slightly off balanced. 

    I did both of the 6 Realms and 5 Elements work as self-directed study, which really prepared me for working with a teacher on mahamudra type practice. Because 6 Realms and 5 Elements requires a lot of self investigation, visualizing, investigating, role playing, I think it actually is well suited for self-study. It relies on the practioner being very very honest and intimate with how their body/mind clings, which is something that can't be "taught". I'll bet this was the kind of practice that was given to a yogi with the teacher's instructions, "do this for a few months and then let's talk." emoticon The student has to be at a point where they can do the work, and they have to do the work. 

    5 Element was by far my favorite (!) practice and helped me so much that I'm somewhat amazed it isn't talked about much. It's done on the cushion but after a few months it can be something that is seen in real time. Amazingly helpful. If someone has the sensitivty to see those micro reactions, it really is one of the most sophisticated practices I've ever seen on honing right in to the essence of clinging. It builds a basic experiential literacy with primal clinging in the face of imperminance, basically creating a method for approaching Bare Attention and awareness of Change. Of course, the point of all of this is to build the capacity and then let it do it's work. (DhO

    Ill Will. For what it's worth, getting closer to this sense of subtle dukkha/subtle knot is a good goal to have to the extent that you are practicing. Usually there are three practices that help zoom in on it: 6 Realms, 5 Elements, and "Investigation of ill will". The first two are somewhat complex, but surprizingly effective, and can be found in Ken McLeod's "Wake Up To Your LIfe".

    The third is simple and direct: search for the slightest experience of lack, unease, confusion, or ill will within your experience, include that experience in your awareness, and rest in the totality of your experience including (but not entirely focused on) the sense of lack, unease, confusion, or ill will. It's important not to focus on it, because that keeps the self-other kind of attitude toward it. Simply include it as part of the totality of experience. (DhO)

    ... At a certain phase of my practice, I got very interested in ill will. Mostly things had improved in my life with the understanding that ill will needs to be created by bringing aversion, greed, or indifference to what was already occuring. So I got a little crazy for hunting down ill will and allowing it to relax into the absence of aversion, greed, and indifference. I also had to remember that part of me was identified with this hunting, so when there was the absense of AGI and it felt like I wasn't doing a good job, I had to remember to recognize THAT as greed for something different, aversion to the absence of ill will, and indifference to neutral experience. (DhO)

    A tonglen practice. There is a version of tonglen that I highly recommend:

    1. Find some aspect of your present experience that is lacking, is difficult, is suffering, etc.
    2. Feel that experience. It can help to name it.
    3. State the intention: "if there are any other beings out there that are experiencing this and having too much difficulty with it, may I experience it for them. May their experience come to me. May I fully experience it with no resistance. May they find relief."
    4. Feel that experience again. Soak in it, dwell in it. Also imagine the joy the other feels being free of it and how they can gain perspective/insight because they now aren't overwhelmed by it. Go back and forth between you and other.
    5. After a period of time that feels right, drop the intention and say, "May all beings be free from suffering, may all beings awaken, may all beings be happy."

    And then repeat the whole cycle again when it feels right.

    The benefit of this practice is you are not taking on anything new, you're experiencing what you are already experiencing, but you are taking on what you are already experiencing with a much deeper intention that goes beyond yourself.  And it ends with a reaffirmation that we're all worthy of peace, awakening, and happiness.

    Give it a try. And feel free to disregard if it doesn't seem like a good match. (DhO)

    6 Realms + 5 Elements, Presence. it seems like most people use noting/jhana for a big part of their early work and make good progress, but then they have to transition to something else to really tease away the remaining blindspots and resistances.

    Even though people in this stage have nearly instant access to "the state of presence" -- it has the flavor of still being state-like and there still being some sense that "I have" and  "that state". And these people tend to have much less distinction between formal practice and living life... but they notice during practice and during off-cushion life there are times of easy "going with the flow" and other times of "somehow still stuck". There is still some existential tension and very subtle suffering that kinda bugs us and it's really hard to tell the root cause... 

    So much of the latter part of practice involves 1) the suffering created by "worldviews" and 2) the tiny reactive patterns that take hold when confronted by not-knowing.

    (My opinion on the best text for this stage of practice is Wake Up to Your Life, by Ken McLeod -- which is a fairly jargon-free description of the practice done in a tibetian three-year retreat. Definitely skip over stuff that seems basic, the book was written for all audiences, but the practices themselves are really intended to be used very advanced ways.) 

    The suffering of worldviews is how we make some basic assumptions about how life is or should be and then get subtly frustrated when things don't line up. Usually we'll blame ourselves for something we're doing wrong... but often at this stage it's our worldview that is flawed. And most of these worldviews are founded on some simple assumption, like the event being being wrong, or not enough, or the same as it was in the past, or inherently satisifying, or an accomplishment, or an escape. Usually these are associated with subtle proto-emotions of opposition, greed, dullness, desire, ambition, and pride. This is the classic 6 realms teaching and being reborn in realms --- hell beings, hungry ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and devas -- but for very advanced meditators. It focuses on the subtle psychology of identity.

    The suffering of tiny reactive patterns is how, when faced with actual freedom, we instinctively react to maintain some sense of self. We either try to hold onto some idea, or avoid some kind feeling of danger, or enhance some distracting desire, or rush make ourselves busy, or freak out --- and these little reactions occur within about 1/4 of a second after we have a moment when our normal I-based coordinate system falls away. This is the classic 5 elements teaching -- earth, water, fire, air, and void --- but again it's for very advanced meditators. It focus on the subtle existential threat caused by "non-existance". 

    I provide that as food for thought. Many times people chase fruitions and jhanas and NS as something that will "fix" the suffering of worldviews and reactive patterns. My approach was to go directly into the worldviews and reactive patterns that cause suffering and untangle them. My mind would fall naturally into jhanas, but from my perspective it was more like my mind was using jhana to avoid directly experiencing the inherent dukkha of views and reactions -- so more of a very advanced avoidance mechanism! I found that directly experiencing the inherent suffering of the 6 realms (so to speak) and the inherent suffering of the 5 elements (so to speak) provided what I needed to see why I was still clinging to an "I" and a "no-I".

    The state of presence is very seductive and seems to be a refuge, but it's state-like nature is a bit of a give away. The state of presence is still a very subtle contraction, which you can detect because it still is a _state_. (DhO

    Seeing the tautologies of samsaric worlds and having them extinguish. The thing people often miss is that clinging to developing a "pure self" is a form of greed, clinging to "no self" is a form of aversion, and ignoring the way a clinging to self creates suffering is indifference. The goal is not "no self" or a feeling of "no self". And the spiritually ambitious people who want to create a "pure self" will also suffer. 

    However, I would also say that to really get "done" with this stuff, it's really important to notice that technically it's impossible to actually be attached to self --- even if we wanted to. As you point out, the first hint is that the self keeps changing. The second hint is the suffering that happens when we try to control if/how it changes. The third hint relates to the "who" relaxes (?) and "who" is able to let go of the attachment of self (?). This is seeing the tautological nature of self, the endless self-referentiallity of it. This takes it way outside of the realm of psychology and into the realm of awakening. Really getting the third hint radically changes how the whole entire domain of self, including the assumed problem caused by the self, is understood. We may not have the problem we think we had.

    It's a lot like realizing what money is and it's tautological nature. Money is real and the most important thing... in the world of money. Self is real and the most important thing... in the world of the self. 

    Being "reborn" is basically existing again within another tautological worldview, it's a samsaric world. (A practice method for seeing this is the 6 realms teaching, where we reduce all the complexity about a situation and just look at it's fundamental worldview. Am I trying to oppose, take, endure, enjoy, achieve, or maintain? That is being reborn as a hell being, hungry ghost, animal, human, powerful god, heavenly being, respectively.) When the belief in the reality of the tautology falls apart, that's an extinguishing of the world, nirvana litterally means extinguishing.

    There is a lot of work to be done on seeing the tautologies of samsaric worlds and having them extinguish. If this work isn't done, then we're just lying to ourselves and we're just a bunch of philosophers that are great at looking backward and rationalizing, but unable to manifest our philosopies in real time.

    But the last step is seeing that the samsaric world never "stays" except for our beliefs about holding it here. The samsaric world is always already extinguishing itself, too. The recursive nature of selfing and it's assumed link to causation is the last little knot that needs to be untangled. Right in this moment, nothing can make anything arise and nothing keeps anything here. There isn't even such a thing as "this moment". 

    This is the radical and catalytic insight that allows for awakening, but again, unless a critical mass of fixations has been cleaned away this will just be a philosophical idea. All of our psychological/philosophical work in meditation is to get us light enough so that when we have an insight into the actual nature of self and this moment, the whole thing tips over like a balance scale that finally tips to the other side... or the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards... or some other metaphor.  (DhO)

    Suffering, Emptiness, Liberation and Compassion. Suffering is empty (a vivid but non-tangable mind state) and this is what gets realized. There may be difficult sensations, emotions, and thoughts... but when deconstructed this way, there isn't a "thing" called suffering. Suffering is what happens when individual sensations and emotions and thoughts get lumped together and psychologically avoided. Suffering is some dreaded thing over there that we don't want to experience. Extended awareness of suffering helps lead to this insight.

    Awareness itself is similar to suffering. It doesn't exist as a "thing". If you look at awareness, what you see are actually vivid self-arising displays of sensations (and smells and tastes) and emotions and thoughts. Even if you go into jhana, you enter mind-states with particular qualities/bandwidths of experience, but not awareness itself. The name of the last jhana, neither-perception-nor-not-perception, gives a hint that even this experience isn't pure awareness nor pure nothingness -- even in this refined state awareness itself is a slippery idea and can't quite be grasped as a "thing".

    Rather than saying that suffering and awareness don't exist, it's better to say that they are empty or "vividly spaceous". And really every thing is like this, all experiences both exist in some way (they are a vivid experience) and don't exist in some way (they are just a mind display). Emptiness doesn't mean non-existance. It means that the thing is not the same as it appears, nor is it unrelated to how it appears. Suffering, for example, is not really the "thing" that we initially see, but it also isn't completely unrelated to the discomfort, pain, anquish we experience. 

    Liberation is possible because it is possible to deconstruct suffering through investigation, but compassion is necessary because suffering does display itself and create disturbances in beings. If you just seek liberation without compassion, is is a kind of repression/denialism:""suffering isn't real so I don't have to care about it. I'm in pain but it doesn't matter. Others are in pain but that's because they are stupid" -- that sort of thing. If you just go the route of compassion without liberation, then you are solidifying the idea of suffering as a real thing, which is a kind of eternalism (and a subtle sense of greed for suffering because you need the suffering to have the compassion). A balanced approach is having compassion for suffering while also being free/liberated from the apparent perminance/eternallness of suffering in this world. (DhO)

    Getting used to non-agency. One classic off-cushion practice for this stage is a kind of gentle noting that says "look at it brush it's hair" "look at it walk itself" "look at it pick up a spoon" "look at it brush it's teeth".

    The idea of the "look at it..." practice is not to force some perception, but just to give a little bit of a framework to these experiences. It can get spooky when agency drops away or we can sometimes need just a bit of mental framing of it so that we don't freak out. So the "look at it..." practice gives just enough of a guiderail to let people enter this domain of non-agency and get used to it.

    The caution for this practice is it should be done by someone well established in practice. If someone gets too neurotic or obsessive or forceful or dissociated or catatonic then this is definitely NOT a good practice for them. 

    It should feel like a game, simply enjoying and noting the many times during the day when the sense of agency has weakened. You're not trying to "make non-agency happen" or push in any way. It will simply become more and more obvious that we have tended to "blink out" non-agency in the past because it was too scary for our mind to really see it. 

    You can also start exploring the 5 Elements practice in Ken McLeod's Wake Up To Your Life book, which focuses on the flip side of this, which is the subtle ways we cling to agency through very subtle reactive patterns of holding, avoiding, intensifying, becoming busy/frantic, or spacing out... which are symbolized as the earth, water, fire, air, and void elements. 5 Elements practice is about noticing the subtle ways we create a sense of agency through a nearly unconscious reaction. There's a more detailed description and ways to practice through "active imagination"... which then eventually allows us to do it in real life in real time. (DhO)

    Non-Doership. Many of us worked with a teacher to get past the final stage of untangling, because it really is a subtle thing ... Basically, this last bit of territory is about opening into that last bit of dropping resistance and reliquishing control. In other words, it's right into the physical sensations of being an "I", that sense of wanting to get something and hold on to it. 

    It involves continuing to practice and continuing to investigate, but with less and less and less method or manipulation. What is simply so? What subtle ill-will exists that somehow rejects what is occuring? It involves looking at how, when things are very calm and non reactive, we still take on a very subtle orientation of either "I'm inadequate" or "I've got what is important and I'm superior".

    For me, this lead me to seeing a very fundamental sense of woundedness and a very fundamental way of see how I was always saying either "no!" or "more!" to the present moment.  Eventually, that dropped away and I had pretty much instant access to non-dual experience, to experience without greed, hatred, or delusion. 

    But then even that was noticed as a state that "I" accessed. The last knot was feeling into that sense of being a limited "I" in the heart. 

    And then I fully experienced that knot as a knot -- as an "experience" -- and it was done. In that moment, I fully understood what an experience was and what mind was and there was nothing more that I sought from "meditation" or "spirituality" or "practice" --- but life leads on and there is still plenty of interesting things to investigate and practice. 

    ... A lot of people get sidetracked with "getting rid of" sensations of doership and sensations of identity and judge their progress by how rare those occur. While there is an element of truth to the notion, the real quest is to see the nature of sensations of doership and the sensation of the "I" (and how we needlessly complicate the experience of those sensations by reifying them). Thank goodness that awakening does not require the kind of perfection we think it does! 

    ... One thing that I worked with a teacher on was "adding energy" to open awareness. (We didn't use the expression Rigpa, but I suspect it's equivalent.) After stablizing awareness over ~20 minutes or so, I would go through several cycles of adding intensity into perception, by sitting straighter and investigating harder, and then watch what happened when that intensity naturally fell apart. The falling apart of that higher energy level is important, because it's a loss of control and intention and the investigator. You can only do this about 6 to 10 times over ten minutes, it's oddly exhausting. 

    Sometimes I think that when people get stuck in sort of a blah flavor of Rigpa, they don't have the level of energy/investigation high enough and are stagnating. Obviously, there are lots of potential goofy side effects whenever you "add energy" into meditation, so I can't advise this practice unless you have a strong support group and/or access to a teacher. This is also a practice that is for post stream entry. It really makes no sense to try and manipulate experience unless you have had the very deep experience of noting experience all the way into a cessation. Use appropriate caution. When you want to make things go faster, that's usually a sign that you actually should lessen effort and relax into the meditation experience! (DhO)

    Spontaneity / Agencyless. The Spontaneity/Agencyless aspect can feel oddly "wrong" for a while, simply because of the old habit of analyzing/investigating. Conversely, sometimes non-spontaneity/agency can become demonized as less awake but there really are times we need to think things through/take ownership and be careful.

    The middle path is to trust that the really is an intelligence that leads onward and let yourself fall into spontaneity and non-spontaneity as the mind chooses and experience all of it mindfully/intimately. Doubt is probably pretty minimal now, it should be clear that awareness itself is sensitive/intelligent and learns to see things that we never could have anticipated or made to happen.

    Paths tend to be described by something that is absent or something that is present, that's just the nature of language and can be helpful to point out when someone is blind to something absent or something present. But the later paths are much closer to seeing "what is the mind that experiences both absence and presence" or "what knows?" regardless of the content of experience.

    The pleasure of this domain often comes from moments without greed, aversion, or ignorance -- just the clean pleasure of knowing this moment and accepting this moment without greed, aversion, or ignorance. You are absolutely encouraged to enjoy this state. I want to jokingly caution: don't vipassana the shit out of it because when we let ourself be at ease we become even more sensitive to the subtlest greed, aversion, and ignorance that still exist by first dwelling in ease, not pre-emptively and blindly trying to eradicate dukkha.

    So the path forward is a lot less intentional renunciation and a lot more simple guilt-free appreciation of the moment, as an expression of the renunciation you have already developed, which will then allow subtle dukkha to be subtly detected, almost like a slight "haze" or "scent", which leads to the next subtle dropping of dukkha, etc. There is more and more of a sense that sitting practice is only one aspect of this and practice and life starts fusing together more and more.

    And of course normal life goes on, which requires all the normal kinds of doing, the laundry, the grocery, the dating, the working... Bringing practice into all of those things -awareness, appreciation and dealing with the difficult life stuff- is high-level practice. (DhO)

    The "rule" of not manipulating experience is actually a little dogmatic. Core wounds become visible very late in the four path model. These things get seen and it explains a lot of our worldviews and patterned thoughts and actions.  It's also worth looking for what the core habit/compulsion is --- what is your unconscious strategy to be worthy of being loved? Common things are niceness, competence, obeying, working hard, intelligence, entertaining, worshipping, etc. 

    Manipulating experience isn't always artificial. Life likes to play and explore --- there are many actions which are consistent with this, even the whole practice of meditation itself. It's okay to "test" reality through playful experiments, she doesn't mind. The "rule" of no manipulation is actually a little dogmatic. Creativity and experimentation is fine, it's only when we take an approach of superiority or inferiority and try to force or solidify reality that a foundation for suffering is created. (and like you said, the neat thing about suffering is it points to where we made a mistake).

    Are you resisting your own creativity? Are you limiting your own experimentation? Are you limited by a core wound or a core compulsion? At a certain point, structured practices that emphasize very open experiences, like resting and looking practices, are an interesting way to keep experimenting. (DhO)

    Oneness is a state. If the student is just accessing this state (Oneness) and it is helpful for equanimity, stability, deeping awareness, letting go of resistances -- then they might say this is One Mind or Buddha Nature or Diamond Samadhi (or lots of other names) and the student should dwell in it, soak in, merge with it.

    If the student is already stable in that state -- then the teacher might say the complete opposite, This is not "true" one mind, buddha nature, diamond samadhi... and the teacher might point out that "Look closer, this is recognizable as a >state<, therefore it isn't you. What is aware of this state?"

    Probably the historical Buddha would be more inclined to do the latter an would emphasize the "dependent arising" of that state. In otherwords, the feeling of "oneness" arises when certain conditions arise, it disappears when other conditions arise. Like jhana, these states can be helpful for preparing the mind and dropping greed/hatred/delusion. (DhO)

    Enlightenment is not a state. Lots of enlightenment porn talks about enlightenment being a state. Some types of porn describe it as blissful or peaceful. Some describe it as jagged and on the edge of sanity. Some describe it as funny and humorous. Some say it is intellectually perfect. Some say and every action is completely effortless. Some say it's none of that but rather is "non-dual", and there are various attempts to define non-dual without falling into the earlier types of descriptions... It's not a state. That's a classic trap. If someone is experiencing reality as a state, there is a contraction still present that still isn't being objectified. Any state that is observable also implies an observer of that state. If you are ever in a state that seems like it might be enlightenment, just ask "what is the mind that observes this state?". When mind is's an insight, not a state. (DhO

    Trascending (a chosen) duality. The (apparent) binaryness of things can be a clue/practice. The trick is to find a binary that really speaks to you. Maybe true self/no self, maybe enlightened/not enlighted  --- but don't necessarily use dharma terms. Use what it really seems/feels like. For me, it was superior and inferior. So I'll just use that in my explanation...

    I would walk around noticing when I felt on top of things, knowing what was going on and feeling in control and say (mentally) "superior". When I felt like I was missing something and didn't know what I was doing I would say "inferior". Eventually I could feel that viscerally. Then I started inducing that feeling, consciously deciding to take on "superior" or "inferior" attitude and live from that orientation. It didn't feel fake at all. I could really feel what it was like to choose to be truly superior and truly inferior. I played with that like breaking a paperclip by bending it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth... Do that until you are sick of it. 

    Eventually, there is a sense of something that transcends that duality... and it can come from exploring -- this is neither superior or inferior, those are both states that get overlayed on "this",  so what is this experience? I was in a business meeting at the time and suddently it was like I went from looking at an aquarium to being in the aquarium --- just for a moment. This was my first non-dual experience. Luminosity is really apparent in the non-dual experience.

    Then cultivate the experience of non-duality by deeply relaxing... and do it again.

    Just as a big of a teaser... it's possible to make a duality out of non-duality, which is basically the last binary that gets seen through. And oddly enough, what is seen is the nature of seeking itself.

    By the way, it's okay to skip all the steps and just notice that seeking is a sensation. (DhO

    Non-Dual Insight.  States of mind (from crude to extremely pure states) can come and go. The non-dual insight doesn't go away. The tricky thing is that the non-dual insight/awakening is extremely unlikely to happen unless the practitioner has experienced extremely pure states. (DhO

    Are you able to let dual and non-dual experience come and go without clinging? A non-dual experience is so shocking because it is the first experience without clinging. When greed and aversion are dropped, when there isn't a habit of delusion (where we can stay with the present and not go into fantasy), then we experience "non-dual" experience. So clean, so intimate, so spacious, so immediate, so complete, so timeless. Just perfect.

    If experiences happen like that, simply dwell in it, let if "flavor" the way you relate to the world. It's a wonderful way to be. It's the absence of the three poisons, no greed, no aversion, no delusion. Just this, simple and luminous and wonderful.

    But here's where it get's interesting. If you want that, and don't have that, well... that's greed all over again. Which is contrary to the non-dual experience that feels so much like home. So you are left in a paradox, you want to go home again, you have a sense of what home might be like, but if you want it over the current state of not being home, then you are even further from home.

    ... So, the ultimate orientation to any experience is to welcome it. Although this has been the path all along, never placing too much value in any particular experience in meditation, it is still true even with non-dual experience. Are you able to let dual and non-dual experience come and go without clinging? Yes, notice it and dwell in the non-dual when it happens, but don't push away experiences that are dual. That is a very advanced practice and exactly the thing that is needed prior to awakening. As always, natural curiousity, natural investigation, the natural wisdom of awareness itself will find the way.

    Awareness is aware of everything and anything. The profundity of that statement can't be underestimated. Awareness is aware of dual and non-dual. So what >is< awareness? Pondering that question, not intellectually but experientially while sitting in meditation, could help the final insight occur. It can't be explained, but these statements point to it: Awareness >is< awareness. Experience >is< experience. 

    Sorry in advance that this can't be put on a platter and simply served to you. For better or worse, we each have to find our way... find our way back to the simple insight that >this is it<. The experience of this moment is the perfect experience of this momement, because this moment >is< experience. (DhO)

    Presence is a very unstable state unless we have done a lot of ‘cleaning-up’ through different therapeutic, meditative, investigative modalities. "Presence" or "Natural Mind" or "The absence of greed, aversion, and indifference" --- oh whatever words are used --- it is so strikingly different than the narrow, petty, claustrophobic experience that we normally have. It is wonderfully open, luminous, clear, free, joyful, compassionate, appreciative, caring, friendly, accepting... it really is good. This state is basically the completion of all spirituality.... and also, very very very ironically, the beginning.  This is the best way I can speak about it after 30 years of beating my head against the wall trying to figure it out and say it clearly... 

    The deep paradox is that Presence is always available, we simply turn our mind to it; however, we never "have it" and so it can seem to slip away even though it is always available. 

    For many people, myself included, we can remember a moments in time in childhood or teenage years where there was a moment of everything being so simple and so intimate and so direct --- this glimpse of presence --- that it served as a mirror to how we felt about the nature of our own Self, simple and good. But it doesn't last long, we go back to the sense of being a struggling and divided self, on one hand being proud (and self-centered) and on the other hand feeling inadequate (and wanting to learn and be of service). This dichotomy seems to create the necessary tension to go out and explore the world and develop... 

    Later in life, usually around the mid-teens/early 20s, the sense of being a divided self can be quite strong. The ways of adapting to the world that we inherited without thinking (values/habits) are full of contradictions and are limiting, we're becoming adults but are very confused. During this time we can remember the simple sense of presence and want to figure out "a way" to get back to it. This is when people try different spiritual practices or drugs or extreme ritualistic stuff or therapy to get into an altered state that can access this basic state of present... And we do have moments where we drop into Presence again. And yes this can even come from someone pointing us to this basic "state" (which isn't a state, but let's call it a state for now.)

    And we see the paradox: Presence is always available, yet always elusive if we get caught up in the verbal thinking mind and the sensual/emotional body. And the verbal thinking mind has momentum, is a habit, and the sensual/emotional body is so beguiling. So how on earth do we get out of this trap?

    This is where the >process< of true meditation occurs. Unfortunately, while we can quickly jump to presence, it is a very unstable state unless we have done a lot of "cleaning up" through different therapeutic/meditative/investigative modalities. Basically, the mind is full of partially completed thoughts, feelings, battles and romances, and all of that stuff is floating around deep in our mind. We also have not fully developed as a psychological adult -- there are also basic patterns of repression and defense that are on autopilot.  

    So the big temptation is to say "I know Rigpa, I know the non-dual perspective, I know Grace, I know Presence" and therefore I don't have to do any work.

    But here's the test: can you sit for a half hour a day and be Present? No problem, no tension, no frustration, no boredom, no claustrophobia, no fantasizing of being somewhere else? It doesn't mean we're bad people if not, it just points to the reality that there is more that can be done developmentally. And remember, some people can kind of "turn off" for a half hour and they think they are spiritually advanced, but what do their friends and colleagues think? Does this person bring presence and compassion into the real world? Many "spiritual" people convince themselves of being far more perfect than the person everyone else sees in real life! 

    Meditation provides a context for seeing the vividness and intimacy of experience (Presence) and the tension/resistance (Dukkha) of the mind. In ideal practice, we are attentive to how these states come and go and we develop a very primal, pre-verbal appreciation for the openness and freedom of presence. Ironically, if we "try" to "have" presence, that's the function of the clinging mind and we fail. So we have to learn to >allow< the clear vividness of experience to arise. Also, ironically, eventually we see the non-Dukkha nature of thoughts and feelings so they are no longer a problem, but in practice it feels like we are being bounced in and out of Presence, in and out of Dukkha...

    Which sound very simple, but it becomes complicated because whenever there is a relaxing, some part of our "self" feels vulnerable, and all this psychological stuff will come up. So the process is as much psychological --- in all of its complexities --- as it is about Presence.

    The conclusion of spirituality is an untarnished understanding of Presence. Early in practice, it feels like a "state", but when we look at it closely, the characteristics of state-ness cannot be found. Similar to mind: show me your Mind. Everything that you show me will be the contents of your mind, not your Mind. Show me your Self. 

    There are many statements about the nature of Presence or what is Mind or who I Am. No one says we have to figure it for ourselves. But if people want to explore it, through meditation or some other practice, we have to be prepared to have the rug pulled out from under us, time and time again, as our confused thoughts about Presence or Mind or I or Self are seen through. 

    This seeing though process that un-confuses Presence is mappable (e.g. progress of insight to stream entry, 4 paths for awakening -- and of course there are others) even though no map is needed to access Presence. (DhO

    Natural Mind. Windshield off and nothing between you and the world now, that’s perfect. For what it's worth, there are two things that my teacher said to me at this point. The first was to say that this was usually a promising sign, in his tradition it was called natural mind. The second thing was a bit of a caution and encouragement and a warning all wrapped together: That this natural mind should be recognized as yet another state of mind, because it is recognizable, has a quality, feels a certain way. And yet it is as high as you can go on the mountain, which means the next step isn't onto more mountain, it's a step into space, into nothing. And finally, he said that the step often involves realizing what was at the heart of your motivation, your seeking. For some people it is a search to feel safe, in which case we have to give up hope for ever being safe (because we truly never are safe). For me, my seeking was to "know what I need to do" and I had to give up hope of ever being certain that I knew what to do (because we never truly know what to do). For someone else it might be being special, knowing something transcendent, becoming fully embodied, always being clear, never feeling fear, really there are infinite possibilities --- and really it isn't these words but rather a pre-verbal intuition or feeling. But the last step off the mountain usually means jumping into the possibility of not getting what you sought. It sort of feels like having your last breath leave your body at death. There is a reason some traditions call this "dying before you die". And you can imagine-act that out a little: inhale an extra 20%, hold an extra 20% longer, and then let it leave... there is silence, life is DONE.

    And you imagine-act your way there... or you might accidently fall into that void... It happened to me as I was doing simple metta on a weekend retreat, very relaxed. May I be well, may all beings be well. In breath, out breath... and then a primal terror and then going into that terror... And then you are done. Everything is unchanged, yet totally different, because you are not trying to get something you could never get in the first place. (DhO

    Difference between Presence and Non-Duality. Presence is extremely natural and common and could be said to be the default experience in a certain sense. But there is definitely something that happens with dedicated meditation practice: the ability to "see" how the sense of observer is created by a kind of centering around a sensation. Yes, the crazy thing is we think the self is one thing, but when we track "selfing" in experience, it jumps around all over the place. Gradually the self-as-sensation sense of identity is seen as not-self, but it doesn't end there. Then we identify with things like the experience of space or the experience of clarity. Those are odd ways of centering around a particular aspect of mind and calling it Self, more advanced, but still based on a confusion. Eventually the "centering" aspect falls away. This could be called fourth path. It's not a state. There can still be "self-sensations" but there is no confusion that it is really a self that needs to be identified with or protective. So it's a more free state of what is normally experience, but not a radically different state. Still, it's is important to say that "presence" is not the end... unless you have gotten to the end and it's that kind of very rare presence. (DhO)

    When the experience re-congeals into subject-object. What typically happens is when you ask an inquiry question, you will for a split second (a flash) see nothing. And then the experience will re-congeal into subject-object. Where I would go next is to look very closely at that moment of re-congealing. That's where the thing you need to see is. Resting afterwards in non-duality is a good thing. It's very similar to how resting in jhana conditions the mind for previous paths. But 4th path is different because it goes beyond all dualities and states. The very very very tricky thing about normal non-dual state is very close to 4th path, we are aware of it. How is that possible??? What becomes clear is the clear, lucid, panoramic, easy, complete experience IS STILL A STATE. If it is a state, then it can't be the answer. So what's next is not being deceived by states, no matter how good they are, and keep asking questions --- not because there is an intellectual answer, not because there is an experience that is the answer, but because there is an >insight< that is very very close and easy to overlook. (DhO

    The end is fundamentally an insight, not an experience. When approaching the limit, most meditators will have experienced many very very very clear experiences of both the pure awareness state (‘integrated thought and awareness’ in the DhO poster terms) and the pure objective state (‘immersed in a sensation’). When those views are really cleared up, then the knot of the self can be clearly seen for what is. And that's what is the important thing. It becomes clear that the important thing is not which one of those views are correct, but the actual longing of the self that has been seeking and desiring "what is correct?" this entire time.

    Now some people say, the seeker is the problem, call off your search -- but this is bullshit. Other people say, the seeker is the problem, kill the self -- which is also bullshit. It is much more appropriate to say know yourself very thoroughly and you will know what you can let go of. And obviously a big part of knowing yourself is also directly understanding how your awareness works.

    We all have the tendency to think of the end state (the limit, awakening, enlightenment, fourth path, etc.) as a state. But obviously all state-like experiences are limited experiences. The end is fundamentally an >insight<, not an experience.

    Hopefully this makes you curious about your actual experience, rather than turning it into an intellectual thought problem. I tried to think myself to the answer and it was a real waste of a decade or more. So much better to just have a simple meditation practice, just a short sitting time, and become used to sitting for no good reason, and let the mind untangle itself. (DhO)

    Late 3rd Path. 3rd path is all about getting confused about the little things. For example, we can say that there is no agency, but we are worried about what we are supposed to do. (see the contradiction?) Or we can say nothing is sacred, but still we think the narrator is a special problem. Or we can say we have no center point, but we think there is something that isn't fully awake. This is classic late 3rd path. 

    The classic saying is:

    Too close - you can't recognize it. 
    Too profound - you can't appreciate it.
    Too simple - you can't believe it.
    Too good - you can't accept it.

    When you see it, it's a WHOA! moment. I almost said Oh Fuck!! out loud on retreat. Late 3rd is about not recognizing it, or seeing it and not appreciating it, ESPECIALLY denying it as too simple to be the answer, and rejecting it because it seems too easy. "One integrated field with all the sense modalities and thoughts and the rest all together in one fluxing 3D shifting self-illuminating space" is the sensation of wiping your butt with scratchy toilet paper. Simple. Exact. Gone as quick as it appears. Ordinary is already non-dual -- how do we overlook something so obvious? Once you see it, you can't unsee it. (DhO)

    The classic 4th Path problem. Usually there is a period of time afterwards where practice seems useless and unnecessary. And then there is the little tickle that something isn't "done", there must be something that is being "overlooked". That's the classic 4th path problem. And usually it is resolved by looking very closely at this remaining "I am" experience. Not that "I am" is wrong and needs to go away forever --- that's more of a 3rd Path attitude. On the road up to 4th, there is simply the curiosity about "what does it mean 'not to be done'?" and "what does it mean when I say/think 'I am' if I have seen through the I-am-ness of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts? What am I missing?" (DhO)

    The real test of 4th Path. The real test of 4th Path is how people relate to their actual felt sense of being "superior" or "inadequate". That's kind of "An ANSWER!" after all.

    Because here's the deal: at the heart of all spiritual quests is a sense of self. That sense of self causes us to search for experiences that will either further solidify our sense of being superior or will work to erase our sense of being inadequate. Everyone is motivated by these two things. 100% of all practioners.

    The most striking thing about these two mind states is that we truly, truly, truly believe them. We can hold almost every other experience as "just an experience" "not self" "sameness" "just a passing experience" --- but if we look at our actual experience, we always believe that there is truth to the experience of "being superior" or "being inadequate".

    When we fuck up and get angry and over-react and feel shame. We don't doubt that feeling of being inadequate.

    When our experiences line up with someone describing the path to enlightenment... we don't doubt our feels of being superior.

    This is the last knot of self. Self has many layers, but the final tangle is "good/bad", "superior/inadequate". We'll continue "working on enlightenment" until this knot is clearly clearly seen. And when it's seen, it untangles itself. Done.

    4th path forever blows up the concrete reality of achievement and failure. Life goes on. There can be pursuits, but they always seem to find themselves in a no-man's land -- is this right or wrong, good or bad, will it make me superior to how I am now or will it actually corrupt me and make me inferior to how I am now? There is momentary knowing, but ultimately you just don't know. Which sounds awful, but you know you don't know -- which is an interesting kind of comfort. (DhO

    Oh shit, there will never be a future self. For me, (the 'This Is It' moment) it was sort of like: "Oh shit, there will never be a future self." That was the emotional tone that sparked. And then, "this is all there IS, ever. no other past or future world" was the bone-deep realization.

    There was no way of knowing if I would even be alive in two minutes, much less if all my thoughts, strategies, plans, would have any traction or influence on making my preferences happen in an impossible-to-know future.  "Thoughts of self, strategies, plans", which seemed so powerful and important and needed, were see as wisps of air with almost no real influence on the moment.  A very deep and appropriate sense of uncertainty and ego/will became right-sized.

    And yet life goes on. Still many thoughts, strategies, and plans... but I know what they are and I know what I am, so to speak. 

    The difference between philosophical thinking this and realizing this is the body. That is why training is necessary, why insights into our own heavy-handed reactivity is necessary. The emotional body is allow to relax, there is greater sensitivity to reactivity, there is a bubbling up of previously ignoring or repressed fear, there is an insight into reactivity, and this allows the body to relax even more... repeat for days and days... on the cushion, off cushion, on retreat, at home, at work for years and years... Every so often there are quantum jumps, but mostly it is low-intensity, high repetition training. 

    The fractal refinement nature of this process is such that it is possible to have a flavor of "this is it" type realization many many times, but if we're honest with ourself, our body will tell us how superficial this realization was and if there is more practicing, more retreats, more sensitivity, more training to do, more depth to explore.

    Eventually there is such sensitivity that the core kernal of selfing in itself can be seen clearly. And the last bit of ignorance or repressed fear goes away. The great matter of life and death has been solved, so to speak.

    The reactivity to thought and emotional content and fear of annihilation is "right-sized" by enlightenment. And this is it. (DhO, check Daniel Ingram's version of This Is It)

    4th Path and the humility in being a lump of red flesh after all. At a certain point, all the gross impurities burn off, and you are left with a feeling/experiencing organism which still feels tension and discomfort but it becomes clear, in time, that this tension and discomfort isn't "wrong" or "not spiritual", rather it reflects the reality of this meat computer needing to navigate a changing world. There is a wise sense that we will always be a work in progress. There can be a tendency to avoid this idea and the normal living aspect of tension/discomfort/pain feelings etc. --- which is basically spiritual bypassing. This is really really common up to 3rd Path, so to speak. It can take a lot to let go of this idea of perfection and find the humility in being a lump of red flesh after all. But there is also a huge relief associated with this realization, as you can imagine when a perfectionist finally really does r...e...l...a...x.  Perfection is not required for awakening, wow! And yet the habitual mindfulness/release continues. For me it was like watching my body/mind doing spiritual practice on its own, while realizing that all of that activity was sort of beside the point. I could let go when practice itself, the intensity of seeking, was indulgent. I saw the futility in the ignorance of spiritual bypassing mentality (i.e., pretending I was any different that I was.) Hard to explain, but the result is a big drop in tension. Practice was basically doing itself and I could trust it and if I was imperfect, no big deal.

    This is about when people can become very good spiritual teachers because they finally have the patience for people going through their problems, in their own way, in their own time, with their own thoughts... there is much less of a need to fix people or to make them think right. It's possible to see how everyone is working out their problems in their own way and they just need a nudge this way of that, at most. It's usually obvious at this point that all philosophies/models/map help as much as they hurt. (DhO)

    Ego Development and the humbling and even deflating sense of seeing through the Self at 4th. All our ego development in our life has been motivated by a sense of weak and illusive self. As children and teenagers and early adulthood we sense the self arising and passing and we attempt to building up the ego to make it solid and unpassing. This is good healthy human development.

    It doesn't work out the way we planned, though, and as adults we don't become solid and singular. We start realizing even greater nuance to the ego and it's manifestation. A healthy adult has many versions of themselves, social roles/identies, which arise and pass, appropriately and according to the situation. But the shifting between roles and identities always feels a bit awkward and unauthentic so we keep investigating...

    Then meditation comes along and really helps promote a sane flow of identifications and "selves" and allows ego to flux and change according to the situation in a much more radical way. All of the experiential aspects that seemed to make up ego roles/identities are seen through at a smaller and smaller detail. Sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts are seen to be the component pieces. Big chunks of identity are seen through because they are seen as fabricated from smaller elements of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. We realize that to become more resilient and sane, we need to refine how we experience things at a much more elemental level.

    At some point we go "all in" and try to get to the bottom of the matter. We start seeing how things are neither completely real (solid) nor are they completely unreal (illusion). We use words like emptiness to talk about how things are vivid and apparent and yet can change in millisecond. We see the self this way too, vivid and changing, empty, and strive to get to the bottom of it. And SO MUCH clarity and wisdom and morality comes from being able to finely discern the operation of the self, it's creativity and it's paranoid defenses....

    And yet part of us holds onto the idea that through practice "we can attend our own funeral". We think "I will get to the bottom of it" -- yet I is the bottom of it  We think "maybe practice will show me what I need to awaken", but we rarely notice the subject-object construct in that idea "practice shows me" -- what is practice? what is me? what will see it? what, exactly, will awaken?  But practice takes on a path of it's own, interesting driven by two of the last three fetters (pride and restlessness). Nothing wrong with that. It's good meditator development and practice. 

    But there is a very humbling and even deflating sense of seeing through the self at 4th. When pride and restlessness run themselves out, then the basic ignorance becomes apparent. It is ridiculous in retrospect. But it's also the end result of a LOT of investigation and development and refinement, which is inherently valuable, so there is not much disappointment after the odd shock of it wears off.

    And there is nothing to show for it. It's a bit like climbing a mountain and then coming back to where you started and people wonder why you can't show them the mountain, why you think the mountain exists, and, anyway, why would you climb a mountain if you just wind up back here? (DhO

    Zen & Theravada attainments. False Kensho is A&P, true Kensho is First Path (cessation), Satori comes much later as Fourth Path. It's that simple. (DhO)  

    When does the path chill out. There really are no rules for this.  Some people have fairly straightforward journey to first path -- still challenging and with deep changes, but not disruptive. Some people become dark night yogis for a decade. In general, it seems like those who have faith in dharma/meditation seem to do better. Those with big insecurities and doubts and spiritual ambitions have trouble (like I did).

    Most people have fairly wild journey to second path, this is very common. New energetic stuff starts happening and jhanas become many times stronger, so it's very strange and in the midst it's hard to map. Some people really freak out. Other people think "ooh, cool!", so even the same experience gets interpreted differently. But some people oddly quit completely after first path, so they seem to have no problems, I guess. In any case, they are off the radar! 

    The journey to third path is very similar to the journey to first path. It can be a time of deep refinement and really saintly development... or it can oddly become a kind of spiritual dark night that people never quite crawl out of. These tend to be the scary dogmatic teachers that obviously know a lot, but who are obviously still struggling... obvious to everyone except themselves. People who tend to be dogmatic or intellectual have a real problem with this stage because it is all about direct experience, not "applying techniques" or "manipulating experience". A playful and appreciative attitude for life and mind really helps. Kindness is essential.

    There aren't a lot of data points for fourth. This journey is hard to assess, because in this stage --- well, really during all of meditation, but it is very obvious at this stage because it is the "last" --- what becomes obvious is that each path insight is more like a "tipping point" rather a total and complete transformation. So some people seem to barely slip into a fourth path-ish realization and do no more work... and they tend to have ongoing challenges in life along with a fair amount of denial. They have stuff to clean up, but they refuse to see it. Others don't tip into fourth until they are nearly completely cleaned up and it seems like they are done done done. These people seem to be the ones that really struggled along the way. By the time they hit fourth, they are mostly cleaned up. Seems like there is everything thing in between, but like I said: not enough data.

    As you can tell, this isn't a dogmatic view, just one based on the limited number of people I've met and my own experiences. And it's worth what you paid for it. Overall, what really helps is a group of meditators that can help normalize the weirdness and challenges... otherwise, we're prone to thinking "I'm the only broken meditator that has to go through this", so a lot of pride and anxiety and negative psychology. Or we're prone to thinking "I'm the most awesome meditator in the world, no one has gone through this. I am the next spiritual avatar for all of humanity and all will bow to me!", so a lot of pride and manial and delusions of grandeur.  With the company/relationship with other meditators, you're more likely to say, "yup, that weird stuff is happening to me too, it's kind of challenging but interesting and I'm learning a lot about my mind." (DhO

    A fractal insight. This insight ---  the nibbana-ing of experience in Theravandian terms or the insight into the self-liberating nature of mind in Dzogchen --- is a fractal insight. Beginners often "see" this and once they do, they know that there is something to meditation that offers a different way of mind-body change besides pure willpower and force. Because experience passes as soon as it arises -- it doesn't come from anywhere and doesn't stay anywhere -- suddenly we have a chance of being free of the oppressive wallowings of our own mind. This insight is prone to being fetishized and can even turn into a kind of eternalism about mind nature being luminosity and light and omnipotent.

    The shadow side of this insight --- that nothing is certain, reliable, valuable, worthy of having --- can come out next, a kind of samsaric jhana of nihlism and moroseness where the "free" person suddently seems to prefer wallowing in misery (and other dark night flavors).

    When these two flavors get balanced, then there is the first brush with true equanimity. There is flow without clinging, intimacy without clinging, emptiness without dispare or a sense of loss...

    And even when this gets locked in, perhaps by Stream Entry, it's clear that this was still just a macroscopic version of the nibbana insight. There are a lot of even more subtle and pervasive fractals of that same insight. You could say SE is seeing the nibbana of the thought stream, subsequent paths are more focused on emotions, urges, and holdings in the body. And throughout this there tends to be periods of fascination and identificaiton with the nibbana-apsect and periods of morose fascination and identification with the samsara-aspect in more and more sublte ways.

    The biggest danger is quitting too soon. If we settle for the first flavors of these insights, then we get trapped byt the three poisons and eventually life will show us what an idiot we are. Our clinging, aversion, or ignorance will seduce us, blind us, or allow us to stumble into a trap that was obvious if we were only paying attention. 

    And even if we reach a tipping point (for example, 4th path) years later, there will still be small unconscious pockets in your psyche of reactive clinging... and now you have all the power of a mostly awakened mind. Now all of that power is going to flow into those unconscious reactive patterns and they will become even more powerful. If you don't own clinging, aversion, or ignorance when it occurs in your life, you'll become trapped just the same as if you had never practiced in your life. A zen master's life is one mistake after another. So really, when do we reach the end of practice and insight? 

    It's terrifying to think about. (DhO)

    Spiritual Bypassing: meaning and suffering and humanity and emotion should not be negated, but recognized as legitimate within their domain. Awakening does have an aspect of "oh, all experiences are fundamentally mind-nature" to it, but it doesn't then result in the conclusion "there is no value in discriminating the consequential nature of situation because it’s all good and all perfect". That would be a regression. Pretending that intelligence and wisdom doesn't exist is the root of a lot of spiritual bypassing and dysfunctional spiritual cults.

    … It's important not to confuse the domains of "the nature of experience" and value/use of concepts. So, concepts all have the same mind-nature (empty and vivid), but that doesn't mean that certain concepts are more appropriate/useful than others in certain conditions. There are better >uses< of the concept of meaninglessness or the concept of meaning, depending on context. 

    … Awakening is everything you are seeing but it is >all in< (as in the card game poker: "I'm all in") into meaning and suffering and humanity and emotion.... and then coming out the other side. ("trans" in the post-trans fallacy sense.) On the other side, meaning and suffering and humanity and emotion are not negated, but recognized as legitimate within their domain.

    The reason I feel compelled to say this is that I have seen maybe 6 or so people on DhO, KennethFolkOnline, AwakeNetwork, etc. that have used similar language, said that they have cracked the code, everything is meaningless except some aspect of their philosophy (love, awareness, knowing, etc.) and then basically were in denial about actual human living was still impacting them with discomfort, suffering, loss, inadequacy, failure, dissatisfaction --- all the basic human stuff that everyone experiences.

    I just wanted to point out that if there is an idea that the mechanical precision and non-emotional, non-meaning aspect of the world is the truth, the whole truth, the answer to suffering, then you are not allowed to ever bring in any meaning or value that isn't found in the material world, especially not love, even if you try to sneak it in as a relaxed muscle. If materialism is IT, you have to stop at relaxed muscle (and not even use the word relaxed, because that is not a material expression, it would have to be something expressed about sarcomeres or something like that) and never mention the world love --- because as soon as you do, you are outside of materialism.

    And really, when it comes down to it, YOU are simply not meat. You are not meat.

    … When you see how human drama and suffering is fabricated, it is clear how pointless it is. But that doesn't mean there isn't any meaning or value or discrimination that represents wisdom and development. Quite the opposite. In fact, implicit in the argument is a sense of meaning and discrimination and wisdom. It's kind of funny when you think about it. Trying to argue for the greater truth of a pre-meaning world can only be done within the domain of a world that is dripping with meaning. (DhO)

    Spiritual Materialism could be seen as a form of Hell. I also agree that refinement continues post-awakening. It's not quite the refinement of a self, though, which I think is what pre-awakening refinement seems to be about. The point pre-awakening is clearly "perceptual shifts are happening to me, how can I get more of them and better versions of them?"

    Awakening is the realization that this kind of spiritual materialism could be seen as a form of hell. Endlessly self-recursive, endlessly inadequate, because more and better is always theoretically possible. But what is this urge that wants more and better? Seems like this is the origin of suffering. Even the nobility of the pursuit of dharma can become samsara. This is a very third path dilemma.

    "Practice" and "progress in practice" becomes very paradoxical after the pride of self is unknotted. It's the paradox of "the sun is shining but the snow isn't melted." The sun doesn't grow at this point, but the snow definitely melts. Perhaps what appears like effort is needed, perhaps not, either way it doesn't matter because dharma is both the sun and the snow, effort and no effort -- there isn't a conflict. (DhO)

    Dependent Origination: supernatural feeling vs conventional scientific materialism. That “often times life events seemed tailored to fit where I've been in an insight cycle” is a big observation actually. Life and practice start blurring together... and there is a tautological aspect to it. Somehow the link between interior attitude/view seems to co-arise with external experience/meaning. "Is my life this way because I feel this way? Or do I feel this way because my life is this way?"

    Quite honestly, this is the real heart of the idea of dependent origination. The introductory teaching of DO makes it sound like a chain of events, this cause that, which causes the next thing... but that's really just another way to talk about conventional scientific materialism. The deeper and much harder to grasp insight of dependent origination is that cause and effect seem to arise at the same time in the same mind moment. So this has a much more supernatural kind of feeling where inner meaning and out experience seem tightly linked --- and they are. It is very difficult to separate life events (and their interpreted meaning) and where we are internally (psychology and insight cycle). 

    This is also where the real heart of "rebirth in the 6 realms" idea comes in. In every moment, we seem to be born into a moment where we have a fundamental self-other relationship to reality, and this relationship is oddly tautological. We are explosively angry and what we notice are more things that make us explosively angry (hot hell realm). We are seething with hatred (cold hell realm) we just see more and more things that make us hate. (These two flavors of hell count as "the hell realm") Then there are those moments when we are greedy and addicted to getting more and what we notice are all the ways that maybe we could satisfy that unsatisfyable addition (hungry ghost realm). Sometimes we just want to live a formulaic life, not think too much and do what we've done, so all we see are the ways to repeat old patterns that worked in the past and kinda go on autopilot (animal realm). In the human realm, we have the ability to do more fine and precise evaluations, weight this against that, making reasoned judgements but at the core we are feeding our sense of desire, a kind of sophisticated human way of desiring, but fundamental desires that go away as soon as they are satisfied and then yet another desire comes along, on and on forever... or We are feeling jealous and notice all the things that people have and we want to compete or battle for it (jealous gods realm). Or we kinda feel like we're on top and we're right about everything and we most walk around with a sense of pride but secretly kinda wonder if things might change (the realm of the gods). 

    The main thing that separates Buddhism from almost every other religion/philosophy is this pointing out of the dependent arising of meaning. You could say, "the viewpoint in the moment is a bias and selects evidence in the moment that confirms the viewpoint". This how you say it in sort of scientific language. But through meditation practice, you can actually begin to see/feel how this actually happens in real time, which is VERY different that having the belief that this is how it works or intellectually looking backward and figuring out how this happened just a few moments ago.

    With meditation practice you can see this happening as it is being done... and once you really see it, you realize how all these paradoxes are resolved, inner and outer, self and others, view and meanings, this and that, experience and observer of experience, etc. That means we have a very different relationship with sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. They are neither completely real, nor completely unreal. We see how they both are and are not. This is emptiness in a very deep sense and is pretty much the heart of the insights of later paths.

    Another interesting point about the 6 realms idea: it's only in the human realm that the being can choose to meditate. All the other realms are too reactive. Hell beings are lost rage (angry tweets and biased "news" channels), Hungry Ghost chase their addictions (drugs and video games), Animals are stuck in a rut (eating the same breakfast every day, doing their commute, doing their standard workout, watching "their" TV show, going to bed at their normal time), Humans are chasing the next desire (bigger house, new car, more stylish clothes, new cookbooks and perhaps a better designed grill for making better barbeque), Asuras/Jealous Gods are busy expanding their doctor and lawyer practice and figuring out new investments that will put them in more rich and powerful circles and trying to get the promotion at work by outmaneuvering their competition. The Gods are busy isolating themselves in gated communities and protecting their assets and buying islands to hide at if the SHTF and trying to find ways to eat and shop and travel and watch sports in ringside or skybox seats so they don't have to deal with those annoying non-gods.

    ... but only humans can do the tricky move of desiring awakening and desiring a meditation practice! Basically using desire to see through desire. Very clever you humans!!  (DhO)

    No-coordinate system experience. It's really easy to hear the words "things are where they are, as they are" and "in the seen, only the seen" and hear it as a normal "this seeing that over there from here". But the extra effort of maintaining over here and over there is... extra. 

    But many times throughout the day -- maybe 10,000 times -- everyone will have experiences without a coordinate system... but we rarely recognize them. Usually it's only during sports, or sex, or eating, or meditation that the kind of no-coordinate system experience is noticed. But it's really just a matter of walking around and noticing how experience happens (and this is why walking meditation is as valuable as sitting meditation). 

    Once this starts becoming obvious, how many experiences happen without a coordinate system, then you can bring back even the coordinate system. A big spiritual mistake is to assume that anything that creates a sense of duality is wrong. But this is a very simplistic and ignorant view that can trap people. It's important to see that there is nothing wrong with having coordinates, but.... the assumption that there is a solid thing at the center of the coordinates that needs protecting, well that's the original ignorance, the origin of suffering. There is nothing solid at the center. And when you go to "look" for the solid thing, you've created a another coordinate system, which is fine, but there is nothing at the center of the new coordinate system that is trying to look at the center of the old coordinate system.

    Noticing how the assumed coordinate system's center keeps moving can be another great meditation, sitting or walking. And you can key into how effortless life is when the coordinate system is allowed to go where it wants.

    The assumption of self and the paranoia of needing to protect the self sort of lean against each other and if either are seen clearly for what it is, the whole thing collapses (the ridgepole breaks), the knot unties... 

    The main challenge is that when the sense of something solid in the center starts to weaken... a very subtle and primal fear will arise. Definitely. It's the fear of annihilation, death of the self. The practice will seem a bit wrong and dangerous. (Which is yet another experience with a coordinate system that has nothing at the center of the coordinates.) The main role of a teacher/mentor/guru at this stage is to help someone stay in this uncomfortable zone using various practices, but make sure they are challenging themselves and really feeling this very very subtle discomfort.  (And to warn them about the killer cows, a very important part of the sutta   ) And it's not like a meditator really needs to be forced or pushed by the teacher at this point, it's more like a non-verbal communication that it's okay to do practices that seem a bit wrong and dangerous, yet we are really interested in where it seems to be leading.

    “Then, Bāhiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bāhiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.” Link (DhO)

    Non-dual vision has a sense of equal weighting of focus and peripheral. When this happens the visual framing we normally use is gone and the sense of self becomes very vague. Normally we orient our sense of being an observer by identifying with focus or by identifying with wide-angle view. If the scene is focused then the scene is the subject and within our mind, we are the object. If the scene is being seen with wide-angle view, then it feels like we are an object within this scene, we are the subject. Don't try to think this through, just play with how the sense of self changes as you change views.

    Normally we can't hold the unframed field of vision for long, we freak out, and it collapses into either wide view (with a weak sense of center) or a narrow view (with a strong sense of center). 

    So it takes some gentle repetition to kind of get used to "the edges of the view matter and the center of the view matters".

    Most people are blown away by how panoramic it looks.

    Another way to approach this is to "look at the space in the scene". To get a sense of space, imagine water filling up all the empty spaces in a scene (take your time, have fun with it, really imagine everything slowly becoming underwater, all the way up into the sky). Then look at that water and let it turn back into space. Look at that space. This is very helpful when you are in a boring or stressful situation, just tune into the space, nice simple space. (DhO)

    Frames of Reference when giving advice. Any particular experience isn't diagnostic, but rather it's the trend over time. Context is everything. People can have momentary experiences that mirror anything in the formal meditation maps, but that doesn't mean their developmental baseline really "has" that experience. (DhO)

    When giving advice I have a several frames of reference that I layer on top … just for fun, off the top of my head:

    -Style of attachment
    -Degree of personality disorder
    -Maturity of coping mechanisms
    -Developmental stage within Cook-Greuter's stages of ego development
    -Feeling of "fit" of current practice
    -Consistency of practice
    -Understanding that exploring current experience is "the point", i.e. look at problem itself, don't search for solutions
    -Balance of effort vs. allowing
    -Ñana within progress of insight
    -Ability to allow vipassana jhanas instead of normal "clarity"
    -Basic understanding of 6 realms (for gross orientation/corruption of sitting practice)
    -Ability to expand equanimity to all experiences, even vagueness and confusion

    :: First Path ::
    -Repeat of above, but including broader acceptance of confusion due to vipassana jhana/jhana
    -Eventually making distinctions between repeat nanas/fruition of first path and the new territory of the road to 2nd path

    :: Second Path ::
    -Ability to let progress of insight slip into the background, yet still see it.
    -Ability to use off-cushion reactivity as practice, never not-practicing
    -Review of basic psychology attachment, repression, coping mechanisms - can't delay fixing anymore
    -Review of stages of ego-development... should be moving toward advanced stages - can't delay fixing anymore
    -Focus on tautological aspects of identity especially:
      -Deep Understanding of six reams (identity based on basic motivation, in terms of 5 to 30 seconds of experience)
      -Understanding of basics of 5 elements (primal reactive patterns, in terms of 1-2 second of experience)
    -Deep trust/allowing

    :: Third path ::
    -Ability to be honest about "there is still something left to figure out"
    -Ability to turn orientation to practice itself into a study/practice
    -Ability to do "no distraction, no control, no practice"/mahamudra/dzogchen
    -Very deep understanding of 5 elements (in terms of micro-seconds of experience)
    -Deep honesty/sensitivity

    :: Fourth path ::
    -And deep honesty post-Fourth  (DhO)