I’ve been feeling rather “stuck” and confused about my meditation practice since stream entry. I’ve ceaselessly sensed the double-track mind and experienced indecisiveness about what kind of meditation to do and how I should approach doing it.
Wicked Deep Unspecified Jhānas
I spent 20 minutes in concentration meditation tonight. It feels wicked deep now and seems effortless, even though I occasionally realize that I’m not in the moment but instead remembering, thinking, or fantasizing. It is very odd to be thinking yet feeling somehow deep in mediation at the same time. I guess I should ask someone about this if it keeps occurring. It is so strange. By feeling that I’m “in meditation,” I mean that I feel enmeshed with my surroundings, spacious, flowing, and concentrated on the object despite arising thoughts and this sense of breadth. I feel that way in daily life now, except perhaps for “concentrated.” I still tend to be quite ADD in daily life, so I wouldn’t say that I’m always concentrated. I am always much less in my body now than before, though. Sensations are like a bodily aura instead of bodily core. It is like “inner” and “outer” have flipped to some extent: I’ve turned inside-out, and I walk through life this way now, existing in all directions beyond my body boundaries. It is distinctive, constant, and heady.
I tend to have poor discernment of which jhana I’m in, but I think the reason for this may be that I hang out in j3 and maybe j4 most of the time that I practice concentration (even before stream entry this was the case). I seem to go straight from access concentration to third jhana, maybe fourth. And that is no different now, except that whichever one happens is much more intensely itself now, “harder,” as they say.
Oddly, I’m not seeing the nimitta anymore, though, just solid blackness. I’m not seeing even the usual patterns behind my eyelids. Anyway, I seem to skip over the intense bliss and even pleasure (j1 and j2) to something more spacious and peaceful, even though I never set out intending to “skip” any of the jhanas.
Tonight my sense of a body disappeared rather quickly. I couldn’t even feel my hands’ contact with my thighs and vice-versa when I deliberately checked for the sensation. I had been like this for a few minutes, but when I recognized that I couldn’t feel my body, that recognition jolted me out of the concentration. This jolt reminded me of the insight stage of Fear.
Pull from Jhāna, Push to Insight
Oh, yeah! I’m supposedly in Review stage. This means that I should be reviewing and mastering, right? So I opened my eyes at around the 20-minute mark, to try to discern an insight stage. I was receiving mixed signals, so I decided to try actively intending to experience certain stages. After all, if I’m in Review, then I should probably feel free to experiment.
So I called A&P and did feel some bliss and see sparkles in the carpet. I went for EQ, and started seeing what I call formations again and investigating sensations of panoramic peace. Investigating peace was a little strange because it was paradoxically a bit stressful to do so; the floor kept seeming to spin a quarter spin, like I was getting some vertigo. So then I called up Fear, and my heart started palpitating, which scared me in earnest. Soon after this, I stopped my sit. It was far past bedtime, and this sit, though short, sapped my energy.
When I could feel my body, though, it was still and comfortable, as though I could sit all night. Effortlessly, I sat straight up the whole time, with open-hearted posture. My crossed legs fell asleep, though, which is always annoying when I unfold them and experience the pins and needles. Still, it is nice to have the body at peace throughout a sit. I actually had quite a bit of restlessness and body pain back when I was in Low EQ.
Postscript Two Years Later
Looking back on this and other entries, I most want to tell others not to believe or fixate on everything they read, even if it is their favorite parts of their favorite dharma book. I fixated far too much on MCTB and on Daniel Ingram’s particular way of experiencing path, which was much more about insight fruitions (by which he often seems to mean just cessation) per se than mine has been. To be fair, he warned me against such fixations. Eventually, I learned to trust my intuition and the path itself, for after stream entry the path will begin doing itself; all you have to do is not argue.
Specifically, instead of forcing myself to do some kind of “pure” vipassana practice, I should have just gone in the direction that the jhanas were pulling me. MCTB2, on which I worked with Daniel, actually subsumes the insight stages into the jhanas, making an ingenious package that bests MCTB1′s separation of vipassana and samatha. Daniel merged them in Part II, Mastery, and I’ve prompted him to comment explicity in the part introduction on how the separateness of the Trainings in Part I changes after stream entry.
He stated to me personally, and mentions in Part II, that for stream enterers there is never again such a thing as “pure” vipassana or “pure” samatha. They are always mixed. When I tried to separate them even before stream entry, I ran into trouble. That is why I first gravitated to the Thai Forest methods, which use the jhanas as level platforms from which to explore insight. Now that I’m transitioning back into an Indo-Tibetan practice, I’m seeing how those masters also use visual metaphors to impressionistically and fluidly blend concentration and vipassana.