Two days to go…

Had about four days of detour into various kinds of distraction, anxiety and fragmentation, which is too bad, because before that was a solid week of pretty much constant concentration in and around the 2-4th jhana, peeking into the 5th.

Right now I’m in a bit of a harsh vibrational period of insight practice which makes it hard to do anything but investigate the pain with a certain amount of detatchment. I’ve learned the hard way that the only way to deal with this is to either wash it out with hard jhana, or sit with it and let it show me what it needs to show me. Avoidance or trying to distract yourself only makes it worse, because the root of the pain is fundamental avoidance.

The hardest part of this is vacilation between wanting to do concentration and insight and not really getting down to either one.

In retrospect, losing one’s mental footing in this is down to letting boredom, anxiety and need for distraction chip away at your practice. The morality training for this would seem to be refusing to become distracted and finishing what you start.

So that’s what it’s about now: do I take the time to finish this, or do I continue to let events overtake me?

I’m sure you know the saying, that any idiot can start something, but not everyone can finish it.

UPDATE:

well I suppose I ought to say something additional, as that was probably the most half-assed post, in my long tradition of half-assed postings.

The latter part of yesterday was a good review of the three characteristics of insight practice for me, and I thought I might say a little bit about them and how to practice them.

Suffering: is pretty easy, as one is almost always in various states of discomfort, anxiety, boredom or existential despair…you just try really hard not to see it.

the trick is to just sit with these sensation and not interpret them. do not spin some story about why you’re in despair. just look at the sensations that TELL you that this is what’s happening, and try to understand their true nature.

you will probably find out that these sensations are not especially different than any others, you’ve just adopted a certain kind of revulsion to them, or perhaps more accurately, you’re weaving them into a pattern of perceptual activity that is meant to deflect your attention from something that you’re doing all the time.

Impermanence: the sticking point for most people on this, one would think, is to look at things with your eyes open and think that they are seemingly solid and not see any impermanence in them.

however, there are a few ways this can break down. the easiest to is to look as steadily as you can at some physical object.

after a while, you will probably notice that your eyes are twitiching ever so slightly, even if you’re dilligent about not changing what you’re looking at. this is because your eyes need to alter their angle to expose more rods and cones on the retina, so that you can keep seeing what you’re seeing and not overexpose the rods and cones and cause the image to fuzz out. so in that sense, even external visual perceptual objects are impermanent.

you could take this even farther, and look at a poster or a piece of writing in a book for a few minutes. then close your eyes and see the after image on your retinas persist for a while, then fade.

Now you would think that if you then opened your eyes again, that whatever it was lookexactly the same, right? but if you open your eyes, you’ll find your eyeballs furiously scanning the surface to reconstruct the image you had before you closed them. which is pretty much waht it’s doing all the time anyway. so even the most apparently solid thing are really mosiacs that are being rapidly assembled out of small impressions by your eyes, with most of what seems to be ‘out there’ actually being blanks that are filled in by the brain from memory or supposition. there’s a reason why things on the periphery of your vision have so little detail. that ought to be a hint. try reading with your peripheral vision sometime.

Not-self: this is probably my favorite. it’s really simple too. just keep asking yourself ‘what is experiencing sensations’. which is a more precise way of saying ‘who am I?’ .

when I do this, my perception bounces back and forth between a number of weird constructions. some of which are supposed to pass themselves off as a self or an observer of sensations.

at first, if I’m tired or lazy it presents as almost like the rim of a porthole behind my eyes, with a bunch of other sensations around and behind that that imply absence, presence, darkeness, awareness, etc.

it’s like using your imagination to pretend that there’s some little person watching your life through a little porthole in your mind, and that’s who ‘you’ are. it’s almost comical in it’s cartoonishness.

other variations include a sense of presence and central location in the middle of my head ( sensations that seem to imply a center point are very good for insight into not-self), a non-localised everpresent ‘watcher’ ( sensations that imply the presence of an observing other are likewise good ), or a mirrorlike sheen of awareness that coats everything (awareness is not a sensation, and sensations that pretend to be awareness are delusion).

Using these three, I can usually complete a cycle of insight fairly quickly with consistant effort.

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7 thoughts on “Knowing How to Close

  1. I would say that having the ardency to finish something (with the understanding that you might fail even after completing the effort) straddles morality and concentration practice. The S.N. Goenka folks are so concerned with cultivating ardency (the call it “equanimity”) that they don’t let you move for two-hour “aditthana” sittings, even to fix your posture or open your eyes. There’s something to be said for that.

  2. I wouldn’t say your detour is “too bad”…or perhaps even a detour. Any idiot can turn back at the abyss, it takes a True-Willed adept to jump out into the middle of it, look at all of the shit, confusion, and fear, and then get to the other side without flying off into neurosis and fear. Difficulty on the path is the truest way to know you’re on the path, as distractions tend to be pretty easy…which I’m sure you’re aware of.

    As for the morality training, finishing what you start is something I’m seriously struggling with lately, and looking back it seems to be something I’ve been working on for awhile (basically since I dropped out of my emotional growth boarding school…got the diploma, but didn’t finish the emotional growth workshops/initiations). Patience and diligence are perhaps the most important elements of self-discipline, and discipline is the scary halloween mask that we put on freedom.

    Anyway, fun little rant, I guess the point I have to make is just that I’m sure you’ll get through this well, you seem to have a pretty strong will about you, and your blog provides me with hope for humanity. Or at least that a small segment of humanity will rise up and dispense with the rest of it in a glorious holy blaze making way for an aeon of freedom and justice. I’m hoping thats mostly metaphorical. Anyway, carry on.

  3. When I ask, ‘Who is experiencing these sensations,’ I end up with a bunch of people in a room all arguing and grabbing the same dumplings off the steam table, each plotting against the other while simultaneously denying the existence of those they’re plotting against.

    It’s no wonder I’m stuck in deep dukka. 🙂

  4. “mirrorlike sheen of awareness that coats everything… is delusion” is some pretty helpful advice. Truth be told i think there might be plenty of grandiose paranoiacs that could stand to hear that… the fact that it is a sensation should give it away, though I think the fact that it is an odd sensation and likewise passing can confuse this at times. Right now I intermittently experience this and I think it is partly a result of concentration. At the same time I think I know at least one or two non-meditators who have taken their delusion about this and run it through some True Self teaching and come out warped and a wasted shell on the other end.

    The most potent insight i’ve had has been regarding no-self. My concentration was firm, though i hadn’t made a formal effort to enter jhana, and something very odd arose in my thinking and seemed to be located in front of me, in the foreground of my vision (it was not an actual image)–I kept my awareness on the breath, but also became aware of the item as it arose, as it passed away, and while that happened I also experienced my mind going after it trying to make it “self”–there was the object of my concentration, the breath, and there was this other object that wanted my awareness–but try as mind might, it simply couldn’t find the self in either. This came about on a day-long retreat, largely because i had the energy and the sustained thought on the breath.

  5. I think that mirrorlike quality is actually a feature of the 6th jhana, so it’s not reallya bad thing, just not what people think it is. I had that experience of feeling like the walls were staring at me, and feeling the whole universe shimmering around me. that was a pretty hard version of the 6th that came during the A&PA, but it’s not really insight per se, but you could use it as the platform if you investigate it.

    what you mention at the end there is quite a bit different. It’s kind of like zipping around the edge of a circular track where one end is self and the other not self, and then the whole track tilts at an angle where you can see that both ends are just sensations. some variation on that is typical for a not-self door.

  6. do you have a particular process you follow with the objects you mention? I.e., how would you get started, would you be sitting formally and then use these objects after developing access, would you just do so “naturally”, etc.?

  7. sometimes, for the sake of practice, I’ll develop some strong jhana first, mostly to offset the abraisive qualities of insight practice, and also to bring up my baseline level of concentration.

    most of the time though, as I’ve said, I can start seeing flickering and vibrating stuff pretty much anytime I want. actually I have to concentrate NOT to see it, which is pretty annoying sometimes. investigating the three characteristics is about all that takes the edge off that. I suppose it’s because I’ve already done at least one fruition, I start at the level of the A&PA automatically, not at mind and body like someone who’s never done it might.

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