Sustaining insight after retreat

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 5:57 am

Hi all,

Finished an intensive retreat this week and returned home yesterday. During the retreat, there was very rapid movement through the stages of insight (after several days of relentless practice) up to insight into the instantaneous arising and ceasing of phenomena and the accompanying rapture (very intense but brief) and upekkha and a few other bits and pieces.

On waking this morning, the one-pointed concentration, automatic noting, sense of equanimity etc. remains in effect, but there is also awareness of the accompanying unpleasant physical sensations that occurred at the third stage and are continuing as this post is typed. The only answer, of course, is to keep practicing, and there will be several hours of practice after this post, but was curious to know from other's experiences as to whether and for how long this insight is sustained after retreat with continuous but not as intensive practice (i.e. 2-3 hours per day of sitting/walking in one hour blocks?) Or to phrase the question alternatively, how long until it all recedes? The last question is academic, as not practicing is out of the question, arising only out of curiosity, but an answer to the former would be appreciated as a gauge for the amount of time others practice each day that is needed to sustain (beyond 'as much time as you can' and an appreciation of the fact that mileage may vary).

Thanks,

hh
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:11 am

Sounding like a broken record, let me repeat this story:

After only a year and a half of practice at Wat Ba Pong, one American [Jack Kornfield] asked and received permission [from Ajahn Chah] to travel and study with other Thai and Burmese teachers. A year or two later, he returned full of tales of his travels, of many months of extraordinary and intensive practice and of a number of remarkable experiences. . . . Then the Western monk went to the cottage of Achaan Sumedho, the senior Western disciple of Achaan Chah, and told all his stories and adventures, his new understandings and great insights into practice. Sumedho listened in silence and prepared afternoon tea from the roots of certain forest plants. When the stories were completed and the insights recounted, Sumedho smiled and said, "Ah, how wonderful. Something else to let go of."
The point is to not to worry about all the "insights", not to worry about keeping what you have and trying to get more; rather, just do the practice. The reality is that the practice is really about letting go. Letting go is not something you can force; rather, it is a matter seeing things as they are, repeatedly over time. Just continue with the practice.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 24, 2011 6:54 am

Yes, Tilt's advice is excellent. Just continue to practice precisely as per your instructions and I am sure you will do fine.
In daily life attend to your sila and devote 2-3 hours daily to mental cultivation.
Wishing you every success.

Ben
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:15 am

Ha yes part of the intention of the original post was to practice in order to move past the unpleasant physical sensations (as was abiding in them but still with the desire for them to not arise). Instead of engaging in desire for the sensations to go away, they were continuously noted and eventually ceased.

So the lessons were:

1. Simply note;
2. Keep practicing;
3. When in doubt, follow 1 and 2.

Also indicative of the immaturity of the practice.

Thanks
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 24, 2011 7:54 am

Hi householder

keep in mind that sensations, regardless whether they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, share the same characteristics. That is, they are impermanent, dukkha and anatta. Just keep maintaining your focus on meditation object as per your instructions without identifying with whatever you are experiencing or not experiencing. Also keep in mind that pleasant sensations are much more difficult to deal with as craving, particularly very subtle craving, is incredibly hard to manage.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:08 am

Ben wrote:Hi householder

keep in mind that sensations, regardless whether they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, share the same characteristics. That is, they are impermanent, dukkha and anatta. Just keep maintaining your focus on meditation object as per your instructions without identifying with whatever you are experiencing or not experiencing. Also keep in mind that pleasant sensations are much more difficult to deal with as craving, particularly very subtle craving, is incredibly hard to manage.
kind regards

Ben


Hi Ben,

The above approach was effortless and automatic during the period of upekkha - then things were just arising and ceasing and there was just abiding in what was, with no happiness or sadness, pleasantness or unpleasantness, desire or aversion arising. But now there is an awareness of pleasant and unpleasant associations with what is arising and an awareness of desire towards the pleasurable and away from the unpleasurable, although there's no 'I' identification associated with any of this, so need to keep on practicing per the teacher's advice and per yours and tilt's encouragement. Thanks.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:19 am

Your welcome householder.
All sorts of emotional and mental detritus comes up during this process, well at least it did for me, so sometimes it can seem a bit confusing. Taking steps forward only to find yourself dealing with mental contents that makes you feel, even if temporarily, you are sliding backwards.
All the very best.

Ben
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:35 am

Very much so Ben - there's a sense of regression from that upekkha and attachment to that state, leading to a desire to return to it (which occurred from the moment of the next sitting after that period), which of course will hinder practice. Need to work through this one.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Sidney » Sun Jul 24, 2011 12:47 pm

Dear Householder,

It's been nearly a year since your post (sorry, I've got the dates wrong by looking at the date you've joined), and I'm sure you would have encountered more experiences by now.
You might want to know what will happen to these insights that you have already experienced with contnuing practice and also without continuing practice.

I will share this information that I have gathered and experienced from a similar condition. Based upon your description,
if I may allow to give an opinion, I am inclined to think that you could have developed an insight level equivalent to 'udayabbaya nana' or the fourth stage if we were to classify the vipassana insights into 16.

Udayabbaya nana is the insight into formations/becomings and dissolutions/ceasations of mind and matter by direct experience and realization when someone is practising vipassana meditation and has already achieved samadhi or one-pointedness concentration. Here, one will surely develop 'upek kilesa' or hinderances to progress further. They are altogether ten in number, one of which fits with the description you have made, which is 'piti' or rapture, extreme satisfaction, clamness and peace. Again, there are five varieties of piti, but I am not going to elaborate them.

They are regarded as hinderances to progress as they tend to capture the yogi/meditator and bound the person to this level of insight until and unless the person knows how to overcome this barrier. These hinderances can also occur when someone is practising samatha or transcendental meditation and has achieved strong samatha.

What will happen with continuing practice?
You may either stuck to this level if you do not have right guidiance OR
proceed into next stage 'bangha nana' which is one of the higher insights in vipassana practice. I will not elaborate on this insight at this moment as it could influence your progress in a negative aspect if you know the theory and will expect the experience.

What will happen if you stop practising meditation?
Vipassana meditation is unlike samatha meditation where one can fall from a higher level to zero. It is like a technique or a skill that you have developed which will never go away but may become less skillful if you are out of practice. For insctance if you have learned how to ride a bicycle or to swim, you will never forget these skills but may be less efficient without continuing practice.

What will happen if you have stopped practising vipassana and have already reached the insight of 'udayabbaya nana?'
If you have reached this insight level through vipassana meditation and for some reason could not practise further, you could be free of a rebirth into four unpleasant states; viz. as an animal, as a 'peta' or unpleasant spiritual existence that includes ghosts, demons, gnomes, etc., as an 'asura' or fallen angel roughly, and as a hell being, PROVIDED you have realized the three characteristics of nature viz. suffering (dukkha), impermanence (anicca), and impersonal (anatta) through learning, and realization with vipassana meditation.

Will you forget in your next life what you have learnt and have developed the skill in this life?
The answer is NO; as the parami or the fulfillment that you have developed will help you to practice vipassana somehow in your next life if you born as a human again.
If you born as a deva or an angel/god in heavens you will come into touch with vipassana in four different ways (sota nugatta sutta). I can elaborate into this subject if anyone is interested but would not do so for the time being.
best wishes into your practice!

Sidney
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby octathlon » Sun Jul 24, 2011 2:38 pm

How about letting go of posting the "something else to let go of" quote whenever someone asks a question about their experience? Speaking for those of us who don't have access to a teacher, when we are dealing with new experiences as a result of our practice, the message is that we're not going to get any help here either and we shouldn't ask. That quote is criticising them as either bragging or stupid, when I think many times people are trying to get a little reassurance that what is happening is normal, or how they should deal with what can be quite unsettling experiences.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 8:04 pm

Righto all that aversion to loss of insight and desire to keep the insights/feeling/concentration has faded now and I've realised it was a form of attachment, causing suffering. Carrying on.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Sun Jul 24, 2011 9:26 pm

Right well that was interesting...

Sat on the PC surfing the net generally when I noted a very slow vibrating/pulsing in my upper arms towards the hands. Immediately went to do a 45 minute sit and the following occurred:

The vibrations/pulses were all over my body, were not synchronised and some would persist for ages, particularly along the outside part of my right arm and right outside part of neck, sometimes but not always there was a distinction between the arms pulsing and the neck pulsing, whereas vibrations/pulses would vibrate a couple of times only in other parts of the body. [EDIT: There was a sense of a residual 'echo' after the 'pulse']

The one-pointed concentration on rising and falling of the abdomen was well and truly gone - awareness was only established for a couple of breaths, and even then there was no discernment of 'stages' of in and out breath as before. There was simply 'rising', and 'falling' [EDIT: To clarify, couldn't discern the beginning of the rising or beginning of the falling, like coming part way through the middle and it ending.] Likewise there was no discernment of the sensation of the abdomen. Just a general feeling of rising and falling. Felt like breathing in and out in 'blocks' rather than the smooth and perceptible process previously. The awareness was far more on the vibrations, which felt like they were 'outside' the circle of awareness when it was on the breath. So eventually I stopped trying to force attention on the breath and let awareness drift around the various vibrations, noting 'vibrating, vibrating'. Noting of anything else was only of loud external sounds such as doors opening and closing (in fairness that pretty much the only gross sounds there were). No subtle discernment of secondary objects as before. There was a very dull sensation of stretching pain in the right leg but it almost negligble.

Eventually this all ceased ceased and for a few moments there was stillness. Couldn't discern rising and falling of abodmen. The ringing in my left ear (fairly constant even when not meditating) then became nearly deafening and filled my entire head.

Then there was a perception of the upper part of the body gently shaking or rocking back and forth. Whether this was physically happening or not I'm not sure, but there was a constant sense of 'back, forth', which was noted accordingly. The perception of rising and falling returned, albeit faintly, and I was aware that when there was 'rising' the shaking seemed to slow, but not stop completely. Then after 'falling' there was rocking again. Then the vibrations started again, this time noticeably quicker in both frequency and occurrences throughout the body. The shaking was far less perceptible to the point where at times I wasn't sure if it was even continuing. After a while of noting the vibrations, they also ceased. Then the shaking came back up. This time it felt rocking in a diagonal direction the North East and was a bit more intense, there was perception of the right leg rocking slightly as well. At one stage there was even perception of awareness 'shaking' in synchronicity with the physical sensation of shaking. During this time, the rising and falling almost completely ceased and there didn't seem to be much of anything else to perceive other than rocking. A couple of times when the non-self was investigated, fear arose in the sense of 'what the hell is going on?' This was noted and investigated (why has this arisen? because of lack of control of what's going on) and passed away. Then the rocking seemed to slow down and the bell went.

Throughout all this there was a slight pressure in the right of centre of the forehead.

After typing that I sat back and was aware of the vibrations still occurring at various parts of the body, but a lot more faintly than the full occupation of awareness they had when sitting. My vision also seems to be shaking ever so subtly.

Just listened to some bass tones on YouTube. The first set of vibrations were slightly more than 5hz and less than 10hz and the second felt slightly faster than the first set.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Ben » Sun Jul 24, 2011 11:02 pm

Hi hh

To me it looks like you are perceiving subtle vedanas which manifest as vibrations. In your situation I maintain sampajjana with regards to the primary object and continue to develop upekkha regardless of the nature of the experience (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). The other thing I wanted to say, if I haven't already, don't read too much into what's going on. Its just the phenomenology of experience evanscing and cascading. Rise and fall. Rise and fall.
with Metta

Ben
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Jul 25, 2011 3:04 am

Insight doersn't need to be sustained because Insight doesn't fall away, if it falls away then it wasn't Insight.

What does fall away is the ability to consistantly maintain and practise a technique that creates the causes and conditions that give rise to Insight, this is normal and it sounds like you are doing better at maintaining it than most.

I think the thing is to realise that the causes and conditions have changed so the technique must change with it, struggling to maintain a technique that is suitable for a retreat in a daily life situation probably arises out of attachment.

So instead of expecting to be able to notice everything in minute detail as you did on retreat apply awareness in a more natural more boroad brush way. True Insight knows how to practice differently when necessary depending on the circumstances.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby alan » Mon Jul 25, 2011 3:41 am

I think tilt had it right.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:08 am

The last sit:
- barely discernible rising and falling with no sense of physical connection
- constant pulsing/vibrating in different parts of the body with no synchronicity (some areas pulsed once, others pulsed several times, and it was constantly moving and many pulses all over the body in rapid succession)
- there were too many pulses at a time to catch them coming up, only being able to note many instances of 'pulsing' and their cessation. The anicca and anatta of them was clearly evident.
- an inability to focus on the rising and falling of abdomen for any sustained period
- no discernment of any other bodily sensations aside from posture, leaning forward and head staring at the navel, which was adjusted.

After 20 minutes I couldn't take it any more and ended the sit prematurely. Mistake, I know, and regretted it after. It's not particularly pleasant but it's not particularly painful either, and all of the previous upekkha and concentration has well and truly vanished.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:17 am

householder wrote:The last sit: . . .
Geez, don't worry about all that stuff; it'll drive you crazy, and it sounds like it is already driving you to distraction. Just sit, just pay attention.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby householder » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:30 am

Tilt, given I've gone in just over a week from barely being able to focus on the breath for several breaths to several vastly different states with different phenomenon, now manifested in the breath going from perfectly discernible and concentrated to being vague and lots of peripheral sensations which are becoming the main object of attention, it's a little overwhelming and I'm having difficulty discerning whether to keep focusing on rising and falling no matter what, forcing attention on the same, or allow awareness to be what it is and where it is at each moment.

As Goofaholix says, conditions and practice on retreat are different to practice off retreat so I'm in the process of feeling my way through. It's all very well saying "Just sit, pay attention", but to what? The rising and falling, like on retreat, which is becoming more solid, less discernible, or these vibrations/pulses, or both, or the whole thing? Your advice is vague and unhelpful.
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby Ben » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:44 am

Greeting hh,

I'm not experienced in the Mahasi style of Vipassana but I do have extensive experience in the U Ba Khin/Goenka style of Vipassana. There's a lot of overlap but I'm not qualified to give you detailed instruction.
I think its very important to speak to the monk at the retreat centre or someone else in a teaching capacity at the centre so that you receive specific detailed instruction that is tailored to you, where you are at and the particular instructions you have been given previously.
You might think Tilt's advice is unhelpful but in fact it is the kernel of all vipassana. Just pay attention (to rise and fall). Whether you pay attention to the primary meditation object of the rise and fall of the abdomen, or bodily sensation, mental contents, or move your awareness to the most dominant dhamma manifesting - that is going to depend on the particular style of vipassana you have been taught and the instructions should be sympatico with the tradition.
Tilt is right - its just stuff. As I said earlier - phenomenology cascading and evanescing. You either ignore it while you pay attention to a primary object of meditation or you pay attention to it as your primary object. Sorting that out with a qualified teacher or monastic at the retreat centre I think should be a priority.
Wishing you the very best,

Ben
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Re: Sustaining insight after retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 25, 2011 6:47 am

householder wrote:Tilt, given I've gone in just over a week from barely being able to focus on the breath for several breaths to several vastly different states with different phenomenon, now manifested in the breath going from perfectly discernible and concentrated to being vague and lots of peripheral sensations which are becoming the main object of attention, it's a little overwhelming and I'm having difficulty discerning whether to keep focusing on rising and falling no matter what, forcing attention on the same, or allow awareness to be what it is and where it is at each moment.

As Goofaholix says, conditions and practice on retreat are different to practice off retreat so I'm in the process of feeling my way through. It's all very well saying "Just sit, pay attention", but to what? The rising and falling, like on retreat, which is becoming more solid, less discernible, or these vibrations/pulses, or both, or the whole thing? Your advice is vague and unhelpful.
In other words, you have driven yourself to distraction. Pay attention to your breathing and don't worry about all the other stuff. Just bring your attention gently back to your breath -- in and out. Or if it is your abdomen that you are watching, then rise and fall. Gently, time and again, bringing your attention back to the rise and fall. Keep it simple and easy.

And if you have a teacher with whom you are working, contact him/her for advice.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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