Author Topic: Why didn't I take the blue pill?  (Read 6319 times)

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« on: November 18, 2013, 07:52:42 AM »
Hi all, bit of an outpouring of frustration and doubt below...sorry for the negative tone, but these emotions seem to arise on a regular basis and I'd like your feedback.

Background: Since swallowing Goenka's red pill back in 2006, I've attended four 10-day Goenka retreats. This year I completed a 21-day Mahasi Sayadaw retreat in Thailand, and spent 9 days at the Wat Pah Nanachat monastery (Thai forest tradition). I've been meditating daily for about two years now, have followed the five precepts as closely as I can since quitting drinking in 2007, and have recently started observing the eight precepts on Uposatha days (once a week). Adding it up, I figure I've completed around 1,500 hours of meditation since 2006.

Although nowadays I'm in the fortunate (?) position to be able to devote all my time to dhamma if I want, my motivation is unravelling. I think it's because my experience of meditation so far has primarily involved observing negative emotions and sensations, and positive experiences (sense of peace, happiness, bliss, etc) have been so rare I can count them on one hand. I don't believe I've experienced anything resembling a nana or jhana (from what I've read and heard). Perhaps my emotional reactivity in daily life has reduced marginally, though nobody close to me has remarked on any changes.

Bottom line: It feels like I'm putting an enormous effort into this but making very little progress. I realise it's important to minimise expectations, but I'm only human, and continuing something that is mostly unpleasant without any obvious benefit is pretty hard to maintain. Right now I feel that I simply couldn't handle another retreat (let alone ordaining, as I was considering only a few months ago), but it seems the only way forward.

I've sometimes found myself wishing my life could go back to what it was before I started down this path. But I can't be re-inserted into the Matrix!! It's too late - I no longer have the least bit of interest in the things I used to enjoy in life. Maybe this is because a small degree of panna has developed - or maybe it's simply because intellectually I've accepted the view that everything except dhamma is a waste of time. To abandon Buddhism now would leave me with nothing - there's literally nothing at all I'm interested in doing in life (since abandoning the idea of doing a PhD).

I suppose the doubt will pass, but I'd be interested to hear from others who have been practicing for a few years - do you experience the positive states only rarely, and find the effort involved in meditation is way out of proportion to the benefits obtained? Or does it become easier once you reach a certain level?

Perhaps I'm doing it all wrong somehow and need some personal guidance. Can anyone recommend a meditation centre with a teacher who is actually attentive and helpful? (In my experience so far, students seem to get the occasional few minutes with some inexperienced teacher who gives canned answers and offers little practical advice.) I briefly visited a few Mahasi retreat centres in Yangon, but didn't have time to stay and find out what the teachers were like - anyone here done a course in Burma? Also, I was impressed by Shinzen Young at the Buddhist Geeks conference, so I've been considering one of his retreats next year; anyone been there?

Thanks!

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2013, 05:15:02 PM »
I can certainly relate to your position. There's been periods of nihilism, and endless sitting where it seems like all I'm observing is my fault finding mind. Walking the path has totally removed my desire and enjoyment of trivialities I previously enjoyed, and I feel at times I'm suck in a no man's land between promised bliss and the relative simplicity of my mind with all it's aspirations and dreams before I started all this.

However, there is also another side to the coin, perhaps also applicable for you. I'm no longer plagued by my thoughts where in the past I'd emotionally react to them and just get caught in a spiral of anxiety and depression. I can be more present when engaging with others, or just going out on a walk. I feel like previously I was putting on glasses with a filter on them making everything look like shit, and for the most part I can take them off and just keep them in my pocket. Going about my daily life without fear, and with far less rumination seems blissful enough to me.

I think at the heart of your problem (and also for myself) is the remnant of materialism. Happiness/enlightenment/whatever is this "thing", out there, just out of reach, and if we can grab hold of it we'll finally get there. We'll go to this retreat over here, or read that book over there, or if only we could just find the right teacher, they'll just give us the magical answer and we can click out fingers and bam, instant karma. Or maybe we should have studied, or maybe I should have stuck with that person, or not done this or that, etc etc etc.

If you can identify that things and your practice are ok, just as they are, maybe that is good enough? For me, I can sum up what I think needs to happen in one word: stop. Stop the thinking, stop the measuring, stop the lamenting and the planning. Are you able to sit, stand, or go about day to day things with a mind devoid of thought, or clinging to thought, if even briefly?

Maybe have a listen to this when you get a chance, by a fellow kiwi:

http://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/193/12467.html

« Last Edit: November 18, 2013, 05:23:02 PM by Dharmic Tui »

Matthew

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2013, 10:10:08 PM »
Your motivation is unraveling simply because your ego has realised where the path leads, it is one of the funniest realisations on the path: that ego can be wise enough to choose it's own end, even if surprised when the day arrives!

Just keep returning to the breathe and realise meditation is not something you do but something you be (in). In it on the cushion and off, a state of mind and not something you do. Though doing certain things can lead to this state of mind arising (see Shamatha instructions on homepage).
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #3 on: November 21, 2013, 06:24:33 AM »
Hi fellas, thanks heaps for your input. DT, it helps to hear that you've had similar thoughts. No-man's land is right, a kind of limbo. But actually when I think about it, I am less inclined to fall into unhelpful thought patterns, so that's something. Definitely have a lot more awareness of how my mind seems to work and what's going on in day-to-day situations. And thanks for the link, will listen to it on my next Uposatha day.

Matthew, yes it seems that maybe this ego has launched a determined battle for survival, and the bugger is winning just now. Interesting what you say about off-the-cushion practice. I kind of feel like I'm trying to transition from the old, agitated, pathological way of thinking/reacting, to simple awareness of bare sensations. So I've  been trying (especially on Uposatha days) to maintain mindfulness during everyday activities. I can seem to do this for a while with mundane chores and walking on the beach etc, but it's tricky with social interactions and anything involving verbal or written activity.

This Buddhist lark always seems to come down to "stop thinking, worrying and fussing, and just be aware". Maybe I need to reduce the intensity a bit for now and let things work at their own pace.

Anyway, thanks again guys - I guess I'm just disappointed in how slow the process seems to be - I'm constantly hearing stories of people's amazing experiences after a single retreat, or a couple of months of meditation. I'll just sit tight and carry on and see what happens.

Metta.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #4 on: November 21, 2013, 07:53:28 AM »
I wouldn't worry too much about other people hyping themselves up, things become relative and if you were self aware before you started, insight not going to seem as "amazing" as it might be for someone who started the path relatively blind.

Hazmatac

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #5 on: November 22, 2013, 12:50:23 PM »
Hi all, bit of an outpouring of frustration and doubt below...sorry for the negative tone, but these emotions seem to arise on a regular basis and I'd like your feedback.

Background: Since swallowing Goenka's red pill back in 2006, I've attended four 10-day Goenka retreats. This year I completed a 21-day Mahasi Sayadaw retreat in Thailand, and spent 9 days at the Wat Pah Nanachat monastery (Thai forest tradition). I've been meditating daily for about two years now, have followed the five precepts as closely as I can since quitting drinking in 2007, and have recently started observing the eight precepts on Uposatha days (once a week). Adding it up, I figure I've completed around 1,500 hours of meditation since 2006.

Although nowadays I'm in the fortunate (?) position to be able to devote all my time to dhamma if I want, my motivation is unravelling. I think it's because my experience of meditation so far has primarily involved observing negative emotions and sensations, and positive experiences (sense of peace, happiness, bliss, etc) have been so rare I can count them on one hand. I don't believe I've experienced anything resembling a nana or jhana (from what I've read and heard). Perhaps my emotional reactivity in daily life has reduced marginally, though nobody close to me has remarked on any changes.

Bottom line: It feels like I'm putting an enormous effort into this but making very little progress. I realise it's important to minimise expectations, but I'm only human, and continuing something that is mostly unpleasant without any obvious benefit is pretty hard to maintain. Right now I feel that I simply couldn't handle another retreat (let alone ordaining, as I was considering only a few months ago), but it seems the only way forward.

I've sometimes found myself wishing my life could go back to what it was before I started down this path. But I can't be re-inserted into the Matrix!! It's too late - I no longer have the least bit of interest in the things I used to enjoy in life. Maybe this is because a small degree of panna has developed - or maybe it's simply because intellectually I've accepted the view that everything except dhamma is a waste of time. To abandon Buddhism now would leave me with nothing - there's literally nothing at all I'm interested in doing in life (since abandoning the idea of doing a PhD).

I suppose the doubt will pass, but I'd be interested to hear from others who have been practicing for a few years - do you experience the positive states only rarely, and find the effort involved in meditation is way out of proportion to the benefits obtained? Or does it become easier once you reach a certain level?

Perhaps I'm doing it all wrong somehow and need some personal guidance. Can anyone recommend a meditation centre with a teacher who is actually attentive and helpful? (In my experience so far, students seem to get the occasional few minutes with some inexperienced teacher who gives canned answers and offers little practical advice.) I briefly visited a few Mahasi retreat centres in Yangon, but didn't have time to stay and find out what the teachers were like - anyone here done a course in Burma? Also, I was impressed by Shinzen Young at the Buddhist Geeks conference, so I've been considering one of his retreats next year; anyone been there?

Thanks!


You are feeling bad due to something in yourself which is saying that there is something wrong with the way things are. I think that meditation can be helpful, but there is more that is needed. Babies die if they are not touched. If you don't get the right nutrition you will be hurt. If your soul is telling you it wants something besides meditation, it is probably best to listen. It seems like you have let meditation become your life and you are unhappy; it might be best to look at what you have cast aside and go for that.

Cheers!
Hazmatac

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #6 on: November 26, 2013, 01:45:09 AM »
Maybe have a listen to this when you get a chance, by a fellow kiwi:

http://dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/193/12467.html
DT, thanks so much for this, a brilliant talk and very timely for me.

I wouldn't worry too much about other people hyping themselves up, things become relative and if you were self aware before you started, insight not going to seem as "amazing" as it might be for someone who started the path relatively blind.
That's a great point. I've probably been fortunate growing up with parents who encouraged introspection, awareness of emotions, and good communication in relationships. Although I can't say this made me particularly well-adjusted and supremely self-aware or anything, I can also imagine that someone who was even more confused and agitated than me would experience some profound insights quite early in their first retreat (or encounter with meditation).

At a different level, I've noticed that people sometimes get quite excited about "waking dreams", or auditory and visual hallucinations during sitting meditation. But I've never given any interest or importance to these events - maybe because from studying neuroscience (or taking hallucinogens!) I have some idea of the striking but meaningless experiences the brain can generate.

It seems like you have let meditation become your life and you are unhappy; it might be best to look at what you have cast aside and go for that.
Hi Hazmatac, yes it seems that this ego is not quite ready to let go of the things that, intellectually, I no longer value. I might need to reintroduce some more mundane goals/rewards (and probably more social interaction) until my practice has progressed further. Thanks heaps for your input.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #7 on: November 26, 2013, 02:58:01 AM »
I find it hard to take some of the claims of mystical journeys seriously as to me it seems such a state would involve subjective input, but then again maybe I've not been doing it right. I try to remove cultural bias from vipassana instruction where possible, there is a large amount of pre existing belief from 500bc India that crosses into the Pali canon.

Renze

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #8 on: November 26, 2013, 12:22:31 PM »
There are people on the internet that take certain concepts of Buddhism out of context or give it a different definition, and still call it Buddhism. I think this can be terribly confusing and misleading.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #9 on: November 26, 2013, 03:19:53 PM »
Hi all, bit of an outpouring of frustration and doubt below...sorry for the negative tone, but these emotions seem to arise on a regular basis and I'd like your feedback.

Hi DNONS,

Can you notice the changing nature of your practice? The ups, the downs, the lofty subtle experiences, and the seemingly solid aversion that arises. Its all suffering, even states of jhana are states of suffering, and they arise to pass away.

It is good that these deep unpleasantries rise to the surface, but you do need to look at them. This is the part that some people do not grasp, even meditators that have been at it for decades. When aversion arises you need to look at it, not look at it and say "there I looked at you now go away." but look at it like a child crying for your help or a sick person who needs assistance. Each time you look, I mean really look at the suffering it begins to dissolve, it cannot exist in an environment of pure awareness. Each time we really look at these phenomenon they lose their power over us, when they reappear they are weaker.

It is normal that in the beginning the heaviest aversion comes to the surface, and it is tiresome to observe continuously, and yes we will start to crave the subtle apparently pleasant states to arise. We may begin to play out a fantasy of some pleasant past memory and this generates subtle sensations to arise, these subtle sensations temporarily seem to make us feel good but really we are just playing games and are creating more sankharas to deal with.

This is where insight and concentration practices diverge, when aversion arises it can lead to simply concentration practice and insight practice is abandoned.
The aversion can push ones awareness out of the innerbody(field of panna) and one becomes aware of the outerbody, breath touching outer skin or begins a fantasy or general mind wandering.

Another trap is when one reaches the depth of mind that seems very pleasant, at this point a light can become apparent and the awareness can be drawn to this light, again one exits the field of panna and begins on developing concentration.

When one stops generating sankharas that lead to these lower planes of existence, the old stock come to the surface rapidly, when the old stock is removed one will never produce a sensation associated with these lower fields again.

I also have a tendency to fantasise when sitting hour after hour observing aversion on long retreats, the mind simple craves some excitement and the mind wanders away to find it. I also have experienced some extremely quiet states where when out of habit the mind begins to play out a fantasy and the agitated sensation of this fantasy arises it is so unpleasant that the mind drops it so quickly. A once sought after sensation that I craved for now appears so agitated in this serene environment.

Its all suffering DNONS, every thought, every thought formation, its all suffering, after dissolution(bhanga) one realizes this fact that there is nothing to cling to, nothing to hang on to, everything is simply arising to pass away, it is frightening, it is all misery.

Continuous awareness of bodily sensation, with the understanding of arising and passing away is the practice of all enlightened beings.

Metta,
Red

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #10 on: November 26, 2013, 11:04:02 PM »
I'm not sure where you're getting your definitions and information but states of Jhana would only be suffering if you clung to or chased them. In which case you'd probably have a hard time reaching them anyway seeing as Jhanas are more commonly seen as a pathway to the end of suffering.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #11 on: November 26, 2013, 11:30:04 PM »
The Jhanas are indeed planes of suffering DT, it is all dukka. The fourth jhana is much subtler than the first jhana but still includes some formation, the formation is suffering or vibration.

Even the formless jhanas are dukka, only Nibbana is free from suffering(dukka).

In each plane of existence one must let go in order to rise to the next.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #12 on: November 27, 2013, 12:49:35 AM »
Phew, lucky for me my playbook only has aversion and clinging as the causes of suffering.

Mind you, you say suffering OR vibration, so your Jhanas are either, or both? What distinguishes vibrations from suffering? There's quite a tonal difference between the two.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #13 on: November 27, 2013, 01:03:47 AM »
Phew, lucky for me my playbook only has aversion and clinging as the causes of suffering.

Even once you stop creating new suffering, the old stock must come to the surface and pass away.


Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #14 on: November 27, 2013, 01:16:14 AM »
Of course. An individual's tendency to cling or avert will have it's foundation in their past. I think it pays to approach the process by which one comes to cling or avert though rather than specific content or objects. Lost job, lost keys or lost relationship it makes no difference.

Im not sure how that is relevant to the idea of Jhanas as suffering though.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2013, 01:19:52 AM by Dharmic Tui »

Mpgkona

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #15 on: November 27, 2013, 01:18:29 AM »

Even once you stop creating new suffering, the old stock must come to the surface and pass away.

According to who? Are these observable, experiential truths you speak of?
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #16 on: November 27, 2013, 01:27:56 AM »
Depends a little. If on one hand Red is claiming to end suffering one must go and drudge up their old laundry Im not so sure. If on the other he's inferring one must come to identify the totality of ones ego then theres a reasonable argument to put forward.

It does sound a little bit like suffering relating to specific objects though.

Renze

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2013, 11:35:50 AM »
The Jhanas are indeed planes of suffering DT, it is all dukka. The fourth jhana is much subtler than the first jhana but still includes some formation, the formation is suffering or vibration.

I don't know who told you Red, but I hope you are aware that this goes straight against what traditional Buddhism says. Because traditionally, Buddhists are to avoid all worldly pleasures because they cause suffering. Jhana, on the other hand, is not a worldly pleasure as is stated in the Niramisa Sutta:

Quote
"There is, O monks, worldly joy,[1] there is unworldly joy, and there is a still greater unworldly joy. There is worldly happiness,[2] there is unworldly happiness, and there is a still greater unworldly happiness. There is worldly equanimity, there is unworldly equanimity, and there a still greater unworldly equanimity. There is worldly freedom, there is unworldly freedom, and there is a still greater unworldly freedom.

"Now, O monks, what is worldly joy? There are these five cords of sense desire: forms cognizable by the eye that are wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. Sounds cognizable by the ear... odors cognizable by the nose... flavors cognizable by the tongue... tangibles cognizable by the body, wished for and desired, agreeable and endearing, associated with sense-desire and tempting to lust. It is the joy that arises dependent on these five cords of sense desire which is called 'worldly joy.'

"Now what is unworldly joy? Quite secluded from sense desires, secluded from unwholesome states of mind, a monk enters upon and abides in the first meditative absorption,[3] which is accompanied by thought-conception and discursive thinking, and has joy and happiness born of seclusion. With the stilling of thought-conception and discursive thinking, he enters upon and abides in the second meditative absorption which has internal confidence and singleness of mind without thought conception and discursive thinking, and has joy and happiness born of concentration. This is called 'unworldly joy.'

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn36/sn36.031.nypo.html

From this you can conclude that in Theravada Buddhism at least, the Jhana states are not considered 'planes of suffering', but they bring unworldly joy and happiness that is to be cultivated. What you're saying is highly unorthodox.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #18 on: November 27, 2013, 12:33:51 PM »

Even once you stop creating new suffering, the old stock must come to the surface and pass away.

According to who? Are these observable, experiential truths you speak of?

Like the example of the wind up toy, once we learn to stop winding the spring and let it go, it takes some time for the tension remaining in the spring to unwind and the toy to come to rest.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #19 on: November 27, 2013, 12:44:37 PM »

I don't know who told you Red, but I hope you are aware that this goes straight against what traditional Buddhism says. Because traditionally, Buddhists are to avoid all worldly pleasures because they cause suffering. Jhana, on the other hand, is not a worldly pleasure as is stated in the Niramisa Sutta:


Buddhists are not to avoid worldly pleasure, they are to come to see that it is in fact not pleasure, it is all misery(dukka). Piti is only a factor of enlightenment once this is clearly understood. Everything is impermanent and thus unsatisfactory, this includes the absorptions.

Renze

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #20 on: November 27, 2013, 02:37:42 PM »
Seeing that everything is dukkha is only the first step. The next step, renunciation of worldly pleasures, is essential in Buddhism. A while ago, I posted an interesting article about it: http://www.vipassanaforum.net/forum/index.php/topic,2305.0.html

Mpgkona

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #21 on: November 27, 2013, 06:40:24 PM »
For me, because I think I understand impermanence well enough, I don't think enjoying time with my kids is misery or suffering. I fully know and appreciate the fact that great family moments are fleeting and impermanent. I try to remain equanimous during these times. But if becoming enlightened involves forgoing these pleasures than I count myself out. I'd choose a thousand rebirths if I can enjoy the pleasures of family in each one, with all its misery.

So...for me the red pill has helped me to enjoy and appreciate this existence a whole lot more then when I was plugged in.

Red, do you really believe ALL things are miserable?
« Last Edit: November 27, 2013, 07:37:06 PM by Mpgkona »
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

redalert

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #22 on: November 27, 2013, 08:07:26 PM »


Red, do you really believe ALL things are miserable?

All things are impermanent, constantly changing, and ultimately unsatisfactory.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #23 on: November 27, 2013, 08:12:18 PM »
Unless you're enlightened, in which case dualism and labels don't exist. Things are neither permanent nor impermanent, blissful or miserable.

Leading back to the OP that's probably where people may become unstuck; by a belief that what is sought is the opposite to all the suffering, rather than an abandonment of it and the attainment (for want of a better word) of a middle way.
« Last Edit: November 27, 2013, 08:15:14 PM by Dharmic Tui »

DarkNightOfNoSoul

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Re: Why didn't I take the blue pill?
« Reply #24 on: December 01, 2013, 05:46:42 AM »
Can you notice the changing nature of your practice? The ups, the downs, the lofty subtle experiences, and the seemingly solid aversion that arises. Its all suffering, even states of jhana are states of suffering, and they arise to pass away.
Thanks for your great comments Red. I understand what you're saying, and feel I've directly experienced at least some of these realisations. Still there is doubt both in myself (after noticing how long I've been trudging along the eightfold path, yet hearing about other people making amazingly quick progress) and in the path itself. At some point, one needs to have some personal experience of progress to sustain one's practice, rather than just having faith in what other people say. Otherwise I might as well just take up Christianity or something. ;) Although I feel I've had "insights" and other dhamma experiences, they seem so subtle and weak I can't be sure I haven't just imagined them based on what I've learned intellectually.

Leading back to the OP that's probably where people may become unstuck; by a belief that what is sought is the opposite to all the suffering, rather than an abandonment of it and the attainment (for want of a better word) of a middle way.
DT yes I think I sometimes fall into the trap of trying to "get" something rather than letting go.

Never mind, I'm continuing to practice anyway, so my immediate crisis is averted!

Thanks again to everyone for your comments and advice. This forum is awesome.