Author Topic: Confusing meditation experiences  (Read 4964 times)

mcgee55

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Confusing meditation experiences
« on: September 30, 2009, 11:46:14 PM »
I know each person's meditation is a unique and personal experience, so it may be hard for others to understand, but I hope someone here might be able to guide me as to what is happening as I do not have a teacher.  First a little background.  I have been meditating for 1-2 hrs. for almost 5 months.  I am currently unemployed so I have lots time to kill.  In this time my concentration has greatly increased. 

Now, I know it is common for people who meditate to experience different sensations as a sign of increasing and developing concentration.  The sensations that I feel pressure on my forehead, flashing lights (the type everyone gets when they close their eyes, but more intense and dynamic) and a ringing sound in my ear.  As my concentration has developed more, these things have gotten more intense. 

About two weeks ago I began incorporating body sensations into my practice, whether through a body scan or general awareness of the body.  I feel like this required even greater concentration, because I find the presence of the breath to be quite strong.  Two days ago when I was meditating, all of those lights came together to form basically a wall of yellowish light, and in the middle was a black circle.  It sort of looked like an eclipse.  The pressure on my forehead became quite intense, and the ringing was quite loud.  Also, I could feel the blood rushing to my hands and feet.  It felt quite intense, not really peaceful.  Up until this point I had not experienced anything like that. 

During each of my following sittings the same thing has happened.  The feeling/experience can be quite intense, to the point where it is difficult to concentrate on anything but it.  Does anybody know what this this experience is?   Is it rapture?  Am I supposed to be mindful of it and use it as my focus?  Is the eclipse looking circle the sign that Bhante G. mentions?  Also, I feel the need to point out that I haven't been trying to regain the experience each time I meditate, but it does happen.  Please don't mistake me as being attached to this experience.  These are the questions I would posit to a teacher (again, if I had one) to help guide my practice.  Thank you for all of your insights.

Yeshey

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2009, 03:29:20 AM »
Dear McGee55

The visualizations are called acquired signs.  They emanate from the air element; the shape and color usually relate to the meditator's mental disposition. If you like, you can shift your object of focus to the acquired sign (as opposed to using the breath as your object of focus). Try to steer clear of trying to analyze what it means, just remain aware and equanimous (as it sounds like you have figured out on your own). As the afflictions of the mind begin to subside, the meditations will become more dispassionate and calm.

In Dharma,
Yeshey


Matthew

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2009, 06:28:03 AM »
Good advice. Welcome to the forums Yeshey.

Matthew
« Last Edit: October 01, 2009, 06:28:22 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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mcgee55

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2009, 06:13:57 PM »
Yeshey,

Thanks for the info, I appreciate it.  I'm not so much interested in what the experience means, but rather what to do with it.   I am meditating according to the anapanasati sutra as per Rosenberg's book.  The 5th contemplation, piti (rapture), is characterized by, among other things, a feeling of energy flowing through the body.   When I sit down now and take a few breaths, I feel a great rush of energy through my arms to my hands, and eventually through my legs to my feet.  I begin to feel this way almost immediately after beginning my breathing.  This did not happen ever before.  It feels very much like a strong tingle, as if those limbs had fallen asleep.  Also, the ringing in my ears (name?) becomes so loud it feels as if my head were going to explode. 

The sutra says to devote attention to piti when it arises, and allow the breath to fade to the background.  I do not know, however, if this is piti.  I do know there are different levels of piti. I guess I want to  know whether I should devote attention to this, or focus it on the breath/body sensations.  I have tried to keep attention devoted to the breath or body sensations, and it proves difficult in light of the intensity of the experience.  Interestingly, if I can force myself to keep attention on breath/body sensations for a while, the experience builds in intensity until it becomes too strong to focus on anything else.  At this point I've just been trying to focus on breath/body sensations until the experience becomes overwhelming, at which point I switch to it.  I'm very confused, however, if this is the right course of action.  Any advice? 

Renze

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2009, 09:17:27 PM »
I think what you are describing might be part of upacarasamadhi. From what I've read, I know this state of samadhi brings a lot of visual mental images. I haven't gotten that far in my meditation practice yet, though. I managed to get into khanikasamadhi today, I think. It triggered lots of strange physical feelings, including painful paranasal sinuses, and the feeling that my eyes were turned into my head backwards.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2009, 09:21:27 PM by Renze »

Yeshey

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2009, 10:52:24 PM »
Dear McGee55,
I want to start by saying that I am not familiar with practice that you do, so i am not sure if my suggestion below is correct.  I also do not know if this is piti, but it sounds like it is. The instruction in the sutra seems to be consistent with my suggestion, Matthew agreed as well and your intuition is telling you the same.
From my own personal experience, I would suggest observing the nature of the energy and the nature of the sound. Let the heart of your practice be consciousness in its natural state.
In dharma,
Yeshey

Dear Matthew,
Thanks for your note.  I am looking forward to learning here.
Yeshey

mcgee55

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2009, 11:00:51 PM »

Yeshey - Nicely said.  As far as I know (my knowledge/experience is quite limited) I am practicing the Theravadan tradition of vipassana.  I am quite thankful for everybody's responses. 

Yeshey

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2009, 11:21:36 PM »
Dear McGee55,
I think it is great that you are asking and I hope that someone that knows first hand, the answer to your questions, reads the post.

may your practice be peaceful and luminous.
Yeshey

wildfox

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2009, 03:39:41 AM »
Dear McGee55,

I know it's one helluva rush, but you can only stand so many....

My current practice is the same as yours.  I have a friend who started out with initial experiences (piti) like yours, and now he is a well known jhanas teacher.  The visual thing you are seeing is indeed a "nimitta", as Gunaratana writes about.  If you want to pursue that, then you need to get a jhanas teacher.  In that method, you ignore the nimitta until it becomes very steady.  Then you play with it, making it change into different sizes and shapes.  The important thing to remember is that this is none other than a production of your subconscious mind, not something mystical or sacred.

Let's get back to the method outlined by Rosenberg.  In step 3, feel the frame of your entire body, outside and then inside, all the while maintaining background notice of the inbreath and outbreath.  In step 4, shift your emphasis of attention to the calmness of your breath, so that doing so has the effect of calming the body.  Step 5, "Piti" is a rapture feeling on and even in the body, comes in 5 flavors of intensity, variations of tingling sensation, you can look this up.  Sounds like it comes to you naturally.  If not, then say to yourself, "Let me feel rapture" and make a little smile.  Piti happens because sitting very still has created a subconscious 'body schema' in the subconscious.

If you ignore the breath and focus entirely on the piti, you can give yourself a long term problem of attachment to the intensity of the piti.  Okay, so when you get tired of it, again give preference of attention to the breath.  Just as shifting preference of attention to the breath calms the body in step 4, using the breath to calm the piti of step 5 then results in step 6, sukha, calm happiness.  These are all just tricks of manipulating your attention.  You are in control.

Matthew

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2009, 12:38:39 PM »
...
I know it's one helluva rush, but you can only stand so many....

My current practice is the same as yours.  I have a friend who started out with initial experiences (piti) like yours, and now he is a well known jhanas teacher.  The visual thing you are seeing is indeed a "nimitta", as Gunaratana writes about.  If you want to pursue that, then you need to get a jhanas teacher.  ......

Wildfox,

Great post. Interestingly Henepola Gunaratana has recently published his new book: "[amazonsearch]Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English - an introductory guide to DEEPER STATES OF MEDITATION[/amazonsearch]"



From the introduction:

Quote
While the words mindfulness and even vipassana have grown increasingly common and the practice itself has received lots of attention, deep concentration meditation, shamatha, seems to have received less. In fact, it was widely considered a kind of meditators' Olympics, a pursuit suited only to extraordinary beings who lived in caves or monasteries, far beyond the ken of "normal people", folks with busy daily lives.

In the first decade of this century, interest seems to be turning toward the concentration path. And that is a good thing, because it is truly a parallel yet complimentary path to insight meditation, to mindfulness. The two are intertwined and support one another. Over the last two millenia, these two paths were codified and refined as parallel paths for a very good reason: they both work and they work best together. In fact the two are really one. In truth the Buddha did not teach shamatha and vipassana as separate systems. The Buddha gave us one meditative path, one set of tools for becoming free from suffering.

This book is intended to serve as a clearly comprehensible meditators' handbook, laying out the path of concentration meditation in a fashion as close to step-by-step as possible. Also, this book assumes you have read [amazonsearch]Mindfulness in Plain English[/amazonsearch] or something similar, that you are now ready to take the next step - beyond mindfulness.

"One note about the structure of this book: throughout it (and especially where talking in detail about the jhanas), I have offered a number of quotations from the Pali suttas, our best record of what it is the Buddha himself taught.

Emphasis mine.

This is something I have been trying to promote awareness of within this community:

The defining line between Shamatha and Vipassana is not so much a line as a great big grey cross-over area. Both techniques are part of a whole path that includes much more than meditation. In the initial stages meditation is more Shamatha and slowly transitions to Vipassana. But right from the start Shamtha practice includes Vipassana and at the very end Vipassana practice is still Shamatha.

Calm facilitates insight. > Shamatha leads to Samadhi which allows Vipassana.

Insight facilitates calm. > Vipassana improves and deepens Samadhi.

The teacher just published the teachings "... this (book) was written for ordinary people in straightforward language".

Quote
"Bhante Gunaratana has done it again!" - Ajahn Amaro, abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery

I was never taught Vipassana meditation. My teacher taught me Shamatha-Vipassana as a system. As it should be.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: November 13, 2009, 12:54:12 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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Matthew

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2009, 12:53:46 PM »
Also from "Meditation: Some basics for beginners":


Meditation in the Buddhist tradition largely falls into two kinds which are inseparable in practice: One practices both, beginning with calming the mind through sitting and focussing on an "object" of meditation (this type of meditation is called "Shamatha" or "Samatha"). At the same time - and increasingly as your mind calms - you use that calm mind to gain insight or increase your awareness of how your body and mind functions (this type of meditation is called "Vipassana or "Vipashyana").

In Shamatha the object of meditation can be the breath - this is the most common and very effective as it joins body and mind at the same time as calming the mind. You can also use another internal or external object such as a candle or a visualisation of a Buddha or a mantra (repetition of words).

You can "watch" - that is pay attention to - the rise and fall of your belly as the breath comes in and out of your body, or the area between your upper lip and nose where you will feel the air hitting your skin, or the back of your throat where you will feel the same.

This watching or paying attention to needs to be focussed enough to maintain and increase your concentration whilst not being so forced as to deny whatever else is happening in your body and mind. In particular one still notices the thoughts that inevitably arise in the mind and feelings and emotions (which you will notice generally arise in the body) but one tries not to "get caught up in them" or "lost in them".

In practice this means that when the thought arises "Oh I have to go shopping later" you try to notice the thought then let it go, instead getting caught up in the usual tide of thoughts that follow "Oh I hate shopping. I must go though. We have no cheese. I want cheese on toast for dinner. I like cheese on toast".

Instead, you notice the thought, let it go, then gently return your attention to the object of meditation. Don't give yourself a hard time - at the beginning especially it is very hard not to get caught up in thoughts. The western mind is filled with guilt and self-criticism. Without being lazy, one must learn to accept with equanimity that this will happen, maintain enough discipline or "Shila" to keep going, and try not get caught up in chains of self -critical thought.

This process calms the mind, eventually staunches the flow of thoughts and you can reach a place of peace in your mind called calm-abiding or "Samadhi", or "One-pointedness".

It is important not to try too hard or you will actually end up hypnotising yourself into a kind of stupor or sloth or sleepiness instead of becoming more aware. Being a meditator is a personal journey and experience - no one can do it for you and neither can you "think yourself" into being a meditator.

Once calm abiding is established, the "Vipassana" or awareness part of being a meditator takes full effect. With this calm and one-pointed mind one can focus on bodily sensations, patterns of thinking, feeling, perceiving and the stories we tell ourselves about "who I am". By seeing these for what they are we slowly unwind the habitual patterns that have accumulated in the subconscious mind over a lifetime and become fresh and free in our way of being and thinking. We become what and who we really are instead of the solid, habitual and conditioned set of reactions we are when we set out on this journey. These conditioned reactions are what Buddhists call "ego" and are a collection of habits of body, of perceiving, of feeling, of thinking and of storytelling.

These collections are called "heaps" or Skandhas" in Sanskrit.

Being a meditator is sometimes hard work and often boring. There is nothing in this world, however, that will give you greater control over your life than being in control of your mind: then it becomes a "tool to serve you" rather than a "wild tiger dragging you from here to there", as the Tibetan Masters like to say.

~oOo~

Of course, in the Beginners guide I do not discuss Jhana practice which is a deepening of Shamatha practice best developed after TRUE calm-abiding or Samadhi has been established.

And if anyone thinks they are practicing Vipassana without Shamatha then you need to understand that any activity focussing on the breath or another object to calm the mind and develop concentration is Shamatha: i.e. Anapana in the Goenka system is the Shamatha element of practice. I have my personal doubts that enough emphasis is placed on Shamatha within Goenka's system but that is well known here and not something I wish to make into an issue.

Main point is you are doing Shamatha if you are doing Vipassana and it is important to do lots of Shamatha if you want Vipassana to work properly.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: November 14, 2009, 11:16:55 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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mcgee55

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2009, 11:51:02 PM »
Wow.  Great posts guys.  I haven't been to the site in a while (work :-/), but its nice to see that there's a new book out by B.G.  Of course, I will not be reading it for a while, but will someday (not quite ready for jhana stuff).  Its good to hear all this talk about shamatha.  Lately, I've gone back to just focusing on breathing and nothing else.  Sometimes, I feel as if my concentration is strong, at least stronger than it was six months ago.  But mostly, I am still insecure about it, and I can too easily be distracted.  I suppose you know your foundation in shamatha isn't strong enough when you are afraid that the house might collapse.  My hut is still made of sticks so to speak, but that is still better than the one made of straw that I started with. Regardless, I've been sticking to my routine, twice a day for about 40-45 min., once before, once after work.  I swear, I will develop concentration if it takes me the rest of my life.  :o 

Matthew

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #12 on: November 16, 2009, 04:39:02 PM »
mcgee,

Getting to the cushion is half the battle so you are doing well.  2 sessions a day regularly and you will see change before the end of your days :)

Shamatha is very underestimated in some Buddhist circles. I did a 30 day retreat of nothing but 14 hours a day - really all shamatha - it's remarkably powerful.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
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upekkha

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2009, 04:52:16 PM »
TIB - that must have been very good for your concentration,
would you share some of your experiences from that retreat?

Matthew

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Re: Confusing meditation experiences
« Reply #14 on: December 02, 2009, 11:03:31 PM »
upekkha,

Yes. It was very good for my concentration and as soon as I finished I felt ready to do another month as I knew that would triple or quadruple the depth of my Samadhi.

Everything slowed down. Everything. I felt deep peace in every moment. Towards the end the days were blissful.

This peace extended through the group. Wordless exchanges were fulsome and rich and replete.

Unfortunately my work commitments to the centre made that it was not a choice that was open to take another month retreat.

My experience from that retreat taught me that most western students of Buddhism I had met do not pay enough attention to the Shamatha component of sitting practice. I learned that developing a calm stable mind as the base of practice takes time, discipline and compassion for oneself (the genesis of compassion for others by the way) - and that this is the only route to insight, that this can only be achieved with sustained intense Shamatha practice.

Even though I was learning within the Tibetan tradition, I took a look around me at the "higher practitioners" who were undertaking Vajrayana/Tantra practice and I realised that most of those people were so damn crazy and weird because they were egotistically intent on achieving goals in practice and they had forgotten the basics - due to lack of Shamatha in their practice.

Even though my root teacher told me everything I do is already Vajrayana practice - and that I did not realise that - I decided after this retreat that I would follow the path in a more Theravadan approach and never become enmeshed in Tantra or "higher" practices. Most Mahayana traditions I have encountered I have to say have deep flaws.

Shamatha-Vipassana as the Buddha taught it is the path. No need for bells and whistles and fancy ceremonies and pujas and party hats and stuff. No need at all.

One of the strangest and funniest experiences was the day after the retreat. One of my friends who was living and working with me at the centre and I went for a beer in the local town. I drove. When we had gone about 1 kilometre he pointed out to me that I was driving at 10kph ! I sped up to a "normal" driving speed and was acutely aware of how our fast paced lives leave no room for quiet reflection and deep connection as they demand we constantly pay attention to that around us not that within us.

I think that was the day I decided to become something of a hermit.

Matthew
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