From "dry insight" dukkha ñanas to Samatha-Vipassana

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  • #1857
    Profile photo of Julian S
    Julian S
    Member

    Hi the group,

    I’ve not posted here before but I’ve owned a copy of TMI for a year now and been working from it seriously for the last month after taking a break for a few months due to health problems. Apologies for the long post but I have spent about a week thinking about this and there’s a few angles to it.

    I have read that practising the samatha-vipassana path is generally less likely to result in protracted “cycling” through the insights into suffering (“The Dark Night of the Soul”, http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/MCTB+5.+Dissolution,+Entrance+to+the+Dark+Night). But what if someone is already in a pattern of cycling through this stuff?

    I’m nine years into a dry vipassana path and even before I took up that practice I had experiences that equate to bhanga / dissolution (“Knowledge of Arising and Passing Away”), which as I understand it lead pretty much inevitably to the DN if one is not aided by samatha. Because I am not naturally high in samadhi or tranquility (I have ADHD) this meant that I had pretty much entered the Dark Night before starting formal meditation practices.

    On retreat for me, dissolution and the Dark Night manifests with real clarity around day four, preceded by clear kundalini phenomena (internal lights and sounds etc) and kriya shaking. There follows a period of three to four days of sitting with classical dukkha. On a few 10-day retreats I have “let go” into equanimity regarding the formations of perception (TMI Stage Eight? I have resolved not to jump ahead with TMI and haven’t read that far into the book). But these have been fleeting instances of tranquility amidst what is generally a very agitated mind. I have been unable to reproduce this “High Equanimity” reliably even on retreat, and after it does arise, the rest of the retreat I usually spend grasping at the memories in a most unhelpful way, trying to reproduce them.

    During home practice, with bare vipassana I can access subtle body sensations at will, even on first sitting down to practise, but cannot reproduce Equanimity towards formations, I think due to dullness. My sits usually end up in boredom or lethargy. I have found Shinzen Young’s Focus In technique really helpful to keep me going, but usually I still fall prey to dullness. With samatha-vipassana, I experience the same — a lot of restlessness and boredom. I work with dullness most of the time (stand up, walk, sit with eyes open etc). On the odd occasion when I have mental unity towards meditation during home practice, I can do Stage Five samatha-vipassana practise (Culadasa). I haven’t tried going beyond that. These occasions occur about once every fortnight and have so far only lasted for the final ten minutes of a sit. Most sessions I spend a lot of time revisiting my motivations, making space for unknowing, cultivating patience while holding (or attempting to hold) strong intentions and working through Stage Two, Three and sometimes Four although not often in that order. The skills in there don’t come easily to the hyperfocussed, highly agitated yet high-dullness mind that I usually sit with.

    U Ba Khin / Mahasi practitioners have suggested that because of the way the dukkha ñanas manifest I could “get further” towards Awakening by using dry insight and long retreats as opposed to samatha-vipassana and home practice, because the dark night is considered (by them) to be a time when attention broadens out and exclusive attention is borderline impossible, although attractive as it seems to offer a way out of the discomfort. They suggest building up to the traditional three-month attempts at stream entry, and just keep bashing away until successful.

    But firstly, there’s the nature of an ADHD mind which isn’t highly consistent, reliable or steady and which in my experience does not present with incidental samatha very frequently, which the dry insight technique pretty much relies on for stream entry. Secondly I am a dedicated father. And thirdly since 18 months ago I also suffer from a chronic pain condition (which I don’t blame on the kriya / DN but I don’t think is entirely separate either). These seem to be significant obstacles to the traditional dry insight solution of “do a long retreat and repeat”.

    I also am quite honestly scared of the Dark Night and feel like I’m out of inspiration to do it that way. Having undergone seven silent retreats up to three weeks in duration I’m no stranger to how tough things can be. Intuitively I am deeply unsure that the path to Awakening must be full of so much suffering as all that (although pain, surely).

    Hence, TMI with its focus on tranquility, consistency and reproducibility, joy and home practice over long-retreats and intense heroic efforts has been a relief to encounter, even if it means starting at the beginning again.

    I still rate the dry insight teachings highly for certain people. One warning I’ve had from Mahasi practitioners, outlined above, is that the dukkha ñanas are a particularly bad time to try and develop single-pointedness, due to the way perception works in those stages.

    Which comes back to my questions: it seems as though the samatha-vipassana method is less likely to lead to a dark night, but does anyone have experience of a practitioner switching from dry insight to samatha-vipassana while in a classic dry insight dark night? If so, can you suggest where any of the tools and techniques in TMI require modifying?

    If I just continue following the instructions in the book, can I expect to make progress despite being in a classical dark night?

    I like the way the TMI practise challenges the whole dullness / agitation / hyperfocus loop of ADHD. I’m letting it undermine my tendency to rush, which has got to be beneficial. I’m hoping to get reassurance that it’s worth continuing, but the worry about developing these skills while being a decade into the dark night is niggling away and starting to enter my sessions as doubt so I’m reaching out.

    With gratitude and appreciation for the gift of these practices,

    Julian

    • This topic was modified 5 days, 20 hours ago by Profile photo of Julian S Julian S.
    #1859
    Profile photo of Mary Hill
    maryhill
    Member

    Julian,
    I’m a rather new teacher in training with Culadasa. I don’t have the answer to your question. I wanted to respond so that I would be in this thread, and see what the experienced teachers in training have to say.
    I admire your determination very much. You’ve come to the right place. Culadasa’s methods are so gentle, and experiencing meditation with pleasure and relaxation is very important in this practice.

    Also, I wanted you to know that when I started meditating in 2014, I was already in chronic pain. So, I actually lie down, with a heating pad, because the pain itself is such a distraction that I can’t follow the instructions.
    I’m at Stage 5. And yes, subtle and gross dullness is an issue with lying down. Sometimes I have to meditate, fall asleep, awaken, and try again.

    I do a lot of the practices in the Appendix also, like Lovingkindness and Walking Meditation. And I allow myself to experience mindfulness in daily life (watching my thoughts and returning to the breath), as often as possible throughout the day.

    This allows me to “practice” meditation (yes, I can even do it at the gym :), when off the cushion.

    I do not have ADHD, and I do have a very active mind. It is such a relief, whether I am on the cushion, or off, to focus on my meditation object during daily life.

    Also, on the very bottom of the introductory page of the website, is a guided meditation by Culadasa himself. I sometimes listen to this, in order to be with my teacher and a group, “in spirit”.

    There are also 3 online sanghas with Culadasa’s teachers in training. I belong to one of them. That’s how I discovered the practice 🙂

    Blessings,
    Mary, teacher in training

    #1860
    Profile photo of Julian S
    Julian S
    Member

    Thanks Mary. I don’t feel like I have very much determination some days! I think in a way that having ADHD is a perfect goad though, because without daily sitting life becomes impenetrable fairly quickly 🙂

    I was sorry to hear about your chronic pain though. Perhaps this is not the place to discuss it but I have had a lot of relief from following a protocol of mental exercises that I found in a book on neuroplasticity. I run through them at the start of each sit and throughout the day. Feel free to private message me if you’d like to know more.

    I’ll look for the video you mentioned, I think motivation is going to be the thing I have to keep on top of if I do proceed with the Culadasa method (which so far I intend to do).

    #1861
    Profile photo of Julian S
    Julian S
    Member

    On my latest retreat I incorporated loving kindness meditation after remembering Culadasa’s suggestion that it can help with pain in Stage Four. I found it soothing. But now I’m home it is hard to stabilise attention for long enough to generate the qualities. Do you think it needs to be done with a certain level of sati and samadhi? On days where I reach some stability, then I’m still doing it.

    #1862
    Profile photo of Mary Hill
    maryhill
    Member

    A Free, 30-Minute Guided Metta (Loving Kindness) Meditation

    Julian, Above is a 30 minute guided meditation done by another one of Culadasa’s teachers in training. It is lovingkindness. It’s the one I listened to this morning.

    Blessings, Mary, teacher in training

    #1863
    Profile photo of Julian S
    Julian S
    Member

    That was very beneficial this morning! Thank you Mary. I will incorporate this into my routine.

    #1864
    Profile photo of Mary Hill
    maryhill
    Member

    Great Julian. Some people do Metta (lovingkindness) daily for years.
    Let me know if that begins to soften your practice. Blessings, Mary

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