Update 20201113: https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2019/10/08/time-estimates-update/
[Editing status: Lots of confusing sentences.]
[Update 20190407: Some light edits and additions to the “risk” section. Still much could be improved.]
The thing I’m roughly shooting for, now, is being able to take people to like “full classical enlightenment” in about 2,000 hours of practice. (Maybe 1,500 hours, eventually.) To be clear, that’s not just stream-entry; I mean the whole thing, according to some very, very high bar but maybe not like “the best-case fruits of have been skillfully practicing for thirty years” bar. So under a year, “full time,” or a few years at one to four hours per day.
Summary of the Positive or Neutral and Highly Salient Stuff
To my mind, these are some of the most interesting things that happen along the way:
- Increasingly deep tastes of determinism. You are a lawful process that, especially if left to its own devices, will do a lawful thing which you will experience from the inside knowing that or not. This is sometimes distressing and creepy, sometimes reassuring, and eventually gets metabolized and fades to the background and you’re sort of back to normal on this front.
- Increasingly deep understanding of emptiness. What you thought was territory was/is actually map, composed of sensations and not “out there.” This goes very, very, very deep and you sort of have to go find all of it. This is by turns terrifying and exhilarating and ultimately deeply freeing though it (so far, to my mind) doesn’t grant a deep sense of safety or anything like that. Eventual deep understanding of relationship between mind and map (vs territory) and contingency and arbitrariness. (But contingent is not arbitrary and neither contingency nor arbitrariness cut against meaning and unconditionality in the limit.)
- All the Zen stuff: nowhere to go, no escape, no goal, nothing to do, start where you are. This maybe follows from the emptiness stuff but doesn’t seem perfectly related or dependent on it. It’s sort of like, there is no magical “other place,” at least in the way that was previously in the back of your mind, no teleportation, no heaven, no hell, no space empire, no fairy kingdom, no “other place,” again, at least not in the way you thought. This can be devastating at first and possibly initially gets overgeneralized. Eventually this gets metabolized and life goes on as before and you get stuff back that you thought you had to give up and there’s still plenty of potential for extreme goodness and meaning.
- Increasingly deep contact with “the source,” for me multiple distinct rounds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brahman This was very much a what in the holy actual fuck thing, for me. So, I still believe in neurons and quantum mechanics. And, also, given correct application of method, one’s brain eventually, inevitably, spits out this other thing as being a thing, too. What are the implications for brains and/or metaphysics and/or quantum mechanics? I have lots of thoughts, here, for another time. Join me (and like how many other hardcore meditators, 99% of which don’t lead with this?) in touching the source. It’s cool.
- Multiple rounds of Atman-Brahman dissolve. You’re like a ripple in Brahman; you’re a ripple of water in an ocean, not separate from the ocean. And you sort of eventually dissolve into that or being that. So distinct; so weird. Mildly reassuring.
- No-self. It’s possible I don’t get this deeply enough, yet. There’s a bunch of good stuff that happens that sort of points in this direction but isn’t really the “core no-self insight.” And this seems quite distinct from that Atman-Brahman dissolve but has a distinctly similar “punctate supramundane” flavor in the initial experience of it. In any case, to my mind, there’s like all the self stuff happening, and you just pretty much realize that you’re like perfectly “bound” to all of it as it’s happening, but you come to realize there’s a very distinct and specific way in which you are not that. Maybe then you’re like awareness itself or something, pace neuroscience. This was a pretty uneventful thing, actually, and didn’t seem to particularly alter my relationship to, say, suffering. So maybe I’m due for a few more rounds of it. Unclear. (The good stuff that’s *not* this is sort of realizing how deeply fragmented and contradictory you are, in say desires/preferences, social persona, general ambivalence at any given time, competing plans and goals. You get a deeper and deeper feel for this, real front-row seating, and this is a precursor to ever-more-profound unification.)
- Nonduality. For another thing I probably don’t “get” yet, this would be a candidate. Inside and outside sort of lose “special differentness”; far away distances sort of collapse into “right there in front of you-ness.” This has been a sort of slow gradient, not punctate, so far, and is at least not currently ever present or foregrounded in experience.
- Unraveling of deep, desperate life-long goals that you may not have known you were putting all your energy into, your entire being into. This is separate from the Zen stuff, and can happen multiple times, each time for a deeper thing; the first time can be pretty shocking depending on your setup, like waking up from a dream where you were utterly focused on doing or getting some particular thing. Unlike the Zen stuff this I think is usually going to be a relief–some stuff feels like goodness goes away (temporarily) but these, here, are usually more of a realization that there’s a bunch of better ways to get something and oh my god why was I trying so hard to get that in that way.
- Synchronicity (as opposed to diachronicity): Everything is happening now, the past is now, the future is now. Future states are experienced/modeled, instantiated in something that’s happening right now. This has been a sort of slow gradient, not punctate so far.
- Massive untangling/de-confusing of the boundary between self and other, vastly increased clarity of “nature and identity”
- Massive burning off of pointlessness and meaninglessness, highly nonmonotonic.
- Massive burning off of “can’t”
- Massive de-confusing of epistemology, metaphysics, cosmology, eschatology, culture, historical and complex systems
- Massive de-confusing of connection/intimacy; Massive simplifying and de-complexifying and burning off of stuff in the kink/fetish/paraphilia space.
- And much more, much of it of equal craziness to some of the craziest stuff above, both bad and extremely good, but I have no idea how to talk about any of it, yet. I did a big brain dump at the bottom of this post, for starters.
- I’m expecting one or two more really big things, which might end up just being elaboration or sharpening of one or two of the points above.
- A stretch goal is to get all the stuff on this list in like 2000 hours, give or take a few hundred hours. As a caution, in each moment you want to be applying correct method that takes into account context but is in a sense agnostic as to what will happen next. If you start gunning for something in particular you’ll probably tie yourself in knots and have to “undo” or “backtrack.” There’s an important and possibly counterintuitive sense in which you can’t escape everything you ever were or are or everything that’s ever happened to you. And trying to skip or bypass anything will only make things take longer. This could be elaborated to hundreds of pages, but, in any case, at the barest of bare minimums, doing the right thing in your practice doesn’t always feel good and, even more importantly, doing the wrong thing doesn’t always feel bad.
- As far as I can tell, once you get through all the big stuff and general refactoring and going through all your “technical debt”, there’s still no “done.” If you have good method, you just keep going and you keep getting good things, for as long as X, and one hopes that the ride becomes very smooth. I suppose I/you/we will find out. Five years? Ten years? Let alone thirty years? Holy shit. (This is like the central thing in my life that feels like one of those RPGs or even incremental cookie clicker type games where the numbers can just keep going up and up and up and up. A risky, opportunity costly way to compoundly invest in yourself for exponential returns over the long term.)
- I also want to emphasize how, even if you’re making steady progress, how deeply nonmonotonic one’s experience of all of this is, like it seems like you’re experiencing “fuck this is not actually better” and “the nearly exactly the same positive change in thing X” like thirty times, one hundred times. I don’t think this is an error of method; I think this has something to do with how the mind is structured. Some of your deepest and most terrible stuff, the reason you’re meditating in the first place, will not change at all until the very end, and when it finally does it will only be a little bit at first, or new facets of that terrible thing will keep revealing itself, or for all twenty of your “most terrible things,” and all your time estimates will be shit. Everything will take many months longer than you think it will, even if you take this sentence to heart.
- I don’t understand statements about the supposed orthogonality between psychological and spirituality. I think I get how a bunch of stuff becomes “radically unconditional and unchanging” but, at least for me, the journey has been and I assume forever will be deeply psychological and doxastic.
- I want to emphasize how “different but totally normal” things eventually return to. Stuff is normal, then it’s not normal (when you’re in the thick of it), then it’s normal again but a lot of subtle, background stuff is profoundly better or subtly different if you go looking and then “normal experience and behavior” is better, whether intimate or ambitious or both.
- It’s possible that when I finally have a patient, careful conversation with someone who’s been doing this stuff thirty years my thinking about all of this and where I’m at will radically change. See also: https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2019/03/28/meaning-crappy-stage-model/
- One really central thing in particular that I don’t know how to talk about yet is benevolence, goodness, care, compassion, ethics, morality, community, duty, obligation, responsibility, etc. Not because it’s particularly counterintuitive or even touchy, well maybe a little, well, maybe a lot, and/but the way it’s sort of woven through the whole thing combined with the challenging tension of this being a weird, risky, antisocial, potentially burdensome thing, and how does it all fit together. (See also: https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2019/03/28/post-conceptual-meta-goodness-and-changing-in-the-deepest-of-ways/)
(So what about stream-entry? I had a profoundly disregulating thing happen early on: The whole world turned inside out and then I was on the other side. [Nothing like “cessation” was salient but a salient thing was that the world “smeared and froze” for an endless moment; that’s the thing that I remember. Quite possibly there was a moment of nothingness in there.] This simultaneously massively increased my resilience and gave me significantly increased degrees of freedom to change and also to fuck myself up. The mind could move and change in a way it couldn’t before. I currently think, with proper method, something like this doesn’t happen and doesn’t need to happen. There is no need for a stream-entry-style event to get all the good stuff. Ok so that being said, I am so, so, so, so, so grateful for the Theravada maps!!!!!!!!!!!!)
(So what about additional fruitions or cessations? Like, once that I remember, I was there on one side, there on the other side, but there was perfect nothingness in the middle. So, I don’t get why fruitions and cessations are such a big deal in say Theravada or modern noting. This could be a gap in my something, but I don’t think they’re important. I’ve had things like “whooshes” or “collapses” which culminate in big insights. But the whooshes aren’t qualitatively different from any other experience of the activity of mind; they’re just “bigger,” they take up “more phenomenological bandwidth.” It’s like just a lot of mind/sensation activity that’s highly correlated in “phenomenology space” and time, a bit interdependent wave. As opposed to the tiny, interdependent waves that are going on all the time. Ok, again, so that being said, I am so, so, so, so, so grateful for the Theravada maps!!!!!!!!!!!!)
(So what about the progress of insight and cycling? For like one month it was very obvious I was stereotypically cycling through the progress of insight. I currently don’t believe that e.g. arahats are definitely always cycling or something like that, even subtly. I don’t think it needs to happen at all, and I don’t think a stereotyped or subtle cycle of insight is needed for progress. When I tweaked my method a bit more, all cycling-type stuff went away. Maybe I’m still extremely subtly cycling but I don’t think so. Ok, and, once again, that being said, I am so, so, so, so, so grateful for the Theravada maps!!!!!!!!!!!!)
Summary of Risks
The stuff below has a mild and transient version all the way up to an extreme and chronic version. I describe sort of the worst-case scenarios below. In the worst case, you might need to drop everything, or as much as you possibly can, for weeks, months, or longer to solve it, on your own or finding a teacher or teachers who can help. This could be very costly to finances and relationships. If you experience flickers of any of the below, and you likely will, it happens, a lot, it certainly doesn’t mean you’re on your way to a worst-case scenario, but you should treat flickers calmly but with great seriousness. Don’t make seeming “progress” at the expense of even a slight uptick in the direction of any of the below. Again, you will likely skirt the faint or even moderate edges of all this stuff, so don’t freak out, and/but this is all very, very serious stuff.
- At the very, very worst, some people will run into extreme 24-7 muscle tension somewhere in their body lasting months if not a couple years. (Some people also have a less terrible version where the muscle tension is only present while actually sitting down to meditate.) That’s fine though super not great at all if it’s in your thigh or something. But, if it’s in your head, then you’ve got significantly increased intracranial pressure or something, depending on how your body downregulates blood pressure or vasodilates or etc. I imagine this could be really risky for someone who is at risk for stroke. Additionally, if it happens in your neck or spine then you could be a risk for nerve root impingement and permanent structural or neuromuscular impairment or other disc injury sequelae. And your sleep could get really fucked up depending on how skillful you managing weird musculoskeletal stuff with pillows. These are real risks. It can mess up exercise, intimacy, finances, daily life, etc. One way to mitigate this risk is to be continually cycling through different meditation postures, specifically sit with good posture, stand with good posture, lie down on your back and your side, meditate while walking, maybe meditate in yoga asanas that you can stay in for tens of minutes or an hour. Visciously account for even the subtlest changes in muscle lengths. Never trade increased muscle tension for “progress.” It’s not worth it. The more feedback you give your body, the better. I meditate pretty equally sitting, standing, and lying down (I might do one of these for several days in a row then switch). I do less walking and yoga asanas. Sort of unrelatedly, but I wanted to add it somewhere, I also alternate earplugs versus no earplugs, eyemask or dark room versus bright room or open space, eyes open versus eyes closed, etc.
- At the very worst, due to weird subtle stuff that you’ll begin experience extreme sensitivity to other people. Like, being around people, working shoulder-to-shoulder with people, being on the phone or video chat with people, sleeping next to someone you care about, will become radically intolerable for some number of weeks or months. This is a real risk. This could destroy relationships both intimate and financial. Due to the same weird subtle stuff, people might come to find being around you to become completely intolerable even if you’re fine being around them. And this as well could destroy relationships both intimate and financial. (To me, this means that meditation and pregnancy or even having kids under eighteen probably don’t mix or mix in risky ways.)
- Whether weird subtle stuff or not, your mind is figuring out how to change itself, and that’s a lot of power for a still-dumb mind to have. So we’ll call this interim magnification of negative traits. There is a (possibly quite long) period where self-deception as well as harm to others can very easily increase, where the meditator is blind to it and also really hurt by all the accusations and doesn’t respond to them in a super-constructive way. This will likely be you, especially if you think of yourself as a person who is generally really careful about this sort of thing and/or who doesn’t have the propensity or desire to hurt other people. For more, see here: https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2019/03/30/clickbait-title-you-are-so-bad-real-title-benevolence-subtle-imposition-manipulation-and-control-and-ideology/
- So then, finally, there’s emotional and motivational dysregulation, sometimes extreme, e.g. extreme suffering and can’t do anything, for hours or days or even weeks, or even more. How fucking weird and terrible things can get, in the worse case, cannot be overemphasized. And, it goes without saying that this can be bad for relationships and finances. Interestingly, I currently don’t think “psychosis psychosis” [sic] is much of a risk, even when things are super crazy weird, maybe like little flashes that are rapidly corrected, but there’s probably a non-zero risk.
- Finally, there’s opportunity cost.
Stages and Events Minimally Edited, Incorrectly Ordered Braindump
I don’t know how to organize any of this material, yet, so I’m putting it here. It’s like a fine-grain roadmap, except a bunch of stuff is out of order or needs to be edited or elaborated on. I tried to pick out a bunch of the big ones and elaborate on them up top, but there’s more buried in here of equal importance. To be continued.
– Pick off a piece of some meditation instructions and it’s a big fumbly mess
– clunky unpleasant flailing or pleasant dullness (5-200 hours)
– a whole-lotta barely anything seems to be changing (“maybe some tingles, buzzes, somatic refactoring”) (5-200 hours)
– possible taste of determinism (no free will, just an experiential machine running on current conditions at any particular point and changing based on causal laws
– Crushing hammering bypassing long way trying to become something to stay safe
– Clearing out of shoulds and supposed to use and need to believes
– mind figures out a way to safely relive the thing and then you do, with some reinterpretation, sometimes many angles, many copies, if doesn’t get nailed on one pass, have to go in again, etc. failures, disappoint hment, stress, anxiety, fear, terror. touch it to change it at least once if not many times. hurts each time, just as bad each time, until it isn’t, and can’t rush it.
– adaptive valleys where normal function is wonky, like your eyes have gone crooked and you just can’t X
– Childhood traumas
– School traumas
– Workplace traumas
– possible taste of emptiness, taste of map as map (vs territory)
– possible taste of no-self
– zen stuff: nowhere to go, nothing to do, no goal, just right here, start where you are, no escape (at hour 500-1000?)
– deeper taste of no-self
– prenatal stuff, prenatal content and mother-relationship content, first contact with first and near-first moments of consciousness (earliest memories)
– increased rate of solutions to life (intimacy, care, family, money, meaning) and metaphysical problems
– unraveling of a deep plan/goal piece (800-1200?)
– planning becomes naturalized, world-model becomes naturalized…
– language (and use of concepts) detaches from what you thought it was, how you used it, and how you thought it worked
– will travels down the body
– awareness becomes more expansive and even
– deeper taste of no-self (more proper conceptualization of relationship between sensations, locus of agency, and will)
– reduced difference between inside and outside, changes to experience of time and distance
– everything experienced is empty/map (vs territory)
– first contact with the source (atman/brahman dissolve)
– deeper contact with the source
– increased understanding of causality and “belief-level” epistemology
– increased rate of solutions to life (intimacy, care, family, money, meaning) and metaphysical problems
– improved identity boundaries between self and other
– Dream trance perseveration vacillation avoidance fugue
– few remaining avoidances or terrible-to-know fears or memories
– Realize you can’t bypass your past. Realize you have to have been whatever you were as a kid. Realize that whatever happened to you happened to you. Reinterpretation ok, but you were that and those things happened.
– Touch base with all the weird, one-off things that happened to you. Weird dreams, weird encounters, boring highly unique situations.
– Think you’re not a dick.
– Realize you’re being terrible to a bunch of people and you’ve actually become more terrible even though you had the explicit plan to become less terrible.
– Realize self-deception has increased because your mind has figured out how to do more stuff that you couldn’t do before.
– smoothing of whole system, omnidirectionaly/isotropy of edit distance between valued configuration states, full processing of “technical debt”, relatively no fixed points in system, smoothing
– freefall (nothing to hold onto and don’t need to hold on to anything anyway. no false or fixed touchstones)
– increased rate of solutions to life (intimacy, care, family, money, meaning) and metaphysical problems
– Detaching from what you thought it was and how you thought it worked
– no possible outcome is unthinkable, all outcomes and possible actual states of the world from your vantage point become non-critically bad
– becoming less of a dangerous terrible asshole or emotionally manipulative or controlling, becoming skilled, safe, world-aware, possibly ambitious, possibly strategic, ever-more independent, gentle, patient, caring, intimate… across the decades
– reconceptualization of the relationship between inside, outside, doing, and the future, now, and sensation(s), the body, the bodymap (“you don’t move, sensation space moves in you…”)
– you realize you’re not motivated to do “should’ ambitious thing X because deep down you know it’s not going to get you the things you want as they’re currently conceived, and then you have a whole range of choices for how to interact with that
– emptiness: I don’t know what the long-run thing looks like, fewer and fewer attentional skips; perhaps all sensations are sort of hanging in space; you know everything’s map or nothing is mistakenly reified.
– deep ways fighting self (of course ok to renegotiate, and interact); self-alignment becomes safe
– deep ways fighting what has already happened (of course ok to reinterpret); the past becomes safe
– surface professing is management, not belief. more is possible…
– Realize the deep fragmentation of your social selves.
– think you’ve got the one true method over and over again (have to backtrack; does seem to be like wayfinding)
– Slightly more the same person in a wider variety of circumstances.
– Self Culture society world family relationships connection/intimacy history Metaphysics cosmology eschatology your personal philosophy what is love, intimacy, obligation, selfishness, goodness, badness, evil, desire, goals deservingness attribution everything everything everything everything. will have to through method answer questions about all these things… and even weirder things…
– weirdness lasting months and can have overlapping months-long weirdnesses, taking apart substrate and reassembling it. disheartening when something weird and knowing maybe many months before its not weird again
– deep experience of arbitrariness
– who but a person that X would proclaim not X [adjusted american book][and most people have miles and miles of this][but you won’t be able to immediately track down what you actually—takes practice…][for some things 100s even 1000s of hours to get beneath your bullshit; surface professing surface stories and apparent beliefs, much of assertoric thinking and knowing and understanding…]
– nothing matters, everything is shit
– meaninglessness/pointlessness means deep down you’re stuck on wanting something and also stuck on believing you can’t get it. may takes hundreds of hours to get there.
– relatively unconstrained world model buildout, relatively unconstrained ability buildout, continuous improvement of life plan [easier and easier to think about self in relation to entire world, easier and easier to pick up new abilities]
– nonmontonicity and apparent backsliding (but usually not actually)
– muscle tension; posture stuff as careful corrective for muscle tension… altering feedback saliences… [is full list an appropriate ]
– Meaninglessness tolerance, weathering it if needed, continuous quest for meaning without getting stuck.
– posture stuff as careful corrective for muscle tension… altering feedback saliences… [is full list an appropriate ]
– weird: collect a lot of weird stuff from culture, media, childhood, etc. and parts of us believe it in really deep ways including strange fantasy stuff. feel like going crazy, stuff doesn’t make sense… in some ways contingentlly totally embedded in other ways standing outside culture
– reconceptualizing I, me, everything else, sensations, etc.
– everything sort of “goes back to normal”, things seem and feel normal, not metaphysically weird, modulo emptiness and some differences in space, time, inside and outside
– additional interesting big bloops
– self-improving self-improving [sic] across the decades