Progress of Insight
As we practice Vipassana meditation we go through different stages in our practice. These reflect the growing faculties of Samadhi [Concentration] and Sati [Mindfulness] with which we perceive Mind and Body at the present moment.
Mind and Body Separation. [Yana 1]
Here we can see that our seemingly continuous, simultaneous experience of reality is actually just Mind and Body at the present moment. We start to see thinking as a sensory experience in the present moment. We can feel the difference between sensation and thinking about experience. Rather than thinking and being continuously in our story or narrative about how "I" am doing/feeling we start to see it as Mind and Body but cannot maintain this.
Mind and Body Cause & Effect. [Yana 2]
As we learn to observe in this way, Mind and Body becomes more evident. We see Mind and Body over time. We see the causation of Mind and Body. How some sensory event creates a thought. How thought creates a sensory event. We see how they are influencing each other and how they are working over time.
In stages 1-3 the hindrances are still strong and take us on detours where we start worrying, doubting, craving, disliking or fall into drowsiness for some time. But as we learn to keep reognising the moment we enter into..
Mind and Body Begin & End [Yana 3]
As we see Mind and Body at the present moment more and more, it stops actually mattering what it is. Whether it is unpleasant or pleasant or neither. Whether it is Mind or Body. What we see in this stage is that all Mind and Body Begin & End. They are different phenomena that start and end. We have less involvement in their meaning and idea and start to see their impermanence, how they are working on by themselves, and how they are quite empty and meaningless.
However, this awareness is not continuous yet and it looks like we keep sinking down into the meaning and then seeing its begin & end. As mindfulness strengthens, we come to...
Mind and Body Arising & Passing [Yana 4]
It is here that mindfulness and concentration reach a level where it sees the continuous arising and passing of Mind & Body at the present moment. We are not concerned anymore with the content, or meaning of it. We just see its nature of arising and passing moment-to-moment. A very empowering and energizing stage. It is clear without thinking or conceptualizing about it that Mind & Body begins & end, is uncontrollable and is forced to change. We cannot fixate or stop it, we cannot control it. Thought, as it arises is seen for what it is and cannot exist for more than a moment.
Time collapses into the NOW and space collapses into just MIND & BODY here. The hindrances are calmed and are seen as they arise.
However, the stage is not stable. As Self weakens because of lacking narrative or string that exists through time, we cannot control and what appears next is largely due to conditioning and how we relate to experience at a deeply subconscious level.
Dukkha Yanas [Yanas 5-9]
The 'Dukkha' Yanas are traditionally described as having a specific order but I have not found this to be unfolding as neatly as described. As we move through to the Arising & Passing, things keep dragging us down again and it looks like we regress back into Stages 1-3 as we get caught in the hindrances that we seemed to overcome as we went to Stage 4. If mindfulness & concentration is high however, we are probably in the Dukkha Yanas.
We face different things in these stages and it depends on our Karma and conditioning. Here, a teacher is extremely useful at seeing where we are getting stuck as it is difficult to reflect and think in these stages.
Upekkha Yana [Yana 10]
Mindfulness and Concentration are very strong now. They are continuous and automatic, effortless. Here, we cannot possibly hold onto technique anymore as the Universe starts practicing Vipassana on itself. Waves of sensations are seen as they appear and we can perceive with clarity and ease. There is no sense to be made from this and we keep applying gentle intentionality to our practice that practices itself.
Mind and Body although previously so beautifully segregated seem to merge into the same sense door and it becomes difficult to distinguish, as distinguishing requires us to move back into the conceptualizing experience.
Subtler and subtler levels of clinging are seen and instantly let go of. Phenomena do not coalesce into things anymore and it becomes very difficult to form intentional thoughts. A retreat setting is immensely helpful to support this stage as it is difficult to function normally.
Cessation of Experience
Blackout. The cessation of all experience or a gap in experience appears without warning as we are in Upekkha Yana. It is more likely to appear when Mind is a bit more mellow like in the middle of the night.
Nothing special about this experience except seeing that even consciousness is impermanent. Sometimes the cessation is very small, momentary, sometimes it can last a few minutes.
The natural consequence of a mind that is not clinging to perception. Any perception at all is built on a subtle level of craving by the mind to make that perception into something that is cognized and experienced. When there is a moment of no clinging, there is the cessation of experience.
We emerge fresh, with high clarity and effortless concentration.
In my experience, these stages do not unfold linearly. They are more like 'levels' of the practice which we find ourselves in when Samadhi and Sati reach some level. As these faculties drop again, perhaps outside of the formal session or after we come back from retreat, we find ourselves in lower stages of practice.
However, as we learn what we need to learn at each stage, it becomes easier to see through the hindrances which erode Samadhi and Sati. Over time, we pass them quicker when we apply Mindfulness to our experience. An experienced practitioner can thus immediately e.g. experience the Arising & Passing if he intends to be aware of Mind & Body at the present moment.
There are many dimensions to these stages and we keep learning new lessons from each stage. We never finish a particular stage but keep cycling through them every time we start to apply mindfulness. Maybe we meet new events in life that trigger us in a new way, we keep learning, overcoming and becoming more resilient :)