Saturday, September 30, 2006
Perhaps the question that I posed to myself was, “What is it that you truly believe?” I do recall that I lay in bed that night trying to discover one thing of which I was “100 percent sure.” Of course, discrimination of a true absolute required very stringent testing. So first, I devised a test system for my beliefs. In my mind’s eye I suspended a revolver hanging in black space. The barrel, six feet away, pointed directly at my forehead. I then proposed to ask myself something like, “Do you really believe in God?” and pull the trigger. If I was 100 percent sure of X or Y or Z, the bullet would stop mid-flight and drop straight to the ground. Otherwise, I had had it. In this manner I tried to test as many things as I could think of from my life. In actuality, I don’t think I ever put any proposition to the test. I’d think about things first, and I always found a caveat. That was my discovery. I couldn’t think of a single thing that I believed to be absolutely true.
This seems a rather negative result, so I was really not prepared for Pop’s enthusiastic response the next night when I reported, “I’m not 100 percent sure of anything.” Well, great answer! It turns out that this idea was the essence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle - a major discovery of physics- that Pop started explaining in greater detail. And I kept bursting in with questions, still amazed by my accomplishment.
Soon, Mom came over to see what was causing all the excitement.
“Mom, Mom, I made a discovery in physics all by myself!”
“Oh Honey, how wonderful! What is it?”
“I can’t be sure of anything!” I was so happy. But something was happening to Mom. Her face was melting into this distorted expression. She started crying.
“Don’t ever, ever doubt that I love you with all my heart! How could you doubt that?” she had pulled me into a crushing hug by now. I pushed her back to arms length.
“I considered that actually. And I do think that you love me. But, I really can’t rule out the possibility that maybe you are just being nice to me so I’ll take care of you when you’re old.”
It was not the right thing to say to Mom just then. But in the years to come, it became a good story. It became a joke.
Prior to this rather cruel conversation with Mom, I’d learned enough history to know that science had got it wrong, at least in part (and often totally and horrendously), repeatedly. So, in sixth grade I started looking around to see what mistake was currently “accepted truth.”
I knew the error was a tricky thing to find. It would be completely hidden by the certainty of society's beliefs. But I had my suspicions. I didn't trust at all the rule that forbade division by the number zero.
It seemed to me that of course you could at least try to divide “Something” by “Nothing.” It simply meant you were left with what you started with and that shouldn't be a problem. (I was in college before I learned that actually you get infinity if you divideby zero. Not that I understand this concept, but at least the operation is allowed and infinity is a very interesting result.) But anyway, I decided that if arithmetic had been left to me, I would have allowed it. And of course there would be consequences.
You could divide by nothing and not change anything. Or if you divided by one, or once, you would double the number that you started with. From this it became obvious that the entire division table we'd been taught was wrong. And thus, all the calculations in the world were wrong.
What really concerned me at this point were the calculations used in the construction of all the bridges. What if really they were all in error? And what if one day the engineers woke up to this fact? Would all the bridges then collapse? I assumed they must. And in my head I saw bloody disasters all across the country. Apparently by age 12, I totally assumed that to which I now give lip service: That our beliefs determine our reality and world.
Well, I never was any good with math. And my grades in college weren’t that great, because in my eagerness to Know, I enrolled in as many science classes as allowed. By my junior year I was taking graduate level courses, was unable to do the required calculus, and had a definite tendency to get off on some tangent that was never tested. It didn’t matter.
I was looking for what I seemed important and just beyond my grasp- some piece to the puzzle, some fact, something that would provide me entry into what my seventh grade science teacher had called, “The secret of life.” I could tell when I was getting close because my whole body came alive. Like the fact, discovered when I was 19, that mitochondria- the cellular organelles that carry out respiration for us- were actually the descendents of bacteria.
My God, the implications! It seemed too large to put in words. I was left trembling in my seat there in the lecture hall. Later, I found that Lewis Thomas expressed my feelings perfectly:
Finally, there is the whole question of my identity, and more than that, my human dignity. I did not mind it when I first learned of my descent from lower forms of life. I had in mind an arboreal family of beetle-browed, speechless, hairy sub-men, ape-like, and I've never objected to them as forebears. Indeed, being Welsh, I feel the better for it, having clearly risen above them in my time of evolution. It is a source of satisfaction to be part of the improvement of the species.
But not these things. I had never bargained on descent from single cells without nuclei. I could even make my peace with that, if it were all, but there is the additional humiliation that I have not, in a real sense, descended at all. I have brought them all along with me, or perhaps they have brought me.
It is no good standing on dignity in a situation like this, and better not to try. It is a mystery. There they are, moving about in my cytoplasm, breathing for my own flesh, but strangers. They are much less closely related to me than to each other and to the free-living bacteria out under the hill. They feel like strangers, but the thought comes that the same creatures, precisely the same, are out there in the cells of sea gulls and whales, and dune grass, and seaweed, and hermit crabs, and further inland in the leaves of the beech in my backyard and in the family of skunks beneath the back fence, and even in that fly on the window. Through them, I am connected; I have close relatives, once removed, all over the place. This is a new kind of information, for me, and I regret somewhat that I cannot be in closer touch with my mitochondria. If I concentrate, I can imagine that I feel them; they do not quite squirm, but there is, from time to time, a kind of tingle. I cannot help thinking that if only I knew more about them, and how they maintain our synchrony, I would have a new way to explain music to myself.
Yes. That was it exactly. Some truths that you discover take you far beyond your confines. And this was why last night, at the age of 56, I sat upon my bed sobbing as my heart broke open. It was the first time I had ever heard Adyashanti’s actual voice. And this is what he said:
Why are we here if not to know the Truth?
It’s good to know why we’re here, so you don’t waste your time.
What brings us together is the Truth.
Not the truth that can be put in words. That truth, that’s a false truth.
Not a truth we can think about. That’s a false truth.
Not a truth we own. That’s a false truth.
But the Truth of you, the Truth of me, the Truth that is Life itself.
The Truth of existence.
The Truth - besides which nothing else is actually true.
That’s what brings us here. That’s what being here is about.
…never settle for static truth. Never settle for anything less than something of the nature of a revelation, something that is entirely of your being, something that is not in any way separate from you, something that’s in no way separate from them.
And that is coming home after a lifetime of seeking.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Of course, this knowing from my heart didn’t really correspond with the understanding that my head had acquired from the world in which I had grown up. I found my mind required answers to a slew of questions comprising the major Question, “Why does society hold homosexuality in such disdain?” It took a year or so of reading, snipping articles, making notes and talk, talk, talk in therapy before my intellect could settle down satisfied. With all the questions answered my head now knew what my heart had known all along. My love was good.
However, at this point it became obvious that the “issue” was still not settled deep inside. I was painfully aware that messages from head and heart had little, if any, impact upon my stomach. Apparently my gut had a mind of its own and on that level my homophobia remained basically untouched. My gut had a clutch of its own issues: fear and shame and nausea to name a few.
I was at a loss as to how “to get the message through.” It’s been over twenty years now and I cannot recall ever having a single epiphany during which my stomach was “transformed.” I think it took simply living my life, day to day for years in a loving relationship that was publicly acknowledged to finally let the message trickle through. Through simply living life eventually most if not all the residual fear and shame became erased.
Now, why bring all this up just now? Because, when I came across the following Adyashanti quote regarding the stages of enlightenment, I knew it was the same process of “getting it.” If coming out is the death of one form of consciousness and the birth into a new (and it was at least for most of my generation), then becoming enlightened is that process written large. So here is what Adyashanti has to say about enlightenment:
“For realization to be complete it has to hit on three levels- head, heart, and gut. You can have a very clear, enlightened mind, but your being won’t be dancing. Then, when the heart starts to open along with the mind, your being starts to dance. Then everything comes alive. And when your gut opens up, there is that deep, deep, unfathomable stability where that opening, who is you, just died into transparency. You are dancing- the emptiness is dancing.”
Yes! Head, heart, gut. With coming out presumably you start with heart for the issue itself starts with love. In a sense, the head is forced into playing catch-up. With enlightenment, the process starts in meditation with the mind- the monkey mind. But still, there are these three distinct ways of knowing that must also be engaged and re-educated if one is to deeply embody an enlightened consciousness.
This is hopeful information to me. A whisper of, “You can do it.”
This solution had never crossed my mind. I probably rejected it because the thought of rummaging through linen seemed an incredible busy-ness that begged the point: I wanted the “thing” itself to reveal its true name and function right to me. I didn’t want to turn away, go down the hall, and investigate the contents of some closet. So instead, day after day each time I dried my hands I’d wonder and be a bit irritated by the “thickness” (of the cloth, not my own.)
So, given that I can’t even tell the difference between a hand towel and a bathmat, I find it totally absurd that I now want to discuss distinctions in the degree and depth of enlightenment. And I suggest you ask yourself before proceeding, “Why am I reading this woman?”
Perhaps it’s Adyashanti quote about “head, heart and gut” that you appreciate. It’s interesting in itself and is a marvelous lead into what I started to discuss back in July (see the entries of the 10th and 6th). I never finished that train of thought, so let me take it up again.
Getting it with the head…
means using the intellect to discriminate between what is Self and non-Self. Maharishi called the process “the separation of Self from activity.” We no longer identify our Self with all our daily roles, functions, history or future hopes. I am no longer a molecular geneticist. Nor am I a seeker. I simply AM.
This realization, and even steps towards this enlightened awareness, gives rise to a duality, thus creating a gap between Self and non-Self (all material creation including thoughts). Back in July I was trying to explain how this process results in the experience of “witnessing” and may be based upon the neurophysiology that also causes depersonalization and/or de-realization. According to Maharishi, this depth of enlightenment is accomplished by the finest discriminatory powers of the buddhi intellect functioning at the finest level of the mind. He called the state Cosmic Consciousness or CC for short. (Hate the name, love the state. Use the abbreviation. But anyway…)
Most people don’t like CC very much. TMers complained of a flatness. The Gap itself is a somewhat disconcerting experience: like trying to engage life while looking at it through the wrong end of binoculars. You are no longer part of or mixed up in the world. And that is uncomfortable. Or as Adyashanti points out, “your being won’t be dancing.” No. It can feel like nothing really matters, for Reality has been drained from all you see. The world in essence seems to be no more real than a movie projected upon a screen- yet in this instance, somehow you can walk through the projection while the screen is a Silent Ocean of Nothingness.
It seems to me now, that the degree to which one experiences the Gap and the lack of “dancing” depends upon the type of meditation one does as cultivation. Some paths simply make it more or less obvious. Some paths can cultivate heart as they simultaneously cultivate the mind and thus the Gap won’t be so flat and lifeless. Eckhart Tolle speaks of cultivating presence and becoming a witness. This is his version of the Gap. It too creates separation between Self and non-Self as the pain body is dissolved and the ego dies. And as ego lets go, it seems like we are freer to love and so dance in ways that may surprise us.
Getting it with the heart…
allows enlightenment to be embodied at a deeper level as the heart “accomplishes the impossible.” The intellect has dissected pulled you out of what you thought you were. And the heart cannot bear the separation. Maharishi taught that a stress-free body (achieved in CC) can now support the physiology necessary for “celestial vision.”
While the intellect dove within and discovers Self (“I am That”), celestial vision takes sensory perception to the finest level of material Creation to discover “Thou art That.” One begins to see more deeply into the world and other people. You begin to see the true goodness and beauty of Life. You begin to understand in terms of what God has done. What develops is a state of consciousness so qualitatively different from Cosmic Consciousness that Maharishi called it a distinct state of consciousness: “God Consciousness.” Or, as Adyashanti describes it, “your being starts to dance.”
That dancing is due to Love, to joy. Upon the Silence, that screen upon which the non-real world has been projected the impossible is happening. That which was totally non-Real is now totally alive. It lives and breathes and is dancing and that is simply joyous. And so impossible and yet right there, it is absurd joy beyond words. Laughter rolls across the Silence and you are immersed in an Ocean of Love.
“Enlightenment: if you don’t want it, you don’t get it.”
What you don’t get is that this part of the path is “Love.” More love and beauty and joy than you thought possible.
I turn the car radio up every time that Elton John’s Crocodile Rock comes on. Because once (a long time ago and I do not want to ever forget) - once it was my direct perception that this song came directly from God. Now, isn’t that absurd? Handel’s Messiah, yes. But, Crocodile Rock? So, these days I listen carefully, and wish I knew more about music. Is it a “modulation” or how that note “resolves” itself? Is that where the Divine came through? I do not know. But, I do know that it is possible, and I hope that I never sell myself or the vision out.
Getting it with the gut…
is the only enlightenment that satisfies a non-dualist. What does this mean? In CC there is a duality of two infinities: Self and non-Self. And in God Consciousness, there is still the duality of self and God. That’s what Maharishi would say.
To Adyashanti there is both a personal and non-personal enlightenment:
“Personal enlightenment is an exclusive transcendence, in that it excludes the world of space and time. It arrives at eternity by a transcendent exclusion of the relative world… Non-personal enlightenment is an inclusive transcendence; it sees that the world of space and time is the expression of eternity. Thus, it is truly a non-dual perspective.
The implications of personal enlightenment are profound, but the implications of non-personal enlightenment are earth shattering in the most positive sense.”
Non-dualists don’t want you to stop at CC. They don’t even want you to stop at God Consciousness. They want you to get to Unity, a non-dual awareness. Maharishi said there was no technique for this. It simply takes time and getting use to living in an enlightened state. I imagine it might be something like homophobia in the gut simply diminishing with time. Time allows one to adjust to the strangeness and mind boggling nature of the new Reality. Eckhart Tolle sat on a park bench for two years before he began to “function.” It’s only then after one adjust Maharishi says, “Either I drop off or Gods drops off. Out of respect we say, I drop off.”
Adyashanti takes a more direct approach. There is no waiting around, there is simply “stopping.” This differs from a progressive path involving time and enlightenment down the road.
"Readiness is the key to awakening. Anyone can have a glimpse of awakening, but only those who are ready for it will remain awake. Readiness means that we are no longer addicted to attachment, desire, and aversion. It means that we are truly willing to perceive and live from a completely new paradigm. It means that the truth is more important than anything else in life."
I find it very interesting that his students speak of confronting “fear.” Isn’t that just the gut’s specialty! It’s also interesting that 90% of the serotonin receptors reside in the gut and that serotonin is the hormone and neurotransmitter that the scientific literature currently correlates with “self transcendence.” And finally, isn’t it interesting that Maharishi describes soma, the traditional material that gives celestial vision, as the finest product produced by digestion.
And that boys and girls, is hardly the rest of the story, but where I am going to stop today.
Saturday, September 23, 2006
When we got home I was surprised to discover that I had been changed. I felt like I’d been on a long meditation retreat and that deeply held neuroses had simply disappeared. I was amazed, for I never felt “a thing,” none of that usual purging required to be free.
After your email the other morning where you described your own “lightening” that occurred by the side of the river in north Georgia, I went to take a sauna. I carried a book by Adyashanti with me and opened to these words:
The more harmonization there is, the more there is an intensification of the Truth, or radiance, within us. Of course the radiance is everywhere. We can’t get away from it. But for a period of time, it’s helpful to have some intensification in our environment. … We come to that by being willing to expose ourselves to experiences and places that make it more potent… This harmonization is the reason it’s been said that if you want to wake up, you need to hang around awakened beings. It can be awakened human beings, awakened trees, awakened mountains, awakened rivers… If we are sensitive, we can feel when environments are awakened. Human beings can be more or less awakened. So can trees or a mountain, canyon, hilltop, or a particular street corner in our neighborhood…
The old Taoists would call this “rectifying the chi.” In ancient times… the Taoist priest was called in if there was a problem in the village…. So he would trot off from his hermitage and go to the town and say something like, “Give me a quiet place, give me a cabin, and leave me alone.” There he would sit down and open himself to the chi of the environment. Now that’s a great compassion because when you open yourself to the environment, if it’s out-of-kilter, you are going to feel the out-of-kilter in your own being. But if you have enough stability, if you have enough insight, nothing in you is going to be worried about that. It’s not even going to make you suffer, but it will just happen: turbulence… The Taoist priest would sit there in the cabin and just open himself to the chi, feel it, experience it, and then open the chi to the light of his own consciousness. It could take a day, a week, sometimes a month, but he’d just expose the chi to the light of his own consciousness and the energy would start to rectify itself. Then people in the village would start to feel better and get along for awhile.
That’s why scriptures have advised us to hang out with awakened beings. The awakened one could be a human being, a tree being, a street corner being. Expose yourself to them. Don’t worship them and put them on a pedestal. But expose yourself and this rectification happens; this harmonization happens because of the state of their consciousness. But don’t become dependent. You wake yourself up.
Adyashanti Emptiness Dancing, p 28-31.
This rectification is also the subject of the book, The Developing Mind, Toward a Neurobiology of Interpersonal Experience, by Daniel J. Siegel, though it is never called that. Siegel describes it as the spreading of coherence between brains. It occurs and is required between mother and child for the development of attachment and love. It also occurs between therapist and client.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
I am amazed and frustrated that often people who have heard about the possibility of enlightenment aren’t all that keen on going for it. All I can think is, “they must not understand.” From the bit that I have experienced, turning away from enlightenment is turning away from the opportunity to live totally immersed in love.
But, what do I know?
I have taken the liberty of condensing down the words of Adyashanti as he described what becomes of you when you awaken.
Three qualities arose in me when I experienced a deep awakening: wisdom, innocence, and love. Although they are actually parts of one whole, this wholeness can be expressed by these three qualities.
Awakening opens wisdom. [It] doesn’t mean that I suddenly became smart. It simply means I realized the Truth. This Truth is what I am. This is what the world is. This Truth is not a matter of philosophy, science, faith, belief, or religion. It is beyond all of that- far beyond.
The second quality born within this awakening was innocence. This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. [The] brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child. The adult mind tends to take things in [and] compare its perception to the litany of things… “Been there, done that.” The innocent mind arises when this comparison is no longer happening. This innocence could also be called humility.
The third quality that arose was love. What is born in awakening is a love of what is- of everything that is. The fact that there is anything at all seems wonderful because when the insight of awakening goes very deep, there is a realization about how tenuous existence is. I mean we see an unbelievable miracle and from that seeing there is the birth of so much love simply for what is. This is a love just for the fact that we have shoelaces or for the fact that toenails exist, that kind of love. A tremendous love arises simply for the miracle that is life, realizing that all and everything is the One.
When the awakening is very deep, we no longer operate from a place of personal self. In other words, everything doesn’t relate to “me.” Nobody can really explain what the personal self is; we just feel it. It’s a visceral thing. As we see through it, we realize that the personal self is not who we are. And as we really see into our true nature, there is a paradox that arises: the more we realize that there isn’t a self, the more intimately present we actually are.
So, what took the place of the personal self in my experience was the innocence and the love.
Adyashanti, from Emptiness Dancing
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
So, I went to his website. There I was startled and then pleased by his description:
“Adyashanti dares all seekers of peace and freedom to take the possibility of liberation in this life seriously.”
“Take the possibility seriously”… this is exactly what my current practice does not do, and I have always struggled with that.
So, I started reading what I could about Adyashanti online.
And I started posting some of his writings here on this blog.
What I didn’t post were a couple of teachings that struck quite close to home and stayed most vivid in my memory.
Do not think that enlightenment is going to make you special, it's not. If you feel special in any way, then enlightenment has not occurred. I meet a lot of people who think they are enlightened and awake simply because they have had a very moving spiritual experience. They wear their enlightenment on their sleeve like a badge of honor. They sit among friends and talk about how awake they are while sipping coffee at a cafe. The funny thing about enlightenment is that when it is authentic, there is no one to claim it. Enlightenment is very ordinary; it is nothing special. Rather than making you more special, it is going to make you less special. It plants you right in the center of a wonderful humility and innocence.
I felt some guilt in reading this.
I also understood exactly how “there is no one to claim it.”
The second teaching addressed a confusion I have had since a Thanksgiving dinner several years ago with an old friend who claims to be enlightened, yet seems to possess such an ego that I am quite uncomfortable around him.
Enlightenment has nothing to do with states of consciousness. Whether you are in ego consciousness or unity consciousness is not really the point. I have met many people who have easy access to advanced states of consciousness. Though for some people this may come very easily, I also noticed that many of these people are no freer than anyone else. If you don't believe that the ego can exist in very advanced states of consciousness, think again. The point isn't the state of consciousness, even very advanced ones, but an awake mystery that is the Source of all states of consciousness. It is even the Source of presence and beingness. It is beyond all perception and all experience. I call it "awakeness."
This teaching also brings up so many questions for me that I am not even going to start.
I’m just putting this out there for whomever to take whatever.
Instead, I’ll end with something that has come into my head, a bit of a koan:
“Enlightenment: if you don’t want it, you don’t get it.”
This is the most instructive piece of spiritual teaching that I have come across in years. (Perhaps excepting A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle).
Thursday, September 07, 2006
Just keeping it simple today. A picture and a poem.
This poem is by the 1996 Nobel prize winner, Wislawa Szymborska.
Jeanette Winterson (from whose site I found the poem) describes the work of this Polish woman as “open and free, down to earth, but not everyday, full of sense without being full of commonsense.”
AMONG THE MULTITUDES
I am who I am.
A coincidence no less unthinkable
than any other.
I could have different
ancestors, after all.
I could have fluttered
from another nest
or crawled bescaled
from another tree.
holds a fair
supply of costumes:
Spider, seagull, fieldmouse.
each fits perfectly right off
and is dutifully worn
I didn't get a choice either,
but I can't complain.
I could have been someone
much less separate.
someone from an anthill, shoal, or buzzing swarm,
an inch of landscape ruffled by the wind.
Someone much less fortunate,
bred for my fur
or Christmas dinner,
something swimming under a square of glass.
A tree rooted to the ground
as the fire draws near.
A grass blade trampled by a stampede
of incomprehensible events.
A shady type whose darkness
What if I'd prompted only fear,
If I'd been born
in the wrong tribe
with all roads closed before me?
Fate has been kind
to me thus far.
I might never have been given
the memory of happy moments
My yen for comparison
might have been taken away.
I might have been myself minus amazement,
someone completely different.
Monday, September 04, 2006
Andrew Harvey is something of an New Age-Old Testament prophet, proclaiming that the world has reached a crisis point and is undergoing a Great Death while simultaneously a Great Birth is unfolding. The point of this crisis, which we ourselves have created, is that we as a species are now forced to “evolve or die.” Harvey is quiet clear we must enter into our divine nature in order to survive. His vision in a word is “intense.” Given two words, I’d say, “Very Intense.” Which is not to say he’s wrong. He’s describing a path of transformation described in many traditions. It is a path of fire, a baptism of Fire.
I’ve added a link to Harvey’s Sacred Activism site and invite you to check it out. Sacred Activism “is an invitation to undergo a radical change that ignites the divine spark deep within… It delivers you to you highest calling and brings you to the awful grace of truth.”
On the other hand, being Taoist, I’m more given to the Watercourse Way. And for those other water babies out there, I offer here a bit of essay I’ve been working on about seeing deeper and finding love, for this too is finding the divine within ourselves and others. And it is this that is the essence of Sacred Activism.
And somewhere in the back of my mind I do recall there being two baptisms in the Bible: one of fire and one of water. If you know that full story, please drop me a line.
So below is just on little piece on seeing and what happens…
Who’s this fellow? Short sleeved, white shirt
earnestly rushing through the crosswalk as I wait for the light to change.
Such a neat white shirt, pinkly fresh new shave, hair combed flat, almost managerial in his mid-thirties off to work.
I thought it inappropriate that he also had a book bag over his shoulder.
He’s not some little boy.
And then, I saw he was.
He was seven years old and trying still to please,
the fear packed up with the schoolbooks and almost forgotten,
but still slung across his back.
I knew how very hard he tried.
“What is it they expect and can I get it right?”
He tried every moment to be that which deep inside he could never be.
And in that moment I loved the little boy-who-would-be-a-man today hurrying to work.
Who could not love him?
It is these moments that encourage me; perhaps I am doing something right.
When I am at work and happen just to glance through an office door, where behind the glass and silently I see white haired Judith conducting business,
and see exactly how she was when she was six and had a pretty party dress that she could smooth down with pudgy hands that are now all crooked with arthritis.
In this moment of truly seeing,
I love the little-girl-who-became-a-woman.
Is it such a stretch to fall in love
as you watch someone take her glasses from their case?
Or to fall in love online, with someone that you don’t even know?
Except you do.
You do know. For Love is not that blind.
And if I am awake
if I Really pay attention,
I should be falling in love every day with at least someone.
Friday, September 01, 2006
Last night, I stumbled cross a 2002 article, “Waiting. Waiting. For What?” by Reginald Ray in the Shambhala Sun. Ray was describing the stages one goes through on a 30 day Buddhist retreat. The stages seem remarkably universal to me.
You also pass this way if you maintain a practice through the years. And if you don’t have a regular practice, perhaps you’ll see how life is pushing you along anyway, down this common path… that can look so different in its personal particulars.
So, I am excerpting Reginald Ray here. Deleting ellipsis for clarity and trusting that I do not distort his words or intentions too much in the process.
The First Dharma.
The first experience is one of apprehensive uncertainty and the first dharma or teaching is trying to establish one’s ground and security within a new situation. [Once] our physical space was established, we began to meditate and found ourselves setting up our psychological ground- our customary preoccupations, our familiar hopes and fears, our habitual patterns of experiencing (and avoiding) our world.
The last aspect of finding our ground was wanting to know what was expected of us and wanting to “get it right.”
The Second Dharma.
But security, when it is well established, can quickly turn into a claustrophobic prison. At times we felt unbearably confined: just this aching body, just this room, just this mat, just this breath, just this discomfort. Periodically overcome by resistance to our experience, we might momentarily escape by thinking, “I could leave right now.”
The Third Dharma.
After a certain period of time- a subtle shift occurred. This grew is stages. In the beginning when we entered the room for the first morning sit, we might sense the utter stillness of the place. Later, we might suddenly become aware of the silence surrounding our mental activity. Later still, worn out by the compulsive activity of the mind, we might give up and find ourselves sitting in perfect stillness.
This was not ordinary silence. Usually silence is an uncomfortable gab between thoughts, an awkward hiatus between words, an irritating interruption of our projects. But the silence in this room was different: in depth and completeness. Within this profound stillness, nothing had ever happened and nothing needed to happen. It was open and unobstructed. The silence was not ordinary in another way: it was not an absence of anything, but rather alive, vibrant, and awake. It seemed inseparable from awareness itself.
The Fourth Dharma.
Within the boundless, empty space of this room, periodically laughter would erupt. Perhaps someone could not bear the endless silence any more.
Perhaps a bird might perch momentarily on a window, tap the pane as if to say, “Is anyone in there?” Then laughter would be joyous.
The Buddha’s dharma is also tears. Someone across the room would fall into barely audible weeping. At such a moment I thought of Buddha, who after his enlightenment, surveyed the world and saw beings everywhere wailing with the misery and torment of their condition.
The Fifth Dharma.
In the silence we discovered another way to live. Here we found the truth, at first unwelcome, that the central experience of the retreat was waiting. Waiting for what? Just waiting, waiting without end, as a way of being.
Over the course of the month, one could not help suspecting that the kind of waiting we were experiencing was somehow a gateway to our lives. By waiting, our unexpected life, our true life, could make itself known. We realize the inapplicability of our ideas about who we are and what we need to be- then our genuine life can disclose itself unimpeded.
How profound and intense our life wants to be. Utterly beyond sentimentality, beyond anything special or specific.
Retreats push us to a nakedness of experience that we ordinarily fear. Attempting to secure one’s ground, the receding horizon of the “healthy ego” everyone talks about, is not to be abhorred; it is the first stage of practice.
This leads gradually to an experience of stillness and space that surrounds and holds our neurotic struggling. We come to discover this underlying silence as awareness itself, and we begin to identify with it more and more.
We begin to learn how to wait, in emptiness, for the emergence of our true life.