MCTB Rapture

When energy comes on line with mindfulness and investigation, this can produce something called rapture. Rapture has two general meanings, the first of which relates to deep joy, pleasure, and enthusiasm. These are valuable spiritual qualities, and Ye of Dark Puritanical Inklings take heed of this! It is much easier going on the spiritual path if we are generally enthusiastic about what we are doing.

This should be no surprise, but somehow it is often overlooked. I'm definitely not advocating hedonistic Epicureanism here, but to walk the spiritual path with a sense of joy, a sense of wonder, a bit of a smile and especially a sense of humor is really good for you and everyone who has to be near you. Sure, there will be hard times and difficulties that can have good lessons to teach us, but be open to what joy and happiness life can bring.

Spiritual practice can also produce all kinds of odd experiences, some of which can be very intense, bizarre and far out. This is the other connotation of the word rapture, as these experiences are also commonly referred to as “raptures.” Some of these might be really pleasant, some may just be weird, and some might completely suck. All the strange physical sensations, pains, pleasures, movements, visions, lights, perception distortions, etc., which may or may not show up as a result of spiritual practice are all just raptures. Repeat, just raptures. Don't get hung up on them or make stories out of them, as compelling as they can be, and don't think that they are required either: they aren't. The sensations that make them up come, go, ain't you, and don't satisfy. Most are just byproducts of meditation and strong concentration. Many produce no wisdom. Some, of course, can provide deep insights into the truth of things, but don't get stuck on these. Many of these lessons show up once and never again.

Some people can get so serious and fixated on suffering that they fight the pleasant raptures and even cling to the difficult ones. Don't do this! The joy and pleasure that may arise in meditation has wonderful healing aspects to it, and it can lead to deep tranquility, concentration and equanimity, which are all really good things. Don't cling to pleasant states either, as you will just get stuck and be frustrated when they end, which they always do. In general, if you try to fight or cling to raptures you will get stuck, and if you can accept them as they are this will be of benefit. See equanimity at the end of this list, as well as the expertly written Chapter 9 of A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield.

This is a good place for me to mention the concept of vedena, which is a Pali word that relates to the degree of pleasantness, unpleasantness or neutrality of a sensation. If one pays too much exclusive attention to sensations that are either pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, while ignoring the other sensations going on at that time, then one is likely to be missing many opportunities for insight. Preoccupation with pleasant sensations can cause one to become a vapid bliss-junkie. Preoccupation with unpleasant sensations can cause one to become dark and depressed. Preoccupation with neutral sensations can cause one to become dull and emotionally flat. (Thanks to the esteemed Christopher Titmuss for the inspiration for this paragraph). Our experience tends to be a complex mixture of many flavors of sensations. They are all quite worthy of investigation.

The take-home message here is that rapture and raptures are to be understood as they are and related to wisely, accepting all sensations that make them up, be they pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Learn when to put the breaks on practice if the difficult raptures are teaching you their important lessons a bit too fast for you to keep it together, and learn how to open to the wonderful joy and bliss which spiritual practice may sometimes produce.

MCTB Tranquility