Can the Dark Night/related stuff kill you? - Discussion
Can the Dark Night/related stuff kill you?
Read some Osho perhaps?
There's no more health-giving way of life than that of fulfilling desires. Just make sure they are your own authentic desires*, and not those of your parents or society. Your foot will heal itself the moment you start living that way.
This path of desire leads naturally to jhana, and then to insight, but it's the long way to do it. To try to skip ahead of desire is what creates hiccups. Desire is where you are at...now. Desire has a purpose well beyond mere survival of the species.
Tolle and McKenna are two examples of people who took what I'd call the backdoor to enlightenment. They grew so depressed (from living inauthentically) that their minds eventually got jolted out of 'cause and effect' and into Truth. I guess that's one way of doing it, but it comes with risks. Ill health and self-harm would be the main ones. A common complaint about McKenna is that he has no heart (ie. no ability to love). I'd agree and I'd level the same criticism at Richard and the AF army. The head is enlightened and the heart is stone cold dead. When Buddha denounced the way of the ascetic, I reckon he's just saying "sure it can work, but it's not natural.... forget it". Adya at least recognizes the importance of freeing the heart first.
Got a 'bucket list'?
*authentic desires are ones that, when contemplated, create excitement, and when fulfilled, create enjoyment/satisfaction (but without hurting yourself or others). If your desire doesn't fulfil these criteria, then it's not authentic. It's easy it falls short of creating excitement/satisfaction. One other important criterion is that an authentic desire leads you froward to another authentic desire, creating growth and progress. eg. when you were a kid, you desired toys. When you had had enough toys and play time, you grew out of that naturally. When you're a teenager you desire nightclubs, alcohol, sex and friends.... then you grow out of that naturally too.... and so on. The dudes in here say that desire is an endless loop but that's wrong. Desire is the Path.
editing as I go! I think I'm finally outgrowing this site, and it feels great!
I will say I agree with you about the heart having to be in accordance with the head. There's a pretty widespread sense throughout Buddhism that the "heart" essentially equates to lies and the Self leading you off the correct path to happiness. That doesn't make any sense to me, simply because it's 'there' already, and any doctrine or method that tells you to turn off parts of your experience or alter it somehow seems to contradict a true coming to terms with your reality. AF for example is not my way of doing things, though I do think it just works for some people; if it for all intents and purposes works in their experience, then that's enough. That subjectivity of things is also what makes me doubt the more traditional criteria for enlightenment. For example, if I'm a stream-enterer I'm supposed to have let go of what is it, the first 4 fetters? I'm a bad Buddhist But what if someone has a different experience? What if they don't experience 'fruition' per se, but in their own way they acrue a lot of wisdom about life and awaken without an 'event' of some kind? I've met people now and then who seem pretty content and wise in a common sense kind of way without any religious path. Does that make them somehow less enlightened? Most people on this site would say yes, that until they've met this specific set of criteria they are still stuck in some territory or another, but I do not agree.
Daniel mentions in MCTB that Buddhist practice is not a cure for other aspects of life, like morality, and that becomes more and more glaringly apparent to me. Society is not what I would like it to be and does not allow me to live healthily, what can meditation do about that? Not very much. At the end of the day I still can't live the way I want to, because certain social realities are just so. These are however also aspects of my experience, even if they are external to me and mostly out of my control. So if Buddhism does not concern itself with that, then what does hold an answer?
I've criticized people for saying this before, but my current experience convinces me that Actual Freedom gets this sorted out once and for all. I got 4th path earlier this year and, wonderful as it is, it doesn't deal with the sort of things you're talking about here. It's worth doing, don't get me wrong, but I'll be 100% honest with you here and say that it does not end suffering entirely.
And just to address CCC's opinion that "desire is the path". Desire is an affective feeling which supports a sense of there being a "me" here to experience this moment, the belief that "desire is the path" will continually loop one back into this cycle. Don't take my word for it, test it out for yourself.
Another point of view is that, by using desire as a vehicle, one can exhaust it entirely which leads you into a stage of one-pointed consciousness known as "gnosis". This approach is something I used when working with chaos magick and it can be effective for some things but it does not end suffering.
I'm not getting involved in a back and forth with CCC, I have no interest in doing so but I wanted to offer an opinion based on experience, not on what I've read in a book.
I don't know if you follow the folks over at The Baptist's Head, but one of the admins of that site, Alan Chapman I think is his name, wrote a couple of magical primers that are very basic but contain everything you really need to know to get started. He especially talks about a technique that I think Crowley first brought up called, "Knowledge and Conversation with The Holy Guardian Angel". He calls it using Dualism against itself; as I understand it (correct me if I've misunderstood points of this) whatever the HGA is or however it manifests to you, it guides you down the path to Enlightenment without you having to do anything more than what "it" indicates you should do. Interesting concept. MY question becomes then: Does the Knowledge and Conversation with the HGA equate with the Arising and Passing Away, or can it be seen as something different?
Something useful to try when doing magick is taking on the belief that it does work as any doubt in the effectiveness of the ritual/technique will scupper your efforts. Beliefs are a massive part of chaos magick, there's a lot of emphasis on belief shifting, dismantling and experimenting with different 'reality tunnels' which demonstrates experientially the malleability of consensus reality. It's basically freeform magick, a pick n' mix from every tradition you can think of and a whole lot of stuff you wouldn't even consider to be remotely magickal e.g. Invoking Harpo Marx.
What is it that you're looking to find out about, I'll try to answer as best I can.
Mapping the kabbalistic system of attainment along with the 4 path system is a fucking nightmare, for every consistency you find there's another ten inconsistencies which make it incredibly difficult to accurately work with. It is possible, to a point, to assign the HGA to the A&P and the symbolism of the kabbalistic tree here, the sephiroth called Tiphareth, does line up to some extent but it's a herculean task to try resolving this completely.
I have massive trouble with doubt in general still, so that part definitely is a hindrance to me yet. I really really like the overall ideas behind this though, like tuning into synchronicities and such, partly because I myself have experienced them again and again even without formally trying out Magick much. One thing I also like is that Western Magick seems like something much closer culturally in its attitudes and approaches. It is after all a "Western" methodology. I don't know though exactly where Alan departs from Chaos magick's beliefs and practices though, that I'd be interested to find out.
Most of what I want with Magick has to do with HGA work, since that's what I most want. I would be lying though if I said I didn't find other uses of it intriguing too, haha. As far as I know, I have not managed to attain Knowledge and Conversation with the HGA as Alan describes it. I guess if I want to ask you anything, it is: how would you suggest I form a solid foundation to get started in earnest instead of just dabbling?
Also, thank you to everyone for your gracious replies.
I very much appreciate your honesty. What's the point at all then? If it doesn't end suffering entirely, then it doesn't live up to its mandate, and the purpose of putting in all this time and effort is kinda moot, don't you think? I'm not trying to be critical of you specifically, so please don't take it that way. I'm saying, this general area of discussion is hinted at frequently by teachers and experienced meditators but danced around and not really just answered in a straight yes-or-no kind of fashion. You say it's worth doing, so why is it worth doing? Are you contented?
Semi-lucid dreams with all kinds of disjointed, sometimes violent and disturbing imagery, and experience of the hindrances both are really profuse in general lately.
You say it's worth doing, so why is it worth doing? Are you contented?
Mike Kich 8/31
Semi-lucid dreams with all kinds of disjointed, sometimes violent and disturbing imagery, and experience of the hindrances both are really profuse in general lately.
Do you find worth in generating violent and disturbing imagery, or do you find worth in equanimity, unveiling "the last veil of unknowing" and dissipating the forms of attaching (cited MCTB)?
Are you contented holding to the hindrances?
What mandate is your practice not living up to at the moment?
I'm sorry if I come across as ill-mannered, but if I don't say what I want to say in as blunt and concise of a way as possible, what I'm trying to express seems not to be understood very often or very well. Getting my questions across well and concisely is honestly more important, because if they don't get across, then what's the point in asking the question? I simply honestly wanted the simple answer to my simple question: "is he happy?", given what he had just previously stated. He probably hasn't gotten around to reading this thread yet because he's got things to do; if he has and my manners are honestly that big of a deal that he wouldn't even speak to me for posing a blunt question, then maybe Arahatship and elimination of the fetters isn't all that it's cracked up to be. If anyone honestly expects the manners of someone so immensely stuck in whatever these combination of factors amounts to as I am, to be without an edge or without any roughness, then I don't know what the hell they're thinking or else they've forgotten what it's like. It's honestly sometimes a miracle I can compose my thoughts.
Katy S: it's honestly difficult for me to answer your questions, because I don't really know the answers. I am not contented, that much is pointedly obvious. However, I am also not contented with the approach that Buddhism takes. I unfortunately haven't found a better one. Nearly every sit (there are some loving blessed exceptions) is a horridly tense war against basically every single defilement at once, and there's just been no concrete progress. I do a few techniques at different sittings (I've over the past few weeks been just doing half hour candle-flame kasina stuff for samatha progress every night), but somehow that dissatisfaction and discontentment slips into even my meditation technique and it slips in so fast I just can't suppress it. If I don't suppress my thoughts, I can forget about concentrating on anything, calming my mind into the session, and getting into it in earnest. If I do suppress it, that creates mental and physical tension and whatever concentration I do have becomes brittle. Between the stiffness of my back at that point and the stiffness of my mind, I'm back to square one, and all I can do is stare in wonderment at how there is seemingly no technique I can practice that doesn't end up being an ugly trench war. So in short, meditation tends to at best be neutral, but life without meditation also is at best tolerable. I'll very shortly have school and teaching responsibilities now, so the kind of energy this takes is just not there, but on the other hand I have no choice, just as I've never had a choice in all of this. Do you really think I wouldn't just do the techniques well and be done with it if my experience of it were that straightforward and easy? Does that explain how it's not meeting its mandate?
If I don't suppress my thoughts, I can forget about concentrating on anything,
You would do well to look at concentration in a different light and that is one of, having a letting go approach to jhana/concentration. maybe try not having a specific location of focus. what would it be like if you didn't fabricate a sense of self around the breath or your object.
trying to keep the little after image of a candle flame sometimes causes headaches for me. so maybe try something softer. or dont try to control the image but lightly keep it in bounds in the center. if it drifts off (the after image that is) let it. but, keep focus in the center and what has happened for me is another image will come up if not I open my eyes and start over. this is how it has went for me in the past.
I stare at the flame and let go of all concerns for past or future. let go of ideas about the specifics of the flame.
close my eyes.
see the image. even though the image may move to one side act as if it is staying in the center.
it fades out, then starts blinking/flashing. comes back as an off black after image. then squiggly lines in the image of extremely fast vibrations. blinking squiggly lines in the image.
when my mind is thus concentrated there is a more expansive brightness. the entire mind is brighter.
maybe think of your periphery getting bigger from original focus to as wide as your periphery would be with eyes open.
I have yet to get a stable light nimita at least one that is small. nimitta can also be translated as "theme". this is the way the term is used in the suttas. But later commentators took the word in to literal of a context and so translated it as "sign". as you can see "theme" has a much more open feel than "sign".
try to have the "theme" of renunciation/letting go well in hand. after all letting go/renunciation is a big part of not only transcendent states but also mundane concentration levels it is also part of right intention thats #2 on the 8-fold path. think of having the intention of letting go along with the theme of your meditation.
these guys below are better at articulating this stuff than I am.
Have you tried Kenneth Folk's Direct Mode of perception/grounding technique http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WiCXn87BF4
Hope something here helps. may you be well. - Ross
Candle-flame concentration does seem to be fast for at least getting concentration better than it was before, that much I've seen myself. I've experienced the same thing with the image slowly drifting off to the right or upwards, and then another violet afterimage of the candle and an orange-ish after-image of the flame itself re-materializing. With sufficient effort, it is possible to slow and stop the after-image from moving, at least for a little while. For the time that I'm doing it and for a while afterwards, it is nice how the mind is more or less still and factors like one-pointedness and mindfulness are better than they are otherwise.
I'm half-way through Bhante Gunaratana's "The Path of Serenity and Insight" (I like his direct way of writing, very down to earth) and some more explanation is given regarding what the nimitta is as a part of access concentration and a prerequisite for 1st samatha jhana. The stable light nimitta appears after concentration upon the after-image of whatever your object is has sufficiently stabilized. That having been said, I've also once listened to a podcast on Buddhist Geeks where a teacher (I can't remember his name off the top of my head) talks about how the light nimitta doesn't happen for everyone, Visudhimagga style - some people have that particular neurological phenomenon, others don't. I personally am just doing the candle-flame business in order to cultivate one-pointedness, mindfulness, and hopefully equanimity, so that I can apply that towards insight practice, and to be chiller in general. I have actually made use of Kenneth's Direct mode of perception technique, just kind of by accident - it works for both body and mental phenomena; mental phenomena can be more difficult (the technique works well for anxiety) if you don't keep the attention right on the anxiety without twitching/flagging in strength of one-pointed attention. It's like he mentions at the end of the 1st part about it being like a dead-man's switch. It works well though.
Mike, I'll just jump in here to say: I feel for where you're at. Probably most other practitioners, if we're honest, have been in similar territory. All I can offer from my own experience with similar conditions is that what I found was that such experiences are pointing to a very important opportunity to see how the techniques are not really the point.
Attitude is the key IMO.
Now, I don't really know every detail of your experience-- just have your descriptions to go by, and what they evoke for me in terms of my own practice. With that caveat, I would suggest that you forget for now about the longer-term questions and re-focus on how to meet what's coming up in your practice NOW in a skillful way.
Two things pop out in this regard that I might look at more closely: what is this "trench war"? What are the "sides" of this struggle? For example from my own experience at a similar point in practice, I found that there was a struggle between what I expected practice to look like and what was actually happening. Dropping those expectations and just meeting myself where I was at was all it really took to break the log jam. "Ok, now this just sucks and is all about the sucking." I think if I'm not mistaken this is what Katy was referring to with the "mandate" question.
Consider it this way: suffering in everyday life has a lot to do with holding an image up to current experience and comparing the two, judging that we like or dislike or don't care about what's actually happening based on how it matches our hopes and fears. Suffering that arises in sitting practice is just the same, but because of the intensity of the situation (once your sitting practice begins to take hold, which it seems like yours has) it can be a lot worse! A big key to reducing suffering is to learn to let go of those expectations a bit, loosen our hold on them, and cultivate instead a more open-minded sensitivity to what is actually happening here-and-now--- crucially, including those expectations in the field of what is happening now. Otherwise, you'll just set up another point to struggle around if you try to suppress certain thoughts and judgments.
In a way for me the techniques have become the point even though they shouldn't be, because historically speaking I've always had trouble not vacillating - before I'd ever meditated and after. To me it's partly a contest with myself about proving my willpower; I've always deeply admired individuals who naturally are able to take an object and sit with it infinitely, until they're skilled and satisfied. Such people are not bothered by excess thoughts, doubt, ill-will or pride very much, and they don't have to agonize over 'why' questions, they're just content with 'how' and they make steady progress without wanting to read a single book or ask more than a few questions. They're just slower-thinking, not very intellectual people, but that turns out to mean it's easier for them to be happy and contented, and they accomplish whatever they set their attention on. The "struggle" I mentioned is my trying over and over and over again in my meditation to be that person. My mind loves language and words and the mental taste of them, loves melodies and lyrics from song; I can hear a song that I like once and be playing the refrain from it over and over and over in my head for an hour at a stretch. For this reason it delights in the senses and is deeply curious about all sorts of things to be found out and studied. I feel sadness and profound doubt on one hand because I'm trying to control and curtail who I have always been for the sake of a powerful ideal; I don't believe it's at all a bad thing, being who I am, and I actually relish it on one hand and want to allow my mind to be whatever form it inclines toward. On the other hand, if I let it run wild and don't curtail it, it's the same as a spoiled child - I can't do anything with it and I can't find real, lasting peace for it. So do you see the difficulty? It's like punishing your child and restraining its creativity for the sake of the ideas surrounding Buddhism. You feel doubt because right now they're just ideas and nothing experiential for the most part, at least as far as actual sanctuary is concerned; you think you could be hurting your mind for nothing more than what amounts to neuroses, and for what? So that I could sit like a stone-buddha and be the embodiment of an ideal? But then you think: "how powerful would it be though, if I had the strength of will to push on no matter what, to embody an ideal so deeply that I become it. How worthy is that in comparison to what I would have to renounce?"
I had a karate sensei a year and a half ago or so who told me when I asked him, that he struggled for 9 years to win over the monkey-mind; in order to do it, he had to give up music, except for some classical or jazz arrangements. I shook my head and told him that I thought I just couldn't do it, do that. He told me that I have to decide what I want more - freedom, or music and everything it represents? I still battle over that question. I refuse to give up who I am and I'm just not willing to become the renunciate that Bhante Gunaratana and the Majjhima Nikaya suttas reference, but I also want to experience something really outside of my mental boundaries. So, to apply what you're saying about embracing what's real and current, I should maybe try more to reverse it and drop my ideals of self-perfection?
So, to apply what you're saying about embracing what's real and current, I should maybe try more to reverse it and drop my ideals of self-perfection?
Hi Mike-- You're welcome, and yup, that's what I'm pointing towards. You don't need to change who you are or how your mind, energy and body function naturally in order to investigate how they function naturally. See what i mean? Try approaching sitting (and life) as an investigation into how it all is already functioning. So if you're holding an ideal and comparing experience to that, how does that function right now? If the ideal drops and you become comfortable with current experience (for even a few seconds) how does that function?
When we look at practice and say there are these hindrances here the idea isn't to "get rid of" the hindrances, like you just need to find the right magic wand to wave and they're gone. The only way is to investigate how they function, how they arise and pass, how they work. It's a simple job. The techniques help you make best use of your time.
I'm also a wordy intellectual music type with lots of mental activity going on and it was a big challenge for me to get a practice going because of similar struggles and false expectations. I remember reading somewhere that for mindfulness training the Buddha recommended breathing as object for intellectual types and I do find I keep coming back to it.
A technique could be to just place some portion of your attention on your natural breathing without controlling your breath. Don't try to ignore or suppress other thoughts feelings and sensations, just try to place a portion of attention on the breath. Be relaxed about it. When you notice you've lost the breath completely you just gently bring the attention back. It's like when my toddler doesn't want to take a nap (or thinks he doesn't!) and comes back downstairs. If I make a fuss we'll both get riled up and he'll associate nap time with a form of punishment. But if I just scoop him up, give him a kiss and quietly take him back upstairs and tuck him in, it's all quite simple. Doesn't mean that some days I don't have to repeat that process several times before he goes down :-) Try like that.
i can remember feelings and thoughts similar to the ones you've described, and those peaked last summer - creating a point at which I focused intensely on/keenly yearned for getting through the negative mind/Dark Night. It took nearly a year thereafter and was bumpy, consuming, embarrassing, discouraging, silly, and finally, freeing. it was well worth binding 'myself' to its own difficult mind and its intellectual cavities which turned up again and again and generated negatively biased images or stories (chiefly fear-based) in order to get free of it. If your mandate is to be free of such a troubled mind mired in dark night, then i don't see why you cannot live into such a mandate. frankly, this is an "if I can do it, then anyone can" assessment, though.
Hmm. As you know dark night is harsh and consuming. It can feel maddening. I would say, however, as a sweater is only finished by continued knitting and observation, you can probably finish your Dark Night by doing what you are doing: trying again and again to look at the problem, take breaks, keep seeking and trying. After exhausting these thought-feeling consumptions there will be a steady sentient being able to enjoy its life, determine its own apt engagements, etc. Your schedule may be useful for focusing and invigorating intention around Dark Night.
In terms of concentration practice, have you considered a caring meditation for others? I could not do this during dark night (or I never tried), but perhaps you can. An example, on a bus or in a library/class/cafe/pound, pick a person who looks like they need kindness or secure-ness, and place them in your mind: rub their back and hold their hands in your mind - perform these mental actions with the care of a parent animal cleaning/stroking its new offspring. I don't know if this practice piques your interest, however, if you can consider how often life-force is spent concerned with self-preservation/fears of losing self/obsession with destruction of self/undermined self-preservation, then conveying the body language of security and felicity (by putting your mind to the task of most fundamental care-giving) can result in your or other's own sense of calmness, secure-feeling, softness, openness, absence of Dark Night monkey on your back...
I hope I've thanked you already for your kind advice. If I have not, then I thank you now.
At times like these I can write more lucidly, with more perspective; I don't know if it's the same in the sense I'm trying to explain for everyone, or if it was the same for you, but I basically have my good times and my bad times. Other causes and conditions that are external to the mind itself do have an effect on the serenity of the mind - if I have a pretty calm, quick little vipassana session that lasts even 10 minutes, or if I do some Tai-Chi, the mind tends to be quieter, with less errant thoughts and consuming desires. Those things aside though, it seems sometimes almost like I'm manic: days like today I'm pretty ok with most everything, and I don't have this need to get away from it all.
When I do get such episodes, they are very hard to see through, even though I know intellectually at the time from recollection that I've gone through these mind states before a million times already. I simply want to get up in the middle of where I am/what I'm doing, and walk out the door and never come back to any of it, any of the situations and conditions that make up my life. I spend such time in somewhat elaborate visualized fantasies about becoming a hermit or a recluse, a sramana of some sort. I fantasize about having the willpower to renounce my current occupation, and all ties to society, things which I see as binding me into society as a slave of sorts. These fantasies are obviously built around pride and self-aggrandizement, but what makes them so powerful is how difficult they are to discredit. It's as if nothing's enough but to disprove them - except this type of phenomenon cannot be disproven/dispelled rationally, and when I'm in that state everything's flying around in my mind to such a degree that I couldn't make a very clear argument anyway. One thing that is continuous throughout all various mind-states throughout a typical day is this feeling of confusion, of thoughts and chains of thoughts kind of flitting in and out and never being really clear or stable - as if they're half there and half not at the same time. This is not to say that I can't perform tasks or the like which require discursive thought and analysis, but instead it's more like mental content is often difficult to sort through. It's an extremely difficult thing to describe, and only on this forum have I ever been successful in getting across an adequate sense of the type of mental sensation which I essentially permanently inhabit.
On a side-note, I have a theory that this/these nyana/s is also a big reason why I have difficulty cultivating Samatha jhanas, which is really a shame and a disappointment because the so-called Path of Serenity seems so much more...alluring from the not-insignificant amount of material I've read on it. It seems characterized by powerful control, contentment, peace, unimaginable experiences (the siddhis and the like) and...yeah, it's a general path I've tried on and off to cultivate but it seems to go against my general make-up. The Path of Insight (dry insight in my case) is much less glorious; I have little control, I'm only sometimes contented, peace is hard to come by, and it's firmly rooted in the real, mundane material world. I don't get to visit the Brahma world or access the Immaterial Samatha Jhanas, or ask for advice from deities, or see trippy visions, or rest in the supreme contentment of the 4th Material Jhana. And so I often end up dreaming about what it'd be like to be such a person, when in reality I'm just...here.
To finish up my very long diatribe, possibly the most difficult part of the DN experience in general is how demotivated it makes me feel. Why do anything? There isn't the sense that there's a real reason behind anything I could do for an occupation other than bare survival for its own sake. Real passion about subjects, like languages, has long already evaporated despite my angst over its disappearance and my many attempts to revive it. All the things people try to convince me I should care about or that people seem to expect from me, just seem so trivial; the structures and conventions and almost rituals that make up the goals and worries and expectations and verbalized thoughts of the people around me just serve to give me a sense of ennui from everyone, because all of those things look like a heap of bones that someone's trying without much success to build into a gingerbread house. People take themselves and their occupations so seriously, especially at university. An analogy would be if I were a professional builder of legos and I haughtily demanded that people pay me homage for my excellent towers. People want me to care about this and that, and the only reason I'm engaged at all is because, in the case of the people I love and care about, I don't want to disappoint them or sadden them. Many times I have the seductive thought that, if I really acted completely out of concern just for what I happened to want, I would be a professional stacker of boxes. I don't want to impress anyone or have anything expected of me, because my heart's just not in anything and it hasn't been for a long time. Maybe the most difficult thing is that I can't lie well about that being the real truth, that I always have the intention to do what's right and do what would be financially savvy for myself, to be interested in building myself an occupation and a life, to make my parents and friends proud, but that somehow I just can't ignore the situation I've just described.
So, now you have even more backstory.
That there is vastly more to each of us than just our short posts. Thank you for sharing your insight.
I think of dark night now as a series of very small problems based on how I ignore or augment each moment. I personally felt like "dark night" snuck up on me, and by the time I recognized it, the attributes of dark night were pervasive to my perspective...otherwise said, dark night perspective was my perspective. it was very difficult, anxious living from within such a confined viewpoint.
Breaking dark night into the little pieces that it is is the work of moment-to-moment sensate awareness. You know, Tommy M mentioned recently he could go on about the wonderfulness of his ashtray. Well, that's true to a moment-to-moment sensate mind. There is a lot of backstory to even an ashtray, plastic or dolomite.
Changing up the routine can also be a way to break the connection to dark night perspective. Take a short aerial flight on a turbulant day? (Tommy M, in another recent post, walked a muggers' route - that was suitable for him at this time in his practice - not necessarily your practice for this moment; this is just an example of changing things up). Rent a car and drive. Have a one-day veggie fast. Do a museum fast (stay with one room or one object only). I used to tell myself, "That's pointless" about these little changes. But it is not pointless. The self is in a state of fixity, it needs to be jostled out of its rut, but safely (otherwise it will just learn that its normal dark night fixation is the most secure way to live - though miserable).
Demotivation can be like a big untrained dog getting to far ahead of you on the leash. Then, you are left following demotivation. Following any demotivation can easily pervade all aspects of the body and mind, except a pull towards lassitude. Yet, if you can give a particular demotivation (i.e., academic demotivation) its recognition while applying another form of activity (such as 20 minutes exercise/brisk new streets walk, loving laundry, public toilet stalls cleaning...something active with clear results) then the big dog (demotivation) no longer walks the whole person (you). As a matter of fact, its own leash goes a little slack (or a lot), because it hasn't got your whole attention. Whatever demotivation wants to do (i.e., stop working, stop studying, watch TV) just find something else to do for even 15 minutes...something that takes some effort. Do not think about stopping the brain's fixity on dark night. It will stop on its own when you take up another activity with sincere effort. In this way, demotivation is itself a bit demotivated - it has no leash to pull on for the moment.
The bigger picture of school/work can be sorted by small steps. School is typically filled with timing and performance pressures (i.e., deadlines and grades and paycheck, etc). Often there is a lot of being indoors and reading under flourescent lights or at cpu screens. We have not evolved so much for this as we have adapted. Thus, there is adaption stress. How much can I take of such conditions and how can i relieve myself of them?
So there is a lot of room for kindness to one's own person. When you do something to free the eyes and brain, stretch the back and legs, it is the same kindness you would offer another working animal. Discipline (work) is very healthful when there is such kindness for one's being included, in this case, your humanness.
Breaking down the performance task and the parties invested (parents, teachers, peers, you) use a little different treatment, both get sincerity. One is your relationship to technical material, the other is your relating to others and your self. So many different things are involved with one living being, that putting two different beings together is bound to cause some big waves (like the big passion of "we relate" found in love/crushes and the passion of hate found in "we do NOT get along"/oppositions). The thing about living beings is that there is a huge drive for self-preservation. So, when I interact with someone or some animal I now see how one's settledness has the opportunity to settle the other. As social animals we can feed off of each other. Settledness can be offered just as much as fearfulness. Settledness has really comfortable consequences, as I gather you already know.
What is settledness toward the other? It is conveying, "
What is settledness toward yourself? You are working on that, and you have mentioned that you have that. For some people born into violent situations it is very hard for them to develop that. When you are not settled and you feel dark nightishly, I'll bet you can break that situation down into small pieces and see what is what.
[*edit: 9/17 - struck out - i did not express this correctly; it is more 'safely approaching another' (rather than creating a negation of a feeling, such as 'not hurting' ).]
also, the stuff about meditation's benefits (i.e., siddhis): to the person who can cause those "extraordinary" events there is nothing extraordinary. If anything, that person (if born into such a mind) often assumes that everyone can all do those things (until they realize not everyone can at the moment). If not born into such a mind, then when such an ability arises, it does not have any magical attribute at all. It just seems like pushing a grocery cart: suddenly one sees wheels and a push-bar [on what was formerly appearing as just] a cage.
So fantasizing about such a thing (becoming a yogi of sorts) is probably an easy place for the demotivation to lead its brain. That's ok, once in a while. For myself, though that would become an easy path away and demotivation would be rewarded, and encouraged to keep happening...like an addiction loop. So, I have had to do activities that involve effort while demotivation comes on (build something, exercise (most common), some change-up that is not terribly comfy but certainly safe (at least as much as anything can be) in order to let demotivation exist, but exist only so long as it knows that the rest of the body/mind has something else to do - neither are allowed to be dominated by demotivation (until something of effort is completed...even if that effort is cleaning something).
The meditative states are natural, but sometimes so advanced. It's funny how when a) there is the right amount of self sickness (the sickness of self absorption) we can really get into some out-there states, b) when there is too much self-sickness (dark night) then it is almost impossible to enter such states, and c) when there is absolutely no self-sickness, there is no self to experience a personal benefit of those states (i.e., freedom from anxiety, augmented status,etc).
[hermit's life is the same way: if hermit has pieces of dark night, those will come up in hermitage]
Anyway, thanks for sharing your work. It seems like there is good learning together on a site like DhO of what has to be (un)tailored ultimately by oneself uniquely for oneself.
[edit: in brackets]
My take has been, that dry insight can be called true mental conviction or true mental understanding. such a mental understanding leads to stability and well-being. I think it also clears the route for wet insight - it keeps dragging one honestly down one's path, does not permit lassitude - eventually, wet insight comes of that - the visceral living of insight/actuality/what-makes-self. I don't know if wet insight can lead to dry insight. I think is can be harder for a wet insight practioner to explain wet insight to dry insight people, but I think dry insight people can become stuck in a cool intellectual understanding until the right warm-blooded experience comes along.
They both have uses.
I often cite exercise as my means, because it removes energy from the brain and gives it to the core and limbs (heart, arteries, muscles, lungs). A typical example: a problem builds to a tolerance threshold, a heady fixation develops (brain lock, mental gerbal wheel, fixity, obsession with problem/prob-solving), recognition of brain-locking occurs, antidote is applied (45-minute swim/bike/whatnot), mental opposition arises (i.e., "go sit on couch and brood"), use some part of exercise as object meditation (i.e., tire wheel when biking on rollers, ear sounds when swimming), allow mental opposition to occur but increase intensity of exercise (thus, mental blahblah can keep chatting, but the rest of the body shows it is fully capable of sincere effort, is not handicapped by mental blahblah), continue until clock says times up. A mere four days of this training increases concentration and calmness.
This is a positive loop, because calmness and concentration create other consequences. Some sitting meditation "goals" may be advanced. You may still end up walking out of whatever life you are living, but a calm mind will know a good deal about why it is walking out on such a livelihood. A mind in tantrum for itself will have little memory, just that something very emotional took over. Anywho, bye for now and best wishes.
Days like today, being a Dark Night Yogin is its own full-time job. It's absolutely exhausting. It could also be because I'm an introvert par excellence usually, but today I was at a university picnic thingy and it felt mostly like all I could do to just put a coherent sentence together. I honestly just felt like sitting down and staring at the wall or taking a nap on the spot. Only, actual sleep only helps somewhat. It's as if interacting with the world in general just drains the hell out of me, which is really a shame because they're such nice people where I am.
Thank you for your posts.
To me, dark night is a mirage, yet extremely powerful - like the Lilliputians tying down Gulliver - many little fears and grasp-points freezing a person into the perception of being wholly trapped/wholly consumed/wholly fraught. To free one grasp point will restore capacity to that freed area which can then wiggle and free another area and so on. I find your writing useful and clear, and that offers help for you, me and others.
Taking a nap, sitting-just-feeling can be perfect yoga and action, because there's just no spare energy for the brain to wind-up, direct or grasp.
If you have a simple low abdominal breathing to do while entering the nap, that could be really relaxing (and a very useful single step in trimming away from dark night)...energy may disappear from the head, forehead, neck and shoulders. It can help to offer the nap to the body, mind and brain, let the whole body-mind-brain know it deserves a good, deep, quiet rest.
Because you've mentioned dark night, dreaming may occur. Dreams, good and bad, can give the mind a place to take ownership again and enter fixity-tension ("I had an auspicious dream", "I had a dooming dream"). Stating the purpose of the nap (deep, quiet mindless rest) before napping can help that sort of deep, quiet nap happen.
Sitting at a tree/picnic is a nice time to abdominally breathe. A worried or self-conscious thought may arise, however this can be released by just remembering how nice a settled person looks and allowing you to be that settled, calm person. A sense of humor is lovely, too.
I am pasting a link to Daniel's MCTB knowledge of suffering/Dark Night . It can be used as a 40-minute meditation, reading carefully.
That you may still be experiencing exhaustion in the company of people is very useful: sleep is a fine way to respond. It can keep you from creating negativity with others and cares gently for the mind as one would treat an exhausted, disturbed animal one may adopt into one's home. [Such a creature, like the mind, with care and time, becomes rested and settled. It will show outwardly.]
Knowledge of suffering is a high sensitivity; it comes with its own non-stop vigilance for and consumption of negativity. It [is the source for producing] some great stuff - such as civil legislation. If you can keep in mind that dark night is giving "you" necessary sensitivity upon which lightening up is founded (and any so-called magick or exemplary feats), then dark night can be accepted like an inoculating flu. Painful, but also confers a kind of immunity-utility later.
Sleep can let the mind relax, digest some things in the background and produce some fresh resources, such as a willingness to sit short breathing meditation sessions and examine the mind producing its thoughts.
It can be useful to
[indent]a) recognize the content (the vast negativity-perspective and the personalization of it - such as, "I hate this") and
b) watch the body sensations arising (in addition to painful knees, what is happening in the chest, how does the head feel, can breathing be done from the abdomen), and
c) commit to regular meditation sessions no matter how short. No clock watching. Just a commitment upon waking, before bed and, say, just after lunch, to use the mind to perceive the [sensations] in the body and the moment of arising thought[/indent]
A dry insight person may be strongly inclined to resolve knowledge of suffering in a logical way, to use meditation as a time for mental problem-solving versus breathing meditation. I understand that, and finding mini-logical answers was useful for sustaining my own DN inquiries. However, if the brain is tired already (i.e., engaged by academia-work-social combo), then taking regular yoga classes [for example] and following up with any short and routine meditation sessions can be very very useful. [This is taking advantage of the mind's diminished dominance, softened by gentling body practices.]
The physical practices (yoga, sauna, swim, massage, cardio, parachuting*, etc) can create analgesic effects on the brain chemistry and soften the mind's dominance. The mind's dominance - its ability to persuade the whole person of its righteousness - sustains dark night. I may be wrong, but it seems to me in hindsight this mind-dominance is a natural consequence of "Western" logical values. [Edit: and if we are born of and live in a Western society, this dark night-logical grasping is exactly the flu we get and need for its own inoculation; not a state from which to escape or avoid, but pass through with understanding and leaning on gently physical tools along the way. The logic-grasping can produce really neat outcomes and useable productions, but when it is highly negative and actioned from unbalanced negativity it can produce destruction to self and others (i.e., so-called counterproductive). **]
You are really wise not to take the mind of dark night out on others and nap instead.
And for analgesic to knowledge of suffering (dark night) - a heightened sensitivity for self and others that one passes through and results in balanced care in regards to "others", understanding and clarity of "other", and further stages), here is some Hawai'ian nap-entering music video.
[Edits: in brackets]
[*parachuting is given as an example, because I have been told it is relaxing and frees the mind's logical-grapsing, and to make it clear that there are countless practices people use to lessen energy going into the logical-conceptual mind]
[** in other cultures, though, the mind-dominance can be seen, if not in logical adherence, then in conceptual adherence - a fixity on certain rules and icons. Tibetans have a word "ri-me" which refers to flexibility of practice and sources.]
I have read all of MCTB long already (that was actually how I got into this website) but it's good to review it, especially that part which pertains to me. An earlier comment you posted is right though, that it is evidently false to state that this state is *me*, because there are many occasions when I experience some degree of Equanimity or some other state reasonably detached for a time from the stresses of Dark Night yogin stuff.
At the same time, the most difficult part for myself by far at this point is in the social arena, aka the not screwing up your daily life segment. The insight that these stages taken together are not a *thing* and are themselves fluxing in their own way and are not me either is only just starting to sink in in a meaningful way. Thus I still crave vast amounts of time and space away from people to sit and solve this thing. Yet especially in the life of a graduate student, I am constantly deprived of time and space, of seclusion in order to fully comprehend the nature of my experience. If I'm allowed to, for example on the weekends, I typically sleep 10-12 hour time spans - this has been this way for years now, since I was in my mid-teens. For the longest time I've thought it was just a simple coincidence that my sleep patterns were such - now I understand that it is in response to the mental phenomena which so pre-occupy my mind, and as you said in the paragraph about the knowledge of suffering, unavoidably so.
Anyway, I have to go for now, so I will post more later in response.
EDIT: probably the most disturbing and stressful thing about the DN as I experience its general statal amalgamation of conditions is the very real and ever-present sense of how fast/quickly every single thing in your sensory field is passing, and yet also having the lingering illusion that there is a real you inside there somewhere, who's akin to a man made of sand wandering through a desert, constantly scooping up handfuls of sand from all around him in an attempt to make himself whole and permanent. There never seems to be any Time in the way that it used to be, there isn't a blocked off period that's safe from fear and dissolution and the other jazz that goes with DN. It's that kind of mortal awareness that makes it so constant and stressful to live through, because it's like one is half-way through enlightenment, definitely not enlightened but also definitely not who he/she was before. The nature of sensations as being both so flickering and being so half-there half-not in the way they present themselves in the 6 sense fields also makes it very difficult to conceive of what's even going on for yourself, because ideas themselves evidence these characteristics even as they are actively taking shape into something usual and logical in the mind - the sudden stopping and resuming of thoughts is itself an insight into what's really the character of the sensorium. Trying to explain what it is or what it's like to be in the DN is usually a pretty futile engagement, unless the other in question has already gone through it or is also in the process of going through it. Even in the latter case, as with many close buddies who are almost certainly going through their own version of the DN for the longest time, saying "oh you're going through the Dark Night" isn't likely to mean anything to them, because the terminology and descriptions applied to that conception of what it is to be where I am, for example, is fairly new and pretty Buddhism-specific. To those who are not Buddhist or are have not experienced it, explaining it and trying to relate it to something they've experienced is, in my own experience, almost entirely impossible. In fact the attempt to even communicate it seems to result in jealousy and ill-will coming back towards you at least as often as not. The very thing you're relating isn't a thing and isn't permanent, and ironically it's that very fact that you're struggling with realizing yourself. DN is also about as abstract and subjective as it gets as your personal experience relates to others, given that it's a phenomenon that affects the entire sensory experience of the world - that's also the point, that it's an all-encompassing experience and isn't limited to specific situations or discrete triggers. It permeates everything and itself isn't anything really. My intuition tells me that that's actually the way to Nibbana.
Also: I'd read it before but on coming back from a jog wherein I was observing the usual incredibly difficult experience of Re-Observation; the part of MCTB where the nyanas 5-10 are detailed is, with one or two exceptions, a pretty much word for word account of my difficulties over the past several years. Little paragraphs like this one for example:
"If the content continues to be bought without the ability to see its true nature, then the mind can spiral down and down into madness and despair. When people mention “touching their own madness” on the spiritual path, they are often talking about this stage. This stage can make people feel claustrophobic and tight. If they push to make progress, they can feel that they are just getting wound up tighter and tighter. If they do nothing then they are still suffering anyway."
"We must let go of (read: “see the true nature of”) all of our ideas of perfection, all of the ideals we cling to, all images of how the world should be and shouldn’t be, all desire for anything to be other than the way that it is as well as all desire for enlightenment that is anything other than this. It may seem impossible to sit for even a minute, as the levels of restlessness and aversion to meditation and all experience can get quite high. This stage and part of stage 3 (The Three Characteristics) can share some common features. This should be seen as a strong warning to those who are prone to being overly certain about “where they are.” Continuing to investigate the true nature of these sorts of sensations is often difficult, and this is a common cause of failure to progress."
Two things which haven't been part of my experience are the extremely vivid bodily sensations described during the 6th nyana, Fear, and the vivid sense of changing "vibrations", unless he's referring here to a changing pace of perception or character of perception.
On the other hand, what makes it so difficult to let go of as just being content is that much of the content is experientially verified as TRUE is my eyes, not about myself, but instead about the inadequacies of the modern world. Everyone has license to drive around their own personal tank basically, to pollute the planet and spew their garbage into the oceans to such an extent that it's observable from space. An attempt to even find a secluded spot of nature is nigh on impossible, and those parks which do exist relatively near to me are anything but secluded and untouched; you can hear disgusting planes and filthy cars driving by every couple minutes, coupled with the inability to just get away from people. It's virtually impossible for the normal person to live separate from societal mechanisms if he so chooses, and instead he is coerced into a role which does not make him happy, and, in my case, REALLY does not make him happy considering my own DN travails here. In my ideal, non-existent world I would be able to drive alone out into the countryside, until I came to the beginning of an infinite forest covering hundreds of miles. I would walk into it, and it would be some time before I came back, if at all. Those like-minded individuals who I have encountered and befriended throughout my life I would invite with me, and we would live simply and free as we could from this greed, poisoned lifestyle, and disrespect and violence against the natural world. When it became hard for us, when we experienced craving, we would try to help each other overcome it if possible. I know how good it could be, because I envision it all the time. Instead though, the hard reality is that I live in this world where I'm powerless to effect the kind of change I just described, and I have to be a living anachronism because of that reality. This is a grandiose self-image, but it contains some truth as well.
So, if it helps, your description reminded me of my own experience. I recall that it was quite real to me and that people's efforts to invite more neutrality into my perspective fell flat.
Not to be rough on your infinite forest diversion, but BBC's Planet Earth series provides direct doses of the knowledge of suffering in the natural world if you cannot live the wilderness dream as I did for a while (and where there was plenty of knowledge of suffering, as much or more suffering than I have known living in one of the world's most populous cities - and I enjoy solitude and vast fly-in lands quite well).
You wrote something (to Ian And, here) this past March and I found the wording clear and useful:
Suffering is quite real. The defilement of this real suffering (the object), though, is as you paraphrase it: "[to] only perceive whatever object it may be through a sort of haze of constructs woven into concepts, which further combine with other concepts to form an interpretation, not a direct perception." At this moment there are human actions occurring that would attract any number of sentient beings by virtue of the safe, friendly, helpful, creative, intelligent nature of those actions. Not all humanity is hostility and filth.
So, "dark night" (knowledge of suffering) is a massive and immersive attack of bias. The ancient Greeks had Charon to convey customer-heros safely to and from the underworld. Buddhism has insight practices through dark night. The British offer Monty Python for the human condition.
Yoga is associated with meditation because it keeps the mind alert and occupied, drops energy from the head into the abdomen, and releases feel-good chemicals for a while afterwards. I have no idea how often your passage into knowledge of suffering (and maybe cycling) could peak up, but there are tools to help it along the way when the mind is lost in this journey. I mention yoga again b/c I took yoga throughout undergrad years (maybe I postponed my dark night to my thirties as a result?). There are other tools for this release (maybe you get jogger's high?), but yoga is the traditional physical accompaniment. Bye for now. Good luck.
To reduce the above words:
social: cultivation of non-sticky, benign presence (method: absolute listening+felicity (this leaves little room for destructive thinking like absorption into personal anxiety or subjective-critical-tension thoughts) - not for use all the time, just when you feel tension and resistance to an obligatory/recommended/normal social event/meeting (can be started part-way through an event/meeting if fatigue/tension/resistance picks up - people and animals are really forgiving of a prior moment's emotional exaggerations and flexible to following a non-sticky benign presence, can totally change the interaction in a few moments)
physical: cultivation of exercise (methods: you note jogging, there are many including just walking) and plenty of rest
consciousness-mobilization (drops consciousness out of mind-dominance (possessive-assumptive-biased thinking): physical yoga, acupuncture, massage, deep slow belly breathing (vagus nerve massaging)
mental: developing your natural understanding of the Bhikku Bodhi passage regarding object-corruption-via-personal-assumption
Clearly, your safety comes first in all of the above. E.g., absolutely listening to a violent maniac is seldom reasonable
Mental and consciousness practices can help preserve the mind for its factual work (study and work), and start to carve-out deliberate time for dark-night inspections.
Ok, good luck.
Wow, well I'm not sure how to summarize in response to all of your good thoughts, but I'll try. Yoga is something I've been skimming around for some time but haven't really tried (except for a few asanas from Light On Yoga by myself) but it seems more and more like something I just need to take up, both for my mind and for my body's better health. You are of course right about developing awareness of the mental affective filter - seeing things more for just what they physically are rather than the host of ideas clustered around them.
I had a host of rather large thoughts also typed out, but they're more of the same that you've already seen. You get the picture already.
If you should arrive home exhausted and/or find yourself in Dark Night with a few minutes to spare and you want to meditate instead of, or ahead of, a nap, just write down a sentence expressing the moment, then sit on the cushion or whatever you use.
Focus on getting in 5 deep belly breathes, those that massage through to the spine (just go deep, but stay comfortable, there's no pain, no major effort in this).
The in-breath pushes out from below navel and air keeps coming in filling the chest up to the tops of the lungs like a barrel. The muscles around the clavicles may feel a little stretch and your neck vertebrae may give a little pop in the beginning.
(shoulders are down not rolled forward, scapulae are gently flat on the back, neck is tall, chin lightly tucked, jaw is loose lightly open, relaxed tongue touches up...your tai chi awareness may already be giving you this).
After those 5 breathes, regular soft breathing begins. Enter the immediate now of soft, regular breathing. At nostrils or in the slow, immediacy of sensations perceived throughout the body.
At some point a thought/a feeling will come up. Note if brows have knit, if the jaw has shut. Observe where sensation is (chest, belly, forehead?). Re-enter breathe and diffuse the mind into perception throughout the body. Here can be the moment for observation of arising thought, arising feeling and sensations occurring.
This can be done for as long as there's some time [or you sense that you have the energy to do this]. As mind quiets down, perception of emptiness of inherent nature can occur without perturbation of conflating thoughts/feelings. [Edit: I noticed that ideation would occur on an in breathe, typically, thus the out-breathe became a letting go of whatever concept-feeling arose]
Two concluding deep belly breathes (starting below the navel, filling out the stomach, through the chest (like a barrel) stretching the muscles under the clavicles again). If you have the flexibility enjoy the process of one hamstring stretch at a time (right leg out and long slow breathing as the leg gets stretched, then, separately, the left leg) - about one or two minutes per leg. Repeat each side once. Very gently. Those hamstrings are home to some very long, bilateral nerves (the sciatic).
That uses up about 15 minutes depending on how long perception of emptiness (of inherent nature (assumptions, bias, etc) is explored.
[Edit: that's my two cents. A nice long yoga class or something wherein a teacher keeps your mind focused on a wellness activity is useful. I dropped tai chi when dark night came on. This was the fatigue of dark night. I was too exhausted to do the forms or spar. But, i think if a person can keep it up, it's excellent.]
EDIT 2: the source of the in-breath is breathing in from the crown of the head and this intake filling the lower abdomen and up through the chest
Good luck. Thanks for sharing your work. You provide useful details and your willingness to get through [knowledge of suffering] well is [beneficial].
Yes, the dissolution you've mentioned. Past assumptions are evaporating and futurity is pixilating. Present moment is agitated, disoriented, draining. It introduces awareness of emptiness, but this emptiness is perceived through a lens of unnerved, uprooted, de-forming self.
I think there is analogy to the stages of the path being like a bamboo forest: thick and hard to get through in the middle (belly-crawling blindly), but opening eventually into pretty easy going.
I don't know Bhante G, but for the title you mention (Path of Serenity). In relation to the social fatigue and anxiety you mentioned, it is really worthwhile listening to people with NO attachment whatsoever. Meeting them with felicity and physical serenity.
I have worked with animals when I needed to return my human interactions to a natural baseline. Have you ever had to cultivate a safe presence to get a stray cat or dog to follow you to a meal, and then watched them eat the food? Perhaps you sat still and were deliberately calm so that the animal would stay and finish the food. This is a body language of felicity and serenity. Minimal and attentive, non-threatening, pleased at watching another benefit. If this image works for you or something like, it is useful to use it in a social context when listening to keep the felicity and serenity flowing.
In social settings, it is not that people will follow you to the porch for kibble, but the same attentive, minimal, felicitous mind-set is useful for crowding out other thoughts (judging other, judging self). The other person is usually oblivious to having a soft, un-intrusive listener. They just know it is fine to continue on talking or sitting near you; they feel safe and that builds over days and weeks into something you can gently guide (if needed). Often the person lets out a breathe of air. If you have no more time to listen, then you've been a pure listener with gentle reception, and can say confidently, "It's time for me to go." Because you've not been ideating for those minutes ("must get away", "gah, so awkward") little or no tension has been building. Done well, it can give you energy.
You appear to have a lot of mental object concentration practice throughout your day and every day. It may be time for physical practices and the above spacious non-cognitive, totally unattached pure listening-with-felecity practice.
Also, until you have time to look at dark night more deliberately, you might just start making a list of thoughts and feelings to look at when that opportunity arises.
So good luck. Naps are great, too. Really great. I too slept fro 10-12 hours for a long time.
Further to your 10-minutes of vipassana practice, a few minutes of easy yogic breathing techniques (i.e., ujjayi) can trigger bodily relaxation and facilitate vipassana. Here is a brief medical consideration from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons (2005) on the benefits of yogic breathing: parasympathetic nervous system overriding the sympathetic nervous system (overriding fight-flight response, anxiety, and reducing adverse effects on libido, digestion, clear-headedness, etc).
To do yogic breathing while stretching/doing yoga releases contracted muscles more quickly which in turn results in a calm body-mind. Here's a medical "why" behind why stretches are entered for several minutes and how yogic breathing contributes. Essentially, comfortable poses are held long enough to effect a true change in the muscle memory away from contraction.
I'm writing to you now as I'm in the middle of cycling through the 5th and 6th Nyanas, Fear and Misery. It occurred to me again as I was showering tonight that everything I've done, every major decision I've made in my life over the past 4-5 years, has been at least in part motivated by the experience of Fear through Re-Observation; everything I've done has been an elaborate attempt to somehow figure out or circumvent what at many points has been a truly horrifying experience, and what at other points has been very surreal, in a perverse way almost attractively so.
It really never gets old, how somehow I can almost visually "see" Impermanence at work. It's subtle as christ-all, and it's never ceased to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying how inescapable Insight is. It is an inescapable fact that I have watched both of my grandparents age and sicken and die in pretty unpleasant ways(which is what catapulted me into this whole thing in the first place); it is an inescapable fact that I perceive my parents and even my dog to be aging, to be suffering from various ailments; it is an inescapable fact that I feel fear for the time when I have to watch them die; lastly, it is undeniably my greatest fear of all that, when they are gone, I will be alone forever and lost. Friends, of whom I have many who are long-time, good friends, are similarly not stable objects to find security in: they move and they change and they enter and exit independently just like everyone and everything else, mostly very slowly, occasionally very quickly. This I have also slowly observed happening right before my eyes. There is simply not time in my perception of things, not really. Days and weeks as I perceive them come and go with no real solidity or permanence; it might as well almost be time-lapse photography, just without visually appearing that way. This is the way things really are, the only difference is that in my case I have no blinders but I somehow still think I'm here observing these phenomena as an entity. An insight I've had though, is that not only are all of these people and the phenomena which occur to them real, but many other things which I had walled off as "not real" in some ultimate sense, mostly concepts, are also equally real and very worthwhile, even necessary. There's been a continual urge in the past to both suppress some formations by the supremacy of others, and to make all of it an epically holy undertaking; the first item has been mostly perceived as entirely futile and actually back-fires, the second item is really just boring. Things just are what they are, and there's nothing more to be said about them.
One good side-effect of all of this, if you can call it that, is that I can similarly perceive the suffering of others with compassion - my mother, my father, my dog, my friends, my colleagues, my teachers, acquaintances, those who I don't know, all of them clearly experience the same pain and the same frustration, only with varying degrees of awareness. People I used to be angry at, people who I used to know, I now mostly see as being understandably confused and clouded much the same way I am. All of us are floating around in this shipwreck, clouded to varying extents by delusion and greed and anger, all basically trying to get something in our lives to be solid and to draw from as permanent, many of us struggling actively towards positivism and to be the people we envision we can be. I cannot imagine any state of existence as varied, as sad, as profound, as surreal, as being a human being.
Anyhow, I've been doing more Tai-Chi lately to try and keep some muscle tone as well as chip away at this. Hope you're doing well.
Not to discredit your insight, which seems valid enough, but this quote came to mind.
They may say things like, “Oh,
yes, I am impermanent and will die one day. This is awful and this
thought causes me suffering. Truly, I feel empty inside.”
This is macroscopic, about grand yet crude concepts and ideas, and
so is still squarely in the territory of philosophy and existentialism. This
meditator not only needs to learn what insight practice actually is, but
might also benefit from a bit more sunshine and exercise or perhaps
even some of those new anti-depressants.
I've deleted about 3-4 long-winded posts. You're in dark night and graduate school already, so I'll just cut to the chase (cutting to a rather long chase...).
Knowledge of suffering easily comes with depression and stressful life timing. You sure may not have time or energy to cultivate a huge insight practice. So taking care of your body and mind in tradition western ways (exercise, sleep, stretching, a nice movie, a decent meal...) are superb ways to deal with it.
I'll just run this past you for your consideration:
[indent]Imagine you are sitting on a comfortable park bench on a sunny day. The temperature is just right and you have no obligations.
You feel just fine right there with no urge to move. You could just sit there forever...
...except that now you start to feel a little hunger, or
...now the bladder calls, or
...the temperature starts to drop, or
...a loud insulting group is passing by and tossing litter, or
...two lovers sit down nearby, and
...the urge to move away (from hunger, from pain, from a threatening group or feelings of loneliness) arises. [/indent]
This is one aspect of sitting meditation: it shows the action of suffering - nearly all movement (mental or physical moves) are movements attempting to avoid arising suffering. Again, the park bench and sunshine were perfect, until some condition naturally arose (full bladder) or is cultivated (loneliness) compelling a movement (seeking release from suffering).
So a sitting practice can show that i/you/people/sentient beings are generally moving themselves, because of actual or perceived pain - exactly as one moves/scratches/daydreams in meditation.
[indent]- To see sentient beings simply moving in the world is often to see suffering - the effort to mobilize away from a suffering condition into a content condition.
- You've mentioned seeing ambition around you in academia. What suffering is the movement of ambition demonstrating? (From what is the ambitious person moving away from and towards? Why are they not just doing what they enjoy; why can such a person be characterized as "ambitious"?)
- You've mentioned being exhausted at social functions. What suffering is the movement away from exhaustion? Why can't exhaustion be felt at a departmental picnic?
- You've mentioned social anxiety (a special one for me, personally). Why is there a movement away from people - what is being suffered that solitariness reduces the suffering? (Maybe it's too exhausting to see ambitious people suffer at departmental picnics...)[/indent]
You have this compassion already for sentient beings; do you see that the majority of movement in sentient beings is fueled by a suffering-to-happiness movements? Probably. Your description of insight as "awe-inspiring and terrifying [and] inescapable" is spot on.
Without suffering, stillness or still qualities results. Again, without suffering, one could just sit on the park bench in the sun for a long long long long time. Maybe a person would move to curiously see another view of the sky and the clouds and sun, but without suffering, there's a lot more stillness simply because the moment is just fine as it is, free of suffering. Nothing is compelling movement.
So, if one aspect of a sitting practice:
- reveals that all movement (mental fantasy and little shifts on the cushion, alike) is simply revealing the move away from suffering (and a movement for contentedness), and
- that movement-knowledge of the sitting practitioner cultivates compassion for all people mobilizing themselves (knowing that they too are moving in an effort to escape some suffering, mental and/or physcial), and
- that the sitting practitioner will see that every new movement into comfort will eventually turn into another discomfort from which to move away, then
- well, the practitioner either wants to bury their head in nihilism and misery or find a way to not suffer in the suffering. As you said:
...Then, an insight practice or an actualism practice or a prayer practice or something cultivates in the striving person who still thinks it's worth trying to be in the world, a genuine way to be in the world no matter what occurs. That is here and now. And the reason why samadhi and AF people and otherwise spiritually settled people look so calm and still, is because they are not running from suffering. They study causes and see that some sufferings are self-generated and others are, yes, just pitiful and unfortunate occurrences happening to fine people. Other sufferings have some self-generated causes as well as some misfortune.
So, your practice - if you are going to find peacefulness (and spontaneous joyful action as well as swift-kick-in-the-ass action when it's clearly, cleanly needed), and if you are going to be able to offer a peacefulness or a clean, resourcefulness that comes from being still and completely open to many possibilities in any moment - well, that practice is going to have to cultivate your ability to be here now without a huge bias for the pain of suffering [edit: and insight practice moves this knowledge into equanimity, but frankly, I find regular exercise also creates equanimity, it's just that insight creates a fundamental understanding that accompanies the brain so long as it is intact, whereas exercise creates a condition of equanimity so long as exercise is performed]. Studying the causes of suffering and knowing that there are care-full, intimate responses to suffering (that do not involve useless pity or tormenting oneself) is a usefull place to start. It is a hell of a lot more interesting than forming a commitment to indifference. But that is an option, but personally, it is dull. Truly: dull in color and form, and why do that when there's a lot of color and other experience to be had?
This does not imply at all that you have to be happy in the face of tremendous suffering. To the contrary, if you can be in the face of tremendous suffering (or any suffering, yours or others') and be aware of the instinctual repulsion for suffering, yet be spry and apt to the situation, that is a great useful practice. On some occasion, the apt thing may be to run away. On some other occasion, the apt thing may be just to hold some one's hand while they are dying of emphysema or otherwise suffering.
Anyway, I wish you well.
Wow dude, you described pretty well the exact same thoughts I was having during my first dark night. Nowadays it's all but gone.
This is the way things really are, the only difference is that in my case I have no blinders but I somehow still think I'm here observing these phenomena as an entity.
I wouldn't really care about whether there is an entity or not, I have given issues of self much thought with little return. Who cares if you're an entity, not an entity (or even neither an entity nor not an entity)? That's all mystical hogwash... Drop it, do away with it, forget about it, don't think about it anymore. Self is sometimes a thought, sometimes a feeling, and that's all there is to know about the matter, as in, as soon as you have memorized this simple sentence, you can give yourself the present never to think about it again, for you know all the relevant information on the subject of "what is self?".
It is more worthwhile to think as follows:
1. I notice there is suffering.
2. By investigation I come to see the cause(s) of suffering.
3. By giving up on those things which bring me suffering, I come to experience less suffering.
4. I cultivate a path in order to bring about the most adequate conditions so that 1, 2, and 3 can happen (and eventually be taken to their ultimate consequence).
These are what buddhists call the four noble truths. These should help with death-obsession.
I've delighted in reading this collection of sutas by Thanisaro Bikhu: The Four Noble Truths: A Study Guide.
Try sitting with the feeling of wanting something, like maybe a new electronic gadget that just came out (if you're into that) or a girl you're interested in or whatever. How does it feel? How does it feel in your mind? How does it feel in your body? Do you think it leads to to happiness or does it lead to more suffering?
I've heard someone say in a Buddhist Geeks podcast once, that for many Buddhists their vision of who they are spiritually gets segmented off from the rest of their lives, and that the way they practice has too many "shoulds" associated with it, way too much guilt and obligation. That I agree with, having done it plenty to little effect. In order to be really representative of my life, a method has to be non-prejudicial. This is why Zen and basic Vipassana are the closest thing to really suitable I've found, though I suppose Zen has its own things you can critique.
I think the person that was speaking in that podcast was giving that as an example of misunderstanding or misapplying buddhist practice. This practice is not about "shoulds," neither is it about guilt or obligation. All of these things come from buying into the ego's stories. This is exactly what we're trying to find freedom from! The attitude that one uses while doing vipassana practice or when sitting zen doesn't have to be limited to the cushion. You can bring that attitude to every part of your life and when you do, there is no more "should" there is just what is and what comes as a result of that.
I will say I agree with you about the heart having to be in accordance with the head. There's a pretty widespread sense throughout Buddhism that the "heart" essentially equates to lies and the Self leading you off the correct path to happiness. That doesn't make any sense to me, simply because it's 'there' already, and any doctrine or method that tells you to turn off parts of your experience or alter it somehow seems to contradict a true coming to terms with your reality.
I'm not sure where you got the idea about the heart equated to lies. It is completely the opposite of how I understand Buddhist thought and from my own experience of practice as well. There is a word in Pali (the language of the Suttas) - Citta - meaning heart-mind and when the suttas talk about the mind they mostly use this term, citta. This, in my opinion, points to the importance they place on the connection between heart and mind. In fact, at the time of the Buddha (and I think still today to some degree), the seat of the mind was in the heart. To see the importance of Heart in the practice you need only look at the importance of teaching about morality, generosity, no-harm, joy and, of course, the four divine abodes (said to be where the enlightened mind dwells): Love, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity.
AF for example is not my way of doing things, though I do think it just works for some people; if it for all intents and purposes works in their experience, then that's enough.
As far as I know, AF people say there is no connection between AF and buddhism. It's a different practice leading to something different. So I'm gonna leave that out.
That subjectivity of things is also what makes me doubt the more traditional criteria for enlightenment. For example, if I'm a stream-enterer I'm supposed to have let go of what is it, the first 4 fetters? I'm a bad Buddhist But what if someone has a different experience? What if they don't experience 'fruition' per se, but in their own way they acrue a lot of wisdom about life and awaken without an 'event' of some kind? I've met people now and then who seem pretty content and wise in a common sense kind of way without any religious path. Does that make them somehow less enlightened? Most people on this site would say yes, that until they've met this specific set of criteria they are still stuck in some territory or another, but I do not agree.
There's a wise zen saying: "There are no enlightened people, only enlightened actions." Enlightened people can sometime be total assholes and the random person in the street can sometimes be a source of sublime wisdom. When it comes down to it, enlightenment is not an end in and of itself. Enlightenment is a beginning. It allows you to see the world more clearly and to act out wholesome intentions. It doesn't make you an infallible saint, it doesn't make you invulnerable, it doesn't make you anything. What I think it does is it lets you see your own truth very clearly and lets you act out of that truth. It removes the obstacles that blind you and that bind you and lets you just be. It is still up to you to act out of that truth or not.
Daniel mentions in MCTB that Buddhist practice is not a cure for other aspects of life, like morality, and that becomes more and more glaringly apparent to me. Society is not what I would like it to be and does not allow me to live healthily, what can meditation do about that? Not very much. At the end of the day I still can't live the way I want to, because certain social realities are just so. These are however also aspects of my experience, even if they are external to me and mostly out of my control. So if Buddhism does not concern itself with that, then what does hold an answer?
First of all, Daniel also says that morality is an important part of Buddhism. The first and the last teaching, in fact. So while Buddhist practice won't make you a saint (will anything??) it does have a lot of good advice and good practices on how to do better in the world. Meditation is just one part of the practice. An important part, for sure, but not the whole thing. Practicing generosity, for example, is a very important part of the training in morality. Three steps in the Eightfold path are about morality and two or three more can be related to it as well. Only 2 or 3 are specifically about meditation. If you want to see what Buddhism is about, I suggest checking out those parts as well.
The second part of what you say is more complicated. How is it that you want to live your life? What kind of society do you envision living in?