Take It or Leave It

Ra K, modified 8 Months ago.

Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
I have thought about posting this on here for at least a year now but have been rather hesitant for a combination of reasons. I am here to say that I have finished 4th path when using the 4 path model. I feel like sharing it on here for a variety of reasons, some psychological, some as a personal reflection, and some because I’ve always wanted to share a glimpse of my story somewhere with people that may understand. I have moved through the world of meditation largely on my own for the past 7 years and would like to share my experience to a community of understanding folks.
 
The best place to get a glimpse of what my first 5 years on the path looked like can be found at this link (my only other post on this site): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6344425
 
I would also say with confidence that after bouncing around these meditation retreats during the spring/summer of 2017 when the above was posted, third path had been completed. The rest of this post will not make much sense without reading the link above. I do not want to go back through and reexplain what is mentioned in the previous post so I will instead add in little parts I didn’t discuss there and build from there:
 
1)The post was written in a very hectic mental state after just finishing a 28 day retreat at Panditarama Burma, and then a 21 day at Chom Tong, Thailand. Prior to this I was a frequent visitor to the Goenka retreats for 4 years, which were very beneficial, but became my spot of meditation more for convenience during the latter 2 years.
2)After a few years and the dust settling, what I refer to as stream entry in the post and comments may very well have been the first A&P. I sometimes wonder if this experience in my life even fits smoothly in the format of the stages outlined but that’s a different topic of conversation. Regardless, the completion of first path certainly came on the last day on a Goenka retreat in the summer of 2013.
3)For the years 2-5 I was solely focused on insight practice on and off retreat. This was after first path and before finishing third path on the multiple retreats of 2017. Everything revolved around the 3 characteristics on retreat, during at home meditations, and daily life. It was intense to say the least. I would meditate off retreat like my life depended on it. I became a renunciate of anything I found enjoyable in life because I concluded that I was not yet wise enough to handle engaging in pleasantries appropriately. I had heard others on the journey step through a phase of renunciation. I gave up on a lot: friends, family, relationships, all to fit in more time to meditate. Whenever there was time off I made an at home meditation retreat type of setup where I sat next to the boiler in my basement to drown out the noise of the family upstairs. There was almost no time given to psychological health or even metta practice for these few years and the internal world was rather dark.
4)The conclusion of third path came at the end of an intense bout of nonstop meditation for 3 days and nights straight at the request of the teacher. This point is where the story from the previous post ends and the new bits in this current post pick up.
5)I haven’t been on this page in a while but when I was I noticed people on here discuss practice in very technical terms with a strong focus on the 5 sense doors, mainly physical sensations like speed of vibrations, etc. Personally, I have always been a very thought and emotion focused person so naturally those were often the sensations that were explored in practice. I would usually hold a loose focus on an anchor like the abdomen or the pulsating near the nostrils and let the mind drift away a bit and try to follow it and see the 3 characteristics in all of it.
6)I also have never been keen to study the maps and theory of the practice any more than I needed to remain sane and give me enough to work with on retreat so I don’t have the same type of knowledge that I have seen others come here with. I have experienced quite a bit but never found any use in trying to figure out what the name or title of the thing that I experienced was.
7)After the 2017 retreats it was a very important turning point beyond that of paths because I made my psychological health a more important part of my practice after a few discussions had in the post linked above. A great resource for me was Pragmatic Morality from Noah D (thank you): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6363460
8)I felt as if the intensity with which I practiced on retreats in the summer of 2017 gave me a lot of momentum moving forwards. I cycled more times than I can remember from the darker stages all the way to the moment where everything just cut out and time stopped.
9)I did a loving kindness retreat at the start of the summer of 2018 at IMS with Michelle McDonald which was a really great addition to the practice. I had been working on the metta part of the practice for the last year and this was exactly what I was looking for. It set me up very well for another retreat a month later…
10)Prior to going to Chom Tong in 2018 for a second time I was actually offered a dream job, if and only if I was willing to remain in the area for the period of time I was scheduled to go to Thailand. The job involved working with people from 60+ different countries on a daily basis and involved being paid to go to some of those countries. I was also able to simultaneously finish up my grad program on the side. As a testament to my commitment to the practice, without even hesitating, I turned down the job. There was no way in hell I would skip the retreat for the year even with the knowledge that I had the metta retreat that summer as well. (In the end they were either bluffing or needed the services I provided. I went on the retreat and still got the job lol)
11)I went back to Chom Tong, Thailand in the summer of 2018 and it was a completely different ball game. The focus was not on attainment but on complete and unconditional loving acceptance with an unwavering understanding of the 3 characteristics in every moment of my experience. It felt very playful like there is absolutely nothing that could arise that I could not accept. No part of the cycles through the stages shook me (I say “me” here in the practical sense for ease of description). No part of the dark night shook the unwavering acceptance. Noting liking, disliking, sadness, happiness, pain, contemplating, wondering, rising, falling, they were all on the same playing field. It was different because the understanding that striving or attaining anything else was not needed. I had often tried to attain something prior to this with occasional pauses at certain stages in cycles but this time the understanding that even within the cycles there is no need to want anything else. This understanding emanated to my very core. The acceptance was so all encompassing and even playful. It felt rather fun and like the struggles I used to experience of not accepting felt so small and childish. This kept on building over several days. Then everything cut out, no time, no self, no other, no awareness. When I came back to I knew that was it. That was the end. I’ve experienced many of these blips in consciousness over the years where it feels like everything just disappears and comes back, but the after effects after this time were different. It was 2 years ago so I could not describe it in with the same clarity as I could before. I went through the remainder of the retreat on this very neutral high.
12)Then the psychological mind kicked in and the doubts started coming. Prior to this I had built a strong belief of what the experience of reaching this point would be like. Over the years I convinced myself that it would be a stable state of accepting and a life without problems that could phase me in the day to day. A part of me always knew that this was not true and that all of life’s struggles would not magically disappear once I reached this point, but I also knew I needed to create this grand mirage to keep the motivation to practice as strong as possible. If I had known what things would be like after the fact I probably wouldn’t have been as motivated to meditate as intensely as I did or sacrifice as much as I did to get there. When I came down off of the high of that shift in perception there was a lasting change but not all my life problems were erased like I had convinced myself would happen. It was not a pill my psychological mind wanted to take. I needed to keep up this lie until this point to keep the engines going at full blast. Because of this created story line I questioned whether what I had reached had actually been the conclusion of 4th path. I told myself that there is no need to get sucked into another story line and that if it was the real deal it would stick around with time but for now it was better to just brush it off and keep practicing.
13)I kept up the practice and the next year I went to the forest refuge at IMS in the summer of 2019. The cycles picked up and there was very little about them that felt like uncharted territory. It all felt very familiar. Like I have walked the path from start to finish and now I am just walking back along the same path. I heard a quote once that practice shifts from vertical growth to horizontal growth. There was something about this that I resonated with. I kept on meditating with acceptance, cycling (but not in a way that I felt like I was being taken on a journey like before but rather just noticing it all unfolding on its own and my job was to just get out of the way and watch). I still wasn’t exactly sure what was going on so I did something I would usually never spend precious retreat time doing and that was go look at some books. I picked up a Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw and flipped through it for a bit. I came across a story of two monks who are arahats. I don’t remember all the details but the main thing I got from the story is that they both went on retreat for an extended period of time. One of them got stuck thinking about some random thing while the other did not and was able to get back to the highs of 4th path (I don’t remember the exact terminology, review maybe). Anyways the point was that THE HIGH DOES NOT LAST. Yes there is a shift but meditation does not fix all of life’s problems as I had convinced myself it would. That’s when I realized that what I had experienced the year before was fruition of 4th path as I had initially thought and a state of reviewing my whole journey began. In meeting with the teacher she used the word disorienting as a common experience around now and I couldn’t have explained it any better than that. Disorienting.
14)It has now been a year since then and I’ve done a couple smaller at home retreats and it all seems to hold water.
 
Note: I know I haven’t really gone into a lot of the rudimentaries of the practice like the specifics of vibrations, figure-ground reversals, etc. and that’s largely because I talked about it a bit in the post I linked to above and also because I don’t know a lot of the technical terminology. My whole philosophy was meditate, meditate, meditate. I only learned enough of the technical verbiage to keep going in the practice without losing my mind. That leaves a lot of meditative experiences that I don’t really have a name for.
 
Note: Also I speak in here largely as you would in day to day life. I would rather not go through an in depth discussion of non-self every time I use the word “I”. I’m not writing a book here so I’m taking the practical route for the sake of simplicity.
 
In sum I have spent 8 years on this journey using meditation as the tool to walk the path for 7, meditated in retreat centers for ~137 days, which does not include 10 days volunteering/meditating at a Goenka center or the days spent in at-home retreats which are too many and varied to count. I have done formal sitting (and on occasion walking) meditation off retreat on average 2-3 hours every day for the past 6 years straight (ranging from 1 hour to 9 hours per day). I have practiced in the Theravada tradition with teachers out of the Goenka tradition, Panditarama in Burma, Chom Tong in Thailand (shout out to Mohammad, a great no bullshit teacher who will put you in your place and be there for you if you start spinning out), IMS (once in the main center for a metta retreat and once in the forest refuge). I was supposed to go to IMS for another metta retreat this summer, but everything was shut down due to covid and I camped out in the woods and did the online version of the retreat instead. I also have a great deal of gratitude to the MCTB book as it was one of the best guides off retreat that I could find. I took this practice with such intensity and bounced around different teachers and centers that I have felt isolated from the different meditation communities I visited. However, it was the intensity with which MCTB leads with and a glimpse into this online community that was enough to remind myself that there are others out there who practice in the way that I do. I was never involved on here but it was enough just to know there are others out there.
 
I’m not all that sure where I am on the journey now and that’s ok. I’m fairly certain of where I am not.
 
My goals have shifted to more externally focused to spend time in areas I put off to an extent for several years like family life, friendships, relationships, working out, academics, work. I’ll be starting a PhD program in a month to become a counseling psychologist so that will certainly take some time out of my schedule. I am still meditating daily and doing some at home retreats, but it’s certainly not with the same intensity as before. That’s my story. For now, I’ll probably just fade back into the periphery of the meditation communities as I have for the majority of this journey.
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Milo, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 365 Join Date: 11/13/18 Recent Posts
Ra K:
I have thought about posting this on here for at least a year now but have been rather hesitant for a combination of reasons. I am here to say that I have finished 4th path when using the 4 path model. I feel like sharing it on here for a variety of reasons, some psychological, some as a personal reflection, and some because I’ve always wanted to share a glimpse of my story somewhere with people that may understand. I have moved through the world of meditation largely on my own for the past 7 years and would like to share my experience to a community of understanding folks.
 
The best place to get a glimpse of what my first 5 years on the path looked like can be found at this link (my only other post on this site): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6344425
 
I would also say with confidence that after bouncing around these meditation retreats during the spring/summer of 2017 when the above was posted, third path had been completed. The rest of this post will not make much sense without reading the link above. I do not want to go back through and reexplain what is mentioned in the previous post so I will instead add in little parts I didn’t discuss there and build from there:
 
1)The post was written in a very hectic mental state after just finishing a 28 day retreat at Panditarama Burma, and then a 21 day at Chom Tong, Thailand. Prior to this I was a frequent visitor to the Goenka retreats for 4 years, which were very beneficial, but became my spot of meditation more for convenience during the latter 2 years.
2)After a few years and the dust settling, what I refer to as stream entry in the post and comments may very well have been the first A&P. I sometimes wonder if this experience in my life even fits smoothly in the format of the stages outlined but that’s a different topic of conversation. Regardless, the completion of first path certainly came on the last day on a Goenka retreat in the summer of 2013.
3)For the years 2-5 I was solely focused on insight practice on and off retreat. This was after first path and before finishing third path on the multiple retreats of 2017. Everything revolved around the 3 characteristics on retreat, during at home meditations, and daily life. It was intense to say the least. I would meditate off retreat like my life depended on it. I became a renunciate of anything I found enjoyable in life because I concluded that I was not yet wise enough to handle engaging in pleasantries appropriately. I had heard others on the journey step through a phase of renunciation. I gave up on a lot: friends, family, relationships, all to fit in more time to meditate. Whenever there was time off I made an at home meditation retreat type of setup where I sat next to the boiler in my basement to drown out the noise of the family upstairs. There was almost no time given to psychological health or even metta practice for these few years and the internal world was rather dark.
4)The conclusion of third path came at the end of an intense bout of nonstop meditation for 3 days and nights straight at the request of the teacher. This point is where the story from the previous post ends and the new bits in this current post pick up.
5)I haven’t been on this page in a while but when I was I noticed people on here discuss practice in very technical terms with a strong focus on the 5 sense doors, mainly physical sensations like speed of vibrations, etc. Personally, I have always been a very thought and emotion focused person so naturally those were often the sensations that were explored in practice. I would usually hold a loose focus on an anchor like the abdomen or the pulsating near the nostrils and let the mind drift away a bit and try to follow it and see the 3 characteristics in all of it.
6)I also have never been keen to study the maps and theory of the practice any more than I needed to remain sane and give me enough to work with on retreat so I don’t have the same type of knowledge that I have seen others come here with. I have experienced quite a bit but never found any use in trying to figure out what the name or title of the thing that I experienced was.
7)After the 2017 retreats it was a very important turning point beyond that of paths because I made my psychological health a more important part of my practice after a few discussions had in the post linked above. A great resource for me was Pragmatic Morality from Noah D (thank you): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6363460
8)I felt as if the intensity with which I practiced on retreats in the summer of 2017 gave me a lot of momentum moving forwards. I cycled more times than I can remember from the darker stages all the way to the moment where everything just cut out and time stopped.
9)I did a loving kindness retreat at the start of the summer of 2018 at IMS with Michelle McDonald which was a really great addition to the practice. I had been working on the metta part of the practice for the last year and this was exactly what I was looking for. It set me up very well for another retreat a month later…
10)Prior to going to Chom Tong in 2018 for a second time I was actually offered a dream job, if and only if I was willing to remain in the area for the period of time I was scheduled to go to Thailand. The job involved working with people from 60+ different countries on a daily basis and involved being paid to go to some of those countries. I was also able to simultaneously finish up my grad program on the side. As a testament to my commitment to the practice, without even hesitating, I turned down the job. There was no way in hell I would skip the retreat for the year even with the knowledge that I had the metta retreat that summer as well. (In the end they were either bluffing or needed the services I provided. I went on the retreat and still got the job lol)
11)I went back to Chom Tong, Thailand in the summer of 2018 and it was a completely different ball game. The focus was not on attainment but on complete and unconditional loving acceptance with an unwavering understanding of the 3 characteristics in every moment of my experience. It felt very playful like there is absolutely nothing that could arise that I could not accept. No part of the cycles through the stages shook me (I say “me” here in the practical sense for ease of description). No part of the dark night shook the unwavering acceptance. Noting liking, disliking, sadness, happiness, pain, contemplating, wondering, rising, falling, they were all on the same playing field. It was different because the understanding that striving or attaining anything else was not needed. I had often tried to attain something prior to this with occasional pauses at certain stages in cycles but this time the understanding that even within the cycles there is no need to want anything else. This understanding emanated to my very core. The acceptance was so all encompassing and even playful. It felt rather fun and like the struggles I used to experience of not accepting felt so small and childish. This kept on building over several days. Then everything cut out, no time, no self, no other, no awareness. When I came back to I knew that was it. That was the end. I’ve experienced many of these blips in consciousness over the years where it feels like everything just disappears and comes back, but the after effects after this time were different. It was 2 years ago so I could not describe it in with the same clarity as I could before. I went through the remainder of the retreat on this very neutral high.
12)Then the psychological mind kicked in and the doubts started coming. Prior to this I had built a strong belief of what the experience of reaching this point would be like. Over the years I convinced myself that it would be a stable state of accepting and a life without problems that could phase me in the day to day. A part of me always knew that this was not true and that all of life’s struggles would not magically disappear once I reached this point, but I also knew I needed to create this grand mirage to keep the motivation to practice as strong as possible. If I had known what things would be like after the fact I probably wouldn’t have been as motivated to meditate as intensely as I did or sacrifice as much as I did to get there. When I came down off of the high of that shift in perception there was a lasting change but not all my life problems were erased like I had convinced myself would happen. It was not a pill my psychological mind wanted to take. I needed to keep up this lie until this point to keep the engines going at full blast. Because of this created story line I questioned whether what I had reached had actually been the conclusion of 4th path. I told myself that there is no need to get sucked into another story line and that if it was the real deal it would stick around with time but for now it was better to just brush it off and keep practicing.
13)I kept up the practice and the next year I went to the forest refuge at IMS in the summer of 2019. The cycles picked up and there was very little about them that felt like uncharted territory. It all felt very familiar. Like I have walked the path from start to finish and now I am just walking back along the same path. I heard a quote once that practice shifts from vertical growth to horizontal growth. There was something about this that I resonated with. I kept on meditating with acceptance, cycling (but not in a way that I felt like I was being taken on a journey like before but rather just noticing it all unfolding on its own and my job was to just get out of the way and watch). I still wasn’t exactly sure what was going on so I did something I would usually never spend precious retreat time doing and that was go look at some books. I picked up a Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw and flipped through it for a bit. I came across a story of two monks who are arahats. I don’t remember all the details but the main thing I got from the story is that they both went on retreat for an extended period of time. One of them got stuck thinking about some random thing while the other did not and was able to get back to the highs of 4th path (I don’t remember the exact terminology, review maybe). Anyways the point was that THE HIGH DOES NOT LAST. Yes there is a shift but meditation does not fix all of life’s problems as I had convinced myself it would. That’s when I realized that what I had experienced the year before was fruition of 4th path as I had initially thought and a state of reviewing my whole journey began. In meeting with the teacher she used the word disorienting as a common experience around now and I couldn’t have explained it any better than that. Disorienting.
14)It has now been a year since then and I’ve done a couple smaller at home retreats and it all seems to hold water.
 
Note: I know I haven’t really gone into a lot of the rudimentaries of the practice like the specifics of vibrations, figure-ground reversals, etc. and that’s largely because I talked about it a bit in the post I linked to above and also because I don’t know a lot of the technical terminology. My whole philosophy was meditate, meditate, meditate. I only learned enough of the technical verbiage to keep going in the practice without losing my mind. That leaves a lot of meditative experiences that I don’t really have a name for.
 
Note: Also I speak in here largely as you would in day to day life. I would rather not go through an in depth discussion of non-self every time I use the word “I”. I’m not writing a book here so I’m taking the practical route for the sake of simplicity.
 
In sum I have spent 8 years on this journey using meditation as the tool to walk the path for 7, meditated in retreat centers for ~137 days, which does not include 10 days volunteering/meditating at a Goenka center or the days spent in at-home retreats which are too many and varied to count. I have done formal sitting (and on occasion walking) meditation off retreat on average 2-3 hours every day for the past 6 years straight (ranging from 1 hour to 9 hours per day). I have practiced in the Theravada tradition with teachers out of the Goenka tradition, Panditarama in Burma, Chom Tong in Thailand (shout out to Mohammad, a great no bullshit teacher who will put you in your place and be there for you if you start spinning out), IMS (once in the main center for a metta retreat and once in the forest refuge). I was supposed to go to IMS for another metta retreat this summer, but everything was shut down due to covid and I camped out in the woods and did the online version of the retreat instead. I also have a great deal of gratitude to the MCTB book as it was one of the best guides off retreat that I could find. I took this practice with such intensity and bounced around different teachers and centers that I have felt isolated from the different meditation communities I visited. However, it was the intensity with which MCTB leads with and a glimpse into this online community that was enough to remind myself that there are others out there who practice in the way that I do. I was never involved on here but it was enough just to know there are others out there.
 
I’m not all that sure where I am on the journey now and that’s ok. I’m fairly certain of where I am not.
 
My goals have shifted to more externally focused to spend time in areas I put off to an extent for several years like family life, friendships, relationships, working out, academics, work. I’ll be starting a PhD program in a month to become a counseling psychologist so that will certainly take some time out of my schedule. I am still meditating daily and doing some at home retreats, but it’s certainly not with the same intensity as before. That’s my story. For now, I’ll probably just fade back into the periphery of the meditation communities as I have for the majority of this journey.

Congratulations. Do you think you'll be settled with what's been done (As it sounds from your post), or do you think you'll be assessing if you'll do the Boddhisatva thing?

Also, did the lesser motivation to practice coincide with improving external circumstances (eg the dream job) or do you think it was solely from finishing 4th path?
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Hmm good question. I think for now I am settled, but I have a feeling it's just for a little while. I think it has been so intense for the last several years that it's not crazy to think a couple years of lighter practice might be the next step along the path as my relationship with the practice of meditation itself shifts. 

Hmm well the job was certainly nice, good question. I don't think the job tapped into the type of struggle that was motivating the practice. My interpretation of 4th path came on the retreat after the job offer, but to be honest that was not a pleasant time in my external world. I was a full time student, part time work, research, counseling others for the first time (draining in a different way), a relationship break-up, losing a best friend. Hmm this is a tough one to answer. I think maybe to an extent the other improving circumstances in my external life like the job probably affected my level of motivation
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Ni Nurta, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 621 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Sounds like quite powered up practice you had there with 5-7h a day. I always admire people who can commit to such practice regimen. I guess however that no matter what kind of practices you do there is no other way than spend most of the time during the day on practice and do it for few years to get to 4th path.

Few questions:

What can you say about integration of your insight in to your daily life? From your post it would seem that it was this one year after which you realized you already had 4th path fruition a year prior.

Do you still experience cycles or did they fade away and your experience is "flat"? Do fruitions happen?

Could you alaborate on word "disorienting"?
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Sounds like quite powered up practice you had there with 5-7h a day. I always admire people who can commit to such practice regimen. I guess however that no matter what kind of practices you do there is no other way than spend most of the time during the day on practice and do it for few years to get to 4th path.

It was largely motivated by desparation for answers for a while, an existential crisis of sorts, and the false idea that the psychological mind took on that meditation would lead to a perfect life. It felt like the motivating factors weren't the healthiest for quite some time. The circumstances in my life made it feel like there was no other way other than to practice. I wouldn't describe it as a recommended approach to the practice, but that's just how the circumstances played out in my life.


What can you say about integration of your insight in to your daily life? From your post it would seem that it was this one year after which you realized you already had 4th path fruition a year prior.

Quite frankly, integration has been shit lol (by my standard I guess) after very intense bouts on retreat seeing the world in a similar way in which I would on retreat was more often on the surface of my attention. But now it feels more like a certain degree of calmness like there is a level of understanding there somewhere but that the psychological mind is covering more of that up with it's inherent flaws and all and that's fine. 

Do you still experience cycles or did they fade away and your experience is "flat"? Do fruitions happen?

I do still experiences cycles once in a while and at times I feel like I can bounce around between different parts of a cycle. The thing is it feels like I just don't care as much as I used to to do anything in particular with the cycles. Again my understanding of the terminology is not the best, but what I think of as fruition does happen when I spend a little more time during the day meditating or delving deep into the practice.

Could you alaborate on word "disorienting"?

Immediately after it felt disorienting in that it felt like this storyline that the psychological mind had played out and been a large part of my motivation to practice as intensely as I did was thrown out the window. The idea that meditation would perfect my life was not true and that shook up the very foundations upon which my whole practice was built on. Also, the desire to reach 4th path was present up until it got close to the point that the shift happened. At that time on retreat I was 100% content with everything, regardless of paths, and maps, and fruitions in a way that transcended the cycles and the practice itself. Now that I realized that shift had happened I had no idea what to do next. Meditation with this motivation to reach a particular point had become an anchor in my life and it felt like the foundations were cleaned out. 


Also, I feel like anytime I try to describe an experience related to the practice, words can never fully capture what it was like in those moments. All the responses I given so far feel rather limited and lacking certain parts when compared to experience of the thing. Oh well
Tim Farrington, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Ra K:
I have thought about posting this on here for at least a year now but have been rather hesitant for a combination of reasons. I am here to say that I have finished 4th path when using the 4 path model. I feel like sharing it on here for a variety of reasons, some psychological, some as a personal reflection, and some because I’ve always wanted to share a glimpse of my story somewhere with people that may understand. I have moved through the world of meditation largely on my own for the past 7 years and would like to share my experience to a community of understanding folks.
 
The best place to get a glimpse of what my first 5 years on the path looked like can be found at this link (my only other post on this site): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6344425
 
I would also say with confidence that after bouncing around these meditation retreats during the spring/summer of 2017 when the above was posted, third path had been completed. The rest of this post will not make much sense without reading the link above. I do not want to go back through and reexplain what is mentioned in the previous post so I will instead add in little parts I didn’t discuss there and build from there:
 
1)The post was written in a very hectic mental state after just finishing a 28 day retreat at Panditarama Burma, and then a 21 day at Chom Tong, Thailand. Prior to this I was a frequent visitor to the Goenka retreats for 4 years, which were very beneficial, but became my spot of meditation more for convenience during the latter 2 years.
2)After a few years and the dust settling, what I refer to as stream entry in the post and comments may very well have been the first A&P. I sometimes wonder if this experience in my life even fits smoothly in the format of the stages outlined but that’s a different topic of conversation. Regardless, the completion of first path certainly came on the last day on a Goenka retreat in the summer of 2013.
3)For the years 2-5 I was solely focused on insight practice on and off retreat. This was after first path and before finishing third path on the multiple retreats of 2017. Everything revolved around the 3 characteristics on retreat, during at home meditations, and daily life. It was intense to say the least. I would meditate off retreat like my life depended on it. I became a renunciate of anything I found enjoyable in life because I concluded that I was not yet wise enough to handle engaging in pleasantries appropriately. I had heard others on the journey step through a phase of renunciation. I gave up on a lot: friends, family, relationships, all to fit in more time to meditate. Whenever there was time off I made an at home meditation retreat type of setup where I sat next to the boiler in my basement to drown out the noise of the family upstairs. There was almost no time given to psychological health or even metta practice for these few years and the internal world was rather dark.
4)The conclusion of third path came at the end of an intense bout of nonstop meditation for 3 days and nights straight at the request of the teacher. This point is where the story from the previous post ends and the new bits in this current post pick up.
5)I haven’t been on this page in a while but when I was I noticed people on here discuss practice in very technical terms with a strong focus on the 5 sense doors, mainly physical sensations like speed of vibrations, etc. Personally, I have always been a very thought and emotion focused person so naturally those were often the sensations that were explored in practice. I would usually hold a loose focus on an anchor like the abdomen or the pulsating near the nostrils and let the mind drift away a bit and try to follow it and see the 3 characteristics in all of it.
6)I also have never been keen to study the maps and theory of the practice any more than I needed to remain sane and give me enough to work with on retreat so I don’t have the same type of knowledge that I have seen others come here with. I have experienced quite a bit but never found any use in trying to figure out what the name or title of the thing that I experienced was.
7)After the 2017 retreats it was a very important turning point beyond that of paths because I made my psychological health a more important part of my practice after a few discussions had in the post linked above. A great resource for me was Pragmatic Morality from Noah D (thank you): https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6363460
8)I felt as if the intensity with which I practiced on retreats in the summer of 2017 gave me a lot of momentum moving forwards. I cycled more times than I can remember from the darker stages all the way to the moment where everything just cut out and time stopped.
9)I did a loving kindness retreat at the start of the summer of 2018 at IMS with Michelle McDonald which was a really great addition to the practice. I had been working on the metta part of the practice for the last year and this was exactly what I was looking for. It set me up very well for another retreat a month later…
10)Prior to going to Chom Tong in 2018 for a second time I was actually offered a dream job, if and only if I was willing to remain in the area for the period of time I was scheduled to go to Thailand. The job involved working with people from 60+ different countries on a daily basis and involved being paid to go to some of those countries. I was also able to simultaneously finish up my grad program on the side. As a testament to my commitment to the practice, without even hesitating, I turned down the job. There was no way in hell I would skip the retreat for the year even with the knowledge that I had the metta retreat that summer as well. (In the end they were either bluffing or needed the services I provided. I went on the retreat and still got the job lol)
11)I went back to Chom Tong, Thailand in the summer of 2018 and it was a completely different ball game. The focus was not on attainment but on complete and unconditional loving acceptance with an unwavering understanding of the 3 characteristics in every moment of my experience. It felt very playful like there is absolutely nothing that could arise that I could not accept. No part of the cycles through the stages shook me (I say “me” here in the practical sense for ease of description). No part of the dark night shook the unwavering acceptance. Noting liking, disliking, sadness, happiness, pain, contemplating, wondering, rising, falling, they were all on the same playing field. It was different because the understanding that striving or attaining anything else was not needed. I had often tried to attain something prior to this with occasional pauses at certain stages in cycles but this time the understanding that even within the cycles there is no need to want anything else. This understanding emanated to my very core. The acceptance was so all encompassing and even playful. It felt rather fun and like the struggles I used to experience of not accepting felt so small and childish. This kept on building over several days. Then everything cut out, no time, no self, no other, no awareness. When I came back to I knew that was it. That was the end. I’ve experienced many of these blips in consciousness over the years where it feels like everything just disappears and comes back, but the after effects after this time were different. It was 2 years ago so I could not describe it in with the same clarity as I could before. I went through the remainder of the retreat on this very neutral high.
12)Then the psychological mind kicked in and the doubts started coming. Prior to this I had built a strong belief of what the experience of reaching this point would be like. Over the years I convinced myself that it would be a stable state of accepting and a life without problems that could phase me in the day to day. A part of me always knew that this was not true and that all of life’s struggles would not magically disappear once I reached this point, but I also knew I needed to create this grand mirage to keep the motivation to practice as strong as possible. If I had known what things would be like after the fact I probably wouldn’t have been as motivated to meditate as intensely as I did or sacrifice as much as I did to get there. When I came down off of the high of that shift in perception there was a lasting change but not all my life problems were erased like I had convinced myself would happen. It was not a pill my psychological mind wanted to take. I needed to keep up this lie until this point to keep the engines going at full blast. Because of this created story line I questioned whether what I had reached had actually been the conclusion of 4th path. I told myself that there is no need to get sucked into another story line and that if it was the real deal it would stick around with time but for now it was better to just brush it off and keep practicing.
13)I kept up the practice and the next year I went to the forest refuge at IMS in the summer of 2019. The cycles picked up and there was very little about them that felt like uncharted territory. It all felt very familiar. Like I have walked the path from start to finish and now I am just walking back along the same path. I heard a quote once that practice shifts from vertical growth to horizontal growth. There was something about this that I resonated with. I kept on meditating with acceptance, cycling (but not in a way that I felt like I was being taken on a journey like before but rather just noticing it all unfolding on its own and my job was to just get out of the way and watch). I still wasn’t exactly sure what was going on so I did something I would usually never spend precious retreat time doing and that was go look at some books. I picked up a Manual of Insight by Mahasi Sayadaw and flipped through it for a bit. I came across a story of two monks who are arahats. I don’t remember all the details but the main thing I got from the story is that they both went on retreat for an extended period of time. One of them got stuck thinking about some random thing while the other did not and was able to get back to the highs of 4th path (I don’t remember the exact terminology, review maybe). Anyways the point was that THE HIGH DOES NOT LAST. Yes there is a shift but meditation does not fix all of life’s problems as I had convinced myself it would. That’s when I realized that what I had experienced the year before was fruition of 4th path as I had initially thought and a state of reviewing my whole journey began. In meeting with the teacher she used the word disorienting as a common experience around now and I couldn’t have explained it any better than that. Disorienting.
14)It has now been a year since then and I’ve done a couple smaller at home retreats and it all seems to hold water.
 
Note: I know I haven’t really gone into a lot of the rudimentaries of the practice like the specifics of vibrations, figure-ground reversals, etc. and that’s largely because I talked about it a bit in the post I linked to above and also because I don’t know a lot of the technical terminology. My whole philosophy was meditate, meditate, meditate. I only learned enough of the technical verbiage to keep going in the practice without losing my mind. That leaves a lot of meditative experiences that I don’t really have a name for.
 
Note: Also I speak in here largely as you would in day to day life. I would rather not go through an in depth discussion of non-self every time I use the word “I”. I’m not writing a book here so I’m taking the practical route for the sake of simplicity.
 
In sum I have spent 8 years on this journey using meditation as the tool to walk the path for 7, meditated in retreat centers for ~137 days, which does not include 10 days volunteering/meditating at a Goenka center or the days spent in at-home retreats which are too many and varied to count. I have done formal sitting (and on occasion walking) meditation off retreat on average 2-3 hours every day for the past 6 years straight (ranging from 1 hour to 9 hours per day). I have practiced in the Theravada tradition with teachers out of the Goenka tradition, Panditarama in Burma, Chom Tong in Thailand (shout out to Mohammad, a great no bullshit teacher who will put you in your place and be there for you if you start spinning out), IMS (once in the main center for a metta retreat and once in the forest refuge). I was supposed to go to IMS for another metta retreat this summer, but everything was shut down due to covid and I camped out in the woods and did the online version of the retreat instead. I also have a great deal of gratitude to the MCTB book as it was one of the best guides off retreat that I could find. I took this practice with such intensity and bounced around different teachers and centers that I have felt isolated from the different meditation communities I visited. However, it was the intensity with which MCTB leads with and a glimpse into this online community that was enough to remind myself that there are others out there who practice in the way that I do. I was never involved on here but it was enough just to know there are others out there.
 
I’m not all that sure where I am on the journey now and that’s ok. I’m fairly certain of where I am not.
 
My goals have shifted to more externally focused to spend time in areas I put off to an extent for several years like family life, friendships, relationships, working out, academics, work. I’ll be starting a PhD program in a month to become a counseling psychologist so that will certainly take some time out of my schedule. I am still meditating daily and doing some at home retreats, but it’s certainly not with the same intensity as before. That’s my story. For now, I’ll probably just fade back into the periphery of the meditation communities as I have for the majority of this journey.

Hi Ra,

Thank you for both posts sharing your remarkable and inspiring journey. Nothing like a coma to get you back on the path.*

I think it sounds like it is time for you to really think about writing your book.

love, tim

* t-shirt of the week semi-finalist
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Thanks Tim

Comas aren't too bad when it comes to spiritual motivation and momentum if one pulls through after... highly recommend lol ;)
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Nick O, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 317 Join Date: 11/5/17 Recent Posts
Thank you for posting! A great read.

I appreciate how at a point you transitioned to a more loving and playful approach to practice. That's been my focus over the last year or so and it seems to have come in a similar stage that it did for you. 

Lately, the knot of the observer point of perception has been increasingly naked yet is more and more appearing in the field of awareness rather than as a point of reference. I'm curious to whether you engaged in any self-inquiry practices aside from the 3C's investigation.

Thanks. 
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Hmm good question. Ya know that chapter of the practice where I was so tied up in the three Cs feels like a while ago and so I don't really remember all that well. I guess it is worth noting that after third path I was enrolled in a mental health counseling program where the first year just all looks like one big therapy session lol they take the approach that only healed people heal people so the professors would tug at all our soft spots and encourage inquiry. The students also practiced counseling each other as part of our training.

Up until that point I had relied on my own efforts to address my psychological health, but I realized that if I'm going to counsel folks I should probably sit in the other seat as a client to see what it's like. I did that a couple times during this period as well.

Also immersing myself in nature when the time allows in a very intense way has been great psychologically and spiritually. Nature therapy you could call it I guess. It's humbling. I'd just go out and back pack in the mountains for a couple days and push myself to my physical limits and beyond. By beyond, I mean that sometimes I needed to call in help from friends to get my foolish ass out of the mountains lol have a few pretty scars to add to the collection from the adventures

Those are the other routes I've taken towards self inquiry that IU can think of right now.
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Stirling Campbell, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 597 Join Date: 3/13/16 Recent Posts
I didn't read your links, though I did look through your long post. Sounds like quite a journey. emoticon I'm curious: What insights do you feel you gained at stream entry and 4th path respectively?
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Stream entry was so long ago and also before the head injury where there were a lot of memory issues. Any attempt to try and guess what I was going through back then I think would be foolish on my part. I just remember knowing that meditation is the way for me. For 4th path, the big one is that everything is perfect exactly as it is. Unconditional and unwavering acceptance of what arises in the present moment is the path and not reaching for anything other than that. Something along those lines lol

Tim Farrington, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Ra K:
Stream entry was so long ago and also before the head injury where there were a lot of memory issues. Any attempt to try and guess what I was going through back then I think would be foolish on my part. I just remember knowing that meditation is the way for me. For 4th path, the big one is that everything is perfect exactly as it is. Unconditional and unwavering acceptance of what arises in the present moment is the path and not reaching for anything other than that. Something along those lines lol


hey Ra K,

write the book! Do you need another coma? Don't make the universe smite you again to get your attention, man! Just write the damned book!

love, tim
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Stirling Campbell, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 597 Join Date: 3/13/16 Recent Posts
Ra K:
Stream entry was so long ago and also before the head injury where there were a lot of memory issues. Any attempt to try and guess what I was going through back then I think would be foolish on my part. I just remember knowing that meditation is the way for me. For 4th path, the big one is that everything is perfect exactly as it is. Unconditional and unwavering acceptance of what arises in the present moment is the path and not reaching for anything other than that. Something along those lines lol

The insight that comes with Stream Entry... and its eventual stabilization at 4th path, are pretty memorable. What you say is certainly part of it, but for most I would expect there to be a deeper insight into the nature of reality than you are suggesting. WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?
Tim Farrington, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Stirling Campbell:
Ra K:
Stream entry was so long ago and also before the head injury where there were a lot of memory issues. Any attempt to try and guess what I was going through back then I think would be foolish on my part. I just remember knowing that meditation is the way for me. For 4th path, the big one is that everything is perfect exactly as it is. Unconditional and unwavering acceptance of what arises in the present moment is the path and not reaching for anything other than that. Something along those lines lol

The insight that comes with Stream Entry... and its eventual stabilization at 4th path, are pretty memorable. What you say is certainly part of it, but for most I would expect there to be a deeper insight into the nature of reality than you are suggesting. WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?

lol. fuck you, stirling. 
WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?

seriously, man. fuck you. and fuck you twice if you think anyone can answer that question. But you wouldn't know, looking down at everything from your great height.

love, tim
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Stirling Campbell, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 597 Join Date: 3/13/16 Recent Posts
Tim Farrington:

lol. fuck you, stirling. 
WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?

seriously, man. fuck you. and fuck you twice if you think anyone can answer that question. But you wouldn't know, looking down at everything from your great height.

love, tim

Tim,

There is (IMHO) a very simple reason why everything is "perfect exactly as it is" when seen from the perspective of prajna.

Yes I am pushing a little bit, but you have to ask yourself: If Ra K is truly feeling this is a "take it or leave it" moment, why check in here? One of the most valuable things about this website, IMHO, is that it is a safe place to check in. It isn't like a Reddit AMA bloodletting here. I am VERY grateful for having had the posters here question my insight, and help push me forward afterward. 

I'm not asking because I am judging, I'm asking because this is a person who appears to take the search for wisdom (prajna) seriously. If this is true, stopping at some new level of ego clinging (not that I am suggesting this is the case) is only going to be suffering. We are pushing for liberation here, right? This seems like a person who is willing to put in the effort to make it happen, and they can get the support they need in this sangha.

-

You seem like a nice guy, and I enjoy many of your posts, but if I'm honest I'm never really sure what you are getting at with posts like this. I've enjoyed exhanges with you, but do you mind if we just act like we are old friends instead of it being adversarial? I say this with the intention of kindness, friendship and respect.

Bows
Tim Farrington, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
emoticon
Stirling Campbell

WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?

There is (IMHO) a very simple reason why everything is "perfect exactly as it is" when seen from the perspective of prajna.

hi stirling, forgive me for muddying the waters with my initial response and not making it clear to you what I was getting at.

To try to put it more clearly: Bullshit.

love, tim
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Stirling Campbell, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 597 Join Date: 3/13/16 Recent Posts
Tim Farrington:

hi stirling, forgive me for muddying the waters with my initial response and not making it clear to you what I was getting at.

To try to put it more clearly: Bullshit.

love, tim

I guess Ra K and I are full of bullshit, then.







...just kidding. emoticon
Tim Farrington, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 2437 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Stirling Campbell:
Tim Farrington:

hi stirling, forgive me for muddying the waters with my initial response and not making it clear to you what I was getting at.

To try to put it more clearly: Bullshit.

love, tim

I guess Ra K and I are full of bullshit, then.







...just kidding. emoticon

hey stirling, a mentor and dear friend of mine, a wonderfully eccentric old cabalist and self-proclaimed heresiarch from Sicily, in his fruitful 80s now, said to me at the beginning of our relationship that a friend is someone, the smell of whose bullshit you find interesting. So we're all friends here, lol. emoticon

love, tim
Ra K, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 17 Join Date: 5/26/17 Recent Posts
Tim Farrington:
Stirling Campbell:
Tim Farrington:

hi stirling, forgive me for muddying the waters with my initial response and not making it clear to you what I was getting at.

To try to put it more clearly: Bullshit.

love, tim

I guess Ra K and I are full of bullshit, then.







...just kidding. emoticon

hey stirling, a mentor and dear friend of mine, a wonderfully eccentric old cabalist and self-proclaimed heresiarch from Sicily, in his fruitful 80s now, said to me at the beginning of our relationship that a friend is someone, the smell of whose bullshit you find interesting. So we're all friends here, lol. emoticon

love, tim


I used the title Take or Leave it because I actually expected some heated challenges to the claim I made. I had seen this type of response on another post and expected it on this one. It was also part of the reason I held out from sharing for a while. This journey has been a very personal one so it’s rather impersonal for sweeping judgments to be made about the path in one short post. I used that title to blunt the expected judgements ahead of time. I did not come into this expecting it to be “a safe place to check in” but maybe I had the misfortune of seeing one rough thread on here that is not representative of the community.
 
However what I just mentioned is not what I am seeing right now.
 
Tim, on your end I very much appreciate the support. I have rarely found support in the world of meditation, especially given that I bounced around different centers and monasteries. Most places will treated me as if I have no prior meditation experience because it wasn’t in “their” tradition. On top of that, not many folks had faith that a lowly householder from the states that was as young as me could possibly have the experiences I was having. One great example comes out of the Goenka tradition when we were directed to focus on the feeling of the breath at the nostrils. I couldn’t feel the breath. All I felt were vibrations and pulsations. When I informed the teacher they told me that that can’t be and that it is higher level stuff I am talking about and to just focus on the breath (something along those lines). I went on to spend the next 20 or so hours of meditating trying to feel something I couldn’t feel because the teacher said so. I was very unpleasant to say the least. This is one of many examples along this vein. Another one is moving through second path in Myanmar, the teacher knowing exactly what I was describing, but not giving me any explanation for what the hell had just happened (fruition). I don't know, I guess being esoteric is a preferred response. So yes, thank you Tim for being supporting and accepting of what I am sharing. It is appreciated in a very deep way.
 
On the other hand I see what you are getting at Stirling. I tend to appreciate constructive discussion that helps push each other forwards towards growth. I haven’t stopped the practice, but rather slowed down to a pace that I think is a lot more sustainable for the time being without forgetting about the other important areas of my life I previously neglected. The formal sitting practice has been reduced down to about an hour a day with the addition of at least 10 days of retreat once a year. I expect this to change.
 
Also, very rarely did I stop to put into words what the insights were. I just kept practicing with the faith that anything real would not need to be processed further. Stirling, your question asks me to delve into this territory in a way I am not used to but I will try to put it into words. Your inquiry is welcome.
 
The insight that comes with Stream Entry... and its eventual stabilization at 4th path, are pretty memorable. What you say is certainly part of it, but for most I would expect there to be a deeper insight into the nature of reality than you are suggesting. WHY is everything perfect exactly as it is?
 
I am not most. Most are not left in a coma a month after first path with a severe traumatic brain injury. Rather than explore the insights 7 years ago I had much more important matters to tend to, like surviving, and healing, relearning how to walk, talk, training my memory, attention, relearning words, dealing with headaches most couldn’t imagine, etc. I would say that actively delving into the insights of first path were of little importance at that time. Given that I didn’t sit with any of that stuff for a while I have largely forgotten the exact experience of the thing. What changed as a result of the path versus what changed as a result of having a newly rewired brain soon after is hard to decipher. However, I can delve into some of the things that come to mind now regarding your last question.
 
I think there are many angles to answering this question so yes to an extent I agree with you Tim. On the other hand I could try at capturing a couple of these angles, Stirling. (It feels like I’m putting my counseling skills to work in this convo right now lol)
 
Everything is perfect as it is because “as it is” is the only option. As soon as we want anything else it immediately adds a layer of unpleasantness to the experience. To pick that apart though, I’m not saying one must be completely accepting of everything and anything at all times on the surface level. I think that’s a cognitive interpretation that a lot of folks seem to misunderstand. When something unpleasant happens, that is an experience that is perfect “as it is”. When we have a physical or emotional or mental reaction to that experience that might dislike, or push away, that is another separate experience that is perfect “as it is”. This is a difference that a bunch of people tend to miss I think when adopting the idea of accepting everything with a clenched jaw just trying to put on a show.
 
Another component is that it’s all relative so there is equal value in all of it. For example, some days there is a lovely sunset and some days it is cloudy and rainy. However if it was sunny every day we would likely become rather accustomed to the scene and miss the beauty of it. It is precisely because of those cloudy days that we come to appreciate the sunsets with such depth. For that reason they are worth being cherished equally. This description could be used with many many examples when looking at that which is pleasant and that which is unpleasant.
 
Another angle is how out of control the whole thing is anyways, which touches on the door of nonself. It is all just happening because all aspects of the sensory world, including thoughts and emotions and reactions is simply another experience that happens.
 
I’m sure there are plenty of angles to explore and better ways to articulate them, but these are the ones that come to mind when I think of the WHY behind everything is perfect as it is. I have to get back to work anyways lol
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Take It or Leave It

Posts: 5304 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
What a great reply, Ra K! 

Wow, you have been through a great deal, and yet you have maintained your practice and navigated through it. I'm not qualified to assess your claim, but I believe congratulations are in order for what you have accomplished regardless. 

I can so relate to being a western householder without experience within any specific lineage and how that holds you back in people's views, and I know from my own experience that things can happen pretty fast despite those ideas. Instructions adapted to the wrong level suck. Of course you can't stick to the breath as a separate and continuous entity when awareness so clearly shows that the notion of breath in that sense is completely arbitrary and misleading. I'm glad to hear that you didn't listen too much to that nonsense but trusted experience. 

I hope you will like it here at DhO. Sorry to hear that you have seen its worst side. It can be amazingly helpful and a true lifeline. I look forward to reading more of your posts. 

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