Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

Posts: 1538 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
[Link to previous log]

It feels like a good point to start a new log. I really don’t know where I am or what I’m doing now, so I figure the safest option is just to keep practicing until I’m sure I’m a stream-enterer! As always, comments and questions are welcome thanks.

I’ve been having some dreams about my family, which is unusual because my dreams are usually about strangers and more abstract fears and anxieties. In one I have to take a separation from my wife and I feel very sad about it. In another I have a Ferrari parked in the garage, my Dad is teasing me about it and I feel embarrassed. In another one my wife starts flirting with other men in a pub and I get jealous. 

I’m also going to bed earlier when I’m less tired and watching how the dream process starts up as I’m falling asleep. I often meditate after waking up in the middle of the night and then go back to sleep, which seems to work well for me and increases dream lucidity. In Guru Viking’s interview with Ron Serrano he mentions the Threat Simulation Theory of dreaming, which says that dreams evolved as a way of using non-productive sleep time to simulate threatening events in order to better deal with them in future. Since learning about that I’m noticing how the early dream segments are often about threats and dangers from the same day. Later dreams tend to deal with stressful situations from further in the past and/or deeper in the subconscious.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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This is an update on my experience following the spate of insights a few weeks ago (logged here and here).

My sense of the body is less solid. I look at my hands and have to remind myself that they are my hands, otherwise they seem like just more stuff appearing in space. My sense of the body is mostly energy waves and vibrations, with other random sensations appearing from time to time which don’t automatically get apprehended as belonging to my body like they used to.

The sense of space being centered around me is attenuated. Somehow all parts of space seem to carry similar weight and it’s more obvious that the sense of space is being fabricated on the fly.

I can’t seem to recreate the sense of a unified field of awareness any more. It seems like stuff just appears at the various sense doors and is clearly known without the need for anything extra. This is weird in meditation because I can’t seem to focus on anything specific any more, since there’s no sense of having a focal point of awareness that I could move like I used to think I was doing. I try to focus on the breath but all I can detect are a bunch of sensations and trying to think of that as a single object feels unnatural and kind of impossible.

In general, objects seem to have lost a lot of their thing-ness. If I look at an apple then it seems more like just a blob of green rather than a clearly defined object with associated thoughts and feelings. If I try to visualize an apple with my eyes closed then it doesn’t seem to work as well. I say the word ‘apple’ and try hard but only get a slight sense of what I used to get. It’s like my brain is saying ‘why on earth would you want me to do that?!’ Overall this is giving experience the feel of a soft seventh jhana (no-thingness). This was mildly disconcerting at first and it took me a while to figure out what was going on. I can still interact with objects fine when I need to in daily life, it just seems artificial and uncomfortable to try to think about them any more than that.

My emotions still seem to be less sticky – arising and passing in the present (self-liberating I think they call it in Dzogchen). They can still be very strong, but I’m reacting less to them (for now).

My thought stream is still very active but it feels more like background noise which I can just ignore if I want (which is a lot of the time now).

My personality structure is unchanged - still basically narcissistic. I do feel less inclined to translate my narcissistic thoughts into speech. Maybe if I was voicing 50% of my narcissistic thoughts before then it’s now down to 10-20%. But I feel that if I don't continue to work with this issue then that could go back up.

My sense of time hasn’t recovered anywhere near to what it was before. Thoughts of the distant past pop up quite frequently (I guess as part of a process of ongoing purification) but there doesn’t seem to be as much new memory being laid down, probably because of the reduced emotional stickiness of experience. I’m having very vivid childhood memories which I haven’t had for decades, but can’t remember much about what happened yesterday. This could just be an effect of premature aging lol (my grandmother used to say stuff like this when she was in her 80s). Any kind of thoughts about the future are a headache, although I can interact with the future when necessary (e.g. making decisions) seemingly without needing to think about it too much. Basically any excursion out of the present moment is immediately seen to be an unnecessary source of discomfort and stress.

Re-reading what I’ve written, it might sound like I’m trying to say that I’ve entered a dramatic alternative reality. When I used to read accounts like this in the past I would think something like ‘wow, that really seems like an impressive place to try to get to’. But it feels more muted and natural than that. It’s more like ‘oh, this is just the way things are, I’m surprised I put so much effort into convincing myself otherwise for so long’. In many ways it reminds me of the way I used to view myself and the world when I was a young kid.

My experience is certainly not wonderful all the time. The experience of “seeing though time” (impermanence fruition?) was 3 weeks ago and for the first 2 weeks my craving levels were minimal. There was a kind of fine oscillation between nibbana and samsara. Over the last week craving has come up a bit, but nowhere near the levels before. There has actually been some quite unpleasant experience, probably because I went through the process of deconstructing space, awareness and time quickly without allowing time (!) for the insights to settle. So I find my mind still craving at times for the way things were before, although I don’t have the sense that I actually want to (or could) go back. There’s still an excess of energy in my head and it will probably take years for it to rebalance lower in the body, which is uncomfortable. To a certain extent the perception of dukkha is skewed by the “suffering less, noticing more” factor. Having had a good taste of nibbana, samsara/craving just feels more icky. Having said that, my attitude towards samsara has changed dramatically. I used to think that I had to get samsara (e.g. energy imbalances, unsatisfactory jhanas, personality problems) all sorted out before I could experience nibbana. Now I’ve experienced nibbana as the absence of craving for experience to be different from the way it is, I know that samsara is never very far away from nibbana. At times it feels like I’m 80-90% in samsara, but I know that I just have to stop for a moment, relax the craving and then it’s like ‘ah ok, nibbana is still there, no problem’. So I don’t feel the same wish for samsara to “hurry up and finish”, I’m more accepting of it as a pre-defined process which I don’t have any control over and will take as long as it takes and is basically ok just the way it is (even if it never finishes, which I suspect it won’t). A lot of the time I’m just busy with family life and not thinking about this stuff at all, so overall life feels pretty normal.

My basic sense of the last few weeks is that I saw some doors opening up and ran through them as quickly as I could before they swung shut or I gave myself time to think about it (being an over thinker means I can usually talk myself out of anything). This has basically been my modus operandi all my life when faced with a big decision which I sensed was the right way to go but lacked confidence. That strategy has usually resulted in quick changes in circumstances, as well as making a fool out of myself and creating some mess along the way (narcissist as always). I’m planning to write a longer post on narcissism and spirituality in a separate thread at some point, because I feel like that’s something I genuinely have to contribute.

I’ll reiterate my point from my earlier posts – nibbana as I experience it is absolutely not a special kind of experience. It's the same old experiences, just experienced without the craving for them to be any different from the way they in fact are. The first time I experienced nibbana after such a long time in samsara then it did indeed feel like a very dramatic “mind moment” which did something significant to my brain’s wiring (breaking the craving function?). But over time it starts to feel very familiar and normal, it’s samsara which starts to seem like the outlier. I would go so far as to say that craving for nibbana is the surest way of avoiding it, whereas accepting samsara for what it is – the constant cycling through different planes of existence – is the easiest (and only?) way to experience nibbana. I also feel more strongly now than I did after the initial experience that nibbana is not guaranteed and I could easily get swamped by samsara again. It still feels very much like a beginning …

END NOTE:
I'm still sticking by my story that the experience of nibbana is something I've known on some level all along and was merely hiding from myself by believing it was an extra special experience I had to go looking for. That might sound charlatanic, but it is honestly the way it feels to me. Obviously from my story I did actually put a lot of effort into seeking and practice in its various guises, but as far as I can see the point of seeking is to exhaust the seeking energy itself. But yes there's all the difference in the world between pretending there is nowhere to get to and actually getting to the point where you can accept it. And of course practice does fulfil a very important function other than to exhaust the seeking energy - and that function is purification. It's abundantly clear to me now that insight and morality occupy orthogonal axes. (I'm using "morality" here in a wide sense, not just precepts but general personal development including psychological & personality issues as well as energetic development.) There is a relationship but it's not linear (greater morality does not necessarily imply greater insight and greater insight doesn't necessarily imply greater morality). As far as I can see, greater morality makes for a smoother integration of insight when it occurs, but the actual impact of morality on the chance of insight occuring is unclear to me. To a certain extent, greater morality helps to create a smoother life and clearer mind in which insight has a better chance of occuring. But on the other hand, attaching to moral development as a cause in itself beyond a certain point seems like it might make it harder to to abandon (at least temporarily) the worldviews which prevent one from seeing the ultimate insight - the equi-valence of all experience (which might sound like amorality to someone fixated on morality). Anyway, that's kind of an academic discussion.
shargrol, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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At a certain phase of my practice, I got very interested in ill will. Mostly things had improved in my life with the understanding that ill will needs to be created by bringing aversion, greed, or indifference to what was already occuring. So I got a little crazy for hunting down ill will and allowing it to relax into the absence of aversion, greed, and indifference. I also had to remember that part of me was identified with this hunting, so when there was the absense of AGI and it felt like I wasn't doing a good job, I had to remember to recognize THAT as greed for something different, aversion to the absence of ill will, and indifference to neutral experience.

Seems like nibbana might be your thing. It might be interesting to explore hunting around for any experience that doesn't nibbana. For something to not nibbana, there is some aspect of aversion, greed, or indifference "holding on to" what has already happened. Maybe use formal practice to look at sensations, urges, emotions, and thought categories that don't nibbana and try to find and relax the associated aversion, greed, or indifference(?) Remember to also notice any inability to relax when there is no apparent AGI, that usually means there is more subtle AGI to see.

The reason I mention this is when there are changes in psychology (eg 30% reduction in expressed narcissism), it can be hard to get traction in practice because everything feels so slippery and... easy, in a way. So it takes a bit more intention and investigation to continue practicing at the new level and usually it takes some kind of personally interesting and intentional/structured practice to help practice get traction again.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Thanks shargrol, that does seem like a key issue for me. In all my excitement about insights etc., I have been overlooking the fact that I still have some kind of basic aversion to equanimity. It could be as simple as saying 'equanimity just doesn't feel like me'. Because of my poor self-image (narcissistic hatred of the true self basically), it seems that if practice is not difficult to some extent then I lose interest. I will try to bring some more awareness around this and figure out ways to counterbalance it. It feels like the right thing to do is to try to rebuild my self-image somewhat in a more equanimous fashion. Even just saying that gives me an icky feeling in the stomach as if I was somehow not being true to myself! Maybe my motto should be "there's nothing wrong with equanimity!" If anyone else has any suggestions I'm all ears ...
shargrol, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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The question could be "what is wrong with this equanimity?"... which will point you to where you are still holding on to some contrived sense of problemness and contrived sense of needing a self to solve this assumed problemness.

I don't think hatred of the true self is really possible, but there can definely be hatred of contrived problemness and hatred of a false-but-assumed-to-be-true self. 
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I'm still trying to understand the relationship between the psychological theory of narcissim (true self vs false self) and the Buddhist theory of not-self (selfing as a process rather than identity). As I understand it, the false self is the collection of "external" identities you use to interact with people in different interpersonal situations, whereas the true self is how you feel about yourself when you're on your own and not thinking about other people. The narcissist is over-invested in the false self and less in touch with the true self. But from a buddhist perspective it seems that even the true self should still be seen as a collection of processes rather than a stable "core" identity. I'd be interested to know how non-narcissists see this.

As a narcissist I tend to think about the world more in terms of the reaction I get from other people, i.e. interaction with the false self. It seems like this preoccupation with reactivity might translate in meditation into a greater interest in the more dynamic states where something is clearly happening as a reaction (anger, pain, ecstasy, insights) and corresponding tendency to discount or ignore equanimity, which is characterized by a lack of reactivity to pain or pleasure. So yes, maybe there doesn't need to be investment in a true self to solve this assumed problem. Maybe it's just another case of "seeing things as they are" and accepting them, which has tended to work for me in the past with assumed problems on the path. 

I agree that "hatred of the true self" doesn't seem to make much sense. The condition of narcissism is really characterized by deep inner feelings of shame (arising from early experiences). Investment in various false selves is designed to compensate for this and works for a while, but eventually creates more problems than it solves which perpetuates the feelings of shame and escalates the cycle. Rather than talking about "self hatred" it seems more helpful to characterize it as frustration and anger arising from seeing the continual failure of this strategy.
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Chris Marti, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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 As I understand it, the false self is the collection of "external" identities you use to interact with people in different interpersonal situations, whereas the true self is how you feel about yourself when you're on your own and not thinking about other people. 

I'm not sure where your definitions come from, but you seem to be trying to force-fit psychology and Buddhism. I suggest it would be better for you to keep those domains separate for the purposes of understanding what they are (first), how they related to you (second), and how they can inform your meditation practice (third). Otherwise, you're just making both a mass of confusion, which is not helpful.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I’ve tracked my remaining ill will down to a deep-seated feeling of shame. The best way I can describe it is the sick feeling in my stomach I had as a young kid when I knew that I had done something wrong and it was only a matter of time before I was found it. Actually it's been there most of my life and it’s the root of my narcissism. It's probably the deepest core feeling I identify with. It’s very much on the level of pre-verbal feeling now, because my rational mind is mostly free of such thoughts. It must have started very early, because I’ve been acting out as long as I can remember and I can see that my son developed similar feelings in the first three years of life. There’s a lot of socialization that has to happen between that and full blown NPD, but that’s the root of it.

It’s a funny kind of practice, because the more uncomfortable I feel and the more my mind tries to wander, the more I know it is working! There’s a small amount of bleed-through in daily life because I’m walking around with this uncomfortable feeling of guilt and shame all the time. I recognize this phenomenon from elements practice from WUTYL - the pattern is "fighting back for survival" - although I'm not sure where shame fits into buddhist terminology (other than as a sort of generalized ill will towards oneself). I see how it fuels my narcissistic behavior, because there’s a constant urge to deflect attention from the uncomfortable feeling (which of course leads me to create situations where I attract further shame). It also explains my fear of intimacy and hypersensitivity to perceived criticisms and slights.

Psychology aside, I really feel like this is the root of ill will for me and I just need to sit with it and let awareness work it’s magic. Erm wasn’t one of my recent realizations that awareness is a fabrication? Apparently it’s still a useful one! It’s interesting how periods of expansive opening seem to be followed by contraction. I’m listening to Guru Viking’s interview with Stephen Snyder where he likens the awakening process to playing an accordion, which just about sums it up. I’m also starting to wonder whether the fetter model doesn’t have some kind of cyclical or fractal element to it, where one makes repeated passes through each stage at deeper levels of unfettering …
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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It's amazing how much resistance there is simply to experiencing this deep feeling of shame. My mind is spinning 100s of crazy scenarios just to avoid it (all of which would make it worse). It's still just dependent origination - a feeling and a reaction - but wow, how much more personal can it get. And then eventually when I settle down and can experience the feeling without the reaction it's like 'oh ok, it's just another feeling'. Damn the Buddha knew what he was talking about, that's the origination (and vanishing) of so much shit right there. I could have sworn I started to feel some dependently originated tears welling up in my eyes.
Tim Farrington, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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It sounds like "core trauma" territory, which is no cliche, it is a truly potent, even uniquely potent, ground. The power of it as it starts to show . . . I know Olivier touched on it last October, I think, and Shargrol was great with him then. Linda walked me through a few shattering experiences of it last summer. And yes, those DO tears flow, but there is an incredible sweetness to them once you understand what is happening. It is a godawful blessing. It allows the heart to truly begin to heal in a way that nothing else does.
shargrol, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I really like Mario Martinez' "Mind body code" material for healing core wounds. His theory is that we are either mostly wounded by shame, abanonment, or betrayal. 

The important thing is to go through a gradual maturing process.

First, root around and see if you can really find the core feeling, the core thought associations, the core events in life that created shame. This is tough work and needs to be done with "right effort". You want to come in contact with it but without having it throw you back into retraumatization. This really is what therapy is all about, recollecting these memories into adult consciousness and digesting them without becoming retraumatized.

Second, bring in some counter-evidence so that this "shamed identity" isn't felt so one-sidedly. For shame, the noble healing field is created by a sense of honor. People who live in shame need to spend time reminding themselves of all the honorable things they have done in their life. For example, we can realize all the times that we tried to stand up for ourselves, tried to move beyond being a victim, did the right thing for ourself or others. No one is perfect of course, but when we are trapped by core wounds we tend to forget our better self.

The third is transcending the dichotomy. After a lot of the material has been digested and healed, it's important to ask/explore "if I was neither totally ashamed nor perfectly honorable, what would I be?" Usually the answer is some kind of "naturally being me" kind of feeling. That's really the goal. Our entire life is often this battle between what's good and bad in our nature. If we can manage to heal the past an be able to see the past as the past --- then another stage of life is possible that is much more organically vague and flexible, not the old highs and lows of wallowing in shame or trying to cling to honor.

Hopefully that makes some sense.... just quickly trying to summarize what I've experienced myself.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Thanks Tim and Shargrol for your support and suggestions. I needed a few days to sit with it and figure out what’s going on.

I’ve done maybe 3-4 years of therapy over the last 15 years and I feel like I know the storyline and cast of characters inside out by now. Talking about stuff was really helpful at first but the returns diminished over time. I also tried in therapy the approach of reminding myself about the more positive aspects of my life, but that just felt like sticking on a band-aid. Eventually I got to the point a couple of years ago with depression where I gave up on therapy and just sat with it because I didn’t know what else to do. That’s when I realized that my depression was a cognitive defense strategy to avoid feelings of anger.

I feel like a similar thing just happened with this feeling of shame. After a couple of days I realized that there was a much broader feeling of sadness underneath. Actually I’m not sure that what I’m calling shame is really a feeling at all, it seems more like a secondary condition caused by resisting and judging the underlying feeling of sadness. I know only too well where it originally came from – insecure attachment to an emotionally unavailable mother and fear of an angry hypercritical father. Over time it seems like I started to shield myself from the feelings of sadness, isolation and loneliness with a kind of cognitive strategy which went something like ‘I feel bad therefore I must be bad’. Identifying as bad led to bad behavior which caused more guilt and shame. The continual failure of this strategy caused frustration and anger. Eventually the whole vicious cycle became overwhelming and I started to shut it down with depression. I feel like I’ve traced the whole thing back to its source now.

The surprising thing about the feeling of sadness is that it’s not actually that unpleasant once I allow myself to feel it - in fact it’s a relief finally to be able to feel it after all this time. It’s actually quite a natural, sweet, tender and expansive feeling. I guess I shouldn’t be that surprised, doesn’t the Culavedalla Sutta say ‘resistance-obsession is to be abandoned with regard to painful feeling'. I guess I was ok with applying this to more transient feelings but didn’t realize it could equally well be applied to “core personality” feelings. Most of my meditation at the moment is sitting with this feeling and watching the ways I still try to avoid it, either through thinking about it or mind-wandering. Off the cushion as well I’m trying to stay aware of the feeling and watching how I try to avoid it by distracting myself with other stuff.  Again I’m reminded that the emotions which you don’t allow yourself to feel end up driving your life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that avoidance of this sadness feeling has been the main driver behind my NPD.

Why did this come up now? Partly I think it’s because the recent insights opened up my psyche a bit more, weakened my defenses and allowed me to drop deeper down into my experience. I also think there’s an element of watching my son go through similar developmental stages (thankfully not as severe) which tends to trigger related stuff for me. I see how tempting it is when confronted with sadness in oneself or others to try to “fix it” for fear of it becoming overwhelming, which of course creates the shame which actually can become overwhelming.

In terms of elements, the feeling of sadness seems to match the fire element most closely – feeling isolated, separated and lonely. The schematic reaction to that is either consuming & clinging to comforts to assuage the feeling (check), or else increasing the intensity of a situation (e.g. provoking a conflict) to create a sort of fake intimacy which then leads to more loneliness (check). In terms of fetters I guess it’s broadly 5th fetter territory (sadness leading to ill will). Releasing the sadness is deepening my level of absorption, getting closer to jhana (which would presumably be a pre-requisite for the attachment of fetters 6-7).

Shargrol your point about transcending the dichotomy is something that is really starting to resonate with me, especially since reading up on how common “splitting” is in narcissists. It explains my tendency towards binary thinking, e.g. seeing people (myself or others) or situations as alternating between all good or all bad. I’m starting to relax that tendency now and it is another big relief, being able to hold contradictory statements in mind at the same time. In a sense binary thinking is a form of ignorance – allowing oneself to be squeezed out of the “excluded middle” by two-valued logic and ignoring other possibilities. I can see how a lot of my energy has been diverted to the aversive and attractive extremes of experience and ignoring the more neutral middle ground. The extremes actually occupy only a small amount of the field, but by overly focusing on them it makes the world feel much more aversive/attractive than it actually is.
Tim Farrington, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I feel like a similar thing just happened with this feeling of shame. After a couple of days I realized that there was a much broader feeling of sadness underneath. Actually I’m not sure that what I’m calling shame is really a feeling at all, it seems more like a secondary condition caused by resisting and judging the underlying feeling of sadness. I know only too well where it originally came from – insecure attachment to an emotionally unavailable mother and fear of an angry hypercritical father. Over time it seems like I started to shield myself from the feelings of sadness, isolation and loneliness with a kind of cognitive strategy which went something like ‘I feel bad therefore I must be bad’. Identifying as bad led to bad behavior which caused more guilt and shame. The continual failure of this strategy caused frustration and anger. Eventually the whole vicious cycle became overwhelming and I started to shut it down with depression. I feel like I’ve traced the whole thing back to its source now.

Yes, amen, the sadness underneath. I have spent a lot of time in grief work, and the five basic Kubler-Ross stages--- denial, anger, negotiation, depression, acceptance--- some to have a fundamental application throughout deep work. Getting to the sadness, the hurt, the original wound of the grief, the pain that led inexorably to all the secondary reactions and formations, is the key to the healing. because it is the opening of the original psychic dilemma, before the instinctive (fragile-self protective) denial. The miracle of uncovering this sadness and this wound now is that acceptance is finally possible: the impossible, unimaginable living with the real loss, the real failure of love, the real wound to the developing self, the original vulnerability and the original violation--- and the mysterious grace of the reality of "acceptance." What makes that "acceptance" real, and not just another, more sophisticated reboot into another, more sophisticated denial, and another inevitable round of half-fixes grinding toward depression? The place you've got to, your capacity now to see the larger dynamics: to see that at your most vulnerable, you were damaged by the people who meant to care for you the most. Their best efforts at giving you what they thought you needed to thrive, to live in the world as they knew it--- you know better than anyone at this point how that inept state of the art love they gave you--- and it was all you were being given, then, when you needed nurturing--- was toxic and inadequate. They failed in what every parent wants most to do, to give their child a solid basis in being secure in love, the trust in reality needed for a good life. Letting yourself feel the sadness at that damage now, you say it is, surprisingly, actually "a natural, sweet, tender and expansive feeling." The tenderness is key: you can feel compassion for yourself, for grinding through all those years of inadequate coping, and feel the sweetness, the innocence, the natural grief for the love that failed, can recognize the grief for failed love at the root. And even maybe, given your lucidity and analysis of what your parents were dealing with on their own psychic plates, begin to feel compassion for them, as loving damaged fuck-ups doing their pathetic best, hamstrung by their own unresolved isses. Forgiveness becomes possible, a ripple of healing going out from your work at the heart of the damage. It is so fascinating, it seems to me as close to a vivid, palpable, real-time realization of what it might mean to really break the endless cycles of rebirth, the chains of karma clanking through the same compulsive circles through time: to get off the samsaric wheel. That natural, sweet, tender and expansive feeling needs nothing more, craves nothing more. That healing is where the gap in samsara shows most clearly: an ancient flame of endless pain snuffed for lack of the toxic air it burned on. A quiet hush, a wisp of smoke. 

shargrol, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Good stuff you guys!
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Thank you Tim. That was beautiful and inspirational, really.
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Chris Marti, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Great discussion here!
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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RIP Agnostic!

Time to stop pretending that I'm anything other than a middle-aged househusband and frustrated narcissist. emoticon 
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I’m continuing to sit with powerful core feelings of sadness, loneliness, shame, anger, fear and anxiety. It’s the same pattern every day – I wake up after 4-6 hours from unsatisfactory dreams with a yucky feeling in my stomach and then sit for 2 hours to process the feelings, sinking down into them and letting awareness work its magic. Two years ago I would have been depressed and one year ago it would have been dark night, but now I accept it mostly as a process of physical and emotional release. It’s quite tiring and there’s a little bleedthrough, but it seems minimal compared with the depth of the release. The hardest thing is when I am tired I start identifying with the old stuff, but mostly I’m able to remind myself that my current situation is fine and it’s a process of purification rather than self-torment.

Most of these feelings must have originated very early in my life. There are a bunch of memories popping up, but it feels like the key ones are either forgotten or repressed. Either way, I feel like I can trust my body to know what to do. It stores the physical record of whatever experiences and emotions were repressed and the important thing is to release them into current awareness, rather than to understand the specific causes necessarily. The process goes in waves, sometimes painfully blocked and other times flowing more freely and equanimous. My level of absorption is generally deepening with each wave of release.

I’ve been reading more widely about narcissism and seeing how it covers a whole spectrum of emotional repression. I read a short book called The Drama of The Gifted Child by Alice Miller which explains very directly how children have to repress their emotions when they are too uncomfortable for their parents. This leads to narcissism – estrangement from the “true self” (direct awareness of one’s physical/emotional state) and compensatory over-investment in the “false self” (external/interpersonal identity). It also explains how depression is the underbelly of narcissism, arising when the false self is threatened. I’m also seeing the process much more clearly now in my relationship with my own children – how I unconsciously transmit repressed emotions via projection, and how that is cleared up once brought into awareness.

It seems to me that narcissism is eighth fetter territory – conceit – the habitual tendency to compare oneself to others and assume a position of superiority or contempt in order to compensate for core wounds. I reckon about half my posts are still narcissistic – written to get a reaction or convey superiority, rather than being helpful or genuinely sharing experience.  I’m trying to get that number down by recognizing a certain “narcissistic feeling” I get when I’m about to post that way.

It’s the third time it’s happened to me but it’s still surprising how strongly practice swings between insight and morality-concentration (“personal development”). After each insight shift it seems like everything is easy and obvious, but it quickly becomes apparent that the insight has merely opened the door to experiencing a new depth of repressed experience. I wonder if this is partly what the ignorance fetter is about – as in ‘ignoring’ or repressing experience. It seems to me that psychological defense mechanisms really are the root of dissatisfaction and problems, as well as the engine of dependent origination.

As for all those fancy perceptual upgrades I was crowing about a few weeks ago, things don’t feel that special any more. If I had to guess, I would say that half of them evaporated and half of them got incorporated into a new baseline. If I sit and focus then I can recover some of the stuff that evaporated and make experience feel more special, but I also have the sense of ‘why bother?’ The biggest change for me since December is that I just have a whole new level of acceptance for experience being whatever it is in the present moment.

Just adding a couple of links here for anyone who is following along. This post expresses my doubts about stream entry, as well as some other stuff downthread related to practice and the path. This post is about my narcissism in more detail (you have to hit ‘More Messages’ at the bottom and search on 'NPD' to find it).
Tim Farrington, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I’m continuing to sit with powerful core feelings of sadness, loneliness, shame, anger, fear and anxiety. It’s the same pattern every day – I wake up after 4-6 hours from unsatisfactory dreams with a yucky feeling in my stomach and then sit for 2 hours to process the feelings, sinking down into them and letting awareness work its magic. Two years ago I would have been depressed and one year ago it would have been dark night, but now I accept it mostly as a process of physical and emotional release. It’s quite tiring and there’s a little bleedthrough, but it seems minimal compared with the depth of the release. The hardest thing is when I am tired I start identifying with the old stuff, but mostly I’m able to remind myself that my current situation is fine and it’s a process of purification rather than self-torment.


This is beautiful. It's such a unique place to have gotten to, and your perspective on it is keeping it in the realm of blessing rather than affliction. Context, context, context: a lot of work and study and hard practice coming to fruition in this yuckiness! Psychologically, this is that shamed and damaged kid finally getting the kind of care and human presence that he really needed, the kind of acceptance as he was/is that allows him to be his best self, the kind of tender and non-judging being-with and dareisayit loving attention that trumps the damage simply because it is a better way to be. It's a time intensive practice, but it's the right can of worms, and your attitude toward it seems spot on, mate
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Thanks a lot Tim.

It's still surprising to me how I could have gone through life for so long carrying this big old bag of rocks without being aware of it, even after having some insights. Obviously I was aware that something was wrong, but I was really only seeing the tip of the iceberg. And all that drama and pain, all for the want of a little self awareness, especially when it must have been so obvious to those around me. And then to look around and see much healthier people still carrying their own invisible baglets. It brings tears to my eyes. There is something strangely beautiful though about finally running out of rope, putting myself in a situation where there is nowhere left to hide.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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You're bang on about the inner child. It's so obvious to me now that I feel angry when my son shows weakness or makes mistakes because that's how I was treated as a child. The only way through it is for me to feel my own vulnerability and fallibility. It's a bitter irony that perfectionism causes us to make much bigger mistakes in the long run than if we just accepted our smaller mistakes as they happen.
shargrol, modified 2 Months ago.

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good stuff. really good stuff.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Thank you shargrol, thank you for everything.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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I'm getting drawn into a much more erect posture when meditating. Usually I sit in a chair with my back half supported, but recently I've had this feeling of strong energy pooling in my belly with nowhere to go. I found myself naturally sitting up with a much straighter spine, which draws the  energy into supporting the posture and breathing, allowing for a better overall flow. It's even better on the cushion, because of the more stable grounding, despite the fact that I can't cross my legs very well. It feels like I'm turning my body into some kind of lightening conductor to allow better vertical energy flows. Maybe a better analogy would be one of those giant kelp attached to the ocean floor which sway in the currents. Even lying in bed I feel myself wanting to straighten my spine a bit to get a better energy flow.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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It feels like a complete change of direction this phase of practice. Before it was 'not me, not mine, not I', now it's 'this is my body, these are my feelings, this is my experience'. It feels like taking ownership of the 90% of my experience which I was ignoring before when I was so focused on insight and awakening. Ok I wouldn't have had the ability to process some of this stuff without some insight, but it's amazing how much insight you can have and still have a ton of stuff repressed. A lot of it seems quite neutral on the surface, but once I start to let 'er rip it turns out to be pretty powerful. I did work on some of the grossest reactive patterns before, but this is about much more pervasive layers of aversion, greed and indifference. Just one example - I'm identifying a certain basic level of resentment towards my son simply because I perceive him as getting more attention than I did at his age. Even when I feel like I'm being ok with him, it's there niggling away at me and eroding the quality of the attention I'm giving him. So I'm just trying to bring as much of this stuff into
awareness now while I still have the chance, because it's already quite late in the day.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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I'm starting to wonder whether people with strong narcissistic tendencies (such as myself) actually find it easier to make progress in insight, at the expense of psychological development. They learn to disassociate from their body and emotions (true self) at a young age and focus instead on consciously developing their external identity (false self). When they hear about not-self (anatta) it's like a light bulb going on - 'oh yeah, of course self is just a fabricated process without any core stable identity, I've always known that!' 
shargrol, modified 2 Months ago.

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George S
I'm starting to wonder whether people with strong narcissistic tendencies (such as myself) actually find it easier to make progress in insight, at the expense of psychological development. They learn to disassociate from their body and emotions (true self) at a young age and focus instead on consciously developing their external identity (false self). When they hear about not-self (anatta) it's like a light bulb going on - 'oh yeah, of course self is just a fabricated process without any core stable identity, I've always known that!' 
I suspect there is some truth to that. I can think of a handful of people that made very fast progress towards first path and even second, but then third was like hitting a wall. These folks sometimes go to the dark side and really start rationalizing their flaws with spiritual language and then can become quite deluded. The bigger the problems they are having is only evidence of how advanced their practice must be, they rationalize.

​​​​​​​They can start blaming their lack of further progress on their teachers or the tradition. And they can want to be seen as an advanced student (which they sort of are) and expect excessive respect/deferrence , even though from the outside everyone can really see they are stuggling mightily with their own stuff. Sometimes these people break off and form little echo chambers with them as leader and a few followers who have also drunk the koolaid, creating a codependent group.

This rarely happens, but it can be shocking to see someone who seemed to be making progress in humility through practice and then they suddenly give up and blow up into a culty narcissit again.
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Siavash, modified 2 Months ago.

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 Hey George,
A lot of these narcissistic tendencies that you describe, I find them in myself. Some weak some stronger. Although I don't know if I have easier time with insight. Although I think after once pointed out, it's so obvious that everything is fabricated, but that doesn't seem to me to be a big insight (Maybe the deeper versions of it is, but I don't know).
  
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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 Hey Siavash,
As far as I can see there is a wide spectrum of narcissistic traits. At the extreme there are the ~1% of people who have NPD (some of whom are sociopaths or psychopaths), then there is a larger band of people with strong narcissistic traits (and NPD doesn't have an exact boundary), then there is the majority of people who have weaker narcissistic traits. I don’t know how common or even possible it is for someone to have no narcissistic traits at all. It seems that most people experience some degree of trauma and repression in the process of separating from caregivers and adjusting to society. The eighth fetter is pride/conceit, which could be a subtle form of narcissism – considering oneself to be just a little bit special or different or better than others (as a defense mechanism against early separation experiences). And the tenth fetter is ignorance, which could be a subtle form of repression – ignoring that part of our experience which makes us most uncomfortable.

Another thing one has to take into consideration is situational circumstances. One person might have fairly weak narcissistic tendencies but get into a position of power or renown, which leads them to aggravate their tendencies. Another person might have strong narcissistic tendencies but be in a diminutive position surrounded by more stable people, which gives them less room for their tendencies to proliferate. And then there is the whole distinction between “overt” narcissists and “covert” narcissists, i.e. codependent types who get narcissistic supply through their suffering at the hands of overt narcissists. Also one can flip between overt and covert narcissism depending on the situation. (Personally I had an overt narcissist father and covert narcissist mother, I reckon I’m about 2/3 overt and 1/3 covert.)

Woops, this post has turned into more than the simple reply to your comment I intended! I’m not directing all this stuff at you, just putting it out there for anyone who is reading and wondering about such things, also to clarify my own thinking and get feedback.

I found Alice Miller’s book The Drama of The Gifted Child really helpful as a gentle introduction to how parents pass narcissistic tendencies on to their children via emotional repression (despite the fact that the author seems to have done the same thing to her child). Sam Vaknin’s book Malignant Self Love is encyclopedic and really gives the insider’s view of narcissism for anyone who is seriously interested, but he is pretty pessimistic about the prognosis whereas my experience so far has been that a certain degree of relief seems possible via awareness. I’ve started reading A. H. Almaas’ book The Point of Existence (Transformations of Narcissism in Self-Realization), which is a bit convoluted but seems broadly to make the point that there is a whole spectrum of narcissism and, wherever you are on that spectrum, the issue needs to be confronted at some point on the path. Also, last night I started watching Ken Wilber’s BATGAP interview were he talks about waking up vs cleaning up and really clearly how repression and projection work. He does say that “virtually none” of the traditional spiritual traditions deal with it effectively, because we only learned about repression since Freud (and puts in a bit of a plug for his Integral Institute). I’m not sure I fully agree with that, given the sutta focus on indifference/ignorance and resistance/repression, also dependent origination flows out of ignorance and you could argue that rebirth is a form of projection. Anyway, I found it a helpful talk and I’m just throwing these sources out there for anyone who is interested.

Cheers,
George

 
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Siavash, modified 2 Months ago.

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 Thanks George, this is helpful.
I resonate with what you describe, since my father too has strong overt narcissistic behaviors, and his father was the same way too.
 
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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I'm sorry to hear that, I hope you can find some relief from it emoticon

It's pure samsara in a way, firmly in the past and yet fully accessible in the present.
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Siavash, modified 2 Months ago.

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Thanks.
Yeah, it's life. It is what it is.
We should try our best to cause less harm and bring more healing, whenever possible.
Tim Farrington, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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George
It feels like a complete change of direction this phase of practice. Before it was 'not me, not mine, not I', now it's 'this is my body, these are my feelings, this is my experience'. It feels like taking ownership of the 90% of my experience which I was ignoring before when I was so focused on insight and awakening. Ok I wouldn't have had the ability to process some of this stuff without some insight, but it's amazing how much insight you can have and still have a ton of stuff repressed. A lot of it seems quite neutral on the surface, but once I start to let 'er rip it turns out to be pretty powerful. I did work on some of the grossest reactive patterns before, but this is about much more pervasive layers of aversion, greed and indifference. Just one example - I'm identifying a certain basic level of resentment towards my son simply because I perceive him as getting more attention than I did at his age. Even when I feel like I'm being ok with him, it's there niggling away at me and eroding the quality of the attention I'm giving him. So I'm just trying to bring as much of this stuff into awareness now while I still have the chance, because it's already quite late in the day
.

This is just gorgeous, and deeply true, all genuine anatta paradoxes included. This stuff is inherently humbling, and humility often feels at first like humiliation, so we tend to avoid it. But it terms of fruits of the path, this is where, and how, a lot of the truly beautiful ones come in: through mud-wrestling with our damaged selves, accepting the messiness and the damage. "Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside," the old spiritual song goes. This is the work that lets us lay that sword and shield down, uncovering the vulnerable heart within, and the horrors inflicted upon it all along the way, and resolving to study war no more. It's a never ending aspect of the work, as far as I can tell. But it is a whole helluva lot easy to walk, once you start laying that shit down. With your hands freed up, you discover the tender touch.

This is real healing. You go, my friend, you're an inspiration to us all right now. 
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Thanks Tim. I'm starting to see the other side of that now, not just the sword (anger, aggression) but also the shield (defensiveness, fear). They really do go hand in hand. And yes, humility is not humiliation - that's powerful.
Patricia M., modified 2 Months ago.

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Hi George,
Reading this whole thread and especially your posts resonated deeply with me. My coping strategies as a child were (and as an adult are) a bit different than yours, hence narcissism is not my major trait, but shame (my core beliefs: I’m not good enough. I’m not lovable.) and the underlying, profound sadness (and loneliness) are.
As to the feeling of shame, something I read in John Bradshaw’s book Homecoming – Reclaiming and Healing your Inner Child about two weeks ago came to my mind and I would like to share it with you:

“Any child from a dysfunctional family system will feel emotional deprivation and abandonment. The natural response to emotional abandonment is a deep-seated toxic shame that engenders both primal rage and a deep-seated sense of hurt. There is no way you could grieve this in infancy. You had no ally who could be there for you and validate your pain, no one to hold you while you cried your eyes out or raged at the injustice of it all. In order to survive, your primary ego defenses kicked in and your emotional energy was left frozen and unresolved. Your unmet needs have been clamoring to be filled ever since your infancy.
[…]
All these kinds of abuse create toxic shame—the feeling of being flawed and diminished and never measuring up. Toxic shame feels much worse than guilt. With guilt, you’ve done something wrong; but you can repair that—you can do something about it. With toxic shame there’s something wrong with you and there’s nothing you can do about it; you are inadequate and defective. Toxic shame is the core of the wounded child.
I recently reworked a powerful meditation originally written by Leo Booth, adding to it some aspects of toxic shame explored in my book Bradshaw On: Healing the Shame That Binds You. I’d like to share it with you here:

My Name Is Toxic Shame

I was there at your conception
In the epinephrine of your mother’s shame
You felt me in the fluid of your mother’s womb
I came upon you before you could speak
Before you understood
Before you had any way of knowing
I came upon you when you were learning to walk
When you were unprotected and exposed
When you were vulnerable and needy
Before you had any boundaries
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I came upon you when you were magical
Before you could know I was there
I severed your soul
I pierced you to the core
I brought you feelings of being flawed and defective
I brought you feelings of distrust, ugliness, stupidity, doubt, worthlessness, inferiority, and unworthiness
I made you feel different
I told you there was something wrong with you
I soiled your Godlikeness
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I existed before conscience
Before guilt
Before morality
I am the master emotion
I am the internal voice that whispers words of condemnation
I am the internal shudder that courses through you without any mental preparation
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I live in secrecy
In the deep moist banks of darkness depression and despair
Always I sneak up on you I catch you off guard
I come through the back door
Uninvited unwanted
The first to arrive
I was there at the beginning of time
With Father Adam, Mother Eve
Brother Cain
I was at the Tower of Babel the Slaughter of the Innocents
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I come from “shameless” caretakers, abandonment, ridicule, abuse, neglect—perfectionistic systems
I am empowered by the shocking intensity of a parent’s rage
The cruel remarks of siblings
The jeering humiliation of other children
The awkward reflection in the mirrors
The touch that feels icky and frightening
The slap, the pinch, the jerk that ruptures trust
I am intensified by
A racist, sexist culture
The righteous condemnation of religious bigots
The fears and pressures of schooling
The hypocrisy of politicians
The multigenerational shame of dysfunctional family systems
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I can transform a woman person, a Jewish person, a black person, a gay person, an oriental person, a precious child into
A bitch, a kike, a nigger, a bull dyke, a faggot, a chink, a selfish little bastard
I bring a pain that is chronic
A pain that will not go away
I am the hunter that stalks you night and day
Every day everywhere
I have no boundaries
You try to hide from me
But you cannot
Because I live inside of you
I make you feel hopeless
Like there is no way out
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

My pain is so unbearable that you must pass me on to others through control, perfectionism, contempt, criticism, blame, envy, judgment, power, and rage.
My pain is so intense
You must cover me up with addictions, rigid roles, reenactment, and unconscious ego defenses.
My pain is so intense
That you must numb out and no longer feel me.
I convinced you that I am gone—that I do not exist—you experience absence and emptiness.
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

I am the core of co-dependency
I am spiritual bankruptcy
The logic of absurdity
The repetition compulsion
I am crime, violence, incest, rape
I am the voracious hole that fuels all addictions
I am insatiability and lust
I am Ahaverus the Wandering Jew, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, Dostoyevski’s underground man, Kierkegaard’s seducer, Goethe’s Faust
I twist who you are into what you do and have
I murder your soul and you pass me on for generations
MY NAME IS TOXIC SHAME.

This meditation sums up the ways that the wonderful child got wounded. The loss of your I AMness is spiritual bankruptcy. The wonder child is abandoned and all alone. […] The child continues to live in his torment, passively suffering or lashing out, acting out, acting in, projecting and repressing himself in the only ways he knows how. (Reclaiming that child is the first stage of your homecoming journey.)"
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Thanks Patricia, that's really powerful. I find it helpful to share this stuff - shame is nothing to be ashamed of! Allowing myself to really feel the shame (and sadness, anger and loneliness) without judgement is proving to be a powerful and liberating practice, although it's tough at times.

It may not be relevant to you, but both overt and covert narcissim are a defense mechanism against toxic shame. The difference is that the overt narcissist tries to push the shame away and create an external identity which is "good enough", whereas the covert narcissist takes on the shame and suffering of others through victimhood or codependency. It's also entirely possible for the same person to flip between overt and covert narcissim depending on the situation, relationship or stage of life. I find it more helpful to think of narcissim as a behavior pattern (albeit deeply ingrained) rather than a fixed identity, and it does seem to be responsive to self-awareness.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Been through another round of deep emotional processing the last few days, exploring anger, grief and shame. I skipped over shame before but it's a big one - the sense of having something wrong deep down inside which needs to be hidden. Shame seems to be very closely linked to repression of the other emotions (anger, sadness and fear). But even when those are not present, shame is there operating on an energetic level of feeling like something in the belly needs to be constantly pushed out of awareness for fear something bad would happen if it saw the light of day. Spent some time in meditation just playing with this pure repression and opening myself up to every aspect of my experience I could. Saying things to myself like 'How bad can this be? Let's see what you've got! What's wrong with this? How could this be any different from what it is?' And then noticing it's really not as bad as I feared and actually quite liberating and pleasant to have this new level of intimacy with my felt experience. It's interesting how pervasive this subtle sense of "not good enough" is, and how it leads to repression and manipulation of experience. If I had to put a number on it, I would say that compared with a few months ago my felt experience is 2x more painful but I have 4x more acceptance, so that still
translates into a 50% reduction in suffering! Good times! emoticon
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

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Good stuff! The only way out of it is to go through it.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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I've been reading Bradshaw's Homecoming (thanks Patricia!) and doing the meditation exercises with original pain, grief, age regression and reparenting. It's amazingly powerful stuff, by far the most somatically powerful meditations I've done so far. It's funny, I had downloaded the book sample to my kindle library months ago, but I had forgotten about it and must have been overlooking it in favor of more "spiritual" and "interesting" books.

It's crystal clear to me now how my inner child has been driving most of my adult life - needy (often expressed as 'I don't need anyone'), anxious, sad, afraid, ASHAMED, confused, alone in a dangerous world, secretive, manipulative, compulsive, obsessive, addictive, defiant, rebellious, intentionally shocking (to name just a few!) I can't necessarily remember all the relevant events, but the record of every significant experience and repressed emotion is stored in my body as a physical tension. Also I can observe my inner child at work when I react to my own kids or in-laws (current parent figures). For example, my wife's family do elaborate long bedtimes with the kids and I often feel impatient, I realize now because I didn't have much of that as a kid. At mealtimes I often feel anxious or under attack, because that's where my parents argued and my dad was always so critical. Tons of stuff like that. 

Just now I was doing the exercise of reparenting, starting with visualizing my birth, which I know was painful and traumatic, with forceps and a long separation from my mother afterwards. Going through all the developmental stages, imagining it from baby/child's point of view and also me there as a wise comforting loving adult parenting myself. Sounds whacky but it's very powerful and seems to work to create more self-love and feeling comfortable and confident with myself. I was also struck by the thought how meditation in general is a form of age regression, going back to a pre-verbal state of felt bodily experience and towards the womb-like presence  of jhana.

It's funnny that after 2 years of harcore meditation and obsessive study of religion, spirituality and psychology, it should eventually come back to something so simple and obvious as emotional neglect/abuse in childhood. It speaks to the mind's power of repressing and rationalizing. It's almost like I can feel each defense mechanism as an energetic contraction springing open. I have to constantly remind myself that these are my valid feelings and that it wasn't my fault (at least until later) and also that I'm not being bad by being critical of my parents, they were just acting out their own unmet childhood needs. 
shargrol, modified 2 Months ago.

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I feel like this pattern of going through:
1. some psychological repattering so that basic sitting meditation is possible,
2. increased sensitivity with first and second path,
3. then a return to working on psychological patterning at a much more primal/non-verbal/experiential level
4. finally some basic/existential type anxiety work, sublte but pervasive feelings of residual unease
... is a very common pattern of good practice through "4th" path.

Most people that seem to go off the rails neglect step three and wind up doing a lot of spiritual pride/spiritual bypassing, these psychological patterns remanifest within their spiritual practice and are excused/denied (aka, "that guru is a really angry person, but he thinks it's crazy wisdom").  ...or they achieve a tipping point of 4th path and believe that there is nothing left to work on and these residuals grow like a cancer as the person falls into spiritual pride/spiritual bypassing because the have a "100% perfection model" of awakening.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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I don’t think I’m any further than stream entry in the fetter model, because my shift moments seemed to be mostly related to weakening of self-identity view (realizations of not-self, non-duality, impermanence of states and seeing through the personal sense of time).

This current shame stuff seems to be fifth fetter (ill will) territory. Fourth fetter sensual desires seem to me now to be mostly neurotic expressions of unmet infantile needs. As I release some of these hindrances into awareness my absorption is getting deeper, which points towards the rupa & arupa fetters ... I’m still curious to see how deep I can go in the jhanas and I assume at some point one gets “deep enough” and/or grows out of this.

My gross narcissism seems to be in remission, but there’s still that sense of eighth fetter conceit/pride/egotism (comparing myself with others and retaining a sense of being special or different). A certain amount of ninth fetter restlessness fell away with the apparent ending of the seeking narrative, but there’s still that sense a lot of the time that my experience isn’t quite *good enough*, that if only I could just get a little bit more *over there* then things would be *slightly better*. 

Tenth fetter ignorance seems to me to be mostly about repression and defense mechanisms - stuff you can’t know about until you know (“unknown unknowns”). It makes sense to me that if arahants exist then they can only be recognized by other arahants, because my experience is that you can only really see other people’s defenses to the extent you’ve dropped them yourself. It seems to me that someone who had fully dropped pride would appear to be very ordinary and wouldn’t necessarily let others know they were an arahant (for what would that achieve other than idolization?) I don’t really buy the argument that we need public arahants to show it’s possible and inspire us, because fetter stream-entry seems to be good enough for that. Once you’ve dropped self-identity view and doubt about the Buddha’s teaching, and experienced nibbana in daily life, then the path ahead seems to open up in a more deterministic fashion and there’s less need for external direction - there’s the sense that things are the way they are and nature will just take its course. I think you said something about feeling that you’ve gone over the hump and it’s downhill from here. Having said all that, I understand why Daniel made the claim when he did because there was so much less awareness about this stuff in the west, and his doing so led partly to the popularity of MCTB and the creation of this community, for which I’m very grateful.

And yes I fully agree that there are serious risks around pride and repression/bypassing, especially if you take on a teaching role too early and allow yourself to start becoming the object of other people’s projections of specialness and perfection. Just writing this stuff about the higher fetters is giving me a yucky feeling of setting myself up. I need to remind myself that a lot of people in the west are attracted to the dharma precisely because they have such deep wounds, and there’s a feeling of being special which comes simply from being outside the mainstream, whereas there are many very humble people outside the dharma who are less wounded/fettered and already going about their lives in a conscientious fashion.

Some of my experience seems to line up with aspects of “technical 4th” progression - a couple of possible cessations (the first one initiating constant cycling from A&P), the broadening out into psychological dimensions (who am I really and where is my life going, narcissism, reorientation around the dharma) and then the “final insight” (end of seeking) followed by walking around experience of nibbana (not permanent, but repeatable). I suppose that would incline me towards the *view* that technical 4th ~ fetter stream entry, although that's just a guess since I don't have any confirmation of technical 4th. Maybe there’s a fractal element to the fetters or people experience them in different orders. Some people seem to have naturally less ill will and experience deeper jhanas sooner, whereas other people of a more intellectual bent seem to experience deeper insight sooner. Or maybe it’s just that my insight is not as deep as I think it is lol. I’m still curious to get a deeper experience and understanding of how this stuff works.
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Some of my experience seems to line up with aspects of “technical 4th” progression - a couple of possible cessations (the first one initiating constant cycling from A&P), the broadening out into psychological dimensions (who am I really and where is my life going, narcissism, reorientation around the dharma) and then the “final insight” (end of seeking) followed by walking around experience of nibbana (not permanent, but repeatable).

Can you elaborate on this, please?
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George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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That would be my practice history!

On second thoughts, I realize that without clear repeatable cessations it's probably pointless for me to speculate about "technical paths". I see now that I’m creating stress for myself with this mapping stuff - something to do with the need to compare myself with others.
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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On second thoughts, I realize that without clear repeatable cessations it's probably pointless for me to speculate about "technical paths". I see now that I’m creating stress for myself with this mapping stuff - something to do with the need to compare myself with others.

It was a comment that someone in that territory (3rd path/4th path) would not make  emoticon
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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What's your view on technical paths vs fetter paths? And cessations vs experiencing nibbana?
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I'll try to answer your questions before I have to get workin' this morning:

To Question #1:  I don't concern myself with the technical paths versus fetter paths stuff. It's an endless argument. In my view, we should adopt a practice to understand what we are, and to make ourselves "better" human beings. The rest is down in the weeds, maybe an interesting debate for some but not useful in the grand scheme of our lives.

To Question #2: In my view experiencing a cessation is experiencing nirvana. Nirvana is the total lack of dukkha, as most broadly defined. So that when we are totally and completely without dukkha, we're not conscious. Being conscious in any way incurs dukkha, even ever so slightly.

Fair?
shargrol, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Chris Marti

To Question #2: In my view experiencing a cessation is experiencing nirvana. Nirvana is the total lack of dukkha, as most broadly defined. So that when we are totally and completely without dukkha, we're not conscious. Being conscious in any way incurs dukkha, even ever so slightly.

Fair?

For what it's worth,, the answer to #2 above can tend to push people into the "I'm doomed anyway, so why should I bother?" fallacy. A good antidote to that is a practical statement that "personalizing dukka incurs personal dukka"which is a good pointer even though logically it's a potentially unhelpful tautology. I found it very helpful maybe because I'm wierd.

"Needing beliefs to be true incurs dukka" is another interesting one....

And I like to throw in the reminder that "samsara is always perpetuating itself, and yet experience is always nibbana-ing itself" as another pragmatic pointer... although that one is prone to the "you are already enlightened so why should I bother?" fallacy. 
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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For what it's worth, the answer to #2 above can tend to push people into the "I'm doomed anyway, so why should I bother?" fallacy. A good antidote to that is a practical statement that "personalizing dukka incurs personal dukka"which is a good pointer even though logically it's a potentially unhelpful tautology. 

That, and it is, after all, the 1st noble truth. There is suffering, and it is an innate attribute of being conscious.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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 That’s really helpful thanks.

Re. #1, that’s why I like the fetter model, because you can’t really be sure where you are (as far as I can see)! Being a decent human being is obviously an ongoing project with all sorts of variables, so it keeps you responsive and working on your stuff (or growing, I guess you could say). The technical model seems to offer a false certainty - you had a cessation therefore you are suddenly at this stage - which seems to be more prone to bypassing. The image of gradually loosening a fetter seems better to describe the process of working on one’s issues and gradually releasing repressed stuff. Since the fetter model is so much more open to interpretation, I agree it doesn’t make much sense to compare them (sorry that wasn’t a trick question, I’m still figuring this stuff out!)

Re. #2, I agree - the origin of dukkha is craving (second noble truth) and craving depends on consciousness (dependent origination). Therefore if nibbana is defined as a total lack of dukkha then nibbana is absence of consciousness (whether via cessation or death). I guess my point is that it could be considered a “partial” experience of nibbana when a certain “level” of craving ceases. That’s my experience of those “mind inversion” moments, when craving seems to fall away completely for a few hours or days or weeks, before realizing that there’s a still deeper level of craving which needs to be worked on. Extrapolating that trend, I can imagine being able to spend longer and longer periods of daily life with lesser and lesser levels of craving, even if it’s never a complete absence of dukkha (except for cessations and the big one).

 
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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I guess my point is that it could be considered a “partial” experience of nibbana when a certain “level” of craving ceases.

I'm selling bridges today. Would you like to buy one?  emoticon 

I don't believe one can be partially pregnant.  This is like that. It's all or nothing, baby. There is no substitute, You'll see.
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Oatmilk, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Hey George, 

I am neither a fan of the 4th path model, nor of the feather model. Simply because our minds tend to delude itself unless there's full realization. If there are still thoughts or assumptions which are beliefed and not seen for what they are, then this is not it. It needs the full understanding of the present moment, "this is it." And it cannot be fully comprehended conceptually, it needs to be experiential for it being a realization. 

For some the models might be useful but in the end it doesn't matter if you are to 99% 4th path - you are either done or not.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

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Chris Marti
I guess my point is that it could be considered a “partial” experience of nibbana when a certain “level” of craving ceases.

I'm selling bridges today. Would you like to buy one?  emoticon 

I don't believe one can be partially pregnant.  This is like that. It's all or nothing, baby. There is no substitute, You'll see.

My first cessation might have been a near miss. I fell into it and I had the feeling of reality being switched back on, but my eyes instinctively opened so it was hard to distinguish exactly what happened. I started cycling from A&P after that. The second cessation was clearer – mental formations slowed right down, my awareness zoomed in over a blue shape and vanished, then reality and self slowly reassembled itself like a cloud of ink. After that my practice went into a broader and deeper psychological investigation of self. That’s when I started to have depersonalization experiences where my sense of who I was would totally vanish for a few minutes.

The third event happened while walking across a road after meditating – reality suddenly synched up and seemed to know itself totally just as it was without any sense of there being a central observer. It’s hard to say whether or not there was a loss of consciousness, but there was a very clear demarcation between before and after and a strong sense of ‘WTF just happened’. This event was a much more powerful experience than either of the first two and, together with the depersonalization experiences, left a much stronger impression on me about the nature of self and reality.

The fourth event (a couple of months ago) also happened walking around after meditating and had the same feeling of my mind being turned inside out and reality suddenly knowing itself. The big difference was that the third event was a single point in time whereas this one involved the collapse of time – all of the past and future were seen to be part of the same knowing, so I knew my life was always and would always be this way. I feel like this was the answer to “life’s big question” that I had been looking for my whole life. This event felt like it had a structural impact on my brain which reverberated for days – the collapse of the deep source of dissatisfaction which was caused by seeking for the answer.
 
Since then my acceptance of dukkha has gone up severalfold and I basically feel like life is fundamentally okay whatever happens (despite all the deep dukkha I’m currently unearthing). I’m still curious to see how life unfolds, but I don’t have expectations or plans like I used to. The way forward now seems to be more about going deeper into my subconscious and releasing repressed stuff, so that I can better go with the flow. Craving or dukkha is just not the problem that it was before, because a) I can see how it vanishes with the acceptance that my experience can’t possibly be any different from whatever it is right now in the present moment; and b) I accept that there is no special kind of experience which is needed to solve the problem, because there is no problem – experience is basically okay just as it already is, whatever it is.

I would say I’m 75% confident the second event was a cessation. But the third and fourth events were so much more powerful and life changing that it doesn’t really matter. I don’t feel that I need to validate my experience or have something confirmed, but evidently I do feel the need to compare notes! This is poetic justice really because I was too proud to go to a teacher lol.

That’s a very longwinded way of getting to my second questions for you Chris … Do you continue to have cessations after fourth path? How do you deal with the dukkha that continues to arise?
 

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