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

agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

Agnostic’s Log 6 (A New Beginning)

Posts: 1555 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

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George asks me:

Do you continue to have cessations after fourth path? How do you deal with the dukkha that continues to arise?
 
The last cessation I had was a few years ago. It happened on the cushion and came as a surprise, much like my very first one years ago. So yeah, cessations do continue. I'm not sure why, though, and I certainly don't go chasing after them.

As for dukkha arising, that's just part of life.  I deal with whatever comes up as it comes up. I'm much more patient with it and I'm far more tolerant of it arising, both my own and others'. I think there is a major transformation that takes place at some point that allows us to see our own bullshit so clearly that it just doesn't cause problems very often. Depending on the level of the anger, pain, or whatever, it can be intercepted and dealt with before it affects things. If it's too powerful for that, it's much, much easier to see it immediately afterward and address it appropriately. For example, admitting an error and humbly apologizing. These changes are most obvious to me when Big Life Events occur, like my parents and in-laws passing away, or one of my children is having problems. I am more tolerant of everything, more patient, and more able to accommodate change - to go with the flow.

Cliff Notes version:

1. Cessations continue
2. Dukkha continues
3. Dukkha easier to deal with, even prevent, with wisdom (clear seeing)
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Thanks for the honest version of what life is really like "at the end of the path". It seems to me that if more teachers were honest like this then there would be far less spiritual bypassing going on!
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Months ago.

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George, I don't consider myself to be at the end of anything. I'm still investigating, still learning, still changing, still accommodating whatever this is that is happening.  I don't believe there is an end to this process.
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

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Same routine of 1 hour sit before bed and 2 hours during night or early morning. Continuing with inner child meditations - reinhabiting old memories, feeling the feelings as deeply and non-verbally as possible, followed by “reparenting” myself, i.e. using the adult me to give full attention and unconditional love to the child me, saying stuff like ‘I’ll always be here for you and love you whatever happens’. Then changing perspectives and visualizing myself as the child me receiving this love and attention from the adult me. Been working through the different stages of development. Baby stuff seems to be about lack of physical bonding and emotional nurturing. Toddler stuff is where father’s anger starts to make itself known. School age is where the social element develops - being sent away from home and starting to feel that I have to do or become something *good enough* in order fill the gaping hole at the centre of my existence. This is the source of elemental greed - better grades, more subjects, more sports, more instruments, more friends, more drugs, more girls, more sex, more travel, more languages, more money, more power, more anxiety, more depression, more spiritual highs. 

Running like an undercurrent through all of it is my mother’s emotional manipulation, projecting her ideal of manhood on me to compensate for her missing father and angry husband. For a long time I assumed it was my father who had fucked me up and my mother was the blameless victim in all if this (even now I feel guilty saying that, knowing how much she SUFFERS). But the bully is very transparent and at a certain point you can say ‘fuck you’ and walk away and they respect that (and move on to an easier target). It's the manipulating co-dependent who really gets inside your head and under your skin and keeps their claws in you as long as they can. Even now she still lobs missiles of affection my way once in a while, vainly looking to rekindle the fake intimacy she created.
 
I’m not bitching here. My pain is their pain as well. It’s a huge relief to see and feel things as they really were/are, as opposed to what I wanted/want them to be. And for anyone else who is reading and wondering ‘maybe my own childhood was not everything I made it up to be’ ... Even if you know it sucked, how deeply can you feel that before your shame and guilt barriers kick in? As a wise man once told me, the only way out is through ...

​​​​​​​I had a semi-lucid dream last night where I see my father in front of me and decide to merge into him so I can really feel his anger from the inside, the crystalline clarity of his rage.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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sukha is none other than passing dukkha,
dukkha is none other than passing sukha;
mere ripples in an impassive citta,
which is itself completely empty.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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 Strong A&P this morning, seemingly as a result of releasing more of this deep guilt and toxic shame stuff over the last few days. Absorptions have been getting deeper and it seems to release more energy when I get up. There's a general feeling of breathing and awareness sinking lower into my body, right down into where I'm sitting. It's like 'ah finally, this is what it feels like to be sitting and aware of my whole body.' The A&P involves being enveloped in warm feelings of gratitude (temporary but pleasant nonetheless). I realize that I have such a strong prohibition against feeling my own pain that it's been easier to back into it by feeling the pain of others. So thank you to those of you who have allowed me to try to help you in whatever way I can. emoticon And sorry to those of you I pushed too far. emoticon 
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Siavash, modified 1 Month ago.

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 Hey George,

There's a general feeling of breathing and awareness sinking lower into my body, right down into where I'm sitting. It's like 'ah finally, this is what it feels like to be sitting and aware of my whole body.'
Can you elaborate on this a little bit please?
Do you mean that previously you wouldn't feel the sensations of breathing in those locations in the body, or you mean that this sit you had hightened clarity in those locations? For instance if you wanted to feel the sensations of breathing in your feet, knees, ears or back of your head two months ago, could you do it a few breaths after intending to do it?

I realize that I have such a strong prohibition against feeling my own pain that it's been easier to back into it by feeling the pain of others.
Same here. It's an unfortunate thing that can easily be seen as something good/noble etc.
 
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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 Sure, it’s been a gradual process of releasing tension in the belly, which is where most of the root anger, shame, pain and sadness seem to be stored. For a long time I couldn’t feel anything there, it was just a hard solid ball. Once I started to open it up then a lot of old repressed emotions were released, which felt like the problem was getting worse but was more a function of releasing them combined with heightened awareness. Then in the last few weeks it has softened and I’m feeling a new kind of gentle depth, so that each breath seems to extend down to the seat. Off the cushion I notice that I'm tensing my belly less, which was something I often noticed before.

It feels like the trapped energy in my head is in a waterfall down my front now and the headaches have loosened up a lot. They are actually more powerful, but I have a greater tolerance for it. They say the energy goes back up the spine, but I don’t feel that much. Overall it’s an energetic sense of getting out of my head, although I still think quite a lot in meditation. Tim wrote a really nice post on the mechanics of it recently here. Answering your question specifically, it seems that the breath effortlessly blends into the overall body energy, so in that sense I guess I could say I feel “breathing” all over my body. Calling the breath kaya sankhara or “body conditioner/formation” seems to make a lot more sense to me now.

With each new release my level of absorption deepens, so I would say that is the most reliable indicator of the process. I’m still some way away from full absorption though, so it seems there is more stuff to work through.
 
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Siavash, modified 1 Month ago.

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 Thanks.

Yeah, that tension in the belly seems to be a tough one. At least for me it's. Two or so years ago that I started practicing with Culadasa's instruction for whole-body breathing, after some weeks I started feeling the sensations of breathing in most of the body and later I guess in all areas, and interesting thing is that in most of the locations, paying careful attention for some minutes causes the sensations to turn into vibrations and tingles, but in the abdomen it's often solid. Sometimes there is pain and itches, and occasionally brief vibrations, but it still resists releasing the tension and turning into vibrations.

-- Edit:
For me it seems that the head and face is more or less like the abdomen too, but not as tense as the abdomen is, and probably it's related to the difference between different emotions. For me it seems that fear/anxiety type emotions are more related to the abdomen, and sadness/shame/guilt type emotions more related to the face. And I've noticed much less vibrations in head and face too. Only recently I've had frequent vibrations in my face and back and top of my head. 
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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I feel all my emotions most strongly in the abdomen and heart now. Headaches for me seem to be more related to cognitive tensions (over-thinking, over-identifying, blocking awareness of the torso). I didn’t make much progress softening the abdomen with samatha or vipassana. It was only when I started doing elements practice and meditating on anger reactivity that it started to open up. The inner child meditations were healing. I see now that repressed anger and shame was like a cancer eating me up from the inside. I feel that it was a strong factor in my chronic fatigue, which was basically my body being attacked by its own defense system!
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Chris Marti, modified 1 Month ago.

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George S, modified 3 Days ago.
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Happy two-year DhO anniversary George.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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Wow, yes, well spotted, thanks Chris! I was wondering why today felt like a special day. emoticon
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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I haven’t logged in a while. I find myself expressing myself on here in responses to others, rightly or wrongly, but there’s been a lot of stuff going on.

I was hit by a return of the dreaded chronic fatigue a few days ago. I had returned to basic levels of functionality since starting anti-viral drugs in the summer, but my progress had stalled over the winter (still not able to tolerate much exercise). I’m taking a few days alone to rest, which is a retreat of sorts as far as I go. My immune system feels very over-activated, hence the slightly manic activity on here. The first time this happened a year ago I fell into the nondual rabbit hole, so please let me know if I start getting fixated on views again!

It’s a chicken and egg situation with the emotions and this chronic fatigue. The immediate trigger seems to have been a cold and it’s a very real physical condition. However it leaves me incredibly sensitive to the emotional energy of those around me, as well as very defensive about perceived slights and criticisms (even more so than usual!) Actually I realize now that I’ve always been this way, and it’s hard not to feel that the CFS is somehow connected to a lifetime’s buildup of toxic emotional energy in my system. Most people who know me would probably laugh if you said I was an empath, since I’ve done so much acting out in my life, but growing up with an angry father and self-absorbed mother, as well as being sent away to boarding school aged 7-8, means that I had to develop a very finely tuned emotional radar to survive in an emotionally unsafe developmental environment. That meant absorbing a lot of negative emotional energy and it seems that as I became a narcissist, my strategy for dealing with this was to repress what I could and recycle the rest into my immediate environment unfortunately. I also tended to gravitate towards emotionally toxic environments, to make matters worse, although wherever I look these days it seems hard not to see a lot of people suffering, even when they are not aware of the full extent of it.

I realize now that a lot of my practice the last couple of years has been stumbling about looking for ways to ground myself and safely discharge this energy. So many times when I sit, the primary hindrance is the piti itself - powerful energetic pains and waves. For a long time I’ve been allowing it to run wild, hoping it would burn itself out, but it seems to work better for me to try and let it settle and focus on the calmer feelings of sukha and positive metta/heart based energy. I’m becoming more aware of the power of intention (dependently originated!) in meditation - just using simple commands like ‘stop’ or ‘calm’ or ‘smile’ to induce certain states. Visualizing earth element also helps, the feeling of solidity in the body and connection with the physical ground/matter. I’m also realizing that I need to have a stronger sense of an energetic boundary when interacting with others, especially close family members. I’ve always needed a lot of time to myself and I thought it was some kind of anti-social failing, but in the absence of a stronger boundary it's a necessity to avoid blowups.

A coupe of weeks ago it seems I reached a shelf with the childhood shame stuff. Still no real tears, but it felt like a partial resolution, accompanied by warm feelings of gratitude and a few days of bliss. Of course that was only the prelude to a renewed descent into the depths :-) The first thing I noticed was that with less ill will, greed started to come to the fore. A bit of material clinging, but mostly greed for deeper meditation experiences. Absorptions were getting deeper, but also more sticky. I started losing my ability to see samsara as nibbana’ing so easily. It’s the old golden chains really, but it feels like the right way to go for a while, to try to pass through it, because to get into deeper absorptions means finding and releasing deeper layers of hindrances.

It seems that I somehow shifted from working with the toxic guilt and shame on a personal level to an interpersonal level (including worldviews), which I guess corresponds to moving from childhood to adolescent development. I don’t want to go into too many personal details, but I started to read Games People Play and seeing how certain stressful interactions were following a pattern. The one which really stood out for me was the superbly named NIGYSOB (“Now I’ve got you, you son of a bitch”). This is where someone tries to catch me on a technicality so that they can shift their anxiety and vent their anger, becoming the righteously angry parent to my guilty inner child (obviously a role I’m well suited to play). This time I was aware of it and refused to play, which caused the other player to freak out and throw a childish temper tantrum.

The other incident which happened really crystallized for me how I occupy the shadow projections of a catholic worldview within my wife’s family. It’s actually something that I subconsciously chose twenty years ago, because on some level I was attracted to a moral ideal as a way of absolving myself. I feel guilty even talking this way, because I have plenty to absolve and these are good people and I have no desire to break away. But it feels that somehow I need to move out of the shadow a little and project my own worldview of what I think is right, whilst respecting other people’s deeply held beliefs. Or maybe I don’t really need to project, they’re just views after all. Maybe it’s enough just to hold myself in more respect and continue to operate “undercover”. But some kind of change or growth seems to be happening and it’s a tough process because it feels like playing with a stacked deck. When people are used to thinking about themselves as better (for all the right reasons) and used to getting certain predictable self-abasing reactions out of you, then it’s threatening and causes instability when the invisible goalposts start to move. That’s probably all rather obscure, but the world of shadows and projections is a shady place!
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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Today was a real blessing. I had the time to get into some deeper absorptions and really get some nourishment and healing out of them.

I found it helpful to use the vsm correspondence between the hindrances and counterbalancing jhana factors:

dullness -> applied attention
uncertainty -> sustained attention
ill will -> piti
agitation -> sukha
sense desire -> unification

Leigh Brasington is a bit skeptical of it, and I won’t say it’s a perfect correspondence, but helpful nonetheless. The first two certainly work - when losing focus or conviction, reapply the mind. The third one I ignored, at least initially, since my piti is usually too strong. The last one works when starting to fantasize - just wrap the mind back around itself. The forth one was the game changer for me - bathe the anxiety in sukha. Each time I drop deeper it releases a wave of anxiety and it’s really healing to be able to melt it in warm slushy feelings. A couple of times I felt my eyeballs rolling up and the lights coming on, but there’s still more anxiety to release.

It’s the first time in over a year that I’ve had good meditation conditions. I realize now how hard it’s been not being able to meditate for extended periods during the day. It’s like trying to fix holes in a boat without going into a dry dock. The downside is that it’s hard to do a thorough job. The upside is that you find out immediately whether you’ve patched the leak or not! Looking forward, I need to work on remaining calmer throughout the day, so that I’m not getting knocked back so much between sits.  

I’ve also started working loosely with the brahmaviharas - consciously cultivating feelings of loving-kindness, joy, gratitude, compassion and equanimity. It always felt a bit artificial before, but now I’m really stating to feel it and see the benefits. I started on Chapter 7 of WUTYL which covers them.

I realize that my previous post reflects how I was getting caught up in the drama of attack and defense the last couple of weeks. I was way less reactive than I would have been in the past, especially given the chronic fatigue, but still I was “defending what doesn’t need to be defended” (to use shargrol’s phrase if I recall correctly). WUTYL has a fantastic passage on this, which I’m copying here to reinforce it to myself:

In the hell realm, the world is seen in terms of anger, and you react, to anger with anger. The experience is a constant striving against opposition. To empty the hell realm, you have to die to opposing. “To die to” means that you stop trying to avoid or put an end to the experience of opposition. You can avoid opposition by giving up, by losing whenever conflict arises, but giving up doesn’t free you from the anger inside. Often, it just intensifies it. You become increasingly resentful. Putting an end to conflict doesn’t end the anger either. You can win the battle, but acting in anger reinforces it, and the war against opposition goes on. You die to opposing when you can stay present in opposition and conflict. You stop trying to end the conflict by either winning or losing. You stay present in the experience of opposition, meeting all the internal reactions with attention and not falling into the projected world of opposition, the hell realm. When you can stay in conflict and opposition without moving to anger, you have begun to die to the hell realm.

For all you mappers out there who haven't read WUTYL yet ... it's the ultimate road map, covering the whole of samsaraemoticon
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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

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I hit a bit of a roadblock with anapanasati, in the form of powerful energetic pains. It always seems to be the case when I drop down another level in absorption, I also unearth deeper hindrances. emoticon

I started playing around with kasinas out of curiosity and it seems to be helping me move forward. The emotional stuff is still being released due to the concentration, but it feels more bearable because I'm focused on the visuals and thinkng about it less. Obviously there are patterns of craving and aversion there as well, which I need to be mindful of. But focussing on the breath which is so closely linked to the body and emotions, I would often feel like I was getting "stuck" with the energy, probably because I don't like it on some level or are resisting or trying to control it. Being focussed on the visuals seems to bypass that controlling part of the mind, or at least redirect it lol. The emotions do influence the visuals as well, just more subtly. So I'll be sitting there absorbed in the visuals and only be semi-aware that waves of painful energy are passing through my body, whereas if I was focussing on the breath then I would be more aware of it, thinking 'when's this going to end' and probably protracting it.

It seems weird to say less awareness is a good thing, but in this case the awareness is bringing control/resistance with it. I could disentangle the two, but it just takes much longer and is more painful. I noticed it in the past when sometimes I was blocked and would get distracted and then come back and realize I had dropped through the block. And awareness is still there and periodically returning to the body, so I don't think it's bypassing or ignoring. Thoughts anyone?
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Siavash ', modified 1 Month ago.

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

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It seems weird to say less awareness is a good thing

The definition that Shinzen uses for Mindfulness, being Concentration Power + Sensory Clarity + Equanimity (I think Bhante Gunaratana uses a similar definition, I can't remember his wording at the moment), I've noticed that when there is higher concentration and clarity but the equanimity is not that high, then the experience becomes unpleasant, since because of concentration and clarity we notice more input from the inside and outside, but there isn't enough equanimity (meaning higher resistance), so we notice higher unpleasantness. So balancing equanimity with concentration and clarity becomes crucial. 
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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

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That's helpful thanks. emoticon

I guess sometimes it takes a while to re-find the equanimity lever after you've upped the concentration (I've been sitting more than usual). I just re-read Maha Bua and he describes sitting whole nights with almost overwhelming pain. 
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Siavash ', modified 1 Month ago.

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

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 "They force you into equanimity"... how Shinzen describes the equanimity in intense practice situations or ceremonies that include lots of pain.

When there is too much pain for long enough time and there is nothing you could do about it, at some point you just give up, and drop into equanimity!

And again as Shinzen says "Your relationship with pain changes".

I guess this was not related to your post! Sorry!
 
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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

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No, it's highly relevant thanks. It always surprises me when I forget the basics and need to relearn them :-)
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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

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I’ve been resting alone for the last two weeks after the resurgence in chronic fatigue. I’ve increased my anti-viral medication back to the original level, so hopefully that helps. On the plus side, I’ve had a lot more time to meditate :-) I sometimes wonder if chronic fatigue is just my body’s way of forcing me into retreat!

I’ve been working on getting into a hard jhana, inspired as usual by watching Ajahn Brahm talks. I’ve realized that I tend to alternate between two phases in my jhana practice. In the first phase I think of myself as intentionally moving between light jhanas. In the second phase I'm aiming for a hard jhana (stable nimitta followed by total absorption with no thinking/control) and I think of myself as tuning the jhana factors within access concentration. It's probably much the same process physiologically, but the self-narrative is different:

Light jhana phase: j1, j2, j3, j4, j3 ... hey I can do this this

Hard jhana phase: get into the breath, whoa that piti is too strong, relax into the sukha, total quiet, nimitta coming, lost it, generate some more sukha to re-energize, still no nimitta ... sigh

In the first phase it feels like I'm in control and getting somewhere, but it’s more superficial. In the second phase my absorption is deeper because I’ve got a higher bar, but it's easier to get frustrated due to the distant goal. I have to remind myself that learning to navigate and deepen access concentration is a valid process in and of itself ... actually it’s just the process of learning to get into a hard jhana! Here are some of the things I’ve been playing with.

I  started counting my breaths again, which I haven’t done for a long time. I resisted it at first because I felt like it was "beginner's stuff", but as soon as I started doing it I realized just how much I was letting my mind wander :-) It doesn't take many counts to get more absorbed, then the counting tends to fall away. But after a while my mind starts wandering and I start counting again.

One of the major challenges for me is that when my mind gets calm then it releases a huge amount of energy in the head, which tends to overpower the awareness of breathing. What’s helping with this is moving the awareness of breathing out of the head and into the belly (sensations of expansion and contraction). Also sitting in a more erect posture (which my body seems to want to do anyway as absorption deepens) helps to channel the energy flow downwards. This has the added benefit of making me feel more grounded and content simply to physically exist, rather than neurotically existing in the head so much :-) It’s definitely a process of energetic rebalancing.

The other major challenge is that when the mind starts to light up and I have the feeling of getting sucked in, I start to feel exited (‘this is it!’) or afraid (‘oh shit I’m about to get wiped out’). Ajahn Brahm talks a lot about this and mentioned that it’s also in the suttas (MN 128 Defilements Sutta), where the nimitta is called ‘perception of light and vision of forms’ and the Buddha lists the following reasons for losing it - doubt, inattention, sloth-&-drowsiness, panic, excitement, boredom, excess persistence, slack persistence, a perception of diversity, and excessive absorption in forms. To counter the excitement I visualize myself as being on an exiting adventure with my inner child and calming him (it does actually feel like a rollercoaster at times lol). To counter the fear I consciously commit to trusting the mind to know where to go and visualizing handing over the keys and getting into the passenger seat. It’s the fear of being on the edge of the most powerful experience of my life. Ajahn Brahm says think of it like taking a baby to the swimming pool and dipping it in slowly, a foot, a leg, and then whoosh!  Sometimes the fear manifests as scary images or thoughts or physical anxieties, in which case he recommends laughing at them which seems to work quite well :-)

A couple of other lessons from Ajahn Brahm which are proving very helpful. When I’m getting tired in meditation then it’s because I’m using too effort - time to relax. When my mind starts wandering then it’s because I’m being too controlling and my mind is trying to escape me - time to let go and ask my mind what it wants to do! The basic idea is that the mind will naturally incline towards alert stillness if allowed, so if that’s not happening then it’s because I am being too forceful or controlling and getting in the mind’s way.

The other thing that really helps is generating a positive mind state of gratitude and good will, just being thankful for having the opportunity to rest peacefully and pleasurably in the present moment. That’s the kind of talk that used to want to make me throw up lol, but it works :-)

For anyone who is interested, here are the Ajahn Brahm talks I’ve been using:

https://youtu.be/nlB3uksRV8M
https://youtu.be/gcSfH9Aw-0E
https://youtu.be/tU9UZ1oTfa0

I’m noticing a pattern that every time I go a bit deeper, I cling to it and try to recapture it which leads to over-effort, disappointment, tiredness and anxiety. It’s basically the A&P -> DN shift, but experienced on a much less psychologically troubling level. I might be turning into a jhana snob lol, but in some way it seems like the DN is a function of not letting the second jhana develop fully, so that you are moving into the third jhana with the hindrances still activated and clinging to the not fully realized pleasure of the second jhana. Obviously there’s the whole insight thing, but I feel like learning to develop access concentration naturally reveals stuff about the nature of mind and clinging, even if the experiences themselves can get a bit sticky at times :-) Who knows though, maybe I’m just getting cocky and the DN will come back at some point to bite me with a vengeance lol.

 I’m also in the middle of an honest communication process with my mother about the past, which is painful but ultimately liberating, realizing the extent to which she has been guilt-tripping me my entire life and letting go of that.
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Siavash ', modified 1 Month ago.

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

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Hey George,

Can you please elaborate what do you mean by nimita?
Do you mean bright light? If so, then:

Does it have a fixed shape or is it more defused?
Does it have a fixed location or moves? And is it in the center of the visual field or off-center?
Is it close to the face/watcher or far? Assuming we can measure that distance!
Is it white, or yellow/golden or other colors?
Is it bright or dim?
Is it unified, or more like an explosion of light, that the center of it is too bright and there is less brightness in its periphery, and there are lightening-like lines and swaths of light spreading around from that extremely bright center?
Is arising of it sudden or gradual? If it’s sudden, is there an energy-release-like set of sensations in the body when it arises, or the moment before or after that?
Is it pleasant to watch it, or is there a discomfort around the eyes when watching it similar to when you watch the Sun?

If it doesn't interest you, please ignore this post.
Thanks.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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

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For me it's more like the mind slowly lighting up, either white or dark blue depending on mood. Kind of slowly spreads out over the entire field like a cloud of ink. But it's never gotten really clear and intense  except one time I was nodding off and fell into a bright whiteness that was whiter than anything I could ever imagine. Pa Auk Sayadaw says the light before the nimitta is as different from the nimitta itself as sunlight from the sun. I've never experienced it as a compact shape, but Ajahn Brahm says it can be a pure field as does Shaila Catherine I think. Anyway I'm not anywhere near growing and stabilizing it yet. I'm not naturally a visual person, I haven't experienced any interesting effects like you describe. Except when playing with kasinas and after images in a small way. I'm much more conscious of the energy waves and pulses than the visuals, although I feel like I'm becoming a little more visually aware with practice. It's quite nice when the visuals take the attention  away from the energetics, because they can be painful and unsettling.
Martin, modified 29 Days ago.

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

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George S:
I  started counting my breaths again, which I haven’t done for a long time. I resisted it at first because I felt like it was "beginner's stuff", but as soon as I started doing it I realized just how much I was letting my mind wander :-) It doesn't take many counts to get more absorbed, then the counting tends to fall away.


It's so cool that we are both doing concentration at the moment! Feels like having a partner. Though I am sad to hear that the background is a flare-up of chronic fatigue. 

I count breaths when developing concentration. I always start with 100 counted breaths. I tried 50, but it's not as efficient. I count in-breath: 1, out-breath: 2. That way there is not a long pause in which I have to remember. When things get thinky after the first 100, I note: in, out. 

George S:
One of the major challenges for me is that when my mind gets calm then it releases a huge amount of energy in the head, which tends to overpower the awareness of breathing. What’s helping with this is moving the awareness of breathing out of the head and into the belly (sensations of expansion and contraction).


I was doing the same thing, for the same reason. I was getting all these sensations in my head (squeezing, holding, pressure, numbness, colors, etc.) so the belly was easier to find the breath in, but I have now switched back to the nostrils. I know that Ajahn Brahm says that all you need to know is "in" or "out" and later, just "breath" and later just "beautiful" but that is hard to be clear about. My thing now is just really, really working on the sensation at the nostrils. It's easy to know: is the attention there, or is it not? It's close to binary. And when it's there, continuously, it works. There is a paradox in it because, when there is no awareness of any of the factors that I am trying to cultivate, and only this very plain and simple breath, the other factors, it seems, are busy developing themselves. It's like being an artist, painting a giant mural, but just looking at one brushstroke at a time. Just the simple straightforward technique of moving the brush with the intended level of pressure and speed and seeing if there is the right about of paint, with no thought at all to the rest of the mural. 

I can also relate to the stuff about getting excited when things start to happen. There again, I have been getting mileage out of just dropping it until it is really ready. I find that my shoulders and my butt tend to tense up when things start to cook, if I loosen them and remind myself that the only thing I need to do is follow the breath, it seems to work. 
George S, modified 29 Days ago.

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

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Thanks Martin. I actually feel like I've been hitching a ride off you recently! emoticon

Some good tips in there which I'm going to try out.

I can't feel much physically at the nose, but I try it occasionally when it's quiet and the head energy is not too much. I feel like wherever I concentrate on the breath, if I get deep enough then the breath sort of merges with the mind anyway and it ends up being the same thing, so for me the breath location is more about managing the energy in the early stages.

​​​​​​​Last couple of days I've been more proactive about nipping over-effort in the bud. Whenever I get tired or mind wanders then I remind myself I'm trying too hard and try to relax and let the mind go by itself. I've had some success with trying to establish the positive feedback loop where I focus on how awareness of the breath creates the pleasure, and in turn the increasing pleasure drives greater awareness of the breath. I feel like once I've got that loop running I can take my hands off the wheel and sit back. Until the pleasure gets too intense or I get too excited and start verbalizing my progress and thinking logging thoughts lol. I'll try to relax more at that point.

I like your painting analogy. It's a funny business. When it's going well it seems to happen all by itself and when it's not you get all sorts of funny ideas about how to make it happen. For me it's very much a function of energy flows and I feel like I don't have much control over that at all. A lot of the time energy is just too strong for a really calm mind and I'm just riding that out.

I've been cycling mildly through the nanas every 3-4 days and it's been interesting doing that under higher concentration conditions. It's somewhat related to personal stuff but it feels much more like background music rather than the central narrative. It's kind of like each sit starts from a basecamp of vj2, vj3 or vj4 and I'll be developing access concentration with more of a focus on piti, sukha or equanimity accordingly. The vj3 can be a little darker, but it's not nearly the drama it used to be :-)
George S, modified 28 Days ago.

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

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I've started counting the breaths up to 100 instead of 10 (Thanks Martin!) I use 'in-out-one etc.' with the number on the pause between breaths. It makes a big difference when the piti is painfully strong. Before I would stop counting because I was afraid of increasing the pain too much, and would end up getting preoccupied with trying to ride (control?!) the energy waves. Now I just count through it and ignore the energy as much as possible. It gets extremely physical and I start panting with very short shallow breaths (if necessary I drop the 'in-out' verbalization and just spread the number over the in-out breath). I was worried at first that this was over-efforting, but really it's just the deeper concentration which is allowing more pre-existing pain/energy to be released. If I can hang in there it passes (so far, haven't tried it with the most extreme pain yet). I think someone somewhere said that the pain won't hurt you lol, so don't be afraid of it.

Really it's just anapanasati 101 - awareness of breathing long and breathing short. I just hadn't appreciated how physical that can get, almost like some of these hyperventilation techniques I hear people talking about (holotropic? Wim hof?). I suppose there's nothing new under then sun :-) 

I don't actually stop at 100, I just keep going and it's a kind of timer I can use to compare rate of progress between sessions. After about 200-300 breaths the mind gets calm enough that it doesn't want to form the words any more. At that point it feels like the counting has fulfilled its purpose of preventing me from thinking and is now preventing me from getting more absorbed.

I'm aware that I'm getting very focused on technique at the moment when I was much more into open awareness before. In a way that reflects the shift from vipassana to samatha, although maybe it would be more accurate to say that vipasssana has its own technique (which I had stopped consciously articulating). One thing I'm noticing though is that after spending some time developing a calm and quiet mind, reasonably good insights will just pop into my mind seemingly out of the blue (which is the old vipassana following samatha thing I guess).

This morning I realized that I am only just starting to understand the difference between guilt and shame. I've been saying that guilt is self-directed anger, but really that's shame (feeling that I'm a terrible person, I don't deserve to be happy, I need to do stuff which harms myself and others). Obviously guilt is feeling bad about hurting someone else. But you can't feel guilt if you don't have a solid sense of others, and you can't have a solid sense of others if you don't have a solid sense of yourself. When I thought I was feeling gulity about things I had done before, it was really just shame (obsession with what a bad person I was, without any real acknowledgment of the harm to others).

Doing this inner child stuff has given me a much stronger sense of myself (ironic after spending 2 years obsessed with not-self lol), so now I can actually start to feel genuine guilt and remorse. It's only when you have a clear sense of how others have treated you, and how to treat yourself well, that you can treat others well. They kind of miss that whole bit out when they tell you to 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' When I used to hear that I would think 'what the fuck do I care how others treat me'. Obviously I cared deeply, but I was in so much pain and had such a low sense of self-worth that I couldn't bring myself to acknowledge it. It's only by allowing myself to feel the full extent of that pain that I've been able to start moving out of that dark place. 
George S, modified 25 Days ago.

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

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I've been through another energetic cycle the last few days, in parallel with continuing to work through my original pain and shame issues.

​​​​​​​The waves of energy in my forehead were getting so painful that I couldn't really concentrate on anything else, so I resolved to concentrate through them. They intensified to a crazy level over 48 hours and there were a couple of alarmingly physical "brain shocks", but after that they subsided and are now at the lowest level they've been in months.

Now the strongest sensations of energetic pressure are mostly around my mouth and in my belly, but these are much easier to relax into. My average breath length has increased noticeably, up to 19s now. I haven't measured it for months, but it used to be 10-12s before when I was relaxed.

During sits there is a cathartic release of sadness and a faint feeling of weepiness, the occasional light sobbing in bed, but the floodgates are yet to really open ...

I've spent a lot of time writing down my most painful childhood and adolescent memories, and piecing together the narrative of my upbringing in a new light. I really see now the extent to which my mother was systematically offloading her guilt and shame onto me. I'm wrestling with how much of this to share with her. It's much more important for me to work through it because it has a direct impact on how I parent my own kids over the critical next 10-15 years. It took me 15 years from starting therapy to get to the point where I could really be honest with myself about my parents and upbringing. She's in her 70s and I don't have much contact with her.

​​​​​​​So on the one hand I think what's the point, she's "happier in denial" and there may not be long before she's too old and needs more comforting from me. I've understood and accepted a lot about the past. But on the other hand I still get triggered by her manipulative storylines, which will get worse as she gets older. I feel like it's become increasingly hard to have any kind of meaningful relationship with her without being honest about my feelings. The process of drafting what I would say to her has been cathartic but I'm still afraid of upsetting her, which was always one of the main issues. We've already started the process and the limited amount I've shared was painful for her, but I'm at the point now where it's "all or nothing" because everything is so intertwined. She obviously feels a lot of guilt, so probably it would be a relief to her ... if we could get to that point. But maybe it's too much too late and I'm projecting my own need for relief onto her. Hmm, guilt all around ... emoticon​​​​​​​
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Siavash ', modified 25 Days ago.

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

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 Hey George,
I don't know about your case, but with similar issue with my parents, what I see is that, all attempts that I have with the most respectful caring compassionate and nice form that I can put to it, it's already in the "too much too late" category. I don't find it helpful. Although sometimes I'm tempted to try to talk with them, or give a hint, but it creates pain for them, and I don't think that it can help them change their understanding or view.
If they were younder, or if they had a more comfortable life at the moment, or if they were used to examining their views and changing them again and again, probably the result would be different.

About energetics when they become too intense and painful, I've found one of Rob Burbea's suggestions helpful: To focus on the whole body and the space around the body, and imagine that this energy in the body is allowed to move out of the body (from crawn for instance) and flow freely in this whole body and the space around it.
 
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Chris Marti, modified 25 Days ago.

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

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We all have issues with our parents. It's an inevitable part of being raised by them, or conversely, of raising your own children. I had very deep issues with both my parents, first with my mother for expecting this little kid (me) to be perfect, and when I wasn't, as is inevitable, taking it out on me in various ways that caused a lot of issues for years. Second with my father for not protecting me from my mother. Therapy made a world of difference and it made me realize that having any kind of conversation with them about all my hurts was probably going to be a waste of everyone's time and energy. It could, maybe, make me feel good an get that shit off my chest, but what else? Probably not much. Maybe a lot worse, leading to long-term ill will and just bad feelings all around.

So, what to do? Well, I saw that I have the power to change those relationships unilaterally. It was about how I dealt with them from that point on. I believe that's the most mature, adult human being way to change relationships. Sure, if you really, really feel the need to talk to them about it then go for it, but don't expect that to change anything. It might you feel better for a short time but beware the consequences. Having raised my own kids to adulthood, I'm pretty sure I fucked up in many ways. Like I said, it's inevitable. But I can see they're functional, healthy, more-or-less happy people. I did my best while they were my responsibility. My guess is your parents did, too, George.

JHMO
George S, modified 25 Days ago.

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

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Thanks Siavash and Chris. I really value your input - you pulled me back from the brink :-)

She is in a place where she is ready to talk more about her childhood, so I will just respond to her with acknowledgements and leading suggestions ;-) That should keep the dialogue moving forward with less pain and drama.

I've accepted the past, it can't be changed, and yes my parents did the best they could given their troubled upbringings. That's what everyone does really isn't it. My siblings and I were/are all pretty messed up - self-harming, addictions, depressed, suicidal - more so than my parents ever were. There was a history of that stuff in the previous generation(s) and as far as I can see my parents mostly dealt with it by shifting it onto us and focussing on themselves. But there's no a priori reason kids should suffer less than their parents - dukkha has to come from somewhere, otherwise Buddhism would go out of business :-)

What I struggle with in the present is the guilt-tripping - particularly the false apologies which are cleverly designed to seem sincere, but are basically are a way of avoiding responsibility and shifting the guilt in order to feel better. (And yes I learned about this by doing the same thing on here and being called out on it :-)) But like you say Chris, it's up to me to figure out the best way to work with this going forward.

Once you start to see through your own defense mechanisms then you start to see them in others. It's very tempting to think 'well I feel so much better, I should just point it out!' But they have to be suffering enough to be willing to do the work - and actively looking for help - otherwise you are just creating more pain and resistance.

It's also easy to forget how long and hard it was to get to this point. In my first therapy session 15 years ago I had a full blown panic attack ... and all the therapist did was say 'tell me about your father'!!!
​​​​​​​
And of course it's even easier to overlook the fact that I'm still operating from within my remaining defense mechanisms. I was telling myself that I wanted her to feel better like I did, but if she wasn't feeling as bad as me in the first place then there's probably an element of trying to punish her. 

It's pointless expecting to be able to change people, they can only change themselves. And who's to say you know what's best for anyone else anyway.

Thanks again guys, this has been very helpful for me to work it out on here.

And thanks Siavash for the energy tip. It's actually something I was starting to play with, without really knowing what I was doing, so it's good to know that it's a thing. Do you remember where he discusses it?
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Siavash ', modified 25 Days ago.

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

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Do you remember where he discusses it?

I heard it in his jhana retreat that is on dharmaseed, but I can't recall which part of it, probably in the middle part which he talks more about whole body, energy body, piti and problematic energetic habits etc. I wish I remembered since I need to listen to it myself too!
George S, modified 24 Days ago.

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

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I've been sort of silently grieving since yesterday (and indeed some of this stuff re. my mother seems like it was "bargaining"). My breath lengthened to 24s (3 per min) which would have seemed impossibly long to me before. After each out breath my body seems just to want to hang there in suspended animation, with grief gently seeping out. It's cathartic, not depressing. 

My sits are shorter. When I started this enforced "retreat" 3 weeks ago I was sitting for 2-3 hours and fighting myself. Now I'm getting much deeper immediately and after 30 minutes I get restless and don't feel like pushing it. I seem to have a natural limit to how deep I can go and how much I can release at any one time.

It wasn't a strict retreat, because I needed to rest and would do other stuff like watch TV if I felt like it. I also spent a lot of time and energy working through my childhood stuff, which was pretty stressful at times, but I feel like it was necessary. My practice has always been as much about working on my stuff as "pure" meditation anyway. It was right for me and I don't think it would have been as effective if I was at retreat center or sticking to a strict schedule.

​​​​​​​The one piece of advice I would give is for any young'uns out there who suspect you may have childhood issues and think you might want to have kids one day - WORK ON THIS STUFF NOW RATHER THEN LATER!!! ​​​​​​​Once the kids arrive then you have a drastic reduction in time and energy - you basically go on autopilot for a few years. Any unresolved childhood issues you have will automatically start showing up in the way your treat your kids (and spouse, parents and in-laws), and not in a good way either.

I know what you're probably thinking ... 'ok maybe I've got a few issues and my childhood wasn't perfect, but it wasn't that bad, and anyway I'm going to do a better job than my parents'. Don't be fooled! That's your defense mechanisms talking. If you have any thoughts like this then order a copy of Drama Of The Gifted Child or Homecoming and see if anything in there rings a bell for you. Hopefully I'm wrong and you can give it to a friend, but if not then you will save yourself A WORLD of unnecessary problems down the line. It's a lot harder to fix a hole in the boat once it's out on the water!

​​​​​​​Ok lecture over. My fatigue hasn't improved much unfortunately and it's time for me to go back to my family soon, I miss them.

 
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Chris Marti, modified 24 Days ago.

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

Posts: 3873 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
George, you probably know this but in my experience, these issues take a lot of time and patience to resolve. This is not a "once through and done" kind of thing. It's the work of a lifetime, at least in many cases.
George S, modified 24 Days ago.

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

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I can see that. I think I just went through a cycle, but it's good to be reminded that there will be more to come! Thanks Chris.
George S, modified 22 Days ago.

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

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I've been through another energy cycle the last 3 days. Partly it was influenced by some unpleasant side effects of a new drug I'm trying for the chronic fatigue (ivermectin), and partly by having finally sent an email to my mother in which I was honest about my childhood experiences and feelings. It was a scaled back version of what I had originally planned to send, but still contained some things which were important for me to say. After sending it there was strong guilt and fear of upsetting her. A bit later I found myself drawn towards sexual fantasizing and I suddenly realized that this was just a way of avoiding those uncomfortable feelings. It threw a whole new light on my misbehavior during an earlier period of my life.

After about 24h these feelings passed and were replace by a feeling of resolution that, whatever happens, I had done the right thing. It's surprisingly hard to accept that your parents harmed you, even though they loved you and did the best they could, and that they made harmful decisions for you because they were more focussed on their own needs than yours. Especially hard when they are still engaged in active denial about the past and trying to make you feel guilty about how hard those decisions were for them. There's a strong voice of self-censorship saying 'thou shalt respect thy parents'. But I've concluded that being afraid of telling them your feelings is not the same thing as respect. It was also hard for me to accept just how emotionally dysfunctional my family really is, because "we had it good" in lots of ways on the surface (more guilt!), even although all three of us kids suffered from some combination of serious depression, self-harming, big addictions and suicidal tendencies (none of which our parents had, apart from some minor depression).

I feel like it was a way of me establishing an emotional boundary really, of saying 'I'm not going to be guilted by you any more'. There's been a noticeable drop in ill will, self-directed anger, feeling like I'm a bad person. It's possible that it was a selfish decision, but in my gut I feel like it was the right thing to do. Time will tell. I try to frame it in the context of my relationship with my 8 year old son. I know that I've been too hard on him in some ways, which was damaging, but I admit it and apologize to him when I make mistakes, so that he knows it's not his fault. I actively see how this reduces his consequent tendency to be hard on himself. When I was his age, my parents had already sent me away to boarding school and given up on the job of being actively engaged parents. He is still so young and needs me so much, that I can see just how damaging it would be to sever the relationship in that way. And if for some reason we had decided to send him away, I certainly wouldn't spend the rest of my life denying I had a choice and complaining about how hard it all was for me! The reason this stuff came up now is probably because he's at the same age and this is the first time I've spent more than a few nights away from my kids.

The painful energy in my forehead which I've had for almost 2 years is still gone. The energetic pains around my mouth are much more prominent now. It feels as if my lips and face are being pulled away. My lower lip is often quivering as if I was about to cry. It's not nearly as painful as the forehead was, but it was still disturbing my mind in meditation. I've been actively cultivating sukha instead, helped by forcing a smile onto my face :-) It actually does work, and it sticks! I'm framing it now as the piti->sukha shift from stage 5->6 of anapanasati. It says to experience piti in stage 5, but it doesn't say to experience it until it goes alway! My overall mood/attitude at the moment is one of "smiling through the pain". It's a lot better way to go about life, so I'm interested to see if I can keep it up once I get back into the whirlwind of family life :-) (going back today)

There's a lot less tension in my jaw now. I've stopped grinding my teeth in my sleep (I used to have to wear a mouthguard at night). I also used to chew my fingers when I was anxious (habit from mother), but I don't even really have the desire to do it any more. If I try it's like I don't have the strength to use my teeth in that way! 

My belly is generally more relaxed and softer, with some more dynamic energy flows. I woke up from a nap yesterday depersonalized and with a feeling that my belly was being punched from the inside, like there was an alien trying to break out of there. It was a little alarming at first, but my mind felt blissful and then it was just kind of funny.
George S, modified 19 Days ago.

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

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I'm still feeling chronically fatigued, having to rest most of the day. The new drugs don't seem to have done much. It's a little frustrating and disappointing, after 6 months of basic functionality. I spend some tIme stuck in thought loops wondering about the causes, which is futile. Coming back to my family at my in-laws' house there are feelings of guilt - over not being able to look after my kids, as well as being back in the shadow of my in-laws (faithful Catholics, top parents). I'm able to work my way out of this stuff, but it's still moderately challenging.

In meditation there is a new energetic development - strong and painful tension in my throat, as if my vocal chords are being stretched out and rubbed with sandpaper. It's too strong to ignore, so I just try to relax into it and roll with whatever it wants to do. The general movement of energy is downwards, waves starting at the top of my throat, down through my chest and expanding in my belly which feels more spacious - like an open 3ft wide chamber as opposed to the tight 6in ball it was before. So there's progress, even if it's painful.

I'm struck by how I alternate with this energy stuff between medium strength periods where I can focus on other stuff like the breath and sukha, vs hard periods where I'm totally at the mercy of the energy. It reminds me that intention is conditioned, impermanent and not-self - sometimes I feel like I'm in control and sometimes it's clear that I have no control. It's another one of those "not not true" things. During the control periods I tend to crave more advanced meditation experiences, because I feel like I can make them happen. During the no control periods I just give up and watch the boat being tossed about in the storm :-)

The throat tension reminds me of one of my OCD compulsions when I was a kid, which was to intentionally strain my throat muscles/vocal chords by stretching them. It was a horrible feeling but I felt compelled to do it. Partly it was to give myself a physical counterpart to my "unacceptable" emotional anxiety, I suspect. I might be reading too much into it, but there's also the connection with the throat chakra which is linked to self-expression. It's fair to say that I'm at a point in my life where my self-expresssion is much restricted, having given up on career etc., especially being sick. It's not forever though, things change! And maybe it's a good thing, because most of my self-expression was narcissistic, whereas now I've gotten a little better at listening XD
George S, modified 18 Days ago.

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

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Regardless of the storyline, this is the most amount of physical and emotional pain I've experienced in the 2.5 years since I started meditating. My jaw/mouth and throat tension seem to be related to the need to cry, which wasn't really possible/acceptable/safe for me growing up. Often I'm falling into a sort of silent sobbing state, but my tear ducts remain resolutely closed. My eyes moisten occasionally when I'm reading/watching/thinking about the misfortunes of others, but it doesn't seem possible yet to connect with my own in the same way. Even the 3rd party stuff doesn't affect me much if I intentionally expose myself, it has to sneak up on me when I'm not expecting it XD

I was away from my family resting for my chronic fatigue for 3.5 weeks. At the 3 week point it was like a voice appeared in my head saying 'time to go home now', even athough my health wasn't any better. It just occurred to my why - 3 weeks was exactly how long I had to stay at school before I could come home for an "exeat"! Actually the exeats were only for 24h, so in a way it was worse than not coming home at all. It was like being starving hungry and shown a feast, only to be allowed to eat a couple of mouthfuls. Still, somewhere deep in my body is stored a 3 week homecoming interval. In this recent absence it's clear to me that I was playing both the role of the parent leaving their kids as well as the (inner) child being sent away from home. 

When I saw my kids again after 3.5 weeks away I was shocked by how different they seemed, as well as how surprised they were to see me and how strangely uncomfortable it felt, as if we were suddenly strangers. It reminded me of exactly how it was when I was 8, walking through the door and seeing my family and home again which I had been so longing for, and yet realizing that it wasn't the same any more. It wasn't my same home and parents any more, and there was no point in getting sentimental about it because I was going to have to leave again so soon anyway.  

Part of my insecurity about my role as parent at the moment (aside from living at my in-laws and being sick) is related to this age synchronicity. My son is the same age I was when I was sent away, so even although I know rationally that this situation is different and I intend to be there for him, still there's a part of me inside which is saying 'that's it, your role as a parent is over'. I'm also about the same age as my parents were when they separated (although they had kids 10 years younger), so that is probably also affecting me. They were never really emotionally committed to each other or their kids much anyway, and had been trying to escape for years (ship the kids off, focus on their own work and interests), but mid 40s was when they formally separated. Again it's completely irrational and not reflective of my situation and intentions (I've done the opposite, stepping back from work to spend more time with my kids), but still somewhere inside there's a voice saying 'it's over, time to flee and focus on yourself'. I have no intention of doing it, but it's still troubling. Well now I've figured it out actually I feel much better about it :-)

I know this is "stuff not meditation", but it's important stuff to me which can't just be dispelled by noting not-self
​​​​​​​and decomposing it into vibrations. I've tried that and it works a bit temporarily, but for me at least it's not nearly as effective as digging in and figuring out the narrative. It seems that this stuff goes in cycles. 4 months ago I had a powerful insight into the fabrication of time and memory, becoming almost completely disidentified from the narrative mindset for a few weeks, before discovering that there was a still deeper level of the narrative that needed to be worked through. It might seem like reidentification from the outside, but to me it feels like temporarily identifying with a deeper level of narrative in order to work through it and then be free of it.

Another way to say it would be that I feel like you can only "not-self" stuff which you're aware of. When you've not-selfed a bunch of visible stuff (from sensations thru to mental and psychological constructs) then it's tempting to think 'that's everything' (relief seeking). But it doesn't take much digging to see there's a bunch more stuff just below the threshold of awareness to be brought up and worked through/not-selfed. I take the point there's no end to this process, but as each layer of stuff is deeper it's hard not to extrapolate that at some point it starts to thin out. I mean once you've really worked through your childhood, what else is there? (apart from all the stuff you don't even remember lol) Of course there's all the new stuff which life throws up in the form of sickness/death of parents/loved ones/friends/self, kid problems, relationship issues, work/material problems etc. Obviously life is still going to stay "interesting". But I feel like (hope?) the deeper level of your own conditioning that you've worked through, the easier it is to be less reactive and flow on the cusp of the present moment with life's challenges.

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