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Dark Night vs The World

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Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/13/10 8:52 PM
Hi folks,

The Dark Night's really kicking my arse, to borrow a phrase. I crossed the A&P with no formal training about 8 years ago, but never knew what it was. I started practising a year or so ago and it has relieved the generalised depression/anxiety I used to experience because I get some days of pre-Dark Night and some days of early Equanimity, and they are fairly predictable, as opposed to in the past when this stuff just ran roughshod through my life. Things at least are moving, I'm no longer just stuck in a dark hole wondering what the hell happened to my life. But the downside is that, compared to when I did not practise at all, the cycling has become more frequent, and the Dark Nights more intense, and therefore my behaviour in the so-called "Real World" has become quite erratic. Pretty sure this cycling is building up to something, I don't know what, but it has the hallmarks of a hot, muggy day before the lightning.

There are times when I want to renounce everything (in the last 12 months: career, marriage, hometown, medication [I have ADHD], alcohol, yoga, coffee) and practice throughout Asia until I get my head around the stuttering clinging to fragments of self left behind by A&P. I did a 21 day retreat in Chiang Mai last August, which, if I'd thought my appetite whetted for insight previously, took things to a new level, and I came home craving (yes craving) to return. The one fortunate attachment... I had some very deep insights. The thing is, I'm father to a ten year old boy who lives with me half the time. I'm not a great role model necessarily, but he's happier with me around.

For that reason I am tempted to give it up entirely, until I can withdraw from the world for *as long as it takes*, rather than the stop-start stuttering of daily practice mixed with daily life and family duty.

I could still do a three month retreat though -- he'd cope ok with that. Question is, say I accept into Stream Entry, are the subsequent Fruitions and 2nd Path inevitable? And if so, won't that make me even more unstable and more of an outsider to normal society? Holding down a job is like juggling eels already.

I guess what I'm asking is, if it's not too content-ridden to ask such a question here, to minimise bleed-through to others, particularly friends and family, should I go forward or backwards? CAN I go backwards; is that possible?

Help! Stuck!

emoticon Jules

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/17/10 11:41 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Dear Julian,

These are classic questions.

Your desire to work with the thing and minimize bleed through is great.

As to the plan: everyone is different. However, those who practice well all day long can tag it in even 10 day retreats, as some recently here seem to have done, so you don't necessarily have to give it all up, though I know how that feels when you are in that space.

As to going back: can't go back. However, some sometimes have some success with resolutions, such as, "May I not cross the A&P again until (such and such a time)," which may hold the thing off for a while, but it will keep showing up anyway. People also have success with resolutions such as, "May I attain to stream entry on this 10 day retreat," or even, "May I attain to stream entry on this sit," or similar. Such things do happen.

Read the section on Equanimity again if you haven't in a while in MCTB. It contains interesting points for what to look for. Read the Three Doors section also.

Subsequent Fruitions post stream entry are essentially inevitable, particularly for those who know the maps, know what they are, and those who incline back to them, as is progress towards second path, which happens naturally, and while no promises about what happens next can be given, most find that things are way better post stream entry the vast majority of the time, though subsequent Dark Nights can cause problems, they rarely do for anything like the duration they did before. I had some instability post stream entry, but it was nothing like what came before and I was suddenly way more able to do things like hold down jobs and go back to school.

Helpful?

Daniel

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/18/10 4:05 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hi Daniel, thanks for your reply. It certainly helps to hear that others have struggled to integrate their practice with daily life, and have come out successful. I will re-read Equanimity in MCTB, and make another crack at the Three Doors section also. Last time I read that I admit to feeling quite out of my depth.

At present, daily practice feels like two steps back for every three steps forward, but there's something to be said for that. It is nothing if not a thorough dousing. I've resolved to continue daily practice on the basis that there is no way out of this thing but through it. Retreats will come and go as I find the occasion.

I was wavering there. Thanks for your help.

Jules

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/18/10 9:55 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Hey Julian,

I may or may not be in the dark night myself, so I hope you don't mind getting advice from someone as inexperienced as I am -- but it sounds like, as far as the three trainings go, you have lots of insight but little samadhi, and as far as sila, you are lacking in goodwill/metta and the basic, ordinary happiness which can arise from it. I have been trying to work on this myself in the last few days, so that is why I feel compelled to reply. You might try reading some books by (say) Thich Nhat Hanh or other teachers which take a more everyday, everything-you-need-is-in-this-moment, happiness-based approach. (I am currently not well read in this domain, but I believe the books are out there.) I recommend a talk by Bhante Vimalaramsi which a friend pointed me to,

http://www.dhammasukha.org/Study/Talks/audio/METTA-DAILY-GER-FEB08.mp3

This talk is a little slow, since he's speaking slowly to allow translation into German -- but it's very interesting and heartening. In particular, there's a story about a student he told to stop meditating entirely and just smile for a week, all the time, and when he couldn't smile, to laugh.

As a side note, Bhante V. says in one of his talks (I think it was this one) that he teaches students by having them do metta from the beginning until they can get to the 4th jhana, and then get to nibanna in any of various ways. He claims that using metta is actually the fastest way because of the various benefits of the extra happiness. Would be interesting to hear reports from his students on this. Certainly sounds good for the world around us, at least.

Chris

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/20/10 6:58 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Julian:

I feel that mindfulness practice is so essential during the whole process, and in parenting practice-- there are loads of opportunities for insight. Resolve to live in balance each day as a priority, and let that be the undercurrent, it is excellent practice now, during retreats, and after deep insight arises no matter what.

There are many options to negotiate for being gentle with yourself and your son throughout the whole ordeal.

Constance

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/28/10 4:16 AM as a reply to Chris G.
Thanks, Chris and Constance, for your suggestions. Constance, your advice about mindfulness is so true. I try and bring some mindfulness to bear in every situation I encounter. Of course, one can only do this when mindfulness of mindfulness occurs emoticon so I try and be gentle with myself, and embrace the sensations of normal daily life whenever the awareness is there. Thankyou for the reminder.

Chris, your suggestion of metta/compassion practice is interesting. I have been introduced to the basic metta practices of the Thai and Burmese traditions on retreat, but to be honest I found them a little discomforting. Rather like praying? "May all beings be happy" etc. Especially when combined with a feeling of inner wretchedness, to me it felt a little contrived. I understand that the Tibetans traditionally place the mahayana/bodhisattva trainings after mastery of the hinayana (pure vipassana) practice; to me, that means post-stream-entry, and makes sense in a "first you save yourself, then you save the world" kind of way.

I would like to explore these teachings in more depth, although do not feel confident that I can bring sincerity to them at present. I spent many years trying to appease others out of unskillful compassion. In the podcast you reference the teacher states that the brain/body doesn't know the difference between real and contrived laughter/smiling. This makes me uncomfortable as it seems to me advocating a denial of "what is". While staving off this suffering through laughter may lead to temporary happiness, I don't see how it could reveal the truth of a given situation. Forgive me if this sounds impertinent.

All of these doubts aside, I intend to do the smiling practice and see what happens :-) in the spirit of investigation, I won't know if I don't try. As stated above, I try and bring mindfulness into my daily life. Usually this entails bringing my mind to rest on bodily sensations, and to be aware of the flickering mental sensations that constantly occur also. For a week, I will add an awareness of my smile into the mix and see what happens :-) Thanks for the kind suggestion.

Incidentally, I found a podcast that doesn't have as much German translation in which the teacher relates the same story as you mention. It is at http://www.dhammasukha.org/Study/Talks/audio/PRACTICING-DAILY-LIFE-WALDHAUS-090427.mp3.

Your other comment regarding samadhi makes me wonder ... have you found it helpful yourself? While I find concentration practice pleasant and interesting, I haven't felt that it brings the insight necessary to handle the Dark Night. Again, something that I look forward to delving deeper into if I ever come to a lasting, wisdom-based awakening.

Jules

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/28/10 5:25 AM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Julian,

I hope the following helps.

Sometimes we think that our facial expressions reflect the state of the mind. In fact this is only partially true. I couldn't find the reference to the article I read a few years ago, where the police were being trained to identify aggressive people through recognizing microexpressions. The surprising result was, after a few days of mimicking sneers and other aggressive facial expressions, the trainees became more restless and increasingly aggressive towards one another. It seems that the mind will follow the physical state.

The Brahma Viharas are not to be taken as do-good-feel-good training tool, but should be taken on like a precept, i.e. as a serious training. If you are not able to start with Metta because of your present state, then try Mudita - sympathetic joy. When you see people around you who are not suffering, be happy for them that they aren't going through what you are going through now. Eventually, you'd be stable enough to work on being in Equanimity, despite your intense personal difficulties.

I hope you'll work smoothly and quickly past this phase.

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/28/10 2:25 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Julian Suggate:
Chris, your suggestion of metta/compassion practice is interesting. I have been introduced to the basic metta practices of the Thai and Burmese traditions on retreat, but to be honest I found them a little discomforting. Rather like praying? "May all beings be happy" etc. Especially when combined with a feeling of inner wretchedness, to me it felt a little contrived. I understand that the Tibetans traditionally place the mahayana/bodhisattva trainings after mastery of the hinayana (pure vipassana) practice; to me, that means post-stream-entry, and makes sense in a "first you save yourself, then you save the world" kind of way.


I would like to second Cris' suggestion of metta practice. I have done short trainings with Bhante Vimalaramsi and know a student of his and am quite impressed with what Bhante is doing.

So much of Buddhist training these days seems to emphasize just staying with our experience - but that often gets translated into 'stay with my projections'. So if I am feeling depressed then I investigate 'my depression'. The Suttas don't suggest this approach imho. Though you may be feeling down - in truth if you pay close attention you will probably notice moments of happiness or at least well being throughout the day. Why? Changing conditions. Just as you can decide to go buy a cup of coffee or in meditation focus on sensations you can also decide to cultivate happiness. We make decisions all day long - this is just another type of decision. In the Suttas there is a great stress on what today we might call 'cognitive behavorial training with insight'. The metta approach like any other technique can be performed on a content level - but that is not what it is about. It is very much about generating, cultivating, transforming our experience and this involves or develops insight into how our experience of the world is constantly changing and how that is occurring - what drives it.

Try approaching the metta practice through cultivating a sense of well being - experiment to see what works. Even a small sense of well being, gratitude, etc. is useful as a seed. You just keep coming back to it. Stay on a feeling level and not on the thought level - make an effort to just keep bringing up the feeling - not thoughts about it. Experientially investigate the qualities of these sensations and how they change. See where the insight comes in? This is very much a proactive form of insight practice. The 3 characteristics will definitely make their appearance. It also involves cultivating strong concentration - not as a preliminary but as a quality of the practice. It takes time and regular practice but it is a good thing to do while you are sitting around wondering how long the dark night will last.

As far as going for Stream Entry: Samsara sucks and it isn't going to get better. It will still suck after stream entry but at least you will understand that there is a way out and the nature of what needs to be done. That helps allot.

-Chuck

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/28/10 8:25 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:
Julian Suggate:
Chris, your suggestion of metta/compassion practice is interesting. I have been introduced to the basic metta practices of the Thai and Burmese traditions on retreat, but to be honest I found them a little discomforting. Rather like praying? "May all beings be happy" etc. Especially when combined with a feeling of inner wretchedness, to me it felt a little contrived. I understand that the Tibetans traditionally place the mahayana/bodhisattva trainings after mastery of the hinayana (pure vipassana) practice; to me, that means post-stream-entry, and makes sense in a "first you save yourself, then you save the world" kind of way.


I would like to second Cris' suggestion of metta practice. I have done short trainings with Bhante Vimalaramsi and know a student of his and am quite impressed with what Bhante is doing.


One thing I would add to this: Perhaps practicing metta is a good idea *because* you (evidently) have a certain aversion to the very concept. What is the source of that aversion? Where is this "it's a lot like prayer" feeling anchored, and what about those sensations makes this "bad"? (Not questions for you to answer now, but to investigate in a sensate way.)

I've had similar issues with practices that smell "too devotional for comfort" or "too new-agey". They may indeed be devotional or new-agey, but it's very interesting how much unexamined dukkha these attitudes can hide. As such, they can be great objects for insight. In my case, I've experienced some of this with magick and with faith. Coming from a pretty skeptical self-identification, the very notion of magick or powers rubbed me the wrong way and I really wished at times that it weren't even talked about (in MCTB, say). But it's been very interesting, if not to practice the powers (haven't done that really), to contemplate my attitude to them and all the fear and aversion and hope tied up in them. Similarly for faith.

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
2/2/10 5:23 AM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Hey,

Rather like praying? "May all beings be happy" etc. [...] to me it felt a little contrived


I would like to explore these teachings in more depth, although do not feel confident that I can bring sincerity to them at present.


While staving off this suffering through laughter may lead to temporary happiness, I don't see how it could reveal the truth of a given situation. Forgive me if this sounds impertinent.


Yeah, I've had these attitudes & thoughts myself, so you're not alone here. I also agree that best love/compassion/etc. is based on clear understanding and empathy. Let me just briefly add a few thoughts to the other posts:

- I think you can improve your baseline level of goodwill & happiness with practice.

- "What a person considers and reflects upon for a long time, to that his mind will bend and incline." This in particular applies to thoughts of good will and compassion. I'm starting to see this happen with myself.

- Good will & happiness are very much related to non-clinging/non-grasping, which is in turn the basis for samadhi, mindfulness, peace/ease/freedom, non-delusion, and much insight (in my experience).

Your other comment regarding samadhi makes me wonder ... have you found it helpful yourself?


My samadhi practice right now is basically just practicing non-craving during the day and on the cushion. I find I actually get a surprising number of insights from it -- it requires a lot of mindfulness of the mind and feelings, and goes very deep. Honestly I'm not very good at it, but to the extent I can relinquish grasping, I feel much more at ease, find the present moment much more easily, and have good mindfulness. I can see why when the Buddha remembered jhana he felt it was the path he was looking for. But for me this is a subtle practice, and I'd probably be taking a big risk if I just did this and didn't practice some straight vipassana too. So I try to hedge my bets. emoticon It seems important to me though.

By the way, check out the Karaniya Metta Sutta:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.than.html

And if you poke around in the other suttas, you'll find that the Buddha was big on non-craving, renounciation, etc. I'm trying to follow 6-step training and the eightfold path (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/index.html), and it's a major part. The whole thing seems very comprehensive to me, I'm quite impressed. I just hope I don't throw myself (and anyone else) off track if what I should be doing is just noting sensations ...

Chris


[EDIT: I originally linked to a different translation of the sutta than I intended. Fixed.]

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
1/29/10 2:08 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Julian,

Julian Suggate:

Chris, your suggestion of metta/compassion practice is interesting. I have been introduced to the basic metta practices of the Thai and Burmese traditions on retreat, but to be honest I found them a little discomforting. Rather like praying? "May all beings be happy" etc. Especially when combined with a feeling of inner wretchedness, to me it felt a little contrived.


Would it help you to know that we're finding more and more scientific evidence to support things like metta practice? For example this piece by Rick Hanson (neuropsychologist and dharma teacher) - "Seven Facts about the Brain That Incline the Mind to Joy" basically says that focusing on positive experiences makes the brain more likely to experience positive things in the future. You can do this by either giving more metal emphasis to positive things as they happen and you can also do this by actively cultivating those wholesome states and then focusing on that experience. Both will "incline the mind towards joy."

HTH,
Eran.

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
2/2/10 3:13 AM as a reply to ratanajothi -.
Hi ratanajothi,

ratanajothi -:


The Brahma Viharas are not to be taken as do-good-feel-good training tool, but should be taken on like a precept, i.e. as a serious training. If you are not able to start with Metta because of your present state, then try Mudita - sympathetic joy. When you see people around you who are not suffering, be happy for them that they aren't going through what you are going through now. Eventually, you'd be stable enough to work on being in Equanimity, despite your intense personal difficulties.

I hope you'll work smoothly and quickly past this phase.


Thankyou for this. I've found the distinction between metta and mudita to be very helpful in penetrating a layer of feeling I'd not identified previously.

RE: Dark Night vs The World
Answer
2/2/10 4:15 AM as a reply to Chris G.
So for the last four days I've been trying to consciously smile at all times, leveraging my normal off-the-cushion mindfulness practice that I do anyway (which otherwise consists of on-the-fly body-scanning). Smiling has been a constant reminder to not take myself or others too seriously, although I have also learned to temper that with an appreciation for the fact that even if the suffering around and within is "self-chosen" in the words of Kahlil Gibran, it is nevertheless very real. This is often paradoxical enough to give me a little chuckle, and the virtuous cycle continues.

Two things:

1) Through the workings of ego, I find questions arise. The primary one is "what are you smiling about?" This generates the above reminder to not take ourselves too seriously. However, after the first two days, this answer has felt a bit cute or rote. I don't always "get the feeling" of samvega and pasada that were so strong that first day or two. I wonder if this will develop into a more reliably feelingful practice over time.

2) Smiling all day feels a bit beyond me at present, so I am looking to back off a little, ease into metta practice and combine it with sutta study or other readings to mimimise the creation of nasty shadow sides. This is based on my own reflections on the question "where does skillful means (smiling) cross over into harmful suppression of reality?" As such, it is purely a personal decision, knowing my own strengths and weaknesses; I do not seek to disparage smiling practice by any means.

Today I have tried a different approach for daily life: during the off-the-cushion body-scanning that I have already mentioned, I simply note the presence or absence of a smile. This simple noting, rather than attempting to engender anything specific, feels a lot more natural to me, and I intend to continue developing this awareness.

I also intend to use some of the suggestions made on this thread, in particular this one of Chuck's:

Try approaching the metta practice through cultivating a sense of well being - experiment to see what works. Even a small sense of well being, gratitude, etc. is useful as a seed. You just keep coming back to it. Stay on a feeling level and not on the thought level - make an effort to just keep bringing up the feeling - not thoughts about it. Experientially investigate the qualities of these sensations and how they change. See where the insight comes in? This is very much a proactive form of insight practice. The 3 characteristics will definitely make their appearance. It also involves cultivating strong concentration - not as a preliminary but as a quality of the practice. It takes time and regular practice but it is a good thing to do while you are sitting around wondering how long the dark night will last.


And I will check out more of Vimalaramsi's work.

The whole process has been intensely worthwhile for me. It's amazing to me how often I was NOT smiling in the past. Without the need to break into a huge grin, simply the awareness that I'm scowling is often enough to bring a gentle smile to my face. And that's a nice improvement, for myself and (I've noticed) for those around me.

In gratitude to you all for your suggestions and support.

+Jules

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