Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Arthur D Rowell, modified 9 Years ago.

Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Posts: 9 Join Date: 5/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi,

I have recently been discussing my primary teacher on this forum, but some people have expressed interest in some of my experiences along the way. I thought a good introduction might be a conversation I had with a close friend after returning from my first Enlightenment Intensive. The EI (for short) is a 3.5 day monastic, residential retreat developed by Charles Berner, who was the teacher to my teacher, in the '60s, inspired by Zen sesshins, Advaita inquiry, and a communication tool called a dyad.

Here is the Google chat record of that conversation following my return from the retreat:

[indent]
me: hey
 
Russ: hey, what's up?
 
me: not much
just taking a break
 
Russ: did you end up going to Connecticut?
 
me: yes
 
Russ: oh, cool
 
me: was half sick, but I pushed through
 
Russ: an interesting experience?
 
me: kind of amazing actually

Russ: good to know you got your money's worth ;)
 
me: yes
I actually felt like I had my money's worth by the first night
still feel that way
 
Russ: that's great
 
me: yes

Russ: anything to say about it, or are you just sitting in quiet Buddhahood in your office?
emoticon
 
me: haha
well, not exactly
 
Russ: was the instructor a good teacher?
 
me: hmmmm
maybe 
don't really have anything to compare her to :-)
 
Russ: hmm
i guess if you got results from the exercises, then that's what matters
 
me: but there wasn't much instruction given, so...
the technique was explained and then further refined as the weekend progressed
and there was a couple of lectures
but they were mostly to address questions, concerns
and maybe clarify a bit of what "enlightenment" really is
 
Russ: did the experiences resemble what you'd felt in your church days?

me: physically, yes, but to a lesser degree...not as intense
but only on the physical level was it the same
that may not make sense...not sure
 
Russ: sure
qi gong for me led to some physical sensations, but
meditation was much more. . . cognitive, even though both were meditation
i guess it depends on what sensations/thoughts you focus on
and which you disregard as unimportant
 
me: exactly
they are not enlightenment
even though they feel nice, they are not to be sought or clung to
 
Russ: yep, that's what the wise men say
 
me: and we were warned of that
especially of how the mind will attach to those events
I actually had two experiences while I was there

Russ: please describe if you feel ok about it
 
me: its a long story, but maybe I can give you the cliff notes version
and maybe give more details over a beer (or herbal tea) :-)
 
Russ: sure thing

me: ok, so I'll do the best I can here, but it is difficult
 
Russ: take your time
i'm only going to take any description as an approximate description, anyway... some things just have to be experienced, imho
 
me: A lot of things i have read now make sense, but retelling them sound like I'm dispensing fortune cookie wisdom
so you are right, I can only use metaphors as suggestions to the truth
but I think you understand

Russ: can you tell me what the exercise was? i'm guessing most had to do with your identity & true self?
 
me: yes
first, the intensive is intense, but the technique seems really powerful
like a meditation microwave or pressure cooker

Russ: sounds like they draw from the Zen sesshin (intensive meditation retreat) tradition
 
me: yes, that was definitely one influence
 
Russ: most monks meditate some number of hours a day
  
but a lot of monks have real breakthroughs at the twice-yearly intensive retreats
 
me: very similar, yes
 
Russ: where they really ratchet up the intensity
 
me: you sit across from a partner and one is the contemplator and one is the listening partner
you begin by the listening partner giving the contemplator instuctions
such as, "Tell me who you are."

Russ: what happens when you exhaust all the typical answers like "student", "husband", "introvert", etc?
i imagine myself just sitting there with nothing to say...
 
me: yes, it usually begins there

Russ: "uh, carbon-based lifeform", or something
 
me: but as you can imagine, that doesn't take long to exhaust
 
Russ: yeah, that's only good for a few minutes, i guess
 
me: next, the contemplator "holds" the question while attempting to "taste" the essence of its truth
now, something will come up
 
Russ: unexpected things?
as in... not the answer you thought you'd come up with?
 
me: like how your parents were too strict or your boss doesn't recognize your hard work or your or something completely random
like the time you had a flat tire
it really doesn't matter what comes up
(you've meditated and know how the mind can wander from thought to thought)

Russ: so the answers aren't what's sought after - it's the introspection/attentiveness that they generate?
 
me: answers are important
when those things arise, you communicate them to your partner as fully as you can
this is to clear it away
as soon as you've done this you return to contemplating the question
you "hold" it and "taste" it
then something else comes up, and you communicate it again
maybe its the same thing, maybe its something different

Russ: hmm
 
me: questions? comments?
 
Russ: i'm just imagining the experience, which is difficult, because i've never had it
;)
it sounds very familiar, in the broad strokes
similar to what i know about zen
meditating on a koan
being encouraged to "lean into the question" with your whole body
the masters use body-words to emphasize you're not just in an intellectual exercise
 
me: yes, exactly, only with a partner

Russ: some Zen sects meditate in rows facing each other... maybe it discourages sleepiness
  
but i don't think they talk with each other
 
me: only the contemplator speaks
the listening partner only listens
 
Russ: right
 
me: no nodding, no speaking, no judgemntal faces

Russ: that would be hard for me as a listener .... i'm a compulsive nodder
 
me: it does keep you focused, awake, and helps to clear the thoughts
as they arise
so anyway, that's the basic of the technique
you take 5 minute turns, changing roles, for 40minutes
we did this about 8-10 times a day
 
Russ: that's a good bit of contemplation
 
me: with walking, sitting, and exercies contemplations in between
no talking outside the dyads
even meals and sleep were considered contemplation
 
Russ: very monastic... sounds good
 
me: yes

Russ: did you get tired of all the paying attention & focusing?
how many days did it last?
 
me: 3 full days
from 6am to 11pm
no phones, jewelry, or personal care products
they were given up at the door
strict veg diet
no caffiene

Russ: that last one would be toughest for me right now, ha ha
 
me: yeah, I stopped a week out to adjust
so anyway, by the night of the first day, I had my first experience
hmmm....
 
Russ: ha ha
tough, isn't it?
 
me: well, there is so much to tell, but let's see
I think it was after supper
but the meal we had seemed bitter and not to my liking
and the thought came to mind, "it will be hard to eat all this."
then I thought, "why? its no harder to chew than pizza."
I then realized it was only thoughts that were causing a problem
then after the meal, in the first dyad, I was communicating this to my partner
I could see that all my suffering was created by myself
and that's when it happened
I suddenly "knew" that I was not my thoughts and feelings and beliefs
it was like, "that's not me!"
I felt a warm rush of energy sweep up my body and I began to cry
when the dyad was over we had a 5 minute break
I walked up the stairs and to my room and it felt like I was surrounded by a warm glow
I cried some more
then I returned the next dyad
the enlightenment master (fascilitator) knew something had happened and asked me about it, but I didn't have anything to say
I just smiled and said I was well
but I was beaming
I would discuss it with her the next day after the lecture

Russ: sounds like it was a good thing to realize, even if was painful
 
me: not painful
blissful
liberating
opposite of painful
 
Russ: tears of joy, then? i was reading "tears=upsetting"
 
me: not sure, the tears were just a "manifestation"
I don't know if they mean anything at all
its just what happened
 
Russ: hmm
 
me: but the sensation was a good one
anyway, the experience wasn't enlightenment
the teacher said it was what they call "de-identification"
she said I was doing good and to continue and to be sure to try and fully communicate to my partner the very essence of had happened
questions?

Russ: did the blissful sensation kind of trail off after a while? or did it persist overnight?
 
me: no, it lasted maybe an hour or so
the tears was very short
minutes
but the bodily sensation lasted longer
other questions?
 
Russ: i don't guess so...
 
me: ok

Russ: i was thinking of something similar that happened to me (but less intense)
 
me: I see
well, this first experience led to my second experience on the 2nd day
but I have to tell you about that a little later haha
I have to step out for a little bit
 
Russ: yeah, that's cool
 
me: I will try to get back online later
 
Russ: i'll be on IM. just whenever you get a chance...
 
me: cool

talk to you more later then
  
bye
 
Russ: yep, see you

[/indent]

And then the conversation concluded here:

[indent]
me: back again
 
Russ: fun in the field?
 
me: always

Russ: i miss being able to walk around
so you had another experience the next day?
 
me: yes
  
it was the 2nd night
I can't remember exactly what I was communicating, but it was something about the previous experience I believe
 
Russ: about you not being the same as your thoughts?

me: hmmm
the first experience was that I was not my thought
 
Russ: right, that's what i meant
 
me: but yes, I was sharing something along those lines with my partner
if I'm remembering correctly
it really doesn't matter though lol
now, this is where it becomes really difficult
so you might have to be patient and work with me on this :-)
 
Russ: ha ha, sure

me: before I came to the intensive I had a couple of fears
and they became obstacles
 
Russ: i imagine that would be true for most people
...this is coming from someone has experience with fear-based obstacles...
 
me: yes
one was that I wasn't "worthy" of enlightenment or that I would have to become "worthy" after enlightenment
the other was that I would lose part of myself, or that my ego, personality, mind, or whatever would need to dissapear
these were all unfounded and untrue, but they were still present just the same
so, this ties into my first experience
and after that, I started to see how my mind had created these obstacles
not just those, but many more
my mind had decided who I am, what I was, what enlightenment was, how it would happen, when it could happen, etc
but after the first experience, these obstacles started to fall apart
the illusion couldn't hold up any more
 
Russ: huh
was the resolution of those obstacles the same kind of experience as before? blissful, warmth, etc?

me: yes, but I'm not quite there yet :-)
but we're close haha
this all lead to the next experience

Russ: oh, now is where you get to the levitation part, ha ha.
 
me: exactly lol
have you ever heard of enlightenment referred to as "awakening?"

Russ: the Buddha's first words after his big experience were something to that effect
 
me: ah
well, that's what happened...I woke up
I think I had the idea that enlightenment would be in an altered state, like a trance or something
just the opposite
like remembering where you left your car keys, I KNEW who I was
have you ever been dreaming and you thought it was real, but then you wake up and realize it was a dream?
I am sure you have
 
Russ: sorry, someone popped their head into my office...
i'm re-reading the last 20 sec
 
me: that's fine

Russ: huh
lots of zen stuff about uncovering the original mind

me: well, it's like that, except instead of dreaming your a steamboat captain one minute and in you bed the next, you are in the same place, doing the same thing, you are just awake. does that make any sense?

Russ: the experience of familiarity with the state of mind
 
me: was any of that clear?

Russ: yeah, it sounds very similar to some accounts I've read. i just have a minimal level of personal experience with it...

me: the funny thing is that I realized I had experienced this "Me" before, many times, but I didn't KNOW it was Me
It was like I was just told a cosmic joke, and I literally laughed my ass off
I realized that enlightenment was no big deal, actually it was somewhat ordinary
 
Russ: huh
 
me: and the physically sensations returned, and I cried
and laughed
and cried some more
and the dyad ended
 
Russ: shit, just a sec
 
me: k

Russ: crap, i feel like i got interrupted during the best part of a movie.
someone stopped by my office to ask about a server failure
 
me: :-)
 
Russ: did you tell the facilitator about this experience, too?
 
me: yes, immediately
she asked me a series of questions
then we both laughed and smiled (I think I glowed) and she told me it was very important to try and fully communicate the essence of what I experienced to my partners
so that's what I spent the whole 3rd day doing

Russ: wow. so you spent hours talking about it?
 
me: well, trying to talk about it
actually, I didn't have many words to say after that, but I would try to
it usually just came out like a fortune cookie
so out of each turn I had, I would speak a few words, and sat in silence the rest of the time

Russ: did you have further tasks to concentrate on, or were you sort of absorbing/integrating what had happened?
 
me: no further tasks
in a way, it was like I had nothing to do, nowhere to go
 
Russ: what happened sounds pretty substantial.
 
me: but more contemplation, absorbtion, integration...yes
I would like to add that my awakening experience only lasted a short while
have you ever heard of kensho?
 
Russ: sure

me: haha of course
well, I hadn't! :-)
 
Russ: ha ha
if you're interested in other people's experiences, i have a book called "Three Pillars of Zen" which contains several meditation journals from a retreat in Japan
several experiences very closely mirror your own
 
me: cool
I would love to
thank you
 
Russ: it's kind of amazing how much similarity there is to experiences across time and space

me: very amazing
 
Russ: did the teacher think you should begin a regular meditation practice?
or were you encouraged to attend another retreat when you're ready?
 
me: yes, or some other practice to help integrate the experience into my life
meditation, yoga, something that "fits" for me, but will further the process
here's a story our teacher told us
most people walk around their whole life with a bucket over there head
then one day they tip the bucket, and peak out from under it to see the real world
this is like an enlightenment experience
most people don't take the bucket off for good, but they "look outside" to degrees
next they may lift the entire bucket off and look around before putting it back over their head
after that they may take the bucket off and throw it to the corner....then run over, pick it up, and put it back on
finally, one day they take the bucket off and never replace it
the point is that you always have the same "enlightenment", but the degrees vary
so, maybe I got a peak, but now I work toward completely removing the bucket
through meditation, intensives, yoga, etc

Russ: that jives with what i've heard
usually the Zen teacher will tell the student to deepen/integrate their experience after a kensho event
not to get too caught up with the kensho itself, but to regard it as a stepping stone or a gateway

me: sounds similar
 
Russ: i'm happy for you. it sounds like it was a good experience.
 
me: thank you. I think so too
 
Russ: although "good" probably doesn't cover it. emoticon
 
me: I guess time will be the real test

Russ: have you felt any difference interacting with people since you came back?
 
me: I have noticed one "benefit" already
its like I've taken a big leap in cognitive therapy
 
Russ: that's cool
 
me: a sense thoughts as they arise, like if something happens that would have pissed me off
  
and I can "choose" to invest in the thought, or discard it if it doesn't help me
I would actually say that's a HUGE benefit
for me at least
even if its not exactly the point of it all
I also do feel more relaxed, in the present, and open to people
but as I said before, time will be the real test of all that

Russ: yep, that makes sense
 
me: did I ever send you that book "Tell Me Who You Are."?
its about a guys experience with an enlightenment intensive
 
Russ: yeah, you sent me pdf, i believe

me: yeah, well, it does a good job of describing what the intensive is like
 
Russ: i read a little bit, but put it down. i'll have to take a look again.
 
me: its a good, short, read
people really do threaten to leave, shout, cry, burst into song
it got kinda crazy at times
 
Russ: were there many people there?
 
me: about 10 participants
about half guys, half girls
about 5 staff

Russ: so there wasn't a "teacher" per se?
you mentioned a "facilitator"

me: yes
her title is actually "enlightenment master" kinda silly :-)
there was 1 lecture each day
either about the technique or enlightenment or about issues people were having
and she was there for you to discuss anything
such as problems or "experiences"
so, you might call her a teacher

Russ: definitely a very strong Zen influence. which is good. Zen is not big on nonsense or endless metaphysical speculation.
i've always had lot of respect for their methods and practicality.

me: yeah
here is a brief description of the intensive
http://www.vitallifecenter.org/events-enlightenment-intensives.php

Russ: interesting stuff
 
me: yeah
its interesting how it flowed
the 1st day was like a release of emotional baggage
the 2nd day people tried to rationalize everything
the 3rd day was a mixture of bliss and dispair, depending on where you were in the process

Russ: did anyone else have a breakthrough?
 
me: I feel like at least one other person did, maybe 2
but one person I really think did
but only they can know for sure

Russ: yeah, i guess so

me: I had read once that about 30% in an intensive have an enlightenment experience; I guess that would make the numbers about right :-)

Russ: do you think you'll get back in touch with the teacher? i'm curious about where the path goes from here.. .
other than a meditation/yoga/etc practice...

me: she is suppose to call in 2 weeks for a follow up
normally, she would meet in person, but since I live here...
 
Russ: yeah
 
me: but the intensive itself i think is like a bootcamp
and it is used by buddhists, yogis, unitarians, and all kind of groups, so the practices for further development are somewhat up the participant
at least that's what it seems like to me right now

Russ: well, it sounds like you did indeed get a worthwhile trip emoticon

me: I think so too
and I may do another one
or even two
not sure yet
[/indent]

The conversation trails off from there, so that basically concludes things.

I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.

Warmly,
Arthur
Adam . ., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Posts: 613 Join Date: 3/20/12 Recent Posts
hey arthur, do you think your experience might match the 'arising and passing away' stage as described here:
http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/1509672

if so, it is what many see as the first stage in the path towards enlightenment, the point of no return which sets many people onto the path
Arthur D Rowell, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Posts: 9 Join Date: 5/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi Adam,

Thank you for your response. Many of the things mentioned at the link you provided sound familiar. However, I can't say with any certainty that they are the same.

Warmly,
Arthur
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Posts: 296 Join Date: 9/5/10 Recent Posts
Hi Arthur. I enjoyed reading your post emoticon

Some quick comments:


Arthur D Rowell:

me: next, the contemplator "holds" the question while attempting to "taste" the essence of its truth
now, something will come up
 
Russ: unexpected things?
as in... not the answer you thought you'd come up with?
 
me: like how your parents were too strict or your boss doesn't recognize your hard work or your or something completely random
like the time you had a flat tire
it really doesn't matter what comes up
(you've meditated and know how the mind can wander from thought to thought)

Russ: so the answers aren't what's sought after - it's the introspection/attentiveness that they generate?
 
me: answers are important
when those things arise, you communicate them to your partner as fully as you can
this is to clear it away
as soon as you've done this you return to contemplating the question
you "hold" it and "taste" it
then something else comes up, and you communicate it again
maybe its the same thing, maybe its something different


Sounds like straight up self-inquiry.




Arthur D Rowell:

me: before I came to the intensive I had a couple of fears
and they became obstacles
 
Russ: i imagine that would be true for most people
...this is coming from someone has experience with fear-based obstacles...
 
me: yes
one was that I wasn't "worthy" of enlightenment or that I would have to become "worthy" after enlightenment
the other was that I would lose part of myself, or that my ego, personality, mind, or whatever would need to dissapear
these were all unfounded and untrue, but they were still present just the same
so, this ties into my first experience
and after that, I started to see how my mind had created these obstacles
not just those, but many more
my mind had decided who I am, what I was, what enlightenment was, how it would happen, when it could happen, etc
but after the first experience, these obstacles started to fall apart
the illusion couldn't hold up any more


Arthur D Rowell:

me: well, there is so much to tell, but let's see
I think it was after supper
but the meal we had seemed bitter and not to my liking
and the thought came to mind, "it will be hard to eat all this."
then I thought, "why? its no harder to chew than pizza."
I then realized it was only thoughts that were causing a problem
then after the meal, in the first dyad, I was communicating this to my partner
I could see that all my suffering was created by myself
and that's when it happened
I suddenly "knew" that I was not my thoughts and feelings and beliefs
it was like, "that's not me!"
I felt a warm rush of energy sweep up my body and I began to cry
when the dyad was over we had a 5 minute break
I walked up the stairs and to my room and it felt like I was surrounded by a warm glow
I cried some more
then I returned the next dyad
the enlightenment master (fascilitator) knew something had happened and asked me about it, but I didn't have anything to say
I just smiled and said I was well
but I was beaming
I would discuss it with her the next day after the lecture

Russ: sounds like it was a good thing to realize, even if was painful
 
me: not painful
blissful
liberating
opposite of painful


Arthur D Rowell:

Russ: so you had another experience the next day?
 
me: yes
  
it was the 2nd night
I can't remember exactly what I was communicating, but it was something about the previous experience I believe
 
Russ: about you not being the same as your thoughts?

me: hmmm
the first experience was that I was not my thought
 
Russ: right, that's what i meant
 


Sounds to me like you went through the first nanas and ended up with an A&P event.




Arthur D Rowell:
Russ: have you felt any difference interacting with people since you came back?
 
me: I have noticed one "benefit" already
its like I've taken a big leap in cognitive therapy
 
Russ: that's cool
 
me: a sense thoughts as they arise, like if something happens that would have pissed me off
  
and I can "choose" to invest in the thought, or discard it if it doesn't help me
I would actually say that's a HUGE benefit
for me at least
even if its not exactly the point of it all
I also do feel more relaxed, in the present, and open to people
but as I said before, time will be the real test of all that


Sounds to me like you raised your baseline to possibly the third nana.



 
Arthur D Rowell:

me: exactly lol
have you ever heard of enlightenment referred to as "awakening?"

Russ: the Buddha's first words after his big experience were something to that effect
 
me: ah
well, that's what happened...I woke up
I think I had the idea that enlightenment would be in an altered state, like a trance or something
just the opposite
like remembering where you left your car keys, I KNEW who I was
have you ever been dreaming and you thought it was real, but then you wake up and realize it was a dream?
I am sure you have
 
Russ: sorry, someone popped their head into my office...
i'm re-reading the last 20 sec
 
me: that's fine

Russ: huh
lots of zen stuff about uncovering the original mind

me: well, it's like that, except instead of dreaming your a steamboat captain one minute and in you bed the next, you are in the same place, doing the same thing, you are just awake. does that make any sense?

Russ: the experience of familiarity with the state of mind
 
me: was any of that clear?

Russ: yeah, it sounds very similar to some accounts I've read. i just have a minimal level of personal experience with it...

me: the funny thing is that I realized I had experienced this "Me" before, many times, but I didn't KNOW it was Me
It was like I was just told a cosmic joke, and I literally laughed my ass off
I realized that enlightenment was no big deal, actually it was somewhat ordinary
 
Russ: huh
 
me: and the physically sensations returned, and I cried
and laughed
and cried some more
and the dyad ended


Sounds very much like the "I AM" experience, possibly also the realization.




I hope this helps. I don't know how familiar you are with these terms. If you are not, you can poke around the Wiki section and read the relevant passages in the MCTB (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha), which - as you might know - is the book of the founder of this site. If you are still unsure what the terms mean, I'm sure someone will clarify for you.

Also keep in mind that I do not consider myself to be a very seasoned practitioner, and this is only my own interpretation of what you have written. Hopefully someone with more experience than me can also comment on you post.
Arthur D Rowell, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Initial Foray Into Enlightenment

Posts: 9 Join Date: 5/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi Stian,

Thank you for your comments. I am still mostly unfamiliar with the terminology used here, but I am reading to learn more. I find different models to Enlightenment interesting, and I appreciate your efforts to bridge that gap.

Warmly,
Arthur

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