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The Isolation of Blowing It

The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/8/13 9:18 PM
The known problems with goal-oriented practice are many, and this experiment in the Dharma Overground community, with open disclosure and a culture of labels, stages, states, levels of attainment, and the like, along with a pretty highly skilled group, has created some really good things. People have aimed high, achieved great things, made remarkable discoveries, learned a lot, grown as people and practitioners, and had a great time.

That said, there are some obvious downsides to goal-oriented, high-achievement communities, some of which have become more obvious recently. Here I am specifically thinking about one of the many possible problems, that being something like the following scenario:

A person is all excited about practice.

They practice hard and well, aiming for a very specific goal.

They achieve something that, at that time, really feels like they have done it.

They are not consciously trying to fool themselves or anyone, just honestly feel they have attained to whatever state, stage, realization or transformation.

They make the claim that they have done it.

They receive whatever social benefits and downsides result from having made that claim.

Time passes.

Things begin to show up that clearly are not as well seen as they thought they were, not as transformed as they thought they were, and they begin to feel that they were wrong about what they had done.

Were they totally delusional? Were they bad people? Was it just that, at that time, that really seemed to have been what they thought it was and anyone would have been fooled as they had been? Was it really that they had done that thing at that time, but that thing was not as permanent as they thought it was? Could they have possibly known at the time that it wasn't that thing or that it wouldn't last? These are hard questions to answer, but that is not really the important thing.

Where the real problem comes is the let down, the embarrassment, the strange role reversals they might find themselves in if that attainment transported them into some sort of teacher or authority role, the personal confusion about what is suddenly happening and why, the disappointment that comes when we worked so hard and things didn't work out as they thought they did.

All of that can cause the worst part of it all: isolation. If we find ourselves unwilling to admit to others that we were wrong, or feeling like we are unable to do so, or that we will be ridiculed, blamed or ostracized if we reveal that what we know know to not have been true, then real damage is done, for it is in those times that we most benefit from friends who can help us put it back together, go back to basics, regroup, re-tool or modify our practice, learn, grow, and move on.

Instead, we may find ourselves feeling like outcasts, failures, victims of our own hubris, afraid of being thought of as liars or fools or both. We may disconnect from our fellow dharma companions, communities, teachers, friends, family members, and wander lost and confused, which is something that very few handle that well in the shadow of some feeling of past glory and achievement. That isolation is where the real damage happens.

As one who has gone through lots of cycles over the years that led to lots of plateaus, many of which were quite impressive for some period of time but later faded or reality-tested at a lower level than first impressions seemed to indicate, I can totally sympathize, as I have been there and done that and very well may do it again. It can be very painful and disorienting.

It should be realized that this sort of thing is not only going to happen, it is actually very normal in this open-disclosure world of states, stages, names of levels, and achievement-oriented culture. If we recognize this as a community and can talk about it, then when it happens, which it has and will again, perhaps often, then the members of the community, who are then dealing with all the complexities that these strange phases can cause, won't have to deal so much with the additional stigma of feeling like people think they are freaks, losers, or unwilling or willing charlatans when they face the expected outcome of sometimes totally blowing it and making some claim that didn't turn out to hold up over time.

Thus, I urge each of you, should you run into someone who has this happening to them, to have similar sympathy, to wish that person well, to realize that, if you are in this rarified business long enough, it will likely happen to you also, and, when it does, think about how you would want to be treated and pass that on ahead of time.

So far, we have generally been pretty good with this, actually, and I hope that trend continues. Lots can be learned from these sorts of mistakes, as I personally know from having made many of them. Hopefully, by recognizing this potential shadow-side of gung-ho meditation culture, we will be more prepared to handle it well.

Thanks,

Daniel


RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/9/13 1:43 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Great stuff, and well said.

I think, as well as what Daniel has said here about considering the personal feelings of people in this situation, it's very worthwhile looking at the interpersonal aspects too. People don't just suddenly assume a powerful / privileged position relative to others. It's not just something that happens in a person or to person; it's something that happens between people.... and we all play a part in that.

It has often been fascinating to me how a person's words are weighted differently according to what label is applied to their particular way of being human. One day Person X can be deemed an exemplar of Condition Y, and people hang on their every word. Next day, the officialness of the Condition Y label is withdrawn, and suddenly that person's words and experiences, no matter how remarkable or valuable they might be in themselves, are bereft of meaning and status... for better or worse.

It's not (just) something that's happened to them; it's largely something that is happening between us. We all have a role in creating and sustaining these ebbs and flows of esteem, privilege, authority, etc.

This is not to suggest that we're all the same, that there aren't any worthwhile distinctions to be made between people's mode of experience, or that there aren't any degrees of progress along a certain trajectory of development. Clearly there are differences, and it makes a lot of sense in some contexts to be very precise about those differences. But, to my mind, it's always worth remembering that the meaning and value of those differences is as much political as phenomenological... and that tends to get less attention in forums like this one.

Being somewhat acquainted with some of the people Daniel alluded to, I would hate to think that any of them would feel isolated, embarrassed or humiliated as a consequence of having their condition re-interpreted, re-evaluated, re-narratised, either by themselves or by anyone else. These situations are also a good source of insight, and it's a no less important type of insight than, say, insight into the 3Cs or any intra-personal insights one gains from meditation (or other practices). And none of it was entirely their doing.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/9/13 4:59 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
This needed to be said.

It's unfortunate it needed to be said - given the stated intent of our culture and community - but it needed to be said.

For what it's worth, a few months back, I said I had gotten 4th path (as defined by our hardcore dharma community). I've concluded since then that I did NOT achieve 4th path. Something quite unique happened, which I described at the time, but I did not lock in that state as my baseline. It dissipated about a month and a half after I achieved it.

I don't feel any shame about this. It's not like I or someone else is harmed by me saying I think I got an attainment I didn't. The reason I didn't bring it up sooner is because I kind of lost interest in this model shortly after my alleged attainment, and that loss of interest wasn't helped by realizing I hadn't in fact gotten the attainment.

Strangely, my teacher - who I no longer work with - still believes I got 4th path. It's quite possible that, by the way she understands 4th path, I got it, but the lack of a standard for these things in the wider hardcore dharma community is something I've complained about in the past, but I've been told more than once and by more than one person that this is not a fruitful avenue of inquiry, discussion, or debate. I would disagree strongly, but like I said, I've kind of lost interest.

I still have a lot of interest in the spiritual path. Since pulling back a little bit from the hardcore dharma frameworks, I've come to appreciate different dimensions of that development. I just don't have the motivation right at this point to lock in "4th path" - or whatever it was I hit and enjoyed this past winter.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/10/13 12:02 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Fitter Stoke:
Something quite unique happened, which I described at the time, but I did not lock in that state as my baseline. It dissipated about a month and a half after I achieved it.

Fitter,
If you feel up to it could you start a thread detailing the dissipation phase and how this was different than the last 3 paths?
I have noticed a definite cooling off after 1st and 2nd path moments that lasted about a month each. It was like a bunch of energy was transferred at path time then it faded....has this been discussed before?
Thanks,
~D

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/10/13 7:07 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
The worship culture is one of the reasons I really like your "mind training terms" project. A cold, value-less, phenomenological terminology.

The goal-oriented aspect can still survive in that model, since people can have an overall view of what is possible in each category, and work towards progressing to specific, reasonably-well-defined stages within each category. That is much better and richer than having this silly linear model of progress, where people are labeled 0, 1, 2, 3 and 4. Seeing mental training as a collection of skills and brain tweaks, which is all it really is (for me anyway), is much more reasonable than seeing it as this stupid sort-of "ascension into sainthood".

What happened with that project, anyway? I can't find the web address for it.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/10/13 9:51 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
What happened to Mind training terms was a combination of lack of outside interest, the pull of other projects, and the further invasion of my work life into my dharma life. However, I made a few connections at the Contemplative Development Mapping Project a month or two back and may be able to convert that into its resurrection, perhaps in a month or two.

Buddhist Geeks might give me the impetus to really try to get that going like I dreamed it would.

Daniel

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/10/13 10:49 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
I would be interested in having a wiki version here at the DhO that any member could edit. I do see value in having it done in some sort of inter-university/meditation center/whatever collaboration, but as long as that doesn't happen, we might as well have a low-maintenance wiki page laying out these things (with no warranties and limited accountability). I see no better place for it than the DhO.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/10/13 5:20 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
So true. In fact, I have been working on that for nearly two years now.

Four developers have not been able to do it for reasonable costs (one couldn't do it at all, two were kind volunteers who later had other commitments take that offered time away (which is understandable, and their offer to try was very much appreciated), and one of which came up with a solution that would have cost about $6000 or more.

I have found a developer who will try it for $2000, and we are working on that now. Hopefully, the upgrade to a better server platform (Epsilon), will also help with that. When we get to Liferay 6.1, it apparently has workflow controls that will allow the wiki to be open widely and yet let changes be approved so nobody can get in and trash the place out, so that hopefully will be soon.

It has been a long time coming. I promise I have spent many hours and a lot of thought on how to get this done. Standard Liferay upgrade pathways totally failed, and then it got complicated.

Anyway, we may finally be close.

Daniel

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/11/13 8:09 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
"and why claim an attainment anyway?"

If the models are a reasonable reflection of human experience, then the reason to claim attainment is to receive feedback on potential areas to focus on in the next phase.

Also, if a person is willing to put themselves out there and others poke holes in their claims, then hopefully some learning will come from the interaction.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/12/13 12:31 AM as a reply to J.
nice!

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/13/13 11:43 AM as a reply to J.
Justin Chapweske:
"and why claim an attainment anyway?"

... to claim attainment is to receive feedback on potential areas to focus on in the next phase.

Makes sense. But I think, given our "western", especially North American, culture, the word "claim" may be causing issues for some. Actually, so might "attainment". In general, "claim an attainment" really just means "check[1] my progress", no?

The point is that "claim an attainment" can conjure up a picture of Gollum on the edge of the Orodruin crater, raising up The One Ring after biting it off Frodo's finger, and screaming exultantly, "We Has The Precious!", and I think that's not exactly what we're after here.
emoticon

R

[1] Or maybe "confirm" or "validate" would be better words, given the alternate sense of the word "check", namely "stop".

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
concentration cycling buddist meditation calmness community buddha daniel ingram maturity metta sayadaw
Answer
7/30/13 12:30 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:

All of that can cause the worst part of it all: isolation. If we find ourselves unwilling to admit to others that we were wrong, or feeling like we are unable to do so, or that we will be ridiculed, blamed or ostracized if we reveal that what we know know to not have been true, then real damage is done, for it is in those times that we most benefit from friends who can help us put it back together, go back to basics, regroup, re-tool or modify our practice, learn, grow, and move on.

Instead, we may find ourselves feeling like outcasts, failures, victims of our own hubris, afraid of being thought of as liars or fools or both. We may disconnect from our fellow dharma companions, communities, teachers, friends, family members, and wander lost and confused, which is something that very few handle that well in the shadow of some feeling of past glory and achievement. That isolation is where the real damage happens.


Hello All,

After happening upon this forum and Daniel's site, I read through MCTB once to get some background. I like Daniel's flexibility and openness to the real experiences of contemporary spiritual life, rather than trying to fit everything into some ancient pattern. I have been looking around this forum, trying to get a sense of the community and where I can begin to interact. I didn't see an Introductions section, so I picked this post to respond to, since the quote above pretty much describes my story.

I am an older guy with roots in the 60s West Coast spiritual culture. Having been through many different schools, processes and models of spiritual growth, I finally settled on the Theravāda Buddhist practice and approach. After traveling to various retreat centers in Thailand and Sri Lanka for some time, I now live as an Upāsaka in a small Sri Lankan monastery of the Sayādaw lineage—only four monks, and three of them are kids. We're way up in the mountains, most days looking down on the clouds. Nobody but myself meditates.

I'm here because the chief monk is a younger ambitious guy with vision who wants to develop the place into a retreat center. We have become good friends. I'm OK with all of this, especially since my monk friend totally understands that I am not into the religious aspects of Buddhism and just want a safe place to meditate. I'm retired and have no plans to return to the West—in fact I find Westerners, even the meditators I run into here, to be rather unpalatable compared with the upcountry locals here.

Historically, in almost every spiritual group or model I have participated in, I was the guy on the fringe with all kinds of other interests. From my point of view, the communities were too sectarian, narrow and limited. Nevertheless, to participate I had to stay in the closet about my broad interests.

For a long time I was a student of classical bhakti-yoga. I lived in India on and off for many years. In between I studied all kinds of other stuff, including Tantra, Taoism and of course Buddhism. Eventually I became viewed as a senior disciple of my guru and became a teacher. I wrote books, attracted students and created a community with an ashram in India.

I still maintained my broad interests and tried my best to get my students to see the value of these other traditions and practices. However, they were turning out like Hindu fundamentalists. The whole situation became very unpleasant, so I resigned from guru and dissolved the community. I wanted space and time to try to understand what went wrong and explore other possibilities. My ex-students became very bitter and created lots of trouble, which led to complete disconnection from my previous spiritual community.

Thankfully, one of the more open-minded students remained supportive, and we became partners in a deep investigation of what went wrong. We began with leadership studies, and I learned that attaining some spiritual insight or realization does not automatically qualify or make one a great teacher or leader. They are completely different areas of skill and expertise. I began to see that both teaching and leadership involve being and becoming. That led to a review of the Theravāda teachings, and well, here we are.

Over the years I had countless spiritual experiences, awakenings and realizations. Then afterwards things became much as they were before, with some subtle differences that add up over time. After reading MCTB I can see that these were part of cycles, as described in the book. Daniel's model opened up a lot of insights for me, although I would be wary of applying any model too obsessively.

In fact a big part of the confusion surrounding spiritual life and advancement seems to be the notion that it has to conform to some model at all. As times change, society's values shape our experience in various ways. For example, my experience in traditional communities in India suggests that celibacy is just not that big a deal to people raised in the old ways. For Westerners, however, it's a huge issue. It's probably unreasonable to expect most Westerners to be celibate without becoming neurotic.

If we assume that people start out in spiritual life with a sincere desire to attain enlightenment, then the problems start when they adopt an inadequate model: one that is either too restrictive or too inflexible, or that is based on obsolete or inapplicable cultural norms. My own isolation is certainly due to the lack of an adequate model that, in software terminology, handles degradation gracefully. In other words, when unexpected things happen, most systems or models can't deal with it and break down.

Any system of stages or states is only a map, and cannot describe or predict everything that will happen. On the other hand, it's far better to have a map than be without one. Daniel's map is the best and most flexible so far, yet there are still discussions on this forum that show that it doesn't work for everyone. I think it's enough to know that everything, including most spiritual realizations and breakthroughs, is impermanent and that spiritual growth is a spiral rather than a linear progression.

Also, the Buddha's path is not so much a matter of 'getting' things as losing them; not so much a matter of 'achieving' things as letting go; not so much about doing things as allowing doing to come to an end. This mood does not fit very easily into Western goal-oriented models of achievement. I'm not sure I understand it myself, but as I relax more and more into Buddhist practice and culture, I'm getting a feel for all these things.

At the moment I am rather isolated, but that's OK. My ex-student has gone back to his home country and I spend most of my time in splendid silence and seclusion. I'm building a stone hut, and plan to get ordained and stay here the rest of my life. Still it would be helpful to have a community of like-minded folks to share and discuss with.

As far as my practice, I don't follow any particular method, but regular sitting and concentration, and deal with whatever shows up. I have my gung-ho moments, but in general I'm quite content to sit and enjoy whatever I am. Sure, I have good and bad days like everybody else; but in general, since taking up more or less regular meditation practice, my level of suffering is maybe 10% of what it was.

Gradually I have let go of the desire to be a teacher, writer or 'authority', as I have both seen and experienced that without extraordinary leadership ability, that is only a thorny thicket of troubles. I am a conservatory-trained composer, and used to be a music producer and recording artist. I have let that go too, because of lack of interest. The same goes with most relationships.

I don't think I'm fooling myself, but rather have really seen through the illusion to the stark reality of the unsatisfactoriness of the things most people, even most spiritually-oriented people, think are necessary. I could still go back to the west, pick up my musical career, engage in relationships and so forth, but why bother? I don't see this loss of interest as a bad thing, but as a natural consequence of giving up 'I'-making and 'mine'-making.

Nor do I see much point in 'trying' to 'achieve' enlightenment. The progress I have made since understanding the process of the Buddha has been more than satisfactory. I feel confident that if I continue doing the process, the opening that leads to enlightenment will become obvious.

One thing I find curiously missing from MCTB and this site is discussion of mettā and its role creating the karma for enlightenment. But maybe that's a subject for a separate post. I'm happy to have found this community and look forward to some interesting and helpful exchanges.

with mettā,
Buddha-vaṃsa

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/30/13 4:56 AM as a reply to Dharmasar.
Thanks for your post and story.

Regarding metta, you are right, it doesn't get discussed much here.

Coincidentally, I am in a bit of a powersy phase at the moment (one of many that have arisen and vanished), and that often leads to more metta practice, as it seems one of the safest and most fundamental uses of that frame of mind, and so have been doing more it in the last month or so and found it helpful.

Glad you found this place. There are other sister websites that are also interesting and help augment what happens here: see the links page.

Regarding metta, it sounds like you have some thoughts on it. What are they?

Daniel

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/30/13 5:34 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:

Regarding metta, it sounds like you have some thoughts on it. What are they?
Daniel


Daniel,

Thanks for the warm welcome. Briefly (just taking a break from practice), I have found the practice of mettā invaluable when there is any disturbance of the mind due to fear, anger or other negative emotions. For example, when waking up after a bad dream or if the mind gets disturbed due to the unsatisfactoriness of ordinary things.

Another subject rarely discussed around here is karma (Pāli: kamma). Enlightenment (or anything else) occurs when the karma for it is mature. There are things we can do to create that karma, and in my experience, one of the most helpful and powerful is practicing mettā.

Strangely, it doesn't seem to matter if you really feel that you want all beings to be safe and happy, or whatever form your mettā practice takes. It seems to be enough to fabricate the determination/intention, even if it's not so deeply heartfelt or sincere as we might like it to be. I have got very good results with even small amounts of this practice, and encourage others to try it and report.

with mettā,
Buddha-vaṃsa

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/30/13 11:25 AM as a reply to Dharmasar.
Thanks for the post.

Upāsaka Buddha Vaṃsa:

Another subject rarely discussed around here is karma (Pāli: kamma). Enlightenment (or anything else) occurs when the karma for it is mature. There are things we can do to create that karma, and in my experience, one of the most helpful and powerful is practicing mettā.


I think it's an important point. I don't think you can't just "power your way through" to enlightenment. Sure, effort, determination and all that is needed.
If the Paramis are not developed enough, despite trying hard, can you reach a fruition moment? I honestly don't know.

Upāsaka Buddha Vaṃsa:
Strangely, it doesn't seem to matter if you really feel that you want all beings to be safe and happy, or whatever form your mettā practice takes. It seems to be enough to fabricate the determination/intention, even if it's not so deeply heartfelt or sincere as we might like it to be. I have got very good results with even small amounts of this practice, and encourage others to try it and report.


I'm really glad you said this because I've had a lot of difficulties in practicing metta meditation. To illustrate, it's often taken the form of "thinking nice thoughts" ie "May all beings be happy" or "May I be happy" or some particular individual. But I've often thought that it's not REAL METTA. It's just fabricated. I'm trying to cultivate a wholesome state, but I don't really FEEL it strongly enough. I've often felt it a bit easier when I'm just doing it in amongst ordinary activities like walking down the street or sitting on the bus, rather than when I'm dryly sitting on the cushion.

I'm some way off what Ajahn Brahm recounts in his book Mindfulness, Bliss, And Beyond : Many years ago in my monastery in Perth, we were chanting the Buddha's verses for spreading loving-kindness. The chant lasts only five minutes. I had been meditating deeply beforehand, and when we began chanting my mind engaged with metta so completely that I was unable to continue with the chanting. Boundless metta was pouring out of me in a torrrent in all directions, and I became happily immersed there. I never did complete those verses. My mind had been made so soft and pliant by my earlier meditations that the Buddha's original words on how to spread loving-kindness triggered an irrepressible outpouring of metta.

However, I like to think that what I am doing does still have some value and is worth it in some way.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/31/13 5:22 AM as a reply to Piers M.
Check out Sharon Salzberg's Lovingkindness, the Revolutionary Art of Happiness, for examples of really light, non-jhanic, ultra low-end metta practice that still produced good effects anyway.

While I am not particularly a Salzberg fan for complex historical and paradigmatic reasons, the book is a good read.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
7/31/13 4:03 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks. I'll check it out.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
11/14/13 8:14 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
What if you just really don't know whats going on? In american society its very easy to get labeled as a nut job for seeing real reality for what it is. For a person who has just woken up t this it's terrifying.I was an atheist! Isnt this what the thread for attainment is for? to keep us in check when we feel weve reached something? Im really asking here. I dont have a guru and live in a part of the country that conisders buddhists christians, well anyone religious, to be a deluded nutcase.I can verify my conclusions by reading old buddhist texts, but the collective doubt is still there. I cant get a real answer, or question even addressed. it sucks. I have no Sangha and know no buddhists other than myself, and I think there are alot of people experiencing this.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
11/16/13 4:52 AM as a reply to Stephanie Bryant.
Looking back, and almost every time I contact Americans these days, American culture is so heavy and aggressive. If you're not a predator, ready to show tooth and claw, they will chew you up and spit you out. There is no Buddhist gift culture; even Buddhist teachers charge for their services.

In that context to develop soft heart, to have mettā is dangerous. You are an outsider, a threat because your softness reveals how much pain everyone else is in. You cannot be tolerated, they will pile on you and run you out of town on a rail, tarred and feathered. Give the dog a bad name and shoot it.

Especially since moving to Sri Lanka and going very deep in meditation over Rains, and getting ordained, it has become almost impossible to communicate with Americans. Now, I am not a typical product of the American factory schooling system; I realized in the 4th grade that it was a social control mechanism, and fought tooth and nail to keep my individuality. I was a professional technical writer, contracting with major corporations for over 20 years. So I do know what words mean and how to articulate my thoughts.

Nevertheless whenever I try to communicate with Americans, even American Buddhists, there is a complete misunderstanding. They cannot get my points and an argument inevitably ensues, in which I get beat up by the majority for, apparently, contradicting their beliefs or something.

I am about to give up on them. I am getting so comfortable in the Sri Lanka forest tradition, I really don't want to leave here or talk to people outside this reality who always get it wrong. The Suttas tell it like it is; there's no need to fudge the Dhamma, it's as clear as the sun. Apparently the Americans don't agree. Too bad, they can have their compromised Buddhism; I'll stick with the real thing.

RE: The Isolation of Blowing It
Answer
11/16/13 6:41 PM as a reply to Dharmasar.
You Go Thero! Don't look back. If you honestly do owe anyone anything they will find you eventually and they will compel you pay up. Otherwise, run, hide, and watchfully care, for real.

-triplethink, still running, still hiding, occasionally still caring, maybe...