Southern Dharma Retreat Center
April 17 - 20, 2014
Hot Springs, NC
But we, who cannot fly the world, must seek
To live two separate lives: one, in the world
Which we must ever seem to treat as real;
The other in ourselves, behind a veil
Not to be raised without disturbing both
-Henry Adams, 1891
Meditation, meditation, meditation. If there is a mantra to be found in the Confederation's message, the instruction to meditate would certainly be situated alongside their quintessential, oft-repeated message ringing to the tune: all is one, all is one, all is one.
We would give to you our encouragement and speak upon meditation, for it is the key which unlocks the door to that which is within you, and that which is within you is nothing less than the One Original Thought which is the Creator.
- Q'uo, March 16, 1986
Thanks to the Confederation's broken-record emphasis upon the importance of meditation in their philosophy, along with other sources of spiritual insight echoing the same encouragement to meditate, a certain view regarding the practice and theory of meditation developed in my thought patterns long ago. In that view I gained a total, a complete, an unconquerable faith in the efficacy of disciplined meditation as one of the single-most effective means of self-transformation and self-realization. Total faith that in the conscious entrance into sustained, disciplined silence (aka: meditation) lies one of the most powerful means we hold in our own hands (or butts, as the case may be) for realizing who we really are. The most direct, the most immediate, and the most unmitigated route to self-discovery goes by the name, "meditation".
It is to learn how to be with and, without fear, embrace the actual experience of your life. In this art do we really learn how to live, what it means to live, and that, ultimately, the who that is doing the living: the one sacred one life living through this outer shell of personal memory and identity. There is no corner of perception, no hidden alcove of thought that is not touched and transformed in some way by meditation.
Yet, try though I may to rank meditation with the same importance as say, waking up in the morning, or finding at least one source containing an obscene quantity of sugar, something else in the day invariably takes precedence. I'm too busy, I'm too tired, I have to smuggle drugs across an international border this weekend. Again...
I find moments for formal meditation, and more moments for less formal contemplation, but if I'm going to actually fulfill the desire in my heart of hearts for spiritual evolution, those occasional moment don't feel sufficient. A guitar player doesn't become a Hendrix by dabbling every now and then when there is time; a painter doesn't become a Picasso by dipping his brush in the color palette in the few minutes between Netflix and dinner.
No, it's not all effort that yields proficiency in any given field. There is something to be said for that elusive characteristic quality we call being a "natural", the word we use to indicate that there is an inherent something about a person that endows them with a capability and a skill in a particular field of human achievement ranging anywhere from above-average to superhuman. But even the greats work at it, they practice. Mozart didn't hit his stride, it is reported, until after investing many hundreds if not thousands of hours into his composition and playing.
One becomes skilled in, and develops mastery of, any art by doing it. A lot. Same with meditation. To be clear, though, the goal is not to be a champion meditator and win all the meditation championships, like it's a skill that will result in material gain, or the adulation of others, or take one into the NCAA Final Four. Rather, the goal is to mediate well, and skillfully, in order to discover and uncover the self - both the illusory surface patterns of the mind and the essence of the eternal all-self; to accept the self through total forgiving, embracing, and loving awareness; and to become who you really are, aka: the one infinite Creator. It is a journey into the heart.
Despite my conviction in the efficacy of meditation as a means of self-realization, my practice has been lacking. Consequently I ventured forth on my first meditation retreat. Lead by a Buddhist teacher and undertaken in Buddhist style, it took place in the mountains of North Carolina at the Southern Dharma Retreat Center over the course of four days.
Following is a report for you and L/L Research on my experience therein. Beginning with:
The Buddhist have a little something they call "Noble Silence". While we didn't receive a crash course in the outs and ins of the origin, history, and meaning of noble silence, we did take a vow to practice noble silence during our retreat. Essentially it means what all parents must at some time yearn for when managing their children: not uttering a sound from our mouth holes. Save for occasional logistical exceptions, like speaking when holding the feather or rock during our hour-long Dharma Discussion group, we were quiet as trees.
This practice though is not defined just by an absence of speech and sound. More profoundly it creates a space for the conscious presence of mindfulness. As you are not busy attempting to make conversation, or worried about what to say, you are more able to be present with your experience, to observe what is happening on the interior, or, if the attention turns outward, on the exterior.
The stress of having to make conversation, particularly with those I don't quite know, has always been a prominent part of my inner experience. I've avoided many social situations, especially those that involve being in a group of people I haven't previously met or barely know, for this reason.
Noble silence is a permission slip to be free from that. Not only are you refraining from speech, but everyone else is too! You're in a very social setting without all our noise-making mouth-machines blabbering on! Being freed from that is incredible. In that space you can observe more clearly; you can notice sounds, movements, the stepping of feet, the click of silverware against ceramic plate, the sound of the faucet, the fluttering of eyelashes nearby*, etc. - all of it helping to ground your awareness in the here and now. The noticing itself becomes an act of joy. Especially as many of these sounds are the sounds of people, including footsteps and pouring water and shutting doors, but none of the accompanying voices of people.
*Kidding. You cannot hear eyelashes flutter nearby. Not even if they are pressed against your eardrum and fluttered with all the fury of hurricane you cannot hear them.
The Not Nobly Silent Mind
Something else quite peculiar also emerges. Removing all external distractions (did I mention no cell phone, no TV, no internet, and no technology save for plumbing, electricity, doorknobs, etc.) and committing to mindfulness , it feels as if the motor mind actually gets louder, so to speak.
In our usual daily routines when not in meditation retreats, it seems that we are conditioned to receive constant bombardment of stimulation and distraction, our attention habitually moving outward, our mind consumed with any activity but paying attention to the moment. This is the experience ground into the fabric of our minds so thoroughly that when the practitioner attempts a radically different mode, like removing all the distractions for four days, the mental habit just inwardly recreates the distractions that are outwardly absent. The thinking mind abhors a void, and when it senses one it springs to life! The scattered waves upon the endless ocean of thought roars to loudness and spectacle. "Silence is the loudest noise", one participant mused.
As part of Noble Silence and the retreat in general, all technological devices were shut off for the duration of the event. One quickly becomes aware of how reliant we've become on these things! Not reliance only for their indisputable utility, but reliant for their capacity to facilitate distraction. It was oh so nice not to be enslaved by the phone and the addictive pattern of checking for updates.
Measured in a quantitative way, when you're attention is not hijacked by technology or conversation, you literally have more seconds for observation of the present moment. You literally have more clock time to practice the sacred art of presence.
Yet despite basically not talking for four days, I didn't feel like I hadn't talked. The process of being with your self and observing the transactions of the moment offer up a rich field of texture and experience.
The silence was most pronounced during our communal meals together. Thirty or so people in a room eating silently, silent in terms of no conversation, nor, for that matter, no externally released gastrointestinal music. Each meal begun with a prayer of gratitude.
Not talking in this eating setting was initially weird at first, not awkward but weird. We were not each at our own private table with some space between. Rather, we were sitting together at long, rectangular tables: a person on either side and people on the other side of the small table, some mere inches from you.
Your first impulse is to combat the silence, to fill it in with conversation no matter the substance of that conversation, so long as someone is making noise! God forbid we should have to just be there and eat together.
But that weirdness soon passes when it becomes clear that you're not short on conversation - everyone is intentionally refraining from conversation. Everyone wants this! Everyone willingly undertakes the silence, yourself included. So you do what you came to do and participate. And the experience turns to rightness.
The joy of silent gnoshing
It becomes liberating to be free of the tension of having to make conversation. There actually emerges a sense of great relief for the introverted soul: a sanctified space is created to be mindful, to pay attention to the experience of the body/mind, and to move and breathe in rhythm - an experience in stark contrast to the usual non-rhythmic jangle of the everyday ordinary patterns. You feel a real and actual sense of intimacy to be with other silent folks engaged in the same basic practice of mindfulness.
Moments of joy bubbled up during these meals. Just pure and divine pleasure to be there. Coupled with moments of interior tension, to be sure. But one was truer than the other.
One particular insight gained from eating in silence was watching the way I put food into my body. The mouth is the real interface between you and your meal. To be sure there is the sight of the food on your plate; the aroma rising to meet your senses; the hands that retrieve the food from its resting position on the plate's surface, dutifully shoveling it up to your face. But the switchboard of a hundred senses on the tongue and within the mouth is where you and the food really make contact.
You slow down the chewing. You chew many slow bites before swallowing. You notice so many nuances in taste and texture. The whole process is deeper than you realized, typically so overlooked and rushed over, so barely paid attention to. You are encouraged to chew thirty times per bite.
This was the first time I had really deliberately, methodically slowed down my eating in 16 years. When I first entered Basic Training we were encouraged... nay, we were told to dump it into our digestive tracks as quickly as we could get it in there. Ever since I've been a quick eater, making whatever is in front of me do a Houdini act: there one minute, not there the next.
Owing to this my body, much without my consent, feels compelled to belch some minutes after the completion of each of my quickly consumed meals. (It took loved ones pointing it out to me to even know that it was happening consistently.) My meals at Southern Dharma were the first time this phenomenon did not transpire.
Slowing down so, the act becomes a communion. A source of joy unto itself to be giving the body its sustenance while simultaneously growing dimly cognizant of the source underlying and uniting both the seeming you and the seeming food.
And even though the absence of conversation makes it seem a very quiet affair, the mind conditioned to vroom vroom 365 days a year doesn't easily brake its momentum. As mentioned previously, it grows loud and boisterous as ever when practicing silence. So during the meals a Tibetan singing bowl is rung at random, its strong crystal clear tone ringing down its single note into a fainter and fainter sound.
When this happens, everyone in the dining area physically stops. There are no sounds of silverware, no sounds of shuffling feet, no sounds of chewing. It is like God hit the "pause" button on the entire scene. (Reminiscent of, though not identical to, the moment when Tom Cruise's character realizes his life is a programmed illusion in the movie "Vanilla Sky", and the entire scene freezes.) When this happens, the clattering clanging clashing mind stops and takes a special note to pull back from the runaway patterns in order to be present. However briefly, it quiets down its over-active patterns, leaving in its wake a very special opening of emptiness and presence.
Now to the actual meditation in the meditation. The first thing one notices during an intensive meditation retreat is that there are multiple periods of meditation scheduled, from morning through evening. How different (and splendid!) is this already from the usual daily patterns?
The second thing noticed is that there is a hall dedicated to meditation, its principle function. With a hardwood floor, it is mostly empty save for a shrine, a dry-erase board, and the third thing one notices, a stack of cushions and seats including zafus and zabutons, benches ,and legless chairs on the ground for the aspiring meditators.
The hall itself forms an environment very conducive to meditation. One puts their hands together in prayer style and bows at the entrance to show respect for the environment, and one does the same upon exit. It is treated reverently. This contributes to a sacred space.
Therefore, do not assume that you know what meditation is and what your goals should be towards it, but, rather, as you meditate, listen to that voice which speaks within and meditate as that voice instructs you. There is no set time nor is there a set method. There is one thing, however, which we must emphasize and that is fidelity to the practice. - Q'uo, March 16, 1986
As mentioned previously, the conditioned mental patterns get... noisier, for lack of a better word. More boisterous, more energized, more circus-like (minus trapeze artists and monkeys clanging cymbals... though come to think of it...).
When on the floor attempting to meditate, there are moments of holding the concentration with some degree of strength, but the thinking mind so formidably reasserts its runaway momentum that it can feel like your attempt to hold concentration might be likened to a housefly hopelessly attempting the taming of an unruly elephant.
Invariably your attention is whisked away on one mental distraction or another, typically about the past, or the future, seldom about observing right now. But you bring your attention back to the breath and begin anew. Not once, not twice, but times without counting.
This is where muscle building and meditation analogously intersect. In building muscle there is the process of repetition that increases the physical strength. Likewise in meditation there is the process of repeatedly returning the attention to the present moment so that it, too, gains strength over time with repetition. What gains strength? The capacity to consciously choose, and sustain, the attention, and all spaciousness and clarity that arises in consequence.
This habit of training and strengthening the attention asserts itself first and foremost in formal meditation, but the more that formal meditation is undertaken, the more this habit of presence takes root outside of the beginning and ending times of formal meditation, spreading into even the formerly impenetrable hustle and bustle of daily life. This becomes a habit and it activates during the course of the daily dance - suddenly you remember, or wake up, in the midst of being lost in activity and thought.
Meditation: Will and Faith
Per my study and practice of meditation, it seems that the principle effort, you might say, is simply to concentrate. Or rather, to concentrate simply. By concentration I do not mean to tightly force a focus through sheer strength of will whilst the remainder of the mind/body rages on, but rather to gently sustain an unwavering focus upon one point. As the thoughts detract and lead the attention invariably away, the concentration returns it to the chosen point, resting the attention upon, in my case, the breath moving in and out of the nostrils.
Stripping this practice of concentration down to what it is essentially, its true character emerges. This activity of concentration is a pure act of pure will. As physical muscles are strengthened through their use, so too is the will strengthened by its use.
There is but one technique for this growing or nurturing of will and faith, and that is the focusing of the attention. The attention span of those you call children is considered short. The spiritual attention span of most of your peoples is that of the child. Thus it is a matter of wishing to become able to collect one's attention and hold it upon the desired programming.
This, when continued, strengthens the will. The entire activity can only occur when there exists faith that an outcome of this discipline is possible. - Ra, 42.12
This concentration, that is, this relentless returning of the attention to rest gently in a single place, yields a certain energetic environment. As concentration increases and sustains itself, so in corollary does the monkey mind begin to quiet down. The monkey mind's distracting power becomes less as your power of presence becomes greater. Where before you were pulled this way and that, now you begin to find a footing, to so speak, a capacity to abide in the now and witness the antics of the mind. An open spaciousness and clarity develop wherein thoughts and feelings and sensations all arise, but they are less sticky. They are less successful into tricking you to identify with their patterns, as if "you" are contained within them, and not vice versa. Meaning you take the boldest, greatest, and most important step upon your spiritual journey: you realize that you are not your thoughts. This is a land of faith.
Meditation: The Witness
It is as though within the meditation, regardless of how scattered it seems, there is a pure and distilled waterfall of light which irrigates and illumines cell by cell the body, mind and spirit. It is like being rinsed and polished to relax into that presence which is holy. - Q'uo, November 16, 1994
There is something absolutely amazing about meditation. Behind everything you usually identify with, every role you play, every sensation you have, every thought and memory and moment of anticipation that rushes or drifts through your mind, there is an infinite opening behind it all that watches this passion play of the self, but is free of this play in a transcendent dimension, you might say, free from the suffering, free from the container of limiting belief, free from death.
It is like your usual identity is a movie screen onto which are projected images of your life, and all lives. The witness is that which is watching the movie. Fire burns buildings on the screen, rains flood city streets, the greatest triumphs are balanced against the greatest tragedies as densities and octaves come and go, and meanwhile that which is eternal and infinite within you, that to which the witness is a doorway or portal, remains forever unmoved, unchanged, and present; forever witnessing this unfolding of birth and death, giving and receiving, learning and forgetting.
One particular technique for becoming aware of the witness is to move through a process of asking your self questions such as these:
"I have a body, but I am not the body, who am I?"
"I feel tension, or contraction, or any number of sensations, but I am not these sensations, who am I?"
"What within me is aware of my thoughts? What within is that which is seeing but itself cannot be seen?"
"What is that within me which is knowing but cannot itself be known?"
This is the sort of dynamic that arises leading into the investigation of who you really are. What you are doing is cultivating the witness. Behind all phenomenon of mind and body is a witnessing awareness within you.
Most of us are so consumed in thought that we are identified with the aggregate bundle of emotions/thoughts/sensations/conceptions. We are "stuck", so to speak, in sticky containers of concepts that hold our identity firm, completely obscuring the fact that we are forever free of it all.
How do we think otherwise? How are we so not convinced that we are forever free from it all? Well, one simplified response to that question is that we are attached to, and identified with, the mental and bodily patterns and all its personal history. This attachment and identification causes a clinging, a feeding, a perpetuation that generally leads us away from the present moment - at least leads us conceptually away - and obscures the truth which might be articulated by stating: we are the clarity, we are the opening, we are the empty space within which the whole manifested world arises. This includes our personality shell, of course, but within that empty space is EVERYTHING, the entire manifested universe. All space and all time arise in this clear opening of the one present moment.
Finding this liberation is a consequence of meditation.
So we would say in meditation allow the silence to do its work. -
Q'uo, March 23, 1997
Meditation: Already that
The peculiar and funny thing is that this is not something to be gained. It is not acquired anew because it is has always been there. It is already here. There has never not been a moment when the infinite awareness was not already present. There is no time to it - the awareness is outside of time and it present for all time. There is no space to it - the awareness is outside of space and is present for all space. It is the effortless, spontaneous witnessing of whatever is arising in this moment, in this lifetime or the next; in this density or the next; in this octave or the next.
And in it is liberation, freedom, and resurrection into true identity as identification with the small "I" is sacrificed, released, and surrendered.
The second aid to increasing the ability to choose faith is meditation. You will note that we do not ever lose an opportunity to encourage seekers to prayer, meditation, praise and thanksgiving. These powerful techniques of tuning the mind and the heart have a cumulative effect. The first time you choose to go into the silence or to have a conversation with the infinite Creator that is honest and deep and probing it may not seem to have amounted to much. But if you persist, then, moving into that silence again and again, that silence will expand and lighten and become the holy of holies in which you are sitting with the Creator. Indeed, the Creator sits already within your heart of hearts and waits for you to come and join Him. - Q'uo, April 2, 2000
Missing the mark, missing the moment
Cultivating that witness through the activity known as meditation is a process of learning to "be with" your experience. Our minds are engaged in a perpetual, endless struggle, reaching, conflict, and resistance. We are always overlooking the present in an effort to get somewhere, or some-when, else.
What is one way to view all this present-moment avoiding activity? To see it, the small self, as a contraction, essentially; a "no" function in the face of infinity that creates what amounts to, what you might call, a false self, or an illusory self: the fiction that we are an individual "I" that is separate apart from everything else. The illusion of all illusions that there is something other than unity.
Who is trying?
But if we already are free and liberating, if we already are one with the Creator, then what's all the noise that we're making and effort that we're expending? That's the paradox and the point. No amount of effort or self-will, therefore, is going to change our actual, real, already present truth. Can we "attain" perfection if we are already perfect? Can we "get" whole if we're already whole? Can we "become" complete if we are already complete?
Then who is reaching, trying, attempting, chasing, and doing? That is a mystery we much each resolve on our own by pushing back into the source of our own awareness. In examination of this mystery it seems that all this effort stems from n illusory self which is operating on the false premise that the self is not complete, the self is not whole, the self is not one with all things. The truth is always somewhere other than here, always in some condition or circumstance or moment other than this one. Any effort, therefore, to attain or gain the truth just reinforces this basic premise.
The Great Search
Meditation and mindfulness is the only practice that undoes the Great Search. In meditation we learn to sit with, and be with, what is. We don't seek another state, a special state, a different place, or a salvation in time. We simply lovingly embrace what is, seeking not to change it, not to alter it, not to transform it, but simply to bring it all into the present-moment awareness.
We work from where we are, only from where we are. Eckhart Tolle says that whatever your state of mind, that state of mind will do. Whatever your conditions, those conditions will do. Whatever you accept will get you "there", so to speak.
It is a profound relaxation, but not into laziness or sleep, but rather into intense alertness and aliveness. We detach from the usual modes of mental activity and simply witness what arises, watching all phenomenon of inner and outer movement rise and fall against the backdrop of stillness and silence. We watch the mind engaged in its game of aversion and attachment, but gradually stop playing that game, needing not to hold onto and forever chase the desirable; needing not to run from and forever fear and avoid the undesirable. All life can be accepted as it is.
And then there is no great search. There is freedom to dance, to play, to love, to embrace life as it is without reference to the tortured little "I" any longer. Seeing the entire manifest universe as a beautifully complex and endless expression of the simple truth of infinity, eternity, unity - of the one life which you, in all ways, are.
Whatever your energy level within the illusion, resting back in the divine, letting the self be, evokes a contentment that does not reach nor does it shun those things which are about one. This is the self that is often accessed by meditation. One of the benefits of meditation, indeed, is that the door betwixt the conscious intellectual mind and the subconscious in the roots of mind is, if not wide open, at least ajar. Time spent in the silence is time spent listening to the voice with no sound that indeed does carry the messages of faith and choice, but not to a schedule. And this is where the entity within your illusion, feeling confused, loses that quality that so well supports the spiritual seeker. That quality is patience. - Q'uo, November 18, 1998
Through meditation we tend, then, to feed and energize these patterns less and less. We learn to abide in the great expanse that we already are. We learn to rest in that peace which remains undisturbed by any possibility event within the manifest world.
Meditation: Seeing the mind
It is not an easy practice to begin with for a mind enculturated and distraction and the perennial question for satisfaction and meaning through the attainment of things.
But as you stick with it you see that all your wanting, your attachments, your interests, your personally held ideas about who you are: it is all one big noisy project to maintain the small "I". It is its own self-contained universe of memory and anticipation, seeking this thing and that thing, worrying about undesired outcomes and chasing desired outcomes.
A writer for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle writes about a meditation retreat:
"So we are engaged in a continual distraction project. We are confronted with our own pain and disappointment. With no one to keep us company - we can't even keep ourselves company - we are confronted with utter aloneness. There is nothing to do and nothing to hang onto. We are alone, lonely, it is bleak. Everything we relied upon turns out to be a sham, a mental construct.
But when we reach the point where we can no longer cover up what we have been doing or force our experience to bend to our will, something happens, we begin to relax. Although at first the notion of utterly abandoning our smoke screen of distractions is threatening, even terrifying, if we stay with that experience even a little, the smoke beings to clear and we can start to see in a completely new way."
Returning to North Carolina
Pulling back now from all the abstract discussion and returning to my butt on the ground in North Carolina. I had a similar, smaller experience to the one described above. My mind threw up a lot of resistance. There was discomfort. And there was a sense of futility that arose when trying to keep the attention in one place as the roaring waves of the mind crashed over it, tossing the attention hither and yon.
But then a clearing... a realization that I don't need to calm the mind through my own effort, per se, or make it do much of anything, for that matter. The realization came that, as repeated multiple times above, the witness was already present, and I could simply witness this commotion, too. I can be present for the distraction project of the mind, knowing that, ultimately, there is no obstruction to meditation, because meditation can take anything into is purview.
And I am back in the space of already. The truth (freedom, liberation, realization) is already there, but the noisy mind (activity, grasping, reaching, attachment, aversion, etc.) precludes the seeing; the seeing of what's already there. So in resting with what is and allowing what is, the already begins to become clear. No matter the outer condition of the mind, the already is... well, already there.
There is great freedom in this. And peace. And ability to release the restrictions around the tightened heart, breathing and beating love.
Ra bonuses for ye
Other ways to understand the utility and necessity of meditation is to consider that Ra asserts that:
...the synthesis of all experience [happens] through meditation. - Ra, 19.13
And they say:
...it is certainly through this faculty [of disciplined meditation] that catalyst is most efficiently used. - Ra, 78.36
How profound, how uplifting, how fucking relieving! We don't have to patch all of our experience into a grand solution and salvation through the efforts of the conscious mind alone. Rather we can simply, very simply abide and rest in silence, we can relax into being, and surrender the weight of carrying the life. In this surrender, that which is deeper, or higher, or greater than the conscious mind will unify and synthesize the various seemingly disparate components of our experience into a more and more complete and less limited vision, until we realize that we've been complete all along; we've never really been separate.
So what changes because of meditation? Namely our viewpoint, its depth, its breadth, its seeing through the outer forms to the one face behind the variety. It is the right interpretation of this illusory experience:
The seeker which has purely chosen the service-to-others path shall certainly not have a variant apparent incarnational experience. There is no outward shelter in your illusion from the gusts, flurries, and blizzards of quick and cruel catalyst.
However, to the pure, all that is encountered speaks of the love and the light of the One Infinite Creator. The cruelest blow is seen with an ambiance of challenges offered and opportunities to come. Thusly, the great pitch of light is held high above such an one so that all interpretation may be seen to be protected by light. - Ra, 95.24
A new and supremely helpful meditation technique that I picked up while in North Carolina was that of meditating while walking. It sounds uncomplicated enough: be mindful, be aware, be one-pointed whhhhhile.... walking. But for some reason prior to this experience I hadn't quite nailed how best to achieve this.
Our walking meditation involved forming a line of practitioners alongside the interior wall of the meditation hall, forming a large rectangle. And another line of the same shape inside the larger rectangle. We moved forward very slowly. One slow conscious step at a time. Pausing at each step made. Placing the next step just as deliberately, just as slowly.
With each step we practice being present and mindful. And we are encouraged to link breath with stepping so that the two coincide in a rhythm.
Throughout my years I've had many, many a run-in with mental/emotional/spiritual pain. Not brief encounters, either, but long stretches of time, sometimes devastatingly so. A characteristic dryness/life-squeezing/alienation/weirdness/barrenness/wrongness. It is a contraction, a big "no" to life. Like a fundamental sense of being out of kilter, not in alignment with life. Something I connect, in concept at least, to the Buddha's talk of "dukha", and another associated idea called the "original wound".
I long ago dubbed this "existential pain" because it seems to have no source in this lifetime - no particular circumstance, situation, or feeling that can be named as its cause. Rather than a teacher to me, this experience has often felt a handicap over the years, seeming to limit me in a multitude of ways: no study, no writing, no communicating, no meditating, no joy. So much more productive could I be, I believe, were it not for this life-stopping drain.
All these years I still don't know what's happening. Probably some denial of love, some self-judgment.
It's like I've been out in the desert sun too long. All dried up. Cooked. No relief. No source of pleasure. No nourishment. The pressure and intensity have, at times, been almost to choking and unbearable levels.
I can witness it to some extent and "be with" it, but it is a brick wall as far as I'm concerned. It does not yield its secrets or disclose what it protects. I've approached this countless times in so many ways and never do I uncover new material. I am ready and willing to understand. I want to understand. But always there is just the pain, not the source.
This arose intensely during a portion of the meditation retreat. Part of me wanted to return home, knowing that when this kicks in, there's no "pushing through" to a place of clarity. I just have to give it time and till it dissipates.
Limiting though it feels, it has provided a dual, and mutually contradictory, sources of motivation. On on hand it has underwritten my years of spiritually seeking, motivating the search for relief, refuge, and resurrection. Like Ra states:
We may suggest that in order to progress, a state of some dissatisfaction will be present, thus giving the entity the stimulus for further seeking. - Ra, 54.3
On the other hand, it has also motivated not the search for the high road, but the search that is ever doomed to failure: the questing for a permanent source of pleasure, distraction, satisfaction, and meaning within the illusion.
At the conclusion of the weekend we held a large circle in the meditation hall. Each person sitting on the floor, the space was open for one person to speak at a time. This was initiated by the one desiring to speak putting their hands together and bowing to the circle. Not everyone chose to, but most did. I spoke. I commented on how surprising it is the extent to which other people factor into an experience of inwardness and silence. How there is joy, intimacy, and honesty in the shared silence. How much love there is in the silence, the smiles in passing, the faces. And how evident the pain is in many who come to the path of meditation.
And what's really remarkable is how most people who spoke in the circle said they were impacted greatest by the communal aspect and presence of others.
In an environment where you're not talking to others or communicating with them, there is still a field of communication, and in that field is a lot of honest, self-confronting energy. The silence and the sincerity of all participants helps you to really confront and "be with" the actual self.
15 minutes of silence lunch then Noble Silence ended and talking initiated. Was very weird at first to be talking and to have such a noisy environment, but delightful despite my awkwardness.
Holding the space
A term was used called "holding the space". It struck me for the first time how a group actually does hold the space. Each person engaged in their seeming individual effort helps to reinforce everyone else's seemingly individual effort. Each mirrors to each their own work and in so doing supports that work through holding the space in silence. This intensifies and literally creates a field, I think, that makes individual work more conducive and effective. Many who spoke in the final circle actively thanked the group for holding that space.
This retreat was perched in the mountains, literally on a mountain side. To reach it required leaving the paved road, driving over a small stream, and proceeding on a windy, one one-lane gravel road with no guard rails separating you from the steep mountain side at the road's edge.
During our lunch period I walked to the mountaintop to meditate in a beautiful meadow. Even the air itself was still up there, all sounds muted save for the occasional commercial airplane overhead. The views were not totally unobscured but nevertheless still offered scenes of nearby mountains. I had a great meditation and conversation with the infinite.
Each day we had the option of a more body-centered exercise. I opted for yoga. I was introduced to one technique that involves creating muscle tension everywhere in the body, holding that tension, and then releasing it with the breath all at once. The first time I did this I experienced something akin to an altered state of consciousness.
I left this experience thinking how much I would enjoy a day or half day of mindfulness at home. Don't know how to practically implement though. Especially the stopping bell.
Among the many things I took with me, there was the realization that this is definitely disciplined will and faith in application. This experience opened a pathway for the practice of my desires and actual realization of my goals. It's shown me the direction I want to change my life. I need to simplify and un-busy my life. To "be with" my self. To practice presence and mindfulness. There are layers of life underneath the noise.
Though there was some measure of peace and some feeling of being more spacious and quiet, I was concerned that the little ground gained therein would be subsumed quickly, causing the tenuous connection to the witness to dissipate like a small structure of sand beneath the lapping waves.
April 21: Day 1 post-meditation retreat thoughts
At work this morning carried the residuals of the slowness and presence of the weekend. Attempted to hold onto it, walking slowly, eating mindfully, stopping to breathe.
By day's end I see the practices disintegrating. Three days at the mountain retreat was a great intro to re-training my ways, but I fear insufficient to counter a lifetime of non-mindful living. I will continue the attempt, no matter.
The fluctuations and perturbations and speed with which the mind moves and overtakes witnessing presence - this is painful.
So much to do. So many tasks. Big and small. How do I balance that against a contemplative life? How do I maintain mindfulness when these tasks demand so much bandwidth?
Ramana Maharshi says the vasanas must expire (exhaust? burn out?). Meaning the fluctuations - sometimes of great pitch and intensity - will continue until I stop feeding them (Tolle: through unconscious identification). Key is to persist and not succumb to the agents of sleep and distraction.
It is absurd how the mind seems such a foreign agent who does not disclose its secrets, who misrepresents the actual situation and the actual self, who operates by consuming your attention, who moves in this direction or that without you behind the wheel, and who ultimately creates suffering for its "host". It does not readily respond to or honor your requests - instead it needs constant observation, shaping, tuning, acceptance, forgiveness. We are irrevocably "stuck" with it. We, in fact, created it, this, that.
It's surprising that I have this desire for a contemplative life inside. That had always seemed too painful, too not me. But for the first time in my life, I desired silence more than the usual pleasures for which the mind reaches.
I hope to do more and longer retreats. I hope to spend more time in silence.
There was some sadness upon returning, yes. Some watching of the seeming headway I had made into the quiet disappearing against the bulk and volume of the gross sensory experience of the outward-oriented mind. But I took from that experience so much, and two actual practices have taken root.
One is walking meditation. I've found that the brick pathways through Jim and Carla's gardens make for absolutely exquisite focusers of walking meditation. Taking off shoes and socks, placing the feet against the hard yet accommodating brick, you can move slowly forward on your walking meditation, being guided by the curving paths through the most beautiful immediate scenery, from brightly colors flowers to small shrubs, to deliberately placed but variously sized stones, to wooden structures, to trees reach far above the top of the two-story house.
But a beautiful landscape is not needed for walking meditation. I have taken up a practice of walking from my bedroom to and through the hallway, and back, in my one-bedroom apartment. Presence can be practiced anywhere.
The other is the mechanical replicating of the singing bowl. If you remember (and if "you", someone who has read all this, actually exist!), I mentioned Tibetan singing bowls that were randomly rung during our meal times. This had a great effect on stopping the commotion, both outer and inner, and creating a space of presence.
I installed an app on my phone that will ring a Tibetan singing bowl (you can choose from over seven of them) at regular intervals of your choosing. Though I don't use it often enough, I activate this app when working in the office. The nature of the office work for L/L Research is one of an always changing agenda of prioritized things to do, a veritable noisy crowd all clamoring for your attention, the mind ratcheting up its speed and intensity to manage them all.
Then, the sound of a ringing bowl appears from my app. And generally I hit pause on the music if I'm listening, and stop what I'm doing, pausing my body and my mind. In that sliver of a moment I breathe a few deep conscious breaths, turning my attention away from the task at hand and to the Creator, abiding in the spaciousness that emerges for a brief moment.
It is a principle, I think, that our culture's endemic over-activity absolutely needs balanced by non-activity. The ratio needn't be 50/50 - just small moments here and there to close the eyes, to rest, relax, and focus upon now. This is enough.
Entities of this heritage [who were... well, formerly trees, according to Ra] would find it nearly impossible to fight. Indeed, their studies of movements of all kinds is their form of meditation due to the fact that their activity is upon the level of what you would call meditation and thus must be balanced, just as your entities need constant moments of meditation to balance your activities. - Ra, 38.10