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“Standing on the top of a cliff.
Wanting to see the bottom of the face.
Leaning more and more over.
Its always there,
but can only be seen when you fall.”
I’ve just got back from my second 10 day vipassana retreat.
I’m feeling rather battered by an experience I can only describe as emotional waterboarding.
The last retreat seamed to consist of resisting the process, clock watching, immense physical pain, dealing with mood swings of rage and depression, hallucinations and ecstatic floating and weightlessness. This finally resulted in the insight a few weeks after the retreat which gave me the solutions to dealing with emotional trauma and lifting of a huge burden of a lifetime of self hatred.
I had no clear reasons for attending a second retreat other than wishing to see how it would affect me. I was also curious to see the impact on myself of attending a vipassina retreat right after a zen retreat.
And so onto this time.
Upon arriving at Dhamma Dipa I was immediately struck by a weight of love and joy just hanging in the air. My scientific mind wondered whether this sense of the place was just my own body releasing happy chemicals triggered by my own memories, but instinctively I felt that the place has simply managed to absorb the positive vibrational energy of years and years of meditation. Maybe a quantum physicist will be able to explain the effect one day.
On signing in I was relieved to find yet again I had a room to myself as this meant that I had somewhere to hide if things got too much.
I made a small amount of effort to chat, whist chatting was aloud as i was about to enter 10 days of silence. Soon enough my second vipassana retreat was underway and as last time i found myself asking the question “Why was i doing this to myself?”
The first 3 days consisted of getting up at 4:00am and meditating 10 hours a day on feeling how the in and out breath affect the small hairs on the top lip. This enabled the mind to become a concentrated laser.
Being an old student i was given access to a cell. This was a small quiet meditation cubical. As my mind become more and more concentrated by senses were turned up to 200%
Light became so blinding to my eyes that i couldn’t see. The sound of metal cutlery being bashed together was painful. The meditation hall seam full of knuckle cracking, coughing, burping, yawning, and farting. I wanted to kill them.
The cell was my personal sensory deprivation chamber, a seclusion away from the human noise. As soon as i started using the meditation cell I started tripping out.
Travelling into two split dimensional planes of oil floating on water with yellow and blue light shining through. Then my life flashed before my eyes.
I suddenly realised that we never forget our memories. They are all still there waiting beneath the surface. I was hit by a unrelenting torrent. Thousands of disconnected memories one after another. Not bad memories, not good memories, but normal boring mundane stuff. I just re-experienced my whole life.
On the 4th day it was Vipassana day, the day we were to switch over from anapana meditation to vipassana meditation. The mind laser would no longer be stuck at the nose tip, but would be scanning the body for sensations and not reacting to them.
Also on this day we would be reintroduced to the wonder of strong determination sitting.
We would be doing three 1hr strong determination sits per day. And to start us of we were given a 2hr one. After the first hour my knees began to burn. The fire got hotter and hotter and spread to the whole of my lower torso. It was the most intense agony I’ve ever experienced in my life. I began to burp continuously and shake violently.
I was determined not to quit but the one of the center managers told me to stop. Apparently I’d missed the point. I was meant accept the pain not fight it off with brute force. I felt disappointed in myself that I had failed by trying too hard. I thought that everything could be won by not giving up. After the 2hrs were up I found myself unable to stand.
After this situation pain didn’t bother me again. The pain was generated by a conspiracy of body and mind in an attempt to make me move. Since both my body and mind now knew that they would’t win the pain simply went away.
After spending literally days sat on my arse scanning my body with focused concentration I formed a map of my body in my mind. I guess you could call it an energy map, or a sense map. It was how my mind experienced my body.
The top of the head was mostly blank with the odd sensation of a hair being dragged across it. The face was alive with pressure, tingling, buzzing and pin pricks. The torso and arms were warm with the touch of a cotton shirt. The legs and feet were buzzing with a heavy hot and cold energy. This mental map remained fairly consistent over the coming days. The laser of my mind switched between a focused point and sweeping horizontal beam.
Over time my mental perception of the body changed into a mass of warm pressurised buzzing. This was my energy body.
looking at the map I could see two problem areas. Two areas that did not consist of subtle vibrations. A point behind my right should blade kept on sending signals of pressure and pain. So I focused my mind there and slowly the pain/pressure began to dissolve. Once it had gone it didn’t come back. Had i just energy healed a physical injury?
The next problem was my heart. It was inaccessible, completely shut off, closed of from my mind. Not only my heart but also my intestines were surrounded on a wall of fuckoffness.
As I probed this wall with my mind, I instantly wanted to cry. It was like when someone tries to give you a hug when you are upset but you push them away because you don’t want to cry in public.
I rested my attention on the barrier around my heart with a gentle push and positive intent to get through but nothing violent or aggressive. Eventually the barrier began to dissolve and I moved on and cleaned up the rest of the black wall around my heart and intestines. Was this negative chi, an energy blockage?
How real was what I was experiencing? I wasn’t creating the visualization i was simply experiencing what I experienced. I’m not sure the word real has any value in such an experience.
I was able to clear up these two blockages and allow my whole body to become perceived by the mind as a pure subtle buzzing energy. Time will tell whether I’ve managed to heal myself either emotionally or physically.
We were instructed to keep scanning the subtle vibrations of the body but to me this seamed utterly pointless. My whole body was just a buzzing mass of energy which pulsed and breathed in and out.
I make all this sound easy, but it wasn’t. For the last few days my mind was crying. It was saying “No more, No more, please, I cant do it anymore, please leave me alone, please stop please stop”. but I kept pushing.
My mind felt bullied and picked on unrelentingly.
But this wasn’t the worse part. The worse time came at break.
When I wasn’t meditating I was still meditating. When i wasn’t meditating in strong determination sitting, when I was doing walking meditation in the woods, thats when the memories and emotions came up. an unrelenting torrent of some of the worse memories and emotions of my life.
I didn’t remember them. I re-experienced them. A montage from hell. What about this? or this? or how about this? you’ve got to love this one?
I was utterly utterly miserable and dejected. So much shit. I hadn’t realised it was all still in there. All this nasty toxic shit was still drowning me, still dragging me down.
I can honestly say that what I went through was absolutely fucking horrible. But if those memories that I re-experienced have been released and are no longer in me any more then it would have been worth it.
If all that shit is still in me somewhere then it can stay. I don’t want to see it again.
Only time will tell how much, if any healing has taken place this time, but I suspect a lot has changed in me.
Nearly a week on from the Zen retreat, am I back to myself?
Well the truth is that I’m never going to know because i’m not sure whats missing or what has changed.
The past and the future did disappear and there still pretty much gone. I don’t really remember how i used to view them.
Memories pop up regarding my childhood but I am aware that the memories arise in the present. Thoughts pop up about july, but I am aware that they arise now.
I try to imagine the past and the future, but there is a block, a kind of strong aversion. It maybe possible to do so, but I don’t want to push my mind to see if it can do it.
As for the self. On the Monday after the retreat when I examined the self and all I sensed was empty space, perhaps with a tinge of a smile. There was a body and some subtle thoughts and emotions that drifted past but the body was empty. There was no sense of self.
As the week progressed I become aware of body sensations again. They became more numerous and more frequent. Slowly over time the empty space that was the sense of self has begun to fill up with the heaviness of body sensations.
So now when I ask what is the self, they mind answers by returning body sensations. I can only assume that the mind now considers itself the body.
So when examining my sense of self it now longer feels empty. At least now I have memory or what it feels like to be on each side of a particular curtain.
I don’t know whether I’m disappointed or relieved that somethings have gone back to the way they were.
I had decided to keep writing about my exploration into universal truth and the nature of reality but i’m struggling to find the motivation to keep on warbling on about it.
The time is coming where I’m going to loose interest in talking about it and that I will simply be unable to do so anymore. But for now I will try. If I did manage to carry on I’m really not sure how much sense I’m going to be making.
I’ve just returned from my second 4 day intensive koan based Zen retreat.
The experience during the retreat was rather similar to the last, but the experience at the end was mind boggling.
It would seem that when we are young children we are free of responsibly, and thus have no need of control which frees us up to play and experience joy.
As we age we are given responsibility which weighs us down. We start trying to control in order to feel safe.
Just being and playing transforms into the development of this sense of self. Our identity, the constantly building of an archive of who we are and who we take ourselves to be.
The more memories and experiences weigh us down, the more we add to our own burden. The sheer weight makes us feel afraid and less able to meet our responsibilities.
We try to control more and more and by doing so identify with whatever it is we wish to control as and an extension of our sense of self.
We end up reaching a critical mass bogged down by memories and worries that we can no longer function. Constantly plagued by fatigue unable to feel joy or even remember it.
But because this as all happened slowly it becomes normal and is accepted as just the way we are. As we age we accumulate ‘stuff’ which crushes and suffocates us.
And the koan?
The asking of the question repeatedly triggers the bodies relaxation response and fight/flight response simultaneously.
Intense fear arises which for me resulted in shaking, twitching, hot and cold flushes, nausea and the feeling of not being able to breath.
This lead on to a state of calmness and also hallucinations.
The combination of chi gung and walking meditation then re-calmed the body causing memories to po(o)p out.
These memories are the weight, the dirt that clings to the sense of self. The more memories that are released the more the bloated sense of self shrinks.
Perhaps the self is like an ultra clean window. It can only be noticed as existing when dirt clings to it.
And so as more dirt was washed away I became a child again. A child in an adult body.
I just wanted to play, to breath in the cold air and enjoy its sensation because it was amusing to me.
Spending all that time trying to answer and unanswerable question distracts you from yourself, from the future and from the past.
Those concepts are being cleaned off the window.
And then at the end of the retreat you are asked simple questions that are suddenly unanswerable.
A mental lobotomy has taken place. Something has gone into the minds operating system and run havoc deleting files. The file on the self has been deleted, the file of the past has been deleted, the file on the future has been deleted.
Asking questions that require certain thought processes are simply met with silence. The sound of a boom box playing a blank tape.
There is the knowledge that something is missing, but not the knowledge of what exactly is no longer there.
I have no idea whether this effect is permanent or temporary. But right now, all decisions are made with out access the concepts of past and future. Decisions are made without deciding. The flight/flight response currently appears to be off line as well.
Decisions are now made by the child inside, doing so because it might be fun to do so.
There is also joy and an abundance of energy, since no energy is wasted in getting stressed on meaningless mental gymnastics.
I have yet to full understand what is missing and what remains. I don’t know what is temporary and what is permanent.
I don’t know how challenging its going to be to adapt to life with blank spaces where something else used to be.
Time will tell.
Shit…, time…., what exactly is time again?
I started studying kung fu in 2001 which lead on to tai chi around 2004 and eventually to meditation in 2015. That time was peppered with odd bits of Buddhism, Taoism and Zen.
A phrase that stuck in my mind was ‘There is no self’. I guess it stuck in my mind because it was obviously bollox right? I know who I am, some religion telling me that I don’t really exist was nonsense.
Ever since I stood on a hilltop at dawn in 1991 and just for a second or two my sense of self wasn’t there I’ve been on a personal quest ever since. For that tiny moment I was not only free of me, but also free from anxiety, free from depression and free from fear.
I always assumed that my quest was about curing myself of the effects of trauma but it would turn out that there was more to it than that.
When I started martial arts my heart started glowing, as if to say ‘ping!” correct decision. When I started Meditation my chest expanded and my heart went “Ping!, ping!, Ping!” Yeah you got it, keep going.
When I first got involved in Buddhism my heart went “ping!” yeah, sort of, but not quite.
I felt like there was a hook in my solar plexus pulling me somewhere. I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I was being pulled forward whether I liked it or not, I just had to steer.
My meditation journey started with an 8 week mindfulness course, then three years with the triratna Buddhists. I also went on a number of Theravada retreats and of course the bonkers Vipassana retreat. Right now I’m making a foray into Zen self-Inquiry.
But I’m still me right? Not exactly.
During Body scan meditation you become aware of the observer and the observed. The ‘I’ of the self identifies with the observer. The observer observes the body and so knows that I am not my body. The observer observes pain and so knows that I am not my pain. The observer observes emotions and so knows that I am not my emotions.
Ah right got it. So I am not my body, my pain or my emotions, so I must be my mind?
And then the question comes “who is thinking?”, “who asked the question?”
Do I have multiple minds acting independently of each other that can watch each other?
So the observer is higher than the mind that watches all but what is it? Who am I?
And then one night after a Zen retreat. Something wakes up in the middle of the night, but it is not me. There is no sense of a self at all. There is no light, no vision, no thoughts, no emotions, no perception of time. There is nothing, just expansive blackness. Awareness of nothingness.
Imagine being in a completely dark sound proof room, floating and a body temperature saline solution of a sensory deprivation chamber, with a completely calm mind with no thoughts or emotions, and you are still nowhere near.
I’ve never really been able to get my head around the concept of infinity but I guess ‘nothing’ has to be infinite since there is nothing available to measure it by.
So is that me? Is that the observer? Empty awareness? Consciousness?
Coming back to the self. If the sense of self is something that can so readily be deactivated by a beautiful dawn or hours of kung fu, or meditation.
Then no. There is no self. No real self. No fixed permanent self. The self is simply a mental process, a construct of the mind. Its impossible to not identify with the self until the self starts disappearing. At that point it gets easier and easier.
So if I’m not my self what am I? Consciousness?
No. Consciousness is just a concept. A finger pointing at the moon.
It is impossible to know intellectually what the self is.
It is only possible to know intellectually what the self is not.
Right now all of the organs in my chest feel like they have been magnetised and a huge magnet is pulling me somewhere. My heart feels like it is in perpetual free fall after jumping over and infinite humpbacked bridge. The air makes me giddy to breathe it filling my lungs with expansiveness.
What is the hook that pulls? What is the magnet that sucks at my chest? Why did the self blip out of existence 27 years ago?
That is the unknown ‘I’
Over the last few months I realized that a number of what could possibly be considered life lessons kept on cropping up in the books I was reading. I decided to start keeping a note of them so that I could distill them down.
I shall leave them here. One thing that I’ve noticed is that for pretty much most of my life, the part where I found myself deeply miserable, I’d been failing on all of these without realizing that that was a problem. I’m doing a lot better now, though 9) may still need some work.
1) Be your authentic self
2) Accept and surrender to reality as it is
3) Don’t be arrogant or act special
4) You can’t change other people.
5) Forgive instead of blame
6) Don’t constantly moan or complain.
7) Don’t act like a victim, take control of your life
8) Don’t blame others for emotional pain, only you can heal yourself.
9) Do what is good for you, don’t do what is bad for you
10) Be Generous
11) Be Grateful
12) Be Compassionate
So, the insights gained from my 10 day Vipassanā meditation retreat in Aug 2017 allowed my to put my emotional pain from childhood trauma behind me.
As I looked for a new challenge I settled on investigating ‘universal truth and the nature of reality’. So basically the biggest question there is.
I hadn’t realized it at the time but the journey away from suffering, is the same as the journey towards enlightenment, so effectively my methods of exploration, namely reading and mediation, haven’t changed.
So here I am over a year in in my search for ultimate truth, where am i?
I’ve done 6 ayahuasca ceremonies, one intensive zen retreat and have been working with self-inquiry meditation. I’ve also been going through about a book a week.
This is where I am right now. My personal reference point.
There are two realities. The reality in which there is a self and the reality in which there is no-self.
Both realities are completely real when experienced from within that reality.
When within one reality the other reality is not real.
There seams very little point in describing the reality as experienced from the point of view of the no-self.
As regards to the no-self. There is the experience of no-self and the memory of no-self. There is no need to describe the no-self experience to those that are experiencing it or remember it.
There is no point in describing the no-self reality to those that haven’t experienced it, since the no-self is unimaginable.
The biggest change is that suddenly words that made no sense to me 10, 20 years ago all of a sudden make sense.
Dialogue from various past kung fu instructors and tai chi teachers suddenly makes sense. Books on Advaita Vedanta actually makes sense. Even bloody Zen has started to make sense and thats saying something.
So basically the knowledge of ‘universal truth and the nature of reality’ is actually knowable. But it isn’t necessarily communicable.
But since I never set out to be able to communicate anything its all good.
By April 2019 i will have been meditating for 4 years.
I thought I write a list of my personal experiences over this time
- decrease in stress
- decrease in fight/flight sensitivity
- decrease in anxiety
- increase in social confidence
- increase in compassion
- sudden urge to cry
- sudden emergence of long forgotten memories
- sudden insights/knowledge
- feelings of bliss
- feelings of rage
- feelings of depression
- feelings of ecstasy
- leaned how to make pain dissipate at will
- seeing white flashes
- seeing Intense visual hallucinations
- Feelings of floating and weightlessness
- Feeling that waves of orgasmic static energy waves were flowing all over my body
- Feeling that the body had dissolved leaving only the face, hands and feet floating in space
- Feeling that my hands were expanding in size.
- Feelings that energy was pulsing, rising and expanding from my abdomen and that I might explode
- Perceiving my body as pure energy
- Uncontrollable laughing and crying
- Uncontrollable violent shaking
- Loss of self and experiencing non-separate everythingness
- Loss of self and experiencing infinite black nothingness
- Loss of self and loss of the past, future and all understanding of the concept of time
“The purple worms lead the way,
beckoning and spiraling downwards.
The floor gives, the stomach sinks,
We fall tumbling into the dark circus.
Creeping, seeping, sinking, choking, drowning, smothering blackness of the dark circus.
Heavy red and yellow wooden blocks, the play things of hells children.
The domain of evil horror clowns.
Numbers embossed on spinning devils dice.
What is it of this twisted madness that is so scary to me?
Sickening, drenching, suffocating of the heavy sick black.
The utter dread and foreboding.
The curse of the dark circus.
Relentless unreality, eternal punishment for crimes unknown.
Help me , free me, save me from this inescapable hell.
Trapped on nausea hooks, heaving to be set free, but there is never any escape from this place.
No safety net, no friendly face, no guardian spirit or comfort nurse to guide you through the dark circus.
Just warping, shifting, changing, spinning, twisting, numbers of the hellish dark circus.
No more, no more.
No mind can take such torture.
No end of praying will make it stop, but the hells dice can be bleached out with white light.
and we can hang on until we are released.
Please, please make it stop.
Please make it stop.
Beaten into submission, tortured, broken, battered, tattered.
Crushed, ground down, chewed up, mashed up, bashed about.
Breaking my mind, my spirit and my body.
Finally the numbers begin to fade, giving rise to sadness, dejection and sorrow.
A treading on the down trodden thing.
A bashing of the bullied thing.
Beaten to a pulp and spat out of the numbers machine
a broken soul.
a living misery.”
So I am now in a position to compare a 3 day Ayahuasca retreat with a 3 day intensive zen retreat.
Ayahuasca is a flood and a zen koan is an overworked file clerk.
When we are children we are high energy expression. We are fearless. We are timeless. We just are.
As we age we start to judge ourselves. Each day we put on a new jumper without removing the last. Each jumper is that days baggage of self identification. Who we believe ourselves to be based on our memories and experiences.
Over time the weight of the jumpers becomes crushing and constrictive. We are hardly able to function under the weight of who we think we are.
This is where both koans and Aya come in. They both, in their own ways, strip away this self identification. They wash the dirty cloth to make it clean once again. They rebirth the child back into the adults body.
Ayahuasca overstimulates the mind. Inundates it with information. Perhaps it disturbs the functioning which holds back subconscious knowledge from the conscious mind. It holds up a mirror and says “This is who you think you are”. It dredges up you shit and sticks it right in your face and says smell this.
It is a tsumani, it is a flood. It smashes your mind with a hammer. The ego battens down the hatches and waits for the waters to recede. The smashing waves have broken open the filing cabinets of the subconscious and washes away the thoughts of self, as the body purges itself.
The tensions and memories that have been held in the body are washed away.
In Zen,the self enquiry method of “who am I?” asks the file clerk to pull out the file on who I is. But the file clerk isn’t sure.
So the file clerk makes a best guess. “Is it this?”, “No”, “Is it this?”, “No”, “Is it this?”, “No”,
The file clerk becomes manic running around the mind opening the file draws an pulling out the various files.
The file for my name, the file for my age, the file for my race, the file for my gender. The file for my job, the file for my hobby.
The file clerk becomes exacerbated that it cant find the correct file. It starts grasping at any random file throwing it out as an answer.
May be I’m this memory, maybe I’m that memory. Maybe I’m this thought, maybe I’m that thought.
The file clerk starts looking all the files Buddhism to see if the rational answer is hidden in there somewhere.
In the end the file clerk is exhausted and stares at all of the files littering the floor. Non remain in any of the draws. The file clerk weeps in exasperation.
Awareness is still on but it is thoughtless.
All I is, is what it is, when whatever it is not, is removed.
So in conclusion both intensive zen meditation and Ayahuasca help you strip off the sweaters of self-identification and free the child to play and experience the joy of life.