Tag Archives: Zen
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’
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.
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.
I just woke up as nothing.
From within sleep the void opened up again.
It was complete emptiness, nothingness, living death. Then their were golden sparks, golden fireworks. Fireworks of joy. Fireworks of joy, in the death nothingness.
joy, love, nothingness, joy, love nothingness.
Then flashes of white sheet lightening. flashes of everything. flashes of nothing. Light and dark alternating. I am everything, I am nothing.
I’ve just got back from Noddfa, Penmaenmawr, in North Wales where zenways were running an intensive Zen retreat over four days. The aim of the retreat was to trigger a Kensho, Satori, or enlightenment experience.
I’ve already had a number of such experiences but was simply curious to compare them.
I arrived at 3:30pm on the Thursday with plenty of time to acclimatize and prepare myself.
The retreat took place in a rather large and old building I can only describe as a mansion run by catholic nuns. They were such warm friendly people they made me feel instantly welcome. It was like being looked after by a group of loving grandmas.
The main core of the practice was group zansen. This involved sitting facing a partner knee to knee, gazing into each others eyes and posing the question of a chosen koan. As a beginner to zen my chosen koan was “who am I?” the question was posed as “tell me who you are?”
Each full day ran from 6:00am ‘till 11:pm, a rather rigorous schedule. Each turn was for 5 minutes completing a block of 40 minutes. The group Zensen sessions were broken up with 5 minute loo breaks, tea breaks, a sitting meditation, a walking mediation, three periods of chi gung and a dhamma talk.
I usually find intensive retreats exhausting. In this case because of the frequent breaks, inclusion of chi gung and plenty of food I didn’t find it exhausting as such , but it was extremely challenging. Spending three days almost solidly asking yourself and unanswerable question does drive you a bit mad. I guess that’s kinda the point.
I remember Thursday as “Who am I?”, “Who am I?”, “Who am I?” which brought up the thoughts of “What is going to happen?”, “Am I doing it right”, “How will I know, if I’m doing it right?” , “Why is nothing happening”
As I retired for bed on the first night the question “Who am I reverberated” around my head preventing me from getting any kind of quality unbroken sleep.
The Friday was the bad day, the tough day, the rough day. The day I would have quit if I was that kind of person.
“Who am I?”, “Who am I?”, “Who am I?”. and the thought came “why is everyone getting images and memories when I was not. OfCourse I knew the answer straight away. It was because my mind was already settled because of the years of mediation practice.
“Who am I?”, “Who am I?”, “Who am I?”. Fear started to build. And why was I afraid? I knew that too. It was because the ego (whatever the hell that is) was aware that the process I was doing was designed to kill it. Just as it had been ‘killed’ before at the aya retreat.
I tried to deal with the building fear as best as I could and remember the aya practive. Breath through it and surrender to the process.
As far as I’m aware I was the first person in the room to have a “funny turn”, “an episode”, “a thing”, I don’t know. I don’t know what a “thing” is. Although It was to turn that they would become increasingly common as the retreat wore on.
It started as always with the question. “Who am I?” But the question was answered. A voice inside my head said “equanimity”, “Allow things to be as they are”. Simply this meant don’t resist the fear, don’t chase the joy, be comfortable sitting with nothing.
At this point a joy hand grenade went off in my heart. This began to spread out in my chest. My abdomen began to fill up with energy, with pressure. I felt like I couldn’t breath. A trickle of cold liquid metal began to flow down from my sternum to my solar plexus. Then the shaking started. First my legs, then my arms, then my whole body joined in. I was having a body quake.
I remembered I’d had this experience before. This had happened to me one night after the pub whilst sat at my laptop. It was the feeling of an energy pressure building up and the feeling I was going to explode.
I believe the shaking is an automatic response the body sometimes does to release tension. It was fucking scary all the same. And then I laughed and cried, or laugh-cryed or cr-laughed. I was a crying, laughing, shaking thing. I must have looked like a crazy person.
The bell chimed and everyone left for lunch. I however laughed and cried and shook onwards into the dinner break. Eventually I scraped myself of the chair and wobbled ungainly towards the dining area. At first I was unable to eat any soup because the shakes were too bad. In the end I was able to eat by holding the spoon with one hand and my spoon hand with the other hand to control the shakes.
Eventually the shaking stopped. I’m assuming now that the laugh-crying was also an automated response from the body to purge emotion. I began to notice some similarities with the way my body responded in the aya retreat.
I continued to try and engage with the process and answer the question with all possible answers although I fully believed the question to be unanswerable.
That night I did sleep, rather well actually.
The following day I continued to answer “who am I?” with everything I knew it was not, everything I thought it could be and everything that came up in me.
40 people poured their heart out to me without me being able to respond in anyway. I realized that we all suffer, and we all suffer in the same way from the same fears.
The question came again. “who am I?” and another insight came. the voice said “ you are not in control” “ don’t try to be, it is pointless”
And the wibble attack happened again. But this one was more intense. The person sitting opposite me had been talking but I was so confused that I thought that it was me talking. When it was my time to try and speak I found that I didn’t know who I was. Truly, for a moment there was just nothing. So I just laugh-cried.
On the saturday the wibble attack happened and just stayed. The energy balloon in my abdomen inflated and then leaked out its contents to the rest of my body which act as a calming agent. I became calm and blissed out. Fluffy pink clouds, fluffy pink clouds.
I realized that the worst had passed. Friday was the day of boredom, frustration and feelings of futility. On saturday there was still fear, but the tranquility made it ok.
On the walking meditation I wanted to skip and play like a child, but I didn’t. “who am I “
Saturday Night I slept well again but the energy bubble didn’t disappear. It stayed with me.
On my first group zensen of Sunday it said “hello I’m still here!”
I started to sense that reality perhaps wasn’t quite how I’d left it.
I didn’t remember the room being this bright and colorful.
When I looked into my partners eyes his spectacles were overly sharp.
I remembered the shimmering blue lights in the bathroom of the night before. Was that real?
Was I disassociating? Depersonalizing? the room had a glowy indistinct unreality too it.
The areas of unfocuse seamed fragmented, as if they were slipping out of phase.
3D reality seamed composed of layers of 2d superimposed on one another.
I felt an invisible coloured layer of pink and green in front of my partner that I wasn’t seeing.
His face fragmented. There was just an eye within an impossible sharp spectacle window. The rest of his face lay in separate out of phase layers waiting to jumble into position if I needed to look at them.
Who invited Picasso to a Zen retreat? Was I tripping balls and where was the fox?
Was I going to see the elephant? Was I going to see the elephant god dammit?
I was on a knife edge, a boulder teetering. Was I going to break through to the other place?
But my mind didn’t want to let go.
I knew the solution. Equanimity. Forget mr. Picasso face, forget fear, let me break through.
But do you see the problem? “Let me” is a desire, and a desire is not equanimity, and no amount of trying not to try is not trying.
And that was the last group zansen. The retreat slowed down. No more mental black smithery. Smashing the ego with the hammer of the question and heating up in the energy of chi gung.
It was time for settling, for grounding, for integration.
Slowly reality returned and I was left disappointed in myself That despite engaging with the process and breathing through my fear , my mind was unable to fully let go.
I find myself wondering whether the aya ego death was a benefit in that I knew what my goal was, or an impediment because aiming for a target is desire and not equanimity.
Another few hours of “who am I?” and I would have broken though. Oh well.
As an experience goes it was up there with the Aya and the Vipassana.