Psychological Barriers to Enlightenment: Aligning Maps

Our earliest roots present barriers to enlightenment | photo courtesy of Mufaddal Abdul Hussain

Kurt and I have been down with a very bad flu for the past 6 days. At the same time I went from 15 mg of Cymbalta to zero because my milligram scale broke and I was fed up with the tapering business. So far, so good. This context may flavor this post and the experiences on which it is based. However, I’m strongly intuiting on the periphery of my consciousness how my own maps might be enhanced by incorporation of A. H. Almaas’s psychological barriers to enlightenment.

First Reobservation Stage in a Year and a Half

However, I do think I’m still cycling, dammit, since Thanksgiving, for reasons I’ve not yet deciphered. A&P insight stages are particularly distinct and have occasionally emerged in mild form over the past year and a half. Last night I was in the first clear (and quite unpleasant) Reobservation (Dark Night) stage I’ve  encountered in more than a year and a half. I couldn’t even remember the protocol for dealing with it! I really wanted to go into a rage and express it. My son caught some of that ire, but I just existed through the rest, trying not to try to change it or escape it or act it out. As I say, unpleasant. I gazed a bit, but the visions bored me. Boredom is subtle aversion. . . . 

[Comment several days later: I’m now unsure I passed through Reobservation; I’ve been suffering from well-documented effects of Cymbalta withdrawal, including many nightmares, whereas I have at most one nightmare a year. For clarity of diagnosis, I need to be well from the flu and past all withdrawal syndrome before I draw conclusions.]

Insight-Stage Cycling after Awakening

It is disconcerting and confusing that (1) cycling has resumed and (2) the results of my main practice have slowed down their evolution to a crawl. I feel as though I’ve backslid in my realization somehow, but exactly what is going on, why, and what to do about it remain murky. Something in the back of my mind is screaming that, somehow, the four visions correspond to the four jhanas and therefore to the insight stages (vipassana jhanas) and the Theravadin/MCTB “paths.” The fourth vision culminates in a cessation and fruition, after all; that much is a clear correspondence, but I’ve not quite figured out what, what, what the connection is!

The question is driving me a bit mad, speaking of psychological barriers to enlightenment.

I want to note here that I ran an unscientific poll on Dharma Connection to ask those who claim to have MCTB 4th path whether they still cycle. The only two people I’ve long surmised actually do have that attainment both say that they knew the insight stages extremely well and that the cycling faded away around the time of the attainment, actually somewhat before the attainment. My cycles ended with the attainment and stayed imperceptible for a year and 4 months, with the exception of some A&P-like (or j2-like) surges, but then cycling restarted in earnest around Thanksgiving. Daniel has always maintained that he cycles post-awakening, even passing through some nasty Reobservation stages.

I’ve not before been able to see a definite relationship between A&P and especially intense visions and dreams, but I did see this connection during this week’s cycle. I’m not quite sure whether practice result intensity is producing the j2 bliss, or whether relatively hard jhanas are what cultivate the intense results. I will have to try to see; however, analysis is not something that can be done well during my current formal practice without pulling me out and defeating that purpose. 

Depth Psychology Correlates of A. H. Almaas

I’m about halfway through A. H. Almaas’s The Point of Existence: Transformations of Narcissism in Self-Realization. I’ve also poked around in his The Pearl beyond Price, which I think covers defensive structures in general, psychological barriers to enlightenment in general. Almaas intersects all this cycling business profoundly with his map of psychological barriers to realization, although he doesn’t line up his map with any Buddhist maps, including the Theravadin insight stages, so if that is to be done, then it seems I’ll have to do it. For now I’m just researching, observing my experience, and speculating.

Idealizing Transference and the Word Womb

Now, what is interesting to me is that my most characteristic defense and therefore psychological barrier to enlightenment is idealizing transference. In brief and all too simply for now, a child needs to idealize her parents and then integrate their strength, calm, and support into her developing psychic structures, particularly her identity. If the parents disappoint the child with imperfect reality gradually, then this integration goes relatively well, although Almaas’s (correct) position is that anything less than spiritual realization is suboptimal, to put it mildly; if the disappointment is sudden and dramatic, then the child’s development is arrested and she grows up and repeats the idealization, notably with those in a teacher’s role.

I’ve done this very thing from childhood on into and throughout my entire adult life, usually, at least in adulthood, with a man with whom I construct a written Word Womb. (Even in nursery school I idolized my teacher, who came to visit me in a big playground tube infested with spiders, which is where I hid from my peers who cruelly abused me for wearing a patch on my nonlazy eye to train the other eye.) The candidate must be a poet and must be an addict or have significant other psychopathology. Now, Almaas describes the idealizing transference as the one that triggers euphoric feelings of bliss and omnipotence. This feeling of intense bliss and power is actually a resurgence of primary realization, pure presence before the differentiation and psychic structures develop into identity and its defenses in childhood. But the problem is that the adult, since early childhood, has located this bliss and power in another, in the external selfobject. Inevitably, the projected-upon teacher-poet will disappoint her, and she will react with narcissistic rage against him for abandoning her or not supporting her or seeing her as sufficiently special. Thus, an intolerable wound is reopened.

Wound Reopening and Codependent Attempts to Rehabilitate the Selfobject

The last person this happened with, of course, was Daniel. What is especially fucked up about my series of idealizing transferences is that, after the Chosen One has appeared on the scene and the transference has been established, I later find out he has his own issues, issues far more problematic than my own neuroses: grave Issues such as alcoholism, bipolar disorder, or personality disorder. Then when reality inevitably comes crashing down around me, it is a reenactment of the dramatic (not gradual) original disappointment I suffered in childhood in the household of a severe and volatile alcoholic. Once again the work of integration fails to happen. Worse: then my codependency rushes in to “save” the selfobject, to rehabilitate him back to the status of ideal so I can keep getting my hit of Word Womb merger, bliss, and power. This rehabilitation never works, of course, but by that time I’m enabling the person’s poor conduct and even covering up for him for the community, rationalizing, enabling. It is a mess!

Inklings of a Master Map

So here is where I’m going with all this about psychological barriers to enlightenment: Since the Mahamudra awakening of July 2015, it has been the A&P stage alone that has survived the floodlight of rigpa. I think that it survived, while the other formerly cyclic stages faded out of notice, because it brings the exact same feeling of bodily bliss and heady power I experienced when Word Wombing with Daniel (and his predecessors). My hypothesis is that, somehow, all the main cyclic Theravadin insight stages align with Almaas’s psychological barriers to enlightenment. As one resolves the psychological barrier, the corresponding insight stage stops emerging. I think I’ve partially resolved this one of idealizing transference, but partial is no cigar. Furthermore, until I resolve this main barrier completely, I will not be enlightened. Is gazing into light enough to resolve it? Maybe not. Maybe this is why my main practice seems to have stalled out at the foot of this barrier since Thanksgiving.

I’ve only poked around in the other Almaas book as yet, but in that one, too, I recognize something that has been going on since the Mahamudra awakening: schizoid defense. I’m not characteristically schizoid; in fact, quite definitely the opposite, as I’m emotive rather than shut down. But for many months, I’ve been experiencing this “drying up” of emotions and this retreat from others into solitude. Schizoid is the most primitive defense, the earliest one to develop and therefore the last of the psychological barriers to enlightenment to resolve. All human beings have all the defenses to some degree: normal, neurotic, or pathological. I’m normal on schizoid constellation and neurotic on the narcissistic constellation. What is strange to me is that I would be well into resolving the final barrier even through I have not resolved my main issue: idealizing others.

I’m also mentally sifting through the five hindrances, five poisons, and five wisdoms as overlays. Wow. If only a master map would come clear! It is to be hoped that reality isn’t some not-so-tidy and individual matchup, for I love maps – reliable ones especially.