Trauma, Transference, and a Post-Feminist Perspective: To Daniel

27 April 2015

Dear Daniel,

This letter began as part of a reply to your email reply of the same date; however, I believe what I have to say deserves the separate and formal auspices of a letter. I hope you will read this letter when well-rested and attentive. It is important to me that you do. I think it will increase your understanding of where I’m literally coming from and, I hope, may therefore prevent some otherwise potential triggers from firing in the future.


“As one thing to consider which is just one small possible example that illustrates a larger point about recognizing our own personal internal sign-posts, look for clue words and specific issues that you wish to use in emails or online posts during this state and, should you find yourself wanting to use them again, consider that there is a possibility that these terms and their correlation with this stage might aid you in self-diagnosis.”


Yes. Good idea, in general.

My apology, by the way, and just to be clear about this from the outset, covers my last three emails to you, not what I wrote out on the DhO. Keep reading.

You’ve suggested that I look for the key issues and key words in those emails so that I can recognize them when they emerge in the future. Because every bleed-through incident I’ve had has been with you, I suspect that it may be helpful for you to have some background on my issues and key word triggers, as well. You may be less likely to invoke them yourself if you are aware of what they are and why they are triggers for me. This, above all, is the purpose of this letter: to make you more aware of my background and the trauma behind the key metaphors you used at me without the otherwise potential benefit of such awareness.

The key issues and key words for me in those emails, the desperate tone of which I do apologize for, are abandonment, a patriarch’s complete control of his house, and marginalizing to unofficially “influential” space, to hidden private domestic life, a daughter, so to speak, who has tried to clean up some of the accumulated mess in that patriarch’s house, mess accumulated by virtue of a lack of boundaries (rules and enforcement) that protect all the children (community) in that solely owned and patriarch-ruled house.

I’m well aware now, and was semi-aware even as I was writing you those angry/hurt emails, that I’m still reacting to parental abandonment, to my severely alcoholic patriarch, who continually broke my heart by breaking his promises to me to quit drinking and quit the cycle of arbitrary abuse in his household of four daughters and a wife, my mother, who herself was only a few years older than my two half-sisters.

You need to know that I feel a very deep, primal sense of betrayal when I perceive that someone who has set himself up as authority and house owner has broken a promise or has been disloyal to me, has publicly rendered me an illegitimate (unofficial relation), has not parented properly (expressed consistent rules and boundaries for the good of all his children), and has acted in ways that seem like arbitrary power that is not ever to be openly questioned, on pain of constructed banishment.

So, let’s see, here is a list of the trigger words/issues in those email exchanges:

  • There is the patriarchal figure’s house and his absolute authority and ownership over that house (your words, your metaphors, used to curb, contain, and deny my pleas and appeals for public consistency regarding my actual roles therein and to deny my deserving the courtesy of your prior communication to me of the specifics of your upcoming actions on the DhO and DhU, actions meant to respond to request that came from only me in the first place).
  • My marginalization in your house to “behind the scenes” as an ultimately dispensable and banishable guest (a guest is a highly temporary, not familial, relation). If I confront you with the questionable outcomes of your actions and inaction, no matter how unjust the outcomes in my sincere view are, you respond to my sincerity ultimately with the threat of noncare and dismissal of me from your house, despite my many months and hours of labors for your comparative ease and the good of the community. In fact, my role as your guest, and you as owner are what you invoke as “at bottom” and “ultimately” our relationship to each other. Instead of what you could extend me as courtesy and kindness, you drop our discourse down to the level of your right to be punitive and dismissive. This move by you is unfortunate.
  • There are promises, and the patriarch’s seemingly arbitrary reversals and abandonment
  • There are your communications that I’m not to be trusted, even as you break your promises and publicly and privately shame me as unworthy of trust and undeserving of your forgiveness, forgiveness which is a sign of your generosity, not my worth to you.
  • There is my being aggressively reconstructed by you as a submissive penitent (guest only, in the house of the ultimate owner and silencing authority, the one whose money pays for his rights, which he invokes a the sign of disagreement): “My granting you a moderator role publicly in the Underground is my generosity toward and tolerance and forgiveness of you (which you have not deserved) for your moderation (?) actions (?) on the Overground.” I’m not sure what “moderation actions” you mean, by the way, as I never took a single action as a moderator during the many months I was left with moderator controls after I resigned from that role that I didn’t ask for and didn’t ever want.
  • Forgiveness is an extremely aggressive, condescending word and trigger, as is tolerance—the implication being that I’m a sinner, fundamentally flawed and ugly, and undeserving of your courtesy and a presumptive ground of inclusion and friendship. There is your forgiveness of my sins instead of proactive courtesy, and that forgiveness is denoted your overgenerous gift, for which I must demonstrate that I’m grateful, or you may withdraw from me at your pleasure and at any moment, constructively abandoning me, since it is your house and I have no official (legitimate) role there, having not deserved such a role, being fundamentally untrustworthy despite my working like a dog and falling on the sword repeatedly for constructive change for the whole of our family (dharma community). In fact, you say that if I don’t show gratitude for your forgiveness, then I’ll never be trusted again.
  • My public embarrassment and shame when you arbitrarily abandon former promises, for I have hinted or said over many months out on the DhO, “Mark my words, Daniel will clean up this site and the governing language,” even though I’ve not said explicitly, “Daniel and I talk on the phone and email behind the official scenes, and he promised me he will eventually do X,” which is the actual truth and one that I had every right to reveal as such, though I did not, out of respect to you and our private communications. After all, there is a limit to the good that rights alone can do; courtesy counts for a lot, and I’ve asked you for courtesy, not my rights. That you keep invoking your rights says a lot to me about you that I certainly would rather think otherwise.
  • There is arbitrary and confusing power wielded by an emotionally unavailable man and communicatively unavailable man (ie, which means the equivalent of alcoholic patriarch). Arbitrary power means, specifically, that there was sudden public reversal of your intent to reform the DhO, and shortly thereafter the unannounced dropping of four disciplinarians, one anonymous (arbitrary power), down on the marginalized space I alone took the initiative to revive, hidden, as always, behind the scenes.
  • There is the withholding of the daughter’s public legitimacyin relation to the patriarch and his house: “Jenny is [just] the editor of MCTB2,” which lies outside your house, meaning that publicly that you disown and render illegitimate my influencing your thoughts and plans regarding the DhO, while you nevertheless privately seek my counsel on the same—all this being, from a post-feminist scholarship point of view, a patriarchal attempt to marginalize a woman’s thoughts, feelings, advice, voice, and labor to the space of illegitimacy (ie, “she has no official role and cannot be trusted with official authority, even as I privately benefit from her counsel and assistive labor continually). “In fact, I can barely forgive her for protesting that I treat her this way, and if she doesn’t repent, desist, and show gratitude for my generous forgiveness, I’ll without from her the legitimacy and trust she has in fact already earned.”

So, you see, I’m well aware that you are in some respects a father figure to me, your dust jacket rejection of being anyone’s “Daddy” notwithstanding. This reading stems quite well from your own stated “ownership” of your “house,” the DhO/DhU, your own metaphors, which you wield to control me and curb my voice to spaces of illegitimacy. Transference/countertransference, just to be clear.

In terms of enlightenment, you also are a representation of my life’s goal, my development, my growing wisdom. So, unfortunately, sometimes when I’m frustrated with the goal itself, as in Reobservation, that can bleed into my being frustrated with you as the representation of that more realized being I wish I were. I’ve not bled-through with anyone but you, and for months I’ve been contemplating why it is always you. I’ve thought about it a lot, mainly from a Freudian post-feminist perspective, which is one I have deep, scholarly knowledge of and continued reverence for.

Practically speaking, it may also be that we are regularly engaged over this book and you have in fact had a number of conversations with me over improving the DhO. The DhO is important, and the book is important. And we both care a lot about them, really. So just the frequency and intensity of investment on both sides about both of them makes for contact and vedana, at least on my end. 

From this current place of relative calm from which I now write you, with equanimity, I do own and clarify that I stand by my open letter on the DhO as appropriately and sensitively written and edited to comply with the rules on the DhO and to serve a noble cause, a cause I sincerely believe you will look back on one day and recognize that I embodied out of kindness to the community you say you care about and therefore to you. That it took the form of civil protest of your actions/nonactions, does not change the fact that I did it out of love and compassion for you and yours. Someday, if not today, you will understand this about me and what I’ve done, tried to do.

I understand Laurel’s objection that I outed that you insinuated privately that I’m sectarian. Laurel is a more frequent poster on AN, by far, than she is on the DhO. She brings the very different, more polite (pretentious) ethos of AN to the DhO. She also was on the wrong side of the fence when the Bill Glamdring puppet attacked me for days on end, persisting in believing that Bill Glamdring was a real member that should be taken seriously and negotiated with. I was on AN for a while. Laurel lacks situational acuity. But let’s move on; I consider what she thinks a negligible point on your part and, frankly, not worth responding to with more of my time.

Laurel and Katy had no basis whatsoever to red-flag that open letter of mine, for the letter broke none of the rules stated in writing on the site—which, and I guess you missed my intended irony, was actually part of the point of my open protest, that there is a lack of rules, just “openness” as an ideal. Well, I was open to you out on the site, open to all, and there is no written rule against being thus open. In fact, your ideal is the opposite, so I was a champion of your ideal there, Daniel. Please see that much. Please admit that much to yourself privately, if not to me.

Moreover, that letter was incredibly tame compared with frequent fare on the DhO. I believe you know this to be the case. I believe you know you took it personally, not that I did anything wrong or broke any rule in your house. I received no moderator warning, by the way, and didn’t even have a chance to know I’d been charged by these women of breaking a rule stated in the DhO site language. Acting behind the scenes with me, as usual, you told me that they pressed the little red flags. You told me to what end, since I broke no rule? Just to shame me for having a voice and using it? The little red flags should be tied to actual rules, Daniel. I broke no DhO rules, so I still do not understand what problem that letter posed. Care to explain what rule I broke, other than your unofficial one that I not actually take your ideal of openness as real or applicable to my own public expressions but only to everyone else’s?

In fact, in your latest reneging of your earlier promises to reform the DhO, you did use “openness” as your defensively stated ideal, the reason you decided to make a liar out of me on the DhO for my saying you would do otherwise. That letter was a completely “open” letter to show you, both constatively and performatively, the direct consequences of that unstructured, unqualified “openness” you love so much. The young brawly men go unchecked; Jenny gets a slap in the shadow of the woodshed.

Are you beginning to understand? Well, where logic prevails, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, even if I’m constructed just a nonfamilial guest in daring to say so to you here and yet again.

It is still supremely ironic to me that this well-written and restrained letter I wrote from the heart and for all the people, many of whom are frustrated with the DhO culture, would be flagged by the likes of Katy, who attacked Kenneth viciously for many days on end while you were abroad, in front of the whole DhO. It was relentless and very ugly. Kenneth was passive-aggressively dismissive of her attempts to engage him on the issue of paid dharma teaching, just as you have been passive-aggressively unresponsive to my questions about fulfillment of intention to reform the DhO site language and structure. The situation of Daniel-Jenny is in fact analogous to that one of Kenneth-Katy, actually, although the Katy-Kenneth one was a public blowup that was many times more spectacular than anything I’ve ever done on the DhO, especially in engaging there with you.

Did either Kenneth or Katy stop in over four days of nasty mutual attacks in your house to consider that they were hurting you and your moderators? Incidentally, I was hurt too, in the aftermath, when several threads were spawned (none by me) to beg you to make good on your promises to reform the site. Specifically, Claudiu called me out publicly on the thread titled “Moderation” to give him semantic and legal definitions after Kenneth accused Katy of libel. Claudiu also emailed me privately for legal consultations while all unfolded and you were away, blithely engaged in your powers.

So, Jenny, this woman, this Jill-of-all-trades back-office assistant, is continually sought after by the official moderators and the owner-patriarch for her labor, research, writing, editing, and advice. And then she is denied public roles and legitimacy by the patriarch on the basis that she alone, not the patriarch, is unworthy of trust and stands a penitent mere guest at the pleasure of her lord and master (you). Do you begin to see your actions and tropes in the clear light of day? Do you begin to understand how my suppressed and repressed rights for an official role and voice turn in the dark of my heart to resentment of you? Is it any wonder that during a hellish Reobservation stage, after running out of my antidepressants, I might completely renounce you and lash out?

I trust that, as you can read and have a brilliant mind and often tender heart, you are beginning to see how your silencing me, your rendering me merely an invisible and illegitimate assistant, serving in the margins of your “house,” completely at your pleasure and as someone who must repeatedly earn your forgiveness or at least be damned grateful for it—how all this would retrigger in me very deep hurt harkening back to the arbitrary abuse my father inflicted over my childhood’s actual house of four daughters and his very young wife, my mother. 

My father drank a fifth of gin a day. Straight gin! He was emotionally unavailable to me. He drank himself to death by age 45. He would routinely come into my bedroom before I went to school, while sober, and cry in my lap (talk about drama), promising to stop the drinking and arbitrary violence against two of my sisters. Now, what did he issue as the guarantee of his intent to make good on his promise? Why, his paternal love for me: “Jenny, I’m going to stop drinking as of this day, because I love Emily, your sisters, and you.” Daniel, I loved my father with all my heart. And I believed him every single time he cried in my lap, at my feet, and made this promise, every single time sobriety and clear seeing temporarily prevailed. 

Invariably, the very same day he made such promises, sealed with his love for me as guarantee he would keep them, he broke those promises. I remember walking home from school in the rain, holding the hand of my little sister, and missing ballet lessons, because he was home on the family room couch, completely naked, unemployed, drunk, and passed out. He couldn’t even pick his little girls up from school in the rain and get them to ballet.

So promises were broken, repeated, broken, repeated, broken, repeated—to a mere child, who was told by this father that his success in acting well by her and the family depended on how lovable she proved to be. Moreover, he wielded terrible, arbitrary, and unchecked power. Because my older sister was talking on the phone too long one night, for one among many examples, he once took out a pistol and held it to my pet basset hound’s head and told me and my little sister that he would blow the dog’s head off if Judy didn’t get off the phone in five seconds. I think I was 8 or 9 years old, so my sister would have been only 5. Think about it: He would blow our pet’s head off in front of us, his children, if someone else we couldn’t control, my older sister, didn’t immediately do what he said. Talk about traumatic disempowerment!

Other times, my older sister Judy would utter one word of protest at some arbitrary rule Daddy laid down at the dinner table. When she did, he would punch her in the mouth, with his fist. I watched the blood run down her face and the tears and look of betrayal and incomprehension fill her eyes. I think she was 16 during one of these incidents that I’m thinking about right now.

I’m trying to make you understand some context for how your words, metaphors, and other ways of constructing spaces in which to relegate me to unquestioning silence affect me, way beyond what you consciously intend. So, as you ask me to identify the words and issues that are triggers for me, I ask you to be aware of the same. I was likely traumatized by much that happened in my childhood, because of the owner and patriarch of a house in which I was never made to feel loved, secure, and legitimate as a voice and a devoted, obedient daughter.

One of the subtle ways in which my father caused me harm was in not being the adult in our interactions, but the child, and then turning around and being the punitive parent. So, during his morning cries and promises in my lap, I looked at him and realized, “He is out of control.” On some level, I also realized, “This man is a child, and he is asking me, the actual child, to parent him.” That I was made, repeatedly, to see my father as helpless without me, as a child I had to parent, left me in abject terror. I was not secure. Who was going to take care of Jenny if her own father was so helpless that he expected his small child to be morally responsible for whether he quit drinking and lived to see her graduation, her wedding day, her newborn son? And what would happen then to Jenny’s mind and heart if and when he died instead living to those times? What would happen to this little girl, knowing as she did that she was responsible somehow, knowing that she failed to prove sufficiently lovable to guarantee her father’s good will and very life?

Look at my current (old) profile photo on the DhU. I was flipping through a folder of photos of me, and that one arrested my attention for posting in your house well before I wrote those enraged, hurt emails to you. I thought little of it at the time. But in the past 24 hours I’ve really thought, “Why did I post that particular picture?” In that picture, I’m holding my baby sister Jill. I am a child there, but I’m posed as a parent. I parented my parents when I was but a child. This is the subtle and perhaps saddest legacy of my father: That I was never allowed to be a child. I could not even have friends over, ever, because of my shame that my father would be naked on the couch, with empty gin bottles scattered around him. The child of an alcoholic lives out a primordial fear of abandonment, a sense of failing to prove lovable and worthy, a sense of shame. It is so with me.

So Katy has a lot of nerve pressing my little red flag. You have a lot of nerve, too, by the way, holding her out to me as the reason I’m still not to be trusted but publicly shamed and privately shamed and called a guest at your disposal, a temporary and utterly powerless voice that you nonetheless rely on all the time as you please to do the parenting of the community the nurturing of your authorial talents. I am just laughing and shaking my head at the absurdities that abound here, and what a field day I could have, if I chose, in writing a scholarly publication on the subconscious machinations of patriarchy in online spiritual communities that only pretend to be egalitarian while actually being quite constraining and subordinating and exclusive of its most devoted and otherwise legitimate members.

Now, regarding Katy, do you know that people leave the DhO on account of her behavior? Jim Luceno has stated out on the DhU that he will participate in the DhU only so long as Katy is kept out. Now did you give Jim the sectarian shaming that you gave Jenny? Or are we once again applying one standard to the daughter, and a different one to the enlightened sons? Jim left the DhO for two reasons, he has said: 75% because of Katy, and 25% because you failed to do something about Sawfoot. You have still failed to take official action against Sawfoot, but you did arbitrarily delete his metacognition practice thread, even though your doing so is patently against your own ideal of openness to anything that reduces suffering. What rule and official boundary did Sawfoot violate? None. But your power is as absolute and arbitrary as you wish with Sawfoot, as it is with Jenny.

Jim is a very valuable member of this community, and was one of the better posters on the DhO. Sawfoot stayed, and Jim left. This tradeoff is due to your ideal of openness. When will you see that ideals have failings in the practical world? When will you practice the nonidealism and pragmatism that you preach?

I have been mulling over the idea of vetting Bill F. (William Finch) as a candidate member of the DhU. He is tight with Vince Horn, and was asked to teach by the latter. He has an extremely committed practice wherein he practices 3-5 hours a day. He has connections to Kenneth, but is currently into Mahamudra and tantric practice. He is also very into the devotional side of tantra, stating that tantra is not tantra at all without that guru devotion, which he defines as “adoration of the teacher.” DW is very reluctant to consider Bill. You know why? Because Devin distrusts practitioners into the devotional stuff. However, meantime, Jim Luceno sucks the toes of a Sumerian goddess, under the auspices of Western magick, and that is a-okay with DW, just grand.

Are you going to address Jim’s and DW’s “sectarianism”? Or am I alone the sectarian here, even though I would like to include Tibetan Buddhists and Chuck (who is already a member but doesn’t know we are active).

All the continual blowups, as well as the “schisms”—they are the results of your “openness” ideal. The speech acts constituting them are all within the Code of Conduct on the DhO, which is minimal and lacks a coherent, communicated-out reporting and enforcement protocol, despite the template I gave you 9 months ago to address these structural lacks, despite my willingness, in all things, to help you help other to awaken. I have no DhO policy basis on which to complain about Katy’s atrocious behavior on the DhO, and she certainly has no policy basis to complain about my behavior, specifically my open letter pleading with you to reconfirm your intentions regarding DhO reform publicly.

My open and public letter was a plea, a final plea, and it still is, for you to keep your public and private promises to reform the DhO, in part by reconsidering “openness” as an ideal that has outlived its unqualified constructiveness. 

I did not write this letter in anger. I wrote with equanimity and from a place of personal truth that I hope you will come to value someday, as it is sincere and well-meaning toward you.

Fondly and sincerely still yours,


Site Migration Update

I’ve now completed the migration cleanup of the parts of this journal that were originally on Tumblr, bringing the journal current into June 2015. This journal continued until my Mahamudra awakening late July of the same year. I will continue posting entries from the private copy I have of the rest of this journal,entries originally written in the Dharma Underground.

Someday I will circle back around and insert pictures for each post, but currently getting the text out there is my priority. After this journal is done, then I will work similarly on the Dharma by Daylight journal

Thank you for your patience and support. 




Stratified Care for the Hindrance of Dullness: Prevention First

Numerous ways exist to antidote mental dullness or sleepiness in meditation practice. Rather than dumping all of them here, I offer a stratified approach that begins with simple commonsense, pragmatic, physical-plane understandings and approaches that emphasize prevention. In short, prevention means planning toward optimal meditation set and setting.

Understand the Doctrine of the Five Spiritual Faculties

The early Buddhist doctrine of the Five Spiritual Faculties helpfully informs the more contemporary considerations I’m offering in this post. It also informs the broader notion that a viable path is a “laddered” map with levels of practice that require you to rebalance overall practice orientations to meet the challenges of each new level of practice.

The laddered path functions within the causal model of reality, which says, “If I do x, then y will result.” The causal model is eventually debunked both in theoretical orientation—view—and in direct experience. The constraints that are linear time and causality are, to use the dzogchen parlance from the Gyalwa Chaktri, “a great and powerful falsehood and lie” (Reynolds 2015, p. 145). So noncausality is absolutely true, but until that truth is directly realized, sufficient practice effort usually requires buy-in to the causal model. This buy-in is at first noncontroversial, and normally not even deliberated, because it comports with modern, western science as the default view.

The causal model leads you to the noncausal realization; then the noncausal realization reveals that there never was a doer doing a cause-and-effect “path.” From the perspective of the gradual, laddered path, in other words, noncausality is mappable as high realization; from the perspective of that realization, causality constituting a path is, or was, the final delusion. Thus, the relationship between the gradual path and spontaneous realization of spontaneity is profoundly paradoxical. Although this topic is endlessly fascinating to me, in the present context this is all just to say that I’m addressing practitioners who are still trying to master calm-staying practice and ply their efforts to realize the fruits of ordinary insight practice (vipassana).

If you are past that point, then you already know I’m not addressing you. It is worth noting, however, that normally practitioners of extraordinary insight think they have transcended the causal model when in fact true letting go of path unfolds in increasingly supersubtle, barely detectable stages that can be missed altogether. The supersubtlety can be easily missed because of the grasping known as spiritual bypassing. Thinking you are enlightened before you are is the stickiest temptation, and it results in being stuck, albeit at a mappably high level. I’ve written elsewhere at some length about the common phenomenon of the partially realized teacher.

So to turn back to where most practitioners find themselves, Shakyamuni Buddha taught that aspirants have five spiritual faculties, five orientations that potentiate enlightenment. These potentialities are best actualized by being held in balance. But what is balance? A final distribution? In truth, the faculties ordinarily are not in balance long—at least not in the early and intermediate levels of practice. It is the lead faculty of mindfulness—metacognitive tracking of variables across time—that must monitor and rebalance the other four faculties continually. Whenever you sense that you have for a while not been progressing toward your practice objectives, are regularly swamped by distractions on the cushion, or are sometimes undermined by dullness or sleepiness on the cushion, study closely the doctrine of the Five Spiritual Faculties and apply it.

The five faculties have traditionally been configured in various spatial arrangements to body forth specific dharma teachings. One famous configuration places the faculties as two pairs of horses, one pair in front of the other pair, with the horse representing mindfulness in front and leading both pairs. The five horses are working together to steer a wagon forward along a path.

The first pair of horses represents the faculties faith and discriminating insight. This pair represents poles capping the ends of a continuum. They mark the attitude of receptivity, faith, over against effortful penetration into experience, insight.

Parallel to the first pair but at a more granular level, the second pair of horses represents the faculties of concentration, on the one hand, and energy, on the other hand. Metacognition, or mindfulness, as the lead horse has to balance—and continually rebalance—each of the pairs so that your vehicle can be pulled straight. The faculty of concentration does not by itself drive effective concentration practice, which I prefer to call, after the Tibetan Buddhists, calm-staying practice. When the distraction-free calm unification of mind—concentration—far exceeds energy, then dullness results. This dullness not only impedes the shift to effective insight practice during a meditation session, but also stymies mastery of concentration practice itself.

The Five Spiritual Faculties is a doctrinal teaching on the relationship between the masculine principle (discriminating insight and energy) and the feminine principle (faith and concentration). Both men and women need both principles and the theoretical knowledge and pliancy to adjust practice when it is not balanced optimally for the current practice level. Initial stages of practice almost always require increase of the masculine flavor; the advanced practices after the gains of ordinary insight, conversely, require reorientation emphasizing the feminine. This sliding fulcrum under the gradual path, so to speak, is another reason that it is important to have, understand, and subscribe to a coherent and fully detailed map and model of enlightenment. A coherent map supports the spiritual faculty of metacognitive mindfulness so that you can track your day-to-day practice within a framework and steer yourself skillfully with these masculine and feminine sides of the whole conveyance well in hand.

Use Mindfulness to Track and Steer Your Four Other Faculties

One principle to bring to planning set and setting for your practice comes from modern research on attention reserves. This principle is that you have a finite allotment of willpower, as well as attention, to spend after a good night’s sleep. As the day wears on, your reserves are steadily depleted, regardless of your practice intentions and meditation method.

Now, I’m a night owl (delayed sleep phase syndrome). Moreover, I have always tended to be high on the energetic/agitation side of the fulcrum between excess energy and dullness.  I practice in the wee hours past midnight, after everyone in my home is asleep. I’m mentioning the excess energy counterpoint to dullness here to point out that practice solutions depend on accurate diagnosis of the individual. It so happens that most American practitioners have dullness and sleepiness as their all-t00-familiar hindrance. I rarely hear people complain about excess energy on the cushion, although it does happen.

That dullness is such a pervasive hindrance may say something about our society’s enforced dearth of unstructured downtime. Because of “convenience” technologies such as laptops, mobile phones, email accounts, social media, and even the electric light bulb, our downtime and deep time are no longer aligned with organic cycles. They are intruded on. In fact, any ostensible downtime is severely fractured by our over-accessibility. If our evenings and nights remain open to the same external stimuli that deplete our attention reserves during the day, then is it any wonder that most of us drop into mental dullness the moment we isolate ourselves in comfort on a meditation cushion?

I’m emphasizing here that effective self-discipline is not about time management so much as it is about energy management. You need to identify when to practice on the basis of your intrinsic energy-concentration imbalances, your idiosyncratic circadian variations, and your work schedule constraints. If you have more mental clarity and higher energy first thing in the morning, before office work, then do a single practice session and do it first thing in the morning. If, like me, your energy tends to naturally revive after a brief early evening rest, and if you tend toward excessive energy or agitation on the cushion in general, then practice at night.

The advice that follows was to a specific practitioner who through logging his practice results discovered he needed to stop practicing twice a day, both in the morning and at night. The main ideas here can apply to anyone needing to address dullness or sleepiness on the cushion. Some other versions of this advice appear in various parts of my book manuscript. This is just a quick-and-dirty summary for this man I regularly advise. I’m posting it here because a mutual friend of ours urged me to, saying that it might help others.

Practice Only after Attentional Reserves Are Restored by Rest

If you are in the insight stage of the Knowledge of the Arising and Passing Away (A&P) or otherwise have a burning desire to practice at the end of the day, it is certainly fine to do so for sheer pleasure and interest, but cross out with a big red X the plan to make nightly practice a perfunctory fixture in your life.

By the end of your day, your willpower and attention reserves are depleted. Practicing with brute force willpower at the end of the day will condition your mind in ways counterproductive to the goal of mastering concentration meditation, and counterproductive to objectives that support that goal. It will be unpleasant, tedious, and frustrating. The more often you associate being on the cushion with these negative emotional reactions, the worse for your faculty faith. In this situation, you must metacognize the problem, and then optimize for energy. 

Routinize “Unplugging” by Evening and Practicing Sleep Hygiene before Bedtime

The principle here is that your mind needs downtime to integrate, via the unconscious, what is happening on the cushion under directed attention. By shutting down dharma and other work efforts in the evening to prioritize care for your body, meaning adequate sleep, you are in fact “practicing”: As Carl Newport writes in Deep Work, “A shutdown habit . . . is not necessarily reducing the amount of time you’re engaged in productive work, but is instead diversifying the type of work you deploy” (Newport, p. 146).

If you are feeling doubt arise as you read this pointer, then likely you have been unhelpfully programmed by dharma cowboys who equate number of cushion hours with attainment. I’m inviting you to prioritize precision over time-per-sit and time-per-day standards. For support, consider that the Dalai Lama instructs beginners to spend only 5 minutes in concentration practice here and there. He says to quit the session when the concentration begins to fail. The instruction is not practice long, but rather practice well.

This latter point suggests another item on the list.

Limit Pre–Stream Entry Meditation Sessions to 30 Minutes or Less

Yes, that’s right. Limit the length of your meditation session to 30 minutes, 15–20 if in the Equanimity insight stage. Close the session when dullness or thought-elaboration has emerged and your applying corrective strategies for, say, 3 minutes, hasn’t reversed the slide into dullness. In your practice log, record every day for a while how many minutes of meditation you finished before irreversible slippage into dullness or gross distraction occurred. See what you record for a couple of weeks. This will suggest how long your sessions can fruitfully be at this time.

I fiercely reject the “odometer” approach to meditation practice. Number of hours on the cushion in no measure correlates with reduced calendar time to x realization. In fact, if you think about it, you will discern that the truth is the opposite: Time and precision are usually diametrically opposed emphases, so a sliding scale needs to be observed. Driving yourself into the ground to concentrate when your natural attention reserves for the day are depleted will condition your practice mind to slip into compensatory dullness. When these experiences harden into habit, which they will, then dullness will infect your practice even at the beginning of the day when you are fresh. (My advisee has adversely conditioned himself this way for more than a year. We are now tearing down his practice and rebuilding it up from from the ground.)

It bears repeating: When you sit on a cushion in persistent thought-elaboration, analysis of your psycho-emotional issues, dullness, or slippage into daydreaming, you are habituating yourself to enter these distractions every single time you are on a cushion. Don’t do this!

Manage your limited energy and attention reserves metacognitively. Do so on a whole-day basis. When the reserves for a sit are depleted, close the session, log your information about the sit, and feel good that this change in overall emphasis from hours clocked to precision is positive practice, even if you have to make further adjustments around logged information later, which you will.  I’m not giving you targeted antidotes for dullness today. Try prevention and unlearning unhelpful attitudes first. I will address targeted antidotes another day. This is stratified care beginning with prevention.

The goal is precision. When you have some mastery, that will foster confidence. Confidence is conducive to faith, and faith aligns you with the automaticity intrinsic to realization. Although we can think of energy and faith as polar emphases in practice, it is important to notice how intricately connected they actually are. This interconnection becomes increasingly obvious as you advance up the path, but, as I have explained, it is operating from the very first sit. 

Focus on Whole-Body Breath Energy Flow instead of on Nostrils

Use a scanning and then whole-body breath energy as the object of attention. Doing so preempts dullness, facilitates entry to the bodily bliss characterizing second jhana, and establishes a direct link with vipassana—specifically, direct experience of impermanence. This broad, flowing focus is contrary to the popular one of  the breath at the nostrils. This narrow object focus is problematic. There are multiple reasons for abandoning this method the moment you read this sentence.

Consider analogous findings from research on attentional reserves: “This study, it turns out, is one of many that validate attention restoration theory (ART), which claims that spending time in nature can improve your ability to concentrate.” (Newport, p. 147). Newport elaborates the connection between open flow and overdirected attention:

To concentrate requires what ART calls directed attention. This resource is finite: If you exhaust it, you’ll struggle to concentrate. . . . The 2008 study argues that walking on busy city streets requires you to use directed attention, as you must navigate complicated tasks like figuring out when to cross a street to not get run over, or when to maneuver around the slow group of tourists blocking the sidewalk. After just fifty minutes of this focused navigation, the subject’s store of directed attention was low. (p. 147)

The remedy is to emphasize and plan for undirected pleasure, rather than a draining obstacle course: “Walking through nature, by contrast, exposes you to what lead author Marc Berman calls ‘inherently fascinating stimuli,’ using sunsets as an example. These stimuli ‘invoke attention modestly, allowing focused-attention mechanisms a chance to replenish. (pp. 147-148).

My first point in abandoning the nostrils focus is that such focus is boring rather than pleasurable. It is never a surprise to me when people cling to that narrow object focus and never exit the dullness sand trap. To me, counting breaths, another popular technique, is also inherently boring. Moreover, it actually pulls my attention away from the breath and toward the counting task.

In my experience, the whole-body focus prevents dullness because it gives you a broadly flowing, organically stimulating experience, instead of one that requires that you drill top-down onto one narrow spot and jackhammer it for 30 minutes without flagging. The dullness that results from the inherent boringness and unnaturalness of jackhammering the same point for long duratins means you have to keep applying and reapplying directed attention. This need to redirect attention keeps people stuck at access concentration or, at best, at first jhana, which means the automaticity of second jhana is thwarted. Subsequent jhanas have a broader focus. Focus on breath at the nostrils is therefore the city walk; whole-body flow is the inherently unimpeded pleasure of a nature walk.

The first path objective when I advise people is to consistently attain and sustain second jhana (Elephant Path Stage 6 and 7), Without second jhana, pleasure doesn’t kick in and kick out the need for directed attention. Directed attention is a jhana factor for first jhana, and first jhana is relatively unpleasant. If you have ever smoked weed or taken hallucinogens, then you know that there is an unpleasant transition before the pleasure high kicks you into automaticity. First jhana is this transition. You must pass through it and learn what you can from it, but you need to enter second, master that entry, and consistently replicate its automaticity. Doing so is essential preparation for the path of ordinary special insight, for vipassana.

Traditionally, access concentration is considered adequate for beginning effective vipassana. The problem is that how teachers define access concentration varies dramatically. I define access concentration as a soft version of second jhana. Before you have the automaticity that is second jhana, you are still just trying to concentrate rather than concentrating.

There are many other specific reasons that whole-body-breathing-as-object is vastly superior to nostrils focus, but I won’t go  into them here because it would take me all day. But suffice it to say that to master distinction among the separate jhanas you need to be able to tell when a naturally narrow focus broadens, and vice-versa. You can’t do so if you have constrained and conditioned yourself to an extremely narrow focus only. People who focus on the nostrils are creating and reinforcing their own dullness and their own access concentration sand trap. Don’t do this!

Read Keeping the Breath in Mind Method 2
What I want you to do for homework, besides all the energy-management strategies delineated, is to read and begin practicing Ajaan Lee’s Keeping the Breath in Mind, Method 2. Log your experiences and time elapsed before dullness derails the session. The book is free in various formats:

Reading Tarot Clockwise  for a Friend

It has been a long time since I’ve thrown cards or practiced any premeditated magick. There comes a point in the course of realization where such pointed doings and intentions feel unnatural and can easily pull one out of rigpa, the natural state. Whatever happens is, after all, awesome in the original sense of the word, The greater magick, the cosmic scale of magick is not other than what is. To be realized is not merely to be aware, but to know, to realize the true nature of that being aware. Part of what is known is that one is simply present when magick (reality) happens; one does not manipulate or bend reality to some  illusory will. Sitting and practicing concentration meditation feels, for example, all wrong. The most refined jhana is conditioned and therefore coarse and unyielding. Even tantra for subtle body release guided by the very slightest inclination to “practice” feels wrong.

One result after the subject-object split has dissolved and the centralizing self-referencing limitation has dropped away for good—is that the Progress of Insight stage cycling ceases. This was the case for me, and it has been the case for friends of mine who have opened rigpa, stabilized that opening, and then oriented to the all. Dropping down from that extremely subtle level of mind to the coarser level required to form beliefs and change-desires informing magick pulled me out of rigpa temporarily in November 2016. The sign of this was that the Progress of Insight cycling reemerged. Thus, I dropped all deliberate magickal workings. Promptly, the cycling again ceased and hasn’t since then returned.

This said, during the course of dharmakaya release, which is the gradual release of all karmic traces after the equivalent of MCTB fourth path, realization deepens and becomes endlessly creatively form-taking. As A. H. Almaas says, reality is known as multimodal and chameleon-like. So, although for a long while “practice” has consisted of nondoing as some believed-in requirement of the realization of nonduality, it seems that I’m emerging into some refinement of realization by which I can do things without losing the level of realization that is more properly “nondual” wholeness. This is not to say that I’ve changed my mind about the necessity of laying off the magick and its attendant obsessions. I think all that does need to be laid aside for quite a while. But it is possible that, because of that letting go, one can sometimes engage with magick without the usual ill consequences. Nothing is excluded. 

This reading was requested by a friend. He has a dream. He is thinking through timing and other parameters of financial investments so that he can retire from work while still in the prime of life. Phase 2 is to invest in some real estate for use in furthering the Dharma. This is the scenario to which 5 questions were formulated by us together and posed by me in a midnight session that was intense as I felt I was inside him empathetically. 

I settled on a layout that moves clockwise. The reading of the individual cards and then the Gestalt of the whole follows. I will write in the second person, directly to my friend.

1. What is the heart of the matter we are querying? 

As soon as this card was turned, I knew that the juice I was feeling was going to manifest in the responsive cards. With the traditional Two of Disks, the search is for means of growth in terms of security, work advancement, and financial reliability. But there is more to it than that. This card features a corpse with the old-time customary coins on her eyes to keep them closed until rigor mortis sets in. One of the coins here, the gold one, shows the owl of the goddess Athena. This is the sun-like warrior-hero energy that is oriented out toward the world—here, given the scenario being queried, toward your aspirations for the sake of the sangha.

The silver coin is the moon and features Janus, the god of liminal, in-between, transition spacetime coordinates. Janus looks backward in time, to your deep past, and he looks forward to the future you want to realize in terms of your for-the-world scenario. Being moon-like, though, this coin is, at a metalevel, about orienting to what is inside you that needs to be illuminated. This is in contrast to the golden Athena coin whose wise owl looks outward to the world. This card is challenging you to reflect that outward energy inward more, precisely in order to find balance between insight (looking into yourself) and outward- and future-orientation.

The face of the corpse is the veil of flesh between these two orientations that need to be brought into workable balance. The old you is dead and stiffing into immobile form, but a new way of seeing can emerge now, one that consists not just of right view based on love, but on right view that includes personal strength, which suggests is an inward journey you make alone.

On a more obvious denotative note, the coins on the eyes are currency. They are clearly answering to the query about financial investments and payoff. This card is positive when it come in upright position, so the message is that, so long as you can achieve the balance this card enjoins, payoff is on offer. When is uncertain. This is a time of progressive change for you, but it will happen much more quickly once you make a decision based on the overall message of this reading. In short, decide to reflect inwardly before you act outwardly for the outer world.

When this card turns up next to the Hanged Man, it bears a special message: “Wait for the situation to materialize and don’t be so impatient.” See next card.

2. For the next 6 months. how should you approach investment decisions? 

First, reread that special message that comes when two of disks is next to the Hanged Man, which is a major arcana card and therefore deserves special attention. The message is that you need to reign in your impulsive urges, exercise patience. This reading so far is screaming moderation and caution.

One of the key features of the Hanged Man in either upright or reversed position is that it thwarts your attempts to get “the answer” the reading seeks. The gist of the card is suspension and suspense—nonmovement and the undecidability for the time being. On purpose, this card gives you ambiguity for answer.

In this deck the artist’s inspiration was Judas, who both betrayed Jesus and yet foreshadows Jesus’s hanging on the cross in self-sacrifice for humankind. Now, the story of Judas is that he betrayed the exemplar of goodness in exchange for money. He received payment as a purse of coins in exchange for betraying Jesus with a kiss. In the picture on this card, he has hanged himself out of despair over the part he has played in the cosmic drama, although it was a preordained and necessary expression of self-sacrifice in the guise of evil. The difference between Judas’s self-sacrifice and the Jesus aspect is that Jesus is free of guilt and shame; the Judas aspect is bound, unfree because of a deep layer of guilt, shame, or both. Judas is in stasis, nonprogress, the sleep before Christ’s purification of everyone’s guilt, doubt, and fear. The Judas aspect is a shadow, and it is not directly serving your true nature until it is purified.

One of the special paradoxes of this card is that Judas is hanging upside down, but when the card is drawn in reverse, as it was here, there is the initial appearance of his being upright, upstanding. The upright and reverse positions for this card therefore read as nearly identical. But the reversed, in appearing to be upright, signals extra confusion, the same shadow side whether upright or not,  but more hidden.

The message of this card is to surface and release some buried guilt, shame, or trauma first if you want to free the Earth. Although that seems to be the personal message to you, the response to the question of approach to investments within the next 6 months seems to refuse all answer except “stagnation” or “suspense.” Decisions will have to be made by seeing via inner light, not the outward appearances and signs of outward scenarios.

Questions from this card are these: What do you expect from the sacrifices you are making? How are you hung up and what do you need to straighten out? What are you trying to escape or avoid by pursuing this scenario? How are you seeking higher insight?

In the second position in a reading, this card sends an additional message: If your network fails, then you may have little contingency. Ask yourself what you alone, without a scene of other people, could achieve if required to do so first.

3. What is the shadow side of your plan, or what is currently hidden?

The Devil is another major arcana card, here drawn in reverse. Oh boy! This card is in the shadow side position and its meaning is “shadow side.” This spread is strongly emphasizing a shadow side that you need to work hard at bringing into the light of consciousness and purifying to the extent possible. The Devil in general signals lies, delusion, bondage, addiction, and personal demons. Energy is currently in fits and shudders in you, like an orgasm, as if the kundalini serpent is being uncoiled and redirected up your spine.

In reverse, the meaning of this card is more that you lack some personal strength that you need to build. Love and giving for others is not the balanced wholeness, but only one half. There is currently an underlying weakness of will power or a shallow understanding of how what you think of as your destiny is presenting. You are at a crossroads. You must plumb the depths of this reading and make a decision about your path. Which way will you go?

This is the second time in this reading that self-sufficient strength has been distinguished from love and emphasized as what you need to cultivate to balance out your drive to enact heroic expressions of love. Even with your superabundant love, the result might be immoral or amoral without the self-sufficient strength’s first being fortified. Moreover, in the third position in a reading, this card points specifically to a schizoid-like split in the self, a preference for only one side of a duality and suppression of the other side to the darkness of the subconscious. It says that the result is in some sense amorality.

Questions associated with this card are “What is obsessing you?” And “How can you restructure your energies to be less manipulative of reality?”

4. Given cards for 1–3, what supportive action should you take?

This card shows the archangel Uriel underwater and reaching up with lobster claws to grasp the otherworldly surface atmosphere. Here, in reverse, the card’s feeling is of drowning, suffocation, urgency to get to the top while under oppressive weight that prevents surfacing.

The message of this card is to refrain from reacting to delays in realizing your plan. Be quiet and still. Center within yourself. When what you have been looking for is postponed, accept this. Be willing to release what you expected and roll with the changes that are coming.

Disturbing memories are at the root of why you have alienated part of yourself. Bring to the surface and experience your buried grief in order to release it. Liberate these hidden feelings and you will liberate your spirit. This card warns that you have too many superficially bonded friends and family around. You cannot keep extending yourself for the sake of extending. Rushing into or extending relationships with people not deeply suited for or appropriate to your path comes out of traumatic repressed early memories.

Uriel guards the entrance to paradise, holding the key to hell. He is holding the key to your subconscious. Will you take possession of the key offered here?

5. What is the outcome?

Like the card that opened this reading, this one is a 2. The first 2 was of disks, which signifies money, security, practical resources. Here the suit is cups, which is the suit of emotions, the heart.

The painting is of two wild horses: the white one of inner purification and the red one of passionate heroics. The two wild horses (energies) will need to be reigned in and balanced in order to pull your chariot straight forward. You must tame them and drive them with equanimity and steadiness. The overt message of this card is that you need to heal the two halves of your heart: love and strength. This is the third time in this spread that love and strength have come up as a polarity that you need to resolve.

The manual that came with my deck has two quotes that I think are worth sharing here:

That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me If I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red one that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.

—Saint Maximilian Maria Kolbe

The way is not in the sky. The way is in the heart.


Again, the challenge is to go inward, not just upward and outward.

This card also, more conventionally, signals that marriage is on your mind. This is a time of many choices for you and much transition. Marriage might be one of the outcomes of your current self-development.


This spread repeats the same themes throughout: The need to surface repressed trauma, grieve it, and release it; the presence of an inner tension and a need make a decision toward balance; an imbalance that favors the heroics of publicly enacted self-sacrifice over a journey inward to strengthen yourself by yourself; and suggestions that the scenario queried here will be delayed, postponed, as you are challenged to allow other changes to roll in first. You are being challenged, specifically, to be more introspective, quiet, and still—less impulsive, impatient, and oriented to the outer scene.

The beauty of my Mary-el deck is that the picture that is composed visually by all the cards in a layout transcends words. Patterns emerge—like the number 2 and the mirrored colors and forms of the Hanged Man and the Six of Cups. Both of the latter are actually an extremely interesting higher-level hanged man.

Both blue figures are hanging upside down and suffocating. Because the Hanged Man is a major arcana card but refuses all answers except the hint that the querent is caught up in his own bullshit, the Six of Cups offers corresponding clues as to the specific hangup. That card is also in the position of advice to you of supportive actions you need to consider taking. In this case it is to practice patience and to emphasize a personal journey inward to release hidden (repressed) trauma.