Path Death, Ego Death, Resurrection

I’ve been listening to Tom Campbell’s model of reality, My Big Toe, while purging the remodeled master bath and bedroom of old, now unused tools. Finally listening to Campbell is part of my recent rebellion lap around Buddhism and its theories. While cleaning my bedroom, I found an old fortune cookie fortune. It reads, “All things have an end.”

Earlier in the evening, I had decided to pull just one tarot card after sitting. The impulse flashed up as an imperative while I was brushing my teeth. My query formulation for the one-card draw was this, born of my knowledge-access frustrations around my current level of practice: “In the next 3 to 6 months, how should I contemplate and actualize in practice all the messages and signs I’m receiving?”

How My Path Will Actualize in 3 to 6 Months: Death

The card I turned up was major arcana Death. And the words in the manual, echoing almost exactly the fortune cookie fortune I had just found, leaped starkly forth: “All things come to an end.” This card means that a major karmic change is on its way, that nothing I can do will avert its coming, for it is certain, and that I should regard the transition that will be suddenly upon me as beneficial.

The message is to offer no resistance to the major change (an important ending) that is coming, but to meet it head on by shedding outdated beliefs, habits, attitudes, dogmas, and practice paradigms now. Out of this coming major karmic death will arise new life. I am to clear all mental clutter and complicating intellectualizing noise, sit in silence, and listen. The card’s message is to begin now to shed everything that has long been dead in my life. It is funny that this card turns up on a day I was “shedding” tons of material possessions from my bathroom, giving all to Goodwill.  I will receive the message I’m seeking from above by listening from a cleared and clean place.

I think I have drawn the Death card only one other time since I have owned this tarot deck. It is a chilling card to turn up. I decided next night to throw some clarifying cards around it. Death is associated with a hard, intense transition—a shock of loss that will be forced on me and that I need to accept and adjust to, go with instead of against.

What This Reading Is About: Queen of Swords Reversed

This was the hardest card to read in this spread in this spread, but here goes. This card is traditionally about having a strong concentrated mind and communication skills. It is about accepting no bullshit, about rebellion. The queen is disciplined and demanding. The eyes in the raven’s wings are both featured in and attending to the landscape of signs. Thus, we look to the outer world for signs of our inner progress, demanding answers. The card is saying, I think, that my concentration on signs has intensified my inner frustration rather than assuaged it, and I’m communicating that frustration to others, which I have been. It is enjoining quiet and delay of communications.

This card is not, however, in an advice position in this spread. So  it is not necessarily to be taken as advice, but instead is revealing what has been churning in me: that I’m  frustrated with my path, rejecting dogma, and basically putting all this rebellion on display. This queen stands up to bullies and authority figures. She rejects dogma. No bullshit! A companion of mine is pointing my blind spots out to me in a rational, sometimes critical way. Am I’m practicing discriminating wisdom? Will I behead him?

What This Reading Is Not About: Six of Disks Reversed

The Six of Disks appeared in my most recent tarot reading. There it was about manifestation: dreams, vision, and upcoming book. In reverse it indicates a Pandora’s Box: Once something begins manifesting, and escaping, it cannot be put back in a box. The card can indicate ambition and passion. This reading is not about any of this ambition to manifest. I take this to mean that visions, dreamwork, and author collaboration are not meeting with death due to overambition. The Death card is about my frustraton with my path stall-out, period. Good to know!

What to Do: Nine of Swords Reversed

This card features a temple of eternity. It signifies enlightenment. The black and white pillars are reversed from the usual left-to-right order, depending on which side of the threshold you stand. This card is about crossing that threshold but also remaining in the human world. In reverse, this card means “death,” but what appears as death is actually a passage into eternal life. This card, especially in a fourth position as it is here, warns against rushing and overthinking everything. I must remain human and maintain my human relationships, so one foot remains in physical reality, the relative. I need to remain grounded.

Outcome: Judgment

This card signifies resurrection from death, specifically ego death, with a new body, as indicated by the phoenix rising from the flames on the picture. This reading is marking the death of the old path of practice and the rising of a new body. I have been having regular astral body experiences as I gave up on my main practices because they stalled. Perhaps the next few months will extend these themes. Dreamwalker mentioned that when one leaves his or her body, in shamanic terms, the event is “crossing the guardian of death. The arising of the second, body is “resurrection.” 

Postscript: Reinterpretation a Week Later

These cards were thrown right when my now deceased friend Terri unexpectedly entered hospice care after years of suffering uncomplainingly the assaults of cancer and chemo. My query for the tarot was specifically about my own path of practice for the next 3 to 6 months. When I first saw the Death card, however, I instantly thought of Terri. Now that she did in fact die 5 days later, plunging me  into the most profound practices of bardo connection with her for the next 49 days, I am reconsidering that this reading may be about her death and my intermediate-state practices piercing into the reality of death and the unreality of it as some entropic end state. The February to April bardo practice for Kory, Kerry’s friend, opened new terrain of the heart and the paranormal (a second body in which I travel, launching from hypnagogia). So soon I’m doing the practices again for someone who was my best friend in my formative years and someone who had meditated several times a day for two decades. She was the one who coaxed me into taking up meditation in 2010. The life interpenetration with her is profound. In short, if this practice does anything for real, then it has a high chance of success this go around. I know she was and is not afraid, but prepared. She was used to being formless and will remain calm and concentrated. She has a good chance of complete liberation, I’m confident. Maybe the cards are showing more ego death on my part via my complete immersion in her death.

Dream Shopping with Hypnapompic Psychic Event

This post is a somewhat cobbled together and edited few scraps from my private space with friends. It is beyond my energy and inclination to detail the complex web of nexuses and multilateral associations that have been my spiritual fare over the past 9 months. Purity is silence.

I will say just this: My main practice in Dzogchen progressed rapidly for the first year (June 4, 2016, to the end of May 2017). Then the outward signs of both its progress and egress were suspended. The inward psycho-emotional transformation has been nevertheless phenomenal.

I’m in what is known as dharmakaya release. This is the post-awakening gradual self-arising and self-liberation of all karmic traces from all lives, current and past. It becomes tricky, like the ultimate Myst puzzle, because the approach is closer and closer to my deepest, earliest traumas and therefore obscurations of the clear light, our true and deathless state. Much refinement of the trauma narrative happens as the release continues. But as my friend Barry says, those are, in the end, also just narratives. For all of us, they all reduce to fear of death. This post is at the nexus of dream yoga, the release of and from Patriarchy, and practices transforming for me the meaning of death.

Concerning tragic death, my son’s close friend died suddenly and unexpectedly in February. The death had a tremendous impact on me. I began having a nightmare that repeated itself three times over several nights, and I’m not prone to having nightmares. In it, I was looking down at him, as one would look down at a baby in his crib, gazing on him in his open casket.  I was realizing gradually that I was actually his mother and he was dead. The loss I felt was unbearable. Anguish, terror, and rejection shot through all of reality, like an earth shattering scream, like a jolt of black lightning. Then . . . gradually a blindingly bright white light shone into the scene out the corner of my left eye. The light then filled my bedroom, where I realized I was sleeping. The light woke me from the nightmare.

After the third repetition of this dream, and some key support and exchange with my teacher, I had a dream of Vasily, another young man, a longtime dharma friend from the Dharma Underground. He was driving me in my car, and we were laughing with hair blowing around in the wind from the open windows. This dream was affirming life.

The rest of this post documents a remarkable dream a couple of days ago, and an even more remarkable psychic event the morning after.

Directional Confusion in the Dharmakaya Release

Another month has passed. I feel that I have too many dharma practice irons in the fire and keep vacillating from one to another, doing none of them with full, enduring commitment. I could easily commit to one practice, or no practice, but I don’t know how to know which option to choose.

I went through months and months of lucid dreaming and even clear light in deep sleep many nights out of the week, but with the suspension of my main esoteric practice’s results, this too was suspended. Now I am experiencing dharma goal overwhelm, frankly, paired with not knowing how to move forward on any of objectives shifting in the shallows. I think that is why I’ve been so focused lately on finishing the posting out to Jhana Jenny the rest of my old journal: That is something that is a straightforward task, and I know how to do it. J  seems to think I should do nothing. The work is emotional, and it is doing itself. I have been gravitating toward doing deep devotional and compassion practices. I’ve been trying to lead Kory through whatever bardo he may be in.

I can see where and when my remaining obscurations are—boundaries between sleeping and waking. Not practicing something feels counter-intuitive, even if it is just a supplication practice, which really is what I’m practicing. But for many weeks, I did virtually stop practicing because I was getting sick and tired of “dharma,” feeling it to be an artificial device at this point that separates me from life and even from genuine humility and humanness.

J says that what I’m really tasked with doing now is letting go of “patriarchy,” his word. It may seem that I’m getting far afield here from dream and sleep practice, but it is all one topic. My hypnogogic states are awake and wild, generally for 90 minutes after I lie down. But as I slip into sleep proper, right at that perceived boundary, there is often a sharp flash of terror. Then in the morning, as soon as I open my eyes, there is a feeling of clinical depression, which I used to suffer from. It is stultifying enough not to know how to work with these boundaries, but it is even more puzzling to consider that nondoing of all practice may indeed actually be the practice available and effective.

And there is no teacher or guide to help me solve it, as teacherlessness is itself the patriarchy test. Even though I still have little surges of impatience, overall for the past year a substratum of just simple patience is setting in. I started studying death practices because I’m gradually accepting that I may die before finishing the path to buddhahood, so I’m treating that as a real possibility, because it is.

I was telling Barry that I had refined my narratives of what my chief obscurations were, and he said at one point something like “those are still just narratives” and “the obscuration for all of us is fear of death.”

I spent hours last night on the cushion with tears streaming after the practices for Kory. I felt deeply what it was to wish for someone else’s liberation and that extended to everyone. It is a deepening of the Bodhisattva motivation naturally. When spaciousness first opens, it is like water let out of a silo into a surrounding lake: there is a new equilibrium of inside/outside. That is this but on a different pathway, heart pathway, as J says.

Tantric Bardos Practices: Smoke and Sparks A-Flying

I’ll describe the sit fully in my regular journal, but several details are germane to the dream I just had. One is that I did a heartfelt practice to guide Kory through the bardo toward a good human rebirth. One is that at one point in the practice, when I was invoking Salgye du Dalma, the space became visually filled with “smoke,” then with darting tiny lights like fast fireflies, and then with a central flame-like flickering light. (This same sequence happened the night before during practice, but I dismissed it as a fluke.) I absorbed the goddess Salgye du Dalma down into my crown chakra and let her descend the chakras. The energy was shockingly intense in third eye, throat, and heart. It stayed in the heart, not descending further for whatever reason.

The other detail is that I wrote out a dream incubation. The spell was to evoke some teacher or teachers to appear within the next three nights’ dreams and point out to me, via signs, how I can bring and stabilize rigpa into sleep and what, in general, I should be doing with my practice now. And immediately came the dream.

Dream of Sleepers in the Holding Environment

I, and sometimes Kurt and I, are traveling to look for a place to retire. I’m keen on retiring so that I can devote my daily life to writing and to dharma. Kurt drives us up the same hill that was in my recent dream about Vasily–the same hill Vasily drove me up, seemingly in Chatham County. I enter a duplex, or townhouse apartment. There are two presumably widowed men living there as roommates. They each have a baby boy about a year old. One of the babies is conked out on the floor, sleeping, and I start to wonder why the baby isn’t in his crib. One of the fathers is holding the other boy, who is starting to fall asleep.

One of the fathers sits in a recliner katy-corner to the couch where I sit talking to the other father. I ask this other father if there is space to rent on the other side of the duplex, but he seemingly cannot focus on me, or doesn’t care about my presence there in the least. He, too, is beginning to fall asleep in sitting position with his sleeping boy held in his arms.

I rise and decide to look around by myself. I open a door past the couch and enter another room. It is filled with smoke and darting lights like fireflies. I remember that I’ve seen these while meditating, but I do not at this time reach lucidity. Then the room becomes the night sky, and the fireflies become white tigles and then stars and galaxies. Again, this reminds me of . . . something about meditating, but I’m busy shopping for retirement, so I back out of the room and close that door.

Suddenly, Kurt and I are in a suburb of Atlanta (where Kory lived and died). We’ve always thought about moving to Atlanta since it is more of real city than Raleigh. We meet a young, pretty dark-haired woman who is going to show us a condo. We begin walking through the lobby of the high-rise, and everyone I pass falls to the carpet and begins sleeping. I think this is strange, and it seems like the pattern is trying to tell me something, but I cannot quite make out what. We continue on, but then I wake up in my bed.

When I woke up in my bedroom, I did not open my eyes. Nor did I try to remember this dream, which floated up as memory only after I came downstairs for coffee. Instead, lying there with my eyes closed, I suddenly felt an intense imperative to guess what time was on my alarm clock across the room. In my mind, still with eyes closed, I saw the red alarm clock numbers: 1:11. I knew with absolutely certainty that it was 1:11. I sat up, opened my eyes, and saw that my alarm clock read 1:11.

Dream Evaluation: Wakeup Call (Literally)

This dream is as much about death as it is about sleep. I had been providing a loving holding environment for Kory in the bardo practice I was doing before I slept. In the dream, the fathers are doing a half-assed job of holding their boys because they themselves are prone to sleeping through daily life. I eventually traveled to Atlanta, where Kory died and where, it so happens, I was born. I have been thinking a lot about my wish to retire, the lifetime that is running out, and how my fear of death is the same barrier as my fear of sleep, which triggers my staying up too late and, after 90-minute lucid hypnagogia, experiencing a flash of terror as I fall into sleep proper. That everyone was dropping to the ground and into sleep in the midst of life was a dream sign that was like death and was trying to wake me up in the dream. The room that turned into visions and then outer space was the dharmakaya of all bardos.

With regard to my dream incubation, the teaching is just a confirmation that I’m making the connections between childhood, death, bardo, and dream lucidity that I should be making. The people’s dropping in their tracks and sleeping was a pointing out. It may have been a dream sign to wake up in the dream, which I failed to do completely. It could be a warning that death comes suddenly in the midst of life. Or it could be a commentary that almost everyone I encounter is asleep instead of awakened, and I need to be awake all the time, even when my body is sleeping.

I just went to Father Google to search for any meaning of 1:11. Here is the first thing that popped:

1:11 or 11:11 is certainly a magical sign. In fact, The Magician card is number 1 in the major arcana of the tarot. When you see repeating 1s it’s like a wakeup call from the mystical realm. Look around and really pay attention to where you are. This is a cosmic confirmation that you’re moving in the right direction. There’s further to go as 1 is the first step, but you can be assured that you are on your path—and things will evolve so you won’t stop here.

Eleven is a master number in numerology, and connotes a spiritual path. It is a confirmation that you are a lightworker, here to uplift human consciousness and restore a sense of oneness and harmony to the world. You’re getting the thumbs up to just be yourself and let your light and magic shine.

I’m taking all this as the sign I incubated. The message is that, although I having been feeling “stuck” in my main practice and releasing my chief obscurations, I’m in fact on the right track. I need simply to relax, trust that the path itself is leading me correctly, and continue the current trajectory.

Postmortem with Andrew

Andrew

That’s a hell of a dream and psychic event.

Jenny

Yeah. I agree. The smoke and firefly lights wigged me out a bit because I remembered that those are signs of inner dissolution when someone is in the Painful Bardo of Dying.

Andrew

Is that covered in Holecek’s book?

Jenny

Yes! This has happened twice as I was invoking Salgye du Dalma, the Bonpo goddess of lucid sleep. Before I crawled into bed after practice, I started Googling like crazy on my phone to see if this meant I was gonna die soon.

Andrew

Yeah . . . good question.

Jenny

Then I paused to reflect that, even if that were the case, I had to be okay with that.

Andrew

Right.

Jenny

Anyway, then I finished Googling. It turns out that this inner dissolution is common in tantric practices. It signifies the dissolution of the Jenny identity to emptiness before becoming the deity.

Andrew

Oh, now that’s interesting.

Jenny

Isn’t, though? I had no idea! So it seems to me that the momentum of everything that has happened the past two practice-dream cycles is toward my continuing tantric sleep and death bardo practices while my other practice is held in suspense until something via this “sidetrack” is resolved. I asked for direction and incubated that request. This dream and 1:11 sign is the message that I’m receiving.

Andrew

So, given that, how are you going to proceed practice-wise?

Jenny

First, I’m definitely going to keep the holding environment for Kory going, as this is for him chiefly but is also helping me with my motherly fear of something horrible happening to Kerry. It is showing me that I can hold this being even though he has passed out of this life. So, as I’m actually experiencing the death of myself to enter the bardo to find him, I’m feeling and coming to certainty that there is continuity beyond this life. This practice will resolve something that needs to be resolved to stabilize lucidity in sleep and move forward in my Dzogchen practice..

Andrew 

Presumably for the duration of his bardo period? Which is 49 days?

Jenny

Yes. He was taken off life support February 25. This is an opportunity for me to sit as the mother of all beings by entering into the death space and bringing love, reassurance, clarity, and guidance. I can feel that this is happening, as I volunteer 100% of my being to this end.

Andrew

Is this a practice that came from Holecek’s book or something just inspired by it?

Jenny

I have talked to friends of mine who suddenly died in much the same way as I’m talking with Kory, and in much the same way as I’m sending love to my friend Teresa’s hour of death in the future, because she has terminal cancer. I read the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the distant past and saw a movie about the 49 days of saying the script aloud to the person. But the Holecek book is comprehensive on all the available practices for the dead, from very simple to elaborate and so complex that only a monastic can do them. So I’m using a combination of practices from Holecek.

Here is what I’m doing:

  1. Thinking lovingly of him while reciting mantra om mani padme hum.
  2. Talking aloud to him to remind him that he has died and not to look back; to be calm and relaxed, to recognize that everything that he is encountering is just the expression of this own mind as in a dream; to slow down and not be distracted but tether his focus to my voice and words; to stay away from any dull alluring colored lights; to move toward the very bright lights even though they may seem too bright, to stay away from the yellow, red, and green lights and instead move toward the bright white or blue light; to choose human parents; to choose a continent with tall buildings and other signs of wealth; to know that if he fully recognizes all he is experiencing now as his own mind then he will be instantly liberated from all suffering.
  3. Practicing tonglen compassion practice wherein I breathe in Kory’s fear and confusion, and breathe out a line of white light I use to connect his disembodied mind to me and my guidance.
  4. Dedicate my practice to the liberation from suffering of all beings and currently especially Kory.

On Sunday evening I add another practice: heartfelt recitation of the King of Aspiration Prayer. This was recommended in Holecek for every week on the day of the week that the person died. Try reciting that aloud sometime and see if you don’t shed tears.

Holecek mentions that the dead person’s mind is 9 times stronger than in embodied life. He is clairvoyant and clairaudiant. They are psychic and can read your mind and heart, as well has hear your voice. The problem is that, for people who have never meditated, it is usually confusing and frightening to suddenly be in a formless state.

Out of confusion and fear, bardo beings get carried away by the visions and sounds in the state, and they basically make the state into a nightmare situation. So they may out of terror jump at the first parents that appear, which are likely not human. Or they may go into a dream cave or dream flower bud to hide from the terrifying visions. The texts say that beings can in this way become stuck in the bardo for eons, until some master volunteers and guides them out.

Andrew

Thats really interesting. I’ve bought the book. Probably going to start reading it later today. Terrifying as well. Really motivates…

Jenny

The other thing is that, although the being’s mind is powerful, it is unstable without a body. He keeps losing focus, which is why you have to talk to him over and over again and remind him how to keep calm and move steadily forward.

Yes, terrifying. but people who have in their lives meditated plenty know what it feels like to be formless. So meditators usually fare much better. Such is the dogma, anyway. Someone who has practiced Togal is said to avoid the bardo altogether and go, at the very least, to Amitabbha’s pure abode, where they will finish the path.

Andrew

Well, we surely had some previous practice to end up where we are now.

Jenny

It is pretty fascinating. It is also fascinating that most everyone around me has absolutely no idea about any of this or his or her own situation. So it is easy from that perspective to see that this life is itself a dream state.

Andrew

Yeah, the sense of others being asleep is interesting.

Jenny

That’s what was happening in my dream last night—everyone dropping into sleep, ignorance.

Anyway, I’m not going to focus on my Dzogchen practice so much right now. I feel that the path itself is showing me that dropping back to these tantric approaches will help me resolve some main obscuration in the bardos so that later my main practice can once again advance. Tantra is, from a Dzogchen view, dropping down into remediation. Where the chief obscuration is, remediation seems like overall optimization.

Andrew

That makes sense.

Jenny

Normally, I might doubt my intuition, but not when the signs are so clearly given upon dream incubation, with a psychic showstopper on waking up afterward. All this is reassuring and motivating. J’s latest interactions with me were all about Diamond Guidance awakening and replacing the teacher (patriarchy). He was saying that, where I am, the path itself will reveal itself to me. All I have to do is not argue. The “work” now is emotional, and doing it while not “doing” it is the supreme paradox.

Andrew

That makes sense. There’s the perspective that all of this is ornamentation and its doing itself anyways. So you may as well let it play itself out.

Jenny

Yeah. My being “stuck” is always a delusion. There is no “stuck” apart from taking it to be the case.

Dark red
Light years
Brought near
Cold gun
Glowing
Night scene
Started remain
Brought fear

Cold wind
Light years
Brought near
Dark gun
Glowing
Night scene

The world’s colliding
A new dividing
The color’s missing
Upon the dark spring

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: 

https://www.dhammatalks.org/ebook_index.html

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.

—Buddha

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.

Gestalt

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.