Mentors, Group Re-Formation, and Psychic Flashes

Aquamarine is the stone of the seer and the sayer.

Posted here is an excerpt from a much longer entry in my private journal.

Dreams of Two Mentors

I had a dream after I began writing this piece. It was brief and simple. My teacher is walking ahead of me in the dark, but I seem hesitant, with some angst about the intensity into which he is leading me. He stops and looks back over his shoulder at me. He beckons me, saying, “Follow me.” I say, “Okay. Let’s go.” Then he walks out the top of the luminous matrix into Space. Everything pales out.

I had a subsequent dream. I am trying to IM with my bestie in Asheville, but the the computer keeps losing our connection. I am fed up with it and decide to penetrate the screen through meditation. When that doesn’t immediately work, I think, “Oh, I need to add lubrication.” So I fill up a bucket with water, turn on the TV, and pour the water over the TV. My mother materializes on the spot and says I’ve ruined the carpet. I move through the screen and am in Asheville, in a big Victorian home where a party is underway. My bestie opens the door and hugs me, When enter I see every “group” I’ve ever belonged to there. I hug Ira and Paul. I find the DhU (minus Daniel). Finally, I go upstairs. In a room there is a long farm table. People are seated on either side. I sit on one side. At the head of the table sits Daniel. He and I are psychically aware that the other is nervous. In fact we feel the same. We avoid speaking to or looking at each other, and engage in conversation with those immediately next to us. I start talking about how best to deal with the influx of people now asking me for practice advice. Daniel starts talking to the person to his left about the same topic, giving the answers about time management, disclaimers against being a “teacher,” insisting on a specific question, and all those Danielisms. He finally says, “Tell her this.” and gradually we come to look each other in the eye. Then all the others vanish. We are speaking directly and calmly to each other from the two distant ends of the same table. 

Psychic Flashes—An Example Involving Group Dispersion

I’m experiencing a lot of psychic flashes—sudden visualizations. For example, a chat channel was becoming too crowded with pre-pathers and strangers for my comfort. The Seattle group and my own vision of a select group were being conflated, and the communications were not appropriate for those on earlier paths. After a certain psychic flash that morning, I decided to put an end to the chaos and wrote everyone as follows:

I’m going to be frank about my thinking, having discussed matters thoroughly with several of you on private channels.

First, this channel is getting crowded, and I don’t think it is skillful or efficient to discuss all layers of practice with those who are working on first and maybe even second path. It is a distraction and can become a sidetrack for them. Second, I dislike Google Hangouts as a medium for the reasons that I stated before. On-the-fly chats that cannot be indexed and easily retrieved are problematic for my purposes. It feels chaotic to me, unfocused for depth. I prefer going to a threaded private forum space that has a chat function. The site I designed more than a year ago has all that, plus “blogging” spaces for members, backups, security.

Because I have to work a full-time job, my spending large amounts of time on every pre-path aspirant who comes along doesn’t scale well, esp. since there are already resources for that out there. So, practically, I need to manage my time if I’m going to complete what I sense is my own mission—a book that is “pragmatic” but goes beyond MCTB. I have to finish this path and write. That is what my intuition tells me I’m supposed to do. My goal is to write something that gets people third and fourth MCTB path and beyond. I don’t mind answering questions, but to protect my energy and all-too-scarce time, I have certain ways and means for answering such questions. I have a website with a form that specifies what I need to know before I can give meaningful advice, or fit my response to the individual, and how the asker should formulate conversation with me for optimal response.

The Innermost Courtyard vision and mission as stated out on that old forum is pretty much the focus I’m still looking for in any group that organically forms and organically continues. I think a small, intimate intensive that focuses on advanced esoteric practices will help us grow. The members bring “specialties” to the mix. For example, Jim has mad skills as a lucid dreamer. My chat with Andrew on here yesterday already impacts the way I will write about the post-AA experience, because he has a nuanced way of stating phenomenological results, and that drew out from me more nuanced ways of communicating what he is currently noticing. So that helps the book, which eventually helps all those currently focused on ordinary insight.

I’m not in SPuDs, as I’m not there in Seattle. Moreover, my own sense of what Pragmatic Dharma is and ideally will become in the short term is under significant revision driven by my being on the upper end of the path. Specifically, I’m going through this major revision of my earlier Pragmatic Dharma “total openness” ethic. Mahamudra and Dzogchen are “completion-stage” esoteric practices. Traditionally, one would have practiced the eight other -yanas decades before ever hoping to have access.

In my own current practice, my teacher has repeatedly had to thwart my mappy proclivities so that I will experience deeply the wisdom of spontaneous presence, or increasingly close approximations thereof. He is actually mappy himself, as is Mahamudra, but the point he is making with me is that mapping territory in the somewhat distant past differs from mapping terrain currently underfoot. This allowing for spontaneity may sound cliche, but actually it is part and parcel of opening the Fourth Time and accomplishing the Spontaneous Presence of a buddha. It is method.

At the upper end of this path, trust in the teacher becomes critical. My teacher has enjoined me to keep my esoteric practices “under wraps.” Truly, I’m not one to be so namby-pamby sounding. But I have to trust that he has sound reasons for what he tells me to do and not do. He says our culture, even that of most diligent practitioners, isn’t yet ripe for a floodgate of esoteric information to open.

I really don’t want expansion of membership at this time  I want to go deep with a few select people and build slowly. I’m not in a place as a practitioner or potential mentor where I feel ready to launch a broad “movement.” I felt that Movement drive when I was in the Dharma Underground—the thrill of it all—but things are different now. I went into a virtual cave for almost a year when my former drive to start a group failed. Doing so deepened my perspective. 

So, in sum, I’m saying that SPuDs is its own animal. And I think it is best to have Innermost Courtyard be its own animal.

Thanks for listening and reflecting on what I’m saying.

Interestingly, it was the pre-pathers who jumped in to agree with me. So the inclusive channel is closed.

Earlier on the morning that I wrote and sent this message, the psychic flash was that I saw the wrist mala I made years ago. It was on my nightstand. Immediately a vision flashed up of its breaking, the beads scattering. I put it on and wore it to work.

After I sent this message, disassembling the pragmatic group, I went to the restroom, where that mala that I’ve had so long broke. Its “liberated” beads are aquamarine, my birthstone. It is the seer’s stone, representing water’s clarity and mirroring. It is also the stone of the throat chakra, yielding quiet resoluteness in negotiating, teaching, and communicating.

Pragmatic Dharma Movement Manifesto 

Under the moniker Pragmatic Dharma, a movement has emerged in the West since the early 2000s to evolve the Buddha-dharma in alignment with American Pragmatism. American Pragmatism, the quintessentially American philosophical movement dating back to the the late nineteenth century, holds that the truth and meaning of any idea is solely a function of its practical outcomes.

The historical Buddha of our Degenerate Age, Siddhārtha Gautama, in teaching not abstract ontology or epistemology, but human “suffering and the end of suffering,” was a model pragmatist. He was concerned foremost with experiential results that make a difference to our human lives. With the historical Buddha as our model, then, our movement proclaims the following emphases:

Laity empowerment. Contemporary western laypersons with busy lives can and do awaken in this lifetime.

Goal-based practice. Awakening depends on goals codified as a map of expected progressive attainments.

Diligence. Attainment requires daily meditation practice—not the following:

– specific socioreligious trappings

– aspirations to merit awakening in some future life

– other untested traditional dogma

Eclecticism. Efficient and effective practitioners mine an array of traditions for practice methods.

Innovation. Skillful practitioners reality-test maps and methods to assess worth and limitations, and then innovate improvements.

Scientific tooling. Western sciences and technology are important adjuncts to personal reality-testing.

Grassroots sanghas. Contemporary western practitioners benefit from open peer-to-peer discussion of attainments.

Table 1 contrasts the emphases of traditional Buddhism with those of Pragmatic Dharma.

Table 1. Comparison of Traditionalism with Pragmatic Dharma 

Note: Since the time I first drafted this table, my views have been modified in some respects by experiences in my own practice and by encounters with certain others. First, although reality-tested maps and methods are sufficient for traversing early path terrain, transmission is a very real phenomenon that one who has some opening can feel as it is taking place. It will speed and deepen results, especially at the high end of the path, and is therefore pragmatic. Secondly, I now understand the necessity for terma and other secret teachings. Currently, this planet is spiritually lost. There are false teachers everywhere, sociopaths and those with other serious personality disorders. These people prey on practitioners with realization in order to co-opt the teachings and turn a profit, if not commit outright abuse. They all commit abuse at least in that they are not trained and lack realization, and therefore move off ignorant greed and pervert the teachings. Aside from questions of these charlatans, certain esoteric practices, if broadcast, would confuse, sidetrack, and sometimes even destroy earnest practitioners who are not ready for them—meaning the vast majority of practitioners. For those who are ready for these practices, it is also best and actually part of the practice to keep silent, Secrecy protects such practitioners from their own residual central narcissism, as well as prying attention from others. These teachings are sacred and are to be respected as the deepest intelligence of reality, a grace grown into and not a commodity to bandy about the marketplace. 

The Risks of Masculine Practice Paradigms

Many “masculine” practitioners can advance quite far up the path by using meditation to widen and deepen a core split in the very personality structure they think they are thereby healing. This advancement up the path in fact advances pathological dissociation processes already at work in the organization of the personality.

The Dharma Overground and Prevalence of Schizoid Process

Not everyone has to suffer from diagnostically extant borderline or schizoid personality disorder for this pattern to be a ubiquitous one characterizing whole Western dharma communities, especially ones like the Dharma Overground, whose participating membership is overwhelmingly (95% or more) male and whose culture of participation is decidedly masculine and often enough aggressively masculinist – right down to the militancy set forth in its warlike name and initial logo design.

Although both women and men contain and express the feminine and masculine principles, it is also true, from a Buddhist doctrinal point of view, that embodiment as a woman or a man does affect the initial imbalance of these principles in terms both of general relational style and specific approach to meditation practice. The lack of participating women on the Dharma Overground is symptomatic of an unhealthy imbalance nonetheless institutionalized as a legitimate resource for enlightenment. The leader and other men there claim to scratch their heads in puzzlement over why women remain absent – or silenced. The trouble is that they have not looked within at the blind spot in their own practice and attainment.

Tantric Iconography as a Clue to the Antidote

Accordingly, in the Indo-Tibetan tantric yidam, sexual union of the female and the male represents union, respectively, of openness (wisdom) with skillful means (compassion). Although this union of difference may be mistaken as merely convenient sex-identity symbolism, tantra is nothing if not emphatically pragmatic, concerned as it is with our everyday human drives as the means of transformation and expression of an otherwise dangerously transcendent – removed – “enlightenment.”

Appropriately, in what may seem to most Westerners a nonintuitive archetypal reversal, it is the woman in this pairing who represents wisdom attainment and the man who represents the relational heart. The metaphor, not symbol, of their union is a mind-boggling – instructively so – ever-reopening site of deconstruction: aporia. It is nondual.

Perhaps this is why it is said traditionally (by Padmasambhava) that actual, nonsymbolic women are at a slight advantage over actual men in reaching full enlightenment. There is something about the purely relational, and even devotional, that constitutes the heart of wisdom. Perhaps more forthrightly engaging this feminine aspect of ourselves in service of our own wisdom attainment would be most pragmatic, taking pragmatic dharma practice past the current stopping point where so many on the Dharma Overground find themselves still suffering and inflicting suffering. 

It is with this hope that I write this practice manual as a nuancing of, companion to, and in some respects corrective to Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book.

The Necessity for Western Psychology in Western Buddhism

It is crucial that we understand Western practitioners as suffering from trauma incurred in the “holding environment” of early childhood and infancy. All of us, to some extent, are suffering from early childhood attachment issues, if not downright attachment disorder. The Buddhist literature of Asia offers no explicit compensation for this impoverished foundation from which we Westerners practice meditation.

Widespread parental attachment deficits create a lack of Basic Trust, a lack that permeates our entire culture at every level. At its worst, for the individual level this is not a mere matter of neurotic repression and defense mechanisms that can be recognized as such and gradually deconditioned through diligent meditation practice and a contemplative life; rather, it organizes the very personality in terms of at least two fundamental “splits” of the psyche.

This “splitting” defines schizoid process and at worst causes personality disorders such as borderline and schizoid, which impede or completely prevent progress to full enlightenment. One cannot dismantle what one cannot first see; one cannot see what is such an early trauma that one’s entire psychical organization stands forth from it, hiding the site of intolerable and continually reopening initial woundedness.

The Schizoid Process as Two Levels of Personality “Splitting”

In the schizoid process, all “bad” must be dissociated from the vulnerable core. One level of splitting involves a turning away from threatening outer relational objects and substituting fantasized infantile replacements that are safe. So, for example, if a man’s mother abandoned him in early childhood, invaded his autonomy, or did both in alternation, then all “motherly” women thereafter will be an intolerable threat to him. The trouble stems from the man’s own internalized early object relations, but he will engage in transference with any current real woman, projecting onto her his internalized early threats to wholeness. He will see the woman in black-and-white terms, alternately either as all good (fantasy) or all bad (projection): “This schizoid pattern creates external relations that are not marked by warm, live, pulsing feelings. Instead, when interpersonal nurturance is available, schizoid individuals fear a loss of self from being smothered, trapped, ordevoured. When strong desire or need is aroused, they tend to break off the relationship. Hatred is often used to defend against love with its dangers and disappointments, a pattern that starts in early childhood (Yontef 2001),”

This alternation between need and hatred will manifest in a push-me/pull-me relationship dynamic, called in the literature the “in-and-out program,” whereby out of intimacy hunger the man invites her in, and out of the resulting drive to split off all his vulnerability, he demonizes her. It is a vicious circle. He will repeatedly shut out the world of real human companionship in favor of a rich inner fantasy world that he alone populates and controls. Then having internalized the whole drama on his own terms, he will continue to suffer intense loneliness and therefore begin the cycle again. 

He may engage in the schizoid compromise, crafting a public persona to display at onstage distances safe from true emotional intimacy. He may be a dynamic public speaker, for example, but agitated and avoidant during the subsequent Q&A sessions out on the floor, where he is not in control of all actors on the scene.

This first layer of splitting, whereby the internalized parent is projected onto the outer world as a threat to be defended against, is compounded by a second layer whereby the core that is to be protected from outer threats itself remains split into a punishing half and a “weak,” shame-based half that believes it does not deserve love. This abiding inner threat (the “weak” self), like the invasive/abandoning inner parent, puts the schizoid in an untenable predicament.

With the two layers of splitting, the personality thus organizes itself into a repeatedly opening wound over which it cannot gain new ground on which to heal, on which to build a healthy ego that can risk all the emotional pain that comes along with vital love. If this person then goes into practice and attains to no-self, he nonetheless has not fully realized nonduality, which in its full form is enlightenment. The double polarities of self/other and self/self constitute a holdout, in Buddhist terms, of duality. The continually opening wound is ignorance. It is the blind spot on which those with significant schizoid/borderline processes stand, the shadow side of any partial awakening they may have achieved.

The Split-Off Objectification of Emotions via Vipassana Practice

This blindness is a true risk attending vipassana meditation methods, like Burmese noting practice, which consist of labeling and therefore demote threatening emotions to the level of mere discharged sensate particles, each particle a little nonthreatening third-person “it.” The practitioner avoids relating to his emotions in the second person: as emotions.

Although I’m a fan of vipassana as essential to awakening, other meditation modalities must be brought onboard – the earlier, the better – to avoid strengthening the blind spot, to prevent the use of meditation and attainment to further pathologize the otherwise healthy human ego function. If the practitioner exhibits difficulty in or resistance to these other modalities, then at least that difficulty may serve as a clue that referral to a psychotherapist is in order.

The Schizoid as the Partially Awakened Teacher

When the subject is liberated, it is often spoken of and celebrated as having “dropped out.” Restless seeking for a perceptual vantage point vis-à-vis  objects has stopped. Often that cessation and correction of sensory misperception will seem to be all there is to be gained in terms of awakening. Anything beyond that, namely integration and embodiment of the perceptual realization in order to discover and empower a true self, will be declared optional side projects (”separate axes of development”).

Schizoid practitioners will compartmentalize not only their objects of meditation this way, but the gains therefrom: Whether consciously or not, they will define enlightenment as getting rid of that pesky weak self and its threatening emotions, which is really to retroject a far more insidious and recalcitrant “splitting” process into the personality than was even there to begin with. 

The schizoid process demands of the practitioner ever more in the way of a false self construction with which to engage the outer world.

Such practitioners may even become dharma teachers. They may claim that true enlightenment offers “no package deals” for ending all suffering and that anything beyond their own partial pathology-burdened attainment amounts to naive idealizations.

Understand that this problem isn’t just a matter of stopping short of the final phase of enlightenment, buddhahood; it is to actually end up with more personality pathology than if insight practice had never been engaged.

So compromised, if such a practitioner then fakes compassion and social engagement by marshaling forth a moral code of conduct when “on display,” say when teaching, then he or she is counterfeiting a compensatory hollow image rather than truly connecting, truly relating, truly allowing vulnerability, basic trust, compassion, and their fruits to arise. This kind of living for image and substituting reputation for intimacy is the worst kind of confusion (avidyā), the deepest form of suffering imaginable. To die without having ever known oneself is the epitome of human tragedy.

In this way, awakening is made to subtend pathology intensification in the West.

My New Pragmatic Dharma Book

My new pragmatic dharma meditation manual will surface these risks and design maps and practices that address rather than continue to bypass them. In so doing, I will bring online the very necessary and equally pragmatic feminine principle of openness, relation, and surrender that so many masculine “hardcore” practitioners have cut themselves off from to their own detriment, as well as to the detriment of those who seek with them a true communion.