The Importance of  Journaling to Practice and as Practice

Dear K—

Regarding your stated difficulty in keeping a practice journal because you feel it reifies practice—in the dharma book I’m writing, I urge practitioners to keep a practice journal even when they don’t feel like writing. Daniel Ingram told me to keep a journal as soon as I met him, that it would be important, and he was right.

I’ve been able to discern and therefore tweak the course of my practice skillfully because I could see larger insight “trends” emerging in and from practice sessions recorded in my journals across months and years.

In addition, often in specific formal practice sessions I will have direct insight—see—but until I am able to transmit that to the page or to others and say, I don’t sense that I have the fruit: wisdom. In fact, often it has been the saying that led in formal practice to the next seeing.  From the perspective of the causal model, I see insight leading to wisdom, and wisdom leading to next insight.

Yes, I agree that it is important to be spontaneously in the moment during formal practice, not conceptualize, let go, and so forth, but then it is important to contemplate what that seeing brings up and forth in your everyday life and in planning your next formal practice.

What do I mean by “planning” next practice? I am thinking mostly about my earlier Theravadin-stage practices, when I was doing vipassana applying the Three Characteristics across Six Sense Spheres, how one characteristic or sense sphere would entail insight suggesting the next sense sphere or characteristic to emphasize in a formal practice session.

But even now—if something is coming up over calendar time as a pattern I wasn’t seeing clearly into before, that can suggest a practice emphasis for me to pursue. Last night offers an example.

Last night I stayed up practicing some esoteric stuff until 5 a.m. I’m now off Cymbalta and past the wicked withdrawal syndrome, and am lately confronting this twinge of anxiety I feel as times, especially before falling asleep. I have a history of phobias around traveling in cars and airplanes, and around everything Kerry in general. Kerry was planning to drive to Charlotte today, and I tend to be especially anxious when he is driving out of town. 

During my esoteric practices, I was tuning in to that “Kerry traveling” anxiety. I had sudden insight into my attachment to Kerry as keen suffering. I saw exactly why my protective love for him is suffering. It is a love that is particularized to him as special beyond everyone else on earth. I contemplated and felt in my heart center and solar plexus how I could not bear the feeling of any harm coming to him. I felt fear because family members of a couple of friends have recently suddenly died, including a son Kerry’s age who was killed in a car accident. This overprotection I feel for Kerry is extreme suffering.

Yesterday, too, one of my authors wrote me on Skype: “To be a mother is to know suffering.” I had stared at that sentence for a long while. This author narrowly escaped being a casualty last week in the Manchester attack that killed so many innocent children. He was telling me he is afraid for his son, who is Kerry’s age and traveling to Berlin.

So last night after contemplating and seeing all this, I saw this tiny booklet I have on daily purification from back when I was practicing in the Gelugpa tradition. Seeing that caused me to read it for the first time in a long time and to remember that phrase “mother sentient beings” and how in Tibetan Buddhism a mother’s love is the template and intensity standard for universal love. The book mentions, in particular, Vajrasattva’s “unbearable compassion.” That is what I feel for my child, particularly when he is confused or blind: unbearable compassion.

I suddenly began to see clearly how to end this surviving anxious preoccupation that is my pet locus of suffering. I saw that expanding that love I have for Kerry to all beings would be to dissolve a boundary that is currently still my identity-view based on super-special attachment and therefore suffering.

Furthermore, I understood the urgency of purification anew, because I understood that I have to extend that love to myself to release guilt, which is the backward-looking form of worry. My worry over Kerry comes from my believing Little Jenny deserves punishment and is unworthy of love. This insight led me to contemplate reviving some practices JC suggested to me for healing Little Jenny, who was abandoned by her parents and who therefore keenly feels hyper-vigilance against losing more family and being banished by peers.

Like Atiśa, who wrote it, I did that purification practice in that little book on the spot, to forgive myself for wrongs I’ve done others, for my shortcomings in being of service. Although I’m normally not one to take vows, I suddenly vowed to the depth of my being to stay. I vowed to stay here until everyone knows the joy of liberation. As I journal my practice over weeks and months, I’ll see what wisdom results from renewed practice emphasis on attachment-as-suffering and on purification as release. Then I’ll see what boundary remains and deal with that. This is all I mean by “planning” practice.

I believe that practice, like any project, should be guided by discernment. Setting intention is a formal part of meditation practice, after all.. That means that practice goals and documentation of which methods lead to which results is important, perhaps even critical. It may not be Zen or Dzogchen of me to say so, but I do say so even while currently being a Dzogchen practitioner. Structure is a tool. The causal model is a tool. As each rung is attained and integrated, you can throw off that bit of scaffolding as just artificial scaffolding, finally just abiding in the natural state (Trekchö). But my view is that abandoning the causal model from the beginning, or even in the middle of the path, is almost always disastrous, or at least unnecessarily inefficient.

People often mistakenly believe that one must first think in order to write. But practiced writers actually write in order to discover what they have seen and think. Thought is not an enemy to be permanently shut down, but to be integrated into the natural state. We are thinking, feeling creatures, after all. Back decades ago when my husband invited others to his Native American–style sweat lodges in North Florida, everyone would take off their clothes, sit in the pitch dark, sweat until there was no felt resistance, and then take turns speaking from the heart. Truth of experience is what matters, you see, however it unfolds, however “its” intention both reflects and informs “ours,” eventually merging.

So my advice is to just write, just as you speak truth from the heart during our retreats. Open your heart and be a hollow conduit for whatever speech-stream flows forth—without planning, organizing, or editing as it flows. Automaticity of writing without identity-investment in the result is in itself profound practice.

Love,

Jenny

Profound Insight into the Falseness of Causality

Blowaway sit with my workplace sangha today at lunchtime! Very different from all recent sits, past few months. The afterglow was literally stunning, too. I couldn’t move for a while. I couldn’t go with the others upstairs to get lunch. When I finally did, and had a fascinating conversation with my empathic friend Aparna, I afterward could barely recall all that passed and that I “saw.” I’ll do my best.

Phased-In and Phased-Out Voicing of Insight

I want to preface my record by saying this: When insights break through what might otherwise be on the samatha side of jhana, they are in some sense “voiced” as linguistic-conceptual thoughts. Yes, this perhaps is a kind of presence to “watch” to see whether it appears to oppose an other.

However, there is a different experiential quality to these “thoughts” when they are compared to the full-on linear declarative sentences we (or I) normally think in. The thoughts shift sides, when sides are noticed, and shimmer, phasing in and out of discursive sense. When they are  phased “out,” I don’t know what you would call that or them, because they are all still there somehow, the insights, but, but, but . . . what? What can you say of such thoughts?

I had this intention weeks ago to set aside Fridays for metta/brahmaviharas practice. But what I intend and predict, and what meditation in fact does, are often two different things. My first observation is that, emotionally, I feel so relieved that “meditation” has “taken over” again. At the same time, as anyone reading will soon see, I found I could call up the insight stages, which I’ve never been able to do to anything like this extent before. So . . . both no-self and mastery intensified over my former meditative baseline.

Manifold Cause-and-Effect (ñ2.j1.j2)

As soon as the beginning chime rang, I dropped right into some highly altered state, but then I entertained a thought, “Dang, that was fast!” I then dutifully noted/noticed that I was commenting on my more “properly” high meditative experience. Oh, boy. And with that thought, the “trouble” truly began. . . .

I was trying to establish first jhana properly, and did; however, my breathing was disruptively jerky, quite noticeably so. The entire sit was about noticing very, very subtle levels of cause-and-effect, such as the following:

  1. My commenting on my more properly meditative experience and
  2. How that comment is a new experience and
  3. How my noting/noticing the pattern comprising No. 1 and No. 2 becomes yet another new experience

Yet here is the real kicker: All that time that I was rolling through the cause and effect, the jhanas were shifting in some sort of background, without my personal help or effort at all!

So then I noticed this. Background/foreground became prominent as yet another thought, and meditation, the experience, therefore had its way with me. In other words, that entire background/foreground fabrication moved to the foreground. That left a new background as contrast, opposing other. Then another duality of background/foreground was encapsulated and moved to the foreground. And on and on and on and on.

This is Cause-and-Effect, and I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced this stage, which I usually disdain as “low,” this subtly, this clearly, with this much insight. Yeah, I saw it in a much coarser way a long time ago, but this? Never before.

For whatever reason, and I should probably try to figure out that reason, contemplate it, and I guess no time like the present—as soon as I saw that

  1. The arrow of time was reinstated, and
  2. The foreground/backdrop split could not be penetrated or bested—

I understood that there would always be me, and there would always be other and its not caring, that every duality penetrated with insight would reify another background/foreground split. Argh!

At this point, facing this realization, I felt intense Fear arise, gargantuan Fear. There is something bloody awful, terrifying, about the fact that this divide is indeed a divide and that it hides out so mischievously in that ever-shuffled-off background.

Where is God? Why is there no f’n help for this matter? I know that there is help in this very unfolding, but why we humans run away from the door to salvation I’ll never understand. Well, maybe if this knot ever untangles, then I’ll understand, when I no longer personally need to.

Absolute Necessity of Synchronization

I remembered what Daniel said in Chapel Hill about letting the breath just be however it is. Okay. So be it, you jerky breath.

I shifted to second jhana with that arising of Fear, rapturous Fear, thrilling Fear, somehow divine Fear. Suddenly, as soon as this shift happened, my usual bright lavender-colored nimitta popped up. A week or two (or three?) ago, this nimitta presented for once as still, expanded, and stable. Not today. It was “blooming” and “unblooming,” alternating violet and negative silver/black.

There is something so intimate about a visual nimitta, so almost personal in its dawning and abiding. I am naked and gazing into its violet sky-mirror intelligence. Is it surface or depth?  I began to wonder “who,” or which side, controlled that nimitta’s current presentation. I intended to find out what I could do to change it—make it still, make it spread, bring it closer—but somehow I just quickly got lost in the nimitta itself. I was swallowed by it; nevertheless, it would give forth to me its opposition to me at the same time, or perhaps different time. There was something eerily like eighth jhana about all this—about the surface/depth and simultaneous/discontinuous instantiation.

And oh I did strongly sense that time is a key. All this must synchronize along the dimension we think of as time. This is the current insight bright line of Cause-and-Effect: Synchronization must happen, somehow, and thoroughly.

The violet nimitta is luminous. Nevertheless, background/foreground is not synchronized—not permanently. Time is currently comprehended as linear, even if as paradoxically so, conceptually speaking, and conceptually is the only way I’m speaking, of course.

Ability to Call Up the Ñanas

I stopped calling up the jhanas and started calling up the ñanas, which I found I could easily do. I called up Misery, Desire for Deliverance (which was seemingly bottomless in its anguish and longing), and Reobservation. During all of these, the nimitta had vanished.

Then I called up fourth jhana and Equanimity simultaneously. Wow! Such sudden broad brilliant violet nimitta behind closed eyes! A very richly absorbed yet still somehow moving state/stage. Violet changed over to white light at times. Amazing. I experienced a momentary (very fast) discontinuity and bliss envelopment. I’m not sure if this was a fruition, but maybe. (I’m trying to be conservative, honest, and real.)

After a while, I called up the formless realms—upon calling up fifth, the nimitta vanished again, and all turned to felt space. Boundless Consciousness was the same sort of mirror my nimitta was, but formless. Eighth was amazing, a very easy drop-off/in.

Then the bell rudely rang before I could do anything from P8JP.

After remaining there as long as I could without being rude, I opened my eyes and was in such an altered state, with so heavy an afterglow, that I could not speak to my companions or move. They started for the door and stairs up to the cafe. I didn’t.

Wisdom of the Empath Aparna

When I finally joined them at the lunch table, Aparna up and declared that I have too much energy—wind element, but I’m fat because of too much water element. Hahahaha, man, I love this woman: She lets you have it straight between the eyes but gently nonetheless. My excess wind/energy is what causes me to be so dysregulated. She is an empath and can feel and balance others’ chakras, and energy channels.

She told me to try to fix my sleeping patterns to address my excess wind/energy, that this was the root of many problems with me: my refusal to align my cycles with the sun. She said the water problem would likely take care of itself if I would address the wind problem consistently. She said to rise with the sun and lay off the electronic devices and engagement with other people when the sun goes down. She reported on how holy and beautiful mornings are, with the birds singing. She advised that I enter my jhanas and make resolutions to do this. Boy, that is a tall order since nighttime is my playtime.

Aparna is Indian. She is a most lovely, grounded, soothing woman to be around, with such mesmerizingly comfortingly fluid hand gestures, deep brown lake depths for eyes. She is like reaching liminal states while dozing on your favorite old overstuffed couch covered with a goose-down comforter while the scent of baking gingerbread wafts over you from a faraway, otherwise forgotten kitchen hearth. . . .

I told her about Daniel’s feeling toxic for weeks after his fire retreat, asking if that was a problem with the elements’ not being balanced. She said probably, particularly if it went on and on; however, she said that likely the main problem was that he opened all his chakras completely. That means that when he came back his sensitivity would have been exquisite. She said, “If you are in an emergency room, even subtle disturbances in others will flood in with all kinds of accrued extraneous energies, and they magnify each other, so it isn’t really a wonder that he would have felt completely poisoned by the illness energies.” Then she told me that she cannot go into hospitals at all because, again, she is an empath. She says that even getting near a hospital in the parking lot, floods her with pain, suffering, and madness energies. She can feel and sometimes see auras; she can “manipulate” chakras but doesn’t do so usually and never without permission: “When you do such things, you are leaving the human realm and stepping into the Divine, so you had better have respect.”

We talked a bit about Emptiness and the No-Self/True-Self paradoxes. She said, “Emptiness doesn’t work intuitively for me as path, Jenny, but that is just path.” And then I told her what Daniel said to me recently about how, one attains the nondual shift, the Three Characteristics just vanish. She said, “Well, of course they do. When you are on the other side of this divide, the so-called side of no-sides, then you see that there are many paths to that awakening.” And then she added, “That is why this group is so important: We are bringing in perspectives from different paths and appreciating them; my preferring the path of God and not Emptiness is only Path, not result.”

Aparna, in closing, mentioned that Dennis the Menace cartoon we’ve all seen—where his mother asks him to get some milk from the refrigerator, and he heads there but meanders through every side room in the house along the way, playing with toy trains and whatnot, looping and looping, taking detours, before arriving at the refrigerator door, opening it, and grasping the dang milk.

I said, “ah, as Edward Albee wrote, ‘Sometimes you have to go a long way out of the way to come back a short distance correctly.'” And I pointed out how Wilhelm Reich blamed Jesus Christ’s death on the fact that humans, if you show them the door to salvation, will run the other way. She laughed, and said, “Yes. So that indirection is our individuated paths. Don’t mistake any particular strand of that variance along the way for nonduality.”

Chat with DreamWalker

Jenny

I had really profound insights yesterday, thick and fast, in clear Cause and Effect stage. Clear view of the problem. New territory. 15 hours later, A&P starting.

DreamWalker

Clear view of the problem . . . the or a?

I have never really got clarity during review of the first 3 nanas

Jenny

Clear view of the problem on the temporal axis after luminosity is attained. Clear view of why luminosity ain’t complete nonduality. There are probably other reasons—my guess.

To me, this series of insights was very profound.

DreamWalker

Is it really a problem?

Jenny

Yes. It is obviously dual at a more fundamental level than I have before seen.

DreamWalker

Which part? What would make it not a problem?

Jenny

Everything has to synchronize. Time needs to be seen though completely.

DreamWalker

OK . . . just wondering what the Solution to the “problem” would look like.

Thought about the background is another thought . . . yes.

Jenny

I don’t know how to solve the problem, or I would solve it. But I know that all has to synchronize. Somehow. I Saw this directly. I saw the nature of the problem directly, and, as in AA, maybe the first step is to admit that you have a problem.

I Think emptiness-of-time practices may help. Or maybe just continuing to practice as I have been until the breakthroughs run dry. One thing I do know—which will sound obvious—you have to see this directly for yourself. Secondhand insight isn’t insight, although it can help, or seem to help meantime. So even though I’ve read Daniel’s bits about “synchronization” over and over again, and I did get what he meant, now I really, really, really get it. I understand the nature of the problem. I have watched the process of confusion perpetuate itself.

DreamWalker

Ya . . . some self-reference in the time stream . . . kinda what leads you to agencylessness . . . but even more.

Jenny

The C&E insight is beyond the insight that thoughts about thoughts’ background are thoughts. It is some fundamental problem with backgrounding, some succession, arrow-of-time problem.

That it keeps being reified.

That we keep reifying an “it,” a “background,” reinstating the split.

DreamWalker

Hmm . . . describe the background.

Jenny

I will make a new DhU post to discuss all this for the benefit of the group and us.

Short answer is that background is functional, not constative, and therefore is itself  the inability to be described. It is whatever was previously invisible as the other side of a split, until it was encapsulated as part of a dual pair that is now foreground, where it stops being background, functionally, which instantiates a new background, unseen.

Linear causality is a fundamental structural split. It involves time, the arrow of time. It is an error.

Postscript 2.5 Years Later

The sit in the insight stage of Cause and Effect was one of the most profoundly insightful sits of my entire path. I saw distinctly, before I ever encountered Dzogchen or Mahamudra, how the illusory arrow of time would keep generating background/foreground polarities. So this sit confirmed what I saw on the second MCTB path: That Enlightenment would necessitate a complete closure of a gaping aporia within the supposed “now.” Time would have to cease. Causality would have to cease. Background/foreground would collapse. This happens at buddhahood. It is only at the very end, buddhahood, which is far past MCTB Fourth Path, that the mystery of agency resolves itself completely.