Bright Sands and Dark Nights

Aversion to Practice and Practitioners

For the past week I feel as though I’ve been adrift in some moderate lapse of faith. And I’m not sure what triggered it. Perhaps, as I discussed with DreamWalker, I am in fact actually sometimes still experiencing insight stages, in this case mild Reobservation (the “rolling up the mat” stage). I felt unmotivated to practice or tidy my room all week. I wouldn’t even keep my altar nice. In fact my sloppy bedroom seemed a mirror in which I stubbornly met the eye of my own anger.

I think I feel a little cut adrift and alone in my practice, meaning I am averse to being around Buddhists and even distrust the tradition, texts, and most teachers. So that is Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha – now cut off. So is it any wonder that this feels like a crisis of faith? All the trappings and external supports are falling away. And I’m somehow now too pissed about that to support myself through practice.

Back to the Past to Gather Little Jenny in My Arms

When we last talked, my teacher suggested that I address my insomniac hyper-vigilance by practicing tonglen for Little Jenny at those moments of horror at her having had to parent her parents. I’ve done this only once. I found I couldn’t bring up the moments of my father’s failings or my mother’s seizure, both of which traumatized me and the latter of which caused me to hallucinate for about 10 days, without sleep, when I was 18 years old – a psychiatric crisis. Those hallucinations were of everything organic decaying rapidly before my eyes, dying. It was terrifying, and even though I knew they were just hallucinations, I couldn’t make them stop and I couldn’t sleep lest one of my loved ones actually die because I neglected to keep watch. A psychologist at the university finally hypnotized me with a suggestion to be able to sleep. I did nap at my best friend’s a couple of hours later, and when I awoke the hallucinations had stopped. But ever since that event, I’ve had a problematic relationship with sleep, delaying bedtime and struggling with insomnia.

Although I couldn’t retake those moments with any coherence during practice, I was able to go even further back in time and stare down at Very Little Jenny of about 3 years old. She had a patch on her eye and was wearing a plaid dress, red cardigan, and tights. It wasn’t formal tonglen, but with my current Big Jenny strength, I gathered her up in my arms and poured on the love and compassion. She was fragile and smelled sweet, like honeysuckle.

An Invisible Vehicle Built for One and Sunk in Sands

Perhaps the anger that began sometime afterward and persisted isn’t a crisis at all, though. Perhaps it is part of the abandonment of all devices and conditions. Months ago I had a dream of a teacher who didn’t speak to me but just cried desert sand out of his two cow’s skull eye sockets.

My real-life teacher explained that in alchemical process there is an arid “drying up” phase. Excess emotionality is drying up. The excited connection with other practitioners I enjoyed in the Dharma Underground is no more. I’m no longer manufacturing emotion and drama. More recently, I’ve dreamed that I’m riding a bicycle from place to place during the day. Whenever I arrive where I must interact, I lay the bike down on its side and stare at it until it sinks into sand and becomes invisible. I think this is a symbol for my vehicle of practice. It is solo and I hide it from everyone in the arid sinkholes of dreamtime.

The Field of Fear and Rage

It was a hard week. Everyone on social media has been raging and fear-mongering over the election of Donald Trump as president. I tried three times to urge calm and clarity, but everyone wanted to foment and cast that kind of field. I’m super-sensitive to that sort of thing now, and I perhaps should have withdrawn sooner. This field is chaos and confusion. No one knows what news is real, whether Julian Assange has been murdered, or whether the difference between Trump and Clinton is mere distraction from the more sinister forces behind all apparent thrones.

And my son had a hard week, was violently ill and having to adjust to great injustice done him.

The Three-Percent Solution: Attraction, Aversion, and Flow

Only 30 minutes to sit with such sleep deprivation, but what a profound sit in High Equanimity! It started with crying, because I’m doing all this stupid crying in this second path, but perfectly okay crying. I’ve done plenty of “Do Nothing” sits before, especially in Equanimity, but not like this. Being with the big flowing, rocking swaths – yes, now here, closer to surrender. Attraction, aversion, peace, attraction, aversion, peace – flowing around and around and around and around my dim bedroom and then speeding up and up and up like a vortex. I Didn’t feel my body, just melting completely unto it. I could stay and can.

Very nice.

[Postscript a year and a half later – This meditation was one Daniel Ingram adapted from what Sharda Rogell taught him, wrote up, and sent to me when I was having much emotion arise on second path, which is what that path is known for, if you believe in four paths. I loved this meditation and the write-up so much that I worked it into MCTB2. Hopefully, the rest of the practitioners out there will be able to access it soon and benefit too. I titled it “The Three-Percent Solution” because one of Daniel’s instructions was to exert just three percent of possible effort, to rest in ninety-seven percent naturalness.]

[Post-postscript 2017 – I’m unsure of the fate of this little meditation prescription, for after I registered copyright in the version of MCTB2 that was nearly finished, Daniel destroyed all our work and began over again rather than grant me a mere editorial acknowledgment for what amounted to more than $32,000.00 of free authorial work. The choice was a poor one, but it was and is his to make.]

XX’s Response about Conventional Wisdom and Insight

A good place to “place” the mind is right at the co-arising of sensations and feeling. You can tune into how there seems to be a dimension of reaction that seems to infuse sensations, but they can be teased apart. These are very basic reactions, along the lines of wanting to have (greed), wanting to avoid (hatred), and covering over with thought/fantasy (delusion). These are the energies of the “self” that we believe in and try to protect. The bigger/true self is aware of it all and doesn’t need protecting.

As a thought-problem: Imagine being in equanimity, where there isn’t much sense of the self: anything can arise and it doesn’t seem to disturb equanimity. Now imagine dark night, when the same sorts of sensations put us into a tail spin. What is different? The reactivity of dark night – grabbing to anything that seems to offer release, pushing away anything that seems to hurt, fantasying about alternative experiences that would fix things once and for all.

When things are tough, just stay with sensations as they are arising, no need to take on a huge awareness challenge when things are tough. But when things are a little open and inquiry/introspection can happen, take a look at how sensations arise and the mind reacts with a basic feeling: desire (greed), ill will (hatred), ignoring (delusion).

I keep using different words for GHD to give you a sense of this subtle energy of self. Greed, hatred, and delusion — while the source of our problems — are actually little impulses at the level of sensation. It’s only later that thinking becomes really solid and story-like that GHD become overt human behavioral problems.

By the way, the formal description of what I’m describing is inquiry into [the 12 links of] dependent origination (With Contact as condition, [the link of] Feeling arises) or looking at “Vendana.”

So, right now you’re probably feeling, how am I going to do all of this? Concentration practice, plus noting practice, plus introspection into vendana? Second path is a big confusion and is really specific to the meditator. Do what makes sense to you… and also know that everyone is confused during pretty much all of second path. So if a particular practice seems to make sense, go with that.

A while ago, we would talk about how a meditator starts creating a tool box as they go through the four paths. Unfortunately, in second path you are creating a lot of tools while you’re going through a lot of material. It’s disconcerting, but oh well!

Hope this helps.


Just another note: don’t be afraid to look for the “hurt” that is pretty much always under “anger.” Anger tends to go to defensiveness, fear, uncertainty, and then hurt. The hurt has the most wisdom in it, unfortunately. It’s a tough place to go, but that’s when things really open up. There can be a lot of crying in second path, too.