Daily Spread: Integrating Shadow Sides
I have a formidable backlog of entries to add to this new online journal, but I may as well begin recording current pathwork here so as to reap the considerable practice benefits I do from journaling, as well as to avoid adding yet more to the backlog. More than a month ago, I quit journaling, which has detrimentally cut my sense of path directionality and coherence. In short, I’ve felt adrift. I’ve felt that way probably most of my earlier path, as evidenced by my 2014-2015 online practice journal, but across the continually saying so, the path arcs coherently.
Spiral toward the Corpses Littering Charnel Grounds
But the path spirals, too. My teacher John seems to be beckoning me onward and inward toward a new and deeper, lonesome Dark Night of the Soul, or charnel ground, as he puts it.
During the 6 months that I have been working with him, we’ve had to keep revisiting my longtime psychological issues: codependency, in western psychology terms; being the Helper, in Almaas’s spiritual enneagram terms, which means I need to thoroughly accept and integrate with Holy Will. Paradoxically, it means I need to better embody power that burns cleanly, intensely, quietly, uninterruptedly.
Even though the group of teachers John is in sharply (and correctly) distinguishes western psychotherapeutic work from dharma practice, they also assert that, especially for western students of the dharma, psychological barriers to practice are eventually going to emerge. They have, yet again, so here I am, and there they are. Now the hard yet naturally unfolding work begins of metabolizing all that “stuff” until it is integral, nondual.
Where Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha Falls Off the Map
This embodiment practice is the work that MCTB and MCTB2 fail to cover because Daniel, my ex-friend and author, has so far been unable or unwilling to do it. Merely misappropriating the traditional Theravadin definition of arahat to lop off all emotional work, which is what MCTB has done, denies the adage that “they shall know ye by your fruits,” fruits being conduct.
MCTB relegates psychodynamics to the term axis of development, and renders this axis some kind of extra or marginal pursuit, inessential to enlightenment. Wrong!
Hear this: It is not enough to correct dualistic misperception! One must metabolize those earliest scarred-over wounds of his or her individual psyche to open the heart-mind out into the interconnected field of humanity, to the sangha. Unless and until this work reaches fruition, no enlightenment. Sorry!
For there is still core fear and self-guarding at the physio-energetic level, where abiding ultimate bodhichitta must be perfectly nondual with the perceptual attainment; until then, the correction of dualistic misperception is not even wisdom. Instead it is being appropriated, dangerously, to actually widen the core spit, to dissociate from oneself, which marks also an unwillingness to be vulnerable with others. No vulnerability, no intimacy; no intimacy, no nondual integration with the field.
We are all mashups of schizoid shutdown and hysterical impingement. Bring this mashup to the path. “Get down in the mess,” of human relationships, as John says. Sort it, feel deeply into that most potent suffering, allow it to purify.
Bring it home.
Toward Realization of the Nirmanakaya
Far beyond what MCTB offers, I’m now working, in other words, toward realization of the nirmanakaya, embodiment of a buddha. This is a higher realization than that of the dharmakaya. Everything flows from the relative, the particular, the bodily energetic field–currently stuffed with scars. This integrative work introduces a vast toolbox, including tools such as Chöd
tantric practice to work with integrating “demons,” dreamwork toward lucid awakened awareness throughout sleep, and completely opening energetic karma-conditioned centers in the body, such as the solar plexus, third chakra, from which one should feel the bright flow of power.
Last session John told me to revive my journal and to record my dreams, paying attention specifically to how the ego-I moves through the dreamscape, for this will tell me during daily life when and how I’m obscured from awakened awareness, asleep.
Sangha I See and Don’t Hear
My dreams the past few nights have been fragmented, so I remember only bits and pieces of what is some otherwise suppressed story. I remember a distinct fragment that was of my sitting with my longtime dear friend Ira at a bar. It was noisy, I think, so we didn’t talk but were still communicating somehow over my sense of loss. He laid his hand, open palm upward, on the bar. I placed my hand in his there, and he held it. It was enough.
Dreams of a Heart Continually Drawn Forth and Filled
The past few nights I’ve been waking many times in apparent hypnagogia. It feels wondrous–no body, or rather a purely vibratory body free of aches and encumbrances, spacious beyond locating and blissful. In these states I remember that I have distinctly dreamed over and over again the drawing and filling in of a heart shape. There is no sense of an ego-I moving through the dream at all; the heart simply draws and fills in itself, automatically, over and over again, like an infinite-loop gif.
What I found so amazing about Mahamudra is that it offers stage-specific and realization-specific practices, a scheme which is extremely efficient and precise. It appears to be linear, progressive in a straight line up through 23 stages, but in reality most practitioners go round and round and round before the realizations “stick.” So one goes to one’s “cutting edge,” and if everything before that has stuck, then those practices are thinned out. So the practice becomes shorter, the higher up the realizations go. It is ingenious.
Of course, this model says one is never “done”–except one definitely gets done what they call awakened awareness, which, I think matches your fourth-path criteria. What they call Nondual Awareness matches your third path; it is basically what you call luminosity. The other sense doors (besides vision) have other metaphors: silence, vast space-like awareness, and so on.
When one has the central processor (center-point, subject, doer) drop out, as I did last Thursday morning (after the Dependent Origination thing happened again), that is from the final practice, which addresses “particularization” of phenomena in the field. The awakened human mind still particularizes sensations in the field of experience (ie, will focus on one object over others in the wide, vast awareness), but this practice stops those objects from referring back to, implying, and creating a center, a subject, a core processor. Teacher had us really look into the background core processes that were keeping us from awakening. Mine was doubt in my meditative abilities, doubt that I had a sufficient number of years of practice clocked to awaken. They didn’t call these “core processes,” but that is exactly what they are. They are the background contexts.
Interestingly, this model does account for flipping back and fading of the awakened awareness (fourth path) “gains.” So practice continues until the gains are completely hardwired in–automaticity. When none of it fades for even an instant in daily life, that is called “cutting through.” I’ve no good idea yet what that is all about. It looks like some far-out visions are involved. He mentioned some pretty interesting alterations in perception, such as the ability to visually see streams of sensation flow into each other.
This Dzogchen and tantra seem to me so far to be like your other “axes of development.” Insight is basically done; however, relative, magickal, and compassion side of things is being “saturated” with the wisdom gains. Wisdom and compassion have to become nondual, in other words: So I have this realization–now what am I going to do with it to make my life as happy as possible and help others?
There is this other axis of development that is psychology. There is interest in integrating western psychology with the awakened being’s mind. I heard from that after (and even right before) awakening, all this bad karma comes boiling up in the practitioner–eons of crap, eons of unskillful patterns of behavior and feeling. But I’ve not had time to study all this yet. I thought I had issues with my father resolved decades ago; the path kept surfacing them, though, so I now I will need to deal with all that anew.
So it looks like “cutting through” is when fourth path (awakened awareness) has stayed for quite a time and saturated daily (and nightly) life. To protect the gains, there are practices under the rubric of “how the realized mind stays.” What I like about this approach, among other things, is that it avoids making the practitioner feel like a failure if the attainment fades or flips for some time before sticking for good. The flipping back or fading is considered normal and basically an interim stage or “path.” There is no reason to panic if it flips back; one just keeps doing the practice, and eventually the realized mind will “stay."
Most interesting to me was that it turned out that the key in my letting the boundaries drop away was rigpa (or "rigpa”). It was direct realization of that primordial-feeling God-function you wrote so eloquently of in your imaginary numbers mini-essay; taking that as true and looking into it allowed for surrender of my doubt, for faith. Yet it is empty.
Mahamudra posits three levels of mind: coarse, subtle, and very subtle. Coarse is our usual daily mind. Subtle is the level of vipassana practice, seeing the impermanence, the arising and passing away. Very subtle is where realization emptiness of time goes beyond impermanence. At that point, the “attention” of vipassana is supeseded with the more refined and fast (because timeless) Awareness. This is rigpa, essentially. This is the interdependent, boundaryless vast awareness not confined to time and space. It functions the way God would if we could find a God. It is unfindable in space-time, yet there seems to be intelligence, knowingness.
Since last Thursday, the main difference in the forefront is this vastness. Mind/awareness is vast, vast, vast now. Everything is vivid and vast in a way that is much more refined and impressive than Boundless Space. I finally was able to meditate last night, and I cannot even put into words how unfathomable that experience was. I’m bringing awareness down to the heart, embodying the exemplar mother that holds and protects all beings, allowing that to open like a golden rose and shine.
The boundlessness is amazing–oceans of sensation co-mingling where before there were multiple layers of gross dual sets, stratified across artificial boundaries that falsely seemed the very structure of reality.
That continually moving around redefinition of the subject-perspective is gone. It is all completely still now.
Agencylessness has been coming to the fore during the past 48 hours. For example, I’ve been hyper-aware of the movements in my face–scowling, eyebrows lifting, etc. It is strange that these movements are just happening in and as an expression of vast awareness. It is hard to explain, but I think I was so identified via intentional self with these movements before last Thursday that I didn’t notice them–I was thoroughly identified with them, fish in water. Now they feel like I’m not intending them, almost as if something else is moving my face, that I don’t have to do it and actually can’t do it.
Another distinctive thing I’ve noticed is total lack of desire to tell people about, discuss, or analyze the attainment (this message notwithstanding). It is not that I’m not incredibly happy and awed; I am. It is just that words will fail and some kind of urge to own attainments, take credit for them, seems to have unexpectedly dropped off. The realization supersedes and subsumes all questions of and about it. It is completely satisfying. The only reason I’m documenting what is unfolding every night is because I know the others in the Underground want me to be as specific as I can be for them. I can feel a lot of rewiring going on, a lot of reorganization of energy body.
Yet another thing is an extremely heightened feeling of compassion for those who are not awake. I look at my husband and son, at their agitation and unknowingness, and it just sears me as if I were looking into an abyss they were about to fall into. Still, I cannot reach across this gulf and hold them back from the precipice. I think it is actually distressing to Kerry that his mom has changed so much in the past year. I am resolving to go do regular mom things with him and not talk about this, at least not right now. He needs me to be just his mom, familiar.
Lastly, I’m having difficulty finding the boundary between dreaming and being awake. In the morning, while sleeping, I’ll dream that I’m getting up and checking the alarm clock and dressing. And then I am actually doing those things and can’t figure out or remember where/when the dream ended and the waking reality began. When I’m sleeping, I can see the room through my closed eyelids!
I’m sorry I’ve gone on and on. Forgive me.
I hope you are okay.
Dear friends of the Dharma Underground,
Thursday, July 30, 2015, around 11:00 a.m., while sitting on retreat, I attained MCTB fourth path, or what in the Mahāmudrā model/map is awakened awareness. Awakened awareness matches almost exactly Daniel’s MCTB2 criteria for fourth path, and I have commented here on the specifics, and I’ll extract and retrieve later for a Mahāmudrā thread.
The last of four shifts on this retreat happened as I was gazing on the beautiful mantel/altar, which was in a shaft of morning light and ablaze with flickering candlelight and white daisies alternating with butter-colored carnations. I’ll never forget that sight. I think I will always commemorate this moment, that day, with bunches of white daisies and butter-colored carnations.
Later that day, during the ancient oral transmission, into which John interwove modern poetry, I will never forget how, after he called in the retinue of ancestors, lineage masters, and protectors, I literally felt light and warmth blasting through my chest cavity and skull. I felt other beings pass through me, in my head, heart, and body.
John said the following: “You can always recall this moment. It is always right here. The Buddha is under the bodhi tree. Christ is on the cross. Right here.” This was the most moving event I can remember ever having experienced. I was not by any stretch of the imagination expecting a retreat to be this or anything like this, this life-changing, this profoundly magickal and intimate. I was reduced to a quivering puddle of weeping surrender beyond surrender. And that is really what it takes in the end: Surrender and supreme faith. A great teacher will lead you to both, inexorably, and you shall follow.
Going into the Mahāmudrā retreat, I already had what the Mahāmudrā maps call Nondual Awareness, which we have inaccurately been calling luminosity. Luminosity is one metaphor for this Nondual Awareness, the one that goes with the sight sense door. There are other metaphors for the other sense doors–silence coming through sound (sounds within sounds, too) and vast space-like stillness for feeling. The problem that remained for me in what I now know for sure to have been third path was that, even though I was an experiencer of this level of nonduality, called “two oceans mingling,” which is a perfect description of the relationship in luminous experience, it was still an experience that I, as subject, was having. What needed to deconstruct at a higher level of obscuration was the center-point, central processor, central comprehender, the subject.
What I needed and didn’t have were the following:
- Emptiness-of-Time practice to show me the lack of of arising, passing, enduring, and not enduring that characterizes awareness itself and sets up what is called “the view,” which is a continuous meditation on awareness itself–awareness itself sees itself continuously
- One practice that broke down the boundaries between the five senses (this was actually made up by Johnny, not part of official Mahāmudrā, but effective)
- Sealing-Emptiness practice, which involves increasing the speed and range of arising phenomena seen as empty immediately upon arising
- Automaticity of holding the view and or seeing all as empty (on and off the cushion)
- Emptiness-of-Totality practice, which identified the last holdout “core process” running in the background and preventing the final deconstruction–mine was doubt in my ability to notice Everything in the Emptiness-of-Totality practice (ha)
What the Pragmatic Dharma community, although not Daniel himself, tends to overlook in getting from third to fourth is the centrality of trust, love, faith, surrender, compassion, and the God-function–all of which are real although unfindable, empty of inherent essence. You have to take these on as your working hypothesis at a very, very, very, very deep heart level that goes well beyond your own effort and technical skill, or there will be no full awakening. Along with extremely precise, mapped, stage-specific, realization-specific technique, this is what the Mahāmudrā gave me. In short, rigpa was crucial.
Mahāmudrā, which translates as the Great Seal, which has multiple meanings, including the notion that all is “sealed” with emptiness before or upon arising, has twenty-three steps to follow to awakening, technical map precision that is simply unmatched. If you do the specific meditations for each stage and bring awareness into the heart and radiate it out powerfully to all beings, you will not fail to awaken. It is remarkably easy, so when you are tired of fooling around and want to actually finish, I strongly recommend a Mahāmudrā retreat, with this superb teacher in particular.
As I stared at the floral offerings on the mantel, doing a practice to correct for perceptual “particularization” in the event field, I felt a spin, had a blast-like collapse into Fruition, experienced as I did in August radical decentering of awareness and then layering back into being via Dependent Origination–except faster and therefore not as clear as the one from last August. This time, when the layering back into being was happening, I remembered what Daniel said to do if this was seen again: Don’t resist the layering back into being; instead see those links in the chain of becoming as empty. This I did, and when it was done, the subject was completely gone and still is: Awareness can still focus on particular objects in the field, but without losing the integrated vastness of rigpa and without these objects’ referring back to, implying, creating a subject.
The result is strange and wonderful beyond words. Duality is gone at all the levels I’ve been able to discern. Artificial activity is gone. What happens happens, but the Looker is gone, the Looking is gone. Even if the gain fades or reverses, which I doubt it will, I know exactly how to get it back:
Saraha: So long as you set up the mind’s real nature and this awareness is unobstructed, the Fruition stays…. You won’t fail!
Please, please, please not believe anyone on AwakeNetwork or the DhO, nor any self-styled dharma teacher, who says that fourth path doesn’t involve radical changes in perception. It absolutely and unequivocally does. It involves so much more than those, but the deconstruction of perception is what is most noticeable, at least at first. I asked John point blank, and this was his answer. Ask your teachers to describe their perceptual and other changes phenomenologically. If your teacher can’t, or vaguely says only that the changes are subtle, then he or she is not realized: Find a teacher who is.
Please accept no substitutes; get the real thing, the one Daniel describes in his criteria. An unrealized teacher cannot lead you to realization. Don’t screw around with teachers having only second path or even third. Get a truly qualified teacher, at least on retreat. This attainment is rare, but that is not at all because it is difficult. Find the best guidance, work out your salvation with diligence, stop being so grim about practice, stop conceiving of attainment as loss of the self or loss of anything else but delusion (it isn’t), and then help others to do so.
Back when I wrote this text, after returning home from retreat, I drew the card Temperance. This card indicates my having passed though the death of an important relationship and great work, but it heralds the beginning of an unparalleled period of serenity and joy, a new beginning. It advises me to refrain from bold action but to be restrained and let what unfolds simply do so. The angel wings indicate, too, that Great Protectors are watching over me as the sequela of my recent hard losses continue to unfold. It indicates a happy ending to what currently seems a sad situation. May it be so.
I close with a Rumi poem that I dedicate to Daniel Ingram:
Love has taken away all my practices
And filled me with poetry.
I tried to keep quietly repeating
No Strength but yours,
But I couldn’t.
I had to clap and sing.
I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,
but who can stand in this strong wind
and remember those things?
I am scrap wood thrown in your fire,
and quickly reduced to smoke.
I saw you and became empty.
This emptiness, more beautiful than existence,
it obliterates existence, and yet when it comes,
existence thrives and creates more existence.
The sky is blue. The world is a blind man
squatting on the road.
But whoever sees your emptiness
sees beyond blue and beyond the blind man.
A great soul hides like Mohammed, or Jesus,
moving through a crowd in a city
where no one knows him.
To praise is to praise
how one surrenders
to the emptiness.
To praise the sun is to praise your own eyes.
Praise, the ocean. What we say, a little ship.
So the sea-journey goes on, and who knows where!
Just to be held by the ocean is the best luck
we could have. It’s a total waking up!
Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.
We’re groggy, but let the guilt go.
Feel the motions of tenderness
around you, the buoyancy.
Consciousness versus Awareness
Yes. I think taking “Consciousness” (j6) as an object brings the problem confronting awareness to the fore radically, implausibly. Not that I can think or talk my way out of this problem. Just sitting, just noticing, just sayin’.
This question of consciousness versus awareness is the crux, the crucial boundary that must be liberated. It is the consciousness that is to be seen through, to dissolve, to be liberated into the nature of awareness, which is empty and clear. This is what it means to realize that the jhanas are conditioned states, not liberation. The jhanas point, but, in being replicas, they throw awareness back on itself as something radically other than these replicas precisely because it cannot be pointed to, contained, found, or reduced to an “it.” Where a jhana’s distinqushing factors fail . . . to me, this kind of boundary leads the important dance to be done on the third path.
I’ve started reading this Mahamudra book that Daniel had recommended to me mainly for its poetic beauty (ostensibly for that reason, anyway). It is called Clarifying the Natural State, and it is really flipping me out. It gives simple instructions for samatha and then for vipassana. And then it says that these two practices, performed together at the same instant, are this problem-mind and its solution.
It instructs one to be aware via vipassana “of” samatha. Pretty heady stuff. I had to translate it for use more in line with MCTB, where Daniel talks about making specific jhanas the objects of investigation. The MCTB practice is only a pointer to the natural state, however.
[Postscript — The ways in which the samatha jhanas, particularly the arupa jhanas, offer conditioned awareness as object, as “consciousness,” which seems to be other than the liberated awareness that holds it, will be key in my meditation manual. The consciousness-awareness interface is key to finishing MCTB third path and being well into fourth. It maps not only to certain source texts of Mahamudra, but also the difference between kunzhi and gzhi in Dzogchen view. In addition, A. H. Almaas’s The Point of Existence: Transformation of Narcissism in Self-Realization distinguishes our usual sense of identity and our True Self. When one finds ephemeral the patterning of one’s identity, then one is flooded with emptiness in the sense of deficiency, loss. If one stays with this emptiness, it is soon felt as the shunyata kind of emptiness, a filling up with True Self, primordial essence that consists in illuminating while not itself being found.]