The Terrible, Overwhelming Distraction of Insight

Three days ago I picked my 8 year old daughter up from the Londonderry School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and watched her break down in the passenger seat as she blurted a story about having been beat up by a boy in her class earlier in the day. I listened in horror. It was the third time in the past three months the boy had attacked her. I had been in discussion with the school administration, first politely, then less politely, about the problems he was creating since nearly the beginning of the school year, particularly after the last, prior episode in which she had been punched in the face on the playground. I was ignored and, further, it was suggested that I was not a fit for the school on philosophical grounds and that I should consider removing my daughter and moving her elsewhere.

She loves her class. She loves her teacher. She loves the school. She’s been there since she was two years old. It is the only school she knows. It offers a unique environment, much of which I value. I have the expectation she should be safe from physical and emotional violence in the classroom, though, and the school administrators apparently don’t want to have to deal with the problem. Removing her from the school would be as or more traumatic than keeping her there. It’s an impossible situation.

As you might imagine my system exploded.

I am on fire. There is a reason for the image in the current blog header.

I also failed to meditate for the last two days as I spent countless hours dealing with the problem. I didn’t sleep at all the night of the event and barely slept the second night.

Add a 2020 New Year’s resolution failure to the list of fiery internal forces.

This morning’s practice, all 60 minutes of it, was a continuing hopeless attempt to get my mind to settle on a number for even a second. It never happened.

What was getting in the way?

Insight. Crazy, powerful, life changing insight. My mind was solving problems at a pace accelerated by the fire of my internal disruption. Answers were coming to situations I had been previously unable to resolve. Old life content was popping up and in. Things I had not thought about for decades where there at a reality level almost as intense as if I were experiencing them for the first time.

It was a real shit-show.

Yet all I wanted in each and every moment of that 60 minutes was to get my mind to make contact with the numbers I was imagining for myself. The goal is perfect, isolated presence with each number in sequence. Content of any kind, however valuable, is a distraction. It was annoying, even when I resolved several crucial issues including one that I’d been trying to figure out for years.

What was not present was a desire to escape from the maelstrom. There was no push to leave the cushion and get away from the problem or the effort I was burning through as I worked to stabilize attention. I was not constantly wondering when the session would be over. I was patiently working to get myself to do the task I had set for myself.

Then the timer chimed.

I got up grateful for the new content but remain annoyed at my inability to settle attention and place it where it was supposed to go.

Insight is a distraction. The deepest insight occurs in the moment of attainment. It is in that second of simple contact that all the rest finally comes to view. The unseen world that hides in plain sight. The mind, and its world, revealed.

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A Demon Reveals Itself

New Year’s resolution fail yesterday. I meditated but did not post to the blog.

I had the same experience in practice both days. My mind was in dreadful shape, I was heavily fogged and I was experiencing intense distraction via excitation. Today in particular I wasn’t even close to making contact with the numbers.

Except when I ramped up the effort to get there.

I could see/hear/feel the number in my mind’s eye but I could not conjure it. For that is what I’m doing for an hour each day: conjuring my own reality then working to get present with it.

After most of an hour of failed effort I began to notice something interesting. Whenever I got reasonably close to generating a number within my field of awareness objections would arise. I was desperately trying to ignore them and get myself to the destination but they became pervasive. Eventually they un-massed and became a set of feeling/sensations combined with a thought package that kept trying to convince me I didn’t really want to make contact with the numbers. That success was not okay. That the desired result was somehow artificial or not natural.

I realized I have a program package inside my mind/body system that resists attainment.

Surprise, surprise.

Who says demons aren’t real?

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The Desire to Escape

I can sit through anything if I don’t want it to go away.

There is a feeling/thought package/mass that arises in my field of awareness that sometimes drives me to want to stop what I’m doing. It’s hard to describe in a way that conveys clearly although I bet you have the same experience I do. It keeps you moving.

In fact, it may keep you moving all the time. You may be unable to sit still without your system beginning to explode. I understand.

There is a sensation package that is uncomfortable. It contains thoughts and a “knowing” that we don’t want to be doing what we are currently doing. In this case trying to remain still while getting the mind to stay fixed in a spot of my choosing. The sensations and thoughts are all bound together in a ball – hence the term mass, a good one that comes from our Scientologist friends. A mass contains unconscious content that is bound together and can’t be viewed individually. Part of their practice involves the opening and separation of masses. It’s a powerful tool.

In my case the massy ‘desire to escape’ is not to be opened and explored but ignored as I effort to get attention fixed on each number in the count, one at a time. I am not allowed to wallow in it, investigate it, view it, block it, or do anything else with it. My job is to let it fall away by getting myself present with my focal point (object) of choice. When sufficient contact is made it drops off.

My morning got away from me this morning so I had to sit for practice in the evening. I didn’t want to be there. I had to force myself to do it. The public announcement of my daily practice plus my commitment to writing here was helpful. I may not have meditated today had I not had those drivers floating in the background.

I spent most of an hour identified with the experience of not wanting to be there.

I could see/feel the stability of presence with the numbers just out of reach but I could not get there beyond a few brief moments of contact made six or seven times during the sit.

For the most part I sat for an hour immersed deeply in the feeling of not wanting to be there and wanting to escape.

The timer chime was a relief.

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Observation and Absorption

The mind was less dull this morning.

Dullness is a Buddhist technical term for a mental phenomenon that denotes a condition of lack of clarity. It goes further than that but noticing the opposite is helpful in understanding the parameters of the problem. When we are dull things are foggy. Filtered in some way. Clarity is absent.

I made contact with the numbers relatively early in the session but was held away from total presence by moderately distracting excitation, another Buddhist technical term, and a moderate fog. I was also very much in the observer position rather than fully absorbed.

Observation and absorption are key meditative concepts pointing at two different experiences. You, I, could make an argument that they are pointing at two entirely different minds. They’ve been fought about in the traditional meditation practices for thousands of years.

In a strangely pathological twist the modern Mindfulness community has, generally, made absorptive states anathema. The reasons they do it make sense but it remains wrong-headed at best. Destructive at worst.

My deepest experiences have occurred when fully absorbed. When the observer is gone.

Most powerfully, and paradoxically, it becomes deeper when I am fully absorbed in the observer itself. When I have merged into one, rather than permitting the split of the apparent two.

In each second of meditation practice I effort to become fully absorbed in each number as it arises.

Today when I began practice I was present with the numbers but at a distance. It was an improvement over the prior days.

Then the distance fell off and I moved close to them and stayed there for about 40 minutes.

But I was not quite THERE.

Separation remained. I was there, the object was there, I was close to the object rather than far awa,y as I had been before, but there was still a wash of sensation/feeling, dullness, and subtle excitation/distraction keeping me separate from the numbers.

The goal is to become the numbers.

Complete absorption.

In the yoga model we call it samadhi-with-a-seed.

The most interesting part of the experience is how I choose to work with it when it arises. These days we are instructed by most teachers, including the most famous of them, that we must relax out of effort toward attainment. In my case, I increase effort to cross the psychical bridge.

In today’s session that led to forty minutes of a mild kind of near agony. I was ALMOST there. I could feel it. But I couldn’t quite get there. There was an ache in my system as I felt the loss of contact with an object that remained just slightly out of reach. There was also the latent memory of the prior several days where I was so far away and distracted the current experience, in contrast, was clearly superior. I felt an ache of loss and the delight of near contact at the same time as I worked continuously to bridge the gap.

Imagine being with a lover who isn’t quite taking you there. Orgasm is close enough that you can feel it right nearby but nothing you do will get you to the edge and over.

Same, same.

That went on for forty minutes before the timer went off.

At some point a wave of exhaustion passed over me. I had thoughts of giving up. Then I realized it was just one more experience of distracting excitation, ignored it, and kept working toward contact with the numbers. The exhaustion passed.

The timer chimed.

I got up off the cushion refreshed, clear headed, pleased with myself, and ready to start the day.

No matter how many times I live through it that process becomes no less amazing to me. Sometimes torturous effort and struggle for an hour yet I am completely restored when the practice is over.

The goal remains: make contact. Get there. Eliminate the separation. Heal the breach. Become present with the object of choice.

Then figure out how to do that all day long.

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The Dream World

The mind was operating poorly this morning. Worse than yesterday.

Deep fog/dullness, powerful distracting thoughts and feelings, and an inability to conjure up the numbers in the imagination.

I couldn’t get there at all – until I jumped up the effort for a moment 45 minutes into the practice, made brief contact, then lost them again.

Near the end of practice things organized, I made contact consistently for two minutes, then lost it for the final time.

I saw the last Star Wars movie yesterday. I was 17 years old when the first one came out. I can’t overstate the impact it had on me. I never became a fan-boy because I didn’t like the later movies but the first one remains at the top of my all-time best movies list despite having seen many movies equally as powerful. The modern reset of the series by JJ Abrams has been well done. He captured something of the spirit of the first one in the first two movies but he outdid himself with the last movie. It was brillinant. Almost every touch was perfect. I sat in awe in the IMAX theater from start to finish, totally engaged and identified with the story and characters. Joy!

Much of the tale describes what happens during a meditation sit as the disparate parts of consciousness work to sort themselves out and assert dominance.

If your practice doesn’t take you there any more you aren’t sitting long enough. Ramp it up to a couple hours of no-movement-permitted sitting on a cushion then get back to me.

I was living the Star Wars universe for most of today’s session. Memories of the movie were running rampant.

Then something different. A shift.

I began to see faces and hear conversations I’d never seen before. Rather than live memories of yesterday’s movie interspersed with thoughts and feelings of other current events I was making a movie of my own – out of the view of conscious control – and I was watching it play out on my own mental screen within my field of awareness.

In a moment of cognition I realized I was fully awake but dreaming.

The instant I realized I was dreaming it stopped.

Then back to disruption, interrupted only by the couple minutes of contact I mentioned above.

One of the ways that meditation works is by showing us how our mind operates as it reveals disparate parts of the mind/body system when we are quiet enough to notice them.

Everything I just described is a distraction from the stated goal – perfect presence with the numbers one through ten to the exclusion of all else – but I can’t help but notice what’s going on as my mind changes states in response to my efforts to hold it in place. The subtle but distinct shift into a fully awakened dream stood out like the light from a lighthouse on a dark shoreline. It was crystal clear. I saw the before, I saw the experience, I saw the transition out, then I saw the after.

I now know a couple of things I’d not known before about myself. I can dream while awake. I have a dream-section in my mind that generates dreams for me.

What that means and how it matters usually takes time to sort itself out. What happens immediately after an experience like that one, though, is the understanding that the habitual patterns of the reality I live are not the only reality that exists. That other options are possible. That the world is a little different than I thought it was before.

Experience enough of those shifts in a well-constructed daily meditation practice and the way you view the world becomes more complete. Often filled with curiosity rather than certainty. The mind, eventually, opens.

That is good.

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The Practice, The Obstacles, The Result

My mind has degraded in the absence of a consistent daily hour on the cushion for the past several years.

I am dull.

I am a mass of uncontrolled mental and physical excitation.

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There is only one meditation practice:

The meditator decides to restrict the natural flow of attention, and the awareness that rides along with it, from its habitual patterns of movement by doing something with it.

There are no exceptions to that rule, although it is not immediately obvious if you’ve learned various meditation techniques in the past. The more time and energy you have invested in your current models of meditation, and the more authoritative your teacher or tradition, the harder it becomes to see it.

All the many variations we call different meditation styles are created by our choices made regarding, among a few other things, what to hold attention on, how many things to hold attention on at the same time, how hard, or gently to hold attention, and when to break attention.

The most entertaining versions insist you aren’t doing anything at all – in an effort to trick you into getting out of your normal mode of operation and into a different one.

The vast number of practices created by the mixing of the elements described above do create differing effects in the mind as you do them, making them appear to be different while also providing sometimes useful experiences that arise in differing ways, but the process and the goal, once they are correctly understood, are always the same: decide to place attention somewhere and hold it there for a while so you can become fully present with whatever you are looking/feeling/thinking/smelling/tasting/hearing at.

The result of that practice is explosive.

Using meditation as a calming tool is like swatting a fly with an atom bomb.

Meditation is, and always has been, designed to blow you up, not calm you down.

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In the variation of the practice I am doing this year I apply effort to bring attention to the numbers one through ten imagined and visualized inside of my body – to the exclusion of all else.

I do not work to block, label, or otherwise acknowledge distractions. I effort only toward presence with my desired object. If I get lost I return to the number one when I realize I am lost. If I get distracted I return to the number one when I realize I am distracted.

Repeat for one hour every day.

I apply persistent, patient, heavy effort.

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In today’s meditation sit I made legitimate contact with the numbers for about two minutes out of sixty.

The obstacles were heavy mental fog that blocked the numbers from forming and a constant flow of distracting thoughts and sensations that pulled attention away from its intended location.

There is much work to do.

It is amazing how memorable the two minutes of presence, were, though. The experience of a bright, clear, unobstructed, stable mind is unparalleled.

More of that, less of the other.

We start again tomorrow.

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The Why and the Rules. 2020, Day One.

I am a resolutionary.

New Year’s resolutions work well for me. I’ve habituated the practice of starting change cycles on the first of the year and I’ve made sometimes enormous personal shifts as a result.

As my life devolved into chaos from 2015 through 2018 for reasons that, so far, remain unclear my daily meditation practice suffered. I’d meditated, and sometimes blogged about it, for an hour a day, every day with no exceptions for years. I tried a new meditation technique in 2016 that proved to be harder than I was capable of doing and things started to fall apart.

My mind has devolved along with the infrequency of daily formal practice.

Watching it devolve has been instructive. Sometimes failure is an incredible teacher.

Watching it evolve for the next twelve months will be equally as interesting.

I’ve decided to share the process with you for three reasons:

1. Using the power of public shame to keep myself on track. Making a commitment and following through is much easier if I know I have to report a failure if I don’t complete the day’s tasks.

2. Seeing into the mind of a capable meditator, moderately skilled in practice but advanced in understanding, will be helpful to some.

3. I have developed an unusual view of meditation and the best way to share it is via real-world explorations rather than dry, structural theory. Eventually I will bring the teaching to a series of short YouTube videos but, for now, laying it out here will help me test my explanatory abilities and offer real-world insight into how mediation works in a way I’ve not seen modeled and described elsewhere, despite two decades of personal investigation into the practices.

The Rules:

A. Meditate daily, sometime between waking in the morning and sleeping at night, for one hour.

B. Sit on a cushion, unmoving as best I am able, eyes closed from the start of the timer to the end of the session.

C. Bring attention to and hold it in place on the numbers one through ten in sequence conjured in imagination at a pace sufficiently slow to permit complete contact with each number, one at a time, but rapid enough to decrease the likelihood of dullness.

D. If my mind or body become distracted I must interrupt the count and return to the number one. If I lose track of the count I return to the number one and start again when I recognize I was lost. If I maintain contact from one through ten I return to one and begin again.

E. Effort to exclude all sensory and mental contact from within the field of awareness except each number by bringing attention and awareness fully to bear entirely on each number as it arises and passes.

F. Get up after practice and live large each day until I meditate again.

Thanks for following along. Thanks for holding me to the task – whether I know you are there or not. I hope you find your time well spent because you find I have been able to share something of value.

Happy New Year to All!



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