A voice has spoken to me twice in my life, a voice more direct than someone standing right next to me, at once more powerful and real than any thinking or listening. Even more real than a voice, yet it used words. The first time was in the late 90s when I had started to lie down in a place of comfort and security and… I don’t know, just relaxing, in awareness, apparently going deeper and deeper… and then from nowhere it said: YOU TOOK YOUR TIME. In a friendly and slightly joking yet austere kind of way, very welcoming. And that was it. And it was true, it had taken me a very long time to learn to relax, I realised.
Woke having been dreaming I was in conversation with Noel Gallagher for a couple of hours. I asked how he spent his time these days. Oh, googling, was his reply.
Wanted to lie down, as usual, then I asked: what’s the difference? Is it really safer, more comfortable? I’ll sit down again soon, maybe after the weekend. ‘Soon’ could be today, why not? And so I sat down, simple, no argument or debate or pressure. And when I sat I saw that any technique would be a desirous movement towards something or away from something. So I just sat. Of course, then there is ample time for thinking about various things at work or in my life. I didn’t do the classic: ‘and now return to the breath.’ Who was ‘I’ to do that? Why would I do it? No, it’s more natural. Anyway, once returned to the breath, what then? The cycle continues. No, it’s more natural, the attention simply moves nearer, a layer of activity drops away. It seemed to be ‘nearer’ rather than ‘deeper’, a coming closer to home rather than an exploration of the depths. No exploration, no seeking, no trying to work it out or find something, rather a coming home. Come home. Come home. Return. And yet not even a movement in that direction, more like an unfolding, an undoing of doing. And one doesn’t do this unfolding or undoing, it occurs. This all felt very restful, and anything that wasn’t restful or natural was exposed as the effort and subtle struggle it was. Everything is as it is, I don’t have to work it out. Waves of bliss, waves of strife, waves of pain, all come and go and preference towards or against any is unnecessary.
Scattered at the start, moving rapidly around the body, as if in some stress and that something’s wrong. Calmed down as I continued moving, sensing, seeing how I dart away from certain areas, linger in others. Listening, listening, feeling, feeling, the reality of the body and mind. I wonder if there is anything to be anxious about. Do I do it to myself? Like spook myself? The future based on the past. Things happened in the past and so they are going to happen again, so… watch out! Be on guard. Be nervous. It’s coming. The worse thing is coming. All sorts of anxiety based on – what? – sensations. Spooked by my own body and it seems perfectly possible not to be.
The default state of fear is so familiar. Waking up from a deep night’s sleep after fearful dreams. Washing and brushing teeth, there’s something coming up to be afraid of. Sitting in the corner of the bedroom, fear is around the corner. Fear of the past, fear of the future. Sitting still, birds singing outside, body strong and comfortable on the cushion, what’s to be afraid of? I don’t know. But it’s there, seemingly. Without going in any direction I held the fear close, noticing its flavour and substance, and how it felt in the mind and the body. So familiar. There for as long as I can remember. There’s something to be afraid of, there’s something to be afraid of. At least right now, I think, there’s nothing. No one to interact with, nothing I have to do. So fear is a residue or imagination and those can be met in stillness, now, while I’m sitting here. It soon becomes clear that I am intwined with the fear, it’s not something other than me. Just feeling it, allowing it near, suddenly there is no fear different from me. My very attitude seems to be the fear itself. There’s not a thing made of fear, it seems to have no substance of itself but only in relation to me. I can’t say that it ended or dissipated or dissolved entirely but there’s now a handle on it, the way it works and the way I work. And the key to this tricksy lock seems to be in nothing but awareness. Not a doing of awareness but simpler than that.
Awoke around four, like at Dharma Dipa, and after realising I was wide awake and would be for some time, I began to sit at around four thirty. Excruciating. No defences left and noticing that residence makes it worse. Strong pain behind the forehead. Breathing, breathing, and then even this stopped for long moments. Another time I kept breathing out, out, out; was it even possible to breathe out this far? Abdomen sucked right in. The organism has the seat, there’s very little I can do about anything. And that’s something of a relief despite the agony. And if there isn’t resistance, is it really agony at all? Right in the heart of it, it seems to be something else entirely. If nothing else, this sitting every day is deeply satisfying, like scratching an itch I have felt for years but haven’t been able to reach. Vipassanna reaching deep, deep inside.
This is as total as it’s been, awareness throughout the whole body, an exquisite tension throughout, hot spots calling out louder: back of right thigh, shoulders, neck. My face in a kind of silent scream, pulses of energy moving throughout, using the spine as a main channel. Before this, a dropping away of various doings, sometimes reluctantly, but understanding that I hide in all partial actions, like ‘watching’ or ‘moving through the body’ or resisting. Not to force not do these things but in the doing of them the very doing is obvious and can drop. Also the avoider. Even avoiding the sensations I think I like. Too much ecstasy? Go somewhere else! Feel something different! Think something, get lost in a little daydream or thought. Too much pain? Likewise. Down to very subtle feelings: avoid, avoid. The avoiding and avoider can also be understood in this exposure and cessation or retirement has a chance, instead of the usual do do do. Not that cessation is a reaction to doing. Sitting way past the hour chime, impossible to end then, but there comes a time when the energy has settled and it’s back to a more regular sitting still, thinking a bit, and then it can end, itching for another dose of actuality later on but likely to be tomorrow.
I’m at the edge of something. This is as far as I’ve dared go before. Or been able to. Or been allowed to. Limitations are dropping away and so is my ability to control. I see my puny little desires squirting in this direction or that, all the while something growing, building, gaining strength and power, something way beyond me. Yet in a way it is not beyond me, it is the ‘total me’ in sense, or the total organism of which ‘me’, the chooser, seems now to be a very tiny part. Overwhelming energy. A force field around my whole body, the physical enclosed and protected by it, yet not a closed system, but open to everything, the cosmos. The direct way in (and out?) seems to be through the top of the head, the very top part of the crown, from which the practice starts. Not that it’s anything much to do with the practice itself. Perhaps the practice prepares the organism for this something beyond. There’s a connection not imagined but more real than anything I’ve known.
How can that have been an hour? Seemed like about twenty minutes. Woke this morning with strong jealousy, a partner receiving a really cool letter from a really cool guy. This jealous and inferior feeling ate at me during the sitting, an overly sweet, nauseous sensation in the chest to the right of the heart. It eased after some time, seemingly melting away. Back to where it came from or away away, I don’t know. Then hatred towards a person who could make me feel like this. Not the letter-writer but the girl. And not really any one girl but a blend.
Goodness gracious me! This for sure with no hesitation is the thing to be doing. Sitting down, shutting, up and learning what doing is necessary and what can cease. And as it eases, naturally, of its own accord, what joy! Then waves of ecstasy, bliss and overwhelming wellbeing. Strong connection between the top of the head and the base of the spine. A magic conduit. Everything joins up, mind and body and all through the organism, connected as if the divisions never were real. It’s not easy. By any means it’s not easy. There is a kind of hard-fought ease and once it comes I wonder what the struggle and effort was about. Unnecessary. So many unnecessary activities out in the world and internally. Powerful surges up through the spine and head shaking faster than I thought possible, shoulders unwinding and energy moving up through the head and out to who knows where. And the hour is over, it’s duration some kind of crazy time, not a normal hour at all.
One has to get physical. It’s easier to sit and wander around one’s head, thinking, worrying, remembering, imaging and planning, but it’s when you get out of your head and enter into the body thing that shit gets real. Very solid feeling today, very grounded, achy, less flightingly sexy and more earthy. It seemed so deep, the muscle aches, the holding on, like right down to the inner muscles I have little idea of anatomically. There’s excruciation and inside that pain there is a validity, a depth of gratefulness that this fact of my body has been touched, listened to, held in awareness. Hello body! I’m sorry to have ignored you for so long, or only partially used you and probably more than partially abused you. I’m here and we’re in this together. Thank you. I’m stronger physically now and it seems that this allows a deeper, less fearful adventure in attention.
Back to sitting to meditate, rather than the lying down I’ve been doing for months. I’m feeling physically strong after regular work outs, some yoga each morning and last week’s surf trip. Strong energy too, sexual and otherwise. I maintain that it’s not sexual energy or any other kind of categorisation, but just energy itself. Life perhaps. Life force, they call it. It moves in different, secret, strange and regular ways. Body movements: head shaking, mouth loose, feet flexing, particularly the arches, the right arm a bit, shoulders, and penis in various states of erection or not. Such bliss! An overwhelming feeling, not knowing if I’ll come, faint, scream, laugh, and then it’s none of these things but a total washing, nothing else but this feeling, no ‘me and it’ for those seconds, moments, time lost. One awareness slide down through the body, back up, and down again in one hour.
Deep dreams again, awareness seemingly going deep within these nights. And after a wash, the mind surprisingly clear. None of the initial struggles to settle and I could begin right away. From the start, sexual energy moving and before long it’s no longer sexual. Probably never really was, that’s just what I equate it to because that’s what I know and that’s the area it stems from. This is far beyond just sex: tingles and rushes moving higher up the body, feelings I’ve never felt, parts of the body that seemed to be sleeping waking up under this travelling, enlivening, enriching energy. Not to get swept up in the pleasure of it all, but continuing moving attention across the body. The less I interfere, the more this new energy can do its thing. Thought going off into fantasies and dreams and thought loops and the mundane, ‘Oh, I need to do that today’, and yet they are not judged as mundane and during this sitting, the notion of judging seemed quite alien. Pleasure was pleasure, pain was pain, and both seemed not so very different from each other. The more I could stay with pain, the more it merged into pleasure, and feeling the pleasure strongly moving, meeting more painful areas of the body and emotions. One trip down the body, back up in a smoother flow, lingering a minute or two or thirty seconds on ‘grosser’ areas, then back up to the head with a rush of energy filling the head, clearing the mind of everything in those moments until back up to the tingling top of the head. Then resting in a fizzy warmth covering the whole body, that was, in fact, the whole body itself. The body is way beyond what we were taught or what we thought.
Whole not holes. Can awareness be all inclusive rather than partial? A distinct feeling that thought patterns are holes or tunnels and also analysis of same is no different. Control too is another tunnel-digging device, direction, direction. To stay right here, without control and without more digging or at least no reinforcing those old tunnels. There is nothing to dig for, no treasure beneath, no deeper self to uncover. If there’s a deeper self its not where you think it is, nor is it accessible via the partial.
Angry on waking, and caught up in it on first sitting down. I remembered that it cannot be solved at the same level, mixed up in it, and I realised that any attempt to even approach things with a solution in mind is not the way to go. I was then able to observe it more neutrally and before long begin the vipassana practice of moving attention from head to feet and from feet to head with the understanding of annica. The not-new revelation that thought swims quickly away from any sensation, even from simple awareness of any given body part. This swimming away can be seen too, and as time goes on, the unecessaryness of it becomes obvious, without ‘doing’ anything about it. So the movements away lessen of their own accord and attention can remain on sensation without these modifications of the mind and avoidance techniques. These reactions of thought scatter and disperse the natural quiet of the mind. Mere sensation is enough for the mind to go into a tailspin and a mild flurry of ‘not this, not this’, running around like a headless chicken. Not to condemn this headless chicken but to see clearly that this behaviour is divisive, scattering and uses so much energy. So, it’s not about controlling thought but of seeing it; not seeing from a place of judgement but seeing of itself.
Fearful dreams, nothing new, but what was new was that I was not running but steadily watching what was unfolding in the dreams, almost as if meditation was occurring within the dream itself, or at least an observation. I was no longer at the mercy of fear as has been common in my dreams for years.
This still observation carried forward into the morning sit, the organising brain going over some unresolved work issues that need to be addressed. Again fear wrapped up with these but a sense of laying the issues out so that they are easily visible, the consequences of hiding things away very apparent and therefore such action would be worthless.
Then the theme of ‘where am I going with this meditation thing?’ clear that any notion of where it ends or where it leads is false, and in fact a positively bonkers fantasy. The projected fantasy of some state or way of life in the future, and also a debilitating fear of where I might be going. Both equally false.
Awareness steady as I moved over the body, less of the flitting about from place to place that has been happening. Strong energies unfolding from the base of the torso, rippling through the rest of the body, so overwhelming that in moments I just don’t know what is happening or where I am. Brand new in flowering energetic movements. Sit through it, sit through it, easy now. And the sciatic pains in the right leg and buttock. Sit through it, sit through it, easy now. And back up through the torso, a hoop of awareness almost complete, gliding upwards until what would be tight shoulders, upper back and neck but could not be felt, like they were nothing. Surprises all the way that things are not what I think there are, sensations are new now, not of the past. Alive.
Quite content to just sit and do nothing and could have whiled away an hour like that. After a while I remembered the notion of right effort and began the noticing of sensation. This was a rather dreamy process, only making it as far as the pelvis in the hour, and even then maybe not having done the front body. It’s difficult when coming from listening to a lot of Krishnamurti, who strips these maters free of any effort and technique, to apply something to ‘do’. But my issue may not really be this but a contented laziness. Like thinking doesn’t bother me anymore, it’s fine, natural, and I’m not really looking for any experience so why bother with the technique? I guess the answer can be found in knowing what I’m like and these tendencies will not change in the slightest by doing nothing at all. The crisis existing in how things are must be the impetus to do this, otherwise contentment, comfort and indifference will win out. But not to force anything. It’s a fine balance and this has to be my exploration at the moment. It is unlikely, however, that I will be sitting in the evenings, preferring to do some yoga at this time instead.
A mid morning sit, having slept for an exceptional 10 hours until 0830 and then having breakfast and then answering emails. Wading through hot fudge, sticky and not unpleasant, I wondered who I am to attempt to control thought. It’s a futile preoccupation. And to prefer some thoughts over others is favouritism and unnecessary effort. It is in fact boring. So I gave up in directing, and gave up being frustrated if I could sense an area for only a second before going into another daydream. Slowly this not unpleasant fudge-wading ceased and I was able to move with relative ease through the body, and dreams slowly abated. As little effort as possible, seems to be the way to proceed in this.
The mind scattered by a dizzy sensation in the head, making awareness need to double-check each small movement across the surface of the body. This effect lessened as the hour went on. Noticed a related fear and nervousness nearby. The blank areas are interesting, parts of the body where I can’t feel anything very much. When scanning over the skin, they sometimes feel like a bump, a small hill the attention passes over, a few cm or inches away from the body, then back down the other side to make contact again. What secrets lie under the hills no doubt time will tell. The slight crick in my mid back from last evening’s yoga, apparent when moving could not be felt during the sitting, or now lying down writing this. It’s curious how pains come and go, appear and disappear. Perhaps according to the type of response we give to it. This is truly an investigation into the psycho-somatic bridge.
pm 20 mins anapana
At 5am, with the mind distracted by the thousand things of yesterday, the job related issues, the yoga class, the media I’d chosen to consume, the conversations. It’s a lot to process, at least relatively, compared to the monk’s life of the preceding ten days.
I understand better what the intense swearing is that I experienced during the course. It’s the critical mind. With so much right action taking place, doing the best I can for the most part, there is nothing or very little for it to latch onto and it is, or was, resorting to rather ridiculous outbursts in the most obscene language, at any opinion I might think, with always that hint, or much more than a hint, of criticism.
The energy that used to make me shake sparked up again and now it is possible to halt the physical reaction without force, or just a little control or a pause, and let it occur in a new way rather than the body’s habitual seemingly-free reaction. Habitual because it had become a pattern of response and then would take over the sitting, albeit with the accompanying probably healthy releasing. So I stay still and so I do not know what will happen. Rushes of bliss from the base. Light through the head so that nothing is seen on the mind screen and nothing can be thought for those moments. Pleasure so pleasurable it’s as squirming as pain. And yet I don’t squirm, or just a little, and again the energy can move in a new way, forging new pathways in the body and connections in the brain. I am learning a new level in the importance of staying still. At this stage a lot of people would probably get into ‘freedom of expression through movement’ or something, as it seems a natural response. Maybe it has its place but I’m here to sit through. To sit through it all, no matter what.
…which of course is easier said than done. Didn’t want to know this evening… headache and tired, but I did sit for 20 minutes and briefly scanned down and up. Felt much better very quickly, with delightful tingles across my scalp, still there as I write. The desire not to sit won out, and despite setting the timer for 30 minutes, I quit 10 minutes early. That’s okay – I sat.
Foggy at first, mind swimming from thought to thought, deep in muddy waters. Slowly, slowly I was able to bring awareness to the top of the head and begin properly, probably 10 minutes into the session. The hand waving and head shaking seems to have left, perhaps for good, and didn’t occur at all during the 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreat that finished yesterday. Scanning slowly, it took the best part of the remaining session to scan all the way down to the feet. The feet are the only part that move now, tightening and releasing as awareness travels through them. Back up through the right leg and the fire had started in the back of the thigh, a sciatica-like pain. Curiously, this pain is mixed with intense pleasure coming from the base of the pelvis, the two sensations meeting each other and blending. Encouraged by Tim Park’s experience of sitting through pain from one minute into his first sits, I stayed for the whole hour, more than I did for most ‘optional’ sittings at Dhamma Dipa. The sexual energy, appetite now fulfilled on returning home, was less wrapped in thought fantasy, and was cleaner and more natural, less manipulated.
I am happy to have found this authentic practice. As last time in the time after the retreat, I am eager to sit for tow hours a day, no matter what. We’ll see…
Sort of intended to sit after yoga class but it’s too late in the evening once I’m home and ready.
It can be so damn awkward having a body. Aches, pains, tightness, nausea. To sense each and every without judgement seems to be the key. They are just as they are but the brain modifies. To practice when not looking after oneself must be so much of a nightmare – once the intelligence of the body takes over its going to get things right out of you there and then. Headaches are going to rage and… Well luckily all that is in my past and my system is pretty clean. I learnt that in my 20s, to make it easier. I can make it easier still, I know. Make the moves today, now, that make the next moves easier.
I wondered when the grief would come, locked down tight as it is. And when it did it was not over someone dead but over people still living, grateful, so grateful for their role in my life and sad that they mightn’t be around so much longer. Before: massive ache in the eye sockets almost up under the eyebrows. Nausea. Neck and shoulder tension. Lips. Jaws. And a following of the breath so closely as never before. I think it’s the very is-ness of the breath that allows for the is-ness of grief.