Post-retreat letter to friends, March 2014
Having just hosted or facilitated a weekend retreat, or intensive spiritual workshop would be a more appropriate name, I feel like writing to the participants.
Dear Retreat Friends,
You are home again after your intense weekend of spiritual talks, discussions, sharing of ideas and meeting others who are also driven by a spiritual need. I’m sure you are tired. I was but have recovered my energy.
As I said many times during the weekend, it’s not what you got during the weekend but what you take away from it that will make the difference to you.
I’ll remind you of some of the “teachings” that came up this weekend and of course you have to make your own of each one, see how it applies to you in your daily life and in how you think about these matters. Most likely some stood out for you, were relevant to you and others didn’t grab your attention. That’s fine. Work with whatever seems most useful and relevant to you at this time.
Look back over your notes every once in a while, maybe once a month and see if something new grabs your attention or has become relevant to you.
The notion of koans came up. A koan was interpreted as some problem or question or situation that defies definition or resolution. This can be an intellectual koan or some situation in life. The suggestion is to ask yourself “what is my koan?” or simply “what is the question I really want to find an answer to?”
Michael Hall said that his koan was being in a marriage that he couldn’t resolve. Richard Rose also said that life throws koans at us. We don’t have to invent them, we have to recognise them. We have fundamental questions that we don’t expect to find an answer to or don’t know how to go about finding an answer. We may not have come across the idea that there are ones who have found the answer to their existential questions. Many people naturally have fundamental questions, which they can articulate but have not heard that this can be the opening into a deeper understanding of life, a deeper existential questioning – self-inquiry.
My life question was around the idea of death. I remember hearing a line from a Dylan Thomas poem which was, “death is an insult”. On hearing it I felt that here was someone who stated exactly what felt, but I had felt foolish to be feel like this. This brought up questions about what is an insult and who or what part of me felt insulted and why should I pay any attention to such a strong feeling? From this perspective, I can see that it was a variation on the question “who am I?”
So, what is the question that most bothers you about your life?
The idea of “Seeing” as taught by Douglas Harding was explored. “Seeing” is a meditation practise developed by Douglas and taught as “experiments”, experiments with perception. Douglas described his practise as “meditation for the market place” and it was this phrase that attracted me to it. Since, after many decades of trying to become a disciplined meditator and having learned several methods, I gave up on ever being able to sit every day for a prescribed period of time. So, “seeing” which could be practised while walking the dog or doing the dishes was a method that appealed to me. The core of this method is to “look at what you are looking out of”. “Seeing” is keeping the attention, or part of the attention on what is looking while carrying on with daily things. Another way of stating this is to maintain an awareness that you are aware, to be conscious that you are conscious simultaneously with involvement in daily tasks. It’s difficult to get it going, I found, but once it is going I found it maintained itself.
For more on Douglas’ teachings go to: http://www.headless.org/ and I suggest you get one of his books because his writing is such a great help in explaining his vision. I really liked two books in particular; On “Having No Head” and “To be and Not to Be”.
Bob Cergol’s talk was titled; “Why meditation is not enough”. The question that arises from this is “what exactly is meditation?” What is its purpose? What are you trying to achieve by meditating? And is the method you are using, the tool, efficient in getting you towards your goal?
The basic idea of the weekend was; we are not what we think we are, we are misidentified and this is the root cause of our discontent, as humans. Only in correcting this identification can we become free of it. The identification comes from the beliefs, assumptions, expectations, motivations, desires and fears that we are acting from. These are under the radar of normal consciousness. So, an efficient tool is one that uncovers these hidden “values” or beliefs.
This is the business of inquiring into the deep recesses of your own psyche and for sure creating quiet in your daily life facilitates this work. So, the question to ask yourself might be: is my meditation practise moving me towards my goal and how exactly is it doing this?
Maybe we could sum up this talk by using a legal phrase, meditation is necessary but not sufficient.
While I used “seeing” non-stop for about three years, it was accompanied by equally determined self-inquiry.
We had Bart Marshall’s talk. He started out by talking about; where do we look for truth or answers? The main avenues of available to us have been; Religion, Philosophy and Science. He pointed out that the other source of answers comes from ones who have Self-realised – those who have come to the end of seeking answers because their questions, all questions about the nature of reality have been solved for them as a result of an experience or revelation.
His presentation showed some of the ways that science and technology play around with or contradict our usual sense of perception of our world. Virtual reality tricks us into thinking that something that does not exist exists. How can the mind be tricked thus? And how is our everyday mind tricking us – if it is?
Margot Ridler talked about the traumas she experienced which amounted to the loss of her ego – the loss of a sense of “I’ness”. She didn’t have a guide while this was happening to her and didn’t know what was happening. I have read other reports of this. Awakening is a natural phenomenon. The inbuilt direction of humans is towards fruition of what we are and it sometimes happens to persons who have not been actively or consciously seeking this fruition. Because we live in a secular world, many do not know about the possibility of spiritual transformation so when it happens spontaneously it can be quite a difficult time for the individual. The vastness, the enormity, of what is encountered is shocking especially without preparation.
Art Ticknor’s talk was titled: Untenable? An investigation. -The Centre cannot Hold was the overall theme of the weekend. (“Untenable, a position that can’t be rationally defended, too hot to handle but it can’t be dropped”). What do you do when what you are doing isn’t working? Wu Wei.
Art’s talk centred around questions; exercises for the mal-content, for the dreamer who is dreaming of the desire to awaken, longing for realness.
Do you see life as a schoolhouse or a bordello?
Is your state of being changing?
Are you afraid of inspiration?
Do you approach the search, the Self, as a mystery or as a puzzle? To solve a puzzle we need more information, to solve a mystery we have enough information but need to look at it in a new way.
Do you listen to the voice of reason or of intuition?
Where do you feel an object, (using your finger to feel objects) with your finger or do you feel the object using the finger as an instrument for feeling? Do you feel the object or does the finger feel it? You have to do this and observe carefully to see what is happening.
A number of books were mentioned over the weekend and here’s the ones I remember:
The Albigen Papers by Richard Rose.
Energy Transmutation and Transmission by Richard Rose.
The Perennial Way by Bart Marshall.
The Listening Attention by Bob Fergeson.
The Solid Ground of Being by Art Ticknor.
How to Attain Enlightenment by James Swartz (Vedanta)
The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila ( Christian)
Awareness by Anthony de Mello. ( Christian)
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. (Christian)
George Gurdjieff teachings, many books available. (In Search of the Miraculous by P Ouspensky)
The Dammapada – Buddhism
Jed McKenna, Enlightenment – the Damndest Thing.
Inspirations from the Intensive with Tess in March 2014
By Jeroen with some responses (in blue) by Tess
During the intensive I noticed that in the past 2 years my practice has lost a bit of focus. It was good to get a more clear view on where I stand and what I can do. One thing that really struck me is how much I still get caught up in thought and feeling. To ‘gain’ more dis-identification with thought is a basic practice and despite many years on the path I have a feeling that I have to make this a priority or else I will keep spinning my wheels. After some integration time after the intensive, I feel that there are 4 main practices that I should focus on for the immediate future. (Remember Bart’s strategies; focus intent is one of them)
1. Abide in Beingness
For two years I practiced intensively Douglas Hardings´ Seeing. But then I let go of it. I didn´t notice any effects and could see that it is not the Final Answer as there are still two identities (the person and Emptiness). Tess told me that that is true but that it is still important to practice this in ‘the marketplace’ as it will lead to physical changes and that the tension for the mind having two identities might cause it to fall apart. (the ego perspective is that everything is outside of it, the external world is outside of the organism and ego’s job is to protect the organism for all these external dangers so it unwittingly is in the position of being small, vulnerable, perishable etc. The dividing line for inside/outside is the skin. Thoughts and feelings are inside, the world outside. Then “Seeing” shifts this dividing line for inside/outside back further to where thoughts and feelings are outside. This is a challenge to the dominance of the ego perspective and with sustained practise the ego loses authority.Also, while “seeing” the ego is prevented from its constant self-feeding.)Also, where in the past Douglas Hardings’ Emptiness seemed very cold, I can sense these day a ‘Beingness’ or ‘I Am-ness’; a sense of being. I see now that there are just different ways to travel upwards on the ray of creation and that yields slightly different ‘experiences’ of Beingness. The key as I understand it is a sense of existing and to keep part of the attention on that I Am-ness while going about my business in life. This new clarity has inspired me to pick up this practice again.
( “Seeing” is a contradiction to the intellectual stance so it is non emotional. You’ll see from Douglas’ writing that he gives lots of ideas which contradict the normal ego ideas.)
2. Explore a new, deeper layer of the mind
In the past I became aware that thought and feeling have a tendency to form a feedback loop. For example an angry thought gives an angry bodily feeling that attracts a stronger angry thought that causes an even angrier feeling etc etc. This is a chain reaction that can easily be broken when the pattern is seen. But I could never see whether the thought or feeling came first. Tess assured me that it always starts with a thought. Some observation during the weekend showed me that there are very quick, subtle thoughts that can start things off and that I’m usually not conscious of them. My next step is to get more acquinted with these subtle, fast thoughts. So far I’ve noticed that they often contain beliefs or assumptions that I wasn’t consciously aware of. I also found it helpful to inquire the beliefs and assumptions of this deeper layer of the mind. (Yes Jeroen, the subtle layers are subtle because they are usually drown out by the ongoing mental activity. The purpose of calming the mind, reducing external activity and so on is in order to allow the underlying thoughts to be seen. Knowing that you are looking for underlying, hidden thoughts is necessary, at least it was for me. Art told me they had to be there, it was just that I couldn’t see them or they were so familiar that I didn’t recognise their existence. The familiarity I found was one of the reasons I didn’t notice them. When you start this first it may be that you only catch a word or general idea of what was going on. Make note of it, on paper, because they do not leave memory. Then invite it to reappear in the sense of being on the look out for this particular idea to reappear. Since they are repetitive it will reappear and gradually you get a better look at it. There is always an emotional aspect to these underlying beliefs and because they have been running our emotional lives for so long we feel that this is how we are. This is what is normal for us. Noticing your reactions is a good place to start catching these thoughts. I found it better to use non intense reactions because the intense ones tend to drown us in emotions. Irritation is more easily investigated than anger. Slight embarassment is more easily investigated than total loss of face.But, you have to notice them before you can examine them.)
3. Curb habitual thinking
The DVD of Michael Hall made a strong impression on me, especially the parts about the role of thought. I found an interesting blogpost of his where he elaborates on thought (http://awakentotruth.blogspot.nl/2012/04/thinking-about-thinking.html). Basically he states there are 3 kinds of thinking: habitual thinking, real thinking and nonthinking. Habitual thinking is the conditioned mind ruminating and obsessing endlessly. It is not useful. Real thinking is problem solving without needless drama. (this is what is meant by intellectual thinking, clear, precise investigation of the facts, the facts being what we know in our experience, maybe assessed in relation to spiritual teachings. eg. You are not the doer. How does my experience stand in relation to this teaching?) And non-thinking is realizations or direct knowing from nomind. According to him it is possible to live mainly from direct knowing when the mind is quiet enough. (Yes, I agree with him. When the filter of ego vanishes and it becomes transparent or is not always present along the way, thinking continues but it is not being interfered with. One simply observes and if the need for action arises it is obvious without the need to think about it.)
I noticed that habitual thinking drains my energy, (Yes) blocks the input from no-mind and basically makes me sleepwalking through life (More accurately: my attachement to habitual thinking makes me sleepwalking). Michael Hall says that observing the uselessness of the content of the mind is enough to lose interest in it but that is not my experience. I’ve done quite intense observation of the content of the mind but it didn’t lead to disidentification. But during the retreat I found quite a few new angles to curb habitual thinking. (Jeroen, there is a stage along the way when you see the mind endlessly repeating the same old stories, fantasies, re-arranging past conversations, and I think this is what he is referring to. You have to wonder why when you are alone the mind starts up a scenario about a conversation you had yesterday and tries to reprogramme it in a way that makes itself look better, knowing full well that in “real” life you have no intention of having this “corrected” conversation. As you rightly say, it is stealing your energy and time in its endless maintenance and re-imaging of itself. I wonder if your observation has been stuck at the level of psychological analyses?)
4. Stop feeding ego
Ego is a belief pattern of being a seperate entity. To me it seems as a particular form of habitual thinking. Tess is adamant that the ego needs to be starved out and then hopefully the last part will be taken away by Grace. Ego keeps creating itself as it isn’t real, thereby stealing ones energy. It is like in the Queen song:”I want it all and I want it now”. (yes, “seeing” is an effective practise in stopping the ego from its constant self-feeding and in my experience it was not enough. “Seeing” is like putting ego on a diet! I also needed to investigate the underlying beliefs that it was feeding itself on. In other words, I had to continue with the self -inquiry simulataneously with practising “seeing”. Of course, I didn’t do them at the same moment but in and out between each other as best I was able to do.)
The retreat and some additional research gave me quite a lot of inspiration on how am I going to practise these 4 points. Here under a longlist of ways that I can practice them (both from retreat and others I could think of). Over time I’ll have to find out what works for me and what not. (That’s it Jeroen, what works for you. Everyone has to make their own of how they use the various practises.Adapt them to suit your own personality and circumstances. Take full responsibility for your own progress.)
I feel that the most important thing is to keep putting energy in this. That is more important than perfection in doing the practice. (Yes, I never felt I was doing the self-inquiry right, I wasn’t sure so as you say, the thing is to keep at something. and I can say with hindsight that any poking around in the psyche works. There is something within you (Self) which helps you along when you are doing what you can on your end.)
1. Abide in Being-ness
- Keep a piece to myself: keep a part of my attention focussed on ‘I am-ness’ while going through life
- Observation meditation
- Douglas Harding’s Headless Seeing. Two way attention
- Feeling Being
- Last 30 seconds under cold shower to wake up body; if one part is awake it will wake up others
- Only leave bed when ‘I am’
- Continuous be observant by gentle noticing without judgement or trying to correct
- Remember what Gurdjieff wrote: “Life is real only then, when ‘I am’”
- While walking, recognize that I NEVER moved and am ALWAYS on the same spot!
- Besides doing this while going through life, dedicate time for this too and make the situation conducive
- Try to find the alive feeling of blackness just before falling asleep. Stretch it.
2. Explore a deeper layer of the mind
- When I become aware of a feeling, rewind the film to see what thought caused it
- Do inquiry on that thought (examples Tess and The Work from Byron Katie)
- Keep inquiring deeper and deeper (like in Toyota’s 5 Why’s; Ask if it is true)
3. Curb habitual thinking
- Know by heart WHY I want to curb habitual thinking: It is unuseful, steals my energy, it drains me, clutters my mind so that nonthinking input (direct mind) cannot get through, it hypnotises me and makes me a sleepwalker and I don’t want to live a sleepwalking existence. Life is only real when I Am.
- Michael Hall: Internal silence is the natural state
- Quit taking in so much information! Give the mind a chance to get rid of its junk. Stop surfing internet.
- Adhere to Osho’s recommendation to spend half of my time thinking and half of my time not thinking (dancing, playing with children, creative endeavors, looking at a tree, listening to the birds, listening to certain kinds of music etc)
- Breathing underwater meditation from Bob Fergeson
- Observe while mind emties out; for example via vipassana or zazen meditation
- Observe content mind to loose interest in it. Take frequently notice of what I’m actually am thinking and ask if it is relevant, helpful and in my highest interest (else it is conditioning running the show). If not cut off the chain reaction. I could use the invisible clock for this.
- Write down thoughts for a while. See if there is a common root and do inquiry on that
- Other distictions of thought: tamas /rajas/sattva, What is root? (for example fear of failure), Which of the seven centers of consciousness?
- Cut off habitual thinking: mantra recitation or singing (Vasudeva!), repeating ‘I am’, meditation on a candle flame or other concentration enhancing meditations, follow breath, etc.
- Recognize moments that I speak while you didn’t think out beforehand what to say. Recognize when I’m living from ‘direct knowing’. Speaking from no mind is direct, immediate and with conviction
- Don’t give thought to the results of my efforts (karma yoga)
4. Stop feeding ego
- Ego is: “I want what I want and I want it now”. Phantasising is ego creating itself. Ego uses my energy by creating itself continuously. It drains me, clutters my mind, high energy frenetic feeling quality. See it is a thief. Need to cut off this chain reaction and starve it out
- Cultivate attitude: I don’t want to know what is going to happen, I want to live from Being/Emptiness
- Respond instead of react. Anand Shraddan points out there is an important distinction. Reacting comes from one’s conditioning, one’s personality, one’s unawareness. Responding refers to behaviour arising from one’s inner being. Same for activity versus action. I find it a great practice to always choose responding and inhibiting reacting.
- Going against ego through service. Can be as simple as offering to do the dishes while I don’t feel like it.
- Always cut off selfing (daydreaming, rehearsing, worrying etc). Actually best is to go against any obsessive and ruminating, conditioned thinking.
- Replace “I” by Emptiness / Being
- Notice how the grid (margot ridler) activates. It pops up and claims what happened.
- Margot: I is an addiction. You’re already on the wrong track already when uttering or thinking I. Recognize this moment.
- When I notice ego creating itself, ask:”What can I do to stop this?” What would be helpful?
- Take energy away from it. Keep catching it.
- Self-inquiry. For example the great experiments in “The Direct Path” from Greg Goode
- If I agree with someone ask: Why?; if I disagree ask: Why? What assumption or belief does it challenge?
- During the tube experiment of Shawn Nevins presentation he asked about the awareness of the person on the other end of the tube. In my imagination I did the experiment in a tube with Tess and Paul who were sitting opposite of me and suddenly the answer popped in my head: “Tess’and Pauls’awareness is my awareness because it isn’t mine!” Although I knew that the answer was correct I still have difficulty accepting the implications. A nice practice thus to explore this further.
Physical exercise when I have too much physical energy
Organise my inspiration! Find a group that meets weekly
Solitary to explore deeper layers of the mind
Keep your eyes on the ball
Re-read On Having No Head
Minimize radio and tv (add surfing on internet)
Write down dreams
Circle of presence
Respond instead of react
Make sure I can stand tall in my own eyes
(Great list Jeroen. Great reference list but the mind is a simple machine and can concentrate only on one or two things at at time. I suggest you pick one practise and do it intensely for a day or two then change to another. The novelty of the change keeps the interest going. Maybe spend a day trying to feel or remember or practise the insight you got from the Shawn experiment. Then the following day make rewind the film of thoughts the practise and so on. I used to think of it as using a particular filter through which to view my day.)
Great stuff, keep going! As the say in TAT.
If there is any point you want to pick up that I have not dealt with feel free to write.
All the best, Tess