• September 14, 2018

    Sitting in the black room, I lose my orientation. I don’t know which way I’m facing or even if my eyes are open.

    Yes. What effect does this have on your thinking?

    I expected that I would be left in a state of confusion, where my thoughts would simply run around in my head, but mostly this didn’t happen. I actually felt less dominated by my thoughts, more free to simply be there and be in the present.

    This is a useful observation. But perhaps this is beginner’s luck? You are responding to something new. Our ‘normal’ sense of orientation is very locked in. I automatically step into myself when I sense myself in habitual ways, chief among them being the visual sense of facing in a certain direction, sensing that I am looking outside from inside my head and seeing my hands in front of me. Removing these familiar inputs opens up the possibility of disengaging from the usual.  I may find this energizing.

    What happens over time, after many hours of sitting in black silence? The real test is supplied by boredom. In ordinary life, outside the black room, boredom is disguised by my habitual engagement with people and things to do. I fall into identification with my experience, much of which centers around disagreement and resistance which ensure a steady parade of reactions to keep me occupied.

    In the black room, boredom is less disguised. Do I ‘invent’ illusory content…imagining events, conversations, having discussions with myself to fill the void? If the mind outlives the body, is this my experience after death? Do I then wish to reconstitute my life before death with all the same ‘amusements’, in an attempt to defeat the boredom? And do my suppressed impulses and my guilt manifest karmically as ‘unfriendly’ guides, as they call them in Vajrayana? To what extent is my experience now, in this life, determined by these same…but less visible… mechanical impulses?

    After a few sessions in the black room, I begin to notice that I am sometimes visualizing…it’s a kind of light show, eyes open or closed, displaying indistinct imagery of completely irrelevant and fictitious action…a movie without an apparent script. Is this actually going on all the time, even when I am doing my daily routine? Is this what it means to be living in a dream world even while I’m ‘awake’? Does this imagery unconsciously shape the way I perceive? Can this subconscious visualization be stopped?

    Perhaps I can now begin the serious work of learning to remain present in the present, an aim which requires that I know and resist the process of falling asleep, that is, falling into the automatic dreaming of the mechanical mind. This might be useful after death. It might be even more useful now.

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  • September 2, 2018

    I am receptive to the view that Vajrayana Buddhists have of what happens after death…that our consciousness enters a bardo between death and rebirth where we re-experience mental simulations of the unresolved emotional states of our life. I am also careful to say that I do not know any of this for certain and I have yet to meet anyone who does. I therefore do not intend to roll out all the concepts and imagery of the Tibetan traditions.

    But I can engage in a thought experiment. What would be my experience if I continued to be aware without a physical body? Would it be something like the dream state?

    Let’s say that I am conscious but I have no means to engage in current sensations…only the memory of them…and I am no longer ‘located’ in physical space. Having no body, I am not actually anywhere in a real sense.

    In ordinary life, I experience the reverberation of the physical and the mental. A sense experience gives rise to related or associated mental content which in turn engages further sensations. This is what my ordinary ‘emotional’ life consists of…identification with one thing or another, reactive ping pong between mind and body, punctuated by horizontal sleep.

    Now, let’s remove the physical side of the equation. Remove the ping. Now I am ‘living’ within the mental simulations of my own undigested experiences, memories, the same repetitive loops of thought, fear, anxiety, jealousy, anger, greed that characterized my reactive, identified life in the body…but without the grounding of tangible sensory input or the possible shock-interruption of something new from outside.

    Feeling claustrophobic yet?

    My ‘experience’ would be just projections of my mental states with nothing to contradict them. Where is there a refuge from this tedious, repetitive self-expression? Voluntary presence and attention? Have I learned to sustain them while in the body, when it is so much easier? Or do I find that voluntary presence and attention are impossibly fleeting, quickly overwhelmed by the internal roar of associative thought projections powered by habitual identifications? Can I interrupt the flow of otherwise unimpeded thought loops?

    This is why we have the black room…a room with absolutely no visual references, no sense of location. This may be somewhat like life after death if it exists. Can I sit in that room and maintain presence and attention? Do I remember the tricks we have discussed for doing so? Or do I immediately fall into associative thinking or even sleep? Voluntary attention and presence open the possibility of choice, of movement, of contact outside yourself. Perhaps, when you are dead, you will wish you had learned to sustain them amidst the flow of personal experience.

    Why sit in the black room? Perhaps to prepare for your death.

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