• December 12, 2021

    In prayer, or when I meditate, my mind wanders incessantly and I have to keep bringing it back.

    This is the human experience. The ordinary mind is continuously turning over with mostly meaningless content. I’m not aware of it during the day because my activities and body sensations are dominant. Ordinary life is grounding. When I am tired or sleeping, the ongoing mental content becomes more evident. It’s a kind of ongoing ‘subvocalization’ or commentary often entirely disconnected from my life. I call it the ‘backdrop’. It’s a whole fantasy dream world exposed when I become inactive.

    This backdrop can be exposed in meditation or prayer.

    The first remedy is always to place attention on sensation. Voluntary attention cuts the backdrop’s power cord.

    But there is more. We are three part beings…body, psyche (thought and emotion) and presence. The psyche is in disorder so I cannot remain in the present. I am therefore vulnerable to being drawn into the backdrop. Entering the present with voluntary attention on sensation is a partial remedy. A further remedy is to encounter my timeless identity, the true ‘I’ that is found through the doorway of presence, where I meet myself as I always was. My original face before time began.

    Prayer can enable you to meet your real self. The One who is remembered in prayer enables me to remember myself. I am called to my true identity, as I was created in the beginning. When this happens, you won’t be satisfied to live in the unstable, inexhaustible churning of the psyche. You will sense that something is missing.

    Is this what it means to be present?

    It fulfills presence. I can ask to be present in the present and dis-identify from my personality. That’s stepping up to the threshold. Someone or something calls me through to the other side where I am who I always was. I am re-membered. It may make you uncomfortable to think of this someone as God but this greater presence needs no name.

    How do I know if I am having the experience of my original face?

    This is hard to express in words but I’ll try. There is a deep feeling of familiarity with myself that is wordless and timeless…a feeling that is direct, not mediated or derived from something else. The state recognizes itself. There is a sensation as if my face is shining. And there is a sense of being seen, as if I am facing in the right direction for an intimate meeting with an honored guest. There is nothing grim or forced. It’s a feeling of perfect security as if I have come home.

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  • May 25, 2021

    I was reminded of this phrase from Buddhist teachings when hearing of some of the meditation experiences in the group. Shamata properly practiced can lead to an experience of vibrant emptiness in which self is temporarily suspended, returns and evaporates again. This is consciousness moving in and out of a state that is unsupported and unconfined by self and the things we identify with. It’s spacious, alive, non-reactive.

    Dull shamata often comes to those who meditate on their own and fall into a trance-like state that is non-reactive and empty but not alive and spacious. This is in fact a fairly steady state, somewhat easily maintained because it is a production of self. Beware of dull shamata, meditators.

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  • November 1, 2017

    I entered the zikr chamber and almost immediately felt as if suspended in space.

    Most of my attention is used unconsciously to maintain my physical positioning in the world. It fixes my position in a particular time and place….a day, a street address, a set of clothes, a task I am doing, a place I am going, my body shape, the way I occupy space. All these references are set in place and habitually held there by involuntary attention without conscious notice or involvement.

    To be present is to bring voluntary attention to contemporary engagement which may then be used for transformation of energies. This is what happens when I invoke presence; presence entering the present transmutes sensation into consciousness. Attention is voluntarily re-connected with its source. But the possibilities do not end there. Engagement with the present can then be released. Presence remains but it is free to enter another realm, another set of references.

    This is the point of meditation. Meditation unwinds my habitual set of references.

    Once I am present, my presence may find relationship with a larger presence, leaping into the lap of the mother as the vajrayana teaching says. One pronounced effect is that you may sense and feel that you are suspended in space. There is nothing supporting you nor is any support needed. This is what is meant in this work when it is said that presence is a voyager. I remember myself as the voyager, a presence suspended in the labyrinth of creation.

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  • May 15, 2017

    I find that I am fighting depression a lot of the time and it makes it impossible to do this work.

    Depression is the end point of a chain of causation. You may think that you know why you are depressed but the reason that you repeat to yourself in the thought loop at the end point of depression may be more the result of the depression rather than the cause.

    There are always completely rational reasons to be depressed but we are not always depressed. So, my point is that you need to get behind the obvious reasons you give yourself for depression states and observe the chain. Noting the beginning point is one key.

    Perhaps for you the beginning is some form of self-judgment or criticism. Perhaps there is a particular situation you are unable to respond to effectively and this failure sets you on a downward path. At the end point, you may be saying to yourself that life is not worth living but you probably did not start there. When you have reached the end point, you will probably not be able to find a reason that would make life worth living because the state of depression is sufficiently closed and lacking in energy that your thoughts are not reliable.

    It seems to me that depression is inextricably linked to expectation. It reflects an inability to accept what is. It’s a triumph of “woulda, coulda, shoulda” over the possibilities of the moment. I failed in the past and I will fail in the future. I am a failure. This is depressing, is it not?

    In our work, the method of dealing with these fixations is impartial observation of our postures, gestures and sensations. Perhaps this is not yet possible, due in large part to judgmental thinking. So, let’s start with that.

    An old business acquaintance once advised me: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Many of us hold ourselves and others to a standard that cannot be met. Too many expectations. We do not accept good. Good is not good enough.

    My Buddhist teacher once said that, without respecting samsara, the world of confusion, one cannot possibly discover the awakened state of mind. Samsara is the entrance, samsara is the vehicle for nirvana. In the words of our work, my ordinary life, my sleeping life, is the means of my awakening. Therefore, Rinpoche said, one can say that a violent character is good. It is a wonderful thing, it is something positive. Although at first I may be perplexed and wonder what is good in it, if I somehow get beyond the fascination part of it, I begin to feel good; I begin to realize that I am not just a “sinner” but that there is something good in me.

    It is exactly the same thing when one practices meditation. A person may begin to detect his own weaknesses. It may be in a mild form, such as a wandering mind or planning for one’s future, but do not oppose what is occurring, accept it, see it as good, as though one were sitting precisely in order to think these things over rather than to practice meditation. Seeing it as good provides a wonderful opportunity.

    If I am meditating at home and I happen to live in the middle of a busy street, I cannot stop the traffic just because I want peace and quiet. But I can stop myself, I can accept the noise. The noise also contains silence. We must put ourselves into it and expect nothing different from outside, just as Buddha did. I must accept whatever situation arises. As long as I do not retreat from the situation, it will present itself as a vehicle I can make use of it. It says in the Buddhist scriptures: “The dharma is good in the beginning; the dharma is good in the middle; and the dharma is good at the end.” The dharma is not a vehicle for self-criticism.

    It is the same with our work. Observe what is, not to find fault or to improve upon it, but just to see it. Good will come of this.

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  • November 21, 2015

    I am committed to do the work but the difficulties of my life continually take me out of it, leaving me feeling disappointed. Clearly I need to change my situation so I can do the work.

    For most of us, ordinary life is very hard. There are many setbacks and difficulties. Our attention is continually being pulled involuntarily in different directions. But let’s be clear. If we did not have these problems, we would have no interest in the work and no opportunity to work.

    I remember Baba Ram Das saying: “No appointment, no disappointment.”  This is true from one point of view and it’s a valuable insight, but not one for all occasions. The first step towards the work is taken when you come to understand that the world cannot satisfy you, that for all its beauty, everything it has to offer you is insufficient. This is a great disappointment but a necessary one.

    And it must be noted that successful people, in the conventional sense, are rarely attracted to the fourth way for long. They may think that this work will help them be more successful, that it will give them additional powers for personal attainment, but it is not so.

    The difficulties of life are necessary for work. The greater difficulty is when we are no longer disappointed for ourselves because then a huge source of work energy is lost. Equanimity is much more dangerous to one’s work than struggle, although equanimity also has its place in the later stages, when it is no longer a cover for complacency or defeatism. But we have the ongoing heartbreak of disappointment on behalf of others, especially our children and young friends.

    For me, the disappointment leads to negative thoughts and moods which make it impossible to work.

    Dealing with one’s negativity about oneself is absolutely critical. Continual self-criticism is enormously destructive. In the process of learning meditation, control of these states can be developed. Essentially,  in meditation you learn to separate from thinking, to know in real time that you are perception and attention, not the thinker. This separation is dis-identification, a disengagement from the thinker and a re-engagement with voluntary attention. It is not stopping thoughts. It is a shift of identity.

    This does not come easily for me.

    There are other things you can do. Vajrayana teaches hundreds of possible antidotes. Strictly speaking, meditation is not an antidote. Placing attention on sensation can be effective. Negative thoughts need a certain amount of attention to flourish. Shifting attention elsewhere is like cutting the power cord on negative thinking. Move to an activity that diverts your attention.

    Voluntarizing negative states and self-talk can also generate surprisingly positive results; rather than compound the negativity by criticizing yourself for it, agree to go into it. Intentionally make yourself emphatically negative and see what it looks like (probably best in private). You may even laugh at yourself, which is a most wonderful antidote.

    Ultimately, the only real refuge is to be present in the present. That is where real help can be found. The past and the future have almost all the negativity in our lives. Of course, there may be exceptions such as those who experience high levels of physical pain.

    One general rule. When in a negative space, do not let yourself think about or act upon anything important, until the mood has passed. Protect what is precious to you.

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  • March 10, 2015

    You often talk about work on self. I do not understand this emphasis. I can see the point to meditating and doing spiritual practices.

    Real work on self is always in the context of our ordinary life. Observing (but not addressing) states such as self-pity, guilt and procrastination is the first stage of the work. Embrace your life as it is…it is the perfect means for your transformation. Repose and meditation are not work on self but rather artificial constructs which create the potential for insights to assist your work on self.

    You still think you can manage the process. Not yet. You think you can change yourself and therefore change your circumstances. Not yet. First you must see impartially what is actually going on in you and its relationship to what is happening outside you.

    I struggle with understanding how inner work and the outer world interact. Aspects of my personal life have challenges, such as relationship issues. Your writings seem to focus on the inner and I do not want to ask you seemingly trivial questions.

    We know our inner world through our interactions with others. Your ordinary life is the theatre of your spiritual work…its provocations, your reactions…not repose or meditation. Difficulties are not to be avoided. Working with ordinary life is the fast path…enlightenment through meditation is the work of many lifetimes, as Buddha said. You are in a dualistic state so the inside/outside issue is important to you. Later this will be different. Your interpretation of my instructions as focussing on the inner is partial and exposes your biases. I have only exposed you to a very small fraction of my work including very few of the main points.

    I am now constantly challenging my previous understanding of sufi teachings. I suspect I took an intellectual approach and thought I knew and understood things, but did not understand through experience. In reality, I now feel that I know and understand very little.

    Your life is your path. No one here gets individual practices; the time for that work form has past.  The demands are the same for everyone. The process of awakening can make good use of a group. Everyone is required to use his own discrimination and suffer his own errors and difficulties. Groups expose sleep patterns. Work with others in a real work space facilitates observation, presence and active discrimination which lead to higher states such as laughing at one’s own idiocies.

    Work groups under certain circumstances can form an invocational circle for the Work. That is my aim. The efforts I make with the members of the work group are not for their benefit and I am not accountable to them. There is no time for such indulgence.

    Some schools focus on the perfecting of their students. We do not. It takes too long if it is possible at all. Here the aim is to make candidates for the Work—people who are potentially useful. The obligations of the Work will manifest the abilities required to perform them. This is possible in one lifetime.

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