Another fresh article is up at Samma-Samadhi, dealing with the tension between ecstatic contemplation and getting out into the world.
For those interested, there’s a new post up at Samma-Samadhi.
Comments are welcome, as always!
There seems to be a gathering malaise in the world, with unemployment climbing, banks failing, wars raging… and this set of circumstances reflects back into our individual lives, even if things remain fairly stable in our immediate environment.
There is a spiritual concept known as the Dark Night of the Soul which places the inevitable difficulties of life into a “higher” perspective.
I thought I’d discuss it over at the new place, if you’d like to check it out. Please comment if you feel inspired to do so!
No, I’m not abandoning this one.
I am, however, starting a new blog designed to establish a narrative specifically around the attainment of meditative absorption (jhana/samadhi).
If you are a dedicated contemplative with a rigorous and skillful meditation practice… or if this is something that interests you in some way… please join me at:
…Which means “Right Absorption,” given as the culminating entry in Gautama Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path.
It seems like every other person in our hometown of Boulder was a devotee of Papaji.
Over the years I’ve probably attended 20 or 25 satsangs with devotees of Papaji, of whom Gangaji is the most famous example.
This is “neo-advaita” teaching, which purports to give the “ultimate view” that resides as the final stop along every spiritual journey.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t tell you how to get there, other than to repeatedly say what you shouldn’t do — i.e., “neti, neti.”
You’ve probably heard variations of it before: “Consciousness is all there is.”
What’s so enticing about neo-advaita teachings is that they are packaged as “not for just anybody.” While the rest of us poor schmucks are out here beating our heads against the wall, enlightened neo-advaitins are “just being” in a state/non-state of absolute is-ness… or something… and it’s the simplest thing… so long as you are one of the chosen few whose capacity is deep and wide enough to “get it” in fairly short order. Of course, there’s nothing you can do to “get it,” because it either happens or it doesn’t happen… but, then, there’s nothing actually happening, and for that matter there is no “one” for whom it happens, or doesn’t happen.
Suffice it to say, you just want to shoot yourself in the head after a few years of this stuff.
At a certain point in 1997 or so (can’t be sure, but give or take a year), I had for a close Internet friend a self-confessed Nisargadatta/U.G. Krishnamurti (both of whom I continue to respect and love, by the way) devotee named “El.” As she was gruff and tactlessly honest in all her communication, she was universally disliked on the big neo-advaita discussion boards to which I belonged, but for some reason I was truly drawn to her. Just when I was perfecting my neo-advaita pitch and putting it out there from an authoritative perspective (i.e., I was just sure that it had “happened” to me), El brutally knocked me off my high horse… and after three days of licking my wounds, it dawned on me what a beautiful favor she did me. When I expressed my thanks, she said, “Okay, now you’ve got a chance to go all the way.”
I’m still working on it, but I can definitely say that I am thankful for having moved beyond neo-advaitaism. It took three or four years after the above-mentioned event before I finally dropped it completely, at which point I stopped ignoring the “signs of absorption” that had been asserting themselves since the very early 90’s… and I found a meditation teacher who could not only explain what was happening to me, but who could help me devise a lifestyle that allows “jhana” to do its spiritually-transformative thing with me.
Still a work in process, but let me just say that, having been a “jhana yogi” for four years, I can watch Mooji’s satsang with a mixture of thanksgiving and tolerance. My teacher would say that Mooji is “established in second jhana,” and that sounds about right to me.
More power to him.
He could very well, in fact, have it absolutely right.
This past weekend I led meditation and did astrology readings for a Rocky Mountain Contemplative Writers retreat up near Granby, Colorado. This was my fifth or sixth retreat with my friend (Best Man in our wedding, actually), David Hicks, who handles the “writers” portion of the program. David has been incorporating bodywork into the retreats, as well, bringing his favorite massage therapist up the hill for the first day.
The idea is, I “crack ’em” with meditation and readings, David “scrambles ’em” with individual writing consultations, group writing prompts, communal dinners (everyone has to provide one meal throughout the long weekend) and a concerted effort to establish lasting bonds between retreatants, who must ultimately use their writing as a sort of “poor man’s therapy” to deal with what inevitably comes up during the proceedings. We encourage retreatants to “write the most difficult thing,” so you can imagine the stories having to do with cancer or other physical ailments, sexual abuse, death and random acts of violence. What you may not imagine is the power that comes through this writing. A common feedback we receive is that retreatants never knew they had it it ’em, and that it is such a surprise to realize that “this is how real writing feels.”
After everyone arrives on Thursday evening, settles into their rooms and puts on their night clothes, it’s my job to lead the first meditation session. I have a standard speech stating that, when the idea first came up for us to do these retreats, we thought it would be great to combine a writing retreat with a Theravada meditation retreat model — i.e., establishing Noble Silence from beginning to end, meditating upwards of five or six hours a day, no food after noon… the whole bit. “I figured we’d attract a bunch of meditators who happen to write,” I tell them. “Instead, I’ve come to realize that we’re getting writers who are open to the idea of a little meditation, so long as it doesn’t get in the way of writing.” Laughter and nods all around.
That being the case, I encourage everyone to be as relaxed as possible. They can try sitting in some variation of the lotus position, like me, or they can sit in a chair or couch, they can lay down flat, they can stand, do walking meditation, shift whenever a pain sets in — whatever they need to do in order to keep from dreading meditation. I ask that everyone keep a notebook beside them to capture writing ideas, bits of dialogue or whatever else that may pop up from the silence and seems right for their current work. We’ve gone from lots of meditation to a bare minimum: one hour at seven a.m. (instead of my preference of five a.m.), with a half-hour bell for those who can’t do a full hour; a half-hour at four in the afternoon, and a half-hour before bed. I make myself available for anyone who may want to sit longer or more frequently (never happens, but since I do it on my own, I may as well open it up to everyone), or who have questions regarding the nuts-and-bolts of meditation, or the specifics of what comes up for them during silence.
Finally, I utilize some hypnotherapy induction techniques (progressive relaxation, visualizations and prompts using present-tense “-ing” language) to guide retreatants into their sits, so that they’re not left to battle those initial moments in isolation.
It occurs to me now, a week after the retreat, that I missed an opportunity to go into the question, Why meditate?
I mean, beyond the obvious reasons — relaxation, sitting in silence as a group — what does meditation bring to a writer’s retreat? How does sitting still, bringing focus to the breath and dealing with random thoughts, feelings and insights help the writer write better?
I could probably come up with many, many benefits from meditation for the writer, but one stands out above all others, as far as I’m concerned.
There is a cumulative effect that becomes established after a couple days during these retreats, even with the minimal amount of sitting that we offer. This accumulation has the quality of saturation, or even absorption, as though meditation continues into the time between formal sits. Focus and concentration undergo a subtle shift, so that one becomes focused and concentrated, rather than having to work for it. There is an emotional rawness that develops, as well, such that those “difficult things” we’ve been avoiding as writers bubble up to the surface, as if they’ve just been waiting for the right circumstances in order to express. There is something about sitting in a group according to a firm schedule, entering the silence together and maintaining that space, that deepens our experience of life and brings greater meaning to everything we do, whether it be cooking a meal, walking through the woods or sitting down to work on a story.
By Sunday (which comes too quickly, alas) the environment is rich with emotion and artistic passion, even as friendship bonds have established a level of trust and safety unmatched at your typical writer’s retreat. Meditative saturation has taken hold, and for some of the retreatants this constitutes a “religious experience” they’ve never known — and we hear promises of continued meditation practices all around.
I hope that they follow through. I hope that they consider what happens in a little three-day retreat, and that they extrapolate these effects out over several years of thrice-daily sits. What would happen in their writing lives if they came into such a depth of saturation?
I could tell them, of course, but it’s much better to find out for oneself.
Hello all, whoever you are, wherever you are:
Just returned from helping to lead a contemplative writing retreat, where I did some astrology readings and led 8 hour-long meditation sessions over a 2 1/2 day period. I am elated but exhausted, though the tiredness feels good. A good night’s sleep and I’m ready for whatever comes next.
Good to be back here, as well.