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Dark night III

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 23 Jun 2023, 12:03


Just seem to be coming out of another dark night of a very unpleasant state of mind. I was fine most of yesterday, my mood seemed to be great. Then in the evening I got triggered by something completely meaningless and suddenly went into an irrational rage. It was like my nervous system was on fire, and I didn't know how to put it out. My skin was crawling with agitation, and no matter what I did I couldn't soothe it or find any relief. It was Hell. I couldn't meditate, couldn't sit still, couldn't lie still, couldn't even bear walking. No posture felt comfortable. I honestly at that point wanted my life to end, I had had enough. Thoughts of self-harm and suicide raced through my mind. And it was hard to endure. I have been trying so hard to keep my moods balanced and stay composed, and I seemed to be doing well. But suddenly this mood came upon me out of seemingly nowhere and I felt powerless.

The three poisons greed, hate, and delusion were making their presence felt and gave me a kicking last night.

It lasted all night, and was still there this morning. It is only now that it seems to be finally subsiding. I am not joking when I say the mood nearly killed me. It was unbearable. I feel ashamed. No matter what I did, what I tried, the strategies of right effort, the reasoning, the wisdom, the bringing it down in stages, mindfulness, samhadi - it all failed. 

I am writing this to try and help myself understand what happened. What can I do to prevent that mood arising in the first place? What triggered it? Prevention is all about avoiding unwise attention to the fault, and avoiding unwise attention to the beautiful. What is wise attention?

I now have this self-loathing that hangs over me like a fault-finding shadow. A cloud of midges constantly reminding me of what a crappy useless human being I am. 

Despite this, I will keep practising, but I feel afraid. Not afraid of people, or the world. I am afraid of the three poisons within me: greed, hate, and delusion. This spiritual path is not to be taken too lightly, be careful, especially if practising alone. Those three poisons, the kilesas/kleshas are real, they're no joke, and they don't want to be purified. They will resist you, and sometimes when your mindfulness is weak, they will make you do stupid stuff, say things you regret, lock you in a Hell of your own making. They will kill you if they get a chance, they are not your friends. They would rather you died than got enlightened, if that's what it takes to keep you in Samsara. 

The crazy thing is, they are empty, empty of self, just like everything else. But still they put up a fight and it isn't pretty, and sometimes on the spiritual path one must be prepared to fall, and sometimes fall hard, get up all cut up and bruised. It happens. For me right effort at the moment seems to be about acknowledging my failure, picking myself back up, brushing myself off. Trying to learn what I can from the painful experience. Then the hard part, let go of it. Because if I don't let go of it, if I keep holding onto it, replaying it over and over in my mind. I will struggle to move on and become stuck in the quagmire of regret and remorse.

Next time that mood comes. I will try very hard not to speak, not to talk at all, to endure it in silence, and practise the parami of patience. Wait for that which arises to also cease. Isolate myself somewhere quiet away from the world and the energy of others and try very hard to be still. Will that work? I don't know. It sounds reasonable now that the mood has passed, but when I am in the grip of it, I often find these plausible-sounding strategies don't work. I can't bring myself out of the mood, it is really hard. 

Anyway all I can do is try. And if I fail again. I will do another review, adjust the strategy, keep tweaking it until it works. If I get knocked down, I'll get back up again. Get knocked down, rinse and repeat.




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Asoka

Managing difficult moods

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Tuesday, 21 Feb 2023, 15:25

I woke up today and the 'dark night' had returned. So strange, because I was sure it had gone away yesterday. But I was in a really difficult mood this morning. Once again my attempts at right effort were mocked and overridden by unpleasant and distracting thoughts.

 When there is a difficult mood present in the mind, the thoughts are coloured by this mood, and thinking actually makes things worse. There are moods that one cannot intellectually think their way out of.

Thought in itself is not evil, it can be a useful tool, and the ability to reflect and contemplate is important in studying and development. But when it is always going on constantly, it can be tiring and become a source of suffering. The thoughts are closely tied to whatever mood you are in, they are shaped by it, and there are some moods that are not helped by thinking.

There might be a little voice that says: 'you must think about this, this needs to be looked at, this is important.' And it makes you feel restless and agitated. It's almost like thoughts are tyrants made out of word formations. They don't stop making demands, and they never give you a moment to rest and be still; but that is exactly what one needs to be doing when the mood is like this. 

For me personally, I have to give myself permission to withdraw from the thought processes, and from the world also, and not feel guilty for doing this. Give myself the permission to not have to think about anything at all and just become still. Nothing bad happens when we stop thinking about stuff. If anything it is a relief. We do it every night when we go to sleep.

But just sitting somewhere quietly may not bring stillness straight away, especially if the mind is agitated and restless, so one also has to be patient with the difficult mood. This is where a bit of endurance is needed. It can sometimes take a while for one to drop into serenity and composure. And the mood might not go away fully after just one sitting. When this happens, one can at least notice if the negativity is reduced somewhat after the sitting, and if it is, then one knows they are going in the right direction, and it is working. The mood may have to be calmed down in stages, gradually, and it may take more than one sitting to get there.

Find somewhere quiet, away from the world and others, sit as still as you can with an upright dignified posture. And be in the body as it is, experiencing the sensations as they arise and cease in the here and now, let the thoughts continue, but don't pay attention to them, let them be like background noise, and just stay with the peace and quiet of the body and breath. If the attention goes back to the thoughts, try not to get stressed, it happens to us all, just gently bring the attention back to the body and breath, to the here and now. In time, the thoughts start to become less sticky, and the attention is not easily distracted by them, and then the energies start to calm down, the mind settles and composure returns.

One can find stillness in walking meditation too, especially if one has been sitting down for a long while, such as a livelihood that involves sitting at a desk. Practising walking or standing meditation can bring relief from that. Being present with the feeling of the feet on the ground, the feeling of the legs, the arms, the hands, the body as a whole standing, walking. The feeling of air currents on the skin, in the nostrils, feeling the breath energy go deep down into the belly. Notice the different parts of the body, the sensations happening in the here and now. Go somewhere private away from the energies of other humans, so you can spend some time alone, by yourself away from the hustle and bustle of the world and digital devices, someplace where you don't have to do any talking, and you can just be still. 

Sometimes others may make demands on our time, and the world can be stressful and there are things that need to be attended to. But when you are in a difficult mood, it is better to withdraw from whatever you are doing, withdraw from the world, withdraw from the thinking, and seek stillness instead.

Sometimes you may have to tell others that you are unable to deal with their request just now. That you need some solitude to look after your mental health; it does feel rude, like one is being selfish, and some people do take it personally and they can get resentful, and this is unpleasant; but, if one doesn't, one can end up saying and doing things they regret, because when one's mood is off, one is not in the best state of mind to deal with things. So one should give oneself permission to be assertive about the need for stillness and quiet, and not feel guilty about it. It is essential.

In Ajahn Sona’s YouTube Q&A livestream on Sunday evening, he answered a question about the “dark night” and advice on how to manage difficult moods.

Here is the link, for anyone who is interested:

 https://www.youtube.com/live/BPZzPm-cxbo?feature=share&t=380  (it is about 6:20 into the broadcast,link opens in new window/tab).

 There may be others out there who find his answer helpful. 

Peace and metta to everyone.





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Shephard of thoughts

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 3 Feb 2023, 14:42

I am learning how to notice my moods better, and if my state of mind is unwholesome, I will look at what my thoughts are doing. And like a shepherd guarding his sheep, I try to steer them back in the right direction, towards the wholesome. Towards non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion.

I use the word 'non' because there are many wholesome mind states that are not greed, hate, or delusion.  And it is helpful to have many wholesome states to choose from. It can be tiring to feel kind, loving, or joyful all the time, and that's alright, because there are other wholesome states one can cultivate and use instead. It is good to have a wide palette to choose from and experiment with.

If my thoughts have strayed into the territory of greed, hate, and delusion, depending on the mood I am in, steering them away from those fields, can be as simple as interrupting the herd of thoughts with a gentle nudge, whereupon they will immediately stop what they are doing and happily go back in the right direction.

Other times it can involve the need to talk the thoughts into wanting to go back in the right direction, which means learning ways of talking to myself that helps to change the state of mind I am in, this sometimes results in me giving myself a dhamma talk, or writing an article like this. Or if I am not feeling I can do anything like that, I will use the voice of another, ( i.e. listen to a dhamma talk, a podcast, read an article or book) and use their voice to talk me into a better state of mind. 

But there are times when my thoughts can be racing and chaotic. And then it is like trying to shepherd a stampeding herd of buffalo. On those occasions I will practise something I dub the megaphone technique.

Named after scenes in movies where there's a crowd of people all talking loudly and at once. Perhaps they are excited about something, or argueing over this and that, perhaps they're panicking. Someone then walks into the middle of the group with a megaphone and makes it squeek loudly and everyone suddenly stops talking and turns to face the person with the megaphone.

My megaphone is to attempt to become aware of all the bodily sensations happening at once in the present moment, and flood the mind with these sense impressions, and keep bringing my attention back to this experience, so that I am constantly interrupting the thought processes with this sensory overload. It can work, and help bring some relief and composure back to the mind.

There are other megaphones that also work, some are gentle, such as surrounding myself with the colour red, yellow, or blue, like an aura. Some soothing like paying attention to the air element, or water element, the solidity of earth, the warmth and energy of the body, or just being aware of my feet, hands, or any part of the body that feels better than being in the head. 

It's basically just something to distract the mind and help it settle into a more tranquil state and regain some composure. Tranquility is a wholesome state of mind. One can be creative with this. These examples are just things that work for me, everyone should experiment and find what helps them. It is our subjective experience that matters here, forget about trying to make it fit in with any scientific theory, this exercise isn't about that. It is about taking what comes naturally to us, and making it into something supernatural.

Sometimes the thoughts don't respond well to anything, so I will let them continue in the background, but choose not to let them bother me, I become unattached to them. I choose not to judge them, not to follow them or identify with them. Just let them be, like background noise, and choose to place my attention on something else that is happening in awareness, something in the present moment that helps bring some peace and composure back to the mind, and then I can focus on a task at hand better without feeling harrassed by the thought processes.

The ability to choose where we place our attention is something we can all learn. And it is an aspect of the mind we can have some control over. It is also useful to learn how to tune the energy of attention so it is neither too forceful, nor too lax. Like cupping a little bird in your hand, if you cup it too tightly it will hurt the bird; but if you cup it too loosely it will fly away. How do you make attention comfortable and stable. How do you get into a flow? How do you keep the mind interested in something so that attention wants to stay there willingly and not want to be anywhere else? That's the questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to train the mind. 

It is challenging, so remember to cut yourself some slack. Try not to compare yourself with others, be okay with where you're at in your practise. Don't judge others or yourself when failure happens, which it will. And if another judges you, just remember that other people's practise is their practise. Some people have been at this a while and are advanced. Others are just starting out. We are all at different levels, and that's okay, let others be where they're at, and concentrate on your own practice. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with where you're at. That is where you come from and meet the world. Development is a gradual process, and that's okay, it isn't a race, nobody gets extra brownie points for getting there before anyone else, the prize at the end, nibanna, is exactly the same experience for everyone. If you persevere in a way that doesn't stress or break the mind, you will get there, in your own time, in a way that works for you. It is important not to strain the mind, to take care of it, rest it, nurture it, to be gentle, be kind to it, a friend, it is not your enemy, it is where you live. If you are making progress you are making progress. Whether that progress is fast or slow doesn't matter. Enlightenment is not a race or a competition. It is a gift that you give to yourself, and noone else can give it to you. Others can guide you, share their wisdom, but the onus is on you to do the work, noone else can.

 


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Sacred herb

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Life is hard. I try my best, I really fricking do. It might not seem like it to others. To most I guess I am pathetic and weak-minded. I am always getting critisized, judged and misunderstood. But none of those people are living inside my head, they don't know what I am going through, what it feels like to be Richie. They just look at the world from their limited perspective and expect everyone to be able to see what they see, and cope as well as they do. But we aint all the same, and I am honestly fricking trying.

 I honestly don't know how other people do it, how they keep their head together in this world. I seem to be completely incapable. The only thing that really helps me consistently is smoking weed (a strain with a ratio of moderate THC levels and high CBD), it is medicine for me. It calms me down, helps me concentrate better, helps me meditate, helps me work and get things done, helps me see things different, helps me exercise, helps me sleep. Without it everything is unbearable, and I am not joking. I really cannot handle being straight,  I just fall apart. I don't know what normal everyday consciousness feels like for everyone else, but it is suffering for me, I can't stand it. It is full of unpleasant feelings and horrible thoughts that are hard to ignore, and I have been practising meditation for over two years now, and I still have trouble with my thoughts and emotions. Constant thoughts about suicide, pretty much every day at the moment (don't worry I won't act on them, but they are tiring nonetheless). I feel constant agitation, and anxiety. I can't think straight, my head is always scattered, even with all this Zen training and CBT (Cognitive Behaviour therapy) I still struggle. It is a mission to get anything done at the moment, to function, as this agitation is the wrong kind of energy, not a helpful energy at all. I can't sleep well, I'm lucky if I get a couple of hours a night at the moment. This mood I am in is really unpleasant, my brain seems to be constantly stuck on this setting at the moment. It is unbearable. I think this is why I constantly write on here as otherwise I am just pacing around my room, getting irritable at the slightest thing, with noises put me on edge, I can't think straight or think rationally, I can't get any work done, and  desperately looking to find some relief, but not getting any. I have been in this state of mind for weeks now and it won't ease up, the prescription meds don't help and I am tired of seeing doctors and trying different pharmaceuticals. I wish they would just prescribe me cannabis, I know that works and I would be fine then. 

It is hard to get enlightened when one's own brain is like this. Meditation feels impossible at the moment, and spiritual practise is a real battle. If I get some weed I know I will be able to meditate, and practise the eight-fold path. But without it I struggle, I seem to be incapable of practising with this agitation. The stuff I read in the suttas or have learnt from Buddhist teachers about dealing with agitation doesn't work, and the four right efforts are not working for me, they work for others, but I guess it is much harder to practise if one has a mood disorder unfortunatley. Although I miraculously find it all much easier when I have some cannabis, the whole path seems doable then, is strange I know. 

But then if I got enlightened whilst using weed, would it be real? Or would my mood deteriorate again once I went without the cannabis, and then it wouldn't really be enlightenment. Is it possible to get to nibanna when one is so dependant on a herbal medicine. I don't know. Buddhists do tell people to take medicine if necessary and not to suffer needlessly, and for me it is definitely a medicine I need to function. I do know that cannabis would have been freely available at the time of the Buddha. It would have grown everywhere, and would have been used as medicine for sure, possibly even by the monks and nuns at the time, although there's nothing written in the suttas about it as far as I am aware. So I don't know. Would the Buddha have been okay with me using cannabis? Did the Buddha use cannabis? Who knows. I know the sages who created kundalini yoga were all on cannabis, it was an essential part of the practise. And I do know it is bloody difficult for me to function without it, but the stigma in society about it is no help. A stigma created by this modern world and its ridiculous hypocritical war on psychedelics. Anyway I know I can never be a Buddhist monk as they would never approve of me using cannabis. Most Buddhist groups have the five precepts, and the fifth one is: no intoxicants, and I imagine most would class cannabis as an intoxicant. However I will be studying with a different Buddhist group next year and they have changed the wording of the fifth precept slightly to: I will refrain from using intoxicants that make one heedless. Which I feel does give me some wriggle room, as cannabis definitely does not make me heedless, if anything it makes me more mindful, calms my thoughts down, and I can meditate much better on it. For me it is meritous. It is medicine, and I am sick of hiding that out of shame and fear of persecution in an ignorant brainwashed society. I think it is a miraculous plant, a real wonder. It saved my life, it really did. I wouldn't be doing this degree if it wasn't for cannabis helping me get my head together. And I also wouldn't have even started practising Buddhism if wasn't for cannabis. So giving credit where it's due for this sacred herb.

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