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Travelling through the darkness

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 21 Apr 2023, 17:35

The darkness has lifted a bit today. I've been through quite a few 'dark nights' lately, they are not at all pleasant, but I seem to be getting a bit better at managing them now. The 'dark night of the soul' is apparently a common occurrence with spiritual practice, especially in the modern age.

The advice given to me by a good teacher (which works for me). Is to avoid thinking during the dark night. Don't pay attention to thoughts, disengage from them. Get away from words and language. The dark night is not something you can think your way out of. It is a time to practise stillness and samhadi. This stillness can be a refuge for the mind during dark times, and also if one enters samhadi it acts as protection against Mara.

I like the simile of the dark night being a bit like withdrawing into the inner cave. Going back into the womb, or entering a cocoon. One is going through a process of metamorphosis, of becoming, rebirth, and transformation.

The mind is changing at a deep level, and it can feel uncomfortable and unsettling. It is a process that for some of us needs to be endured. The deeper mind is rewiring itself with important new information it has learned, and the process can't be hurried. The length of time this can take is different for each of us. So one has to be patient.

At this stage in the spiritual journey the mind doesn't need to think or reflect on anything. It's best to keep thoughts herded in and centred with a meditation object. The breath is a good choice as it doesn't need words to pay attention to it. Experience the sense of the body from within. Whatever that subjective experience is for you. For me it feels like an inner ocean contained within a bag of skin, bones a coral reef, the breath like waves. The sea growing calmer as the mind gets stiller. Till the breath seems to stop altogether.

Any thoughts not to do with the meditation object should be brushed aside like useless rubbish, don't get involved with them, no matter how persuasive they seem to be. Stay centred with the body and the breath.

This is a process of purification. Not an intellectual matter.

I like the Buddha's simile of a broken gong that doesn't ring when struck. Sense impressions, thoughts and feelings hit the sense bases, but they don't reverberate in the mind. Everything stops at the point of sense contact before it becomes a story.

It may take multiple sittings to get some serenity and composure back. Don't be discouraged by this. After each sitting notice if the mind at least feels a bit better than it did before, if it does then feel encouraged that you are on the right track and are making progress. Keep the momentum going. It will grow stronger.

Eventually, when it is finished, the mind will emerge from the cocoon and will feel freer than it did before, and the skills one has been developing will seem sharper. Things that confused one will make more sense. And one becomes more aware of the inner workings of the mind; as some of what was previously hidden will now be illuminated. 

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Asoka

Unworldly feelings

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Friday, 14 Apr 2023, 16:59

Feel much better today, although fatigue is still prominent and if I overdo things it is like being hit by a wall of tiredness and I have to lie down. But my health is definitely much better now.

Kundalini feels like an energy that has a mind of its own, she speaks to me in tingles along my spine, or other areas of the body. The scalp and neck can be quite active at times, it is a very tactile experience for me. She feels intimately connected, but very kind. Sometimes she makes me laugh. If I start getting a bit conceited and arrogant, or if I become the opposite and become overly down on myself, she makes my scalp tingle in a mildly burning unpleasant way, enough to make me stop and become aware of what my state of mind is, and then I will stop holding onto it and try to generate something more wholesome in its place. When I think nice thoughts about myself and others, such as friendship and loving-kindness, wanting the best for all beings, she makes my scalp tingle in a very pleasant way, like a hint I'm going in the right direction.

Reader be aware this is my subjective experience. I promise I am not going through a psychosis.

But aye, people should be careful when it comes to meditation. If it is not done in the context of the spiritual path, such as the Buddhist noble eightfold path, it can blow up in your face and send you into a psychosis. Sooner or later Mara, the shadow self, the dark side, whatever you want to call it, will arise, and you will have to face it. And many spiritual traditions will have practises and supports in place that help to deal with this. 

As a rule of thumb, the practice of loving-kindness (metta) can protect one from the darkness. If you come from a place of unconditional love for all beings. It is an effective way to navigate the spiritual path.

Not always easy to feel like that though, it takes many hours of repetitive practice to develop a mind of loving-kindness; but if you can do it, it will keep you safe and also be of benefit to those around you. Just the silent presence of a being filled with loving-kindness or serenity can help raise the vibrations in the world around one. It is also possible to go into deep states of samhadi through the practise of loving-kindness, and the cultivation of metta (loving-kindness) can take you right to the doorstep of nibanna. All you need then is the key that unlocks that door, the realisation of the wisdom contained in the four noble truths.

Many of the ancient meditation techniques are designed to get you enlightened, they have been carefully tweaked and adapted through thousands of years of experience and practise from one generation to the next, and designed deliberately to be effective tools for spiritual awakening, they are not designed for material purposes. They lead you in the opposite direction of worldly things. And if one is practising them for material gain or to do better in the world, then problems will arise, as they were never created for that purpose.

Getting a solid grounding in the noble eightfold path under the mentorship of an experienced teaching monk and having a community of friends who I regularly sit with online has helped me stay sane. All the members of my sangha are online.

Unfortunately, I don't have spiritual friends here where I live in the physical world around me, so I am quite alone in that sense. But I do sit regularly with spiritual friends from all around the world on Zoom, both in discussion groups and meditation sessions.

It is good to be part of a spiritual community, online or offline, because inevitably unwelcome problems can arise in the human psyche during the spiritual journey, and it can lead to odd behaviour if one isn't mindful. Good spiritual friends can help point these things out, and help you stay centred and not lose your bearings. They can also be supportive when you are going through a dark night or a trying time in the purification process, and make these challenges feel easier and less lonely. 

Like someone wise once said about the spiritual life: 'We are all friends walking each other home.'



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Asoka

The inner cave

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Thursday, 13 Apr 2023, 10:49


I am a bit fatigued at the moment, and recovering from an illness I had earlier in the week, which is getting better now. The dark night has returned somewhat. But this time it is less painful than before. Mainly because I am understanding the process a bit better now and am more aware of what is going on with the mind, less ignorant. Normally I would be depressed during this difficult mind state, but this time despite a heavy fatigue there is a distinct absence of sadness and sorrow. When it arises, the mind is quick to dismiss it and it doesn't take root. The inner critic pops up occasionally, but the mind is quick to dismiss that too. I think I am understanding now at a deep level that negativity doesn't help the situation, and I seem to be shooting myself less with the second arrow. I.e. not adding mental suffering on top of the physical suffering.


This is almost certainly because I am getting better at becoming still and centred, which I can do now even when I am experiencing bodily and mental fatigue. Without the thinking and stories we tell ourselves about our experience, the suffering decreases. One can also play around with perceptions by changing the way one talks to oneself about things. But mostly practising samhadi has the effect of calming down excess thought energies, allowing me to go below the surface level of consciousness and go deep within, take refuge in the core of my being. My inner cave. 

The inner cave I am learning is the place to go when things feel dark and one feels vulnerable and weak. It renews one, it is almost like going into the womb again, you stay there for as long as you need and when you emerge from it, it is like a rebirth. Like a cocoon. A place where the self dissolves and the energies of the world continues outside but you are still and unaffected by it all, at peace in the centre of your being. When you emerge you are different. I wonder if this is because deep mind needs to process information at times, and there isn't much for one to do in those moments except be still, and be patient while the mind rewires itself based on the new information and insights into the nature of reality it has seen. There's a time for effort, a time for doing, and a time to be still.

I have also been learning about kundalini yoga from a book I got. I have always been drawn to this, although know very little about it, have more intuitively practised it. Kundalini feels like an old friend. She keeps me safe and feels like my protector at times, she often helps me out when I am struggling or feeling lonely. She encourages me on the spiritual path; but also gently reminds me to be humble if I am getting conceited (-: She also reminds me of love, and the beautiful emotions.

I am not so into the Hindu aspects of kundalini yoga. I tend to filter those bits out and just take what I find helpful from the practice, as I do with any teachings I learn - be my own refuge.

Lately I am finding at the beginning of a meditation session, it feels good to focus on the chakras, on the life force energy, and move that energy around the body. It is intimately connected to the breath I find. For me, this practice is very helpful, it gives the mind something to do at the start of a meditation session when it might be a bit restless. And it is something challenging and engaging enough to generate interest, curiosity and wonder in meditation, which draws the attention away from the thoughts and into the body. It feels enjoyable, and healing and invigorating. In fact, I am sure it was me practising this while lying in bed feeling sick that helped me recover quicker than normal from my illness.

There comes a point when the mind naturally stops moving the energy about the body, and it feels satisfied, balanced, and at ease. The body feels very pleasant and comfortable. And one feels very together and lucid, and content to just rest in whole body awareness and become very still and serene.

The chakras and kundalini has always felt real to me, and when the chakras feel cleared out, the energy of the body really does feel much better, cleaner and brighter, much less weighed down, lighter, more ethereal. When walking outside afterwards it almost feels like the air element passes right through me, like the matter of this body has become less dense. It is hard to put into words.

I think holding onto negative energies makes the body feel coarser, heavier. As many of our stresses and woes, our angst and longing gets stored there. The good news is we don't have to hold onto the negativity. We are allowed to let go of it, and nothing bad happens when we do. Yes, the process of purification can be painful and unpleasant at times, it is not fun to face the shadow self and all the myriad contradictory selves; but it is worth it when you come through the other side and you are no longer being weighed down by it all.

Nobody can do it for us. We have to give ourselves permission to stop holding on to the cause of our suffering. Much of which comes from longing, resentment, and identifying with things.

It is easier to do this when coming from the place of lucid serenity that samhadi brings. Stillness really is a great help when going through the dark night.


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Asoka

The Deathless

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Edited by Richie Cuthbertson, Monday, 20 Feb 2023, 21:19

Went out for a walk in the rain. Felt like there was a horse race of thoughts going on in my head. I watched them patiently, and noticed how I felt as well, how the thoughts affect the body; and vice versa how the body affects the thoughts. I felt restless and agitated, anxiety was present in the mind, and I noted how unpleasant these feelings are. Suffering feels like this.

I observed that the cause of it was once again thoughts to do with greed, hatred, and delusion. I reflected on what is meant by delusion, and there was this Aha! moment and I suddenly saw that the root of all delusion is the conceit: I am. 

I noticed then that whenever I felt suffering present in the mind, thoughts about the self were also present. This mental construct we carry around with us like a heavy suitcase: the self. It is unpleasant, it is stressful, bossy as well, has all these wants and needs, and resentments, it is tiring having a self... and... how nice it feels when one puts it down like a heavy bag one has been carrying without realising. How pleasant it feels to stop identifying with things, to stop taking things personally, to stop longing, to stop feeling angry. How happy it is to forget the self. I think the happiest moments in my life are when I have forgotten the self. 

I then reflect there never actually was a self, it was all a mental construct, an illusion, when one looks closely at it, it can't stand up to the light of day. But the sense of self is still needed to function in the world, so I must use it like a tool to survive; but how nice it feels to not cling to it, to not identify with it anymore (-:

I think that's the reason for the dark night, to see the self for what it is which can be hard to see; but then it is liberating, when one sees how it is this clinging to this delusion of self that causes us suffering, and the realisation that one doesn't have to hold onto it, it is perfectly okay to let go of it, because it was never there in the first place. 

Nibanna (Nirvana) is an element that is always here, it always has been here, and always will be. Another name for it is 'the deathless' because unlike conditioned phenomena it is permanent, it never ceases, and it is unaffected by change. Another name for it is the unconditioned.

 The noble eightfold path is the training that frees the mind from greed, hatred, and delusion. Which then enables one to experience the deathless, nibanna.

The knowledge of nibanna disappears and gets forgotten in time though, and it can remain unknown for very long stretches of time. And then apparently it takes a Buddha, a Tathagatha to re-discover it and teach other beings how to experience it again.


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