My Experiment in Actualism-Influenced Practice, by Daniel M. Ingram, September 20th, 2013
Somewhere in early 2009 or so some dharma friends of mine got very interested in the teachings of a guy named Richard and his teachings of Acutalism, by which he had claimed to have eliminated all emotional affect and was living in a fairy-tale-like world of perfect benevolence. The basic message was to follow a sort of mix of the path of feelings and attentiveness to feelings and their useful and non-useful aspects, tuning into the sensuous beauty of the sensate world and the body, and attaining something called a PCE (Pure Consciousness Experience) and using that as a guideline for how to incline ones efforts and practice. In particular, my friend Tarin, who had been on retreat with me twice at my house, really wanted to check out what it had to offer, so he ended up going to visit Richard in Australia somewhere around early 2010.
When he got back to Los Angeles in February of 2010, he said he had done it, meaning totally eliminated all emotions entirely as felt experiences, and also said that some other remarkable transformations of himself had taken place, including a markedly reduced need for sleep (somewhere around 4-5 hours was plenty, he said), and that a remarkable sense of the wondrous nature of the sensate world pervaded his waking life. I knew Tarin to be a serious practitioner and knew what his practice had been like, so this was truly a remarkable claim. At about this same time, a friend named Trent also made the same claim, though he had worked in his little apartment in the Dallas area using a technique that sort of fused the standard jhanas of Buddhism with his own interpretation of the teachings of Actualism, something that would end up really annoying Richard, but I will try to leave off most of the politics, of which there was a lot, in favor of the practice itself as it came to me through four people in somewhat modified form (the modifications of which would endlessly annoy some Actual Freedom Trust (AFT) people, but that is neither here nor there, really).
Trent had a day job, but Tarin was free to wander around, so I flew Tarin out to my house in Alabama for a few days to see what this was all about and what it looked like. I have to say I was impressed. He seemed quite different from the Tarin I had known just a few months before, and also seemed to be able to point very clearly at something that I was pretty sure I wasn't seeing, or at least not yet.
Revising my impression of the Emotional Limitation Models, something I was pretty convinced of, was not easy. However, I had the distinct impression that something worthwhile was to be found by doing so, and thus, inspired by my friends and their claims, I began to practice very differently from how I had been.
The first thing I did was adopt a much higher level of every-second when possible daily mindfulness, as I was working somewhere between 17-20 shifts per months, and these were a mix of 10-12 hour shifts that often became 11-14 hours shift, with 1.5 hours of commute time each way, so practice in daily life was basically the only option. Actualism billed itself as a daily life practice anyway, so that all worked out just fine. Basic attentiveness had always served me well in the past, and seemed an unassailable first principle that could be counted on again.
Second, I began to try to figure out what was being pointed to regarding PCEs. Before long, I began having various experiences that seemed to fit the bill. Now, it must be mentioned that at this point in my meditative career I had already gotten to the point in playing around with various jhanic abilities that I could create all sorts of unusual, customized experiences, compound and fusion jhanas, and the like. The power of scripting and customization of something fitting my thoughts of what a PCE must be like almost certainly came into play here.
That said, it was not that long before I was having some experiences that were very impressive, wondrous, in which everything was just totally fascinating and amazing, all experiences seemed to delight the sense doors, and the only obvious feeling was one of strong wonder, at least initially, until that would give way to fear that the experience would end, which they all did after some minutes or occasionally hours. On the slightly lighter side, I began to feel that I was able to get into a second mode of experiencing reality, something sort of like a muted version of a full PCE, something I thought of as the PCE-mode, and, if I could get into that, the whole rest of my day would be much more enjoyable and easy, timeless in some way, lighter, and clearly better.
Nearly every morning that mode of attention would be gone again, but pretty soon I got pretty good at finding it, such that within some minutes or hours of waking I would be back in it and really doing everything I could to try to use it to increase the enjoyment of the ordinary, the simple, the direct sensate world of this body and mind.
Something else that I was doing, though I didn't have good words for it at the time, was working on something that I would later think of as total commitment to the volume and alternately describe as full-field sensate integration. This was related to things I had seen before and had some pretty good walking-around experience of, but I began to get the sense that there was still something not quite done about all that, not quite totally taken as far as it could go. What I mean by those terms is that I was really seeing all thoughts and sensations as part of one totally integrated space, exactly where they were, with this where component becoming really important, as it was through the where part that some things began to become clear that were not quite as clear before.
There also began to be this tension around something else I started referring to as the Attention Wave, meaning some part of the fluxing field that interfered with other experiences and did so totally unnecessarily. It was also sensate but, on careful inspection, actually didn't seem to add any mental functionality and instead seemed to dull experience. In some modes of attention it barely seemed to operate, and these modes were clearly better than those in which it did and nothing seemed to be lost by its being nearly absent.
Thus, there began to be a natural inclination even more to have the volume speak for itself rather than being manipulated or in any way tarnished by anything resembling anything having to do with attention at all. You see, before this, all things attentional, all the structures of attention, those involved in aiming, moving, comprehending, etc. had all been seen to be just part of the field, totally empty, natural processes, which they were. This was now something different: those processes seemed to not just be useless, but actually causing distortion of perception of the other specifics. Thus, the mind began to tend more and more to letting the field be untarnished by any of that, with tarnished being a strange word to use, but it somehow fit.
That meant that suddenly anything related to jhanas, which were clearly a manipulation of the field, seemed like something headachy, artificial, and needlessly contrived, when the field itself, when in the mode that seemed untrammeled by any manipulative components (however empty and natural they might have been), was so pristine, so satisfying, so wondrous. During that period, not only did I have no interest in them anymore, but occasional attempts to make them happen seemed like something poisonous, toxic, and just plain wrong. That was very strange, as they had always been something totally opposite to that. How odd it is to re-work the way the brain is functioning in real-time and see how totally different our perceptions and relationships to things can become.
Because of this, I went through what I think of as a largely ajhanic period, which was quite a departure from my relatively ritualistic rising from 1st-8th and coming out and then getting a Fruition, some Pure Land Jhanas, or whatever every night when I laid to down to sleep and plenty of mornings when first waking up. However, the thing now was the field itself, and the field itself became more and more compelling, for a while at least.
In August of 2011, Tarin came out to visit again and he talked more about various aspects of his practice, the world of experience he was living in, and related topics. I flew out to the Dallas, Texas area that Thanksgiving for a weekend of hanging out with Trent and Tarin that year also, and then in December, Tarin, Trent and Jill (a long-time meditator and old friend of Tarin who also claimed to have eliminated all affective feelings) came out to my house in Alabama to stay for a little while. I also had one or two conversations with a similar practitioner who they all knew and named Stef, a social science professor at a university who knew Tarin and Trent, but I never met her in person. Each of them had something truly impressive and inspiring about them, something that I felt I could learn from.
It seemed like there was this totally different axis of development that paying much more attention to feelings would help develop. It was a topic that, as you can guess from reading MCTB1, I hadn't given really that much attention to, at least in comparison to lots of other things, such as technical meditation mastery. I had few problems with emotional stuff in my formal practice most of the time, with reality easily dissolving into fine and then flowing, wide, inclusive vibrations or formless realms or whatever, and the sense of subject being totally gone from the field of experience beyond some of the qualities that used to imply that there truly was such a thing. However, something called to me, something that said that there was more to be gained.
I felt very lucky, in that I had plenty of up-close-and-personal exposure to people who claimed to have eliminated all affect. That said, there were some creepy aspects to all of this. Tarin, Trent and Jill had all gotten into a mode of being that was probably best described by the word "zombie", like you could just set them down on the floor and they would just sit there unmoving and undisturbed for some long period of time. It was definitely odd. Stef, on the other hand, seemed not affected in this way at all.
Also, somehow the topic of Actualism and things related to emotions had totally blown up on the Dharma Overground, with people's reactions to something that to me seemed to have value often being quite negative, hostile, incredulous, angry, territorial, and dogmatic. Many wished the site to be one purely about Buddhism, and very specific strains of Buddhism, and when other things got all mixed in that clearly seemed to directly contract some of the things they believed, people freaked out and a bunch left, leading to what I call the First Great Schism of the DhO, which is a somewhat dramatic way to put it, but, when that is your sangha, it seems like a big deal.
Then there was everything related to things back in Australia and that old guy called Richard, the Genitor of Actualism, Discoverer of The HAIETMOBA (How Am I Experiencing This Method of Being Alive) Method, something he claimed was unique on this Earth, never before known or experienced before he experienced it. It must be noted here by way of reasonable disclaimer, I have never met or spoken with Richard. We did have one brief exchange on a Yahoo forum dedicated to Actualism regarding sleep and dream effects of Actualism that was straightforward enough. That said, numerous creepy rumors of unknown accuracy related to him just kept surfacing, things that again and again just didn't seem to add up totally with what he had claimed. There were hints that reminded me of things that Bill Hamilton had warned about in his one book, Saints and Psychopaths. Others had more extreme views on him, considering him to be a totally insane, delusional, narcissistic psychopathic cult leader to be avoided at all costs. It created large tensions between me and some of my dharma friends who saw all of this Actualism stuff as being a totally terrible idea created by a terrible person.
Luckily for me, I didn't have to address those questions related to Richard directly, as I had my friends, and my friends were available to me easily and freely gave plenty of their time to answer questions and provide pointers. All of those pointers, namely really high levels of appreciating the field of sensate experience at all times when awake, trying to figure out how the PCE pointed to something important and clear, and really investigating the world of feelings honestly and simply, seeing how they arose, what conditions lead to their continuation, what value they had and didn't have, and the like, all seemed perfectly sound advice that was leading to good things.
These assumptions, practices and emphases seemed to violate no obvious first principles I held dear, no money was involved, no exploitation was occurring that I could see, there were no major power plays related to Richard that had anything to do with me personally, so all seemed ok on this end. In fact, to me they seemed basically totally Buddhist, and, as you can tell, I am a big fan of many of the practical aspects of Buddhism. That Richard disagreed that they had anything to do with Buddhism concerned me not at all.
Then I entered a period I think of as the Dark Night of my Actualism Phase in the Fall and Winter of 2011. The PCE mode began to seem far away. Things got dry, tense, like something was off. It was hard to explain then and still is. It was like I was out in some no-man's-land where nothing applied well any more. Finally, by late December, PCEs were gone, jhanas were gone, sensuous appreciation seemed pointless, and yet, somehow, based on the memory of those things, I kept going, kept just trying to see how everything was beautiful, clear, direct and wonderful, as I had had glimpses of before. It seemed contrived, artificial, and finally basically unworkable. I began to notice tensions I hadn't before, fears that were not previously obvious, and a level of restlessness began to creep in that seemed totally new and bleak.
Further, my memory was really starting to get affected by this. I didn't feel cues in the body the way I typically would when I was supposed to do something. I was having to make long to-do lists to remember things that ordinarily I would have easy access to a complete list of in my mind. It was concerning.
Finally, on the afternoon of January 18th, 2012, I was trying to get sleep between two night shifts in the same room where Tarin had gotten stream entry while on retreat with me, a windowless attic room over my wife's art studio. Being very circadian rhythm-disrupted from flipping from day shifts to nights too rapidly, as was par for the course with that job at the time, my sleep was restless and sporadic. So, being awake and having nothing better to do, I began again as I had many, many times recently, relaxing things, checking out the body, finding the tensions, and gently bringing slow, easy mindfulness to them, with that careful attention easing things gradually, and then something remarkable happened.
It felt like some part of things directly related to time and some perception of time synchronized in some way that I found totally surprising. The analogy that always comes most readily to mind is that of an engine with its timing belt off one notch: it will run, but it will shake just a bit, or perhaps a lot, depending on the engine. Yet, strangely, this was a shaking I never really noticed until suddenly it was as if the timing belt of the mind jumped back into the right alignment and suddenly the subtle shaking stopped. The entrance to this was not during a Fruition, making this the first of two major shifts that would involve some seemingly somewhat permanent (who though who knows, really) transition into an alternate and better way of perceiving reality that didn't involve that entrance into it.
After that, time pressure was suddenly really different and seemed nearly totally eliminated. Further, the perception of time itself was totally different. Whereas before I could clearly see that time was constructed of thoughts of past and future happening now, and that was something that I could notice when attention turned that way it had taken that sort of attention to that specific aspect of things to receive that benefit of seeing through time creation itself. Now it seemed that those benefits were now hard-wired into my baseline way of being, and those benefits were immediately obvious.
I felt better, clearer, more easy. The Dark Night of my Actualism phase seemed to have vanished. Suddenly I felt that I had gotten what I was looking for, that some new window had been opened, that something was now activated and working through old structures again, a feeling I hadn't had since April, 2003. What was interesting is that this was not at all what my friends were talking about, though they had mentioned things about time effects that were similar, and yet it seemed to be where those practices lead for me. I must assume that some aspect of this is idiosyncratic, though I have a few friends who have described the elimination of time pressure also, just at a totally different phase of their practice and by slightly different methods.
So, for the next 6 months it felt like that basic thing moved through this mind and body, touched things, changed something for the better in the way this system functioned, clarified things, made things bright, easier, more straightforward. It was during that time that the clarity of the field itself was everything, a path that naturally lead onward into itself, reinforcing itself. It was very nice. It rested on its own self-evident assumptions, which were just the sensate world being more and more fascinated by itself, like it was caught in the gravity of some large star and just getting more and more filled with light as it got closer.
Then, on July 27th, 2012 (which is also the same day of the year that I got second path in 1996, interestingly enough), I was driving home at 2am or so after a brief late-night post-work workout at a little 24-hour gym on my way home, and, just after I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the rural highway, it suddenly felt like this veil that I had never noticed was pulled off of my head, and suddenly the full field of experience shown in all its unbridled, direct glory, the glory I had seen in the best of the PCEs, but this time with no obvious going back, at least so far, with this being written in September of 2013. Remember how there was that thing I called the Attention Wave? It seemed totally gone, so far as I could tell. Remember the pristine clarity of field that had so called to me? It shone in everything and still does.
What is also interesting is it still seems to have been a totally different axis of development from my previous meditative work, operating on some other set of parameters and structures of consciousness and perception. It definitely broadened my appreciation for various cool things you can do to your mind and how different practices and emphases really can work on totally different pathways and levels, something that should have been obvious but wasn't as clear as it is now.
Another effect of this that I noticed as a result of this were that the body image, meaning the internal image of the body, seemed totally, well, integrated, which is an odd way to put it. It is not that it is not there, as there is still some functioning mechanism by which intention and coordination monitor where the body is and come up with the plan for how things will move and all of that, but now there is something much more subtle about it that feels much better somehow.
So too ended my interest in anything related to Actualism. It felt like whatever it was going to do it had done. The field clarity shone and still shines. It is really, really nice. Here is the other thing, that really, really nice-ness also did something good to my emotional life. Being as most ordinary sensations are now so generally satisfying, this itself really takes a lot of pressure off of everything else and makes so many things so much more fun and enjoyable. It is not that there aren't hard periods and difficulties, as there are. It certainly didn't eliminate affect, which still seems to be there and capable of a full range of affective feelings, but it did make some large difference, and I would recommend it, as, for me, it is clearly a vast improvement on numerous fronts.
There are some other things it didn't do, such as markedly reduce my need for sleep, which is sort of too bad, but in other ways not, as sleep has dreams, and I very much like dreaming, as they were what got me into all of this stuff in the first place and still seem very relevant, recreationally interesting and important as a tool for exploration of various aspects of this many-faceted life.
However, it did do something totally remarkable, and that was create the ability to sit totally at rest, totally at peace, just like that, and I don't mean in some stage or state, not in some jhana, just by the field being nice to itself. That simple thing was well worth the work it took to get it. It doesn't sound as fancy or as flashy as all the other stuff I have done, but it is more valuable than them all. Another interesting effect is that to get a PCE that would or could be different from this now seems absurd, and there is no draw to it or sense that it could be something that could occur, though I can't be certain of this.
It has also been interesting to have the vagaries of reality performance test it and see what it did and what it didn't do. Two recent examples: my 11th or so kidney stone showed up about 9 months later and it was the worst one so far in terms of sheer crazy totally over-the-top pain, pain the likes of which threatened to make me pass out. That I managed to drive the 40 minutes or so to the emergency department I worked in without killing myself or anyone else is remarkable. It luckily passed less than 2 hours after it hit, but during that time all I could think of was getting a shot of Toradol (sort of like a strong IV version of ibuprofen) or passing out so the pain would stop.
What was also interesting is that when I showed up at the emergency department the pain was still through the roof, and yet my heart rate was about 75, my blood pressure about 110-120/70 or so, as it usually is, and this despite me sweating and shaking from the pain and feeling like at any moment it would be so strong as to make me vomit. How this related to whatever happened in my practice I have no idea, but they are interesting data points that I was surprised by, as I would have expected my heart rate to be much higher and my blood pressure up as well, as it felt like my sympathetic drive was on full throttle.
Next, a month or two after that, I got something that I think was influenza. I was basically totally incapacitated by it and astounded as how much a simple virus could totally strip away the appreciation that was seemingly such a natural part of the field of experience. Whatever inflammatory cytokines my body produced to fight it coupled with whatever the virus does was sufficient to really knock me down to a level that felt totally ordinary, like anyone else who was sick, with the exception of the center-lessness, panoramicity, etc. that had been clear since April, 2003, but all of those being basically totally irrelevant against the fact of the body being very much laid low and aching all over. It stripped nearly everything away except just basic, exhausted survival, with any attainments seemingly being of nearly no value in the face of it. In a very reluctant way I was totally impressed by it and its lessons of morbidity and mortality. Luckily it resolved without complications, but it viscerally reinforced a lesson I learn daily in the emergency department, that this body will get sick and die.
Those exceptional qualifiers aside, when not laid out by mind-blowing pain or some horrid illness, I am very much happier than I was. When I was asked about my practice recently, the analogy that came to mind was of someone sitting in an old abandoned train station on a beautiful day with the windows and doors of the place all open. No trains are coming or going. Nobody else is there. Nothing much is going on. Flowers are starting to grow on the tracks. A gentle breeze is blowing. There is an easy silence about the place. Just that. It is nice, I must say. Will it get boring at some point? Who knows? I have continued to be surprised at the various additional avenues that present themselves and the strange things that can call one to begin again, so there is no telling what further compelling something will drag this practitioner off on some other practice adventure.
So, what happened to everybody? Tarin, Jill and Stef all renounced their claims to have eliminated all emotional and affective qualities on the Dharma Overground forum, and all said in one context or another that they didn't think the people they were around who also had claimed to have eliminated all feelings had actually done it totally either. There were others who were rumored to have renounced their claims as well, but I didn't know them, so they don't really bear much on this except as second-hand additional data points.
As to Trent, his story is his own, and I will let him tell it if he wishes. So, whereas before I had 4 friends who all said they had done it, had eliminated all feelings entirely, now I have at least 3 who said they now think that they haven't done it. Then were all the weird reports and rumors of other strange things happening in the inner circles of the Australian Actual Freedom Trust contingent, and large amounts of other complex politics related to all of that that raised the question of self-delusion and shadow-sides to all of this, though the veracity of these reports and rumors are unknown to me, and they actually matter little, except to point out that all of this is a very human endeavor. Regardless, the relevance of these rumors to me and my practice was actually quite minimal, as I haven't met any of them.
Regardless, for me the whole thing sort of dissipated, and now there is just this simple, direct, straightforward niceness. Cycles still occur. Fruitions still occur. Jhanic things show up sometimes but without the headachy quality, and they are nice things when they do, but the draw to them is currently very minimal. Just the inclination to jhana is so nice that it need not even go into jhana to be good. There is something nice about the whole thing, with the exceptions of pain and the like, which are still negative consequences of this body being what it is and this life being what it is, but again, the old question of what can be mitigated or transformed by meditative and perceptual development and what is just the baseline level what difficulties there will be continues to be explored in real-time, and I find no answer that, based on previous totally unexpected improvements, I can be certain is the definitive one.
I would definitely recommend taking some time to really see how ordinary sensations, colors, textures, smells, tastes and all of that can be simply delightful on their own, as well as take the time to investigate carefully and honestly how feeling arise and vanish and how they are in this body, as well as attending mindfully to the whole wide field of experience doing its own thing, on its on, all the way through in an integrated way that embodies the sentiment of committing totally to this field of experience as an integrated volume here and now, as it all did me good and seems to rest on sound principles of basic practice, regardless of who has attempted to brand these things or claim them as proprietary and unique technology, as they all seem to me to be well within the ordinary teachings of Buddhism and just make good sense on their own. How much of these specific effects that I noticed due to these practices over about 2.5 years are due to the idiosyncratic mix of my basic wiring, my previous practice, and the specific way that I implemented the basic instructions of Actualism, as translated through my friends, is unknown to me, and, if you want to answer the question of what these things will do for you, you must do the experiment yourself.
Update and Responses to Questions:
I got asked two important questions by email after I published this and so to clarify some things and avoid having to answer them again, here are my slightly edited responses to those somewhat paraphrased questions:
Question #1: How would you summarize the basic instructions you followed, realizing that I find the jargon and promotional aspects of Actualism off-putting?
Ok, my very best attempt to present something non-actualism-branded and helpful. Realize this is AFT-related stuff translated through Tarin, Trent, Stef and Jill and then modified to suit my own inclinations and leanings and filtered through my own way of seeing the world and background, just so there is full disclosure of the path this all came through.
1) Really pay attention all day long to just what its going on, particularly in the wide visual field and in the body. This sounds like the typical mindfulness advice and is, but that sort of attention forms the basis of so much that is good that it is very worth repeating.
2) Notice the beauty and niceness in ordinary and beautiful things, sounds, tastes, textures, feelings, the body, visuals, smells and the like. Really take time to smell the proverbial roses of the ordinary sensate world you find yourself in. Appreciate the feel of air on your skin, of the fingers hitting the keys, of characters showing up on computer screens, of your car going down the road, of the legs moving in space and balance shifting as you walk, of the taste of the food you eat, of the sound of your footfalls echoing off of the walls, of the quality of the light in the room, etc. It is very cliche advice again, but really do it all day long for a year or two and see what it is does to you: taken to that dose and degree of dedication, you would be surprised at what can occur.
3) Pay attention to feelings, meaning what you actually are feeling, whenever you notice you are feeling something. It is easy, given the AFT rhetoric, to do this in a somewhat aversive way: avoid that mentality like the plague. Instead, take a real honest approach to noticing feelings in the body, right here, and notice how they arise (causality), what thoughts go along with them, and what the stories in those thoughts are. Try to gently, honestly, humanly and kindly tease apart the stories and assumptions of those feelings, and notice when they change and what they change into as time progresses. If you go into this with the mentality that these practices will be designed to totally eliminate your emotions, it is nearly impossible to really be honest about them. Tarin, Trent, Stef and Jill all finally and in their own ways warned against this, so avoid denial and avoid scripting yourself into some zombie-state: it is a trap. Instead, just be honestly human, ordinary, and feel what you feel: not in some exaggerated way, and not in some reactive way, just straightforwardly and clearly. This doesn't need to translate to any particular action or non-action, and regarding morality, that is yours to decide and experiment with and live with the consequences of, but internally you can at least get used to really being clear about the feelings that drive it all and get more naturally fluent in that through practice and repeated attention.
4) Try to remember anything that might meet the description of a PCE and try to incline to that way of perceiving things: a flash onto a truly remarkably wondrous way of feeling, seeing, hearing, etc. in which the beauty of the world suddenly comes shining through in a very direct way. The cliche's are that you might have noticed this mind state when watching a sunset or light on water or a beautiful rainbow, or some great music performance, or whatever: remember that, as you almost certainly have had some moment like that at some time in your life. Once you have found something like that, remember it and see how that way of seeing things applies to your ordinary consciousness when it returns, and try to incline back that way. You may find your own set of triggers to get into that mindset that are unique to you: work with those. Honestly assess for yourself the value of those experiences and try to see what they might be telling you about what is possible. I realize that the term "PCE" is politically loaded, but it is not unique to the ATF kids, and I am sorry that has some branding element to it, but using it will allow you to interact with the rest of what you find written about it, so it may have value in that regard. Don't worry if your PCE is the same as anyone else's PCE, just appreciate them if and when they do arise. If you can't get PCEs to arise or this makes no sense to you: totally don't worry about it, and just proceed with the others.
5) Settle into this moment. Gently relax into it when laying down, when just sitting. Learn the basic, simple art of just being able to be at ease. It is more profound and not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Notice how there are tensions in the joints and muscles that seem to be bracing against life itself even when there is no threat: gently feel into those tensions, allowing gentle mindful attention and gentle reassurance to slowly relax them such that you learn to sit at ease, just here, appreciating this moment in a very ordinary, quiet, easy, simple, straightforward way. It is probably one of the most useful skills you could learn and practice. If you do formal sitting practice, try eyes open and eyes closed and get good at both. For this stuff, I generally prefer eyes open, but for doing this when reclining before sleep or before getting up in the morning, I like eyes closed. See what works for you.
6) Commit totally to this sense field, this rich and vibrant and colorful volume of human experience, as a volume with thoughts and body and memory and all of that as qualities of this integrated space, and really be with that all day long whenever you can remember to. Be obsessive about this but in a light-hearted, adventurous way rather than a drudgery sort of way. Drudgery won't help at all. Inspiration and anything you can do to be inspired helps. I listened to my favorite music on fantastic headphones, ate my favorite foods and relished them, really payed attention when watching my favorite movies (particularly to how they made me feel and how cool the visuals were), really enjoyed the feel of driving down the road with my hand on the wheel, my foot on the gas, and the wind in my rapidly vanishing hair, really listened to myself when I played guitar, really listened to people and looked at them when they talked, really listened to the sound of my own voice when I spoke, really felt what it felt to just be a feeling Daniel in this body. Recommit again and again and again and again and again. Make it a way of life. It is your life, so you might as well be here for it. In the face of terrible pain, such as kidney stones, all bets were off for me, and I did whatever I had to to get through it, but for ordinary life that doesn't totally suck, really be with it.
7) I mean these next points in the most lighthearted and jovial of ways:
Screw anything to do with all of the complexities of AFT politics and bullshit. Enjoy this moment instead.
Screw anything to do with the various AFT-related cults of personality. Enjoy being where you are and who you are instead and value the truth of this moment for its own sake.
Screw the fanaticism of the die-hard Actualism-is-the-only-true-way converts. Enjoy the empowerment, experiences and insights that come from just experimenting with being present and tuning in to this wondrous world instead.
Screw what any of these practices have to do (or not do) with anything else, including "Buddhism" and "Actualism", and finally
Screw anyone who says these basic practices are a bad idea, as points 1) to 6) above all make perfect sense and are based on sound meditative principles, and it is your journey, your life and your attention to it that finally will make the difference.
All of that except #7 simply rings totally cheese-puff and fluffy to me as I re-read it, and yet that is what finally really did something good, though it took a few years of doing it. I also have no idea how this will effect someone not coming from my practice background, which is unusual, so you will have to do the experiment yourself and let us all know, if you wish, as data on this is woefully lacking, and it would be good to know what everyone learns and discovers as they do these sorts of things.
I hope that is of some value to you.
Question #2: Why do you call yourself an arahat if you still are developing and changing?
After lots of practice and changes and shifts, in late April of 2003 I finally got to something that was totally independent of all the states and stages and the like that rolled through and continue to roll through, something very simple, very direct, very straightforward that had the following qualities:
1) It was abundantly clear that everything happened on its own.
2) It was abundantly clear that everything was known where it was, by itself, and not by any separate watcher, Subject or Self.
3) It was abundantly clear that all of the sensations that once appeared to be Self, Doer, Awareness, Consciousness, Controller, Watcher and the like were themselves just more qualities, more textures, more aspects of this empty, causal, transient, fluxing, ephemeral, rich, interdependent field of manifestation.
When that essential insight held up after all sorts of other things continued to change, that was truly something, as nothing had withstood so many changes like that.
Then we get into the various models of awakening...
There are many criteria for arahatship if you look around in the texts. I have poured through them and I believe I have found them all.
The one that is the most relevant for my practice and why I use the term is one of the classic ones, that being "in the seeing just the seen, in the hearing just the heard, in the thinking just the thought," etc. It is a perfect fit.
Then we have the criteria that don't fit: that being the total elimination of certain emotions.
All of the emotions still arise, but there is something very different about the perception of them and regarding things in the triggers for them (some of which are the same, some of which aren't), and the duration of them (how long they last after the stimuli that triggered them is gone), and something in the quality of them (as the emptiness and compassion aspects are very clear), as well as the spacial perspective on them, meaning that before they would tend to fill most of attention if they were strong, and now even the strongest emotions are still just a part of this wide field of experience and can't get any bigger and they are in the body as a percentage of its volume.
The divergence started after second path. Everything was straightforward up until then. I was practicing and got stream entry, and everything checked out just fine. I got second path after more practice and another insight cycle and everything checked out fine also. Then the split occurred, where suddenly I was experiencing things very differently, but the models began to not quite fit like they did before.
What happened in late 1996 was that I went through another standard insight cycle, but after I finished it, luminosity began to be a large part of my waking experience, and by that I mean that the awareness of things was in them, not on this side (well, none of it ever was on this side, but it had really seemed to be before, and now it just seemed to be a very tiny, frustrating bit).
The literature that began to make the most sense to me was the vajrayana literature, the
Five Sky Dancers or Buddha Families, the fact that all the emotions were just part of the luminous, aware, manifest, natural, causal, centerless fabric of the endless dance of compassion and emptiness, just more qualities and textures of space, with all of its resonance, heart, gut, pleasure, pain, energy, power, tragedy and richness.
So things progressed, cycle after cycle after cycle for 6 years, until that retreat in April, 2003 when suddenly the last little warp in space, that last little, hyper-elusive knot of distorted perception was untangled and didn't re-tangle and the thing was now so straightforward, so simple, so obvious, with such a definitive sense, "Ah! Finally! That makes sense! That is it! That is the answer that I have been looking for!" I still have that feeling 10 years later, which is a long time in this business.
Emotions still occur. However, with no center-point, to say that there are things like Attraction and Aversion in the same way as before wouldn't make any sense, as there is no longer that sense of a This Side that either wants to try to get over to That Side or get away from That Side, or tune out to That Side all together, meaning that the classic dualistic action of Greed, Hatred and Delusion can't functionally happen anymore in that way. That said, from an ordinary and very realistic point of view this Daniel is still a very much a mammal. An animal was born, albeit a relatively smart one, but still an animal, with chemical transmitters, instincts, and the like, and they still function in many ways as they did before. This is to be expected. If we look at Dependent Origination, clearly Birth conditions Life, which leads to Old Age, Sickness, Pain and Death. I am very much alive in a very full, clear, direct, but in many ways ordinary way.
It would seem a paradox, but only if one holds very high, unrealistic models of what realization will transform. Some aspects of life just seem to be life. It is a very intimate thing, much more so than before, as it is so directly where it is, and not filtered through the odd and illusory logic of the dualistic split. Strangely, that makes things like pain a much more intimate and direct experience, but pleasure also, and peace as well. It is very realistic, this way of perceiving things.
That said, there are lots of aspects of things to develop, lots of ways to continue to grow, lots of things to work on, as that is just one axis of development, albeit a very fundamental one, perhaps the most fundamental one.
And so I have continued to grow and learn and this brain has continued to change and learn new things. None have changed anything about that fundamental insight in April 2003, and that is truly remarkable, given how much has gone on since then.
It is not surprising that one would continue to grow and learn and explore and master new skills and explore new avenues of perception and ability and transformation, nor is it odd that a fundamental insight like that would transform old patterns, old habits, things that are relative, conditioned, and ordinary, as it touches them and illuminates unseen aspects of them, puts things in their proper perceptual perspective, and the years of that maturation go on.
If we look at the story of the Buddha, he continued to learn things after his realization, figure things out, mature, grow, and develop. This is totally expected and normal. If we look at so many teachers, they also continue to grow, transform, explore, learn new things, and the like, so the trend obviously continues today as it did then.
How does it relate to your own practice? What useful thing will you do with this information? How is your practice going these days? What models do you hold of all of this and how do they relate to your experience and the experience of those you hopefully know who have progressed in insight?
I myself noticed that in the Theravada everyone I know seems to stop at what they think of as Second Path, Sakadagami, Once Returner, as, in their models, by Third Path, one should have no Anger, no Lust, no Desire for anything but the jhanas (as those specific desires are eliminated at Arahatship in the 10 Fetter Model). That is interesting, isn't it, given that I know lots of senior teachers, teachers who have been practicing well for decades. Why is that? Are the Emotional Elimination models unrealistic? I think so, but then opinions clearly vary. Why is it that even the few people I do know who claim to have eliminated the internal feeling of all emotions (e.g. Gary Weber, a Vedanta practitioner, who I have just met briefly, and he seemed to be a very nice guy with an interesting message), still totally seem to manifest emotions externally? It is a mystery that I haven't sorted out yet.
I have met no living examples that I can confirm for myself who have totally eliminated all bad emotions, as the Theravadan model promises, including their external manifestations, and I have been going this long enough and run in enough circles of highly accomplished meditators that you would think I would have at least met one or heard enough reliable second-hand reports of one, but perhaps they exist and are either just hiding or being very clever to not let out what they have accomplished or somehow I have just totally missed them due to whatever factors.
You might find it interesting that I was just talking to a heavy Vajrayana practitioner about all of this at Buddhist Geeks, and she made the comment that I had attained to Vajrayana results with Theravadan methods: this it the best fit for the models I can come up with, but then again, "in the thinking just the thought", meaning no observer, no thinker, no knower, just the perceived, still applies as well as it did 10 years ago, which would seem to me to be sufficient cause to use the term you ask about.
Anyway, I hope that is of some value to you, and practically I would examine the various models you use and how they do or don't help you be present to what is happening right here, as that is the foundation of insight, and if you find your models drive a wedge between you and your experience or you find yourself wanting something out there or in the future, try to settle back into right here and work with that as best you can in an honest and down-to-earth way.