The Darkest of Nights
Slowly losing my ground
What followed was a period of light and darkness. A period of intense suffering and pain that lasted for roughly 4 months. Slowly realizing I had nowhere to go other than confronting the part of me that still had substance in every waking moment. Before this period I could always run. Run into the Jhanas. Run to the wellness centre. Run to friends. Run to pleasure from outside myself. Until that didn’t work anymore. Thoughts related to the future started to hurt badly. Real physical existential pain would appear every time a thought like that appeared and those were of course many. The only way out of suffering was to be present all the time. Besides this, the thought of entering the Jhanas was met with utter disgust. The Jhanas had always been my bread and butter, “my” specialty. And exactly that “my” was where all the suffering came from. I woke up with existential fear and went to bed with existential fear. I just wanted to renounce from the world and gave myself permission to die many times. Even visualized it. But it wouldn’t help. It felt like being stuck in a corner, nowhere to go, only thing to do was to stop fighting. So I did.
I started to let go of controlling. Doing nothing, just sitting and observing the spaciousness and all-compassing nature of the mind. Everytime the mind grasped on to a thought or feeling, awareness became aware of itself and broke the spell of identification. The rate of fruitions began to increase greatly. Every minute experience would black-out for a nanosecond, but these fruitions were subtle and not very interesting. Until the one happened that I describe in a mail with one of my dharma friends:
“So this morning I sat and let everything go. There were almost no thoughts, except for this little tiny whisps of "being". And the mind became very very aware of when this happened. And I saw it again, but this time I felt huge tension building up. I let everything go. And it culminated in a massive cessation. But this was different.. I came back online and had no thoughts. Nothing to do... after the cessation I had to cry from deep down, and afterwards I laughed really hard. And it both felt awesome. Then I got up from the cushion and walked without having a sense that I walked. I am now typing this, without having a sense that I am typing this.”
The peace was amazing, but it didn’t last. The self came back in full force and what followed was one of the most crazy days of my life with huge amounts of existential suffering. During all that, I just worked and functioned completely normal as it truly is suffering from within. The next day, I had a day off. I thought about going to the wellness centre, but was so disenchanted with the thought of it that I set the intention to meditate all day and let everything go. To stop running away from the suffering seemed like the last straw. So I meditated. And fruitions popped, starting subtle, then growing stronger. Until I saw it. The moment of identification with a self. It just clicked. And a huge cessation followed. After this I just sat. It felt like there was nothing to do. I cried out of luck and then joy arose. Was this it?
2 weeks later I can conclude that it was definitely a hint of what it is like to have lost the sense of an agent. Since that day, my perception of reality is again different. I’ve had periods of absolutely peaceful agencylessness. Periods where I would walk in nature and be the nature. Of listening to music and being the music. Enormously pleasant, albeit a bit weird. During these agencyless periods it would feel like my heart broke open and I had enough love in me to fill the entire world with it. During Yoga class one day, I visualized breathing in all the suffering of the persons who were in the room with me, absorbed it and replaced it with love & light on the outbreath (Tonglen) and it felt so powerful! When having to function in a social setting, I would feel totally myself with the slight difference of even more equanimity and tranquillity than before. And when I was alone, my sense of self seemed to dissipate. Often, but not always as it didn’t seem totally stable just yet.
The cycles continued and besides the cycles there seemed to be another process going on. Every time agencylessness was lost, the mind collapsed and there was maddingly intense suffering. So much grief. During this phase, I cried multiple times every day. It felt like the self was ripped out of my chest without there being made a hole first. Thoughts related to me were painful and thinking in general hurt in some weird existential way. Every time the non-dual perspective closed, it hurt. Badly. Functioning in daily life became a bit problematic at this point, as being able to think normally is kind of a requirement to act like a normal human being. Luckily, I had 2 weeks off. So I cried, meditated and cycled. But even during these weeks, the perks of awakening seemed to persist and I'm quite sure that my environment didn't notice anything strange. I began to have visions during my sits, one of which I described to one of my friends:
“I just had a superweird sit.. I saw a deity and then she pointed at me. And I saw myself dividing into 1000 Pim's and she said: Every moment is another Pim, no Pim is permanent. Aaaaand cessation. And after that I had many cessations followed by crying, followed by peace & openness. That seemed to have given me some insight actually. When there is sadness, but there is openness, the sadness is so minor that it's not really sad?”
In another sit, I was struck by a lightning bolt which made my body merge with the earth and filling it with radiance from inside. In another, the wind would take me away like dust and spread me all around the planet. Different visions, same theme. The sense of Pim has no substance. There is only consciousness, simply being aware of itself.
Keeping the eye open
Another week, another cycle. Although the intensity of the cycles seemed to decrease and I could actually see the absolute cosmic joke behind it, the intensity of suffering when identification with whatever object arose took place greatly increased. After the roughly 9th cycle was finished a very interesting and absolutely terrifying review period followed. Strong negative emotions I hadn’t experienced for months tried to take hold of the mind. Like Mara was sending his greatest army to regain what he had lost: Control by identification. I would experience extreme sadness, anger, hatefulness, loneliness, envy. New persons I’ve never met would invoke a hate in my mind I’ve never seen before. Besides these emotions, thinking started to seriously hurt. Like physically hurt. The moment a thought arose, awareness saw it for what it truly is: Impermanent, not me, very unsatisfactory and therefore painful. But still, Pim functioned as Pim would normally function. Less compassion, less equanimity but I genuinely think nobody truly noticed the madness happening in my mind. I would go to work (temporarily working as a painter), drive back home, meditate and lie down on the couch. I couldn’t do anything else.
Suffering kept increasing. The eye opened and closed every few seconds during sits, until I experienced one of the most interesting and intense sits in my life. Absolutely horrible thoughts and emotions were coming at me like machine gun bullits. “I’m the worst person that has ever walked this earth”, “I’m useless and never have done anything valuable in my life” etc. Mental images of all mistakes I made in my life arose one after the other and was met with great suffering. Until I remembered the story of Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, letting Mara send his armies while remaining in a state of total equanimity and compassion. I visualized the Buddha sitting in front of me with his whisp smile, motivating me to let go of any identification with Mara’s projections and instead smile at them and embrace them fully. After a while, the negativity subsided and peace followed. Until a new army of projections entered the mind, this time related to desire: Naked women, chocolate, worldly pleasures of all kinds. And I met them with the same equanimity and compassion until those subsided as well and made way for a deep state of peace without a central observer. From that sit on, the eye remained open. My sits became extremely quiet. Just sitting in total peace, knowing that the cycles continue in the background, not identifying with any content projected in consciousness because of the cycles. No central observer, just vast spacious awareness and the objects in it, appearing and passing away. And yet, something in me was still weeking.
The darkest month
I wish I could say that my last update was the end. Nothing left to do. Just peacefulness. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Even so, the mere possibility that there could be an end doesn’t make sense anymore. How could there be?
Last weeks were incredibly rough. Bare primordial bodily suffering and the mind still trying to make sense of it so my thought stream was incredibly negative and thoughts shot through awareness like machine-gun bullits. I clearly cycled through all the stages of insight rapidly. Some moments, I just felt like surrendering to all the suffering and cried my heart out. It truly felt like parts of me have died over the last few weeks. Still, this insane suffering is always doable if surrendered too. It is the culmination of unpleasantness without resistance to it. And the absence of resistance is the thing that makes it doable. During these weeks I guided a retreat in my home and although functioning sometimes felt a little weird, I don’t think anybody noticed anything strange, while the seperation between the illusory me and the outside world was quickly crumbling down.
I now get the saying “One has to die before one dies to be truly liberated”.