I first discovered deep-state meditation after a traumatic experience. I began practicing when I was still a teenager. I did yoga at first, until I realized that it was preparing my body for meditation. That’s the way I saw it. To me meditation was the important part, and Zen was the method that really stood out, the path that I wanted to follow. I lived in Zen communities from my early 20s on, for 10 years. I moved to Korea and trained as a monk for two years. Then my father became very sick and I was called home. He had a bad case of diabetes and his insurance payments were crushing the family. They were just trying to survive. This was a turning point in my life. I started working as a carpenter in LA. It was the first time that I had to work in the world and just be a normal person. It was a great education, it gave me things that were missing. The first years were brutal. I didn’t practice at all for six years. I just worked and got through it and buried my father.
Soon after I twisted my knee badly in a wakeboarding accident and lost the ability to work, could hardly walk for two years, until I made it through the lines at Harbor UCLA and had a new ACL grafted on. It was a dark time. Before I’d recovered fully a Zen monk came to visit. He needed help. There had been a big fire at a Zen monastery in the Mohave Desert. They’d almost lost everything. We had to cut down all the dead trees and wash the soot out of the buildings, and recover everything that we could. He was like a brother to me. I was glad to go. It was nearly winter before we finished, time for the winter retreat. He asked me to join. I had no intention of returning to a practice situation. It wasn’t on my mind at all. I was only there to support them. But, for some reason I stayed.
The first thing I noticed when I sat down was that didn’t care about my life anymore. I gave it up, right there.
“If you cannot abandon your life, just keep to where your doubt remains unbroken for a while: suddenly you’ll consent to abandon your life, and then you’ll be done.” Ta Hui – Swampland Flowers
I couldn’t remember all the teachings of the Kwan Um School of Zen. The program that I’d ran before wasn’t working. I quickly developed my own way, naturally, which abruptly, unexpectedly threw open the doors of my mind. Suddenly the practice became very deep and very beautiful, a secret door was opened, easily, one that I hadn’t know was there.
This new awareness was pounded flat over a decade of steady practice, until again, calamity. By that point I’d returned to Korea to finish training as a Zen monk. The tight discipline really helped incorporate the new awareness and energy into my life. The special states became so common I wasn’t pursuing them anymore. Still magical, still magical, but I’d discovered that it was better to not chase after samadhi states. Maybe I just wanted to be human. As humans do, I fell in love.
“Love is not enough—in fact, it isn’t anything at all.” Elizabeth Wurtzel – More, Now, Again
It was something I had to resolve on my own. I didn’t, couldn’t act on it. I had to digest the terrible beast of unrequited love in the forest, alone. It was unbearably hard. What got me through it was going deeply into practice and reading the Surangama, a sutra about Ananda’s love sickness. The Buddha taught him to go into samadhi to get through it.
“When the river of love dries up you’ll be released from bondage.“
From my previous experience, I knew that putting down my life was a powerful technique. Though I’d matured greatly from the initial awakening in the desert, I had to relearn how to do it. The wonderful states soon overtook me, healed me. After a few years I again returned to normal life
From these experiences I had the conviction that to reach a deep state of samadhi required some kind of calamity to break through the wall of self. Maybe it’s true, in a way. It worked for me, doubtless for countless others.
The next difficulty I faced I mentioned in the last piece, Grimes On Mindfulness. In the monastery people were watching me while I was sitting and, if I moved, would crack their bones or making some kind of noise. This is a serious strain during a long retreat. You can’t change your seat. Sitting in meditation all day for three months, you get weary of it. You can’t have a nice daydream, can’t rest, instead you have to constantly move monitor your posture. I went through all kinds of different techniques to try to keep still. At first I noticed that if I kept my eyes opened I had more control. I couldn’t stop myself from moving, but had more control. Then I realized that thinking devolved naturally into sleep. Your brain is designed to rest if you’re sitting immobile. It’s deeply ingrained in our programming. We’re not aware when we cross the boundary into sleep. It’s autonomous. The brain doesn’t record it. You wouldn’t know unless someone is watching you.
I cut off all long thoughts. It helped, but there were lapses. Even short thoughts would sometimes pull me under. One morning I heard a loud crack and realized, to my horror, that even fraction of a second of thought could lead to sleep. I had to cut everything, all thought. It took a few years for me to get to that point. I had to go farther? To add to it, I found that the meditation technique itself could also pull me into sleep. A pressure wave would congeal around me. As I attempted to break out of it, the momentum released chaotic chatter. As my eyes struggled to refocus through the static drain, I often lost composure. I had to start a new chain, often. But I found I could do it, and for awhile I was nearly free of loud retorts. Even if the practice was going well, to ride samadhi is a knife edge which can also throw you to the depths, and the instantaneous switching between samadhi and thought is often an abrupt change that causes your body to recoil slightly or tremble. I’ve had fits of trembling as well. It’s not a problem, unless you’re being monitored for movement. In this case, it’s something you’ll have to learn how to control. I’ve found that in order to reduce the trembling my energy has to be held deep in my center and not the upper chest or head, where it often defaults to.
This winter my seat was moved, but it gave me no relief. I attracted the attention of not one, but three signalers, with a fourth down the row sending me bone cracks for good measure. It was too much. I felt, and was, singled out. I had so much rage one night that I couldn’t sleep. Several times through the night I decided to leave the retreat. The next morning, when I sat down between them, my mind was a blank. In the absence of mental activity, something amazing became blazingly apparent. I didn’t want anything. It was the answer, a simple, elegant solution so subtle it could easily have eluded me. When I truly didn’t want anything, my mind opened to samadhi, naturally, with no effort, the way it had before when I came to the threshold through calamity. What I’d discovered was a reverse to the energy flow. Not holding anything, not wanting anything, it flowed into me.
It’s like being alone on a beach, you’re not asking the ocean to do things for you. If you relax and abandon yourself to it, the experience gives you something, something very important. More, if your mind is occupied, if you have a lot of thinking and emotions, the intensity of the ocean will drain you. You’re working against nature. If you don’t want anything and let the One fill your mind with its perfect, ceaseless activity, energy flows into you.
This was my biggest realization. I finally understood. It’s not that you have to break yourself, or die on the cushion. It’s simply that you have to stop wanting. It’s counter-intuitive, opposite the way we normally act in the world. Instead of trying to grab something or strive for enlightenment, we have to stop, everything. Everyone fails at this point. They bring all kinds of gear: special teachings, words and phrases and austere practices, to no avail. This sentiment has been conveyed by many great masters.
“Just have faith in this truth of One Mind, ‘It cannot be grasped, it cannot be rejected.’ Then you should give up your body and your life right there.” – Ta Hui – Swampland Flowers
Not wanting things, not just meditation, every moment is entering a deep peace. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have short or long-term goals, or aren’t busy multitasking, developing some new idea or business. It has nothing to do with anything in the human domain. It’s the span of time between things, where a lot of your life occurs, and in the act of meditation. If you can collect yourself and deeply state in your core that you are free of these things, you are a master of this world. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are, just make sure you always return to the place where you want or need nothing.
Over the years I’ve realized that the mind field is like an energy field that you exist in. The structure of consciousness exists somewhere, the place all things originate from, but to call it a place is a misnomer. We don’t have a metaphor. We don’t understand what consciousness is, much less the space from which it arises. Still, there are references to it. All the teachings point to it, even our cultural expressions, our archetypes. One of my favorite movies, Wings Of Desire by Wim Wenders, is so well made you can watch it from any point. It really doesn’t matter. It’s just gorgeous, a work of art. In it an angel comes to earth and falls in love with humanity, all of these random things that maybe we wouldn’t even notice, and wants to become mortal. It’s a metaphor that appears and reappears often. There’s something there, some dynamism that’s thrilling to witness: fulfilling our duty and obligation to the One, giving it access to us, allowing the rapture of its existence to be known. The culmination of the path is to complete the circuit, to open the mind so that it can be accessed—all of the complex architecture that we’ve spun—by its source. To experience the world through it is something really wondrous, what our spiritual search is all about.
Another metaphor, perhaps more closely linked: a Zen master that I studied under told us of a doorway that appears just as you’re falling asleep. I wrote about this in The Zen Revolution, where I expressed my doubts about it. Now I can say, fifteen years later, that there’s something to it, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. It’s like circling a black hole. If you venture too close, you’re done. But if you just skirt it and use the momentum to drive you into samadhi, bam! I haven’t looked into this for a few years now. It’s something unfortunate to my situation—as soon as I get to a place where I can sense something, I get a bone crack that pulls me out forcefully. Thankfully, I’ve discovered this new channel. Anyway, it’s only a small tool that exposes a tiny corner of something indefinable. Once you’ve broken through the wall of self, the tool is useless.
You can, and most do, remain isolated and never develop an awareness of what’s outside, but once you do you can’t remain behind the wall anymore. Sometimes it’s more comfortable there. You can relax, figure out things in your life that are important to figure out. You can digest things that have happened to you, develop emotionally, work out difficult equations, whatever. But in meditation the intent is to journey beyond the wall. You begin to develop some facility with existing in the larger space where the energy is limitless. There are no boundaries, but to remain untethered… it’s not something that’s doable for a long period of time. You can adapt to it but it takes a great deal of training. It’s like being an athlete. You don’t want to always be training and going through enormous experiences. Sometimes you just need to be in a familiar, comfortable space.
Inside the wall of self, following your thoughts and emotional states you can easily lose hold of the room. Like writing, it completely takes over. I never listen to music when I’m writing—I wouldn’t hear it. When I really get into developing a character or scene I’m not conscious of the world anymore, I’m completely inside of the task of writing. The same for meditation. If you follow your thinking and become completely immersed in it, you’re no longer in the room. Also, you’re not aware of your body. It will begin to slouch, your head nod. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t turn on the emitters and get something done. If you have to figure something out go ahead and get that done. Sometimes it’s necessary. There are no rules here. If something is unresolved and it’s keeping you from going into a steady meditative state, it’s better to look into it. The way you live is your meditation. The more you practice the more you realize this. According to an old master, a straightforward person doesn’t need to practice.
But here we are. To venture outside the wall… actually inside and outside are superimposed, one resides within the other. Switching between them is instantaneous. Both run concurrently. You can absolutely be aware of both at the same time. The One uses your circuitry, but it’s still you: your chemistry, your design, your DNA. The energy source is transferred to one of limitless reach. If you allow this new commander to take control of the vessel, it’s pure joy, perfect grace and wisdom; you’re in accord with universe and in harmony with things, naturally. This is the main benefit of the practice life. This is the most important teaching that I have yet uncovered, and I think the final one. Once you awaken to samadhi and become aware of it in your daily life, you develop a mind that doesn’t need things, and the energy begins to flow into you, the circuit is complete. Then the teaching appears spontaneously. You’re receiving dharma constantly and your training really takes over. No more need for discussion. This is what I don’t know, is this accessible to everyone, or does it require a breach?
This piece evolved from a previous one:
And continues with: