Yesterday I visited Sacre-Coeur in Paris. I had been watching the building from afar the lasts couple of days and really wanted to visit that place.
While I was inside the church an interesting experience happened. I was a bit tired and sat down. Soon I started meditating. Immediately there was energetic movement in my head. There were flowing waves, tingling all over, and this sense that my head was being slowly energised. That grew over the next 20 minutes and after a while the upper part of my head felt, in a way, like the dome above me; it was energised all over in a kind of static way while more dynamic things happened on top of that.
I reflected on the meaning of Christianity. I felt into the sense that it is about bringing the transcendent realm/nirvana close to the human realm/samsara.
From time to time I looked at Christ doing the big arms thing:
It seemed to me that he is blessing people. I relate blessing to fullness, overflowing, bliss, expansion, pleasure, etc. Then I notice the wounds in his hands and that the position really corresponds to someone hanging on the cross. Pain, despair, contraction, etc. At one point I realise that what this image represents is inseparability of pain and pleasure. Contracting and expanding, blessing, bliss, suffering and despair are non-dually present in the very details as well as the whole of the image. That’s why it’s beautiful, holy, and awe inspiring (I also notice now that the face is equanimous, while his body/soul radiates light; during the experience the focus was on non-duality). And the insights continued to come: This very image is the presence of non-duality within relative consciousness. Art manifests non-duality within duality. So, interestingly, art — something “made up” — is closer to absolute reality than physical reality (the real real to many). This also indicates that certain parts of relative reality is closer to absolute reality than others.
I could go on and on here, it’s like these ideas come by themselves (piti in the mind?) but I’ll leave it at that.
In April 2018 I went to this place in France — Frogwarts as it has been called — to do a fire kasina retreat with a group of people:
The place was almost as amazing as the things that happened during the retreat. Every evening, with one exception, I made an audio recording of some of the most important things that had happened during the day. In total, I recorded around two hours of material. The audio recording is available below, and also a transcript, for those who prefer to read.
The meditation practice itself is quite simple: You look at a candle light for a minute or so, then close your yes, and use the afterimage — or whatever shows up — as a meditation object (“whatever shows up” can be a whole lot of things, and that is where things start to get interesting). Here is a link to the fire kasina website, which has an in-depth explanation of the practice and a lot of material, including further audio reports, on the practice.
Some further explanation of terminology and some aspects of the practice might be helpful to understand the different reports: The murk refers to the visual space after that is there afterimage is gone. It appears greyish or blackish, but you can usually find that it contains a lot of tiny bits of colours and is actually quite dynamic if you closely. Most of us used a mantra as a supplement to the kasina practice; this quiets the mental chatter and can lead to interesting auditory experiences. The nimitta is another word for the afterimage. Piti is a term I use to refer to a constellation of phenomena that often appear together, but primarily I mean blissful bodily and energy-related sensations. Jhana or jhanic state is a form of deep, meditative absorption. Top-down (conceptual knowledge/interpretation) and bottom-up (sensory input) processing are central terms in the predictive coding theory of mind.
That should be enough to understand this (my voice might be perceived as a little strange at some points; this is in part due to me being both very content, tired, and trying not to wake up people in the rooms next to me — most recordings were done around midnight):
A big thanks to Daniel Ingram, all my friends and fellow explorers, for making this happen!
Here is the full transcript:
Day one, April 2nd 2018. Today we pretty much just got settled. Got maybe around 3 or 4 hours of practice in. I did a couple on the way here, on the train. Nothing much has happened. There were a few occasions where the imagination seems to intrude into the colors, but that’s quite quick. Like it goes away very quickly. And there have been some … some patterns showing up in colors sometimes, like a fractal image. One case … yeah. Feeling … feeling good, quite blissful, focused, and tired.
This is day two. So quite a lot of interesting things happened today. Let’s see. There were some geometrical figures appearing, lines, triangles, as part of the afterimage. They don’t stay that long. There have been some very nice sits, blissful, calm. Also, especially towards the end of the day I had some pretty strong pain coming up. Just the body hurting from all the sitting. Did at least 10 hours today, or I did at least 10 hours. And I had a headache. Some strain around the eyes specifically. And at one point I switched to the breath. This was actually in my last sit now. And suddenly, as I settled down, a lot of colors started sweeping in, in the visual field. So that might have to do with just relaxation and that I might have been focusing too strongly.
My other sits … there were also cases where there were sort of clouds appearing and some … well I typically get sort of yellow, green, like shiny colors coming out of the murk. There were also some vision like appearance coming, figures starting to take shape in the murk. There was one where I saw a shiny, reddish triangle surrounded by blue clouds. That was pretty stable for a while, which means five to ten seconds, something like that. Also, different, other figures. Sometimes I can sense, or I get this fantasy image of what it might be that is starting to appear in the murk or the afterimage space, which is different from the fantasy space. And I try to see if I could shape the forms by imaging them or also wishing, for instance, a square to appear. And that happened on some occasions. So I managed to get a square shape appearing, which hadn’t appeared before that. It kind of takes some seconds before it appears from when you set the intention.
The mantra also in a sense spontaneously changes, but it kind of like I’m also inspired to change it. So I started to sing the mantra, a melody came to me, and as that happened I kind of got the sense, or imagined, that a big choir was singing the mantra, like an angel choir or a human choir, with very strong devotional voices. And as that happens, I got quite strong bliss with tingles across my body. And that repeated itself. So I have kind three versions of the mantra now. One is just saying it internally, one is singing it more in one tone. And another one is this big choir with a specific melody and so on. And I kind of go between those. Got a few cases where the breath stopped as concentration grew, but it only stops for a few seconds.
Some interesting memories come up. Emotional situations from long ago. There was some aversion that came up, but nothing strong and it didn’t stay. I didn’t have to work with it.
And I’ve been thinking about bottom-up versus top-down processing. So one explanation of what is going here is that you stop the process … so much sensory information from the outside, you kind of limit the external impressions, and still retain some of it as the afterimage. And you allow that space to become open to top-down processing, which you control by setting intentions and imaging things, and also things spontaneously happening, just coming from somewhere else.
I also had some cases where I have something happening and then I forget it pretty quickly afterwards. Similar to when you wake up in the morning and you’ve had a dream and then it’s pretty clear and suddenly it’s just gone. This typically happens if there is some strong visual change, but it’s more dreamy, strong maybe because it’s dreamy, you kind of drop into that, and then you exit it, you wake up, and then the thing you saw or what happened is gone.
I think that’s everything for today.
Day 3 of the retreat. Feeling good. Just past midnight. A lot of things happened today. It was a bit rough at points, starting about midday. Well, there was this situation where I was just looking … was walking around looking at the corner in the building, sort of yellowish color, and reality suddenly started flickering really fast. I kept staring at that, and that kind of signaled a change, and while sitting I had a very strong pain in the back, sort of the backside of the solar plexus. It was quite familiar. And I decided to stay with the pain and asked if could tell me it’s story. And the answer was pretty clear: There was this sentence “I can’t find my place in the world”, like “I don’t fit in”. And I dwelt in that sense of feeling for a while. The pain got better at times, but strong, difficult emotions were coming up and I went out, went outside, started walking, felt this sadness come up, it was, yeah, a sense that there is a place for everyone, somewhere that they fit, except not for me. There was this deep sense that I’m wrong, there’s something wrong with me, I’m useless. This light crying, without tears, and I walked for maybe ten minutes, feeling into that. And there was also this underlying that this is ok, this is good, it’s good process, I’m used to this, I know where it’s heading, which made it quite easy to feel into and deal with it. And walked in on Daniel and Duncan trying to turn on the stove, getting ready to cook, and they couldn’t, but I could. And [there was] this funny sense that “yeah, I’m not completely useless after all”. And as I sat down again a sentence came to me “the fire will teach me”, “the fire will teach me”. And when meditating, when focusing, I also felt that … that process, that activity in itself kind of opened up that space, that sore space, that woundedness. And in order to go deep, I had to go past that or into that at least. Yeah.
And as concentration grew, the colors became almost laser-like, very clear, even without the afterimage from the candle. And again, the “the fire will teach you”, that became the mantra for a while. And I had this realization: Reality itself is a fine-tuned teacher as it is. You just need to pay attention and listen. It’s all around you, in all people, everyone present, it’s in the silence, it’s in the noise. [There] was … bliss arising together with this insight, [a] tingling sensation and deep gratitude. But this sense of being tender or wounded, sore, lingered in the background.
And some greyish, brown, saturated fields formed. “The fire will teach you”. And I had this sense that “well, I want a real teacher, not reality, but a specific teacher”, and there was this immediate sense of an answer “any specific teacher will be impermanent. The invisible teacher in all things is a teacher you cannot lose”. And with that insight there was some deep peace.
The practice after that was quite good, kept on deepening. Pain was less strong, but my breath kept on stopping, not in a jerky way, but in a slow, peaceful way. And as I got into that space, the body became more rock-like and hard. I kept going with that, going into that. Letting concentration grow. And yeah, that was pretty much the first two sessions. And the final one … then things started getting interesting. I had more images coming up. There was this Greek column showing up. It was white and black. Also a rose, or a row of roses actually. Black roses, but that wasn’t very clear. And after that I had my first 3D-image. Like very thin columns, square shaped. And there was red and green on top. Kind of like a graph. Very, very fine, very high detail. And then an insight popped up, “so ok, if the world doesn’t have a place where you fit in, then reshape the world, it’s that easy”. And more 3D-images showed up. One was with a lot of bubbles. Tiny, tiny bubbles. Amber-colored. A third one was pink crystals. And also a couple, two-three times, flowers started appearing in the after image, right after closing the eyes.
That’s pretty much it for today. Oh yeah, I had a pretty rough night last night. I woke up with a strong headache and also had very strong tension around the eyes tonight, or during this day actually. And I decided to shift the energy downwards a bit, focusing on the sensations at the nose, when the breath goes in and out. I tried that just before going to sleep last night. And I dropped into a focused state pretty quickly, and a lot of colours showed up, like waves, different colours, again and again. And I could focus on them if I wanted and have the breath in the background, or focus on the breath and have the colours in the background, so I knew already that it’s possible to combine things like that. So I switched to this kind of practice also at certain times during the day, to lessen the strain on the eyes. And now it’s pretty good, we’ll see how it is tomorrow.
Day 4 report. Half past midnight. A lot interesting things happened today, [and] wasn’t so difficult as yesterday. In the morning I started working with the … the idea, the sense, that I’m entering into the fairy realm, the magic realm, and that they had put up barriers to this world – this was an idea that was inspired by something Daniel during breakfast. And so as I was working with this … this question came up in meditation: How do you open up a gate for which you have no key? And this answer came: You become the gate and then you open. So the barriers themselves are magic, they only let the worthy pass. And do you become worthy? By encountering the barrier over and over again. It’s like the obstacle is the path, these are perfect magic barriers, they send those away who aren’t ready, and let those pass who are.
And images showed up. A pentagram was forming in the nimitta, but it was imperfect. At one point there was a partial but very realistic image of a cow. Then turtles appeared. Teenage ninja turtles. Then I had the first 3D image of rocks. First they were photo realistic and then [they had] more magenta outlines, more like computer graphics. And at one point I had the first stable image. It was of a gate, it wasn’t in full detail, but it was stable, maybe 20-30 seconds. And this was followed by and image of a … it was the upper right side of a multi-colored ball, with something like hairs on it. Very strange. This is more like computer graphics, 3D.
The afternoon wasn’t so exciting. I spent a lot of time sitting in this grey area where nothing happened. And I had some pain as well, similar as yesterday. Pain in the back. And at one point I felt a stream of energy shooting up in front of the chest from the solar plexus to the heart. And there was a nice, slightly burning sensation there, now also actually. But this thing in the back stayed and as a consequence of that I switched to the bench. And I spent quite a while, at least ten hours a day, I think, total of meditation today. And towards the end of the night I discovered a trick. You place attention around the body. Expand. Go into that space, leap into that space, dream into it. And the first time I did this, the most intricate image I’ve had showed up. It was of a brown stone tablet with hieroglyphs, couldn’t read them, but they were there. Yeah, and after that some more fearful material appeared. A snake, the head of a snake, and some bush-like structures, more like thick branches, black. Yeah.
And I felt quite dreamy during the evening. Walked around a bit and could feel the whole room flickering. Also the meditation room. And I also had deep gratitude for everyone at the retreat. All of them in quite specific ways. Kept thinking about what I am grateful for, what I want to say to them, yeah. This is a special, magic time.
Day 5. Half past midnight. Very, very interesting day. A lot happened and I tend to follow this patter where I build concentration in the morning, have some challenge in the afternoon, then I go into steady practice in the evening and get some new stuff. So let’s see what I’ve got. The pain was much less today, which was good. Sitting a lot on my bench. And I do dream a lot, but I can’t remember [the dreams], so tomorrow I’m going to start writing them down as soon as I wake up.
And I noticed in the meditation room that there was this slow pulse or flickering at the periphery of the visual field, and I had this sentence come “trust your mind, it will show you, i.e. itself, what you need in the form of a language or an image that it, the mind, can recognise”. A sort of communication between the sub-minds. It was a case where a dream space image imprinted itself on the afterimage space, and it is interesting that the dream image is in a way clear, detailed, but quick and lacks awareness, and therefore also control — attentional control. The afterimage, in contrast, is not so detailed, but it lasts, and you have attentional control and its kind of brighter in a way. So the idea would be to develop awareness, metacognitive awareness, of what’s going on, and have equanimity with whatever is going on, so you don’t drop out of that, so that kind of what I’ve been working on, most centrally, today.
I did a have very strong agitation though, before cooking and checking emails. And yeah, that went away after we were done eating. And then I started noticing that people felt very unreal. It’s was a slightly intense experience, like everyone around you is just part of the scenery. There’s this sense of distance. Derealization. And as I sat down, this was in the afternoon, I got a lot of fear. And quite specifically in relation to the sense of ending up somewhere, where I can never get reality back as I know. Like I’d stay in this derealized state, this dreamy state, forever, like I was broken. And as I sat down to practice the tinnitus-like sound started increasing, which I often get when concentration gets strong, or as I go into a disembodied state, like an out of body experience or sleep paralysis state. It’s very strange, it’s like I hear something, like you could maybe call space, like I hear something but don’t really hear something. Yeah.
A funny thing that happened today as well was that Daniel discovered that the whole castle where we’re at is made of flint stone, like a fire castle, you can make fire with every part of it. And not only that, it had some, well, two alchemical symbols. One, or fire, in the middle, and a little larger one, for water, surrounding it. And they kind of combine, which then would make them the ether or space element. Yeah.
And back to the fear. I felt like I needed to kind of prepare for anything that could happen. What … or how would I react if something came up that I couldn’t handle? And I got into this elaborate, really elaborate fantasy about all kinds of protective beings. This is really bordering on crazy but kind of funny. I have like a big pantheon of beings surrounding me and all of them help with specific powers, specific weapons, in defeating demon.
While writing this, this reverie, I sensed that some quality was missing, some calm quality. The final being was missing. That was the being of fire that also brings deep, deep calm, through the agitation, through the fire. This was kind a transformation of the idea of that the fire will teach you. And she appears as kind of an angel and her wings form a dome around me. Then I get this sense, and this is actually when I’m sitting, I get the sense that fairies are washing my body water brought by Mary, mother of God, and then the fire being becomes my consort. I’m instructed to take to take refuge in every sensation. She says: Take refuge in every sensation as me. When your body burns with pain that is making you ready to become fire. You gain my knowledge and abilities. Your body is earth. I burn you up. Bliss will arise as water and steam. The spring of eternal life will wash over you. You will become fire, your body will become black as coal. In pure awareness it turns into a diamond. Eternal life. And you will become the space of awareness. Practice soaking up every moment as it is. Every moment is perfect and contains exactly what you need. And then this Imogen Heap mantra starts: “You decided this … wathcha say, it’s just what we need, you decided this, mmm watchcha say, that it’s all for the best, of course it is, whathcha say, mm, that it’s just what we need, you decided this, whatcha say, mmm, that it’s just for the best, of course it is”, and as starts in the background I get bliss waves, piti level II-III. “The more present you are, the more I can share my wisdom. The more present you are, the more I can share my wisdom”. Then she starts to dance, there’s this symbol, a triangle with nimitta in the middle. She holds nimtta fireballs, her eyes are nimittas. She takes the position of Kali and everything burns. And she becomes a consort again. Take refuge in every caress of fire. Pure, calm, in the presence of fire. Pure compassion and fast, intense love that’s always ready and present to you. Amen.
In the evening I had complex 3D figures. Well, geometrical figures, pyramids and cubes. Rainbow colored or nimitta colored. I had some white curtain like structure appear, stably, and then I suddenly saw the image of the girl with an earring, also in the nimitta space. Then it dawned on me that it seems like dream space has some more immediate and content … content-laden and emotional imagery. Then I had some skulls, […] some skulls around the nimitta. They kept on reappearing, were quite stable, but not so detailed, and I couldn’t make out sort of the different shapes. I tried to imagine a skull, I tried to bring the image of the skull to mind, and that actually made the skulls clearer, which is kind of interesting. I’m hypothesizing that that kind of plays into the function of top-down processing and helps the image and the after image space become clearer. The nimitta also became a bug at one point. Three, no, six legs. Also reddish, yellow, as the nimitta, and I had some more skulls and a dragon. That’s it for today.
Day 6 of the retreat. This was a very interesting day. Recorded some dreams. Not much interesting, but I remember them nonetheless. In the beginning sitting there were complex geometrical patterns. No, that’s not right. That was actually while lying in bed, that’s right. And I also woke up with a very, very strong headache. Yeah. I also had complex geometrical patters appearing in the afterimage space while lying in bed and had a very strong headache and I woke up with that. I also spent some time in the morning sitting in chair, trying to connect more with dream reality. Approached the goddess, and then she put her hand on my forehead, and blue light entered visual space, the afterimage space, very clearly. And after that the third eye was vibrating, and it kept on vibrating, and I also had many dream-like images while sitting. And throughout the day I worked on combining attention and awareness and equanimity, trying to unify them, spending some sittings in the chair, falling half asleep sometimes, and then a sitting in front the candle, working more on clarity and wakefulness. And I had one … one moment where I felt intense beauty and gratitude. It’s kind of like I felt like … I’m at Hogwarts and I’m becoming a magician. And just looking around everything was intensely beautiful. So beautiful I felt like crying.
I noticed that working with this goddess being feels like a mix of reality and fantasy. It fully starts out as fantasy and then interesting things happen, like there’s no doubt that blue light was appearing in after image space. And even if you have a physiological explanation of that some parts my mind react well to the mythological imagery. So it’s kind of a mix of something subjective and objective that works very well together. And, to use Shinzen-language and Culadasa-language, it’s like there is a combination of the mythological sub-mind with the wisdom function. And that leads to interesting stuff, definitely.
And since the third eye was still buzzing, I tried to direct my attention there, and had many strong colors appear, amber, blue, and I tried to shoot yellow from the gold spots on the sides into the middle, to create a triangle, which was semi-clear. I also noticed that the goddess was silent. And I asked her if I could hear her voice. Then she replied, “yes, you can” in a totally beautiful, deep, loving, playful, warm, compassionate voice. And I kind of responded, “you don’t talk much, do you?” And she replied: “I don’t have to”. And the conversation kept on going like that. It’s like I know the answer immediately and then the wording follows. And I kept on shooting “om” into the forehead chakra, where I felt the buzzing sensation. And at one point, really, really vivid purple colors appeared, like a sail almost. It was mesmerizing. Totally beautiful. It’s like I’ve never seen anything like that, it’s so clear. I mean, it can get clearer, but I hadn’t had this that strongly, and it’s kind of unbelievable.
And then while sitting in the chair I had some … well, actually, a lot of dream imagery, where I kind of fall half asleep – strange things, nothing really interesting, but many dreams of the participants. Like someone putting cabbage in the heater in the kitchen. And we later had cabbage for dinner. And then there was one scene where Alex hands me a chair, Will comes by, yeah, and like that.
Something new was like many mini-nimittas, maybe around 20, appearing sort of between the center and the periphery. And right before dinner I had very clear, or, I should say, relatively clear, images in the afterimage space, but they were very detailed. Inside houses, in the kitchen, and they were starting to get realistic. And after that I felt quite burned out. So I took an extra break. Talked a couple of guys and, yeah, recharged for a couple of hours.
In the evening I continued to focus on the third eye. Concentrating on that spot while sitting in a chair. And concentration got very, very strong. It was like it was a continual stream in the background. And although there was some mental chatter, it was like I was just pulled back into this concentrated stream of consciousness or focus at the third eye spot. And it felt great, cozy, strong. And then suddenly there were a series of white light appearing, flames, waves, and I focused that light into a kind of beam, and the mantra got really strong, it was like a laser beam shooting through consciousness that lasted for, maybe, two minutes. And I stayed in strong concentration for maybe around thirty minutes. I had the sense that I could keep on going for forever, but the energy eventually wore off. And I sat down and the same thing happened. I found it really quickly again. It’s like I’ve discovered the third eye jhana. There is a momentum that builds and it doesn’t stop. The mind is still active to a certain extent, I can think, but again it’s like the mind, attention, is drawn back to the center. And then after maybe 40 minutes there is a drop in energy, but I sat like that for about, I think it was two sessions, yeah, and I tried to see if I could drop deeper, like shut down the mind completely. There was some energy activation, piti flowing over the body and the mind became more quiet, but didn’t fully shut down. It was like I wasn’t completely submerged. We’ll see how that works tomorrow. And I had some skulls again, just to mention that, and they were clearer than yesterday.
So I just woke up to a beautiful Sunday morning. Can hear all the birds. It’s kind of misty, it’s been raining. The sky is clearing up.
Day seven. Just finished the first practice session. We’ll soon have lunch. Wrote down some dreams from the night. Some really nice, some more nightmarish, and I had one more that I forgot to write down and it’s gone and that feels lazy, I had the sense that it’s important to take notes like this to bring consciousness, attention, into that domain. I also did a practice, maybe half an hour, before getting out of bed, and I did that also before falling asleep, like looking at the afterimage space, looking for colors, finding shapes, and I woke up during the night once, and also continued that.
During the first session I noticed that the concentration from yesterday was still present, or it was quite easy to build it up, it took some time, but then it was really strong, and I experimented with keeping concentration strong while standing up and moving around. That worked quite well. I did long […] practice sessions, about three hours in total, shifting positions maybe three or four times. I still sit in a chair from time to time, but mostly on the pillow. While sitting in the chair I try to get into dreamland, some reverie. I had some funny situation showing up, like Will feeding me meatballs — and I don’t eat meat — Neko flew out of the chimney to save the world, shooting rainbows out of his head. Things like that. That kept on going. And I tried to bring that imagery into afterimage space, but it’s not so easy. But I do find that I’m growing used to that space and I can bring more awareness to it.
I did one strong determination sitting and as the pain came I envisioned the goddess and three dragons flying around, purifying me with fire. And after a session like that I took a break and sat in a chair and practiced there and got back to the cushion. And then a dragon showed up in the background, different shapes, mostly friendly. And I did one more round with the candle light, and then the dragon showed up in the purple light. Or like the outline, but much more clear.
And I keep having ideas and inspirations, things I want to do in the future, more retreats, what I want to work on in research, people I want to introduce to the practice and so on. It’s quite nice.
So — second half [later that day]. Worked a bit on color and shape control today. Got some shapes, colors, but it was disappointing. I also had a nimitta that was constantly flickering. And after a while I kind of ended up in a bad place. Took a long break, walked, picked up some stones, worked out a little, and started working again. Had some success with kind of dreaming into and becoming one with the shape that I wanted. Also tried at one point to kind of pull energy from above down through the crown, to the third eye, and the result was lots of colors. Which was fun. And then it happened again, I felt a bid down, bored, sad, low energy, and started walking again. Then I managed to enter the third eye first jhana again. Which was good. Back pain won’t go away. This little being showing up in the white. I had a lot of white and black. And this image, the being, was of a young guy, friendly, incredibly pure, wise, and silent. There was one even with a castle, that was in dreamspace. There was a crusader knight, [a] very nice, detailed picture, nice mood.
And before dinner I had very clear purple that I could bring up through intention and I started working with that a little. And was ready to continue that after dinner, and then it was gone. Completely gone. So I started working on concentration again and I definitely had as strong concentration as yesterday today. But it didn’t grow any. And I had some very complex, geometrical 3D-figures appearing, and patterns. Patterns are more holistic, maybe more in the background as well sometimes. 3D-figures kind of take shape out of the nimitta, which was fun.
Worked a bit also on starting to draw stuff in the air, and that is slowly starting to work. [It] kind of starts with some things coming out of the fingers. Particularly fun is holding two fingers up against each other. I could see different forms of light, I had some white light today, it’s kind of like you shift into afterimage space. The same thing with trying hold a ball, you kind of zone out a little and feel the ball there and then the colors appear. But on a whole energy and motivation has dropped a bit today, [and I’m] kind of working through that and looking forward to sleep.
So this is day 8. Just had a very clear case of dreamspace merging with afterimage space. So it’s as if I’m in dreamspace on the left, a little bit upwards, and kind of in the middle, on the right side, slightly, I have the afterimage space colors. And one part of my mind is in this dreamy realm, and it sinks into that, creates images, which are clear, but without awareness, and as I wake up the image moves forwards, it’s in the back initially the landscape, the barn, comes from the backside, and imprints the afterimage space. And I get the outline of a barn in the multi-colored afterimage space. And at that point I’m awake. And it still lingers this sense that I was in a dream right now, and can watch this process of merger.
Day 8 [continued]. Had a long, long dream last night. Going around in Oslo with friends, lot of good and bad stuff had happened. I also remember before falling asleep last night, that I had my first high resolution image in the visual, afterimage space. There were some discs that appeared and were totally clear and vivid. Yeah, and today I’ve been working with filling the whole inner space with purple. That took some time and effort, but I managed eventually. Let’s say the intensity of the light was 20% [in comparison to a fully clear and saturated purple color] with some black in between. And I had a series of images coming up, I’m not going to go through all of them. For instance one that were … that was more like a dream image where I drop a snake onto the ground from the second floor and there is a horse nearby. There was one clear case where there was a merger of the visual, afterimage space and the dream space. There was a landscape in the dream, and that imprinted itself on afterimage space, which is … lies before it. But when there’s a merger the image takes [the] colors of the afterimage space […] that are already there. And yeah, I still do some sessions in the chair and I try to kind of go into a daydream. Different images. It feels like I’m creating them, but I’m also in some state of flow, so it kind of happens. But what next … what comes next just dawns on me and I just follow, images show up. Yeah.
So a little more about, maybe, the … I worked with filling the visual space with purple. There were initially a lot of gold colors around the edges of the visual field and they kind of interfered with the purple. And in the end I managed to remove them, and the whole visual field was then purple. And there was some kind of intrusion again of this amber-yellow, green-like color, but I managed also to switch back to the purple space.
And in the evening I worked on the whole body jhana, managed to get into it, as I mentioned, and was very peaceful for the time after that.
Took a break and started working the seed practice that I got from Steiner. And it was interesting, it was quite easy, I didn’t meditate long and I got the purple color, although that is a real purple color that I see hanging in space, like an afterimage. Also maybe around 25% of the normal visual intensity. And I made some drawings on that and so on. I also had some greenish things coming up like tiny flowers, they were purple on top, like tiny leaves, which isn’t part of the original description by Steiner. And yeah, I got the flame in different areas also. One time it was on the front, one time it was covering the whole seed. I’ll try that again tomorrow. Interesting was that it was very clear that I sensed activation in the third eye area while doing the mediation in preparation for that. And when I meditated on the sentence “that which is hidden will become visible” [there] was a very clear pull upwards from chest area.
And in the late evening I had a very strong stable bliss, positive thoughts, tried to bring some bad things that happened today into that space and it was very relieving on a deep level.
And the final sitting was in complete darkness. It was really a light show. Many different colors floating around like flames. [They] also become very intense, let’s say maybe 40% up to 50% and some very strong 8-90-100%-intensity fields that also came up. And [with a] similar intensity, like around 100%, I saw some geometrical shapes, round, yellowish, red, black, lot of lines, very, very thin lines. And some flower shapes that were more muddied. Yep. That’s it for today.
So this is a report on day 9, it’s day 10 now. I decided to not do a report yesterday, to let concentration be very strong as I was falling asleep. And yeah, day 9 was certainly very interesting. I had back pain again, difficulties getting concentration, and yeah, nothing much happened, it was kind of a dry day initially. Then I managed to get into the whole body jhana again, seem to be nailing that quite well at the time. It’s like I can build the momentum for a while then kind of check to see if it’s possible to drop into it. And then I use the sentence “may jhana arise” and I fall right into it. And it stays for quite a while. An what was really interesting yesterday was that I was able to maintain background concentration all throughout the evening meal. I’ve never experienced anything like that, and I could drop right into it when I went back to sit afterwards. Yeah.
And this high-pitched sound kept on increasing. And before I went to bed I decided to just sit down and see if could increase concentration even more, and something funny happened, I felt like I could intensify concentration around the head, and the high-pitched sound increased even further, and it was as if my body kind of fell asleep, slightly, and became like a cloud while the rest of the body was more sharp. Yeah, and I maintained that for a while. And there is this typical [thing] that happens, it’s that I kind of build momentum, and then it slowly fades, and then I’m not able to into it, and then I have either take a break or take some time to build it up again.
And when I laid down to fall asleep I could hear the high-pitched sound increasing, like short bursts, and that’s a clear sign that an out of body experience will take place, I just have to slip into that, let it happen, and I decided not to this time around, because I want to go that deep while I’m sitting, and the out of body landscape can be quite confusing and there is often not much stuff that I can do there. Yeah.
And I got a lot of gravel images while I was meditating. The image was pretty stable. I could also notice that it was flickering. Well, the content of the image, that it was gravel, but sort the image itself, the visual quality, the colors were flickering all the time, and I tried to into the gone space between the flicker, the blackness there, and I felt like that would take me into the dreamscape, landscape, and the stronger the concentration, the stronger I manage to sort of go into that area with … and maintain clear images and awareness. Yeah, that pretty much summarizes the day.
And I keep having very nice insights and sort of prayers coming up about what I want to do with my life when I get back. And very sort of comforting insights, deep insights into the connections between everything basically. Like the idea that when it is dark, one just needs to remember that this is an illusion created to take one to the light, and to make the light appear, because if you are the light, you can only shine and you cannot experience it, so you need to go outside of the light, and from there you will see it.
Day 10. Enough interesting things keep on happening so that I’m not bored. Concentration was just as strong today as yesterday in the morning. And I had strong bliss coming up during the first session, but also deep pain and aches in the body, and I worked on loosening up, allowing fire to build in the belly and letting flow up to the solar plexus.
I also had one blip, where I was suddenly gone for a moment, and as I wake up, I realize I’ve been in pure, white light for a split second.
And in the afternoon I noticed that I just need about 5 to 10 minutes of mediation and then I can sort of slip into jhana and it stays. It seems like the longer the buildup, the longer and lasting the jhana will be. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to work with this, sort of going into it, letting it play itself out, and then bringing more energy back into it as I fade out. And it feels like I can fire it up, but that needs effort, and after a long sit the energy drops, and it becomes necessary to take a break.
The high-pitched noise is there also more or less the whole time. And I sense that my mind is very noisy, and I think it’s got to do with the sound, but also that I see all the tiny gestures and fluctuations that are going on, which is quite paradoxical, considering how calm my mind is. So I think this is sort of where I’ve ended up in this retreat. It’s the edge of my practice. Concentration has never been this strong, but this is also where I need to work. It’s also very noticeable how loose consciousness feels in daily life in contrast to the jhanic state.
And I worked on a specific technique, which consists of bringing painful experiences or memories into the bliss, into the peaceful state, and watch as those experiences kind of melt. It’s like the visual or tactile sensation or whichever sensations are connected to the experience become associate with a good rather than a bad vedana or feeling tone. So if the original experience was difficult you bring it into this very nice state and slowly it … well, it marinades in this, but it’s a … you learn to associate that situation, those experiences with good emotions, or good sensations, or a good feeling tone rather than a bad one. And then I had wishes of well-being and watch as the painful sensations merge with the bliss, and there’s this slight dissolution of difference between pain and bliss. And I replace the good … the bad aspects of the memories with good intentions and positive resolutions and forgiveness and so on. And I did that in one situation there was a very clear psoas release on both sides, I could feel both of the muscles deep on the inside in my belly.
In the evening sit I had strong, strong … well, I guess you say a painful sensatio
Notes taken directly after the visionn in the third eye. It was like it was boring deeply on the inside of my forehead, and it lasted for 30-40 minutes, and still kept on going, but it faded after a while. And then an interesting series of images showed up. I initially was at like, in front of it. There was a forest in the background. And I could small Buddhas staring to appear out of the water. As if they were being pulled up or just floated up. There were two, and a third one was appearing. And I thought “hm, yeah, well, let’s see what happens if I go with this”. And then suddenly a giant Buddha head rises from the water, flies upwards. It’s big, radiating light, and it moves to the top of a mountain, where it rotates, where it just shines it light. And I get strong piti or showering tingling sensations. Mostly strongly on the right side of my body, but they kind of move all over. And then a new scene appears. I’m in a clearing in a forest. And I feel this amazing presence. And I kind of see a being there in the middle, tall, has this gold, brown, and green shine to it. It’s got a robe. I can’t really see the head. And there is a person bowing, or standing first, and then bowing before this figure. And I hear the sentence “you have arrived”. And the presence of this figure, it’s … I can hardly describe it in words, but it’s very clear. Well, I can feel it very clearly, and it’s got this extremely honorable mood, it’s deeply, deeply balanced, clear and pure, incredibly pure, but still contains some substance. Something very refined and strong. And it almost makes me cry. And then the scene switches and I see a young woman walking on a plain of grass. There’s a forest on the right side and some mountains in the background. And she has the same quality as the figure. And she walks towards the horizon, and it dawns upon me that she’s walking the path to purity, and she already has those qualities in her, but the path consists of making them grow. And an interesting thing about these images is that they represent a continual partial merger of the afterimage space and imagination. And the feeling of that magnificent presence lingered for quite a while.
In the final session I had a lot of black and white images. Well, first, there was a high resolution black and white image, abstract simple forms, but it was breath taking in its clarity and it’s presence … I mean, it stayed for a while, it was not this very short dip in and dip out, but it stayed and was yeah, magnificent, breath taking. It was the first time I had that so clearly while maintaining awareness. And then I had this long stream of really fast, half-formed black and white images just continuing on really fast, as if my consciousness was trying to make out what those, yeah, lights and shadows or figures, impressions, that were going on, were. It’s almost unsettling and quite tiring.
I also had a funny vision. I kind of dipped into a dream and pulled to tarot cards with Duncan, some question was asked, but I couldn’t remember it when I came out of it. But I had the sense that the one the right was ace of swords and the one on the left was the tower. Couldn’t sense any meaning to it.
That’s it for tonight. May all be well.
Day 11. Final day. So … I feel I spent much of the day kind of downloading information, essential aspects of the experience I’ve had. Got some ideas for new techniques and tips and tricks on how to relate to visions or things that come up in fire kasina practice. And many insights relating to suffering, impermanence, no-self. And I had a long philosophical excursion on duality and oneness, watching the plant seed I’ve been growing and using as part of my practice here. And I have this vision like thing that became the foundation for reflecting on the whole cosmic process, practice, being a human being, and so on. Too much to list.
One really interesting thing that happened towards the final sit of today was that I could start to feel something happening in the spot in the back, the middle of the back, that’s been bothering me throughout the whole retreat, suddenly opening and then energy started flowing, and flowing, and flowing, really intensely and nicely and pleasantly, and it kept on going like that for I think around a couple of minutes and warmed up the whole place. And I feel like that is an important thing that has happened. It will allow me to go deeper in my practice in the future. Specifically going into this space where there is a merger of image or visual space and dreamland. So that’s, yeah, pretty much an end to this retreat and an opening to the next one.
And I spent some time also just getting back to mundane life. Went for a long walk. I had many conversations, reflected on the whole the retreat with the groups, which was also a very good experience … seeing the richness of everything that’s been happening here and how it can be integrated, and yeah, I think that’s it. I’ll be doing one more sit now before I go to bed, and I can still feel that concentration is strong. And yeah, I’m signing out, thanks for listening.
Aftermath. There have been a few days now since I got back since I got back from the retreat, I haven’t been mediating that much, but I’ve seen interesting effects, like images continuing to play out of consciousness in the visual field when I fall asleep in particular. Also during sitting I tend to get purple colors mixed in with green and amber-like fields, blobs floating around, playing around, and that is spontaneous.
Also, what I’ve noticed — and I just finished a session now, so I thought that I’d make a recording of it directly while the experience is fresh — is that I can, or I could now at least, quickly drop into this jhanic state, that I’m having some issues with regards to how to analyze and understand it, so I thought I’d just describe it while it is fresh. So I can switch into this other state of consciousness, this other space, just by bringing that state to mind, remembering it. Although I have to kind of sense that I’m ready for it. There is an opening there, and then I go into it. And what happens is that consciousness becomes unified, much tighter, in a sense, in particular in comparison to the ordinary state of consciousness, where one goes here and there, and it just feels like everything is more loose in ordinary consciousness. While in this jhanic state, things are more unified, tighter, and it feels like I’m continually drifting back to that state, so there is a reversal of the typical thing that is going on in consciousness, also when meditating, where one is continually drawn to something going on in consciousness. One continually has thoughts, distractions and so coming up, and one has to pull oneself back. And it this state, this jhanic state, consciousness’s focus has got its own momentum. It’s like there is a gravity to it. So whenever there is distraction or a thought, there is an automatic pull back, which I don’t know from any other states. None that I can think of at the moment at least. And in general the mind slows down, there are thoughts, there are distractions and so on. But those feel much thinner or not so strong or, like they have less weight to them, less pull. And in this jhanic state there is also tranquility, bliss can come up, in particular in the background, and I had some piti, some showering sensations going across the surface of the body while sitting just now. [It] didn’t last more than maybe 20 seconds, but anyway. And there is some more, deeper, or an underlying tone of bliss and happiness. There ’s also something very beautiful to this state. And I can also feel the aftereffects of it now. Consciousness isn’t drifting as much as it usually does and I’m much more content. Let’s see if there is anything else. Yeah, there a simultaneous broadening and tightening of the visual field. I don’t really have an object, although I tend to be much more centered around the face and the head. And the funny thing is that there is an effortlessness to it when I’m in this state, it keeps on going by itself, as if I’ve thrown a wheel down the road and it just keeps on going. But I’ll slowly also drift out of it, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the state stops. But what’s also funny is that I can fire up the state again by raising the energy level of consciousness. And that is something I’m also working on. It can get a bit dull, but it’s also very easy to raise the intensity of consciousness, the wakefulness. And I’m doing that by kind of directing energy from the chest up into the visual field, the head, where the eyes are, where the nose is. And it’s like I’m fuelling this fire that is burning by itself, from time to time, in order to not let it burn out. I also have the sense that I can just keep on going and going and going, like sitting, and sitting, and sitting, for however long I want. But there is also an underlying, subtle discontentment, something that is not satisfactory, which also kind of grows after I’ve sat for a while and that is then the reason why I get up and break this state. Alright, I think that’s it.
Today is Christmas Eve. Some of us celebrate that a special child was born — a divine human being that was later to be humiliated, tortured and killed. And Christ not only dies, he resurrects, signalling a deep change. Speaking to Christians, I have often asked: Why did Christ have to die in this way? The answer I typically get, is that he came to redeem us; to save our from our sins. But couldn’t an almighty and omnipotent God just make redemption happen? Why did His son need to be sacrificed? Why did he have to be sacrificed in such a brutal way? It seems utterly senseless to me. I’ve never really gotten a satisfying answer to such questions. Throughout the years, I have slowly been able to formulate an answer to my own questions.
Many years ago I had a conversation with Arnfinn Haram, a Dominican monk. This was, I believe, the last conversation I had with him before he died. Arnfinn was both warm, open, smart, funny and deeply religious. We discussed the nature of Christ. My claim was that Christ couldn’t have been 100% human and 100% God at the same time, because being human means being less than 100% God. Arnfinn agreed with this argument — to my surprise — but still claimed, as a matter of dogma, that he believed that Christ was fully human and fully God, even though it was beyond his comprehension exactly how that could be the case. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that he’d admit adherence to a dogma, but I was at also fascinated and confused, and only slightly disappointed that he accepted belief in a contradictory proposition. In my view, there is a way out of this contradiction: In order for God to become fully human, he must stop being God. He must turn away from himself. He must lose his powers. This is how I’ve view the saying on the cross, where Christ exclaims: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). God becomes human in this moment. He stops being God. Then he becomes god-like again through the resurrection. So through a process, God can be both 100% human and divine; but a concrete unfoldment of a development needs to be accounted for if we are not to end up with a contradiction.
So can we now say something more about why Christ had to go through all the utterly harsh things that happened to him? Or was his death just a morbid display of events? How is sin connected to redemption in the life of Christ?
Sin is a difficult concept. I conceive it, roughly, as failing to act in accordance with what you truly are. In the Christian view, man is inherently sinful. I imagine this to mean that without divine intervention, the human being will continue to act in a way that slowly makes it move away from itself; base acts will proliferate and slowly turn the human being into some kind of monster, an inverse image of what it could have become. Here is an analogy (presented by Rudolf Steiner in GA 123): Picture a wolf. A wolf has fangs, eats meat, is aggressive, kills to live, and so on. Image this wolf growing teeth that are larger, imagine the wolf growing stronger, more aggressive, more in need of meat and blood to live. At one point the wolf would become indistinguishable from a monster. Do the same thing with the image of a human being. Magnify all bad habits, thoughts, deeds and words. At one point the human being becomes something like Jabba the Hutt. A world without divine presence would result ina proliferation of monsters like this.
One classical Buddhist response to this, is to have the human being purify itself and leave the world behind. The Christian (and perhaps also Mahayanist) answer would be to tame the wolf. Have it play longer as a cub. Let it develop its good traits. It will become friendly, caring, and faithful like no-one else; it would become like a dog. A human being can also be “tamed”; Christ is an image of what the human being can become if it does not leave the world, but stays in it and purifies and transforms not only itself but also its immediate surroundings.
Ideas like this is what is what attracts me to anthroposophic christology. Humanity is slowly drifting apart from its spiritual origin and will continue to do so by virtue of the inertia of its lower nature. There is a possibility of reconnecting to the source, but this isn’t something God can do by simply choosing to. The best of humanity needs to come together, human wisdom, simplicity of heart, strength of character, the endeavour of self-purification, and then it needs to stretch upwards, so to speak, so that divinity can enter into the stream of earthly life. God does not know fully know what it is like to be a human. In order to be able to offer the possibility of redemption, He needs to be touched by evil. In order to fix something, you need to know how it works. What is pain? What is it like to be mocked? What is hopelessness? What is death? Try it on, if you want to fix it – if you want to show another way.
One of the most interesting thinkers I’ve discovered this years, is Jordan Peterson. He’s caused some turbulence with his ideas about gender and identity politics. I find he’s exaggerating somewhat. But his other thoughts about psychology, human development, religion, and so on, are utterly stimulating. In particular, I find his Jungian perspectives valuable – and I’m still baffled that a psychologist with Jungian affinities can find his way into the mainstream. In one of his lectures, Jordan talks about the fact that Harry Potter can talk to snakes. The ability to speak with snakes comes from the evil one himself, Lord Voldemort, and was transferred to Harry when he was attacked by Voldemort. The ability to talk to snakes becomes essential in Harry’s further quest. As Peterson points out, being touched by evil can become, in a paradoxical way, what enables us to conquer it. And so Christ enters into the human world, severs the connection to his divine roots, becomes fully human, comes to know the ways of the world, including death, and thus is able to offer the potential of transforming it. And now the choice is here. Tame the wolf or become Jabba the Hut.
I think this is an interesting reflection on an in general interesting blog, so I am very sympathetic to your views. I may partly agree on your conclusion (I have a rather spiritual non-reductionist interpretation of meditation myself), however I think there are a number of questions, clarifications and reflections that could be added. My response here stems partly from my ongoing meditative practice with krya yoga, my own experience with different kinds of entrainment induced by technology (brainwave entrainment, heart wave entrainment etc.), and my training as a philosopher. Adding also the fact that meditation seems be so manifold and full of paradoxes, I find it difficult to not give an ambiguous conclusion.
First of all, I have not tried the technologies you mention, like neural feedback. I have heard of it but I will not comment on it. However, what I find surprising is that you have not mentioned the (probably largest) industry of meditative technology: brainwave entrainment. In short this is the use of sound pulses that entrain your brain into states. A brainwave state is measured and distinguished by the level of electric activity in the brain (beta, alpha, theta, delta are most acknowledged, but gamma and epsilon are also claimed as distinct states/waves). This activity changes all the time depending on what activity we are doing, however it can also be manipulated through sound waves. Three brainwave techs are now state of the art: binaural beats, monochrone tones and isochrone tones. They have shown to have different kinds of short and lasting effects on the brain. Some new companies now claim to have developed tech even beyond brainwave entrainment and aim at entraining the electromagnetic field of the heart. And from here it becomes (interesting but) even more esoteric and difficult to follow.
So how is this relevant to the discussion? I have used and experimented with these technologies the last twelve years or so and I have tried all the most famous and popular programs. My conclusion from this is that they have had a tremendous impact not just on my perception of meditation but on my own meditative practice and experience. These technologies have had profound but subtle effect on my mood, ability to cope with stress, sleep, my patience has grown. In short it has enhanced my well being. But it has also been a way into the more spiritual domain like who I am, the reality of distinctions and duality, and a deep experience of for short moments to lose my identity and experience just being energy.
So how do I see this in relation to your questions? I am currently working with simple but potent kriya yoga meditative sessions, without any technological “support”, and have become more and more convinced that there is a distinction between the effects of meditation on the general well being (which is a good thing), and meditation for spiritual purposes and insights. But I think that this tech has made me experience the different levels of meditation, it has made me able to meditate without tech in a way that I think I would have taken years to accomplish without. As I see it, this tech is a crutch that some need in order to stand but that eventually can be thrown away when the feet remember their own strength. Do I depend on it? I will be dishonest and say no. But I use it more seldom, and I can now sometimes go “deeper” without it than with.
1. When you mention Ken Wilber among some of the contemplatives that you look up to you should look at a video where he talks about brainwave technology. He has certainly used it:
By this I do not mean that is a good argument to begin with technology! As I said, I think I agree more with you now than I would a few years ago. But on the other hand, I do not think I would have been on my level of comprehension without it. To put it paradoxically: the technology has taken me on a path that has shown me something beyond the technology.
2. If we for a minute accept that meditation is not just about well being (of mind and body), but about spirituality, then it could perhaps be admitted that consciousness is linked to the brain without reducing meditation to brain? As one of the internet gurus, Sadhguru, says; can a finger be spiritual? No it cannot, but it can be used in a process to induce a spiritual process. Likewise with the mind: it powerful, it is limited to the physical, but can be used in a process to gain access to something beyond the physical. I am turning into mysticism here, sorry, but these are just reflections. My point is, even though it is not the end why cannot technology put you on a path?
3. My experience with this technology has not made me rely on it, rather the opposite. It has made me more independent and increased my comprehension of meditation, made the mind more liberated. My patience with not being able to concentrate in meditation has increased. I would in fact say that it has made me see how ridiculous the desire itself for enlightenment is (not enlightenment, but the desire for enlightenment) because this is also “maya”, an illusion. On the other hand, I think you are right that there are some potential pitfalls here. And I do not think for instance that without my own persistence could have made such a “progress”, and this persistence stems perhaps from my own discipline rather than from the tech?
So, to conclude. I do not know if we go down different routes or will ever attain enlightenment, but I would love to compare notes.It is said that Shiva revealed that there are 112 ways to get enlightened. How many ways have we discovered so far?
We live in a time of great technological advancement. The German historian Oswald Spengler once wrote that if someone wants to do something that has any importance today, one should become an engineer, not a philosopher. And I think it is true that our age will rather be remembered for Steve Jobs and the iPhone rather than for its pioneering contemplatives and their revolutionary technologies.
Recent technological developments are even starting to show potential for use as a part of contemplative practices such as meditation. There are ways of training the mind with the help for instance neurofeedback. Machines can recognise the signatures of a brain that is focused; if you do concentration meditation and drift off, the machine can notify you of that for instance by making a sound. In that way you get external feedback whenever you drift off and you can return to meditating as intended. This could potentially make you a much better meditator.
I don’t use technology as a support for my meditation practice and I never have. Will I ever? Probably not. Here I will try to make my reasons for this clear. The points I present are in a sense theoretical in nature. They may be contradicted by empirical findings. Still, I want to justify my stance, and I think that empirical results need to be viewed in light of evidence that isn’t necessarily empirical anyway. So here are my reasons for not using technology as a means of improving my meditation (points 3-5 are actually variants of the same point, namely that using external means to support a development process will generally lead to a weakening) :
The contemplatives that I look up to and who have influenced me in significant ways have not – to my knowledge – made use of technology to improve their practice: Rudolf Steiner, Ken Wilber, Shinzen Young, John Yates (Culadasa). I could potentially add every representative of the all the contemplative traditions here; meditation has almost always been done without the help of technology. I recognise that this in a conservative argument and to a certain extent based on authority. Nonetheless, until great contemplatives emerge who have had their practice influenced in a major way by technology, I see no reason to change my mind.
I don’t think we have a good understanding of how the brain works and how it relates to consciousness. Therefore I’m generally sceptical about any claims that a specific technology can influence consciousness through influencing the brain; such claims are based on more or less rudimentary theories.
There is something about the whole attitude of using external support for meditation practice that seems wrongheaded. It is like going to the gym and attaching an exoskeleton to your body to help you lift heavier weights. This will not make you stronger; it could potentially make you less strong, since the machine is doing the work for you. So what may seem like quick progress in fact leads to deterioration. Meditation is, for me, about liberating the mind, making it more self-supporting and free. Using external means to make this happen contradicts this basic gesture.
Using external means to support practice is also an expression of an attitude that I’m suspicious of. It is an attitude that is based on the idea that you only have to find the right thing, the right pill, or the right technology, and everything will be fine or improve significantly. Again, technology may make things easier for us, but there are secondary effects to this that are not easy to notice at first; we become lazy, weaker, and complacent. If I used technology with the intent to to improve my meditation skills, I think this the attitude behind this choice will seep into the rest of my life, making me in general less sharp, less self-supported, and less active.
There are specific ways in which I think technology may hinder meditative progress in the long run, although it provides short-term benefit. Consider the case above of receiving external signals when your mind-wanders. This might improve your concentration quickly. But when you reach the stage of sensory pacification, i.e. when the external senses shut of, you cannot rely on external means anymore. If you have become depended on external feedback, then you couldn’t possibly complete the process of pacification.
This may sound negative – and it is – but I don’t really consider myself as someone who is unfriendly towards technology. I programmed a C64 when I was a kid, played a lot of computer games, and I hope to get a new iPhone soon, which I actually use as part of my meditative practice: I use Insight Timer to track my time on the meditation cushion. One reason for this is to check how much I actually meditate, which is in a sense a form of feedback. But I draw the limit there. However, I’m fully supportive of doing research on how technology may support meditation practice and investigating whether it actually works. And to do that properly, we need cases to compare with. I’ll be a case of someone who meditates (mostly) without the support of technology. If you go down a different route, very well. We’ll see each other at the other side of enlightenment and compare notes.
Last week I attended the Mind and Life European Summer Research Instiute 2017. The event takes place at Fraueninsel in Chiemsee in Bavaria, close to the Austrian border. Looking south, you can see mountains in the background, very impressive and awe inspiring. The island itself is very idyllic. There is an old monastery here and there have been contemplatives here for more than a thousand years. It’s a perfect place for bringing together researchers, practitioners, and people applying different aspects of contemplative practice within society, such as business and education. It was the fourth time was there.
Filling up the Inspiration Tank
Being at the island has been a source of motivation for keeping on working within the field of contemplative science, which can be challenging. Contemplative science isn’t a discipline that is very established, which means that getting research grants, applying the right methods, and publishing your results, can be difficult. There is also a particular kind of tension one has to deal with when trying to find a connection between the age-old wisdom traditions and modern, empirical science relying on hard data. Spending a week as a part of this community fills up my inner fuel tank with inspiration that lasts for about a year. Especially the moments close to nature, lying in my back in the water looking at the stars, gazing into infinity, and connecting to a sense of wonder for this world within we exist – and which we really know so little about – has the right kind of impact on me to keep on going despite all the challenges.
The topic of this year was experience. Presentations and discussions centre on phenomenological methods, intersubjectivity, and the notions of experience, concepts, and interpretations in for instance the Buddhist tradition. All of this is very interesting to me and close to what I do as a researcher. Despite of this there are some problematic issues. These are related to both the “science” and “contemplative” bit of “contemplative science” and in particular the lack of connection between the two.
Spirituality and Science: Tukdam and Technology
Both the contemplative traditions as well as contemporary science search for insight. But as it stands, the insights they offer, usually don’t interact with each other. For instance, despite that what we know about the brain seems to increase, this hasn’t led to an increase in the number of people achieving enlightenment. We don’t change our contemplative practices based on what empirical science tells us and our contemplative practice doesn’t help us gain deeper insight into empirical reality.
There is a certain scepticism that typically comes from the science camp regarding the spiritual aspect of the contemplative traditions. Let’s mention some topics that are typically off-limits for science: Reincarnation, kundalini, enlightenment, angels and demons. The typical scientific outlook entails some belief in that everything is the result of natural processes, like natural selection, and that consciousness arise from matter. Needless to say, this creates tension between the spiritual and scientific outlook, and typically there is no serious conversations either addressing this tension or trying to move things forward in an open but scientifically rigorous manner.
This is curious. Speaking about the possibility of survival of bodily death has become commonplace. Of course, the kind of survival one speaks of, is one aided by technology. If consciousness is material, why can’t it be uploaded into a machine? And in new machine, when the old one malfunctions? Usually these ideas are connected to the transhumanist movement. Apparently a Norwegian philosopher is going to have his body frozen right after his death in order to resurrect him when technology allows for it (no, it’s not me).
Tibetan monks are known to be able to go into a state called tukdam when they die. This temporarily (up to two or threes weeks) stops the process of decay even though biological life functions have ceased. In this state, the practitioner can either become liberated from the process of cyclic existence or control the process of reincarnation.
What’s striking to me, is that the transhumanist attempt of survival of bodily death is somehow commonplace and rational while the Buddhist one seems strange and irrational. At one point the humanists lost their belief in the divine core of the human being and succumbed to the temptations of technology. We are only seeing the early beginnings of this Faustian bargain. I see a different road ahead of me. And I wonder which direction Mind and Life will be heading.
During the “Living Connections” conference I was made aware of a poem by Hans Børli. It become clear to me that the poem can be seen as a mini-map of enlightenment. Here is an english translation of the poem:
One thing is necessary
One thing is necessary – here In this our difficult world Of vagrants and wanderers:
To take up residence in oneself.
Go into the darkness and brush off the soot from the lamp.
So that the people on the roads Can glimpse the light In your inhabited eyes.
At first a necessity of change has arisen; something has to happen due to the conditions of the world. There is suffering, a sense of not being at home anywhere. One has to turn inside. This is the stage of metanoia, of changing one’s view, of repenting, and turning to the right path, which is to seek within.
But within there is darkness. One has to work on removing the soot from the lamp in one’s new home. This is the stage of katharsis, of inner purification, which is common to all contemplative traditions.
The third stage is photismos, the awakening of the inner, divine light. This has various meanings, such as understanding ultimate truth and uncovering one’s underlying nature.
The fourth stage, the unification or completion, teleoisis, consists of the light spreading around to other beings, signifying that enlightenment does not happen in any place beyond the world, but in union with other human beings.
As the Zen saying goes:
If you seek small enlightenment, go into the woods, where the temple is.
If you seek big enlightenment, go into the city, where the people are.
From July 7.-9. the conference “Living Connections” took place at the Goetheanum in Dornach. This was the first public conference on anthroposophic meditation that has taken place at the Goetheanum.
There were are around 500 participants taking part in workshops, open spaces, panels, and countless conversations on all aspects of anthroposophic meditation practice.
One question was raised over and over: What is anthroposophic meditation? Here are some thoughts in this topic.
An Easy Definition
One easy, precise, but not very helpful answer is: Anthroposophic mediation consists of any meditations presented by Rudolf Steiner. This answer is easy because it says what it is with one sentence and it precise since it leaves no room for doubt about which meditations are anthroposophic. But it isn’t very helpful – it says nothing about the actual meditative activity and what this activity aims at. When we start going into that, the answer becomes more difficult and vague.
I could say: Anthroposophic practices consist on concentrating on an image, a feeling, a thought or thought process, a mantra, or aspects of the subtle or physical body. But it isn’t hard to come up with examples of meditation practices from other traditions that also do this.
And I could say: Anthroposophic meditation aims at connecting the human being with its spiritual origin. But isn’t this compatible with the aim of other contemplative traditions?
Maybe it’s connected to the sequence of the meditation practice? Maybe it’s about emptying consciousness after having done a concentration practice?
Answer: Possibly, but isn’t empty consciousness also practiced in other traditions? And what if you only do a concentration practice? Is your meditation then non-anthroposophic?
And so the conversation goes.
Four Points of Emphasis
I like to characterise anthroposophic practice by introducing the notion of emphasis. Anthroposophic meditation has an emphasis on:
This list isn’t intended to be complete, it only serves as a quick way of giving an indication of what is unique to anthroposophic meditation, in particular in relation to how meditation is typically conceived today.
As I’m sure many will recognise, thinking is sometimes, or even often, viewed as detrimental to meditation practice. Some conceptions of meditation are anti-intellectual. Stop thinking and you’re good – keep on going like that. In anthroposophic the focus is on cultivating thinking, transforming it, using it as a way of deepening knowledge, among other things, such as ensuring the freedom of the practitioner and making sure that the mind remains strong and stable as the meditator progresses.
Furthermore, anthroposophic meditation is not about realising a state of no-self, but rather of cultivating the self. This includes developing virtues, character, individuality, and a sense of inner continuity.
You seek to live a true spiritual story that is part of a big cosmic drama, rather than seeking to get rid of all stories about yourself.
One aspect of this story is developing the capacity of attention and devotion into a higher form of perception that can be used to investigate the cosmos: Anthroposophic meditation seeks a concrete knowledge of nature (including the divine nature, human nature, animals etc.). What are the real forces behind the growth and decay of plants? How are specific stars connected to specific trees? What is the true origin of the different species of animals? This point could also be expanded to incorporate concrete knowledge of for instance the nature of the human being: What are the specific karmic laws that govern a human life? How are the exemplified in the lives of well-known personalities in history? How did the human being and the earth develop? How does this related to what we know about nature from modern physics, chemistry, and biology?
And the final point: Anthroposophic meditation seeks to inspire and support cultural and societal renewal. Here we can easily get concrete. Anthroposophic meditation has directly or indirectly contributed to the development of for instance anthroposophic medicine, biodynamic agriculture, Steiner/Waldorf pedagogy, anthroposophic architecture and Eurythmy.
Now we can give another easy and precise answer to the question of what anthroposophic meditation is that perhaps is quite helpful: Anthroposophic meditation is a form of meditation practice that has given rise to and supported the different societal and cultural institutions mention in the previous paragraph.
I know of no other recent spiritual movement that has had such a strong and specific impact on the social world over the last 100 yeas than anthroposophy (developing a new form of medicine, pedagogy, etc.). To what extent the movements has dependent and been driven by anthroposophic meditation practice can be discussed, but I’m sure it hasn’t been without influence.
If we want to become more concrete and systematic than this, we’d have to look into the works of Steiner and consider specific meditation practices. I’ve done this here and here.
Regarding the four points mentioned above, it should also be mentioned that they can challenged, and that a truly comprehensive and precise understanding of anthroposophic mediation needs to take this into account.
In the higher states of consciousness that anthroposophic meditation aim at – imagination, inspiration, and intuition – thinking changes profoundly. There is no (discursive) thinking present in the imaginative state, for instance. How do we characterise this? Is it similar to what in German idealism was referred to as “intellectual intuition”? Is it as deep as the so-called jhanas – the higher states of consciousness represented by Buddhist practice – in which thinking also ceases? How is the imaginative state really experienced? What are examples of real imaginations in Steiner’s work and among anthroposophic practitioners today?
A similar kind of questioning is necessary in order to reach real depth also in relation points about the self, nature, and society/culture. If we look closer into to the issue, new complexities will arise, we will probably encounter some frustration, and our views will have to be refined.
The upshot of this is that there is much good work to be done.
What Needs to be Done
The work that needs to be done can be divided into the following areas:
Steiner’s work. All aspects of anthroposophic meditation practice described in Steiner’s work needs to be studied, systematised, and presented. A subordinate area would consist of doing the same for other texts that is based Steiner’s work.
Actual meditation experiences. The actual meditation experiences of anthroposophic meditation practitioners needs be investigated and systematised.
Other traditions. All aspects of anthroposophic meditation practice has to be viewed in relation to meditation in other contemplative traditions.
Relation to conventional science. What is the relationship between for instance anthroposophic mediation practice and what goes on in the brain?
Applications. How can anthroposophic meditation practice/methods be applied in order attain knowledge? How can anthroposophic meditation be applied with a medical, therapeutic, or artistic setting?
Creating a comprehensive, experientially based, historically and scientifically informed overview over the anthroposophic path supported by the results of the work that happens in areas 1-5.
Training. How can we train people in anthroposophic mediation in a way in that is both effective and secure? This training would be based on 1-6 and would also be developed further as knowledge and experience grows.
I just received my copy of the newest edition of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in the mail. It contains an article on contemplative science that I wrote back in 2014, when I was a junior visiting scholar at the Mind and Life Institute.
The central idea is that contemplative science needs to be based in what people experience in meditation today, but also that we need to learn as much as possible from the contemplative traditions.
I use a recent theory from the philosophy of science to justify this. Here is the abstract:
“Contemplative science is usually conceived either as an introspective investigation of the meditative mind or as following methods of other scientific disciplines to study the mind in meditation. Here, I suggest a conception of a comprehensive contemplative science that includes both. Drawing on Paul Hoyningen-Huene’s work in the philosophy of science, I develop an understanding of contemplative science based on the idea that science consists of systematicity in nine dimensions of scientific activity. Hoyningen-Huene uses everyday knowledge as the main contrast to scientific knowledge, claiming that the latter is more systematic than the former. Since the contemplative traditions already exhibit a high degree of systematicity, these traditions are used as an additional contrast. This results in a description of the nature and current state of contemplative science and an indication of how it should develop in the future in order to become more systematic and thereby more scientific.”
The article originally ended with a passage that puts a more human and less theoretical spin on the whole idea of contemplative science. I removed the passage in order to reduce the size of the article. Here is it is:
“In a sense, modern science has a split personality. On the one hand, it is a commonplace belief that science is and end in itself. This is a high ideal that goes back to Antiquity, where contemplating truth was seen as a good in itself. On the other hand, scientific knowledge is often put to use based on very limited and even egotistic aims. Furthermore, the scientific picture that emerges from natural science can lead to the human being feeling estranged and disconnected from its environment. A natural reaction to this is to only regard nature in the light of narrow, human ends. The contemplative traditions contain perspectives where knowledge of the cosmos is not disconnected from the highest of human ideals. In other words, the contemplative traditions may be seen to contain forms of knowledge of its own that could help unite the split personality of modern science. This is an issue that I have left mostly untreated here, but which still is essential when conceiving of a future contemplative science that draws on the best of the ancient traditions and the modern mind.”
This last statement contains, in a nutshell, the whole idea behind this blog and what I will be spending the coming decades working on.
The final draft of the article is available here for those of you that do not have access.