I’m a bad citizen. We’ve barely had any COVID cases in our city, and I thought that gave me the right to go and meet a friend and stand in some woods, away from prying eyes, and drink a beer while talking. I’m sorry to say that, during our conversation, we inadvertently came closer than two metres apart. 🙁 Now I know how gays felt in the 1950s.
And this was on VE Day! Hitler may as well have won. If my grandfather, who died in both world wars so we could all be free (like Jesus did) could see me now, he’d be rolling in his grave. And I’d be rolling in my grave, knowing what I’d done, if I were dead (which I’m not).
COVID-19 being nothing more than a symbol of humanity’s fear of death aside, here’s my real story from today. If you’re only here for the lulz and don’t really care about meditation, hit Alt+F4 now. Or, if you’re on a Mac, hit Command+Shift+Option+Escape+Prince Love Symbol 2+Swastika, then kill yourself.
So, before I went out to meet this friend of mine, I’d been doing a light meditation which was nothing more than feeling energy pool at the temples. The temples are the bits at each side of your head:
I did this because this is what naturally used to happen during my meditation, ten years ago, back when I was a “natural meditator”. At this time, I could just sit, not try to do anything, and some lovely states would arise. I won’t say the “J” word, but those states were a lot nicer than what I was used to.
The idea of “being your own guru” is a worthwhile one. I think if you can sit and not strive, and simply have the attitude that progress will result from just sitting, and that anything that comes up during the meditation is completely preordained, normal and natural, and view events with mindfulness and equanimity, then you will make certain progress in your practice.
To take on someone else’s method at this point provides direction at the cost of mismatch. I personally picked up Daniel Ingram’s method, as outlined in Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha (first edition), and experienced such a mismatch. Daniel is extremely logical, verbose, analytical and left-brained, whereas I have a strong artistic streak, preferring experiences to be linked thematically rather than linearly. These days I prefer to listen to people like Rupert Spira, who is like a dream.
So, back to the story. I had been doing this meditation where I let awareness or “energy” pool at the the temples. This means there is simply a pleasant feeling of flow, growing at each side of the head. This is an easy meditation for me, and feels nice and natural. I am not implying that this particular meditation led to the results I’m about to share, or even that those results can be strived for, or if you’d even want to strive for them – this is just what happened.
I walked through an initial set of woods alongside a ford. Perception was clear and wide, but that is not unusual after some years of meditation. I met up with my friend and we walked up a normal English road, past some normal English houses on the right (barbecues and VE Day celebrations indicating that probably quite a few curfews were being broken), and past some normal English woods on the left.
Here is where the timeline gets extremely iffy. At some point, walking up that road into the sun suddenly felt like I was everyone who had ever walked up a road into the sun, ever – every film you’ve ever seen, and every time you’ve ever done it yourself, rolled into one.
Then, at some point, all of reality disappeared. If you’re unfamiliar with this phenomenon, in Buddhism it is known as a cessation. Literally everything disappears for a split-second. I cannot say, “It’s like being deaf, dumb and blind”, because it’s more like the event happens outside of perception, and just takes a few frames out of the video in perception. You’re there one minute, then you’re not, then reality reconstructs itself, and the video continues playing. I was only aware that the cessation had happened during this reconstruction.
Perception immediately following a cessation renders any of your preconceived notions of “I”, “me, “mine”, and who you even are, on any level whatsoever, completely redundant. There is no “you”. There is feeling but no “feeler”, seeing but no “seer”, hearing but no “hearer”, and all that other Buddhist crap. Unlike in other religions (*cough* Christianity *cough cough*), the experiences claimed by Buddhism are actually available to you in the here and now, rather than in some made-up afterlife. Post-cessation, the experience of No-Self as the prime reality is completely blatant, yet impossible to put into words. It is like events happen to someone who isn’t you, yet at the same time is you.
I have had cessations before, but almost exclusively during practice, with eyes closed. It has happened a few times with eyes open, too, but usually while out walking or pottering about the house on my own. However, this cessation had happened mid-sentence, which made it both interesting and jarring. For a start, the “self” reconstructed while talking. There was a moment of confusion, followed by the body strangely continuing to talk (picking up where it left off), while clearly not being “me”. Then, an ego reconstructed itself around the body, and I became “re-embodied”. Then, there was an aftershock wherein the whole thing broke down again, during which I was “the whole scene, including the body, and everyone else”, then some mental effort was required to pull the whole thing back together again, since I was with a friend and didn’t want to appear a loon. Then I was back to normal, besides having a very smooth, spacious and easy-going feeling about things, which has persisted ever since. Bear in mind this was before any substances were ingested, before anyone goes there. 🙂
So, this is a weird thing to happen, and sounds like a mini-stroke or something. I was reminded of Vern Lovic’s video of one of his early jhana experiences where he reports inability to read, and flashing in one half of his visual field (“Unlinked Mind, Ripples, and Still Mind”, on this page). Yet, he’s fine, and I’m fine. I admit I did check body functionality immediately after the experience, though. A lot of the meditation insight stages also sound similar if not identical to mental illness. My point is, I do consider these things before writing up these experiences.
While I no longer try to classify things in terms of Daniel Ingram’s maps, occasionally something happens where he is so on the money with his description that I have to say, “Ah, that must have been that.” In this case, his cessation (or Fruition, as he calls it) is word-for-word what happened today, and I’m glad he has provided such a clear resource on this phenomenon.
I phoned up Aldous, as he had a similar experience on a cruise ship some years ago. He confirmed that his experience was identical to mine, except that his sense of No-Self persisted for around a minute before his “self” reconstructed – at which point it did, but with a more diffuse boundary, and with a perpetual Witness and a permanent sense of “level-up”. I told him that, while I don’t think cessation is something that can be willed, when mine next happens, I would prefer to be alone (and not mid-sentence), in order that I can give more attention to what is going on, and perhaps to leave the knot of perception undone (or at least loosened). I then mused that it is a strange thought to consider the end of “me” as I know it – a bit like attending my own funeral. It was not the first time I had arrived at such a stage in the Path.
We concluded the call when I had to wade through street parties for VE Day, with each person two metres apart, of course. We shared the sentiment that COVID-19 panic is largely a mask for society’s visceral terror of death. I remarked that not everyone has the direct knowledge that they literally don’t exist, and that their awareness is the same awareness that all beings share. If I thought I was my body, and that I shared my body’s destiny, I’d probably be worried by a virus, too.