#4789 - Tuesday, December 18, 2012 - Editor: Jerry
Jeff Warren, the unofficial
journalist for nonduality, published the following article in the
New York Times Opinion section online on December 17,
The Anxiety of the Long-Distance
By JEFF WARREN
Excerpts from the article: To see how the retreat ended,
read the full article with over 80 comments here:
The only way to know for sure was to see for myself. I knew
that [Dan] Ingram had hosted a single meditator at his home the past couple of
summers. I contacted him and he agreed. The retreat would be entirely
self-policed, based on a rigorous Burmese monastic schedule: up at 4:30 a.m., to
bed at 10:30 p.m. Alternately sit for an hour, and then walk for an hour. Thirty
minutes for breakfast, an hour for lunch, no dinner. No writing, no reading, no
leaving the house except for a lunchtime shower. Eighteen hours of practice a
day. I would get out of it what I put into it.
My schedule collapsed. I couldnt sit, and the prospect of
walking around the room pretending to be a wonder-struck bionic ninja was
agonizing and ridiculous. Instead, feeling guilty, I went for long walks in the
100-degree heat, accompanied by the sinister hum of cicadas. People went on
retreats for months years even - yet the thought of being confined for three
more weeks terrified me. There was a Greyhound station in Huntsville, a 20-mile
hike. Filled with self-loathing, I decided to leave the next day at dawn...
More long days passed and I persevered. Eventually on about
day twelve, a strong equilibrium overtook me. This too was on the map
knowledge of equanimity. Everything was clean and undramatic. I could sit for
hours now, my heartbeat slowed way down. Concentration was easy, almost
unnecessary. There was only the world, the view from the window, my own breath
so silky smooth and consoling in in its ordinariness. I stared at my face in the
bathroom mirror, shining now like a newborns. Nothing needed to be any
different than it was.
Ingram was excited. Youre on the verge of stream entry, he
said. The danger is youll get complacent. This is the equanimity trap. Keep
noticing notice the way everything changes, the slight tension in things, the
way each sensation is devoid of any thing called a self. Notice and let
How do you notice and let go? A low-level anxiety returned.
Occasionally I felt as though I were sliding into a kind of inversion, but as
soon as I did my journalist mind seized on the moment with nerdy analytic
curiosity. My equanimity ebbed.
Days passed and I lost all sense of progress. I became
stressed, obsessed; instead of meditating I dug out my meditation books and
guiltily read them in the corner of the room, pouring over the maps, looking for
clues, trying to organize my vacillating experience. At this point Ingram was
checking in almost every day. I engaged him relentlessly in intellectual
discussions, recording each talk. He indulged me, but it was clear he was losing
faith in my abilities as a meditator. You think too much, he said, youre
more interested in writing about your experiences than having them. If you dont
stop strategizing youll blow this opportunity.
But I couldnt let go. I wanted to problem-solve my own
liberation and the more I did the further away it got. I cycled up and down more
wildly than ever, one moment beatifically clear, the next confused.
Before I went on retreat I asked another Buddhist teacher a
friend of Ingrams named Hokai Sobol how he would describe the stages of
contemplative development. He paused for a long time, because unlike Ingram, he
didnt think that progress was quite so linear or predictable. When he finally
answered he said he had noticed 3 flavors. The first flavor, he said, is bitter
the bitterness of effort, of beginning to recognize the depth of the
contraction and the alienation and the subsequent struggle to address it. If you
are sincere, he said, then you are rewarded with a second flavor: a sweetness.
The sweetness of surrender, of opening. A new tenderness. This is what most
spiritual practitioners crave, and it is delicious when we find it.
But ultimately, even this doesnt last. The final flavor, he
said, is bittersweet. It is marked by a recognition that both effort and
surrender are ways of re-tracing the basic illusion, the first that there is a
self that need to get somewhere, the second that there is some other to
surrender to. True devotion, he said, is not having faith in something or
someone. It is a vehicle of questioning, and in that questioning our
consolations are impossible to sustain.