Yesterday, as I stood in the shower at the local pool, a very little girl gleefully chattered away next to me, “I am drying my own hair…now I am drying my legs…my crocs are wet.”
And I thought, “Good work, little one.” Because she had reminded me to come back to reality…feel the water hit my skin…notice my feet on the warm floor… and get out of the state of unconscious addiction that is habituated thought.
I have been on Vipassana meditation retreat all of eight times in the last few years. As well as spending each ten day period practicing sitting still, the time has proved useful for thinking up good shit: making detailed lists in my head, mentally sorting my life out, devising parts of plays, poems and articles, architecting the comeuppance of the odd disappointing patriarchal stronghold etc. The long, equable ‘noble silence’ creates a seductive clarity of thought, the contents of which I NEED to write down as soon as the silence, and its troublesome ban on writing materials, is lifted. In case I forget. Because I’m coming from lack.
Lack being a position of scarcity, a need to defend myself against injury or insult and accumulate ‘stuff’ of all kinds – love, money, attention, respect. Because I don’t have enough.
Leaving (the highly recommended) Dhamma Dipa retreat centre recently, I found I had only one thing to write down, and it was something that hadn’t passed through my head until the moment came to notate it:
I don’t have to live in insanity and addiction. I can make myself free. One choice at a time.
Having dislodged a few surface-level addictions – or numbing factors erroneously contrived to tackle existential dread and unsettling emotions – over the last few years, I am now a little more in my skin and in contact with the bare bones of addiction. The bones that shape and support the surface body of addictions: drugs, ambition, work, sex, the internet, food, the physical body, attention, impatience, change, worry, suffering, self-image etc.
And these bones appear to be thought.
Re-running conversations in my head, craving, planning.
Living inside the drama of lack from moment to moment.
Any prison of addiction is stiflingly painful and crushing yet this one is so hard to actually feel, to catch the context of, having always lived immersed in it. Working out how to be free of it is like blindly feeling towards light.
If thoughts are the clouds, but we are the sky, or the ocean roiled by surface waves, how do we feel into the ocean?..
Something unusual happened at Dhamma Dipa that last time, some kind of experience of anatta (non-self); one of those trippy meditation things where your molecules start to blend into the universe and you physically feel the interconnectedness that is the reality of our existence. Flesh and air melt into each other.
It was a scary first. Backing off from the experience when I began to breathe in weird, fuzzy gold shit that connected my organs to my skin and the air outside (!) was a shock as I usually delight in my bigger, better, faster, more, attitude to life. When it actually came to it and I felt I was peeking at the source (of craving, genius, Tao, flow, god, consciousness, whatever you want to call it,) I cut and ran!
At Dhamma Dipa they would call this a ‘game of sensation’. I.e., the point of the practice is to learn equanimity, not to sit there tripping out. (Equanimity: the calmness and space to accept everything pleasant and unpleasant without reacting, therefore dissolving blocks.) Whereas I had a reactive thought stream, or rather a feeling-narrative, throughout this experience. Thinking/feeling: “Oh yeah, rock on, channelling god…” then, “Fuck this,” *shits pants*.
And the experience dies.
“When looking upon the face of god, child, what sayest thou?”
“Err, Fuck RIGHT off!”
But it put the Constant Craving in context.
My internal monologue can feel pretty deafening on retreat. The silence allows me to hear with ever greater clarity the gobbledeshyte that I’m usually thinking. The din inside my head. The cheeping of the baby bird looking for the regurgitation of the mother. The refusal.
Previously to this experience the thrill ride of needing was all consuming. Still is in the main…but I have started to feel flashes of something beyond it, beyond thought: the silence that is all around; the light that is the same as love; the ability to find a little ease in discomfort and use pain as an avenue to enlarge attention. Acceptance is change. Acceptance is the change. Giving open and focused attention to states of unease aligns us to flow. Ease in dis-ease; paradoxical, experiential truth.
When I was twelve I noticed the first moment that I ever separated from my thought stream. I had an expanding sensation and then thought, “THIS is happening to ME,” viewing the moment as an observer rather than being absorbed. It was like suddenly seeing brightly out of my eyes; a sickening wrench of waking up, like it feels to repeatedly wake up out of fantasy and thought now.
It seems frustrating when removing a numbing factor to then feel immediately thrown back into panicky addiction. It’s the shape of life and learning: a double helix of DNA, two steps forward and one step back, going and coming back, an expanding pulsation like orgasm – the great big fucking orgasm of life.
For me, there’re still many numb things to bring attention to – things that live and feed off addicted thought. I’m very interested to hear other people’s stories about where they are in this process. It feels like an indication of how we can access our true power and be a channel for good in the world.
How much time is it possible to spend outside of the thought field? Eventually, probably, most of it.
“EMANCIPATE YOURSELF FROM MENTAL SLAVERY, NONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.”
Feels like good advice.
It’s not about being on retreat and zooming round the cosmos. It’s about attention in day to day life.
One day at a time. One thought at a time. One breath at a time.
(Patience? Oh, ffs.)
There was another tiny girl who impressed me in the swimming showers recently. She came out of the loo with her costume caught up and half on, walked straight up to me, a total stranger and said, “I’m stuck,” breezily expecting that the world would provide her with the necessary means to unwind herself. We untwisted and she ran back into the pool.
A light way to untwist?