Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Blood Under the Hood: Why I Don't Blog Personal



Crossed wires

On July 16 I bailed from Wat Ram Poeng to attend to incipient symptoms of depression. If this is failure, it's one I planned for--I'm practicing as a layman in Thailand in order to avoid sangha responsibilities and maintain the freedom to take care of my health as needed.

As a much needed counterpoint to my soapboxy megaphonic sabre rattling, here is a look at the bloodslime under the hood.

Here is the necessary musical accompaniment.

~

July 15. That it hurts my pride so much to give in is further evidence that leaving retreat is the right choice. But what if it's not depression but just the "temporarily arising condition of meditation," or the dukkha nanas? Could well be, but for once I'll err on the side of caution and baby myself before depression gets the upper hand. The negative consequences of unchecked depression far outweigh the basically negligible ones of leaving retreat earlier than I had planned. Besides, if all I need is some rest and relaxation, there's plenty of time to come back for a 10-15-day retreat with batteries fully recharged.
For three days the Cayetana song that goes "I know you really wanna make it out alive / Kid, you'll be okay..." has been on repeat inside my skullifer.
I'm embarrassed for having to bail, especially after talking big on the internet. I bet even Mahasi had to pace himself, and if not, well...F him.

What happened, you ask? Such incisive questioning! You'll make it far in this world.  What happened is that yesterday I started noticing very depressive thought patterns and a loss of hope. I don't want to validate those thoughts, but their complaints are that practice here (at W.R.P.) is designed to make you feel bad all the time, more or less, that sleep deprivation (4 hours a night, with periodic "determination" periods where you go 2-3 nights without sleeping) induces a persistent, pervasive sense of dysphoria. It's like the entire reward system in my brain had been disconnected and there was simply no chance of feeling good.
Instead of going, "Oh, I get it, there's no refuge in sense pleasure; I'll go deeper and deeper into renunciation," the effect was the opposite: "There's no refuge in the Dhamma, only pain and more pain--I'll flee into the simple pleasures of life!" So the mind rebounded towards any semblance of comfort. ...

It's worth noting that Wat Ram Poeng is exceptionally fierce in denying the meditator any insulation from "reality" (the three characteristics of reality, dukkha, change and essencelessness).  As in Okumura's "sesshin without toys," there is minimal ceremony, study or work to distract a meditator from the matter at hand. The sitting technique is, to me, very distasteful--In fact I F*ing HATE IT. Attending to abdominal movement elicits tension, tension which the WRP meditator (unlike in other techniques) is not allowed to alleviate in any way but only acknowledge. Next come the touch points. Most sittings, I'm too sleepy to get past the first few, as mindfulness quickly drowns in the deep drop-off at the first two points. Even when sati (mindfulness) is present, I find cycling through the points mechanical and meaningless, unsatisfying. And it's hard--probably impossible--to get the jhana (deep concentration) factors or the factors of enlightenment established on a meditation object that you basically can't stand.
Whereas in Zen I'm able to take heart and uplift my spirit ("gladdening the mind," in the Buddha's language) by taking in the smell of the incense and tatami, the echo of the han, even the thought that "I am a Zen monk!" there is little of that kind of beauty here. Maybe affinity doesn't count for much, but when it comes down to the wire it can make the difference.

The Buddha teaches that the jhanas (blissful states of deep concentration)  provide what he calls the "joy of renunciation." He proposes giving up attachment to sensual pleasures for something much better--not just giving them up to feel terrible. In the long run, you (I) need jhana/samadhi to keep me on the path. Because after 4 years of austerity, I am very tired. I need something sweet, something good, something beautiful.

I'm hanging a lot of hope on Pa Auk [forest monastery, Burma].

~

July 16

Reading Kamo no Chomei's "Record of the Ten-Foot-Square Hut," I'm reminded of and chastened for how weirdly ambitious I've become. Always wanting to call the shots, tight from being hurt enough. Cringing at the balled fist of the world, striking first in fear. I've gotten to believe that my margins are so narrow I can't afford a single of jot of further misfortune. So I make of myself an iron wedge--where is the Dharma in that?
These 20 days I've overspilled my cup with thoughts of "my Zen future": Daigaku, St. Louis, Hosshinji, a Japanese master, 12 sesshins a year, Burlington, Soryu, Shinzen, mindfulness in schools, Portland, grad school, Great vow, grad school (again), Olympia, Bellingham, Waldron, Anacortes, and so on....But the gist is always, "I will control my life...." Desperate, demanding, and entitled.
I hate to say it and don't yet even really believe it, but maybe even to want enlightenment is too much.
--But monastic life is just SO FUCKING HARD. How can I put myself through that year after year without any hope that someday it will become worth it? It will. Of course it will. BE PATIENT. Be diligent, kind and patient.

~

July 17
And how about the vast no-man's-land between a rewarding daily practice and enlightenment? That bleak area of life where you have given up everything and gotten nothing in return? [Merton knew it well.] And at some point will I be called to task, to make a life?
Relax. The bun is in the oven. Be wise.

~

July 19
Heard a bossa nova version of "Come As You Are" yesterday, dreamed of dear Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain! RIP Kurt Cobain, friend somehow in my heart, always, eyes misty.
I felt weirdly sick yesterday and spent 4 hours in bed and three more with a blinding headache. Afterwards I wandered the rainy streets and bought little gifts at the Thapae Gate market. I bought myself a blue T-shirt, so now with my salmon-colored shorts I am wearing so many colors more than black.



~

July 20
Went up the mountain to Wat Doi Suthep. I've been taking a lot of pictures, messing around with double exposures. Fell in love more than once, but this one Japanese girl who asked me to take a picture of her with her friend...I was mumbling, "Is this an iPhone? Wow, it's beautiful...YOU'RE beautiful...." Then she offered to take my picture with my camera. I hesitated full of shame at my dumb half-inch of hair and disgustingly scrawny monk physique. I need one of those trilby hats. That'll make everything alright....


All of this is too noisy and too busy for me by far! A hut of a house in Eugene Portland Olympia Seattle Anacortes Belilngham! To sit in a place I belong to, whose couches dent the shape of MY butt. Tea-steam rising in the slanting sunrays, mist dripping collected from eaves. Cats, bikes, blueberries, baristas....
Lord break me through quickly so I can go home!

I read a recent report of one foreigner's experience at Pa Auk. Heat, noise, bed bugs in the meditation hall! It sounds quite bad, quite unsuitable. Better to be disillusioned now, I guess... Biding time, planning travel; coffee and meals and money and things to do and buy, Oh! I'm sick of it. Noting irritability, noting annoyance....Be grateful to be supported to be on the path. Everybody feels bad sometimes.

~



July 22

Time passes in the land of dreams. PM Black Canyon Coffee. Even here, insulated from the piercing prattle of a thousand tuk-tuks and their ugly fumes, I'm troubled and benoised by the clamor of one hundred Chinese children! I hide into the thick synth folds of Mount Eerie, Sauna. God keep me. This town is killing me. Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
Oh, hut!
So this episode ends with me beachwrecked on the horrible sand? Really, this again, after so long? Does seniority count for nothing? Do I want too much? Is the sanity I seek unsimple and overspecified? I'm tired of the wheel, God rest me, I'm tired of the wheel! I'm tired, I'm tired!

~

July 23

AM BeBeez Cafe with the news grating out there beyond my earbuds. Inside here, Chris Staples and everyone good.

I shot into the sky when a girl with Norwegian eyelids smiled at me coming down the stairs. But I won't talk of happiness, which reputedly flees at the sound of its silly name.

MY FORMULA FOR WHAT?
Take what you love most:
    - love-smiling eyes, flesh
    - cool mountains rain trees
    - plaid
    - music shaking your breastbone, soaking through
    - poems
Do without, and do without again.

My point is a wayfarer can't survive so exposed--where is shelter? Monks have each other and a teacher and a home. I am tired. I can't find a way to be. I'm a mobile device, yea, with no place to charge.

~

See now why I yell about the importance of enlightenment instead of telling you how I'm doing?



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