Homework notes for subtle competencies course
The description of two bubbles bumping into each other was very helpful. Now I see another option besides going through, going around, or avoiding, resistance. In fact, I don't even need to identify one as resistance and the other as not resistance. There are just two intentions that meet. Kind of like two dogs checking each other out for the first time, except there's no need to determine which one's the alpha. Now I can just let them kinda snuggle with each other, not going around, not going through, but allowing more of their surface area to touch. Their contours naturally begin to conform to each other, thereby maximizing the area of contact. Then there's no goal other than creating enough space to witness and maintain the contact. With this in mind, I don't need to wonder if I'm off track when the movement slows down. I just stay present to the morphing interface—while periodically checking that I'm keeping the originally intended target (e.g. the pelvis) in my awareness.
Also, after a while the membranes seem to be permeable, and rather than one having to give way to the other, there is an energy exchange between them, almost as if they are going to merge or at least synchronize. This feels like a new intimacy. Also, a new trust is resulting from this. The light is less scary, and the resistant parts are less reactive; they are beginning to trust that they will be respected and warmly embraced, and not be run through with a sword. ;-)
Moreover, this new focus on the interaction of intentions lessens the focus on the reaction (which usually comes in the form of holding my breath) and thus lessens the reaction's power. The reactions are becoming increasingly irrelevant. They no longer provoke further reaction, e.g. to immediately try to start breathing again. It's just not where the interest is. Instead, focusing on the interaction tends to bring release from the reaction, without demanding it—although it still may take some time (usually less than a minute if I stay present). It seems that the focus on the reaction is the only thing that sustains it.
As the meeting of intentions proliferates, a new, more whole-body experience is emerging. The original intention descends like the lower half of a morphing sphere, horizontally bisecting my head/brain. Although that kinesthetic animation remains vividly in my physical head/brain (not my mind/imagination), I'm also somehow able to drape my whole body over it (under it?—it's upside-down). It's like I'm lying face-down on a morphing heap of electric bliss.
The day after the first course session, I facilitated a group meeting and afterwards had to address some conflict I had with another person in the group. As we shared our perspectives fully, leaving nothing unsaid, postponing nothing, the experience had the same structure as the bumping, morphing bubbles. So it's quite cool to be experiencing similar structures on both an inner and outer, intersubjective level.
I also appreciated the salami metaphor, because it confirms that it's normal that, after a release, very similar releases can come later. I had wondered if I was "getting anywhere" or if I was just going in some kind of circle. Well, it might still be a circle, but each trip around shaves off another slice of salami. :-)
The tomato metaphor was also very helpful. It conveyed just the right amount of pressure to apply when sensing into the contours of the various bodies. It also informed my "bubble interaction"—applying enough pressure to close the space between them yet without popping them or scaring them away. :-)
Laughter is another form of reaction. If I don't get carried away, I can stay present to what was behind the initial impulse to laugh, and the movement continues. But if I give in to more laughter, it's pleasant of course, but I've likely already lost the main channel and am now hanging out in some eddy.
Releases of contractions can also become a distraction. If I become totally focused on, for example, the new, deep, fresh breaths of air I can now breathe into my lungs, that's okay, but I lose connection with the original energy and will have to continue next time.
Yesterday I told Carlotta about the "snuggling bubbles" and also how yesterday morning I experienced a larger bubble: a sphere encompassing my whole body, with my crown at the top and my feet somewhere near the bottom. This sphere pulsated with the beat of my physical heart. I wondered out loud how to relate this outer sphere (which seemed content to stay that large) to the smaller knots of contraction contained in my body and thus within the sphere. "They can't exactly snuggle, right?" What she saw and related to me in that moment was a baby in utero, bathing in amniotic fluid. I told her thank you for the metaphor; I now have another practice tool.
Well, this morning, after an evening full of synchronicity, awakening through conversation with my spiritual friends, reminders of Divine love, and of a deep, exciting sense of convergence around the possibilities for my marriage... I sensed the sphere again, as well as the raw, tender part that craves connection and has felt so overwhelmed for so long having to keep the world at bay, compressed in on all sides and barely able to move. I realized that it now has a buffer and doesn't have to keep the world at bay anymore. The outer surface of the sphere guards me like a father, and the inner space embraces me like a mother, giving me plenty of room to move and breathe and grow. Now I can rest and take in her nourishment. I could feel streaming energy into my navel as if my umbilical cord had been reattached.
Emotional content: love, gratitude, peace, excitement, Eros
Mental content: the above metaphor, as well as thinking about the specific unfolding of events in my life with glimpses of future possibilities
Physical characteristics: streaming tears, some quiet weeping, continual releases of contraction into deeper breathing
In addition to protecting me (or as one function thereof), the outer sphere regulates the admission of light energy into my system by allowing a portion of the stream to flow directly down through my body and by diffusing the rest around the surface of the sphere, like golden water dispersing around the earth, waiting to be let into the core. This creates a general surrounding glow in addition to the more intense central shaft of light. The consequence is that I can more freely and more widely open my crown before the energy will trigger a contraction. I can relax in the presence of more light.
Another thing I've noticed is a more direct sensation of contact between my third eye and solar plexus, like my forehead is directly touching my navel (even though I'm lying on my back). Thus the "bubbles" metaphor is already (at least this morning) fitting less well. This is important to notice, because I don't want the mental images that I record here and use to describe the concrete experience to start becoming too much of a template or filter for my experience. I say "too much" because I think they are helpful as descriptions of "what to watch for and what to do about it." But the metaphors must be allowed to be continually updated, replaced, and newly introduced so they don't diverge too much and get lost in imagination and thus disconnection from my experience.
What's also needed is the skill to "zoom in." The bubbles can seem to be as close as they can get, without any space between them, and yet be stuck in a pattern of interaction where contraction is still present, energy is not being transferred, and separation is still the general experience. In other words, a "stuck" feeling. However, zooming in with the third eye may reveal that there is still a gap to close—an unconscious space that is particularly tender and hidden from view. (Perhaps the bubble surfaces need to become thinner and more pliable before they can conform to each other.) Zooming in to this space uncovers pain. The impulse to turn away and be distracted becomes strong. Here's where I have to watch my tendency to "muscle it"; I don't want to create distrust by disrespecting the needs and limitations of this part. So I think I need to couple the laser-like focus of the zooming-in third eye with a heightened sensitivity to the surface of this pain. Touch and go, be very gentle, and be very patient.
Notes from 2/11/16:
When finally crawling into bed after 2am this morning after a productive night taking care of family finances, I immediately dropped deeply into the consciousness of my physical body: heavy, dark, dense, compressed, suffocating. Even so, I practiced "turning toward the karma" and wondered how I would keep facing into the discomfort even though the resistance was so great that it felt like I couldn't breathe.
What I learned was this: the resistance was a refusal to follow instructions to breathe in a particular way, e.g. narrowly, down a particular central pinprick of a channel. (Imagine the claustrophobia of trying to crawl through a cave slit where there's barely enough vertical space to breathe, let alone get up on all fours.) Or to breathe at a particular speed through that channel, namely much faster. When I finally realized what these physical "instructions"/promptings were, I was able to stop refusing, and breathe as instructed. Very fast, very narrow, very directed, usually also very deeply. This way I found myself actually keeping up with the intense, fast-paced energy (without turning away or closing my throat or making any whimpering/screeching sounds). (Thomas's fast-train analogy popped into my head at that point.) In doing so, I began to relate in a sustained way to the energy I had been resisting. Brief visual representations appeared, which I don't usually get. Eyes wide open under the covers, I could see what looked like a small silver ball of morphing energy turning about. And that was about it.
Now I've got a new way of relating to the density and low vibration: it's actually a resistance to a very (equal and opposite?) intense, fast-paced energy that is inviting me to move along with it by surrendering the control of my breath.
Notes from 3/25/16 (1 of 3):
In bed, both before going to sleep and after waking up, I find it increasingly easy to let my inner gaze rest on the contours of my resistance, particularly as it appears in the form of a knot in my stomach. It seems I've always got a bit of a stomachache but I don't know it until I sink into it, draping myself over the topography of this resistance. The third eye directs the show, bringing a relaxed but intense, broad but laser-like focus to bear on the little knot. I don't primarily experience this visually; it is rather like a mirrored kinesthetic representation of my whole body in my forehead, e.g. tension in my stomach appears simultaneously as tension in and around my forehead. If as when waking up I am focused and not reactive, then the gaze is allowed to sink more deeply, bringing the stomach tension into clearer "view", often resulting in physical shifts like stomach growling or passing gas.
If I rest there long enough, a transition begins to take place. What I was experiencing as resistance to me shifts into resistance that is me. More concretely, what was a feeling of external resistance (which I drape myself over) becomes a global feeling that floods my body. The resistance penetrates like a knife and fills me. I am now inside the knot. A secretion of lactic acid, or adrenalin (or some other hormone?), emanates from the knot like a slow-motion explosion, or the injection of a gradual but rapid hot flash (at which point I may need to throw the covers off). It is painful and suffocating, but if I remain calmly unflinching it quickly dissipates and a new plateau of resistance—external again—can be experienced.
Mentally, I'm mostly quiet, but I do go back and forth between, on the one hand, showing a humble interest in seeing the resistance, and, on the other hand, wanting to overcome it so as to release it. I find that release is faster when I'm less interested in release and more interested in the nature of the resistance itself, without any agenda. That said, when the third eye is locked on, the descending penetration seems inevitable, suggesting indeed that resistance is futile.
I also sometimes wonder if I'm really doing anything at all, or if I've just discovered a high-maintenance way to digest my food. ;-)
Notes from 3/25/16 (2 of 3):
One more thing: the predominant characteristic of this resistance, particularly when I sink more deeply into it, is this: not breathing. So the practice is largely a matter of sitting with and being okay with not breathing (along with all the conundra you'd expect would come with that). So my earlier breathing-oriented description pretty much all still applies in this context.
Notes from 3/25/16 (3 of 3):
Another refinement: the third eye doesn't "direct the show" in the sense that it generates any energy. No, it's all powered by the light from above. The third eye operates like a prism or magnifying glass to focus the light. In that sense it plays a relatively passive role. Even the choice of where to focus seems encoded into the streaming energy as a built-in agenda. The active work of the third eye is to keep itself in the center of that unpredictable river, so that the flow can proceed uninterrupted from the top of the head to wherever it's trying to connect to in the lower body.
One thing I realized this morning is that a contraction is not the essence of the energetic body that contracts/resists. It is only a clue as to that body's presence. I can tune into it (thereby provisionally giving sway to the resistance), and the responsible body emerges more fully.
But in this space, the primary task, again, is not to end the resistance/contraction but to simply grant much-needed attention. Feeling into the contours of this body, allowing it to resist or not resist as much as it needs. Unconditionally embracing it with interest and patience and love.
The distinction between the contraction and the essence of the contracting body becomes clear when the contraction stops and the breathing begins. I've been able to stay concentrated such that the responsible body/entity/part-of-me does not disappear when it relaxes and allows breathing. Its essence is still here. I can presence it and feel it just as much when it's breathing and flowing. Its contours remain intact even without the contraction!
I had conflated the two, initially not recognizing anything but a contraction and the hard perimeters of its extent. But for it to breathe and not disappear—this is a new sort of blissful inner communion! What parts of me cannot be embraced with the power of such presence?
The practice suddenly feels so much more inclusive. Freely flowing energy is great and in some way still remains the ideal, but blockages and contractions are now no less exciting to be present to. The need for patience is transcended by an immediacy that is always present and available.
Yes, the empty, vague, blank or bored feelings or areas are still there. But now I have a greater faith that some part of me is actively working to keep things in the dark, faithfully doing what it knows how to do so well. And faith that it will be shown another even better option once the light finds its way into those corners and it learns that there's nothing to be afraid of.
The primary task that I'm playing with now is to maintain a continuous central channel connection from top to bottom and to conduct as much energy/electricity through it as I can. The question of contraction vs. relaxation, or breathing vs. not breathing, continues to be less interesting. Not-breathing is sustained by a focus on it, so I just let it do what it does; it's sure not to stay the same, so I don't need to babysit it. Whether a link in this vertical chain contracts or relaxes doesn't dictate whether it can conduct energy. I picture a bunch of people lining up (kind of like the vertebrae in my spine?) and focus on maintaining the physical connection between them. As long as they're touching, the electricity can flow through the entire chain. Whether or not an individual in the chain is covering their eyes and ears and holding their breath doesn't matter so much. But once the energy is flowing, they'll eventually take a peek and see that it's safe to look around, breathe, and relax a little.
I'm also operating under the assumption that there's no real limit to the intensity of energy I can experience. At each new threshold, it's my choice either to retreat or expand. My confidence is growing such that I'm choosing retreat less often.
When the energy pools in my head and I don't feel much else, there's a technique I'm starting to use which seems to work. I make the assumption that I'm resisting somewhere below my head (in my throat, chest, etc.), but I can't actually feel the resistance as a contraction. So I voluntarily contract so as to begin to feel it, which enables the energy to travel further down, even if the "chain" is tight or contorted. Once I feel the energy, I can shift my focus away from the contraction to the energy itself. It's a provisional contraction, like scaffolding for a tower that's under construction. Once the building's elevator is even barely operational, I can let the scaffolding drop away.
Today I tweaked the last practice I described (maximizing top-down energy flow). Instead of trying to constantly increase the intensity, I'm trying to maintain the intensity at a particular (higher-than-normal but not maxed-out) level. So the focus is on stabilizing myself at a higher level, rather than burning through (and then probably crashing/retreating). It seems like this will be more effective in establishing a new normal. So intensity isn't the only criterion; sustainability (or stability) is too.
What exactly does it mean to have "stabilized" at a particular level of awareness? It means that awareness of a specific area no longer occurs at the expense of space. I may need focused, effortful concentration at first (complete with tension/contraction/resistance), where it's all I can do just to not lose track of the frequency I'm tuning into. After a while though, space starts to open up and I can look around a little bit without losing track. I can bring more of the surrounding context into my awareness without losing the original frequency. More of my system can relax; a new competency relieves it from all-hands-on-deck mode. As with learning to ride a bike, I know I have stabilized when I can enjoy the scenery without falling over.
One very concrete example of this stabilization is when you no longer have to close your eyes (or keep them closed) to maintain contact with a particular field. You can include the external environment in your experience now too. To me this feels like the beginnings of a marriage between the inner and outer worlds. What once seemed so flat and irrelevant out there as compared to my rich inner experience, now is being infused with more light, connection, depth, meaning. The contacts are being repaired. This is the advantage of increasing stabilization. A rippling, emergent intimacy.
I still close my eyes a lot (when not meditating), but now I try to do it only as much as necessary.
Last night I became clear on three pillars of a newly supercharged practice: attunement, listening, and presence (space). Or more accurately, I became clear on a concrete behavior corresponding to each aspect. For more presence, open my eyes. For more receptivity/listening (the feminine principle), breathe (as implied or "instructed" by the streaming energy). And for greater attunement (the masculine principle), focus more precisely on the energy streaming in through my third eye (or crown or mouth). Okay, the last one isn't as physically concrete, but it's quite subtly concrete; it's about feeling and staying with the core intensity of the incoming stream, like trying to swim with the strongest, central part of a current. This activity is centered in the third eye/crown/mouth (which for me seem to be ever joining), but when coupled with listening (physical breathing) and presence (physical eyes open), the current extends through my whole body.
Thomas said we can practice attunement and receptive listening simultaneously until we realize they are "not two." At certain points last night, I saw that clearly. The receptive breathing became simply a way of respecting and appreciating the energy I was focused on. Listening and attunement became one.
Consciously initiating a breath (whether in or out) when the only natural impulse is to run and hide (by contracting the jaw, throat, abdomen, or all three) serves as a gateway to relaxation. Mentally I would tell myself to relax and allow the energy in. I would do this initially by starting a breath—but really it's not so much conscious breathing as it is conscious opening (relaxation) of the various breath gateways (the throat especially, for me last night). That's because, when I allowed it to open, I found that the energy carried with it its own "instructions" on how to breathe. All I had to do was follow its lead re: pace, volume of air, and direction (in or out). It could be quite a lot of breathing—like a breathwork exercise, especially in its tingling hyperventilation effects. The difference is that, unlike breathwork, the only mental control in this case was to keep the physical breathing channel open, not to conform to some preconceived rhythmic breathing pattern. In fact the breathing could be quite erratic. The only consistent part of this practice was to not hold the breath, which means that if breathing did stop, it was only from a place of repose and relaxation, not of contraction and holding.
When I lie down at night, the metaphorical snake of my spinal column immediately begins to coil into my base. This is intense, like a descent into deep, dense darkness where the air is thick and stale, and the claustrophobic sense of being in my body makes me want to hold my breath and not let the awareness descend any further. But to actually relax in my base—this is a foreign experience to me. Last night I took the possibility seriously, which led to the three behavioral pillars I described above. However, it wasn't until my wife came back to our bed that I dialed the practice back (so as not to disturb her with my loud breathing/whimpering/groaning). Before that, each successive deepening into relaxation was accompanied by a more intense opening and inrush of power. So this relaxation wasn't exactly conducive to sleep. At certain points it felt like my skull cracked open to let more light stream in between the hemispheres of my brain. All of this to say: maybe I also need to learn how to relax into my base while closing my crown. (That would be a good question to ask: what are the valid "use cases" for consciously closing the crown?)
One more thing: my subtle experiences are almost entirely felt—not so much seen or heard. Yet during my supercharged practice last night, some subtle visual capacities began to come online. Everything is still quite faint—mostly blackness, with intermittent silver wisps punctuated by occasional brow strobes. Anyway, I thought this was cool.
A couple of quick notes from today's class: If increased energy or sensitivity begins to overwhelm us in our daily life, we can set little intentions, directing our system to take a break or put it on hold for a period of time (such as for one evening). Contraction can be a useful tool that we intentionally invoke to regulate the intensity and pace of the healing process.
Tuning into and diving into a previously inaccessible area (such as my lower spine) takes time and patience. It's like operating a metal detector while riding a unicycle, or a telescope on a galloping horse. Faint sensations need to be noticed and then concentrated upon, while being careful not to contract in the area of focus.
Concentration means ignoring a lot of stronger, more compelling areas of activity. It's okay to let those areas contract; we're trying to create a pocket of space where the new area can be perceived in a gradually more distinct or "audible" way. Again, the pocket of space is not a contraction; it's an opening, partially facilitated by resisting the other areas screaming for attention. Instead, what we're eventually after is a "condensation" of energy into the targeted area. I seek to become my lower spine.
In order to do this, I'm finding that there are many layers of what seems like a dark forest between where I am now and where I'm trying to go. Rather than contracting into this space, my aim is to relax into this space, gradually letting go of the resistance I feel to passing through the intervening areas, such as through my belly and into my back.
It's challenging to do this quietly. Both practice contexts are good: when I need to be quiet, and when it's okay to whimper or groan (because no one near me will be disturbed). When my wife gets up to go to the bathroom, my system often takes the opportunity to rapidly sink deeper and to belaboredly but successfully breathe through and into a deeper descent, which feels like breathing through a deep, narrow underground passage.
It's happening for sure, sometimes more successfully than others. It probably depends on which parts of my system are more awake and active. What was once inaccessible to me is now becoming more and more alive. As always, this is not just imagination. Imagining energy in my spine or having a thought of energy in my spine and trying to muster the feeling based on that picture—no, this doesn't work. Maybe I could get a more vivid picture, but still it's just a mental picture. Instead, I have to start with what is already there. And if I can't sense anything yet, I will probably need to be patient.
I am more motivated than ever to inhabit the physical. The condensing of energy into the confines of my skin is like crawling underground with no room to move or breathe. It is heavy and suffocating. But last night I discovered something. The ground itself can move! Before, it was all I could do just to find a tiny pinprick of a passage through which to breathe in a very belabored way. Now I no longer have to fight for air; it is as if the very substance of the dirt, the rock walls of the cave, are waking up, moving, for the first time in ages. My body is so heavy! But I am no longer pinned under it; it can actually move itself!
Incarnation is so peculiarly delightful! Last night, as the cave walls began to move, I laughed and laughed. But I didn't get lost in the laughter or drift out of my body. I stayed with the condensing/compressing (not contracting) movement. It is as if the mud has become sediment but the sediment can still move, as heavy and dense as it is. I alternated between laughter and the belabored breathing. But now the breathing was accomplished by the body itself. I willed the heavy walls of my lungs to move and expand, and the whole heavy structure of this body began to loosen up without expanding. The dense material can reconfigure itself, reshape itself, shift itself into another form. It doesn't need space. It doesn't need to blow apart and come back together. It doesn't need to escape from under the heavy weight. It is the heavy weight, and it can move!
Staying with the movement of condensation is like focusing a microscope. The vision would blur, and the contours of my vital body, or at least awareness of my vital body, would pass in and out of the contours of my skin. It's like trying to avoid double vision, aligning the image of each eye with each other so that one well-defined picture is made. I float in and out otherwise. Condensation is a calming movement. It is a settling down. It is a slowing down. The vibration is much lower. But it seems that it's actually possible to live here.
Physical awareness is exhilarating. I can feel the dense energy of matter more acutely than ever. I can feel the insides of my skull, my sinuses crackling, shifting. I can become matter and move of my own accord. When I become matter, I no longer have to fight it and make it bend to my will. It is like a costume that merges into me. It is an animation, and I get to be the animator. It is a world of unexplored possibilities. I foresee a profound, contagious healing journey.
In this process of inhabiting the physical, it feels as if the matter itself is waking up. Or, conversely, when I descend into the low frequency of the body, it behaves at first as if asleep—which is probably because sleep is the only other time that this frequency visibly rises to the surface. The difference is that now I'm snoring (for example) while I'm wide awake. My breathing sounds like a zombie's breathing.
I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy even the "walkers" in The Walking Dead. Inconscient matter, walking around, stripped of everything else that would make it human. Human physicality isolated and made manifest. (Of course there's the flesh-eating too, but I'll leave that analysis for another day. ;-)
With deep gratitude I can report that the descending embodiment continued last night. This time I was careful to respect the protective intention, which I experiment predominantly as a pooling of energy in my head which helps limit the downward flow. This time I welcomed it and held the protecting body rather than trying to power around it or through it.
Characteristics, in case any of these can serve as entry points to this elusive connection in the future:
The sequence seems like it might be like that of filling up a cup with liquid. First the bottom is filled. Then the rest?
Descending into the body is not about finding a way through the density without changing the substance of your self. No, you must change the substance of your self and become the density. There is no way through.
Current characteristics of physical embodiment:
Synthesizing the above: Relaxing into an increasingly precise, intense, wakeful awareness of the slow, compact discomfort of the physical body.
Like carefully pouring liquid into a small mould. You have to do it slowly or it will spill over the sides. As the material cools, it becomes more compact, more solid, less translucent, more opaque. But also more intense: a concentrated intensity, an alive intimacy.
The resistance to dealing with things on the physical plane has been a resistance to dealing with a foreign substance that seemed to be disconnected from me. The aim now is to operate from within matter rather than from without. To live as a native here, to recognize and claim my homeland, to animate the physical plane as the substance of myself.
Slowing down, crawling into the confines and limitations of just one possibility, saying no to other possibilities. You willingly narrow your options as you crystallize, moving from the realm of the potential to the realm of the actual. You make a choice. You say yes to this body, this moment, this space, these limitations, these particularities. In doing so, you get off the bench of life and find out what it feels like to really play the game.
Although discomfort may be the first primary feeling characteristic of the descent into the physical, it may soon give way to feelings of bliss. In fact, it may be hard to differentiate between them. They start to merge and you start to feel uncomfortably blissful or blissfully uncomfortable. Either way, the trick is to stay present and not latch onto the pleasure/pain pendulum. When bliss arrives, the temptation is to lose yourself in the bliss. But embodiment is more like finding yourself. How deep you go depends on how much bliss you can stand without reacting. As the intensity rises, the activity falls. As the stillness deepens, the intensity deepens with it.
I've reinstated a more robust awareness meditation practice (for one hour, strictly letting everything be as it is). I am already seeing how it is improving the quality of my presence when doing the subtle energy practices. I can more easily decline to react. During awareness meditation, the subtle energy experiences can be quite strong, and it takes everything in me not to either dive into or recoil back from the rushing stream. The pleasure and the pain are intense. I often can't tell the difference. They're just two different flavors of reactivity, two sides from which to fall off the tight rope of the practice.
When pouring energy into the physical mold of this body, the impulse is to channel the energy somewhere else, to direct it to flow through and thus relieve some of the intensity. But now I'm experimenting with letting that impulse be and allowing this intense, concentrated stillness to be sustained indefinitely, or for as long as it remains so, i.e. intense, concentrated, and still. I suspect that, in doing so, I will begin to feel more and more at home here.
I've heard the coiling snake metaphor, but now I'm getting a direct sense of how descending into the body is like "reeling it in"—like there's this really long, live fishing wire that's dancing around out in the air, and now it's relaxing, allowing itself to be drawn in through the single-wide hole that leads to its nighttime home. It's tricky to allow this. It seems like I can't breathe in here; inhaling has the tendency to send me flying out the hole once again. But of course breathing is allowed here too, and with practice I'm getting less and less excited when I take a breath. Filling the lungs with air can be done quite physically and without flying off into the sky.
Embodying the physical feels like taming a wild lion, or putting my hand on its forehead and taking all of its energy into myself. Or like the moment when a ghost is sucked into the trap in Ghostbusters—fast-moving energy instantly consolidated and made still.
The keys are:
It's like continuously climbing up and flopping over the edge of a life raft. There needs to be attunement and focus to get myself up to the top of the slippery ledge, but once I'm there I need to relax and fall into the bottom of the boat. And this happens constantly, such that the two movements become one.
Another image would be climbing up onto a surf board. What had felt like waves flowing over me now feels like a constant, steady ground beneath me.
A clue that this physical embodiment thing is authentic is that, during my lying-in-bed-in-the-morning practice, I am more frequently experiencing an urge to get up, to move, to get moving. I'll sit up, jump up, or stand up, even before I've let go of the practice. This is a natural impulse and desire, not a mentally imposed one (e.g. "You need to get up because you've got work to do").
I've also felt more naturally inclined to physical activity during the day. I'm doing at least 30 push-ups a day and frequent pull-ups for the fun of it.
This feels like a path to greater inner cooperation: the voluntary participation of matter, rather than its forced subordination.
In our last small group, I refined my understanding of how to navigate the edges of energy and resistance. In order to expand, you really have to respect the need to withdraw or retreat, to turn down the volume of the energy, or to pull back from it a bit. My tendency is to push too hard, thinking that I'll miss an opportunity otherwise. But actually, that might send everyone into overreaction mode. By allowing just enough contraction and pulling back, I find that it's no longer a battle but instead a very respectful, even loving interaction.
Before, I have mostly identified with the streaming energy and have been trying to figure out how to break the logjams that I encounter. Now I'm able to become the fearful part instead but this time be present and quite awake to the energy in front of me. That's because I can see that the energy respects my needs. Almost immediately I find myself relaxing into welcoming more of it and/or merging into it. With my boundary being honored so respectfully, I can see and feel right away that there's actually no reason to fear. It was a false alarm. :-)
That still doesn't mean it's comfortable. But now I can enter the discomfort with more trust and with my eyes open (figuratively and literally).
There's also a distinct sense in which the part that's afraid, paradoxically, wants nothing more than to move through its fear—to intimately connect to that which it fears.
The fearfully resisting part does not need to be convinced to let go; it already wants to let go. It only needs to be convinced that you will not try to force it to let go. Once it's convinced that its sovereignty will be respected and that it has as much time as it needs, it will let go.
Heh, this sounds kinda like parenting advice for a teenager.
It's like the tortoise and the hare.
More activity may seem to imply more progress, but it may just be that you're actively reinforcing resistance to the progress—creating unnecessary work and imbalances that need to be addressed.
Slow and steady wins the race.
The contours of my resistance, the tight, tense battleground where the streaming energy blasts against an immovable wall—I have naturally assumed that this was fear, a pulling away from the light. But this morning while contemplating how I might be leaning forward, I realized that the fear may actually more accurately be called desire. Counter-intuitively, a desire to connect to the energy it is so effectively blocking. I want to connect, but my desire is so intense and so urgent and so strong that I don't know how. I lean in too far, I grasp so tightly, so desperately, that I don't know how to receive that which is right in front of me and blasting off my face in all directions.
I'm now stepping into this experience while recognizing it as a desire to connect rather than primarily as a fear of connecting. My goal is to just be with it, to receive that desire, to give it enough space to move, to become more aware of it and more compassionate. This feels like an important pivot on this adventure.
The intensity of experience continues to increase. New openings around the top of my brain appear unbidden. At first slightly painful—like someone jabbing a long needle off from the side, at an angle, toward the center of my head—I've learned to let it in; the pain quickly goes away as the new energy rushes in, filtering its way down through my feet. It's like my brain is systematically being opened up like a flower or a blooming onion, minus the deep frying (hopefully). ;-)
The connections are becoming easier to make. The primary, most accessible focus points are still the head/crown/third eye and the gut. The spotlight clamps onto my forehead and launches on like a stadium light. Then it's only a matter of relaxed concentration, allowing and not reacting to the intensity, letting my stomach knot du jour become felt, and settling into a deeper sensation of that area until it's like my forehead is directly touching my lower abdomen and/or pelvis (again, while lying flat). Once this connection is made, if I can stay present without breaking into laughter (it's quite a peculiar and intimate feeling!), then the energy flow will develop into a channel that I can feel all the way up and down my spine or front torso, even if it's still twisted or contorted.
If it develops this far, that's usually when I start to encounter the protection around my heart, sometimes from above, as the energy descends down my neck; and sometimes (as is the case more often lately) from below, as the awareness of my abdomen grows, and the light of the channel, like a flame that's slowly building, comes up against the wall beneath my heart. Before that happens (if at all), the heart space is dark, unfelt, and the light, even if it makes a full circuit, somehow finds a detour around it. But I now know that the light can and does want to stream directly through the core of my heart; this has started to happen at times. Like a clean, fresh, powerful river made of luminescent air.
There are so many potential channels, like the spaces between the fibers of a sugar cane. Some parts are dense and still tightly stuck together; others have become loose enough, even if temporarily, to let the light shine through. But the overall intention seems to be to leave no stone unturned. It seems that eventually the whole body will be full of light (if I let it?).
Connecting to the base of the spine is like calming down a shaking bowl so that the thick liquid it contains can start to drain down through the tiny hole at the bottom of the bowl.
One exhilarating and just plain cool thing to do, once I realized I could do it, is "jumping into my bloodstream." This applies whenever I feel my pulse, e.g. while sitting down on a park bench just after a brisk walk. I can distinctly feel my heartbeat. This means that my perspective is stationary; I'm sitting there watching my blood pumping by, like a river surging in spurts. What I found is that quick attunement to a single beat can send me flying down the river and back round again—and that I can stay with the flow, such that I no longer feel the beat. It's like jumping into a game of Double Dutch, or grabbing onto a rope tow at the ski hill. The rope keeps flying by; you wait for your chance to grab on; you finally find your moment, and then you're off to the races, no longer stationary. It's also like the difference, for a surfer, between letting the waves go by and catching one of them.
I've also found that it can be done in layers. I recently felt my pulse in my stomach. I dove into the beat and found that some of my awareness was in the stream and some of my awareness was still feeling the beat. I continued to focus on the stream by jumping into each pulse as it arrived, and soon all my awareness was scooped up into the stream and I no longer felt the beat. Kind of like parents encouraging their kids to join them on the moving merry-go-round until the whole family is spinning. :-)
I've increasingly been able to keep an almost constant awareness of not only the energy streaming into my crown but also its connection to the base of my spine. If I consciously focus on the connection, I can feel the energy spread through my legs. It feels like sitting at the base of a gentle, warm waterfall, or at the opening of an underground spring. The energy teleports, or flows through an unseen viaduct, first funneling into the top of my head and then flowering out from my pelvis on down.
In concentrated practice periods, the focus has been to feel and connect the intermediate channels, whether they travel through my spine or in front of it. I can feel the electricity on both ends (top and bottom); then it's just a matter of letting them meet somewhere in the middle.
The technique of "jumping into the bloodstream" is a specific example of a general skill, which is to attune to a particular frequency. In other words, whether or not the pulse or signal I feel is that of my physical heart, I can still jump into it, ride the wave, grab the rope tow, dive into the river, etc. This allows for a much more rapid reconnection.
What about the resistance? I'm reminded of my quip about resistance being futile. That seems true—as long as I still attend to it. As I focus on reattaching my backbone, so to speak—that is, closing and intensifying the electric circuit in my spine—all manner of resistance shows up in the form of muscle-contracting, breath-holding, whimpering, etc. I've found that it's not helpful to focus directly on these side effects. Instead, whether the perspective is that of the party who is interested in making the connection happen or that of the party who is feeling the connection happen without asking for it, the focus should still be on the connection. I take turns stepping into these roles (though I still spend most of the time adopting the perspective of the one who wants to make the connection). There is a subtle shift: the eyes look up slightly when I become the frightened recipient of the connection. The eyes look down slightly when I'm the one concentrating on making it happen. But the attunement to the frequency must stay there for it to work, so there is a bit of multi-tasking, or at least simultaneous levels of conscious awareness, going on.
How do I know the resistance isn't just going back into hiding or bringing in reinforcements? Well, I can't always know that, and I'm sure there's always a mix. But here's the really telling indicator: there is often a sense of great relief and relaxation, particularly when the exhale is voiced as opposed to unvoiced. I never try to make that happen, but it happens of its own accord. The eyes look up slightly, directly, as it were, into the light. Calm, still presence makes it possible. As the little me, I can quickly see that I am the one creating all the fuss and that there's nothing to be afraid of. I'm safe and can relax, even in the midst of such intense aliveness. Before I know it, a deep, voiced sigh suggests that another slice of salami has been shaved off.
The descending energy often feels like a corkscrew or drill. Riding the wave of its revolutions (i.e. jumping on board rather than idly standing by) enables it to descend more deeply and rapidly. I become the corkscrew.
I can feel a similar but smaller ascending corkscrew at the base of my spine. A baby corkscrew. The two seem to be looking for each other.
When the connection is made, it sometimes feels more like the corkscrew/drill/spiral, and sometimes it just feels more like electricity flowing through a now-closed circuit. No doubt this is just me paying attention to different aspects at different times.
Once the connection is made, it is often ambiguous which way the energy is flowing (up or down). My guess is that it's both, but I'm still refining my awareness of that aspect. One thing I know is that there is a greater sense of completeness and less of a need to reach further down or root myself like there was when all I could feel was energy flowing down to my feet and I was wondering where it could go from there. I've found a place to hook it up (the base of my spine) and now the lights can just gradually become brighter, without me also having to figure out where to hook them up.
The trick is to relax without losing the intensity: to relax while feeling more alive, more connected, more embodied, rather than to relax by drifting out into space or thought or disembodied trance. There's a difference between the relief of evasion and the relief of surrender. Evasion moves up and out. Surrender moves down and in. They both play a role, but the latter is transformative.
In addition to the focused, directed, channeled streaming of energy into my base, I've now had the experience of broad, relaxed, wide seeping of energy downward, like standing in a light rainfall. And actually, it's not that it's either/or; it tends to start off focused and directed, concentrated and narrow, until it hits a certain center in the body, at which point it spreads out, like a spray nozzle on the end of a downward-pointing hose. For most of my practice so far, the spray nozzle has been at the base of my spine. Above that, the energy is intense, concentrated, focused, narrow. Then it disperses in my pelvis and covers my legs with a gentle shower.
What I've learned more recently is to effectively bring the spray nozzle or shower head further up, by relaxing more of my body into a broader base. The warm bath analogy helped me to access this. I've been so intent not to lose the focused stream of energy that I haven't been able to relax as much into a broader flow. Or I've been so intent to feel the compact density of my physical legs that I haven't allowed them to dissipate into a wider, lighter but nevertheless grounding field of vital energy.
First the shower head started at my solar plexus. Then, in the same sitting it gradually rose to my heart, then my third eye, then my crown, where it remained. Each succession brought an incredible new level of rest. I couldn't believe how calm I was, even as the intense energy remained above the shower head. I am normally so activated; all the waves that I've been tuning into and surfing and diving into—they ceased beneath the shower head, replaced by a calm, gentle, surrounding shower. I honestly didn't believe I could relax my third eye, but even that happened, and tears were gently, steadily released without the slightest bit of strain or contraction. It was nothing like crying; it was more like water escaping from a relaxing hand. The shower head didn't go higher than my crown (or maybe just barely above) and it did not lose any of its intensity. If anything, it was more intense than usual, but amazingly there was no headache or burning in my face.
The effects on my day made a lot of sense. I felt comfortable and free. No anxiety. I was more available to people (e.g. to listen to and help a grieving widow), I had more energy (I used a standing desk all day for the first time in weeks), I moved about the office outside my normal paths, I engaged in more conversation. I was relaxed and happy and at home.
Tips for accessing this:
Feel the dense, stomach-achy energy but not just in the abdomen. This time it's in the frontal cortex and linked all the way down, barely touching the front edge of the heart. There's some space around it; it can be perceived as a single body, if incomplete. Sitting out in front—or on top? (I'm lying down.) The task is different now. Not so much drilling down into the base of the spine, but letting the body merge into "me." Let it sink, let it touch, let it energize the physical fibers, let it be born into matter. Stay with the unified body that's out in front, but also let it touch, paying attention to the physical sensations, the back, the chest, the stomach. Otherwise it remains out in front, pure and streaming and energized and internally connected. But not embodied. How to merge? Forcing doesn't work. There's a logjam, an equal and opposite reaction. What if I abandon for a moment and just feel the physical? Oh, yes, there it is. Don't like this! Not comfortable. Going off track? No, discomfort's the sign you're going on track. (Time to sit up now.) The resistance is great. My heart doesn't want to be pierced. My heart wants to be safe. Are we willing to recognize this? If I force, I muddy the waters. If I don't, I don't feel my heart. What's that? Numbness? Blankness? Absence? Aha! There is a process here. It is working effectively. Can we honor this? Can we allow the "moving not to feel"? Now the melodies come, the joyful little spurts of clever, mischievous creativity. It dances around, happily it seems. But wait! Weren't we trying to feel the heart? There's just a big, empty space now—though streaming out with little songs and dances. No, we can't feel the heart, but we see what it's doing now. And it feels seen. And it is happy.
And: with a wider base, the heart can relax, even in the light. [See the note/thought before last FTW!]
And when we reach the limits of our current base (or the current rate at which it can expand), we notice the clenching and respect the needs. We give space to the protection and let it be... Until next time :-)
What I'm realizing is that every corkscrew movement, whether up or down the spine, is a creative impulse that can potentially be realized. If they were all to manifest, creation would be vast and instantaneous. The interpenetration of the base and the crown, like the fingers of two hands interleaving, or two vines being grafted together, was the first focal point. A knot, or plane, of pain (usually somewhere in the middle of my back but it could be anywhere), if allowed to be still, by fleshing out the contours of the movements into each other so that none of them might escape, becomes increasingly stable until the elusive, fleeting pain becomes a durable substance and then body. If this can be sustained even further, then the body grows and the awareness can expand beyond the initial focal point to a stabilizing network, growing out at the periphery, like so many vines or tentacles; but rather than flailing about, they become solid, and thus the body grows, powered from within. Stability, structure, substance is the aim of this movement. It wants to materialize, to become flesh; if there is any movement, it wants to take root and become dense rather than indefinitely flop about like a downed power line. By closing the circuit, the body grows. And if the circuit-closing pattern can itself be sustained, then creation becomes instantaneous, growth exponential, time unnecessary. (Or so I imagine.) That may be the ideal of manifestation: the word and its effect are "not two." In the mean time, I will content myself with accelerating growth. With the corkscrew movements, we're talking multiple cycles per second, so any sustained connection of these is going to have fast results that will start working their way outward, as this energetic body takes its place in the world. With any luck (grace), the heart will become central, manifestly "the wellspring of life."
One more note for now: the Law of Three is a helpful rubric in this practice. Affirming (downward movement from the crown and above), denying (resistance in the body and/or upward movement from the base), and reconciling (an expanding witnessing of this interaction) all must be present.
Breathing exercises often seem forced, overly mental, and irrelevant to the energy that's naturally moving. My alternative has been to let the breath do whatever it does. If it holds, great. If it releases, great.
But today I'm learning more of a third way, a new invitation: conscious breathing that is "forced" only in the sense of setting a very gentle intention. The priority remains the same: stay connected to the original focal point or main energy flow. The breath is secondary to that. But now, rather than just letting the breath do whatever it does, experiment with intentionally cracking open the taut fibers to let air through, whether in or out at first. This seems to establish a new channel—or reopen a long-closed channel—of air to the area that's in focus. It may start as a narrow channel of air—raspy breathing in the back of my throat, maybe partly voiced at first—but then it becomes clear as the airway opens further. A natural rhythm ensues. And the part in focus (e.g. the pit in my stomach, or the back of my heart, or the top of my back) can relax, newly nourished and refreshed.
It still needs to be very gentle. This means that the breath intention should not overpower the primary connection, causing it to be lost. Sure, I can always forcefully make myself breathe in or out. But this breaks the concentration on the original connection. It creates waves, noise, disorientation, and the part in focus immediately goes back into hiding.
Using the breath as a "pump" for pushing energy into the physical body works as a metaphor for me, provided that the hose actually stays connected. What I realize now is that the reason breath exercises don't often "work" for me is that the hose isn't connected. It's flopping about randomly, and the energy dissipates into wherever. But if I am very, very gentle (and patient), I can actually start pumping air through the hose without losing the connection.
Telling features of success: new, strange sense of self (maybe with some fear but only at first); deeper relaxation; a natural desire to move the body.
Just a day later, breathing exercises are my favorite! ;-) Well, not canned formulas, and really there's just one exercise as I'm conceiving it: actively experiment with breathing, in connection to the energy from above. Don't wait to identify whether to breathe in or out; just start. If it helps to keep from going off track, make shorter, even rapid breaths. By "on track," I mean simultaneously feeling the energy above and the energy below without holding the breath. In other words, keeping the hose connected and air moving through it, regardless of the rhythm. I suspect I can make a habit out of this, and that the rhythms and tempos will become more natural. They're awkward at first, but they're fast becoming easier and more natural.
It indeed feels like the breath is a pumping mechanism to fill the body with life energy. It's a denser sensation; I can feel the channels as if I'm working the air, for example, up and down my spine, right now in deliberate, even breaths. The pumping sensation is not just on the inhalations. If I'm maintaining the connection to the energy above, it seems like both inhaling and exhaling infuse the body with more energy, like a constant electrical connection.
The breath seems like my key to the assertion of the physical. The active willing to breathe is the body taking what it needs from the energy above, pulling it down, rather than just lying and waiting to be overtaken by higher forces.
I'm noticing an analogous dimension of connection or disconnection: words can be disconnected from their original energy in the same way that the breath can become disconnected. Thus not only breathing exercises can be "forced, overly mental, and irrelevant," but words become exactly that too. That description sums up, for example, most people's experience of the Bible (and my experience of the Bible, most of the time). But once the breath comes online, then there's life. So too with the words. Connect the words to the original energy and they suddenly gain a substance that moves us powerfully.
They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" (Luke 24:32)
Last night I discovered another way to be with extreme irritability. The pragmatic considerations still hold true: avoid sugar, avoid yelling at your youngest child. I failed miserably in both regards. But after profuse apologies, hugs, and shared reflections, I went to bed, where most of the work described in these notes takes place. There I felt and remembered just how tumultuous these energies were. When I’m no longer actively suppressing them, I can feel the turmoil they create in my body, mind, and emotions.
Physically, it is like a massive swarm of tiny buzzing insects pervading and trapped by my whole body. I can even hear them in my ringing ears.
Emotionally, I hate everyone and everything. My mantra is “leave me the #%^* alone!” Nothing appeals, everything sucks, and I want to curse it all.
Mentally, I flit back and forth between speaking the curses and asking for forgiveness and help, even as I try to figure out what’s wrong with me, what is the meaning of this, what is my relationship to this experience supposed to be, etc.
In meditation, the task as I understand it is to say neither yes nor no to the experiences that arise. It is rather to practice indifference. So the three possibilities here, I suppose, would be to 1) say yes and verbalize the curse, throw the nearest pillow at the wall, or worse, 2) say no and actively suppress it by blocking it out, replacing it with positive thoughts, praying for deliverance, seeking physical remedies, etc., or 3) remain entirely still and aloof no matter how uncomfortable it might get.
What I experienced last night is a fourth way, I suppose. Lying in bed, I felt an impulse to let these urges run through me by tracking them and saying yes to them at some level, by consciously allowing them to stream in through my head and face down through my body and directing them closer to the ground in all their swarming turmoil. There’s a certain satisfaction or fulfillment in this, as if giving answer to a pressing question.
But then the strong, let’s say secondary, impulses came too: the urges to swear, curse, throw things, and in general to destroy. So my mind intervened with the obvious thought that this sure seems like demon possession. So I said a rather silly prayer and shortly thereafter realized the silliness of it: “Let these energies be from You.” In other words I was contingently arguing with reality.
But somehow I decided I had the capacity to handle them whatever their nature or source. And this was the fourth way, saying yes, welcoming and embracing the energy, becoming the turmoil, becoming the rage, while at the same time vigilantly guarding against acting on any of the secondary impulses. This allowed even more of the energy to flow. My hypothesis was that it needed to flow all the way through, and, by not acting out, I could facilitate its completion without being turned into an evil monster in the process (or at least not permanently). Picture a writhing, powerful, enraged but unreactive creature, like a gargoyle softly and fluidly grunting, all the tumultuous energy flowing, not stunted, not jumping or jerking, all of it finding a continuous space and time, a place for it to be, to exist as a valid quality of movement in this world.
This morning my provisional conclusion is that to invite a demon to pass through your house without letting it piss on your furniture is not the same thing as being possessed by it. It may well constitute something like love.
At the boundaries of waking consciousness, the descending force seems to have greater access to hidden parts (e.g. deep in my belly or far back in my spine). Thus when I am just waking up (especially on a Saturday), it seems to have more of a persistent, opportunistic agenda.
I am now confident that pressure in my face and head (apparent resistance there) is actually due to resistance from a deeper part that is not used to being felt. I am now more often able to become that part, provisionally shifting from identification with the force to identification with the part being acted upon. The relief comes through breathing, but only if that part is doing the breathing. The more secure and complete the connection, the more effective the relief. In the best case, it is relief from something I never knew ailed me, because it is a part that I don’t remember ever knowing.
The experience is one of initial fear, as if someone is trying to insert a knife into its chest. I tense up, hold my breath, hide my eyes, try to drift away. But a gentle presence, persistence, and patience can rather rapidly open me up to the point of relaxing the channel just enough for some air to come through, which means that, on a new threshold, it almost always starts with an audible whimper, moan, groan, or even howl. But I can soon fully relax, and the air can move freely and silently—unless the agenda is so opportunistic (as it was this morning) that it keeps trying for deeper and deeper parts, making for a prolonged series of vocal effects. The trick, as always, is to not get caught up in the effects (even as I try to mitigate them by putting a pillow over my face). If my mind wanders, I can find myself creating and getting lost in lots of noise (energetic, not just audible), the connections are partial at best, and the outcome might be nothing more than a stirring up of confusion and unresolved energies. But if a critical mass of presence keeps me calm, new thresholds of relaxation and connection can be stabilized.
That is one thing I more consciously observed this morning: the parts don’t just want relief. They don’t just want to connect to the light so they can relax. They also want to relax so they can connect to the light. Not just provisionally and temporarily, but permanently: a greater number of parts coming online, working in concert in service to the light. A higher-bandwidth connection, a broadband cable of an increasing number of functional fibers. It makes me want to learn more about the physiology of the spinal cord, because the subjective experience (albeit expanded out to a wider space) aligns with what I’ve heard about its structure.