tiistai 16. kesäkuuta 2020

Chris’s Guidance to Awakening, by Lama Karl Eikrem

Chris’s Guidance to Awakening

*This guidance took place over a period of 7 days*

Chris: Hello Lama Karl,

I am writing to inquire about guidance to awakening.

I first heard about the 2PF on Reddit about a year ago via the r/streamentry subreddit. I have been practicing meditation on and off since I was 16 (almost 20 years, now), but more seriously over the past few years. I have some experience in Vipassana, Zen, and Vajrayana traditions and have practiced with a few sanghas but have never formally had a teacher.

Recently I became more interested in the 2PF. I am about half way through reading the Awake! book and have been practicing the 2PF for 30 minutes a day for the last 10 days. I have had some interesting experiences so far and am eager to deepen the practice. I have also listened to Kim's guided meditation on Insight Timer and watched a number of the testimonial videos that are on YouTube.

Please let me know what I will need to do in order to undertake guidance at this time, if such is available.

Thank you.

Karl: Hi Chris,

Good to hear from you. I’d be happy to help you out. It is good that you have many years of practice under your belt, it should make things easier.

We usually recommend people familiarise themselves with the 2pf for about two weeks before starting, but I’m happy to start straight away.
Shall we?

Chris: I just completed my morning meditation (30 minutes). This is day 12 of practicing with the 2PF for me, though only 1 session per day up till now. If you are interested, I kept a journal of my experiences so far, which I can send to you, or provide a summary.
Today (as in the past couple of days) I have had a harder time bringing up clear physical sensations in the I-based mode. I am trying to affirm 'I, I, I' quite strongly and with some emotion of frustration or vexation. I have to keep my voice low because I live in a large apartment complex, however, so sometimes it is more like a stage whisper. Currently, the 'I' feels like it is located in or behind the face, especially the eyes and cheeks. It appears to be centered right in between my eyebrows. In fact, over the past couple of days, I have had less and less physical sensations in response to the affirmations. Between the eyebrows, there is a mild feeling of pressure and sometimes tingling. Instead of a tight ball of energy, it feels wispy and diffuse. These sensations are subtle and therefore more difficult to follow. Sometimes I feel a bit of frustration that I am having a hard time with the technique or that more isn't happening. I feel the frustration or impatience in my chest and stomach, but then if I ask myself, "Who is feeling frustrated," it comes back to the point between the eyes.

Karl: Very good. Most people end up between the eyebrows, and it is totally normal that the sensations vary in intensity. The fact that it is getting weaker or more subtle is because you have been peeling the layers off it, just like peeling an onion. Ground yourself properly in the clarity of the I-less mode, so that your sensitivity to the change between the two modes increases. Forget about "more things happening" just work with what it taking place each moment. Everything sounds normal from your description, so there is no need to worry. One last point is that you don't have to say the affirmations out loud. All that matters is that you mean it when you say it. Another trick can be to remember specific memories that trigger the I-sensation strongly. 

Chris: During the I-less mode, I can mostly relax the body, and I have been trying to let my mind just melt into the parts of the body as they relax. I'm not totally sure that I understand the instructions for the I-less mode, or that I am doing it right. I do feel generally relaxed and spacious, but I am not sure I am reaching a true I-less state, because when I ask myself, "Where am I?" the attention will zoom right back to being behind the face. Does that make sense?

Karl: Also normal. Forget about reaching the "true I-less state" and just marinate in the relaxation and spaciousness. Another word for spaciousness is knowingness. Knowingness refers to the fact there there is absolutely no effort involved in feeling the natural sensations of the body. There is no doing there, there is just automatic, spacious knowing. And this knowing is completely natural and ordinary, no fireworks at all. So let go of the "trying" and just marinate in the natural relaxation. And don't bring up the "I", in the middle of the relaxation as that will bring you to the second mode. Take your time, several minutes.  
Chris: In my daily life, I have been feeling pretty good, overall. I am working full-time from home (due to the coronavirus) and just moved into a new apartment, so I have a lot of things on my to-do list, and certainly some stress. But I feel pretty resilient, and have very positive interactions with others. I do notice the 'I' coming up in my daily life, although perhaps more object-I than subject-I. For example, if I get a stressful email at work, I can watch the wave of anxiety rise and fall in my stomach. Or sometimes in work meetings, I notice myself wanting others to perceive me in a positive way.

Karl: Stressful can be good as it gives us an opportunity to study the "I". If anxiety etc comes up, simply trace it back to the root, the subject, what grasps or hangs onto the sensations.  

Chris: Last night I had a strange little experience. I woke up either in a dream (a moment of lucidity) or just after a dream. When I noticed I was conscious, I looked for the 'I' and, for a moment, there was nothing there. I fell back asleep soon after this. This morning, things seem to be normal.

Karl: Sounds like a glimpse to me. Very normal but a good sign indeed. Keep on going!

Chris: Thank you for your feedback. I am doing the 2PF twice per day now for 30 minutes each time. Last night was my first evening session, and I found myself feeling a bit sleepy. I wonder if it would be better for me to do my second meditation right after work/before dinner, rather than before bed? I also wondered if it would be better for me not to drink during the guidance? Normally I have a beer with dinner, and I just want to make sure that will not interfere with my meditation in the evening.

Karl: It doesn't really matter when you practice as long as you stick to the two daily sittings. If you find that you are too tired in the evening, feel free to experiment with a different schedule. As for drinking a beer or two, I don't see that it would be much of a problem in general, but again you have to see if it affects your ability to process. 

Chris: In last night's meditation, I again had only subtle sensations, mostly centred between the eyebrows. I tried your suggestion of bringing up memories related to the self. I ended up bringing up a bunch of memories in rapid succession, including many of the things in my life that were most painful to the 'I.' This intensified the sensations somewhat, but not as much as I expected. Occasionally I still have feelings of tightness around the solar plexus--almost like a band of pressure that goes around my torso, but mostly it is all centred between the eyebrows. 
Karl: Alright. As long as there is something that arises that can be studied, it is not a problem that it is more subtle. Also, if other sensations in the body are stronger than behind the eyes after affirmation, do check them out. Always go to the strongest sensation, regardless of where it is. 

Chris: In the I-less mode, I have been able to notice that there is no self required for sensory perception. As you said, awareness is already effortlessly aware of body sensations, sounds, objects in the visual field, and so on. The self is extra. 
Karl: Very good. You are clearly getting an experience of it. Keep marinating. 

Chris: I also noticed this as I took a walk after work yesterday. For several minutes, I was able to sink into this sense of not needing to do anything or think anything... just kind of allowing life to flow through me. There was a sense of peace, but still on a relative level. My thinking mind was kind of sputtering like an engine low on gas. Also, a few times during the day, I noticed myself thinking about something (my typical inner narrative) while my body was effortlessly executing some task without needing to think about it--like making a cup of tea. It made me realize that all that thinking and narrative is so unnecessary. 

Karl: Good. 

Chris: This morning's meditation was about the same, except with less sleepiness and more clarity. I am trying to really study the sensations between the eyebrows, though without trying to force anything. 
Karl: You are doing great. Just keep grounding yourself in the effortless clarity of the first mode, before bringing that clarity to whatever sensations arise after the affirmation. 

Chris: I am trying to take your advice and really ground myself in the I-less mode before applying myself to the affirmations. I think up till now, I have leaned a little more toward the I-based mode because of my eagerness to study the I and to "finish the job." But I realize the modes are equally important.
Karl: Yes, exactly. It is very common to focus too much on either one, but if you focus too much on the I-based mode you will not have clarity and get lost in identification with what arises. If one focuses too much on the I-less one will not able to weed out the root of the problem. Always both modes. 

Chris: But I realize the modes are equally important. In any case, I'm still not 100% sure I'm doing the I-less mode correctly. When I release a tension in the body, I seem to feel some warmth or vibration, rather than an empty space. I have just been letting my mind feel that, and continuing to move through the body. Sometimes once I've gone through several spots in the body, I do feel a kind of space open up--as if I'm sitting in the middle of a big, dark cavern. It is a generally peaceful and spacious feeling. 
Karl: Spaciousness or openness are just metaphors that specifically convey the lack of contraction, lack of self-hood. We are not necessarily talking about a big empty space (i.e. 3-dimensional space) etc. The warmth and vibration that you describe are perfectly valid descriptions of the I-less mode. Sometimes we can have "deeper" experiences as you describe, but just keep doing what you do without expecting anything. Do the sensations you experience when letting go feel more natural than the tensions? Freer? Check. 

Chris: When I go into the I-based mode, the affirmations are still bringing up quite subtle responses. I'm paying attention to all the body sensations that come up--not just between the eyes. But that is still where I feel it most strongly. The area of the sensations is quite small, about the size of an American quarter-dollar coin. If I had to describe the shape, it feels like a couple of strands of energy that are tied together--like a knot that has already been loosened somewhat--and turning and twisting around in space. The feeling is one of tingling or energy, sometimes a mild pressure. I have been feeling the same sensation come up a few times, walking around in my daily life. It grows stronger the more attention I pay to it.

Karl: If the sensations between the eyes are the strongest after doing the affirmation, then zoom into it and study it as closely as possible. Really get on the inside of it.. Does it have a centre?

Chris: A few times in my sitting meditations, I have noticed my mind wandering a bit. Much less than in other types of meditation I've practiced, but it is still there. Any tips on how to deal with this? I've tried Kim's advice of saying "Ha, ha!" or "Ho, ho!" sharply, and that seems to work at least temporarily.
Karl: The shouting of "Ha's" and "Ho's" is what I usually recommend if the wandering hinders the process. If a few reps don't do the trick, then you can try shouting it rythmically for longer. Like 30 seconds or so. That usually does it. Only use it to cut through to the first mode, though, not when studying the "I". 

Chris: I do notice that my narrative self is still quite active--always telling the story of what I'm doing, what I'm going to do next and so on. It even tries to co-opt awakening, like "Now I'm doing the guidance with Karl... I wonder if the process will work... If I do get awakened, it will be interesting to try the Rainbow Body Yoga, that sounds enjoyable..." and other such stuff. 

Karl: Nevermind, leave it be. Thoughts aren't really a problem when processing the 2PF, unless of course it's buzzing to the point where there is no focus.

Chris: Sorry for the length of my emails--if you have any feedback on how to make my reporting most effective (as well as my meditation), please let me know. Thank you again for your time.

Karl: As long as you are on point, which you are, the longer emails are no problem. Try out the things mentioned above and let me know how it goes. You don't have anything to worry about with regards to how the process is unfolding. Go on!

Chris: Thanks for your advice about the I-less mode, I feel less worried now that I am doing it wrong. I am relaxing the body and mind, and it certainly feels freer and more spacious than the I-based mode. In the I-based mode, when I do the affirmations, the sensations that come up are still centred between the eyes. It is mostly a feeling of pressure, now. On the other hand, I also sometimes feel like "I" am in the space behind the eyes. Is there a distinction between these two phenomena?

Karl: Good to hear about the I-less mode. The I-less mode is the true nature of sensations, of being, so it is hard to "do" it wrong if you simply stop doing so much and relax with what is… As for the "I" behind the eyes, whenever it feels that way, you should investigate it. Try this technique (similar to what you describe that you do in everyday life) when sitting as well.. Like this: 

Recognise the feeling of "me" looking out from behind the eyes. Usually when we look at some object there is a clear direction from behind the eyes and outwards. Notice this clerly. Then trace back along the opposite direction, all the way back to the "root" of seeing, the perceived "seer" in the space behind the eyes. Is there anybody in there? Anything solid? Let me know how it goes. 

Chris: Last night's meditation I was a little tired, but sinking into the I-less mode felt a bit more natural. As I relaxed into the body, there were times when the body felt very large, like it was taking up all the space in my awareness. That was interesting. 

Karl: Sounds good, keep relaxing into it without expectations. 

Chris: This morning, I had a little more trouble with monkey mind; thoughts coming up unrelated to the meditation. I dealt with these with a few 'ha's and 'ho's. Very little sensation coming up in response to the affirmations, so it was hard to investigate. Sometimes when this happens I've been asking, "Who is it that's frustrated?" and that brings me back to the feeling of 'I.' 

Karl: It seems to be a pattern that after very clear experiences like the ones you describe from the night before, the mind will get stirred and become more unruly. Nothing to worry about, just keep cutting through. 

Chris: I have tried the technique of looking behind the eyes, and it's interesting... again, there is just kind of the visual field (or darkness, if I have my eyes closed) and hearing. It feels like there is just a sense of 'presence' back there, but the presence still feels kind of centered in my head. There are very few thoughts when I put my attention there, but it seems to take effort... after a few seconds the seeing process goes back to normal. Maybe I am crossing my eyes a bit too when I do this? It's hard to describe.

Karl: Right. Did you try it with eyes open? I think this technique is easier if you have them open rather than closed. The idea is to see whether there is really something solid there looking out onto the «world» from behind the eyes. I know the feeling of crossing your eyes, but that is not necessary. You trace the direction of seeing back and look at «seer» with you attention rather than your physical eyes. 

Chris: Yes, I have tried this multiple times with my eyes open now... I cannot find anything solid. There is just seeing, hearing, and also a nebulous cloud of physical body sensations. If I repeat I, I, I, while paying attention to this space, it is just a sound. There is a feeling of presence, or of looking from a certain perspective--maybe the sense of self that remains to me is just an optical illusion caused by the position of the eyes in the head/on the body? Or the aggregation of seeing, hearing, and feeling so that it seems like it's all happening in one place? But that is already too theoretical.

My two most recent sits, last night and this morning, I have felt quite sleepy. In the I-less mode, I can sink into the body sensations and being in the moment. I noticed that when the body is aware of itself, hearing feels effortless, too, and I am just kind of letting the moment happen. The I-based mode is not so clear. Sometimes there are mild physical sensations (between the eyes), sometimes there is almost nothing, so that repeating 'I' feels like just making a sound with my mouth and throat, kind of a futile gesture and a little funny or ridiculous.

Karl: Could you take another picture of your face and send it along with the "before" picture so I can have a look at where we are at? Your comment that the "I" is just a sound makes me wonder if awakening might have happened. Is there anything that "sticks" so to speak when doing affirmations? 

Chris: Here you go.

*Photos not published in accordance with the wishes of the participant*

Karl:  I suggest that you take a break from the 2PF and relax for a few days. Notice how you feel in general, meeting other people, doing everyday activities. I’ll message you in a few days to see how you’re doing. OK?

Chris: That sounds like a good idea.
This morning, in my meditation, there was almost nothing that came up in response to the affirmations- it feels like the meaning of the words I, me, and mine has worn out and there is a vague sense that I can't tell who they are referring to. But I wonder if it's just from repeating them so many times, as in Titchener's repetition? When I asked, "Where am I?" and felt into it, there was some pulsing and tingling at the point between the eyes. But it feels more like 'I' am behind that, in the space of the head and the whole body, as a kind of field of sensation. When I look into that though, there is nothing really solid there, no 'self' that I can find, at least as far as I can tell.

However, off of the meditation cushion, I seem to feel normal. I will take a break from the 2PF and let you know how the weekend goes.

Karl: Sorry it took me a while longer than planned to get back to you. How are you doing? How did you feel not doing the 2PF? And have you tried the method again since taking a break? 

Chris: No problem. Thanks for writing back. I've had two weekend days and three workdays to explore and evaluate. Something does feel different. Ever since Friday (at least)... it's difficult to describe, but it feels like the pressure is off. There is a kind of ease. I don't have the pressure to be or do anything in particular. I do still have plenty of thoughts, including self-oriented thoughts, but they don't have the same pull for me--they feel like just a habit playing itself out. I have even had feelings of anxiety in my body (on Monday, we went back to the office after 2.5 months working from home) but they don't bother me as much as usual. Meeting and interacting with people feels quite easy.

I had not meditated since Friday. This morning I did sit for 30 minutes, but not with the 2PF, just sitting and doing nothing. I did notice some energetic activity around my ajna/third eye point during the sit.

Throughout this time, I have had a lot of thoughts like, "Wow, is this really it? Has something really changed? I can't quite put my finger on it." It seems possible that awakening has taken place. At the same time, I do not want to call the game prematurely if I haven't quite got it or if there is still more work to be done with the 2PF. My experience seems similar to some of the stories in the Awake! book, but also lacking some of the fireworks or romance of some of the other stories. Anyway, the truth is more important to me than clinging to any particular state or stage. I am grateful to you for the guidance so far and curious to hear what you think.

Karl: Good. Try the 2PF and let me know how it goes.

Chris: I have tried the 2PF again the last two mornings. In response to the affirmations, there either seems to be no response or some minor energetic activity around the ajna chakra. There is no real sense of tension, discomfort, or stuckness that I can discern. Should I keep practicing the 2PF or leave it alone, at this point?

My everyday life continues to feel oddly problem-free. There is a sense of lightness. However, I do notice that my verbal mind is chattering away as much as before (though the thoughts don't have the same kind of emotional pull, perhaps).

Karl: Yes. It was already evident from your photos that awakening had taken place, though as a policy I don't verify awakening unless the person recognises it themselves. Your description is classic in that it is not something "new" but just something dropping away. That's it. That is awakening. 

As for the remaining existential confusion, in Pemako Buddhism we divide the "selfing mechanism", the identification with passing forms, into three parts: (1) the subject self; the "I", (2) object selves; self-based thoughts, emotions and feelings, and (3) substrate conciousnes; sublte states of dullness of mind. As you have awakened to the truth of the emptiness of the first of these, the path forward will be focused on realisation the empty nature of the rest

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask me.

Chris: That is great news! Haha.

Karl: Yes, it is indeed good news.

Chris: Thank you. I truly appreciate your help in my awakening process. The change feels subtle but significant. I feel like a thorn has been removed from my foot--but one that's been there my whole life.

Karl: You are very welcome. It is wonderful to be in a position able to help other people with this problem of problems. Besides, you were very easy to work with as you did most of the job yourself. Cheers!


Relevant links:
Guidance to Awakening, offered by Pemako Buddhist teachers


Pemako Buddhism, www.pemakobuddhism.com