For more than a year now I’ve been devoting a post or two each month to the magical history of the United States, and I’d meant to proceed this week to another of those. In the unfolding story we’ve been following together, after all, we’ve reached the dawn of the golden age of American occultism, the point at which old wisdom, New Thought, and a well-stocked pantry of alternative spiritual and cultural ideas got cooked up and dished out by a gallmaufry of colorful characters as one of the grandest and most widely attended buffets in the history of magic. Still, the next phase of that story will keep. We have other things to talk about.
In a post a few weeks ago I talked about the way that some kinds of watered-down alternative spirituality have come to function as venues for a certain variety of notional dissidence on the part of our society’s privileged castes. People whose managerial jobs and six- or seven-figure salaries mark them as members of America’s comfortable classes, though they are expected to conform rigidly to the expectations of their employers and their peers in every other way, have been tacitly encouraged to take up hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation, attend shamanic retreats or weekend workshops on positive thinking, as a way of letting off steam and playing at dissent in a harmless manner.
Over the decades just past, this sort of tame dissidence has been very much in evidence, and the variety that involves meditation retreats and drumming circles is only one of several distinct types. It’s simply the type I’m most familiar with. I spent a while as the head of a Druid organization, you see, and during that stint I routinely had to fend off attempts by the privileged to turn the nature spirituality of the Druid Revival into a fashion accessory for people whose personal lifestyle choices are the mainspring behind today’s environmental problems. (The wealthiest 10% of the world’s population, remember—a figure that includes all the people we’re discussing, with room to spare—are responsible for 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and a comparable share of other environmental assaults.)
Just now, however, the tolerance of the establishment for these exercises in faux dissent is waning fast. As the existing structure of society falters and the supply of managerial-class jobs dwindles steadily, accusing one’s fellow inmates of thoughtcrime has become one of the most common ways to compete for the slots that are left. Alternative spiritual practices are far from the only targets for such accusations, of course; the entire woke phenomenon, for example, is primarily a way of taking words and attitudes that used to be acceptable, and weaponizing them in the no-holds-barred struggle for deck chairs on the Titanic. As that game of musical chairs picks up its tempo, to shift metaphors a bit, we can expect to see an impressive range of once-fashionable opinions and activities turned into targets for denunciation. It’s a familiar part of the process by which a waning elite assists in its own downfall.
Yet there’s another side to the story, which is that certain practices that have been scooped up by the privileged classes and used as vehicles for harmless dissidence are not necessarily as harmless as their sales pitches claim. Many of them involve risks, especially when they’re taught and practiced by people who have no clue what they’re doing. Some of those risks are relatively mild; some are anything but.
A few years back, for example, Harper’s carried an article about the downsides of mindfulness meditation, one of the most fashionable practices on the quasi-spiritual end of American pop culture. Mindfulness meditation, for those who haven’t encountered it, is a simplified (some would say bowdlerized) version of vipassana, a meditative practice developed over the last two millennia or so by Buddhist monks and nuns in south and southeast Asia. In its native habitat, it forms one part of a well-polished toolkit of methods that celibate ascetics in full-time monastic settings use, under the close observation of experienced teachers, to overcome desire and aversion—that is to say, the basic psychological drives hardwired into the human mind—and achieve the state of transformed awareness that mystics call enlightenment.
In that setting, it’s very effective. In today’s America, by contrast, mindfulness meditation has been ripped out of its original context, turned into a nonchemical tranquilizer, and marketed to the comfortable classes as a harmless means of relaxation, which it certainly is not. People who have no previous experience with meditation are being invited to week-long intensives where they spend every waking hour practicing this method. In most cases no effort is made to screen attendees for potential psychological problems or to warn people of the dangers of intensive spiritual work, and the people who are conducting these intensives have not gone through the kind of rigorous training and screening that any self-respecting Buddhist monastery demands of a candidate abbot. The result, as you would expect, is a bumper crop of psychiatric casualties.
The Harper’s article I mentioned above is about one of those casualties; you can read it here. It’s a classic example of the sort of yellow journalism that’s so fashionable these days—high on shrill rhetoric of the oh-the-poor-victim variety and low on nuance, balance, and objectivity—but it’s worth reading, because the point it makes is one that a lot of people have been desperately trying to avoid in recent years: spiritual practices are not necessarily safe. If they’re taught by people who don’t know what they’re doing, and practiced by people who haven’t had the necessary training and preparation, they can wreck you.
If anything, we’re fortunate that it was mindfulness meditation rather than some other spiritual practice that caught the fancy of the privileged classes. Manly P. Hall, one of the twentieth century’s most respected teachers of Western occultism, described in one of his books what happened when a group of enthusiastic young men in the California occult scene decided to try kundalini yoga on their own. Kundalini yoga? Those who don’t track the details of Asian spirituality may not know that it’s a system of practices meant to set off complex electrochemical reactions in the central nervous system and the endocrine glands, getting you to the state of enlightenment much more quickly than less drastic methods can manage.
Yes, that’s as risky as it sounds. Done properly, in the proper context, it can result in enlightenment in a hurry. Done incautiously, without adequate day-by-day supervision by competent teachers, the results can be disastrous—and in the case Hall described, they were. One after another, the young men turned pale, weak, and emaciated, and died. Kundalini yoga can do that to you. Gopi Krishna, who underwent a spontaneous experience of the same kind and wrote a classic book about it, had to spend a couple of years on strict bed rest before he recovered enough to resume ordinary daily activities. Not everyone is so lucky.
Does this mean that nobody should ever attempt to make use of traditional spiritual practices? Of course not. It means that such practices need to be performed with the same kind of care you would use when handling high-voltage electricity. It means that when the traditional teachings say “don’t do this,” you should listen, and when they say “do this before you try that,” you should listen then, too. Finally, when someone insists to you that some spiritual practice of other that used to be practiced exclusively in monasteries is a harmless means of relaxation, and that you ought to attend a week-long intensive even if you have no previous experience with meditation because nothing can possibly go wrong—well, I hope I’ve made my point.
I want to talk a little more about this last issue, because it’s something I deal with all the time as a teacher of Western occult spirituality. The odd assortment of Western alternative spiritual traditions that got lumped together under the label of “occultism” (literally “hidden-ism”—the word “occult” means “hidden,” as when the Moon occults a star or you have occult blood in your stools) has been powerfully shaped by its history, and one of the most significant results of that history is that we haven’t had the option of sending tens of thousands of aspirants to monasteries where they could spend all their waking hours doing spiritual practices. That option was closed off partly by the need to evade recurrent waves of violent persecution, but partly also because it’s been a couple of thousand years since we’ve had the institutional or popular support necessary to build and fund monasteries.
As a result, occultists by and large have jobs and families; they have to earn their livings and deal with the daily routine like everyone else. That means that they have to make use of spiritual practices that don’t get in the way of everyday life. Disciplines that require too much time or demand too much expenditure are out; so, even more importantly, are practices that render the practitioner incapable of making a living or dealing with the rest of the world. (In traditions that can afford monasteries, these are more common than you may think. Most monasteries, no matter what kind, have their quota of psychospiritual basket cases, who can still function only because the monastic rule tells them what to do with every minute of their time—and the abbot can always assign someone to take care of them when they come completely unglued.)
As a result, the spiritual malpractice that too often takes place in meditation retreats and other entertainments for the well-to-do has no place in traditional Western occultism. No competent occult teacher will ever encourage anyone new to meditation to practice it every waking hour for a week. Quite the contrary, in Self-Unfoldment Through Disciplines of Realization—his core book on spiritual training—Manly P. Hall suggested that five minutes of meditation once a day was a good amount for complete beginners. (For what it’s worth, this is also what I recommend for those just starting out.) Meditation is like any other exercise; you have to get into shape before you try to do more than an ordinary light workout. Take someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle and tell them to run a marathon, and you can count on a bumper crop of coronaries. Doing the equivalent on the spiritual plane is no safer.
There’s another important difference between the sort of meditation that occultists practice and the sort that’s been marketed so heavily in pop culture circles, however. One of reasons that mindfulness meditation is so popular is that the simplest and most decontextualized versions of it—which are of course the most heavily marketed of the lot—have the effect of shutting down the thinking mind. Practitioners are taught to notice thoughts as they arise and then dismiss them, rather than thinking them, and if this is done too thoroughly—especially in the kind of weeklong intensive workshop discussed in the Harper’s article—the result is usually to make the thinking process freeze up altogether.
In its native habitat as a part of Buddhist monastic discipline, that isn’t a problem, because a Buddhist monk in the schools that teach vipassana is also expected to spend time every day reading the suttas—the Buddhist scriptures—and wrestling with the intricate metaphysical philosophy of the Abhidhamma, which is enough mental exercise to keep anyone’s brain fit. Taken out of context and taught to the inexperienced, by contrast, “mindfulness” meditation too often becomes mindlessness meditation, an off switch for the reasoning processes that can leave the mind a catatonic blank or an unsupervised playground for psychotic delusions. (The Harper’s article, for all its flaws, gives a fairly good glimpse at the results.)
That kind of mind-silencing approach has cropped up now and again in Western spirituality, too—the technical term for it is “quietism.” Both the mainstream religions and the occult traditions have consistently and sensibly backed away from it with a reaction amounting to “Um, no.” I can’t speak for the mainstream religions, but in traditional occult philosophy the thinking mind is an essential tool for spiritual practice as well as practical existence. Shutting it down and then trying to attain higher states of consciousness is pretty much the equivalent of throwing away your hammer and saw and then trying to build a house.
That’s why the most common Western form of meditation back in the day focused on training and directing the mind rather than silencing it. The technical term for this style of meditation is discursive meditation, because it very often takes the form of a silent mental discourse or monologue. You start with a theme—a concept, a short passage of text, or an emblem—as a focus for your meditation. After the usual preliminaries (posture, breathing, relaxation) you bring the theme to mind, and hold it in your awareness for a time, as though looking at it. You then think about it, keeping the mind focused on the theme and the sequence of thoughts that unfold from the theme. (This takes just as much mental discipline as keeping your mind focused on a mantra or on watching thoughts arise, by the way.)
You do this for five minutes a day, to begin with, and gradually work up from there to twenty minutes a day or so. More than that? Not recommended. There are other practices, and there’s also reading and study—just as the Buddhist monks described earlier have suttas to read and philosophy to master, Western spiritual traditions have their own texts to study and their own teachings to understand. The habit of insisting that such things don’t matter is one of the ways that people protect themselves against new ideas. Now of course reading and study won’t get you to enlightenment alone, but nobody ever said they would.
There used to be an immense literature in most Western languages on discursive meditation. Bishop Joseph Hall’s seventeenth-century textbook, The Art of Divine Meditation, is a classic example from within the Anglican tradition—it’s the one I used, once I got past the very simple instructions that came with the occult study courses where I originally learned the art. There were hundreds of others. Until the late nineteenth century, this sort of meditation was taught to children in Sunday school as a matter of course. Over the course of the twentieth century, as part of the systematic erasure of the Western world’s own inner traditions, those books were forgotten and the system they taught dropped out of common use except in a few old-fashioned occult schools—but the system still works as well as it ever did.
Sources of themes were just as easy to come by back in the day, by the way. Those of my readers who know their way around Victorian popular literature will recall the flurry of books of meditations that appeared during that era; those were collections of themes, usually in short-essay form. The older occult traditions still have their own robust collections along the same lines, and many of them are still readily available today, even though people on the pop-culture end of occultism have generally forgotten, if they ever knew, that a great many of the most famous texts and emblems of occult tradition were designed as themes for discursive meditation, and only yield up what they have to teach when approached with that key in hand.
Outside the occult traditions, there’s an abundance of options, varying by denomination. Those of my readers who belong to the Catholic church have no doubt already thought of the stations of the Cross and the various lists of joyful mysteries, sorrowful mysteries, etc.—good themes for discursive meditation, all of them. Those of my readers who are Protestants or Jews—er, what did you think you were supposed to do with your scriptures, other than stare blankly at them? One of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met, an elderly woman I knew many years ago, read a chapter of the Bible every morning, meditated on it, and prayed. That was her practice, and it took her places I hope I’ll be able to reach someday.
The moral to this story is straightforward. Meditation, like any other powerful transformative process, needs to be treated with respect. If you want to follow an Asian meditative tradition, start by finding someone qualified to supervise you—and no, the fact that a person has attended a weekend workshop or two, or works for some heavily marketed franchise or other, emphatically does not cut it. You need someone who’s been there and done that, who can tell you up front about the dangers of the practice, and will notice and help you take constructive action if something goes wrong If you prefer a Western approach to your spiritual life instead, why, I’ve already dropped some hints; follow them if you will.
And if you’re afraid of thinking, afraid of the content of your own thoughts, and are just looking for some convenient habit that will shut your mind off for a while so you can hide from the unwelcome realization that maybe you aren’t as virtuous and perfect as you like to pretend, then may I offer some advice? Try television or masturbation or drinking yourself blotto if you must, but for the gods’ sakes leave meditation alone. Cirrhosis of the liver is easier to deal with than an acute psychotic breakdown.
The flight from thinking is the covert subtext behind all the faux-Asian pseudomysticisms that have been so heavily marketed to the comfortable classes in modern America. That project has been well under way since the programmatic and meretricious volume The Gospel According To Zen first saw print back in 1970, and it’s become a massive presence in the well-paid end of alternative culture these days. Students of history know already that such projects are among the ways that waning elites assist in their own downfall, but students of history are remarkably rare among the overdeveloped world’s comfortable classes these days.
At the heart of those heavily marketed schemes, and a great deal else in today’s pop culture, is the tacit insistence that embracing the standard prejudices of your culture and your class is what enlightenment is all about. It’s understandable that the well-to-do find that notion pleasant to believe, and just as understandable that they’ve had to find ways to flee from thinking in order to maintain that delusion. Enlightenment is no respecter of persons, however, and it has even less time for the pretensions of the privileged. Those who think they are pursuing it by silencing the still, small voice of reason are all too likely to discover that while they thought they were embracing cosmic bliss, they were pitching themselves into someplace far less pleasant.
“The wealthiest 10% of the world’s population, remember—a figure that includes all the people we’re discussing, with room to spare—are responsible for 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions, ”
A very good reminder, JMG, against self-righteousness…
”One after another, the young men turned pale, weak, and emaciated, and died.”
Oh man, that’s big talk. It sounds like an horror movie about vampyrism…
Seems like an even quicker route to a psychiatric break would be to a have someone untrained in meditation go to a retreat where they spend a week or two in poorly supervised meditation where they are taught to empty the mind of thought, then they return to their McMansion in the burbs and consume 10 hours a day of CNN, MSNBC, Oprah, American Idol and Keeping up with the Kardashians with an occasional political speech from Joe Biden. I can not think of a quicker recipe for insanity or delusional thinking than that.
I’m currently working on a PhD in psychology and, yes, mindfulness can be dangerous. Specifically, if a person suffers from cognitive distortions, then they need cognitive behavioral therapy first. Leaping to mindfulness–which encourages acceptance of thoughts and feelings as part of the process of living–isn’t a good idea until people are capable of distinguishing a false thought (i.e. “I can’t do anything right”) from a true one. In other words, mindfulness when one’s mind is accustomed to generating harmful thoughts rooted in false beliefs is simply learning how to accept those false beliefs which makes dealing with them that much more difficult later on.
The body of literature on the dangers of mindfulness are emerging. It’s becoming clear that it’s an advanced spiritual discipline and, if not treated with respect, can be harmful.
“ At the heart of those heavily marketed schemes, and a great deal else in today’s pop culture, is the tacit insistence that embracing the standard prejudices of your culture and your class is what enlightenment is all about.”
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the concept in Cosdoc of leaving room for other malevolent influences in your mind. When your mind is shut off you’re easy prey for something else to come in and make decisions for you.
Do you have any thoughts on recent appropriations of Stoicism? I’ve benefited immensely over the years from going through the mental exercises discussed by Epictetus, but also adopting the worldview of the Stoics, complete with prayers to Zeus.
My sense is that the Demiurge or Zeus and metaphysical reality of Stoicism, which suggests everything beyond the will is fated, are often dumped nowadays in favor of something bending toward self-help, but sanitized of the “religious elements”, even though Epictetus and Aurelius both wrote about the gods and their piety toward them.
When I’ve tried mind-emptying meditation it always felt unnatural. Like holding my breath – I can do it but pretty soon I’ll start turning purple. 🙂 It may have its uses and free divers who can hold their breath for eight minutes are impressive, I just didn’t see anything in it for me.
Do silent retreats where you can think what you want but can’t speak count as quietism? Do they have the same kinds of risks?
Thank you for your excellent description of traditional Western prayer (a.k.a. meditation) It fits well with descriptions from Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate, about becoming a nun in the 1950s. It also fits well with Rudolf Steiner’s style of meditation. Your discussion of why this method arose is also inspiring.
Hopefully no running off at too much of a tangent, but how do you see the self-assisted elite downfall playing out with regard to the present cycle of mystical/pseudomystical practices of pop culture over the next decade or so? Moreover, what do you see the reaction and response being of those outside of the shrinking managerial elite, most specifically those of the traditional blue-collar working classes?
In the spirit of transparency, by income and employment I likely qualify as a member at the lower end of the managerial classes as you describe them, though I try very hard not to think or behave like one. Your blog and the community which has grown around it have been instrumental in assisting in that effort, so I’d like to say thanks to you and everyone else here.
JMG, thanks for this post, you’ve written things like it before but this is much more fleshed out. Your line of reasoning for why mindfulness meditation, practiced the wrong way, easily becomes mindlessness practice, of course makes a great deal of sense. As for the more extreme cases, such as the one profiled in the Harper’s article, the article gave some plausible sounding explanations from a mainstream scientific perspective. Viewed from a more occult perspective, how might you account for why mindfulness meditation can have such profoundly awful effects so quickly?
>> “I want to talk a little more about this last issue, because it’s something I deal with all the time as a teacher of Western occult spirituality.”
As I mentioned last week, I did one of the Goenka organization’s 10-day Vipassana retreat 7 years ago. I had spent the previous year learning Golden Dawn magic, a process which changed my life dramatically for the better. I was going to tell the story, but I think I will just share some snippets from the email that I sent to you at the time:
“Have you heard of Vipassana? It’s a Buddhist meditation style, and there is an organization that conducts 10 day Vipassana courses around the country (and, as I understand, world). I’ve heard good things about these over the years, and had at least one friend who was really into them.
“So my thinking process went something like this: Meditation is good, I like meditation. These guys offer 10 days of meditation, for FREE! It will be like a right of passage, and I can easily integrate their teaching into the magical work I’ve being doing over the last year and my current work in the Druidical Golden Dawn.
“You can probably see where this is going.”
“The problem was that you’re told, every single night, that this practice is the only worthwhile practice, the only thing you should ever do. Every single night in his discourses the teacher mocks and belittles the idea of “rites, rituals, prayers, altars, chanting words, rosaries, lighting incense, visualizing this God or that God, this Goddess or that Goddess.” Of course, that is exactly what my spiritual and magical life consists of. And you’re under a vow of silence, so these discourses are your only human contact. You come to yearn for them after the pain of meditating in what amounts to isolation (and agony) all day long. (The teacher, by the way, is dead, so in fact you watch videos of him.)
“Early on I still hoped that I could integrate the Vipassana tradition into my actual beliefs and practices. By day five or six, I realized that I was being reprogrammed, and that the entire point of the course was to replace my actual beliefs and practices with the Vipassana ideology as taught by S.N. Goenka.”
“The experience as a whole, though, was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I suffered panic attacks every single night, and the last night it continued for hours, during which I had no one I could trust to turn to for help. Working with the natural breath, I was eventually able to slow my heart rate and fall asleep. The next day was the 10th day. We were allowed to talk again. I was there with a friend who once studied to be a Zen priest, so I had assumed all along that he was having just the best time. As it turned out, he spent every night hoping I would come up to him and say “Dude let’s get the ____ out of here.”
“So… Again, I have friends who’ve gotten a lot out of these courses. I’m sure they’re not all bad. But being told night after night that “rites, rituals, incense, altars, visualizations of this god or that goddess” is “madness,” when I’ve spent a year developing a practice for myself based entirely on those things– Being told that by what amounts to your only human contact in painful isolation… Yeah, it was pretty horrific.
“Obviously there are some huge lessons here, and the biggest one is “People who go galavanting around the spiritual world like idiotic tourists have a way of getting kidnapped… like idiotic tourists.”
I’d love to say that that was the first and last time I badly messed up my energetic body with Asian spiritual disciplines, but of course it wasn’t. A couple of years later I got involved in a qigong group in which the teacher encouraged us to do 3 hours of practice a day, in a park that was also an outdoor shelter for the local heroin addict population. Because I’m me, I added another 1-2 hours on top of this all on my own most days… This had exactly the effects that you might expect. (And you might remember a flurry of terrified and half-coherent 5 page emails from those days, too… Sigh, sorry, I’m pretty sure I’m past this now, some people only learn the hard way.)
The point– other than the fact that I am kind of an idiot– is just to say that Yes, you really can fry yourself with spiritual practices, no matter how “good for you” they’re supposed to be.
Completely off topic so JMG I won’t be offended in the slightest if this doesn’t see the light of day:
To Lady Cutekitten, who in Magic Monday asked if someone might do a geomantic reading regarding your lost $65 debit card. I make no special claims to the strength of my geomantic technique, but my reading suggests that you haven’t actually lost the card at all, though it is likely to turn up in an unusual or unexpected place (if you haven’t already found it).
Ye gods. Chris Brennan, on his Astrology Podcast, just did an interview with Alice Sparkly Kat on “Post-Colonial Astrology.” I don’t think I’ll listen to that one. I certainly hope astrology doesn’t get cancelled for being unwoke!
Huh. What I take from that Harper’s article is that she was already um, how to put it? A few cards short of a full deck? I guess to use a car analogy, she threw a turbo on the engine and it ran for a little while before overheating, because it wasn’t designed to run that way.
I always thought that meditation was One Of Those Healthy Things You Should Be Doing More Of, much like eating fiber, etc. I had no idea.
>Try television or masturbation or drinking yourself blotto
Well, for most of Murican history, it has been traditional to be semi-permanently three sheets to the wind. It was only relatively recently that alcohol has been considered A Bad Thing Not To Be Done.
What an excellent post! It has everything in one place. I’ll definitely be sending the link around in the future as an introduction to meditation.
You wrote “…I routinely had to fend off attempts by the privileged to turn the nature spirituality of the Druid Revival into a fashion accessory…”
Can you offer any advice for people in a similar situation – whether it’s a magical order or a gardening club? When their values conflict with the group principles (i.e. atheists joining polytheistic groups) it’s easy to say “Stand with us or leave, we will not comoromise”. But how do you deal with the happy-go-lucky, flakey airhead that smiles a lot and makes friends but contributes nothing of value to the group while wasting time. They don’t do anything “wrong” per se, but they add noise to the signal and waste time being a spectator hoping for a good show or an airhead looking for a fashion accessory. But if you try to eject them from the group for being dead weight, you face backlash from other members who can’t understand why would do something so “mean” to somebody so “nice” who “didn’t do anything wrong”.
Besides making your group harsh, abrasive and unpopular as a fashion accessory with such people (as do certain infamous imageboards) what can be done to prevent the commodifying of your group’s work and values?
Hear, hear! People need to understand this. I was a follower of Mooji for a few years, one of the crop of internet-friendly spiritual celebrities that gained popularity in the wake of Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra. He encourages people to use the advaita practice of self-enquiry, completely decontextualised, with the result that he is surrounded by a bunch of hollow-eyed sycophants incapable of having a thought of their own, let alone expressing it using their own words. Thought was discouraged – mind was the enemy. During the time I was practising this and other idiotic techniques, my inner life was more or less a desolation, and my outer life a fitting reflection.
Well said, sir.
Now I wondering how much of medically diagnosed chronic fatigue and psychiatric diagnosed anxiety and/or depression is from doing spiritual practices wrong. In which case how do these people get cured?
I concluded a few years ago that so many in the cubicle farms were promoting meditation to their co-workers as a way to sabotage others way up the corporate ladder. Meditation done for an hour a day or more took people away from their work and home life for that time and essentially slowed them down from competing. It’s like the co-worker who helpfully recommends you take a vacation and volunteers to cover for you. You return to find she took over your projects completely and is up for a promotion. Corporate life is all knives out.
I’ve been surprised that with all the remote work we haven’t seen massive lay-offs these days. All the people who spend their days socializing at the office suddenly have to produce tangible work to show and I recall from my corporate days, maybe 20% of the office did anything tangible. Maybe managers are still able to bounce emails around all day and do virtual meetings to justify their existence for now.
I’m one of those Catholics that spend some time with the Mysteries of the Rosary. And in thinking about the recent Easter Triduum Mass I can say that you are right about easing into these processes for an extended time, those three days are exhausting. I also never thought much about it until now, but at the end of his homily our priest will often preface a statement with “During the liturgy of the Eucharist you might reflect upon…” I now wonder how he came to be intentional about doing this for us.
Thank you for your insight today!
Thank you for this, very helpful. Perhaps one of the benefits of mindfulness meditation is that it offers the prospect of detaching from one’s thoughts when a person is already in mental distress. I went through a depressive phase in my life when my thoughts turned quite dark, and in that state of agitation it is hard to begin to reprogram one’s thinking. So a period of mindfulness meditation – done gently and carefully over a few weeks – can help calm a mind and provide a bit of separation and space in which to decide on a new direction. So in that context it can be helpful, but I agree it isn’t much of a direction in itself. My daily practice now is the SoP, followed by 5 minutes of breathing and calming, 10 minutes of discursive meditation on a sacred text and then 5 minutes of prayer. It was in reading the old ADR, MM posts and some of your books that I pieced this together, and it has been working well for many years now. So, thank you again.
Incidentally, I learned mindfulness meditation through an MBSR course of the type initially developed taught by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It was taught for an hour a week over several weeks, and involved yoga, vipassana meditation, body awareness, mindful eating, etc. They did screen participants for serious emotional and psychological issues, but the resulting group of about 20 people were clearly in various stages of mild to moderate mental health challenges. Several of the participants dropped out because the practices brought up difficult feelings that worsened as the course continued. And while the group setting was therapeutic for some, the overall tone of the leader was “just power though to the light” rather than taking peoples uncomfortable feelings seriously or as indicators of greater distress (there was no mental health professional on the teaching team). So while the advertising and curriculum seemed promising on the surface, it was clearly charting a much riskier path than advertised. And of course no mention was made of any spiritual bad actors hanging out in the lower astral looking for trouble.
I’ve been practicing Buddhism for about 20 years now and I think this essay gets to the fundamental problem of the mindfulness meditation industry. Or as I like to phrase the question: if you are using a Buddhist meditation technique but are not studying the sutras and living by the eightfold path, then what is it you think you are doing? Or as my wife puts it, you can’t serve crackers and wine and call it mass. (The eightfold path and the precepts make great material for discursive meditation BTW.) Buddhism without the actual Buddhism.
I have had a renewed interest in Western esotericism lately (in good part from reading Ecosophia so there you have it). I am in the middle of reading “Advanced Magick for Beginners” by Alan Chapman. It’s understandable and hilarious, and Chapter 4, consisting of a single page, about how you do magic resonated with me. Any words of advice on how seriously to take the book?
“As the existing structure of society falters and the supply of managerial-class jobs dwindles steadily, accusing one’s fellow inmates of thoughtcrime has become one of the most common ways to compete for the slots that are left.”
Yes! I love how you compared it to the Titanic as well. Very few will survive what is coming.
Discursive meditation has transformed my life for the better. I cannot possibly express the debt of gratitude I have to you. I feel like my mind was always meant to run in a discursive meditation way: my trains of thought were always large, hulking, and well stocked; now that I have disciplined my mind they are not so easily derailed. I think the reason the salary class wokesters are so insane is because their daily thoughts are train wrecks.
In other news, somehow fate is leading me to start a school and a subscription library. With luck they can share the same building. I mentioned I started a Facebook group in February 2021 called Speakeasy Illinois. That group has grown to nearly 1300 members. I made a post asking the simple question “How hard would it be for us to start our own (mask-free) Speakeasy schools?” Long story short, the idea was extremely popular. There is a tangible groundswell of support.
How should we teach discursive meditation to schoolchildren? Should it be an everyday activity directed by teachers? At what age of child should we start teaching it? Obviously the adults other than myself need to learn it first, so I’ll have to talk to the other founders of the school when we have our first meeting. Also, please pray for me to your deity of choice for these projects to succeed… I need all the help I can get.
Wow – nice JMG. Having gotten twisted up all on my own with meditation, and having biblical scriptures pull me out of the ‘nothingness’ state, I strongly concur with your advice. There are even clergy and psychologists that intentionally push their clients towards achieving ‘nothingness’ or ’emptiness’ – and that vacuum is a space that can be filled with some very bad things.
Before I stopped by to read your post, I went by another spot, which (if you have time and are so inclined) seeks to ferret out what is different with the current generations reared with internet as their “go-to”. I do not agree with everything that is put forth, there is a lot of ‘meat’ in much of what is said. It at least partially explains why so many 20-30ish people are confirmed followers, and so easily led to places I cannot understand them even thinking about.
Your little old lady and her daily reading and meditation is what I long ago grabbed fiercely to heave myself out of ’emptiness’ that was merited out to me via protestant “marital counseling”. A standing, open and empty vessel is not what people should strive for, yet it was what was encouraged by the clergyman. In hopes of saving the marriage, I dove in with a vengeance. The result was a few years of really awful reorienting but at least I managed it. Many do not. And herein lies a portion of what has turned me away from big, organized religious operations – because most Protestants are much more about converts and funding than centering and nurturing the souls in their churches. Not all, but most from my personal experiences.
I got no big news from the oilpatch this week, just more doldrums all around – the sails will not even luff as of yet.
It seems more like the dearth of sunspots is causing old man winter to meander rather than get back into his cave. If the summer is also mild, I am leaning towards the sunspot decline maybe adding to the drought we are having out west – meaning food is going to be very pricey. I encourage those that can to plant veggies and freeze or can – prices are already high, but seasons going unpredictable will make them higher. We lost all our crop of peaches out of our small orchard when the false spring hit in Feb and then the big freeze followed right after.
Really good advice today – hope people take it to heart.
Thank you John – as a long time lay Buddhist you have said what I have thought for many years but could not articulate
Certainly explains the deteriorating nature of grade-school curricula…..
Thanks for the post. I have comment and a question.
I think mindfulness meditation can refer to shamatha or vipassana, rather, extremely watered down shamtha or vippassana. I’m more inclined to believe mindfulness meditation means nothing at all. But consider the most common example of simply paying attention to your breath. That’s more in line with shamatha/concentration/anapanasati meditation than vippassana, which in my understanding are specific “insight” practices. The mentioned example is definitely watered down shamatha since it contains none of the nuance.
IMO, in the way it’s used “mindfulness meditation” is meaningless. People pretty much use it in any way they feel like.
My question is – how could you tell the spiritual Christian lady had reached some profound places? I’m having a weird experience of being pretty sure I met an occultist, which uncovered a lost memory from high school of someone mentioning someone’s mother, who worked in a specific profession, was a witch, and am therefore interested in related stories.
I would be curious to hear your take on Robert Pirsig’s writing (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance).
This explains something I was kind of clueless about in my twenties / early thirties … until I experienced it. I’d gone to a few workshops by a dream teacher I respected. I still respect his books, but those workshops were his little cash crop. I realized soon that he wasn’t interested in teaching a middle class kid the more intricate aspects of dreamwork (which can’t be taught in a weekend anyway).
Leaving out the more difficult aspects of working with dreams though, made sure the rich suburban housewives would return each time he passed through their town, etc.
Anyway, he doesn’t come to Cincinnati anymore that I’m aware. I’m sure the folks at Esalen provide a more booming crop then he can get in flyover state.
do you have any suggestions for discursive-style meditation questions? I do a poor job of eastern-style meditation, though I could manage it once.
Georg Feuerstein, the German Indologist, clearly cautioned his readers about the dangers of unsupervised application of the spiritual practices he described in his many books. On the other hand, Agehananda Bharati, the Viennese scholar who was initiated into an exclusive Hindu monastery, was a positivist in his approach to mysticism. His autobiography, The Ochre Robe, explains how he became culturally grafted onto Hinduism beginning in his childhood in Vienna where from a young age he mastered several of the languages of the Indian subcontinent. He would teach medical students from India in exchange for them teaching him their
My quest for enlightenment ended when I read his The Light at the Center: The context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism. According to Bharati, enlightenment or the zero-experience is a state of blissful experience of oneness or emptiness, depending on your religious or spiritual tradition, in which discursive thought is simply not possible. Nor is it permanent. It may last for hours or even days, as in the case of that spiritual athlete, Ramakrishna, and during that time one is incapable of action. There’s a famous photograph of Ramakrishna in a state of samadhi being propped up on either side by two of his disciples while smiling ecstatically and pointing his finger heavenward. Eventually one returns to the usual discursive mind solely by which one achieves goodness and wisdom to the end that one acts in an enlightened manner although one is far from the disruptive state of what is called enlightenment. For me, Bharati’s account is definitive and final. I seek no other explanation.
Interesting. I’m old enough to remember the 2nd Chinese takeover of Tibet, the one during which the Dalai Lama fled the country, and countless people and monastic institutions were killed, suppressed, etc. So when I was old enough, having done a great deal of WMT study and even some practice under direction in a proper WMT school of studies which I won’t name at this time, I leapt at the chance to study with genuine Tibetan exile lamas, which I duly did. I even got an MA in Buddhist Studies, Tibetan Language focus. In the course of that, I had the opportunity to do an enormous amount of Tibetan meditation practice, some of which vaguely resembled the vipassana popularization you described. NONE of it, as far as I know, was intended to shut down thinking processes in the way you described, although the “peacefulness” aspect did indeed de-potentiate obsessive and negative thought process…but only enough for the “insight” portion to shine she light of true awareness into one’s thought processes.
This was considered preliminary to more complex practices involving the simultaneous focus on mantra, visualization, special breathing programs, etc., of which there were and are an astonishing number. Observing our thoughts as we did was a truly humbling process, as we discovered among other things that we were not the exalted super spiritually accomplished people we might have imagined, but were constantly giving time and energy to some pretty disgusting thought processes (which varied by the individual). Not everyone experienced this right away. It sometimes took years to get to the point of “taking out the trash,” which “trash” incidentally was viewed as great compost for further spiritual work, it being vajrayana-based after all. This disturbing aspect of the shamatha/vipashyana (peacefulness/insight) meditation practice is such that some people in the Tibetan Buddhist community refuse to do such meditations after a brief exposure, and instead seek other ways to advance their practice. It’s just too terrifying. And having people break down in tears, fits of laughter, or other strange outbursts during group meditations was not uncommon.
I’m not disagreeing with you in your observations, only sharing what the experience was for someone who was properly introduced to these things. Plus, we constantly studied Mahayana Abhidharma, among other things, and even engaged in discursive meditation practices to that end. So the mind was not shut down, but our tendency to easy distraction was carefully reduced so that our gardens of thought could be more fruitful (to mangle a metaphor or two). As for “emptiness,” so-called, the end of our study was to dissolve false assumptions and associations and allow the full light of awareness to shine into our lives. I must say, I had a few glimpses of that, almost always when the actual masters of these disciplines were practicing along side us in the same room, doing in fact what we were only aspiring to. The effects were amazing. One take-away I got from all this is that a) these things work, and are very powerful and b) you do really need proper guidance.
Actually, an even more watered-down version of mindfullness meditation gets pushed hard at people with disabilities. This includes a substantial subgroup of people with mental health issues. In 2009, I was enrolled in a program to try and find jobs for people with disabilities, and I got both mindfullness and positive thinking shoved down my throat.
I couldn’t figure out what they meant by mindfullness, and tried to get the instructor to explain and never really got what she wanted from me, and I also got into a big argument with a different facilitator when she said that anything was possible if you believed it was, or if you tried hard enough or something along those lines. I pointed out that this was factually untrue, and that this fact was why we were here, and eventually got her to admit that ok it wasn’t literally true, but she seemed to think we ought to pretend or think like it was.
I find the breathing exercises I learned around this time useful in calming down after some panic attacks, and have occasionally had limited success with reducing pain by tightening then relaxing individual muscles, and it was interesting to learn to control my breathing and slow my heart rate, but I never found mindfullness meditation proper much use beyond that.
If I was extremely anxious, it actually made it worse sometimes, including a slightly hilarious one where the provided recorded voice was so annoying I spent most of the 10 minutes of meditation fantasizing about throwing the CD player out the window.
Discursive meditation: I think that’s probably what I’m doing with scripture when I read a passage, then think about it, then pray about where my thoughts have led me, but I don’t know if I was ever formally taught this. Certainly not under that name!
the entire woke phenomenon, for example, is primarily a way of taking words and attitudes that used to be acceptable, and weaponizing them in the no-holds-barred struggle for deck chairs on the Titanic.
Hopefully it’s just for spots on the deck chairs and not something more critical–like, for example, spots on the life boats.
A very timely post, indeed, as the stress of the pandemic continues to be relentless. I don’t know anyone who’s been down the path of “privileged enlightenment” to these types of goals, but it makes sense to me the dangers in hard-coding the destination prior to the beginning of the journey. Sort of like the fans of Elon Musk focusing on landing on Mars when they’re burned up like marshmallows over an open flame just outside the Van Allen radiation belt.
I’m not sure the example of the misguided young lady in the Harper’s article is a good one for this topic though. It’s fairly well documented the dangers of discontinuing the use of psychotropic medications like Zoloft, which occurred while on the retreat. Then the use of an anti-manic med like Zyprexa would have addressed the mania, but when it was discontinued (shortly before her suicide), I could see the rubber-band effect of the brain’s chemical balance snapping back to severe depression. So in this particular case I’m not sure where the practice of meditation caused any problems, other than the accentuation of problems related to the discontinuity of her medications.
In other words, it’s not clear as to where, if at all, the spiritual plane came into the equation. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but I’d hazard a guess the root cause of many who experience problems with meditation, especially on misguided retreats, may be due to chemical reactions related to deprivation of stimuli ( cell phone, TV), meds, and of course the physical and mental stresses intentionally introduced as part of the program. I completely agree with your advice on a slow and supervised approach into the practice of meditation, especially for those on meds.
“And if you’re afraid of thinking, afraid of the content of your own thoughts, and are just looking for some convenient habit that will shut your mind off for a while so you can hide from the unwelcome realization that maybe you aren’t as virtuous and perfect as you like to pretend, then may I offer some advice? Try television…”
I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen you recommended anyone watch TV…..
Also, the flight from thinking on the part of the privileged explains something else I could never make sense of. There’s this idea in universities that the more you read the better. Just skim it if need be, and it’s as good as if you read the whole thing. This habit is why I dropped graduate school: I was given so much reading that even though most of my days were devoted to it, leaving me struggling to find the time to do my assignments, I simply could not give any of it the thought it required.
And in light of the fact the privileged want to avoid thought, this is a feature, not a bug. The universities are obligated by tradition and history to assign readings. If they assigned enough you could think, then many of the mandatory articles would dramatically reshape our worldviews. They would force us to think, and force the professors to risk running into novel ideas. And the university cannot have that on their watch!
I think you have put your finger on something very important when you say folks are using mindfulness meditation as a non-chemical tranquilizer to make themselves unconscious.
Another thing I have observed is the popularity of yoga among suburban professionals. An argument could be made that this is another eastern religious practice ripped from its context. I don’t really know much about yoga, but of the three yoga instructors with whom I am acquainted, all three are divorced and have chaotic personal lives. I would be curious to hear your opinion on that phenomenon—is it something you have seen also?
A lot of the government aid comes with the condition companies not do any layoffs. This protects the managers, especially because they’re salaried and get payed the same no matter how many hours they actually work. It leaves a lot of other people not counting as unemployed, since they have a job, it just isn’t giving them any hours, but that’s how it always works in North America these days: people who do nothing get rewarded, while those who actually do stuff get enradished.
Your current post reminded me of a friend of mine who decided to try his hand with Ayahuasca. And by that I do not mean flying to Peru and looking for a plastic Shaman. Instead, he got on the net, found a recipe, ordered the ingredients from the Dark Net and proceeded to make the two servings required.
I was worried about him and told him it was a bad idea, but luckily the story ended with him drinking the first serving, throwing his guts out, then after realizing the whole affair is utterly unpleasant, he threw away the remaining portion and gave up. At least we got a funny story to reminisce about when out drinking, and nothing too bad happened.
@Geoff, re: Stoicism.
I think you are spot on. You’re right about the metaphysics, and about their not discussing the role of Fate, or Fates, with a capital F!
I was enthusiastic about the rise in talk about Stoicism and the sharing of the teachings. I love Epictetus in particular. A few good popular books came out about it. The best of them was imo was “A guide to the good life: the ancient art of Stoic joy” by William Braxton Irvine from 2009… but it predates the rapid rise of Ryan Holiday’s and his ilk’s take on Stoicism the past five years, which yes, does not include the gods.
I followed Holiday’s work for a little while, but lost interest. It seems to fit the same areas as mindfulness, just as you mentioned: a convenient stop gap in thought for Silicon Valley & other corporate overlords. It’s all about the teaching of Stoic methods for “accepting hardship” to people who have designs swirled into the froth of their lattes every morning.
So yeah, I think that Stoicism, stripped of the metaphysical aspects, is not going to be as effective for the venture capitalist entrepreneurs. But maybe some of the maxims of Epictetus will come back to them as California “progresses” further towards total incineration, and as the waterline creeps up over New York City
re: thoughtcrime: This is the fourth article I’ve read this month from widely disparate sources (i.e. I don’t believe this is an echo chamber thing happening here) talking about social behaviours that has overtones suggesting a commonality with the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976).
Now, to the meat of the essay: I’ll probably never get around to reading The Art of Divine Meditation as I just don’t have time to add to the stack I already have, but then, again, using just the description in your own writing, I have already learned to discipline my wandering thoughts to quite an amazing degree. At work, before everyone was sent to work from home, there was a half-hour mindfulness meditation every day, the Wellness Committee recommended it for stress relief which I always found ironic: we probably wouldn’t need to manage stress if the organization didn’t keep finding new ways to add to our existing burden.
Ah, yes, and the flight from thinking also explains something I’ve gotten fed up with: whenever I mention my concerns about the Covid vaccines, someone will insist on calling me an anti-vaxxer. Rather than think about what I’m saying, they label. And then attack the label, because no thought is required there: merely regurgitating media talking points……
Dear Mr Greer, you wrote:
“And if you’re afraid of thinking, afraid of the content of your own thoughts, and are just looking for some convenient habit that will shut your mind off for a while so you can hide from the unwelcome realization that maybe you aren’t as virtuous and perfect as you like to pretend, then may I offer some advice? Try television or masturbation or drinking yourself blotto if you must, but for the gods’ sakes leave meditation alone.”
I’d rather advise such people (that’s to say, most of us) to try long-distance running, which does wonders, just ask any marathon-runner. Or, since running marathons is not for everyone, just let them try long walks. When I say long walks, I mean one hour or more. Long walks are very good for both the body and the mind.
“the entire woke phenomenon, for example, is primarily a way of taking words and attitudes that used to be acceptable, and weaponizing them in the no-holds-barred struggle for deck chairs on the Titanic.”
That’s my opinion too. I’m impressed by how ritualized the cancel culture has become. Take the “groveling apology”, for instance, I see it as a quasi-ritual public humiliation after which the canceled person is still fired, because there’s no forgiveness when the real objective is to take your job from you. Nevertheless, the canceled person, after their groveling apology, retains some faint hope of being accepted back, in an unspecified future, into whatever professional community they belonged in, although not on the proverbial chair on the deck of the Titanic that used to be theirs.
When everyone is clinging to their job while the mass of the jobless is growing, sacrificing someone with a good job for some absurd reason has a cathartic effect. The jobless feel avenged, and the elite feel that they have preserved their own jobs, at least temporarily, by throwing a morsel of flesh to the hungry.
It reminds me of some gruesome rituals of Amazonian tribes, but without the actual blood and physical death (so far). I didn’t expect the Long Decline to look like this.
David Chapman also has an article on the risks of meditation. He’s writing from the perspective of a former apprentice of a Dzogchen tradition, and is critical of traditional Buddhism.
One passage of particular note:
Buddhisms have extremely different ideas of what “enlightenment” means. For some, it’s avoiding rebirth through becoming a zombie; for some others, it’s becoming an immortal sky god.…
If you fantasize about becoming an immortal sky god (and who doesn’t?), and pursue that with a method designed to turn you into a zombie, and practice more and more intensively when it doesn’t seem to be working yet… you will definitely turn yourself into a zombie.
Also of interest: he claims that vipassana is actually a recent reinvention (c. 1900), and that the original technique was lost a long time ago. One of the consequences is that modern vipassana may be more extreme in its effects than the original, since the current version was developed by extreme ascetics and under pressure to make Buddhism respectable to Victorian Christian social mores.
Back at university, I was told to try Mindfulness as a way to help me sit down and do the coursework, I guess as a kind of spiritual Ritalin. I kept at it for about six months. It did help me, but I stopped mainly because I found it so boring. I do not mean boring in the unseal meditation sense, this was an obstacle I overcame after about a month of practicing. I mean in the sense of how unstimulating the whole thing was and how I felt like there are more interesting things to do in a meditative state.
I recently came across a book by a rabbi that teaches Jewish traditional meditation. Today I tried the first exercise, which was to meditate about the meaning of the Hebrew phrase “ריבונו של עולם”, translated as “Master of the Universe”. After the session I did not just feel the familiar calm, I actually felt like I learned something. I plan to keep working through his proposed exercises.
Interestingly enough, the book contained a warning about a certain type of meditation called “meditating about nothingness”. He said this is a very advanced technique which should only be attempted under the supervision of an experienced teacher. Mindfulness, with its focus on “nothing” sounds an awful lot like this “nothingness” meditation he was describing.
Two things; First, your statement, “Cirrhosis of the liver is easier to deal with than an acute psychotic breakdown,” raises this question, since cirrhosis of the liver is fatal; are the karmic consequences of the latter more serious than those of the former? Could you elaborate on the karmic consequences of psychotic breakdowns?
Second, the company I used to work for embraced Krone training or “Kroning” which was Gurdjieff based. They did this without letting employees know about this fact unless, they, like me, happened to be well-read in that area already. Then, even when confronted with a direct question, denied that “Kroning” had anything to do with Gurdjieff. If an employee wished to opt out of the training, how to opt out, if it was even possible, was not advertised. That’s a bit more than tacit encouragement. (This is also where “Dilbert” originated.)
Is it possible that part of the corporate push for cannabis legalization is also a way of shutting off peoples minds so that they do not notice the deterioration around them? My last job was in the propaganda industry so there was already a lot of unpleasant karma in the environment that was much more bearable because of daily use. I was not getting completely couch locked every night but enough to switch off the mind into a dull hum and avoid feeling the internal screams of “get out!” while I waited for another position in a different industry to open up. When I stopped in anticipation of a drug test for the new job all those feelings that I had suppressed were still waiting, and it took three weeks of experiencing intense anger and frustration before I finally worked through it in daily meditation (which I had greatly reduced because my schedule was so exhausting). A couple years ago I was warned by a voodoo practitioner about cannabis obsession and now I see what she was talking about.
On the late 19th , early 20th Century several french occult teachers and schools taught both methods of meditation, but didn’t call it meditation. They taught people to silence the mind to allow it to rest and also taught discursive meditation and what they called concentration exercises to train the mind to keep focused and sharp even under very hard conditions (like doing advanced math exercises on a parisien bistro when evreybody is talking).
Your comment about the emptiness of modern churches reminds me of something I tried. A few years ago I discovered a Catholic practice called the Centering Prayer, advocated by Fr Thomas Keating. You get to choose your own phrase, or word as your prayer, and you repeat it, just like a mantra. I expected to hear the still, silent voice, or a presence of some kind, but I felt nothing and gave it up– just like I gave up transcendental meditation decades earlier for the same reason.
It is another product from the 1970s, As I’m sure everyone here knows, a great many Christians embraced Eastern mysticism because it was cool and hip and they tried to integrate it and change the patriarchal and oppressive Christianity.
This love affair for anything other than Western religion really messed me up, personally. I kept seeking emptiness and found it in spades. Unfortunately, that made my life, well, empty.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for getting me back on track with our own traditions.
Good afternoon JMG and everyone, Way way back in the day my very traditional Iyengar yoga teacher warned us away from from kundalini yoga. She said unless you are going to Asia, joining a monastery to work the whole system with a master, do not get involved as you could sustain permanent psychological and physical damage.
I live in a resort area so have lots of snowbird drop-ins during the season. For the last several years more and more people tell me that they are practicing kundalini, wheeee! I politely question them about their practice and mention that kundalini is a very strong practice and they should be very careful and only have a very experienced teacher. Of course they blow me off, don’t get my class at all (too much work!) and usually don’t come back. But then I have no tattoos and am not wearing plastic cloths, so what do I know 😉 But I do worry for them…….
@ John Goddard RE: emptiness
I was instructed to and coached into eliminating any and all expectations of anything or from anyone by clergy. I was then told to “meditate” for 30 min a day about ’emptiness’ and becoming a ‘void’ – by a very prominent pastor/counselor.
After a few weeks of this, I was not the same person I was – depressed, lethargic and listless day in and day out. I ceased the ‘meditation’, and yet these feelings did not go away. It took me months to finally grab some scripture and flip thru the book, my eyes landing on a certain passage that rang true at the time.
After about a year, I started trying to meditate on a passage a day, flipped randomly. I was soon back not to my old self, but a better one.
Troubling to me was that this clergyman, who I later confronted, continued to push his crap and is likely still doing so decades later. I wonder how many empty, drifting vessels he let loose on us….
Mindfulness the ignoble one-fold cul-de-sac perhaps?
Re your M.A. in Buddhist Studies
Was that done at Naropa? I had seen a description of that program back in the day when I was casting about for ideas for graduate school (ended up in mathematics instead) and your reference sounded familiar.
@ Clarke Fountain (Gwydion) #30
Are you another Naropa alum? 🙂 I was going to write something similar.
JMG is right, though, about staring the craziness of my own mind straight in the eye and it scaring the schist out of me. Couldn’t make it three days into a month long retreat. Twice.
I share your concerns, especially in the light of the preponderance of online mindfulness courses that have proliferated during the Covid lockdowns. This is, of course, a massive industry now. People are isolated, confused about what is unfolding in the world and learning some very distorted practices with little or no help.
It is just one more thing leading us all in a very undesirable direction.
Many thanks for this! In 2009 I got into mindfulness meditation for a few months when a partner demanded that I study Eckhart Tolle. The results were emphatically not good in the long term. The practices that I took up destabilized my mental health for probably about two or three years. Last night I wrote a bit about my experiences from a theoretical standpoint here: https://violetcabra.dreamwidth.org/117344.html
More broadly it seems to me that a lot of people rush off towards a quest to enlightenment because they wish to avoid facing cognitive dissonance. In my experience, this just doesn’t work. If I might indulge in a pun, while I’m certainly sympathetic as to why a nondual citizen in the United States might wish to avoid thinking about the problems in our nation, attempting to avoid thought seems to me a rather self-defeating path in general. Avoiding thought about the problems doesn’t help with the problem, and attempting to run away from problems doesn’t conduce to spiritual attainment.
Before I began practicing Druidry, I practiced Soto Zen for 16 years under two different teachers. The first teacher learned Zen from a teacher in a well known US Soto Zen lineage. The second teacher learned Zen from close to 30 years spent in a Japanese Soto Zen monastery. The center he runs is much healthier than the center the first teacher runs.
The second teacher’s center offers one night a week of practice for beginners, who sit for no more than 20 minutes and also are taught the dharma (the texts central to Soto Zen). The center holds periodic discussion groups centered on those texts. The once a month sesshins (intensive meditation retreats) begin later and end earlier than do those held in most US Soto Zen centers, with fewer meditation periods. The teacher strongly recommends that his students study the dharma, listen to his dharma talks, and take dokusan (discussions of the student’s practice) with him on a regular basis. I know many of the students, some of whom are friends and one of whom is my husband, and they have benefited from the better balance of this center.
Even with these protections, and even though I had practiced Zen for 18 years before this particular incident and have practiced discursive meditation for the last 8 years, I found myself becoming quite anxious during the second of two 40 minute meditation periods the last time I was at the Zen center along with my husband, over a year ago. The anxiety rose gradually but inexorably during the second sitting. I was attempting to practice Soto Zen meditation as properly as I am able to do out of respect for the center and those sitting with me that evening and had never had an experience like this, not even in the few sesshins I participated in when I was actively practicing. In retrospect it may have had something to do with these two meditation periods occurring at night (the first one began at 9pm and this was during the winter, thus long past twilight). The center was lit only minimally, which is usual, but because it was night it was darker than usual and I felt cut off from everything around me more acutely than has ever happened in a Zen center. I believe it was this sense of being cut off from nature that precipitated the anxiety. It is something that I am no longer accustomed to because I had not practiced Zen in close to 4 years when this incident occurred. Following the second meditation we engaged in a service with chanting and many bows, the focus of that particular evening’s activities, which brought me back to my usual good mental state.
Raab, #26, asked about the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have read the book, in college during the mid and late 1970s for one of my religion courses, and I disliked it quite intensely. Back then I had no experience with Zen. Now that I have, I cannot find anything in the book that rings true of a serious Zen practice.
Chuaquin, the danger with kundalini yoga is that you can seriously mess up your endocrine system, and the endocrine system is what keeps your vital organs coordinated and responsive to one another. That can very easily be a death sentence. If you have a good teacher and follow the instructions precisely, they can steer you clear of that, but doing the work out of one of Arthur Avalon’s books doesn’t provide that.
Clay, you know, you may have just explained much of the state of today’s well-to-do mindset.
Victor, many thanks for this! Can you point me toward some accessible sources for this literature? As a teacher of meditation I consider it one of my duties to pay attention to the possible downsides of what I’m teaching, and the material you’ve discussed sounds well worth reading.
Jack, Fortune was well aware of these problems. One of the most popular Christian movements in her time, the Oxford Group, had a bad case of quietism and had similar difficulties.
Geoff, yes, I’m sorry to say I’m familiar with the current fad for Stoicism Lite. I tend to be more than usually caustic toward it, as classic Stoicism — straight out of Epictetus — got me through one of the worst times in my life, and I have to practice Stoic detachment not to want to gut-punch people who are debasing it into yet another excuse for evading responsibility for their thoughts and actions.
Yorkshire, not necessarily — a retreat that requires silence, so long as it doesn’t engage in other abusive behaviors, can be unproblematic; most of us can benefit from shutting up for a while from time to time. (I value my breaks from blogging for this reason among others!)
Tomriverwriter, I’ve generally found Armstrong’s books uninteresting but I may need to make time for that one. As for Steiner, of course — he was thoroughly versed in traditional Western spirituality, and his instructions for practice are generally first-rate.
David BTL, the flip side of the rise of elite pseudomysticism is the spread of certain modes of alternative spirituality in the blue-collar community. Heathenry in particular is very popular among some wage class sectors; so are certain alternative Christian traditions; so, these days, are certain kinds of magical practice — those alt-right chaos mages on the chans who worked magic for Trump’s campaigns are a known thing across the populist right. So things are very much in flux, but I think there’s a good chance that quite a bit of classic American occultism can find a home among deplorables, for example.
Quin, from the perspective of occult philosophy, each of us has three bodies — a material body, an etheric or vital body, and an astral or desire body — and a mental sheath, which is the first rough sketch of the mental body we are slowly evolving, life by life. The mental sheath is the part of us that perceives meaning; the astral body perceives words and images and emotions without meaning. One of the dangers of too much mind-stopping meditation is that the sense of meaning, descending from the mental sheath to the astral body, gets shut down; that allows words and images and emotions in the astral body to spin out of control. If the mental sheath is fragile, or if the person has paid very little attention to the sense of meaning so far in that incarnation, the results can be disastrous.
Steve, many thanks for this. I somehow managed to forget that the Goenka retreats include nightly videotaped harangues insisting that Goenka’s system is the only valid spirituality and denouncing all other modes of spiritual practice. That’s cult behavior, and explains why so many of the people I’ve met who proselytize for those retreats sound so much like what we used to call “estholes,” back when Werner Erhard’s “est” seminars were in vogue.
Jon, that phrase “post-colonial,” like its kissin’ cousin “decolonializing,” is a bright red flashing light and a shrill klaxon telling you that you’re about to be on the receiving end of a great big steaming shovelfull of malarkey.
Owen, if you eat too much fiber it’s not good for you. The same is true of meditation. To borrow your car analogy, not every car has an engine that can handle a turbocharger, and even among those that can, not every engine can handle the kind of turbo that’s used in Formula 1 racing. Insisting that every car ought to have the largest possible turbo slapped onto its engine is a good way to burn out a lot of engines and cause a lot of wrecks.
BoulderChum, it depends on whether the group’s willing to avoid commodification. Many aren’t. If it is, the best way is what a lot of occultists these days call a “flake filter” — some requirement for membership that will chase off people who aren’t interested in the group’s actual purpose. Almost anything that requires a fair amount of honest work will usually do the job!
Luke, thanks for this. I’m glad you escaped.
Casey, thank you.
Denis, it depends on the specific details of the spiritual practice that’s been abused, but stopping the practice and doing things to get grounded in material reality is a good start. Bacon cheeseburgers are helpful here — and yes, I mean that seriously. A diet high in meat helps you get in touch with your body, which after all is made of meat. The combination of a vegan diet and badly chosen spiritual practices can be a source of serious trouble.
Nick, you have an excellent priest. As for the Triduum, the Catholic church still has some sense of how to handle such things — you spend most of the year doing spiritual practices at a relatively modest level of intensity, spend Lent building up your spiritual stamina, plunge into Easter weekend at full intensity, and then recover afterwards. I don’t think it’s accidental that so many European cultures have all those rich breads and cakes, full of sugar and fat, to help you close down after Easter!
Marky, mindfulness meditation can be very helpful for some people in some situations, no question. It needs to be handled carefully — and it needs not to be overdone. (And you’re right that it doesn’t go very far on its own.)
Chris, thanks for this! As for Chapman’s book, I haven’t read it. I’ll see if the local library system has a copy.
Kimberly, glad to hear this. Teaching discursive meditation to children is best started around the age of 7, and it’s done a little at a time — the usual custom was once a week. Teach them to think about some subject and then write down what they thought about it in a private journal. Please don’t make them share their thoughts with the other children — that’s a miserable experience for many kids, and it very often turns into an exercise in one-upsmanship that sours the whole experience — and don’t grade them. Make it clear that their thoughts are their own private property, an inner world they don’t have to share with anybody else. Give them themes that aren’t either too sticky-sweet or too difficult at first, and as soon as possible get them selecting their own themes from a text. (In a church setting, children were encouraged to choose something from the scripture read aloud in the service.)
Oilman2, thanks for this. The cult of emptiness has always struck me as creepy in the extreme — not to mention manipulative, because an empty vessel will always be filled by something, and that “something” probably won’t have your best interests in mind.
Ken, you’re welcome and thank you.
Steve, one factor out of many.
Youngelephant, there were a number of things that led me to think the Christian lady I mentioned had reached some profound spiritual depths. There is a sense of calm and clarity that surrounds such people, and she had it, doubled, tripled, and in spades. Even when tired or busy she had the kind of thoughtfulness that isn’t an affectation or a habit but comes out of awareness. We talked about spiritual issues sometimes, and — well, you know the difference between someone who knows about a city because they’ve read about it online, and someone who knows it because they were born there and have lived there all their life? She gave me the latter vibe whenever we discussed God.
Raab, I thought it was an interesting book. I haven’t read it in many decades, though.
Justin, if that’s how you make your living, that’s how you make your living. Not my cup of tea but I can imagine that it would be a viable gig.
Ria23, choose a text that interests you, and take it a sentence or a paragraph at a time. It can be anything.
Kelvin, I find it fascinating that different teachers of Asian systems have many different descriptions of enlightenment. Bharati’s description is one, but it’s far from the only one, and it’s led me to believe that there are many different potential endpoints for spiritual practice and his is only one option; it’s not definitive and final, just one mystic’s experience. It’s also one that doesn’t interest me at all.
Clarke, of course. That’s why I drew a rather strict distinction between traditional Buddhist disciplines on the one hand, and mass-marketed mindfulness meditation on the other. It’s also why I specifically said that if you want to study an Asian spiritual path, finding a qualified teacher and following the instructions you’re given is the right way to do it.
Pygmycory, that reminds me of one of John Kenneth Galbraith’s quips about the bland leading the bland! What a dreary experience that must have been. As for reading scripture, thinking about it, and then praying about it, yep — that’s probably the most widespread Protestant Christian form of discursive meditation, and it’s good solid stuff.
Balowulf, anyone who wants off the Titanic can do it quite readily by getting a wage class job and downsizing their lifestyles accordingly. That’s the lifeboat, and it’s far from crowded.
Drhooves, that may also be a factor, of course — and it’s worth noting that the retreats don’t take that into account and don’t screen attendees to make sure they don’t have disastrous side effects from medication withdrawal.
Mollari, yes, that would follow, wouldn’t it? Most people will learn much more by reading fewer books and doing it more carefully and attentively — but when learning isn’t the point of the exercise, that gets forgotten.
Samurai, I haven’t had a lot of contact with yoga teachers, especially of the suburban variety, as I fled the suburbs when I graduated from high school and wouldn’t go back for any amount of money. I think, though, that you’re correct that a lot of them are teaching something very watered down, and not necessarily much more than a fashionable form of calisthenics.
Haddok, funny! Definitely a good drinking story. I’m glad your friend got through the experience okay.
Renaissance, well, of course! The current woke movement is heavily Marxist, and when Marxists get into power they inevitably get Orwellian in the same general way. As for the Wellness Committee and its antics, well, yes — the whole point of corporate wellness programs is to try to keep the human resources (what a vile, depersonalizing label!) performing to spec no matter what burdens are shoved off on them.
Mollari, thoughtstoppers are the mantras of woke meditation.
Horzabky, well, of course — I was being sarcastic. I like taking long walks myself, but those don’t shut down my mind. I do much of my best thinking while walking. As for cancel culture, do you recall my description of the Rescue Game back on the old blog? This is the endgame, which I called “Circular Firing Squad.”
Slithy, hmm! Thanks for this. I’ll check him out.
Deadnotsleeping, that’s classic discursive meditation. I’m glad to hear it’s being taught in the Jewish community.
Phutatorius, I wasn’t thinking of karmic events. The person in the article killed herself, which is a little more severe than cirrhosis. As for Krone training, yeah — some of the Gurdjieff offshoots are very cultlike, and that sort of entryism under false pretenses is embarrassingly common in that scene.
421, I suspect that’s a large part of it. Having much of the population passive, smiling, and stoned makes the task of social control much easier.
Whispers, true enough. Which schools do you have in mind? I’d be interested in comparing your list to mine.
Jon, you’re most welcome.
Sundara, your teacher was one smart cookie. As for the kundalini bunnies, chasing them out of your classes is probably a good thing…
Thanks, Quin! Still looking. Grumble.
Ncolloff, unfortunately, that’s not a bad description.
Mog, I ain’t arguing.
Violet, thanks for this. The idea of seeking enlightenment as a way of running away from cognitive dissonance strikes me as fruitful; you can get to enlightenment by confronting cognitive dissonance — in fact it’s one of the standard methods — but running away? Always a bad idea.
Student, fascinating. Thanks for this.
Perhaps bodyfulness is a better practice in today’s abstract landscape.
421: I would imagine that the corporate push to legalize cannabis sattiva is about the money that can be made from the hemp plant. Remember, there are many more useful hemp products than just the kind you smoke. An acre of hemp produces more useable pulp than an acre of timber, and you can replant the hemp next year. As a sewist, I have been waiting for years to get affordable access to hemp fabric. Western states had to do something about the illegal MJ plantations on public land. Hunters, campers and fishermen were stumbling across the plantations and being shot at, and hunters et. al. do vote, you know. I believe Western state govts. got tired of fighting with the south of the border drug gangs, and receiving no help from the Feds.
I watched some mindfullness TikToks (don’t judge me). The principle of being the ‘witness’ and not acting (on thoughts or externally) made me think – that’s how Kitty Genovese died. The event and attitude that became the epitome of urban atomisation and alienation – and they’re pushing it as the ideal state of existence. I’m sure proponents of mindfullness would say they wouldn’t just watch a murder happen but that seems exactly what their ideology would require.
Manly P. Hall, one of the twentieth century’s most respected teachers of Western occultism, described in one of his books what happened when a group of enthusiastic young men in the California occult scene decided to try kundalini yoga on their own. Kundalini yoga? Those who don’t track the details of Asian spirituality may not know that it’s a system of practices meant to set off complex electrochemical reactions in the central nervous system and the endocrine glands, getting you to the state of enlightenment much more quickly than less drastic methods can manage.
Yes, that’s as risky as it sounds. Done properly, in the proper context, it can result in enlightenment in a hurry. Done incautiously, without adequate day-by-day supervision by competent teachers, the results can be disastrous—and in the case Hall described, they were. One after another, the young men turned pale, weak, and emaciated, and died. Kundalini yoga can do that to you. Gopi Krishna, who underwent a spontaneous experience of the same kind and wrote a classic book about it, had to spend a couple of years on strict bed rest before he recovered enough to resume ordinary daily activities. Not everyone is so lucky.
I did not realize this took place back when Hall was alive but somehow I’m not surprised. One of my transcripts on my blog is from a Sadhguru talk all about what Kundalini Yoga, true Kundalini Yoga (lots of books and courses labeled Kundalini Yoga aren’t actually the real thing) – exactly is. There’s another, shorter talk he gave about it on Youtube which I’ll probably transcribe and upload to my blog so that people whom don’t like video can still learn a bit about it.
In any case, according to Sadhguru, Kundalini Yoga is THE most dangerous of all the yogas available to humanity bar none and typically has to have constant, super-close intervention and oversight of the disciple by a highly competent guru at all times. In one talk he compared it to nuclear energy. Electricity from a nuclear power plant is one of the most powerful means of liberating stored energy into more usable forms. But he said the downside is when something goes bad, like with Chernobyl, it is devastating to life. Kundalini Yogi is like that inside a human body. It is an extremely fast spiritual path but equally dangerous and almost never ever something to be done DIY. Unfortunately almost for that reason it’s become one of the most famous Yogas people want to DIY. Which is one reason why the market in some countries is flooded with this-or-that “Kundalini” yoga but actually isn’t the real deal. Weirdly, huckster greed may actually be sparing people’s lives from their own DIY cluelessness.
Anyway…here’s a link to one of the transcripts of a talk Sadhguru gave specifically about authentic Kundalini Yoga.
Yes, I am seeing some more social media ads and tags from what I call the Medico-Industrial-Corporate Meditators charging good money to teach the PMC ‘meditation’. And while it is, in some ways, a principle of a real teaching that one must pay for what one receives, this may not in anyway mean money. I’m surprised the corporate mediators have not started with subscription services like Adobe and Microsoft et al are doing now.
I think Trungpa used the term Spiritual Materialism.
There is never a question- that is, questioning themselves- as far as I can tell, whether any of these ‘teachers’ are equipped in anyway to present anything. For them, it seems a given that they know something. One might say that a real path, a real practice, is the most difficult discipline one could undertake, engaging and even demanding, over time, more and more of one’s being. Myth and fairy tale don’t use the work ‘quest’ in a figurative sense. But the corporate meditators don’t see that. They believe that Hey! this is Super Easy! Look what I can show you! You”ll be a better worker!
No one would argue that someone who knows nothing about Physics is capable of teaching Physics, yet when it comes to the work of the nature of psyche, the way of transformation, the most demanding undertaking of all, then, well, nothing is apparently required- not knowledge and understanding, both of themselves and their students.
One of the thought crimes worthy of getting “canceled” is support for our current system of law enforcement. Defunding, or abolishing the police is all the rage here in the urban areas of Cascadia. I have been thinking about this one a lot and it seems a bit more complicated then run of the mill woksterism. To me there are three potential real drivers of this phenomenon. 1) The solution proposed by comfortable class woksters is to replace the police with social workers and community organizers. This could be a grab to pull the moderate wage jobs of the police ( decent pensions and healthcare anyway) away from a mostly male blue collar workforce and hand them over to college graduates with sociology and psychology degrees. 2) The anarchist and marxist groups have determined that the police are the designated protectors of private property and the asset based economy and rather than attempt to change this economy straight on, they see getting rid of the police as a short cut. 3) Pretending to want the police abolished is virtue signaling at its most craven. What do you think are the drivers of this unexpected ( for me) phenomenon?
Thanks for this JMG,
Yeah, I notice how a lot of my people in counseling circles now practice mindfulness based inventions, which as a long time practitioner of mindfulness mediation, I know don’t always help you become less anxious. For myself it proved to be a challenge mentally and physically as I had back problems during long retreats that only worsened over time. I was told to focus on the pain, which didn’t help.
I asked a traditional psychoanalyst about mindfulness based inventions a while ago back and his response was a characteristic “if you want to relax why are going to therapy in the first place.” There is value in directing the mind, at least, according to them, on what is upseting you in the firsit place.
Also..The fact that its being taught in schools is a little…you know….opportunistic imo. Wouldn’t it be best to let them outside a kick a football?
Anyway, thanks as always.
Wow. Thank you for the reference to the Anglican manual on lectio divina. Uh, many blessings will flow your way, good sir, for this kind of restoration you are doing, & I add that goodwill, too, is built. Will not be forgotten in my neck of the woods, I can tell you. Fascinating, fascinating stuff, realizing it is obviously so, but not pellucid at all until someone with a clear head and some brass other stuff points it out very clearly and articulately. Am starting to think there are not-so-spiritual powers behind all this mental, spiritual, and psychic/emotional “dumbing down”, it’s so pervasive, across the boards, and even when it is “opposed” it is done in such a way as to open you up to massive dangers on another plane. WOW.
Was thinking a bit about this some the other day in a different context, but Campanella’s version of meditation (“Philosophical ecstasy,” I think) seems to be somewhat like how modern mindfulness is described (caveat, I have no real background in “Eastern” meditative practices), with the operator allowing thoughts to come and go without judgment. Then again, Campanella seems to have balanced this with a full suite of Renaissance Orphism, so…
Regarding the quietism seemingly espoused by “Eastern” meditation (as transposed in the West, anyway) my question has always been: Cui bono? Who benefits if you teach yourself to effectively shut down discursive thought?
Well, this post has me concerned. Just last week my son’s public school started daily 15-minute breathwork and meditation with the Holistic Life Foundation, which aims to help “at-risk youth” reduce their stress through mindfulness. While it was founded by a few guys from West Baltimore (a very poor part of town), the language on their website is in line with the corporate mindfulness trend and the board of directors is filled with corporate marketing and tech types, saviors from the West Coast basically. It seems like a big experiment on a group of working class and poor kids.
Some of their high school programming offers meditation sessions of up to 90 minutes! Thankfully, my son is not that old. He did say that sometimes they are asked to clear their minds; I told him when they say that he should instead think about a topic he’s really interested in or say a prayer instead. Any other short-term suggestions (besides switching schools)?
JMG, do you have any idea why groups who practice classical Revival Druidry, like AODA, seem to be mostly immune to woke entryism?
I came across Stoicism only a few months ago and was impressed at its unpretentiousness and common sense. But you’re right, the ‘introductory’ books emphasise its use for therapy, and skim over any mention of god. They focus almost entirely on ethics: ‘physics’ being now seen as obsolete and logic having fallen out of fashion. The original sources are cherrypicked and interpreted to modern tastes. In attempting to find some discussion or community online (admittedly probably the worst place to be looking) I’ve been struck by the same. It is overwhelmingly used for self-help, for emotional validation, not self-improvement. Stoicism is an intensely social philosophy; yet people find in it justifications for individualism, and insularity, and even selfishness.
I have a soft spot for Musonius Rufus. Online you typically see him mentioned as ‘the Stoic who advocated for gender equality’, a rarity in the ancient world. And he did – in that he exhorted that both men and women had intellect and ability and there was no excuse for either not to develop them to the fullest. It was a rather refreshing contrast to our attitudes today: equality not as a right, but as a responsibility.
I have been a dedicated spiritual practitioner with a Himalaya lineage for 15 years. What you write is good. Consumerism is trying to make spirituality consummable.
I had not heard that no-thought can dammage people’s thinking function. I guess it is possible for those who do not have a stable mind. Extensive preliminary practices are essential for ‘progress’. Kundalini and advanced tantra practices definitively have risks for non-seasoned practitioners. Guidance from a teacher is essential. Who wants to surrender to a meditation master in the West these days? 😉
One must be prepared for the abyss to gaze back.
@JMG: Workshops for elite suburban woman are also a good way for a guy to be around a bunch of …elite suburban woman all the time.
Needless, to say, not my cup of tea either. I don’t begrudge anyone making a living. Except when it is masked in the guise of being a spiritual teacher, and then certain students don’t get taught, because they don’t have the money, or can’t jump through the hoops of needing this workshop before you can get this teaching, all based around money.
The lodge systems and those teachers that only require a minimal or nominal fee are much more ethical in that respect.
I wonder what will fill the void of these “dissident” activities when the retreats and workshops dissappear (leaving many a new age guru penniless when the corporate dollars aren’t flowing in). Do you have any thoughts in that regard?
Thank you JMG and thoughtful commenters. As usual, this is a very thought-provoking discussion.
JMG you wrote: “the person in the article blew her brains out…”
My understanding from reading the article was that she jumped off a bridge into the Susquehanna River.
The concept of being mindful of the present seems to have an obvious appeal to those trapped in unfulfilling managerial existences, who’s office routines may leave them numb and just going through the motions, thinking of future success and dwelling on past failure. I wonder if the subconscious awareness that they are out of touch with the reality of decline might play a role in the seeking out of “mindfulness” – as a way of both being “aware” and also not required to think out the consequences of the things they become aware of. In fact, the whole point is to forbid yourself from bothering to follow the thoughts that spring from this awareness. Thus one can see oneself as getting in touch with both oneself and the reality of the moment, while also refusing to deal with the consequential dilemmas and cognitive dissonance that follow from awareness of one’s self deception, hypocrisy etc.
The concept of mindfulness in its sense of simply being aware of surroundings brings to mind the ever present sight these days of folks with ear buds in while doing any manner of task: shopping, walking down the street, I even see it frequently while walking in the woods. It seems strange that someone could recognize and appreciate the value of walking through a natural landscape and simultaneously want to shut out the sounds it has to offer, but it sees to be pretty common, at least around here.
Thanks for another fantastic post.
@Yorkshire if the meditation teachers changed the term “Witness” to “Doer” and encouraged thinking and reaction to external circumstances in that state it would be healthy. This might actually be a thing already, but I can’t remember.
On another note, as a follow up to last weeks post’s comments on Arhat – An arhat, which is the title for the end goal of Buddhism, is said in the lore to have to make it to a monastery within a couple days of their attainment, or they will die. This implies that after achieving the end goal of Buddhism, one can literally not take care of themselves. Does that sound healthy to anyone? At the very least, it doesn’t sound like JMG’s description of illumination written in the 7 deaths post. I wonder if this end state relates to how mindfulness is taught in the West. Another thing to meditate on…
Odd little synchro here. Just read this old Koestler essay by chance – this jumped out:
QUOTE: There were periods and movements in history-in Athens, in the early Renaissance, during the first years of the Russian Revolution-when at least certain representative layers of society had attained a relatively high level of mental integration; times, when people seemed to rub their eyes and come awake, when their cosmic awareness seemed to expand, when they were “contemporaries” in a much broader and fuller sense; when the trivial and the cosmic planes seemed on the point of fusing. And there were periods of disintegration and dissociation. But never before, not even during the spectacular decay of Rome and Byzantium, was split thinking so palpably evident, such a uniform mass-disease; never did human psychology reach such a height of phoneyness. Our awareness seems to shrink in direct ratio as communications expand; the world is open to us as never before, and we walk about as prisoners, each in his private portable cage.
And meanwhile the watch goes on ticking. What can the screamers do but go on screaming, until they get blue in the face? I know one who used to tour this country addressing meetings, at an average of ten a week. He is a well-known London publisher. Before each meeting he used to lock himself up in a room, close his eyes, and imagine in detail, for twenty minutes, that he was one of the people in Poland who were killed. One day he tried to feel what it was like to be suffocated by chloride gas in a death-train; the other he had to dig his grave with two hundred others and then face a machine gun, which, of course, is rather unprecise and capricious in its aiming. Then he walked out to the platform and talked. He kept going for a full year before he collapsed with a nervous breakdown. He had a great command of his audiences and perhaps he has done some good, perhaps he brought the two planes, divided by miles of distance, an inch closer to each other. I think one should imitate this example. Two minutes of this kind of exercise per day, with closed eyes, after reading the morning paper, are at present more necessary to us than physical jerks and breathing the Yogi way. It might even be a substitute for going to church. For as long as there are people on the road and victims in the thicket, divided by dream barriers, this will remain a phoney civilisation.
The subject of this post applies to something that dion Fortune talks about in the 1st and 2nd chapters of “the mystical Qabalah “.
She says that people of the east and west have different constitutions and destinies, and that it is ineffective or harmful for a westerner to try and use eastern methods or apply their ideals.
Damien Echols was a zen practitioner for years before he practiced the golden dawn, and he said that zen was ineffective compared to G.D. Because the latter works with imagery and ideas appropriate to westerners mind.
One of your best essays ever. I’ve been following a dedicated spiritual path for many years now, and I’ve found there are many times you just have to step away for awhile and do something else.
Also for the negative impacts, I can certainly attest to that truth. Unexpectedly, on the path, I was ‘gifted’ with special abilities by a higher power. The gifts were unexpected, unearned, and were an undeserved act of grace. I learned to use those gifts, and I became a master at manifestation. That’s when the problems started. I would do something, it would work, but then there were unanticipated consequences. Those problems and unanticipated consequences built and built until I have effectively destroyed myself through their usage. Without going into too much detail I can tell you that I am 85% certain that the worldwide Covid-19 epidemic we are all living through is a direct and unanticipated consequence of something I did.
Now I have to live with that. Hundreds of thousands have died, whole societies have been locked down and disturbed, and the crisis is nowhere near at a conclusion. Also, every action I took to stop and mitigate this problem created by accident only seems to make it worse. I’m at a point now where I wonder if it is just like a wound up toy, and it just needs time to run itself out?
I wish someone had warned me before I started that it wasn’t all sunshine, roses and puppy dogs.
JMG, thank you, the occult view makes sense to me. So basically in mindfulness meditation, if I’m understanding it correctly, the technique is ideally for the driver to slow the chariot and train the horses to be still– but in extreme cases where the driver is too inexperienced, the horses just run completely amok, and the fearful driver lacks the confidence to effectively regain the reins, until the whole chariot topples over or falls into a ravine.
So then, viewed from the esoteric perspective of the multiple bodies, would the goal of mantra work– at least when performed from within a healthy tradition with spiritual depth, and not becoming de facto another version of mindfulness meditation– be a practice of letting go with the mental body/sheath in order to plug all of the lower bodies into a higher power for a while? Like attending a divine charioteering school, and inviting a vastly wise and capable teacher to sit in one’s chariot, in order to help both driver and horses increase in skill.
Thanks for this post. The Flight from Thinking has been going on for quite a while in the US, very much aided and abetted now by the ubiquitous prosthetic brain technology (aka smartphones). You commented in this week’s MM “We’re living in a society in acute crisis right now” and I completely agree with that blunt assessment.
I also found Clay Dennis comment (#2) to be revealing. Pretty much everyone in the PMC has had at least some exposure to mindfulness programming so propaganda is readily received and assimilated. Is it any wonder that peeps of this class are among the most ardent covidiots?
Oilman 2 referenced a recent essay by John Waters and I concur that his writing is sharp and worthwhile. The man is not afraid of thinking…released a new post just out yesterday: https://johnwaters.substack.com/p/umbrellas-without-rain. C.J. Hopkins at Consent Factory also has a good new post on the Covidian Cult: https://consentfactory.org/2021/04/21/the-covidian-cult-part-ii/
Clay Dennis @ 65 about defunding police. Your point 1 is spot on. There has never yet been a perceived social problem since about 1970 for which the leftist remedy was not more jobs for (incompetent, IMHO) college graduates. In addition, this pack of social science and literature graduates would truly love to have and exercise police level authority against the rest of us. Forget about being left alone to tend your garden or practice any other form of self reliance if these apparatchiks get into power.
Another part of the mix is that folks in inner city (mostly) minority neighborhoods truly are absolutely fed up with police committing what amount to summary executions in their neighborhoods. The Civil Rights movement didn’t make this stop. Neither did electing a black president nor do massive (intended to be) peaceful protests make it stop. I am not aware that such has been a problem in Cascadia, but I haven’t been there for decades. Do keep in mind that sheriffs are still elected, and maybe you and your friends need to be paying attention to those elections.
Yet another factor is military materiel being offloaded to police depts. and overseas, i.e., in Israel, training of police. The technique that killed George Floyd was developed by the IDF. Something useful you and friends could maybe do is show at a city council or county commissioners’ meeting and demanding to know, as taxpayers, does your police force receive Israeli training or any other foreign training. Maybe frame the questions in the language of fiscal responsibility–if so, who is paying for it?
Steve T said:
“The problem was that you’re told, every single night, that this practice is the only worthwhile practice, the only thing you should ever do. Every single night in his discourses the teacher mocks and belittles the idea of “rites, rituals, prayers, altars, chanting words, rosaries, lighting incense, visualizing this God or that God, this Goddess or that Goddess.”
“So… Again, I have friends who’ve gotten a lot out of these courses. I’m sure they’re not all bad. But being told night after night that “rites, rituals, incense, altars, visualizations of this god or that goddess” is “madness,” when I’ve spent a year developing a practice for myself based entirely on those things– Being told that by what amounts to your only human contact in painful isolation… Yeah, it was pretty horrific.
So…in other words…if Sadhguru is correct…Goenka teachers are advocating for full-fledged ascetic monk/nun-yoga instead of even small bits of tantra to put juiciness back in! Which…admittedly IS what the Buddha himself was advocating for. Buddhism by design is a very dry path. He squeezed all the juiciness out of his original program because he aspired to have his teachings last an exceedingly long time. It worked because his teachings are still around to this day, 2500 years later. But which unless one has the kind of samskaras that make you incline that direction anyway means there’s the possibility for casualties.
To give credit there will be successes too of course. The org didn’t get to where they are if there weren’t. But I wonder how many of the teachers realize that’s what they’re advocating for? Or that Gautama designed his program to be anti-ritual/pro-monk because India had a huge problem in his day with exploitation of ceremonial ritual magic to rip off commoners back then? It was so bad back in his day he went 180 degrees opposite to try to insure his system could not be easily exploited like was happening with ceremonial ritual going on everywhere. Very much like how Wall Street is benefiting at the expense of Main Street these days.
True Yoga according to Sadhguru is a completely internalized path. That’s why you don’t need or use rituals, visualization or mantras or any other kind of tantra. He said it also happens to be the path of the tightrope walker vs. the people-friendly ceremonial path of Tantra. Because you are working in the most direct way of all with your own life-energies in your own body to make yourself into the kind of person you aspire to be. But since it’s your own life-energies very directly being used it makes the need for satisfactory preliminaries more important than might be needed for tantra. It sounds like that’s what Goenka is teaching – actual Buddhist Yoga as Skakyamuni himself might have done! I confess I am impressed despite the potential for downsides! If one has the samskaras of a monk, nun,yogi or yogini – Goenka might definitely be a great place to go.
[I can still hear Sadhguru’s talk about the Buddha and his original program in my head: “40,000 monks he made. I am not trying to do anything so like that!]
Steve T said:
And you’re under a vow of silence, so these discourses are your only human contact.
I found out recently that this is an actual yoga (not tantra) practice. You don’t even have to go to a retreat to test the truth of this for one’s self. Simply follow through on refusing to speak for any reason whatsoever for 4 days in a row. Do it. At home, right now. Don’t speak for 96 consecutive hours. Sri Arya and Sadhguru both say that if you’re not prepared for it…this one practice alone can break you. No need to pay money to anyone to find out either. Most people don’t even make it the first 24 hours. Only a tiny few hold on long enough to make it to the end of the 2nd. By the 3rd day the majority of lone hold outs can’t stand it anymore and quit. If you make it to the 4th day no problem? Congrats! There’s a decent chance you just found out (at zero cost!) you’ve got the samskaras to be a legit ascetic monk or nun! Not guaranteed without other confirmations but still a solid clue. I remember being shocked to find that out. Sadhguru says this practice will shock a lot of people who are very eager and think they’re ready for monastery life (but really aren’t…or at least not yet).
Again, to give the benefit of doubt…it’s possible the founder of Goenka maybe did not fully realize everything that’s going on in his name? As things scale up it gets ever more difficult for founders to keep track of everything. Perhaps the org has grown larger than he ever dreamed it could be when he was alive? I think that’s why a lot of ashrams and monasteries put a cap on how many disciples they accept. After a while…you just can’t keep up with everyone. In any case you mentioned the founder’s gone so who knows if the organization that carries his name is still as he envisioned it? But at least from your account it does sound to me like there may be well-meaning trainers whom are nonetheless ill-prepared for not-so-good outcomes among retreat-ees.
The spiritual cluelessness of the Western(ized) elite never ceases to amaze me. Combine their disdain of religion as a bunch of mumbo-jumbo and superstition, disrespect for tradition, a penchant for mixing and matching whatever they please, and an over-inflated ego all into a high-speed blender called ‘mindful meditation retreat’ and let’s see what comes out at the end of the process… ain’t too pretty by the looks of things, as the Harper’s article reveals.
Several years ago, I knew a nice, middle-aged spiritually sincere but primarily Westernized Indian family. The wife/mother decided to go on a mindful meditation retreat (not a good sign, as it was a major departure from the form of meditation advocated by her guru) and she suffered from a break-down by the end of the second day. The family kind of drifted away after that. Very sad. I am sure that a lot of “nice” (i.e., spiritually sincere but clueless) people have been irreparably harmed by this kind of experience.
I count myself extremely lucky to have intuitively been repulsed by this kind of meditation and these kinds of retreats. At 16 I spontaneously started to meditate on a candle flame and ended up within a couple of years of daily meditating for an hour or more at a time and continued to do so until the age of 30. Relying on only a few paragraphs of guidance on the discipline, I was supremely fortunate not to fry my brains out! Spending all my free time studying and reflecting on scripture/serious spiritual literature and having a creative outlet via music no doubt balanced me out. Nevertheless, my meditation practice did ‘rewire’ my brain. Some benefits included nearly perfect auditory memory (I could effortlessly remember 3-hour lectures in university verbatim and virtually never needed to study for exams as my brain was chock-full of well-organized ‘cassette tapes’) but the downside has been otherworldliness to the point that I often wonder how on Earth I am able to function in ‘normal’ society (on the extreme periphery, of course).
“At the heart of those heavily marketed schemes, and a great deal else in today’s pop culture, is the tacit insistence that embracing the standard prejudices of your culture and your class is what enlightenment is all about.” Quite the statement – definitely worth meditating upon!
Hi John Michael,
I’ve noticed over the years that if ever the police force or tax office ever wants to downsize head count (a polite yet disingenuous way to say: sacking people) they just review the audit records and get rid of anyone looking up things that they should not have been looking up. It makes the sacking job all that much easier. I dunno, thats what bounced into my head when you mentioned reduced chairs on the sinking Titanic.
Hey, do you know the same principle applies for hard physical labour – it is not possible to sit on your backside for years and years, and then decide that you’ll move to a farm and take up a very physical existence. I never stopped doing such physical activities. Even as a young bloke I was very active. People who attempt to just start one day going hard, well they get injured. You have to put in the hard yards first and build up to that pace. And know when to back off a bit and recover.
As a young bloke I used to enjoy distance running, and was just OK at it. I knew a lot of older runners who had knee and hip troubles and took that lesson to heart – don’t push too hard when such troubles come your way. Gave up running in my late 20’s – you didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to see where the wind was blowing.
People forget how to pace themselves and act moderately.
Ye gods, I only got to the party where she was on Zoloft already – so, those are also (common?) side effects of Zoloft, if you read the internet forums. Naturally, it’s nowhere in the pages upon pages of side effect info that comes with it, because if you call a doctor and tell them anything bad is happening because they gave you anti-anxiety medication, they don’t answer your calls or record it in any way if you tell them in person.
It’s also the same as cannabinoid psychosis, which is also the hip new relaxant for the Boomer generation.
I once made the rookie mistake of meditating for about an hour and a half, straying far from my theme into mindlessness, where I heard strange chattering voices from beyond. It was spooky stuff. People gotta be careful. The mind can be dangerous country.
Speaking of our senile elites and their flight from reality, check out this response by Joe Biden* and his flacks to the shooting of a black girl by a police officer in Ohio as she tried to stab another black girl with a knife. The Biden administration reacted by played the race card, while using the incident as further justification for pushing the liberal-left’s Wokester agenda and attacking the police for doing their jobs.
* I understand the term “senile elites” that our host has used was meant to be metaphorical, but in Creepy Joe’s case, it’s literally true!
#52 David, by the lake (3:12 pm) — yes, Naropa, ’77-’79.
#53 Just Another Green Rage Monster (3:12 pm) — you were not alone in that. I’ve heard many a tale of people with similar experiences.
So many people are talking about mindfulness meditation as a form of escapism, etc., and I must own that in my very well supervised practice it was quite the opposite. I certainly wasn’t seeking something not there. As a very mental-focused person, I found it very helpful to spend time in the actual present, developing some self-awareness. But in all these things your mileage may vary depending on time, place, circumstances.
I find it quite interesting to read the comments of those who have never done this work who are heartily condemnatory of it. Reminds me of the man who joined a Buddhist study group I participated in who explained he didn’t need to meditate because, from an absolute perspective, we are already enlightened. I don’t think he understood that he was not one who had attained the absolute level (which indeed is always in the background), but was living deep into the relative level with the rest of us shlobs. Just because there may be a vein of gold in the ground twenty feet below me doesn’t mean I can non-fraudulently spend it without digging it up, refining it, and engaging in all the other boring quotidian steps. Boring is good. Keeps the frivolous away, as JMG and others have indicated.
It never hurts to humble oneself and get a genuine teacher, which you can do with some discrimination and patience, I found that I’ve really had to inquire and inquire again, and not listen to sales pitches but test everything claimed against everything I had studied beforehand (and I studied beforehand a lot). Over and over. Then sifting my experience against that. Sometimes you have good luck, or amazing karma, otherwise you need to do your “due diligence,” as business types describe it. I’d sure be a better musician today if I had done that early on.
Hello, Mr Greer,
recently I learned that my wife’s being through several self help classes, the kind that are meant to help you deal with work stress, your boss being bossy and your husband being selfish. In all these courses, they started by doing some “meditation on breath”, for 5 to 15 minutes, then they threw the usual psychological stuff: assertiveness, self-esteem, recognizing own feelings, … She took the courses, completed them in a rush, then forgot about them, as if it were a lesson to learn to pass an exam, instead of a routine practice.
Since all these courses didn’t seem to have any positive results on her nerves, I offered her to join in a ten minutes meditation session every evening, which she agreed but without any expectations. As a shared practice, it could strengthen our relationship. I’ve taken note on your warning, and we will not exceed that frequency for the time being. We do that just as a small daily exercise. I know discursive meditation would be better, but I don’t think my wife would accept something so unorthodox, say esoteric. Certainly she wouldn’t ever meditate on occult or religious texts!
I’m not worried about her stopping to think since she must study daily for her work, so she has plenty of mental work. In fact, she almost never stops thinking things over and over, so a small pause might be of some good, I hope.
In the long month we have been doing this, I think she has gained some control over her emotions, thinks things more calmly now, speaks more calmly at least. Well, she still looks for things to be sad about, but she’s leaving room for other emotions now. It is still not good, but is improving.
Maybe we have been lucky, our mental issues were not of the kind that could get problematic with a little exposure to “breath meditation”, though I get your point that this as risky as treating oneself with a wild medicinal plant we know nothing about, ignoring the right quantities and the secondary effects. And this has become a common practice among would be psychologists.
I do discursive meditation now, along with daily visualisation (not ready for the complete ritual), and some divination (quite ordinary so far, once I meditate on it). I am not afraid that breath meditation ruins my mind, given the context, but in case something goes wrong with my wife’s practice, what signs should alert me so we can stop?
As a follow up to my previous comment, even parts of the British press are calling out Biden and Psaki for trying to use the Columbus Ohio incident as an excuse for yet another round of divisive and racist Wokester hate propaganda.
As someone that tried to learn things like qigong, TCM, Ayurveda and yoga through books, short-term teachers and inexperienced teachers for decades, I totally agree with what you have said. My focus and progress, since I studied TCM formally and now practice traditional non-religious Daoist cultivation under the guidance of a lineage holder, has improved tremendously.
Basically, I felt like all I was doing before was circling the base of the mountain with incomplete knowledge and charlatans. Who knows how much time I wasted or how many of my issues were caused by my previous practices. Now that I have studied professionally and have a qualified guide, I feel like I am making progress towards the top. My health is improving and many of my issues have cleared up. Also, this has given me the confidence to practice much more deeply.
Anna, I’d suggest instead wholeness: the spirit, the thinking mind, the emotions, the passions, the vital energy, and the physical body, all functioning in a balanced and graceful way. Not so colorful, sure, but more useful in the long run.
Yorkshire, oof. The Kitty Genovese parallel hadn’t occurred to me, but of course you’re quite correct.
Panda, if I understand correctly, this was a few years after Sir John Woodroffe aka Arthur Avalon published his book The Serpent Power, the first really detailed account of kundalini yoga in English, based on classic texts. Granted, there’s a lot of bogus “kundalini yoga” out there, and thank heavens for that — the events Hall describes demonstrate what happens when people try to do the non-bogus version without adequate preparation and supervision.
QuicksilverMessenger, no argument there. Even in the systems of Western occult spirituality in which I’m an initiate, there are things I don’t consider myself qualified to teach, and I’ve been doing this stuff for more than forty years now. These people who hang out their shingle and start teaching when their total background consists of a couple of weekend workshops and a high fee for certification — well, the less said about that, the better.
Clay, it’s ultimately a budget-cutting measure for the establishment. If they can stop paying for police services, forcing the poor to do without and the rich to fund their own private law enforcement services, that’s a big chunk of the budget gone — and you know as well as I do that once that happens, fire departments and schools will be on the chopping block next.
Adrian, of course it would be better to let them go outside and play, but that doesn’t further the goal of making them docile little employees and TV-watchers.
Caledon, Hall’s book is very solid stuff — I hope you get a lot out of it. As for what’s behind these things, that’s a very complex issue, but I don’t think you’re wrong by any means.
Fra’ Lupo, that’s usually the question that matters. It’s not accidental, I think, that quietism in the West has almost always flourished among aristocracies in decline.
Ip, if your son’s comfortable with some other form of spiritual practice, that’s a good way to foil this sort of thing: as long as you fill your mind with something specific and beneficial, the mindlessness practice can’t get a foothold. Switching schools is also a good plan!
Booklover, because we’ve been around long enough that we’re used to it. Druidry has faced a couple of dozen entryist movements over the years, and the strict policy of staying out of politics that governs old-fashioned Druid orders is a particular frustration to the woke.
Tony, exactly. Given proper preparation and supervision, you can do things that would cause the unprepared and unsupervised to crash and burn.
Piper, on the other hand, you can choose to gaze at something other than the abyss.
Justin, I ain’t arguing. That said, I’ve written a couple of books strictly for the money (cough, cough, Secrets of the Lost Symbol, cough, cough) and while it sucked, it was necessary at the time. Maybe the dream teacher had debts to pay off.
Goldenhawk, you’re right, of course. I’ve corrected my comment.
Tyrell, exactly. The point of all this is a desperate attempt not to notice the fact that your life makes no sense at all, and everything you do at work and in leisure time gives the lie to the ideals you think you hold.
Youngelephant, can you point me to a Buddhist source for the idea that arhats have to get to a monastery or die? Yikes — no question, that’s not what Fortune was talking about, and it’s not a state of being I’d ever want to be in.
Dermot, thanks for this. I think Koestler was mistaken, for what it’s worth; ages of phoneyness happen quite regularly.
J.L.Mc12, I’m not sure Fortune’s argument holds water entirely, because some Western people do very well with Eastern systems, but it’s certainly worth keeping in mind. As for Damien, yep — he’s one of the many Western people who need the heavy artillery of ceremonial magic to rise up on the planes. I’m another, for that matter.
Workdove, I’d encourage you to get some counseling. No one person’s actions were responsible for the current epidemic; at most, you contributed a small push to a very large phenomenon, and many other people were also involved. Taking personal responsibility for planetary events is not a healthy habit, and I think you need to talk to somebody who can help you regain some perspective.
Quin, when mantra meditation is done the right way — as an invocation of a divine power, and not as another mind-silencing gimmick — it doesn’t silence the mental body at all. You recite the mantra, being fully aware of its meaning, and come into contact with a being from the planes above the mental plane. That’s the mechanism of prayer, and properly done, mantrayana is a way of prayer. In terms of your metaphor, you’re asking a master charioteer to climb aboard your chariot for a while and offer you some guidance in how to handle the reins.
Jim, thanks for this. The flight from thinking is a massive cultural fact these days, and the various prosthetics so many people use are certainly part of that.
Ron, I consider myself very fortunate that the modes of spirituality I learned in my teens don’t get in the way of functioning in the everyday world. I’ve known my share of psychospiritual basket cases.
Chris, too true! Learning to pace oneself and balance activity and rest is a rare skill these days — physically as well as spiritually.
Pixelated, ouch. I knew that the fashionable psych drugs had ghastly side effects — I didn’t realize that the industry is deliberately concealing some of those. No surprise, but…
Epimetreus, I suspect that’s where Lovecraft got some of his imagery. Those chattering voices from beyond are a reality, and not a pleasant one.
Galen, grifters gonna grift…
Abraham, ten minutes a day isn’t a problem for anybody, so don’t worry about it. As for discursive meditation, remember you don’t have to use an official text. Consider meditating on love — what it is, what it means, how you have experienced it in your life, where you lack love, where you might express more love, etc. That’s a good month of meditations right there…
Galen, that’s a good sign.
Clark, glad to hear it. Thank you for sharing your experience!
Oh most honored and wise Archdruid, thank you for this masterfully-crafted essay. Several topics in your posting resonate with my 60+ years of life experience. While reading it, one section caused me to go “hey wait a minute, he missed something” where you related that in monastic settings Buddhist trainees would be coaxed towards a state of being where they could/would “…overcome desire and aversion”. Something missing there? But nope, towards the end of your essay you specifically point out that what is termed the other of the Three Poisons in Buddhism is what we well-to-do are often stumbling into: “…find[ing] ways to flee from thinking in order to maintain… delusion.” Oh yeah; that was, after all, pointed to by the title of this piece. Ah. Brilliant! Bravo!
Again, many thanks!
Thanks very much for this post. As an educator, I have noted with alarm that mindfulness has become extraordinarily popular in school settings (both private and public) over the last ten years or so. It began with taking teachers and administrators on the kind of retreat you’re talking about, or bringing in facilitators to lead meditations during faculty professional development days. It’s increasingly become popular to lead children through such exercises, especially in PE classes. Just now, it’s wildly popular as a way of managing children who are otherwise completely unmanageable: the type of child who physically strikes at teachers or throws things in class is increasingly brought to the assistant principal’s office for a mindfulness session. This has always struck me as being not dissimilar to the way that most people try to handle their issues with computers: maybe if we turn the child off and then turn him back on again, the issues will have miraculously vanished.
I do think that the fact that it is wildly popular in Education circles at the moment should be of some comfort, however: since Education is generally very late to every party and the very last place to adopt new ideas and trends, the fact that educators are all about it at the moment probably means that it is indeed dead or dying as a popular movement and we’ll likely stop hearing anything about it at all within a few years…
Just out of curiosity, what do you make of Thich Nhat Hanh’s body of work? He seems to me to have introduced much of this to the West with the best of intentions, but it seems to have gotten away from him and transformed into an aspect of the very worst parts of our own culture.
I remember in the ’70s or ’80 there were bumperstickers that said “Think”. The word got plastered everywhere, briefly, another fad that lasted 15 minutes. It just snowed again today and my feet are cold, perhaps why I’m in a sarcastic mood. But I doubt much would be different if people did think. Probably, things would be worse, if people got up tomorrow and started thinking. No danger of that happening really, ever. I’m not going to do any thinking, I’m going to get a pan of warm water to put my feet in.
Thanks for the Ecosophia project, I do look forward to reading every week. Almost as good as this here pan of warm water is today — aahhh !!!
@JMG: re: Secrets of the Lost Symbol & “Maybe the dream teacher had debts to pay off.”
Very true. With our (my) limited awareness of things we (I) never know what exactly is going on with other people, and I need to remember to keep that in mind.
Also, that shale I told is old, so I can just let it go (again).
I hope for you that things continue to go well so you can write the books you want to write.
…well, the only other thing I have to add at the moment is that one of the catchphrases of the PMC I really detest is “you need to be mindful of___” insert whatever happens to the be the thing du jour in the blank. “Be mindful of this” and “Be mindful of that”.
I’ll be glad when the PMC’s minds move on from mindfulness!
Thanks for providing a place to discuss and debate and talk and chat!
What are the dangers of too much discursive meditation?
I write code for a living and I often wonder what are the long-term effects it has on my mind and whether or not it’s good or bad. I spend hours most days thinking about (meditating on) boring things that I don’t really care about. Part of the reason the profession pays well is because so few people are willing to do boring logic problems all day long. It takes a special kind of person. I’ve always been a cerebral nature and to an extent it suits me and I often even find the work enjoyable.
But man sometimes it feels weird and my state of mind is often quite different from remember it being like as a child or even a high school student during advance coursework. Much sharper, clearer, more efficient thinking, but less connected to the moment, less in tune with what’s really happening, the wheels always turning, but my mind is very sharp.
Sometimes I wonder if this is the intention of my soul or God, like intellectual training is something I’m here to participate in. On the other hand sometimes I worry that I’m participating in the hubristic constriction of the best of human life through the proliferation of unnecessary technology. Do you have any sense of which way it could be?
I need to temper all of what I have said here with the understanding that there seems to be many positive aspects to the task of building software and I’ve had many positive experience doing so.
This is an odd thought, but I wonder now if there’s a link with how weird the privileged classes refuse to eat legumes and the flight from thinking. In the traditional lore as I understand it grains tend to be associated with the solar current, and legumes with the telluric current. The solar current tends to be associated with music and good moods; while the cthonic with the quiet, sombre, and serious. In other words, deep thinking tends to be cthonic; while the solar tends to be positive and optimistic.
In other words it might be the movement away from legumes that make the privileged lose their minds like this: rice and beans complement each other on the physical, but I wonder now if they also complement each other on the subtle planes. The pair of them creates a balance between solar and telluric, and a diet heavy on grains then would seem to support an imbalance in the direction of the solar.
This would explain why I feel so much more balanced and stable now that I’ve made my go to lunch into a bowl of beans: my diet lacked them to a large extent, and if I’m right then I’ve brought my energies closer into balance.
Another way to test this theory: does anyone know of a society that has swung the other way? If I’m right, any society that embraced a heavy legume based diet and rejected grains ought to show many of the opposite pathologies afflicting ours.
This topic actually reminded me of a blog post I saw a couple years ago, written by an upper middle class fellow (he lived in California and seemed to have some kind of well-paying tech job) who got into New Age spirituality and attempted to undergo a self-induced “Kundalini awakening”. He wound up having a psychotic episode and spending several months in a mental institution before he recovered enough to be let out. Afterwards he went back to being an Atheist (which he’d been before this whole adventure) and gave up on spiritual practice entirely, which (from some of what you’ve said about mishandled spiritual practice permanently damaging you) I imagine was just as well. Unfortunately I don’t have the link or I would share it here.
I’ve been meditating on Gandhi’s stranger sexual appetites and eccentricities, the coin finally dropped after reading your article and one of your responses on this weeks Magic Monday.
Gandhi was a Brahmacharya, a mystical discipline that values chastity as a path toward enlightenment/moksha. Brahmacharya is a really difficult right-hand path that is normally engaged after living a full earthly life, and in conjunction with withdrawing from social life. It is monastic life where an elder withdraws to an Ashram and begins trying to control their sexual energies.
Withdrawal from public life as a precondition isn’t accidental because the energies that Brahmacharya methods generate are incredibly potent and take the full concentration of the practitioner to direct. Brahmacharyas do not engage in politics or any other roles of societal leadership, because of the energies that would flow toward them from other people. It isn’t that leaders in Indian history haven’t been Brahmacharyas, it’s just that its exceedingly rare.
Gandhi not only entered the practice at a very young age, but also became the leader of India’s independence struggle. The energies that were directed toward him must have been immense, especially as his stature grew to include a global audience. His sexual weirdness and his fanatical obsession with pacifism are probably directly link to the imbalances created by being a public figure and a Brahmacharya. It’s a wonder that he survived long enough to guide India to independence.
JMG, Manly Hall recommended starting meditation with 5 minutes a day; I’ve seen that recommendation elsewhere, too. You don’t have to worry about that with the Rosary. What’s different about the Rosary?
My guess is, with the Rosary you say the prayers as a sort of background chant while meditating on your mystery. (If anyone doesn’t know, the mysteries are events in the lives of Jesus and Mary.). By the time you learn how to talk and meditate at the same time, you’ve built up enough resistance to the ill effects of meditation that you can go the full 20 minutes.
From the essay in Harper’s Magazine
Reports of disturbing experiences during meditation appear in a number of early Buddhist writings. In the Theravada tradition, from which S. N. Goenka’s system derives, meditators are said to experience “corruptions of insight” that, from the vantage of modern clinical psychology, resemble psychosomatic ailments, including manic bliss states, gastrointestinal issues, and visual hallucinations. Monks in the Zen tradition may encounter “diabolical phenomena,” which are characterized by involuntary movements and frightening mental imagery. Chinese and Japanese Zen masters are said to succumb to a “meditation sickness” in which the afflicted become disoriented and have trouble regulating their body temperatures and energy levels. Buddhist monastics in Tibet may develop “wind illness,” the symptoms of which include confusion and agitation; according to a twelfth-century Buddhist medical treatise, the disorder is caused by the “three poisons of attachment, hatred, and closed-mindedness.”
I am reminded of accounts I have read of the Desert Fathers and other Christian ascetics, quite a few of whom described bizarre and frightening experiences. They chalked it up to the Devil attacking them, but in light of this article and your own essay on the subject, I have to wonder if at least some of these cases were really adverse reactions or side effects of the ascetic and meditative practices they were practicing in.
“421, I suspect that’s a large part of it. Having much of the population passive, smiling, and stoned makes the task of social control much easier. ”
And yet the government has fought tooth and nail for decades to keep cannabis illegal, and for good reason, from their point of view. Because when people smoke a bit of weed, they see right through a lot of the cultural crap that surrounds us, particularly surrounding government malfeasance.
Perhaps some people become passive, smiling, and stoned, but I don’t think that cannabis use makes social control easier. But then, maybe it does, once it’s made legal…
How would a fella find the Victorian meditation theme books?
Has those Victorian Era meditation texts been collected anywhere?
@JMG I did some digging and only found a post from r/streamentry where someone makes the claim that its stated in Theravada Buddhism. I went ahead and asked in the weekly questions thread if anyone could point me to the original source, so we’ll see if someone is gracious enough to provide that. In the meantime, here’s the reddit thread where some casual comments are made https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/g7ds5u/buddhism_celibacy_and_enlightenment/fom1kh1/ – search “Arahants die” with ctrl + f and you’ll find the specific comment. They basically just quibble over the state of nirvana and if “conditioned phenomena” (such as water) are even possible in it. Buddhism is incredibly dry, as I’m reminded by reading that debate, and as others have said in the comment section of this blog post.
@Workdove, I don’t know about your situation, but I am also guilty of having urged the gods to take action and only belatedly considered possible consequences. Bear in mind that the gods know we are human. If your experience humbled you that may have been the purpose of it. The gods (or perhaps Bill Gates) decided on the course of events that through which we mortals must now suffer. They have their own purposes in that–not for us to question. We can pray mightily, but it is their prerogative to ignore us. So buck up, and focus on surviving this somehow.
Regarding this week’s topic, thank God I’ve been too busy the past 35 years to even think of trying anything like a week-long “mindfulness” retreat! I practice “mindfulness” under very limited circumstances: a holy site with a forested trail for about an hour of walking which is punctuated at one or two places activities such as reciting scripture. Trying to suppress stray thoughts there creates a chance for awareness of things my internal chatter would otherwise drown out. I do it at most two or three times a year, but enjoy it.
I read Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was in high school back in the nineties, and I spent some time in real Zen monasteries in Japan. I am glad that I got a glimpse into the totality of the practice at those places. I kept up the Zazen meditation off and on after that, but I ended up being one of those people who likes to talk about Buddhist metaphysics at the bar. It took me twenty years to reach the conclusion that not only is that stuff best left to the professionals, but it has little practical value to the layman.
The Order of the Essenes lessons early on contain an exhortation to Think! I realized then that it might have been years since I had really stopped to think about anything. Practicing discursive meditation since then has brought amazing results. Among other things, I have basically torn down and rebuilt my whole worldview (an ongoing process, of course). Particularly disturbing has been the realization that precious little actual thinking goes on in the minds of many of the people around me. What, if anything, to do about that is a subject that I need to meditate on.
@JMG Got a response already. Reddit can be useful sometimes. Here’s the quote: “This comes from a conversation between a monk called Nagasena and king Menander 1 of Bactria. His name got Indianized as Milind. The conversation is recorded in the ‘Milind Panha’.”
PS: I accidentally first posted this comment to an Cos.Doc post I was rereading; not my intention to have that put through.
I’ll go through and read through as much as I can of the comments and your responses; this was so much easier back in 2012… Ok, you know me – I am an unrepentant, total a**O. I offered my life to, what I now prefer to call “Life Giver” as prayer in ’76, once I realized my path to special forces in the Army was closed – at least to as much effort as i was willing to put… GD if that didn’t get me wholly committed to it (LG don’t play). So now, after decades of intense exploration, I have realized that it wasn’t prayer, but ritual. I live in two worlds, my destiny, and the “real” world, although they are converging. You consistently speak to the fact that you cannot fake this thing, only much so to your detriment. I’m tired of persona. Let’s play.
“Just now, however, the tolerance of the establishment for these exercises in faux dissent is waning fast. As the existing structure of society falters and the supply of managerial-class jobs dwindles steadily, accusing one’s fellow inmates of thoughtcrime has become one of the most common ways to compete for the slots that are left.”
Well as a fellow inmate in this muck I’d like to suggest a potential blowback. Leading clinical staff team members in mindfulness meditations, as a kind of pseudo high chief, before group meetings for the regional healthcare corporation may just manifest in bringing onto yourself allegations of one kind of fraud or another. There I said it… but I am not sure I really want to climb that ladder so I’ll just discretely post it here instead of planting that seed over there so to speak.
In my intuitive wandering magical path getting any kind of regular empty mind meditation practice to stick has been nearly impossible. Tried for longer than I care to admit. What I was able to stick with consistently was developing and working energy flows. I went ahead and called that my meditation and carried on.
Discursive meditation? Haven’t missed a day since I started in December. I used to think I had a will power problem when it came to meditation. Looks more like I was tripping a safety circuit breaker of some kind at this point.
In regards to Workdove’s post, how much influence can an individual have over major world events through magic? I think it’s quite easy to fall in the trap of believing you have direct influence over everything once you realize you have influence over some things, but it’s hard to know where the hard lines are.
I mentioned last week that I have been dabbling in spiritual stuff since I was 13 (I’ll write another comment about the dangers I’ve encountered while “circling the mountain” like Clark) and have gotten skilled at manifesting but have a problem with accidentally locking in spells when I don’t intend to, resulting, for example, in an injury to my dog.
The last time this happened was last year during the election, when Trump said that he didn’t take any responsibility at all for the pandemic. That made me really angry at the time and I accidentally locked in a spell that he would lose by any means necessary with whatever it takes, consequences be damned, and as soon as I felt it click, I immediately regretted it (I voted for him in both elections and generally liked his policies, if not the man).
However, I also felt that it’s only one will in an ocean and I shouldn’t worry about it since it’s such a large event. Is that the correct way to think about it?
I haven’t read every comment so apologies if someone else has mentioned it, but it’s worth noting as far as I know that in pre-WW2 contexts, the vast majority of lay Buddhists from Tibet to China to Japan never focused particularly on shamatha and vipasyana (shamatha: concentration-type meditations focused on the breath, loving kind-ness, a physical object etc, vipasyana: covers a whole range of practices from analytical meditation, similar to discursive meditation, to the vipassana movement’s “body-scan” technique, all meant to help you develop insight)
Lay practitioners chanted and copied sutras or ritual texts, performed pilgrimages, donated to support monastics. Listening to teachings, chanting sutras, then contemplating their meaning is also very similar to discursive meditation in a Western context — as a practice, Tibetan Buddhism calls it “analytical meditation”; indeed, I have heard it remarked by a Gelug Geshe (the same school as the Dalai Lama) that analytical meditation based on texts is way more important than “meditating like a cow”. Of course, he’s being rather disparaging.
There are also “lay” practitioners who never ordain as a monastic but live a full-time religious life in all traditions, but those aren’t quite the same as ordinary laypeople with full-time jobs. Still, I believe in all traditions there are lay practitioners who do daily practices, go on retreat, then return to their occupation, but they were never the majority.
Happy Panda, no offence, but I find Sadhguru’s comments a little off the mark, maybe focused too much on what scholars understand from the texts rather than the religion in actual practice. Buddhism would never have been able to attract sponsors ranging from rich merchants and rajas to warlords like Kubilai Khan and the shoguns if all it had to offer was monasticism. At the very least, the prospect of generating merit on its own, without ordaining, does seem to have appealed to them, besides other socio-cultural factors.
That said, he does accurately report the idea that lay arhats have to ordain within 7 days or die. This isn’t an actual canonical doctrine; it’s earliest attestation is in the Milinda-Panha, which purportedly reports on the monk Nagasena’s conversations with the Indo-Greek king Menander.
JMG, here is a short essay discussing this topic: http://www.themindingcentre.org/dharmafarer/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/R252-120808-Laymen-arhat-die-same-day-RB57.pdf
In all likelihood, it was a statement by Nagasena to encourage donations to established monastic sanghas rather than “lay” yogis.
“Hidden-ism” sounds like “hedonism” to my ear. Count me in!
Since the the bible evidently makes a good foundation for meditation as a core spiritual practice, I wonder if the same would be true of the Orphic or Homeric hymns, or chapters of the Iliad and the Odyssey. What do you think?
@JMG & Clay Denis RE: police defunding
Agree with JMG here. The truth is that most large cities have some steep pension obligations. It’s like military – put in your 20 years, get that pension, then move elsewhere and do it again, then retire and file for SS. When you add in the liability insurance that cities must carry to cover police and firefighters – it’s a big budget thing. Add in EMS malpractice insurance and you got a huge budget item.
Small towns/villages either don’t have police and rely on the county, or else they have a force of 4 police and 4 firemen – that’s about as small as you can reasonably get. For these villages, they will simply go to volunteer firemen and cut the city police, relying on their county sheriffs – which immediately puts your local sheriff in a bind. I have watched this particular dance in the city near my farm, hearing all the gory details while eating breakfast at the local diner or hanging around the local feed store.
Most of us already know where the local crime areas are, and you can bet that police and security companies do too. Those areas will simply be written off and a buffer zone established between there and the PMC areas, likely by hired guns that the PMC bunch pays. This will get nasty, because at the same time, cities will raise your taxes to keep their own pensions funded while slashing services – and that will be when cities break into enclaves of PMC surrounded like little islands and then refuse to pay outrageous city taxes because the city no longer has enforcers. Some version of this will eventually play out in many places – NYC or LA most likely – NYC appears to be in the lead…
It’s this point in urban devolution where people begin open carry regardless of laws, because there are no police and that gun on your hip, clearly visible, is a deterrent. It’s why in the sandbox, everybody is strapped up – because police are few and far between (and often on the grift as well)…
This is why I am glad I traveled the world – because people in many places simply have no police. They band together and simply kill the criminals – no fuss, no muss – because they have had enough. The bodies then magically disappear.
Everyone needs to realize that cities are just your local tax collectors, taking your money in exchange for protection. Once the protection is eliminated, you have to be a fool to continue paying taxes, and fools don’t last long without government protecting them.
This is coming into view already in rural areas where budgets are small and tight.
JMG to be fair, I don’t know if it’s deliberate about concealing it, so much as general practitioners can prescribe them, in their ten minute patient visits, and they may or may not have any education beyond one line in second year med school textbook on mental illnesses, and generally once you’re in the cray-cray bucket, you get the unhearing wall of incomprehension if it doesn’t fit the narrative (because by definition, that’s crazy!)… But I know one guy who killed himself (and a second I suspect the drugs were implicated), and three people who started to get symptoms and then weened themselves off Zoloft and never went back to a doctor yet got better after that… Funny that. One did get permanently unable to stop taking a different antidepressant at low dose without getting serotonin syndrome, though.
So in the chariot metaphor, the important point is that, whether engaging in mindfulness meditation, mantra, or anything else, a wise driver will always keep the reins firmly in hand.
It occurs to me that the opening and closing steps of discursive meditation, calm breathing while clearing the mind, could be considered a short form of mindfulness meditation. Is the idea of this opening step to calm all of the lower bodies, in order to focus as much attention as possible on the mental plane? If so, what would be the purpose of the final short period of breathing after the meditation is finished? Is it to calm the mental sheath/body before focusing attention back into one’s lower bodies?
Bryan, thank you. Please don’t assume, though, that my essays are based on any deep knowledge of Buddhism! I have a relatively shallow outsider’s grasp of the tradition.
Ryan, well, we’ll hope that it’s moribund. As for Thich Nhat Hanh, I’ve never really paid a lot of attention to his work; my main period of interest in Zen was in the late 1970s, when D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts were the big names.
Mark, just saying “think!” is certainly not enough; you have to direct your attention to things worth thinking about. I try to help with that.
Justin, thank you. These days I’m financially comfortable enough that I can do that — though we’ll see what happens in the years to come.
Winston, too much discursive meditation can make you disconnected from experienced reality, to the extent of becoming clumsy and unable to pay attention to your surroundings. As for how your work balances out in terms of the complex ethics of daily life, that’s one of those intricate questions that ultimately only you can decide.
Mollari, I could see that!
Tolkienguy, thanks for this! That sort of thing happens.
Varun, I don’t happen to know anything in particular about Gandhi’s sex life, but if he was celibate in so intensely public a context, yeah, that would have been extremely risky.
Your Kittenship, the Rosary is well designed for laypersons, precisely because it uses the repetition of familiar prayers to take pressure off the meditation process — and of course you’re going from theme to theme, rather than spending all 20 minutes on a single mystery, which also keeps the intensity down until you’ve developed the focus to go deep quickly.
Galen, that seems very likely to me.
Sgage, the point of cannabis prohibition is that it kept the prisons full, and thus served as a very effective recruitment gimmick for prison labor — also a way to deprive lots of people of the right to vote. Notice that they never did anything significant to prevent pot from being readily available for sale!
Will and Lincoln, here are a few hundred volumes of them to get you started. Most are specifically Christian in nature, but that was standard back in the day.
Youngelephant, thanks for this.
Patricia O, a very worthwhile and traditional practice!
Weilong, I’ve noticed how few people take the time to think about anything. Yes, that’s one of the reasons I put the Essene course back into circulation.
Youngelephant, got it! Many thanks — that should be easy to track down.
Coboarts, it was a lot easier back then!
Ian, there’s that…
Eric, I had the same experience — I tried various kinds of mind-silencing meditations, with little result and little consistency, then took up discursive meditation. I’ve practiced it daily now for almost forty years, with excellent results.
Dennis, you have 1/7,000,000,000th of a share in anything that happens to humanity as a whole. I’m sure you were far from the only person, for example, who reacted that way to Trump…
Alvin, of course! Intensive monastic practices are suited, ahem, to monks. Laypeople who have to continue to function in the ordinary world have different practices. Thanks for the heads up about “analytic meditation” — I’ll look into what they have to say and compare it to the Western tradition. Thanks also for the Nagasena reference!
Kevin, the Iliad and the Odyssey were both used for exactly this purpose by the Pagan Neoplatonists. Have you ever read Porphyry’s essay on the Cave of the Nymphs? It’s a set of meditations on a passage from the Odyssey. So you’d be right in the middle of the tradition by taking that up.
Pixelated, many thanks for this. I’ll definitely look further into it.
Quin, exactly right on both counts.
By the way, on the off chance that any of my readers want a couple of volumes of standard 19th century Christian discursive meditation themes, with full instructions, intended for young persons (and anyone else who isn’t familiar with the method), here’s a two-volume set, Anglican in focus, free for the downloading: Volume 1 and Volume 2.
Hello John Michael Greer,
With this, my first comment after years of reading, I would like to thank you and your readers for providing a stimulating and encouraging oasis in the great desert that is the internet. Many are the mirages amid its shimmering sands!
Your essay reminds me of the importance of mentors. At age sixteen, I was introduced to the American “classics.” This precipitated my journey away from a predicted captainship of the football team to timeless, solitary days spent reading everything with “classic” printed on it. My reading continued until age eighteen by which time I had read (and often reread) everything from Homer to The Upanishads to Nietzsche and Dostoevsky and beyond. I had no guide in the process, and my immaturity and arrogance dissuaded me from reading introductions or commentaries that would have given me some understanding of the context in which these works were written.
My period of blind reading ended in despair: these books, I realized, were not going to answer the questions about myself and the world that dominated my consciousness. Several years of suicidal depression followed, which led to the escapism of games, pornography, binge eating and, eventually, strenuous exercise. This was followed by a decisive emotional breakdown at age twenty five. In contrast to what I imagined at the start of my journey, there was nothing glamorous or romantic about mental and emotional anguish.
In retrospect, my survival was due to loving parents, and a gifted mentor who took me under his wing. It must have required all of his patience to continually walk me down from the supposed heights that I screwed myself up to. He was a jack of all trades: inventor, sculptor, journalist, actor, and entrepreneur. More than a guide, he served as a point of perspective. I respected, admired and loved him enough that sometimes I even listened!
At the time, I assumed that most young people has such persons in their life. A short stint as a teacher in several rough schools dispelled that illusion. And, when I shifted into a career as a trainer working with the rich and sometimes famous, I noticed that most of them lacked such a person or persons in their lives too.
Woe to them who undertake to plunder the treasure houses of the world without any sense of what such treasure is worth! Peace to those who have undertaken life’s measure, and who share their knowledge and experience, the true treasures, with those still blinded by all that glitters.
Oh I know Buddha and Buddhism gained fame from all social classes and a huge lay following and Sadhguru knows that too. That’s what an Upasika and Upasaka are – lay followers of the Buddha and Buddhism. There’s a huge 2500 year tradition of laymen and laywomen participating in Buddhism. Just as there are laypeople having success with Goenka’s program.
There’s still the appeal of the Buddha’s core program though being very well suited for the kind of people who end up thrilled doing 10 hours-per-day-mindfulness meditation retreats and then go proselytize about it – likely quite sincerely – to, say, brain injury patients. I’m willing to bet Neptunedolphin’s piddletwat has more than just a little bit of those “monk” samskaras within her. 🙂
Buddha was all about yogic meditation and the sutras (Pali: sutta) all about him constantly talking about how rituals are unnecessary for spiritual well-being. I don’t doubt a huge part of Buddha’s appeal among common people was that he was successfully and constantly rubbing it in the noses of the ritual hucksters of his day that you can be a householder and still maybe have success with his program – no constant ritual payouts required. Piddletwat, didn’t seem to be a nun from what I could tell of Neptunedolphin’s account or I figure that would have been mentioned. So I acknowledge there are plenty of laypeople who will have success with it. Sadhguru knows that too.
I’m not unmindful of the fact that Mahavira was the Buddha’s direct contemporary and seemed to have similar success with people with anti-ritual, mendicant tendencies too. I have a hunch a lot of Indian laypeople back then knew ceremonial rituals had been turned into a huge corrupt industry plaguing society – much like High Finance is doing today – and they gladly threw their support behind any spiritual teacher willing to thumb their nose at the spiritual hucksters. Politically astute and powerful families would likely have taken note of that and would not have wanted to get on the bad side of the followers of either spiritual teacher.
Hi JMG, well, it takes most people 20 -30 minutes to go through 5 decades of the Rosary, so that’s 4-5 min per mystery. Your suggestion makes sense.
Violet (and JMG)
Although I certainly recommend Eckart Tolle, I think its important to view his work as a means rather than an end. I’m all for coming into the now, and becoming aware of the present moment. The thing is though, becoming aware of the present moment might also mean having to face up to some rather unpleasant realities around you. It was Tolle’s work for example, that helped me when I first started reading the ADR back in 2013, because when I honestly looked at my life, and the world around me through the lens of being in the present, The steady decline of industrial civilization was an inescapable reailty. The problem for many people is that when they become aware of the unpleasant realities of the present moment, they often don’t know what to do, and may simply run away faster into drugs, tv porn etc (or perhaps dangerous unbalanced spiritual pursuit).
Oh! I did want to add one little addendum on the Silence test. It’s not just speech you can’t do in that 4 day stretch. It’s no noise at all. Period. The point is that the speech centers of your brain don’t activate even once in that 4 day stretch. That’s why it’s a yoga practice. Completely internalized and not a tantra.
The speech pathways in most people’s brains will be screaming for relief from the self-imposed 4 day silence. If you can pull that off without a sweat – a monastery or convent might be a great day job for you. 🙂
@ deadnotsleeping #44 and JMG. Yes, there are good books on Jewish meditation, known as “Mussar”, which I’m fairly sure is discursive meditation. The foundational book for newbies is “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder: One Man’s Journey to Rediscover a Jewish Spiritual Tradition” by Alan Morinis.
I have not gotten far into it, the travails of my own (Jewish) life hurling me in other directions.
“Kevin, the Iliad and the Odyssey were both used for exactly this purpose by the Pagan Neoplatonists…”
Excellent! Given that emblems such as those depicted in the Tarot are also fit themes for meditation, what about sacred images such as classical statuary of the gods, like for example the Apollo of the Belvedere? Or less ancient images like Raphael’s Galatea –
Given its somewhat bawdy tone, some might feel the latter not quite fit as an object of contemplation, but it does involve nymphs, as in the eponymous cave. I suppose there must be some standard for determining which works are suitable as themes for meditation, but the line seems a bit difficult to draw.
JMG and youngelephant,
I think I found the reference: Milinda Panha, Book IV, Chapter 3, paragraph 4:
‘And moreover, O king, you may know by this fact the greatness and the peerless glory of the condition of the Bhikkhus–that if a layman, a disciple of the faith, who has entered upon the Excellent Way, should attain to the realisation of Arahatship, one of two results must happen to him, and there is no other–he must either die away on that very day, or take upon himself the condition of a Bhikkhu. For immovable, O king, is that state of renunciation, glorious, and most exalted–I mean the condition of being a member of the Order!’
It’s not immediately clear to me from the text why an arahant is supposed to die the same day, but it does seem reasonable that it’s because without joining a monastery and dedicating themselves to teaching the way, they’ll decide to have no more to do with this world.
Again, thank you for another thoughtful and detailed post, and for sharing the Harpers article.
Meditation – of either the “mindfulness” or discursive variety – plays almost no role in the spiritual traditions I was raised in, so I regret that I can’t add much to the discussion there.
Your discourse about “alternative spiritualities” as a means of upper-class faux dissent does strike a familiar tone for me. Within my native culture – Mormonism in the Rocky Mountain West – it is surprisingly common for middle-aged Mormons who have recently become much wealthier than they had hitherto been to convert to Pop Buddhism or some other watered-down oriental spirituality.
This usually starts with simple heresy – i.e. disbelieving in the existence of the Devil, or insisting that it’s OK to drink coffee – and ends with the person going to weekend meditation retreats and bloviating about how everyone is really a goddess on the inside, having in the meantime become vastly more narcisistic and exchanged their old network of friends for a new, wealthier one, and in some cases giving themselves over to complete sexual libertinism.
Now, to make it clear, since I no longer believe in the Magian worldview, I’m perfectly accepting of the idea that some people will have good reasons to convert from Mormonism to Buddhism (or from Mormonism to what-have-you; I am certainly not an orthodox Mormon anymore myself).
It just so happens, though, that most of the people I know who do this have no real interest in hard spiritual practice. They just seem to want trick out their newly-acquired upper class lifestyle with a new spirituality that will let them look down on their former community for being too “close-minded” and “judgmental.”
Please excuse me for being off topic and delete this comment if it crosses the line.
I am curious about how you understand classes in general and in USA today in particular. You often talk about comfortable classes and chattering classes. I suppose the first would be rich people (and not those who enjoy comfy armchairs) and the second perhaps those who dominate mainstream media narrative (and propaganda). In this post you even mentioned castes. It seems metaphorical, as if you call them so for lack of better word. Even more so because it’s in plural. You also mention privileged classes, managerial classes, and the working class (this last one in singular). If its so fuzzy and metaphorical, perhaps USA is actually a classless society? But somewhere you said that the main division and confrontation in American society is the one of class and not of race.
So how many classes are there and what defines them? If it’s too complex for a short answer I would be happy to see a post on this subject.
Dear Archdruid, do you think there could be such a thing as too much discursive meditation? What would the possible signs and side effects of this?
Related to this question, do you think there are warped or corrupted forms of discursive meditation? Any common ways you have seen that discursive meditation goes off the rails, whether by mispractice or by being commercialized by spiritual salesmen?
The kundalini yoga danger reminds me of U G Krishnamurti (not to be confused with Jiddu Krishnamurti). If I may, I actually wrote a blog post about U G. Perhaps I was too positive? U G´s spiritual experience does strike me as a kind of psychotic break pure and simple…
Otherwise, the empty-your-mind stuff was always very off-putting to me, so the fact that there is a really mindful form of “alternative” spirituality is a very positive revelation!
I’m late to this discussion for time zone reasons, and I won’t repeat what has already been said. Just two points.
First, I’ve followed the development of Mindfulness in the West, slightly sporadically, over the last thirty or forty years, through the work of people like John Kabat-Zinn and Charles Tart. Both were physicians who were looking for aways of treating anxiety and stress in their patients without recourse to drugs. Neither was trying to promote enlightenment or change the world. Kabat-Zinn, in particular, said very clearly that he was not trying to empty peoples’ minds, but help them to concentrate and think more clearly. Simply, when people were not the slaves of every passing thought, fear and worry, but could actually think calmly and rationally, they were the better for it. Obviously any movement or field of study can be corrupted and monetised, and that’s what’s happened to Mindfulness, but the basic argument that calm and concentration is better than frenzy and worry, and that this can be taught, is surely sound.
Second, and more speculatively, I think it’s accepted that there’s a lot of confusion about Mind and Emptiness (indeed, there’s a massive academic literature that I’m not competent to discuss). But let me just suggest two things related to meditation. We live in an age which worships the individual Ego, the sense of self, the belief in uniqueness etc. We see ourselves as being, in essence, our thoughts, our fears, our hopes, our worries, our reactions and so on. So your average meditation student in an advanced western country goes to a practice with a head full of anger about the last non-woke statement they heard, fear that something they posted on Twitter yesterday might be thought unWoke, irritation with their partner or child, fear of losing their job, hope of getting more money, fury about the political situation, resentment about someone who got the job they wanted, and so on.After a while, all this starts to dissolve. It might be that, when they come out, they actually notice the flowers and trees, the weather and the clouds, the sound of children playing, none of which they paid attention to before. And whilst they are aware that, yes, they were incandescently angry about some Tweet somebody made, they’ve forgotten about it now. Which is to say that everything they thought of as Me, every part of what they saw as their Ego, or their Mind, has now vanished, or is very quiet. Only the essential Self remains. For some people (including me) this is great. For others, it is terrifying, because it means that instead of just being the sum total of their hopes, fears, anger, memories etc. they are actually something else, that they can’t define and have no training or education to understand. The recognition, I am not my thoughts but the observer of my thoughts, I am still there when there are no thoughts, can indeed be terrifying, but it’s largely because of the ego-driven nature of our society.
In the end, we need Mind to live in the world and do things, but it’s a tool, it’s not us. It’s like a carpenter’s toolbox. If you saw a carpenter who slept with their toolbox, ate with one hand while grasping it and obsessed over how clean it was, you would say you’d met someone who confused a tool with the essence of what they are.
In my direct experience, mindfulness meditation can be used as a tool to manipulate people. It’s the civilian version of “jar head” tactics in Marine basic training.
My parent who embodies the Devouring Mother Archetype is a mindfulness meditation teacher, a yoga instructor, a burber (lives in the suburbs), a hoarder, and a TV-addict.
To be fair, she’s only a Devouring Mother Archetype toward me. Everyone else loves her. I’m sure she helps a lot of people.
Through two years of SOP and working with the DMH, I’ve come to understand the debilitating anxiety I experienced in my twenties, and how empty-mind meditation made it worse. My mind had concluded that I would not consciously acknowledge I was in a bad situation. I would not act to save myself, which is a denial of the self. My mind was thus trying to take the reins from me, by panicking to force me to look at things, make changes, and take care of myself, prioritize my needs.
Thank you for the reminder, and for everyone who has focused on what it really takes. As of last night, I set up an improved and simple routine for meditation: read the passage of the Charge of the Goddess, pray to the Lord and Lady for understanding of the passage, and then, take 10 minutes to *think about it.*
It seems to me, that with what “meditation” has come to mean in today’s usage, even using the term might be ditched in favor of “think about it.”
The Charge has a good number of sticking points, if you think about it, but they’re becoming to form a greater whole at this point, which is good.
Thank you for the wonderful essay. What you have written resonates quite well with my own experiences. I have been following the course laid out in your book “Learning Ritual Magic” for almost a month now. It does start very slowly and for many good reasons.
Although I have to admit this is my third attempt to get into the regular practice with this course. I know now that my earlier approaches were impatient, even though I did wait for the required two weeks before undertaking a next chapter. I was always kind of hoping to get into the “good stuff” so that I do not need to spend so much time with just the “boring stuff”. Little did I realize that the “boring stuff” is actually the “good stuff”. Still, the previous attempts have not been wasted, as I do enjoy a certain sense of familiarity having started over from the beginning. It has helped me to get into a steady routine.
I am painfully aware that just as you have written here, there are aspects in me that I would rather not think about, as I am not very proud of them. So, I take that as a sign that my awareness has been heightening at least a little. Another effect has been that I have discovered that there are indeed many things I can do to change the world around me, starting from myself. But again, having skimmed through the book, I know there is no rush to do that either. It is good to take as much time with the basics as I need.
But I will say this. Keeping the awareness on a chosen target is very difficult! At least it is for me. But even so, I have really seen some improvement in that skill in ways that have also spilled over to the ordinary life.
The book is, I figure, the kind of a competent teacher you mentioned in your text. I would most wholeheartedly recommend anyone interested in the themes of this essay to consider purchasing a copy and trying out the program. Personally I have found it quite accessible due to my past in the Christian church. So I am already familiar with much of the symbolism. It’s cozy to have some familiar mental furniture around.
The coming Sunday will see the renewed practice of the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram. I really look forward to it.
You have written on the theme non-discursive versus discursive meditation before. Then as now I have mixed thoughts about some of your conclusions. I think one is not better than the other, they just have different purposes. A bicycle is not useless because it is not an orange.
I definitely agree that taking spiritual practices out of their context will not lead to good results. Buddhist understand there to be three broad areas of spiritual practice i.e. developing and maintaining appropriate: 1) worldview and orientation to life, 2) ethical and moral practice, and 3) various mental techniques (including ritual, prayer, mindfulness and meditation that go to support the first two). Though I am not a Buddhist, I think they have got this broadly correct. Most religious traditions have something in each of these “baskets” as they call them. The eight fold path is just a particular manifestation of this basic idea.
So you are correct to note that just using some elements from one basket without the others will not lead to the best results. I think non-discursive meditation is an excellent preparation for other mental work (say divination) but it is just a means to an end (as is discursive meditation or prayer, or ritual etc.). One quiets the mind so one can then use it with more focus. Also the peace that comes from this practice can be of great help to those who lack such in their lives otherwise. From long experience of looking at the lives of those who only do this practice (I’m thinking Transcendent Meditation), I am certain they have missed the mark by only meditating. If one is an ass hole before taking up meditating (discursive or otherwise), a regular meditation practice will just help one be a better ass hole; hence the need for the other baskets.
I am not sure about the whole idea implied in many religions that people are in some sense perfectible. I haven’t seen much evidence of this. That humans can become better for themselves and others with some effort seems true enough though. I think the entire point of religious practice is just that. If someone’s practice (in religion or just life) doesn’t do that, one needs to reassess its value.
Thanks for another great essay.
>I write code for a living and I often wonder what are the long-term effects it has on my mind and whether or not it’s good or bad.
Neither. Choices define us all. That is what karma is in essence. You do what you know how to do, because it’s easier (takes less energy) than doing something you don’t know how to do. Unless you’re some weirdo who intentionally seeks out doing things he doesn’t know how to do. I suppose that’s karma too.
My experience has been if you know how to do something, the universe will make you do more of it. And then more. And then more. Be careful what you know how to do or let on that you know how to do. There’s no karma accountant out there tallying up anything though. Nobody’s keeping track except you.
Hi John Michael,
Plodding is never out of fashion! 🙂
The thing with mindfulness and meditation as promoted is that it’s in your face. When I’m seeing articles in the newspaper about it, well it’s probably not for me. I agree with you about discursive meditation as it works for me, and I never really sought to shut my mind down in the first place – why would I want to do that? Personally I wouldn’t try and aim for emptiness anyway as I’m a bit nervous that something might try and fill in the unprotected gap, and it might not be a very nice thing and you might not want it.
Despite saying a lot, I rarely talk about that side of my life to anyone. Dunno why.
Could you comment on labyrinth walking? When I’ve done this I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by what comes up on the journey to the center and back. Is it consider discursive because I focus on a topic before starting? Or is it something else?
And thank you for the comment about food in relation to spiritual work. I had just journaled about that two days ago not really reaching any sort of a-ha moment but pondering the whole complexity and meaning of food these days. Your comment was what I needed to move those thoughts forward for myself.
“That project has been well under way since the programmatic and meretricious volume The Gospel According To Zen first saw print back in 1970”
This reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In that, the authour describes delving too far into meditation and meaning and… becoming certifiably insane. A motorbike ride across the country with his son – doing, rather than thinking – was part of his process of healing.
These are, perhaps, the most-ignored two messages of the many in that book.
I find it amusing that so many American PMCs will spend inordinate time and effort practicing watered-down Eastern traditions, yet never stop to consider the Western mysticism and meditation. While I don’t think better/worse judgments are appropriate in measuring these practices, I think Catholic and Orthodox mystical literature is at the very least comparable to Vedantic and Buddhist work in scope and depth.
Most of what passes for “Eastern Mysticism” among the Newage types today is a misunderstanding of Blavatsky & Co., whose work was a misunderstanding of Eastern religions. Now toss in the disciples who set up practices based on their misunderstanding of their guru’s misunderstanding of his guru’s misunderstanding of … well, you see where this leads, and it ain’t Nirvana.
To anybody who feels like their spiritual practices have caused world distress: you’re talking to a guy who tried popularizing trance possession in the American Pagan community. I’m just happy Neopaganism imploded before more people got hurt.
(One of my big take-aways: you can write at length about safeguards, the need for training and regular practice, and potential dangers. The practitioners who need to hear this message most are the ones who will skip those pages and jump right to the juicy parts… ).
Kitty Genovese death did have people calling the police. The story of no one doing a thing was promoted by the NYPD and the Times – they wanted increased funding and to shame people into policing others. Their actions have been reported in several places. People did try to stop the murder, but the police covered it up. This is a case of a myth being created for venal purposes.
The Oxford Group birthed A.A. – I have very strong negative opinions about 12 Step Groups. My experience to put it mildly was the same as mindless meditation. In their case, thought-stoppers.
Zoloft and Prozac – I have very strong positive opinions about these meds. They saved my life, and I am still on Prozac. All I will say is my reaction to this conversation is to push back since I have been told to stop the meds by people who don’t understand major depression.
I think the threads in my reactions is myths versus truth versus reality. What is which? We all bring to a particular subject our own thoughts and experiences which color how we perceive that subject. All I have is my experience which differs from others.
Do people reach a meeting of the minds, agree to disagree, or force people to believe in only one side? I think the degrees of this depends on how people are invested in their truth. Which leads us to the Woke people who insist that there is only one side, theirs, and it is the entire truth.
Anyway, I do know that readers and Mr. Greer have different opinions on the subjects I brought up. I read them, and ponder, and consider. I may not accept them, but that is fine. Which is the beauty of this place – we are not forced to accept a particular truth. We can debate and disagree without being disagreeable.
The discussion on meditation being divorced from the religious matrix it was formed in brought to mind, core shamanism. Where shamanism is divorced from the traditions that formed it. Then I recalled that the New Age Movement took a cafeteria approach to things religious.
I am reminded of Brook Medicine Eagle, who put a patina of Native American spirituality on her New Age ideas, and made money off of unhappy middle aged women seeking more out of their lives. People like her still abound catering to upper middle class women who feel empty.
I also read “Feminism and Religion” blog, which has struck me to be written by the same population of upper middle class women who are unhappy and seeking fulfillment.
I am curious to this trend – stripping things from their original places, having a cafeteria approach to spirituality, and it centering on a particular population.
Was this the precursor to the Woke ideas, where empty people of a certain class seeking something. Feeling vaguely unhappy with their lives.
I am glad to hear I am on the right path with the Jewish discursive meditation.
I’d like to ask you a general question about practicing meditation, since it is the subject of today’s post. Do you think practicing meditation can increase one’s efficiency while performing tasks? Especially for those of us who just seem to always take longer to do tasks that should take less time, regardless of one’s work ethic and intentions?
Thank you for this post, I’d picked up most these points from assides you’ve made in the past, and observation of woodeewoo people in my communities. It is nice to have a concentrated article specific to this phenomena.
I’d like to add to the conversation an observation of a similar danger from certain books of philosophy. A friend of mine is connecting with a group of people starting a desert commune, regular red flags, but my friend is experienced in such contents and no worse off there than in normal society. The community is all crypto coins and automated farming talk, and that sounds like a mess, but as I said my friend has exit plans.
Things got serious when it was mentioned that one of the community leaders has been absorbed in reading 1000 Plateaus. It’s the product of some philosophies wrestling with schitzophrenia, and as near as I can tell coming out in the worse position. For individuals with schitzoid tendencies it is a wire caged blue light to a moth. I read some of it for a while when my own dreams of starting a community and breaking away from society hadn’t yet been put down, and fortunatly I was too easily bored to become entranced. My friends who really got sucked into it came out glitchy and paranoid. Lacan, Deluze, Derrida, there is a whole crop of 20th century philosophers that seems to have written books which are vectors for mental illness.
Near as I could tell 1000 plateaus opposes all authority as oppression, not least of all the ordering aspects of ones own consciousness. And is written is a way where its meaning is hidden until one has read it some much the thought patterns implicated are become habitual. The other authors I rag on here have similar modes of transmission.
More generally speaking philosophy as a tradition is littered with works, including many deserved classics, which can really glitch out a vulnerable mind. The experience of being a philosophy undergraduate included being blasted by different mind altering texts every month or so. I sometimes think of it like a series of vaccinations.
Reading a very difficult text can be like binging on discursive meditation, but with a metronome of the thoughts of another. In some cases that can be great, but if you put an author on a pedistool, and especially if its not written in a clear enough way that your own discrimination can form armor, it can glitch out certain folks.
Talk of the commodification and commercialization of spirituality makes me want to share my tale of escaping the materialist/technological worldview.
Back in 2010, I had been practicing Buddhism for about 6 years. The Buddhist group we had in Binghamton, was led by a professor who had an aunt that does ecstatic trance work. She (the aunt) agreed to do a workshop with our group. (Note that she is definitely not from the PMC, and the more PMC members of the group did not participate. Nor did our gracious guide charge for the experience.) One of the trances we did was what she called the “Thoth trance” where we bent our bodies into an unbalanced configuration meant to make us experience ourselves as flying birds. With the instruction given, our guide began drumming.
Once I got into the trance, I experienced myself as a jet (not piloting a jet, but the jet itself). I was flying toward an eye that kept getting more distant. Eventually, the eye got far enough away that I could see it was Ben Franklin on the $100 bill. Then the drumming stopped and we recovered from the trance.
After the Thoth trance, our guide explained that everyone who gets into the trance sees an eye or some sort and flies through that eye into a world beyond. In the moment I wrote that off as some sort of cultural conditioning interpreting a neural misfire of some sort.
When I was discussing my experience with her, she said she had never heard of anyone becoming a jet before. Piloting planes happened occasionally to her students, but never being a plane. But, she noted the message was obvious. She walked me through the experience in good Socratic fashion: a machine does not pass into a spirit world, humans do. By conceptualizing myself as a machine in accordance with my materialist/technological worldview (or perhaps better, “dogma”) I was greatly reducing my understanding of what it is to be human.
It will be eleven years this July since I had this experience. I am still unwinding and coming back to my experience, but it opened my mind and my mind has stayed open. The few people I was close to in that group said over the months after the trance workshop that they noted a significant change in my personality (more open, more social, more questioning, and more confident). Nonetheless, I think this experience is coming to full fruition (or fuller fruition perhaps) now with a renewed interest in Western escotericism and Hellenic polytheism.
Anyway, I thought I would share.
If I may, a couple of notes regarding Christian meditation–
There are a number of good books on meditation written for Catholics in the 20th century, just prior to Vatican II. Edward Leen’s Progress Through Mental Prayer is probably the best. I also have a collection of meditations for priests written in the 40s– it’s one of those yearly collections, so it has 365 entries.
I think that Centering Prayer is a 70s bowdlerization of the traditional Catholic meditation practice known as Lectio Divina. Traditional lectio has four stages: 1. Lectio, or reading: One reads a selection from a spiritual text. 2. Meditatio, or meditation. This is discursive meditation exactly as we’re discussing here. 3. Oratio, or prayer, in which one talks to God about one’s meditations. Some authors advise making resolutions here– having meditated on the sin of pride, one resolves to be humble and prays for the grace to do so. 4. Contemplatio, or contemplation. This is the usual sort of mind-emptying meditation that we’re familiar with from Eastern traditions, except that one doesn’t simply focus on releasing thought, but on actively being in the presence of God without letting thought get in the way.
So Centering Prayer takes the fourth stage and makes it stand in for the entire practice, eliminating the reading, the thinking, and the praying. So it’s the same as the mindfulness routine, but for Christians.
By itself, lectio divina is an excellent practice, and can be used by anybody, not just Catholics. I used it last year during Covid Vacation to make my way through many of Plato’s dialogs.
It’s worth noting that many spiritual texts from the early modern period are written in short, numbered paragraphs. The Imitation of Christ is an example, and the Marian works of St. Louis de Montfort, including True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, are another. They’re obviously meant to be meditated upon.
Finally, lest anyone should think these things are limited to Sacramental Christians, there was a good book written a few years ago for Protestants entitled “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.”
I have taken several of Goenka’s 10 day courses and benefitted from them. They may have saved my life.
They are very clear when you sign up that you’re not supposed to go if you’re not psychologically healthy enough for a strict mediation regimen. People undergoing mental trauma should seek the guidance of a professional!
The rules exist to help the student maintain a moral lifestyle at least while they are at the course. Can’t lie if you can’t talk. (More accurately, most moral digressions are in speech.) Makes sense to me. This moral foundation gets left out of commercialized mindfulness courses / apps and is always the biggest tell you’re in shaky ground. If you’re not leading a moral life, mediation ingrains immorality.
Students who have attended sufficient courses and kept up practise at home can take longer courses where you read and discuss the suttras with a trained teacher. Maybe a hundred of hours of mediation before opening a book is extreme but it makes sense to me from a music perspective. You can’t benefit from 1 hour music theory without 100 of hours of listening first. You’d just be shuffling words around.
They say you’re supposed to suspend other religious / spiritual practises while there to give fair trial to the technique. I take that at face value. But you’re encouraged to resume them when you get home. I don’t have a problem with a teacher thinking his teachings are the best.
So in my opinion JMG’s concerns about the mindfulness movement don’t apply to Goenka’s classes, but probably do apply to the mindfulness movement (by the way, Goenka’s folks don’t consider themselves part of that movement, but journalists always get these things wrong), especially the corporate applications of it.
My main issues with Goenka’s vipassana are under the “necessary but not sufficient” heading. Life requires thinking and imagining. While periods of not-thinking help thinking, you also have to practise thinking as it’s own thing. I do Vipassana in conjunction with discursive mediation per JMG and the two practices compliment each other just fine.
The other issue is that we live in a deeply immoral and dishonest society, so the act of earning a living while living morally is just not a simple matter. So there’s no way to wrestle with this fact without engaging with deeper philosophical and mythological uses. And sometimes you really do have to just change your environment to be healthier. It can’t all be internal.
Vipassana helps me with these things because it indirectly (through the body to the mind) trains to the mind (aside, you don’t fight thoughts in this tradition, you simply observe them, sort of) to be aware of a thought’s “metadata,” as it were: when it arises, what causes it to arises, the emotions it causes, how long it lasts, what other thoughts it leads to, etc. In short, it helps you map out thought complexes and how they affect you.
This awareness of thought-metadata has been invaluable to me for understanding structure-of-mind, myth, decision making, and understanding people. But – you still have to practise these things on their own. It took me a while to figure this out.
Also, I’m not sure Goenka’s take on Vipassana is exactly what the early Buddhists did. Actually, I highly doubt it is, but I’m OK with cultural drift and refounding traditions.
Just as a comment, we must be very careful about which is the cause and which the effect in the spirit-plane and magic work. It was too late I discovered I might not have caused a thing, or that an event was not created wholesale for my personal experience. That could still be true, but the world is wide. Instead, it was as likely that I was connected to and therefore pre-cognitive of events elsewhere happening now, or were primed to occur in the future. Then I would be primed to go experience them (or not), and they would seem as a play written just for me.
That doesn’t mean they WEREN’T written for me either, that they didn’t exist, a sham. They did. My being there involved and interacted with them the same way as adding an additional actor or part to the play. But their origin was different. I was not the writer, clearly. I was barely a co-writer. In improv, I added myself to the classroom of many, many improv actors, and improv-ed my part, the others playing along as they wished, rolling my improv into their improv. They’re supposed to.
But I didn’t create it, the people, the theme, I merely pre-cog’ed it like any soothsayer or telepath. The origin was of its own.
Remember: a play is still real. It’s a real play. Is it the real world? It’s a real play in a real world, with real actors playing real characters. Know the difference. It’s very important.
This is very similar to the misunderstandings you can make yourself in spiritual practice, where things occur but you don’t know from where and mis-assume. With no one to talk to, no one can correct you, leading to months and years of hardship, loss, and sorrow.
I’m assuming the “click” in deciding the election was simply your vote intent being registered with the appropriate authorities. So? It was true. What can you do? “Reversing” yourself matters but didn’t make that moment not real. Your regret is also registered, but may apply itself differently.
The idea of mindfulness can work, it worked for me, but did have the advertised dangers. However, the mindlessness is engineered to allow as many empty bodies that will allow as many bad spirits to take up possessive residence as possible. Why? It’s your body. Kick their arsenic out. Then go kick the people who told you it was a good idea. Double-plus hard. I expect wolves to be wolves and take residence they can find. I don’t expect that of my friends or fair-seemers.
Hi JMG and all – excellent post that clicked with a TV show I watched last week – “Autopsy” the James Dean episode. Dermot M O Connor #78 tells about “London Publisher” who spent too much time visualizing Poles being killed by the Naz!s, and lost it. Poor James Dean was a fragile person. He attended Lee Strasberg’s school of method acting, where you “visualize” yourself into acting roles. James seemed to end up making his personal life, which was already out of control, worse. Interestingly, Lee Strasberg himself was born in Poland, and his uncle was a rabbinical teacher in his home village!
Interesting post, as always.
I have been using something along the lines of “mind quieting” meditation for a very long time, but always in very small doses, and while I have found it helpful, I do see how it can become a problem.
I first picked it up, from of all places, a dance teacher who decades ago used to open class with a few minutes of “mindfullness” type meditation, in which we were encouraged to focus on our breath and “observe” our chaotic thoughts without following them, and “let things go”. Students would arrive for class at slightly different times start without the teacher, so by the time she got there, everyone was sort of settled and “quieted” from their busy thoughts. But of course, the whole purpose was to get us ready to begin focusing on the actual dance class. In this context, I found the mind-quieting meditation rather helpful, as a sort of transition from the “outside” world to the “studio” world (“let those thoughts go, you’re going to be doing something else soon, just breath…”).
I have continued to use that “focus on your breath and let the thoughts go” technique for decades, both as a way to help me get ready to do something else (including discursive meditation), or as a way to help navigate stressful or irritating situations in the short term. (For example, the other week i was in a medical waiting room, surrounded by things I found deeply irritating – hysterical covid signs everywhere, a TV blaring more hysteria, irritating beeping and phone sounds – and did a few minutes of mind-quieting meditation to help me “let go” of the irritation and anger I was feeling about being stuck in an aggravating situation I couldn’t change and just had to endure until I could leave.) I don’t think that using mind-quieting meditation in small amounts in those sorts of situations has been harmful.
That said, I can see how this sort of thing can be a problem. I still know somebody from that dance class who was VERY into yoga and meditation, and did a lot of that sort of meditation on her own. It seemed to affect her attitude about life in a way that looks to me to be unhealthy. Rather than just “letting go” of unimportant/irrelevant thoughts in order to focus on something else (or just endure a short-term situation), she seemed to get attached to the whole idea of “nothing matters, just let it go.” The problem was, the things that didn’t “matter” were often important responsibilities. I looks to me like she is using some sort of corrupted idea of “enlightenment” as an excuse to be totally irresponsible. The suffering of others didn’t matter, see, because nothing matters….. Well, at least not until Trump got elected. Then it was the end of the world and the ONLY think that mattered…until only COVID mattered, and now making sure everyone is bullied into getting vaccinated is the only thing that matters…funny how that works. Her mind seems to be permanently open and ready to be filled with whatever the dominant culture wants to put there, one obsession at a time.
Thinking about what I’ve seen of the “enlightened” PMC class over the years, I suspect that “just let it all go” can indeed be a dangerous path, if for no other reason than that it can be taken to the point where it encourages people to ignore their responsibilities (if nothing matters, why be responsible?), or to decide that “nothing” is within their control and give them an excuse for selfishness and self-absorption. And in some cases, it clearly opens them up to having their minds filled by someone else.
Just my observation, at any rate.
I’d just like to push back some on the claims made in the article Oilman2 linked to. The idea that nobody under 35 reads books, has emotions or forms committed romantic relationships is utter hogwash based on my own experiences. The comments about how how today’s activists are fake and “I saw the real thing in the 60s!” points to the real source of the article: An older person who can’t understand current youth culture concludes that they all must be defective.
There was flurry of books and papers published about a decade ago about Gandhi’s colourful life, including his sexual history, early views on race, and his service in the British army in Africa. That’s the reason you won’t hear his name mentioned or his teaching discussed in left-wing circles anymore.
By the way, discursive meditation is also an excellent key to study Hindu practices as long as you pointedly avoid the energetic practices. Studying the Indian practices from the lenses of Druidry and your own magical teachings opened some very interesting gates, ones that I don’t think I would have discovered if I’d approached it using traditional methods.
Are there ways for persecutors of occultism to detect if a person does magic, or if a place is used for magic?
Variants of ‘suspicion managment’ have become popular in computer games and I think there’s a lot of potential there. In a Weird of Hali game campaign a suspicion level could be a fun mechanic as the Radiance closes in. 🙂
Maybe I lack imagination, but I’ve long assumed that the current fad for yoga and meditation among our elites came from either A) virtue signaling or B) a recognition of the genuine emptiness of PMC life and a frantic attempt to fill it, but to fill it with something trendy (see A) and not that tired old Sunday school religion they once belonged to.
In the case of pure, unadulterated virtue signaling, it’s obvious that there’s no real spiritual discipline going on, that all the ‘practitioners’ (are they really practicing anything?) want is a socially impressive feather in their cap, another Scout badge on their sash. Oh, and the yoga pants, gotta have the yoga pants.
The second group, those who know something’s genuinely missing, seem to run from one practice to another looking for the One Thing that will change their lives. If they left their family religion as teen-agers, as so many of us do, it’s unlikely they were old enough, mature enough, or experienced enough to fully grasp the spiritual riches that tradition offered and, of course, that’s the last place they want to go looking again. There are some of us who come full circle back to where we started: older, a little wiser, and having a better understanding of what we’re looking for and how to recognize it when we’ve found it.
“and you know as well as I do that once that happens, fire departments and schools will be on the chopping block next.”
You add schools to that list as if it’s a bad thing. 😉
Frankly, too many public schools have been transformed into indoctrination facilities and it might be a good thing if some/most/all of their funding dried up. Perhaps return to an earlier arrangement in which like-minded parents joined together to interview and hire a teacher for their children and then made sure these children were genuinely being educated. It’s a method used widely in the US in the past, especially as the West opened to settlers. Yes, it puts more responsibility on the families and the children, but maybe that’s as it should be.
In related news, the head of New York City’s tony Dalton School is out of a job because parents of students at the school had had enough of the endless stream of Critical Race Theory that had all but replaced actual academics. People who pay north of $50,000 per year to send their kids to an elite school expect the students to come out with something resembling an education. Let’s hope it spreads.
You know…it occurred to me that it’s right there in the various Tripitaka translations that Buddhism, original Buddhism anyway, leans ascetic.
I have 3 (saving up for the rest of them) of Wisdom Publications translations of the Tripitaka – The Digha Nikaya, Angutara Nikaya and Majjhima Nikaya.
I don’t know what the original word is in Pali or Sanskrit but often in these sutras the Buddha constantly refers to himself as “the Recluse of the Shakyas” or just simply as “the Recluse”. He’s basically advertising right out in the open the fact that he himself is an ascetic. Hmm….if there are any Sanskrit or Pali scholars here I would really appreciate hearing what the original term is in both languages. Clearly the translators at Wisdom Publications decided ‘recluse’ was the best and closest English word choice for their sutta translations.
Oh! fun thing about being an ascetic! I just remembered this just now as I was typing. Sadhguru says one way you can tell someone leans recluse is that their aura often turns orange! Apparently it’s a function of a very well developed and quite powerful Ajna chakra with all the attendant powers that come from that chakra in full blossom. Ascetics often have highly developed and talented Ajna chakras – something good maybe coming from all those 10-hour per day silent retreats, eh? 😛
Wow. I just remembered that. That makes me suspicious now that Vivekananda’s aura was orange as he was renown for his powers of perception. Hence why his guru gave him the name Vivekananda Vivek = perception – specifically powerful perception of beyond the physical. Ananda = bliss.
@ JMG RE: Reich
Is there an in-print book you would recommend, written by Reich, that includes his accumulator theories and research? I have read his bios/histories already…
Thinking among the Right elite in America seems to have been reduced to celebrating the naked exercise of power, conflating Christ, consumerism and global hegemony, while thinking among the Left elite seems reduced to weaponizing gender, ethnic and race grievance for the making of an elite BIPOC class of privilged oppressed, for the naked exercise of power globally.
What you are saying about meditation, I’ve been contemplating something from Rumi:
Jesus on the lean donkey,
This is an emblem of how the rational.
Should control the animal-soul.
Let your Spirit
Be strong like Jesus
If that pat becomes weak,
Then the worn-out donkey grows to a.
Slithy Toves said:
It’s not immediately clear to me from the text why an arahant is supposed to die the same day, but it does seem reasonable that it’s because without joining a monastery and dedicating themselves to teaching the way, they’ll decide to have no more to do with this world.
The following is a guess since I’m not even a stream-enterer (yet but that is definitely a goal!) but I suspect if that’s what’s said it’s because those people have opened their crown chakra completely. From some teachers I follow – not Sadhguru only – in fact I remember some Jewish books mentioning this as well – unless one has come from a tradition that has taught you how to stay in your body once the crown chakra fully opens you will start to die. It can’t be helped as it’s a function of the power of higher consciousness.
That’s why the moment of enlightenment and the moment of death are the same for 99% of people (according to both Sri Arya and Sadhguru) unless you specifically come from a lineage that has taught you all the tricks of Mother Nature to stay in your body when your consciousness is pulling like a blackhole vortex to ascend.
Most people welcome ascension and don’t want to stay behind at our dense-plane level.
JMG you just unlocked why my Christian experience completely failed after 20 years of trying and failing and wondering why “my god” wouldn’t meet with me. Why all the quiet time and bible reading and prayer in the world made me feel worse and pushed me further away… the modern evangelical church has not properly taught (discursive) meditation for a few generations now. And I don’t know that they ever will since it is now considered “new age”. When the emergent church movement of the 00s tried in some measure to bring it back they were widely censured by the larger evangelical community.
It is the same reason why it is predicted that the only evangelical sector that will thrive is the charismatics. That prediction never made complete sense to me until now either. They are anything but quiet but they are closer to meditation than everyone else is, with their spiritual experiences and all.
Nonetheless I question the relevance of a god that would let me spend 20 years fruitlessly searching for him just to stumble upon the answer from a Druid 9 years after giving up. Which is to say I, as a materialist, am now of the opinion that spiritual experiences are ultimately neurological phenomena, and so this revelation about meditation being the missing piece in my past spirituality only proves this point, from my perspective.
@ Alex RE: linked article
As with you, I do not agree with everything that the Israeli researcher concluded – we have no way of knowing what he based his conclusions on. My intent was to show readers what others are thinking, and stimulate thought.
I am not one to drop people into neat little categories to build my world – that is what politicians and PMC types do. It’s what our own government is doing with this systemic racism crap – it’s divisive and VERY un-American. The author of the study is driving an additional wedge between people when he concludes that all 20-somethings are all followers of their smartphones – ALL is completely inclusive, and yet the guy writing those words most likely knew several exceptions in his own life as he wrote those words.
I have kids born from 1985 to 1992 – and none of them fit any of the boxes typically created by people to neatly categorize folks and dehumanize them. There are reasons we drop people into categories – we have to make assumptions to mentally deal with trends we see. Unfortunately, these categories are often hijacked, corrupted and expanded for the sole purpose of denigrating them or rendering people into nebulous blobs to be dealt with en masse.
I’ll give you a prime example from my perspective. What about the people of mixed race heritage (black & white)? There are, at this time, likely more mixed race folks than there are pure blood black folks. I say this because I am one of those, although you would never guess it looking at me. Similarly, there are likely as many mixed race that appear black but are actually mixed race. So where is the box we get dropped in? How does Kamala Harris hold on to her “blackness’ ?
People can be categorized, but that just means that the categories have far fewer boxes to be checked off in order to keep them full. Most people might tick of 2 or 3 of the 5 boxes required to fit in a category – then people start assuming.
I think of these categories like I do shoes – the only way you get a perfect shoe fit is to have it done by a cobbler making a last of your foot. Otherwise, we all shop by general sizes and do the best we can with what is on offer.
One size NEVER fits everybody – so you are right. But don’t get offended or bristly or you will miss the point – that people are thinking these things and writing about them. All the more reason for you to continue on your own path my friend.
@Steve T #10: Thank you for opening up to tell your story; I’ve had some unpleasant experiences which match with yours pretty well, although not at a Goenka sitting. I’ve also had some really good experiences, which leaves me with a lot of questions.
@JMG: As you now know, in Buddhism there are preliminary concentration practices (Shamatha) which build focus and are supposed to be followed by discursive meditation practices (Vipassina). However, in very deep Shamatha (one pointed attention) you cannot really practice discursion because the “silence/absorption” is too complete; you need to come up to a state more connected to your body and normal thinking function.
Your description of your version of discursive meditation sounds very much like Buddhist Vipassina. In many western trainings of Vipassina the distinction is not really taught, nor encouraged.
But from my readings of “chaos magic” practices I thought there was a state similar to Shamatha they refer to as “gnosis”? Is there really nothing like that in your wide experience with Western occult teachings? I regard that as strange….
I also find it really interesting that there are trance states – I’m speaking from personal experience with Western self hypnosis – in which the subconcious “parts” of the mind are encouraged to come to the forefront while the normal consciousness (“you”; or your ego) recede more into the background and act more like an observer. It is in THIS state that phenomena such as catalepsy (which might manifest as arm levitation or even direct communication via something like “automatic writing”) come naturally and easily.
At your encouragement I have been reading some Yeats (previously I only knew of his poems) regarding things like automatic writing. So that seems, to me, to be some evidence that was working with hypnotic states (or what I would call hypnotic states).
tl;dr? There seem to be a vast range of altered states. Shamatha and “common everyday trance” have some aspects in common, including silence (stepping back of the concious mind to a more passive observer state) but are, from personal experience, really quite distinct. I find it hard to believe Western occultism hasn’t investigated the distinctions. I also find it hard to believe, however, that oriental meditation practice hasn’t mapped out the distinctions.
Unfortunately, for me, I find that “let’s not talk about it, much less better investigate it” lack-of-information both really disturbing and really provoking. There is a lot more here, in the areas not talked about, than meets the eye. I am hoping really looking forward to your upcoming enlightenment of the Levi teachings. I will try hard not to intermix my previous experiences/ practices with what you/Levi are teaching, but that may be a little difficult at times. “Don’t think of pink elephants” is kind of hard to do; doubly so when you have hung out with them for so long. :-/
Any further thoughts you have on altered states in a wider context than merely discursion vs. complete “halting state” would be helpful and fascinating. I’ve never knowingly experienced what you/others say is “astral travel”/ astral-plane but I wonder if that is part of the mix. And then there are the full-blown delusions/hallucinations. How do you distinguish “astal” from hallucination?
I hope my comments and questions all make some sense to you and seem appropriate to this week’s post. I have a hard time letting go of categorizing and explicating things, instead of just experiencing them without questioning.
OK guys, I gotta go out in this gorgeous weather and do yard work – bliss…
If you enjoy ancient history, I would recommend you read some TACITUS, specifically his Histories and Annals. These two works provide you an eagle eye view of collapsing empire. Tacitus was a buddy of Pliny the Elder, so he is right there writing what he sees.
I could recommend a lot of books, but these two were instrumental in my own digging into history. The similarities to today will likely astound you. You can find both in most libraries and often as used books.
I put this out there because I am rereading both, as a sort of lubrication of my mind as we approach the next leg down in the Oil Age….
Mid-20s male here: I actually agree with a lot of what the article Oilman linked to says. My generation is fundamentally broken: the internet with all the problems it has; prescription drugs given to many of us as children, interfering with normal brain development; cell phones; widespread activation of the devouring mother archetype and a legal system distorted to support it; a lack of opportunities our parents took for granted and then being blamed for not being successful; and an utter refusal on the part of our parents, schools, or really anyone to teach us any practical skills as children created a very toxic stew which has left most members of my generation damaged. So no, I think there’s a lot more to it than “Old man rants about kids these days”.
@Slithy Toves I saw speculation on Reddit (but this person said three days before death) that it was because an Arahant would have no desires at all; even to get a drink of water, which obviously if no one cared for you would cause death.
By the way, I’ve just started looking at the summer Ingress chart. Is that a Grand Cross I see?
Regarding Goenka retreats, cult is indeed hte word. In addition to what I described, there was also heavy use of that standard mind-control technique, “The fact that you disagree with me proves that I’m right.” Of course the Woke use this as a matter of course– that’s what “white fragility” means, and it’s also employed by 12-step groups (“The fact that you don’t think you have a problem proves you’re in denial.”) In Buddhist form, it sounds like “Your sincere disagreements with the teacher and severe physical pain just prove that your ego is resisting.”
Then there was the creepy hippie that tried to stop me from leaving a day early. “Where are you going?” “I’m leaving.” That’s… NOT RECOMMENDED.” “Okay, I’m going to leave anyway.” “That’s not recommended. I think you should go back to your place in the meditation hall.”
Yes, it’s a cult. At this point, I don’t particularly care if they’ve helped people. You can help people without subjecting them to mind control.
(Steve #163 is also me, not that fine other Steve that simply goes by Steve.)
@Mollari – I am so overjoyed that my daughter has been encouraging her sons to do things with their hands all their lives. I have seen their crochet work (!), and “Who made that cake?” “Bryn did.” They ride bicycles, though Bryn has gone full-on Cyclist, spandex and all; they hike and camp and made one of my pendants. Their dad does repairs around the house, and grows a handful of vegetables on the back deck. Though they are card-carrying PMC’s, who firmly believe that electric and hybrid vehicles are green, digital is good, and rah-rah Tech, Carol has made it a point to make them as resilient as possible. Lady bless her for that.
I hope this works – if not take a look at king comics website – today’s (22 April) Macanudo looks like it was drawn just for this post !
@ Mollari RE: #167 and to ALL RE: cities implosion
First, being a yuge B5 fan, I love your handle….LOL. Just a note that in the midst of raising my 4 younglings, things changed immensely. I was able to make a living and keep SWMBO home until about 1995, and those were the formative years for them. In 1995, we had to decide to send them to college or otherwise “de-nest” them, and so SWMBO went to work full time, our goal being to get the 4 of them (or us) through college unencumbered by debt
We got them all out of college without any debt, but it was almost 2 decades of work and saving to do that. When the last one graduated in 2013, we discovered that living expenses, health insurance and taxes were such that SWMBO needed to keep her full time job.My health insurance is actually higher than my primary mortgage payment – so it can’t collapse fast enough for me, my friend.
To the point – most of our late boomer group HAD to get both parents working just to make a go of it. Hence the term “latch key kids” entered the vernacular. This continues apace today – no home ownership without TWO PMC type incomes – so kids have mostly been between a rock and a hard place in suburbia for a couple generations.
As a parent, these choices were made based on my kids futures. Unfortunately, many parents opt for their own futures and comforts rather than saving and working for familial futures. Hence another word entered the vernacular, “McMansions”…
Blaming boomers is a favorite pastime for many, but the reality is that with the purchasing power of the dollar disappearing due to debt and money printing, everyone had to put another oar in the water just to hold their place in the race to the bottom. This meant “no kids left behind” had to die, and now many young people are rudderless and adrift amid the constant propaganda and lies emanating from all media. Then the schools started teaching indoctrination and crazy 57 genders ‘science’ and now …
…we are HERE.
Here is another way cities get hosed: https://turcopolier.com/a-few-points/
When the federal government cannot pay to support these cities since the dollar is tissue paper, it might get worse in those fed controlled cities really fast too…
and now I have to finish my lunch of bacon pancakes….
Brad, you’re welcome and thank you. I didn’t have the advantage of a mentor like that until much, much later in life, but then I didn’t need one as desperately as you did!
Your Kittenship, and that makes for a very well-designed practice. After a few centuries, too, you’d have the advantage of “tracks in space,” as Dion Fortune put it, helping newbies proceed in a constructive way.
BB, that’s an excellent point. Becoming aware of the present moment can be used constructively to become aware of your problems and possibilities, so you can then do something about them. It becomes a trap when people run away into the present moment, using moment-by-moment unthinking awareness to hide from realizations such as “You know, my life really sucks.”
Apprentice, thanks for this! I’ll make a note to suggest this to Jewish readers who ask about meditation.
Kevin, remember that the ancient Greeks thought it was a highly sacred practice to parade giant wooden penises through the streets on certain holy days. Raphael’s painting isn’t bawdy — it reflects with great clarity the Greek Pagan vision of sexuality as an expression of divine power, and thus is a fine theme for meditation.
Slithy Toves, that strikes me as a very good reason to find some other spiritual path! Of course I don’t believe that life = suffering…
Wesley, that makes a great deal of sense. I’ve read that the same thing happens in the Jewish community — well-to-do Jews who want to distance themselves from their ethnic and cultural background taking up some kind of Buddhism, instead of (say) making use of the extremely rich mystical heritage of their own faith.
Goran, I’ve written very extensively about that topic online and elsewhere. My forthcoming book The King in Orange devotes most of a chapter to it, so that might be your best bet.
Sam, yes, of course. If you’ll read my post you’ll find that I address this — twenty minutes a day of discursive meditation is a good amount, once you’ve worked up to that, and much more than that is not recommended. Too much discursive meditation can make you too detached from the material world to deal with life, and it can also — in extreme cases — lead to delusions. As for corrupted versions, sure — the usual way that corrupt discursive meditation works is to assign the practitioner not just a theme, but a whole sequence of thoughts to run through mechanically, which functions as brainwashing. Properly done, discursive meditation cultivates your own insights and capacity for creativity.
Tidlösa, thanks for this. I admit I’ve had my doubts about U.G. as well.
Aurelien, of course. As I’ve said repeatedly, the issue is with forms of meditation that have been gutted of spiritual content, turned into franchises, and applied without appropriate screening and attention to downsides, not with meditation as such. (I meditate daily, remember.) As for your metaphor, sure, a carpenter who clung to his tools would be showing an inappropriate attachment, but a carpenter who threw away his tools and sat around the worksite staring blankly at the lumber, convinced that this would somehow build a house, would be in considerably worse shape…
CS2, thanks for this. That makes a great deal of sense.
Patricia M, hmm! That strikes me as a very productive approach.
Oskari, concentration is very difficult. It’s probably the hardest work you will ever do — but it’s essential for the work of the occultist. The three of us who wrote that book put a huge amount of effort into making sure all the practices were safe and effective, but the one thing we couldn’t do was make them easy. 😉
David, I ain’t arguing. There’s clearly a place for nondiscursive meditation in a variety of spiritual traditions, and in those traditions — in their proper contexts — they seem to work very well. Pulled out of their contexts and turned into nonchemical tranquilizers, on the other hand, they can cause a great deal of harm. As for people being perfectible, that’s one of my pet peeves as well — inevitably that amounts to identifying some normal, natural, potentially healthy part of the self as “bad” and trying to amputate it, under the delusion that the result will be perfection. It never works; we’ve had a couple of thousand years of consistent evidence that it never works, and maybe it’s time to give up on perfection and try balanced wholeness instead.
Chris, oh, granted! I shy away from whatever’s being promoted the loudest — it’s always something that benefits the promoter, at your expense.
Denis, I’ve done very little with labyrinths. Is there anything besides walking in and then out that you’re supposed to do while you walk it?
Hackenschmidt, a good point!
Kenaz, it’s not that they don’t stop to consider Western spirituality. It’s that they know perfectly well what Western spirituality would require of them, and run like rabbits. As for Blavatsky, nah, what she was doing was far subtler — she was dressing up a particular current of Western occultism in borrowed Orientalist robes as a marketing gimmick. That current has its problems, but once you free it of its faux-Eastern decor — a task that was taken care of by Rudolf Steiner, Max Heindel, George Winslow Plummer, and Manly P. Hall, among others — you’ve got something much more straightforward and interesting.
Neptunesdolphins, thanks for this. If the meds work for you, that’s excellent — and I know other people who benefit from them. The fact that they’re overprescribed and can have bad side effects for some people doesn’t make them useless. More broadly, one of the things I find most useful about Druidry is its traditional insistence that there ain’t no such thing as One Right Way.
As for core shamanism, ugh. What a profound debasement of a wide and diverse range of rich and powerful tribal traditions! That’s an interesting question, about dissatisfaction as the source of woke; I tend to see it as an instrument of competition among aspirants to the managerial caste, but I’m open to the possibility that it has much broader dimensions.
Deadnotsleeping, some people find that it does, some don’t. It really seems to vary on an individual basis.
Ray, that’s the book by Deleuze and Guattari, right? It doesn’t surprise me that it causes people to wig out — and especially that it causes Americans to wig out. American intellectuals pretend to be European, but it’s always a pretense, and one of the ways you can see that is that a lot of 20th century European philosophy can send Americans into various more or less crazed mental states.
Chris, interesting. Thanks for this.
Steve T, yep. For exactly the same reason, Dion Fortune’s The Mystical Qabalah is written in numbered paragraphs…
Nothing Special, the fact remains that those retreats have a significant psychiatric casualty rate, and some very troubling aspects. If they’ve benefited you, that’s great, but I think it’s reasonable to warn people that there are very serious risks, and some decidely cultlike aspects to the Goenka movement.
Jasper, that’s a valid point.
Danaone, that makes a great deal of sense.
El, in small doses it’s a very useful practice. The system of discursive meditation I teach begins with a few minutes of attention to relaxation, followed by attention to breath, before you engage the thinking mind and get to the meat of the practice.
Varun, okay, that’ll explain a thing or two about Gandhi. As for discursive meditation, I’m delighted to hear it!
Yorkshire, good question. I know of none that don’t involve a fair amount of magical training! As for the RPG, true, but that’s already at the publisher and should be forthcoming soon.
Beekeeper, those are certainly important factors. I think, though, that a lot of people also use them as a way not to think about things they don’t want to think about. As for schools, that’s a valid point!
Oilman2, I’m about to launch into a course of reading on Reich, whose work I haven’t yet studied in any detail.
William, that is to say, people who are obsessed with power are obsessed with power, and their interests twist in that gravitational field. Rumi’s advice — well, what if you want it to be a dragon? Dragons can fly, unlike donkeys…
DT, that’s certainly part of it, though there may be other factors as well.
Gnat, gnosis is not shamatha, the chaos magic types unfortunately bollixed that up. The word “gnosis” means “personal knowledge, acquaintance” — it’s the experience of direct personal encounter with spiritual realities. In Western occultism we use ritual to get there and discursive meditation to understand what we’ve seen. More broadly? I’ve never see anything approximating a good general taxonomy of altered states — for that matter, I’ve never seen a good general taxonomy of non-altered states, which vary pretty dramatically from culture to culture and even from person to person. (I’m pretty sure my habitual mental states would freak out a lot of people if they experienced them…)
Oilman2, those are two fine volumes!
Steve T, I haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m working on the May eclipse chart; in the US, the eclipse is in the 6th house of public health…
JMG, as someone who’s in the process of trying to find a good steady job on the lifeboat rather than a white-collar deck chair on the Titanic, I’m looking forward to what you have to say about Long Descent careers in future posts.
I’ve worked the first ten years of my career in facilities management (that is, custodial and general upkeep of buildings), and I’ve started to transition toward work or training as a Forest School or maybe Waldorf School teacher. Currently that kind of work is vulnerable to pandemic-related shutdowns, and still a fringe movement, although hopefully growing. I’ve wondered whether I’ve made a more or less resilient choice. What do you think?
“Raphael’s painting isn’t bawdy — it reflects with great clarity the Greek Pagan vision of sexuality as an expression of divine power, and thus is a fine theme for meditation.”
I’m glad you say so! I never did believe in that distinction beyween “sacred” and “profane” art.
BTW, I tried reading Porphyry’s piece on the Cave of the Nymphs. I’m afraid that kind of symbolic or allegorical thinking, where things aren’t what they appear to be but refer obscurely to something else so that you have to crack your noggin figuring it out (and you could still get it wrong anyway) drives me batty. I guess I’ll just have to be a literal-minded pagan. But I won’t take it to the extent of emulating Achilles’ behavior before the walls of Troy. It’s much too bloody.
John Michael said
As the existing structure of society falters and the supply of managerial-class jobs dwindles steadily, accusing one’s fellow inmates of thoughtcrime has become one of the most common ways to compete for the slots that are left.
Here is a prime example of that phenomenon in action at the Evil Empire. Get a load of the latest form of toxic sludge to crawl out of the fetid swamps of the Big Slimy River.
One of the items that caught my eye was this gem:
It remains unclear whether the goal is to even out racial representation of minorities across all departments. Amazon’s tech department, for example is about 90 percent Indian-American and Asian-American, according to the company insider. “It seems like they’re no longer sticking to the ‘we’ll hire the best person for the job’ narrative that they’ve been pushing,” the insider said.
We have been talking recently about how Desis seem to be getting set up as the next big target for the Woke Left, since the Wokesters regard Indian-Americans as “race traitors” because many Indian-Americans supported Trump. Reading between the lines, this sounds an awful lot like the Evil Empire is laying the grounds for a purge of Indian-American employees, among other iniquities.
@oilman2 — great comments! btw — what does SWMBO stand for? Seems like “the better half”.
You and John should really chat live — the synergy would really be awesome!
PS — put the TACITUS books on hold. thx for the book suggestion.
“Rumi’s advice — well, what if you want it to be a dragon? Dragons can fly, unlike donkeys…”
Of course there are different traditions regarding the Dragon. I am also fond of the notion that one has a dragon within (the brain stem, nominally, but also like an archetype) that one can make an ally. Here I am assuming Rumi is refering to the appetites. Rumi was of the Sufi tradition, the mystical side of Islam. He was no prude, however I think he is saying the appetites can become uncontrollable and burn you down if indulged too much.
@OilMan2: Do you have a blog of your own or, if not, a site you recommend regarding peak oil and related things? Where do you recommend I find/buy the Tacitus tracts you recommend? I am suddenly up to my eyeballs on books I need to have read, carefully, “yesterday” re Project Zimbabwe and whole peak oil next leg down. I believe; actually I am out of even half plausible alternate interpretations for all the wacky behavior and proposals from government, businesses, and their lackeys.
“If they can stop paying for police services, forcing the poor to do without and the rich to fund their own private law enforcement services, that’s a big chunk of the budget gone.”
Except that those who are able to fund their own law enforcement are probably only 10 to 15% of the population. In the absence of police, street crime, muggings, shootings, burglaries, etc. will skyrocket. Unless our elections become far more rigged than they already are, local authorities will be swept from office in a landslide. Even the deluded Wokesters want to be safe; when they start getting mugged, they will actually “wake up” and vote out any of the political class that would allow this condition to fester. And election rigging on this scale, virtually in every locale will be impossible to conceal. The only way it prevailed in the last election was the vast amount of Trump Derangement Syndrome that infested the country; this dynamic won’t apply when the issue is fear and personal experience of crime in thousands of local elections.
Also, if the political class refuses to respond, it will end up like it did here in San Francisco in the 1850s, the rise of Vigilantes. Fire up the search engine and enter “S.F. Committee of Vigilance.”
Also an aside on Coleman Barks excellent translation of Rumi, it was also previously embraced by the PMC sometime around the Clinton era, dropped now a decade or so and forgotten.
@ Jerry #179
She Who Must Be Obeyed, of course….
@ gnat #181
no blog site – sorry.
I comment here, on Urban Survival, Sic Semper Tyranis and a few other places. I look for places that are open to alternative views, owners broadly read and have published their own works, and whose owners are black pilled. I prefer people who have authored their own tomes, for good or ill, as language is key to understanding. Also why EVERYONE should learn at least one other language, IMO.
I have written, for certain blogs, articles related to DIY for homesteaders, because we embarked on that back in 2007 (how to drill your own water well, making cisterns, gray water systems, recycling materials, making your own tools, etc.)
If sites I prefer comes off as snobbery, apologies. But i find, as a southern redneck, that language is important. I have been derided often when I speak in venues outside the south due to my accent – hence I prefer writing to speaking. That’s actually comical, since in Australia, New Zealand and southeast Asia people flock to me when they hear my accent and see my cowboy boots in local bars…
I find that in these turbulent times people aware of the falsity of the red vs blue game here in the US tend to be focused or interested in things that I find attractive. Playing the red vs blue game makes no since once you have honestly looked at voting records of national politicians.
There is no real blog site for Peak Oil, but the old TOD site has been archived, and the guts of Peak Oil and why alternatives will not work is there. Art Berman can keep you up to speed with his free articles, tbh. We have also passed Peak Uranium, but that is a verboten topic.
You can find Tacitus at your local library most likely. If not, your local used bookstore may have it. I have seen used copies online as well. I bought mine in a bundle of “Classic Works” at a used bookstore – got 40 volumes for $20 bucks….
Perhaps the best big purchase I made was “Letters and Papers of the Presidents”, which was 25 fat, hardbound volumes that includes everything they wrote that wasn’t classified, up to Lyndon Johnson. Man, I love used bookstores!
I’m a not working class, but I am a member of a large folkish Heathen faith, the Asatru Folk Assembly which honors the Nordic gods and goddesses. It was founded by Stephen McNallens back in the early 70’s and still does bloats at our different hofs.
I know they’re not your cup-of-tea because they discourage non-whites from joining by encouraging them to find an ethnic faith of their own (I find I can like my ethnic people without hating others). I think it is growing in popularity with the white working class, especially those with young families, because you don’ have to feel guilt for you, your kids or your ancestors for being white. It is a welcome reprieve in an anti-white woke world.
The AFA has been growing rapidly in the past decade and now has three hofs in N. America (Nor Cal, Minnesota, and North Carolina). We don’t encourage any type of meditations, but we have monthly gathering honoring different gods and goddesses.
Being a member of the AFA isn’t for the faint of heart, we’ve been labeled a hate group by the ADL (but how hasn’t been at this point)
If anyone wants to make up their own mind about the AFA, the can read about it on runestone.org.
gnat: For your reading enjoyment
Some Peak Oil sites:
http://www.theoildrum.com/ (Archive) (This was the best of them all)
Hopefully I do not come across as snarky, but I don’t think I have ever heard a definition of enlightenment in a spiritual context. What would your definition be?
hank you for sharing your take on meditation. It’s a sensible approach to the subject. Instead of doing meditation for hours at a time, better to start with small intervals and keep increasing slowly.
What’s your view on magic? Should we be doing evocations to physical manifestation without care? I think you said somewhere doing magic is less dangerous than driving a car. Is that true?
Re: Kitty Genovese
The class issue that you requested JMG to comment on is a vast one. In the US, we are constantly told that there are no classes, membership in society if fluid, you can be upwardly mobile (in what medium is never addressed) if you will work hard and…have extraordinary luck. My comment, that last. Like the Myth of Progress, it is a pervasive myth, mythological in the sense of being an unexamined idea that doesn’t necessarily track with reality.
In the American South at least, class is a palpable, living thing that permeates everything. Many never notice it, but if you cross a line, it will slap you in the face. As for the structure of our highly class-ridden society (from the perspective of it being a bad thing by calling it “ridden”) it is quite complex. It is made up of cultural and social matrices, as well as economic considerations and a good deal more. One small example: if you got a job interview because of your perceived connections, whether or not you got the job, it had something to do with class. I could no more define the boundaries of it than I could fly by flapping my arms. I’ve tried and failed too often to count. Perhaps Mr. Greer can shed some light on the issue…?
Oilman2 – I have those books (Omnibus – bought in order to get Germania) and know something about the period. No, the Empire was not collapsing at that point, though it was in a severe crisis. The Julio-Claudian years following the death of Augustus were quite parallel to what I’ve started calling The Crazy Century (~1914-20??), and Vespasian’s rule was a totally classic recovery period. For most Romans – and Gauls etc – it was business as usual. That Domitian’s rule started the bad stuff all over again simply follows a well-recognized pattern. We had another major recovery period under the Five Good Emperors, climaxing in Marcus Aurelius, until Commodus started the bad stuff… rinse and repeat.
Now, that the decline of the Roman Empire was beginning in the days Tacitus wrote about is another matter. Yes, it was, Rome having reached Peak Frontier. (With Claudius’ conquest of Britain parallel to our fracking industry? They were the last people with anything to steal, except the Irish and the Scandinavians, and about that point, I gather, opinion at Rome was”Hyperborea? Zeus, Mars, and Hercules, NO! Too far away!”
In post number 77 Young Elephant mentioned “JMG’s description of illumination written in the 7 deaths post.”
Could anyone tell me where to find that post?
Dylan, I just wanted to share that I have a friend who sounds a bit like you. He spent some years trying various jobs and finally got a job with a Waldorf school. He had already had some experience with studying the works of Rudolf Steiner, and he was able to teach art at the school (he is a very good craftsman) so for a while it seemed a perfect fit. However, he found that the school was a very political place. A lot of parents of Waldorf students are very wealthy and ‘upper crust’, and after a while he found that difficult to deal with. He has left his position there, and is now doing carpentry on his own. Just one story, and other’s experience may differ, of course. But although Waldorf schools sound kind of ideal, they may not lways be so.
A few years ago I tried what I think would be called “Transcendental Meditation”(?) using a tract called ‘Mindfulness in Plain English.’ Ever hear of that one? I can’t recall exactly why I stopped practicing or what results it promised, but I do recall that I didn’t feel like it was working.
Then, looking for something else, I got a few books on “Centering Prayer,” but my life circumstances changed at the time and I never got around to reading them. Do you have any impressions of Centering Prayer? If you don’t think it’s just more of the same, I guess I’d dust them off again.
Do you mind sharing the title and author of the book on Jewish traditional meditation you mentioned? Sounds like something worth checking out.
If I’m not allowed to speak at a retreat, then there’s no way for the leaders to verify that I’m actually listening to the lecture or meditating as instructed, instead of, say, composing dirty limericks or designing game levels in my mind. Seems like a fair trade-off to me.
Of course, I wouldn’t be there in the first place if I didn’t hope to learn or achieve something of value, which I’d do my best to do. But in the end, whether there’s actual value there for me is for me to decide.
Which makes me wonder, how much of the risks of spiritual practices stem from over-commitment, rooted in the idea that the person needs particular spiritual attainments for some reason? (To gain control of something in their lives, to solve a problem, to acquire status, to find acceptance…) Rather than for their own sake. That seems particularly paradoxical when applied to Buddhist practices (would that be attachment to detachment…?) but maybe that’s just how messed up the Western spiritual scene is right now.
H. Rider Haggard’s novel She: History of an Adventure features Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (SWMBO), white queen of the lost African city of Kor. Rumpole, the eponymous barrister of the British sitcom, Rumpole of the Bailey, used it as an epithet for his wife. Sorry for stealing oilman’s thunder! A philosophy professor once called me a “conceptual sniper.” I was happy to have been the cause of that inspired epithet. I should use it as a handle.
To clarify, I meant that Bharati’s explanation of enlightenment is final in that it ended my ardent quest for it because, thanks to Bharati, I realize that becoming wise and good is an effort of honest self examination out of which one’s actions should flow. Enlightenment is a psycho-physical disruption like orgasm but infinitely more pleasurable, blissful, and has only a contingent relation to becoming wise or good. However, you’ve said that you’re not interested in this account. Since you host this blog, out of respect for you, I won’t air this view of the subject again unless some of the Commentariat are interested in learning more. I’ve referenced 2 of his books in my previous comment. There’s also The Tantric Tradition, his best known book. He is authoritative on the subject of Indian religions. There is a rare video of him on YouTube speaking, repetitively, on Indian philosophy as therapy. The quality of the video is dreadful. And there is some resemblance to Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove:)
From David Chapman I’ve learned that later forms of Buddhism, and especially the Vajrayana forms, seem to add qualifiers to the Four Noble Truths: Life is suffering… but it doesn’t have to be. Suffering is caused by desire… but desire doesn’t have to cause suffering.
Mahayana Buddhism introduced nondualism, the idea that samsara is nirvana (or rather, that samsara is not different from nirvana, and nirvana is not different from samsara), and the idea of the Buddha-nature, that Nirvana is your true self.
Dzogchen, which is part of Vajrayana, seems to take this to its logical conclusion: you have always been a Buddha, and once you fully realize that, which granted takes work, your spiritual problems more or less go away. Rebirth then is something you do because you choose to, not a torturous cycle you’re trapped in.
I don’t find that idea particularly appealing myself, which is part of why I’m not a Buddhist (if I were I’d probably be Jodo Shinshu). But like Advaita Vedanta’s belief that “thou art That,” it seems to work for some people.
@Deadnotsleeping – what book did you get your “Master of the Universe” line?
Deleuze and Guattari, yeah, you got it in one. Wait are you implying that Europeans aren’t so glitched out by those sorts of books?! If so we really are a different critter. Also, your qualifier about 20th century European philosophy sounds about right, but it brings to mind that the 19th century seems to have produced a fair amount of tolerably safe philosophy.
I guess that implication makes some degree of sense, because maybe the pretense that D&G make sense (because of course I understand, I am smart and cultured :S) makes it much more penetrating.
It makes sense that people would want to flee from thinking when you have so many so-called intellectuals perpetuating the idea that knowledge only dispells our illusions to reveal how terrible the world really is. I’m thinking of movements such as antinatalism, which claims that the world is such an awful place thet it would be better for everyone if life had never existed. I’ve also seen several people in online forums bemoan their knowledge with similar rhetoric and claim that they wish they could return to their prior ignorance.
I’ve heard a bunch of people say things to the effect of “Yes, I’m miserable and depressed because of my knowledge, but it’s still better to have knowledge than to be ignorant. Here, let me share my terrible knowledge with you.” Faced with something like that, I can see how not thinking might have some attractions for people.
I’m also reminded of a poster I ran across who had apparently figured out that the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows and there’s nothing stopping you from being miserable all your life. His reaction to that knowledge was to rebel against the universe for being so unfair, acting like he had the moral high ground over those of us who simply choose to accept that this and still try to make the most of our lives. So long as he keeps that attitude, I imagine he’ll lead a bitter experience.
Of course, knowledge can be painful if it dispels an illusion we hold dear, but unless you cling to them and refuse to fully integrate your newfound knowledge into your broader worldview, it eventually ceases and you can go on with your life, likely even in a better state then when you were still ignorant. The solution, then, isn’t to stop thinking halfway through just because the path is painful, but to follow the train of thought through to the end.
On the John Waters essay that Oilman2 linked to, I suspect that the situation with young people is not quite as bad as Sam Vaknin insists. Likely Vaknin, an atheist and an academic, is reacting to evidence of the wasteland that his philosophy has helped to create, by projecting his Shadow onto the young.
But I do think that there’s a strong current of nihilism in youth culture (and really, all the rest of society). I’ve wrestled with it myself, and I’ve seen it in my contemporaries, and heard it on podcasts. I would describe it as the feeling that the present and the future consist of sitting in a small room, pushing a button to make cartoons dance on a screen – and outside of that room, nothing.
Beyond my personal experiences, I would point to the statistics showing a spike in depression rates and suicide attempts among the young, beginning right around the time social media took off. The Internet seems to be eating the future, for a lot of folks.
And in Vaknin’s defense, I’m glad someone is sounding the alarm over it.
Fascinating. I’ve never studied chakras. Does something similar happen if the root chakra is fully opened: do you get drawn down into the realm of the hungry ghosts or something along those lines?
You say, “Most people welcome ascension and don’t want to stay behind at our dense-plane level.” Hmm. This strikes me as at odds with the Buddha’s view that we could have Nirvana any time we chose to, but that we continue to be reborn because of our entanglement with desire.
I saw that comment, and it makes sense: if you truly don’t care whether you live or die, why bother doing anything? But I think the sense of the original claim is slightly more subtle than their needing a monastery to take care of them because they can’t: I read it as saying that they need the monastery to give them a reason to stay in this world; that is, teaching the Dharma to others. (On the other hand, the claim strikes me as at odds with the story of how it apparently took the Buddha a considerable amount of time to decide whether to try to teach others: perhaps the gods’ encouragement gave him reason to keep living while he made a decision?)
Dylan, that strikes me as a very good career move right now, because our current public school system is teetering on the edge of collapse, and so private schools are likely to be a growth industry.
Kevin, fair enough! Fortunately there are plenty of other Pagan figures to emulate.
Galen, and of course one part of “get woke, go broke” is that if you start selecting and promoting employees on the basis of anything other than competence at the job, you’ve just handed an immense advantage to your competitors. The Big Slimy River was probably doomed already, but this surely won’t help.
William, of course he was. What he tended to miss is that the spiritual side of the self can also become uncontrollable and burn you down if indulged too much.
Antoinetta, of course. Don’t assume that these people have thought things through.
Karl, I’m familiar with the A-Folk-A, and you’re right, it’s not my cup of tea. I was raised in a multiracial household — my stepmother is Japanese — and I think you’re shooting yourself in the foot by excluding anyone who’s not white enough by whatever standard you use. As I see it, you can celebrate a given ethnic heritage without excluding people who don’t happen to share it, but are interested in it — lots of people who aren’t Scottish compete in the Highland Games, you know, and some become decent bagpipe players! But of course it’s your group, not mine, and I somehow failed to get the overinflated sense of entitlement that leads so many people to believe that everyone else has to care what they think. I don’t think any of the Druid orders or magical lodges I belong to have yet been labeled a hate group, but it’s probably just a matter of time.
BCV, “enlightenment” is whatever end state a given tradition aims for — i.e., it means something different depending on who’s speaking. When I speak of enlightenment in the context of the Western occult traditions I teach and practice, I describe it this way: “the point of occult practice is to develop the power of intuition, which is (as the word implies) in-tuition, inner teaching, an inward knowledge of spiritual realities. Pursued and developed in balance with the other faculties of the self, intuition leads to wisdom, which is the inward sense of truth that guides the self in balance with the cosmos, and it also leads to revelation, which is the sudden flash of expanded awareness that makes it possible for the self to glimpse the previously unknown. Ultimately these lead to enlightenment, which is the state in which wisdom and revelation are permanent conditions of the soul.”
Miguel, there’s magic and then there’s magic. Evocations to physical manifestation are an advanced mode of practice and one that you can’t do unless you have a particular organization of the etheric body — basically what used to be called a “materializing medium.” There are plenty of other modes of magic that are less intensive and better suited to regular practice. I highly recommend doing a daily banishing ritual and energetic practice such as the Lesser Ritual of the Pentagram and Middle Pillar exercise, or the Sphere of Protection and one of its energetic expansions such as the Grail working. If you feel called to do more than that, take it a step at a time, and yes, it’s safer than driving a car. (Look at how many people die in car wrecks in the United States each year; how many people do you think die of magical practices? Not many…)
Ilona here you are. It’s one of my Cosmic Doctrine posts.
Blue Sun, to the best of my knowledge, they’re just more of the same. Sorry.
Walt, a case could be made! I get the impression that a lot of people take up Buddhism because they are full of desire and aversion, and the fact that it’s a desire for enlightenment and an aversion to the unenlightened life doesn’t make things much better.
Kelvin, thanks for the clarification. I recall Robert Graves, who was admittedly being snarky, suggesting that a certain famous mystic was “addicted to the most refined form of solitary vice imaginable,” and I admit that makes a certain amount of sense!
Slithy Toves, my Japanese stepfamily are Shingon Buddhists, so the intricacies with which Mahayana Buddhism spins the Four Noble Truths are familiar. It’s always made me think that they were kind of stuck with the Truths, but were perfectly aware that saying “Life is suffering” makes about as much sense as saying “Life is pepperoni” — in both cases you’re mistaking something that exists in life with the whole of life — and therefore worked out ingenious ways to claim that the Buddha couldn’t have been so silly as to say that. 😉
Ray, exactly. If you’re French, say, you come to D&G with a whole set of cultural presuppositions that allow you to realize that they’re just messing with you, engaging in a familiar sort of philosophical onanism that’s part of the game now that philosophy has said everything meaningful it’s actually capable of saying. If you’re American, you don’t — and indeed can’t — have those, and you probably have the false consciousness that leads you to insist that you’re smart and cultured when, by European standards, you aren’t and will never be. So you get sucked into it, and wig out.
Nineteenth century philosophy was still saying things that mean something — well, at least some of it was. Americans on Hegel are a danger to everybody.
Valenzuela, I’m pretty sure that’s a lot of what’s involved. Too overblown of a sense of entitlement will land you in such territory!
Hi Karl, you gave a good explanation of your religion, thanks! It was quite interesting.
JMG, of course life is not pepperoni. Life is bacon cheeseburgers 🍔.
Mindlessness meditation of the faux-Buddhist sort seems to result in the same shredded aura effect suffered by heavy drug users. Both mindless meditators and heavy drug users open their astral bodies in a feminine way to be seeded by whatever wanders by. Like the Ouija board “game”, there is a red carpet laid out for ghosts, spirits, and demons while all along the ignorant user believes the planchette is being piloted by his dead great grandpa or Marilyn Monroe. Discursive meditation, with its strict limits and directed streams of thought, just isn’t as interesting to a random non-corporeal parasite.
Neptune’s Dolphins — I understand major depression. I lived with it for over half my life. Tricyclic anti-depressants are highly potent and dangerous. This is not to say they should never be prescribed, however, they are handed out like candy and that’s wrong. For every success story like yours, there are two who could have gotten through their issues without resorting to anti-depressants (me) and one suburban dad who killed himself (people I have known). Depression is an industry and its a vile one. Lots of medical professionals with their hands out, happy to pretend you’re the sick one so they can stay on the gravy train.
JMG, do you know of any instances where someone died of practicing magic? The only one I’ve read about was that friend of Dion Fortune’s (forget her name) who was apparently killed by, I think, the Green Ray on the Isle of Iona near Scotland.
Re Highland games: I love those sheepdogs, most of whom seem smarter than I. As far as I know I’m not Scotch, though I’m good at penny-pinching when needed. 😄
To Epimetreus You wrote “I suspect that’s where Lovecraft got some of his imagery. Those chattering voices from beyond are a reality, and not a pleasant one. ”
Speaking of chattering voices from beyond, it might be only me, but I just finished (last week) reading Zanoni; it is hard hitting as a work of Art (with big letters; it’s really good as a novel for those of commentariat who didn’t yet read it: “And he who wishes to catch a Rosicrucian, must take care not to disturb the waters” ),
I read some of XIX century Rosicrucian literature (including some Paul Sedir); since there are 5 Wednesdays this month, may I ask for your thoughts on that novel and some commentary?
I came across this story, which for some reason, I think matches the theme of this essay:
We all have been forced into some type of mindfulness meditation and shamed if not participating in it I am sure. I had my suspicions about it since practicing it felt like self castigation as many middle class activities do.
Interestingly I find myself feeling fear during discursive meditation. I think it is because I am focusing on one thing instead of the more comfortable multi tasking mindset which is lauded and normal. Focusing on one thing feels healthier, I find myself with a more positive mindset and I like myself more! since I am actually just hanging out with myself but there is that initial inertia when switching over. I am sure it will lessen as I practice it more. I have also had to accept that since half of my job is on the computer and involves a lot of multi tasking that I will have to accept that that as a part of my life. I am a layman not a nun.
@oilman: Reading Tacitus is always a good idea!
But I agree with Patricia Matthews that the empire was very far from collapsing in Tacitus’ time. Right after his time began the possibly best period for the Mediterranean in several centuries, and something resembling collapse only began about 150 years later. Even then, the recovery after Diocletian in the fourth century brought stability and relative prosperity for most of the provinces. There are some very good passages in Guy Halsall’s book “Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West” about how the 4th century empire was much more colourful and attractive than it has been made out to be by earlier classicists. Halsall also makes the point that the emperors from 284 to 380 were continuously adult, hard-working, capable commanders (though his point is that at this point the empire needed such emperors, whereas in the first century, not even crazy ones like Caligula and Nero sank the boat).
Sorry for going off on a tangent – I really appreciate your posts this week. Some people (not including you!) had a habit some years ago of talking about “fiddling while Rome burns” that made it sound as if Rome crashed and ended right in Nero’s time, instead of continuing intact for another 400 (!) years.
I think the main lesson is that decline is slow, just as JMG has tirelessly repeated for so many years.
>no-holds-barred struggle for deck chairs on the Titanic
People have described this as “boiling off”, and what they boil off are the most productive and competent fractions. Which tends to accelerate the decline, which leads to more boiling off, which…
Yes, we are psychologically less tethered than many assume to the stable rational well adjusted fantasy they call “normal”. And spiritual practices have power for good and ill that often are not seen by the shallow “normal” view of the world.
But I was most caught by your reference to the woke phenomena being a way to create new categories of thought crimes that can be used to suppress others and gain advantages in the increasingly bare knuckled fight for privilege. That is definitely a central part of the phenomena as it is commonly practiced. Fascinating that occult, meaning hidden, is one of a wide range of mystery social movements. I think you have surveyed the connections to Christian gnostics, fraternal orders, etc. And woke is really a claim to have discovered a feature of reality that is hidden to many…in this case a set of power hierarchies that use race distinctions to maintain the hierarchy. The social psychology has a lot in common…that feeling of knowing the true key to everything and the social support that grows out of having a small group of like-minded people who share a common vision and a common opponent.
( I recently had reason to read “Caste: The origins of our discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson and noted how racism becomes the lens through which everything is interpreted. It is an interesting viewpoint that everyone should look from at some point. But it was hard to avoid considering one of many other viewpoints that a good education allows one to look along from which one sees many other origins of human dysfunction. It is not hard to pinpoint sources of discontent. It is much harder to eliminate them, and utopians who assume the moral righteousness of their cause ensures the practical success of their proposals often create the worst dysfunction.)
There is a lot of truth in the insight that racial hierarchies still play a major role in our society. And it is still crazy to imagine that you can shame people into not noticing that many of the proposed policies to combat it (whether defunding the police, or using large race based preferences in admissions and hiring, or expanding the oppression olympics and using students’ education to study the most oppressed people on earth) are creating and deepening divisions and conflicts and dysfunction in society. The really frustrating part is when the social psychology turns to accusations of thought crime against anyone who points out that the radical policy proposal of the moment probably isn’t going to turn out very well. We really are teaching everyone to shut off their minds. If they don’t, they will be punished. No wonder it is popular to turn to meditation methods that shut down the rational mind.
For what it’s worth, the oft-repeated admonition in the highly touted mid-twentieth century novel “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry, himself a sometime occult student of Charles Stanfield Jones, was “throw away your mind,”
well-to-do Jews who want to distance themselves from their ethnic and cultural background taking up some kind of Buddhism
Relatedly, this article documenting the ‘roots of mindfulness’ in the West:
To read Harper’s article without being forced to create an account with them :
About Centering Prayer. I was studying up on praying and the like for my own blog. SO I read everything I could find on the subject. I read a lot about this type of prayer. It was something that I was confused about.
I remember a priest discussing mediations once. He said to read the parable, then pick a character in the parable and view the parable from that person’s point of view. He say it gives insight to the parable beyond what people have ingrained in themselves.
At first I thought Centering Prayer was like that, until I went deeper. It is the approved Catholic version of TM, complete with emptying mind and mantras. I realized that it was yet another Western attempt to domesticate a foreign system of belief practices.
You are supposed to reach God through the mantras, but I have failed to see how that happens. I was struck by how people who practiced it viewed the Catholic God. As a Roman Pagan, it just seemed creepy to me.
On Woke people, meditation, and spiritual emptiness. I linked the vague unhappiness of the original Goddess seekers and Neo-Pagans to their search for things to settle their discontent. As the religions of these people progressed, they seem emptier and busy at the same time. Until, politics took the place of spirituality. Woke politics is a religion with rituals and the like. It is in my opinion more Christian based than not. The people who are in these faiths are upper middle class in origin, and seem adrift looking for mooring.
I do believe that whatever religious upbringing they had, it failed them, but they keep trying to recapture that elusive something. However, instead of accepting religion as wild and unruly, they seek tea-cup Gods. Tame domestic Gods that are non-threatening.
Mindful meditation, the eclectic approach in Goddess and Neo-Pagan religions, the cafeteria approach in New Age beliefs all play to the same group of people, who are dissatisfied with the world they find themselves in. They are constantly looking for self-improvement, and having the world reflect that with improving the rest of humanity through woke politics.
I sense that in my brain injury rehab with the New Age piddletwat who was thrusting meditation upon us as the cure all. She also went after me for taking Prozac, telling me it was damaging my brain. She went after others who also had brain meds for the same reasons. I pushed back and found out that she regarded these meds as “unholy and unnatural.” I eventually left the rehab and reported her piddletwat ways.
My meditation for a racing brain is to recite all of the U.S. baseball teams and their cities and what leagues they are in. Brain gets engaged and I get rest. As for medication, I am of the opinion that it is overused for silly reasons such as making boys sit still in class. What happens is that people like myself who really do need the chemicals in our brains get included in the pushback to the overprescribing.
For anyone looking around for alternatives to their current employment, here’s a link to an interview with Rory Groves by John Townsend (the latter is dressed like that because he is a professional 18th century reenactor) about Groves’ new book, “Durable Trades”. Groves researched jobs, trades, and professions that were widely practiced prior to the Industrial Revolution that are still viable today, although often in somewhat different form. Disclosure: I have ordered the book, but it has not yet arrived so I can’t speak to how useful it will be for someone looking to change jobs. (If anyone is really interested, I’d be happy to pass on a comment during Open Post week once I’ve read it).
The interview, however, is pretty interesting not only in regard to the jobs themselves, but to the history of employment and the effect of an increasingly mechanized world on family-based trades. Many of the jobs do require education, sometimes a great deal, but most he highlights are those that someone can do without needing to be somebody else’s employee, which in itself is a bonus.
@ Patricia Matthews RE: Tacitus
thank you for correcting me – it has been over 35 years and several thousand books since I read Tacitus. If my old brain has some circuits crossed in the memory bank, I apologize for misleading anyone. But I have the two books out primarily to reread for the sake of renewing the signs of their times versus our own. And to be fair, in America we run on crises, self inflicted or otherwise. We have run in a state of emergency since which President exactly? IIRC,Tacitus himself was very worried about his Rome, which is kinda where I am, and probably what rang my bell to reread.
@ Kelvin Gregory RE: SWMBO
Thanks for that. I saw that acronym years back, liked it, remembered it and use it often. Trampling on the toes of SWMBO is NOT a recipe for domestic tranquility – ignoring your spouse always has repercussions! It’s nice to know the origin.
@ Clif RE: Vaknin
I agree with you about too much time in a room pushing buttons. I am likely an anachronism, but I find that when some post, article or missive merits a response, the computer seems to exude an aura that throbs, as if urging me to reply, NOW. It is best to walk away until that urgency leaves.
I came across letters written by an old girlfriend to me from Tehran, where her father (THE Colonel) got transferred when I was 16 years old. Reading those old letters, the contrast between well written and thought out letters and today’s knee jerk, off-the-cuff exchanges was stark. I seem to be noticing this more often, so why?
Well, when we wrote letters, attached the stamp and sent them – there was no undoing, unwriting or otherwise instant way to change what we had written. We had to wait days or (in my case) weeks to see how our carefully thought out words were actually received. Discourse was weighed more carefully simply due to inability to discuss or talk in anything like real time – it made one think about the immediate effect on the other party(s) as you thought and wrote.
Today, while we have near instant comms, we also rarely exercise the time to think about what we transpose, or the effects it may have on our readers. This is what I appreciate about JMGs Ecosophia, his careful policing of his commentariat – a reason I tend to enjoy stopping by this place.
TBH, we are now at the 3rd generation of humans subsumed into the entire Internet as a method of communicating, leisure and commercial activities – this is playing out with a cacophony of unintended consequences. Vaknin and Waters are validly pointing out some of these consequences, and the only workable way to avoid them is to limit the time one cycles through pages on the screen – something I do by limiting my time online to a couple hours a day in lieu of the television I used to enjoy mindlessly. We still have a television, but it is quite dusty, by choice in these times of eternal lies.
About labyrinth walking…..we have two near where I live. I’ve stopped by when I had something I was wrestling with and entered the labyrinth with it. Something occurs during the process of walking into the center and then back out that always has me approach the issue with a new perspective, sometimes a total resolution. Maybe it’s the concentration of trying not to get lost or veer off the path that triggers another part of the mind to work? I’m not sure and was curious if there is an overlap with the meditation methods or its something different entirely.
JMG et al,
I would like to share a thought I had long time ago as an angsty teen.
Basically I noticed my brain has 3 ways to deal with stress:
– Instinctual (freeze or run). This is the basic panic that I experienced a lot. The end result is I would ignore a problem until too late or simply try not to think about it.
– Escapism (“Flight from reason”). Dreaming about alternative worlds where the problem does not exist or imagining doing something eroic to fix it – but not doing anything.
– Facing the problem. Why is this so difficult? For decades I could not deal with stress immediately and kept procrastinating. Even making a call to challenge a bank mistake was too stressful. I am better at it now and I know that everyone must find their own way to do it.
For me the solution was a form of fatalism. Instead of panicking or worrying I am just saying to myself: What’s the worst that can happen? I could die, so what? The universe is huge and it doesn’t care one whit.
To clarify, I am not morbid. But simply by putting things in perspective and seeing myself as a tiny atom in a big universe is surprisingly freeing.
How are other people facing their problems?
I was thinking about what kind of discursive meditation I could do as part of my Asatru faith, and I realized I can do it on ideas and stories in The Poetic Edda (our holly book). I’ll start today.
What I mostly like about the AFA is that I have a group of like minded, unwoke people to practice with, get together on holidays, and do bloats. When I was a singular practicing Druid for about seven years (thanks to you), I didn’t feel that and there were no orders around for me to join.
Universalist heathenry these days is openly anti-white, and especially anti-white straight males. AFA is pro family and is having a mini baby boom. If the larger societ is going to be doing identity politics, we might as well too and be in a group that has mine and my families back if tshtf. imho.
Hello. 1st time commenting. As we will be reading the Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic over the next 4 years would the sections covered each month make good themes for discursive meditation?
If so would it be advisable to acquire and study The Art of Divine Meditation in preparation for this?
Thanks for this post. I do not have any special knowledge here, but a small intuition tells me that the mind is very large, and that it is active, continually processing many thoughts, concerning a great many subjects, all at the one time. On the other hand, the focus of conscious attention, which sometimes appears to be the entirety of the mind, but isn’t, is very small and narrow.
Would there be validity in taking a view that discursive meditation is (partly) about training the focus of attention to deliberately visit some particular plac
e within the whole large terrain that is the mind, and study what is contained in that place?
I know this may sound a silly question, but the largeness of the mind, with all of its various, and often unattended to, contents, is beginning to dawn on me. Whereas, conscious attention is a different thing, altogether.
JMG, what do you think of Bardon’s exercises? He starts his book right off with a few techniques very similar to some Eastern meditative techniques which he says should be maintained and lengthened as you progress through the rest of the steps. It seems that a lot of people with Buddhist or Daoist interests also are drawn to his work and find it compatible with their other training. It’s definitely a far more rigorous curriculum than “mindfulness”, maybe the rest of the work prevents it from becoming a mindlessness routine?
Could you also recommend any older, either Renaissance or Hellenistic sources on the roots of the “Divine Spark” idea in Western occultism? i.e. The idea that consciousnesses that exist in human bodies today descended from a higher plane and will ascend back up, potentially to become deities in their own right.
The Mormon cosmology seems to stem from the same sources. I skimmed the book The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, which mentioned some historical movements influenced by Hermeticism with a similar cosmology but I don’t have the book right now and I think it didn’t go too deep into the more ancient sources IIRC.
Slithy Toves said:
Does something similar happen if the root chakra is fully opened: do you get drawn down into the realm of the hungry ghosts or something along those lines?
I can only report what the teachers I follow mention on this. Obviously this is not coming from personal experience. So…with that disclaimer done….
The teachers I listen to don’t recommend opening the Base chakra anymore than they recommend opening the Crown chakra. Ok. There are people who will try to open their base chakra because they want their Occult superpowers to become very strong. Now in the yogic traditions, from what I can tell, the word Occult has a different meaning than what I’ve seen JMG or western traditions use.
Sadhguru, for example, uses the word Occult to mean any superpowers that depend specifically upon prana (chi) to get things done. Prana is the most subtle level of our physical dimension but it is still physical. Very, very, very subtle – think reaching into the quantum realm physicists at CERN study daily. They can’t see it but they can infer it from the results of their experiments. – but for all that subtlety, it still counts as physical. In the yogic traditions that seems to be what counts as “Occult”. Hidden, literally, from normal sight because our eyes are too gross to see it. If we had evolved subtler eyes we would be able to see it. Again, if we had evolved that way then those Occult “superpowers” would just be normal powers because we’d see how to manipulate and operate in that dimension just as we do in our grosser one.
Ok. So Occult superpowers sound cool, so why don’t they recommend opening the base (Mooladhara) chakra? Do you remember the Cosmic Doctrine chapters where Dion Fortune talks about the Left Hand Path? How it pulls you down to de-evolution? Yep. That’s why the Dharma teachers I’ve studied all strongly advise against opening the base. Sadhguru says it practically guarantees it. The pull is strong. As strong as it is in the opposite direction at the crown. Since life is manifesting infinitely each moment everywhere the downward pull is infinite too. But you know people being people – there’s always gonna be “that guy” who just has to do it anyway and figures he’ll get away with it somehow. *rolls eyes*
I don’t think you die immediately if you open it unlike with the crown as none of the teachers I read mentioned that. But they do say it stops your evolutionary ascent to dimensions of greater bliss, wisdom and power cold in its tracks. And it’s considered very ill-fortune to die via exiting your base chakra. The person who is reborn from that kind of death will come back with incredibly extraordinary occult superpowers. Unfortunately, according to multiple teachers I’ve read – I doubt they’ll get any benefit from those powers because their life will also be of one of incredible suffering.
This is why the Tamil Siddha lineages mostly talk of 5 chakras, seldom 7. You seal the base so you don’t destabilize and devolve. You don’t touch the crown so you don’t accidentally begin dying – especially because of a tantra or yoga “oops” (it happens). Once you have both ends stabilized Sadhguru says “whatever it is you call “the Creator” has now granted you enormous freedom to discover, play and delight with everything in between.”
You’ve sealed both ends so now explore because all the chakras can be investigated and all of them have super extraordinary powers. This is where a lot of the lessons JMG teaches come in very handy! Folks, do you realize this is what he’s teaching?! He is! He may not call it that exactly but that IS what he’s helping everyone to learn how to do. Safely too if you follow his guidelines. Anyway, each chakra has different possibilities. Plus there’s the whole other topic of subtle-body organs. Master Nan and Sadhguru both have said the world still awaits the genius or genius-es (not sure of the plural spelling) who will combine the data on all the 114 chakras possibilities and outcomes and all the subtle body organs possibilities and outcomes but once that’s done it will blow the lid off and revolutionize spiritual teachings for humanity.
All 114 chakras can be moved around. So let’s say you’re a nurse who wants to be able to calm and cheer people who are struggling with anxiety. You could decide to learn how to move your Anahata chakra to your hand, walk up to someone, touch them and they will burst with love because you moved your Anahata there. Or you move Anahata to your eyes and look at them, you and they will burst with love.
Bruce Lee moved his Manipurika chakra to his fists and became a martial arts legend because of it. Although, Sadhguru says that’s not good to do because Manipurika is needed where Mother Nature put it to keep your body alive. You move your Manipurika, you’ll die within a few years for sure. He was never going to live to middle age once he started moving Manipurika.
***continued in next post****
I’m submitting my replies to each question as two separate posts to give some eye relief to readers.
***continued from other post***
Slithy Toves said:
You say, “Most people welcome ascension and don’t want to stay behind at our dense-plane level.” Hmm. This strikes me as at odds with the Buddha’s view that we could have Nirvana any time we chose to, but that we continue to be reborn because of our entanglement with desire.
I do confess I have struggled at times with trying to understand what the Buddha is saying. To be honest I’ve often struggled with the things Sadhguru has said too on this exact subject. They often sound alike even though Sadhguru is Shaivite, not Buddhist. In fact, Sadhguru said he agreed with Buddha’s word choice in calling it Nirvana. You can’t really describe it but if you just have to he did think Nirvana was the best word choice because it deliberately means “blowing out” – like blowing out a candle.
However, staying in Emptiness like some 4th level Arhats did in Shakyamuni’s day is not considered true enlightenment – or at least not according to Master Nan because you have to be able to do both. Emptiness and Fullness. Or in Sanskrit terms – Shoonya and Purna. Or rather – assuming I understand everything I’ve read so far – one way Emptiness “appears” on our Plane is as dense manifesting mind and matter. The emptiness really is nothing at all. But weirdly this nothing at all can manifest. Including consciousness. Even Superconsciousness is upheld by this nothingness. Yes, this sounds a lot like the old description of Ex Post Nihilo. I know how completely illogical it sounds but that’s the only thing I can conclude after everything I’ve read.
Anyway, Infinity includes both so you need to also. Falling into emptiness willfully for mega-eons (apparently this is a real thing!) is “an outside path” to quote Master Nan. A blessed being will be master of both because they’ve removed the last barriers to true infinity. As Sadhguru put it one day, “It’s like you’re transparent. When you’re with blue people you’re totally blue. When you’re with green people you’re totally green. But nothing sticks to you.” Since you are now infinite all of infinity’s capabilities are now “yours” too. Hence why the Buddha replied when asked one day, “I am nothing (ie no-thing) and no one. That’s why everything is mine.”
Having said all of the above (which is where my current understanding is at) -I’ve constantly noticed that “enlightenment” seems to mean different things in different contexts – even to gurus! Even Sadhguru seems to mean different things by the word enlightenment depending upon the person’s question he’s answering or the satsang topic. Plus you have people like Sri Aurobindo and Master Nan Huai-Chin advising people not to “race to the top” so fast even if one can. They seemingly advised a slower road. I have mused perhaps they both advocated for this so that younger souls can get the benefit of older souls wisdom and societal contributions before older ones move on.
However on one thing – from what I’ve read – youngelephant’s #168 post does seem to be correct. Loss of desire (not profound indifference! That can happen at any time due to incorrect or imbalanced tantric or yogic practice), true loss of desire seems to be an outcome of the crown chakra beginning to open up. Once that starts everyone I’ve ever heard says your days are numbered. You will die, period. This is what happened to Ramakrishna, Vivekananda’s guru. He had to deliberately re-generate desire for food multiple times every day to stay embodied because he didn’t come from a lineage that taught him Mother Nature’s tricks. He told his wife the day he showed no interest in food there were only 3 days left. Which is what happened – 3 days later, he was gone. Cosmic Doctrine in action I suppose.
This is where my current understanding is and I don’t know how useful it will be to anyone but maybe you’ll find something useful in it?
I’ve linked to two Sadhguru 2-part transcripts that talk all about the chakras and mastery of them (known as Chakraswara). My blog is solely dedicated to providing transcripts of talks I’ve personally found helpful so that people whom dislike video can still have the chance to learn from them. Hope they help. 🙂
Sadhguru Exclusive – Prana: Moving the Chakras – Part 1 – Ep. 3 – (3 of 5 on Prana)
Sadhguru Exclusive – Prana: Moving the Chakras – Part 2 – Ep. 4 – (4 of 5 on Prana)
@ Matthias Graille RE: Rome, etc.
Well, I read Tacitus around 1977 or thereabouts. I have read other things since dealing with Rome. What struck me reading Tacitus originally was how much of what was going on around him was also happening around us at the (then) present time. As with Rome, the shriveling and withdrawal of empire is rarely a rapid thing, with the exception of disasters concurrent with the fall serving as an accelerant.
I wanted to read the same books that made me look up from my terribly hedonist ways and think – again.
So, as with Patricia – thanks for correcting me.
Your Kittenship, this highly enlightened mystic who achieved oneness with the cosmos agrees with you.
Kimberly, interesting. It would be interesting to have several experienced clairvoyants compare the auras of mindfulness meditators and heavy-duty potheads.
Your Kittenship, yes, it’s rare but it’s been known to happen. The cases I know of were people who had no adequate background or guidance, got deep into malefic magical workings — invoking demons, that kind of thing — and ended up killing themselves. I know of no case, ever, of anyone dying from practicing benefic magic while following an established course of study.
Changeling, that’s a topic for a post all its own, but — er — there aren’t five Wednesdays this month according to my calendar! I’ll consider posting about it down the road a bit, though I’ll have to reread it first; it’s been a while.
Phil, interesting. Thanks for this.
Danielle, you might find it helpful to do some journaling on the question of why you feel that fear. That experience is very often a sign of unpleasant childhood events you haven’t really processed.
Owen, of course! Among other things, the more competent someone is, the more likely they are to realize that the only good choice is to find a place on a lifeboat…
Ganv, that’s an excellent point! So the woke ideology is a faux occultism as well as a faux religion — yes, I could see that.
Phutatorius, Jones spent a while in a mental institution as a result of his practices. One account has it that he walked out into the middle of Vancouver BC wearing nothing but a raincoat, which he threw off, announcing that he was revealing the unclothed truth to the world. If Lowry got that notion from Jones, well, that would follow…
Moment, thanks for this.
Singularity, the link I posted didn’t ask me to create an account! Still, thanks for this.
Have you thought about using episodes from Egil’s Saga as subjects for discursive medtation? It seems to me that there’s a lot more in that saga than might appear at a first reading. Egil Skallagrimsson was a remarkable man; pretty much everything of note that he ever did was deeply tinctured with both good and evil to a much greater degree than what most other people usually do. It’s a book I have read many times over.
By the way, it is good to see Asatruar here among the commenters. Though I’m not Asatruar myself, I am half Danish-American, and my earliest exposure to anything that counted as mythological or religious was to the Old Norse Gods ands their doings — they were presented to me in early childhood simply as the essential core of my Danish (and therefore Scandinavian) heritage.
Oops: I looked at digital calendar and not noticed that it “folded” 31 March on my screen; foiled by technology and inattentiveness, yet again!
Thank you for considering this suggestion:)
A comment – really OT:, but since someone posted that link to Amazon’s highly stupid multiple choice test (judging from the question quoted) and the comments that presupposed that (1) the outreach would dilute the talent pool, since (presupposition #2) Amazon’s corporate executives were indeed the best that could be hired, because, of course, fellow corporate executives *never* hire people of lesser talent who gave off vibes of “we are of the same sort as you are.” Being creatures of pure rationality and virtue,with a keen understanding of *enlightened* self-interest. As witness many corporate decisions.
I ‘m so sure about that, having a long, long memory for tests on many an “unbiased” institution which proved otherwise. Case #1: the great orchestras, asked (or forced?) to do blind auditions, where you could not see the musicians but only hear them, were amazed to see the musicians they’d rated so highly in the blind auditions were the same women they’d rejected as “not up to par… weak…etc.” when in front of their eyes.
Case #2: the identical dissertations and c.v.’s sent out for peer review under several different names. Surprise! “Lateesha Washington” was bounced any number of times, “Dontay Washington” almost as many, and “Samuel Winchester” scored highest, with “Marilyn Winchester a sadly lagging second.” (Names made up because I can’t remember the ones they used.) “Henry Lopez” and “Sally Lopez” coming in somewhere in the middle, IIRC.
I repeat: IDENTICAL dissertations and c.v’s.
Of course, you all are at liberty to call them faked by the woke, if you choose, but I do incline not to.
A very relevant book review at the Astral Codex:
“Why Buddhism Is True”
Note that this review is both highly critical of the book’s thesis (as stated in the title) and yet explores the subject critically by both strawmanning and steelmanning the author. Fun to read and contemplate in light of the excellent conversation here.
Enlightenment: Abiding nondual awareness.
Re Post #135 by Aurelien – Fact Check:
Charles Tart is not a physician. He has a PhD in psychology and was a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis for 28 years. His research interests include altered states of consciousness, psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, and other aspects of the paranormal.
According to Wikipedia, “In his 1986 book Waking Up, he introduced the phrase ‘consensus trance’ to the lexicon. Tart likened normal waking consciousness to hypnotic trance. He discussed how each of us is from birth inducted to the trance of the society around us. Tart noted both similarities and differences between hypnotic trance induction and consensus trance induction. He emphasized the enormous and pervasive power of parents, teachers, religious leaders, political figures, and others to compel induction. Referring to the work of Gurdjieff and others he outlines a path to awakening based upon self-observation.”
In the foreword to to Altered States of Consciousness (1969) he wrote:
“It is clear that man has functioned in a multitude of states of consciousness and that different cultures have varied enormously in recognition and utilization of, and attitudes toward, ASC’s…. Fredrick Spiegelberg, the noted Indian scholar, pointed out that Sanskrit has about 20 nouns which we translate into “consciousness” or “mind” because we do not have the vocabulary to specify the different shades of meaning in these words.”
Obviously, there’s a great deal of overlap between his interests and the subjects discussed on ecosophia.net
Buddhism: Many Varieties
In response to the descriptions of the Goenka trainings:
The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading a book called “Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth: a Tibetan Buddhist Guidebook,” by Tulku Thondup. I’m participating in a Buddhist book group which chose this book for discussion.
Chapter 5 tells the story of several Tibetan delogs. These are people who died, had visions of the afterlife, and then returned to their bodies to share this knowledge with other people.
At the start of Chapter 5, Tulku Thondup writes:
“People often ask why delogs only mention Buddhist prayers and meditation and Buddhist deities and teachers. In a sense, I don’t think that the Buddhist attributes should matter. In my opinion, thoughts and feelings of peace and joy, and their expression in words and deeds, become sources of benefit and liberation, whether they are expressed through Buddhism or any other belief system. Whoever has attained the wisdom of ultimate peace and joy is equipped with the power of liberating others, whether they are in the form of Buddhist deities or not.
“However, the delogs of Tibet happened to witness the power of Buddhist deities and teachings because they themselves were Buddhist, and their mental habits and karmic relations were connected with Buddhist deities and teachings….Whatever belief system we follow, if it has the wisdom of ultimate peace and joy, then it will be a true source of benefit in life and in death.”
I find these comments inspiring. Some of the people I see on https://ecosophia.dreamwidth.org/ who are forming relationships with various deities might be interested to hear a Tibetan Lama say “whatever belief system we follow, if it has the wisdom of ultimate peace and joy, it will be a true source of benefit.”
Most of us are aware, without even thinking about it, that Christianity comes in many different flavors: Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Eastern Orthodox, the Foursquare Gospel Church, and many more. It might be useful to remind ourselves that Buddhism, with a 2500-year history spanning many countries, similarly comes in many flavors.
Neptunesdolphins, the sort of thing the priest described to you is classic lectio divina and well worth doing. Centering prayer, not so much. As for spiritual emptiness, that’s an interesting point and one that I’ll want to explore further.
NomadicBeer, thanks for this. When I was a teen I assumed as a matter of course that if I had to face a challenge I would fail. That was a learned response: partly from having Aspergers syndrome, because most physical activities were things I couldn’t do well — I have never in my life succeeded in getting a baseball bat and a ball into the same region of space at the same time — and partly because my parents and teachers had the unhelpful habit of assuming that I should always excel; thus when I lived up to their expectations I got no positive feedback, just noise of the “about time you lived up to your potential” variety, while failing just got me a lecture which I could shrug off. I had to spend quite a while wrestling with that response, and dealing with the emotions and experiences behind it, before I got rid of it.
Karl, that’s a fine plan, and I know people who’ve done it with excellent results. Don’t neglect the Prose Edda, though! Meditating your way through the Gylfaginning will give you a very solid grounding in the inner side of the sacred stories of Heathenry.
Trystan, Lévi’s book wasn’t designed for discursive meditation but you can certainly use it that way. You’ll be going ahead at some points and falling behind at others, because Lévi’s chapters are of variable length, but that’s not a problem. I don’t know that I’d recommend Hall’s book if you haven’t done discursive meditation before; this essay will give you ample guidance to get started.
Scotlyn, that’s a workable way to think about meditation. The mind is indeed large, and being able to attend to one small part of it is a necessary skill.
Alvin, I’m not a Bardon practitioner but I know people who’ve had good results with it. As for what you’re calling the “divine spark” concept, it’s all through the old Neoplatonists — you might try Plotinus, Iamblichus, and Proclus.
Changeling, no prob.
Malleus, thanks for this.
Ilona, well, of course. As I’ve noted several times already, if you want to follow a traditional Buddhist path, bully for you; it’s the watered-down and unbalanced pop-culture versions I’m wary of.
Thank you for answering my question so quickly and for the article.
Regarding ancient sources for the idea of the “divine spark,” in Psychology of Yoga and Meditation, C. G. Jung writes:
“In the Greek alchemists, in particular with the philosopher Zosimos, a Gnostic from the third century, we encounter the symbol of light: photeinos, i.e., of the luminous one or the man of light. This plays a great role in Gnosticism: the man of light is a spark from the eternal light that has plummeted into the darkness of matter (scintilla, i.e., the spark). Man is to redeem light out of the darkness.”
and in “Dream Symbolism in Relation to Alchemy,” Jung writes:
“The initiations of late classical syncretism, already saturated with alchemy (cf. the visions of Zosimos), were particularly concerned with the theme of ascent, i.e., sublimation. The idea of an ascent
through the seven spheres of the planets symbolizes the return of the soul to the sun god from whom it originated….Thus the Mystery of Isis described by Apuleius (The Golden Ass) culminated in what early medieval alchemy, going back to Alexandrian culture as transmitted by Arab tradition, called the solificatio, where the initiate was crowned as Helios.”
@Lydia, thanks for the story of your friend who taught at a Waldorf school. Yes, I could see that being a factor. My own experience so far in forest schools has been quite refreshing, in that most parents who have chosen that option for their kids are keen to get away from stifling mental constructs and to encourage more open-ended, risk-taking play in their kids.
@JMG, I would take courage from your comment about collapsing public schools and the imminent growth of private schools, except that I live in Canada, where public schools suffer from all kinds of bureaucratic malaise, but are nevertheless going strong. If I could pry my way into a job in the public system, I’d be set, but I’ve seen friends do it, and it’s a grim process. That’s the main reason I’ve chosen to work in alternative forms of education (camps and outdoor schools). It may just be too soon to tell whether Canadians are close enough to mass disillusionment with the public system for the alternatives to really take off. Unfortunately, those are the risks and uncertainties I face right now, as far as I can tell.
@Jon Goddard (#48)
It seems I had the same experience as you when I tried Transcendental Meditation, and your experience with Centering Prayer and JMG’s response to me (#203) regarding same have just saved me repeating that experience with Centering Prayer! Thanks for sharing.
@Karl – yes, the Gylfaginning and the rest are marvelous topics. Bear in mind, especially in the former, that Snorri Sturleson was Christian, and occasionally it shows.
JMG, if you have a basketball or soccer ball around, the next time a fly gets in, could you try killing it with the ball? Asperger’s is Autism Lite, as I understand it, and I’ve always been curious as to whether any autistic person could do the Ball of Doom trick or if it’s exclusive to Sonkitten. Only one other person has tried so far but that person breathed very loudly and may have alerted the fly, which escaped.
Don’t throw the Ball of Doom; broken windows are expensive. When the fly lands on the window, walk up to it and roll the Ball over it. If you too have the knack of the Ball of Doom, the fly will not notice you. It’s that simple and requires no athletic talent. Sonkitten doesn’t have any; he throws like a girl and is usually wearing heavy foot braces so can’t run very well. I’m not sure what talent the Ball of Doom requires. Since you’re verbal , if you can do the trick maybe you can also explain how!
I see the faux-Asian spirituality practiced by the managerial classes as a symptom of a larger anti-Western trend that’s been gaining steam for sometime. In this view, Europe (and the European diaspora peoples and cultures) are uniquely evil, explictly or implictly, past, present and forevermore. In other words, original sin.
Having the most education and wealth, the (European-American) managerial classes have the greatest spiritual need to absolve this sin. There are two strategies: 1) idelogies that transcend Western-ness (globalism, techno-utopianism, universalism, etc) 2) adopting non-Western cultural practices with varying degrees of sincerity.
Ironically, these two strategies often have devastating effects on non-Western peoples and cultures. If they had more pride in their heritage, and stop trying to transcend it with force, they would give some breathing room to all us humans trying to survive and find meaning here on Planet Earth.
Learn to work the saxophone
(I) I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
May be crazy but I’ve had what I consider moments of Zen deep in the blotto. In fact the last time was so intense, I said God, you get me through this I “may” never drink again… and I’ve been dry ever since. Decided to do a 10 year stint. Getting that close to God, I know 10 years is kind of the minimum. One year and change down and it would be easier if it weren’t for Scotch whiskey.
I have this from a recent post.
Saved it on my phone and made it high priority on Jeff’s to do list. When I’ve found a rhythm I’ll report back.
re Charles Tart–when I was an undergrad at UC Davis, late 60s, I knew some people who participated in Tart’s experiments with out of body viewing. IIRC he would place a with a several digit number printed on it out of sight, like on a shelf above eye level–not concealed inside a folder or turned face down, just not visible from a normal perspective. Then the subject would be put through whatever procedure he had devised for helping them leave the physical body and be asked to report what the number was once they returned. Results not 100% but higher than chance. I didn’t follow up at the time as, despite occasional tarot readings I wasn’t into oooky spooky stuff. I had some flaky friends in high school who had turned me off to such things.
“Fiddling while Rome burns”–I have the general impression that the idea that Rome was falling in the time of Nero was a Christian idea–a Sunday school level interpretation of history in which Nero persecutes Christians and God strikes Rome down. It wasn’t until I actually studied Roman history years after 5th grade Sunday school that I realized that Nero was at the beginning of the Empire, not the end. Also the idea that no one really believed in the old gods anymore–they were just waiting around for Christianity to rescue them from spiritual emptiness.
One thing about Waldorf schools is that despite the supposedly unified philosophy handed down by Steiner–the individual school vary a lot depending on the personalities of those running them. My middle grandson has little good to say about his experience since his teacher’s failure to actually teach reading resulted in him being returned to public school in 4th grade with no reading skills–fortunately he caught up. I have a friend whose child has been in a public Waldorf style charter school and is delighted with it. As they say, results may vary. There was an increased demand for Waldorf trained teachers in California as a result of the creation of these public school hybrids, but I don’t know about the situation elsewhere. For those outside the US–charter schools are an attempt to meet demand for school choice by allowing some schools to run on different principles than other schools in the district. Waldorf is one version, fundamental schools that emphasize basics and homework are another, others may emphasis technology and science, or arts and music, or be online programs (even pre Covid).
Matthias Gralle (210) commented that: There are some very good passages in Guy Halsall’s book “Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West”
When I was an undergrad on exchange to the University of York in the late 80s, Guy was a grad student working with one of my professors. We met up again 20 years later at a conference and remembered each other. Such a small (nerdy) world! I also found my brother reading one of Halsall’s works while on a family vacation.
Have you tried praying to St Anthony about your lost card? My mother was a Catholic of sorts and swore by him for finding lost objects. I have also had some surprising success with that.
Dylan, so noted! That said, you may still find that a teaching career is a good choice just now.
Your Kittenship, I don’t have any such item handy, and my very poor level of physical coordination (my Aspergers syndrome comes with motor dyskinesia, better known as “clumsy as frack”) doesn’t make it easy for me to do any such thing.
Brian, that seems plausible enough.
JeffBKLYN, stranger things have happened. A couple of thousand people have learned discursive meditation from that essay, so you should find it fairly easy to work with.
Talk about a flight from thinking!
I get the impression that mothers, at least PMC mothers, don’t explain to their daughters any more that any man who suddenly shows a lot more interest in you than he has been showing has fallen in love, or in lust, with you, and the stronger he comes on the more likely it’s lust. And if he’s old enough to be their father it’s particularly likely to be lust. Girls need to know this so they can friend the guy if they need to. (Ever since the ‘70’s, they can also yell “Yippee!” and leap into bed with him if they so desire.). This guy is accused of raping one student, but the rest seemed to be trying to be polite, or, as they might say, “professional.” Being polite will not work with a man in serious lust. Sometimes nothing short of whapping him upside the head with a Japanese-white-oak bokken will work. 😄. Mothers need to give their daughters the facts about Some Men that previous generations were given. To remain silent is to send them out as sheep amongst the wolves—without a God backing them up.
I have put in 4 requests to Saint Anthony. Either even he can’t find it, or he’s been way backlogged these couple of weeks. From now on I will give Sonkitten custody of anything important. I just don’t remember where I put things anymore. (He never forgets ANYTHING.). I asked my doctor if memory pills were right for me. He said you can’t start them until you’re 70. By then I won’t remember I need them. 🙄
JMG, sounds like you better stick with the Flyswatter of Doom. I’ll continue my search for someone autistic enough to use the Ball and verbal enough to explain how it’s done.
John Michael wrote, “One of the dangers of too much mind-stopping meditation is that the sense of meaning, descending from the mental sheath to the astral body, gets shut down; that allows words and images and emotions in the astral body to spin out of control.”
My god, that is brilliant! I couldn’t yet make any sense out of the planes as a way of explaining why one part of the self, the mind, doesn’t know about the existence of the other three, while those three are always aware of all four parts. Finally, it makes sense!
Each plane doesn’t correspond to a different part of the self, because three of the parts dwell in the same bloody plane. Thank you! I had tried shoehorning the body part of the self into the physical plane, and it just wouldn’t work. Dividing the etheric and astral planes into upper and lower wasn’t helping much either.
When the sense of meaning gets shut down, what actually spins out of control is *experiences* and images and emotions. All of those can be expressed in words, but the words themselves are just expressing the meaning in those referents. So when the sense of meaning disappears, the words themselves don’t spin out of control — they just lose any meaning they had been holding. Megan Vogt’s crazed, disconnected speech wasn’t her words or thoughts spinning out of control — it was their referents running amok. Her words, thoughts, and meaning-making could no longer control or assign any comprehensible meaning to those raw inputs.
Gaining access to the deeper parts of herself should have been a brilliant awakening, but getting there by the “trick” of turning off all contemplation rather than purposefully turning her contemplation onto those deeper parts was an incredibly dangerous shortcut. Perhaps people who have already accomplished most of the contemplation necessary to achieve awakening can safely use that shortcut to bypass the last little bit of work, though why they would want to is beyond me. Anyone who has already become that adept at contemplating deeper reality doesn’t need to shortchange the process using cheap gimmicks. And anyone not yet adept at contemplating deeper reality may not be able to hold themselves together should their shortcut succeed in providing them with a sudden, overwhelming glimpse of it.
In Megan’s case, too much contact with her larger self was brought on far too quickly by bypassing the long, arduous task of deep contemplation. She did achieve awakening, but at the expense of shattering her ego. What a price! (That’s another obsession of the mindless crowd — no ego, egolessness, freedom from ego, etc.) Ego is an absolutely essential part of the mind. When it shatters, the gaping void it leaves behind is a homing beacon for parasites and demons.
Had a demon infested Megan’s mind, she would not have killed herself. The demon would have been far more interested in keeping her alive to exploit her newly accessed power and to wreak havoc in waves all around her. Instead, Megan’s mind was infested by a destructive parasite that fed like a bloating tick on her newly unfettered energy, but fortunately without any demonic desire to keep its host alive in order to cause far greater destruction. You nailed it in writing, “Taken out of context and taught to the inexperienced, by contrast, ‘mindfulness’ meditation too often becomes mindlessness meditation, an off switch for the reasoning processes that can leave the mind a catatonic blank or an unsupervised playground for psychotic delusions.” As awful as the blank or the unsupervised playground may be, they are far preferable to supervision by a demon.
What happens after a demon swoops in on a freshly shattered ego looks an awful lot like the kind of damage that the organization that inflicted this on Megan is promoting and trying to cover up. Had a particularly powerful and experienced demon taken up residence in a freshly vacated, ego-shaped hole in the mind of someone who had just accomplished awakening by using the trick of mindlessness, that demon would have learned about a powerful tool by which to destroy as many other souls as possible. Building an organizational structure to keep that work going and growing after the possessed individual’s death would provide that demon with a new entity in which to dwell. Since an organizational structure does not have a physical mouth by which a demon can speak, that demon might have made recordings of itself speaking when it still did have control over a human mouth. All of which is entirely hypothetical, of course.
The new rages for mindlessness and egolessness have distinctly demonic flavors about them. Your admonition last month to “back slowly away from the crazy person” was particularly timely. I wish that practicing lousy meditation techniques was necessary in order to shatter people’s egos, but there are so very many other ways to accomplish that dreaded anti-goal.
Staying wedded to cherished beliefs that no longer map onto lived experience, until they end up replacing reality in a schizoid dissociation is one popular alternative. The cherished beliefs become mantras to hurl at any experience of reality that might then accidentally sneak through. Those mind-stopping mantras eventually manage to prevent any sense of meaning at all from traveling between the mental sheath and the astral body. Like mindlessness meditation, that disconnection finally leaves the mind without any ability to assign meaning to astral inputs. We can scream mantras at the astral body all we like, but one day it will most certainly surge up and overwhelm us in a inundating deluge. The return of the repressed, indeed! A nation, a military, a medical system, a media industry, or a government can all scream mantras at their astral bodies too, which will then reliably surge up in a schizoid dissociation. Again, this is all entirely hypothetical…
We’re currently witnessing the privileged castes attempt to turn almost every one of their cherished beliefs into a mind-numbing mantra. We’re also witnessing some very twisted demons (How many have I seen bobbing around on screens as “experts” in what passes for news nowadays?) try to inflict those ego-shattering techniques on as many souls as they can possibly rope in from every caste. Archaic political alignments are a favored germ around which to culture numbing mantras at the moment — a few decades ago, how many people reflexively sputtered “Nazi”, “elitist”, “Communist”, “populist”, “TERF”, “white supremacist”, “cis-privileged”, etc. whenever life didn’t go the way they wanted? Invented threats and worries are another great source — a few years ago, how many people reflexively barked “third wave”, “new mutations”, “troop buildup”, “cyber-espionage”, “kids in cages”, “new world order”, etc. whenever someone disagreed with their beliefs?
The rolling lockdowns and layoffs have provided a considerable number of people with time to begin contemplating aspects of reality they were unaware of. Alas, many people have then grasped at any technique offered that promises to keep precisely that awareness at bay. Fleeing from one’s self is never a good idea — mostly it just won’t work, but, when it does, it will tear the self apart. Thank you for reminding us that spiritual tourism has casualties too, like any other kind of tourism. “Spiritual” does not describe only benevolent forces. Too many people are completely unaware of the dangers of newly-minted spiritual practices, especially the ones claiming ancient lineages, stamped with a tiny ™ on their labels.
Anyone offering a technique to stop thinking or contemplating is not a friend. Anyone offering that technique may well not even be human, regardless of the host they happen to be inhabiting. Fortunately, there are an almost endless number of techniques that encourage deep thinking and contemplating. Equally fortunate is that deep thinking and contemplating is the most reliable and safest path to awakening. With the veil as thin as it is right now and so many people awakening to parts of their deeper selves, your writing up this warning is a true blessing… and, hopefully, a potent protective spell.
There are different paths to enlightenment. One of them requires a great deal of time, effort, attention, and thought, but it guarantees an intact soul. Another one requires much less time and effort, but it often destroys the soul. May we all choose wisely… our lives may well depend on it.
As far as I know they were standard practices on the University that the late Hector Durville created. Université des Études Avancées (University of Advanced Studies) that had three colleges
Science Magnétique (Magnetic science – animal magnetism, mesmerism and similar studies)
Science Hermétique (Hermetique Science)
Faculté des Sciences Spirites (College of Spiritualist Sciences)
His collaborator and also a remarcable man Paul-Clement Jagot also taught those methods in his books.
I know of several ;Martinists that used the silence meditation but i don’t know enough about the Martinist Schools to confirm if it was a standard practice or something that some members decided to add to their reportoire.
Do Idol worship, rituals, group prayer/chanting/hymn singing, and pilgrimages to holy places give a good balance when mixed with a little meditation? If I have understood the history of religions, most traditional religions — both pagan and otherwise — use some combination of the above, especially for laypeople. Even Buddhism, if I understand correctly, started with purely abstract meditative practices and then evolved to have more rituals with idols, incense, flowers, lights, sound making instruments, prostration etc.
You might have heard of cosmism before. I confess I had not, but I thought of your blog when I read this:
Hmm, maybe only those with EU IPs are asked to create an account to read the whole Harpers article ?
Hi John Michael,
Finally had a chance to read all of the comments today whilst on the train into, and then out of the big smoke of Melbourne. I must say that with all the current fear of dying and stuff, the trains are much more comfortable with far less people. A bit over a year ago, it was standing room only. Anyway, as someone who enjoys living literally in the middle of nowhere and has long become accustomed to the sounds of the forest, I find crowds to be uncomfortable places and try to keep a reasonable personal space around me – which isn’t always possible. It is worthwhile mentioning that stopping and taking in the sounds of the forest is hardly a mindlessness, err, sorry mindfulness, practice.
Sorry, I ramble. So I read all the comments and discovered to my amusement that I’d written about malevolent entities almost word for word with your good self. Except you got there first! Nice one, but it is possible I’m also parroting you from months or years ago – where ideas come from is a mystery, so you kind of have to be onto what you let into your mind in the first place. Whatever the case may be with the information, the warning is worth repeating.
Had a bit of a sad moment (albeit very briefly, I’m not wired to be that way inclined), earlier in the week. I’m reading a bit these days about soil minerals – it seems like a kind of important subject – and was cogitating upon that subject (hello discursive meditation!) And I had this almost smoosh to the head kind of reaction when I overlaid the ever increasing soil mineral information with Mr Catton Jr’s fine analysis. An ill wind and all that!
Hope your spring is good and that you and Sara are feeling the warmth of the sun.
Thank you for mentioning Joseph Hall. I had been curious, reading your Mystery Teachings book and the Druidry Handbook, as to who these Christian teachers of discursive meditation were, and now I have something to follow up. I’m not a Christian, though I was raised as one, and I’m intrigued by the idea that children could have been introduced to discursive meditation in Sunday school.
This article came at a good time for me. Suffering with a bout of anxiety, I was turning in my usual way to mindfulness meditation, which has provided something of a respite in the past. I feel the need, though, for something more than a “time out”. Navigating the craziness of our current situation requires better thoughts.
Finally with this in mind I am returning to your Mystery Teachings. I have just re-read the Introduction and it strikes me now as ten of the best pages you have written. Thank you.
Bardon’ first book have theory section that is composed of short sub-sections of one of few paragraphs and repeatedly says that “meditating mage” should think them through and expand on this with his own thinking and research.
I wanted to piggy-back on Brian’s most comment and JMG’s comment on pop Buddhism.
The anti-Western and watered-down versions of Eastern religions have going on for sometime. I believe that currently the New Age and the Neo-Pagans are examples of it. I am sure there are others. The magazine “First Things” which is put out by the Newman Society – religion and politics discuss how modern Christianity has been watered down to being a pale copy of secular wokeness.
My observation is that the middle and upper classes are searching for something to fill their emptiness – I believe it is spiritual. Since it would seem that they go to rich religious traditions and proceed to pick and choose what they don’t like or like. My father – militant Atheist – was a member of the local United Methodist Church and taught Sunday School. (Contradiction, I know.) He was comfortable with the social ministry of the UMC but not the doctrines. He left/ was expelled when he said he thought the Resurrection of Christ was a joke.
I take my father’s example as the beginning of my looking into this idea of watering down religion to fit secular needs. As you know there are Atheists who demand recognition in the Neo-Pagan world as Neo-Pagans. They have watered down versions of Neo-Pagan rituals, which seem to me to be watered down to begin with.
The mindful/mindless meditation seems to fit the pattern along with core shamanism and the rest. A plucking of a thread from the whole to gain instant contentment without dealing with the thorny questions that go with it.
I do believe that the spiritual emptiness goes to the heart of the woke movement. They are seeking a perfect world and redemption in this perfect world. The mindful meditation goes to creating a perfect being for the perfect world.
One factor in SonKitten’s method is that houseflies move slightly backwards on takeoff. Ran across that fact in a popular science mag years ago, started swatting just behind the fly, and my average improved markedly. TSW ; )
To what degree do Discursive Meditation and concentration practices have the same effects, or how do they differ if they don’t?
There’s some controversy about the whole Vipassana thing. Modern Vipassana was made up about 150 years ago–Buddhism, like Christianity, has an unending stream of revisionists who insist that they alone understand what the Buddha really meant and the whole tradition got it wrong until they came along to fix things. Before that, the word meant something different and the practice it now describes either never existed or had once existed but got universally dropped shortly after the death of the historical Buddha.
Concentration practices, on the other hand, have a much more robust pedigree, though there’s plenty of argument on the details.
Here is a discussion on the Dangers of Centering Prayer from Catholic Answers:
From the article:
Centering prayer is essentially a form of self-hypnosis. It makes use of a “mantra,” a word repeated over and over to focus the mind while striving by one’s will to go deep within oneself. The effects are a hypnotic-like state: concentration upon one thing, disengagement from other stimuli, a high degree of openness to suggestion, a psychological and physiological condition that externally resembles sleep but in which consciousness is interiorized and the mind subject to suggestion.
Abbot Keating relates that, when they began doing the centering prayer workshops in the guest house, some of the monks and guests ” complained that it was spooky seeing people walking around the guest house like ‘zombies.”’ They recognized the symptoms but could not diagnose the illness.
Equally questionable is the setting aside of traditional safeguards. Centering prayer is often offered to large groups, where there is no way of knowing the psychological and spiritual problems some people may have. And this can be very dangerous indeed, leading to any of the following: (1) The delusion that one has found and pleased God, when in fact he has not. God is not part of the universe. The attempt to reach God by human technique is not only futile, but objectively sinful. (2) A self-absorption which forgets that life in the Triune God is relationships and that we have been inserted into these relationships through Christ. People who come out of this type of prayer often express it as coming into a freedom they did not know that they had lost. (3) The danger of opening oneself to evil spirits. Such techniques can bring people in touch with the spiritual realm. But the spiritual realm includes not only God but human and angelic spirits. A person with a problem in a moral or psychological area can open himself to some degree of demonic influence.
It was written in 1997.
I found it interesting that Fr. Keating who noticed the monks becoming zombies still promoted centering prayer.
@ JMG RE: Ball of Doom
My eldest shares your ‘difference’ (I refuse to term it a “dis”order, as it has always seemed to me simply to be different). I sent him a link to the Ball O’Doom thing a good while back, and said nothing more. He also has coordination issues, made more difficult by having had chemotherapy as an infant.
After a few weeks, when we were chatting, he said he had to go. I asked, “What is so pressing?” The reply was, “I have to clean these dead flies off my window sill.” Soo it’s more a focus thing than a physical skill thing – and your are most excellent at focusing…
What I find interesting is that the band the keeps yelling about cultural appropriation is the same band that treats the spiritual traditions of someone else as a workshop on productivity or a gym class. Both eastern style traditions I’ve practiced teach “empty mind” meditation as advanced after having passed a (though simple) test and it is always accompanied by activity of some other kind.
I like that kind of meditation but if I would have to rank the practices in a bang for your buck scale, discursive meditation is the one on top by a long shot. I have mental muscles I didn’t know I had before! I’ve also acquired the benefit of “silencing it” when it’s rushing out of control in a much faster and controllable fashion than shutting it up blank.
I think that is pretty cool for such a simple practice. I don’t see it too far out for a workshop that teaches it to happen (I can even see a banishing going alongside it), though I am far from sure the range of employers that treat their employees as resources would be too happy about it once the effects start to kick-in.
Yikes, our system does depend on the misery of people.
Unsung philosopher and a clear statement of the “mind OR matter” fallacy that still ails us today:
Reading this, and the two polar opposite positions, I wanted to cry “Both, you idiots!”
> Lady Cutekitten of Lolcat says:
> I’ve always been curious as to whether any autistic person could do the Ball of Doom trick or if it’s exclusive to Sonkitten.
Maybe. I don’t believe autistic people are intrinsically clumsy. They become clumsy when required to socially interact at the same time, e.g. sport, and so possibly also develop a limiting self-belief of an independent rather than situational clumsiness from repeated association.
> Since you’re verbal , if you can do the trick maybe you can also explain how!
Can you explain the trick of being physically coordinated to our host. Focusing on yourself as you do it to try to figure out how to explain it will probably make you clumsy too! Especially if you’re responding to someone else’s actions.
@Dylan #240 said “It may just be too soon to tell whether Canadians are close enough to mass disillusionment with the public system for the alternatives to really take off.”
It’ll be soon.
Reports from inside (sorry, long, but data points): My husband has been teaching 12 years in BC public highschool, and the newest curriculum is the pits. A few years ago he liked it, it’s tanked rapidly. He won’t use the new one. (It’s now apparently anti racist to teach physics with inclusion of word problems about braves shooting bows and arrows, and paddling canoes. Grok that reversal).
We’ve all read about the gong show going down in Alberta’s new curriculum rollout, and the open war in Ontario between the province and the teacher’s union started years ago, and it’s becoming decisive (there’s a reason our schools are open, and theirs closed right away because Covid). Manitoba just axed all their school boards. And I can’t even about Québec religious symbol schism between Anglo and French school systems right now.
This winter hubby had to do six weeks of US anti-racist training at a school with only two black students and two indigenous (out of 1200) to learn that their whole school is designed to hate and persecute those kids. Can you imagine being those kids right now?! The last day of the training was a full day with the students there, too. The “educators” sent a video for the kids to watch to prepare them for “inquiry” the day before, not giving the teachers time to view it first. He had a dust up with them and the admin, because he refused to show his students something he hadn’t had a chance to contextualize or even vet for appropriateness first-these outside experts are not actually teachers, right, he wouldn’t abdicate his professional responsibility. The admin knew it, too, but it was clear they weren’t in charge of the decision. He ended up turning off the zoom camera to his class and let his kids outside half way through the live day long workshop the next day.
That man has been with me for twenty years and has a black belt in aikido (he’d have to) and I have never seen him thrown before now.
They’re introducing schoolwide mindfulness meditation this spring to help the kids with their soaring anxiety.
One of his colleagues (nickname The Manhater amongst his mixed crew of Office Space misfits) had a breakdown in a staff meeting about the kids not being safe in the schools, but no one could figure out what she was on about – they had one covid exposure, no transmission (there never is), no violence, no gangs, like, what? But she just kept gibbering that they weren’t safe. Last staff meeting she declared that math was oppressive because we use left – right axes, and left is negative numbers, that’s why left handed kids have low self esteem. Hubby cowed her on her attempt to declare Arabic numerals and geometry white supremacist.
The nail in the coffin, though, is that a childhood friend of mine who is now a grand high mucky muck designing and implementing the digital national curriculum in NZ says over there they were so impressed with our new curriculum, they’re adopting large swathes of it (we don’t really speak anymore). She said in international pedagogy standards, the Dogwood has always been considered a prestigious diploma – innovative education – that’s why we had so many international students from Asia.
While most of the grade twelve students have signed up for math and/or physics 12 next year with hopes of being in hubby’s class… What someone up thread said about boiling off the good ones is inevitable at this point. The usual chaos of unqualified teachers will ensue; you’ll be needed. I strongly doubt he’ll stop teaching, either.
Rita Riptoe (#246) said:
re Charles Tart–when I was an undergrad at UC Davis, late 60s, I knew some people who participated in Tart’s experiments with out of body viewing.
From the various sources I’ve read and listened to – this Tart experiment is designed to show certain superpowers of Agna chakra. Agna is the most mobile and penetrative of the chakras because its primary gift is pure perception. It’s pure receptivity part of the Dao. Conclusioning of the mind stops that receptive perceptive function cold in its tracks. That’s the hidden intent behind a lot of well-meaning but nonetheless clueless ‘mindfulness’ meditation retreats.
People whom don’t even train for it can sometimes have their Agna thrown out from it’s typical location for reasons other than spiritual practices.
There was a lady I recently watched on Youtube who described what happened one day when she was much younger and getting beaten up by her boyfriend. He landed a particularly nasty blow to her head. All of a sudden she says she was up at the ceiling looking down watching the whole beating unfold like she was a spirit.
Vivekananda would put a closed book between his two hands, eyes closed for 30 minutes and finally open them then be able to repeat verbatim the entire book including the page number. Entire books could be done this way. When asked by an astonished bystander how he was doing it he replied, “That’s why they call me Vivekandanda.” Vivek = perception.
Your Kittenship, I wonder if what’s happening is that people in the comfortable classes are no longer able to cope with the fact that the world they see on various glass screens is not the world they actually inhabit.
Christophe, I’m glad you find that occult model helpful. Yeah, it’s easy to get confused between experiences of a plane and the plane itself; your coffee cup exists on the material plane but your perception of the coffee cup is on the astral plane, the plane of concrete consciousness, along with all other mental images, feelings, and verbal thoughts. As for the likelihood that malefic entities are running the mindlessness show, that’s a possibility; it’s also possible that the mindlessness industry has generated an egregor, an artificial spirit that’s only motivated by the desire to propagate itself, and that manipulates the empty-minded to make that happen.
Whispers, fascinating. My exposure to Martinist practice is rather limited, but I’ve never encountered it in that context.
Ramaraj, as long as it’s a little meditation, almost anything will do, including daily life. The combination you’ve cited is of course highly traditional in a wide range of faiths, and so the most likely explanation is that it works very well.
Jeff, I have indeed. I have very mixed feelings about it, but it’s an interesting phenomenon.
Singularity, that wouldn’t surprise me!
Chris, yep — soil minerals are yet another of the resources we’re exhausting at rates far beyond natural rates of replenishment! But for the moment, spring is here, the sun is bright, the weather isn’t sticky yet, and life is good.
Matt, Hall’s book is very solid, and there’s a lot of other good material out there — the link to archive.org I posted above will give you plenty more to work with. I’m glad you like Mystery Teachings — I sweated blood over that book, trying to make it as clear, simple, and communicative as possible.
Neptunesdolphins, good heavens. I wonder if what we’re seeing is the bargaining phase of the death of rationalism.
Rohan, discursive meditation has the same benefits as concentration — not surprisingly, as it takes the same mental focus to keep the mind on the theme as it does to maintain focus on anything else — but it also has additional benefits. It exercises and clarifies the mind, and it develops intuitive understanding of the meaning of spiritual texts; in the West, at least, many occult texts were deliberately written so that their meaning can only be successfully unpacked through meditation. That said, concentration training also has a good deal to offer on its own; Mouni Sadhu, who despite the pen name was a Polish occultist, has a first-rate book titled Concentration which I worked through back in the day, with excellent results.
Neptunesdolphins, many thanks for this. Filter out the specifically Catholic theological objections and this matches my experience pretty closely.
Oilman2, so noted. I do consider it a disorder, for what it’s worth.
Augusto, true enough! The basic rule about “cultural appropriation” is that it only matters if the woke can use it to attack someone else — the cultural appropriations of the privileged left are of course sacrosanct. As for discursive meditation workshops, oog — please don’t even think that too loudly. They’d find some way to kill it, gut it, and make money off the taxidermied remains.
Patricia M, no argument there!
Kira (if I may), you may not have read my comment. I don’t speak for all people on the autism spectrum, of course, but I am “intrinsically clumsy,” and so her comment wasn’t inappropriate. No, it’s not just psychological — I’m just as awkward when no one is watching. It’s a function of a nervous system on the fritz.
>What someone up thread said about boiling off the good ones is inevitable at this point
To continue the analogy, the next world power will be whoever can “condense” that which has been boiled off…
@Steve T. Re the Grand Cross, I spent an interested ten minutes looking at this, this morning. My conclusion is that it’s close but not quite fully formed. If you are looking at a chart that’s been created by standard astrological software, it might using the orbs appropriate to Natal Astrology, so the aspects may vary from those of Mundane. The chart did look quite bad though. On the other hand my opinion is backed by just a few months of study so when JMG gets round to it, you should just bin my view. I certainly will.
I’ve had a busy week and it’s going to be a busy weekend too so I’ve had very little time to look at and think about comments. Has anyone bought up the similarity between discursive meditation and the act of a programmer intensively considering a deep problem? I’ve done a little discursive meditation and it does feel similar. Unfortunately programmers are typically contemplating things like discounted cash flows or tax law as it applies to leased vehicles or some such so I don’t suppose the esoteric consequences are very great. Occasionally though there are opportunities for exploration of deeper subjects. It goes by the name ‘hammock time’ in one of the technical communities I’m involved in and is generally held to be highly important.
@JMG – I have bruises in odd places that both my doctor and my daughter sometimes ask me about. I always answer that I was attacked by a vicious piece of furniture. And yes, disorder/difference/some advantages/ lots of downsides. When everything you do is a little off, it gets tiresome. And there’s always the secondary disorder of the square peg being (or having been) hammered too relentlessly into the round holes of society.
There’s a thread on the Bujold list about mutations, and everybody having some. Some are medically significant, which is how the entire thread got started. Then there’s having a million and one small things wrong, again, just a little off, but enough to plague both patient and doctor. Chinese medicine says if that’s your case, you’ll live to be a lot older than the person who has one big thing wrong. I happen to know what mine is, thanks to a routine genetic testing of my oldest grandson in utero; and also know his mom’s chromosomes break 20% bad, 80% good; mine just the opposite. I think of it as being a dark-haired tortoiseshell cat. Once you know, it’s FAR easier to deal with! And yes, I outed myself to the management here while applying for residence, figuring if it was a deal-killer, well, on to plan B. They never turned a hair, not them nor the Senior Health Care Center on site.
BTW, I discovered over the years that when everything you do is a little off, you can sometimes get a reputation for being a wit! (Duh! I was making a joke?)
No beer here, but raising a virtual glass of red wine to us for surviving.
For “meditation” i like to focus on: the symbol of thors hammer turned down (grounding) – tree shape with roots, trunk and branches/torus/= means wholeness and nature to me.
I also have dvelved into repeating thor, odin, froy, loke(dont forget that one) as mantras. After reading this post I have done it more recently and it feels good.
I used to in the past to rry to silence my thoughts, the “ego” etc. But I have stepped more away from that, as it feels to powerful and ‘shattering’ to do unless in special situations. Not so pratical in day to day life.
Really appreciate this site, all the commenters in these intense changing times!
Good point, JMG, re: Highland Games. Wanna toss around a telephone pole? Go right ahead – no bar of colour or gender. Playing the pipes more to your liking? By all means – blow your lungs out, whoever you are! However, there are some lines which must not be crossed (in the mind of the highlanders, that is). My mother once told me of attending a Highland Games tournament (in Canada) in which some very un-Scottish looking people were wearing kilts of her clan. She and her younger brother went up to them and started chatting with them, only to find out that these non-Scots had at some point changed their surnames to Gordon and somehow felt that they had a right to wear the clan’s tartan. My mother had to restrain my uncle from beating them to a pulp and she always told that story with extreme bitterness. Her bitterness was not based on race or bloodline, but on history: to wear the tartan of one’s clan is to remind fellow-Scots of the battles that were fought by one’s ancestors over quite a few centuries (for examples, as staunch Catholics, many Gordons are very proud of having shed a lot of their own blood defending Queen Mary and participating in all the Jacobite rebellions).
Coordination doesn’t seem to be associated with autism per se, there are plenty of klutzes out there who don’t seem autistic. I used to be one of those klutzes till I took up belly dance. It helped greatly. I think klutziness MAY be associated with some kind of (usually minor) brain damage as it’s not an adaptive trait. A caveman who can’t get the spear anywhere near the deer probably won’t get to have kids, as the cavewomen would all take up with better hunters. As civilization advances klutziness becomes less of a drawback, and so we still have klutzes among us today.
A number of people who weren’t autistic, including me, tried the Ball trick. Didn’t work. So I hit on the idea of seeing if I can find someone autistic but verbal to try it and possibly explain how to do it. Unlike rolling balls over flies, explanation is not one of Sonkitten’s talents. He’s always right on factual matters but can’t explain why. (If I say, “You turn left at the McDonald’s to get to the post office “ in a new town, and he says, “No, turn right,” I know to turn around.). Directions are his other talent. He’s only been lost twice in his life. Once was in Fort Wayne, Indiana, specifically Coldwater Road (abandon all hope, ye who exit here). The other time was a corn maze. No one we know likes corn mazes so I usually end up going through with him, but for two years, as my foot surgeon climbed the ladder of insurance-Company denials, I had a heel spur shaped exactly like the corner of a sheet of paper growing into my Achilles tendon. So that year I stayed in the car, reading. Sonkitten was gone a long time and I thought, “Oh, good, he’s enjoying it so much he went through twice.” He came back to the car looking annoyed and when I asked if he liked it he said, “No, I got lost.” !!!
Well, that’s enough. Poor JMG. He starts an occult topic and then someone, usually me, comes along babbling about balls and flies and Fort Wayne. Sorry, JMG!
You mentioned labyrinths. Sonkitten loves them but he’s interested in following the pattern, as far as I can tell he’s not praying in any way.
The enthusiasm and downright glee people are showing in continuing to fear Covid and participate in anti-racism trainings makes me wonder if those two things are intertwined. Maybe together they are penance paid (meaning no change in daily life needed once one has done the obligatory ritual)?
Un-related questions – what percentage of the population would you say has a mind capable of thinking beyond the media-driven narratives? What percentage are practicing magic or a faith-based practice connecting them to higher powers?
In his Introduction Constant refers to the Talmud as a monument of philosophical and religious genius. He then refers to the Jews as saviors of the world. My first thought was, is this occult Scofield Bible?
Not only am I clumsy, but I drool. But when I took an Aspergers self-assessment, I didn’t quite “make the cut.”
@John, I just found this 2004 writing of yours: https://aoda.org/publications/articles-on-druidry/druidmeditationprimer/
I know you have advised discursive meditation many times, but somehow either your descriptions of the process seemed incomplete, or got past me, or I simply wasn’t ready for them. Anyway, I really liked your description of the process in the above link and, together with your links to the Christian meditation themes you cited above, I suddenly have a new appreciation for what you have been advising. I even tried it today according to directions.
Perhaps consider linking to this prior essay from time to time? It might help bring others up to speed a little faster as your community grows.
Am I correct you recommend keeping the eyes open? I think I read that somewhere and I believe it is wise, at least to start, as it provides a reality anchor. I know Zen encourages that while I can tell you from experience it is not stressed in most meditation classes/lineages and, therefore, gets dropped because it is more comfortable to close the lazy eyes. (which can lead to real problems as focusing on a single object or the breath turns much more easily to delusion/psychosis).
I really look forward to the coverage of Levi’s “Ritual Magic” beginning next month. I think this week’s essay and discussion is a good intro. I expect I will be more engaged with it than I was for Dion Fortune’s “Cosmic Doctrine”.
Thanks for your patience and vision. There may be more than one way into a magical lodge.
@ JMG RE: dis order
No one size fits all friend, and we are all best suited to decide our own normal and abiby normals….LOL
JMG – Speaking of labyrinths, this one appears extremely difficult to complete.
To see why, zoom out.
Reading this post and everybody’s comments has finally electrified the bulb above my head.
When I tried TM in my early twenties, it was because it was exotic and really cool. It was the same reason I messed around with Zen. But I also think there was an ulterior motive, and that I thought I would be able to get to Heaven without going through any intermediary steps, such as suffering. JMG, this is similar to what you described when you wrote about the aim of the gnostics, who wanted to get the heck out of Dodge ASAP before the darkest ages were upon us.
For the PMC and Moderns in general, we don’t want to suffer. We’re past that! That’s so pre-Enlightenment. Why should we have to get dirty with the plebes and focus on life’s miseries when we get to go directly to Happily Ever After without the messy drama in between? We live in a material bubble of prosperity, so our religion should be the same.
I think I was escaping my Catholic upbringing, too. But now I realize that the Catholics (and most other religions and traditions) were the wise ones.
@ Vermont Beekeeper,
I’d like to thank you for your recommendation for ”Ben’s Mill.” It’s much appreciated.
JMG – I following your link from the other blog to “The Magical Buffet”, and found the prior posting to be entirely relevant to this week’s blog.
Patricia M, glasses duly clinked.
Seidemadr, so noted!
Ron, I get that. I have the right to wear Clan Gregor’s tartan but I’ve never done so — it would feel like an affectation to me, since I wasn’t raised in the culture.
Denis, that’s a fascinating point. In both the coronavirus and the racism narrative there’s a shared theme of infectious evil in the crawlspaces of the self, which can only be atoned for by an unending series of penances — these are people, remember, who don’t want the masks ever to come off, and insist that no white person can ever stop being racist. The question is what the real evil is from which these symbolic atonements are meant to distract attention. As for your questions — I really have no idea in either case.
Vakr, no, but it certainly shows that the people who accuse Lévi of antisemitism have their heads so far up their backsides that they’re digesting their own hair. Lévi has his own distinctive, eccentric, but heartfelt religious faith; you don’t have to share that faith to learn from him, however.
Phutatorius, there are other ways to have a messed-up nervous system!
Gnat, glad to hear it — I link to that essay quite regularly, but I’ll consider putting a link to it at the bottom of each Lévi post. Some people like meditating with their eyes open, some with eyes closed — I always have my eyes open, as I get better results that way.
Oilman2, thank you.
Lathechuck, funny. Au contraire, it’s quite easy to complete. It’s getting to the beginning that takes top-level security clearances!
Jon, that makes a great deal of sense. And of course the result was to guarantee even more drama…
Lathechuck, the guy has a point.
Well I am pleased that you had given St Anthony a go. It might mean that it is quite outside your environment now so bad luck.
I am bit lucky in that I have been forgetful (a day-dreamer) for my entire life. It has made me extra-careful, but not perfectly so, and means that with advancing age things are the same as they always were so I don’t worry about it.
You’re discussion about Asperger’s syndrome and clumsiness raises some interesting thoughts for me (also AS). I’ve never been interested in or good at sports, but I am quite dexterous in other areas – casual rock climbing, piano playing, rifle shooting, or handling laboratory equipment.
Though in any sport that requires quick reactions to my surroundings and to other people, I’m just too slow, and I seem to always be getting lost in a daze of my own thoughts.
But if the challenge is more of a single-minded, concentration-to-a-point sort of thing, I do much better. For instance, finding a good handhold in rock climbing, or finessing the capacitor knobs on the Millikan apparatus just right so that the tiny oil drop stays in the microscope’s field of view.
My father (also AS) may have been the same way – in high school, he chose high-jumping rather than a team sport or combat sport, and he later got into a career in graphic design that required dexterity, but not quick reactions to outside events.
IIRC, JMG, you have some experience with fencing, including translating a classic fencing manual out of either French or Latin. In your view, did studying this discipline seem to help with your clumsiness/slow reaction times?
“Those of my readers who are Protestants or Jews—er, what did you think you were supposed to do with your scriptures, other than stare blankly at them?
One of the most spiritual people I’ve ever met, an elderly woman I knew many years ago, read a chapter of the Bible every morning, meditated on it, and prayed. That was her practice, and it took her places I hope I’ll be able to reach someday.”
I do a similar practice to that. Pray for Wisdom and Understanding and read. Since I have somewhat weak imagination some parts of the Bible I have a hard time imagining. Especially the Supernatural parts.
From time to time symbology will pop out and I will get flashes of insight whilst I am reading and contemplating certain passages.
There is a strange synchronicity that happens despite all those books being written by disparate Men.
When I first read the Bible. Something about it gripped me like there is a Real Weight behind it. Like they aren’t just dry words. They are really,really Powerful Words, its a very Visceral Experience when you get into a meditative state of mind.
Especially when one is fasting and praying as well.
And Prophets are the most readable in my opinion. The great poetry and vivid imagery really makes it readily digestible.
And I do genuinely believe that many Prophecies are fulfilled. Especially the succession of Empires From Assyria to Rome and the splitting of Alexander’s Empire into 4 parts initially as predicted in the Book of Daniel.
And the destruction of not only Coastal Tyre by Nebuchanezzar but also Off-shore Tyre by Alexander the Great as prophesied by one of the Prophets receiving Divine instruction.
@Lathechuck How interesting they have a labyrinth! As a kid I remember touring the FBI museum which was at Quantico. My dad was hoping I’d be inspired to join. Glad I didn’t.
“The question is what the real evil is from which these symbolic atonements are meant to distract attention.”
It seems that the evil comes from within the individuals and institutions promoting this stuff. Maybe they have been taken over by demons or other malevolent entities?
OT, but I just got this in my in-box: https://www.space.com/spacex-crew-2-dragon-capsule-space-junk
“Space debris is a growing concern for astronauts and satellites as companies launch more and more missions into space, including megaconstellations like SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet project, which now numbers more than 1,400 satellites.”
JMG recently said he expected to see the Kessler syndrome in his lifetime. This was close, but did not quite hit the jackpot yet. Just goes to show how blindly our society crashes forward, as if it were completely incapable of considering consequences, and whatever mishmash results is heralded as “progress.” Proof, if any is needed, that conspiracies, though real, are vastly overrated.
Whoa the synchronicity again……@Lathechuck’s link to the narcissism driving people’s pursuit of enlightenment in Buddhism. It ties into what I posted before, narcissism as a possible driver of Covid hysteria and anti-racism. It also ties back to your observations JMG of how people fantasize about instant collapse because they see themselves as all powerful, and their incessant need to be seen as history’s actors and drivers of the progress (the constant use in their writings of “being on the right side of history,” “historic,” and “moment in time.”)
There’s a class of people striving to keep up with the narrative being pushed by The Good People™ and supporting it through social media, and that narrative has nothing to do with the reality of everyday people’s lives. I have to believe that reality wins, but when?
JMG – I think the part about Eastern-religious enlightenment that is most contrary to my American Protestant experience is the appearance that it’s all internal and subjective. Our Bible contains “The Acts of the Apostles”, for example, not “The Bliss of the Apostles”. We are instructed to be like Jesus in feeding the hungry, healing the sick, etc., and if in my life that’s actually manifested as “fixing the leaking toilet by the Pastor’s office”, it’s a question of direct vs. indirect service. It’s still an objectively verifiable reality. In contrast, the “Emperor’s New Clothes” tale may apply to self-reporting on subjective states of consciousness.
I’d be angry too. These days cultural appropriation only goes one way and the cultures of Americans of European descent are considered not worth respecting, but by golly, the uproar and nastiness a year or two ago when a teen girl wore a cheongsam dress to the prom, one she’d bought at a second-hand store. One particularly angry person said that she should never wear such a garment until she had educated herself about Chinese culture and history and paid respect to it (them?). Can you imagine anyone these days defending European culture like that?
In one of my crankier moments I’ve said that unless you’ve got a significant percentage of German – or possibly English Anglo-Saxon blood – no Christmas tree for you.
You are quite right JMG in your assessment of my fear. This is a bit off topic but goes into larger themes of your blog. I spent the last 8 years crawling myself out of a harmful narrative which is the college brings success narrative. I found myself in the 6 number figure of debt with few job prospects as the pay and field is much stricter than advertised. (The field is Occupational Therapy) I worked those 6 years 80 to 100 hours a week multiple jobs and in poor living situations to crawl out of that narrative. It was not the poverty that was difficult it was the race against time due to the high interest on the student loans. I know many of my co workers have been paying the adjusted rate on their loans and after 10 years of paying owe 10 to 20 thousand more and do not qualify for loan forgiveness due to the byzantine laws surrounding it.
I am proud looking back on how much I kept myself together but it means that I had little time to process. This is the first year without debt and all those accumulated fears of the past and during that time have piled up. With the journaling I have done since opening up about deciding to go to Mexico I have pinpointed the core fear…I am not enough by myself and I need to identify what societally approved activity I need to do in order to justify my existence. It’s a harsh conclusion but it makes sense based on the fact that I had to develop razor sharp skills in figuring out the system and how to fit in just to survive. That’s why I’m still fearful because my entire life force was geared fo survival. I am now working on being ok with being regardless of accomplishment. The grief of my two recent losses brought the fragility and inherent worthiness of life to the forefront. I also am confronting the roadblock that my boyfriend has made motherhood a requirement for me to move down with him. I don’t want to bring a child down to Earth in this lifetime but I struggle with not living up to this societally approved role.
But I know myself and I know I will make it through this journey with an increased sense of grace and love. My only work is to move out of survival and into being. To bring it back to the topic discursive meditation helps with that and the fear is due to the switch from survival to being.
Hello, John Michael. I’ve been reading and appreciating your blogs since the early days of the Archdruid Report, but your two most recent posts have finally prompted a comment. On the theme of this week’s essay, my first 10-day Vipassana course, 25 years ago, had equally strong measures of trauma, catharsis, and synchronicity and it eventually led to a committed daily practice. Over the winter I posted a story about that first course here: https://lightmorning.org/2020/12/23/a-sword-in-my-side1/
On a complementary note, I was moved to accept your invitation last week to join an in-depth exploration of The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic. Back in the early 1970s, I was serendipitously drawn to Paul Foster Case’s book on the tarot and ended up studying the BOTA version of the western esoteric tradition for many years. That curriculum often refers to Eliphas Levi and its core methodology is discursive meditation. So I now have your translation of Levi’s book and a deck of the Revised New Art Tarot cards and am looking forward to the shared journey.
Finally, many thanks for setting and maintaining the tenor of your blogs and for attracting such a remarkably diverse and insightful fellowship of commenters. I know of no other place like it on the web.
“Another part of the mix is that folks in inner city (mostly) minority neighborhoods truly are absolutely fed up with police committing what amount to summary executions in their neighborhoods.”
You should look at the bodycam footages yourself. It certainly changed my views. The latest one about a 16 year old girl who was a minority who was shot was about to stab another person to death.
I think he did what was necessary to stop the attempted murder in progress.
@ JMG RE: tartans…
If you get the opportunity to wear that tartan, do so. You never know…
In my biz, there exist a LOT of Scotsmen. They seem to be as ubiquitous as Texans all over the oilpatch. One of my tartan buddies has a fete every 4 years, at this point for no reason other than tradition although originally it was to humor one of their bunch who was legally trapped in the USA.
I was invited to this shindig, and being the crank in the woods I sometimes am, I sought advice on what type of kilt I ought to sport. My buddy and I dug into my background generations back – not a speck of the Scots is in me. Nonetheless, we went to a website and ordered a camouflage pattern kilt, a sporran designed to fit a flask and some army green knee-high socks, as to be granted entrance to said party, the men must be kilted up.
I went, and have attended every 4 years rain or shine. While there are indeed some surly Scots, as with most groups they are a minority. I have now been made head of “Clan Alien”, and thus anyone free of the Scottish taint sports a camo kilt these days and must deliver me a shot of scotch upon entry as the head of Clan Alien…which is also why I am very glad this only happens every 4 years. The tradition is now passing to the next generation, who are embracing it with vigor as a local oilpatch custom.
Thank you for this blog of yours – I know it takes time and effort, but where else do so many folks appear with so many questions and answers, to things never asked?
@Lady Cutekitten I also found belly dancing helpful, but only in my own living room now – show required too much rehearsal and since it’s all in the knees, that didn’t work out. I learned the hard way after physio my kneecaps are fused in place, they don’t float like they’re supposed to. Bodies are generally ridiculous but handy for certain situations.
Horseback riding, however, is forgiving of knee or foot failure, being all in the balance – my first dressage instructor congratulated me the first time I fell off, since she said no one can master riding while they’re still afraid of falling off. She would not give her students reins or a saddle until they could be in time enough with the house to gallop and jump without them. I still prefer not to use them, though it’s been about 25 years.
One day when the travel bubbles open up again, I’d like to do this ride; I bet Sonkitten would love it https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/new-horseback-tour-takes-riders-to-the-bottom-of-the-bay-of-fundy-1.5994655
I have both! 🎼Oh, Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree🎼
you refer repeatedly to expected blowback from the wokism in corporations and parties, for example “you go woke, you go broke” or your prediction about more populist candidates.
I think this is wrong and it seems obvious to me that the rules have changed.
For example, the big corporations that control the minds and wallets of most Americans are obvious in bed with the security apparatus and the big banks. As such they have free access to the printed money and other resources. In effect they have become part of the government.
Similarly any politician that oppose the neoliberal state will be canceled, ignored, cut from money supply or even legally attacked.
You yourself used to say that the government, the corporations and the NGOs are the three pillars of the empire. As the empire starts collapsing it’s obvious that the pillars are getting closer together.
So I wouldn’t be too optimistic about the big slimy river going bankrupt anytime soon. Just like Elon, they will always have money as long as they work for the gov.
Of course once the dollar loses its reserve status, most of the power of the empire will wane and with that its control of the masses. I don’t know if that can be counted as good news or not.
@John, I have a question and a datapoint, going back to the opening of this week’s blog:
First the question. You started off “Just now, however, the tolerance of the establishment for these exercises in faux dissent [alternative spirituality] is waning fast.” I get that maybe the apparatchiks have gotten a little fat and sloppy after these easy decades (after all, we saw them at their black-comedic finest during the D.C. “riots.” with an unarmed woman shot in the back by a “policeman” while the only policeman to die, actually killed himself — with a stroke).
But what is beyond that? What are they aiming FOR, instead, and why now? I’m guessing you’re going to expound on that?
And here’s the datapoint, in support of your “shakeup”, I came across today:
Wesley, that concentration-to-a-point thing is not something I share, alas. My experiences in fencing taught me that I don’t have anything like the necessary coordination or quickness to fence — that’s why I started studying t’ai chi instead. (There are also sharp limits on what I can do in that art — because I can’t read the other person’s movements, I’ll never be any good at push hands or the two-person forms — but the solo forms taught me a lot.)
Info23, glad to hear it. The Bible’s well worth reading even by those who aren’t Christian — I remember reading a comment by the atheist Gregory Bateson, whose father (a famous atheist and also a scientist) used to read passages from the Bible at the dinner table so his kids wouldn’t grow up to be empty-headed atheists.
Antoinetta, that’s possible, but I tend to look for psychological explanations before positing demonic influence.
Patricia O, the Starlink business has sped things up considerably. It would not surprise me to see a Kessler syndrome kick off in low earth orbit in the next ten years.
Denis, “when?” is always the big question. My guess is “a little at a time, spread over many years, and some people never will get it.”
Lathechuck, that divergence is found in all religions, including yours. You always get the mystics pointing out the importance of direct personal experience of spiritual realities, and the ordinary worshipers and their clergy saying “But that’s all just subjective!” From my perspective both of them have half the truth.
Danielle, ouch! I’m glad you managed to extract yourself from that trap — as you’ve noted, a lot of people don’t manage that.
Robert, welcome to the adventure! I also studied Case back in the day, for what it’s worth.
Oilman2, at this point I doubt I’ll ever get a kilt, but we’ll see.
NomadicBeer, well, we’ll see, won’t we?
Gnat, I don’t think they’re aiming for anything. They’re trying to cling to their current positions of power and wealth in an increasingly unstable world. As Toynbee points out, elite groups start out as creative minorities that rise to power by providing solutions to problems, and then turn into dominant minorities that stop solving problems and try to cling to power anyway. That’s basically where we are now. Thanks for the data point — interesting.
Strangely enough, Scott Alexander wrote an article about Buddhism and mindfulness meditation around the same time you wrote this. If you’re willing to read it, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on his assessment: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/your-book-review-why-buddhism-is
JMG – I didn’t mean to imply that Protestant Christianity has no room for mysticism and that it’s all social action. Atheists can perform social services, of course, and we’ve been guided in lectio divina. However, the focus on “enlightenment” in mindless meditation seems entirely selfish to me. (I’ve gotten great results from discursive meditation; thanks for the guidance.)
By the way, away up-thread, my reading of the discussion of combining grains and legumes was interrupted when I was called to lunch: split-pea soup and a multi-grain baguette. And what could be more fitting to a grain-and-legume diet than a peanut-butter sandwich? (My local market includes a grind-your-own peanut butter station, where it’s obvious that there’s nothing going into the jar but ground peanuts.)
@JillN: my mantra. “I am NOT senile. I’ve ALWAYS been this way!”
@Danielle – oh, I do know about that feeling. And my gut feeling about your boyfriend’s making that his condition for you for him to move down with you is to tell him:
“Go to Hades. Go directly to Hades. Do not pass “Go”. Do not collect $200.”
@Oilman2 and others, about being Scottish or not – By the logic given in other comments, unless I was raised in the Scottish culture, I should not even wear a plaid skirt.
I was not raised in that culture, but I have one foot in the Western Pennsylvania hillbilly culture my dad left but never renounced (to the occasional distress of my Yankee mother), and that culture is heavily Scots-influenced. Or so my friends with West Virginia roots keep proving to me.
When my mother died and we three children were dividing the small things (mostly on a basis of “You want it? I don’t; it’s yours) I spotted the clan badge with its motto “fide et foritudine” and claimed it, my brother not wanting it. I looked up where the family name, Shaw, was found, and could trace their possible route via Northern Ireland into the US. As when I remarked we were a wandering folk and would next be seen on the Moon and Mars, was asked “Pat, what sort of a name is Neil Armstrong?”
Your Mileage May Vary, folks. And congratulations on the Clan Alien! Raise a virtual pint with us!
@ Oilman2 re: Clan Alien. Now, that’s one heckuva good story! Very clever workaround a potentially disastrous situation; you certainly have earned respect for it.
A general note before we go on: I’ve had to delete several attempted comments in recent days because they strayed over the border into personal nastiness. One of the basic rules of fraternal lodges is worth keeping in mind here: “criticize the idea, not the person.” Thank you!
Ashara, I saw that. I haven’t read the book in question — the title Why Buddhism is True was enough to make me roll my eyes and walk away — but the review seems well reasoned.
Lathechuck, er, but you did seem to be implying that Buddhism has no room for social action and that it’s all mysticism. Not so…
JMG: RE: Kessler syndrome: It has amused me that this may be the first time humans have polluted a place before inhabiting it.
JMG, have you tried doing your 2-man tai chi kata in front of a mirror? It worked for Sonkitten.
Also, if one of my replies was too grumpy for some twitterpated dunderhead, I can’t promise I’ll do better, but I’ll try to be sneakier about it. 😄. (A new game! Sneak Past The Archdruid!)
In his book “Concentration” (thanks Mr. Greer for pointing me to it) Mouni Sadhu stresses several times that you are not your mind. If goal is to control your mind (it is) then the ruler and the object ruled cannot be the same. You are like a rider (Sadhu says) and the mind is like a horse. Someone in comments similarly compared mind to a chariot. Another comparison was that mind is like carpenters tools. Mouni Sadhu even goes so far as to suggest that the mind might have a dimmed consciousness of its own.
So what is the mind?
1. Some kind of psychic (etherial/astral/mental/all of the above) entity which is in parasitic, or rather, to be fair, symbiotic relationship with humans?
2. An activity of an organ – brain – like breathing is an activity of lungs. Both of these activities you can influence with your will up to a point, but not fully. You are not your mind like you are not your breathing, but both breathing and your mind is a part of what you are. Even more so with mind then with breathing, since mind also helps determine who you are.
You can lose your legs and still be you, but if you lose your mind (not in a good way, i.e. through enlightment) you have lost (most of) yourself.
But when you think of yourself, is it actually your mind thinking of you? Or even your mind thinking of itself? Could your mind be overwriting you, and the real you being supressed?
Why does the mind have a mind of its own? What could be the cause, mechanics, and purpose of its incessant activity?
What is the relationship of mind and language? Does the mind have parts (freudian, jungian, other)?
The first exercise in Mouni Sadhus book is a heavy duty stopping of thoughts. Still, he says that his course in concentration is completely safe (and I am inclined to believe him).
In my (admittedly slim) experience stopping thoughts is a very difficult thing to do, so I guess that most people are protected from possible harms of mindfullness practice by the simple fact that they can’t go very far.
Pardon the rambling.
@JMG OT: https://daily.jstor.org/the-heretical-origins-of-the-sonnet/?utm_source=pocket-newtab
Cool analysis of what it is, how it works, and where it came from as a poetic form.
@ Patricia Matthews & Ron M RE: kilting up
Sure – you’re always going to have a certain group getting their kilts in a bunch and screaming cultural appropriation – but it wasn’t ME who did this or started it! It were my Scots buddies who instigated the whole thing, likely because whenever we were in each others countries, we always stayed with each other’s families. So I’m the token Scotsman from redneck country. And now they are all appreciating bourbon a lot more.
TBH, my genetic heritage can best be described as American, because I have 10-15% of about 9 different types in my genes. And as I am wont to opine, “Nobody picks their parents, and all it takes sometime is a bit o’ lust in the dark…” I often wonder how many people let their lusty side take over and only just barely made it out without a child to show for it. Apparently, my progenitors were far too lusty…
Given your expressed distaste for Harry Potter, I hope this brings either a chuckle – the podcast Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The hosts used the Lectio Divina idea to go through chapter by chapter of the Harry Potter series. Yes, HP as scripture!
Unfortunately the sacredness of the series went away, when J.K. Rowling went and said unacceptable things on Twitter. The hosts moved onto Black Lives Matter and Trans Lives Matter topics now.
JMG – When drafting my comment that served up this volley of dialog, I thought that referring to “enlightenment” rather than “Buddhism” would focus our attention (so to speak) on the mystical parts that are foreign to my religious experience. I didn’t restrict Buddhism to its mystic component; I restricted my comment to the mystic component of Buddhism.
On labyrinths: Of course, when it’s difficult to start a labyrinth, it’s at least slightly more difficult to have completed that labyrinth.. Without starting, completion is impossible! (In terms of conditional probability, the probability of completion, p(completing) = p(completing | started ) * p(starting). P(c|s) may be only slightly less than 1, but I was talking about p(c). Perhaps, mischievously, implicitly assuming that p(s) << 1.)
Here are two that are easier to start and to finish.
Just for the surrealism of it, I note that the second labyrinth is a short distance from "Freedom Waste Collection". Only in Washington DC would we find a business dedicated to collecting wasted freedom.
The Atlantic has an article delightfully showing a flight from thinking: they are criticizing people for asking questions. Not for particular views, but for the mere act of asking questions! This seems to suggest that we are close to a major change: when even asking questions has become intolerable, then this suggests that the people who are trying to avoid noticing what is really happening are losing that battle…..
Haha you’re post got a good laugh out of me. When we first started talking about going down, it did not include that stipulation but then after journaling I realized there was something unsaid from his side that I had been picking up on and he did say he expected children and would not accept otherwise. It came out anxiously I think due to his age. I obviously would not do something just because someone else wants me to and I do understand his cultural upbringing is different and it is his true desire but you still got a laugh out of me all the same. All I could think was…yes it is what you want but who would be doing all the work? It’s definitely pushing me to the no side of things but since I just experienced some personal loss I am giving myself time to grieve and make no big decisions.
Also I am glad you could connect with how I was feeling. I am starting to heal now and that is why many of my posts feel so raw even to me here. Its my first time I can process and go…so what do I like and who am I? Instead of what hoops do I need to jump through? I wonder why youth is so celebrated in our culture when so much of it is doing what others want you to do and being what others what you to be.
I went for my run this morning and at the end thought of this post.
As a teenager I did kendo, which begins and ends with meditation – they tell you to sit kneeling, half-close your eyes as though looking at a distant mountain, and breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This is done for about 1-2 minutes at most. Really it’s just a “clearing your mind” exercise, setting aside the chaos of everyday life so you’re ready to fence, and then setting aside the chaos of the fencing so you’re ready for everyday life. It’s a gate in and out of the practice hall.
Nowadays when I go for a run or walk, I try to end it at our local park, which has a nice patch of forest with 1-2 little places where you can’t see the path and people around, and also wetlands nearby. I read o a birdwatching page the place has 29 different species of birds – if you sit quietly you can hear many of them. I grew up in a rural area and this is as close to that as I get these days.
I simply stand there among the trees, eyes open, and do the nose-in mouth-out breathing, counting 12 lots of 12 breaths. A gross of breaths. That’s all I do, breathe, count – and listen to the many birds. It’s about ten minutes, I suppose, though I’ve never measured it.
I don’t know if that counts as meditation, but the quiet time breathing, counting and listening among the trees does me good, clearing my head of the recent run or brisk walk, making me ready for the rest of the day.
Michael, nah, we started dumping junk into the deep oceans long before we started doing the same thing to space. Whatever’s in reach, we use as a trash receptacle!
Your Kittenship, that doesn’t help, because the thing that has to be learned in push-hands and two-person forms is the ability to sense what the other person is going to do before they do it. I could move through the various two-person forms well enough but I couldn’t learn what they’re intended to teach, because they require exactly the sort of perception I don’t have.
Goran, what an excellent set of themes for meditation! I mean that quite literally: meditating on your relationship to your mind is a good practice.
Patricia, hmm! Many thanks for this.
Denis, all I can say is “bleah.” Lectio very much undivina…
Lathechuck, you know, I’ve seen Buddhist evangelists make the identical argument in reverse, claiming that the Christian desire for salvation is wholly selfish, and trying to keep the conversation focused on that while leaving out the other dimensions of Christian faith. Still, whatever…
Anonymous, that really is a sign of desperation…
Hackenschmidt, yes, that’s a kind of meditation, and done in brief bursts like that, a very helpful one.
“I live in Canada, where public schools suffer from all kinds of bureaucratic malaise, but are nevertheless going strong.”
Do you mean that Canadian public schools still do a good job or that people are still satisfied with them?
“Hopefully I do not come across as snarky, but I don’t think I have ever heard a definition of enlightenment in a spiritual context. What would your definition be?”
In a Buddhist sense, if all the aspects of you that you can look at and name – nationality, gender, likes and dislikes, talents and untalents, opinions, relationships etc. were not you, but rather each was a role you play, then enlightenment is being that which plays those roles and doing so freely, neither clinging to nor avoiding any of your roles. Full enlightenment is being that so completely that you remain that permanently without effort.
I am one of those who has benefited greatly from practicing spirituality that came in recent decades from East and South Asia to the West and from the dedicated, serious work of many to transplant that spirituality from East to West.
I agree with what JMG and many others here have said. These are not practices for everyone and their misuse can cause serious suffering. All of the teachers I have been with were very careful about who they taught and were explicit about who should not use these practices. And making people do these practices!? I would not have believed that such delusion could exist, but with so much testimony, I must accept that it does.
By the way, my experience coming of age at the tail end of The Sixties (1963-1972) was that when it came to esoteric spirituality as opposed to exoteric, Indian and Japanese sources were far more accessible than anything from the West. At least for me, the Western sources became visible a decade or two later. In some cases, they seemed to be rediscovered in response to the arrival of Eastern sources, but perhaps that is me being parochial.
About D&G, they wrote in the years after the failure of what to many seemed like a promising moment in France in 1968. They were deeply disappointed and genuinely struggling to understand why it all went awry when it had looked so right. So they were trying to dig in deeper and figure out what it was that was missing from their model of things.
They were part of a left attempt to build a non-capitalist, non-totalitarian society. For most (all perhaps) of the readers of this blog, that is a quite undesirable goal, but even so perhaps many can understand and have compassion for the attempt to learn from a loss in the hope of doing better the next time. At least it is better than pretending that everything had gone perfectly.
By the way, one of their concepts is the distinction between “royal science” and “nomad science”, which is quite similar to the distinction between the credentialed science of the professional management class and the down-to-earth knowledge that we share here.
“saying “Life is suffering” makes about as much sense as saying “Life is pepperoni” — in both cases you’re mistaking something that exists in life with the whole of life”
For what it is worth, I think that to understand what the Buddha was getting at, it helps to picture people sitting around for weeks waiting with baited breath to hear the first words of the enlightened one, the new spiritual superstar. “What will He say? What will He say?” “Look, look his eyes are opening. Here it comes.” The Buddha looks around, then says “Boy, does Life suck or what?”
“This, this is what he has to say after finally achieving enlightenment???” They are shocked, quite shocked.
And that must have been his intention.
But what he was getting at – and these being his first words, this must have mattered to him – is that enlightenment is so good that whatever else you think is good will utterly pale by comparison. In other words, taking life as we know it as the baseline, some of it (even much of it) may feel comparatively good, but taking life in one’s true nature as the baseline, all ordinary life truly is suffering. Every last bit of it.
What Buddhisms have done with these words over the millennia is a somewhat different matter.
In some Buddhist teachings, full enlightenment is something quite distant and abstract. A matter for the Buddha way back in the mists of time and maybe every so often, some very special abbot somewhere. When that happens, then this understanding of the Buddha’s first words becomes hard to access.
John, thanks for the interesting post.
You may have answered this above, but is this the book you are referring to?:
Gopi Krishna, Kundalini: The Evolutionary Energy in Man, Shambhala Books, 1970. autobiography
I’ve meditated on and off for decades, but have not heard of the book you mentioned.
Also, any chance you might would provide a short book list, in regards to meditation? Maybe at the other site?
(The book I first read on this type of thing was Baba Ram Dass’s The Only Dance There Is.)
On Centering Prayer. From my investigations of it, I have discovered that Fr. Thomas Keating, who devised and promoted it, was having various Zen masters and TM people give workshops at his abbey for a number of years. He was entranced with their ideas of meditation and decided to copy what they did for Catholics. Unfortunately, he got rust on his robots instead. He took something that was embedded in a tradition and decided to use the technique for a completely different tradition. Small wonder he got people becoming zombies at his workshops. But in spite of it all, he continued to promote the prayer method.
I wonder since I did bring up core shamanism, if this is a trait among certain enlightened or educated people to strip or take something out of context for the spiritual consumption of other enlightened or educated people.
So, as a young teenager in the 1990s I bought into the whole New Age craze and mindfulness meditation craze and I learned a lot about the dangers of various practices along the way. I learned the hard way. Perhaps the most malefic thing I was taught at the time was that nothing malefic existed and that negative experiences simply could not occur; in effect, this was the license to jump off the deep end and explore wholesale all of the eclectic practices of the New Age cafeteria.
With mindfulness meditation, the biggest problem is that, if you do it correctly, you become quite capable of becoming detached whenever you need it. You get an emotional off switch that works, and if you used incorrectly, this can turn you into a callous human being who has no problem ending relationships on a whim with very little regard for the other person. Furthermore, it’s very hard to notice what you’re doing at the time you’re doing it. It took me well over a decade of friends pointing out what I had become.
Another Eastern practice I picked up was Tantric sex, which, if done in an unprotected setting in an emotionally turbulent time can call malefic entities in your life. The one myself and my partner encountered pressed down on our throats, then we felt pain in our chests, and started to hear negative voices for a few months. She thought she was going crazy (and the hospital agreed), while I started researching occult books, found people with similar experiences, applied similar treatments, and thankfully, we both rid of the entities. Later, I was told that this was a common occurrence for that practice.
I also researched kundalini and crystals by myself and would do different kundalini meditations while positioning different types of crystals over different parts of my body (chakras) for hours at a time. I had what I think would be best called a Chakra blowout, experienced a ton of negative synchronicities (looking back at it), and I really only recovered once I left that house and stopped experimenting.
I got a lot wiser after that and just stuck with Qi Gong, affirmations, and practiced directing my will after all of that, but am looking for a more guided approach because I do have a tendency of accidentally manifesting when I don’t mean to. Thus, started by buying some seeds and beginning discursive meditation.
David Kaiser on another Flight from Thinking: Harvard Law School
As my son gets into higher grades I worry that anti-racist training is going to be forced on him at some point. My strategy at this point is to give him a list of trigger words and phrases that if he hears that they are going to be teaching something about, to be quiet and let me know. I have listed some below, please let me know if there are others I should add.
“critical race theory”
I have one child in particular who is very sensitive and caring and getting a full-throated lesson on how he is irredeemably racist would destroy him.
And yet like the sex talk, it is getting increasingly difficult to wait until your child is mature enough to have the talk without getting to the point that it is going to be pushed on them.
Speaking of the Devil (so to speak), I had an encounter of sorts that is perhaps relevant to the topic at hand. For over a month or so I have practiced the attention exercise as detailed in “Learning Ritual Magic”. Just as I turned into the chapter where the Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram is introduced, something odd happened.
I woke up at 4am and could no longer sleep. So I decide to go ahead and do the ritual. I complete it and it feels surprisingly lively and meaningful. Then when I have finished and begin the attention exercise, it did not take long for a some kind of a presence to appear. It did so almost instantly when I began to somehow sense my body as, well, something different. It is hard to describe. I felt the presence right in front of me, but outside circle laid out in the ritual. It was something that felt like an archetypal predator with its eyes fixed on me with a ravenous intent.
It sent shivers down my spine like I have never felt before.
But, this is the catch, I knew to expect it somehow. It did not freak me out or make me stop the exercise. I just told myself to carry on. I have nothing to worry about. The Angels themselves will keep me safe. And indeed, no harm came to me and I finished the exercise when I had intended to finish it. The instructions did not tell me to but I felt like doing the Cabalistic Cross at the end of it anyway, just to make a point perhaps.
I did not worry about it exactly for the reason that I had been studying the required philosophical literature. It somehow helped me to make sense of it. After some instinctive meditating of the encounter, I had to laugh when I realized that what I had me fit pretty well with the image of the “Watcher at the Threshold”! I maybe do not have the right words but for what I have read, I would describe it as an astral manifestation of all that the Watcher represents. It was a primal force, an archetypical fear, the very idea of a predator, against which we are hardwired to respond with fear as animals.
And thus the disturbing presence has lost much of its power. I can give it an understanding nod, acknowledging its purpose, it’s place in the great scheme of things, and muddle past it with persistent practice of the program.
The book I got the necessary grounding from was Israel Regardie’s “The Tree of Life”.
I can only imagine what might have happened had I just been performing the exercise without the protective ritual and without the necessary understanding of how to deal with such an encounter. I am certain the Watcher would have fulfilled its intended purpose and scared me well away from any such practice.
“Whatever’s in reach, we use as a trash receptacle!” https://xkcd.com/1786/
Congratulations on getting out of debt. It was a tremendous accomplishment. You have been through a lot in the last few years.
Consider that having to stay on task and keeping your head down for years has not given you much time to just be in the world. According to the normal time table of college plus eight years, that would put you around 30 now. Your boyfriend has a point. Now is the time to go ahead and start a family, because if not now, it is probably not going to happen.
There is no good time to have children, they drive you nuts (that’s their job) and it is the most fulfilling thing that you can do. I have watched women put off childbearing, thinking it a great idea, until a cloud of regret settles around them as they approach forty.
Seize the moment. The boyfriend comes with a pro-family culture, and probably the quite realistic cultural expectation that if men are going to support a woman and play house, they should have a family if it is physically possible.
Otherwise, the deal is not a good fit for you.
Maybe add to the list: white supremacy, BLM, and anti-colonial.
Dear Mr. Greer, et. all – I saw the space junk, come down. Given that I live in western Washington, usually, whenever anything interesting is happening in the sky, we’re socked in. I just happened to have walked home from the store, sat on the garden wall to catch my breath and look at the moon, when …
I knew it wasn’t a comet, as it was moving too slow. I thought it might be an airliner, breaking up. Space junk was my second guess. It’s the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen, in the sky. Pictures and video don’t do it justice. Quit a few large chunks came down in eastern Washington state. Luckily, in isolated areas. Lew
@Anonymous, #318 regarding the mere act of asking questions: Can’t a question made publicly be as reasonable or unreasonable, fair or unfair, responsible or irresponsible, as any public statement? If someone were to post, “Why haven’t the authorities investigated [some person] for human trafficking?” Is that really just a mere question? Is it fair for them to then respond to any objections with, “No, I’m not accusing anyone of anything, just asking a question!”? And then top it off with, “But, if [that person] objects to the mere question, doesn’t that confirm they have something to hide?”
Are loaded questions like “how many more vaccination deaths are the CDC covering up?” mere requests for information, or are they really accusations that attempt to manipulate opinions to suit the questioner’s agenda? Can’t just about anyone play that game, for good and ill motives? Should anyone then be immune from criticism just because they phrase their rhetoric in the form of questions?
hehehe my innocent reddit question on arhats and their impending doom upon attainment seems to have stirred up a lite Dharma battle https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/mtz1l2/practice_updates_questions_and_general_discussion/gvvtbd1?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3
On a more serious note, a few commentators on Reddit did dig deeper into that claim and provide more context and sources. JMG you may be interested.
I ordered the Levy book from Bookshop.org on the day of your post last week and it looks like it is on backorder with no anticipated date of shipment. I hope they manage to find copies and ship them!
I’ve read several of Karen Armstrong’s books, including her two autobiographies, and I’ve figure out that she’s essentially a literary scholar. What she does is reads and interprets texts; in her case, she reads religious texts. She doesn’t do archaeology or anthropology, just texts. So she’s limited to religions with strong literary traditions. That means she’s read the Vedic texts, so that I don’t have to, so I appreciate her for that.
She’s not really a religious writer and is somewhat skeptical, like many historians of religion are. She recognizes the power but doesn’t participate in it. Joseph Campbell observed the same thing about himself.
Dear John Michael Greer,
Thank you for this thought-provoking essay, and also for moderating such a uniquely civilized and oftentimes very interesting and useful comments section.
You mentioned “David Kaiser on another Flight from Thinking: Harvard Law School
Goodness, that is an important essay, and finding it rewarded me well for scrolling all the way down in these comments.
@DT who asks about words to watch for–
I would suggest BIPOC, an acronym for Black, Indigenous & People of Color. In other words, everyone except “whites.” Of late a quite fashionable term to toss about, especially among the wokelings of the literary world.
Would that all could have what I like to think of as the “Cheddar Man Moment.” If you haven’t heard of Cheddar Man, here he is:
There are a couple of obvious problems with ‘defund the police’, firstly it could well be that ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ is a cheaper way of doing things than other styles of policing, and also secondly that defunding the police allows organised crime to step up.
Karen (!) Armstrong has a bit of an ax to grind against organized religion—she was a pre-Vatican II postulant to a teaching order for which she admits she was completely unsuited—so read her with that in mind.
Oddly enough, in her autobiography Through The Narrow Gate, she talks about going back for a visit post Vatican II, when the nuns wear modest street clothes and have no more strenuous medieval discipline, and concludes that if her order had been like that when she joined, she would not have been interested and would have joined a strict contemplative order instead. Shrug.
Sorry for the late reply but I just wanted to thank you for the response and the fascinating description of your path. I’ve been exploring Buddhism lately, with an eye to contrasting doctrines and worldviews of the various traditions — so this is quite interesting to me.
Thank you for your kind words.
The decision to not have children is less about my fulfillment and more about the kind of world I would bring my children into. I see no reason to bring them into a world of machines. I am part of a home birth and traditional child rearing group. They are centered around allowing children the freedom to explore outside, discipline and little screen time and despite them being well educated with supportive families they are often pushed into screen time and 24 7 supervision over their children. One child was playing outside in the yard and the police were called due to negligence. I could say I could overcome it but I have less skills and passion around child rearing than these parents and they still struggle.
I also do acknowledge that I may face regret. We must make our decisions and live with the consequences. I do question the idea that children are the most fulfilling drive of one’s life for every single person. I find a one size fits all philosophy suspect though I do believe that many people find child rearing quite fulfilling. I may regret it but it would be my decision. I know the larger culture is destroying the family so I do not want to disparage the beauty and hard work of the family however that does not mean as an individual I must fit into the family mold even though I know I will be missing out on those experiences.
Just to add to my post to Naomi:
I think ultimately it depends on what you mean by “no go areas”. If you mean “areas which are majority minority where white British people feel somewhat uncomfortable/unsafe because they stand out and don’t speak the language of most of the people there, and it tends to be a high crime area” – then, sure. There are plenty of those.
If you mean “areas where the British state is only nominally in charge, but are effectively self-ruled by Muslims with very little input from the state and where state operatives – police, social workers, whatever – are reluctant to go into to do their jobs (kind of like a milder version of Rio’s favelas ruled by the local gangs)” – then just a categorical no. They do not exist in the UK.
That discursive thought is impossible in enlightenment is a clear misrepresentation. States of bliss/samadhi seem prominent part of meditation which is what might have prompted Bharti to emphasize them.
But the clear goal of enlightenment as mentioned in texts like Bhagavad Gita or Advaita texts is cognitive, to see the Self/Divine in all which implies moving beyond the limited social self which we constantly simulate as part of socially maintained narratives. The social self remains but is like a tool rather than an identity.
The absolutely necessary requirement is to maintain this cognitive realization while walking, talking, working etc. So, it cant be restricted to a state of bliss. In fact states of bliss can sometimes be seen as an obstacle(though of course it is a very high meditation acheivement), see similar Buddhist teachings on jhanas.
Also, Advaita has three stages shravana(hearing the teachings), manana(repeated contemplation, clearing inner doubts and application to life situations till a clear understanding) and nidhidyasana(constant focus/absorption in what has been understood). So even the practice stages requires deep thoughts.
Ramakrishna attained this state where he saw the whole world as Kali. He also had deep samadhi states of bliss, but that doesnt mean he wasnt enlightened.
@Kelvin Gregory Just to give you some references that enlightenment is seen as not something restricted to states of bliss, here’s one part of the Gita. (But this is not just about classical texts, but what sages like Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta will say if you read them – both were meditators who didnt grow up reading texts).
Gita 6.29-31 Swami Sivananda translation (my emphasis in part of 31)
29. With the mind harmonised by Yoga he sees the Self abiding in all beings and all beings
in the Self; he sees the same everywhere.
30. He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, he does not become separated from Me nor do I become separated from him.
COMMENTARY: The Lord describes here the effect of oneness.
31. He who, being established in unity, worships Me who dwells in all beings,—that Yogi
abides in Me, *whatever may be his mode of living*.
There are many other such references. There are also stories of bhakti sages(devotion based spiritual practitioners) who have intense focus on one particular form of the Divine, but then a shift happens via some external intervention and they start perceiving the whole world and all interactions as part of the Divine.
Comments are closed.