Antero's practice journal

Awakening of an office monk

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Five Day Retreat, Fourth Day

I woke up late with a headache, practiced yoga, meditated and I did some physical work outside, but soon it became too dark to do anything. I felt the energy slowly stabilizing in the body.

Tonglen practice seemed to have a life of it’s own. Various conditions arising in my body-mind during the sit alerted me of various aspects of suffering common to all sentient beings. When the special state of mental silence arose, I gave it away to all sentient beings and breathed in the suffering involved in having a busy out-of-control thinking mind. When I felt striving or struggling, I breathed in the futile struggle common to all beings and gave them all equanimity I have ever had.

As a response to loneliness, sickness, confusion, desire, physical pain and so forth, I ended up giving away my mental clarity, equanimity, skillful parenting (that hurt!), physical health, happy marriage (ouch!) and so on. The developing dialogue between somewhat uncomfortable suffering that I was breathing into my heart space with every in breath and with the positive qualities (most of the time) joyfully given away with every out breath was interesting to watch. As a result of this I definitely felt more open, tender and connected with all beings and less attached to various aspects of my own happiness and wellbeing. The increased awareness of numerous positive qualities present in my life was remarkable.


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Five Day Retreat, Third Day

Ashtanga yoga, Guru Yoga, Tonglen, Six Lamps Gazing

I haven’t done Ashtanga yoga for a while, except for the standing series as a warm-up before sitting. There was a new delicate taste to the flow movement and stillness. Qualities of stability and ease were distinctly coloring the sitting practice afterwards in an intriguing way. Perhaps reviving the old Ashtanga routines might be worth the effort. It is also worth noticing how the intense flow of energy resulting from vigorous asana practice is just a hair tip’s away from noticing the qualities of awareness-space. Too bad nobody was able to point this out to me during my Ashtanga days.

Feeling of tenderness was very much on foreground the whole day as a result of Tonglen. I found the practice helpful for letting go of subtle layers of clinging during the gazing. The colors and forms were very active today.

Lying on my back after the breakfast, I fell asleep but the awareness did not dim this time. I found myself looking at the ceiling, alive with geometric patterns, through my closed eyelids.

In the evening a lot of old emotional stuff came up, loneliness, hurt, desire, embarrassment, insecurity. I took in loneliness of all sentient beings and in return gave them all the friends I have had and feeling of friendship ever felt or will ever feel in future, opening, accepting, releasing. A sudden realization emerged, like a stab of pain, how much dependent I still am on other people and not nearly so ready for intense solitary practice as I had thought. This thought did not leave me for some time.

I ended up having a major energy imbalance which prevented me from sleeping, despite everything I tried. How frustrating.

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Five Day Retreat, Second Day

The days are short here up north, so I spent most of my time in candle light or in total darkness. Guru yoga, Tonglen, Six lamps gazing.

I found Ken McLeod’s presentation of Tonglen, Tibetan practice of taking in the suffering of all sentient beings and sending them happiness and joy, very detailed and practical. It felt particularly useful to do a variation of the practice for those parts of my own being that are hurt, shut off and denied and as a result a lot of interesting old stuff started to come up: shame, insecurity and anger. The practice of Tonglen made it possible to deeply accept and re-integrate past experiences into the unbounded wholeness, which resulted in a lot of energy and tears.

The relationship between the simulation we live in (unified display of awareness) and the ”real world” became one bit clearer for me today: how the notion of world out there is a compelling illusion, in reality a fake built out of concepts, pure conjecture. All ”things” in it are created by mental processes of inferring and labeling. We move into this construct and call it a world. By this we gain a seemingly comprehensive system that comes with a (false) sense of orderliness and security but loose the vivid liveliness of the direct experience.

Inference aside, in reality all we have is this simulation we call mind. It is just an experience, a transparent cloud of body sensations, seeing, hearing and thinking, but there is nothing else. A lot of stuff momentarily arising, aware of themselves. The moment this simulation comes into being we are alone and still we are alone when one day it will inevitably end. All people and relationships in between are illusions, easily making the imaginary agent feel lonely. This is the unrelenting consequence of seeing true nature of experience before seeing a bit more.

After sitting a lot, I lied on my back, grounding my being deeply into the infinite space below, finding the natural glow of compassion in space stripped of everything else.

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Five Day Retreat

Despite the lack of motivation to write about the unfolding experience, I am pushing myself to the keyboard to keep this journal alive and continuous.

During the past couple of months there has been a new feeling of tenderness in my practice off the cushion. It can be felt as a subtle hue coloring the experience or brief flashes of sacredness inherent in everyday objects and tasks, almost like this reality is made of something other than physical matter. It is not at all impossible to think that this Buddha mind is somehow living in a bigger Buddha mind consisting of trees, clouds and lamp posts and there is a very fine border between the two, a bubble of subtle duality that might not survive forever. There is a distinct sense of softness and wonder in that mystery.

I have felt the call of compassion practices, compassion that dissolves boundaries and opens up blockages. I have found this energy useful for maintaining the View during the daily life. How fortunate it was that I stumbled on Ken McLeod’s web site, the Unfettered Mind, just before starting the retreat. His teachings, like 37 Practices of an Bodhisattva and Mahayana Mind Training, were just the right kind of material for me at this moment.

First Day, Evening

I had a precious opportunity to dedicate a few days just for practice at the darkest time of the year. So why not make the darkness as one of the central themes of the retreat? I traveled in the evening by bus through the pitch black countryside, walking small roads to my retreat hut, cold sleet slamming against my face and soaking me in a couple of minutes. Luckily I knew the way, but still had some hard time finding the place in darkness.

Some days before starting the retreat I have felt strange reluctance and a kind of fearful anticipation. Now the arrival through desolate darkness brought up foreboding and fear. Fear of what? Uncertainty, not-knowing.


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Non-meditation is penetration daily life and sleep in a way not experienced before. The energy volume is constantly increasing and the luminosity and self-sustaining aspects are spontaneouly coming to the forefront of the experience. Subtle bubbles seems to be breaking.

On the cushion the cycle of Guru yoga, tummo, Guru yoga has become uninterrupted flow of awakened awareness, feeding itself and gathering momentum. Bliss, sacredness, softness and intensity are reaching record levels during the practice, manifesting themselves in unexpected ways. At times the forms and colors spontaneously appear superimposed over the view of the room tinted with rainbow colors, even before switching to the gazing part. The gaze is continuous, effortless and bright deepdive into the heartspace.

Dreams are often bright, trembling with hidden meaning and sometimes exploding into clouds of colored particles. At times I find myself spontaneously gazing geometric patterns in a dream.

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That moment of seeing myself from other person’s viewpoint, inadequate.

Hi sadness. it has been a long while since we last met. I did not recognize you at first. You seem somehow different from what I remembered. Nowadays less of that contraction, thought loops, lack of energy,  heavin
ess, blaming, self pity, tears and all that. You are more of that intensity, sense of pressure to the open space that overwhelms. With a painful edge to it.

Please come on in, let’s catch up. Little embarrassed to ask though, please don’t stay for too long

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During the past months, I have been through the most inspiring and the most frustrating phases of my practice so far. Both of the extremities have been bleeding into my daily life.

Despite the intensity and various difficulties of the work environment, all the work related issues have been forgotten the moment I have closed the door of the office behind me. Even the periods of dark night, when I was still cycling through the stages of insight, were mostly quite manageable.

This spring it was different and the stress at work had slowly worked it’s way into the system, making me lose the lightness of being and become tense and contracted in various subtle ways. There was a lack of satisfaction in life and meditative experiences became unstable off the cushion. A lot of unpleasantness was happening in the throat and head areas and I oftern found myself in a state of anti-flow, out of synch, self-conscious and tired. At times even the motor functions seemed to be affected and I became clumsy. I had great difficulties in communicating clearly, struggling to find right words and expressions, not able to recall names for things. I listened to myself speak and felt inauthentic, like an impostor, disgusted of what I was hearing. I lacked confidence and felt emotionally raw. The emotional turbulence and reactivity, although probably not even apparent to the people around me, made me want to find again that calm centre that is unaffected by wordly problems. I even started using meditation as a way of escaping difficult situations, something I have not been aware of doing for many years.

Releasing all effort, completely dropping the gazing practices, emphasizing compassion  and simplifying and shortening the formal practice seemed to bring some relief.

On the other hand, I have been experiencing a shift off the cusion, a perspective more subtle, previously only available during formal meditation sessions or glimpsed briefly during the day. Suddenly all difficult things were easy. There was a view of softness and sacredness in which the ’external’ world and body sensations were united in a vivid play of light, like a colorful unreal cathedral of immense proportions, no longer out there (at least cutting through the gross layers of out-thereness), a fully embodied simulation. Arising thoughts were clear translucent flashes overlaid on the sensory experience and the difference between a visualization and the ”real” world hardly noticeable. Everyday objects and routines became not only a source of delight but also a gate to this refined way of being, flow of translucent ordinariness.

The fluctuations seem to be settling for the time being. Now it is so self evident, the built-in transparency of the cascade of sensations, flood of luminosity that spontaneously clears boundaries and conceptual obstacles of the ordinary mind. So hard to believe that it has been hidden in plain sight all the time.