There are two forms of bliss
Bliss that arises from the peaceful abiding in the present moment, arising from the very rhythm of your existence and the ground from which it arises. From the connection of the individual consciousness to the web of reality.
This is the bliss of unity.
Bliss that arises from the natural and authentic expression from the piece of creation that you are. The flow of the unique energy inside of the body/mind system flowing outwards and back into the matrix of reality that it was created from. The expression of the individualized self to the universal self.
This is the bliss of expression.
As a child I was always pre-occupied with the liminal zones of consciousness, what felt like the more ambiguous and inclusive thought forms that were the building blocks for higher levels of specificity and particularity found at the forefront of the mind’s eye. From the little I can remember of my child consciousness, I seem to recall being in a mild state of samadhi as my base state. I think I actively avoided anything that would break this state for extended periods of time, as my primary interest in life were these liminal zones.
With age this ability to hold a state of samadhi waned slowly, as I think is probably common with maturation. When I began to reach adolescence, I found myself being magnetized towards anything that might excite my mind’s ability to access these liminal zones again. Initially this came in an obsession with experimental cinema, and particularly with the work of Stan Brakhage, who’s films could sometimes inspire very formless and delightfully ambiguous experiences in the mind’s eye.
I know this interest in experimental cinema was catalyzed by the experience I had with the end sequence in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The way this end sequence was orchestrated had the most simulteneously terrifying and exhilerating effect on my mind, even with watching it on an old VHS out of a 12 inch CRT television.
This combination of terror and exhilarating fascination is a theme throughout “2001” that I think Kubrick created very skillfully and purposefully. The mix of incredibly beautiful cosmic imagery with astounding colors and clarity, and the chilling and terrifying Requiem mass of Gyorgy Ligeti, merge together to create a distinctive state of startling and peculiar beauty. This is a state I would later become more familiar with in the DMT flash, and I do not think that the way Kubrick created this atmosphere in 2001 was a mistake.
The inclusion of Ligeti’s Requiem in the film always accompanies the monolith – a symbol for the catalyst for the evolution of consciousness into different forms.
It is with the inclusion of Ligeti’s piece, married with beautiful and vast images of the cosmos, that creates a unique atmosphere I have found to be similar to the DMT space. This metaphor of the monolith creating this jump forward in consciousness calls to mind Terence McKenna’s stoned ape theory – a theory suggesting that the evolution from primate brains to the more advanced homo sapien brain could have been aided by the continual ingestion of psilocybin mushrooms due to climatological circumstances. Psilocin (the active compound in mushrooms) and DMT are both tryptamines, and the only difference between DMT and Psilocin is that Psilocin has an oxygen atom and phosphate group which enables it to be orally active.
I think that Kubrick may have created this unique space of terror and beauty in the film in places where the monolith is present, as a metaphor for this leap forward in consciousness that has potentially been catalyzed by the primitive and indigenous use of tryptamines. I of course had no notion of any of this when I first saw 2001, these connections as to why the film was so goddamn powerful to me only came later. I would be very interested in what Kubrick’s experience with tryptamines might have been.
Sort of a tangent there, but that film was definitely very formative in my development, and I think informed a lot of the trajectory for the kinds of interests I would pursue later.
The next primary influence on my developing mind was the Tao Te Ching, which came as a sort of bizarrely obvious revelation. So much of the book seemed like the most obvious and common sense sentiments that I had always known, yet mysterious and immense at the same time. It reminded me of my childhood and the insights I had about life in those years.
The Tao inspired a heavy interest in Eastern philosophy, which turned out to feel like a return to my roots in a strange way, even though I had never been exposed to eastern culture previously.
The transcendentalism of The Upanishads felt like a miracle to me, those stories spoke to me in such an eternal and transparent way, they so simply described the nature of existence with their use of allegory. Hearing Alan Watts’ interpretation of these writings and his introduction to Zen methodologies and philosophy, cemented my fascination with Eastern cultures and practices.
While I think my initial attraction to Eastern philosophy was out of an authentic resonance and understanding, in time I think it became more of an escape route for me. Like many adolescents, I was struggling with very heavy depression at the time, my hormones were firing bullets at me and things like the Dhammapada were my shields. I don’t think using Eastern philosophy as a refuge and defense mechanism against suffering is a bad thing at all (I think many people come to it for these reasons), however I think that it can lead to a spiritual seeking mentality that actually runs very counter to the teachings of acceptance and presence that authentic Eastern philosophy is founded on.
As anyone who has practiced Buddhism probably knows, an authentic understanding and alignment with it’s teachings is something that can prove to be very mercurial. It’s difficult not to fall into feeling like you should or want to be peaceful and detached, rather than accepting and letting go of expectations and being fully present.
A combination of my fascination with the states brought on by buddhist meditation, and an urgent desire to escape from the suffering of my overwhelming powerful emotions first led me to a Goenka meditation center, where I would participate in a 10-day silent meditation retreat. While there, I had my first taste of the impenetrable hell and panic of a mind being separated from sensory input, and also the eternal bliss of realizing myself as beyond time and circumstance. It was definitely an incredibly formative experience and inspired me to travel to Sri Lanka to stay as a Buddhist monk, being extremely curious as to what more extended periods of time separated from the distractions of sensory input might yield.
I spent a little over 2 months in Sri Lanka staying at three different meditation centers and monasteries. Most of this time was spent in silent sitting meditation, as well as taking the 8 precepts. Much of this time was extremely agonizing as my mind adjusted to the drastically slower pace of my daily routines. I think the western portrayal of Buddhism is in many ways very skewed, the path towards clarity is not one in which everything is relaxing and nirvana is right around the corner. You have to push yourself extremely hard to let your mind let go of old patterns and attachments, and it is not a fun process by any means.
After about a month and a half, the fruits of my painstaking labor paid off in spades. After meditating 8 hours a day or more every day, and removing all objects of desire, I had my first taste of a state of consciousness that was nothing like anything I’d felt before. It felt so incredibly familiar and like returning home, but at the same time so immense and mysterious (much like the Tao Te Ching). I could see that I had always known myself to be this, it was always at the back of my mind and I was just playing with that I was not it, the eternal one, the atman. But of course, as the great Zen saying goes “You can’t grab hold of it, but you can’t lose it”.
After residing in this space for a short time, I came to realize there was nothing I could do to destroy that I was always this, I knew I would return to this, I knew I would always be this behind everything. I know what I had been experiencing was a dream, but why stop this dream? I knew eventually it would be over and I would return to abiding in the one, why should I not learn to accept the dream and love the dream?
This was the experience I needed to continue my life at that time, I needed to know what there was when I took everything I knew of away, I needed to know what would be left. Humorously, it very much felt like I had always known already and it was the most common sense feeling imaginable.
So, I came back to the US to see what else life might bring.
As I began to re-associate into the dream, I tried to find interests related to the structure of the dream. This wasn’t easy, as I had been so fixated on transcending the dream and only focusing on that for so long.
I found one spark of fascination with the structure of the dream in the works of Terence McKenna. I listened to hundreds of his talks and researched all of his influences, entheogens and shamanism were the only things I wanted to think about. He was talking about and advocating the exploration of these liminal zones of consciousness that had been my fascination throughout my life, as soon as I first heard him I knew he was a kindred spirit. Shamans seemed to basically be professionals at exploring these liminal zones of consciousness, which was always what I had been magnetized towards, it was just my nature ever since I can remember. These were the parts of the dream that I loved, that brought me joy, and as I had been trying to make new positive associations with the dream and cultivate love for it, this was a very natural place to start.
As I have been trying to re-associate myself as part of the dream, I have found some difficulties. I find the circular nature of reality to be one of the most humorous things there is, and the perfect representation of how everything is just a meaningless and fantastic dance.
My difficulties with re-associating are best covered by the “disorder”(not the best term) “derealization”, and it really comes at no surprise given my developmental history. In short the term derealization is exactly what it sounds like, the feeling that nothing is real. This makes a lot of sense as a result of extensive practice with detaching and dis-identifying with phenomena that is often part of the methodology in Buddhist meditation practices. If someone is to steep themselves in methods for transcendence, it comes as no surprise that re-entry and integration is not a super easy process.
I find it unfortunate that these necessary and important growing pains are sort of swept under the carpet in a lot of Buddhist and other spiritual circles, all roads towards clarity are rocky. Many of these and other issues can arise from various spiritual practices, but I don’t think that speaks against them at all, if anything it legitimizes them for me. Examples of these kinds of phases in the spiritual path are well-represented in this talk: http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-231-the-dark-side-of-dharma/
So now at this point in my life, a combination of my love for the liminal zones of consciousness and their exploration, and a hope to heal my derealization (while retaining the insights of oneness of course) has brought me to the practices of ayahuasca shamanism. I don’t wish to throw out my lessons from Buddhism by any means whatsoever, I hope to integrate them with a deep connection to the earth and a more rich spiritual connection with this reality.
As Alan Watts said: “What I would call a really swinging human being is a person who lives on two levels at once”, meaning an integration of detachment and being anchored in your eternal self, and a deep passion and commitment for living in the world and caring for the cosmos. That may sound paradoxical to some, but it actually correlates very well with one of the most ancient and classic Hindu sayings, a favorite of mine:
“The world is an illusion
Brahman alone is real
Brahman is the world”
– Adi Shankara
I’ve heard commentaries on this saying, and as I suspected it is usually interpreted as a metaphor for a necessary process, rather than a statement of ontology. It is saying that first you must see the world as illusory to truly realize the one, the brahman, that is the source of all things. Only then, after you have detached from the world to see it’s source, may you fully appreciate the world as emanating from Brahman, the light.
My favorite metaphor for this is the projector.
If you were to just see the result of what the projector does, you would see all sorts of things (people, landscapes, objects, etc…) being formed by it’s light. Without seeing the source from which it comes, you would just see these things as themselves completely autonomous phenomena, separated in space-time. The only way to see them as an emanation from that one white light that is then refracted into many fantastic colors and forms, is to turn your head completely away from the images, as pretty as they might be. You would have to move away from them, shift all of your consciousness away from them, and then you could discover that white light that is being refracted into all of these images, that they are all emanating from one simple source of white light.
Only then, when you have seen that white light that creates the projection, can you fully appreciate the projection of forms as an emanation of that singular source. Without turning away from the forms and the scene taking place, you can’t know it’s source. That would be a perfect example of “belief”, or “belief” in god, which I detest.
Coming to know the source is a difficult and painful process, and the way to know the source is different for everyone, to simply take for someone else’s word that the projection on the wall is coming from a single point of white light without actually pulling yourself away from the screen and looking for yourself is not truly “knowing” anything. There is no easy route to knowing your own truth, you have to let go of your ego that identifies with watching the projection first, and that is an extremely painful process.
So with that metaphor let’s look at the statement again:
The world is an illusion (the projection isn’t real)
Brahman alone is real (the white light that creates it is only real, i.e. get up and look at the source)
Brahman is the world (the projection of forms *is* the white light, just complexified into different forms. i.e. sit your ass back down and enjoy the show)
Some other examples of this necessary process in the literature are:
Flee the many,
Find the One
Embrace the Many as the One
One of my favorites:
Wisdom is knowing I am nothing
love is knowing I am everything
and between the two my life moves
– Nisargadatta Maharaj
So as the statement at the top mentions
There are two forms of bliss
In my coming of age, I have pursued the first form of bliss, with some successes and glimpses of merging back into the one. As I continue, I will adventure into this second form.