Are “Bliss Bunnies” Jhana Addicts?

As my friend and meditation guide Jeffrey Brooks (Jhanananda) explains, the ecstatic states of meditation are to be pursued and embraced, not avoided as a source of “addiction” or “diversion.”

The Buddha, in fact, taught that self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy are marks of “right” or “correct” meditation, symbols of the Middle Way between sensual pleasure and self-mortification.

Here is Jeffrey’s take on the subject of canonical support for the ecstasies:

Often it is heard that one should avoid the ecstasies of the absorption states, because one might become “addicted” or “side tracked.” And those who do not revere noble ones even say they are “bliss bunnies” for seeking the ecstasies. However, I do not seem to have become “addicted” to bliss and ecstasy. Every day I am just more happy, more content and fulfilled than I can ever recall being. If that is an addiction to being a “bliss bunny,” I’ll take it over an anxiety disorder, depression or dependence on stimulants and depressants.

The historic Buddha said, bliss and ecstasy “should be pursued … it should be developed … should be cultivated, and … should not be feared.”

Aranavibhanga Sutta, MN 139
3. “One should not pursue sensual pleasure…and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial. The Middle Way discovered by the Tathagata avoids both extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana…

9. …”One should know how to define pleasure, and knowing that, one should pursue pleasure within oneself”…”Here bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enter upon and resides in the first (absorption) jhana”… (through 4th jhana). “This is called the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment. I say of this kind of pleasure that it should be pursued, that it should be developed, that it should be cultivated, and that it should not be feared.”

“So it was in reference to this that I said, ‘One should know how to define pleasure, and knowing that, one should pursue pleasure within oneself.”

13. Here, bhikkhus, the bliss of renunciation, the bliss of seclusion, the bliss of peace, the bliss of enlightenment, is a state without suffering (dukkha)… and it is the right way. Therefore this is a state without conflict.”
(Majjhima Nikaya trans. Bhikkhus Nanamoli & Bodhi, Wisdom, 1995)

Jhanasamyutta, SN 34
“Therein, bhikkhus, the meditator who is skilled both in meditation regarding absorption (jhana) and in attainment regarding absorption (jhana) is the chief, the best the foremost, the highest, the most excellent of these four kinds of meditators.”
(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)

Jhanasamyutta, SN 9.53
“Bhikkhus, just as the River Ganges slants, slopes and inclines toward the East, so too a bhikkhu who develops and cultivates the four absorptions (jhanas) slants, slopes, and inclines toward nibbana.”
(Samyutta Nikaya tans. Bhikkhu Bodhi, Wisdom, 2000)

In conclusion it appears that the historic Buddha taught an 8 fold practice path, that included right or noble mindfulness (samma-sati). Based upon the Satipatthana Sutta, MN 10, we can conclude he called the cultivation of mindfulness (sati) “satipatthana” (DN 22), not “vipassana.” And, the conclusion, or successful execution, of satipatthana was specifically for giving rise to right or correct meditation (samma-samadhi) (DN 22.21); which he defined in terms of the four material, or rupa jhanas, (DN 22.21); which he called “Di.t.thadhammasukhavihaaraa;” which is often translated as a “pleasant abiding in the here and now” (MN 8); which he considered to be supramundane (Lokuttara) (NM 31.10-18).

May you become enlightened in this very lifetime.

If anyone tells you to avoid (as if!) the manifestations of ecstasy that naturally arise in your meditation practice, know that the Buddha went out of his way to teach an ecstatic form of practice. The above instances barely form the tip of the iceberg, in that we find many, many examples of jhana (meditative absorption) being taught in his Suttas.

Follow the ecstasies, and see where they lead.

This is the pleasurable path to perspectives from which we, in our mundane consciousness, are blinded.

Without these perspectives, says the Buddha himself, the Goal remains a vague conceptual dream.

Why not wake up from the dream?


Long Term Meditation Retreat

A Solitary Confiement Cell
Have you ever wondered what you would do if placed into a prison environment for a period of years?

Yesterday I viewed a recent National Geographic Channel program entitled Solitary Confinement, which was shot at a Colorado maximum security prison.

I do recommend clicking on the above link and watching the show in its entirety.

The episode is narrated by Peter Coyote, whose voice seems to accompany more and more thoughtful documentaries out there — non-intrusive, smooth and distinctive, it works well here.

A day after watching, I’m left wondering just how effective the System’s plan of “rehabilitation” is, when so many inmates are driven to suicide and unhealthy mental/emotional states as a result of being locked in an 8′ x 10′ cell 23 hours a day, with zero physical contact (other than sticking their hands behind their backs and through a hole in their cell doors in order to be cuffed).

Through interviews with inmates, guards, the warden and various sociological and psychological professionals, a very disturbing picture emerges.

While the System describes this treatment (nearly unique in the world, as the U.S. is virtually the only country that has revived strict solitary confinement as a primary “rehabilitation” tool, having previously rejected it early in the 20th century as torturous and counter-productive) as an attempt to “re-program” compliance with “rules,” it is clear that sustained isolation, constant harassment and a sense of total helplessness actually leads to a vastly increased likelihood of spontaneous acts of violence and insubordination.

In other words, a policy of pervasive solitary confinement produces the exact behavior that it is purported to correct.

During one of the inmate interviews, however, we are met by a distinguished-looking Hispanic man whose expressions are penetrating and thoughtful. The camera looks through the small glass opening in his cell door, and we see him pacing around in his little box, doing push-ups, straightening the covers on his bunk, peering longingly through the thin slice of a window that is his only reminder of an outside world (unlike the image above, which shows a full window).

He tells us that inmates are ill-equipped to deal with the unnatural stresses of isolation, and that most are permanently damaged over time. He also describes his own problems and difficulties with the treatment he receives, while confirming fears that he may not emerge unscathed, either.

To what solution has he arrived?

“I meditate.”

And the camera shows him assuming a lotus position on his bunk, settling in for the duration.

While the topic of meditation is allowed to fade and is never again addressed during the show, we return to this particular inmate on several occasions — and it is patently clear that he is the most well-adjusted, earnest, self-searching and thoughtful individual in the entire documentary. Guards, warden, psychologists, sociologists — even Peter Coyote! — all pale in comparison with this man’s presence.

Subsequent reflections include:

1) I’m drawn to the possibility of teaching such prisoners skillful meditation that leads to self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, so that they may experience inner transformation that renders outward circumstances relatively impotent.

2) I would love to make contact with this particular Hispanic inmate, as I would imagine that he has given rise to ecstatic phenomena while meditating in long-term isolation. It would be interesting to see how he deals with the inevitable Dark Night period symbolized by the transition between second and third jhana.

3) I would love to make available to dedicated prisoner-contemplatives a full printed set of the Sutta Pitaka, and to enter into letter-communication so as to offer alternative translation possibilities that will more appropriately meet them in their ecstatic manifestations.

I know, I know, I know… I’m probably just dreaming here, as the System is not truly interested in rehabilitating inmates, especially when they have been deemed “incorrigible” enough to end up at a strict solitary confinement institution like in this show. The System does not care that it is crushing these human beings and turning them into damaged shells of their former potential. The System is simply complying with a perceived social imperative to put these inmates out of sight and out of mind, warehoused like laboratory rats.

That said… what if we could show that saturation in meditative absorption creates a desire for more and longer periods of sitting; that it evokes deep and permanent personality shifts that tend toward calmness and serenity; and that this is by far the most useful approach to enduring months, years and sometimes decades of forced isolation?

I do believe that, faced with a situation as described in this documentary, there would be plenty of inmate volunteers interested in adopting a rigorous and skillful meditation practice that is perfectly adapted to long-term isolation. In fact, I can think of no better application of this practice.

Are there any prison officials out there — especially in the Denver-Boulder area — who are reading this and would be interested in a pilot program to teach solitary inmates ecstatic meditation?

Beyond the Cushion

I value and teach a rigorous and skillful three-times-daily meditation practice, insisting that the fruits of ecstasy are worth far more than the mundane pursuits we would otherwise engage.

I must, however, acknowledge that there are another 21 hours in a day.

I must also acknowledge that life-circumstances sometimes prevent us from putting in a full three meditation sessions during a given day.

While we may manage to practice “sleep yoga” during the night cycle, there are still another 15 hours in a day. Some of that time may be spent driving, riding bike or walking; sitting at a work desk or performing some other task in support of financial survival; preparing and eating food; cleaning body and home; and so forth, even as the clock spins round and round, swallowing time like a baleen whale.

What, then, is the skillful way for an ecstatic contemplative to harness the fruits of his or her practice, putting them to work when formal meditation is not an immediate option?

The key is in the concept of saturation.

Saturation happens when absorption never quite subsides.

The process of moving into and out of meditative absorption, over and over during months and years of ecstatic practice, gives rise to saturation. While deeper levels of jhana/samadhi typically diminish when we come out of formal meditation, the bliss, joy and ecstasy that have been generated begin to hang around at all times.

So, rather than dwelling in fourth jhana, wherein we barely notice our physical body and are approaching maximum shakti levels of energetic intensity… our experience of saturation becomes more attuned with first or second jhana (or third jhana, in the case of contemplatives who give rise to daily absorption over a period of many years) — even while moving across the stage of mundane existence: waiting for a bus, grocery shopping, watering the lawn, paying bills. Jhana nimittas continue to manifest, such that, in my experience, there is always a general euphoria bubbling just below the surface, emitting from the third eye, swirling about my entire being.

Perhaps different nimittas arise for different contemplatives — charismatic ringing in the ears, various visual phenomena, etc.

In saturation, these things become persistent and insistent, as though some intelligence within us wants us to pay attention, so that the nimittas may blossom into full-blown absorption.

Throughout the day, it is good for us to grab a moment here, grab a moment there, always in the interest of silently and consciously acknowledging the nimittas that persist through saturation in the charisms (i.e., fruits of ecstatic practice).

Riding on the bus, we may close our eyes, and we may settle into ourselves while the nimittas do their thing.

Sitting on the porch after work, same thing — close our eyes, watch the inner flowering of bliss, joy and ecstasy.

Anything we can do to shift our attention from the external drama and consciously direct it to the saturation within which we exist, we should do it — frequently, for as long as possible, without regard for the fleeting diversions that our egos constantly seek to entertain.

Releasing into saturation, we “steal” more contemplative time amidst the chaos of contemporary life, and the more time we spend in skillful contemplation — bathing in the energy of absorption — the more exposure we have to a self-arising spiritual power that leads to healing, transformation and inner destinations that would otherwise escape our ability to conceive.

Shifting attention to the phenomena of saturation is a no-brainer.

We only need to avail ourselves of it.

Reflections on Buddhist and Christian Expressions of “Salvation”

St. John of the Cross

For those who are interested in a Buddhist-Christian dialogue (and I realize that many are definitely NOT), I’ve just posted some musings about the nature of Heaven and Hell with regard to Samsara and Nibbana/Nirvana over at my new blog, Enlightenment or Salvation?

Our Ecstatic Birthright… Despite Orthodoxy

Moreover, the Gnostic emphasis on inner illumination aroused some discomfort in this nascent ecclesiastical establishment. As the scholar Elaine Pagels has pointed out, “Gnostic teaching… was potentially subversive of this order: it claimed to offer every initiate direct access to God of which the priests and bishops themselves might be ignorant.” This was bound to be irritating to the priests and bishops. Consequently, they launched into a vigorous campaign against Gnosticism. Once they achieved secular power, as they did when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in the fourth century, they were in a position to come down on the Gnostics and other heterodox Christian sects with the might of the state.

Richard Smoley, Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition

In another article, I mentioned that the notion of a personal God has not made sense to me, despite (or due to) being a preacher’s kid who spent the first 19 years of my life in church.

Even as a small child, however, I knew that Bible stories, prayer, hymns and rituals pointed to “something” that could be touched by humans in a real and profound way. In fact, I had some unitive experiences as a young boy that remain prominent in my worldview to this day. I would complain to my father that there was no “direct experience of God” in our church. He laughed and tussled my hair, and I learned not to talk about it very much as time moved on.

In my mid-30’s, however, ecstatic phenomena that mirrored those of my early life returned with great power. At the time, I was studying various Eastern traditions, none of which spoke to these ecstatic experiences, other than to discourage them as “diversions” from the Goal. I spent about eight years in the desert, so to speak, unable to deny the bliss, joy and ecstasy that had awakened in my being, while at the same time finding very little support from the books and teachers I came across.

As for Christianity… I had a vague notion that, somewhere deep in the past, there were followers of Christ Jesus’ teachings who perhaps had direct experiences of “God,” but when I surveyed current expressions of the Church, I found nothing but fundamentalism, over-intellectualism, “fluff” and social clubs. The very existence of “Christian Rock” music was more than enough to keep my head and nose turned away.

Having accessed — through contact with kindred spirits who exhibit similar “symptoms” to mine — the Buddhadhamma, and having discovered within it a very specific set of meditation and mindfulness instructions that spoke directly to my ecstatic expriences, I rejoiced. I found that the Buddha overtly taught about the ecstasies (which he called jhana or samadhi), and that he placed paramount importance on them.

It’s been about seven years since I made this discovery, and it’s been less than 50 years since the Buddha’s original teachings have been made widely available in English. So, for about 2,400 years, these teachings have been “hidden” deep within Theravada Buddhism, insulated even from most monks. The Buddhist priesthood, like priesthoods from most other religious traditions, became a guardian of orthodoxy — and this orthodoxy not only avoided the direct experiences that formed the core of the original teaching, but actively repressed it down through the years. In many ways, such repression continues to this day.

* * *

I am aware that this is nothing new. Mystics and ecstatics have been oppressed throughout history, having threatened the priestly hierarchy’s authority, since few if any priests exhibit the ecstatic phenomena described, taught and championed by a given religion’s progenitor.

And yet, mystics and ecstatics arise in every generation. Whereas the dominant culture has always pathologized expressions of the ecstatic (which are, at core, feminine in nature — the subject for another article, no doubt), we rarely burn ecstatics at the stake these days.

No, we label ecstatics as “problem children” with ADD/ADHD, and we pump them full of Ritalin. We prescribe exotic cocktails of SSRI drugs, so that children and adults may return to “full productivity” on the treadmill of modern existence.

The fact that so much of modern-day society is either dependent on psychosomatic prescription medication, or has adopted damaging self-medication regimens, suggests to me that human nature is ecstatic at core.

A technological society as removed from the Sacred as ours puts a lot of pressure on individuals to suppress naturally-occurring ecstasy. Many succumb, taking the Pill. Others resist… but without competent teachers of the charismatic, they often turn to mind-altering substances, seeking in various drug or alcohol experiences that which already exists within us — free of charge, free of negative side-effects.

I am a survivor of the second category, and am thankful that I never fell into the trap of the first.

* * *

Now that the Buddha’s original Middle Path (in the form of Suttas or Discourses which purport to preserve Gautama’s teachings first in oral transmission, then written on Papyrus leaves some 2,200 years ago) is widely available in English, it is interesting to note that the Buddha did not hide the “good stuff” from anyone.

Yes, the Suttas are directed to his monks (who were legion at the time), but there was no effort to reserve these teachings for just his most accomplished followers. Gautama went out of his way to state that the Buddhadhamma was of a single cloth — nothing hidden, this is what you get, take it or leave it. It was his gift to a humanity that, like ours, had strayed far from its True Nature.

The Four Noble Truths, the fourth of which is the Noble Eightfold Path, culminating in Right Absorption (Samma-Samadhi)… followed by a life spent saturated in meditative absorption, dissolving the dastardly “fetters” that keep humans on the Wheel of Samsarathis is what Gautama taught, forwards and backwards, saturated always in jhana/samadhi.

Unfortunately, the Theravada priestly hierarchy, within just a couple generations of the Buddha’s passing, turned Buddhism into something completely different than what was originally propounded. The Abhidhamma, for instance, proposed to “add” to what had already been fully given — an entire “secret” psychological system that did not appear in the original discourses, but was added to the Pali Canon nevertheless. A few hundred years later, a series of commentaries was added to the official orthodoxy, the Visuddhimagga being the primary example. These efforts served to entrench the authority of the priesthood, and to obfuscate the ecstatic teachings of Gautama Buddha. For hundreds of years, orthodox teachings of Theravada Buddhism have filtered through these (and other similar) books, relegating the Buddha’s actual teachings to the proverbial dusty monastery basement.

* * *

So, forty-seven years after my birth, I’m “getting it” that this world does not support the ecstatic.

There is no un-broken transmission of Jesus’ ecstatic teachings (which are now coming to light in Gnostic texts being unearthed in the Middle East)… and there is for sure no formal schooling for such teachings within the mainstream Christianity of my upbringing. On the contrary, church as I experienced it was a hollow shell, filled with desperate souls who desired union with God, but who eventually settled for peak experiences (church camp rallies, etc.) and the solace of community.

Something similar has happened to Theravada Buddhism, though the advent of the Sutta Pitaka in English has given rise to a (mostly-misguided) discussion of ecstatic states.

I cannot speak experientially about Islamic Sufism, but my sense is that there is a pure transmission of ecstatic practices that retains Islam’s original ecstatic inspiration. It’s hard to know for certain, since these esoteric teachings are reserved for initiates only. Mainstream Islam, with its five-times-daily prayer and other ritual obligations, is perhaps more conducive to ecstatic experience than most other religious expressions… but, again, there is a long history there of repression of the ecstatic unitive experience, with dire consequences to many devout Sufis.

I am equally devoid of significant experience regarding Tibetan Buddhism and every other esoteric/initiatic tradition that I know of, most of which filter through a living teacher. Judging by the vast number of Eastern Teachings books available these days, there is at least the promise of ecstatic experience available through these systems, hidden as they are. [There is yet another article begging to be written about living teachers offering exclusive curriculums… but we’ll leave it for another time.]

My solution has been to (finally, after much searching) connect with a community of ecstatic contemplatives, to adopt a rigorous and skillful daily contemplative practice, to study ecstatic writings from all traditions, and to wear my ecstatic birthright as a primary element of this particular human identity. In doing so, I find that I am not alone, and that the message of ecstasy resonates deeply in those who have moved beyond unconscious repression/expression of this profound human trait.

My solution is also to recognize that exoteric religion contains Mystery symbols that carry primordial meaning for those whose practice is labeled esoteric and ecstatic — and that, despite the abandonment of ecstasy by mainstream religion, we may connect with mystic saints who’ve left surprisingly similar records within every religion.

Having been raised a Christian, I find that my early-life connection with the Person of Christ is impossible to abandon. Perhaps Jesus IS my guru, and he is speaking to me through Gnostic, Essene and other non-canonical writings represented in findings at Qumran and Nag Hammadi. I pull these ancient writings forward as the Sacred essence of Christianity’s original inspiration… and I allow them to invade my direct experience of that very same Sacred, beyond time and space, straight back to the Source of everything.

* * *

Ultimately, anyone who has given rise to the ecstatic knows that one cannot ask for more in life, no matter what our orthodox institutions say.

The upwelling of charismatic phenomena is, after all, what all the practice is about. Having come into it, our internal navigation system activates, such that it is only a matter of time before we are led all the way Home.

The Self-Acceptance of a Contemplative

At a certain point, after years of resistance that led to suffering, I had to admit that this is it; there is nothing in this life that can compare with the self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy that is sustained by a rigorous meditation practice.

This point arrived for me in late 2002, after I had already spent seven or eight years consciously “seeking enlightenment” one way or another.

The question of “enlightenment” is perhaps fodder for another article.  My point here is that the quest for a nebulous goal called “enlightenment” is a familiar thing for many of us, and the journey usually entails all sorts of starts and stops and diversions.  There’s lots of conflicting information out there, and most of it does not lead to succor; it leads to more neurosis than we began with.  This is the morass into which I descended during the above-mentioned seven or eight years, leaving me (metaphorically) quivering in a corner, totally baffled and lost.

During those seven or eight years, having already experienced ecstatic phenomena for which I had no explanation or guidance, I meditated (in a floundering sort of way) here and there. I attended satsang and met online gurus, while working at a metaphysical bookstore that allowed me to read widely and deeply into various spiritual traditions.

Having earlier obtained certification as a Jungian Archetypal Psychotherapist, there was a nagging sense that I should be seeking more credentials in order to work as a therapist. Or, I should be getting published and building some sort of identity as this or that sort of healer. Always, there was a belief that something was being avoided, which meant that there must’ve been something wrong with me, since I could not find within myself motivation toward fulfilling some sort of role in the world.

Instead, I stayed in my cave, venturing out every so often to attend a talk by a traveling teacher. I engaged with my wife in long talks about the nature of enlightenment, the result of which seemed to render any sort of action in the world moot.

Lethargy and stasis set in.

Working unsatisfying jobs for too little money continued. I reminded myself that, at least I could pay some bills, keep a roof overhead, put food in my belly, and still have plenty of time and energy for a spiritual pursuit.

* * *

In 2002 or so, I finally received meaningful guidance that spoke directly to the difficulty I’d been having in finding an identity in the world, or in choosing a direction that would be acceptable to the beliefs and conditions under which I’d been operating all my life.  This competent guidance gradually let to a rigorous daily practice that, once adopted, has been my strength and stability ever since.

I turned 40 that year, at which time a firm conviction arose that said, “For better or worse, this is who I am, and this is who I will be until the day I die.”

During the intervening seven or eight years, a gradual deepening of self-acceptance has occurred.

This self-acceptance is of the nature of surrender.

This surrender is of the nature of realizing that the expectations I’d previously carried in life — many of them involving livelihood, home ownership, eventual retirement and so forth — meant nothing in comparison with the self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy that had saturated my entire being as a result of rigorous daily meditation.

It’s not that the elements of these expectations have been rejected out-of-hand. It’s just that I’ve had to admit that these are not (for me) valid pursuits in and of themselves. They represent “nice things,” but their arising will result from a natural expression of something true and authentic within me — or they will not arise at all. This is the knowing that finally dawned on me.

* * *

As time has moved forward, a new and pleasantly unexpected phenomenon has begun to emerge.

This phenomenon is of the nature of an opening heart, and it creates a life-motivation based on reaching out to others and helping to meet their interior needs, using whatever gifts I may possess.

* * *

There remain issues of financial viability, for myself and my family. There remain questions about the future and my participation in it. I do not deny the need for money in this world, nor the requirement for a certain level of material “security.”

The important event, in my view, is that self-acceptance as a contemplative — and the surrender it entails — has opened me to a peace, ease and contentment that was not possible before.

To the extent that I continue with my daily contemplative practice, combined with an ongoing willingness to engage others from this perspective, I understand at a very deep level that a profoundly appropriate existence is being sustained and matured, slowly but surely. This is no experiment; this is simply how it works.

* * *

My advice to others who struggle with a tension between contemplative values and worldly values naturally follows from the experiences described above.

A dedicated, rigorous and skillful contemplative life may not be for everyone.  But for those who, like me, literally have no choice in the matter, I can suggest that surrender is the path of least resistance.

Structure your life around your practice, and don’t be afraid to give that practice several years to embed itself into the fiber of your being.

This restructuring around a contemplative practice will (depending on your present circumtances) possibly produce conflicts and disillusionment in the workplace and/or in close relationships.  Prior to complete self-acceptance as a contemplative, there will likely arise the urge to ditch your practice in order to “fix” the turmoil and chaos of your life.  You will find that such an effort to “fix” things only leads to more suffering, as your energy is being spent on diversionary pursuits.  When push comes to shove, stick with your practice — it will prove itself to be your most loyal ally, your truest benefactor.  Let the rest change or fall away as it will.

I am not saying that you should quit the world in order to starve in a cave (as opposed to a street corner).  I am, however, suggesting that if you have truly arrived at a profound insight into the fact that you are a contemplative before all else, you will eventually need to put a rigorous and skillful daily practice (including meditation, mindfulness training and study) at the center of your universe, allowing everything else to conform to it.  This process is liberating, and it will simplify your life in ways that you may not have thought possible.

At some point, in answer to the question, “Now what?,” it will become apparent that yours is a valuable, worthy and noble existence.  This does not mean that you are better than anyone else, nor does it promote an egotistical sense of spiritual superiority, as ecstatic meditation consumes all of that in a “slow burn” of transformation. The inner work that you do is something the world needs in myriad ways. It will dawn on you that you have certain innate gifts, some of which have already developed in ways that you’d previously discounted. Opportunities will gradually emerge that challenge you to use these gifts, and a genuinely altruistic motivation will develop within you.

This motivation will emerge from a place of love and gratitude, such that it becomes important to avail yourself to others who desperately need your support and assistance.

When (after perhaps several years of individual practice — who knows? — no pressure!) you begin to respond to the interior needs of your fellow human beings — many of whom are drawn to a more contemplative existence within an alien and difficult material reality — the universe will support your unfoldment, despite individual conditioning that says it won’t.

This process unfolds gradually according to a particular person’s varied qualities. No single blueprint applies to everyone.

The important thing is to examine yourself with ruthless honestly. Have you approached life from an inauthentic perspective imposed on you from without? Has this perspective led to suffering and anxiety as the years roll by, producing in you the terrible sensation of having “missed the boat?” Has this perspective led to a belief in personal failure?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then perhaps it is not you who has failed. Perhaps it is an inauthentic set of beliefs around your purpose in this world that has failed you.

And if this is the honest truth, I would invite you to accept yourself and your lot in this life.

I would invite you to embrace the contemplative in you, and to make a firm decision to honor it for the rest of your days — to honor it by building your life around it, trusting that this firm conviction is but the beginning of a life that has always awaited you.

Commitment to the Holy Life

So then, bhikkhus, the holy life is led not for gain, honor and fame, not for the endowment of virtues, not for the endowment of meditative absorption, not for the endowment of knowledge and vision. Bhikkhus, it is for the unshakeable release of mind that is the essence and end of the holy life .

Gautama Buddha, speaking to his monks in the Mahasaropama Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya, The Major Discourse on Heartwood.

Meditation is one of those activities (or “anti-activities”) that seems so beneficial, so pure and so GOOD, that one simply accepts that one should adopt a meditation practice – although one may assume that her life-circumstances may not provide time or space for such a practice – but, definitely, without a doubt, one embraces the vague notion that meditation is on one’s list of things to do when… well… when the time is right.

* * *

Once in a while, one receives just the right amount of support in just the right way, such that she suddenly understands that the time is right – circumstances have been fulfilled, planets have aligned and the inner lottery has hit the jackpot – such that the most important thing in the world has suddenly become to build a Holy Life around meditation practice, study, moment-to-moment mindfulness and the company of others who have made a similar commitment in their lives.

This is a very delicate moment. Our prospective contemplative may very well have been here before, not once or twice, but maybe three, four or five times. She may have resolved in the past to meditate for 30 minutes every morning, and sure enough, she stuck to her resolution for a whole month. Then her practice fell off, and before she knew it, two years passed before she made a new resolution. This time she went for 45 minute meditations, and she kept this practice for four months. And so forth and so on, in and out of practice every few years, year after year, wishy-washy and full of good intentions… yet always succumbing to that great undertow of externally-imposed promises of fulfillment.

How does one, then, once-and-for all commit to something like a rigorous and skillful meditation practice – one that gives rise to bliss, joy and ecstasy, establishing one in constant saturation in meditative absorption, such that true fulfillment occurs with the confident assurance of breathing?

How does one go beyond a rigorous and skillful practice, adding to meditation things like daily study and immersion in the writings of ecstatic contemplatives from multiple traditions… using the time between formal meditations to bring attention to ever-growing saturation, deepening moment-to-moment mindfulness… and, perhaps as important as all the above, seeking the company of others who are engaged in the Holy Life?

How does one deal with a lifetime’s conditioning? How does one become convinced – beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt – that the life of an ecstatic mystic is not only possible, but that it makes sense in a world filled with jobs, children, relationships, parents, debts, duties and desires?

This world conditions us to seek external gratification — to find meaning in external conditions, so that we project our very identity onto people, places and things that have nothing to do with our essential being.

As the years go by, we become heavily invested in things like money, success, achievement, societal position, homes, cars, appliances, lawn ornaments, wardrobes, furniture, home entertainment systems, food, social circles and professional sports… so that THAT which has true importance gets interred under this ocean of externally-imposed expectations.  It’s not that these things are bad in and of themselves — who doesn’t need money? — but when it comes at the expense of what brings self-arising bliss, joy and ecstasy, it becomes obvious to the devoted ecstatic that chasing after the impermanent is not a viable pursuit.

From the ecstatic contemplative’s perspective, the Holy Life — however it evolves for a particular individual — is the only viable life, in that it does not depend on external gratification.

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As mentioned above, it helps to receive the right type of support — giving honest recognition to the fact that we as human beings must arrive at a moment of absolute conviction on our own; no one else can push us over the line.

A validating comment from a respected teacher, for instance, will go a long ways toward convincing one that she really does have what it takes, and that she may expect to see positive results in due time.

A very beneficial activity is to put oneself through a nine or ten-day meditation retreat – ideally a jhana retreat, one that honors and fosters the ecstatic – so that one experiences absorption at ever-deepening levels, thus informing future practice with the assurance that these states are attainable.  Upon returning from a retreat such as this, it becomes much easier to open to the idea of becoming a yogi, devoted to a daily life built around practice.

Finally, it is a blessing to the ecstatic mystic to either find or create a local community of contemplatives. Meeting for regular mediation sits, doing retreats together, studying ecstatic writings, feeding back to one another each contemplative’s interior experiences, learning from one another – this is a boon.

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The bottom line is, commitment is required.

It takes time, patience and persistence to bring one’s contemplative practice into an ecstatic framework.

It then takes more time, patience and persistence to sustain an ecstatic practice, such that one becomes saturated in the ecstatic 24/7.

It takes internal fortitude to engage with the world from the perspective constant bliss, joy and ecstasy.  The ecstatic contemplative must develop an attitude of love and well-being toward her fellow human being — an attitude of thankful giving — knowing that the blessing of meditative absorption should be shared freely, often and fully. If we don’t develop a need to help others, we lack motivation for leaving the cave, and we cut ourselves off from the support needed to continue on in the Holy Life.

One must arrive at a moment of transformation, no turning back, no second-guessing, no vacillation.

One is now a devoted yogi who recognizes that nothing in this world compares to a spiritual practice that is directly infused with Divine energy, and that this practice is what the yogi and the world both need more than anything.

Knowing that we are only human, that we have a lot of work to do in our ecstatic practices, and that we will fall short from time to time… we jump into the Holy Life nevertheless.  We have come to the realization that we really have no choice.

When and if it is time, I invite you to take the leap.

You won’t be sorry.