An Abbreviated Phenomenological Diary


David Michael Levin

Appendix: An Abbreviated Phenomenological Diary
from the book “The Opening of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation 22 Jun 1988
by David Michael Levin

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An extract from the Appendix
On August 20, 1986, I went into Dark Retreat at Tsegyelgar, the Dzogchen community center in Conway, Massachusettes. After dark, I entered the isolation of a hut in the woods. This hut was designed, built and equipped for the special conditions of the Dark Retreat, during which time the practitioner lives continuously in the dark, totally cut off from contact with light. I remained for seven nights and seven days, isolated in the darkness of the hut.

Without further introduction, let me now report in phenomenological terms my experience with the Dzogchen practice. The first night and first day were extremely exciting. I suddenly realized, by direct experience, that light is a stimulant, exciting the activity of vision and drawing it out. But I also began to understand that the absence of light – deprivation of light – is an equally powerful stimulant, revealing and provoking the movement of our eyes. I had expected to find the darkness restful, but instead it aroused me. I was tense, overexcited. An incessantly changing display of forms kept me enthralled, entertained, and on the look-out: form, like clouds, making their appearance, lingering a while, and then vanishing without any enduring trace. By the second night, I understood that this ceaseless play of light, this constantly changing display of shapes and patterns, sometimes suggesting familiar objects and fantastic landscapes, was a reflection of my state of mind. The display was functioning like a mirror, showing me the inner nature of my mind. Because of a dynamic, functional interdependence, the ever-changing forms corresponded to the nervous, agitated movements of my gaze. Instead of resting, my eyes were constantly moving about, rapidly darting and jumping about. These movements were extremely fine vibrations or oscillations – quite different from the slower, grosser, REM’s.

Was all this movement caused by curiosity? Perhaps at first. But the room was totally dark and objectively uneventful: nothing other than the darkness itself. There was, after all, nothing (objective) to see. I did experience some waves of anxiety from time to time, but I do not believe this anxiety, nor even occasionally projections of paranoia, can explain the incessant movement. (Experimental psychology has established that, even during sleep, there are rapid eye movements, REM’s, which seem to be correlated with the process of dreaming.0 By the end of that second night, I reached the conclusion that the movement was basically habitual, manifesting an inveterate tendency of embodied consciousness.

I was reminded of a remark Heidegger makes in ‘Moira’ his essay on Parmenides. He observes that ‘ordinary’ perception certainly moves within the lightedness of what is present and sees what is shining out . . . in ‘color’ and then comments that it is ‘dazzled’ by changes in color’ and ‘pays no attention [at all] to the still light of the lighting.

Most scholars pay no attention to this brief analysis: their eyes glide right over the words, unchallenged by their significance. I myself missed much of it; but at least I took his words to heart, i.e., I gave them an experiential reference. Remembering the text did not immediately help me. By the end of the second day, my eyes were strained, tired, and occasionally hurt. I rubbed them gently and allowed tear to come. This brought some temporary relief.

My visionary experiences during the third night and third day were not much different. But, by the end of the third day, it was clear to me that the visualization practices I was attempting to perform were only increasing the eyes’ strain and mental agitation. And since this condition of strain and agitation was reflected back by the restless changing of forms, the more intense my exertions, the more these displays of light agitated and pained me.

On the fourth night, I finally realized that I was caught in a vicious cycle, a wheel of suffering, unable to break out of the dualistic polarizations characteristic of my normal, habitual, routinized patterns of ego-logical vision. I was, in fact, shifting back and forth, interminably caught in one of four possible visionary attitudes in relation to the display of forms presence-ing in the dark:
* a)  seduction, i.e., attraction, involvement, grasping and clinging
* b)  resistance, i.e., attempts to fixate and control the wrathful movements of 
light by rigidly staring into the space before me
* c)  disengagements that involved withdrawing into inner monologue, i.e., 
continuous conceptualization
* d)  disengagement that resulted in drowsiness i.e. a withdrawing into the 
‘unconsciousness’ of sleep

The first two attitudes only intensified the movements of light; consequently they increased my inner agitation – which in turn, increased the play of light. Furthermore, both styles of interaction inflicted on my eyes a strain which always at some point became unbearable. But the second two attitudes were equally unsatisfactory as ultimate solutions: the monologue became repetitive, compulsive and boring; nor could I withdraw into continuous sleep for the duration of the retreat.

The third night and the following third day were extremely difficult. They tried me to the limit. As it turned out, these were in fact the most difficult hours of the week-long retreat. I could not accomplish the principle visualization. I felt discouraged and depressed. The displays of light no longer frightened, enthralled, amused, or entertained me. They no longer had the power to divert me from an extremely negative process of self-examination. I was tired, bored, impatient, skeptical. My body ached. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. I began to feel like a mouse or a mole, and wanted to escape the cold, the damp, the oppressive darkness. But I was determined to remain in the retreat for at least one week: seven nights, seven days.

The fourth night and the following day, I began to fell somewhat different. I was in the process of developing a very different attitude: toward the practices I had been struggling with and myself in relationship to them, toward the darkness,and toward the interminable displays of light. And these changes in me were immediately reflected in corresponding changes in the environment.

Briefly described, this environment was gradually beginning to feel less wrathful and more friendly – more like a nurturing, gently encompassing presence. And, as I found myself able to put into practice the meditative disciplines I had been learning for many years prior to the retreat (primarily the practice of calming and quieting the mind, and the practice of developing the deconstructive clarity of my insight into the ultimate emptiness of all passing forms), I began to see a decisive change in the phenomenal displays. The transformations of the lighting became slower, less violent; and in between the display of forms, I saw more ofr a clear space. There were more frequent times when I was surrounded by large curtains, or regions, of relatively constant and uniform illumination, sometimes brownish red, sometimes pale green, sometimes a dull white. Sometimes, I found myself looking out into an infinite expanse of clear, dark blue space, punctuated here and there by tiny stars of intense white light.

During the fourth day and fifth night, I gradually experienced the fact that there is a fifth attitude: a way out of the vicious cycle of suffering. The way out was to be found in the teachings and practices I had brought with me into the retreat. And finally, I knew this through direct experience, my own experience – and not by a leap of faith. The calmness and relaxation I was beginning to achieve was reflected back to me by corresponding qualities in the luminous presencing of the darkness. This different lighting in turn helped me to deepen my state of calm and relaxation and continue developing a non-dual visionary presence.

Beginning with the fifth day, then, it became progressively easier for me to experience what the Tibetans call rig-pa: the simple presence of awareness. Staying in this non-duality, I could begin to experience my integration into the element of light. I felt the truth of the Dzogchen teaching that I am by nature a body of light: that I am the light; that I and the phenomenological displays of light are really one. Correspondingly, the darkness became a warm, softly glowing sphere of light, an intimate space opening out into the unlimited. I felt bathed in its encompassing luminosity, an interplay of softly shimmering grey-white and blackish-red lights. I experienced a kind of erotic communion with the light, as if the light and I were entwined in a lover’s embrace.

With the development of more neutralized, non-dualistic awareness, my vision was less caught up in the antithesis of movement and non-movement. With the development of my capacity for letting go and letting be, my gaze was less troubled by forms in movement. There was less need to withdraw into sleep, because rig-pa is a restful aliveness. There was less need for painful staring, less need to stare the forms into fixity, because the greater tranquility of my gaze
effortlessly stabilized the inevitable display of moving, changing forms. There was less visual jumping and darting about, because the gaze was not so readily seduced by the play of light into forming attachments to its transformations that would disturb my becalmed presence. And there was less compulsion to withdraw into conceptual interpretation, because the gaze. More inwardly quiet, could let me begin to enjoy simply being in and with the lighting of the dark.

On the seventh night, just as I was drifting into sleep, but still in a state which is half way between waking and dreaming, and which the Tibetans call Bardo, I was suddenly jolted back into full consciousness, eyes wide open. I had been lying down, of course: in the normal position I assumed for sleeping. But there was suddenly a peremptory ‘call’ to me, and simultaneously, I lifted my head up – so fast, in fact, that I almost jumped out of bed. Confronting my raised eyes was a visionary phenomenon for which my comfortable categorical scheme was completely inadequate.

Until this unnerving event, I had experienced only three essentially distinctive categories of visionary event. a) I could ‘see’ my own body, especially when I moved: it had a ghostly presence, luminous, yet also dark, like a shadow; but I had no doubt whatsoever that I could ‘see’ it – clearly, and distinctly. Although this contests our normal constructs, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of the body calls attention to a corporeal schematism that makes it entirely understandable. b) Pure luminosities: dots, spots, zigzag and straight lines, sudden explosions, tiny cones and pyramids, irregularly shaped regions and curtains of light and, near the end of the retreat, and embracing atmosphere of softly glowing, relatively constant illumination. And c) Rorschach phantoms: because of all the involuntary eye movements, the luminosity of the dark manifested in a continuously changing display of shapes and forms; and because of the participation of consciousness in the process of the spectacle, these apparitions were subject to continuous, and more or less effortful interpretation. (I was reminded of Wittgenstein’s observations, in his Philosophical Investigations, in regard to the ‘dawning’ of an aspect.)

But the visionary apparition which compelled me to rethink my understanding of vision was fundamentally different from these fugacious Rorschach phantoms. Unlike the phantoms, it was totally spontaneous, i.e., involuntary, without any antecedent, and more or less effortful, participation by consciousness. It was sudden, instantaneous, without any gradual ‘dawning’ or ‘unfolding’. It was totally unrelated to earlier conscious thought. And, finally, it was clear and distinct, intensely vivid, luminously present. Indeed, what made it obviously ‘apparitional’, rather than ‘real’, was precisely its extraordinary luminosity: colours of incredible, ‘supernatural’ purity, intensity, aliveness, and clarity. Otherwise, I might have been taken in by it, since it had the sharpness of an outline, the distinctness, the steady duration, and also the three-dimensionality, the compelling appearing of volume and solidity, which are characteristic of the ‘real’ things in our normal, consensually validated world.

Yet I was not at all, except for an instant, perhaps, deceived by what I saw. Were it not for the peculiar luminosity, it might perhaps have been, or seemed to be, quite ‘real’; but I looked directly at it without any doubt that it was in truth ‘only’ an apparition – or a manifestation of some other dimension of our reality. It looked real – or rather, it looked, in fact, more than real, and I saw it as a vision, a vision of something which ‘objective reality testing’ would not confirm. (It was therefore different from the visions of Eleusis, which wee induced, as we now know, by the ingestion of a drink containing pulverized ergot, a hallucinogenic substance derived from barley.) By contrast, my experience was not induced by any psychotropic substance, not was I in some radically altered state of mind, e.g., derived of sleep. Like the Eleusinian visions, however, it was determined by the traditional symbolic associations of the Dark Retreat. What I was was the ornamental pelt worn by Senge Dong-ma, one of the female dakkinis and a supernatural being of light associated with the Dark Retreat teachings.

There are, then, four epistemologically distinct visionary processes, and it is essential that we not confuse them”
* a)  hallucination: a spontaneous, i.e., unwilled projection of consciousness taken for real
* b)  phantom: a Gestalt in whose process of formation consciousness participates, but in a relatively passive or receptive attitude, in the sense that it lets whatever configurations begin to appear (perhaps in response to its own unconscious projections) suggest the interpretation that completes and stabilizes the Gestalt
* c)  visualization: different from the phantom in that the participation of consciousness in the process of its formation is less passive and receptive; in other words, a deliberately produced image
* d)  an authentic vision: different from hallucination in that the projection is not deceptive, but, on the contrary very deeply understood (this understanding of the projective process is in fact a necessary condition of its possibility); different from a phantom in that its formation is instantaneous and spontaneous, and does not involve the participation of consciousness in an unfolding process of formation; and different from visualization in that it does not appear while, or so long as, one’s attention is absorbed in a process of willfully trying to produce it.

The ‘authentic vision’ is like the hallucination, however, ion that its appearance is not immediately connected to conscious attention, willful exertions of a greater or lesser degree (as in the formation of phantoms and visualizations). And it is like the visualization in that a necessary condition of its possibility is the kind of exertion, the kind of work, that goes into the production of the image in the process of visualization. A fortiori, in this respect authentic vision is unlike the hallucination, despite the spontaneity of its actual appearance.

Let me add, as part of a final note, that the darkness profoundly altered my sense of spatial distance and my sense of the passage of time. The first of these I expected; but I was surprised to find that time passed very rapidly. The nine- hour stretch from breakfast to supper, for example, often seemed to be no more than a few hours. At no time, however, was I confused or disoriented. I maintained a ‘normal’ sense of reality, of being grounded in the ‘reality’ of the world outside.

When I emerged from the retreat at the beginning of my eighth night, I found even the tree-filtered moonlight overwhelming. My eyes had developed a tremendous sensitivity to light, and even the faintest flickering concentration of illumination seemed at first almost unbearably intense. This I expected. I was surprised, however, by the nausea and dizziness which overcame me during the first few minutes in the relatively dark night outside the hut. (The moon was waning, and I was, after all, in the woods.) For one week, the eyes had been attuned by the peculiar conditions of the darkness; they needed some time – about 48 hours – to readjust and conform to the conditions of the world into which I had reemerged.

The retreat was a rich and deeply therapeutic experience for me. I emerged from the archetypal womb of darkness feeling nourished in spirit and more deeply integrated, more whole and complete, than when I entered it.

Conceivably, the sense of inner growth is nothing but an emotional rationalization. I am familiar with the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. But, after much critical thought and self-examination, I have reason to believe that the benefits I have noted are real and that their significance for my life – and in particular, for my visionary propensities and habits – will be enduring.

Visionary habits are not easily broken – especially not when the prevailing social consensus continuously reinforces them. The Dark Retreat is an extension of the Dzogchen practice of the Chod. In Tibetan, ‘chod’ refers to a process of cutting off. The Dark Retreat helped me to cut myself off from the inveterate tendencies that bind human vision to the karmic wheel of endlessly reproduced suffering.

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Chamma Ling Bon Tradition: Crestone Colorado


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Two Person Cabin InteriorOur Cabins, we have been told, are very well designed and comfortable, and provide all amenities. One retreatant called them “the Cadillac” of retreat cabins. The cabins are beautifully finished with hardwoods and Southwestern stucco exteriors. All have porches, views and can be converted into a sealed, dark retreat. Many very well known Teachers, including Crestone residents, have chosen Chamma Ling cabins for their solitary and dark retreats.

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About Our Cabins

Chamma Ling of Crestone exists in order to provide a solitary retreat cabins for practitioners in the Bön tradition, as well as meditators of other spiritual traditions.

If you would like to rent a cabin, we provide all the information here to plan and apply for your retreat.

When are they available?

The cabins are open year round. We are accepting applications now for retreats up to 18 months in advance.

Who can apply?

Two Person Cabin Exterior Deck

Any practitioner is encouraged to pursue solitary retreat as part of his or her path, regardless of length of experience. There are suitable retreat practices for every level of practitioner. One should have already received instruction from an acknowledged teacher on the meditation methods to be used during the retreat. While we recognize that people have received practices from many honorable traditions, this retreat center’s primary purpose is to support practices from the Bön Buddhist tradition, however we warmly welcome applications from practitioners of other traditions when we have available cabins.

What services are provided?

We provide three levels of retreat support: the Independent Practitioner, the Closed Retreat and Dark Retreat. For an explanation of what services are provided for each type of retreat see our section on Retreat Support

What does it cost?

The fees vary according to the type of retreat support services you need and how long you will be staying. The minimum stay is one week. For a complete explanation of costs see our fees section.

What are the cabins like?

Three of our retreat cabins are designed for a single person, being 21 by 12 feet, including a small kitchen and bath. A fourth cabin is about 30% larger, has a double bed, closet and larger kitchen and dining area.The cabins include a bed, clothes storage, desk, chair and shine and practice area. The kitchen is equipped with a basic set of pots, pans, plates, cups and utensils. Click Here For more details see our section describing the cabins. The cabins are solar heated with a south facing trombe wall, with electrical baseboard backup heat. All cabins are on the public water supply, have flush toilets, hot showers, sinks in the bath and kitchen, and a 3/4 size fridge with freezer. Be sure to check out the photos of our cabins to get a clear idea our cabin design.

What do I bring? How about food? How do I get there?

Single Person Cabin Shrine Area

For answers to all these questions and more see our Logistics Page. How do I actually reserve a cabin? For details on the process of applying for and reserving a cabin for a specific set of dates refer to our page on the Application Process. Still have unanswered questions? If you review all the information and still have some questions drop a line to us at Chamma Ling.  We’ll get back to you shortly. We hope to be able to support your retreat soon!

Our first four cabins are clustered together and are connected by a footpath to the parking area. Retreatants have access to the full 51 acres of Chamma Ling’s surrounding property, which border national forest lands that extend across the Sangre de Christo mountain range.

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Three of the cabins are nearly identical, and designed for a single person’s use. The fourth cabin is about 30% larger, and includes a double bed, small closet, and a larger kitchen and deck. It is well suited for couples to practice together.

The floorplan is here, but also be sure to check out the photos of the cabins in the photo gallery. We are confident that you will find our cabins to be very comfortable, and warmest welcome!

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Chamma Ling P.O. Box 608 Crestone, CO. 81131
CLinfo @ ligmincha.org
red.garuda @ gmail.com

 

The third cabin with prayer flags.

What Trauma? Who? Me?


i thought any trauma i might have experienced was probably trivial … and not worth worrying about …. best to “get on with life” that’s what most of us do isn’t it?

an important extract from the book …. first chapter, under “capacity”
Two influences affect capacity significantly: profound rest (positively) and major trauma (negatively). Profound rest, like the organism itself, is physical and psychical. Fasting provides primarily physical rest; darkroom retreating, primarily psychic rest. These can be used together or separately depending on capacity. Capacity is experienced as a sense of ease in doing something.

get the book.   http://www.darkroomretreat.com

What trauma? I mean the routine brutality of our lifeway, which touches virtually everyone from before birth. I mean not just the bad things we condemn, but common atrocities we mistakenly accept. I mean offenses to nature, as if it hadn’t already worked out every detail of a happy existence from the beginning of time.
I’m going to list common examples of the plague of polite violence I refer to. My editor, a deeply wise and loving man, has warned me I will lose readers by doing so. I see no way around it. Here’s hoping you can take it.
* unintentional conception and ambivalent pregnancy
* birth intruders (doctor, midwife, priest, etc)
* post-partum attachment failure (through exhaustion, physical separation, and emotional unavailability)
* vaccination, circumcision, formula-milk, illegal public nursing
* absent, pushover, smothering, and abusive parents
* nannies and day care
* cribs, playpens, strollers (the worst designs of all time. They crystallize alienation in the nervous systems of billions.)
* television, computers, games (screen technology causes not mere atrophy, but lifelong damage to the imaginative faculty when much used at critical phases of development.6)
* factory food (including unripe harvesting, chemical farming, genetic modification, irradiation)
* and finally, the last nail so big it splinters the coffin: school.
The violence of job, military, hospital, the street, and prison go without saying.
Of exactly what brutalized you, you may already have some idea. I invite you to find out for sure for yourself in darkness, where you have a real chance to recover from it. Between retreats, the depth psychologists mentioned below can also help provide words for what you are going through.

image credit:
http://www.ccasa.org/three-ways-trauma-affects-you/

My 5 Day Retreat in Guatemala…


About three years ago, I discovered Dark Room retreating while surfing one day on YouTube. I was immediately fascinated and a little apprehensive about the possibility of doing such a retreat, but gradually found myself inexorably pulled toward it. I’ve been practicing Spirituality for 40 or so years now and have passed many milestones on the journey and at a certain point, realized that I was going to take the jump. I researched the various offerings of facilities on the internet and eventually settled on one in Guatemala, as this was the closest to my home in Brazil.

I found the first twenty four hours of darkness the most difficult part…Several times during this time, I almost came out as the sheer boredom and isolation were extremely hard to bear. Basically, I clenched my fists and teeth and just made a strong determination to continue…no matter what. Sometimes, the passage of time (or what seemed like it) was agonizingly slow and at other times it felt to be passing quickly. I knew the intervals at which meals would be delivered, so this gave me some connection to time, although not completely. At times, I was almost “sweating” on that meal arriving and at other times, the bell rang unexpectedly. I never got completely used to finding my way around the room when I had to use the bathroom or shower and try as I did to feel my way along the wall, I always seemed to be bumping into things. The disorientation in darkness can be very strange, as sometimes I knew where my suitcase was and at other times, I could not find it and had to crawl around the floor on hands and knees looking for it.

The second and third days were fairly routine, with nothing much happening save the constant onslaught of thoughts. Late into the third night, however, things began to happen. I awoke from sleep to see a television screen on the wall in front of me. It had no picture, just an empty blue screen. It seemed so real, I immediately thought, “Oh, there was a T.V. in here that I didn’t notice when I first went in and now, somehow, it has been turned on”….I closed my eyes for a few moments and opened them again and…..the screen was gone!…In that moment, I realized it was an hallucination….I closed my eyes again, waited for thirty seconds or so and again opened them. This time there appeared a wooden picture frame on the wall and inside it was a picture of an old, bearded man, who started talking. He said only a few words and the image disappeared and I can no longer remember what those words were.

These were the only hallucinations I had and I fell asleep again. Early in the morning of day four, however, something altogether different happened. I awoke with the usual stream of thoughts in the mind and as I lay there on my mattress, all those thoughts suddenly started to slow down, like an engine coming to a stop, until there was a completely thought free space inside my head. Along with this came an extraordinary sense of relaxation and lightness in the body and this was soon followed by an expanding sense of perfect inner peace and tranquility. These feelings intensified, until I entered a state of ecstasy that I later named “The Blessing”. Soon after this, there appeared a vision (not hallucination) of a lake with a kind of Greek temple standing in the middle of it. I’m not exactly sure how much time passed as all this happened, but I guess it was about two or three hours. Eventually, I drifted into a deep and satisfying sleep and awoke the next morning feeling a sense of total refreshment and wonder as well as deep gratitude for what had been revealed.

The last two days were uneventful and during the evening before the morning of coming out, I began to feel the anticipation of being “in the world” once again. What would I take away from this retreat, if anything at all?…I wasn’t sure. As I felt my “womb of darkness” opening into the natural setting outside, I felt quite vulnerable and a little unsteady on my feet, yet my senses were alive to all the colours and sounds I was suddenly immersed in once again.

Two days later, I was in the main airport in Costa Rica, en route to Brazil. The cacophony of the airport was not easy to bear and I sat in a coffee shop to get some peace and quiet. Sitting directly opposite me was an American woman, very obese, with three relatively “normal” looking adolescent children. They all ordered large quantities of  hamburgers, french fries and cokes……

Welcome to the “real” world,
Robert.

Korken Alexander: 10 Days of Illuminating Darkness


childAnd as I opened the door at the end of the 10th day and walked back out into this great beautiful world, I realized it had forever changed in my eyes.  Yes, I was extremely grateful to be able to see all the colors, plants, and incredible sights all around me, but it was the eyes of my heart that really brought me to my knees in one of the most unforgettable moments of pure bliss, happiness, and immense gratitude I had ever experienced.

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