“Enlightened people become non-functional,” said Tina Rasmussen to our group as her husband Stephen Snyder nodded in agreement toward the end of a Samatha Buddhist Meditation Retreat . “They inhabit the crack in consensual reality.”
Let’s go burst open these cracks! Together we can bust open reality! What happens to how we perceive and experience reality when our mutual consensus for it breaks down and dissolves?
“It’s really amazing,” Tina continued. “When you live in such a world long enough, you’re no longer functional. These enlightened people, it’s wild, and they’re just not functional. It’s almost like if, well, if you live that kind of lifestyle long enough, you see it all over India and Southeast Asia, it’s pretty common there, but when you live like and immerse yourself for such a long time in these practices, when you truly become aware of what the world really is, what the world really looks like, there is a big, big crack in the consensual reality.”
“And sometimes when you get there,” broke in Stephen, “you can’t leave. There’s no going back.”
Wow. That’s sounds a little like me. Although my enlightenments are more as short spells following periods of perturbation…or silence. Enlightenment does not linger nor does it make life any easier. As American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield once wrote in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry back in 2001:
Enlightenment does exist…unbounded freedom and joy,
oneness with the divine…these experiences are more
common than you know…but after the ecstasy…we
are faced with the laundry.
He speaks of coming home from deep contemplation to encounter a house strewn with children’s toys and the chaos of everyday family life.
I’ve just never felt I fit in anywhere. I’ve known since an early age I was somewhat different from most people, including in my own family. Maybe it was my partial-deafness that left me both blessed and cursed with moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. Maybe it was my ADHD. Or I grew up in a Virginia county rippling with racial tension and sporadic violence during the quasi-civil war-semi-revolution wracking America from the mid-1950s all the way through the 60s to 1975. I just felt it. I was more interested in politics, history, nature, and spirituality than I was in team sports and cigarettes. Though I did worship in awe about 50 girlie magazines filled with gorgeous, naked goddesses I discovered in an old suitcase once upon a time while raiding the county dump when I was about 12 or 13 years old.
Didn’t fit in on many jobs, either, even those where I worked for years. I resonated with entrepreneurs, but failed usually because 1) I focused more on art than marketing even though I was good with sales, and 2) I jumped too soon in my eagerness to beaver down the trees and dam up the lakes. Not enough trees, no dam to hold back the flow. Undercapitalized and without a day job is a surefire way to mess up big and perturb a marriage.
Entrepreneur and trainer Jeffrey Combs of California had a name for such a mindset. He liked to call himself “psychologically unemployable.” That’s me, too, I thought. We crack open reality. Or like to think we do. Even when we fall flat on our faces as most entrepreneurs do at some point in their lives. Well, like the Japanese samurai imbued with Zen, you get knocked down seven times and get up eight.
My spiritual path led me on a tortuous pursuit of Truth. My own Hero’s Journey led me on sometimes mythic adventures climbing up rock, snow, and ice to get to the top of mountains or plunging down river canyons and steep whitewater creeks in a kayak. At other times it led me into deep, intimate partnerships with lovers with whom the relationship itself was spiritual practice. Or all alone in the woods with only my high, lonesome not self. Or here in Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in southern Washington State near volcanic Mt. St. Helens.
I had been practicing Vipassana, or Insight Meditation in Seattle for about two years. When I first encountered Rodney Smith, a former Buddhist monk in Thailand turned Insight teacher in America, I knew immediately I was in the presence of a master. I could feel it in my body. I could touch his essence with my soul.
Vipassana had been introduced into North America earlier on and took off. It had become firmly rooted. Many of the American Buddhist teachers had spent time not just in India but also and especially in Thailand. Samatha, or Concentration Meditation, the twin sibling of Vipassana, wasn’t introduced until much later and has yet to develop a broad following. Part of the reason was politics, as many of the surviving teachers happened to be in Myanmar, formerly Burma, ruled by a military dictatorship busy fighting perpetual ethnic rebellions. Westerners often viewed Thailand as much more “fun.”
The other reason, according to Tina and Stephen, was more occult in nature. Buddhists monks and nuns were known to achieve amazing feats with the power of their minds including levitation by being able to harness the sustained power of concentration. It was felt this knowledge and these practices must be hidden from non-Buddhists, especially Westerners, who may disrespect, abuse, or misuse such power.
Tina was a nun and Stephen a monk. Both began meditating at an early age, both ended up studying in Myanmar under masters of Samatha, and after some time returned to the U.S.A. They left the clergy, married, and settled in California where he works as an attorney, often advising Buddhist groups, and she works in Corporate America as an Organizational Development consultant and coach. Now they’ve been called to teach Samatha Meditation in North America and find themselves in growing demand. They’ve managed to bridge multiple worlds without getting lost in the cracks but to function as midwives to the birth of people waking up from a long, long sleep.
This was my first extended meditation retreat, meaning longer than one day, and I was grateful to get in and learn from such wise and fun people. My fellow students taught me much, too, in their silence. It was also my first Samatha Meditation experience with my first exposure to Jhana practices. Right away concentration meditation felt natural to me, as if I was coming home to my own breath in a new and more focused way. I meditated perhaps nine to ten hours a day for two of the 3 days, and that was just sitting, not walking or performing chores with markers.
So I felt present and mindful, blown wide open yet at one with the stillness and the silence during the last hours.
Living in the crack in our consensual reality. Wow. Reminds me of the famous 1999 movie The Matrix. Remember Neo’s choice of whether or not to swallow the blue pill or the red? The blue will keep one blissfully unaware inside the Matrix of machine overlords, while the red brings forth the knowledge of reality. It’s a painful knowledge. As was Adam and Eve eating the red apple from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Such separation, however, forces us to grow as does a child when they leave their parents as a teenager or young adult.
Whether it’s the red pill, or the red apple, or deep meditation, we can crack open consensual reality. What does that mean? It means to tear off and clean away the masks worn in public as well as in private, to discard all pretense and any illusions, to rip away agreements to reveal the truth of reality. For when you crack open reality you turn it loose. We are free. To create what’s truly real from our imaginations and our will, not dwell in the emotionally-charged stories and cultural beliefs we weave around the world to become sheeple for some giant Cosmic Spider Demon to bounce over, paralyze us, wrap us up all pretty, and devour.
Crack it open! Crack open consensual reality! Practicing the practices of mindfulness, presence, and conscious intention will allow you to do so without becoming lost in the sensations and corresponding thoughts and feelings of being open, whole, and nothing.
William Dudley Bass
28 December 2011
NOTE & Sources: For those of you who wish to study Samatha (Concentration) Meditation including Jhana practices under the skilled guidance of Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen, please see their website at http://www.jhanasadvice.com.
For those seeking Vipassana or Insight in Greater Seattle where I live, see Rodney Smith and the generous volunteers of Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS) at http://seattleinsight.org/. Also see Insight Meditation Society at Barre, MA at http://www.dharma.org/index.html and see http://www.shambhala.com/ for many books and other resources on the many approaches to the Buddha’s teachings.
You can find information for retreats from various teachers at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in southeastern Washington at http://cloudmountain.org/index.php?page=about-us. Also check out Spirit Rock Meditation Center in central California at http://www.spiritrock.org/. I am deeply grateful to all my teachers. Enjoy, and thank you.
Copyright © 2011, 2016 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.