Welcome to AwakeNetwork magazine, a collaborative “blog” where our members write about whatever is important to them, or share wisdom that might be important to others. While the scope of articles is wide-ranging, the root topic is “awakening”: what does it mean, how do you get it, how do you know, and now what? It is hoped that these articles will help you on your path, wherever that may be leading you.

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This is an excerpt dealing with the Four Noble Truths (as presented in the Dhamma Chakkana Pavattana Sutta) from the chapter on Buddhism in my unpublished book Vehicles of Hope, completed in 1993.


From his rejection of extreme practices, Gautama passed via his own “middle way”, to an exposition of the “noble truths of suffering”. They embody the core of his causal conception of the nature of bondage and its end. Since they constitute the very foundation stones of the entire edifice of Buddhist teachings, embodying their central promise, principle and path, it is necessary to dwell upon these truths at some length.

The first noble truth, the truth of suffering, opens by listing birth, decay, disease and death as attended by pain and examplifying suffering. It goes on to state that to be joined with the unpleasant or to be separated from the pleasant as well as any unsatisfied craving is suffering. Then it sums up with the statement that the five aggregates of grasping are suffering. This characterization of the suffering entailed by existence plainly is intended to be comprehensive and to include every species of suffering to which humans are subject in the course of life. In view of this broad and inclusive definition of suffering, the ending of which is the aim of the path defined by the noble truths, the formulation of the origin of suffering in the second truth is noteworthy:

“It is this “thirst” (Pali ‘tanha’, Sanskrit ‘trsna’) productive of renewed existence and bound up with sensuality and seeking satisfaction now here now there, namely: thirst for sense-pleasures, thirst for life, and thirst for the ending of existence.”

Here Gautama presents a causal factor as the origin of suffering for which we shall adopt the designation “thirst” as a technical term in keeping with the scriptural original. This thirst is his candidate for the necessary cause which forms the general condition on which the arising of suffering is dependent and in the absence of which suffering does not occur. Accordingly, the third noble truth simply asserts the utter cessation of the thirst defined by the second truth to be the general condition for the end of suffering defined by the first truth. It is essential to understand that the logical structure of the first three noble truths is not equivalent to the following schematism:

1. Existence is attended by suffering when we are joined to what we do not want or are separated from what we want.
2. The general condition for the arising of this suffering is that wanting which in the absence of its desired object or the presence of its unwanted object entails suffering.
3. The general condition for the cessation of suffering is the cessation of the condition for its arising, namely that wanting by which it is entailed. With the cessation of that wanting, suffering ceases.

The three noble truths are not equivalent to this schematism because the second noble truth plainly does not refer to all wanting in general, but to a specific and particular form of wanting. This particular form of wanting is presented as a form of thirst, craving or appetite, a form which is said to be responsible for renewed existence (see below), and to be associated, bound up or charged with rather than to consist of sensuality. It is said to be hunting about impatiently for satisfaction, and to consist of the thirst for and not of the pleasures of the senses, life, and even the ending of existence. It appears to be conceived of as a virtually unitary factor analogous to a specific species of appetite rather than an abstract catch-all category containing the many and varied forms of wanting involved in our many forms of suffering.

The “thirst” defined in the second noble truth has its context in a scriptural tradition which portrays Gautama’s pre-enlightenment quest as informed by a preoccupation with the ills of “old age, disease, and death”, and the suffering entailed by resisting inevitabile impermanence, change, decay and dissolution. That which resists these is a “clinging to life”, a “thirst” for life and living which is bound to be frustrated in the ordinary course of events, a clinging and a thirst from which Gautama presumably was freed in making his discovery under a ficus tree on the banks of the Nairanja River.

Entering for a moment on the premises of this scriptural tradition, it is important to note that at the time of his enlightenment Gautama could not have experienced relief from the actual pains of old-age, disease and death, since he was not yet at that stage of life. Rather, he must have been relieved of whatever fear and apprehension he might have harbored at the prospect of old-age, disease and death, and that is a very different matter, indeed. The immediate occasion for dispelling this kind of fear might then have been his insight that such apprehension is futile on account of the inevitability of change and dissolution. Why? Legend has it that he was tracing the causal chains of life backwards, to conception. At that point something new arises in consequence of the compounding of prior causes. And anything compounded is subject to dissolution. The arising of life and its end are indissolubly linked,  so why fight that which cannot be otherwise? As Mahakappina pur it in Theragata 552: “it is not amazing or even strange; when one is born, one dies. What indeed is strange in that?”

Nothing hinges on this particular construal of the circumstances of Gautama’s discovery, but it does illustrate the sense in which the “thirst” which figures in the second noble truth is to be understood, the “thirst” whose cessation is said to end suffering. Yet being freed of apprehension at the prospect of old age is not the same as being freed of the pains that are likely to accompany old age when it arrives, so how can cessation of the “thirst” featured in the second noble truth end all suffering? The question makes it necessary to take a closer look at the nature of suffering.

The issue is most easily broached by making a distinction between two kinds of suffering. These two species of suffering differ in their relationship to the nature of bondage, but they are not clearly distinguished in the noble truths, though, as we shall see, they are represented there. We might call these two species of suffering attitudinal and non-attitudinal, respectively. Examples of the first, or attitudinal, kind of suffering are provided by the dejection which follows on a failure to reach a desired goal, or on the lapsing of a situation with which our sense of personal worth or long-term satisfaction in life is identified. Central to this form of suffering is its dependence on the acquired and idiosyncratic attitudes and investments which underlie the explicit and implicit expectations reality fails to fulfill in such instances of suffering. Being contingent on those attitudes, this suffering ceases on the abandonment of those attitudes.

Non-attitudinal suffering, on the other hand, is exemplified by the pain of an infected wound, the pangs of hunger, or bladder distention. Its arising is not dependent upon attitudinal factors as such. That is not to say that attitudes do not play a role in the phenomenology of our reactions in such matters, but only that this species of suffering does not have its origin in attitudes in the way attitudinal suffering does. Associated with the two species of suffering are, in other words, two different origins of suffering, in the one case an origin in the realm of attitudes generating expectations of existence it cannot fulfill, such attitudes being acquired and idiosyncratic, in the other an origin founded on fundamental realities and mechanisms ultimately grounded in our biology as a species of living beings on earth, that is, in “nature.”

In keeping with the different origins of suffering there is a difference in the means by which such suffering may be brought to an end: in the case of the attitudinal variety through the cessation or abandonment of attitudes engendering impossible demands on or expectations of reality, and in the other generally and usually by heeding and obeying the feeling-signal supplied by the suffering, i.e. by taking those concrete measures which by providing relief or satisfaction make it cease.

The causal implication for the removal of suffering that follows from the categorical distinction is simply this: the cessation of attitudinal desire eliminates attitudinal suffering but not non-attitudinal suffering. So that there remain no ambiguity or doubt about the import of this distinction, let us suggest, with apologies for the crudness of the example, that if, while he was sitting by the Nairanja river “enjoying the bliss of emancipation” (as the scriptures have it), Gautama’s bladder began to fill, he would experience the selfsame gradually increasing pressure building to distress as any other human being would. We assume further that he would not eliminate the suffering which the continuation of this mounting sense of pressure would entail by somehow eliminating the feeling of bladder distension through some hitherto unknown means, but rather, that he would spare himself this piece of suffering by doing what every human being does in that situation, namely heed and follow rather than conquer the prompting of that feeling by answering the call of nature in some convenient location. In fact, Gautama’s very abandonment of the extreme practices of self-mortification can be seen to bear on this issue in conformity with the distinction just made.

By way of rounding out the distinction between the two realms of suffering based on passions, feelings, desires or cravings of distinct origin, let us note that the above examples of non-attitudinal mechanisms are but a few of a much larger group from which they were chosen for their unequivocal nature and stubborn reliability in insisting on the performance of functions essential for life itself. Yet the same group of non-attitudinal feeling-mechanisms ultimately based on nature contains other far more yielding and pliable mechanisms, chief examples of which are the sexual passions and social sentiments associated with reproduction, love and sociality. We may therefore distinguish between “hard” and “soft” members of the non-attitudinal kind, the “soft” ones being those feelings and passions which can be deliberately over-ridden, even for a life-time, without impairing the bodily survival of the individual concerned. The interaction between attitudinal and non-attitudinal mechanisms is generally massive in the case of the “soft” variety, offering much scope for a confusion of categories (both in life and in our attempt to understand mechanisms), but such interaction is not confined to the “soft” variety. Gluttony, for example, to the extent that it occurs as a personality trait not traceable to organic factors, is the result of attitudes acquired with regard to food and eating. These distinctions made, we return to the noble truths of suffering in order to scrutinize them in this light.

From the vantage point of the distinction of the types of suffering we have just defined it is plain that the first noble truth in its broad construal of suffering includes both attitudinal and non-attitudinal varieties. The “thirst” of the second truth, however, is a phenomenon which belongs squarely in the attitudinal domain. It is in fact a remarkably concise and evocative characterization of significant aspects of the investment-driven modus operandi of the attitudinal domain, ever wanting or trying or striving to be rather than being. Immediately the question arises as to how the cessation of the attitudinal thirst of the second truth can bring about the cessation of both the attitudinal and the nonattitudinal suffering encompassed by the first truth, since we saw above that the cessation of attitudinal craving can end only attitudinal suffering, but not non-attitudinal suffering. Was Gautama (or whoever composed the given scripture in his name) such a bad logician that he did not notice this discrepancy in the noble truths? Or worse: was Gautama a crafty con-man walking up and down the Ganges valley knowingly promising the impossible to the gullible? We have not yet considered all the circumstances bearing on the meaning of the noble truths.

There is nothing that forces us to assume that Gautama himself claimed to have been freed from non-attitudinal suffering during what remained of his life after his enlightenment. At least the scriptures portray him as giving voice to experiencing physical pain, such as a back-ache while listening to an inordinately long discourse by Nandaka, and severe sharp pains during the illness of his last days. The source of the conceptual coherence of the causal schematism of the first three noble truths must accordingly be sought elsewhere. It involves that major closure truth assumption which Gautama shared with the religious thinkers of his day, but which so far we have left out of account in our reconstruction of his thinking, namely the doctrine of transmigration.

We noted in the first section of this chapter the virtual equation in the religious thought of the day between liberation from worldly bondage and release from the cycle or chain of transmigration, the latter being conceived as simply the larger context within which this life is embedded. There is nothing to indicate that Gautama did not share this belief of his times, however erroneous, and quite a bit that tells us that he must have, at least as tradition portrays him. On arriving at his discovery regarding the nature of bondage through a process which may have involved the cessation of his attitudinal “thirst” for and clinging to life, Gautama need only have assumed that rebirth is contingent on, indeed directly driven by, that very same thirst in order to identify his release from that attitudinal sentiment, that clinging to life, with release from the process of rebirth.

This thirst which desperately clings to living, thirsts for life, in mortal fear of death, yes even thirsts for life to the extent of being capable of ending it in the hope of obtaining a better one on being born again (for which, see the story of Channa in the 144th sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya), would it not supply a most natural motive power driving reincarnation? If that is so, then release from that thirst in enlightenment would at the same time be a release from every future birth – and legend has Gautama utter words to that effect on making his discovery. Such a snapping of the chain of rebirths would imply release from all the suffering awaiting an individual throughout those future births, and that would include not only the attitudinal suffering but the non-attitudinal suffering as well. Compared with the entire mass of such suffering in store for an individual in innumerable presumptive future births, the interlude remaining between enlightenment and the dissolution of the body would seem a trifle not worth serious concern.

On the assumption that the liberation in enlightenment is synonymous with release from transmigration, and hence from all its attendant ills, the logical inconsistency in the noble truths connected with the distinction between the two forms of suffering largely disappears: from the perspective conceptually extended into the  domain of transmigration, the cessation of attitudinal “thirst” in enlightenment is capable of ending non-attitudinal suffering since it is the crucial event which puts an end to innumerable presumptive future births and the suffering of both kinds they would contain. Not only does the logical inconsistency disappear: this construal allows us to picture the conceptual structure of the noble truths in such a way that all the remaining obscurities of wording in the second truth vanish. Thus the “renewed existence” of the opening phrase of the second truth refers to just this assumed promotion of rebirth by the thirst for life, and the puzzling “ending of existence” with which it closes, which seems to clash so jarringly with the “lust for life” finds a straightforward interpretation along the lines of the Majjhima passage referred to above (the story of Channa).

The radically world-denying (indeed life-denying) ambience of this perspective should be clearly recognized. It pervades some of the early buddhist poetry such as the Rhinoceros Verses of the Suttanipata, and is quite in keeping not only with the tenor of the sramana ideals of those times, but with the embodiment they would find in buddhist monasticism. It was also understood as such by his sramana followers. In the words of one of them, Mahakacchayana: “when the goal has been attained one should lie on the bed of death” (Theragatha, 501). That Gautama rejected self-mortification as a practice does not mean that he affirmed life in this world. The ending of transmigration is the ending, the cutting off, of a return to life. As already noted, in a cultural ambience informed by a belief in reincarnation, those who affirm this life will tend also to affirm transmigration as an extension of the possibilities of this life, and to seek rebirth in favorable circumstances. Early buddhism presents itself as a path to ending that possibility.


Bjorn Merker
E-mail: gyr694c@tninet.se

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I’m going to leave this posted for a while, in case someone is interested in different conceptual models of therapy which I’ve found relevant to meditators. Hope this helps in some way!


INSERT: Here’s my current suggested use of the models, based on the nature of the meditator’s “problem”.

Use of Meditation Modalities

 Always the question: be with “the problem” or apply a method? I say tend toward being with the problem, unless a method speaks to us.

Always the question: is progress stage like, cycle like, fractal, or muiltidimensional? I say tend to think of it as multidimensional, nothing is without consequence, nothing is wasted, “progress” is actually beyond mapping.


Nature of Problem is… Practice is… Event is/are… Major Wisdom is 
Concrete/Operational Normal life, normal skill development Psychological insights, A&P type mystical insight Perception of world isn’t “real” , problems may not be real
Bodily Meditative movement – yoga, weights, chi kung, martial arts “forms” Psychological insights, A&P type mystical awakening Mind and body related, subtle body is mind
Personal Therapeutic “listening” meditation, the bubbling-up of personal thoughts Psychological insights, A&P type mystical insight Flavors of reactivity and neurosis limits self-expression, relaxed mind is best
Authority, Self-Will Fenner’s Natural Release/ Relaxation meditation Glimpse of Presence Basic self worth and self trust
Solid Time Biocognition, Past/present/future Thought/body Insights into shame, betrayal, abandonment Past is pride and shame, honor includes both.Future is hope and fear of betrayal,  faithfulness includes both.Present is self-presence and fear of abandonment, commitment includes both – we can meaningfully “lose ourselves” as presence
Impersonal Reality – “It” realm Insight Meditation, the bubbling up of impersonal states Nanas, Jhanas, Cessations No control of mindstates
Contextual Reality – “we” realm Surrender – 6 realms paradigm is helpful Nibbana – ending of mindstate Dependent Origination and “gone”
Uncontrollable, elemental reactive reality – “I” realm Introspection – 5 elements paradigm is helpful “Knowing”,  awareness found within reactivity No escape
No Solution All of above/No practice – reconciling emptiness and form Awakening 1 – reality doesn’t hide, yang Mind nature, no being (nor non-being)
No Problem All of above/No practice – reconciling self and other Awakening 2 – natural love, reality as beloved, yin Heart nature
No thing Spontaneity, success and failure to live from Awakening 1 & 2 Awakening 3 – reconciling of interior and exterior, void Gut nature, No interiority (remember, our gut is actually on the  outside of our body – we’re a donut, not a sphere)  

END OF INSERT, back to original list of models… 

Therapeutic Models for Meditators

  1. RAIN (Brach) Model
  2. Natural Release (Fenner) Model
  3. 6 Realms (Trungpa) Model
  4. Vipassina “Nana/Jhana”(Folk/Ingram) model
  5. Biocognition “Boundaries of Abundance” (Martinez) Model
  6. Aro “Neurosis” (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) Model
  7. Tibetian “5 Elements” (McCleod) Model
  8. My Stuff… still in draft 

RAIN (Brach) method:

Theory – if the right attention is brought to emotional suffering, it will be released.

Treatment Method – basically desensitization, experiencing the suffering with mindfulness.

Usage – suitable for a conscious practioner with desire to expose and explore emotional landscape. Perfect for a mature person with a spiritual heart like an over-ripe fruit, needing gentle handling.

Letter Meaning
R Recognize (note) what is arising (fear, hurt, etc.)
A Agree to “be with it,” to “let it be.”
I Investigate in a non-analytic way, get to know how the body, heart and mind experiences these energies. You might inquire by asking yourself one or more of the following questions: “What is happening?” “Where am I feeling this in my body?” “What sensation, feeling or emotion wants attention?” “What wants acceptance?” The “I” is also Intimacy: experiencing difficult sensations and emotions with a direct, gentle, kind attention; and offering compassion to the place of vulnerability.
N Non-Identification (disembedding) not having your full sense of Being defined by it. In other words, not taking it personally!


Natural Release (Fenner) method:

Theory: Basically psychological but highest/best state is presence. People move through predictable progression from a problem mentality to developing greater presence.

Treatment Method: Basically needs therapist to undercut perceived problems until arrive at presence. Can also work for self-treatment but Dilemma can be confusing without a guide/model.

Usage: Lower phase emotions are realm of basic psychotherapy. Coexistance is healthy psychological human and is gateway to more spiritual dimension of Dilemma and Presence. Not sure if this model is limited because it doesn’t seem aware of “enlightenment” but Presence could be the point of enlightenment.   

Phase Emotions Emotions Generic Problems/Comments
Disconnection Isolation, Rejection, Fear, Distraction, Separation What is the point? I give up. This is ridiculous. This is dangerous. This has nothing to do with me. They have no business in how I feel.
Conflict Anger, Vindictiveness, Blame I’m furious. It is their fault. I can’t bear feeling like this. They make it difficult for me.
Codependence Dependence, Neediness, Boredom I have to please them. Without her I can’t do this. I have to ask him if it is okay. What will they think if I do this.
Coexistence Vigilance, Application, Ambition, Learning I’m getting better at this. I can see what I need to change. I’m making progress. I’m getting closer. When you do this, you get closer. What else can I do?
Dilemma Confusion, Laughter, Perplexity, Anxiety I don’t know if I’m making progress or not. There is nothing to do. Should I continue or stop. Is there something to do? This is crazy.
Presence Aware, Alert, Relaxed, Calm, Clear, Spacious, Present  


6 Realms (Trungpa) Model:

Theory: There are major modes of being that capture how we think of ourselves in terms of our effect/integration with the environment. The realms are a tautology – the subjective sense of inner being is co-created with the objective sense of the outside world; the evidence of the reality of the inner world is supplied by the outer world and vise versa. Because there is not a causal thing that links one realm to another, living with this paradigm can feel like being completely re-born is different realms.

Treatment Method: This works as a way to get someone sensitive to the gestalt context in which they live. It can be used to help sensitize people living in the lower realms to how they create the conditions for their suffering. It can be used as a cautionary and humbling device for people living in the upper realms. Wisdom is lived out in the human realm, the other realms are not conducive to maturation.

 Usage: For increasing sensitivity to base psychological conditions, but this model works on ever more subtle levels. Might be good reminder of the wisdom in human realm for advance practitioners who want to define themselves by higher attainments.


Conditions and attitudes which characterize and hold  in this realm

Attitudes which cause Descent

Attitudes which cause Ascent


Abundant pleasures that are gently enjoyed

Holding too tightly to pleasures, fear of loss of pleasures

Not possible to go higher, but acceptance and honest enjoyment tends to keeps one here

Jealous Gods

Abundant pleasures that are easily taken from others

Devoting more energy to taking or competition rather than enjoying pleasures

Letting go of taking and simply enjoying the pleasures available


World of nuance, where decisions must weigh the trade off between competing pleasures, between effort expended and resulting gain, wisdom in avoiding suffering

Repeating old patterns which have worked in the past

Obtaining and becoming fascinated with using power of discernment


World of patterned behavior, going through life on autopilot and obtaining basic satisfaction

Worry/anxiety that old patterns will not work into the future

Investigation of experience and being more conscious in decision-making

Hungry Ghosts

Desperately seeking pleasures in a world of scarce (but enough) pleasures

Fixating on never having abundance, intense striving for next pleasure

Enjoying pleasures that one has

Hell Beings

World nearly empty of pleasures, many opportunities for suffering, pain feels   unavoidable

Impossible to go lower, but lashing out and anguishing over suffering tends to keeps one here

Unnecessary pain is avoided by  acceptance, not fighting pain that is already here


Vipassina “Nana/Jhana” (Folk/Ingram) model






Ñana, a.k.a. Knowledge of

Basic Insight(s)

Basic Flaw(s)



(The Waterfall)

It is time to meditate, my mind is a mess Poor concentration, poor investigation, usually swamped by the content/stuff



Mind and Body

Thoughts, intentions and mental echo (consciousness) become objective Don’t see Causality, easily solidified to first jhana



Cause and Effect

Intentions precede thoughts and actions, consciousness echoes sensations Don’t see Three Characteristics



The Three Characteristics

Begin to see Three Characteristics: impermanence, suffering,  no-self Fight them, don’t see them very clearly, mostly at physical level



See the Three Characteristics more directly, set up for deep insight into them Mind not fast or precise enough yet  



The Arising and Passing Away

Shift into direct observation, mind speeds up, deep insights begin Like a kid moving from a bicycle to a car



Ten Corruptions of Insight arise Ten Corruptions of Insight not seen as they are, like a 16-year-old driving a Ferrari



Ten Corruptions of Insight seen through, Peak Experience on spiritual path Still holding back, precision not as all-encompassing as they think, arrogance, unbalanced evangelism  



The Three Characteristics are hints of the Ultimate, Realization can be attained They don’t know as much or see as clearly as they think they do




(Beginning of Dark Night/Dukkha Ñanas) With highs come lows, with extreme highs come crashes Attachment to A&P, long for past abilities, clarity and balance fade  



Hints of the implications of transience at a more mental level. In 3rd vipassana jhana, center of attention vague, periphery open and more clear. Effort must be more gentle and accepting, vagueness must be understood, insights now coming around to shake observer




Acceptance difficult, Fear can be frightening and fun. Insights coming around at observer, violating Fascination with fear, lost in the content




Acceptance is difficult, Misery can be miserable and fun Fascination with misery, lost in the content  




Acceptance is difficult, Disgust can be disgusting and fun Fascination with disgust, lost in the content  



Desire for Deliverance

Realization must be beyond reality, A Lack of Enlightenment is Unacceptable Effort still made to create this, lost in the content




The GREAT KICK in the ASS, You won’t find the answer in any phenomena or reaction to them. Sense of observer shaking. Basic acceptance of implications of previous insights low, large potential for messy bleedthrough into life  



You can’t do it, and so you completely give up and accept defeat Exhaustion  




Realization can be attained, formations become obvious, begin to include full field of experience, name and form as integrated experience Mind still speeding up, synchronizing, and recovering



Realization is imminent, the true nature of formations becomes obvious Anticipation, over-confidence  



Mastery of seeing the true nature of formations Still holding back, center still seems to be that which masters



Attachment to mastery vanishes, effort to attain or do vanishes, it all happens by itself Very few  




Effortless conformity of perception with the Three Characteristics of Full Formations. None  



Change of Lineage

This is realization/changes made in relationship to phenomena None  




The first/next Path is Attained None



Fruition (Nirvana)

This is the non-experience of Nirvana beyond space, time and the universe N/A




The Path has been attained, hints of limitations shown soon enough Mind too powerful to really be stable or balanced, aftershocks of realization  



The stages of the path can be mastered and integrated Still working on mastery and integration  



The stages of the Path are Mastered Integration is lifelong, Dualities May Remain if this not the Last Path  


Biocognition “Boundaries of Abundance” (Martinez) Model:

Theory: Our sense of self is vulnerable early in life to overwhelming negative experiences, these experiences cause biological-psychological-cultural wounds that can be re-triggered. Positive states are also linked to wounds because this is the original context in which the triggering insult occurred. They are inflicted by those with authority over you and dependent on survival.  Occur within the context of intimacy, love.

 As a result, wounds cause limits to dimensions of happiness because they are re-awakened by both similar insults as well as similar contexts of happiness. You can only experience joy to the extent that you feel worthy of the experience, wounds associated with happiness is the limiter of joy. 

Treatment Method: Essentially desensitization. Find a safe place, a safe posture (solid seat, warm, back protected), imagine happiness, look for the “kill joy” negative feeling, that is the wound, experience the sensations of wounds without judgment. A more active method is to apply an antidote by creating a healing field, as described below.

Usage: Basic psychotherapy usage, but good model for why spiritual openings can have negative rebounds.


Stress Neurotransmitter


Healing Field, Re-Empowerment

Shame, creating Hopelessness

pro-inflammatory products (not cortisol) – auto immune disease

hot, humiliating, shrinking, embarrassment, want to disappear

Honor: what is the honorable thing to do now? Do this without carrying forward the sensation of shame.

Abandonment, creating Fear

Adrenaline, flight response – cancer disease

cold, isolation, aloneness, fear

Commitment: commitment to oneself. if person x abandons, I will commit to doing y for myself.

Betrayal, creating Frustration/Anger

Adrenaline and Cortisol, fight response – heart disease

hot, anger, being tricked

Loyalty to self, valuing oneself: set boundaries, do something beyond the moment of betrayal.


Aro Neurosis (Ngak’chang Rinpoche) Model:

Theory: Our pain and confusion from the addiction to splitting experiences into form (knowing) and emptiness (not knowing) and then feeling aversion to empty experiences and grasping at form experiences, relaxing the aversion creates acceptance of emptiness (not knowing) and resulting happiness and freedom.

Treatment Method: Not sure, seems like desensitization again by consciously being with the experience of aversion until it yields the unified field of experience described in table below.

Usage: Good method for integrating peak wisdom experiences into daily life.

Element Symptom When we try to consolidate empty form quality of these elements…we experience of aversion to passionate empty quality Experience of aversion (passionate empty quality) So we relax the experience into the unified experience of…
Earth Territorialism Hollowness and Insecurity Generosity and Equanimity
Water Aggression Fear Clarity
Fire Obsession Isolation Indiscriminate Compassion
Air Suspicion and Paranoia Groundless Anxiety Self-accomplishing Activity
Space Depression Bewilderment Ubiquitous intelligence


5 Element (McLeod) Model:

Theory: Our reactive patterns are caused by avoiding sensations…

Treatment Method: Using visualizations to cultivate sensations and being able to fully experience the sensations and not fall into pattered reaction.

Usage: Good method for diffusing reactivity at the sensation-trigger level (as opposed to narrative story level


Initial Reaction

Feeling = Fear

Open Space

Pristine Awareness



hollowness or uncertainty = Instability Earthquake Balanced, knowing without judgement


external threat = Engulfment Tidalwave Mirrorlike, knowing clearly


aloneness  = Isolation Featureless Desert Distinguishing, knowing the particulars


groundless  = Destruction Falling Effective, knowing what to do


overwhelmed = Being nothing Blankness Totalness, knowing totality




5 Elements




Your position is weak. You are on shaky ground.

You position is solid. You are on solid ground.


There is danger everywhere. You are going to be overwhelmed.

You are safe, no one is going to hurt you. I’m going to make sure of that.


You are alone in this situation as far as I’m concerned.

You are not alone. This is a difficult situation, but you and I are going to get through it together.


You have no idea what to do.

You know what needs to be done, and I know you can do it.


You don’t even know where you are.

Where are we now? Here in this room, this is where we are.


Interpersonal 6 Realms (McLeod)



Principal Emotion





I’m right, that’s just how it is.

You are right.

Jealous Gods


I’m better than you.

You are better than me.



I want you.

You have me.



I’m just trying to survive.

You are living, not just surviving.

Hungry Ghosts


I’m taking everything.

You can have whatever you want.

Hell Beings


You are against me.

I’m on your side.




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This article is based on a talk I gave at a retreat for people of diverse but mostly non-devotional practices. It is intended as an overview of some (not all) of the ways prayer can be understood, particularly aimed at people who are not in a theistic tradition or may not be familiar with or comfortable with prayer as part of a contemplative wisdom practice.

Saint Francis in Prayer-Caravaggio (c.1606)
Most people are generally familiar with Christian prayer: formal or informal words spoken to God, asking for things or giving thanks for things. But prayer is a very layered and interesting spiritual practice that can go beyond rote recitations or a transactional relationship with God.

1. Prayer as intention

One very basic useful function of prayer is to state intention. Clear statements of intention are powerful, and are a very neglected part of many people’s practice – indeed they are often missing even from the practice of beginners within theistic traditions! Institutional religions often help people along by giving them common formulas: the prayer before meals, the bedtime prayer, the group prayers offered in church or Bible study class. Even if one says ones own words in these prayers, they are still quite often formulaic. Continue reading

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Problemness, No Problemness, and Elusiveness

Just for fun, I thought I would write about a part of meditation practice that has always given me trouble. Over time, I worked out a general approach that helps  me keep practicing. Although I personally tend to map this domain using the Theravada “nanas” map (the Knowledges of Suffering — including Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance, and Reobservation — through Equanimity), but I’ve generalized it enough that I think the ideas are fairly universal and familiarity of that map isn’t necessary.

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This is the last of the parts of my journal from KFD that I will post here. There is more talk of what comes after awakening and how to deal with the reality awakening provides. I encounter a huge negative cycle that causes some deep soul searching and a return a basic noting practice. The Actual Freedom discussion surrounding emotions, exactly what they are and can/should they be dropped or drastically reduced becomes the focus of the conversation. A rift thus begins that leads ultimately to the creation of the Dharma Forum Refugee Camp – which now resides here on Awakenetwork.org.


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My first few months after fourth path. Lots of figuring out what it means, how to live with it, what changed and what didn’t. More family crises to deal with and how practice affects that. Comparing notes with dharma pals Jackson Wilshire, Alex Weith and Nick Halay. The very first inkling of the Actual Freedom focus appearing on KFD and my early reactions to that.


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Process oriented practice becomes almost untenable as the practice again changes. Deeper questions of metaphysics and related matters becomes more prominent. A focus on authenticity appears and settles in, along with the related feeling of “flow” and the notion of no agency.  While cycling and a frustration with the practice continues, there is gold at the end of the rainbow in the form of fourth path realization.

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The practice begins to change on its own, becoming less process oriented and points to deeper, emptiness oriented “stuff.” Struggling with some personal and family issues makes the value of the practice evident, reviving faith in the process.  Mind becomes enamored of simplicity.

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Starting to feel emotional “heart” oriented effects of the practice. Questioning of the value of the process. Nirodha Samapati experiences continue accompanied by Kenneth Folk’s advice and counsel. Playing with jhanas, finding new ones with some frequency.

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 Struggling through, slogging through, second and early third path. Lots of odd visual and auditory stuff showing up. Trying to lead a somewhat normal home and working life while being dragged through the practice by unseen tidal forces.

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