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WUTYL: Dismantling Attachment to Success
Frankly, this was one of the two chapters that prompted my deep dive into WUTYL. I have been contemplating death for a few months, and then this came across my "desk". I have listened to this chapter once (and was deeply moved by it) but am only partially through my second pass. But I will write this opening while practicing with the techniques for at least the remainder of this month.
One of the things I absolutely love about this chapter is its very practical discussion on *how* to practice. All of the contemplations from this point on build on the cultivation of attention that we (hopefully) have done. and then clearly describes how to interleave a specific contemplation into a practice session. Gold. I particularly like how, regardless of experience, we all need a good 15-20 minutes to settle the mind down before doing any meaningful work. I needed to hear that. What a relief.
I also like how the meditations have a simple phrase or two that form the basis of the contemplation, although sometimes you have to tease that out from the "key phrase". The ones that jump out at me, and that I can probably remember easily are:
- Everything changes; nothing stays the same. (Alternatively, is there anything that doesn't change?)
- Has there ever been anyone who didn't die?
- Death can come at any time and in many ways
- What happens when I die?
- What happens after I die?
I have been told that meditations on death are the strongest practices you can do to genuinely wake up. Clearly, if taken seriously it puts many things in a very stark perspective, from what you hold dear, to how you live your life and treat the people around you. This chapter recommends spending several weeks on each of the above meditations, but probably you can spend several months without any problem. I don't plan on waiting that long before going on to the next chapter, but these are a core part of my practice currently and will likely remain so for some time.
Some things that stood out to me:
- "You will feel uncomfortable, anxious, perhaps, or frightened, regretful, ashamed, angry, giddy, excited, perplexed, worthless, stupid -- all the feelings that led you to abandon your life to gain others' approval." Damn!
- Understanding starts off as intellectual, but if it is real understanding it becomes emotional. Understanding is in the body.
- Sorta buried in the write-ups he's saying that ignorance of death means we get trapped by fear of the 5 elements or we get blown by the 8 worldly winds. We fear like we're in an earthquake, swept away by a wave, are totally alone, falling from a great height, or being nothing at all. Or we're blown around by happiness, gain, respect, and fame or unhappiness, loss, disrepute, and obscurity.
- I never really got this... but the 8 worldly winds aren't anything that is "me". They are either due to luck/karma/pre-conditions or due to others. I think respect is a big trap for me...
- Mountains erode -- was a powerful for me. Everything in the midwest either rots or gets cracked by frost... but to think of mountains completely eroding (which of course they will) is a big reminder of everything changes.
- for changes in personality and belief systems, what really struck me is how my interests/passions have changed. I identify soooo strongly with them, yet those too change about every 3 to 5 years...
- The end of all accumulation is dispersion. The end of all building is ruin.
- Is there any trait or ability that prevents death?
- The question that really gets me to the "death can come at any time" understanding: Is there a time when it would be impossible to die?
- For the approaching death, the question that really gets me is "How does it feel to know that this is the last thing I'll see?"
- I must have done the dying process meditation on page 118 onward maybe 300 times or so. For a while, I would do it every time I napped or slept. What was interesting later on is my awakening process had some similarities. The idea of core anger disappearing, then core desire disappearing, then core ignorance disappearing was part of it. "Base ignorance, or fundamental not-knowing, is the not-knowing on which the misperception of "I" is based."
- For after death, the question that gets me (which shows my materialism) is "Everything you owned goes to someone else or is thrown away."
- "Practice is not about achieving alternate states of consciousness. It is about using the raw material of our lives to deepen our relationship with life itself. The essence of practice is presence.... Awareness of death an impermanence cuts through the veils of personal habituation and socially conditioned agendas. It puts us in touch with life itself."
Like you, the concept of "this <thing> is the last thing I will ever see" was a really, really powerful statement. I have not sat with that specifically, but even just intellectually that is really sobering.
Like the five elements, the process of dying had parts that I really was turned off by. What is with those colours, and these pronouncements of self dissolving this way and that. I really strongly resist statements that are made like presentations of fact when, in reality, they are complete bullshit or, at least, complete speculation or fantasy.
"Death is not the opposite of life; death is the opposite of birth." That is very, very profound and if one takes that to heart, it can't not change you.
ETA: I should say that for some reason, impermanence is not something I battle with at all. There is literally nothing that won't change. But it is my attachment to "worldly things" that seems to be at the root of my discomfort with death. Uncovering what precisely that attachment is, is the crux of it for me.
This current pandemic situation is certainly challenging my attachment to success, safety, family future, and avoidance of death (fear of others dying). Its also challenging my expectations from my own practice.
I would never say that this virus situation is a good thing for our dharma practice, but I don't want to miss the opportunity to explore these concepts either.
I am far out of my comfort zone lately (read: practice is uncomfortable but potent) and the life auto-pilot is off. I've mistakenly (for me personally) tried to find refuge in ultimate spiritual concepts (one example: everything is perfect, just as it is). Not that it isn't, but that's not the point. Personally, I know it to be possible to have this perspective (temporarily, deep within retreat) but I don't believe focusing on it to be an effective technique to liberation.
What I mean to say is that this line of thinking is just a carrot, pulling in the wrong direction. The ego would love to be elevated by a belief that everything is perfectly in its place, with no resultant suffering caused by the whatever happens to be going on in the external world. This dreamy, lofty goal is just the sort of spiritual peak that the self highly craves, and can be corrupted to cause us to go deeper into sleep.
Again, not that this is not a possible mind-state, but rather my point is that right now may not be the best time for "just being" practices. Sure, it can be soothing and soften the edges of a tough day or practice session. We could also sit on the cushion and vipassana ourselves right up to equanimity and chill there for a while. That could ease the day, for sure. I've certainly thought about it.
But with so much reactive emotion running wild, and with a lot of extra time on my hands, I am going to go ahead and call this an important time to do uncomfortable contemplation practice. Not exclusively, but I'm giving it priority.
Here are a few contemplations that were prompted by this chapter. Note: these are volitional and purposeful thoughts. Not the same as random anxiety thoughts that pop up in mind, cause suffering, and lead to knee jerk reactions that cause us to search for an escape. Here, I am purposefully staying with these concepts and exploring what arises. These are vulnerable questions/thoughts for myself and not meant to reflect any answers or wisdom, FYI:
-What is the most important thing in my life right now. How has it changed recently? Where does spiritual pursuit for liberation fit in all this? Is it silly now? Where we deluded all this time thinking awakening could ever save us from real suffering?
-I recognize that the most important parts of my life (family, safety, health) are also some of the most powerful sources of potentially causing extraordinary suffering if something went wrong. How much underlying fear and anxiety relating to this concept exists in my mind on a daily basis right now?
-Visualizing my own death/funeral is sad, but somehow relieving and peaceful. However, visualizing my son or wife's death/funeral (like Ken mentions - these reflections are tough) pushes me to a dark limit, a squirmy place in my mind where I have a hard time being honest about my actual belief/knowing of the spiritual concepts that I believe that I know. What would I hang on to? What would I run to? Would continued pursuit for truth and abiding non-dual awareness mean anything? What aspects of my dharma practice would become a security blanket and thus end up corrupted and lead me into spiritual-delusion.
-In the face of this fear, I find myself willing to let go of some beliefs and wants in life. The more simple my mind and life right now, the better. The more aware I am, the more prepared I am to work with these chaotic energies
-Also, death can happen at any time so being alive and aware right now is very important. But why is that important.... and then I circle back to the top of this list.
To contemplate "everything changes" (pre-pandemic) was vastly different to reflecting on that phrase now - with constant life change and edge of your seat plot changes and worldwide uncertainty makes this a more energized dharma topic. A much hotter fuel for the spiritual fire.
Damn, this is a cold water splash of a chapter to hit so early in the book. I have to admit that the first time I read through this book, I mostly skimmed this chapter, since these were concepts (at the time 6mo to 1yr ago) that did not really concern me or provide fruitful practice.
So I find myself (like many of us) these days being very concerned about the physical world (food, supplies, essential equipment, health, etc., which equals "success" in the current situation) and very concerned with the effect of these world events will have on the future of my family.
Im not trying to fix this. Im just taking the opportunity to watch it happen. See what arises, watch where it goes, explore where it came from.
Whats going on right now is the most important thing.
Anthony Yeshe wrote: But with so much reactive emotion running wild, and with a lot of extra time on my hands, I am going to go ahead and call this an important time to do uncomfortable contemplation practice. Not exclusively, but I'm giving it priority.
I started really doing the WUTYL exercises when I was working for a... well basically a sociopath. I had to spend way too many hours for several years with this person and my emotional circuitry was always being lit up like a christmas tree. It really makes the theorypractices very real, very practical, and you can see it's necessity...
A lot of this work is developing resilience through appropriate doses of challenging stimuli. The meditations use a conceptual door: active imagination and emotional evoking. But the "work" isn't conceptual, thoughts are way too slow. It's seeing how the mind truly is _in_ the body, embodied, and learning to ride out raw emotions like surfing a wave. You don't stop the wave, you don't avoid the wave, you don't "think" the waveness away, you learn to be on/in the wave.
One of my teachers said: ~At first we can only be mindful when the body is calm. Any physical discomfort gives us a negative attitude. Then we can be mindful when the body is uncomfortable, but only as long as the mind is clear. Eventually, both the body and the mind can be trouble, and yet we can still not be lost in the trouble. Awareness of the trouble isn't troubled." But the problem is that people just want to jump to the end, without doing all the work in the middle.
I just want to say that initially it's very difficult, but you really do build resilience over time. Just moderate the intensity, like moderating the intensity of a workout. Metaphorically, you want to become "sore" but not "injured". This is where Kenneth's saying "consistency, not heroics" really applies. It can't be rushed. And it can't be sporadic. It has to be a block of study where you spend enough time to expand your capacity slowly over time.
Well, that was a lot of mansplaining. Oh well, thanks everyone for "listening".
Best wishes for your practice!!!
Personally, the visualizing of my own death is not working for me. It is too abstract. But knowing that death can come at any time, and in any way, is very, very uncomfortable. And contemplating that this breath is my last...hard, hard, hard.
Tom Otvos wrote: A lot of what you said, Anthony, resonated with me. But the one thing that caught my eye was where you equated "just being" practice with some kind of lofty, ego-smoothing thing not super relevant now. Not at all discounting that the direct examination of attachments to life, and stuff, is powerful and hard, I think that the "just being" can be equally hard when the unbidden attachments and worries come calling. So while this chapter is about directly seeking out those hindrances, "just being" is, or can be, almost as revealing. Simple, but not easy.
Yep, I tend to do that with my writing - critique things in the context of a particular philosophical moment. Its part of my process to explore a version of a concept by minimizing others. Pure surrender really is a powerful practice. But hey, I'm no dharma teacher, which gives me the freedom to not have to ever be right about anything (no wonder some teachers crack under the pressure). Thanks for the feedback.
Taking and Sending.
Trying to learn more (aka develop my own interpretation) of this powerful practice. According to the Mind training manual on McLeods website, it's a central practice for dismantling reactive mind. These trainings are alluded to in WUTYL, but not listed in the detail found here: www.unfetteredmind.org/mindtraining/introduction.php
Any thoughts on this? I've never been a compassion meditation guy, and I don't actually believe taking and sending changes the outside world in anyway. Its like I am opening up to suffering rather than trying to solve it, and not fixating on my own suffering as much. It encourages me to go forward strengthening myself for the benefit of others, rather than strengthening myself for my own personal success.
My version of this practice so far: when a moment of suffering arises in my mind, I open myself up to the possibility that many others feel feel this particular pain. I spend a moment knowing that I can endure (surrender) my own portion of this suffering and then envision taking some of this suffering from them, transforming it into extra awareness, surrender, patience, strength, and sending it out to others who need it. Again, not my typical practice style, but I've found it to be increasingly transformative. I see it as a system to help me both 1)become alerted to arising of reactive emotion and b) stay with it and open to it. By taking in the extra negative experience from others, I diminish the habit to turn away from unpleasant experience. By visualizing myself transforming this energy and sending it away, I practice letting go and not chasing pleasant experience.
I like to click the random button (grasshopper) on the first link a few times a day and ponder one of the 59 instructions. I wonder why this is not slightly more mainstream of a practice in the Western Tibetan Buddhist circles, not that I frequent them much.
KMcL's main focus is on directly experiencing the suffering, for sure. That's what makes it a practical practice as opposed to just a half-felt "well wishing" prayer or something like that. And you are exactly right that the point of it really is to make _you_ more resilient and with less reactive tendency to avoid/turn away.
Junglist wrote: Thought this might interest you guys if you haven’t seen it already:
That was a really good conversation. It was cool to hear about his last 'shift' clarified - I heard him mention it on another podcast but it was described more vaguely. I also didn't know Ken was also a student of Dezhung Rinpoche. He's a founding lama of a monastery/dharma center I go to in Seattle.