A week after the end of the Five Freedoms to Insight retreat at Padmaloka, and I was in an inwardly irascible mood. The retreat had been the most beneficial and fruitful I'd been on in many a year. I've not had any turning around in the seat of consciousness, no major upheavals in how I perceive the world. Though I have perceived, with an increased lucidity, the 'posturing struggles of my ego-based mind' as the retreat leader, Kamalashila, so aptly put it. I took a notebook and filled half of it with hurriedly scribbled explorations of what was coming up. Here are some of the most salient ones.
- Last year had an underlying feeling of panic about the imminence of my mortality,of there not being time to waste. This year has been characterised by the subtler melancholy of an 'apathetic doubt' that it wasn't worth me bothering making the effort. It became clear, I'd flipped from 'horrified anxiety' to a studied 'indifference,' and that both were states of aversion to really looking at my death implacably straight on.
- I saw the walls of ideas I've built around myself, the defensiveness of my views, the self- justified cycles of habits that I entangle myself in, that make a boundary of who I see myself to be, and how this often imprisons me in states I really don't want to be in.
- Further reflected on praise/blame, the underpinning for self-esteem and confidence issues that I've often had to battle with. I ended up drawing a mind map which pretty much incorporated all the major mental potholes I've ever fallen into - all of them trying and failing to paint over perceived failings.
- This led on to revealing a 'souped-up-ego' that thinks I'm truly a wonder, unique, the greatest, as yet, undiscovered talent, and gods gift to the world. It a bogus confidence, a confection, overcompensating for a perceived lack of the real thing by manufacturing this impostor. Self-inflated balloons inevitably get punctured. Things tend to fall apart, which is why I can find dissatisfaction so hard to bear.
- Falling short of ideals for myself, raises the old spectre of 'not being good enough,' explaining why I've dropped projects/jobs in the past at the first sign of failing. I appear to be uncomfortable with just being average or ordinary, this turns the imminence of death into a restless, anxious subject matter. I'm running out of time in which to distinguish myself.
- The 'souped-up-egos' has a flip side - the embittered grouch that undermines any endeavour with persistent carping. I caught myself doing this during a particularly difficult meditation, and before I knew it, it had taken over my whole mental state. Because I tend to set ideals for myself too high, I frequently fail to live up to them. This makes practising Buddhism more than a little tricky for me at times, just getting the balance right.
- Whenever I'm learning something new, the 'souped-up-ego/embittered grouch pipes up. Its tone is dismissive, it trashes the importance or value of what I'm being taught - I don't need to know this - I know better- basically its resisting all the way. I have to fight my way through this reactivity most times I take on anything new.
- This 'souped-up-ego tends to be critical of people who are 'too clever for there own good,' They're a bit of a threat, they might pull the blanket and reveal how I really am. This can twist bitterly back on me, until I become strangled by the umbilical cord of my own envy.
- My external practise of ethics I believe to be in pretty good nick. But I experienced on this retreat how shamefully nasty and virulent this 'souped-up-ego / embittered grouch duo can be, now I know I have some cleaning up of these factors of instability, as Sangharakshita calls them.
- I discovered I had a tendency to over visualise my breathing when I'm doing the Mindfulness of Breathing practise, creating a subtle distancing in the quality of my awareness, once I stopped doing this I soon dropped into dhyana.
- What stops me meditating is not weak discipline, but weak inspiration.
I'm getting a sense that something is about to come to an end, without knowing what, if anything, is to replace it.My previous two dream recollections you could see as either optimistic oracles, or pessimistic omens. Either way, the atmosphere of uncertainty, combined with the seemingly unsustainable nature of my current job mix, is producing a nervy restless edge for me to sit on.