9. Desire for Deliverance
At the stage of Desire for Deliverance, we are fed up with basically everything, often including dharma practice, but at a level that transcends mere suicidal thoughts, though definitely it may include such thoughts for an unfortunate few. If you find yourself among those few, tell someone and seek help immediately. It will likely pass soon enough; you need to stay alive so you can get to the good stuff, and Desire for Deliverance is very close to the good stuff. However, by some weird trick of this stage, it can be very hard to imagine that we are close to great stages of practice from this vantage point.
We can feel that, if we just go far enough out or in, we can get to something better, and the pull towards that nebulous but powerful, imagined “better” can be very strong at this stage. Often this pulling feeling has a stronger component to it of running away, meaning that it can feel more like we are fleeing unpleasant things rather than being called to salvation. Yet, that flavor of inspired stepping out of our ordinary comfort zones and into a compelling unknown can be powerful in this stage. I took a whole college course dedicated to spiritual practitioners from across the ages who felt “called out” of their ordinary lives—including St. Augustine and Joan of Arc. In this stage, it is easy to identify with their stories and the feeling that we are similarly “called out” of our comfort zones and to something greater, farther, higher, or at least less bad. When you know meditation map theory, it is fascinating to read the stories of some of history’s great spiritual figures, as you will see these insight stages and their classic manifestations in their reports of their tribulations and transformative experiences.
Desire for Deliverance is beneficial in some deeper sense, though it nearly always seems otherwise. It can cause serious problems that can appear as insurmountable. Those who know dharma map theory will no longer wish for anything but the complete ending of all sensations, that is, the first taste of Fruition (described in a bit). We just wish the noise in our minds would stop cold, but are unable to will this to happen. We wish the vibrations, which can be quite intense, harsh, and jarring by this stage, would all go away forever. We wish the unpleasant feelings that are flooding in would all just stop. If we fail to associate the ending of pain with progress in insight and instead falsely associate that pain with merely changing something in our ordinary life (such as suicide, sedation with substances, divorce, or whatever), we are likely to wander far and wide or do something stupid or irreversible until we come to realize the limits of ordinary solutions. If you find yourself working on your escape plan, try to re-channel that into your inscape plan, such that you can turn attention within at the actual root of the problem in your own heart, mind, and body.
Here’s the “One Weird Trick” to this stage for those who are not going through it at the level of vibrations or kasina-induced visuals, but instead going through it at the level of emotions: honestly feel that crash, that utter devastation, that agony, that bottoming out, that despair, that longing for release, in all its down-to-earth, real, gritty humanity, allowing that plunge to happen inside you deep down, down, down. Then, investigate that, just as it is, because it is a crucial part of the trip, part of the journey, part of the remarkable opportunity to bring the clear light of wisdom to every aspect of our full emotional range, including the bottom of it. So, fall. Notice it. Allow it to be. Notice it is made of sensations: feel them honestly, as well as all the reactions to those sensations. This is the key.
The technique of noting can be very helpful, as can keeping our attention at a very spatially grounded sensate level, meaning that you keep some awareness of the shifting volume in which all this is going on. Open-eyed meditation may be a bit easier at times than eyes-closed. If you do go through it eyes-closed on the cushion, those unafraid to plunge and dive into the chaos and take up the dance with it will do better. Meanwhile, when off the cushion, do not do anything stupid, which is to say destructive of yourself or anything else. It won’t help, and on the contrary, could cause protracted misery. As Kenneth likes to say, “Be sure to heed the ancient admonition: ‘Don’t fuck up!’”
This is the stage at which people are most likely to quit their relationships, jobs, or school and go on a long retreat or spiritual quest. Fascination with celibacy as somehow being “a higher spiritual path” can arise. I am not making a judgment call here on the value of celibacy versus non-celibacy, just stating that it is more common for practitioners in this phase to find celibacy compelling. Our renunciation trip can be very disorienting to partners, particularly if we were going to the opposite extreme of intense sexuality during the stage of the Arising and Passing Away, which probably occurred not long before, so try to be empathic and sensitive to their needs if you can. If you can talk with them about meditation stage theory, even in generic or non-technical terms, it can be helpful to keep them in the loop in some way so that the contrast is not so disorienting or surprising.
An awareness of the maps can help normalize and contextualize what can otherwise be a confusing and distressing process. Somewhere in here, there can arise the tendency to try to get our lives and finances in order so that we can leave the world behind for a time and have something to come back to without having to worry about such things for a while. A profound resolution to push onward can arise at this stage, driven by our powerful frustration and the powerful compassion in it. Then, we make the last push for freedom, the push against the seemingly impenetrable wall of …