70. Around the World and Finding Home
Back to medical school it was, which began seriously cutting into my retreat time, though it was very rewarding in many ways for other aspects of my practice, because it is about working hard to help people. Despite increasingly extreme educational hours, I did manage to practice a moderate amount, and as the dharma had been planted and the mortal wound that occurred at stream entry continued to fester, practice progressed. As practice deepened and began pervading more and more of my experience, I realized that all moments of perception must spontaneously realize emptiness, luminosity, centerlessness, selflessness, undifferentiated suchness, or whatever you wish to call it, and that this must be the all-the-time, walking-around way of being. About ninety-five percent of the field knew it, and chasing down the last few percent that didn’t know it became my focus. So, my practice changed in some ways, but kept basic facets of the Theravada in other ways.
I started to experiment with vipassanizing (seeing the three characteristics of) the sixth subjhana aspect of the fourth jhana (meaning the Boundless Consciousness sub-aspect of the formed fourth jhana). I played around with noticing all thoughts as colors of space, as textures of space, and practiced hard to see space in all of its aspects as utterly transient, spending time vipassanizing the fifth jhana itself. I sought to bring the light of clear, direct comprehension to layer upon layer of subtle illusory duality, trying to get at how to cause the last subtle layers of duality to untie themselves, to realize their true nature. If you are looking for a book that does a good job of explaining a modernized Tibetan take on the same basic practice paradigm, check out Loch Kelly’s Shift into Freedom, which explains the sutra mahamudra-based approach to practice and has close parallels to this phase of my practice.
I got very good at being mindful of all the sensations of my scalp and face. I was trying to get so good at noticing all the categories of sensations that could make up the illusion of a separate self or subject that nothing would be left to create this illusion, as that habit of clearly perceiving the sensations that made up the illusion would finally become automatic. There is much more that could be said of that period, but much of it would sound repetitive, so I will summarize: after much struggle and experimenting with practices and experiences that might be considered relatively fancy, and after getting very frustrated with all of that, I felt strongly that I had to do another retreat. So, I took some night classes and, in the fourth year of medical school, crammed all of my rotations together in the first semester, used weekends for residency interviews, and managed to graduate from medical school a semester early in December, 2002. This gave me a large block of time before residency to travel overseas.