Wobble and Fall
Speaking of contraction, an hour or two later, this pristine and oh-so-right way of perceiving started to break up and that clean space began to shudder, and then, before I knew it, it was gone. Reality had re-tangled. I had no idea why. I didn’t realize what was going on when it re-tangled, but the effect was glaringly obvious, and the cause would slowly become more obvious: my reification and subtle grasping at something that you would think is ungraspable, but, until one really gets something in the depths of that ungraspability, that “Holy shit, this is it!” reaction can totally derail that otherwise exquisitely clean perceptual mode. Because of this not-so-subtle attachment to detachment, I was back to states and stages and cycles and very subtle yet mind-bogglingly annoying duality. It was like having my heart broken by my one true love, like watching my best friend be murdered, like having my greatest treasure stolen, like the world collapsing into war and chaos before my eyes.
It felt like the worst thing my mind ever did, and my mind has done some pretty bad things. I did everything I could not to panic, but some degree of panic set in anyway. I was terrified I would never get it back. This derailed my practice for maybe an hour or two, and then, remembering what had gotten me there in the first place, I pulled it together, went back to core assumptions (six sense doors, three characteristics), started practicing again, powered up to total sensate comprehension again, and, relatively shortly thereafter, it flipped over, everything righted itself, the knot untangled, fundamental perceptual identification and division stopped, and it was okay, actually much better than okay: I was satisfied! Then, an hour or two later, it happened again, a shudder, a wobble, like a top spinning off-kilter as it begins to slow down, like a mud clot thrown into a clear, still reflecting pool, like some destructive warp in space caused by a bizarre alien weapon in a sci-fi movie.
Shortly thereafter, during a meeting with Sayadaw U Pandita Jr. about my practice, and while I was in the synced mode of attention, I said simply, “Cycles, stages, powers, experiences: they all come and go on their own,” and then I just smiled. He looked at me and said with a huge smile directed to the nun sitting next to me, “Did you hear what he said!?” like it was the most beautiful and important thing in the whole world, which it was to me at the time and still is.
So, the pattern went on, every few waking hours, for almost a week. Heartbroken, everything screwed up, cycles, stages, Fruitions, jhanas, formless realms, all utterly dissatisfactory. Then, after an hour or two of good practice on just what was happening: flip, wonder, amazement, happiness, rightness, satisfaction, centerlessness, effortlessness, immediacy, and peace. Then, an hour or two later: wobble and fall.
It is because of that week of gaining and losing that pristine centerless clarity that I can tell you for certain that the perfectly synced way is better, vastly better, and the other way, by comparison, totally sucks, despite how impressive all the stages and states and all that may seem. The difference is simply huge. Those days of alternating between the two radically different modes of perception made the meaning of fundamental suffering abundantly clear, with that period of practice driving the point home with sickening regularity every time the pristine mode would break apart. Somewhere in this phase, Sayadaw U Pandita, Jr. gently said to me, “You know, some people are arahants only on retreat.” Those terrifying words galvanized whatever else in me had held back.