December 21st 2019

If I was traveling and could draw, I might send back sketches to my friends, to share my experiences with them and to save as a journal for myself. But I can’t draw, so these letters are my attempts to make sketches of my journey in the mountains.

I normally start each meditation session with the mindfulness of breathing and over the last couple of weeks each stage seems to perform a particular function. Counting in the first two stages serves to restrain my wandering thoughts. Counting at the end of the breath seems to put an emphasis on letting go of sense impressions, of going forth, renunciation and so on. Counting before the breath seems to provide a focus for engaging with the breath, prana, and emotional energy. In the third stage, which is where I am spending most of my time at the moment, the sensation of breath in my physical body connects me to my ‘breath body’, the ‘prana body’, or my ‘mental body’ – which came strongly to my attention on the retreat last spring. (It is the same body that I’d often previously felt as being at a weird angle to my physical body, or outside my physical body, or that was much bigger than my physical body – what I used to call the Michelin-man effect.) Although I’d never been interested in ‘New Age’ mumbo jumbo chakras and so on, once I discovered them in my own inner body I became fascinated, exploring these sensations and reading more about them, mainly in Naropa.

In the fourth stage focusing on the sensation in my nostrils transforms into an awareness of an increasingly subtle object. This stage seems to me to be the entry to the infinite and eternal. Being truly Here, Now is never a specific place or time it is actually a place and time beyond space and time – the arupadhyanas? As I mentioned I have been spending most of my time at the third stage which I associate with an aspect of the rupadhyanas.

My connection with Vajrayogini continues to develop very strongly. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I felt something was missing in my relationship to Milarepa. Although his being certainly expresses the transcendental he does not emerge from Sunyata in the same way that the Buddhas and archetypal bodhisattvas do. I was pondering what to do about this and wondered if I should start to engage more with Manjusri, when I had those strong connections with the feminine, and my thoughts turned to Vajrayogini who I discovered was Milarepa’s yidam. So a connection was made. The Milarepa visualisation that I have been doing is actually a guru yoga – and it serves to connect me to Milarepa who is deeply inspiring and whose life touches my own ideals. But Vajrayogini makes a higher connection directly to the transcendental, and moreover a connection that is through the feminine dimension of my being. There are many aspects to this connection, which I am exploring, but one result has been the realisation that although Liberation may possibly arise sort of rationally, as a result of analyzing and seeing through the illusion of a self, it is also a strongly emotional experience of happiness, bliss, devotion, love and profound gratitude (to one’s guru certainly but also a generalised feeling a deep love and gratitude without any particular object.)

I am engaged with Vajrayogini’s mantra, with her seed syllable and it’s appearance, and also with the vision that I had a few weeks ago which I find hard to describe except to say that is is deeply satisfying and exhilarating.

It struck me also that the stages of the Tantric Path go from practices that can be described and appreciated quite easily – the exoteric practices of the Foundation Yogas, Guru Yoga and Deity Yoga – to those that are esoteric because they are so profoundly personal. Over the last few years I have been interested to discover that in Western esoteric traditions – magic, astrology, alchemy, cabala, and so on – each writer tends to create his own set of interpretations and connections in an attempt to come to terms with his inner life. This esotericism in both the western traditions and the mind-bogglingly complex tantra is, it seems to me, an inevitable consequence of individuals trying to give some sort of form to the complexities of the inner life, both for their own deeper understanding and as a means of – normally unsuccessful – communication.

Our retreat is coming to an end. Aryanaga flys to Bristol on Thursday and Vajrabandu to London two days later. It has been a very deeply satisfying time for all – in our different ways – and I have been thinking about the best way to go forward with Uttaraloka and what we have to offer here. I am increasingly excited about the possibilities both for myself and others. We have done some good work on making the place much more attractive and it is in such a beautiful location, but what is especially important is that there is not much to do – so the mind happily goes inwards.