American Bad-Ass Survivalist

Thanks to my good friend that lent me her “American Bad-Ass Survival Guide” with bonus DVD “Lockpicking Secrets” I motivated to “break” into my crawl space this morning.  My crawl space is the most secure area of my home.


One of two locks on my crawl space opening

It has two monster pad-locks on it that are even hard to open with the key.  (Of course, that was before I inadvertently threw the key away.)  The pad locks secure a metal covered piece of wood that covers the hole to the crawl space.  Why such security?  I don’t have an answer for that.  The crawl space houses two pet rabbits and even the copper pipe has been replaced by plastic alternatives.  Not much of value down there anymore.

While the lock-picking DVD did provide instruction on lock-picking, the method to open a pad lock is simpler and entails the use of a metal shim.  The metal shim is slid down into the area of the locking bar and causes the lock to simply open.  If you are interested, there is a nice wiki on how to make and use a metal shim.

After I made my shim and put them in position the lock still did not open.


Sawed opening to release lock from hasp


Using the hammer to release the second lock. Aluminum can shims at the top left.

I then remembered how hard these locks were to open even with the key.  I got out my bolt cutters, but, alas, they were too small.  Then I went for the hack-saw.  It seemed to only polish the shaft of the lock.  However, I realized that the metal the lock was attached to was vulnerable.  I sawed an opening in the metal hasp. (Does this mean I am still a bad-ass survivalist?  Or is this a cop out?)

My opening was just a little too small.  So I got the hammer out to free the lock from the hasp opening.  As I banged on the lock, it sprung open.  Damn!  What a wimpy lock after all.  I tried this out on the second lock.  After a couple bangs it too sprung open.

Interesting that this heavy, solid, hard lock was so easily opened.  And the opening occurred when my intention was not to open the lock, but to simply move it through the sawed opening.

Reflections/Clearings:  How many places am I trying to force something open or control a process when the opening could occur by changing my perspective or changing my focus?  Where have I defined something as hard, invulnerable or stuck within me when an alternative view is possible?  Am I willing to give up my personal view of “stuckness” and entertain the possibility that all aspects of myself are flowing and that creating greater flow may be as easy as continuing to turn the faucet head until the valve is completely open instead of interpreting the slow flow after just one turn as stuckness? RWGBPODPOCA9SBB

Something about this experience reminds me of some healing work I did yesterday with my friend, Marvin Knight.  During the session I realized that some of the things I had assumed were stuck were actually not….

Preliminary Dark Retreat

The retreat took some interesting turns.  First, just before the retreat began, I had a guest at my weekly Access Bars® trade offer to facilitate some breath work.  The first session was so amazing and fun I asked him to stay and join me in the dark and do some joint breath work.  We quickly transformed the house into a dark cave and the beginning of the retreat was focused on pranayama.  This was unexpected, but seemed like the right thing to do.

I ended up forty hours in the dark, with the last twenty-four hours alone in silence.  As is typical of any of my personal retreats, my experience ranged from sadness and despair to elation and inspiration.  I started the retreat not wanting to be on retreat and in the dark.  However, when I asked myself if I wanted to break retreat I found there was really no place else I wanted to be and nothing else I’d rather be doing.  I was simply experiencing sadness and dissatisfaction arising.   Nothing to do about that.

Later I would have moments of inspiration where I would think about ways to extend the retreat.  I was simply experiencing calm and confidence arising.  Nothing to do about that either.

This preliminary retreat was undertaken to see if it might help deepen my ability to stay in instant presence and inform a decision for a longer retreat.  The darkness did not change my ability to stay in instant presence significantly during the time I was in retreat.  However, this is not to say that a longer retreat might not give a different result or that some unnoticeable benefit occurred.  I did like the dark overall and would consider a longer retreat.

My friend that had done a three day dark retreat said that the first day or so is marked by increased sleep.  I expected this, yet found that my sleepiness was not increased beyond what I normally experience when meditating all day.  Indeed, after twenty-four hours, I was “tired” of practice and wanted to go to bed early, yet sleep would not come to me.  I did have a subtle sense that melatonin was increasing in my body, not by feeling sleepy, but by my body having an increased sense of heaviness.  I seemed to have a slight sense of headache, which may or may not have been related to changes due to the darkness.

Some of the logistical things I learned:

1)  During the retreat, my front window cracked, which I attribute to the heat generated by the inserts I used to darken the window.  Apparently the black plastic over a foam insert was too much.  The inner pane of the dual pane windows has a large crack in it now.

2)  Running the swamp cooler after dark was feasible since at night the attic vents that open when it runs did not allow in noticeable light.

3)  It is hard to maintain balance in the dark and even after forty hours this was not stabilized.  What this means, practically, was that walking and some of my chi gung moves didn’t really work.  I did find that by putting a quilt on the ground to mark my boundaries, I was able to do some “nine-palace walking” without running into things. Of course, even though I thought I was walking a pattern, my bearing and orientation were completely off.

4)  I would need to devote more attention to motivating to do physical exercise during the retreat.  The lack of ease of moving and difficulty doing my usual routine meant I did very little movement.  This, along with my extended sitting/lying, contributed to a slight flare up in my chronic back tension.

5)  After twenty-four hours the physical movement of switching positions (i.e. standing up) would stimulate the receptors in the eye and create a mosaic of light.  The optic nerve could also be stimulated directly by pressure on the eye.  The “light” would die out after a minute and then it would take about 10 minutes of rest before the phenomenon could be repeated.  Palpating the eye in a specific manner was one of the dark retreat practices.  I do not have a clear explanation of why it is done, but I did notice that the experience of “light” seemed to elevate my mood a little and make me feel more expansive.

I broke retreat by lighting a candle and slowly increasing the light from there.

I am still curious about doing a longer retreat, not because I am confident that it will facilitate instant presence, but because I am curious about the changes that occur with extended darkness.  My major concern is how to do that exploration and maintain balance.  During a daylight retreat I maintain balance with a couple hours of internal arts practice and a couple hours of reading of basic spiritual texts.  I have found that I don’t have the personal capacity for eleven hours (or even eight) hours of straight meditation for extended periods (I become depressed).  However, I can retreat successfully if these additional practices are included.

I think that if I were to repeat the dark retreat I would want a partner for the initial few days (or perhaps longer) with defined periods of silent practice and partner practice.  Although I have a little voice that says that this would be “breaking the rules” and in someways makes the whole retreat “invalid”, I remind myself we are encouraged to practice at our capacity and not beyond that.  Besides, what have I made so essential about being alone and being in silence?



Doing Nothing

Today I prepare for my preliminary dark retreat that begins this evening.  As I did my morning practice I was reminded of a day back in 2012 when I decided to try to “do nothing”.  While my intention with the dark retreat is to actually “do” my practice, I also am aware that even if I do 10 hours of practice each day, there will be quite a bit of time left where I could be “doing nothing”, since it will be pitch black.  This realization is leading me to reflect on my “do nothing day” experience.

First, what comes to your mind when I suggest a day of doing nothing?

My mind initially thinks, “Oh I’ll not do any of my usual chores. How wonderful! – a day off”  Then I naturally think of fun things to “do” like go for a walk.  And if I’m going for a walk, I might want to drive to that nice trailhead.  Well, if I’m going there, I’ll need to bring food, water, etc.  What I notice is that I’m suddenly planning a full day of “doing”.

When I planned my day of “doing nothing” I actually had to define “nothing”, keeping in mind it really is impossible to do nothing.  My list of okay things looked like:

  1. Take care of dog and myself with food (but no cooking)
  2. Sleep
  3. Be aware
  4. If things I must do pop in my head, write them down
  5. Walk, sit and recline (no “going for a walk”)
  6. No practice, no computer, no reading.


What I found is that I slept a lot.  Without a lot to “do” my mind became dull and sleep was the most attractive option.  While I intellectually understand that there is a whole lot happening even within a single breath, I found my mind dulled out when I removed stimulus and I removed my options to create activity.  This is a predictable result of removing stimulus.

Indeed, dullness (drowsiness) characterizes the fourth level of meditative progress.  Once the mind is finally able to maintain continuous placement on its object it tends to “get bored” and zone out.  This is the greatest obstacle to meditative progress.  Many people mistake this ability to “trance out” on their meditation object a good thing. Yet it is a dead end.  True mastery is to be able to hold the object with fresh vibrancy despite the fact it initially seems boring.

I think this is, in part, the objective of a dark retreat.  With all stimulus removed all you have is the essence of life and being itself.  I realize that taking away all stimulus could lead to depression and even psychosis, but it also could lead to a realization of the dissatisfactory nature of all stimulus and a true connection with ultimate reality.  The result of such a retreat depends on the capacity of the individual.  I am curious to see what occurs.  My target is to deepen my ability to simply be.