Did a much-needed solo retreat from Feb 1-17th at Grayton Beach, Florida, on the Gulf Coast, in a nice little cabin in that sleepy little beach town. I mostly focused on the Fire Kasina (candle flame) with some counterbalancing doses of Water Kasina (ocean), Air Kasina (sky), and Earth Kasina (beach sand). I did other practices, loving-kindness, equanimity, multiple magickal practices, other jhanic practices, but mostly it was straight-up kasinas.
I also spent a reasonable amount of time using one of the round inset ceiling lights over the couch as a Light Kasina, staring at it, closing my eyes, dropping a hood over my face, and focusing on the resultant show, which produced a larger nimitta than the candle, obviously, as the light was about 10cm (4 inches) wide. The middle of the nimitta had a lot more room to get very interesting, morph into cartoon images, and glow as a bright white light with internal ripples and shimmers, finally progressing through various odd changes, including spinning splines of green and pink over a black background, to become the White and Gold, and finally the Molten White Gold that moved extremely fast with incredible intricacy in large swaths towards the top of the visual field.
After about a week of kasina practice, typically doing about 10-14 hours per day of meditation of various kinds, I was walking on the beach at night on a somewhat cloudy night and suddenly noticed yellow light dancing across the ridges of sand on the beach, like someone was raking it with a flashlight held low to the ground. I looked around: nobody there, no lights on, nothing but a bit of silver moonlight through the clouds, nothing that would produce yellow flickering light to illuminate the beach. The light would come and go, wax and wane, shimmer, flicker, dance, and finally became a moderately bright steady glow that momentarily convinced me there must be a vehicle pulling up behind me on the beach and this must be its headlights, so I looked around, but nothing was there but the light without a source.
This happened numerous times during three different nighttime walks on the beach, at time being so strong it appeared as if numerous cars had bright headlights pointed on the beach, but no cars were there, no lights came from the houses far away down the beach, nothing like that came from the moon or stars, no helicopters flew overhead at that time (though they routinely did patrol the beach, presumably part of the Coast Guard). When the light would get really bright, it seemed that I could literally see the sand as one would see it in early morning or in the evening before dusk, with remarkably enhanced detail of the features of the beach.
I finally got used to the phenomenon and stopped looking for the source, which appeared to be a side-effect of the Light Kasina, for, as the ancient texts, such as the Visuddhimagga and Vimuttimagga say, “One who practices the Light Kasina sees light everywhere.”
Shannon Stein has been meditating like her hair is on fire since first encountering Buddha Dharma in 2010. She is a Lama in the Namgyal Lineage of the Karma Kaygu School of Tibetan Buddhism with a particular interest in Theravadin practice. She has a Masters degree in Social Work and has been providing individual, marital and family therapy for thirty years. Ardent practitioners who notice their hair is aflame may contact her at: shannonstein [at] mymts [dot] net.
Here is the audio journal I recorded during a twenty-five day solo Fire Kasina retreat I did in October 2015. The musical interludes are from a song entitled Solitarily Refined by C.S. Fuqua.
Part One includes an introduction and the first twelve days of the retreat.
Soon to be posted will be a write-up describing the on-going discussion I had with Daniel (the friend I refer to in the journal as having spoken with regularly throughout the retreat).
May these recordings benefit the practice of fellow meditators.
Some reflections several months after the retreat:
As predicted, shortly upon my return to daily living, the supremely high states of concentration faded.
One may ask what is the point of jacking up the concentration for such a brief period of time. It is hard to say in exact terms, however, the perceived advantages are significant enough to make it worth attempting to describe them.
In learning the simple-to-follow instructions of the Fire Kasina practice, one gains confidence in attaining high concentration; daily activities undoubtedly benefit from this ability to focus in a pristine way. Combine a heightened concentration skill with wholesome orientation towards personal development in Sila (virtue) and you have a powerful package with respect to solitary refinement.
The natural experience of pervasive luminosity from a wide, receptive perspective near the end of the retreat grew faint upon my return to home, as did the capacity to successfully intend for certain things (such as pre-determined elements of astral travel) to occur. What has not diminished since the retreat is a subtle yet powerful knowledge that at just the right moment, when conditions come together in a harmonious way, there is an opportunity to intend for a potentiality that I previously did not know could exist. Just this knowledge in the background of the mind has me carrying myself differently, more open to what can happen outside the tighter confines of how I previously approached situations, relationships and decision-making. Although not on the same playing field as what can happen in retreat-mode, there continues to be a delicate aura of Magick in approaching day-to-day life from this frame of mind.
And the grey…
Spending so much time with the grey of the visual field and having one’s attitude toward it naturally evolve over the course of a retreat is a solid take-away. After looking at the candle flame and closing one’s eyes, it is the watching of the colourful mental imagery eventually fading to grey and learning how to be with that grey that is one of the key turning points in the unfolding of the Fire Kasina practice. Entering back into daily living involves encountering the greyness of life so to speak, in comparison to the less frequent peaks of pleasant experience. Yet now, in the moments that I remember to do so, I am able to engage with the swaths of greyish neutrality throughout the day, and find captivating interest simply by settling in and paying attention to what is there.
Having such a high number of fruitions as well as seeing some of the entranceways while on retreat has had an impact at an insight level which I am not sure how to articulate clearly at this point. However, since starting over in a new progress-of-insight cycle and gradually making my way to fruitions again a month and a half following the retreat, there is a palpable new baseline of calm and inner-quiet-contentment that is connected to my deepening experiential insights into the way things work as opposed to being reliant upon the presence of certain conditions that one would normally associate with contentment. Of course this now needs to stand the test of time…
After spending much of this retreat in full-on learning mode, including getting familiar with the Shamata, Vipassana and Magickal aspects of this ancient practice, I look forward to taking these new-found skills and applying them again in a retreat setting to see where they can take me. Particularly I am curious to explore the fire element more deeply, as well as take another shot at the Magickal effect of getting a Fruition through the No-self Door after interaction with a Deity, given the inherent potent insight value.
Everyone will have different specific experiences doing the Fire Kasina, based on their meditation background and individual proclivities; yet, even from the handful of people who have shared candle flame notes in the past year, it seems there is a fairly predictable, fascinating arc of development that is likely to unfold.