Forty Days to Freedom

Disclaimer: First and foremost — I don’t encourage you to do it. I was stupid enough to try this approach, but only in hindsight it became obvious how many things could go wrong. So, no, don’t do this, unless you know exactly what you are doing. And remember, you are doing it on your own responsibility!

I strongly suggest that you read this “theoretical summary” before you start:

As you have probably already guessed, this is a description of a forty days long retreat that can be practiced basically anywhere. It is predominantly targeted at “householders”, i.e. average people in standard setting of a “western” family, but I would say that it can work for anyone.

A short remark as to what I mean by hard-core — there exist even more extreme approaches (Goenka’s vipassana retreats, Ayahuasca marathons, etc.), but most of them are brute-force methods that lack some essential component, which may prevent you from reaching your goal. Even though they have many benefits, they are more or less a hit or miss when it comes to self-realization. Also, considering the shape of our society, I consider even this approach to be hard-core enough.

With that being said, let’s delve into details.

The whole goal of this exercise is to shed all notions that you have about you or reality, and arrive at a point where you can witness world as it is.

First you will need to arrange your day-to-day life in a way that will allow you to secure forty days plus roughly one month when you can do everything as you please. That additional month will come handy to “settle down” without any external pressures.

All you will need is one room where you can live (sleep, eat, meditate, study, do “stretching”), and resources to cover your costs during the aforementioned time.

If you wish some extra boost to the strength of experience, you may prepare a stash of your preferred psychedelic, but consider the law and health. I would recommend cannabis, but your preferences may vary. However, it should be a substance that does not completely knock you out — you must be able to remain operational.

Now, let’s get to the actual process.

Don’t set any strict schedules. Sleep when you want to sleep, drink when you are thirsty, eat when you are hungry (not when you feel like it!). Prepare your own meals (preferably without meat, but it’s not a prerequisite) and don’t drink any alcohol. Wash the dishes and take out the garbage so they don’t stink, and keep your standard hygiene so you feel comfortable. The rest of the chores you can safely ignore, but it depends on your environment — just don’t slip into cleaning obsession because you start to feel like doing something.

Cancel all social activities (work, parties, etc.). Don’t watch TV, set your phone on vibration and leave it at all times in the same place (don’t take it with you to bed, when you go shopping, or go out for a walk). Limit your on-line presence to a bare minimum — use Internet only as a tool when you experience something that throws you off and you need an explanation or an assurance that everything is OK (it most probably is). If Internet is too big of a distraction and you know that you will have a problem to control yourself, go with printed materials instead (prepare them beforehand — see tips below).

Don’t talk to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary — cut down on small-talk and gossip in grocery, buy what you need and leave. The same applies to people you live with. Organize things so that you don’t have to explain everything. Try to limit the topic of talking to your current “enterprise”. Also, abstain from all kinds of sexual gratification.

And, of course, each day go through these “compulsory figures”:

At least three hours of standard sitting meditation. This should be what you may know as zazen. In other words, a pure observational sitting when you sit, observe yourself, and don’t react. You may sit for three hours straight or divide that time into two hour-and-half long periods, but a single session should not be shorter than one hour. Of course, if you wish, you may sit longer.

Each time you wake up, try to recall your dreams. Do this while you are still in the bed (or wherever you were sleeping). You may write your dreams in a journal, but it’s highly preferable just to remember them. You may (and most probably will) use these dreams as an input in next exercises, but don’t be discouraged when you cannot recall anything.

At least once a day intentionally ask yourself “Who am I?” and listen to the answers and what they evoke. Submit those answers to meticulous scrutiny. Where do they come from? Did someone tell you? Did you read it in a book? Did you see it in a movie? Was it your own conclusion? How did you come to it? And so on and so forth. The key is to be brutally honest with oneself (no one hears you, so don’t worry) and discard anything you were ever told and what’s not your experience (don’t interpret your experience — you will go in endless cycles!).

As you can imagine, many of those answers will evoke memories of past events. Follow those memories, sit with them and observe your emotional responses — simply allow them to be, accept them without doing anything. You may also use the input from your dreams to start the stream of this inquiry. This exercise is best done in a comfortable position. There’s no need to force any strict pose, but sitting is advisable. Essentially, try not to fall asleep (but again, don’t stress if you do).

The rest of the day, during all activities, just be mindful (wu-wei), and try to separate that which talks and thinks from that which actually listens and observes.

Here I have to warn you. You will most probably come to a point when you will have the feeling that if you make one more step you will die. Or even that you may unleash some unknown power that may kill you. You will have to push through it (after all, no one died from meditation or memories), but to don’t go crazy (and eventually do something stupid and irreversible — people messed up their psyches to the point of suicide) feed that feeling back into inquiry and, without remorse, see where it comes from.

And lastly, some random, more or less essential, tips to the exercises above:

  • Try to go into habit of reminding yourself that what you do may be the last thing you have ever done. You may also meditate or inquire about death and you mortality.
  • Combine psychedelics with meditation, reliving the past, and inquiry.
  • Awareness of what you hear is a good pointer to “here and now” and a fantastic tool to separate the hearer from the heard. Once you are comfortable with observing yourself, turn your attention outward while also keeping awareness of yourself.
  • Exercise your body — yoga, qigong, five tibetans are great to keep you “energized”, and they can be performed in limited spaces.
  • Study materials pertaining to spiritual enlightenment. I would recommend Aparokshanubhuti, Tao Te Ching, Gospel of Thomas, or Dhammapada. But eventually throw them all away (including this guide — see the next bullet).
  • Always bear in mind that no one (not even your most revered authority — inquire why do you revere them) knows better than you.

As you can see, none of this is something new under the Sun, but if you endure these forty days, strange things will happen for sure.

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