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Retreat report - looking for advice

Retreat report - looking for advice
11/4/18 8:02 PM
Hello all, long post ahead!
So I've just returned from a 19 day retreat (left 2 days early!). It was with Bhante Yuttadhammo at the Sirimangalo international meditation center in Hamilton, Ontario.

So I have a few questions and seeking advice.

First off, bhante was a student of Ajaan Tong, a Thai monk trained in Mahasi style vipassana. The training consisted of gradually adding steps to the walking, 6 in total: lifting heel, lifting, moving, lowering, touch, placing. And gradually adding touching points throughout the body, won't go through all of them but the whole sequence consisted of 26 or so touching points like so: rising, falling, sitting, touching.

The center itself is just a house pretty much. Four rooms in the basement, very minimal. You make your own meals, you interview everyday at 8am, you keep 8 precepts (I broke the 7th one; I read Daniel's book when doubt/confusion overcame me, and texted my lady to tell her I love her), and you meditate however much you please. I was the only resident meditator there for the first week, then a woman showed up. I set up a routine very early on, meditating about 5 hrs before noon, and about 8-10 after noon. I quickly moved up to one hour sitting/walking by the 5th/6th day I believe, since when Bhante asked me if I had any pains I simply said no. I thoroughly found it a joy being there, washing the dishes, sweeping my room, tidying things up. I felt immense gratitude for this opportunity. There is no charge, Bhante offers these courses for free.

Bhante always asked the same question, with the same nonchalant expression, "tell me about your practice?" He occasionally showed some humor, encouragement, and overall exemplified the practice he taught. I was humbly inspired seeing him, this being my first time talking/seeing a monk. When I doubted he simply said of, "of course you have doubt, it's like you're in a forest and can't find your way out yet." Or when I grumbled a bit about the difficulties of walking meditation, he smiled and said, "yes, walking is a great teacher of patience, it takes bravery to stay with the sensations of the feet," or something like that.

Ok, enough of that. On to my experience.

I'm gonna cut right through it and highlight the journey.

First thing to note, is that I have a very, very difficult time watching the rising falling at the abdomen. I cannot do it without controlling it, I simply cannot, maybe once in a while i felt it move on its own but for the entire retreat it felt like I consciously controlled the rise and fall. As a side note, the reason I believe this is the case (with the additional normal controlling observer thing) is due to years and years of negative body image; ever since a teenager and all through most of my early/mid 20s I consciously tucked in my stomach, causing as you can imagine the abdomen to never really relax. I am 29 and I still do it, but since meditating I started turning things around, relaxing the stomach whenever I notice it tighten up. The only time I experienced the abdomen rising falling was on the 8th day of a 10 day goenka retreat back in April of this year, the day was very exciting for me, I felt so joyous and happy, I remember it very clearly, with watery eyes. Sidetracked.....

That being said, I made it all the way to low equanimity, if I understand the stages correctly.

When I reached the arising and passing away, it wasn't clear. In fact, I stood in it for sooooo long, and it made sense looking back. (I'm writing this on the plane ride back home by the way). Why? Those ten darn corruptions! Especially equanimity and mindfulness, oh my god, I never felt so effing equanimous and mindful in my life. Bhante would ask me, and I would say "I feel calm, no pain, sensations are appearing very fast, I am able to see them, I don't notice any agitation." And he would say, are you noting the calm? And I said, no. "Please note the calm." I did, and it eventually broke away. And he frequently went over the hindrances, asking about all of them, and he always asked about future/past thinking. Safe to say that I think a lot, during the walking meditation my mind was a narrating machine, future future, wanting, wanting.

How do I know this was the a&p? Because it all culminated in the most spectacular thing I've ever seen in my meditation experience, an undeniable AP event. I was noting visual phenomena, light was flickering very fast, seeing seeing seeing, then blackout, nothing, nada, it happened so quick but it was very clear what had happened. I knew it wasn't a fruition, though during this period I did mistake this stage with equanimity, mainly because from reading about it, I know there's no sense of observer and I clearly saw this. Nevertheless, I was ecstatic, "omg I have 7 days to get to stream entry, I can do this," sigh, the next several days were the second most difficult days of my life (first being a 7g solo mushroom trip...jeesh). After this event, sensations around the body seemed to kinda wind down, like a powering off...dunno, not very good at explaining this. The event was dramatic.

When I told Bhante the next morning, I noticed his reaction, though it was subtle, he quickly glanced at me and slightly nodded. He literally said, "good job, you're close, don't get lazy, and don't overdo it." I also told him how I felt, in the morning I felt like shit, I didn't sleep much and my body felt drained, I didn't feel like meditating which was unusual. Bhante said, "don't feel like you need to sleep, have you noticed how much we are attached to sleep." He was priming me. The next day he said to only sleep 4hrs, and after that he told me not to sleep at all, for 3 effing days! I just complied.

I also started tearing up near the end of that interview, I heard the crack in my voice, the contractions of the chest and quickly said thank you and went downstairs. I cried, like a madman, on my knees, with such a force like never before, I was distraught. I didn't know what was wrong, there was no content, like if the subconscious was experiencing such turmoil that it sent it to the conscious mind to release it. I don't know. But that day I cried several times. Especially reading Daniel's take on the dark knight, some of those words resonated in such a visceral way that even right now typing this I'm tearing up (thankful that it's a night flight). Man, reading those words just spontaneously shook the body, especially everything about facing the misery of fundamental suffering, and "all the unskillful aspects of this wish are beaten out of the meditator with a force equal to the suffering caused by them." Daniel man, if you're reading this, i now understand the meaning of compassion, I wouldn't wish this suffering on the devil himself. Remembering what you said about the flip side of suffering was a saving grace, whenever there is suffering there is compassion. Love you man.

3 determination days. First one consisted of making a resolution after the walking meditation and before the sitting meditation only once. Second one consisted of different timed walking/sitting rounds, and counting how many times my head nodded, and after reviewing the counts, the third determination day consisted of some metta phrases and a resolution to experience a "peaceful cessation" for 5 minutes before each sit. Let me tell you, there was no "peaceful cessation". Though I did believe it happened at one point.

Jeesh, this is getting too long already. Let me cut to it, I managed to get through day one and two, but couldn't muster the strength for day three, I broke and tried to sleep 6 hours before meeting with Bhante.

I began to hear voices (not in my head, but 'out there'), nothing spooky or overly violent/aggressive (though it went there at times), but very clear, and music, oh god the music, it seemed like every stage had a different theme song. I can hear some kind of choir/chanting right now on the plane as I type this on my iPad. Some dudes are yowling away. Shrieking, yelling, heavenly sounds. At one point at the end of a sit, I heard voices that seemed to be narrating what I was thinking. I caught on to this, and started intentionally directing the voices, it was actually very fun. During the walking, after every note, the voices would quickly follow in a sing-songy way. The two days after the ap event the vibrations got intense, in my head it felt like a dentist was doing brain surgery, I couldn't believe it. Extremely high pitched frequencies, and when I focused on one, it split off into another higher frequency. Mind storm most def.

I read dan's suggestion on what to do during re-observation, specifically to "amplify the sense of being torn apart" and focus on the periphery of attention, and I did. Plus, making sure I also followed the rise and fall, and the touching points. When I did amplify the sound, I did notice my attention widening, felt like my forehead was stretching. This took some effort. One instance I did it for like 20 minutes straight and thought I broke something, after getting up the frequencies didn't go away fro a while, so I backed off a bit. Things eventually become tolerable, there were moments during the sitting where I noticed the lessening of vibrations, and a shift occurred, it felt like a when you're in the ocean and a slight wave passes though, like ohh. I'm somewhere else now. This is what I thought to be low eq. I dipped there more and more. I noticed I was making progress because one thing I started discovering about walking meditation was that there seemed to be a delay. For example, I started to notice the harsh, and chaotic vibrations first during the sitting, then it wasn't until a few hours in that I started noticing them during the walking. Which I have to say, was very debilitating, vibrations all the time, so fast I couldn't believe I wasn't screaming them away. Plus, the fact that I wasn't sleeping really did me in. Sensations around my throat were the most intense, that spot that tenses up every time I note or consciously think thoughts and read.

There was something else that was happening that I found almost magical. After the settling of the high chaotic frequencies, on some sits and during walking, I started noticing more tingling and spread out goosebumps sensations. And the vibrations weren't random anymore, they were only occurring in places where the body was most tense. On their own, like some nano machines with powerful lasers, as if the chaotic vibrations were now on my side and used their power to heal me. After a sit, I would feel amazing, during the walking, the vibrations occurred around my throat, temples and head, consistently lessening tension. I took it as a sign that I was doing something right, that I was becoming more accepting, less aversive. I don't know.

I know I was in re-ob, because I noticed a relief when I felt that shift into a more calm and equanimous state. The descriptions of the vibrations and frequencies matched my experience in an uncanny way. But I started slacking, I stopped investigating, I felt exhausted, in my heart, I knew I gave up in a way. It also happened on the goenka retreat after day 4 (when I cried like wolf as well). Too much striving, too much striving. Not enough forgiveness.

Ok, way too long. Here's the rub.

I know I'm in the dark knight, I fact I've been here before, I think. I've been in the ap twice that I know off, once back in April and two months after (both a vortex like experience, though I didn't recognize what it was because it didn't happen while meditating), and being in the ap doesn't mean you've crossed it right? I know it won't be as intense since the dosage won't be as high, and I'm very skillful at avoiding bleed through (of course not entirely). Generally a good natured, positive dude.

I was one of those people that Dan talks about, that believes this stuff doesn't get this bad, you just power though, tough it out, a macho mediator. Na man. No more. I need to soften my heart, this experienced has shown me how much damaged I've done to myself, preventing me from really settling down and watching reality.

I honestly believe I got so far through sheer force, just powering through. That's why I couldn't believe when I hit re-ob, like what the hell do I do with this! Dan talks a lot about attention, and how the third vippasana jhana is a very different beast when it comes to attention, sitting in the center of the donut while being aware of the outer edges thing. I don't have that, clearly. How does one cultivate that, really?

If you've read through this, much metta to you. I'm looking for advice. Anything. I was planning to take it easy when I get back, explore more gently. I read once Kenneth folk's advice about post 4th nana yogis need to learn how to concentrate, and though I know it definitely took some concentration to get where i am, it's never been strong, at least in single-pointed way. What do y'all think?

So, anything? Please ask me any questions in order to clarify, I'm tired from typing at moment. I know I missed a lot and left out perhaps key details about my experience.

Can a yogi make progress off retreat with a softer more gentle approach? I want the stream, but not like I did before. I'm taking a more long term view, watch the striving and wanting a little closer.

Important note: I am not going crazy, I don't fear for my life, I am blessed with a great lady and two cats who show me great love, I'm not the despair type, I have a great sense of humor (that honestly was the main thing that really helped me through this, there was a lot of smiling at all the shit going on), i believe myself to be relatively equanimous in most life situations, etc.

Excuse the typos and all.

Thank you for your time,

RE: Trip report - looking for advice
11/4/18 1:12 PM as a reply to ham.
Yes, take it >very< easy when you get back home. No striving, no intense practice. Let yourself heal, let yourself cry, let yourself sleep. 

You definitely pushed as hard as is reasonible (actually, in my own reading, you pushed a little too hard but had a good teacher there), but now it is time to recover.

You experienced the dilemma we all face on retreat -- how to make the most of it without doing damage. I can imagine the monk's thoughts "this guy is a solid meditator! He can actually solo retreat with minimal hand-holding!" You might underestimate yourself, but you should know it is very very rare for someone to practice so well. "He's sitting well for days on end. He's answering questions honestly. He's following instructions!" and "That is clearly the A&P! This person deserves every chance at Stream Entry. I will encourage him to really extend his practice!"  He gave you dangerous directions (not necessarily wrong or right, but bold and dangerous, with an equal potential for both good results and bad results).and you made the most of it. I'm sure the monk would not fault you for sleeping on the last day, in fact I bet he expected you do sleep even earlier.

So good job! You did great. Now respect your body and mind, and let yourself relax and recover.

It can be hard going to sleep after pushing yourself so hard. Basically it's slightly traumatizing and the body is over-vigellent. You've been through basically a survival situation in terms of what your body and mind has felt and experienced.

So it's important to recognize that regaining a calm and healthy you is the most dharmic thing you could do right now. That's your goal for practice right now. 

One of the best ways to do calm down is to do metta for yourself. Connect with the goodness of the person who bravely went on retreat (yourself) and really wish these things for yourself. Say it very slowly and connect with the deep feeling of the words as you say them. (When you say "calm", induce a deep calm feeling in the body. When you say "ease", feel deeeeeeeep ease. When you say rested, feel a sense of rest pervading your body. etc.)  Imagine that you are like a lighthouse and every calm and relaxed and whole and sane feeling you have gets beamed out to the entire universe...

May I be calm and at ease.
May I be healthy, rested, and whole
May I be safe and free from all forms of danger
May I bravely face my current challenges
May I wisely avoid creating unnecessary problems
May I awaken when it is most appropriate
May I be sane and free from needless suffering
May I be happy.

If there are others you want to thank, do this for them, but make sure you end with you.

By the way, it's fine to really reduce practice for days, weeks, or a couple months. It takes a lot of time to recover from a real A&P on retreat. Basically, went through a very similar experience. Chilled out for a while, then started working with a teacher. And eventually I had a very classic SE at home, during a normal 1 hour a day sitting schedule.

After A&P the goal is to really go deeply into restful states --- and to untangle old trauma and liberate it. I personally believe that those old traumas are going to show up - no matter what - if you start cultivating restful states. They just bubble up. We create a sense of safety and then the traumas say "okay, I guess it's safe to show myself now." But no big deal, we see them clearly, we feel our old wounds, we feel sorry for ourself, we cry, we recognize that we are growing beyond those old wounds, we feel pride, we dwell in the pleasure of pride and joy of being released from old trauma... and the cycle happens many many times until we are very clear of trauma and equanimity becomes unshakable. (Oh man, I can feel the power of deep EQ in my body as I remember that time in my practice. So awesome.) 

I was working with Kenneth after my A&P retreat. It's very important to recognize that "concentratIon" is the right direction for practice now... but the word concentration is very misleading. It would be much better to say deep-centering or deep-wholeness. (The word concentration has this idea of centering, "prefix con= with or throughly, centration = centering" but in english we use it to mean "thinking really hard" which is completely wrong. You want to really comletely "dwell" in your sit

So, just to reiterate, after A&P practice changes from intensely/actively noting tiny individual sensations into something that is more lush, maybe more emotional, broader bandwidth, definitely potentially troubling (but a kind of trouble where you don't need to "penetrate" the trouble but rather allow it to arise, wash over you, and pass on it's own and it will leave behind a mini-insight about that trouble), and if light jhanas  or full jhanas happen, simply dwell in them guilt free. If you feel pleasure in your ear lobe, just enjoy the pleasure of your ear lobe. Don't worry about maps or hindrances or meditation theory. Just dwell in any joy or pleasure, soak in it. Those pleasurable meditation states will condition your mind and help make it so slippery that you slip right into SE.

Most importantly, spend lots of time hugging your wife and playing with your cats!!! emoticon

Wishing you deep belly breaths in the near future!!!

Best wishes and again -- well done!

RE: Trip report - looking for advice
11/4/18 8:01 PM as a reply to shargrol.
You are a treasure. Thank you shargrol for your wisdom and guidance, deeply appreciated! 

I wrote down the phrases and put them up on the wall where I sit. I sat for an hour this morning. 

40 minutes in, there was a sense of deep relaxation and calm that took over, with soft diffused light behind the eyelids and a sense of resting in the body. Will be soaking and dwelling in any joy/pleasure I get from the practice, something I strangely never took seriously. 

Taking it easy I will do, cultivating restful states rings very right at the moment. 

Again, appreciate the words and encouragement. Thank you for sharing your experience as well, inspiring and hopeful! 

RE: Retreat report - looking for advice
11/5/18 5:04 AM as a reply to ham.
Wonderful! Very happy to help.