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Newbie asks first retreat questions

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Newbie asks first retreat questions
10 day retreat
Answer
4/12/19 1:54 AM
Update :  Many thanks to everyone for your thoughtful replies and the time you took to do so.

Hello.

I'm considering going on my first retreat.  I've been doing Zen Soto for over ten years, one and a half hours a week, more weeks than not each year.  More recently I've added listening to Michael Taft's Deconstructing Yourself podcast.  Much inspiring stuff there, especially the discussions with Daniel Ingram  I also use Sam Harris' Waking Up app, having been inspired by his book of the same name and his podcast.

I'd like to go on my first ten day retreat.  From listening to Sam's work I think I'd like to try a Vipassana retreat.  I've located a website www.dhamma.org that has pointed me towards the Dhamma Mahi in Bourgogne, France (I live in the French Alps.)  They have a course in July following the teachings of S.N. Goenka.

My questions :
1. Is this place well known and well spoken of ?  Might it be a good place to try my first multi-day retreat ?  Are there other places in France / Switzerland that I could/should also consider ?

2. The schedule is tight.  I'd finish the 10-day retreat and the next day I'd fly to California.  And the following day I'd be working on a trade show floor selling my company's products.  While I'm a CEO and a very experienced traveller I don't have any idea what kind of a mental state I might be in after the retreat.  While I expect no one to be able to accurately tell me what I'll be feeling in the future, does the basic idea of finishing a retreat and then hopping on a plane to go meet with customers on a trade show floor all day long for several days raise any red flags with anyone ?  As in, "Oh good grief, people after retreats on average need transitional time."  Or, "Well if he's going to rush back into working full steam, what's the point of his retreat?"  An alternative would be to put off the retreat to later, possibly the fall.

Thanks in advance,
Richard

RE: Newbie asks first retreat questions
Answer
4/9/19 8:49 AM as a reply to Richard.
Dhammacari in Germany could be a good option.
Goenka retreats contain one extra day of integration, and you will probably have one extra day of travel after that, which means you have two days of cool-down time after the intense Vipassana part. That should be enough.
Of course, something could go wrong (unlikely though), but I guess you already knew that.

RE: Newbie asks first retreat questions
Answer
4/9/19 9:54 AM as a reply to Richard.
Hi and welcome!

I haven’t been on any multi-day retreat myself yet so I can’t speak from my own experience, but I have read many different reports from Goenka retreats. They seem to be a very intense experience for good and for bad, especially for those who are new to meditation. Since you have a solid background within meditation, you are probably well prepared, but a Goenka retreat is still much more intense than a weekly practice. Do you have any idea of where you are on the dharma maps? In certain stages Goenka’s vipassana seems to boost the progression very rapidly for many people, and if that would be the case for you, then it is a possibility that you might find that you would need more time to let things settle after the retreat, especially since they do not offer much individual guidance in those cases according to what I have heard. Do you have a sangha or a teacher that could help with intense experiences if they were to arise? Would it be possible to change your plans after the retreat if needed?

RE: Newbie asks first retreat questions
Answer
4/9/19 5:55 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Hi Richard

It’s great you’ve taken the time to ask. As stated, Day 10 is mostly socialising and chatting, and first thing on Day 11 you depart, after which you’d be travelling and maybe interacting with people. So you should be pretty well ready for work. They structure it like that, so it’s generally known to work. 

Apart from major psych difficulties that you don’t know about that might come up and then cause trouble after the retreat (highly unlikely, right?), the only trouble can be that some yogis on Goenka retreats hit the A&P Event and emerge from the retreat feeling like god or a guru or just plain awesome, among other possible states. And while that sounds cool, it can have big fallout implications in daily life, like talking non-stop about meditation, etc. So if you’re someone who can go to work on a big hangover and function really well as if nothing is up, then I’d say you’re someone with the levelheadedness to be able to handle even this possible outcome. 

I hope that helps...

RE: Newbie asks first retreat questions
Answer
4/10/19 10:06 AM as a reply to Richard.
Hi Paul,

How exciting to be getting ready to go on your first retreat! You've made a great first step in reaching out to others for guidance on how to proceed. A couple of points:

1. It's always very important that you have clear intentions for your practice, but especially when doing something intensive like a retreat. Why are you practicing? What is your purpose in going on retreat? You mention reading Sam Harris, a public intellectual who speaks of practicing for "benefits" which is a common mistake. Harris may not be the best choice for guidance if you actually want to wake up. Michael Taft is a good choice, though.

2. It is typical for there to be a transitional period the first few days after a retreat where one may have a lot of emotional reactivity and generally feel toxic. Impossible to say for sure how much of an issue there will be for you, but best be prepared.

3. Goenka retreat centers have the advantage of being ubiquitous, cheap, and easily accessible. Many people have reported good success on their retreats especially at earlier stages. But they are also well known for not providing very good support for students when they run into trouble. So your mileage may vary. If you are interested in vipassana and like Daniel Ingram's work, you might consider a retreat at a Mahasi center as that is the style he writes about in MCTB. I don't know anything about this particular center, but their website says they run Mahasi retreats in France: http://sakyamuni-vipassana.fr/

B
est wishes for your practice!

RE: Newbie asks first retreat questions
Answer
4/10/19 11:38 PM as a reply to Richard.
Richard:
Hello.

I'm considering going on my first retreat.  I've been doing Zen Soto for over ten years, one and a half hours a week, more weeks than not each year.  More recently I've added listening to Michael Taft's Deconstructing Yourself podcast.  Much inspiring stuff there, especially the discussions with Daniel Ingram  I also use Sam Harris' Waking Up app, having been inspired by his book of the same name and his podcast.

I'd like to go on my first ten day retreat.  From listening to Sam's work I think I'd like to try a Vipassana retreat.  I've located a website www.dhamma.org that has pointed me towards the Dhamma Mahi in Bourgogne, France (I live in the French Alps.)  They have a course in July following the teachings of S.N. Goenka.

My questions :
1. Is this place well known and well spoken of ?  Might it be a good place to try my first multi-day retreat ?  Are there other places in France / Switzerland that I could/should also consider ?

2. The schedule is tight.  I'd finish the 10-day retreat and the next day I'd fly to California.  And the following day I'd be working on a trade show floor selling my company's products.  While I'm a CEO and a very experienced traveller I don't have any idea what kind of a mental state I might be in after the retreat.  While I expect no one to be able to accurately tell me what I'll be feeling in the future, does the basic idea of finishing a retreat and then hopping on a plane to go meet with customers on a trade show floor all day long for several days raise any red flags with anyone ?  As in, "Oh good grief, people after retreats on average need transitional time."  Or, "Well if he's going to rush back into working full steam, what's the point of his retreat?"  An alternative would be to put off the retreat to later, possibly the fall.

Thanks in advance,
Richard
Preamble Warning: I am a beginner. I have had the unfathomable good fortune of coming in contact with the dhamma and wish to understand & serve it to my best abilities. I am so grateful, like, how did we get here? This sky! This earth! What? I've seen first hand how mindfulness transfigures suffering into gratitude and joy (things you previously would suffer over). Saying that, (since this seems to be the tendency here) I rate myself somewhere pre-stream entry around the A&P. 

My specific intentions in going on retreats are to understand suffering / the stress in my life / stress & distress generally, feeligns of pain and mental anguish and so on, and the processes that give rise to those things, because I feel by doing so, I can skillfully adapt conditions and make choices that lead to less of it and more happiness for myself and those around me emoticon

Context: 3 goenka 10days, 3 serves, 14 days with Christopher titmus, 20 in U Pandita (Mahasi style, teacher: Vivekananda)

OK, here's the advice you asked for solicited from the random stranger on the internet:.... 

Recommend: Titmuss & co (also recommend student ulla-koenig who has some upcoming retreats in .eu too)
Super-recommend but maybe later: U Pandita's students - e.g. Sayadaw Vivekananda is in France soon.

I started with Goenka. I would go with mahasi-style or christopher titmus. Goenka retreats are *very intense* AND the assistant teachers are other volunteer students who have sat more courses so their advice is variable, but I don't think always good (this is not to be faulted among them who try their best & sincere servants of the dhamma who give wholehearted effort & metta, it's the way the whole set up is... and I feel their restrictions on longer courses is because people do cook themselves... it's a very intense practice and if one practices wrongly the consequences 5 days down the track can be disasterous, whereas a mahasi centre with daily interviews & checking in is happy to often have a beginner stay, even longer than the longest goenka course, there's regular checking in on you, regular tayloring of instructions specific to your conditioning and where you are at, and so on). For me, what I fucked up by going to Goenka, but had some good beginner ideas about when I was doing some ad-hoc soto practice at home before is 'right effort' and I feel everything in Goenka's discourses don't understand the pitfalls of how we in the west understand terms like 'concentration', 'work' and 'effort'. Considering the wealth of experience, a great deal of mahasi teachers (the monks/nuns) who has spent time in west / are western are full-time and can help avoid serious pitfalls. Many goenka "assistant teachers" are part-time volunteers. Many Mahasi teachers, have been on the equivalent of a full time teaching (interviews 6 days a week) for 9 months of the year (exception: 3 months rains retreat) for over a decade or 20 years. A subtle correction on Day 3 can save a hell of a lot of terrible striving and the bad effects. Mahasi discipline is comparable to, but not as intense as a Goenka course (there's walking, less breaks, but timetable much the same). Goenka can lead to "efforting" or "forcing concentration" or "bearing down" and all of the piousness & unbalanced moralism that can come from that with some students. Goenka also has some cultural baggage that has to do with being a mechant caste indian (no onions & garlic in the food, subtle patriarchies... his wife just sits there the whole time not speaking, separation of the sexes, and so on)

I also mentioned christopher titmuss, he has upcoming retreats in the .eu, also his student ulla koenig, that would be the best gentlest introduction to multi-day retreat and also is likely to inspire you to practice more.

With goenka I didn't feel that inspiration to practice, I thought practice was like something I "should" do and so on. I don't blame him and the tradition, I think it's the real dhamma, I just think the whole institutional set up and the videos and so on, just why go with that when you can get a teacher you can interview with daily and a group of 20-30 people?

The other thing is in the early stages at least Goenka teaches mindfulness of body, but almost completely dismisses all the other aspects of our experience, this caused me to think things like thoughts were bad. He says in the instructions "pay them no attention". But actually, if you notice them, they disappear on their own. This sort of made me annoyed when I realized this because that silly thing is being repeated in instructions again and again and who knows how much harm could be prevented.

There you go,

Wonder if I will ever be allowed back to a goenka retreat now this is on the internet emoticon 

TO be absolutely clear: Goenka is miles amazing. If you only had 10 days and could only get to a GOenka retreat, you have a very high likelyhood of getting to some really interesting places in the dhamma and having a great deal of suffering alieviated you previously experienced, or at least having a way to deal with that, and it's so rare and special to have this opportunity and so amazing the dana and the generosity that enables this.

Just ... being in France / .eu you have 2 amazing better options coming your way in the coming months emoticon 

https://www.christophertitmuss.net/schedule
https://www.ulla-koenig.com/
http://www.panditarama-lumbini.info/teaching.html#vivekananda


Meditation has inherint risks. Even on the courses with the most calm, relaxed, easeful schedules and no enforcing of discipline & people given contact and care from the teacher in the form of conversations, people can have a relapse of a psychosis or traumatic memory from 10 years ago. 


Richard you are really lucky you have turned on and decided to go on a retreat emoticon Unfathomable good fortune emoticon