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Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)

Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/9/10 3:12 AM
This is my first posting and I'm feeling strangely nervous or embarressed about it (why I don't know?).
I'd also like to say that this is most likely to be a very long post. I hope I don't get too indulgent in any personal 'crap'.
It's hard to know where to start. It's been on my mind to seek help here for about a month.

I did my first meditation retreat in 2001 - a Goenka retreat in Thailand and although it was very difficult I was amazed by the teachings and just thought 'wow' this is really good stuff.
Since that time I have followed the technique as prescribed on many Goenka courses in several countries. To date I have sat 21 including a 20-day and two 30-day courses.
As many of you know the Goenka courses are very strict and you're not supposed to practice anything else.

However about 5 years ago I first read a biography about a Thai Monk Acariya Mun (died 1949), and was just blown away by his life story. I was also beginning to wonder why it is that on Goenka retreats the only emphasis is really given to formal sitting meditation and yet I was reading about these Thai Forest monks who were into a lot of walking meditation and also chanting "Buddho" (or Dhammo or Sangho). On Goenka retreats he says that SLOW walking is absolutely prohibited.

About a year and half ago I began to move away from the Goenka tradition (I felt like a defector!) and I did a couple of retreats at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery in England (where I'm from). I also did a 21-day Mahasi style retreat recently in Northern Thailand with slow walking but it was also a blend of a curious 28-points Vipassana technique derived by a Thai monk called Ajahn Tong. (He wasn't there though - he's very very old now and is resident at another monastery).

So, I just wanted to set the background because after all these retreats and having read many many Dhamma books over the last few years I HAVE NEVER EVER HAD ANY KIND OF 'OH MY GOD' EXPERIENCES WHILST ON MEDITATION RETREAT. !!!!!

Okay. Let me try and explain something, because I feel like I'm at a dead end. (I'll be using some anguage which is used a lot on those Goenka retreats).

After my first Goenka retreat 9 years ago which was incredibly difficult and very physically painful, but I really understood his Dhamma talks from the off, like on an intellectual level, not an actual one.

Now on about Day 4 or 5, he says quite clearly in his talk something like " Some of you will start experiencing a free flow on the 7th day or 8th day or 9th day or even the 10th day. For some it might take 2 or 3 courses".

So, after all that pain I suffered but having great belief in his teaching and technique I went back for more. And what happened? More of the same. Grossness. Severe Grossness and Unbelievably painful Grossness (as in gross sensations) as well as emotional pain too of course.

So, after a few courses like this I went to see a teacher and said, you know Goenka said blah blah blah and now I'm on my (can't remember 6th or 7th course) and nothing is happening. So the teacher quite rightly pointed out that I wasn't accepting what is (pain) and was craving something that was not. So, I persevered. And believe me I sat in Addhithana on some courses for even longer than 1 hour in severe pain and sometimes (I think) reached fairly high levels of equanimity/acceptance of what I was experiencing.
After many many many courses, I was still "body scanning" as it were on the outside. Part by part. Part by part. Never any freeflow to speak of. Okay..... just a little occasional like VERY thick gloopy syrup but not " a bucket of water tipped over your head" as Goenka would say. So, because I had or rather have no freeflow I can't yet go inside the body as per the Goenka instrudtions..

I remember on the 30 day course when I went for student checking on the 20th day, and the teacher asked me how it was going and how I was working and she did a double take when I said I was still working part by part. By this stage Goenka is starting to talk about very high stages and states and what obstacles you may or may not encounter. (I felt like a fraudster). Goenka says that as your development in the Dhamma deepens, then should instruction given also deepen accordingly. Well I felt like I was still in the same place as I was after my first course!!! years before. So, I was listening to stuff that had no relevance to me at all. Yes I could understand it. But again, just an intellectual understanding. Nothing experiential. Actual. Nothing REAL.

All the teachers I ever spoke to just said the same stuff. Stop craving for this. Stop having aversion for that. Remain equanimous.

Course after course the same. Sometimes it became so boring. Just observe the boredom. I did plenty of that. Just observe the pain. The pain is also pretty boring after a while.

I just sit there like some bundle of grossness.

I've heard of other students talking about amazing experiences with incredible rushes and heart palpitations and energy coursing through the body. And I can't relate to it at all. So far I've talked mainly about the incredible physical pain I've suffered on courses. But believe me, the emotional pain has been even worse. Sadness and Depression. Loneliness which sometimes hits unbelievable depths. Also passion. I've rolled in passion and lust on some courses which I guess is par for the course for a lot of people.

Sometimes I wonder:
"I don't need to keep experiencing all of that. And accepting all of that. Why don't I do what most of society does and just "drown my sorrows" get blind drunk. Go to bars and night clubs etc etc to try and escape the pain of existence? Be promiscuous
Why? Well of course because I just KNOW that the Buddha wasn't bullshitting. I really believe in the Dhamma. But that's the problem. It's just a belief. It's not knowledge derived from actual first hand experience".

My anapanasati is pants. I can rarely hold it together for a minute. In a whole hour, the majority is spent rolling in thought.
When people talk about the jhanas, is it any wonder that I feel it's just totally out of my league?
Christ, I can't even get access concentration.

Okay, once maybe in all these courses did I have something that might be approaching access concentration for a few minutes. I was fully focused (for me) and then it was like all the sounds in the meditation hall just dropped away. If people started to cough or sneeze or fidget or whatever, my hearing awareness of that had almost disappeared.
So, after 9 years and 20 odd courses that's about the size of it.

This struck me as a bit odd, to seemingly keep running on the same spot for so long. It caused me to remember a couple of
experiences that happened to me many years ago and before i ever even did a meditation course. I rarely think about these events because it's so long ago now (15+ years) and maybe I just don't know what to make of them.

It was probably around 1995. I was running along the towpath by the River Thames in London. I used to do a lot of running in those days. Now, for some reason on that particular day, as I was running along I began to repeat in my mind "Aye Christ, Aye Christ, Aye Christ" as in "I am Christ" (not as in the person but as in Christ Consciousness). [I can't recall what led me to do that but I think amongst other things I was reading a lot of Alice Baily writings at the time]. As I said this over and over again it began to feel like I was aqua planing. It had been raining and there were many puddles on the path and it seemed like as though I was beginning to skim over them and not actually step through them. So, this went of for a while until I reached Kew bridge and began to turn back (I timed my run to be about an hour. Half hour out and back). As I continued in this manner running quite fast - for me - and repeating or chanting if you like the mantra "Aye Christ Aye Christ" over and over I suddenly had the thought that I could walk on water and why don't I test it out by leaping off the side of the towpath and into the Thames. I thought this for a while as I still continued with the mantra and my running whilst considering doing exactly that when suddenly - it's difficult to explain - but I felt this force. This surge of energy coming very quickly up as if from behind me and enter me and go "Whumpfff!" as I suddenly took off with an incredible surge of energy I've never felt the likes of before or since. It was such that I felt as if I continued in this vein I'd be able to hurdle Richmond Bridge when I reached it!!
However, as soon as this surge came I suddenly felt fearful. As soon as i got scared then, Poooff! It was gone. It only lasted for a few - maybe only 10 to 20 seconds - I'm not sure exactly. Immediately afterwards it began to rain. In fact it was a downpour for the last 15 to 20 minutes of my run. But I didnt' care. I felt exhilarated. I was incredibly high.

Needless to say, when I went on my next 2 or 3 runs. I went looking for that same experience. I tried to repeat it but it never came back of course. Then, as time went on I practically forgot all about it. Until now, for some reason. Maybe because "something" whatever it was, happened and which I can't explain, but it's more than I can say ever happened for over 9 years and 20 odd meditation courses!

The other experience happened around the same time. I think afterwards and probably within the same 12 month period.
I was in my bedroom. At the time I was sleeping on a Japanese style futon matress on the floor, and I had a mirrorred wall tile which just happened to be propped up against the skirting board near the top of my head. I think the time was around dawn. I was lying face down on my belly, and as I looked up I stared at myself straight into the mirror. I saw a feint light at my third eye glimmer briefly. It was just like you turned on a torch in which the battery is practically out of juice and the light flickers on at only about 10-20% of full brightness and then dies. There was nothing special or dramatic about this experience and I may have been so unmoved by it as to just fall back to sleep.

So, I don't know what to make about any of the above really. However, a few months ago a good friend of mine told me to get hold of a copy of MCTB which I duly did. However, in the last year or so, I have been reading very little because none of it seems to make any difference and it's all theory. I have plenty of intellectual understanding knocking around inside but little real insight it seems to me.
So, as a consequence I haven't finished reading MCTB. And I've read it almost casually. That is until last night.

As I was reading the chapter on The Progress of Insight, I was reading section 9 on "Desire For Deliverance" (p.222) and I just thought "THAT IS ME. EXACTLY ME". If you had tried to sum up my life in the last 5 years or so, you couldn't have done it more accurately.

Forgive me for repeating much of it but I'm astounded:
At this stage we are:
"Fed up with the whole thing" Yup, me.
"most likely to quit their jobs and go on a long spiritual quest" Yup, did that two years ago.
"Fascination with celibacy as somehow being 'a higher spiritual path' Yup, me.
"A tendency to get one's life and finances in order so that one can leave the world for a time and come back to without having to worry about such things for a while" Yes, me too. Thought I was going to become a monk.
But after the last retreat in November I finally realized after much suffering in the last 5 -7 years that I wasn't. (Too much attachment to my wife of 12 years? And thoughts for my aging parents). It has really ripped me up inside and now, finally I feel a great sense of relief that I'm not going to don the robes (and learn all that Pali chanting!!!).

But what I can't understand is that, if we back track a bit (and these stages are supposed to be sequential right?), so I can relate a little to 1. Mind and Body but....
3. The Three Characteristics - "become clearer and clearer, as well as faster and faster" No. That's not happened.
4. The Arising and Passing Away - this stage tends to be "very impressive" Erm....... as you can see from above I've never had anything impressive on a retreat. Only that experience whilst running.

Am In in "The Dark Night?" How long can it last? Is it possible to be in it for years or even decades?

The funny thing is, despite all the crap, I'm still going to keep on trying. I'm still going to keep plugging away. But I need to change my approach. Suggestions please?
I'm intending to vist Pa Auk Forest Monastery in Burma soon and stay for 3 months.
I seem to be in a rut. I get such intense emotional pain these days (much more pronounced on courses, of course) and I try to just observe it, not push it away, not even want to make it go away. just to accept that deep level of hurt and pain. It is tough at times. of course it is. And it's interesting to note that it's not always there so strongly although it's often hovering in the background. At the suggestion of the lovely warm hearted monk on the last course I've tried to welcome the pain as a friend. He told me to say "Welcome, you're my friend and I can take care of you". To see that as a form of self-metta.

If you have made it this far. Thank you so much. And I look forward to any responses to the above.


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/9/10 4:30 AM as a reply to Piers M.
hi piers,

welcome to the dho.

more than just a few meditators who spent years developing butt-rot on intensive retreat have made progress following a substantial re-evaluation of their approach to (and enactment of) their meditation practice. as to where you are on the progress of insight, i cannot say for certain, though your mysterious dedication to practice (despite perceiving such a lack of success as you have) does strike me as being that of a practitioner who has passed through the arising and passing territory (and has known the compulsion to keep going that the dark night is). further, it is not unheard of for some practitioners to pass their time in dark night territory bored and in an uneventful manner.. even for years. i know of one goenka-style practitioner who spent close to a decade in this territory, during which time she continued to practice (despite having more or less given up on having the profound experiences she had heard reported by so many others). after some time, much of her baseline shifted to equanimity regarding formations, and she might have even gotten first path; in any case, her life got a whole lot better (by her account), and so it seems her persistence paid off.

as for suggestions on changing your approach: have you considered trying noting practice as recommended in MCTB? it will be similar to what you learnt at ajahn tong's place (as ajahn tong's instructions are, as i understand, a more structured and complex form of the mahasi method). one thing which ingram emphasises, which may not be as clearly conveyed in other instructions, is that a meditator should practice with an intense and potentially overwhelming effort, funnelling his total attention and energy into the practice during every single second of a meditation session (and every split-second if possible). this massive amount of relentless engagement may be just the boost you need (particularly since it won't permit you the opportunity to be concerned about whether you're experiencing the right things or the wrong things, the right way or the wrong way); provided you are not ordinarily prone to mania and self-harm (you did mention, among other things, intense emotional pain, sadness, and depression), i tentatively recommend ingram's instructions (though the decision of what to practice and all its consequences rest entirely on you). if practising according to this method interests you, re-read the first part of MCTB ('the fundamentals') for details on how he recommends doing insight practice and then set to it.


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/9/10 5:23 AM as a reply to Piers M.
Piers Mackeown:

My anapanasati is pants. I can rarely hold it together for a minute. In a whole hour, the majority is spent rolling in thought.
When people talk about the jhanas, is it any wonder that I feel it's just totally out of my league?
Christ, I can't even get access concentration.


Hey Piers,

Flashback! A lot of what you talked about, I went through myself. I would follow Tarin's advice to take up noting. i switched to noting from body sweeping (I was a Goenka follower for 9 years) and within a short time, stream entry was attained.
And account of the 10 day course where it happened:
I didn't follow instructions but did my own thing in order to get it done. Therefore I 100% back Tarin's advice if you want to progress quickly to stream entry.

For you comment above, have you tried giving your mind "more to do", so that it does not wander?

One way, which I believe could help yogis stay with the breath 24/7, would be to not allow the mind to wander off and get sidetracked by overloading the mind with enough work to do that it has no space to wander and get distracted. When we observe an object of concentration like the breath, I speculate that we don’t often lend a full 100% of our attention to that object. Perhaps 60% on the object and 40% caught up in pleasant sensations, a thought of an non-existent future or past, lost in some fantasy or story or distracted by sounds or bodily discomfort. The mind is giving fuel to the strong tendency to proliferate stories, mental reactions, judgments, fantasies, memories and just plain old mental masturbation.

So, what if you gave the mind no fuel to do that? What about giving that fuel to an “extra” job for the mind to do. When you observe the incoming and outgoing breath, you sense its touch at the entrance at the nostrils and above the upper lip. Along with this awareness, you could also become aware of the very act of perceiving the breath. That is, you are aware of the object, the breath as it goes in and out naturally, but you are also aware that that the mind is perceiving the breath. Try it! It actually works wonders in maintaining the mind in one spot and it is then able to truly pay 100% attention to the object.

"When the meditator breathes in a long breath, he comprehends that he is breathing in a long breath; and when he is breathing out a long breath, he comprehends that he is breathing out a long breath." The Buddha, The anapanasati sutta

In the quote above, the Buddha advised to "comprehend" when one is breathing in and when one is breathing out. If the yogi is just aware of the touch of breath but does not pay closer attention to comprehend how it comes in and goes out, the mind is left with a lot of space to start wandering and getting distracted. And this is what I mean when I say you could pay attention to the very act of perceiving the process of breathing in and out. This gives the mind more to do and less space to get distracted and thus will hone your concentration skills to greater heights. The more you do this, the more concentrated you get and you may possibly reach and access the jhanic territory (jhanas=mental absorptions).

This is some advice Tarin had for soemone else, which wasn't related to anapanasati. But in my opinion it can be used to recitfy the wandering, mental mastibating mind.

"What I mean by 'the sense of seeing' is, literally, what it is to experience seeing directly; to perceive is to be engaged in a lively activity and is what is meant by paying attention. Yet, such attention is likely to tend toward proliferating stories and fabrications, from persistent reflection and mental commentary on one hand (when concentration is weak and/or scattered) to outright hallucination on the other (when concentration is powerful and/or focused). Those proliferations are to be avoided. How may these proliferations be avoided? By otherwise engaging the proliferating tendency. How may the proliferating tendency be otherwise engaged? By applying the mind further. To what further apply the mind? To the apprehension (of more) of what is happening. What more is happening (that is not yet engaged)? The apprehension of (the apprehension of) perception itself.

To apprehend perception directly is necessarily also to apprehend that apprehension is occurring, and to experience in such a manner is to experience cleanly and clearly, entirely engagedly and encompassedly, incuding the bodily sense of such experience. To see not just what the eye sees but what it is to see is therefore to see cleanly and clearly, entirely engagedly and encompassedly, including the bodily sense of such seeing. Seeing in this manner engages the energies which otherwise fuel the proliferating tendency, and so avoids such proliferation. Further, experiencing seeing as a bodily sense leads to deeper insight into what the body is, and what perceiving is." Tarin

If you are interested I wrote what one could do on a Goenka courses to up the odds of getting stream entry here:

But seeing as you seem open to trying a different technique, plenty of yogis have made the switch from sweeping to noting and made fast progress to stream entry.

Hope this helps,


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/9/10 5:39 AM as a reply to Piers M.
Hi Piers welcome to the DhO.

Tarin's advice is on the mark. In general, I have the following approach: "If it's not causing me to make progress, do something else for a while." Don't sell out to any fixed practice: the best meditative technique is the one that works for you right now, and that might mean different techniques at different times. For instance: for me, getting to stream entry required a completely different approach than getting to second path, and it seems that nailing third path is a whole different beast altogether.

I've read your report, and these symptoms seem to be the dark night hanging over your head. The event you had while running fits A&P very nicely, as it can certainly make one feel that one can walk over water.

The Goenka teaching is inefficient and flawed in many ways, you are not the first Goenka student to notice that, and you are not likely to be the last. Quite a few Goenka students ended up at DhO and KFD, and some eventually got all the way to stream entry by making the appropriate changes in their practice.

One of these students, Nikolay, has amassed a collection of tips specifically directed towards helping these people get to stream entry:

Maybe these will be helpful.

Take care.

RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/10/10 12:03 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Thanks for your response Tarin.
as for suggestions on changing your approach: have you considered trying noting practice as recommended in MCTB? it will be similar to what you learnt at ajahn tong's place

Yes, I'm thinking that perhaps Mahasi style might be good to try. The instructions given at the Ajahn Tong affiliated place (Doi Suthep Monastery) were a bit loose. And also, I wasn't noting all the time (I had asked about this and was told just during formal walking/sitting was all that was necessary). The place is rather relaxed and definitely not a boot camp.
Maybe I ought to go to MBMC which Daniel Ingram rates highly? Maybe I'll receive the necessary Mahasi style instructions there.
As mentioned I was planning to go to Pa Auk in Burma, but it's not Mahasi and will involve lots of cushion time (whereas perhaps I need some more walking too). On the other hand, D.I. says that you do need to develop some measure of concentration in order to progress further.

provided you are not ordinarily prone to mania and self-harm (you did mention, among other things, intense emotional pain, sadness, and depression)

No, I'm definitely not prone to mania or self-harm. (I've usually have enough misery to contend with as it is without adding to it in that way). This emotional stuff is perhaps what E. Tolle refers to as the pain-body. I'm still working with it. It's a question of just trying to stand back and not get sucked in to it which I'm trying to do.


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/10/10 12:05 PM as a reply to Piers M.
Piers Mackeown:
Thanks for your response Tarin.

you're welcome.

Piers Mackeown:
Maybe I ought to go to MBMC which Daniel Ingram rates highly? Maybe I'll receive the necessary Mahasi style instructions there.

if you are located in the uk, the london burmese buddhist vihara may be worth contacting, as from the look of their website, they offer opportunities for long retreats:

Piers Mackeown:

As mentioned I was planning to go to Pa Auk in Burma, but it's not Mahasi and will involve lots of cushion time (whereas perhaps I need some more walking too). On the other hand, D.I. says that you do need to develop some measure of concentration in order to progress further.

pa auk is very concentration-heavy; they aim for hard jhana in accordance with the instructions found in the commentarial tradition. that's harder than the measure of concentration ingram recommends. i personally know nothing about pa auk firsthand.


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/10/10 9:10 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
Actually, I'm located in Thailand/S.E. Asia at the moment (and conceivably for a few months to come).

I just wanted to add that despite all the "crap" I mentioned above, you wondered, not surprisingly:

tarin greco:
as to where you are on the progress of insight, i cannot say for certain, though your mysterious dedication to practice (despite perceiving such a lack of success as you have) does strike me as being that of a practitioner who has passed through the arising and passing territory (and has known the compulsion to keep going that the dark night is). further, it is not unheard of for some practitioners to pass their time in dark night territory bored and in an uneventful manner.. even for years. tarin

The reason I continue to practice is just simply because somewhere inside of me I do believe it's possible to "make a breakthrough" despite my poor track record. Further, I am incredibly grateful to have seemingly "stumbled" on the path of Dharma. Grateful to Goenka (even though not getting that far under that system) and many others. I also realize that I am very fortunate to even be aware of the Dharma and on a material/conditional level I'm lucky enough that I'm currently not working and so do have the time to devote to practice. I have many reasons to be grateful - to my wife who is understanding enough to let me go off (and that too amazingly - you might think - despite that she doesn't practice herself at all). Heck, I'm grateful for having found out about this forum and for the likes of you and Nikolai and Bruno for responding.
So, despite the apparent bleakness, I can also find plenty of positives too.

Quite honestly, I'm would be at a loss to know what else to do in life really (on some levels) because I have a general disinterest in most mainstream goings on in society. I continue to be amazed at humanity in general, and why more people don't want to address the fundamental questions as to "why on earth we are here and what's life really all about?". It's something I first began to think about as a child.

Thanks again, Piers.

RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/10/10 9:52 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Nick, thanks so much for your advice and the links you have provided.
Whilst I'm not ruling out doing a Goenka course ever again, for the time being I think I need to spend it elsewhere and learn how to practice properly Mahasi style. I still haven't got to grips at all with this noting business.
Perhaps you or anyone else out there reading this could explain more as to what you are actually noting (and what's the sort of wording too).

For example on my last course which was a blend of Mahasi and something else (not necessary to go into detail here on that -it's a curious 28-point vipassana system developed by Ajahn Tong).
I was doing slow walking and noting the movements of my foot eg. "lifting right foot, moving, lowering, touching, placing". At times, when my mind wandered off, I was instructed to note "thinking, thinking, thinking" slowly and just 3 times and then come back to the object of my foot movements. Similarly, if an emotion arose eg. sadness, I was to note this again slowly 3 times: "Sadness, Sadness, Sadness" with the emphasis on not getting caught up in the story and just accepting it and coming straight back to noting the movements of the foot again.

Since the intensity of my emotions was very strong and very constand at times, I was unsure as to how often I should repeat the process of noting the emotion over noting the movement of the foot.

Further, I need some advice on what to do during "break" times when you're going about doing your business at a normal walking pace. When you are eating. When you are washing your clothes by hand etc. I had asked the teacher on that course what to do, but he had said I didn't need to note outside of formal practice, and to just be aware of the moment and what you are doing was good enough. I now realize from reading MCTB and other writings on the net, such as contained in your links that that is not enough and the noting needs to be 24-7.

Also, during periods of sitting meditation, Nick, were you observing or do you still observe your breath at the nostrils or the rising and falling of the abdomen which is what I was instructed to do at Doi Suthep. Having only ever tried anapanasati at the nostrils before over a 9 year period this other approach felt uncomfortable. Also, the constant noting of "rising" and "falling" of the abdomen became at times annoying because the thinking (noting) "got in the way" and I would at times start to observe the rising and falling with bare awareness (i.e. no thought), although only briefly (maybe up to half a minute or a minute max not sure) before coming back to noting.


RE: Help/Advice/Guidance sought. (Please)
12/10/10 10:45 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Thanks also, Bruno, for your reply and the link.
Regards, Piers.

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