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Sitting with local Vipassana group

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Sitting with local Vipassana group
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1/8/20 10:17 AM
 I know I've been posting a lot. But, like I said, I have a lot of time on my hands, a lot to talk/think about, and I love to write. 
Things will change, sooner or later. 

Anyway, there is an IMS/Spirit Rock-affiliated sangha here that meets and sits twice a week.  On Tuesday nights they are sitting and slowly going through a book on the Satipatthana practice, written by Bhikkhu Analayo. Portions of the book are read, there is a guided Satipatthana meditation led by Analayo, a long silent meditation, and discussion (lots of discussion). 

It's led by a serious teacher/practitioner who is a student of Gil Fronsdal (that part might not be up-to-date, whatever) -- she is serious, educated, and well-trained, I think. I sat with her and her group seven or eight years ago several times, including at least one day-long sit. 

I went once last month and I'm seriously thinking about participating in the group regularly for both weekly meetings. 

Anyway, this Satipatthana practice is "a direct path to awakening" and consists of contemplation of the body, feelings, mind, and the dammas and seems to focus on body scanning techniques using mindfulness of the four elements earth, air, water, and fire. That kind of thing. 

IMPRESSIONS:

-- Overall, it was an incredible experience. For the entire month of January they are focusing on Contemplation of Death (corpses and decay and all that, however there were no corpses in the room -- maybe next week?) and I found the talk and meditations on that subject fascinating, especially in light of the fact that the day before I visited my x-wife who is dying of brain cancer -- the effects of that visit linger, you bet. Plus, apparently, I'm scheduled to die at some point as well. 

-- I've been moving into a life of stronger average daily mindfulness (ADM haha) so I was really ready to sit there and be open to what was happening -- and the teacher, the room, the other students, etc, really met me where I was at and provided a great place for my mind to visit for two hours. Really wonderful and valuable. 

-- Like many of you I think, ever since being exposed to the thoughts of Ingram and Folk and others regarding Pragmatic Dharma vs. the more established teachers/groups (such as IMS, Spirit Rock, all the Zen Centers all over, you know) I can be wary/frustrated by how those non-Pragmatics treat enlightenment, transparency, the maps, etc. I don't really get all the coyness and secrecy about maps/awakening/attainments and it's kind of annoying and feels patronizing when I'm around it. (I have some experiences with those places in person and have read or listened to a LOT of talks from those groups). 

So, last night at least, individual awakening/enlightening/stream entry, any of that, -- was not mentioned. I don't think it ever came up, except in a handout I read excerpting some of Analayo's book. I have no idea where the teacher or any of the students are on the insight maps and I would never be rude enough to ask. (OMG, no way). I have idea how much the teacher even pays attention to any of that (my guess has always been that in that world such talk is reserved for student/teacher conferences, but I don't really know), or if any of the other meditators know or care anything about such subjects. That's fine though, I have no interest in being dramatic or rocking the boat and feel like I'll learn the lay of the land if I continue to participate. 

However, she talked about the three characteristics CONSTANTLY, and continuously brought all three into the discussion. 

-- Paying close attention, at first, I saw myself resisting the teacher, feeling patronized, feeling a resistance to her as an authority figure, feeling a need to make sure she knew how much I knew about all this shit, and more. BUT I felt so safe and open there, I let it all come up and investigated all the feelings/thoughts and they slowly went away, thank god. There was insight into ME ME ME I AM SO RIGHT AND CLEVER ME ME ME and a release of some of the tension/suffering around that -- some freedom. 

-- The meditation and reflections on my body parts and their inevitable end/decay (the decay is more theoretical  probably since I will be cremated if conditions are ideal I guess) brought insight that I want, and, again, find valuable, sublime even. 

-- The teacher stressed non-self a lot. She talked about how a self can't be found in the body, etc. Then, just as much, she talked about 'ourselves,' you know? What we do, what we need, what is valuable to us, how we feel, how we can feel and on and on. This is not a criticism of her at all, I'm just mentioning it to bring up a fundamental sort of tension this brings, you know? Equal time/attention to the characteristic of no-self and to OURSELVES. Interesting, to me at least. 

-- I really appreciated that the insight practices were taken so seriously and the whole thing (in spite of any criticism related to non-pragmatism/transparency) felt very hard-core and  totally sincere. That said, the teacher was very careful to warn of possible difficulties of unpleasant effects of anything being discussed or practiced (just like here), but that's just responsible and professional, I think. 

There is so much more I could go on and on about -- but that is enough for now, I think. Overall, at this moment, I can think of so many good reasons to continue with the sangha and not many reasons to avoid it. 

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/12/20 2:42 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
Nooooooooooooo!

during the past year I got all in love with a nice woman. I tried to move from friends to romance and she was not interested. At all. Let's call her Ms. Jane. 

so, today, of course kind of expecting the same peaceful, fulfilling experience i had Tuesday night, I went to the Sunday version of the local vipassana sitting group and there was Ms. Jane. Noooooooooo!

Oh well. 

I got a very strong feeling in my stomach. Like butterflies/fear. Lots of tension in that area.

I sat with that.

I not only didn't want to feel that feeling, I didn't want to have to deal with that feeling while doing my group vipassana thing. 

I realized how much I hated that feeling. That exact fluttery/excited/anxious feeling I was having. 

I saw how much I've done in life -- all my life -- to avoid that exact feeling. I could remember that feeling from before I was old enough to go to school. 

I saw that my life is arranged right now in such a way I hope will make it so I never have to feel that exact feeling. 

I don't want that feeling. That feeling, I feel, sucks. 

I just kept sitting with it. 

There were words, thoughts, plans that came with that feeling, such as: "Don't come back to this group ever again." "This group is horrible" "I don't need this group." 

Kept sitting, feeling, noting, breathing. Didn't try to make the feeling go away. 

I saw that the feeling wasn't SO bad, really.

I asked myself if I could have that feeling and still live my life and I think the answer is yes. 

The feeling eventually got less and less intense and uncomfortable. 


--------------------------------------------------------

Anyway. The leader was someone different from the founding teacher I described in the first post. The founding teacher, I found out, is stepping away for the most part. This leader was good too -- I don't know anything about her meditation or teacher training/experience. 

Still finding out what the thing is all about. It's very pleasant. The meditation is nice, but, then, I love meditating. It seems to try to be a less secular, more buddhisty version of the secular Stress Reduction Mindfulness thing. I don't feel like it's about taking awakening all that seriously, as it is about providing a space for people to sit and chill and use the tools of the dharma to deal more skillfully with their lives -- and that's the end of it. I think. It's still new to me, though. 

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/12/20 8:36 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
If this group is anything like the ones I've attended:

Most people who go to these groups are not looking for stream entry or whatever. I think they probably just want to feel like they are doing something good for themselves and want to find a supportive environment. These are people who are explicitly trying to find relief from the achievement-driven culture at large, so any suggestion of goal orientation in meditation is going to turn them off.

If the teacher is stressing actual insight practices, then that sounds good to me. What always makes me nervous is when the practice is treated merely as some kind of ritual, and then they spend the whole time complaining about their jobs and their relationships. And they keep asking "but how am I supposed to remember to be mindful in my daily life???" (Well, you could start by using this time right here...) Maybe that's a phase they need to go through, I don't know. I always just wonder what would happen if they literally said "I am going to stop taking my relationship so seriously, and treat my immediate sensory experience as the only real thing in the universe, for just the next 30 minutes."

It doesn't sound like your group is as bad as this, though!

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/12/20 11:13 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
If this group is anything like the ones I've attended:

Most people who go to these groups are not looking for stream entry or whatever. I think they probably just want to feel like they are doing something good for themselves and want to find a supportive environment. These are people who are explicitly trying to find relief from the achievement-driven culture at large, so any suggestion of goal orientation in meditation is going to turn them off.

If the teacher is stressing actual insight practices, then that sounds good to me. What always makes me nervous is when the practice is treated merely as some kind of ritual, and then they spend the whole time complaining about their jobs and their relationships. And they keep asking "but how am I supposed to remember to be mindful in my daily life???" (Well, you could start by using this time right here...) Maybe that's a phase they need to go through, I don't know. I always just wonder what would happen if they literally said "I am going to stop taking my relationship so seriously, and treat my immediate sensory experience as the only real thing in the universe, for just the next 30 minutes."

It doesn't sound like your group is as bad as this, though!

I don't quite get it. 

The people are mostly late middle-age (old) like me and most of the discussion is in response to prompts from the leader regarding specific questions for that session on dharma stuff. The contributions from the participants on the meditations on death the other night were right on point. 

There is a couple I've known for years who've gone to the to the Sunday meeting for quite a while and I'm going to gently prod them on what they are up to in their meditation and what the group has been about for them. 

What I don't get is how the hell the group has to include someone who brutally rejected me three months ago. emoticon

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/14/20 5:57 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
"But, like I said, I have a lot of time on my hands..."

You know what to do emoticon


RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/14/20 7:20 PM as a reply to s j t.
s j t:
"But, like I said, I have a lot of time on my hands..."

You know what to do emoticon



Uh . . . No 

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/18/20 12:23 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
Meditate

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/20/20 8:53 AM as a reply to s j t.
 
Sure, s t j, I think I got the meditation thing covered. Though -- to my surprise -- the feedback I've gotten on this forum so far is that I'm meditating TOO much and with too much intensity and should cut way back. I'm working on how I feel about that. 
 
 
Anyway, I've joined the group several more times since my last post on this subject. 

I love the meditation part. They meditate for at least 45 minutes each time and that is always valuable, I feel. I really love meditating with other people and it's great I can do it regularly with a group so close to my apartment. 

Also, I think the positive effects of having Ms. Jane there overwhelm whatever discomfort her presence brings me. Definitely an opportunity to sit through some discomfort and work through some stuff. 

As far as the messages and discussion --- I don't know yet quite how I feel about all of that. I am very skeptical and critical of much of what I hear and find myself feeling argumentative and judgmental a lot of the time. I'm not sure how much of that is just because of ragged crap I'm bringing to the situation and how much is a healthy and original response. Again, though, I think it is helpful to deal and sit with all of that as well. 

The other night during the discussion on the meditations on death, I found myself wanting to argue, to be argumentative in a way that looking back I think was kind of defensive somehow. The leader started giving examples of people who get a diagnosis of impending death, which makes them get all spiritual and wonderful and see life as sweet and get more focused and everything is great bla bla bla. This became a kind of groupthink pretty quickly -- yay, when we know we are going to die any day of a disease it's great! Yay!

You know how that happens in a group? That always gets me feeling all nitpicking and I want to rain on their parade. So, I brought up my x-wife and how she'd gotten a terminal brain cancer diagnosis last March (six to 18 months tops to live) and instead of getting all focused and spiritual -- she'd been miserable and frightened and lonely and cried all the time. So there! I wondered if I really needed to add that. I think it just made everyone there feel sorry for ME for some reason. 

Then, I asked if the teacher "really thought" that the meditation method he was teaching would REALLY create an insight that matched the effect of an actual imminent death diagnosis. I asked because I wanted to have more detail about how the teacher thought the meditation method worked in that regard -- at least that's why I think I asked. To my surprise, this brought about a defensive-seeming reaction from the teacher and a sort of mini-lecture. He told me "of course it would." He pointed out that Anayo (the author of the text and the person whose guiding meditations and lectures we were listening to and watching) was a "Buddhist Monk" and that this meditation would get one enlightened, etc. 

I just nodded at his answer. However -- At that point and during the rest of the day what I WANTED to say was something like this: "Dude, I've been around a LOT of Buddhist Monks, as well as noteworthy and respected Buddhist teachers, and the better I've gotten to know them and their behavior, and the more I learn about the entire serious and formal dharma world they inhabit,  the less likely it is that simply telling me that someone is a Buddhist monk is going to make me go .... "oh, okay, good enough!" " 
 
You know what I mean? but, there is something about the emotions attached to that reaction that makes me certain that anything I say out loud matching the passion I was feeling would end up being very unskillful. I felt it was better to just make that nod and sit with the feelings. I know that for sure I felt I was being patronized and that my level of knowledge and sophistication on the subject wasn't understood ha ha ha! I think it's good to go through that and for now, at least, it's better to keep quiet when my gut tells me to keep quiet. In a lot of ways, I just know on the most basic level that getting something over on this guy in a nitpicky argument really isn't important -- at all. Oh, man. 

The exchange did make me respect the guy a little less, in a way. It made me think he was a bit gullible about spirituality and the world of Buddhist monks and contemporary Buddhism, and I do think his reaction showed that he was used to having a certain authority in the group and he wasn't comfortable with that authority being challenged. 

The whole thing shows me again how what I bring to a situation can and does bring it's own colors to the situation, that I paint my own picture and that picture can be dramatic and tense, it can be beautiful and sentimental, it can bright and calm, or, it can be nearly blank. What is the true picture? Ha ha. 

Yesterday was all about the precept "not to take what is not freely given." Interesting, good to meditate about. However, a talk from a well-known U.S. vipassana teacher was played and that touched a lot of my buttons. The guy talked about other people who he thought were violating the precept: using products made with slave labor, not letting the server at a restaurant know that they undercharged them, all those people in the Silicon Valley who used their windfalls from stock options to buy mansions! That's not why people bought the stock, so you could buy a mansion! He seemed very certain of his judgements and very confident of his opinions. 

This kind of annoyed me. I just wondered at all the ways he, in his daily life, must be violating that precept in subtle or obvious ways (like all of us all the time, even Buddhist monks) and I thought it would be much more effective to hear him talk about all of THAT rather than just tell us about the failings of other people. I could go on and on of course. I'm working with the feelings and sensations of those feelings on that subject. It's helpful, I think. 

Here is a sort of conclusion on some of these questions:
 
  • If I fail to stay aware of my feelings in a subtle way with good momentum, feelings that bring on a kind of self-centered buzz are not … ‘caught’ completely.
  • When the self-centered buzz isn’t fully seen, fully caught by my awareness, then my reactions to what is happening become colored in a much stronger way by my emotions and past experiences.
  • When the self-centered buzz IS fully seen, I get to see it rise and then I get it see it pass away and vanish as well.
  • When the buzz isn’t fully seen, unskillful behavior is far more likely.
  • When the buzz is fully seen rising, doing its thing, and passing away, I think the chances of some unskillful behavior are less likely and the chances that some valuable and lasting insight will happen is much greater.

     
 

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/20/20 12:36 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
This log is a great read for me, perhaps especially because I recognize myself all too well in your reactive patterns, and so seeing how you work with them is inspiring. 

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/20/20 1:17 PM as a reply to Mike Monson.
If you are meditating properly there is no upper limit on how much you can do.  Two hours a day is minimum and one meditation retreat every year or two for any serious meditator.  Even 8 hours a day is completely fine if you have the time, I did about 4-8 a day taking a year off after my first retreat. 

That being said be happy with whatever you can do emoticon 

I just want to communicate the minimum for a serious meditator and that there is no maxmium.  This is all if you are practicing properly.  Meditation can be rough but your overall approach is light.  Things come up however they come up and you just let them be, you watch them, you feel them, you note them ect, whatever practice you chose.

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/20/20 1:22 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
This log is a great read for me, perhaps especially because I recognize myself all too well in your reactive patterns, and so seeing how you work with them is inspiring. 

thanks so much!

RE: Sitting with local Vipassana group
Answer
1/20/20 1:31 PM as a reply to s j t.
s j t:
If you are meditating properly there is no upper limit on how much you can do.  Two hours a day is minimum and one meditation retreat every year or two for any serious meditator.  Even 8 hours a day is completely fine if you have the time, I did about 4-8 a day taking a year off after my first retreat. 

That being said be happy with whatever you can do emoticon 

I just want to communicate the minimum for a serious meditator and that there is no maxmium.  This is all if you are practicing properly.  Meditation can be rough but your overall approach is light.  Things come up however they come up and you just let them be, you watch them, you feel them, you note them ect, whatever practice you chose.
Thanks, that's what I always thought as well. That's what I still think. 

I think perhaps there was something in how I was describing my meditation methods and the effects it was having (in my log, especially near the beginning) that caused two of the moderators to advise caution. One even told me to seek a therapist! I know it was done with good intentions, and even with some affection, but knowing that didn't prevent me from feeling (then and now to be blunt) some defensiveness. Also disapointment, because I was expecting something like "Yay -- you go! Awesome! You are doing it exactly right and we are all so impressed and wish we were more like you! Yay Mike!" That kind of thing, you know? emoticon I think it may always be good to get that kind of ego deflation. 

Very very good practice/learning experience. Ha!