Looking for Retreat Guidance

Brato Ganibe, modified 3 Years ago at 2/3/21 1:00 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 2/3/21 1:00 PM

Looking for Retreat Guidance

Posts: 66 Join Date: 8/30/16 Recent Posts
I am going on a 14-day self-directed retreat next week (Feb 8-21), and I'm looking for someone that would be willing to 'spot' me with informal interviews/advice/emails/etc every few days. I had previously been in contact with some other members of DhO thru DM's, but it seems like that functionality has not yet recovered from the new update and I don't have any other contact info for them.

I've been practicing Shinzen-style/Mahasi noting for 7+years, and I've done a couple 7-10 day retreats each year. Very sure that I am post-A&P, but never experienced cessation or attained a path. Over the last 12 months, the stages of insight have become much clearer in my daily sits and I periodically will go through them up into Equanimity in a single 60-minute session. I feel like my edge is learning to get into EQ more reliably and then teasing out the subtle details in that stage...and hopfully attaining SE. I am planning to follow the retreat schedule that Daniel gave in MCTB (4:30am-10:30pm).

If anyone feels like they would be able to help me out, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm not sure how people would prefer to exchange contact info since the messaging system is down, so here's my email: Lbcastleman@gmail.com

Thanks in advance!
Brato Ganibe, modified 3 Years ago at 2/22/21 5:53 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 2/22/21 5:53 PM

RE: Looking for Retreat Guidance

Posts: 66 Join Date: 8/30/16 Recent Posts
I’ve decided to post my retreat journal and am happy to hear any thoughts, comments, suggestions, etc… I wasn't able to keep to the 04:30-22:30 schedule like I had planned. I ended up with something closer to 12-13 hours of practice per day, alternating sitting and walking.

Day 1 (day of arrival):
7 hours of practice
Lots of homesickness and sadness around my dad’s death (unexpected…I usually don’t bring a lot of personal baggage on retreat)
Mind very dreamy and scattered, hard to focus…finally found right aim with walking meditation
Last full sit: developed wide awareness after concentrating with metta, fast vibrations, generalized fear, super edgy/contracted, ending with lots of doubt and not-wanting

Day 2:
14 hours of practice
Lots of doubt and uncertainty, feels like I forgot how to meditate, objects disappearing/being pulled away almost before they can be noted, sadness, fear
Strong concentration with metta, body started to dissolve…first arms, then neck and parts of torso…objects seem to be pulled away or vanish as soon as they’re seen...some muted insights mostly into the dissatisfactory nature of things, now some low level anxiety or fear coming up
Walking insight: the only place there isn’t suffering is right in the present moment...anywhere else is painful 
Metta is getting me thru the rest of the day

Day 3:
11 hours of practice
Totally grit-your-teeth sit, full of fear/sadness, irritating vibrations, doubt
Sits getting edgy and hard to find objects, feels like the old days right after concentration dropped off...it had gotten to where I could drop into the awareness of that state and move thru quickly but this is more entrenched, raw and lost

Day 4:
11 hours of practice
Dukkha experienced as reactivity…to EVERYTHING...anything more than 30min sits feels excruciating 
Noting the pain, contraction, reactivity and not-wanting and suddenly attention/everything shifted and it was as if my head was above water again, just effortless noting the breath and body sensations
In the afternoon the mind seemed to slip into a state of dullness that was hard to shake…I could concentrate the mind using metta, but as soon as I would shift the attention to the breath/body sensations the mind would sink into what felt like a tranquil dullness…objects were there, but seemed invisible in a strange way…the dullness only seemed to be broken up by boredom or knee pain

Day 5:
10.5 hours of practice
First thing when I woke up, every movement of mind felt like a pounding hammer in my head…it was intolerable like a migraine, but it wasn’t a physical headache…it resolved as I got up and moving
Focus on the breath at the nostrils, developing applied and sustained attention, slowly noticing slight piti and energy in the body, feels like a blockage of tranquil dullness is preventing sukha from arising...move to noticing sensations, not much there, some minor insights that are hard to see, continue tranquil dullness, some excitement/fear on the out-breath for a while, the fear is surprising because it seems to be unrelated to anything specific, back and forth between tranquil and slight fear, then some generalized edginess and not-wanting coming up, frustration and doubt arising, more edginess and not-wanting, knee pain, opened eyes and ended sit, feels like I forgot how to meditate
Back to the tranquil dullness, the mind just sinks as soon as I shift from metta to noting practice (wondering if the TWIM approach might be worth looking into)...about halfway thru the sit the mind seemed to brighten and there was awareness of very fine, fast vibratory sensations…things were so fast that I had to seriously back off from noting and just notice until I would get pulled away into thinking and come back…towards the end there were some blooms of random emotion rising up from the belly/chest and afterwards during walking practice the mind seemed to be preoccupied with sexual fantasies
Each session seems to have developed the same general theme: Metta to focus attention then drop into the tranquil dullness, hang in there without spacing-out and vibratory sensations will eventually develop, then random emotions, then a loss of clarity (it’s like I know the thoughts and sensations are there, but they aren’t clear at all) which turns into frustration and general irritation

Day 6:
12.5 hours of practice
First sit, the mind was very active so I tried cultivating metta and there was something generated, but somehow it shifted to a generalized feeling of lust and sexual fantasies, which remained a theme throughout...eventually settled on the breath and noticed that the mind was very still if it wasn’t caught up in some fantasy, except for the random song playing...it stayed like this the whole session
The mind seems to have shifted to settling into holding a broader awareness, seeing sensations come and go along with a sense of the observer, objects are appearing at a steady pace and there’s a gentle sense of flow but also a subtle hint of contraction in the mind, like there’s too much effort on my part but I can’t quit see where it’s coming from
Metta for concentration took off like a rocket, the sensations were so strong and so pleasant that I imagined my facial muscles were being strained from the big grin…soon after I had the sensation that my lips were numb and that quickly developed some relatively strong homunculus-type piti where my head and hands were perceived as being swollen or ballooned and much larger than the rest of the body (this hasn’t happened to me in years, since my insight practice really got started moving)…eventually it all settled into a laser-focused mind watching fast vibratory sensations, every atom in the body seemed to be vibrating and I just sat back and watched…after about 40mins I was aware of random stream of thoughts running in the background that eventually came to the surface and seemed to be the voice of Jim Jones of Peoples Temple somewhere mid-sermon (I have recently listened to a podcast about him), then there were flashes of internal imagery that seemed to be overlaid on top of the sermon, most of the images were too fast to really process but the one that I managed to catch looked like a 70s-era drawing of a lesbian porn scene (like something from Slash’s Instagram page)…over time the images and sermon died down and the mind was left floating in a spacey afterglow that was pleasant and mostly quiet except for the random chuckles that found the whole thing humorous
Evening sits required more effort, the mind seemed tired and sluggish and I had a bad headache…lots of emotions welling up, fear and sadness related to homesickness and thoughts of my dad…most of them were simply noted and then mind moved on…the sluggishness and headache seemed to be the major obstacles
Last sit of the day was metta for all beings, but I couldn’t get any momentum because the mind was harshly yanked away from the practice with every external sound that it heard…it was like I could hear faint voices in the distance behind me, as hard as I tried I could not stop the mind from being so reactive

Day 7:
11 hours of practice
First sit was very nice…generated metta easily and then shifted to basic noting while holding the mindstate of metta as an anchor…there was an odd sense of applying effort and then it being effortless at the same time…the noting seemed to flow nicely for a long time and I was able to clearly see the mind move from object to object without any outside direction, there was just the knowing of the movements of the mind…towards the end there was a leaning forward of the mind and a perception that the boundaries of the body were closing in, then there was a sensation like the mind pushed forward thru a bubble or field into a ‘something’, then there was an immediate calming down of the mind, like the body/mind was floating in a space that caused no other sensations to occur and the mind seemed unsure what to do next
Afternoon sits were full of sadness and contraction, but they don’t leave much of a trace…as soon as the emotions are noted, they pass on without much problem…lots of strong emotions and contractions in the body, but they are simply noted in the moment and held in what feels like a very peaceful container…seeing reactivity of the mind as simple bad habits that can easily be dropped
Later the mind was beginning to get drowsy and restless (like a child fighting sleep)…noticing fast aggravating sensations, want to shoot that barking dog, white-knuckling just to stay on the cushion, everything hurts, body/mind feels so tight and contracted that it feels like something may snap or break…

Day 8:
13 hours of practice
Intending to take it easy after how frustrated I got yesterday
First sit: very dull mind...generated a very very light metta and then dropped into body, mostly just the breath, pulsing heart, and knee pain...lost in thoughts then back...a few moments of clarity when the awareness was centered and was just watching, but then back to unpleasant sensations and lost in thinking
The mind is very dull and depressed, trying to concentrate the mind seems to be agitating so I just let the mind settle into the body and onto the sensations of the breath and rest in the other sensations of the present moment, gently noting to help hold the attention...not quite ‘white knuckling’ it, but not very pleasant
Last sit of the day, I had the idea to follow the out-breath down into the body and letting the mind pick an object to land on, note it, and repeat

Day 9:
11.5 hours of practice
First sit: started with metta which seemed to be hard to hold but the mind just needed to settle some then the meditation gained traction...I was hesitant to shift w from metta for fear that the whole thing would collapse but the mind gradually opened the awareness and moved to noting while riding the breath...as the meditation went along the concentration waxed and waned, but the awareness stayed just watching and noting where the attention went...thoughts mostly stayed in the background and what was prominent was the swinging flow of attention and the knowing...so nice, peaceful, open
My phone kept getting texts while I was walking and I could feel the mind being pulled towards thoughts of responding, also thoughts of not wanting the distraction to mess up the momentum I seem to have going, but able to come back to the present moment without much interference 
Trying to tease out the subtleties of awareness...not sure how gentle I was but I tried to relax as soon as I noticed any tension or contraction 
Getting too caught up in trying to not mess this up, instead I just need to relax into each moment and rest from where awareness is
Had a meeting with the nuns re: my yogi job and was able to keep this sense of open, spacious awareness going!!! There is just a slight sense increased energy in the body, but it’s not a distraction.
Took a while to get totally settled back into awareness but it was still there, once you find it you can rest back into it, and sometimes the mind will get itself all stirred up and then allofasudden it drops back to sit beside the still pool of awareness
Excitement has died down, but access to awareness is still there and concept of time has done a complete 180...no more agonizing minute and minute sits
I can definitely tell the difference between awareness and attention now.
The mind is still singing a song incessantly, but that’s it, it’s not a problem...just following the breath and being aware of the present moment, then the inner visual field seemed to shift, and an inner voice said ‘This another level of mind’, then the inner visual which seemed like two black spots that would be eyes began to turn inward, as if to look back on the awareness...but I was pulled out of whatever that was
Felt like I was losing whatever I had so I started noting again and that helped...I was able to see how little craving and aversion there is to things...things that would’ve normally spurred some craving desire to get or work towards are just seen and pass without leaving the slightest trace…the pizza and beer I was craving – dropped, even the desire for Stream Entry just fell away…honestly if I could keep what I have right now but never go further, I’d take it…

Day 10:
12 hours of practice
The mind is very tired and dull but not calm...metta was developed for a little while and then moved to the breath at the nostrils and the encompassing awareness...the mind was full of hypnagogic inner sound and the body was very achy...any sensation was essentially met with a quick anticlimactic response... a very odd sit
Mind is calm except for some random background songs...was efforting too much in the beginning, finally backed off and settled the mind until I found awareness and just kept coming back there, not much to investigate except the qualities of that awareness once I get there...the body/knees is still aching 
Staying with awareness more often but a little afraid to let go too much for fear of getting lost and falling back...as things progress there’s the feeling that somethings going to happen and then I feel like the tranquility factor gets overwhelmed by the energy factor, and round and round we go...changed sessions to 45min seems to help with aches and pains 
Maybe lost touch with awareness after lunch...now sadness coming up
Trying to settle the mind, seeing reactivity to sounds, started gently noting ‘There Is...’, quickly the mind dropped into watching from awareness...seems as if it can go on forever, except the mind gets bored and my knees hurt...there’s some ebbing/flowing, back/forth but no big changes or shifts
Dampened effects on craving is still there, and somewhat on aversion too...the body is just tired and achy and the mind is tired and dull, but still alert
...And back to nails-on-a-chalkboard...kinda...it’s like nails-on-a-chalkboard but in a somewhat distanced way
Was able to get back to something close to the spacious awareness, but the time seemed to drag and body pains are still really distracting

Day 11:
12.5 hours of practice
Got up a little late...the mind is a little scattered and hard to rein in but I was able to settle it some on the breath and eventually watched from awareness for a long time, lost it, and returned a few times
3 sessions with continued awareness, very little body pain and time seemed to fly by
Able to see thoughts as thoughts (a lot sounded like Cockney Harry Potter characters) while knowing them from awareness...towards the end of the sit the mind was getting dull and tired of this, so was the body
Still able to access the present moment, and get an immediate peaceful feeling when I really contact it
Following the breath into the body and developed awareness of the hands on the knees, it was odd because the awareness seemed to be glued there, I went back to the breath but there was still awareness of the hands, the awareness of the hands stayed thru the session...as it went along the objects seemed less like they were being noted and instead they were just known...as that developed the whole awareness developed into a weird 1st jhana (effort, energy, pleasantness) awareness orb, it was nice for a while but it got way too rigid and intense, I feel like there was too much effort and energy, but I couldn’t seem to dial it down any and eventually it just lost steam and I went back to noting 

Day 12:
12 hours of practice
As soon as I woke up, I could see that the mind wasn’t as sharp as before. It was barely glancing off objects instead of grasping them with true mindfulness.
First sit...the mind was untrainable and full of dreamy thoughts that would swing in and take the mind off...I was aware of body aches before I even sat down and that continued...there were a few moments when the mind would center and there was a sense of being close to awareness in the moment, but the mind would zone out and be off with another thought soon
Better concentration, but mind still drifts and is easily distracted...body aches much better, less distracting... at one point it felt like the mind was separated into two pieces, which was difficult to hold awareness of, but that went away
Still dreamy, distracted mind...keep coming back... very mild body aches...still wondering how much longer...thinking of switching to 30min sessions 
Spent a long time lost in thoughts, thinking about things to do when I get home...finally connected with the sensations of the present moment while walking...now noticing upper back tension with knee and sciatic pain
Cannot get the mind to settle, it’s just back off in fantasyland as soon as I put it back on an object, it feels like a misbehaving puppy...mid/upper back very uncomfortable now...lots of inner contraction and even just 20mins feels like an eternity
Dropped into awareness after about 15mins of struggling, the mind was bright and open and the stiffness and aches in the body vanished, but after a few minutes I was caught up in thinking and all the dullness and pain came back
The mind is just not sharp enough to practice the way I have been, but I don’t know what else to try.
Just trying to follow one breath at a time, and then 20mins in the mind drops into awareness, it’s not great, not stable, but way better than struggling to follow one breath...then it’s gone
Worst retreat day ever...how can everything hurt so bad?!

Day 13:
12 hours of practice
In the middle of the night I woke up after ‘hearing’ a voice that sounded like Voldemort’s saying ‘We have to get this over with and get you enlightened.’
Much better concentration and access to awareness, still some pain but able to accept whatever showed up in the present moment...lots of planning for after the retreat but I just kept coming back
Concentration kicked in after about 10mins and seemed to teeter on the verge of access concentration... back and forth for a while with general noting and then lost in thought and came back to a spacious awareness... back and forth...some inner visual that felt like I was coming up against a white barrier but never hit it or pushed through...some time when there was subtle tension between the object and the noticing and fewer times when that tension was absent...got caught up in thinking towards the end and everything kinda crashed and I could tell my muscles were really tight so I ended the sit after 55min
Walking was less meditative...hard to find a rhythm, and there was lots of soreness plus thinking/planning to leave
Hard to explain where mind is...easily pulled into random thoughts but also an undercurrent of awareness at the same time...it’s like there’s a slider switch that moves from one side to the other
And now there’s nothing but knee and back pain, the only thing I can concentrate on is trying to keep myself on the cushion 
It feels like I’ve either forgotten how to meditate or my brain has had enough...it won’t be budged...it will follow the breath for a while, then spin off, then come back to a terribly dull mindstate, wonder if my timer has stopped, get irritated, go back to the breath, repeat…

Day 14 (departure day):
4 hours of practice
The mind is still then full of random thoughts...the senses are very dull and the mind is not sharp at all... concentration seems like an absolute strain and what feels best is noting the still, quiet of the mind but that is quickly snatched up by some random thought and it’ll be a while before it comes back, and when it does it will feel exhausted from the trip...there’s not a lot of pain in the body, but what is there is very noticeable in a diffuse, general, ‘I’m tired’ kinda way
Realized that I need to focus more on seeing thoughts as thoughts in the present moment 
The very last sit was the first time in two days that I haven’t had to grit my teeth the whole session...the mind concentrated after about 10mins the started noting breath and body sensations, slowly the awareness opened up and I was clearly in a meditative state, this ebbed and flowed for a while, watching the play of attention and awareness for the rest of the hour
Josef C, modified 3 Years ago at 2/25/21 8:32 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 2/25/21 8:32 AM

RE: Looking for Retreat Guidance

Posts: 85 Join Date: 6/16/20 Recent Posts
I am a novice in meditation  and sadly cannot provide any comments , but  congrats on  finishing a 14 day self directed retreat ! emoticon 
Martin, modified 3 Years ago at 2/26/21 12:02 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 2/26/21 12:02 AM

RE: Looking for Retreat Guidance

Posts: 873 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
Thank you for documenting that, Brato. Your dedication and concise factual reporting are impressive.