RE: Long-term solo retreat

Laurynas Plisas, modified 4 Months ago.

Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 7 Join Date: 5/7/21 Recent Posts
Hi all, 

I'm about to go on a solo retreat for 3 or so months. I don't know the exact plan or time I'm about to do that, just trusting the process and will see how it goes. Maybe after some time, I'll fly to Malaysia or some other retreat center. Depends on few factors. In the meantime, looking for advice for my solo retreat. 

Did one before, 8 days solo, 10h per day, sitting and walking. "MCTB2" and Mahasi "Practical Insight Meditation" were my references. Started somewhere in Dark Night (and generalized anxiety) territory, hit EQ during the retreat, and cycled few times between Re-O and EQ. 

Now I'm again in Dark Night (and generalized anxiety) territory. Ideally, the goal would be to flip the switch and enter the Stream. emoticon) Then start practicing concentration jhanas. Will use the same references for the upcoming retreat too. Sit and walk at least 10h/day, cook my own food, make trips to the grocery store when needed. 

So... Plan is to wake up at 4.30 am.
Is it ok to dedicate the first two hours of the day to workout /or stretch + prep for the day & eat breakfast?
Is it ok to write the journal here and there?
Make a call or meet face to face for some time?
Do a minimal reading of those two books (basically to re-read relevant chapters)?
​​​​​​​Or it would hinder my progress in some way?

Any other general advice, tips, agendas, ideas would be much appreciated. 

Than you! 
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Pepe, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 433 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hi LP, welcome to DhO!

Probably others will chime in later, but for the time being, check Shargrol's posts below. 

- 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years
A general rule for retreats 
A month long retreat is not for beginners 
Five classic negative habits that show up on retreat 
Pacing is everything on a long retreat 

There are many threads in DhO dealing with retreats (check below), but I would recommend searching in the Practice Logs section, as there many ask for advice and answers have more meat, as the original posters are better known in the community.

Long Term Retreat Advice 
1 Month Noting Retreat Good or Bad Idea for Formerly Fearful Person? (check last post)
- How long to achieve stream-entry on retreat? 
Recommended Places for 1-3 Month Meditation Retreats? (in Covid era)
How should I practice to maintain my progress after retreat? 

Then you have a whole section in Daniel Ingram's best posts compilation dealing with "Teachers & Retreats".
Laurynas Plisas, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 7 Join Date: 5/7/21 Recent Posts
Hey Pepe, thanks for the welcome and on-point resources! You really heard me emoticon

Shargrol is gold, read what you've recommended and some more. Gave some reassurance and valuable pointers.

I'm meditating for almost two years now, 30min to 2hours daily. Thanks to daily anxiety and dry insight retreat experience, I've learned to accept everything as it is. I don't care too much about the content of my experience. Physical and mental discomfort or comfort - is the same opportunity to note and see 3 characteristics. So my idea is to be in whatever is, gain insight, shift perception, and the anxiety will cease itself over time through allowing it to be and desensitizing nerves. From a zoomed-out perspective, it's working and I'm getting better. emoticon How long it takes - doesn't matter, the focus is on the present moment.

Back to the question - 4:30 am and sports. I'm trying to understand what is the point in waking up that early. That seems common on retreats, so maybe there is a point? Really, I'm more of an owl. Mornings are tough, but I'd be willing to give it a try. And do sports first thing to wake up and because I love it and I feel it's a moral thing to do. Or is there a point to sit through that grogginess first thing in the morning? Just want to be efficient with my energy and time.

Still have one month before the retreat, will increase my practice a bit, do one to few days mini-retreats and figure out the framework of it. emoticon
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Pepe, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 433 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hey, my longest retreat was 4 days, so I'm not of much help... That's why I provided the links. Waking up 4.30 am is too early IMO, specially if your are an owl. Check Niels' practice logs (the last one or the previous one), also Brandon's, where he starts at 10 am and then extends the sits till midnight. A one month retreat is serious business, I wouldn't undertake such a challenge if I weren't well stablished in EQ for months, to be completely honest. Regarding sports, what do you mean? Running, gym, cardio, etc? I would say stretching and walking would do the trick and if you know yoga or taiji/qigong, that would be better, never heard of anyone doing heavy stuff during a retreat.

Well, I hope someone would add something. Otherwise, check https://www.reddit.com/search/?q=long%20retreat as there are more threads about the topic.

Metta!
​​​​​​​Pepe
Laurynas Plisas, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 7 Join Date: 5/7/21 Recent Posts
Hey, 

I've called off the search and the answers came, haha. As usual, things are falling into place on their own. Just the mind needed to know how to make everything best. 

I was thinking about jogging, but since I'll do a lot of walking meditation, it's gonna be enough physical activity. Might add some bodyweight exercises here and there, and stretching. 

Today did day 0 run and seems like I'll go with a schedule that goes something like this:

6:00-6:30 Wake up, stretch
6:30-7:00 Walk
7:00-8:00 Sit
8:00-9:00 Breakfast
9:00-10:00 Walk
10:00-11:00 Sit
11:00-12:00 Walk
12:00-13:00 Sit
13:00-14:00 Lunch, rest, write, etc.
14:00-14:30 Spiritual Autolysis (Jed McKenna thing)
14:30-15:30 Walk
15:30-16:30 Sit
16:30-17:30 Walk
17:30-18:30 Sit
18:30-19:30 Dinner
19:30-21:30 Cook, clean, stuff, etc.
21:30-Sleep

Tomorrow will pull the plug from the internet and go in. Don't know for how long, idea is around one month but will see. 
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Pepe ·, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 433 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hey, good schedule! Best of luck and metta to you! Let us know how it went. Pepe
Platu •, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 7 Join Date: 5/7/21 Recent Posts
The retreat ended up being 21 days long, ending up in Stream-entry. BAM! Right off the bat, because that's what I'd like to know. Though on an easier note, understand that nothing has been confirmed with a teacher, including attainment and descriptions. All that follows is a first-hand experience, so take it with a grain of salt and feel free to call out anything you see fit. I'd be interested to discuss and deepen my understanding too.

Here you'll find general tips for a solo retreat, techniques I've used, struggles and insights 'from the field', integration vibes after the retreat, and conclusions, so you can tune in to what you are looking for. I just feel the impulse to describe this experience from the many angles I can. Note that this is what worked for me, though it might resonate with you in some way as it did with me reading a YouTube comment that is still helpful. So you never know... emoticon

General tips for the retreat 
  • Prepare food for as many days as you can before starting the retreat. Freezing different sauces for pasta or stews is great! I prepared breakfast only, lunch and dinner needed heating only. It was great. The last (3rd week) I had to cook everything. It took a lot of energy. Being in dukkha, intensely anxious, high in sensitivity and concentration, confused and doubtful - made cooking food much more complicated. The indecisiveness was also there. Taken all - it was too much to note. That doesn't mean it will be the same to you, though you cannot expect where you'll end up. My take is that it is better to sort this kind of decisions as much you can upfront. More room to be still is better.

  • Don't abuse coffee. It blocks the bodily signals of when rest is needed. It's good to see those and take a nap after lunch or go sleep earlier. I'd say one morning coffee is sweet. More will distort the lunch time signals. At least it did for me. Though if sleepiness comes after lunch, I'd shoot a coffee instead of noting sleepiness. It's all about listening to the body what it's sensitively telling to do at the moment.

  • Have a schedule (the one I posted before worked fine for me) though be flexible. Setting a timer for the meditations is fine, though trying to fit the schedule seems meaningless when you're alone. Doing things one after another in a relaxed manner, in tune with the signals from the body - felt natural.

  • Block as many distractions in advance, though if some come - allow them. Takes less energy than fighting them. And again, it's a more natural flow of events. Might even present a lesson. I had to talk here and there. Had to negotiate, buy, and ride back a dirt bike. I'm happy that I did, instead of sitting now knowing that I had an ideal retreat.

  • Don't blow the blisters from all the walking. In few days the calluses get solid and you can walk without pain again.

  • Have super comfortable shoes for walking meditations, running type worked well.

  • Stretch at the end of the day and/or foam roll your muscles. At least the ones involved in walking. They tend to get stiff from 5+ hours walking per day.

  • Try to make the sleep/wake schedule around the time it's most natural to you. I mean - your circadian rhythm. Are you a lark or an owl? When do you wake up naturally without an alarm? Go with that instead of 4:30 am waking. You will not transcend your biology.

  • Perfect the practice on the retreat. Not the best time to learn something new. At least in a long-term retreat.


The technique

The base of all my sits before and during the retreat was 'Allow to be everything as it is' by Adyashanti.

https://adyashanti.opengatesangha.org/teachings/intro-teachings#ot_true-meditation-the-natural-peace-of-awareness1

For me, it works like a charm universally in all stages of insight. Easy to come back to the base during the meditation once getting lost somewhere, and a solid base to build on top another technique.

The way I know that I'm 'allowing to be everything as it is' is by releasing any tension from the body & mind until there is nothing more to release or allow. It all just is. Simply put, with out-breath release your anus and all with it.

So for sits, I 'Allow & notice what is'. Mahasi style. When I do that long enough I get into a meditative mode where the 3 characteristics (3C) present themselves naturally. So intentionally I'm not reflecting on what is, not trying to notice the 3C or somehow change what is. All just happens naturally. If it doesn't, I pick one of 3C and investigate it only or surrender completely all effort by keeping only the intention to be in 0 effort.

For walks, I 'Keep all sense doors open, allow & notice what is'.

Seemed like with this kind of universal approach I could sit forever, it's enough to go through any experience, and see the true nature of it, what could go wrong? Yea, but see in 10 days...

Also, Spiritual Autolysis by Jed McKenna blew my mind. Did 30 min. daily. Cuts through the bullshit, as close to the truth as possible. Allowed me to think for myself and question other opinions. I can share instructions from the book if anyone wants. Or Google can help.

Day 1 to 10

It all started very smoothly and calmly. The sits were easy, peaceful, open, and spacious, occasional to frequent head nods, little effort was required to notice the sensations. Broad focus on the whole field of experience. Pretty Equanimous. Just enough energy, mood, perceptual clarity, steadiness of focus, and motivation to practice and look forward to it off the cushion. Similar was with walking meditation too, had my gaze locked in forward, head lightly bouncing on the neck, body relaxed, effortlessly noticing lots of little sensations that make up walking, from the feet to the cheeks jiggling (on the face...). Sometimes could go for an hour with minimal distractions.

Also since the beginning been 'falling back' to the contracted mode of being, with poor sensory clarity, chaotic vibrations, huge aversion to meditation, low mood, and energy on & off the cushion.

These state shifts have been happening on and on, sometimes a few times per day, and as the days progressed, I happened to be less and less in the expansive and Equanimous state.

That set in the doubt and confusion that there is something I'm not getting or doing wrong in my practice because I'm not sticking in Equanimity. Started losing trust in my practice, which seemed to work all the time before. Had to notice worrying and restlessness more and more to a point where I found myself spiraling down in weird mental pathways, followed by a state of fear and terror, where I had to do something to ground myself. Acupuncture mat, cold shower, and listen to guided anxiety talk downs till I fell asleep.

The peak of doubt, confusion, and physical anxiousness created by the indecisiveness aspect of my generalized anxiety was on day 10, where I logged in to ask for help and reassurance in the forum. Thank God the message was not sent. Mods, admins - if you see it hangin' - BURN IT! emoticon 

Nevertheless, after writing it all down, I felt more at peace. I took it as a reminder from the Universe that 'it's SaulGoodman', everything is taken care of, just trust the process, the practice, and now you can surrender. 

So I did.

Day 11

10 hours of 'Do Nothing' meditation by Shinzen Young.

Helped me to settle, look at the naturally arising ludicrous thoughts. Sometimes the thoughts would laugh at themselves of the nonsense it was saying, sometimes they got ashamed of themselves for the absurd stream. Till the end of the day, they ran most of their steam and I felt more accepting to whatever arose.

During one walking meditation I was noticing the analytical thought stream about the experience and what I'll write in my journal. Then I thought to myself - why the fuck am I writing? To whom? Do I need it? Does it disturb my peace now and keep me analytical? At the same moment I realized that I don't need it. And I could drop it for now. At the same moment I felt lightness. I felt I'm taking a step that is going out of history the same moment it happens, completely unimportant. Went like 50 meters like that before the thoughts came back. But lighter. Maybe that's not a very mature approach, cuz you can notice the analysis too, but that was what worked for me at the time.

Day 12 Absolute impermanence or Stream entry

Resumed to 'Allowing & Noticing what is'. Since the first sit noticing went pretty smooth. The focus was resting steadily on sensations - mostly inner body flickering, contacting the breath in different places, noticing the thoughts and allowing them to be. The clarity would naturally change depending on nana. After steady resting for some time on the sensations, the focus would broaden and include the whole field of experience, on which I could rest then and gently allow the 3C to present themselves. The experience was full of anxious vibrations though.

Few meditations in, during a sit, felt that all the experience is ending the moment it happens, and disappearing to a blank space, which before was called the past. But now there was a direct understanding that there is no past. After opening my eyes, the understanding came that all the existence, all matter is ending moment by moment. And that there is no before. The now is ever-present, the matter is ever-changing. I.e. the cup is on the table now. I take the cup and move it to another place on the table. Now the cup is in another place on the table. It is the same now in both locations, though the cup from the first location is gone from existence. There is no cup before in a different location than it is now. So the continuity of things and self were seen as an illusion, as an idea, that things are in a linear way, and mostly felt down. And if you skip a workout, the only thing you lose is the ability to identify yourself as a disciplined person, because you broke the illusionary continuity that ego so much likes. I can bust it now easier, when I find myself making stories about how I am, and getting upset if that's not matching the ideal. Sleeping in is sleeping in, eating junk is eating junk, it's not attached to a mental construct early riser or healthy eater.

I'll leave the more technical descriptions to my practice logs that I might start later, to develop a skill to see and describe the phenomenology more clearly, to keep it technical, practical, and reproducible. For now, I'll go with more general insights and descriptions to make a point.

Since the 'sense' of absolute impermanence was different than what I've experienced before (lack of rapture, faster cycling A&P to EQ, calling stages of insight by will), I assumed now I'm in the stream. And here landed on me a huge cloud of not knowing what to do next, because of all I have read what I should be able to do, and all I have read what I should do was just theory to what was happening now. Only later I understood that I cannot know everything at once. It unfolded one after another. This knowing would have spared me some peace. However, went asking for guidance here, in this post: [.]https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/22886952].

Day 13

That was the day when I understood the importance of a teacher most. I was looking for answers to my practice in MCTB and Practical Insight Meditation. All the information about the review phase, doors, fruitions were bringing me anxiety because I was trying to grasp it. I was trying to experience everything that was in the books. Though getting even more questions about what should I do first, how long, what to look for, etc. At the end of the day, I felt tense, confused, frustrated because I couldn't juggle so many stakes in my head. Who was trying to have the experiences? The reality was still the same with or without them.

That again was a great reminder from the Universe to surrender in what was happening now. To trust the process. All is happening that needs to happen. Just relax in it and allow everything to be as it is. And listen to the body. What is it telling me? When most pain is created? What feels next natural thing to do?

Day 14-18

I let go of all the expectations and allowed my body to tell the direction to take. Doing one thing after another. The practice naturally shifted to more shamatha, zero effort surrender, and loving-kindness. Went to sleep when tired, read a book here and there, practiced 8-9 hours per day.

The body and nervous system were recovering. The general anxious energy was closing, feeling mostly anxious vibrations when going through dukkha nanas. A feeling of peacefulness was more present, sometimes joy.

When I felt recovered enough, naturally arose the topics of review, doors, and fruitions. And I felt the impulse to return to noticing the sensations and see what I can experience (or non-experience).

Day 19-21

Back to 10h per day of noticing. Sitting & walking, with the intention to catch a Fruition. I couldn't distinguish it up until this point so that was the thing I wanted to do - gain skill to get repeated Fruitions. I let go of intentionally trying to be in a certain insight stage, allowed to be everything as it is, and noticed what is. I figured - if my mind, body, or whatever needed to spend more time/learn in a certain stage, it will do it itself, and I won't try to change anything, and just investigate what is.

Some sits were spent in contracted, dark mode, some sits I could see the dukkha stages flying by quickly, and landing on flat, peaceful, easy, and Equanimous ground. At which point I would mostly surrender the effort and gently be with what is, with attention sometimes investigating where the doors are.

I couldn't see it. I couldn't find or define the 'blip' moment. At the end of day 21, I felt that it's enough of looking. And that I'm good to end the retreat sooner than I initially planned. I was content with where I was. Trusting that the path is unfolding as needed. Being excited to come out of the cave with a new understanding of reality. Seeing all existence as impermanent. And the Fruitions will come as needed.

+60 days - Post retreat vibes

Well, the biggest difference is that I'm not overwhelmed all the time. Sometimes I feel light, enthusiastic, joking around, telling stories, and conversating deeply with 'full character'. The spontaneity is coming back. The thinking got more congruent and clear, thoughts are not breaking in the middle of a conversation. Bodily pain/anxiousness is not always there. That was what I've probably missed most being in Dark night - feeling like a normal human being. Though it's not always like that. Some times per day, sometimes most of the day, I feel contracted, anxious, and not in a very uplifting mood. Maybe that's got to do with the cycling through dukkha nanas, and/or generalized anxiety, triggered by some false threat. That being said, the general level of suffering has decreased, because it's easier to deal with what is right now than a generalized mental construct (I'm feeling anxious all day/week, etc.).

Anyhow, I don't expect too much out of myself now. I do what I feel like and that's all. It helps that I've quit my job in May and I don't need to do anything. At least a few more months before I run out of money. emoticon But yeah, I don't cling to ideals that I have to be an early riser, workout X times per week, read books X time per day, or whatever. I sleep until I wake up naturally, go to sleep when tired, do something or do nothing. I feel I could go like that forever, this kind of living doesn't take much effort or struggle. Taking into account that morality game is on point (overtime (9 months) dropped alco, cigs, drugs, coffee, sugar, social media). No high highs, no low lows. I don't plan out of habit (unless I need to), but the plan comes to me. I just dance with it. Or freak out and run away from it. emoticon 

The clarity of the present moment is more defined. I can come back to this moment easier. Intuitively knowing that what I experience is (and can be) now only. Somewhat effortless knowing of the present moment. This helps to ground myself during any activity and meditation. Being aware of objects contacting any of the sense doors is enough to know that I'm in the present moment. Besides what I wrote on day 12, it's difficult to describe this 'sense'. And I don't think it's very necessary to do that. I've read that there is a variation of the 'sense' between different individuals. The shift in baseline perception has not been dramatic, but I'll take that! Almost every day is unraveling some interesting reflections, feels truer.

I guess, what I'm getting to - is that I've come to this point on a very bumpy, painful, dry insight meditation ride. Giving up or pressing pause for many things. Many scenarios. Some I think are not coming back, some will later, maybe in different quality. However, the change is for good. I'd say it was worth it. Now I feel the impulse to focus on the path with heart a bit more, loving-kindness, shamatha, and doing things I love. And continue gaining insights into 3 characteristics...

Conclusions

Hierarchy of retreats (how I would prefer them):
  1. Group retreat, with a teacher.
  2. Solo retreat, having a remote teacher with whom you could discuss meditation in the same language.
  3. Solo retreat, having someone close (that you know well) to call if shit gets wild.
  4. Solo retreat, having someone distant to call.
I'd say the aim of the retreat duration could also be related highest - lowest.
​​​​​​​
And shout out to Daniel Ingram, he's a fucking beast! If taken the 'student ready - teacher comes' thing, his book was the closest experience to the saying. Like 5 times. What a gift that we can turn to this work being at home. What a beauty that we can see different facets of the jewel as we mature. Thank you!
George S, modified 29 Days ago.

RE: Long-term solo retreat

Posts: 2020 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Nice job following your intuition emoticon​​​​​​​

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