Deeper Into the Pudding

Decaf Wolf, modified 1 Year ago at 2/2/23 1:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/2/23 1:42 PM

Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/2/23 Recent Posts
Hi All! First time posting, please be gentle ; )

I just returned from a 10-day Goenka retreat and feel compelled to share some of what I experienced and see if anyone has any insight on the territory I've landed in post-retreat. I'll try and be as concise as possible and not ramble on too much, so that this doesn't turn into a Russian novel. 

Quick background: I started practicing about 8 years ago, using the Headspace app for 20 or 30 minutes a day. Even in that first "lighter" year of practicing I had some very cool experiences. I suspect I unkowingly crossed the A&P and dropped into a gnarly Dark Night phase without having any idea what was going on. Eventually I did my first 10-day Goenka retreat in 2017 and another in 2020 and was cycling alot through Dark Night territory, again, having no idea what was going on: phases of completely stopping meditation, drinking too much alcohol, almost blew up my marriage a couple times... the classics. 

I quit alcohol in August 2022, and have been practicing diligently every day since then. In November and December I started getting the hang of accessing the Jhanas – the one thing I'll say is that the borders between the 4 states seemed pretty darn fluid to me, it just felt like gradually shifting from an intense, buzzy, blissful feeling, to the feeling of utter calm, presence and equanimity. To put it a little more poetically: the final result felt like I was a heavy golden statue at the bottom of the ocean. In this period I was doing very little Insight practice/ investigations of the three characteristics, mostly just strengthening/ stabilizing attention and dropping in and out of Jhanas. 

This January 2023 retreat was the first where I was familiar with MCTB. I'd also listened to tons of interviews on Michael Taft's podcast, which provided tools and context which are absent on Goenka retreats. In short, I had a lot of things going for me that had been missing in previous retreats. 

On day 2 I had this very intense experience: when I hit the first Jhana my eyes/ eyelids were vibrating and fluttering and there was a BIG shift, a surge of energy and the ability to maintain presence/ focus effortlessly. That had happened before, but on a shorter retreat, and I was grateful to have the fuller 10 days to put the energy/ increased attention to use. 

The next couple of days I was having intense psychedelic visions whenever I closed my eyes. Buddhist iconography, live "digital" paintings of the Buddha's face, mushrooms growing in wild patterns on trees (I'd been spending alot of time looking at mushrooms in the forest). Lots of kundalini/ energy surges and vivid, plentiful, intense sensation. Really wild stuff, but okay, sure, just A&P stuff. 

Morning day 5 in my cell a huge anxiety attack wells up (happens every time I go on retreat), and I'm able to hold equanimity reasonably well. Afterwards though, I'm afraid because of how fast my heart was beating. I start having thoughts of wanting to leave the retreat for "medical reasons"; I'm worried I'm going to have a psychotic break; very, very, very strong aversion to sitting and meditating. But I remember this thing I heard Shinzen say, about "getting crazy with your equanimity practice." Not sure exactly what he meant, but I think, "maybe just go into the midday group sit and see if you can maintain equanimity while these panic attacks roll through." Between day 5 and 6, I think I had 16 full body panic attacks: fear, increased heartbeat, super intense. But by the end I was just softening into them, investigating them, and letting them go. Absolutely no problem. 

In the past I've had panic attacks on retreat. It feels like a massive faceplant, like I'm finishing the retreat wounded, but this time, the fear and panic didn't hurt me, didn't knock me off balance. As a result, by the end of retreat, my faculty of equanimity was powerful in a way I'd never imagined in the past. Arising pain and discomfort could be effortlessly and reflexively "contained", if that makes sense. Hooray! Happy ending. 

I arrived home last Sunday and I've been struggling with intense fatigue (assuming this is just the intensity of re-entry into busy, big city life, emails, stupid fucking Zoom meetings, etc.). One thing that has gotten obnoxious though is these visuals. When I close my eyes it's like a crazy screensaver moving in chaotic patterns, eyelid and eyeball flutters (sometimes my eyes get sore), and it feels like as I'm just trying to sit equanimously and focus/ investigate, this odd force is trying to fire me into the Jhanas. It's hard to sort of cool down when this force feels like it's pushing me to launch myself back into the jhanas... wondering if anyone has any experience with this. 

One little footnote too is that alot of the men (especially first timers) I spoke to on day 10 were pretty shook by the retreat. I'm sure this is a big discussion on this forum – the lack of context and tools for people who are destabilized by these retreats – but it really is astounding. Largely due to our toxic culture, folks have pretty deep neurosis/ trauma that can be awakened on these retreats and not discussing Dark Night stages or providing comprehensive resources just seems so problematic. I am so grateful to the Goenka folks for providing these wonderful PWYC opportunities, and in many ways the teaching is wonderful. But in that Dark Night/ mental health category... heavens to Betsy, what a shitshow. Also how does this "Bangha" and "Sankhara" stuff square with what's outlined in MCTB? Are there equivalent concepts or are these separate paths. I haven't read MCTB cover to cover, so apologies if these questions are noobish.  

Thanks in advance for any thoughts : )
  
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Dream Walker, modified 1 Year ago at 2/3/23 1:24 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/3/23 1:24 AM

RE: Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 1759 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Keep reading the progress of insight chapters of MCTB it's only like 30 minutes to an hour read, don't be lazy.
Goenka stuff is nice that it's free, but it takes beginners to the a&p stage then asks for money while people are manic. The next stage according to MCTB is knowledge of fear etc...
Keep going.
Good luck
​​​​​​​~D
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 2/3/23 5:59 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/3/23 5:55 AM

RE: Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 2577 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Congratulations on being able to experience the intensity of your retreat. Yeah, not everyone can do that and Goenka retreats are often like walking on a high wire without any safety net. +1 on reading MCTB. Also type "goenka" in the search bar at the top of this page and you'll get several threads that are possibly relevant.

The flickering is probably the lingering effects of concentration from retreat. There can also be a kind of psychological clinging that occurs after a retreat where some aspect is obsessed about, clinging to something that occurred or trying to "keep going and not lose something that was gained" on retreat. This obsessiveness rarely ends well. It's fundamentally a kind of spiritual clinging. It's usually much better to let the effects of retreat fade if/as they do and simply begin life again.

As your experience slowly returns to normal, think about what really makes sense for you, in your life, at this time in your life. Is meditation the thing that really needs attention? Is there other life stuff -- education, careere, finances, relationship -- that needs attention? Is there basic psychology stuff -- anxiety, depression, codependence -- that needs attention? A lot of the time meditation "wakes us up" to what is bothering/challenging us, but it doesn't mean that meditation is always the right treatment method for fixing those things. Figure out what you want to improve and use a method that directly fixes it. Many times people use meditation as a "generic fixes everything" method (and there are a lot of traditions and teachers that will selfishly promote this idea), but usually there is a better approach for fixing specific problems/challenges. Own your life, own your practice, do what is best for you.

If you are truly drawn to meditation and interested in it for it's own sake, then definitely spend more time and find an approach that allows you to practice in a gentle, consistent, and non-heroic way. Assume that every method has a down side and every teacher/tradition has problems they won't talk about. Be a detective. And don't develop an unhealthy spiritual ambition. You want incremental progress, not peak experiences and deep crashes. Retreats are always difficult, but you don't want to burn yourself out with intensity, not on retreat and definitely not at home. In the "cooking dried beans" metaphor, you don't want a fast boil that boils away all the water before the beans are cooked. You want a gentle simmer that cooks the beans to moist fluffy perfection. Mmmm, yummy beans. emoticon

Hope this helps in some way. Best wishes!!
Decaf Wolf, modified 1 Year ago at 2/4/23 4:57 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/4/23 4:54 PM

RE: Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/2/23 Recent Posts
Shargrol, thanks for the reply. Very helpful indeed.

I've been cooling off and doing a more relaxed practiced for 30 min in the AM and supine meditation for a little before bed. There are indeed many areas of my life that require attention. My wife & I are expecting a baby (our 1st!) in July and I'm juggling part-time jobs, trying to establish a stable career path and also finish a 2nd novel before my 1st one comes out in September. Wheeee! This was probably my last longer retreat for some time and I think I was chasing stream-entry or some huge transformation, rather than just letting it be what it was (which was actually quite profound). There's a great Zen centre where I live, I like the Roshi alot & they have daily Zazen // Teishos every Sunday. Some of the sesshins are only 4 days too, right in the city. All that to say, it may be a good place to simmer as I enter a busier phase of my life. I've also had maps on the brain and the unmappiness of Zen could provide a counterbalance.

On a separate note, I have pretty pronounced classic ADHD symptoms. I fostered a hope at one point that meditation would miraculously cure my ADHD, but, per your message, meditation is not a panacea. Concerta has helped my life so much in recent months, not to mention my practice. I was quite heartened, in fact, to see some posts from Polly Ester that made reference to taking ADHD meds despite the fact that they've achieved stream entry. That's probably a whole topic for a separate post, but I imagine there are alot of folks out there who hit the A&P, go off their meds and then crash their lives into a tree. I think there could be a popular and harmful misconception that meditation and medication don't go together. Yikes!

​​​​​​​Grateful to have found DhO, seems like it will be an invaluable resource for gettin' the ol' beans cooked in a skillful manner ; )
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 2/5/23 9:55 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/5/23 9:55 AM

RE: Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 2577 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds like you have a great life in the making. Progress in meditation is definitely compatible with all of that.

I've noticed here that sometimes people who are most high-functioning and busy will actually make quicker progress than people who have a lot of spare time. (If the busy people are living a good-hearted life, that is.) Ultimately a good-hearted non-monastic life can be excellent training for attention, mindfullness, and training responsible care/action. And this translates into better meditation, too. When it's time to sit, the mind drops quickly into guilt-free centering/concentration and the subtlies of how greed/aversion/indifference causes subtle suffering becomes clear.  ...And anyway, these people have  a clear intention for becoming more grounded/sane/wise because work and family life benefits so directly.
Matt Jon Rousseau, modified 1 Year ago at 2/7/23 4:34 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 2/7/23 4:34 AM

RE: Deeper Into the Pudding

Posts: 208 Join Date: 5/1/22 Recent Posts
Dream Walker
Keep reading the progress of insight chapters of MCTB it's only like 30 minutes to an hour read, don't be lazy.
Goenka stuff is nice that it's free, but it takes beginners to the a&p stage then asks for money while people are manic. The next stage according to MCTB is knowledge of fear etc...
Keep going.
Good luck
​​​​​​​~D
Hmm interesting