First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Toni A, modified 3 Months ago at 6/5/23 4:01 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/4/23 10:45 PM

First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 4 Join Date: 6/4/23 Recent Posts
Hi! I'll try to be brief because I could talk about my experiences for days without pausing. There's a lot of smaller experiences between the ones listed here, but these are the big ones I had. Teacher didn't talk about stages or maps or what to expect which helped creating a beginner's mind in me.

Circa 2015 - Feb 2023:
-meditation apps (Headspace, Waking Up, 10% Happier etc), 15min a day, skipping meditation for months at a time. Stress reduction
-reading a bunch (Ingram, Tolle, Dan Harris, Sam Harris, Stephan Bodian, Loch Kelly etc.), listening to interviews etc.
-want to go to a retreat but can't because covid and stressful work situation

Feb 2023 - May 2023 (before retreat):
-start going to a meditation group twice a week
-45min of silent meditation a day, pretty consistent
-most meaningful experience: interesting shift in mind, opening, glimpse of things just being what they are. Mind gets super excited, lasts only couple of minutes. Happens maybe five times in the two weeks before retreat

DAYS 0-2 (Day 0 is a half day on Sunday):
-Nothing interesting, just getting comfortable being in silence, finding good posture.
-Hoping to maybe get 1 or 2 interesting meditative experiences, modest expectations.

DAY 3:
-The shift I've experienced before happens for the first time in the morning. Nice. Doesn't last but that's okay.
-Afternoon after 45min sitting, 45min walking, around 20min sitting hit a powerful BLISS STATE that lasts about 30-40min.
-Bliss State: Powerful ball of light slightly above my head. Everything is at peace. Body is very still. Can still feel and hear everything, thoughts come and go. "Maybe 1st jhana?" Know it won't last forever, start experimenting. Moving the ball of light around, doesn't go lower then neck. Moving the body slightly, no change in Bliss State. Bell rings, walking meditation starts. "I'm not gonna go anywhere. I'm going to stay here for the rest of the day and see how long this lasts." After about 20min and more experimentation just open my eyes and go get ready to eat. I didn't decide to stop, stopping just happened naturally.
-Have trouble sleeping, thinking about a Personal Thing that happened 4 days before the retreat and I haven't had time to process it.

DAY 4:
-Morning metta practice. Start connecting with the heart, nothing too powerful.
-Small discussion group: start crying because of Personal Thing, feel very safe and secure showing emotions (which is rare for me)
-Evening dharma talk: Teacher talks about experiencing things through the heart, ego being sucked into an abyss, fear rising because of that
-Evening mediation: HEART OPENING. Try seeing/feeling/listening through the heart. Start feeling very warm, fire-like feeling in the chest/heart. Feels like a rose/camera aperture opening. Visual field goes dark, starts shrinking and slowly starts moving down closer to the chest. Following the visual field is a sense of vast nothing that curls from behind me to over me to the edge of where visual field used to be. Sense of self moves from mind/head to somewhere in the chest, little above the heart.
-Can't sleep because I feel great! Connect with emotions, start understanding all the difficult things that have happened in my life. Images, phrases start appearing in my mind, a lot of creativity.

DAY 5:
-Experiencing a lot of joy, going through all my life with a new perspective. Feel like I've had everything and more from the retreat and can now just coast for the rest of the week.
-Before afternoon meditation start getting a bit annoyed, agitated, anxious. Bell rings to tell sitting mediation is starting. Start getting more and more anxious. Heart racing, trouble breathing calmly. Decide to sit on a chair behind everyone. More and more anxiety. If I close my eyes, everything just gets to be too much, so keep eyes open. "Wait, is this the DARK KNIGHT? It shouldn't be. I didn't have A&P yet. Wait, was the 1st jhana the A&P? Oh no, this is gonna be tough. What should I do? This won't last forever, just trust the process." Slowly start closing my eyes and feeling all the awful feelings. Not helping too much. Decide to "pray" even though I'm an atheist. "If there is something there, I trust you to take me through this." End of meditation bell rings, everything seems super clear, right here, right now. BUT I start having a lot of scary thoughts to explain my experience. Stuff like telepathy, time travel, extradimensional beings, scifi stuff etc. During walking meditation I am convinced I've lost my mind and gone crazy. "I've gone too far, I broke my brain, shit. I guess this is my life now. I can't talk about this to anyone because I'll get institutionalized." Keep walking and slowly calm down and the crazy thoughts start going away.
-Impromptu one-on-one with the teacher. Asking for reassurance. "Should I keep going? I don't want to do any permanent damage." Teacher reassures me, tells me all this is normal, I won't break my brain. If this happens again, just take it easy, go slow, just let it be.
-Have a good night of sleep.

DAY 6:
-Sleep through the morning meditation. Wake up with what feels like a panic attack. Heart pounding, shallow breathing, shaky hands. "This is normal, just go slow." Go for breakfast, walking very slowly, hold my hands on my chest, eat porridge slowly with shaky hands. After about 1 hour start calming down and be able to move at a normal pace.
-Small discussion group: Ask the teacher what I should focus on. She tells me to try to bring my sense of self somewhere between stomach and heart.
-Afternoon meditation: I focus on the feeling of self between stomach and heart. Feels warm, but not fire-like, more like pure light. Shape is similar to the diamond that is above Sims in the game Sims. Very sharp, knife-like. Have a small glimpse of non-duality that lasts couple of minutes. Things are now and never and forever. Things are nowhere and everywhere at the same time.
-Teacher has to leave the retreat because of family emergency. We do metta practice to say goodbye and hope that everything goes well. Basically everyone is crying.
-Evening meditation: Keep focusing on the diamond shape and start experimenting, trying to remember stuff from MTCTB. Try to experience as many sensations as possible as fast as I can. Start going super fast. "No, this isn't it." Try to go super slow. "This isn't it either." Start to rapidly switch between fast and slow. "Nope." Switch to sense of space. Go super big, try to feel the whole universe around me. Then try to go super small inside me. Realize that both of those exist at the same time. There is an infinitely big and infinitely small universe inside everyone of us, which is this universe.
-Then kind of nothing happens. No big experience, just... nothing? Not even the feeling of nothing, more like no-thing. Similar to having the AC on all day, so your ears get used to the sound and ignore it. Then the AC turns off, and you just sense this silence, but can't pinpoint where it's coming from.
-Open my eyes, kind of confused, look around at other students. Weird sense of them just being there. Look outside the window at some trees. They don't seem to be "there" or "here", they just... are. Body sensations are happening, thoughts are happening. They're just a lot less... me? Less filtered by the mind and not clingy. Thoughts are less solid, smaller, more around the jaw level instead of filling the whole head. "Interesting, I'll see how long this lasts."

DAY 7:
-Just keep doing practice and just investigating this new way of experiencing everything. It doesn't seem to go away.
-Retreat starts coming out of silence. We do a sharing circle. Almost everyone is grateful and crying. Huge feeling of community and love and support.
-Talk with other students, take a ride home with some of them, talking non-stop.

-First two days, boundless love towards everyone and everything. Feel very high, intense staring. Someone on the retreat compared this to being on shrooms, just without all the psychedelic parts and it lasting longer (I've never done shrooms, too scared of a bad trip).
-Slowly start calming down with all the oversharing and "hypomanic" energy. Sleep in small 2 hour segments. Three segments in a night.
-Two weeks later now, still feel that sense of immediate experience not being filtered though the mind. I used to feel that I was the mind, now I see it's only a part of me, a tool to be used with the heart and the body.
-No more fear towards the world. Having a lot of random positive encounters with strangers. Connecting with old friends. Going through our childhoods with my sister. Feeling all the feelings I used to be scared of and pushed down to protect myself and my heart.

But yeah, I would be curious to hear what people think. Not trying to claim any attainments, nor am I attached to any kind of attainment. I just know that this way of existing is way better than the one before the retreat. And also curious where I should focus my practice next.

shargrol, modified 3 Months ago at 6/5/23 6:15 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/5/23 6:15 AM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 2125 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds really good ToniA.

I wouldn't try to put this in a box yet. Mapping really doesn't have a benefit unless someone is stuck --- and you definitely don't sound stuck!

I would recommend just respecting the opening you had while on retreat and explore how to incorporate it into your life. Nothing special to practice, but you might want to go back to daily sitting... or it might be that your opening allows you to see more practical things in your life you want to focus on (freinds, relationship, work, education, art, etc.). The whole point of practice is to more fully live your life, so "more practice!!!!: isn't always the answer. emoticon

​​​​​​​Don't worry, life leads onward and you'll figure out what comes next for you.

It's great that you know about the maps because after most openings there is often a period of readjustment. The less important stuff falls away. This can feel like "losing" aspects of our life. There is also a tendency to fetishize or idealize spirituality and then get angry about everything else about life (which is imperfect and complicated). If you can be patient with yourself, any readjustments will go a lot easier. So remember the middle path and that life has it's ups and downs --- and that is NORMAL. When life can be allowed to go through it's normal ups and downs there is a lot less suffering, for sure.

Hope this is helpful in some way. 
Toni A, modified 3 Months ago at 6/5/23 11:20 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/5/23 11:20 PM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 4 Join Date: 6/4/23 Recent Posts
Thank you, that was actually really helpful! Yeah, I kind of landed on the same plan of just not forcing anything, trying to live according to my values and just keep up the daily practice and see what (if anything) happens.

The things I've dropped from my life are things I've had trouble dropping for years. Eating meat, endlessly browsing news etc. And connecting people is something I've wanted to do for years and I'm now capable of doing that. I have no idea how long this "state" will last but I'm going to enjoy it as long as that's possible. And when it goes away, at least I know it is a possible way of living.

I'm really glad and grateful that I read (or rather skimmed) MTCTB years ago. If I hadn't known about the Dark Night I have no idea how I would've handled it. And I'm glad I didn't remember all the stages and their characteristics because I probably would've tried too hard to achieve them instead of just opening up and letting whatever happens to happen.

Tony Norris, modified 3 Months ago at 6/11/23 6:11 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/11/23 6:11 AM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 55 Join Date: 6/9/23 Recent Posts
Congrats!  Having "no more fear towards the world" sounds like something worth celebrating.
Toni A, modified 3 Months ago at 6/15/23 11:43 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/15/23 11:43 PM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 4 Join Date: 6/4/23 Recent Posts
Tony Norris
Congrats!  Having "no more fear towards the world" sounds like something worth celebrating.

Thank you! Experiencing the world this way is celebration in itself. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, or re-learning something I haven't thought or felt in a while. And also learning from the hard and "negative" things in the world. Last weekend I did a one day online metta retreat which really helped with understanding the nature of suffering and how to approach it within others.
Tony Norris, modified 3 Months ago at 6/30/23 9:31 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/30/23 9:31 AM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 55 Join Date: 6/9/23 Recent Posts
Thanks Toni. I was thinking of doing an online metta retreat myself. I'm very full of resentment and irritation, it's getting to a critical point 

​​​​​​​Which one did you do? 
Toni A, modified 3 Months ago at 6/30/23 9:33 AM
Created 3 Months ago at 6/30/23 9:33 AM

RE: First retreat, somewhere beyond Dark Night

Posts: 4 Join Date: 6/4/23 Recent Posts
Oh, this one was in Finnish but from what I understood it was pretty common metta practice.