Assessing the last six months of my practice

thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:10 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:10 AM

Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
So, I just got back from 6 months work retreat at a S.N. Goenka center. About 6 weeks in, I found MTCB and the game completely changed. It turns out, I had quite a few misconceptions about what meditation is (and probably still have quite a few). The last 3-4 months, after having read the book, I really wanted to put it into practice.

The hangups:
First though, and I get a little chuckle out of thinking about this, I met with some hangups. One hangup was getting caught on the instruction: "Avoid wallowing in your 'stuff' at all costs." Sure enough, I generated a lot of aversion toward wallowing in my stuff. I even spent a fair amount of time beating myself about it. Lol... that was dumb. Eventually, I just decided to surrender to the apparent fact that I am a stuff-wallower. Yup. This is how things seem to be right now. Sometimes, I'm really into observing sensatiosn; Sometimes, I seem to spend days on end wallowing in "stuff." And, I still haven't really figured out how to kick that habit (other than more practice). I must say that "Avoid wallowing in your stuff" is easier said than done for me.
The second hangup was a over-fascination with the map. Goenka is fairly vague about the maps, and a little fantastical about it too, so when I found the MCTB maps, I was pretty excited. However, this spent to way too much time spent thinking about where I am, planning where I want to go, wondering when I would get there, etc... I still like the "goal-oriented" nature of MCTB, but it really highlighted the goal-attached nature of my mind.

As part of that, I feel kinda ashamed now to write on this forum that I spent 6 months on retreat (during which time I did five 10-day sits)... and I still haven't crossed the A&P. Of course, I guess I don't feel that much shame if I'm willing to put it on the internet where any Joe Schmoe can read it. More like bashful. emoticon

But, really, I think I spent most of my time in Three Characteristics or lower. When actually doing a 10-day sit, it seemed that I could hit the early stages of A&P around day 8 or 9, and I'd experience lingering effects for a little while after the sit too.

This is why I say it, and please correct me where I may be wrong: Most of my 10-day sits started with LOTS of pain. LOTS of it. If I was lucky, later in the retreat, the pain would go away, and things would be moving freely, with a high(er) level of equinimity, there would be more pleasant vibrations/tingles. Goenka's assesments are whether or not one can feel a sensation on any part of the body. "When you place your attention on any part of the body, instantly you feel a sensation there." I never reached that stage.

Here's one other observation, though, which I don't know where to fit in: My sensory acuity greatly increased. I was feeling incredibly subtle sensations - very quick, or very faint, or very small. I could have a tight pulsing intense pain in my neck, but still I could ignore it and observe a tiny little pinpoint tingle arising and passing on my toe. Many sensations started breaking down into their smaller components. On this level, I made a ton of progress.

And even though my assessment is that I'm still pre-A&P (which is reminiscent of being pre-pubescent)... even still, I had an INCREDIBLE 6 months, and I feel like a completely different person today than when I went in. I feel SO much more metta, radiating out of me on a daily basis. I feel so much more at peace with myself, my family, my friends, the world! I feel HAPPY! And, happy for no reason, just strangely happy all of a sudden. My mind is much quieter, and I'm much more equanimous with whatever's going on around me. I feel like 1000 times less conceited, self-centered, and arrogant. I feel like an enormous chunk of my self judgment, self-hatred, and self-blame just kinda disappeared. Out of all the ten years of self-help and spiritual stuff I did before this, I think I did about 10 times more transformation over the last six months than all that combined. I don't know what all this means. Does this mean that I was practicing the wrong thing? Does it mean that I've misjudged where I am on the path? Does it just mean that I get excited over little things, and what I consider 1000% now will someday look like 1%?

Perhaps it has something to do with me being still a bit unclear on the boundaries between morality, concentration, and insight. I think maybe I was practicing all three, not so much because I intended to, but more as a matter of habit. And, actually, now thinking about it more, I think maybe it's a matter of trust, since samadhi and vipassana practices are pretty new to me, I'm still learning to trust them. Meanwhile, dealing with "stuff" has been a main focus of mine for quite a few years now.

I must say that there is a thought in my head that if I spent six months only to get to early A&P, then I better plan on it taking me a couple decades before I'm working the higher paths or looking anywhere near arahat. Realistically, I don't actually care if it takes me 50 years to become an arahat, since that's still pretty damn cool no matter when it happens. But, the idea that people here talk about the A&P event as if it was like learning how to not pee your pants when your 6 years old... it kinda does a weird mind-boggling thing to my mind.

Well, if you read any of all of this post, that's awesome. I know I like to write, so I wrote a lot. If you didn't read anything.
Please read this: Thank you for this site, it's way cool. Kudos!

Best,

Daniel J.
thumbnail
Dark Night Yogi, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:06 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:06 AM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
Hello! Thank you. I enjoyed and am inspired reading your post. What was missing from my everyday life that i realized when taking a goenka course is morality. back to real life, its harder to maintain that morality emoticon best wishes to readjusting back to your life!

I read your post critiquing goenka course and you mentioned if it were the only course available, its still awesome, but there are better available. Do you have your sights on what technique you will try next :-)
thumbnail
Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:46 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 5:46 AM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Good post, Daniel.

I treat "dealing with my stuff" as "training in morality", in MCTB terms. Have you read the chapter on "harnessing the power of the defilements"? There's quite a bit of "oomph" in our dark emotions, which can be used to fuel practice.

Fascination with maps and models is common here. I'm a map geek myself. I found the chapter on "a clear goal" in MCTB to contain very useful advice for handling this skillfully.

Cheers,
Florian
thumbnail
Constance Casey, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 9:59 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 9:59 AM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 47 Join Date: 9/21/09 Recent Posts
Thank you for your practice. There is much to learn, please continue - the learning is happening.
Chuck Kasmire, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 11:16 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 11:16 AM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Daniel T Johnson:
Here's one other observation, though, which I don't know where to fit in: My sensory acuity greatly increased. I was feeling incredibly subtle sensations - very quick, or very faint, or very small. I could have a tight pulsing intense pain in my neck, but still I could ignore it and observe a tiny little pinpoint tingle arising and passing on my toe. Many sensations started breaking down into their smaller components. On this level, I made a ton of progress.


Hi Daniel,
You're there. Stay with this process. Play with it, investigate it, explore it, open it up to the whole body, dive into it. I like Tarin's 'shuttle service to the surprise party' analogy over in the Frustration and deliverance thread. Sounds like you've been doing some serious shuttling. Trust the process – don't worry about the maps - and keep on shuttling!

-Chuck
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:10 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:09 PM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Constance Casey:
Thank you for your practice. There is much to learn, please continue - the learning is happening.


Oh Constance, you disturb my ego and nourish my heart all in one short sentence. emoticon
Thanks! Deep gratitude back at you.

And, thanks for all the responses. I had no idea I'd get so much response, encouragement, and wisdom so quickly.
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:58 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 12/31/09 1:51 PM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Mitch Jacinto:
I read your post critiquing goenka course and you mentioned if it were the only course available, its still awesome, but there are better available. Do you have your sights on what technique you will try next :-)


Well, I have a rather interesting story. I didn't want to write it all out because I wrote two long posts already and didn't want to just write my whole autobiography in one sitting. But, here's a little bit more of it anyway...

I did quite a bit of meditation in different forms before Goenka, but nothing ever really seemed to "fit" for me, or perhaps I never really understood what I was supposed to be doing. Goenka's course opened my eyes to a reality that I never knew existed, and to the path I had been looking for my whole life.

After that, I read a bunch of A.H. Almaas, and listened to a bunch of Adyashanti, and I started to think that there actually was such a thing as "enlightenment," and that it was actually quite attainable and quite ordinary. These two teachers were tremendously helpful in that regard, as unfortunately I never pursued meditation with much seriousness because I mostly thought that "enlightened" teachers didn't exist. So, the "mushroom culture" (as I guess y'all call it) kept me away from the dharma for a long time! I'd say Goenka is definitely a perpetuator of mushroom culture, but I love him for other reasons. Then, I found MCTB and wow... it was so NOT mushroom culture, and it integrated the theoretical stuff I'd learned from Adyashanti, etc with the Vipassana practice that I was immersed in. This was awesome for me, and I found most of the remaining scraps of doubt starting to fade. Of course, this inspired me to become even more committed to my practice.

So, that's how I came to become so committed to this path.

At the same time, I was a dating and relationship coach for single men who want to meet and keep the woman of their dreams. (That's a whole different story altogether.) But, as I began to meditate more and more, I saw the whole world of "self-help" tremble on it's knees in it's feeble smallness compared to the strength of the Dhamma. Not to knock it or anything, but it just started to look like such small potatoes, and so much of it seemed like people just running in circles in order to avoid looking at the Truth of their lives. So, I started getting the itch to get out of my job. It became pretty empty for me. And, also I realized that the place I was living in was a decked-out bachelor pad loft in the heart of SF - awesome for a dating coach, but pretty horrible for a meditator.

So, I reflected on the wise quote: "when you find yourself falling... dive!" And, I dove! I saved up a pile of cash, and then stopped working and moved out of my house and into the California Vipassana Center.

Now, it just so happened that I did a lot of travel for my work, so I also had a bunch of frequent flier miles saved up. And, they were set to expire in March of 2010. So, I had to act on that. Which brings me to what I'm doing now...

In less than two weeks, I'll be flying to Bodh Gaya were I intend to sit 20 days on retreat with the Christopher Titmuss crew. (If anyone else here is going, let me know). I'm probably overly-excited about being able to sit 20 days - which is another "con" I forgot to mention about Goenka's centers. (They have really inconvenient restrictions about long courses that really turned me off.)

So, I will sit 20 days in Bodh Gaya, and then take some time off to visit the Buddhist pilgrimage sites around the area.

Then, I've gotten ahold of Ven. Vivekananda at Panditarama-Lumbini and I plan to head up to Lumbini, Nepal for an even longer retreat. I'm planning to stay there for about 12 weeks and study in the Mahasi/U Pandita tradition. I may be overly excited about it, but it sounds like exactly what I've been really wanting. Direct access to a highly qualified teacher (either Ven. Vivekananda himself, or his other highly qualified assistant teacher,) and 12 weeks of uninterrupted practice.

I already feel a lot of trust in the Mahasi tradition thanks to Daniel Ingram. And, so far, Vipassana has worked well for me, so I have no interest in switching to Zen or Tibetan, etc.

After that, I don't have any plans. I may feel called to come back to the US and begin integrating and rebuilding life here. Or, I may decide to plan out another 3-6 months at Panditarama-Lumbini. Or, maybe I'll decide to become a monk. Or, maybe I'll quit early and go back to the US and decide to become an emotionally repressed businessman. Or maybe I'll go to Japan and teach English. Or maybe I'll end up volunteering at an orphanage in some third world country. I really have no idea what the universe has planned for me. I'm trying to stay open and allow the path to reveal itself.

I was very careful not to burn bridges when I unplugged six months ago, but I also wouldn't really say that I have anything significant to get back to. No real career path, no wife, no kids, no debt, no attachments. I figure I have enough savings that I could probably spend about 2 years in India/Asia (assuming I spent a good portion of the time at monasteries/meditation centers) before I would run out of money.

I also realize that the longer I stay unplugged, the harder will be the transition back to "worldly" life. But, I also figure that if/when I'm ready to transition back to worldly life, the universe will probably align to give me the strength and motivation to face those difficulties in due time.

Life is a trip.

Thank you all for being so cool.

- Daniel
thumbnail
Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 2:04 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 2:04 AM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Sounds like Dark Night to Equanimity to me.

Just ok, doing well, better post long retreat: very likely Equanimity: incline to Fruition. Resolve to get stream entry, then just let it happen.

Keep up the investigation of mapping, expectation, space, you, this, that, self, other, and let it cut through the center fully, openly, clearly, naturally.

Good job.
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:36 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 1/3/10 1:36 PM

RE: Assessing the last six months of my practice

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Thanks,

I think maybe you're right about the Dark Night to Equanimity thing. That seems to fit.

Every time I do a ten day retreat, I always get my momentum going and then... the retreat ends! I've been wanting a long retreat for a long time.

I'll definitely keep you all posted after 20 days in Bodh Gaya.

Best,

Daniel

Breadcrumb