Retreat suggestions?

Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 12:36 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 12:36 AM

Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Over the past year, I've been trying but failing to achieve some kind of consistency in practice. At one point I was meditating daily, for at least 35 minutes a sit, and sometime two such sits separated by 15 minutes of kinhin at my local Zen centre. But then some travel came along and I lost the habit. SInce then it's been fits and starts. I'm still meditating, but not consistently and with no apparent progress as far as I can see.

I'm wondering if perhaps a short retreat (weekend, maybe a week at most) would be a useful kick start.

If so, can anyone recommend a retreat centre that has an approach consistent with MCTB? I've heard good things about IMS and Spirit Rock. Can anyone confirm that those are the real deal? Anywhere else?
thumbnail
Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 8:26 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 8:26 AM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 383 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Could you elaborate on what prevent you from practicing more? Whatever make it hard for you to practice, is it going to be lifted during a retreat?
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 8:54 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/29/12 8:54 AM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
Could you elaborate on what prevent you from practicing more? Whatever make it hard for you to practice, is it going to be lifted during a retreat?

I had already, but deleted it because it made the post a bit long.

Overall it's like anything else -- exercising, dieting, etc -- it seems harder if you're doing it entirely on your own. And I did indeed find my practice took off when I moved my meditation from my own study at home to the local Zen centre. I hadn't thought it would help -- we don't actually interact during zazen. But it did. So that's why I'm thinking a retreat might help.

Things making it hard?

First, poor sleep. I sleep badly. I actually have severe sleep apnea, but the treatment for that isn't showing much impact. The result is that although I want to get up early enough to get a meditation session in first thing (for me that's 4:45am) I often don't get to sleep until 2:00am. So an early rise is hard.

Second, apparent pointlessness. I find meditation very difficult, and utterly ineffective in the short term. I accept that it takes time, but what would make it easier to push through the newbie stage is to have some idea of the riches ahead. But while MCTB and the surrounding DhO culture seems to have made it OK to talk openly about the "technical" achievements (Nth jhana, Stream Entry, and so on), there still seems to be a bit of a taboo on talking about the good things it all does for one's life. One part of me puts it down to those good things being ineffable, and so one must simply have faith that Whatever It Is That Meditation Brings will be good. None of that is actually stopping me getting down on my ass and meditating, but I imagine it creates an unconscious resistance that contributes to my slow/lack-of progress.

Pre-empting another question you might have -- if the Zen centre helped, why did I stop? Partly the sleep thing. The reason I try for 4:45am rise is because that's when I'll need to get up if I ever muster the energy to go back to the centre. But partly because sitting at the Zen centre seemed to have little if anything in common with the MCTB style of things. I did get an explanation for that here, but I guess the overall point is that I began to see Zen as exacerbating the apparent pointlessness. Where MCTB says, "Do A until B happens, and then start doing X until Y begins, at which point start dong ...", Zen seems to say "Shut up and sit there and in 100 years nothing will happen but that's the point". :-)

But I think this is all just another way of saying, I'm a lazy git and just need some encouragement. I kinda figured a short period of immersion with other humans who are in some way aligned around the MCTB style would be a nice ... well, a nice retreat.

What do you think?
thumbnail
Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 12:55 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 12:55 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 383 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
I should also have ask "What motivate you to practice in the first place?" Why not learn to knit, take painting courses, go to the gym? There more be some motivation there too?
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 8:47 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 8:47 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
I should also have ask "What motivate you to practice in the first place?" Why not learn to knit, take painting courses, go to the gym? There more be some motivation there too?

Good idea. I'll take up knitting. Thanks.
thumbnail
Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:01 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:01 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 383 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
Robert McLune:
Simon T.:
I should also have ask "What motivate you to practice in the first place?" Why not learn to knit, take painting courses, go to the gym? There more be some motivation there too?

Good idea. I'll take up knitting. Thanks.


Seriously. What motivated you to get into this whole thing?
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:15 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:15 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Simon T.:
Robert McLune:
Simon T.:
I should also have ask "What motivate you to practice in the first place?" Why not learn to knit, take painting courses, go to the gym? There more be some motivation there too?

Good idea. I'll take up knitting. Thanks.


Seriously. What motivated you to get into this whole thing?

Seriously, why not just give me an answer to my primary original question and then we can talk about motivations. Where are good retreat centers that take an approach consistent with MCTB?
thumbnail
Simon T, modified 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:53 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 9/30/12 10:53 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 383 Join Date: 9/13/11 Recent Posts
The reason for my questions is that I don't believe that retreats are that good at creating a daily meditation habit. Now, I must admit that I did roll the mat more than once so people with stronger resolve might get better result. But that's all this all boil down to: how much motivation you have, how much you are willing to face the hindrance of the moment. Sure, being surrounded by other meditators can be motivating but you still need to figure out how to motivate yourself when you are all by yourself. All this pain, this anxiety, those random thoughts. At some point, you just have to handle it.

Sleepiness is indeed a very tricky hindrance. You feel like it's useless to meditate. The act of trying to stay awake can create some tension. I found that sensation in the body, especially the painful one, to be a good object of meditation in that situation. Focusing to much on the breath can make one ever more sleepy. Actually, what made the biggest difference for me was to change my eating habits. I wondered why I was feeling so sleepy during retreats. It was because of the ridiculous amount of rice we eat. I eliminated entirely rice and all kind of grains (wheat, oat, etc) from my diet and cut on sugar and sleepiness is no longer a problem. Some call this the paleo diet. It take a few weeks to see the difference but once you made the switch, you never go back.

Don't forget that every awaken second you live is an opportunity to be mindful. Time on the cushion is important for progress but you need to maintain mindfulness in daily life too.

I never been to any center in the US so I cannot comment on that.
Jigme Sengye, modified 9 Years ago at 10/2/12 3:29 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/2/12 2:52 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
I recommend Tathagata Meditation Center in San Jose, California. See http://tathagata.org/

The teachers are Mahasi tradition sayadaws from the Panditarama meditation center in Burma, the cost is only $25 a day, everything included and the food is great despite being vegetarian. The abbot Beelin Sayadaw, and some of the visiting sayadaws actually studied with Mahasi Sayadaw, so they're quite serious, know their stuff and are very good teachers.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 10/4/12 7:55 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/4/12 7:55 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Jigme Sengye:
I recommend Tathagata Meditation Center in San Jose, California. See http://tathagata.org/

The teachers are Mahasi tradition sayadaws from the Panditarama meditation center in Burma, the cost is only $25 a day, everything included and the food is great despite being vegetarian. The abbot Beelin Sayadaw, and some of the visiting sayadaws actually studied with Mahasi Sayadaw, so they're quite serious, know their stuff and are very good teachers.

Thanks Jigme. That looks both scary and promising.

Do you have any thoughts on how advanced in one's own personal practice one should be before embarking on a retreat at this center? I'd only be considering a weekend retreat to start with, but even there it looks a bit daunting. They have a 5am start and advise no food after mid-day. If that is a guide to the level of meditation, then I can only assume it's pretty intense and these are serious dudes.

Do you think it would be suitable for a relative beginner like myself (longest sit is only 40 minutes), and longest meditation in a day is three such sits (two in the morning separated by 15 minute kinhin, followed by one in the evening)?

Thanks for your advice.
Jigme Sengye, modified 9 Years ago at 10/5/12 11:55 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/5/12 11:44 AM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Robert McLune:

Thanks Jigme. That looks both scary and promising.

Do you have any thoughts on how advanced in one's own personal practice one should be before embarking on a retreat at this center? I'd only be considering a weekend retreat to start with, but even there it looks a bit daunting. They have a 5am start and advise no food after mid-day. If that is a guide to the level of meditation, then I can only assume it's pretty intense and these are serious dudes.

Do you think it would be suitable for a relative beginner like myself (longest sit is only 40 minutes), and longest meditation in a day is three such sits (two in the morning separated by 15 minute kinhin, followed by one in the evening)?

Thanks for your advice.


Sure. Going on a short retreat, like a weekend retreat will kickstart your practice and familiarize you with the routine of retreats so you can handle progressively longer ones. Being in the setting of a retreat cuts through all sorts of obstacles to meditation.

I wasn't a beginning meditator, but I was a beginner at Mahasi-style noting when I first went there for their 3 week November retreat in 2009. I loved it. I also suffered a great deal of leg pain at that first retreat due to spending so much time in a sitting posture without moving. It's easier on your body than a Goenka retreat, since they alternate between an hour of sitting and an hour of walking meditation. Other people who had less meditation experience than me (I'd been practicing 1 to 2 hours a day of a sitting qigong method for 2 years at that point) mentioned at the end of the retreat that they either had no leg pain or much less. YMMV. I had nearly no pain when I returned for a month-long retreat. After a while, the legs or whatever muscle that is tensing up will simply relax and stay that way. While it is marginally better, there's no ironclad rule that you have to sit without shifting your posture for one straight hour per sitting. As long as you note the movements, emotions and thoughts, shifting your posture after 40 minutes of sitting (or whatever you're used to) isn't going to keep you from meditating. Also, there's no one going around with a stick to make sure that you're sitting like a rock. When you get close to stream entry, you might start having spontaneous involuntary movements due to energetic build up. I recommend being nice to your body while on retreat, especially your knees and back. Meditating on pain is fantastically concentrating, but it's also unnecessary self-torture past a certain point. They have no problems with meditators sitting on chairs while in the meditation hall. I got 2nd path at home while sitting on a chair. It doesn't interfere with mindfulness at all.

About the really early wake up, think of it as traveling to a place with a different timezone. If you can adjust to the time change, you'll get enough sleep. Unfortunately, for a short retreat, you'll have less time to adapt. Regarding the food, I normally do a fairly intense exercise routine, so I'm used to eating a lot more than most people my size. Standard portions are not sufficient for me and a lack of protein from vegetarianism is something I find depressing. It turned out to not be a problem. The center is run by the local Vietnamese community and they view food preparation as dana to meditators. They do it lovingly and in large quantities. The breakfasts include a lot of asian dishes that could also considered lunch in addition to more standard breakfast food like cereal, porridge, toast, hard boiled eggs, etc... I would basically stuff myself at both meals to make sure I was getting the usual amount of calories and protein (eggs, beans and tofu). I'd run out of mental energy by the last meditation session of the night, but I wouldn't get hunger pangs. Stuffing yourself will probably make the 2 PM sitting a battle with drowsiness, but it doesn't matter.

I've also had sleep problems for most of my life. I'd hesitate to say that in general meditation fixed this problem. It's more that specific meditations have mostly fixed the problem. I mostly just meditate at night. Breath meditation at night makes me way too alert to sleep, so I avoid it. I take it that your Zen practice is a mindfulness of breathing meditation. Any body awareness or mindfulness meditation that doesn't involve deep absorption in jhanas will relax me to the point of making it easy to fall asleep right away when I go to bed. This depends on having a regular daily practice schedule. The flip side of this is that I've become a bit dependent on meditation to feel tired enough to sleep. I usually sit for 1 to 2 hours. If I sit for less than 45 minutes, I find it a bit harder to sleep. Regarding the retreat, it's quite a bit of a work. I tended to be exhausted at the end of each day and went to sleep easily. I had a few bouts of insomnia, but those were generally due to meditative effects like high equanimity or other highly pleasant meditative weirdness.

About the duration of the sits, the first time you go to this kind of retreat, it can be a bit of a shock to the system, but it also dramatically ups your game. Your home practice will benefit dramatically if you can maintain momentum coming out of the retreat. A lot of people do shorter retreats of varying durations (weekends, one week, etc...). You can call them to arrange that.

In terms of the instructions, until the Sayadaws think you've hit the A&P, they'll probably tell you to note the rising and falling of the abdomen unless you report back to them about noting other sensations. Regarding the A&P, do you feel vibrations or any other energetic sensations?

Interviews with a Sayadaw are every day or every other day. There's specific format to report in. The office has a handout you can ask for, though I saw it online and I'll try to find it and post a link. The Sayadaws like meditators who follow the reporting format.

Also, if you are planning on going for any sort of Mahasi-style retreat for more than a weekend, I recommend spending a few practices before the retreat familiarizing yourself with effective ways of doing noting-based meditation other than just rising and falling. The description of First Gear on this page: http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/ and the description of detailed noting on this page http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.ca/2011/02/yogi-toolbox-detailed-noting.html are the practices I used to get stream entry. Even though the Sayadaws constantly mention noting rising and falling in dhamma talks, this is really just to get your concentration to the point where you can really do vipassana. It's just meant as one example of how to do noting. Once you've passed the A&P (they won't put it in those terms and they won't accept someone saying "I'm post 4th ├▒ana", but they will accept detailed descriptions of sensations), assuming you can report properly, they'll want you to note as many things as possible.
Robert McLune, modified 9 Years ago at 10/5/12 1:25 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/5/12 1:25 PM

RE: Retreat suggestions?

Posts: 255 Join Date: 9/8/12 Recent Posts
Jigme, that's superb. I can't thank you enough. And in fact I think I'll give it a go. If I do, I'll report back on how I get on.
Again thanks!

Breadcrumb