Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

thumbnail
Daniel T Johnson, modified 11 Years ago.

Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
I recently sat a 20 day retreat in Bodh Gaya with Christopher Titmuss and Radha Nicholson. I took some notes during the retreat and I wanted to put them all together and share here. Your comments, thoughts, advice is most welcome.

Going into the retreat, the hypothesis I was working with was that I had arrived at Equanimity with dips back into Dark Night. (At least, I think this is how the map works). I'm still not sure how helpful the maps have been for me, but it's fun anyway.

I had mostly been practicing Goenka-style Vipassana (posted about it earlier), and I was prepared for something different this time. The teachers seemed reluctant to give firm instructions like Goenka does, and rather they gave more responsibility to the yogi to find what works best for him. I ended up floundering with this for a while, and ultimately just went about using Goenka with a little bit more open mindfulness here and there, and occasional noting or inquiry. According to my notes, I didn't seem to really start practicing until about day 13. But, better late than never.

This being my first time in India, I had many challenges with the environment as well. But, you'll see as I go along with the report.

Here's the play-by-play...

Day 1:
Slowing down. Anapana. Settling mind. Typical of a day 1. Felt cold & flu symptoms coming on.

Day 2:
I recieved a warm India welcome - Illness! From my notes: "HELL DEATH PAIN." Head pain, fever, snot everywhere. Attempting to work with the illness, I had some profound moments of letting go. 2 specific moments which felt like dying - like I was ready to die - like I was letting go into a deeper peace. That was kinda cool - it was almost dissapointing to discover that actually I was still alive. lol. Most of my attention, however, was on taking care of my body.

Day 3:
It got worse before it got better. "Lots of crying" Took medicine and then slept. Changed rooms to a single kuti. Dark room, alone in bed - heaven. Slept most of the day. Meditation-wise: Some moments of stabilizing or resting the mind. This seemed like maybe what Ajahn Brahm refers to as "the Nimmita." The mind was simply resting on a mental object. This kept me motivated to keep practicing despite the illness.

Day 4:
More sleep. Started getting confused by the multitude of teachings being suggested. I contemplated the impermanence of all this. From Goenka to Titmuss - Annica! Body was healing itself.

Day 5:
"Health Back to 75%. Sitting again." Lots of insights, plus more experiences of "stabilizing" concentration. Experienced ome bliss, which is something I'm developing my capacity for. Each time I'm just a little more comfortable with it, and that feels like success. Progress was ungrounded however, and I started having lots of distracting thoughs (that will continue for some days) about fruition/stream entry. "Is this it? Was that it? Am I here? Where am I? When? What? How?..." on and on... I knew that this couldn't possibly be helpful, but my mind was quite hooked on the subject. Very lost in the concept of "stream entry." Craving, excitation, etc.

Day 6:
Similar to day 5, more insights, more equanimity. Thoughts of "this must be equanimity." And, equanimity with those thoughts. Equanimity with the craving, circular thinking, etc. Not what I expected in that it was more equanimous rather than joyful. It was just an ok-ness with everything. I explored this experience with no urgency to move past it. Still lots of commentary though.

Day 7:
More of the same. Progress with insights and practice. But, still comentary, attachments, excitation with each step of progress. Some moodiness. Still confused and lost about technique and teachings.

Day 8:
Practice is scattered, dull, and lost with occasional powerful insights. Health mostly better, but body pain still. Finally starting to adjust to India.

Day 9:
Still feeling lost and confused with technique. I interviewed with the teacher (Radha) and asked about it. She anwered, "middle path" and "whatever frees the mind." This didn't help much. I decided to just go on faith: "all questions are eventually answered through the practice."

Day 10:
Faith helped. Back to awareness and equanimity. Started getting a sense of what's meant by "formations." I described it in my notes like this: "seeing that this moment is not the last moment." Because this was the transition day between the two ten-day retreats, I took the afternoon to go sit under the Bodhi Tree! A cool advantage of sitting in Bodh Gaya. Christopher Titmuss showed up that evening with an epic opening talk. Very happy to have him here. Craving and excitement about it too.

Day 11:
Adjusting to "new" retreat. Still grappling with craving for "stream entry." Excitation, wanting, etc.

Day 12:
Finally, I just decided to drop all the "stream entry" stuff and drop the maps, and all the Dharma Overground stuff. Slow day. Some doubt about why I'm even here or why do any of this. Some pain and confusion.

Day 13:
Doubt got worse, so I sat down and asked my inner guidance what to do. Inner guidance gave a very clear response: "just do the retreat." This settled my mind considerably. Ease and ok-ness now. Staying with direct experience.

Day 14:
Mind calming. Remembering a lot of old "lessons learned" and getting back in the groove of practice. Doing less, being more.

Day 15:
Christopher said: "harcore buddhists are just a nightmare!" lol. I went deeper into being with direct experience. Relaxing, happier.

Day 16:
Chill day!
Tranquility and Joy. Lots of "just sitting" and not using any technique. Loving the retreat and most everything around me. Finally letting go. Concious and relaxed.

Day 17:
From note: "PAIN. Lots of pain." I think I overdid it with the sitting yesterday. Body soreness, physical pain. Sore muscles. Thoughts starting to come up about "after the retreat," so concentration weakening a bit.

Day 18:
Pains and doubts (see my other recent post: http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/363935)
wondering if I have a serious physical condition. Lots of time in bed. Christopher suggested "moving the energy" with yoga or a brisk walk. This maybe helped a little, but mostly staying in bed helped. Very bright vivid lucid dream at night. Still relaxing into the ups and downs of experience. Restlessness about the end of the retreat building.

Day 19:
More pain in body. Christopher led an inquiry about "what is nirvana?" and it was phenomenal! I felt big chunk of misconception dropping away. Some deep and profound insights that I can't really explain in word. Practice was strong, but still overcome with lots of body pain. Lots of time in bed. Contemplating dukkha.

Day 20:
It's over. Pain continues. From notes: "amazing level of happiness and trust throughout the pain."

I'll also give an update regarding the advice I got last time I posted here. Mostly, I was told to "keep going" and yes... that was helpful as always. Always good to hear. I tried working with the advice from Daniel I. "incline to Fruition. Resolve to get stream entry, then just let it happen." But, I didn't really get that to work for me. Guess I didn't know what it means. Don't really know how to incline to fruition. The advice to keep up the investigation of everything was helpful, and that's in many ways what I did. That seemed to align very much with Christopher's teachings. I think maybe the advice will still just be "keep going," and that's probably really what I'll do. It somehow feels close.

After the end of the retreat, my body continued to be in pain, and I think this weakened my immune system too. I ended up getting another fever, Indian stomach ache, and just slept through the last two days. I saw a doctor today and got lots of medicine (all for 135 rupees or $3US). It's not even a week since the retreat ended, but it already seems like a long time ago. Overall, it seemed like all the turbulence made for a less focused retreat: illness, pain, new teachings, India in general.

I'm keeping a blog, and wrote about the retreat itself on my blog here:
http://bhavanatraveler.blogspot.com/2010/02/bodh-gaya-retreats-2010.html
(in case you want to know more). It was loud, and dirty, and it was India.

I'm still hoping to get an opportunity for a long retreat, but I'm concerned about my issues with physical pain and soreness (see other post). So, I'm not sure what's next. I'm also toying with the idea of ordaining as a monk for a few years in Thailand or something. Or maybe going trekking in Nepal for a while.

Anyway, I hope this long post may be of value here in this awesome Dharma community. And if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions, please let me know.

I'm still unsure about the whole map thing. And, I feel a funny embarrasment to be posting here and not as at least a measely "stream enterer." emoticon Oh, it's funny. I guess all I can say is that I try to do my best.

Be Happy,

Daniel
Nigel Sidley Thompson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 14 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
Just want to say thank you. I don't have anything very specific to say. But I thought that was a beautifully real presentation of your experience. And so it felt very generous and very helpful. Thank you.
thumbnail
Bruno Loff, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Daniel I'm not sure I'm ready to give advice on this, but since I felt that something in my relationship with pain has changed, and that this was essential to getting me into stream-entry, I might as well...

One of the things that I experienced on the Goenka retreat I've attended was how to "dissolve pain". In this last retreat I came to believe that the pains that arise in meditation are the result of accumulated nervous tension, flourishing to the surface, and found a systematic way of provoking this "pain-dissolution process".

When pain-tension would arise in meditation, I would repeatedly and insistently touch and accept. "Touch and accept" (T&A) corresponds to a specific thing that you can do. Repeated T&A with speed and effort (1st jhana) would turn into "pleasure-rush" kind of prickling sensations, as if little T&A's where happening by themselves many times (2nd jhana). Then I would dive into the prickling sensations, and the little T&A's would turn into larger, violent, unpleasant vibrations (3rd jhana). Then I would pay attention to the wider space surrounding the pain-tension area, and the wide violent pulses would smooth out into even wider, panoramic vibrations, which are no longer unpleasant (4th jhana). Then I would relax and let go, and these wider vibrations would subdue, eventually disappearing (complete tension-integration). Notice that only in the 1st jhana is there any effort involved; after that it is mostly a matter of paying attention the right way, without strain.

You might also come across pleasure-tension, which is dissolved by "touch and release" (could also be called "touch and let it out") instead of "touch and accept" (could also be called "touch and let it in").

Dissolving pain-tension and pleasure-tension everywhere was, I believe, what eventually got me into stream-entry. I think that "fruition" can be correctly defined as tension-integration happening in the whole conscious field, but maybe I'm in the wrong here. Notice that the process is counter-intuitive, because things will seem to get worst (3rd jhana) before they get better (4th jhana).

Maybe you could try and do the following experiment: Sit until you feel a localized pain, e.g., in your knee; do the Touch-and-Accept repeatedly with effort, and see if the four-jhana process gets going, and the pain eventually disappears.

If it does work, and you find that you "learned" how to do it, notice how energy gets released when tension is dissolved, and be aware that releasing too much at once might be get too intense; if it does, just slow down and you will be fine.

If you do try to do it I would love to know how it went.

Bruno
David A, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 27 Join Date: 10/10/09 Recent Posts
Hey Daniel,

Just finished a couple posts on your other thread...thought I'd add some comments here too.

Thanks so much by the way for sharing. I did a Dharma Yatra with Christopher Titmuss in France (I so very highly recommend doing that by the way, if you find yourself in Europe during that time) but have yet to do his Bodh Gaya retreats so it's interesting to hear about it as well as your personal experiences.

Daniel T Johnson:

I had mostly been practicing Goenka-style Vipassana (posted about it earlier), and I was prepared for something different this time. The teachers seemed reluctant to give firm instructions like Goenka does, and rather they gave more responsibility to the yogi to find what works best for him. I ended up floundering with this for a while, and ultimately just went about using Goenka with a little bit more open mindfulness here and there, and occasional noting or inquiry. According to my notes, I didn't seem to really start practicing until about day 13. But, better late than never.


I've noticed this can happen with yogis who have done primarily Goenka-style stuff in the past. I knew a couple who found their first open-style retreat to be very disorienting. Like you, though, once they got used to it though they were grand.


After the end of the retreat, my body continued to be in pain, and I think this weakened my immune system too. I ended up getting another fever, Indian stomach ache, and just slept through the last two days. I saw a doctor today and got lots of medicine (all for 135 rupees or $3US). It's not even a week since the retreat ended, but it already seems like a long time ago. Overall, it seemed like all the turbulence made for a less focused retreat: illness, pain, new teachings, India in general.


If you find this happening a lot you might want to consider switching to a vegetarian diet for a while (if you're not vegetarian already). I've traveled in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and SE Asia and have very rarely gotten sick or even diarrhea. I've been told by a travel nurse that being vegetarian probably has something to so with that as often the illnesses can come in by way of the meat.

Consider keeping some packets of electrolyte handy. You can buy them anywhere (you might need to ask for a specific brand name like Electral). It is super easy to get dehydrated and once that happens drinking more plain water won't necessarily help. Once your part of India starts to heat up you are going to be sweating and losings salts like mad, and when dehydrated you can often feel like you have a fever or even malaria when in fact all you need to do is drink some electrolyte and 30 minutes later you'll be fine.

If you start getting heat rash, go to the store and ask for "Shower to Shower". It's a powder you put on the skin. In any case heat rash usually goes away after a week or so.

By the way, if you haven't found the site already, Indiamike.com is great.

Thanks again for sharing your retreat experience.
thumbnail
Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for your descriptions.

They brought back fond memories of my two retreats there in 1995 and 1996.

As to vegetarianism, I was vegetarian during my year or so in Indian and was sick about 8 of the 12 months I was there with one thing or another, though in the last few months my immune system must have figured out how to deal with most of it, as it stopped happening.

Worth a shot, however.

Keep at it,

Daniel
thumbnail
Daniel T Johnson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Cushion Report: 20 Days in Bodh Gaya

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the responses.
I'm glad it was of value to some of you in some way.

Re: Vegetarianism
I've been veg for about 10 years now. (except a couple years of eating occasional fish). I don't think the illness is diet related. Other than the simple fact that India makes many people sick - I think it's mostly a weakened immune system, partly from jet lag, long hours of meditation, pollution, stress of being in India etc... And, partly from a sort of aversion I'm having toward India. I'm not enjoying India a whole lot. I'd rather be out in nature breathing fresh air, than in dirty polluted disorganized villages and cities.

Re: Pain dissolution
This actually sounds very similar to what has been going on for me already. Although, I would use different words to describe it, and some of what you were saying didn't quite make sense to me. But, I'd say day 16 was definitely what you described as 4th jhana experiencing the space around the pain. It was awesome. And, then the next day, my body was wrecked. It didn't feel just like more pain to dissolve. It felt like damaged cells.

Anyway, it's nice to read your description of the experience. I think perhaps it will just take some time. There seems to be quite a lot of old tension patterns that my body-mind is processing through right now. Lots. So, I'm sorta letting it do it's thing.

Re: "keep at it."
Thanks. For some reason, that really is helpful to hear from someone with experience. I don't know if it's some past trauma wound or whatever, but I have a lot of fears come up that people are always going to tell me to stop... "don't keep at it." I think that's part of the aversion that has come up around western buddhism... that they're going to say "be gentle and just stop and sit around and be a lazy loser because otherwise you're not having compassion." he he... that's my projection, and it feels kinda good just to write it out like that.

"Keep at it" is exactly what I want to do! Aye Aye, Captain!

Breadcrumb