Cushion Report: Back To The Lab

Daniel Johnson, modified 12 Years ago at 3/12/10 1:33 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/11/10 1:35 AM

Cushion Report: Back To The Lab

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Having a bachelor's in Chemistry, perhaps I've been trained to be pretty thorough in my lab reports. That being the case, this is an insanely long post. If you read the whole thing, I commend you. I enjoyed writing it, however, so I'd like to share.

I'd been thinking about meditation and how it's like a completely different movement of the mind. Like a 5th dimension. Time, Space, and (to steal a word from Stephen Colbert) "Truthiness"... a dimension of truthiness from illusion to the Ultimate. And, meditation is movement along that 5th dimension.

I'm staying in Mcleod Ganj, India (home of the Dalai Lama), and thought it'd be good for a little self retreat (6 days). I managed it on about $7 per day for room and board, and had a beautiful rooftop terrace to do my walking meditation on (with eagles flying overhead!) I may come back and do it again someday, as it worked so well.

I was reading a little bit of Ch. 4 and 5 of MCTB to prepare, when something clicked. I instantly wanted to return to the lab and continue the experiment. I made a strong resolve to start right away and spend the entire six days focused on stepping out of the story and into the ultimate. To travel the 5th dimension.

With this boost of inspiration, I started strong, with long stretches of concentration - not missing a single breath. Psychological "stuff" started to emerge after about 3 hours of this, and moving into Day 2 as well. I felt like how I imagine the start of a Peyote trip would be. I was emotionally vomiting all the anger, blame, tightness, and other "stuff" that had been clogged up.

By the afternoon of Day 2, my mind was wandering a lot in the story, and doubts began to creep in. I went to an internet cafe and listened to a few minutes of an Adyashanti Satsang. He basically said something like this: "Spirit is just having a nightmare. That's all." I went back to my room and ended up catharting for about 2 hours, saying things to myself like "Spirit's having a nightmare" *sob* *sob*... "Spirit wants a banana with peanut butter." *sob*

Around 3:00PM, rather suddenly, the storm simply passed. There was calm, and the "trip" was officially underway.

Day 3: I switched from breath to sensations and my concentration was beginning to return. By the afternoon, I was in tears again! This time with a heart much wider open!

I was feeling the pain of the Indian working man on the street... feeling the vulnerability of life when one customer spending 200 rupees ($5) could make or break your day! My heart ached.

Keeping with the meditation into the evening, I decided to attend the candle light march through the streets of Mcleod Ganj that night. The monks and lay people had gathered in protest of the killing of innocent Tibetans in China. This brought up a lot of emotions, and in particular there was one monk who every time I looked at him, I started crying. The look on his face told the a profound story. The release came from deep in my belly. There is a photo I took of him here:

(My Photo Album from Dharamsala)

The morning of Day 4: concentration was weak again. I realized that I was still only at the surface of the mind with the tears, thoughts, and insights. And, I realized that going to the depth meant going to the bare sensations.

Regroup and keep practicing.

Day 4 afternoon: I was having a rough time (lots of pain), so I decided to journal. I put up a post here recently about dealing with pain in the conventional sense. That post was more in the field of morality, and how to take better care of my body. But, some of the responses I received were about dealing with pain in meditation, so I thought I'd journal about my experience of the pain.

What happened in the journaling was pretty cool. It turned out to be more like what Jed McKenna calls "Spiritual Autolysis".

The following is my unedited journal entry. Although it's very long, I think it really captures some of the raw data of this experiment and may be of value to the community here.

Note: When I start putting things in "quotes", that represents thoughts which were arising which I was simply observing objectively. In fact, putting them in quotes helped me be more objective. The comments which aren't in quotes are more like my running commentary for the journal (though I'm also aware that they were also just "thoughts" arising and passing). Please enjoy...

===== Journal Entry, Day 4, March 6, 2010 =====

Ugh! Frustration, then pain.

Not practicing much now, ie... not able to sustain attention much on anything. More running in thoughts.

Pain: breathing is labored like a subtle heavy feeling in chest and abdomen. With in breath, extends to tension in face, chest, arms, head, back.

Belly: Like struggling, discomfort, ache, tightening/contractions, tightness/tension, waves of pressure and soreness.

Head: Heavy, weak, tension throughout head, face, neck. Pressure on temples, forehead, back of head.

Back: tightness, contractions in upper back.

Lower Back: buzzing, pulsing, subtle tension, weakness, fatigue.

Shots of pain from back to chest through body. Tightness around eyes, tingling pains.

Knees: some soreness
Legs/thighs: sore, tingling discomfort
hips/buttocks: same
feet/hands: relatively ok.

Its so hard to describe. No solid pain anywhere. No "solid" sensations. Most feelings like fatigue, tightness, weakness, soreness are very difficult to locate in the body and usually at most I can only find some tingling type sensations./ The sharper pains move more, have more location, and come and go.

Emotionally: now exhausted. Been running in some loop - trying to get somewhere... don't know why... without it life sucks... can't stop... must keep going... hate life... what's the point... wanting to "be enlightened" or free from suffering. Seems like I was more free when I wasn't doing whatever I'm doing now. Don't know what I'm doing.

Cough: irritations in lungs.

Wanting things to be "easier". Wish I could vomit. Not eating well, like I forgot how to eat.

"meditation's not supposed to be like this" (thought arises) "How come I meditate and it just makes me miserable?" "This is hopeless, I hate this."

Shift now, as I write, realization about bare observation vs. "hopeful" observation or "wanting" observation.

In shift, notice with bare - then SO quickly back to "wanting."

"Why observe if there's nothing I want?"

Seems like something I only do as a last resort... like 'well, I guess I'm fucked... let me at least observe.' When I'm 'fucked'... observation is more objective. When I have "hope", then I have an agenda, a strategy, etc... adn I just start running around like a fuckhead. ... so exhausted.

Seeing the large scale of the task at hand - to catch the mind as it begins the running - over and over - catch it in all places - again and again - and each time to be confronted with the awareness that the "me" who wants to be free is the "me" that's creating the bondage. Over and over... seems HUGE.

"I don't like it."

So quick it is to add that extra little wanting. So quick!


Liking this now... this place of bear observation... Doh! then came the attachment to the "I like it." and "I did something right." So quick it is to come in and start clinging!!

Now wanting to "map" what's going on.

thought: "I can't just keep observing."
"that'd be weird!"
"I'm not doing anything if I do that."

Breathing feels nice. Arm feels tired and sore from writing. Gotta pee... (And I go pee here)

... Effort?
"I'm confused"
Confusion is like a movement in ts of directions, not still. Back to effort - question what is it? "Bare observation" - there's no effort there. There was a lot more effort before I started journaling.

Pride arising: "wow, this journaling is going great. Wow it's be fun to share this with people...I'm so good at this journaling thing... even now, I'm totally calling out that Pride.. that's awesome!..."

"What the fuck is effort?" - Angry
Question arises: "I'm feeling pissed off because I want to put in effort, but I don't fuckin' get it!"
Sometimes, I put in effort and "it works," sometimes, it just makes me miserable... What the fuck?!

Wanting to understand effort is more wanting... not observing.
"observing can't be enough." ... ? ... "can it?"...
"But, there's no trying to get anywhere?"
"I'm not even trying to answer my questions... or even listening to what I say."
"I'm just writing it down in my journal with quotes as if someone else said it."
"That's fucked up."...

Breathing (still feels good...)

... more good now.

Thinking is losing interest. Attachment to "observing" arising... "that observing thing really settled my mind... I need to do more of that..."

Not liking this again. Pain in neck and head. Sharp shooting type pain... soreness... tightness... tension... Inside head too. Behind ears. Now in chest. Heaviness. Shoulders, back, heaviness. Not liking it.

Flurry of thoughts... "what am I doing?" "Why am I journaling again?"

Depression.... Pain in arm...

Body heavy, pain throughout(like as described before)... Legs throb.
"Seriously... what am I doing?"
"Tempting question"...
"Do I observe it or consider it's contents?"
Ha!... funny arises... cyclical on itself... tempting again...

and breathing...


"But seriously..." Pain in neck. Tired now. "Don't want to journal or observe anymore."

Tiredness: softness, innocence, a little overwhelm, pain in head and back.

Memory: "I'm journaling because I wanted to report my findings so taht maybe someone can shed some light on it."
"Oh, yeah."
"wait, is that true? or is that just a thought about why I think I'm journaling..." hmmm....

Noticing: mind is quite active.
"Thinking is tiring."
All movement seems still to be movement in search of "a solution" or an "answer" or "liberation". All of it is like... "this train of thought is really going to get me somewhere!" with some enthusiasm.
Who's thinking the thoughts?

Oh... I saw the movement quicker now...

The quiet in between the thoughts, seems somehow disagreeable.
"I don't like that quiet."

"Ugh! Frustration and pain"

"Ha! That's where I started this journal entry!" "What the fuck?"
"Why did it loop?"
"How did I end up back here?" <-- Questioning.

Will stop journaling now, but noticing also attachment to the journaling... "that was helping" "or was it?" <--- Doubt.

Now more doubt. "I want this to help" <--- Whiny
Desperation. Frustration.

Fear: If I share this, I might be judged.

Wanting release. Pain in head, neck, back.

More doubt: "Should I journal more or not? Was that good? Was that meditation? Should I do that more often? Should I do it less often? What did I do? How did I do it?"

Hmm... a little joy for a second - joy of seeing the doubt and a second of freedom from it.

More pain. "I don't like this anymore." Ugh... tired. Exhausted. Pain. Want to fuck <--- that intensifies the pain. Hungry.
"I get it, though... annicca.. five hindrances... dukkha... it's all right here in this journal entry." <--- has an "I'm better than that" tone to it.
Dislike. Aversion to "it all being right here."
Aversion to everything... "I don't like any of this!"

Note: Sounds schizophrenic. All over the fuckin' place
"guess that's anicca." - now feeling a sorta "beat down" feeling, oh....

critical voice in head is saying: "yeah, it's so fuckin' obvious you idiot! Anicca... you've read a million times, don't you fuckin' see it? You're so fuckin' stupid! You'll never get it! Even now, you're still not fuckin' getting it!"
Noticing critical voice now explains the posturing of "I'm better than this" as defense.

And what would happen if I just dropped all of it... anicca...


"It's changing, ad it's not going to stop."
resistance. "I hate meditating" - oh yeah, more anicca.
"I don't want to see anicca... I don't fuckin' like this you idiot. Stop fuckin' journaling, 'cause this isn't fucking fun, you fucking idiot. I don't want to do this anymore."

"FUCK" - exasperation.


Surprise about the joy.

"hmm... why am I still journaling... it's the same ol' shit, just more blah blah blah... mind stuff."

"observing feels like work."

Thought about "effort" hmmm...
"This is all I do? just sit here and observe stuff? This sucks! This is so fucking lame. This isn't getting me anywh..............

DEEP Breath interrupted

Momentary Peace.


... body is relaxing...

peace. More peaceful.

Breathing feels good again.

... more peace, body feels a little better, relaxing, good feeling in body, joyful tingles in arms, chest. Still pain too in arms, face, neck, back, head. - quieter.

Thoughts arising wanting to "map" that event of letting go that just happened. "Always wanting to map." Thinking about this journal entry and how weird life is.

Want to just sit in silence for a second...

Noticing mind wanting to make something important of the letting go. "Wanting" arising again. Notice laziness slipped in: "I did a good job, so now I can rest." Noticing that it's still all arising and passing away - Anicca!

Thought: "I hope if I share this journal entry, it will help." Really wanting help... wanting deliverance, liberation, release.
Sadness. Sad sad sadness.

Noticing now how peace was just another event of anicca. "I wanted it to be something more. I wanted it to be some kind of victory."
More sadness. Pain in shoulders, back.
Thoughts about posting this on DhO: "what will I say? Will anyone read the whole thing?"

I will stop journaling now.

==== END of Long Journal Entry =====

Welcome back from the madness of my mind. emoticon
After this, my mind continued to calm down and sink into the peace. More ease, less suffering. Pains loosened, energy flowing. I didn't sleep much that night.

Day 5 morning: Energy channels were opening and flowing. Waves of pleasant sensations and relaxation through the body. When the mind was resting on objects, anicca and anatta were seen.

The surface was happy and calm, but also present was a subtle restlessness and aversion to slowing down any more. Not sitting - pain in neck, back, hips, knees, but this was a quieter pain now. This fel like healing.

The resistance was now at a much subtler level. Equanimity was strong and very balanced. I continued to apply effort to keep peeling off layers from that core agitation, while also maintaining the balanced mind.

Equanimity continued to strengthen into the afternoon. More energy was flowing, more peace. Concentration was still scattered, so I kept the effort on. I read some of ch. 6 from MCTB and my awareness of sensations sharpened further. But, by night time I began to tire again.

Morning of Day 6: Up at 4AM. Equanimity was still strong, and lots of Joy. With this came also lots of Pride, Arrogance, and rehearsing conversations. When I saw the pride and restless mind, I resolved to put fierce effort into anapana and still the mind. I spent about 2 hours in a battle (loving but fierce) to keep attention with the breath. It felt very appropriate, and then I just let go and napped for abut 30 minutes.

Upon awakening again, I had a beautiful full body contraction with quivering. A "relaxing into and release."

Despite the anapana, the mind was still wandering. However, mindfulness and investigation were strengthening while equanimity was solid. "Discipline and acceptance - continue the process. Breath by Breath." - I wrote in my journal.

This continued through the morning and into the afternoon. Self-image defenses were arising, along with body pain again. "Excruciating... burning behind eyes, center of head sharp pain,.. pulses, throbbing tension, soreness, etc." Another storm had hit, but equanimity and happiness were still present and very little involvement with "my stuff."

Practicing a tip from Thanissarro Bhikkhu, I focused on the sensations of the Joy. This spread into more joy and metta. "Metta for my body, metta for my mom, metta for my watch, metta for my camera." This dance of pain and equanimity continued into the night.

Day 7: All over. I took a wonderful 18km hike up into the base of the Himalayas. (you can see my blog post about the hike here: ) I noticed a lot of residual restlessness and agitation, but overall I had a good "transition back day."

A quick note about posture: After my post on pain, I took a resolve to "Gentle Perseverance" (Thanks, Constance Casey). During this retreat, I probably spent about 1 hour per day sitting, 1 hour per day walking, a couple hours around town and eating meals, etc. And, about 8-10 hours per day meditating in bed lying down (not to mention about 8 hours of sleep each night). A LOT of time in bed. Not very zazen of me, but it seemed to work well, and it didn't seem to impede much on the experiment at all.

Looking back on the whole thing now, I can see the very clear cycle of storms and peace coming and going. (I'm not sure if this would equate to Dark Night & Equanimity?) But, what's very cool to see is how each cycle was at a much deeper level. Each storm had less content and "stuff" and more root level dukkha. Each cycle of peace was vastly quieter and more expansive. Overall, I think this is the most conclusive result of my "lab work." Indeed: Going to the bare sensation means going to the depth.

I'm leaving for 50 days of retreat on March 15th, so I'll be back in the lab again soon. What a joy!

Any thoughts, words of encouragement, etc... would be greatly appreciated!

Metta from Mcleod Ganj,

David A, modified 12 Years ago at 3/13/10 10:44 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 3/13/10 10:44 PM

RE: Cushion Report: Back To The Lab

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

Thanks for sharing. I love McLeod Ganj/Bagsu/Dharamkot. Many fond memories of that place.

Glad to see you're doing lots of lying down practice to accommodate your current particular physical needs.

Is your feeling that the pain and unpleasantness that you experienced in this recently completed retreat due to meditation stuff, or do you think it is from straining? From your report it seems like the latter is a strong possibility. You clearly have strong intention and willpower, but I am wondering if you are applying too much force and coercion.

One thing you might want to experiment with is gradual ramping up of effort as opposed to maxing out 100% from the very start of the session/retreat. Giving yourself a long and comfortable warm-up period and incrementally and gently stepping up your program, giving yourself plenty of time to work up to your ideal level of performance, same as when doing a physical workout on weight machines or the treadmill.

So for example, let's say your goal is to be minutely aware of every single breath during a session or a retreat. You can start out by doing breath-counting and just being aware in a general way of each out-breath (as in just knowing "I'm breathing out number 1/2/3/...etc" without awareness of the fine details), and not making any effort whatsoever to be aware of the in-breaths. Doing this until it is very easy. Then adding the in-breaths. Continuing until it is easy. Then observing in fine detail the first breath of every ten. Then when this has become effortless, observing breaths one and two in fine detail. And so on, until you are at your goal of continuous, detailed awareness of each breath.
This is just an example to illustrate what I am trying to communicate, I'm not necessarily suggesting this as an actual program. But the main thing is the principle of firmly committing to not moving up to the next stage until you've reached a level of ease, comfort, and mastery of the stage you are currently at.

It's worth experimenting with for a few sessions or days, I think. I've found that the concentration built up in this way is deeper and more stable than concentration that has been brought about by force and pressure. In the end it may prove to be more efficient than just maxing out from the very beginning. Plus, any suffering that arises you'll know is coming from the meditation as opposed to excessive force.
Just a suggestion.

Have a great retreat with Open Dharma! If you find yourself getting lost or un-grounded do remember that the teachers are there for you. They are very dedicated to helping and are generous with their time.

Good job, man.
J E, modified 11 Years ago at 10/6/10 7:31 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 10/6/10 7:31 PM

RE: Cushion Report: Back To The Lab

Post: 1 Join Date: 9/25/10 Recent Posts
Thanks for sharing!
Daniel Johnson, modified 11 Years ago at 10/7/10 5:32 PM
Created 11 Years ago at 10/7/10 5:32 PM

RE: Cushion Report: Back To The Lab

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
J E:
Thanks for sharing!

Wow, you pulled that one out of the memory books, eh? I'm glad you could enjoy the report, although I now feel a little embarrassed for a report in which I now remember being such an emotional mess. Doh! emoticon

Best to you,

Daniel emoticon