The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Andrea B, modified 8 Years ago at 9/20/13 5:15 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/20/13 5:15 PM

The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 29 Join Date: 4/10/13 Recent Posts
After spending some time on two different retreats this summer I have had a chance to reflect on a couple of related issues I noticed within my practice – which I suspect are not only my own – and for which I would like to gather some more opinions.

The first point concerns how, even if a full day on retreat contains about 12+ hours of viable meditation hours, the vast majority of my progress seems to occur between 11am and 3pm (with a peak at around 1-2pm, and assuming of course that I start practicing at 4:30am and go to bed around 9-10pm). Anything before that is a slow buildup towards the cutting edge, and everything afterward is a slowing down of the mindfulness engine. Every day I will see myself inexorably and steadily moving forward during those few hours, almost slow to a halt after that (any vipassana I do after 8pm seems especially fruitless), wake up the next morning somewhat reinvigorated and build momentum slowly until I'm again ready to break ground at about the same time. I want to point out for clarity that I do not plan the day to be this way, it's just how it inevitably unfolds if I try to give my best every time I sit. Well done vipassana practice is, after all, exhausting, and nothing that is that hard can be done at top speed all the time. On my first retreat I reached Mind&Body and 3C, crossed the A&P and achieved SE at around 2-3pm (on different days of course). On my second retreat I also got to the first stages of the A&P at around the same time.
Since evening hours of practice feel especially frustrating and useless, and I have been considering doing samadhi after a certain hour the next time I go on retreat, or at least experimenting with it.

The second issue I have encountered concerns the sleep schedule. I have received no benefit in my retreats from sleeping 5-6 hours a day (at least none that I can appreciate), and whenever I took some extra time to sleep the next day I would always wake up more invigorated and ready to put in a hard day's work. I'm starting to suspect that keeping a demanding sleeping schedule has more to do with the ascetic life-style that is promoted in monasteries than with result-based methods.

Have you encountered any of these issues on retreat? How have you dealt with them?
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Fitter Stoke, modified 8 Years ago at 9/20/13 5:30 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/20/13 5:30 PM

RE: The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 487 Join Date: 1/23/12 Recent Posts
Definitely. All this has happened to me on retreat.

There's not a lot to do about it. You're on retreat, so you're at the mercy of someone else's schedule and diet (food makes a big different in energy and focus for me). Put in your best effort, and if you enjoy very strong concentration within a certain window, it's better than not enjoying strong concentration at all. You're complaining about only getting A&P and stream-entry during certain times. Do you think most people on retreat get any of those at all?

I feel where you're coming from. I'd prefer to be "on" all the time on retreat, too. But it sounds like you're doing good work, making the best of a situation that's perhaps not fully optimal. I think everyone learns how to game it to a certain extent (drink a cup of coffee here, take a nap there, skip a sit here, etc.).

Does anyone else have suggestions?
Andrea B, modified 8 Years ago at 9/21/13 8:30 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/21/13 8:30 AM

RE: The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 29 Join Date: 4/10/13 Recent Posts
Thanks for the answer, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who can't burn through a full day of vipassana like it's hot cakes.
Out of punctiliousness, I should precise that I'm not complaining about those things happening only at around those times, I'm pointing out that I see a pattern there and that there are probably ways to accommodate it (getting more rest, inserting alternate activities at specific times etc.) without compromising (and maybe improving) the overall results of the retreat.
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bernd the broter, modified 8 Years ago at 9/21/13 6:09 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/21/13 6:09 PM

RE: The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 376 Join Date: 6/13/12 Recent Posts
The only pattern I've been noticing is that the first session after standing up seems always to be quite fruitless. But just because that's what it feels like, does it mean that it's less of a contribution to overall success?

Currently I can't think of any activity that can be done without those different levels of intensity, so I wonder why you think it could be possible or even desirable with meditation.

Also I'm not quite sure what you mean with "vipassana done right is exhausting". In my experience it's not. Sounds to me like you're going off-balance to some amount.
Andrea B, modified 8 Years ago at 9/22/13 7:57 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/22/13 7:57 PM

RE: The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 29 Join Date: 4/10/13 Recent Posts
bernd the broter:
But just because that's what it feels like, does it mean that it's less of a contribution to overall success?


This is also a doubt I share: all the "fruitless" hours of work have had as a result – if nothing else – not making me slide backwards. Maybe other activities (samadhi practices, or light yoga, or dharma readings, or the light work which I hear in some retreat settings is alternated with normal vipassana) would be less effective at keeping one close to the cutting edge. Or maybe not.

Also I'm not quite sure what you mean with "vipassana done right is exhausting". In my experience it's not. Sounds to me like you're going off-balance to some amount.


Maybe I should rephrase that and say: the type of vipassana that in my experience produced tangible results is exhausting. Not exhausting in the sense that it makes me work up a sweat or that it leaves me disoriented, but in the sense that it uses scarce mental resources which at some point run out or are not available anymore in the same amount.
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tom moylan, modified 8 Years ago at 9/23/13 11:58 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 9/23/13 11:56 PM

RE: The "circadian rhythm" of a retreat

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
Howdy Andrea,
your first point is, to me personally, an obvious one to which i can relate fully. the highs and lows, the costs and benefits, all fall into a time / schedule pattern based on the parameters of the retreat and our personal proclivities. generally though, i find your "peak experience" thesis of early afternoon is generally true for me too despite having not reached SE after several retreats..

i do self-retreats now and use a schedule based on Tarin's " reformed slackers guide" with an almost even mix of sitting and walking practice. the first session (walking) at 5:00 am suits me as i am not a morning person at all and even being awake at that time is a challenge and sitting would often be just a snooze session.

the mix of walking and sitting itself has had some remarkable benefits and allows me to give more gas while sitting than when i just sit. that evens out the curve a bit.

as to your point about the "early rising and late to bed" schedule, imo the reason for that is to keep up the mindfullness as much as possible for as long as possible during the retreat as mindfullness is the key ingredient for making real progress. the corrolary to that is , of course, that if you are too tired to be mindful then it makes no sense to stick to someone else's imposed schedule or idea of discipline.


tom

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