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yodayeti's practise log

yodayeti's practise log
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6/30/15 8:25 AM
Ever since I read Bernd's metta blog ( http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5131630 ) two months ago I was interested in trying it myself. Despite all the ups and downs he describes, metta practise and its apparent outcomes seemed promising. Similarly to what he describes in his blog, I see myself faced with difficulties along the lines of self aversion / self hatred, (toxic) shame and unresolved, undefined sadness. In contrary to him, I do not have a background in extended individual practise. Rather, I have a background in doing psychotherapy, self-exploration (vision quest, improv theater), communication (NVC). I have had some exposure with Buddhism though (6 months zen practise, some experience with Tibetan Buddhism practises) and I consider myself a practitioner in the Plum Village Tradition since last year. I sense that there exist some big obstacles in my life which need healing through loving awareness and acceptance and the development of more joy and happiness before any bigger spiritual steps can be tackled. So this fits in nicely with the idea of metta practise. I am grateful to Bernd for pointing me in this direction and also for answering initial questions to me in much detail.

As I have been traveling and will continue to travel in Southeast Asia for the next couple of months, I didn't have a chance to do a formal retreat with Bhante Sujato or Visu Teoh (which I intend to do later this year). After searching but not finding anything comparable here in Thailand, I decided to do my first metta (and also my first more intense) retreat in a self directed way. I went to a monastery in the north of Thailand, called Wat Tam Wua, for 3 days. Here is a little info about it. It is a forest monastery in the real sense of the word, situated in the stunning scenery of the mountains and jungle like forests of the Mae Hong Son province. The schedule can be found on the web. Suffice it to say that it's pretty relaxed with maybe 5 hours of formal meditation (walking, sitting, and lying down) a day, 40 min of chanting, some dharma talks interspersed throughout the day and some working meditation in the afternoon. I found the teachings to be so so but as I wanted to do my own thing, I didn't bother too much. I had one talk of Bhante Sujato with me which was good to get some input. I did finally realise that not being able to discuss my process was more of an obstacle than I had initially thought so my idea of going back there for a longer time now seems to have lost a bit of its inital appeal. Also, the monastery provides only very thin mattresses which resulted in me being able to sleep only 5 to 6 hours a night with frequent wake ups. The increasing sleep deprivation is something I found very distracting and as such on its own would already be something preventing me from going back.

I write this all some days after doing the retreat and I didn't take any notes except for day 2 which I drafted on the last day so it is not as precise as I would like it to be.

Day 1
This was the day I experienced as most difficult. I was rejecting a lot of things I saw in the monastery, including the monks and some of my fellow practitioners some of whom, in my defense, made the appearance of being forced to practise there. Me having difficulties with integrating myself into community and at the same time very much wanting to be part of community as well as being very sensitive of group dynamics, I sensed that the community there would not easy for me to access. I decided to accept it and while I didn't go into silence, the retreat turned out to be almost a silent one. It was the day I actually decided to go for the metta practise 100%, partly because I realised that I was getting a little negative. I pondered leaving after the first day but after talking to a friend on the phone decided not to. As I write this a couple of days later, this day is very blurred already in my memory. I will leave it at that. Overall a difficult day.

Day 2
Overall a happy day. I had some good meditations and had some points where I felt much more content than usual and much more connected to my environment, ie to the people and the stunning nature surrounding the monastery. I did mostly metta but kept it quite flexible. I was not aware of much of the teaching on metta so I just experiemented. For instance, when I was getting tired of a phrase, I changed the phrase. When I got tired of the phrases altogether, I changed to observe my breathing. When I thought about my girlfriend or about someone else or I looked at someone, I would send metta to them. I used all the phrases Visu Teoh suggests but by far most often used "May I / May X be happy".
I also repeated the phrases throughout the day whenever they came to mind. Also I noticed that I started using mindfulness in every day activities as a starting point for metta practise, e.g. when I realised I was judging, worrying or similar unwanted things happened I would recite the phrases. That this was possible caught me by surprise as I had not intended to so. So I was surprised and happy about my capability to be mindful like that and that created a positive feedback loop, meaning that I ended up being happy about being capable to make myself happy. Nice.
I realised that I didn't know much about metta practise, ie what the actual purpose, method and result of radiating metta is. I wondered: Is it developing the capacity to wish, the feeling of loving kindness or is it a happy state of mind or is it all of it? This didn't bother me too much as I soon realised that metta was helping me become more happy. Also this way, I developed curiosity as to the teachings of Bhante Sujato and Viso Teoh.
On this day I also started radiating metta formally to a person apart from myself which turned out to be my girlfriend always (again, without having been exposed to the teachings which say that maybe starting with a romantic, or sexual relationship is not encouraged). Again I didn't have a fixed method but I would try to call her to mind and remember what kindness I have been receiving. This was very difficult for two reasons. First, I realised how difficult it is for me to remember both, a) a concrete situation with its perceptions and feelings attached and b) also the general idea or image of a person. This in itself gave me a hard time a couple of moments as thoughts of self aversion and inadequacy came up. Second, I started to become sad when I thought about her as apparently one part of me was judging my love, respect, kindness towards her as inadequate, insufficient and worse. But in thinking about her I also felt gratitude as well as craving to be together again (currently spatially separated).
Another issue which came up was toxic shame and self hatred. I worked with the exercise of Linda Graham which Bernd linked to in his blog. Doing the first step of the excercise (called re-sourcing) I found again that bringing up a memory with its feelings, here a person with which one feels safe, was extremely difficult if not impossible. I still tried to do the exercise a couple of times, merely practising equanimity rather than re-sourcing.
Overall I felt friendly to myself and towards others that day and I was in happy mood most of the day.

Day 3
Sleep deprivation finally kicked in with more force, as I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate. I noticed in the morning session already that this made me more weak and prone to sadness. I tried to increase my smile by opening my mouth which is something I rarely do due to shame. In the morning session getting behind a certain point of increasing the smile would make me very sad all of a sudden and I would start to cry. While I first thought that this would have to do with the facial expression, I now think it had more to do with memories of me and my girlfriend smiling at each other, my self judging of being inadequate as a boyfriend (see above) and the weakness I was experiencing that day. This day, metta practise by far didn't come as easy as the day before. I also didn't experience as much mindfulness in every day sitations, so also informal practise wasn't that strong this day. 

Conclusion
One of the main practise elements was conscious and intentional smiling which, in a very subtle way, increased my well being. When I started on day 1 I had little idea of what to do but started the metta practise and read up as I went along. That was good as I made some valuable experiences and got more curious. The retreat confirmed that toxic shame, unresolved (habitual?) sadness, self hatred/self aversion are obstacles in my life which can sometimes seem far away but actually are in my mind and need to be healed. Although I probably was a bit chaotic with the practise, I could see metta practise as beneficial and I am open towards learning more about it and practising more.Now, three days after the retreat with almost no formal practise in between, I still see the phrases coming up in my mind sometimes and when they do and I can sense some relaxation.