Is Goenka pain worth it?

Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 9:44 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 9:43 PM

Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
Hello all emoticon
Got a question that I wouldn’t mind some insight on.

I’m booked in to a Goenka retreat early Jan 2017. While I’m more drawn to Mahasi style Vipassana, timing and cost has brought me to Goenka (plus I’m keen to experience one at least once in my life).

It’s my second retreat. The first being a baptism of fire, pain-wise, in which I would have walked out but for the skilful compassion of the monk leading it, who got me to realise I was trying too hard and gave permission for yoga when needed during walking meditation. I’m forever grateful to him getting me through that retreat!

I’m 6’5”, very slim with a slight scoliosis of the spine and pain is a big issue when I sit. I’m currently doing 3 x one hour sits per day with the pain being quite intense by the end of the hour. If that was the level of the pain I would experience on retreat that would be fine but I’m guessing it’s going to build considerably sitting 10 hours a day for 10 days.

My question is… is all this pain really necessary and is it worth it?

I’m prepared to put up with more pain if it’s going to lead to some breakthrough but I don’t want to be too much of a masochist about it. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of physical and emotional pain in this life so far and can really do without any more pointless pain!

Any thoughts, opinions, encouragements, insights etc. gratefully appreciated emoticon
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Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 9:47 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 9:47 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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How about just amping off cushion practice all the way up? (If the shift is the goal)
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 10:22 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 10:22 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Noah D:
How about just amping off cushion practice all the way up? (If the shift is the goal)


Humble apologies... would you mind expanding on what you mean? emoticon
Matt, modified 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 10:43 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/29/16 10:43 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 316 Join Date: 1/14/14 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:

It’s my second retreat. The first being a baptism of fire, pain-wise, in which I would have walked out but for the skilful compassion of the monk leading it, who got me to realise I was trying too hard and gave permission for yoga when needed during walking meditation. I’m forever grateful to him getting me through that retreat!

I’m 6’5”, very slim with a slight scoliosis of the spine and pain is a big issue when I sit. I’m currently doing 3 x one hour sits per day with the pain being quite intense by the end of the hour. If that was the level of the pain I would experience on retreat that would be fine but I’m guessing it’s going to build considerably sitting 10 hours a day for 10 days.

My question is… is all this pain really necessary and is it worth it?

I’m prepared to put up with more pain if it’s going to lead to some breakthrough but I don’t want to be too much of a masochist about it. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of physical and emotional pain in this life so far and can really do without any more pointless pain!

Any thoughts, opinions, encouragements, insights etc. gratefully appreciated emoticon
Presuming your goal is Mahasi style awakening, I feel the best advice for Goenka retreats is to follow the instructions to a 'T' and think of it as a concentration practice, though insight will arrise also.  That's all I knew to do on my first retreat, and the pain climbed till day 5 when it 'broke', and it was painless sitting for the rest of the time.  That would be ideal for you, wouldn't it?  But I get it, that maybe your medical condition would prevent such an outcome.  If it were me, I'd want to give it a try, as long as I could be sure the pain did not indicate long term damage to my body. 

Is your goal awakening?  How much is that worth to you?  For me, I'd say it's worth a lot.  That said, I think it would much harder to find awakening if intractable pain was a constant companion.  discalimer: I'm not an awakening researcher.

On my second Goenka retreat I was chocked full of 8 months worth of pragmatic flavored redirection, I didn't really want to follow the Goenka instructions but I found it impossible to let go of my promise to follow the directions, so I never figured out what I was doing there.  That would not be idea for you.  If you could simply talk the teacher into authorizing you to sit in a position that works for you at least in your room if not elsewhere.  That might happen.
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Kim _, modified 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 3:44 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 3:44 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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I assume you are talking about physical pain caused by cross-legged sitting posture. No, pain is never worth it. Never. It's a poor stepping stone for insights that will last. Been there done that.

I think this view of sitting through the pain which is very widely spread in various schools is a form of ascetism. How well did ascetism work for the Sakya prince? Men have a tendency for this stuff when chasing the big light. Foolish. Idiotic. I think that the cross-legged posture is a cultural trait in the first place.
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 4:52 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 4:52 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Kim Katami:
I assume you are talking about physical pain caused by cross-legged sitting posture. No, pain is never worth it. Never. It's a poor stepping stone for insights that will last. Been there done that.

I think this view of sitting through the pain which is very widely spread in various schools is a form of ascetism. How well did ascetism work for the Sakya prince? Men have a tendency for this stuff when chasing the big light. Foolish. Idiotic. I think that the cross-legged posture is a cultural trait in the first place.

Mmm... few assumptions there. Actually I sit mostly seiza, sometimes Burmese. 
The motivation is to be able to sit long enough for concentration states at this stage (wouldn't say it's ascetisism). As far as I'm aware, jhanas are not possible unless one sits still for a decent period of time... period!

In my experience a lot of pain is due to psycho-physical 'holding' and tension which does release over time. For me to go from 20 minutes till the pain stopped me, to 3 x one hour a day is huge and well worth it. My concentration (which is of paramount importance to me at this stage) has greatly benefited. Plus, I find the pain to be great equanimity training. 

I'm just trying to find the happy medium I guess. No pain seems as extreme to me as too much. 
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 4:54 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 4:54 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
matthew sexton:
Myles Davidson:

It’s my second retreat. The first being a baptism of fire, pain-wise, in which I would have walked out but for the skilful compassion of the monk leading it, who got me to realise I was trying too hard and gave permission for yoga when needed during walking meditation. I’m forever grateful to him getting me through that retreat!

I’m 6’5”, very slim with a slight scoliosis of the spine and pain is a big issue when I sit. I’m currently doing 3 x one hour sits per day with the pain being quite intense by the end of the hour. If that was the level of the pain I would experience on retreat that would be fine but I’m guessing it’s going to build considerably sitting 10 hours a day for 10 days.

My question is… is all this pain really necessary and is it worth it?

I’m prepared to put up with more pain if it’s going to lead to some breakthrough but I don’t want to be too much of a masochist about it. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of physical and emotional pain in this life so far and can really do without any more pointless pain!

Any thoughts, opinions, encouragements, insights etc. gratefully appreciated emoticon
Presuming your goal is Mahasi style awakening, I feel the best advice for Goenka retreats is to follow the instructions to a 'T' and think of it as a concentration practice, though insight will arrise also.  That's all I knew to do on my first retreat, and the pain climbed till day 5 when it 'broke', and it was painless sitting for the rest of the time.  That would be ideal for you, wouldn't it?  But I get it, that maybe your medical condition would prevent such an outcome.  If it were me, I'd want to give it a try, as long as I could be sure the pain did not indicate long term damage to my body. 

Is your goal awakening?  How much is that worth to you?  For me, I'd say it's worth a lot.  That said, I think it would much harder to find awakening if intractable pain was a constant companion.  discalimer: I'm not an awakening researcher.

On my second Goenka retreat I was chocked full of 8 months worth of pragmatic flavored redirection, I didn't really want to follow the Goenka instructions but I found it impossible to let go of my promise to follow the directions, so I never figured out what I was doing there.  That would not be idea for you.  If you could simply talk the teacher into authorizing you to sit in a position that works for you at least in your room if not elsewhere.  That might happen.

Goenka as "concentration practice" were my thoughts as well.
pamojja, modified 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 6:19 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 6:16 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Myles Davidson:

Goenka as "concentration practice" were my thoughts as well.

Think it's rather an individual thing, which method under what circumstances causes what. I was very terrible following Goenka's instruction: During Anapanna - supposedly to develop concentration - all the hindrances and subtle vibrating joy always lead me to comprehension of impermance most of the time. While during Vipassana with the sweeping method concentration did improve considerably, and insights followed along.

Probably would fall under no. 3 or 4 of the following possibilties one day:
The Tandem Sutta, Anguttara Nikaya 4, 170:

On one occasion Venerable Ananda was staying in Kosambi, at Ghosita's
monastery. There he addressed the monks, 'Friends!' - 'Yes, friend', the
monks responded. - Venerable Ananda said: 'Friends, whoever - monk or
nun - declares the attainment of Arahatship in my presence, they all do
it by means of one or another of four paths. Which four?-

'There is the case where a monk has
developed insight preceded by tranquility. As he develops insight
preceded by tranquility, the path is born. He follows that path,
develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it &
pursuing it - his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.-

'Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquility preceded
by insight. As he develops tranquility preceded by insight, the path is
born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the
path, developing it & pursuing it - his fetters are abandoned, his
obsessions destroyed.-

'Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquility in tandem with
insight. As he develops tranquility in tandem with insight, the path is
born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the
path, developing it & pursuing it - his fetters are abandoned, his
obsessions destroyed.-

'Then there is the case where a monk's mind
has its restlessness concerning the Dhamma [Comm: the corruptions of
insight] well under control. There comes a time when his mind grows
steady inwardly, settles down, and becomes unified & concentrated.
In him the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it.

As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it - his fetters
are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.'Whoever
- monk or nun - declares the attainment of Arahatship in my presence,
they all do it by means of one or another of these four paths.'
I’m 6’5”, very slim with a slight scoliosis of the spine and pain is a big
issue when I sit. I’m currently doing 3 x one hour sits per day with the
pain being quite intense by the end of the hour. If that was the level
of the pain I would experience on retreat that would be fine but I’m
guessing it’s going to build considerably sitting 10 hours a day for 10
days.


If that would help, usually one always can request a chair out of medical reasons on a Goenka retreat. However, always better to inquire first. Read somewhere it was refused to a meditator at Goenka's Yangoon center. In my experience they usually do accomodate for chairs for medical reasons.

Or use a chair only once the pain becomes unbearable.
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Stirling Campbell, modified 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 10:46 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 11/30/16 10:46 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Kim Katami:
I assume you are talking about physical pain caused by cross-legged sitting posture. No, pain is never worth it. Never. It's a poor stepping stone for insights that will last. Been there done that.

I think this view of sitting through the pain which is very widely spread in various schools is a form of ascetism. How well did ascetism work for the Sakya prince? Men have a tendency for this stuff when chasing the big light. Foolish. Idiotic. I think that the cross-legged posture is a cultural trait in the first place.

I agree. Pain comes and goes in all postures, but adjusting posture to get it right is more likely to get you into proper concentration, and eventually, realization than sitting in pain for hours on end. We ARE talking about the middle way here...
Jigme Sengye, modified 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 3:35 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 3:33 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:

I'm just trying to find the happy medium I guess. No pain seems as extreme to me as too much. 


The only thing you stand to lose by dispensing with pain is time. Pain is an amazing concentration object. It's very easy to concentrate on without distractions and can lead to high concentration states very quickly on retreat if you can handle it and don't wreck your body. The problem is that it's miserable.

The Goenka retreat I went to in 2005 had an option to use a chair. I didn't use one. At the Mahasi retreats I've gone to, you needed a valid medical reason to use a chair. After years of torturing myself on a cushion, I switched to sitting on a chair in 2010. I've switched back and forth a few times since after retreats, but I generally quickly go back to sitting on a chair. Not being in pain works better for me. It's hard to get absorbed when I'm in pain. I can do it, but it takes a lot more effort.

My practice is more samatha-oriented these days. Since I'm mostly meditating on a specific physical location and the sensations there rather than a Mahasi-style strongest sensation that comes up  at any moment, meditating on the pain of sitting isn't going to accomplish my current goal. Until the physical pliability stage happens, I see no advantage to meditating without a chair.

If pain isn't your concentration object of choice, I suggest emailing the retreat organizers, mentioning your scoliosis and seeing if you can do the retreat on a chair.

If taken far enough, the Goenka body scan vipassana technique supposedly does wonders for pain (dissolving all physical sensations, for example), but it's up to you as to whether or not you want to spend time developing that skill as opposed to concentration in general.
David S, modified 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 5:12 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 4:50 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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I sat a Goenka retreat and asked for a chair due to lower back issues. I also brought my own zafu and had a zabuton next to the chair, so I could chose which to use, but I did not change once a sitting began.

During the 10 day course the video talks said to sit with pain. So at some point while sitting in my chair my rear started aching and I sat with it. It grew sharper and sharper, while my mind became more jumpy and agitated, but I stayed with it. I don't think attending to this painful sensation helped in any way what so ever, and afterward, I had quite a continuous bruised pain, so much so that when I sat in the chair I had to create a donut shaped cushion to sit on so as to avoid putting any pressure on the sore area. When my day came to meet with the leader I told them about this and they said that you can hurt yourself sitting in a chair. It pissed me off that no-one bothered to instruct me on this, especially given the intense sitting routine one is expected to maintain on this type of retreat, and I did attend every sit.

I don't understand why there is such an acceptance of pain on Goenka retreats. In the retreat there were a few people who had never even sat before. But there was no effort to give even basic instructions to these people. So they spent days just trying to figure out how many zafus and pillows to use in order to have the composure to sit without moving about. It was such an unnecessary waste of their time.

All this idealization of pain is simple minded. I have heard that some of the most respected teachers in the U.S. who have been die hard practitioners even have had knee surgury to repair years of damage. The practice can and does have drawbacks. I think there is a bit more openness about this now and that many people simply do not sit with pain because it is not necessary. If you sit in a chair, to avoid hurting your soft tissue that is being compressed between your bones and the hard surface of the chair use some sort of cushion.
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Nicky, modified 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 6:05 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 6:02 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
My sincere opinion is it is not worth it because physical problems can last a life time & no amount of pain will result in any meaningful realisation. It is tranqulity that is the foundation for insight rather than pain; the most basic insight being the value of tranquility as an end in itself. The cost/money saving is not worth it, imo. 

With metta 
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Laurel Carrington, modified 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 8:37 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/1/16 8:37 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Adding my bit here: your description of yourself worries me a bit, in that you really do not want to injure yourself. Pain exists for a reason, generally, which is to warn us that something's wrong. I used to be able to sit on a cushion, but for years now have opted for a chair. Chairs can also be painful if you spend days on end in one that is not good. Certain folding chairs throw the body into a position that is almost as bad as sitting on the floor, and a hard chair bottom will start feeling awful sooner rather than later. It makes sense to experiment with cushions, both underneath and behind your back. 

That being said, the longer you're at it and the more concentrated you get, the more aches and pains will spring up all over the body, even if you've got the most comfortable easy chair in the world. This kind of thing is instructive enough for insight. Itches also work pretty well. 

Addendum: I once tried sitting on the edge of my seat with no back support just to see what it was like. My upper back began to hurt, eventually severely, and then all of a sudden it stopped. That may be what people mean. I was impressed, but didn't try it again. 
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Kim _, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:26 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:26 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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I've never joined Goenka retreat but some of my friends have. And they all have something negative to say about the way they are conducted and taught. I've heard very silly and ignorant things the instructors there have said. Christopher Titmuss wrote an article about some of these problems recently, find it online. I can relate to the pain-issue through my zen background. What is hard for me to get is how these ascetic traits keep persisting within a tradition that was founded by a guy who had his realisation when he stopped being an ascetic.

Shinzen Young seems to think that "strong determination sitting", including enduring pain is the "quickest way to enlightenment": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYSSf71Vo7w

I'm sad to see such views being spread.
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:27 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:27 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
Thanks for the input from everyone! It's given me lots to chew over and I really appreciate it!
In regards to concerns about permanent pain... any pain I experience disappears within 30 seconds to a minute after ceasing the sit. I am very in tune with my body (20 years yoga, fitness stuff etc.) and know exactly when to cease an activity due to the possibility of injury (I know the difference between 'good' and 'bad' pain).
I suspect strongly that the pain is related to emotional 'holding' due to a 'hard' life (which includes growing up in a cult, heroin/meth/pot/alcohol addiction, living on the streets, jail... all that fun stuff). From the perspective of the 'model' I would say I spent the later half of the 90's in a extended A&P (lot's of powerful psychedelic experiences, wild and emotional breathwork sessions, ego dissolving wonderment etc.) and then plunged into the Dark Night (characterised by addiction, depression, anxiety, even suicidal thoughts) which I have been in for the last 16 years, but very much feel I am at the tail end of it. 
I am very much in 'Desire For Deliverence' (to the point I would cut off a hand with a blunt knife if that's what it took), or perhaps 'Re-Observation' as a lot of what Daniel says about this stage resonates with where I'm at. I had to say good-bye to a very dear friend a few days ago because my whole body was screaming to be alone and even though this woman is an angel in my life I felt deep nausea just to be near anyone. Sitting still on the cushion is excrutiating and while I try to discipline myself to stay seated, I have to move around a lot as the energy inside is making me feel like a jumping jack.
I long for Equanimity like you wouldn't believe. The main reason I'm persisting is because I feel like I'm close. Somethings going to break soon I'm sure. 
My life has been one of great pain and I can cope with a bit more. At this stage I think I'll go to the retreat and just do my best. I have nothing to prove to anyone and even if I have to leave early I will know I put 100% into it. 
Look forward to more interaction with you all emoticon
Myles
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:41 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 12:38 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
Kim Katami:
I've never joined Goenka retreat but some of my friends have. And they all have something negative to say about the way they are conducted and taught. I've heard very silly and ignorant things the instructors there have said. Christopher Titmuss wrote an article about some of these problems recently, find it online. I can relate to the pain-issue through my zen background. What is hard for me to get is how these ascetic traits keep persisting within a tradition that was founded by a guy who had his realisation when he stopped being an ascetic.

Shinzen Young seems to think that "strong determination sitting", including enduring pain is the "quickest way to enlightenment": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYSSf71Vo7w

I'm sad to see such views being spread.
Yes, I'm familar with Shinzen's story. In fact the thing he told himself before his pain breakthough "you're not a baby, you're not a baby" often helps me go the extra mile.
I tend to think the 'through the pain' method is just one way to do it. Having experienced a lot of 'breath-work' stuff, I can say its a lot more gentle (although it can be very powerful and emotional) as far as 'letting go of stuff' goes.
I may have been a bit misleading with the scoliosis mention. Although it's certainly a part of it, a lot of my pain seems to be related to other things which I outlined in my previous post.
Re. the Buddha and asceticism. While he ended up rejecting it, I'm sure it helped him sit long enough to make his major breakthoughs. I don't know how long he sat under the Bodhi tree but it sounds like he was prepared to do it for as long as it took, pain or no pain.
Matt, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 2:21 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 2:09 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 316 Join Date: 1/14/14 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:
...
I suspect strongly that the pain is related to emotional 'holding' due to a 'hard' life (which includes growing up in a cult, heroin/meth/pot/alcohol addiction, living on the streets, jail... all that fun stuff). 
Myles
Well, when you put it this way, I have to say, it seems like your work is perfectly laid out for you.  If simply sitting causes distracting pain that is more 'emotional holding' than actual physical duress/damage, then that obstical to awakening is holding up it's hand and saying, 'here I am'. 

Goenka body scans for 7 days will give you a zillion repitions of "the distractions are drawing me away, but no, back to the scan pattern I go", enough times so that it will be easier and easier to turn away from that distraction in real life, when benificial.  And you'll get a zillion repititions of, "here you are, distracting sensation, just what do you feel like, I'm not going anywhere, gimmi your best shot, and when *I'm* done with *you* I'm moving on at my own pace."  (Not literally that narative, but that's what it effectively is)  It's worked like that for *lots* of people.

Of course, traditional therapy may be called for. You sound like you have the chops to make a good call about how to mix the two different modalities.
Jigme Sengye, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 1:47 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 1:46 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Myles Davidson:
As far as I'm aware, jhanas are not possible unless one sits still for a decent period of time... period!

Stillness in any posture will do. If you can do jhanas at all, it should be possible to do them lying down or standing, once you get used to the posture. I find it harder to concentrate while lying down and harder to relax my muscles but easier to concentrate when standing. I have gotten deeply absorbed in both postures.
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 3:54 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 3:54 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
matthew sexton:

Goenka body scans for 7 days will give you a zillion repitions of "the distractions are drawing me away, but no, back to the scan pattern I go", enough times so that it will be easier and easier to turn away from that distraction in real life, when benificial.  And you'll get a zillion repititions of, "here you are, distracting sensation, just what do you feel like, I'm not going anywhere, gimmi your best shot, and when *I'm* done with *you* I'm moving on at my own pace."  (Not literally that narative, but that's what it effectively is)  It's worked like that for *lots* of people.


Thanks Matthew. That's really helpful. Makes sense and gives me inspiration. 
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 3:55 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/2/16 3:55 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

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Jigme Sengye:

Stillness in any posture will do. If you can do jhanas at all, it should be possible to do them lying down or standing, once you get used to the posture. I find it harder to concentrate while lying down and harder to relax my muscles but easier to concentrate when standing. I have gotten deeply absorbed in both postures.
Yes, lying down doesn't seem to work for me either. Haven't tried standing up but with such a high centre of gravity I think I would tend to sway to much which would be distracting. Determined to bust the sitting nut emoticon
T DC, modified 5 Years ago at 12/3/16 4:31 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/3/16 4:27 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 464 Join Date: 9/29/11 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:
Hello all emoticon
Got a question that I wouldn’t mind some insight on.

I’m booked in to a Goenka retreat early Jan 2017. While I’m more drawn to Mahasi style Vipassana, timing and cost has brought me to Goenka (plus I’m keen to experience one at least once in my life).

It’s my second retreat. The first being a baptism of fire, pain-wise, in which I would have walked out but for the skilful compassion of the monk leading it, who got me to realise I was trying too hard and gave permission for yoga when needed during walking meditation. I’m forever grateful to him getting me through that retreat!

I’m 6’5”, very slim with a slight scoliosis of the spine and pain is a big issue when I sit. I’m currently doing 3 x one hour sits per day with the pain being quite intense by the end of the hour. If that was the level of the pain I would experience on retreat that would be fine but I’m guessing it’s going to build considerably sitting 10 hours a day for 10 days.

My question is… is all this pain really necessary and is it worth it?

I’m prepared to put up with more pain if it’s going to lead to some breakthrough but I don’t want to be too much of a masochist about it. I’ve experienced more than my fair share of physical and emotional pain in this life so far and can really do without any more pointless pain!

Any thoughts, opinions, encouragements, insights etc. gratefully appreciated emoticon


I would say unequivocally that pain is not necessary.  I'm with Kim Katami as a far as Buddhism's middle way being a clear rejection of ascetisicm.  So there's that for a philosphical basis.

As far as the nuts and bolts of daily practice, it sounds like you're already sitting a lot.  I managed to gain significant realization with 1 to 1.5 hours of sitting a day broken up into half hour sits.  Any much longer and the strain of sitting tends to dominate my meditation, making it tense and tight.  Along the lines of what Noah said, I think one reason I did have success was a huge commitment to mindful attention in daily life.  Sitting meditation helps to majorly power us up so to speak, but commited practice in daily life is what keeps the momentum going and really gets it done.

As far as Jhana, if one has the capabilities to enter Jhana, it shouldn't take an hour.  I don't think it should really take anymore than ten minutes of calming the mind before one can enter Jhana, and once one has some experience they can enter the Jhanas almost immeditately.  That said, in my view Jhanic abilities are strongly correlated with success in attainment, so even if one sitts for 10 hours straight they are unlikely to really get into the Jhanas unless they have the requisite attainment.

I have done one retreat total, and I honestly felt like the physical strain of sitting in meditation all day to some degree negated the beauty of sitting in meditation all day.  Being physically active is known to boost the brain, and beyond that it simply feels good!  I definately tried to take that approach in my personal practice, with a holistic mix of meditation and activity.  All said however, retreat is a good opportunity for lots of practice, so if you are up for it go for it!  Just don't feel pressured to endure immense pain!  Progress can be made with a more gentle approach; think quality over quanitity.
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Noah D, modified 5 Years ago at 12/3/16 11:47 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/3/16 11:47 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 1198 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:
No ah D:
How  about just amping off cushion practice all the way up? (If the shift is the goal)


Humble apologies... would you mind expanding on what you mean? emoticon
It's zooming out a bit from your original question, but if you examine your meditation options, there's formal and informal practice.  Intensive formal practice occurs on retreat.  Intensive informal practice can occur all day every day.  It could be varying techniques - anapana, noting, whatever.  Different strategies, similar result.
Jigme Sengye, modified 5 Years ago at 12/4/16 9:12 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/4/16 8:50 AM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 188 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Myles Davidson:
Jigme Sengye:

Stillness in any posture will do. If you can do jhanas at all, it should be possible to do them lying down or standing, once you get used to the posture. I find it harder to concentrate while lying down and harder to relax my muscles but easier to concentrate when standing. I have gotten deeply absorbed in both postures.
Yes, lying down doesn't seem to work for me either. Haven't tried standing up but with such a high centre of gravity I think I would tend to sway to much which would be distracting. Determined to bust the sitting nut emoticon
Horse-riding stance and zhan zhuang (aka standing post) postures lower the center of gravity, so they're very stable, prevent swaying and are ideal for learning standing meditation. The thing to keep in mind is that each of those postures comes with its own meditation for a reason, though until you get absorbed into that meditation, it can be vipassanized through noting or moment-to-moment noticing of sensations. Every kung fu and karate school teaches horse-riding stance and every decent tai chi or xingyi school should teach zhan zhuang at some point.

Out of curiosity, I tried standing straight for an hour a day for three or four days a few years ago instead of using one of these martial art postures. It was easy to concentrate, but it hurt my knees. I can stand just fine for two hours and maintain concentration when doing zhineng qigong, but there's a bit of moving around due to the transitions from posture to posture. There's a special standing posture as part of it that requires standing in a static posture for 30 or so minutes. That doesn't hurt at all. For what it's worth, I've found that these qigong practices immensely alleviate the dukkha ñanas. The pleasant qi sensations make absorption a lot easier at times when the dukkha ñanas make absorption hard. In general, I find that samatha-style absorption (as in concentration on a specific concentration object that leads to jhana) and the kind of absorption you get from qigong make vipassana a lot easier to do.
Myles Davidson, modified 5 Years ago at 12/4/16 5:15 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 12/4/16 5:15 PM

RE: Is Goenka pain worth it?

Posts: 17 Join Date: 10/20/16 Recent Posts
Jigme Sengye:

Horse-riding stance and zhan zhuang (aka standing post) postures lower the center of gravity, so they're very stable, prevent swaying and are ideal for learning standing meditation. The thing to keep in mind is that each of those postures comes with its own meditation for a reason, though until you get absorbed into that meditation, it can be vipassanized through noting or moment-to-moment noticing of sensations. Every kung fu and karate school teaches horse-riding stance and every decent tai chi or xingyi school should teach zhan zhuang at some point.

Out of curiosity, I tried standing straight for an hour a day for three or four days a few years ago instead of using one of these martial art postures. It was easy to concentrate, but it hurt my knees. I can stand just fine for two hours and maintain concentration when doing zhineng qigong, but there's a bit of moving around due to the transitions from posture to posture. There's a special standing posture as part of it that requires standing in a static posture for 30 or so minutes. That doesn't hurt at all. For what it's worth, I've found that these qigong practices immensely alleviate the dukkha ñanas. The pleasant qi sensations make absorption a lot easier at times when the dukkha ñanas make absorption hard. In general, I find that samatha-style absorption (as in concentration on a specific concentration object that leads to jhana) and the kind of absorption you get from qigong make vipassana a lot easier to do.

Thanks for remonding me about horse stance etc. Used to do a bit years ago and forgot how effective it is for grounding. Will get back into it with a Vipassana touch... thanks emoticon

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