Message Boards Message Boards

Practice Logs

Ricardo's first retreat

Toggle
Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/6/17 12:52 PM
Hello sisters and brothers,

I'm new here at DhO. I'd like to report on my first meditation retreat to get some feedback as I'm still making sense of whatever progress, if at all, I made. Here's the story.

I came to Malaysia to go on retreat for 24 days at the Malaysian Buddhist meditation centre in Penang. The day I arrived I listened to a 40 minutes long tape with meditation instructions and had an interview with the meditation master. He gave me some meditation instructions as well. The instructions were, in accordance with the Mahasi tradition, to note the rising and falling of the abdomen and any other sensate activity that arises when doing sitting meditation and note left, right, standing and turning when doing walking meditation. In addition I should note every movement in my daily activities (ie while eating, showering, etc). That is, I should be mindful continuously. It may sound daft but I was surprised by the intensity that the intense meditation retreat had even for beginners. I was very motivated to work hard at the formal meditations but was also looking forward to a few breaks during the day, even if they were just 15 minutes here and there. I just didn't know well. After reading a bit I understand now that those breaks would be quite detrimental for concentration.

So I started my practice and realised that my concentration was very poor. I couldn't do more than perhaps 8 steps or 5 breaths without wandering. I had quite a bit of pain when sitting too. After having my second interview with the meditation master (3rd day) I got very upset that I couldn't stay still so I went to sit for 45 minutes without moving much and then, after changing position, 30 minutes more. After this single sit my pain tolerance improved enough. It became possible to sit for about 40 minutes without pain and then another 40 with mild to moderate pain.

But the concentration problem persisted and my interviews with the meditation master, which were not very often (once a week), did not give me any tools that I could use to improve my concentration. So I went back to reading Culadasa's Mind Illuminated for tips on how to stabilise my attention. I was aware that I was mixing traditions and that this was less than ideal but in the absence of more guidance I didn't know what else to do. So I tried to still follow all of the meditation master's instructions while incorporating some of the techniques explained in the book. Also my motivation naturally increased by reading the book, understanding its content and being a able to follow the instructions. I could not get this type of positive reinforcement by following the instruction of continuous mindfulness since that was way out of my league.

I also had a few other problems that the book helped with, like sleepiness and dullness. I noticed that sometimes a caricature of the sensations of the rising and falling of the abdomen started overlapping with the actual sensations. This caricature was easier to perceive clearly so I tended to start following that instead. Because it would get easier I also would get distracted more easily, as I'm putting less effort. (Side remark: at some point I thought this caricature was the mental impressions that Daniel Ingram mentions in his book and took the ease and pleasantness of following it as an indication I was going in the right direction. I think I was wrong.)

By exaggerating the breath a little and being a nazi about staying focused on the breath using lots of willpower (the bruteforce approach we could say) I could stabilise my attention and avoid distractions during a few sits. Once my attention was stable I could relax the breath and the attitude a bit without getting lost. This was quite enjoyable and peaceful. One particular sit stood out. I was feeling great during and after with a sense of accomplishment.

On the other hand, sometimes I'd be able to realise that an arising thought would distract me and even then indulge in it. It was like being shown a drug you're addicted to, remembering your intention is not to take it and then consuming it nonetheless. It was irresistible to dwell a bit on them!

Other distractions that arised were emotionally powerful memories or visions which I assumed were of the kind mentioned in Stage 4 of Culadasa's book and so I followed his advice on how to treat them (basically acknowledge them, allow them and accept them). These were few and had a strong emotional impact, leaving me tired for the rest of the day (luckily they happened in the evenings).

Another problem I had during the retreat was the stress and negative thoughts that my incapability to follow the instruction of continuous mindfulness generated. My mind would refuse to even think about following the instruction, let alone be mindful of the sensations associated to the stress, if that makes sense. The silence and frequent wandering mind would only exacerbate the aversion that was building up. I actually didn't even notice this stress and aversion until I was out of the meditation centre. This happened when one of the other yogis told me the meditation master had left for Singapore for 10 days when it was my 14th day of retreat and invited me to come with him to another meditation centre, the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas, that was nearby. I am most thankful to him for the offer and for bringing me along.

The change of setting was a good opportunity to look at the big picture. Also I could ask him lots of questions that I didn't have time nor the courage to ask the meditation master in the previous meditation centre. That's when I realised how stressed I was about not being continuously mindful, causing me to look for easier ways to make progress in my meditation. Perhaps I should try to explain why I was stressed. Given it was my first retreat, being continuously mindful sounded to me like trying to solve an open problem in math before you've even learned some algebra.

So in the new place, as conflicted as I was, I started my practice ignoring these issues, while the aversion kept on growing amidst the silence and mind loops. On my third day I had my first private interview with the meditation master and told him about these issues. He basically said in the kindest and most compassionate tone that I shouldn't worry so much. That helped tons! I felt that he knew exactly what I was going through. He said that as long as I desire to practice, progress will come. Such relief! My energy was back up again. The negative thoughts were replaced by positive, encouraging ones. Even the thought of not making much progress in the days that I had left didn't bother me as much anymore. That in itself felt like progress.

In the second retreat I realised that even when sometimes I could concentrate, the noting would take my attention from the sensation to the word. This disturbed me quite a bit so I spent some time, especially when standing during the walking meditation, trying to mentally say the word without the movement of the attention. Standing is a difficult word to pronounce correctly for me so that word in particular would create more trouble but all labels had this problem to some extent. At some point I started using the Spanish word instead and learned how to make all labels less attention grabbing by pronouncing the words more softly in my mind.

After solving the issue with the labels I could maintain an almost continuous, very attentive and precise mindfulness of the sensations in the feet during my walking meditation, but I was still getting distracted by something. I realised I was getting distracted by like an echo of the last moment's sensation that was arising again. I could perceive this consistently with each step for about one or two minutes I think. I noticed that the second sensation (the echo) usually gave rise to thoughts. I have almost a whole page about this written in my diary so I'll leave it just there but feel free to ask me anything about it (or about anything else really).

And that was it. I'm not sure I made much progress in the sense of gaining insight but I gained a bit of relative knowledge about many useful things, like what it means to go on retreat in a meditation centre of the Mahasi tradition and some technical details about posture, dealing with pain and sleepiness, and more. I did experience the amplification of mind noise that happens when one isn't grounded in the meditation object and its consequences. I learned as well about the huge amount of effort that has to be put into the practice to be mindful continuously. With all this knowledge I hope in my next retreat I can adjust more rapidly and make more progress. In the meantime I think I'll continue my practice by following Culadasa's book.

Thank you for reading this. Any feedback you guys have would be great.

Cheers,
Ricardo

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/6/17 5:05 PM as a reply to Ricardo Hz.
Really happy for your first retreat experience. Keep strengthening your faith in the dhamma.

Overall, I'd say relax. See thoughts of progress as simply passing clouds in the vast sky of what already is.

There's nothing to improve upon. It's already all here.

Keep practicing and seeing what is. Let thoughts and ideas and concepts and boundaries dissolve. Smile!

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/7/17 12:02 AM as a reply to Ricardo Hz.
Ricardo:
Hello sisters and brothers,

I'm new here at DhO. I'd like to report on my first meditation retreat to get some feedback as I'm still making sense of whatever progress, if at all, I made. Here's the story.

I came to Malaysia to go on retreat for 24 days at the Malaysian Buddhist meditation centre in Penang. The day I arrived I listened to a 40 minutes long tape with meditation instructions and had an interview with the meditation master. He gave me some meditation instructions as well. The instructions were, in accordance with the Mahasi tradition, to note the rising and falling of the abdomen and any other sensate activity that arises when doing sitting meditation and note left, right, standing and turning when doing walking meditation. In addition I should note every movement in my daily activities (ie while eating, showering, etc). That is, I should be mindful continuously. It may sound daft but I was surprised by the intensity that the intense meditation retreat had even for beginners. I was very motivated to work hard at the formal meditations but was also looking forward to a few breaks during the day, even if they were just 15 minutes here and there. I just didn't know well. After reading a bit I understand now that those breaks would be quite detrimental for concentration.

So I started my practice and realised that my concentration was very poor. I couldn't do more than perhaps 8 steps or 5 breaths without wandering. I had quite a bit of pain when sitting too. After having my second interview with the meditation master (3rd day) I got very upset that I couldn't stay still so I went to sit for 45 minutes without moving much and then, after changing position, 30 minutes more. After this single sit my pain tolerance improved enough. It became possible to sit for about 40 minutes without pain and then another 40 with mild to moderate pain.


Hey Ricardo,

I am very happy that you completed your first retreat. Don't worry about whether you are making progress or not. These kind of things are very typical for beginners. Just note "worrying, or doubt". The main thing is to "trust the process" and "practice in the moment". Since you are already on this website, it is understandable, you will think about progress often. Whenever that comes up, note "thinking, thinking, thinking" promptly.

I strongly disagree that breaks are detrimental. I feel this is a strong flaw in the Burmese Mahasi tradition. I've done a retreat in Panditarama Lumbini which was quite stressful; and then in Wat Chom Thong, Thailand. The techniques both use are very similar, but the philosophy is very different. In the Chom Thong tradition, you are encouraged to start small eg: 5min Walk and 5min Sit with 15-30 mins breaks in between and in general live your life normally. I just recently started using the Pomodoro technique in daily work; and could instantly connect the power of breaks with the retreat philosohpy. I am quite sure breaks help you cultivate tranquility which is an important factor of enlightenment.

I especially like some of the monk teachers who are very friendly and encouraging; and inculcate the right temperament and attitude (mainly contentment and joy in the practice) needed rather than beating yourself up on not being mindful for a few minutes. Also, the emphasis on Metta super-charges the practice.

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/8/17 12:21 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
Hi Chi and Mettafore,

Thank you very much for your replies and encouragement. During the retreat I was aware that worrying was counterproductive and could relax intentionally and successfully several times. Before talking about it with the meditation master it would always come back though and stay in the background, diminishing my energy and concentration. Next time I'll be more vigilant from the beginning so I can catch it and note it before it infects me.

How can I strengthen my faith? I feel it's as strong as I can consciously make it.

That's very interesting Mettafore, I've never heard before of the Chom Thong tradition. Can you tell me a bit more about it or point me to some resource where I can learn more? Is it an old tradition? Have they reliably brought people to enlightenment?

With much love,
Ricardo

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/8/17 12:33 AM as a reply to Ricardo Hz.
Just relaxing and being with reality as it is strengthens our faith. Being with teachers, good friends, hearing dhamma talks, contemplating dhamma -- these things can help too.

10 paramis is a good list emoticon

Relax. When we think about our practice as a thing, we suffer. When we believe thoughts about something needing to be improved or how we're not good enough somehow, we suffer.

When we just relax into whatever is arising without believing the phenomena to be real and a thing in and of themselves, there's so much joy and peace.

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/8/17 2:01 AM as a reply to Ricardo Hz.
Ricardo:
Hello sisters and brothers,

I'm new here at DhO. I'd like to report on my first meditation retreat to get some feedback as I'm still making sense of whatever progress, if at all, I made.
There are times to relax and times to be intense....most beginners are a bit too lax but then we seem to beat ourselves up too much which is a total waste of time that could be used for meditating, since your back from wandering already.

http://jayarava.org/buddhas-last-words.html

diligence, strive on untiringly, heedful, Strive with earnestness - depending on translation.....

Good luck!
~D

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/8/17 7:12 AM as a reply to Dream Walker.
+1 to DW's statement:

Tinker with your values until you become detached/contented enough to both strive & not beat yourself up at the same time.

RE: Ricardo's first retreat
Answer
6/12/17 12:20 AM as a reply to Noah D.
Thank you everyone for your recommendations. I'll keep them in mind. At the moment I'm travelling so I haven't had much time to practice.

I'm reading part 3 of MCTB. Now I'm at the progress of insight. Something that's not quite clear to me yet (but perhaps it'll become clear as I read) is whether we are always in some stage.

Thanks again for your time and encouragement!