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Dealing with the Dark Night

Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night

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Hi folks,

I passed through the A&P at a Goenka retreat in June and have since been dealing with the Dark Night. After spending a while in dissolution I came up against fairly severe levels of disgust and think was also able to achieve equanimity on a couple of occasions before slipping back. Now I am slightly confused about where I am but think I might be back in dissolution as my ability to concentrate and perceive vibrations has virtually disappeared again.

Anyway, I am trying not to get hung up on this, but am planning my next retreat(s), with the aim of achieving at least equanimity that I do not fall back from and preferably stream entry.

I have booked onto another Goenka retreat at start of September in Colombia. However I also plan on going to the Malaysian Buddhist Meditation Centre in October as I have a free KLM flight to use and 5-6 weeks free before I need to be back in England.

So my question is this: is it worth doing both retreats, or would it be a better use of my time to spend longer at the MBMC and scrap the Goenka retreat?

I am only in Colombia for two months so would quite like to enjoy my time here to the full rather than going on the retreat, and also I am self-employed (working while travelling) so the longer I spend on retreat the more money I miss out on.

However, my priority is getting out of the Dark Night as it has been affecting my life very negatively, so if people more experienced than me recommend going on both retreats as the best path then I will probably do that.

And to finish, how long do people think I should plan to go on retreat in Malaysia in order to have a real stab at stream entry? I have only been on two 10-day retreats up until now so the idea of doing too much longer is a fairly intimidating one, although I know it will probably be necessary.

Many thanks!

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/10/17 7:59 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Ah, one additional question if I may. As I have a free flight I could go pretty much anywhere in the world, so if anyone thinks that there is retreat centre other than the MBMC much better suited for my purposes, please let me know.

thanks

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/10/17 9:03 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Calum:
Now I am slightly confused about where I am

Hey, Calum, See if any of this speaks to where you are:

9. DESIRE FOR DELIVERANCE

At this stage, we are fed up with the whole thing, but at a level that transcends mere suicidal thoughts. Thus, it is actually beneficial though it seems otherwise. No longer do we look forward to anything but the complete ending of all sensations, i.e. the first taste of Nirvana. We just wish the noise in our minds would stop cold, but are unable to will this to happen. We wish the vibrations, which can be quite intense, harsh and irritating by this stage, would all go away forever. If we fail to associate the pain ending with deep insights but instead falsely associate it with changing something in our ordinary life, we are likely to wander far and wide until we come to realize the limitations of ordinary solutions.

This is the stage when people are most likely to quit their jobs or schooling out of frustration and go on a long retreat or spiritual quest. Fascination with celibacy as somehow being “a higher spiritual path” can arise. Our renunciation trip can be very disorienting to partners, particularly if we were going to the opposite extreme of intense sexuality during the stage of the Arising and Passing Away which probably occurred relatively recently, so try to be sensitive to their needs if you can. Somewhere in here, there can arise the tendency to try to get one’s life and finances in order so that one can leave the world behind for a time and have something to come back to without having to worry about such things for a while. A profound resolution to push onward can arise at this stage driven by our powerful frustration and the powerful compassion in it. We make the last push for freedom, the push against the seemingly impenetrable wall of . . .

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/10/17 11:51 AM as a reply to Beleza.
I'm about to head on a longer retreat in hopes of SE myself, having also crossed A&P on a Goenka retreat. From what I've read from others, and my own experience with Equanimity, I would recommend consolidating into one longer retreat. A few reasons - one, it takes a few days to get settled in at the beginning of a retreat, and usually a few more to really get concentration going. Putting it all in one retreat would just give you more momentum. Equanimity can sometimes take people a long time to cross through. Also I'm not sure about MBMC, but a lot of the Mahasi-styled centers are more open about the progress of insight and are far, far more likely than a Goenka teacher to give you useful feedback (still a little bitter about being left in the dark there, heh). Thus the time spent in one vs the other isn't really equal. Plus there's the factor of you wanting to spend time enjoying Colombia while you're there, and you don't want to be sitting in the Goenka retreat feeling like you're missing out.

I'd say to stick to the one longer retreat, and practice as much and as well as you can before then - and of course try and have fun in your regular life. Perhaps try adding in concentration and metta to your sits if you aren't already. As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time (unknowingly) in the dark night, nothing has probably helped me more than exercise and healthy socialization.

How long will it take to hit SE? That's very hard to say, if you've spent any amount of time reading about others' experiences. Moreover clinging to expectations can be counterproductive, as it can distract you from being fully with the present moment. But I think I heard that Mahasi or one of those guys used to say it shouldn't take a diligent meditator more than 2 months - and that's without any prior experience. There are plenty of people who have hit it on a 10 day Goenka retreat too, though in most (not all) of those cases they had a really solid practice for a while beforehand. In my case, having regularly spent time in EQ and had some definite extended brushes with high-EQ, I suspect I'll probably get in the first couple of weeks. But you can't really force the thing either.

Anyways, that's my 2 cents. As far as your other question, where to go, I asked the same question on here and was highly recommended Panditarama in Burma (which is where I'm going). There's also Panditarama Lumbini in Nepal which is frequently recommended on here as well. Both are Mahasi-style centers (Pandita was a student of Mahasi and started these centers, as I understand it). There's also a wiki on this site that has recommendations if you haven't seen that already. You'd probably be fine with MBMC, I think there's just some uncertainty with who is teaching there which is why it's not as highly recommended here as it once was.

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/11/17 6:13 PM as a reply to Rob K.
Rob K:
I'm about to head on a longer retreat in hopes of SE myself, having also crossed A&P on a Goenka retreat. From what I've read from others, and my own experience with Equanimity, I would recommend consolidating into one longer retreat. A few reasons - one, it takes a few days to get settled in at the beginning of a retreat, and usually a few more to really get concentration going. Putting it all in one retreat would just give you more momentum. Equanimity can sometimes take people a long time to cross through. Also I'm not sure about MBMC, but a lot of the Mahasi-styled centers are more open about the progress of insight and are far, far more likely than a Goenka teacher to give you useful feedback (still a little bitter about being left in the dark there, heh). Thus the time spent in one vs the other isn't really equal. Plus there's the factor of you wanting to spend time enjoying Colombia while you're there, and you don't want to be sitting in the Goenka retreat feeling like you're missing out.

I'd say to stick to the one longer retreat, and practice as much and as well as you can before then - and of course try and have fun in your regular life. Perhaps try adding in concentration and metta to your sits if you aren't already. As someone who spent an inordinate amount of time (unknowingly) in the dark night, nothing has probably helped me more than exercise and healthy socialization.

How long will it take to hit SE? That's very hard to say, if you've spent any amount of time reading about others' experiences. Moreover clinging to expectations can be counterproductive, as it can distract you from being fully with the present moment. But I think I heard that Mahasi or one of those guys used to say it shouldn't take a diligent meditator more than 2 months - and that's without any prior experience. There are plenty of people who have hit it on a 10 day Goenka retreat too, though in most (not all) of those cases they had a really solid practice for a while beforehand. In my case, having regularly spent time in EQ and had some definite extended brushes with high-EQ, I suspect I'll probably get in the first couple of weeks. But you can't really force the thing either.

Anyways, that's my 2 cents. As far as your other question, where to go, I asked the same question on here and was highly recommended Panditarama in Burma (which is where I'm going). There's also Panditarama Lumbini in Nepal which is frequently recommended on here as well. Both are Mahasi-style centers (Pandita was a student of Mahasi and started these centers, as I understand it). There's also a wiki on this site that has recommendations if you haven't seen that already. You'd probably be fine with MBMC, I think there's just some uncertainty with who is teaching there which is why it's not as highly recommended here as it once was.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed reply, Rob.

Having considered it I have decided not to do the Goenka retreat, and I am in fact probably gonna go to the place in Burma you recommended as well, so might see you there!

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/11/17 6:26 PM as a reply to Derek2.
Derek2:
Calum:
Now I am slightly confused about where I am

Hey, Calum, See if any of this speaks to where you are:

9. DESIRE FOR DELIVERANCE

At this stage, we are fed up with the whole thing, but at a level that transcends mere suicidal thoughts. Thus, it is actually beneficial though it seems otherwise. No longer do we look forward to anything but the complete ending of all sensations, i.e. the first taste of Nirvana. We just wish the noise in our minds would stop cold, but are unable to will this to happen. We wish the vibrations, which can be quite intense, harsh and irritating by this stage, would all go away forever. If we fail to associate the pain ending with deep insights but instead falsely associate it with changing something in our ordinary life, we are likely to wander far and wide until we come to realize the limitations of ordinary solutions.

I reread the relevant sections of MCTB just now (something I should have done before original post!), however still a bit confused.

A couple of weeks ago I believed myself to have fallen back fully into the digust stage, however since then I have forced myself to get out and socialise and to get plenty of exercise and in the last week or so I have actually been feeling extremely happy and content, almost to a rapture-like level at times, something that am I tempted to put down to my realisation of the impermanence of all negative feelings which do rear their heads. In addition I have been feeling something of the 'James Bond like confidence' mentioned by Daniel when he talks about equanimity.

On the other hand I am still finding it extremely hard to sit still and meditate, although rereading MCTB has helped hardened my resolve to do so henceforth. Also I have absolutely zero libido, despite being surrounded by beautiful women!  This might suggest reobservation, but I find that hard to tally with the happiness etc mentioned above, which would seem to fit more with aspects of equanimity. 

Has anyone had a similar contrasting experience?

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/13/17 12:19 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Awesome! A couple notes for Panditarama if you weren't aware - one, you have to provide your own cushion (unless you want to sit on the bare zabuton, as is apparently customary for the Burmese), and two, I think you'd probably have to get a meditation visa. If you contact the center they'll provide you with the documents you need for that. Let me know if you end up going! I suspect we won't be encouraged to talk there but it would be cool knowing someone else from the DhO is there.

In regards to your other question about which nana you're experiencing and how it colors things throughout the day - I wouldn't worry about it too much. When off-retreat it's often difficult to tell where you're at even on the cushion with solid practice, and off the cushion there are many other factors coming into play (other than what nana you've been predominately experiencing in your recent sits) that will influence your thoughts/feelings/motivations. I will say that for me, Re-ob was really, really obvious because it was so terrible, but I didn't even realize at the time that's what I was experiencing until I got into EQ for the first time. It was a total night/day transition. On the other hand prior to that Dissolution/Fear/Disgust/Misery all kind of blended into each other for the most part. I had one week in Re-Ob where my experience was pretty uniformly bad 24/7, but otherwise my emotions and everything were a mix throughout the day. Even when I was clearly spending all my sits in EQ and sitting 3 plus hours a day I would sometimes have a mixed bag off the cushion in terms of what my day looked like. So yeah - happy in the dark night, less-than-stoked in EQ, it's all possible. In any case the prescription is the same, just keep practicing.

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/17/17 5:36 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Hi Calum

Interesting place that you're in. Yes, getting A&P on a Goenka retreat seems a very common story, and it's a sign of how damned effective that technique is at tipping people over into that stuff, despite the fact they're pretty hopeless at everything after that (with all due respect!). 

I've found that, when coming down from retreats, hitting the 4th ñana (A&P) on the way back down and then settling there can be quite pleasant and, with a couple of hours a day of sitting, fairly easy to maintain. Frankly, with the alternative of being in some really unpleasant territory, this is a wonderful outcome. So perhaps that's where you're sitting these days. But as the poster above says, it's best not to concern yourself with all that too much. Firstly because we're often the worst judges of our own attainments. Secondly because wherever we're at is likely to be changing. And thirdly because we desperately want to believe we're somewhere further up the ladder than we might be. So it's not really all that helpful. The only solution was, is, and always will be - more practice. 

In case it's worth anything to you, I found after a long retreat (3+ months) at a Panditarama centre that I was in some seriously painful territory, so I ended up in a samatha retreat centre where I spent some weeks on developing one-pointed concentration which eventually turned into loads of tranquility and bliss and nice stuff like that. So it's a useful respite from intensive vipassana practice, and I'd recommend working on something like that between vipassana retreats, just to keep oneself sane and balanced, and focused on the long-term goals. 

All the best with your journey!

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/18/17 10:09 AM as a reply to Peter S.
Peter S:

Interesting place that you're in. Yes, getting A&P on a Goenka retreat seems a very common story, and it's a sign of how damned effective that technique is at tipping people over into that stuff, despite the fact they're pretty hopeless at everything after that (with all due respect!). 


Cheers Peter. 

You are correct and I feel very lucky to have randomly stumbled across MCTB just before I went on that retreat. God knows how my mental state would have ended up if I had only had the Goenka teacher's advice and information (or lack of) to go. The A&P was so intense that I would have probably become one of Goenka's true believers!

Anyway, I am trying to do a couple of hours a day insight meditation interspered with some concentration stuff now, so I'll just see where that takes me for the time being. 

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/18/17 1:44 PM as a reply to Peter S.
Where did you go for your samatha retreat? I'm going to Panditarama next month for a while, and was planning on working on the samatha side of things after. 

RE: Advice on retreats for getting out of Dark Night
Answer
8/18/17 8:14 PM as a reply to Rob K.
Hi Rob

I went to a little-known place in Sri Lanka, which was almost exclusively for local people. I kind of blundered in there after seeing a blog post online about the place, so I was lucky to find it at all. The centre itself was perfect for practice - great food, room, climate, etc - but the teacher seemed to have no interest in teaching me, whereas the rest of the monastics were very nice and helpful. So I used some books such as Leigh Brasington's work on developing the jhanas, then I sat a lot every day and made some progress over a few weeks. So I won't bother giving you specific details of the centre. But I will say that I found Sri Lanka is crowded with little meditation centres where you stay for free and, it seems, mostly just do whatever you want as long as it looks like meditation and you respect the rules. Which is great if you have your own practice and structure and discipline. But kinda bad if you're (like some I saw in other centres) a lazy backpacker looking for free rent - I only use these harsh words because these people are not serious about meditation and so they give western people a bad name among local people (and officials) who become tired of dealing with us. So anyway, if interested in such an option, head to Sri Lanka and start Googling and hunting around. 

All the best!

Peter