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Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat

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Hello all,

I will be starting a 21-day-retreat at the Panditarama centre in Burma in two weeks' time.

If anybody who has been before can offer me any advice on what to take with me, things to expect, dos and don't etc then I'd be grateful. My only retreat experience up till now has been 2 Goenka retreats which have left me firmly ensconced in the dark night...

thanks in advance

RE: Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat
Answer
10/11/17 5:09 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Hey Calum

Let me start out by saying you're doing absolutely the right thing - progressing from Goenka courses to a real deal stint at the Panditarama centre in Myanmar.

I've been to their centre in Lumbini, Nepal a few times. I'm sure it's a little different, but the meditation method is the same. I'd recommend a notebook and a few pens (I go through one pen a week) to keep notes so you can report to the teacher in detail, and of course write down his/her instructions carefully. I mention this because the Goenka courses specifically say no notebooks and pens, but it's actually very helpful when reporting to a teacher. That doesn't mean you should write your whole life story as I see some yogis doing ;-), it's just to keep notes on what phenomena/experiences arose in each sit/walk. It's also helpful for your later retreats to browse through and see what went well, etc. Another thing is to bring a few of those little comforts like insect repellent, band-aids, lotion for any potential skin issues, anti-inflammatories, laxatives, etc. Better to be prepared than spend days fretting over some irritation.

As for practice, I find putting aside one's questioning, delving, analysing mind is a good idea, as faith is an essential ingredient in good practice outcomes. By that I mean having confidence in (a) the particular teacher you're dealing with, (b) the technique, and (c) your abilities. Any qualms about any of these tend to send the mind off running along lots of analytical, speculative pathways and dilute any energy you may have had to practice with. So it's a good idea to read something by Mahasi Sayadaw or Sayadaw U Pandita prior to beginning, to help get you into the mindset that this is gonna be an excellent way to progress your practice, rather than pondering on that all day long on retreat. 

I'm not sure if I've been much help. Just bring an intense determination to practice your butt off every single moment of every day you're there, as these opportunities are as precious as gold! ;-)

All the best with your retreat. Let us know when you get back how it went!

Peter

RE: Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat
Answer
10/11/17 6:04 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Pacing is everything on a long retreat and you have to find out what actually works for you. Think about intensity of practice, schedule of practice, and methods of practice before you go. This is my personal advice, but only you know if it works for you.

For some people "practice your butt off" is the way to go. For me, I just burn out every single time I take that approach. You might feel compelled to do that approach, but I can't in good conscience recommend it.

I actually recommend the "for every single moment of retreat, I will go into the experience of actually being on retreat. I will become intimate with everything I sense, feel all the primal urges, experience all the tones of emotions, and notice what I think as thoughts." I also throw away all goals and say "may whatever happens on retreat be for the benefit of all beings, including myself. May all beings benefit from me being on retreat. May I experience on retreat whatever will bring the highest benefit for myself and all beings." Goals are great, but why not have the highest goal? emoticon

So without bring an external agenda besides my mode of practice, I go deep into the feeling of being an actual human on retreat. I find that this keeps me grounded and whole. Retreat becomes delicious. Hard at times for sure, but always rich. Rich with pleasure, rich with wonder, rich with times of endurance, rich with times of rest. That richness of experience is the main thing to keep constant. The acutally tone of the richness will change throughout the retreat. Don't script yourself into thinking it always needs to be torture to make progress. Absolutely not true. It can and should be a delight to rest in the pleasure of seclusion, as the suttas say.

The other side of it is I keep to the practice schedule, unless there is a very very good reason not to. So if it's sitting time, I'm sitting. If it's walking time, I'm walking. This becomes very hard after a while. There can be a desire to mix it up, to make it more interesting. But I find that these urges are avoidance mechanisms. Look into the ill will that wants to mix things up. Chances are you'll find greed, aversion, and ignorance. Now of course fine tune the schedule to work for you. I know I wake up early and benefit from a post lunch nap, so that's what I do. I know I don't stay up as late as other people and want to go to sleep early, so that's what I do. Within that, I find alternating hours of sitting and walking to be just about right.

For walking, you want to focus on relaxing the body, relaxing the aches, freely swinging the joints to help keep your body recovering from all the sitting practice. You will feel sore and tired, but gently walk, gently flush the muscles. It's totally normal to go through a period of deep aches and pains. Make sure you vary the pace and walk both quickly and slowly at times, feeling what seems right. You don't need to walk slowly, this is a wierd hang up people have. The mind is very very very fast. You can stay mindful as you walk somewhat briskly. If you are feeling dull, try walking a little quicker. If you are feeling manic, SLOW DOWN. The main thing is to walk at the pace where you stay mindful of what you are doing and walk at a pace where you can feel yourself relax. 

Remember mindful eating, mindful peeing, mindful shitting, and mindful showering, mindful putting on clothes, mindfull taking off clothes, mindful brushing of teeth, mindful combing of hair. Never come off retreat. Always be richly in your actual experience. Big experiences happen at the strangest time (flipping the lid on a shampoo bottle) so always stay richly in your actual experience. Every experience is important. I kinda want to put that in caps: EVERY EXPERIENCE IS IMPORTANT emoticon

(Have you read this article? https://www.dharmaoverground.org/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/Jhana+and+%C3%91ana+ Check out the part about being a western dark night yogi.)

For practice, I would say the biggest thing for a dark night yogi to do is to learn to gently but continously note sensations, urges, emotions, and categories of thought while sitting. By gentle I mean a verbal note of something -- anything -- in experience on each out breath. (So I'm recommending verbally noting about 8 to 12 times a minute.) Meanwhile, intimately notice all of the other sensations, urges, emotions, and categories of thoughts that are occuring. This is the "richness" of experience that I was talking about earlier. This means you are doing about 80-90% noticing and about 10-20% noting/labeling. That's a good sustainable ratio and has a balance of going deep without becoming manic.

It is important for a dark night yogi to allow him/herself to experience pleasure when it arises. Rather than thinking "concentration" think "centering yourself". When pleasure arises, put yourself in the center of it. Delight in it. Enjoy it. Know that buddha highly recommended this kind of karma-free delight. Don't worry about vipassina when pleasure arises --- this will feel wrong to a dark night yogi, but this is actually why someone is a dark night yogi. When delight arises, enjoy it and wish for all being everywhere to also experience delight in their life. Be like a lightout sending out this joy and delight to everyone.

There will be hard crashes as well. Dark night yogis have guilt complexes, persecution complexes, fears, deep feelings of inadequacy. It's important to remember that you are noticing all of these things in awareness, but you are not these things. These are old habits of mind that are showing themselves to you, so that you can clearly see them. You can clearly see how they are primitive urges that are trying to be helpful, trying to protect you, trying to keep you safe... but they are simply not appropriate anymore. It's time to let them go. Don't force them away, but simply allow them to come and go. Let those primitive states of mind feel your attention, even send them some love and kindness. Be gentle with the shadow side of your psyche, all it really wants is your love and respect.

Sometimes it can be helpful to zoom into whatever feels "bad" or like "ill will" ask, is this greed, aversion, or ignorance/fantasy? That can be an interesting question, although you don't necessarily need an answer every time. Regardless, after you spend some time being curious about it, send that bad feeling some metta or good will.

A dark night yogi kinda secretly wants to have all the bad stuff beaten out of him/her. A dark night yogi often is intimidated by love, healing, and joy. Use this retreat to drop the masochism and build new habits. Be gentle with yourself, but stay disciplined. Be kind to yourself, but keep the practice schedule. 

Best wishes!

RE: Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat
Answer
10/12/17 7:02 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks for the replies guys. Appreciate you both taking the time to write out such thorough responses.

The 'practice your butt' off approach is the one most people seem to advocate so it's very interesting to see someone suggesting it might not be the way to go.

Certainly the idea of retreat being 'delicious', rather than the semi-torture I am half-expecting, is an attractive one!

With regards the article by Kenneth Folk, he's suggesting that in this stage we should never be attempting insight meditation without first accessing concentration states?  Since coming off the last Goenka retreat my concentration abilities seem to have gone backwards, so maybe I need to focus more on this than I am doing currently.  

RE: Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat
Answer
10/12/17 8:50 AM as a reply to Beleza.
The short story on Kenneth's advice is that you do vipassina/noting until you are past the A&P and then you relax and get jhanic to Stream Entry. Don't fight dark night but more "jhanically" flow within it. This is much more possible on retreat, where you will have the continuity of practice to develop concentration whether you intend to or not. That's why some advice is more specific to retreats and why retreats are so helpful. 

(I wouldn't necessarily start practicing concentration now, but if you can ramp up your practice times, that can really help you hit the retreat with some momentum. But if you do drop into concentration states during your practice, by all means let yourself cook up in them. That's the kind of habit you want to develop: good noting/noticing practice, concentration states appear, drop into concentrations and cook up, when concentration states end then gently start noting/noticing again.)

Your path is going to be your path, with it's own flavor of dark night emotions popping up. There is no way to truly and completely avoid going through some hard stuff. But that said, if you feel like your practice has momentum and aspects of joy, rapture, pleasure, or bliss are coming up in your meditation, Kenneth's main point is that it is absolutely a good and _productive_ thing to center yourself within those nice feelings. You won't be wasting your time. You will be doing the conditioning that helps make the mind slippery and more likely to slip into equanimity and SE.

My whole goal in emphasizing the deliciousness that is possible on retreat is to encourage you to let your mind find it's own course through the nanas and to allow things to drop into vipassina-jhanas along the way. Too many people want to control their meditation and make SE happen... it just doesn't work like that.

You need to be disciplined and "stay on retreat" but you also have to trust the natural intelligence of the mind. This is especially obvious on retreat. You will be able to clearly see how your mind is naturally drawn to investigating itself, naturally navigates through the nanas, naturally drops into concentration states, naturally explores for a while and then rests for a while. If you can see and trust this natural intelligence, your path will unfold very organically. You'll have the problems you're supposed to have (in order to clearly see your personal karmic habits that are hindrances if they are not seen clearly) and you also have the joy and relaxation that's needed to really drop into equanimity.

When equanimity happens keep sitting and walking. Stay on retreat. If you don't know what to do, that's fine, simply note that you don't know what to do. If you find yourself needing to return to basics to give yourself something to do, then just be aware of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. If you need to just notice the sensations of breathing, perfect. Or if you want to be more general, you can just be curious about "what makes equanimity so equanimous?" Keep it simple, stay on retreat, and stay curious about your actual experience.

Stream entry isn't about doing anything fancy, it's just about making vipassina-like curiousity and jhana-like relaxation into a new baseline habit.... and when you can rest in equanimity without struggle, when you can have thoughts come and go without struggle, when you can be on retreat without struggle, when you basically can practice without practicing, when you know it is completely useless to predict what will happenbecause no one can predict what happens... then you are in a good place. Hang out there and wonder about the nature of mind that knows all of this. When in doubt, notice what you are experiencing and rest in that experience, even in the experience of "not knowing" itself. 

Best wishes!

RE: Advice before going to Panditarama Burma retreat
Answer
10/15/17 4:11 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Hey Shargrol, thanks for the helpful advice. It was good to read this before starting my first long retreat starting from next week.