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Tastes Like Freedom

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Tastes Like Freedom
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7/16/18 11:09 PM
Tastes Like Freedom

This is a report about a recent retreat experience.

A few things before I start. If you should recognize the particular retreat to which I refer, please do me a favor and keep it to yourself. This is not intended to turn into a critique of the virtues of the teacher, technique or the specific retreat. It is an attempt to clarify my experience so I can better communicate what happened to my teacher during practice discussion next week and so I can begin to understand and integrate my insights into my future practice. It is also not intended to be a claim to any attainment, as I don’t believe there is any to claim. Comments/questions are welcome and I hope they will be constructed in a manner that will help me to better express myself, as it has been sometime since I have had the need to do so.

This retreat was less than 7 days in length and not my first retreat. Over the past 2 1/2 years, I sat three 7 day, one 5 day and two 3 day retreats along with several day and half day long retreats. This was completely different from any of those retreats in style, the teacher and the setting. It was held at a retreat center (I use the term loosely) where the retretants of this retreat were encouraged by not required to maintain noble silence-and most did- but there was little understanding or respect from the rest of the community (staff and visitors alike) for the concept. The dining hall was filled with the din of conversation and though the tables were reserved for our retreat and marked to note noble silence, it was mostly ignored.

This retreat was Shinzen-esque in style and heavy on instruction and participant questions and discussion. After the basic practice was described the teaching continued with neuroscience and non dual concepts. In comparison to past retreats I have attended, it was light on actual sitting. That said, at the beginning of the sessions, the teacher would reliably invite anyone who wished to just go sit and there were several options offered as to where we could go “just sit.”

I’ve learned how to induce samadhi on retreat and can reliably do so, though it usually takes at least 2 1/2- 3 full retreat days to be accomplished. Much to my surprise, it came much quicker this time (a full day and a half) and much more intensely. I have three rules that help invite samadhi:

Sit still during the sits and limit motion during discussions
Move VERY slowly when doing anything- i.e. walking, going to the bathroom, washing my hands, eating, showering, dressing, etc.
Attempt to focus on body sensations and give my full attention to each activity as it unfolds.

The first full day, in the early afternoon pain in my knees and back set in. Nothing unusual here. Though I have really upped my sit time in the past month (a full hour before work, 5-10 minutes on am and pm breaks and 10-20 minutes at lunch). I’m still not in any shape to sit 8-10 hours a day. Happens every retreat, but this time seemed particularly intrusive. The teacher is offering 10 minute interviews and while I had practice discussion just a few days prior to going on retreat (this retreat was taught by my personal teacher) I opted to take my 10 minutes early in the retreat to see how he suggested I work with the pain.

I sat down and he looked at me and smiled. He said, “You’re really struggling, aren’t you?”

Hmmm… brilliant, I thought- can’t hide anything from you, can I?- all pretty much expressed with a look of disdain and a classic Alice eye roll. We both laughed and I said, “Okay. Pain is what I experience in my back. Suffering is what I create when my mind spins a story about it.”

He nodded.

I asked, “Is suffering an emotion?”

He replied, “Suffering is what you are.”

Ah… okay. “So, if I understood your instructions today, pain is my new meditation object.”

An almost imperceptible move forward in his chair and his mouth started to form a word and then stopped. He took a deep breath and I could see him reformulate his reply. I was initially pretty sure he was going to give a curt answer like, “Yes, it is.” But then he remembered his student (he knows my style-I hammer away with utter determination until I get my way-and yes, I am a spoiled only child at the current ripe old age of 51 :-) and said, “Yes, but not all at once. You can’t do it like that. Your determination will not help you here.”

Another eye-roll and then acceptance. “Alright. Then how do I do it?”

He gave me a metaphor and a few more instructions. Then he said, “You are working great with the retreat. You move slowly with concentration. You’re doing it right and modeling it well for the others. It seems like most people don’t take me seriously when I give those instructions or they think I’m joking.”

“Yeah, but it’s not my first retreat. I know how to invite deep concentration and it doesn’t come if I don’t slow down and shut up. It’s a delicious state and something I look forward to about retreat. It’s one of the things that keeps me coming on retreat.”

Anyway, at this point, my 10 minutes are almost up. So the discussion ends. It’s past my usual bed time, so nighty night. Tomorrow is another day.

Morning sit, yoga, breakfast and finishing the basic practice instructions. Lunch, a break and then afternoon instructions that included heavy neuroscience and non-dual teachings. Someone brings up Douglas Harding and the headless practice. More inner eye-rolls from me. I’ve tried this practice previously and frankly, it does nothing but reliably induce frustration. At his urging, we all try it. Same result.
So here’s the thing about the headless practice. It’s always described as seeing things as flat or like a painting. He quotes Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “The sky becomes like a blue pancake and collapses on your head.” Sigh… I’m never gonna get this…

Here’s the reason for the frustration. I was born with lazy eye. My parents waited too late to try to have it corrected. I had 2 eye surgeries as a child which never resulted in correction. Eye patching, eye glasses with one coke bottle lens, all to no avail. I have what ophthalmologists call “perfect mono vision.” I essentially have NO depth perception. I lack fusion- the ability to focus on a single object with both eyes. I use one eye (in which I have almost perfect vision) for distance and the other eye (in which I am legally blind) to see close up. In order not to kill myself walking or driving (can I tell you how hard it was to learn to drive?) my brain has formulated and inserted the concept of depth perception. Yes, I know to touch the wall on the other side of the room, I have to get up and walk some distance, but for all intents, my world is flat. So these descriptors just don’t resonate with me. I don’t get it. Things always look superimposed on each other.

Of course, now my vision could be corrected. A surgeon could make me 20/20 out of both eyes, except there’s a huge probability I’d end up seeing two of everything. No thanks. The world is scary enough with just one of everything. The problem is not correcting my eyes, its correcting my neural pathways so I could use both of my eyes to focus on one thing at a time. Currently, the technology is not that good.

I raise my hand to express my frustration with this, hoping for some clarity. I get a response. “Oh, see, you have a natural proclivity towards non-dualism!” Bursts of laughter from my classmates and flushing with more frustration from me! I look out the window one more time to try to “see” it the way everyone else seems to. And then…

Ever open a carbonated soda/beer can or bottle that’s lost most of it’s carbonation? There’s a click as you pop the tab or flip open the cap and then a soft swish as what’s left of the CO2 comes out. Then, all of a sudden, there it was! It felt like a switch was flipped and my brain shut off the automatic insertion of the depth perception concept along with intense samadhi. I finally got a first bite of that damned blue pancake! BTW, I’ve been to culinary school and my favorite master chef used to scream about how “There’s NO BLUE FOOD!” LOL! ;-)

The session ended and I got up slowly. The depth perception concept comes back enough I can walk and not face plant. I get out to the hall after a few minutes and then stop. Looking around, it’s off (the concept of depth perception) again without any effort on my part. Then, “I’m" back and I now realize my mouth is hanging open and I can’t contain my surprise. Oh, my, wait, this is so new! And cool! I start to move to go put my shoes on, but I can’t. It’s back. Stopping agin. Just looking. Just seeing. Flipping back to moving, I look over to see the teacher. I whispered, “Uh, is THIS what I’m supposed to see?” He whispers, “Yes, but there’s more. They see everything as empty, too. Keep looking.”

It’s starting to get a little scary here. In and out without any effort on my part. Back and forth. Just seeing without the seer and then “I’m” back and then gone again. The dining room is in another building and about 3 minutes away if you walk at a good clip. I usually take about 10 minutes to get there, using it as a walking meditation break. This trip took me about 30 minutes. Stopping, mouth agape, staring with concentration at grass, leaves, potted flowers, the mountains, buildings- watching people move, all just part of the scenery. All of it just happening. I must have looked like I should have been locked up. There was no stopping it.

This lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. Somehow I got back to the evening Q&A. Not as intense now, but still in and out of this state. I go to my room and when “I’m home” I’m afraid. The edges of things start to wiggle a bit. Oh, “I” didn’t sign up for this, did I? Finally, I feel like I might get to sleep, so out with the lights and sleep came on quickly.

Next morning, still concentrated and able to look “on command” but again, way less intense and now I feel like “I can control it.” Hmm… alright. Well.

The teacher does some more talking and then a guided meditation for close to an hour. Induction. Standard vipassana. Body sensations of emotion, mental talk, mental images then all three. The last-I’m not sure- best guess is 5-15 minutes is my first glimpse of- I don’t know what to call it. Full body sensations of vibrations, buzzing with images of “me”. At first I’m whole, dressed in what I was wearing that day. Then the image started to sparkle, like dancing glitter. Then more glitter, alternating with more intense body buzzing. Eventually my entire body is buzzing with various spots of intense bursts of sensation-then back to the image that is now starting to look like TV static with similar bursts of brief light/ glittering. Back to the body sensations. Back and forth, like the night before with the eyesight, but now bouncing between the mental images and body sensations, corresponding to each other. The final image was grainy, sandy me starting to wave like an hourglass without any defined edges.

The bell rang. Not sure if there was relief or disappointment that it was over. It was intense and a little frightening, but mostly fascinating. Gotta say, that was the first time for anything like that happening to me during a sit. I’ve read about it, but I really kinda thought people who described things like that- well, frankly, it sounded like it was bullshit. Even when it came out of my teacher’s mouth. And then, there it was. In my body. In my minds eye. What was it? I don’t know, but it tasted like freedom.

I took off after lunch. I knew I’d heard enough. I also knew I might miss something helpful and inspirational, but I couldn’t deal with the noise. I also knew I couldn’t incorporate any more information, regardless of how helpful it might be. It seemed there was only one thing to do. I went to a quiet spot and just meditated. Nothing extraordinary the rest of the retreat. Deep samadhi.

Went to the morning sit the next day. Breakfast and then the beginning of the close of the retreat. Still couldn’t deal with the chatter. Left in the middle of the talk. It felt somewhat disrespectful, but there wasn’t anything else I could do. Better to use what few hours were left to do what I come for. Practice.

RE: Tastes Like Freedom
Answer
7/16/18 11:10 PM as a reply to Alice S.
Yes; it’s all just good clean fun until somebody loses an “I”, right? emoticon 

Wonderful report. The sparkly stuff sounds kind of like review. I’ve had similar experiences, and it’s beyond weird. Won’t try to diagnose you, though, because I don’t want to jinx anything. But it’s a taste of a world empty of self, with everything just humming along with no Alice or Laurel to have an opinion or judgment about it, no desire/aversion/delusion mixed in. So glad you posted this.

Oh, and there is such a thing as blue pancakes—you just have to use blue cornmeal. emoticon

RE: Tastes Like Freedom
Answer
7/17/18 10:54 PM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Thanks for the reply, Laurel.  And thanks for not diagnosing me.  I've resisted the urge (sort of) to diagnose myself.  Gonna let my teacher do that.  Maybe I'll go make some blue pancakes in the mean time! ;-)

RE: Tastes Like Freedom
Answer
7/18/18 1:47 AM as a reply to Alice S.
Hi Alice,
I enjoyed your story, thanks for writiting emoticon This last bit was also fun to read:
Alice S:

Gotta say, that was the first time for anything like that happening to me during a sit. I’ve read about it, but I really kinda thought people who described things like that- well, frankly, it sounded like it was bullshit. Even when it came out of my teacher’s mouth. And then, there it was. In my body. In my minds eye. What was it? I don’t know, but it tasted like freedom.


What I mean is that it's useful to know that these experiences really might sound like bullshit to some one who hasn't experienced them!

Keep up the good work!

 Jehanne