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Final thoughts before retreat

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Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/24/18 2:43 PM
I am going on my second 10-day Goenka retreat on Wednesday. I'd like to try to make the best use of my time while I am there. Does anyone have any advice?

Here are some of my thoughts going in:

- I suspect that I have been making things needlessly difficult for myself in a lot of my meditation up to this point. When I sit, I start by focusing on the breath at the nostrils until I can perceive its subtle vibrations. After this point, things either go fairly well, or they go off the rails. I *suspect* that what is happening is that after this point, I should be broadening my awareness, and taking in sensation in large amounts. What I often do is commence body scanning, part-by-part, and get frustrated that I can't keep track of where I am, because sensations are coming at me way too quickly, and my perception of the body gets weird. Again, I *suspect* that the body scanning technique is designed to bring me to the point that I am already getting to with pure awareness of breath. I suspect that there is a big difference between a) the run-of-the-mill mind-wandering that is fixed by intensifying concentration, and b) the 1000 thoughts per second state where I can't seem to hold on to anything. My recent intuition is telling me that (b) is precisely what I want to happen, and that I need to stop resisting this process. I have a hunch that the slow body-scanning technique is mainly designed for people who really can't feel sensations at arbitrary locations on their body, and that I may be frustrating myself needlessly.

I don't remember if this point was explained at my last retreat. I don't know if I will be able to explain myself well to the teacher while I am there, and I don't know what advice he will give me.  So, I want to just put this out there while I still have Internet access and see if anyone has anything to say. 

- I would like to practice as much mindfulness as possible throughout the entire day. What is the best way to do this? Focus on the breath all day long? Just take in sensation as it comes? Try to see anicca in all sensations? This may seem like a stupid question, but how could I *not* do that?  It's very difficult to look at anything without automatically trying to "investigate" it (especially when meditation has been on my mind a lot). Am I only trying to guard against being lost in thought?

- In one of Daniel's vimeo videos, he says something about "sensation is the awareness of itself." This feels really important to me. Is the idea here that I need to let go of the sensations that I think I'm not catching, and focus on the ones that are actually presenting themselves? There is some dissonance in my mind over this, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Is the actual goal of vipassana to just get everything down to the most basic capacity of noticing sensation, and then spend enough time in this space and hoping you "fall through"? I feel like there is something really easy going on here, which books and teachers want to complicate, and it's starting to frustrate me.

Any advice anyone can give is appreciated. It is helpful for me to get my thoughts down, in any case.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/24/18 3:10 PM as a reply to spatial.
... "sensation is the awareness of itself..."

My version of this - sensations are awareness. We habitually notice/perceive things in what appears to be a hierarchical fashion. We assign importance to some sensations in favor of others. This is difficult to see through but truth be told, sensations are all comprised of the of same damn "stuff." They are what they are, when they are, and they appear one after the other as they're presented to our preception apparatus. There's no "observer" required - that's just another sensation. 

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/24/18 6:58 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Well said Chris.

My advice would be not to complicate things and just experience what naturally happens to the mind on retreat.

It's going to be a busy mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a calming down mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be an ambitious mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a confused mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a frustrated mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a struggling mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a desparate mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a defeated mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a sorrowful mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be an accepting mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a curious mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be a content mind for a while (no big deal), it's going to be an interested mind for a while (no big deal).

There really is no need to push to make progress. Just stay very curious about how your mind actually works. Notice how you are just sitting there on a cushion, doing nothing much in particular, but it feels like you are having lots of problems --- clearly you are making things difficult for yourself. Notice how you are just sitting there on a cushion, doing nothing much in particular, and you feel fine but you think there is something else you should be doing --- clearly you are making things difficult for yourself. Notice how you can just sit and experience the retreat and not have a problem --- isn't this clearly a better way to be on retreat and live your life?

Enjoy the retreat. Retreats are intense, but mostly because we don't allow ourselves to relax and enjoy the experience of being on retreat. When we can relax and enjoy the retreat they are still intense, mostly because of all the insights we get about how our mind actually works.

Best wishes! Be good to yourself and let yourself enjoy the experience of being on retreat. 


And just to loop it back to Chris' comment/advice... all-day mindfulness is very very simple. It is just paying attention to the sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts you are experiencing. That's it. Super simple. In fact it is so simple that people convince themselves that mindfulness is something different, but it isn't. It is basically really appreciating what you are already experiencing. Pay attention with a touch of adventure, good humor, and curiousity. That's it. Just do that and you will have more insights than could fill a book --- and most importantly, they will be the insights that are directly relevant to you.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/24/18 9:37 PM as a reply to spatial.
For people attending their 2nd+ retreat, goenka gives different instructions vs. the first timers. Basically:
  • There are no rest periods. Stay mindful all waking moments. Stay with the breathe during transition periods on day 1-4 and sensations afterward.
  • He wants experienced students to stay with the breathe as a concentration object for longer in a more narrowing point as you get closer to day 4. The morning of day 4, you start dissecting the breathe. This was beneficial to me.
For the 2nd retreat, I would follow the directions to a T. These instructions come early on day 1 and are not repeated. Listen well and ask for clarification from the assistant teacher if needed.

I would supplement with knowledge of the insight stages and balancing hindrances and factors of enlightenment.

There are a few spots on the schedule where you can get 2-3 hour sits. I would use this. I would lie in my pagoda cell.

The schedule can be tough physically. I found reclining mediation to help outside of the group sits if your energy can stay up. Chairs are good too.

I would put in as much time as possible at home meditation in the days and weeks leading up to it.

Dont stress out on the technique too much. Noticing the sensations is the important part. Experiment with speed and width of attention. The optimal speed and width will change often because of many variables. As a general rule, I stay with pain/itches/numbness/etc longer and try to see an oscillation. I move fast with vibrations.Try feeling internally and allow attention to go front to back if you can. He gives instructions on this on day 9.

If meditation goes to shit especially after a "good" period, this is likely progress. Keep following the instructions.

Start aligning sleep and eating patterns to the schedule in the week leading up to it.

Use resolutions at the beginning of the retreat, day and sit. Dont judge yourself if you fall short.

Continuity of practice is the secret of success. emoticon

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/24/18 11:44 PM as a reply to spatial.
I really like shargol’s advice.
To simplify the whole teaching, the goal is to develop/deepen your awareness and equanimity. Those are the two wings of the bird that take you to liberation, as Goenka says.
While doing this, monitor your relaxation, I don’t believe this is stressed enough on Goenka retreats as the teaching leans heavily toward effort. Nothing wrong with effort, you will need it if you have a drowsy or wandering mind, but when you brighten up, and you’re not lost in thought or sleepy, experiment with backing off effort, and resting in your deepening awareness and equanimity in regards to sensation (and the other Satipattana objects). Effortless effort can be a profound discovery, was for me.
Don’t worry about how quickly attention moves through the body, there’s no right way to do it, it’s in the service of developing concentration and insight. At the same time, be mindful not to exert too much focused attention on any one body part for an extended period of time, though never mentioned, this is all also energy work, tantric even, and bold experimentation could wreak havoc on your subtle/energy body. The assistant teachers won’t know anything about this as they’re not generally trained to be teaching such potentially powerful techniques. The majority of people are simply becoming aware of their monkey minds with brief periods of calm in between. Work the system and you won’t be one of those people.
Anyway, the two factors of awareness and equanimity will grow, along with the others. Dwelling here sets yourself up for the accident of awakening, making you accident prone, as Culadasa says. Awakening is the accident in this case.
In summary: Awareness, Equanimity, Relax
Take advantage of the opportunity and practice well emoticon

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/25/18 1:36 PM as a reply to spatial.
Thank you, everyone. A lot of good advice here. I will let you know how it goes. (It's very stressful trying to get everything done that needs to be done before disappearing for 10 days!)

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
7/25/18 7:55 PM as a reply to spatial.
I wish you the best spatial! enjoy the breath!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/5/18 9:02 PM as a reply to spatial.
OK, just got back today. Totally exhausted. I wrote down some of what I experienced:


So, this experience was both terrifying and liberating. Not sure what to make of all these events. I'm just going to describe a bunch of things that happened and many of my thoughts on them.

I went into the retreat with the intention of being mindful of every single breath. I swear, for the first 3 days, there were not 10 waking breaths that escaped my attention.

In the couple months prior to the retreat (practicing 2 hours a day), vibrations had starting becoming apparent, but in those first few days, they really took hold. I felt as if I could perceive the subtlest vibrations in the energy field of the body. At some point, it became obvious that I was perceiving interference patterns in my attention. When I was listening to the discourse with my eyes closed, I could feel the spoken words on my face, and I could see them like ripples on a pond. I believe this was on the 3rd day. When I got back to my room that night, there was a very slight throbbing pain in my right leg, and I noticed a frog croaking from outside the window. Every time the frog croaked, I could feel the cycles of pain in my leg get interrupted.

I realized that I could zoom my attention in and out at will in a very controlled way, and thus "smooth over" the differences between the frequencies of different phenomena, and so I could stay with things much longer. Like using the clutch in a manual transmission. I began to realize that it was very possible to take in more and more of my sensory experience in this way, by gradually tuning my attention wherever I saw that it was out of phase. Meditation started to feel like a video game. I began moving slower and slower so that I wouldn't miss vibrations.

---

I got it into my head that the idea was to somehow try perceiving everything simultaneously, to synchronize all of the cycles. So, I worked on this intently on the morning of the fourth day. I got into a very deep state, and things became almost dream-like. I could see a bright, very pleasant glow, and then went further and began seeing wispy cobwebs, and rotating kaleidoscope patterns. A couple times, the kaleidoscope pattern threatened to stop rotating, and I freaked out every time and opened my eyes, feeling a sense of impending doom. One time, it did freeze for a moment, and I really got scared, but felt I had stopped it just in time.

While eating lunch, began thinking about that event, and the thought occurred that the only thing stopped me from letting the pattern stop rotating was just my fear of what would happen if it did. It seemed like fear was something I could deal with. In that moment, even though my eyes were open, I could sense the pattern in front of me, and I knew there was no stopping it this time. I felt a chill through my body and immediately realized that my head and neck seemed connected to my torso in a very pleasant and grounded way.

The fear was gone, and when I closed my eyes, things were just shimmering with a very balanced energy. The visual field seemed very close to me. There was no sense of depth. I stood up and walked back to my room. I felt no need to walk slowly, because I had the sense of being able to take in my full sensory experience no matter how quickly I walked. I thought, "this is it! I'm enlightened!" and even considered going home.

Just for fun, I lay down on my bed and played around some more with sensing vibrations. I tried zooming in more and more. Suddenly, one of the vibrations "cracked open" and I was presented with a whole new universe of even subtler vibrations inside that one, and a new kaleidoscope pattern. This really freaked me out, and I was certain I had gone too far.

The next two days were the most terrifying of my entire life.

---

The first vibrations, which seemed subtle at the time, were now large and slow. The new vibrations felt twenty times faster. I simply could not keep up with them. I felt like I was in a dust storm. I could see how the vibrations were intimately connected to my attention, and how unstable my attention was.

I did not get any sleep that night. When I closed my eyes, I entered into a nightmare. I figured I needed to fight through this, and just go with it. So, I spent the entire night doing just that. I literally saw demons in front of my closed eyes. I saw my mind trying and failing to synchronize a consistent image of my face. I thought that if I could just stick it out, eventually things would settle down. I felt like I was on a quest into the depths of hell, determined to put my mind in order.

The next day, I felt a bit better, despite no sleep, but it got worse as the evening progressed. During a group sitting, I saw black dots jumping around on the cushion in front of me. My whole visual image seemed unstable, wobbling around. I thought of the article about the girl who killed herself after a Goenka retreat, and was certain I would be next. I had actually managed to induce psychosis in myself. When I closed my eyes, I actually saw evil skulls.

I could not sleep again. There was simply too much noise when I closed my eyes. I could feel my brain starting to fall asleep, and then there would tension building in my eyes, a click, and I would jolt awake. I thought "This is it. I have broken my brain. I have somehow systematically trained my eyes to prevent me from ever falling asleep again, and I have no idea how to undo this. Even if someone can tell me how, by that point I will be too tired and psychotic to be able to follow instructions."

I went and knocked on the manager's door, and he called the teacher for me to have an interview late at night. The teacher's advice was really phenomenal. I expressed my concerns about the problems I was experiencing, and he stressed how there really is no problem. I was not being equanimous. Of course, that's the party line, but he knew how to say it in a way that made sense to me while I was freaking out. He said "You don't need to sleep. Lie in bed and feel the sensations of your body lying in bed. If you feel fear, label it as 'fear'. Just keep doing it until morning, if you have to. You could leave, but you will have to deal with this eventually, and you won't find a more supportive place than here."

I went back to bed, practiced being equanimous with sensation, and eventually fell asleep.

---

This was a complete turning point. I really had a sense of what equanimity was and how much of my experience it could reveal. I realized how much I *hated* myself.

I realized that I was engaging in physical and mental feedback loops. My attempts at releasing tension would cause sensations of tension, and the whole process would spiral out of control. The way to stop this is simply to pick a moment (any moment will do) and say "here, I will just observe sensations, without trying to fix it."

I began completely unraveling. I could feel sensations coursing through my body over the course of a whole day. Memories from childhood resurfaced. I felt like I was growing up in reverse. My body started to feel smaller. Images of people and pets in my mind seemed larger. The landscape, the lighting, the sensations of blankets rubbing against my legs, all remind me of how things felt as a child. I spent a whole group sitting crying as tensions melted away, and I realized how *easy* it was.

---

At some point, I started to recognize landmarks that I had read about:

Dark Night -> Equanimity
Dark Night -> Desire for Deliverance
Desire for Deliverance -> Re-observation
Dissolution -> Re-observation -> Equanimity

Watching these come into focus was an incredibly painful process. What I eventually began interpreting as Re-observation started off as "I'm actually completely wrong about how to meditate, and not only that, but my life sucks beyond measure." Eventually, I would snap out of it and into Equanimity with no understanding why.

After this happened enough times, it started to dawn on me that there are predictable patterns here. Most Re-observations had resulted in me quitting my meditation session, but once I began suspecting a pattern, I said: "I am going to sit through this, *no matter what*, until I break through." I can't describe how painful this was at first. It was only my desperation and complete lack of other ideas that made me try this.

And yet, eventually it turned into another video game. Re-observation was not a failure to meditate properly, and it was not an attempt at resolving each and every single little out-of-place harmonic. It became a resolution to simply experience *suffering as an entity*. I'm still not sure I completely get it, but after going through probably 100 dark night cycles over these 10 days, I feel I learned something.

I became aware that the progression Dark Night -> Desire for Deliverance -> Re-observation -> Equanimity is a natural consequence of the changing width of attention. Re-observation has three phases:

1. Oh, wait, I got this!
2. Oh shit.
3. Oh, right...

(Is there a way to skip through this?)

---

I realized I had invented my own vipassana technique. This is perhaps a rip-off of Mahasi noting, but it was really an attempt at softening the Goenka technique to something that would actually work for me. The technique is:

1. Focus on the breath.
2. Whenever a thought appears and pulls attention away from the breath, label the thought as either "craving" or "aversion".
3. Once things gets too fast to label, switch to simply feeling the sensations of craving or aversion

This technique led to several really (for me) profound insights:

- There is no activity of the mind that is neither craving nor aversion.

- The "purpose" of the mind is to cover up sensation. Aversion works by the mind covering up an unpleasant sensation and saying "If you do what I say, you won't have to feel this anymore." Craving works by the mind covering up a pleasant sensation and saying "If you do what I say, you will get more of this later" (like a heroin dealer).

- Tensions really are bundles of knots. Thousands of knots. They must be untied one at a time.

- I became really aware of the periodic nature of attention, attending to individual sensations in cycles. I'm not sure I fully understand this, but I had basically zero awareness of it before. I can now follow my attention as it zips around my body (maybe 20 times per second or so, just a guess), and follow it longer after the point where my mind has already told me that it has stopped. It's all a bit murky still, but it's much more mechanical and predictable that I thought it was. I can feel these cycles and their harmonics throughout my nervous system, in a synaesthetic way.

- Here's a pet hypothesis that occurred to me: we are born fully enlightened, and in the first few years of our lives, we regress through the stages of insight until we get to the bottom. We lose awareness of vibration as our minds solidify our realities into something that "works". When we progress in insight, we have to undo this process, and go back to the beginning, re-experiencing the fears of the dark, etc. that children go through, so that we can get back to basic fine-grained perception and teach our minds how to traverse that territory at will, so that we are not stuck in its initial solidifications.

---

I slowed down my movements again, trying to become aware of everything. I realized I was on top of my attention once more, as on day 3.

Then, the eagerness to get enlightened (based on whatever weird nonsense I had read online...) took over, and I pushed to clear my mind of vibrations. An experience similar to the one above (but less well-defined) happened, and I felt that the current project was completed. I felt light/heavy and connected to my body. This was the morning of day 9.

History being doomed to repeat itself and all, I again pushed harder and broke open a third layer of even subtler vibrations that morning. Oh great. I have no time to deal with whatever ensuing mess this will cause.

---

Now, there are three layers of vibrations: pulsating ripples, fast wind, and sparkling pinpricks. OK, let me just push through this. Try to stir up as much garbage as I can over the last couple days and work to resolve it.

This was actually moderately successful. I had developed a certain amount of skill in working through Dark Nights by this point.

Whenever I got to Equanimity, though, things got stressful (Equanimity is actually very pleasant. It was more like cycles of Pleasant->Wow, I bet I can really let go of everything->Extremely pleasant->Now, let's try even harder->Argh!->Pleasant). I couldn't figure out what to do. I felt really frustrated that I couldn't break through, and even more frustrated that I couldn't stop myself from trying so hard. Of course, I wasn't about to freak out the teacher by mentioning any of this nonsense...

Once, I made a resolution to be OK with the trying. This seemed to profoundly open up another layer of something. But still, nothing really interesting happened.

(As an aside, I began noticing clear jhana shifts around this point, which I had never noticed clearly until then. I could easily feel myself click through the first four. Then, more shifts above that, but I lost count, wasn't sure if I was going up or down, and things were just so murky sometimes I wasn't sure if there was a shift or not.

So, my suspicion is also that the 16 Stages of Insight are needless complicated and confusing for a beginner, and it is probably better to think in terms of 4 jhanas. I'll have to revisit this issue as I gain more experience.)

On my last night, while lying in bed, I began meditating and felt another Dark Night coming on. I had unraveled so many knots in my body by that point that it felt like there was only a few small points of tension left in my jaw and forehead. I resolved to attack those directly, and somehow hit some large nerve center in my torso. Tension began melting away, and waves of pleasure ran through my body, perhaps for an hour. It was great for the first hour, but then it wouldn't stop. This caused more agitation, and I only got a couple hours of sleep that night. Hopefully, I will sleep tonight...

---

So, that's the story. Not sure if I attained anything or not, or got close to anything, but I certainly got a lot of practice and more familiarity with territory.

The game of practice that I fell into became something like this:

1. Fix attention on the breath and observe impermanance until Dissolution occurs.
2. Observe suffering until a big Dark Night gets kicked up.
3. Shift into Equanimity once the suffering is strong enough to be perceived as a solid entity.

Not sure if this is the right way to do things. It is based on my own conclusions drawn from my own experience practicing over these 10 days, practicing my own technique in violation of what was officially given to me (what else is new?). Also, not sure where to go from here. Keep practicing, I guess.

TL;DR: Did a Goenka retreat with way too much enthusiasm, freaked out, but learned about equanimity and the mind. Food was pretty good.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/5/18 10:52 PM as a reply to spatial.
Man, it seems like you really got some work in. Great report. I believe the insights will keep coming as you integrate back into daily living. 

The food was great when I did a retreat as well.

And in case you've forgotten, be ready for concentration to take a major hit.

Nothing else to add, thanks for writing this up!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/6/18 5:45 AM as a reply to spatial.
Thanks for this amazing and inspiring report, Spatial.
You showed a tremendous amount of dedication, sensitivity, courage and independence (dependently originated) in completing the retreat.
Really cool!

 

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/6/18 6:21 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
OK, just got back today...


...


I went back to bed, practiced being equanimous with sensation, and eventually fell asleep.

---

This was a complete turning point. I really had a sense of what equanimity was and how much of my experience it could reveal. I realized how much I *hated* myself.

I realized that I was engaging in physical and mental feedback loops. My attempts at releasing tension would cause sensations of tension, and the whole process would spiral out of control. The way to stop this is simply to pick a moment (any moment will do) and say "here, I will just observe sensations, without trying to fix it."

...

- There is no activity of the mind that is neither craving nor aversion.

- The "purpose" of the mind is to cover up sensation. Aversion works by the mind covering up an unpleasant sensation and saying "If you do what I say, you won't have to feel this anymore." Craving works by the mind covering up a pleasant sensation and saying "If you do what I say, you will get more of this later" (like a heroin dealer).

- Tensions really are bundles of knots. Thousands of knots. They must be untied one at a time.

...


Whenever I got to Equanimity, though, things got stressful (Equanimity is actually very pleasant. It was more like cycles of Pleasant->Wow, I bet I can really let go of everything->Extremely pleasant->Now, let's try even harder->Argh!->Pleasant). I couldn't figure out what to do. I felt really frustrated that I couldn't break through, and even more frustrated that I couldn't stop myself from trying so hard.

...

The game of practice that I fell into became something like this:

1. Fix attention on the breath and observe impermanance until Dissolution occurs.
2. Observe suffering until a big Dark Night gets kicked up.
3. Shift into Equanimity once the suffering is strong enough to be perceived as a solid entity.

Not sure if this is the right way to do things.

...

TL;DR: Did a Goenka retreat with way too much enthusiasm, freaked out, but learned about equanimity and the mind. Food was pretty good.

Whew, I'm very happy you didn't go off the rails on retreat! But it seems like you learned some important stuff. I'm just going to reinforce stuff you have already said and try to say in in a way that maybe helps you balance out some ideas you had...


For what it's worth, this kind of heroic approach to exploring knots with mindfulness is absolutely right on track. However, it seems like you maybe missed the heart of the equanimity lesson, which that when investigation is done with too much effort it creates it's own feedback loops, and you can spiral into a process of DN, EQ, DN, EQ or the very seductive version of AP, DN, EQ, AP, DN, EQ (in otherwords, big bliss events are also experienced along with DN an EQ). The experience of this kind of retreat pattern is that "I'm cleaning up the DN and getting EQ as a result" but another completely logical way to think about this is "I'm pushing too hard in EQ and it is sending me back to DN". I learned this the hard way on a ~16 day retreat, but if you keep pushing and using too much effort, you go through this cycle of forced psychological breakdown, with some cool insights and sometimes jhana/bliss but a completely frazzled mind and body if the retreat goes on long enough.

I'm glad you mentioned realizing how much you hate yourself, because this is really what drives the too much effort process. It is an extreme aversion to what is being experienced and not trusting your own mind's ability to investigate and have insights. It's incorrect belief that "everything is aversion or greed". This is not quite balanced. The mind is also mindfulness and equanimity. It is very very important to notice that mindfulness and equanimity is not aversion or greed --- and that's the answer you are looking for. Mindfulness is the only thing that can see how things get out of balance and it's interesting: when we have mindfulness AND equanimity the insights just naturally emerge from the experience. We noticing things that were true but were overlooked because in the past we've been so focused on the feelings of aversion or greed (or ignorance, the third of the "poisons"). 

One way of thinking about ignorance is that it is basically forgetting to let experience be how it is. First we kind of ignore the basic idea that what has been experienced has already happened, is already so. We ignore the possibility of equanimity. Then we go down a path of either greed or aversion -- not being happy unless we get more of it or not finding peace until we get rid of it. And then we're back in samsara.

Practice and retreat is one of the only times in our life we learn to BALANCE investigation and relaxation. We do this by learning how to  bring investigation AND equanimity to experience. Of course our old habits will try to make us "do more" or "not try", but the trick in meditation is that "doing something" should mostly consist of relaxing and allowing if our psychology is too effortful and should mostly consist of looking more closely if our psychology is too lazy. This is what we need to figure out.

Guess which category you fit into Spatial? emoticon  It is important that aversive types learn to dial back the effort and add alot more self respect, allowing, and trust into their practice. You need to see that there is an aware part of your mind that can realize how hard you are making it for yourself and realizing "I really exhaused my body, maybe there is an easier way?" 

So here's what you need to play with: noticing how "awareness" or "mindfulness" really require no effort. Our mind creates awareness like our skin creates the moisture that is always leaking out of our pores. Experiment letting your mind naturally explore and loosen knots, rather that forcing it. I can GUARANTEE you that all the same releases and insights can happen with much less effort. But you have to trust the natural intelligence of your mind.

Once I really understood that mindfulness was, in a way, smarter that "me", I went on a 14 day retreat and had THE BEST time of my life. It was so wonderful. The insights happened. I enjoyed the retreat. I slept well. And I came back home knowing that I can't really lie to my mind. It knows when I'm using too little or too much effort. I just need to trust that intuition and keep becoming good a more and more subtle balancing of mind. And for me, that meant dropping my habit of using too much aversion and effort.

In time, you realize that the purpose of mind is to detect greed, aversion, and ignorance... but we identify too much with the sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts so it's difficult to detect those things. When we develop the ability to be mindful of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts AS THE DISCRETE sensations, urges, emotions, and habitual thoughts THAT THEY ACTUALLY ARE --  then the knots loosen and we get insights into how all of these little harmless flashes of experience can create greed, aversion, and ignorance and huge amounts of suffering. 

Equanimity comes from being clear about what is being experience and not becoming beguiled by aversion, greed, or ignorance. It's hard to describe what it different Paths and awakening feels like, but "greater awareness and equanimity" is pretty close.


Hope that helps in some way!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/6/18 8:19 AM as a reply to shargrol.
That is fantastic stuff!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/6/18 9:31 AM as a reply to shargrol.
spatial, happy for your progress!

shargrol, this is wonderful and helpful, thanks for sharing this knowledge!

a big hug to you both

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/7/18 4:12 PM as a reply to shargrol.
shargrol:
For what it's worth, this kind of heroic approach to exploring knots with mindfulness is absolutely right on track. However, it seems like you maybe missed the heart of the equanimity lesson, which that when investigation is done with too much effort it creates it's own feedback loops, and you can spiral into a process of DN, EQ, DN, EQ or the very seductive version of AP, DN, EQ, AP, DN, EQ (in otherwords, big bliss events are also experienced along with DN an EQ). The experience of this kind of retreat pattern is that "I'm cleaning up the DN and getting EQ as a result" but another completely logical way to think about this is "I'm pushing too hard in EQ and it is sending me back to DN". I learned this the hard way on a ~16 day retreat, but if you keep pushing and using too much effort, you go through this cycle of forced psychological breakdown, with some cool insights and sometimes jhana/bliss but a completely frazzled mind and body if the retreat goes on long enough.


This is interesting. I definitely was feeling like I needed to clean up DN to get EQ, over and over. Are you saying that this isn't the case? What is the alternative? It seems that certain DN's are only provoked in certain circumstances. If I get to EQ while lying peacefully on my bed, things change when I go into the meditation hall and my legs start hurting.

I'm glad you mentioned realizing how much you hate yourself, because this is really what drives the too much effort process. It is an extreme aversion to what is being experienced and not trusting your own mind's ability to investigate and have insights. It's incorrect belief that "everything is aversion or greed". This is not quite balanced. The mind is also mindfulness and equanimity. It is very very important to notice that mindfulness and equanimity is not aversion or greed --- and that's the answer you are looking for. Mindfulness is the only thing that can see how things get out of balance and it's interesting: when we have mindfulness AND equanimity the insights just naturally emerge from the experience. We noticing things that were true but were overlooked because in the past we've been so focused on the feelings of aversion or greed (or ignorance, the third of the "poisons"). 


Let me try to elaborate on what my point was. Suppose I fix my attention on the breath at the nostrils. I sit and wait for something else to grab my attention. This could be pain in my body, or it could be an amazing insight, or it could be a worry that I'm not meditating correctly, or it could be an urge to adjust my posture. In all of these cases, I am experiencing a sensation of either craving or aversion, and the mind is presenting a thought in an attempt to block out the sensation. If I am aware of the sensation, on the other hand, I am not counting this as "craving or aversion", because the mental activity is detached from the sensation. As for the awareness itself, I wasn't really considering that as part of the mind, but rather something higher up, capable of observing the mind. Does it make sense for me to partition the mind this way?

Of course our old habits will try to make us "do more" or "not try", but the trick in meditation is that "doing something" should mostly consist of relaxing and allowing if our psychology is too effortful and should mostly consist of looking more closely if our psychology is too lazy. This is what we need to figure out.

Guess which category you fit into Spatial? emoticon  It is important that aversive types learn to dial back the effort and add alot more self respect, allowing, and trust into their practice. You need to see that there is an aware part of your mind that can realize how hard you are making it for yourself and realizing "I really exhaused my body, maybe there is an easier way?" 


This is a struggle for me. On the one hand, I recognize that the effort is often wasted and creates feedback loops. On the other hand, I don't want to spend my whole meditation session simply daydreaming and being lost in thought. Or worse, rewarding myself for being lost in thought and training myself to think that this is meditation.

So, sometimes I do experiment with just completely letting go and letting my mind explore. And it seems to be productive. There are concerns, however: How do I reconcile this with the progress I feel I have made at times through intense effort? Is there really a conflict here?

For example, I have made progress by saying "I am going to sit here for one hour and not get up, no matter what happens." You could look at this as being effortful, because a lot of physical and psychological pain comes up, and I push through it, returning my attention to the breath constantly. You could also look at it as letting go of effort, because I am allowing myself to suffer, allowing myself to have an agitated mind, allowing myself to squirm, allowing myself to dis-identify with all of the above behaviors. So, I often think "actually, nothing I do in meditation is wrong, as long as I am practicing being aware that I am doing it."

So, what's the point of meditation at all? Aren't we just all moving inexorably toward greater insight anyway?

Hope that helps in some way!


Very helpful, thank you!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/7/18 4:21 PM as a reply to Daniel - san.
Daniel - san:
I really like shargol’s advice.
Don’t worry about how quickly attention moves through the body, there’s no right way to do it, it’s in the service of developing concentration and insight. At the same time, be mindful not to exert too much focused attention on any one body part for an extended period of time, though never mentioned, this is all also energy work, tantric even, and bold experimentation could wreak havoc on your subtle/energy body. The assistant teachers won’t know anything about this as they’re not generally trained to be teaching such potentially powerful techniques. The majority of people are simply becoming aware of their monkey minds with brief periods of calm in between. Work the system and you won’t be one of those people.


This is good advice, and I wish I had remembered it going into the retreat. Some havoc has been wreaked. It happened during the first course, too, but I didn't recognize it as such. I am more aware now. Perhaps I just need to go through this anyway, though, to untie those knots...

It is also true that the advice I should be following is perhaps different from that which real beginners should follow. I mentioned to the teacher on the last day that I was frustrated that Goenka's instructions seemed over-simplified to me, and that I could see 1000 subtleties that he wasn't addressing. The teacher pointed out that this is a beginner course, and referred me to a number of more technical sources, which surprised me. He also emphasized that none of this should be used to prevent me from actually practicing.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/7/18 4:22 PM as a reply to Nicolas G..
Nicolas G.:
spatial, happy for your progress!

shargrol, this is wonderful and helpful, thanks for sharing this knowledge!

a big hug to you both


Thank you!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/7/18 7:41 PM as a reply to spatial.
Good counter critiques/questions. I'm not denying any feature of your practice. I'm pointing toward ways to find the balance that takes you from EQ>High EQ>SE more quickly.

The higher levels of practice have a foundation in the effort to develop mindfulness, for sure. Let's be clear about that. 

But the higher levels of practice but come from reducing the kind of "I''m in control of this progress" effort and noticing that awareness itself is in control. The ego hates hearing that, but it's true.  

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 7:03 AM as a reply to shargrol.
But the higher levels of practice but come from reducing the kind of "I''m in control of this progress" effort and noticing that awareness itself is in control. The ego hates hearing that, but it's true.  

Absolutely, and we eventually reach a point in our practice at which the effort will hinder or even prevent progress. I recall typing into my diary at the time "the seeking only gets in the way of the sought." Or something like that.

BTW - this is a wonderful thread.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 9:03 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
But the higher levels of practice but come from reducing the kind of "I''m in control of this progress" effort and noticing that awareness itself is in control. The ego hates hearing that, but it's true.  

Absolutely, and we eventually reach a point in our practice at which the effort will hinder or even prevent progress. I recall typing into my diary at the time "the seeking only gets in the way of the sought." Or something like that.

BTW - this is a wonderful thread.


I feel like what helped me get EQ was applying too much effort, in order to get DN, and then learning to just be with the sensations of DN, until EQ presented itself. It's like DN is the result of identifying too much with sensations and letting my mind try hard to eliminate them. Then, EQ is the result of deliberately riding the waves of those sensations, until the mind stops fighting and starts to synchronize things. Does this make sense? 

There are definite visual patterns as this progression proceeds. Things get very noisy and chaotic as DN progresses. Then, some flickering light appears, in addition to the noise. Then, the flickers become longer in duration, and start to predominate. Then, the noise starts to quiet down, and the flickering softens into more of a glow. Eventually, it's just a glow. The whole thing feels like some kind of resonance phenomenon. 

Is there an easier way to get there? It feels like EQ requires a certain amount of energy, which requires a DN to generate. If I start in a more relaxed state, and just go immediately for full-body awareness, it is too easy for the mind to wander. 

However, I am also considering the possibility that the reason EQ requires so much energy is because I have too many psychological issues, and I may have an easier time if those are worked on one-by-one without trying to force myself to be equanimous with all of them simultaneously. 

It is far easier to get into EQ while lying on my bed than it is sitting on a cushion. I now see that this is because sitting on a cushion requires an incredible amount of mind-activity. I need to keep my balance, I need to keep my spine straight, I need to make sure I'm doing whatever I read in "Yoga Anatomy", I need to be a "good meditator", etc. etc. etc. If I'm aiming for enlightenment, is it better to get myself into the most comfortable position possible, so that the mind has the best chance of quieting down? Or, is it better to learn to deal with each of these concerns, so that I can get a quiet mind even in uncomfortable circumstances?

Thanks everyone for the help. It is great to have a place where I can discuss these weird obsessions of mine.

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 6:57 PM as a reply to spatial.
This thread has inspired me to collect my thoughts on working with EQ - hopefully this example of ways to think about and work with EQ, developed to help my practice, will help you to figure out how to work with EQ in a way that makes sense for you.

I think of EQ as having 3 distinct stages (low, middle, high) each requiring a different fuel. A bit like how in Back to the Future 3, Doc uses 3 different fuels to get the engine's fire hot enough so the train can accelerate to 88mph, each one kicking in as the previous one fades away. Except in EQ, the process isn't as straightforward as just making the fire hotter and hotter, instead the different fuels correspond to the different qualities of low, middle and high equanimity. Trickier still, there aren't clear distinctions between those stages, they each flow into the next. So the process is more like surfing the crest of a wave, using mindfulness to keep track of what is going on and how things are changing, regularly making small tweaks to stay balanced as the wave flows. This mostly involves keeping an eye on the qualities of resolve, effort, concentration and investigation, and being willing to make regular minor adjustments to each as the consciousness-wave rolls on. With practice each stage becomes familiar, and with trial and error you can recognize how the balance of qualities affects the meditation, eventually knowing when to switch the balance to suit the stage. At any point a drop in mindfulness can result in the balance getting thrown off, resulting in either slowly sinking into comfortable delusional dullness & waking up in the mud of ReOb, leaning into pleasure & spiraling into an explosion of A&P, or leaning increasingly away from subtle dislikes & falling back into DN - though these wobbles can be corrected if caught early enough, and it is possible to stay in equanimity for long periods without dipping deeply into ReOb.

The first stage (low EQ) is familiar to all EQ-yogis - harnessing the awareness and energy inherant in ReObservation to attend skillfully to sensations until normal sensations seem less and less like a problem, and is marked by a transition to seeing sensations as something harmless and interesting to investigate, as effort starts to give way to curiosity and tranquility. The second stage (medium EQ) arises as EQ matures, resulting in interest in how sensations create experience. If curiosity and tranquility are allowed to take over from effortful-investigation, this stage is marked by a transition to seeing sensations with increasing breadth, depth and ease.  The third stage (high EQ) arises when observing the constellation of sensations becomes increasingly effortless, and ultimately less compelling. Some sneaky sensations may not want to be found, so a little effort may help to give a little push to investigation. But relatively little effort is needed, and mainly just to maintain the resolve to keep surfing onward. This stage is marked by transitioning to observing the details of sensations - how one sensation may seem to cause another, or how sensations cluster together, or where sensations come from or go to, or checking out if sensations seem like a self, and so on. At this point the balance is very fine and largely non-verbal, and easily thrown out of whack. Sooner or later this leads to knocking on the door of nirvana as effort is forgotten entirely, and finding the appropriate balance of qualities in the meditative mind becomes something entirely personal and intuitive.

It is usually a long journey to master all this territory (though some naturally race through, never stopping to look around), so sometimes it makes sense to take detours on the way up the mountain - becoming familiar with the vaired terrains of EQ and how to work skillfully with them in different circumstances, using EQ to explore the psychological depths, or to appreciate the feeling of peace deep in the bones indicating we're on the right track, or to enjoy the development of greater meditation skill. These sort of things can help build strength, faith and confidence in the ability to skillfully navigate the territory - and then go higher than before, into the unknown. Finding the right balance of using EQ to heal vs charging ahead with insight is a very personal question.

Other times these same detours can be indulgances, distractions, hindrances, which just get in the way of the real work of climbing the damn mountain, by resolving to surf the crest of consciousness all the way into the unconditioned (these metaphors don't seem to be very compatible, but that's enlightenment for you). It's a delicate, tricky process to get the hang of, requiring a willingness to take an exploratory approach, to find which balance of qualities works for you in which situation, to accept that each time you sit down to a session you are a different meditator with a different mind, to get used to not hanging on to each important-seeming insight, thought, feeling or promises of salvation, but instead learning to listen to the little voice that is tired of endlessly exploring varieties of craving, aversion and delusion, tired of trying this and that, tired of the stress of struggling to use consciousness to understand consciousness, and then to pay attention when that voice urges you onward, to finally completely let go of effort, to relax and know things as they are, without fabrication.

Edit: various minor clarifying edits

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 11:30 AM as a reply to shargrol.
In the following text, Henepola Gunaratana put it nicely:

You can't develop mindfulness by force, Active teeth-gritting willpower won't do you any good. As matter of fact, it will hinder progress. Mindfulness cannot be cultivated by struggle.

It grows by realizing, by letting go, by just settling down in the moment and letting yourself get comfortable with whatever you are experiencing.

This does not mean that mindfulness happens all by itself. Far from it. Energy is requiered. Effort is requiered. But this effort is different from force. Mindfulness is cultivated by gentle effort. The meditator cultivate mindfulness by constantly reminding himself in a genlte way to maintain his awareness of whatever is happening right now. Persistence, and light touch are the secrets. Mindfulness is cultivated by constantly pulling oneself to a state of awareness, gently, gently, gently.

Mindfulness can't be used in any selfish way, either. It is nonegoistic alertness. There is no "me" in a state of pure mindfulness. So there is no self to be selfish. On the contrary, it is mindfulness which gives you the real perspective of yourself. It allows you to take that crucial mental step backward from your own desires and adversions so that you can look and say, "Ah ha, so that's how I really am".

In a state of mindfulness, you see yourself exacly as you are. You see your own selfish behaivor. You see your own suffering. And you see how you create that suffering....

Mindfulness is not trying to archieve anything. It just looking. Therefore, desire and aversion are not involved. Competition and struggle for achievement have no place in the process. Mindfulness does not aim at anything. It just sees whatever is alredy there.

.....

Mindfulness does not react to what it sees. It just sees and understands. Mindfulness is the essence of patience. Whatever you see must be simply accepted, acknowledged and dispassionately observed......... Acceptance is the essence of mindfulness.

If you want to grow in mindfulness patience acceptance is the only route.

The process cannot be forced and it cannot be rushed. It proceeds at it's own pace.


*From Mindfulness in plain english, Chapter 14. 
 

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 11:37 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:


Then, EQ is the result of deliberately riding the waves of those sensations, until the mind stops fighting and starts to synchronize things. Does this make sense? 

...

It is far easier to get into EQ while lying on my bed than it is sitting on a cushion. I now see that this is because sitting on a cushion requires an incredible amount of mind-activity. I need to keep my balance, I need to keep my spine straight, I need to make sure I'm doing whatever I read in "Yoga Anatomy", I need to be a "good meditator", etc. etc. etc. If I'm aiming for enlightenment, is it better to get myself into the most comfortable position possible, so that the mind has the best chance of quieting down? 

I like to use "balance" as a metaphor for EQ...  There really isn't such a thing as passive balance or static balance or "just completely letting go" , rather its a ongoing state of very gentle and subtle yet active adjustments. Balance looks easy, but it requires skill --  you can imagine someone learning to land a plane or ride a bike and the problems beginners have with  being stiff and ridgid and overcorrection, basically you wreck the plane/bike if your adjustments aren't developed enough.

I'm glad you mention posture because so much of the quality of mind relates to how we hold the body. In EQ, it can really help to think of balancing the body on the spine: naturally stacking the vertebra so that the body rests on itself like a stack of poker chips --- this too is a skill that is developed over time, but eventually sitting can be a very low-effort thing. That said, perfect posture is not a requirement for SE. Again, the ego tends to think that everythign needs to be perfect, but really everything needs to be balanced.

So basically a big YES to the idea of "riding the waves" and "letting yourself be comfortable". 

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/8/18 8:49 PM as a reply to Adam.
Adam:
This thread has inspired me to collect my thoughts on working with EQ - hopefully this example of ways to think about and work with EQ, developed to help my practice, will help you to figure out how to work with EQ in a way that makes sense for you.

I think of EQ as having 3 distinct stages (low, middle, high) each requiring a different fuel. A bit like how in Back to the Future 3, Doc uses 3 different fuels to get the engine's fire hot enough so the train can accelerate to 88mph, each one kicking in as the previous one fades away. Except in EQ, the process isn't as straightforward as just making the fire hotter and hotter, instead the different fuels correspond to the different qualities of low, middle and high equanimity. Trickier still, there aren't clear distinctions between those stages, they each flow into the next. So the process is more like surfing the crest of a wave, using mindfulness to keep track of what is going on and how things are changing, regularly making small tweaks to stay balanced as the wave flows. This mostly involves keeping an eye on the qualities of resolve, effort, concentration and investigation, and being willing to make regular minor adjustments to each as the consciousness-wave rolls on. With practice each stage becomes familiar, and with trial and error you can recognize how the balance of qualities affects the meditation, eventually knowing when to switch the balance to suit the stage. At any point a drop in mindfulness can result in the balance getting thrown off, resulting in either slowly sinking into comfortable delusional dullness & waking up in the mud of ReOb, leaning into pleasure & spiraling into an explosion of A&P, or leaning increasingly away from subtle dislikes & falling back into DN - though these wobbles can be corrected if caught early enough, and it is possible to stay in equanimity for long periods without dipping deeply into ReOb.

The first stage (low EQ) is familiar to all EQ-yogis - harnessing the awareness and energy inherant in ReObservation to attend skillfully to sensations until normal sensations seem less and less like a problem, and is marked by a transition to seeing sensations as something harmless and interesting to investigate, as effort starts to give way to curiosity and tranquility. The second stage (medium EQ) arises as EQ matures, resulting in interest in how sensations create experience. If curiosity and tranquility are allowed to take over from effortful-investigation, this stage is marked by a transition to seeing sensations with increasing breadth, depth and ease.  The third stage (high EQ) arises when observing the constellation of sensations becomes increasingly effortless, and ultimately less compelling. Some sneaky sensations may not want to be found, so a little effort may help to give a little push to investigation. But relatively little effort is needed, and mainly just to maintain the resolve to keep surfing onward. This stage is marked by transitioning to observing the details of sensations - how one sensation may seem to cause another, or how sensations cluster together, or where sensations come from or go to, or checking out if sensations seem like a self, and so on. At this point the balance is very fine and largely non-verbal, and easily thrown out of whack. Sooner or later this leads to knocking on the door of nirvana as effort is forgotten entirely, and finding the appropriate balance of qualities in the meditative mind becomes something entirely personal and intuitive.

It is usually a long journey to master all this territory (though some naturally race through, never stopping to look around), so sometimes it makes sense to take detours on the way up the mountain - becoming familiar with the vaired terrains of EQ and how to work skillfully with them in different circumstances, using EQ to explore the psychological depths, or to appreciate the feeling of peace deep in the bones indicating we're on the right track, or to enjoy the development of greater meditation skill. These sort of things can help build strength, faith and confidence in the ability to skillfully navigate the territory - and then go higher than before, into the unknown. Finding the right balance of using EQ to heal vs charging ahead with insight is a very personal question.

Other times these same detours can be indulgances, distractions, hindrances, which just get in the way of the real work of climbing the damn mountain, by resolving to surf the crest of consciousness all the way into the unconditioned (these metaphors don't seem to be very compatible, but that's enlightenment for you). It's a delicate, tricky process to get the hang of, requiring a willingness to take an exploratory approach, to find which balance of qualities works for you in which situation, to accept that each time you sit down to a session you are a different meditator with a different mind, to get used to not hanging on to each important-seeming insight, thought, feeling or promises of salvation, but instead learning to listen to the little voice that is tired of endlessly exploring varieties of craving, aversion and delusion, tired of trying this and that, tired of the stress of struggling to use consciousness to understand consciousness, and then to pay attention when that voice urges you onward, to finally completely let go of effort, to relax and know things as they are, without fabrication.

Edit: various minor clarifying edits
Adam,

HUGE thanks for this post (and to all contributing to this thread). I'm working on the wonderful world of EQ and I'm finding it to be a vast land with no easy landmarks. Also, confirming that one could get sidetracked into an A&P event while in EQ might explain a recent fruition false alarm. Again, thank you all for this thread. This is gold. 

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/9/18 4:36 AM as a reply to Nick O.
+1 really good stuff Adam!

RE: Final thoughts before retreat
Answer
8/10/18 8:06 AM as a reply to spatial.
Thank you again, everyone! I think I am on the right track. I just need to keep exploring...