Retreat Ending

Yesterday I uncovered the clocks in the house as I took another step closer to ending my retreat.  I am opting for a very slow transition out of retreat.  Tomorrow, I will leave the premises.  In part, I am wanting to go slow because I am attached to some of the changes that occurred during the retreat and I am hoping they will endure.  As much as I am ready to be done with the isolation, I am committed to continuing the work I’ve been doing.

I originally prepared for a six week retreat.  Going in, I was feeling ambivalent about retreating at all so I made a personal commitment to do two weeks with a reevaluation at that point in time.  At two weeks I decided to end early, although I had not yet decided when.

It is a little hard to sum up what the retreat was like.  I know when I started, but I’m not sure when I ended.  The retreat started fairly predictable, with my usual combination of practices.  Then, five days into the retreat my back went out*.  This disrupted my flow, but I made a decision to work with the circumstances.  Other disruptions followed that. Instead of being rigid about what practices to do, I began to entertain the question, “What will create the greatest benefit on my path?” and “What is the best thing for me to do right now given my capacities?”

This retreat was much more free form and open than I would consider a meditation retreat.  The two things I was most hoping to accomplish I did.  First, I was able to gain proficiency in the Mandarava practice.  Second, I was able to take a deep look at the Access Consciousness® tools I’d been studying for the past six months.

As a result of Access, there have been some shifts within me creating a perspective that is in better alignment with my worldview.  The retreat allowed me the time alone to integrate these changes.  Before the retreat, habitual tendencies were propelling me forward and I was not as centered as I like.  Now, I have a greater sense of center, but it still feels precarious.  I look forward to worldly interactions to test my new flexibility.

*  This is the first time in a year.  The infrared heating pad has changed my life.  I don’t use it when I travel and then neglected to start again when I got back home.  Hence, my back went out.  I am back using it all the time…

Summer Retreat Begins!

Indoor paradise to support mood during retreat.  July 2015

#1 Stay in a Good Place:  Indoor fountain paradise to support mood during retreat. July 2015

As I prepare to enter a six week silent retreat, I decided to remind myself of the six conditions that are essential for meditation – both for daily practice and for meditation retreats.  The source for these is Master Kamalashila who wrote the Stages of Meditation around 750 AD.  These six conditions are also given in detail in the Lam Rim Chen Mo by Je Tsongkhapa.

1.  Stay in a Good Place
What is considered good?

  1. Everything you need to be comfortable should be there: food, clothing, heat, water
  2. Safe place: no wild animals or danger
  3. Good environment: mild climate, quiet
  4. If there are people around they should be supportive and with good morality.
  5. Having goodness: not a lot of people around, quiet, no visual distractions, no books or internet or things to do

2.  Have Few Desires
Have an attitude that you do not need much to be satisfied.
(As I prepare for retreat I keep thinking I need more supplies, perhaps I need to apply this advice now.)

3.  Be Satisfied
Have an attitude of being satisfied with what you have.
(I have known people to “violate” the retreat boundaries in order to walk a couple miles to get the chocolate bar they were craving.)

4.  Give up Extra Activities
Only Meditate

Ahhhh, yes.  I actually do not have the capacity to just do sitting meditation, so I usually incorporate other spiritual practices such as internal arts practice (chi gung, tai chi, etc),  reading of “scripture” that I have selected before the retreat, and recitation of mantras.  The key thing for me is that I select what are okay activities before I start.  This way I ensure that I am not engaging in extra activities on a whim because I want more excitement.

5.  Maintain Pure Morality
Do not do anything that might cause you to wonder whether you did the right thing.  Wrong action can agitate your mind.  Further, “right” action can contribute to the purpose of your meditation and support mental clarity.

Speaking of agitation, I was doing pretty good until the airbnb host I stayed with in Boulder over the weekend charged me with killing her kitten this morning.  Apparently it was not okay for me to the leave the cats out.  Geez, I was just copying the other people in the house.  I thought I was doing a kindness.  She claims the kitten got hit by a car on “my watch”.  It is possible that someone else had let it out, since many times I would come home and the screen would be open.

The bottom line is, I wanted my mind clear of this for the retreat.  I am sensitive to other people thinking bad things about me.  Despite my misgivings, I agreed to pay the $200 she wanted.  Now, I just have to let go of my resentment.  Which should not be too hard, since it does not serve me in anyway now.

One more concern I have:  As part of the airbnb system, we leave reviews of each other.  When I sat down to complete mine, I found that, given my experience of this host, I just didn’t want to invest any energy into it.  The whole stay with her was weird.  Typically we have two weeks to write a review, but since I am going on retreat I only have today.  I think if I wrote an accurate review it would create more animosity and not really serve my highest interests as I enter retreat.

As for the review I will not write, I had already decided not to mention that the host had come home drunk the first night, woke me up at midnight and again at three in the morning, and eaten my cheese – since her housemate said that this behavior was unusual and due to some recent relationship breakup.  I was, however, going to mention that the couch was too short and too soft for my comfort since that would be applicable to anyone.  Indeed, I was surprised that the host would rent such a couch.  Someone reading the review might also like to know that the atmosphere was quiet, relaxed and real.

But, I decided not to write the review.  I didn’t really have anything positive to say.  When I asked myself if writing a review would be a contribution, I got a “no”.  In particular, I thought it would just create more agitation for myself.  I fully expect the host to write a nasty review of me.  I checked with myself if I would be okay with not writing about her, even if she wrote about me.  Yeah, my choice is to not spend time writing a public review.

6.  Give up Sense Desires
Resolve to give up the things you senses are attracted to.  Such as pleasurable:

  • smells
  • sights
  • sounds
  • tastes
  • feelings
  • thoughts (stupid thoughts or useless fantasies)

These sense pleasures are given up only because during meditation we typically have a goal of learning more about ourselves and our condition by directly experiencing what is beyond the senses.

See you in September!


Preliminary Dark Retreat

The retreat took some interesting turns.  First, just before the retreat began, I had a guest at my weekly Access Bars® trade offer to facilitate some breath work.  The first session was so amazing and fun I asked him to stay and join me in the dark and do some joint breath work.  We quickly transformed the house into a dark cave and the beginning of the retreat was focused on pranayama.  This was unexpected, but seemed like the right thing to do.

I ended up forty hours in the dark, with the last twenty-four hours alone in silence.  As is typical of any of my personal retreats, my experience ranged from sadness and despair to elation and inspiration.  I started the retreat not wanting to be on retreat and in the dark.  However, when I asked myself if I wanted to break retreat I found there was really no place else I wanted to be and nothing else I’d rather be doing.  I was simply experiencing sadness and dissatisfaction arising.   Nothing to do about that.

Later I would have moments of inspiration where I would think about ways to extend the retreat.  I was simply experiencing calm and confidence arising.  Nothing to do about that either.

This preliminary retreat was undertaken to see if it might help deepen my ability to stay in instant presence and inform a decision for a longer retreat.  The darkness did not change my ability to stay in instant presence significantly during the time I was in retreat.  However, this is not to say that a longer retreat might not give a different result or that some unnoticeable benefit occurred.  I did like the dark overall and would consider a longer retreat.

My friend that had done a three day dark retreat said that the first day or so is marked by increased sleep.  I expected this, yet found that my sleepiness was not increased beyond what I normally experience when meditating all day.  Indeed, after twenty-four hours, I was “tired” of practice and wanted to go to bed early, yet sleep would not come to me.  I did have a subtle sense that melatonin was increasing in my body, not by feeling sleepy, but by my body having an increased sense of heaviness.  I seemed to have a slight sense of headache, which may or may not have been related to changes due to the darkness.

Some of the logistical things I learned:

1)  During the retreat, my front window cracked, which I attribute to the heat generated by the inserts I used to darken the window.  Apparently the black plastic over a foam insert was too much.  The inner pane of the dual pane windows has a large crack in it now.

2)  Running the swamp cooler after dark was feasible since at night the attic vents that open when it runs did not allow in noticeable light.

3)  It is hard to maintain balance in the dark and even after forty hours this was not stabilized.  What this means, practically, was that walking and some of my chi gung moves didn’t really work.  I did find that by putting a quilt on the ground to mark my boundaries, I was able to do some “nine-palace walking” without running into things. Of course, even though I thought I was walking a pattern, my bearing and orientation were completely off.

4)  I would need to devote more attention to motivating to do physical exercise during the retreat.  The lack of ease of moving and difficulty doing my usual routine meant I did very little movement.  This, along with my extended sitting/lying, contributed to a slight flare up in my chronic back tension.

5)  After twenty-four hours the physical movement of switching positions (i.e. standing up) would stimulate the receptors in the eye and create a mosaic of light.  The optic nerve could also be stimulated directly by pressure on the eye.  The “light” would die out after a minute and then it would take about 10 minutes of rest before the phenomenon could be repeated.  Palpating the eye in a specific manner was one of the dark retreat practices.  I do not have a clear explanation of why it is done, but I did notice that the experience of “light” seemed to elevate my mood a little and make me feel more expansive.

I broke retreat by lighting a candle and slowly increasing the light from there.

I am still curious about doing a longer retreat, not because I am confident that it will facilitate instant presence, but because I am curious about the changes that occur with extended darkness.  My major concern is how to do that exploration and maintain balance.  During a daylight retreat I maintain balance with a couple hours of internal arts practice and a couple hours of reading of basic spiritual texts.  I have found that I don’t have the personal capacity for eleven hours (or even eight) hours of straight meditation for extended periods (I become depressed).  However, I can retreat successfully if these additional practices are included.

I think that if I were to repeat the dark retreat I would want a partner for the initial few days (or perhaps longer) with defined periods of silent practice and partner practice.  Although I have a little voice that says that this would be “breaking the rules” and in someways makes the whole retreat “invalid”, I remind myself we are encouraged to practice at our capacity and not beyond that.  Besides, what have I made so essential about being alone and being in silence?