Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

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Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby leo123 » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:20 pm

About 8 years ago I went on a Goenka retreat. The first few days went fine with the anapana. But then when we started doing the bodyscan, I started to see bright lights behind my closed eyelids. Wherever I focused my attention for the bodily sensations I would also see a corresponding collection of light. Wherever I moved my attention, light would also move there. I found this to be very strange so I told one of the assistant teachers about it and he told me to ignore the light and that these visualizations were some other technique not to be used. I had no idea what he was talking about(piqued my interest very much). I kept on doing the bodyscan but I found it very difficult to separate the light visualizations from the bodily sensations of the bodyscan technique. I reported back to the teacher about this problem and he sternly warned me to focus on the tactile sensations - not the visual aspect. It kind of freaked me out how strict he was. Later on that night I noticed that I started hallucinating - I would see frogs jumping around on the patterned green floor. I would also see dragons moving around whenever I closed my eyes. I told the teachers about this issue. The head teacher asked me if I had taken a lot of drugs in my life and I told him no. Only marjuana and mdma once each. Basically, the next day the teachers asked me to leave because they said that I was not following their directions. Before I left, the retreat manager asked me to sit down and wait for him. I noticed a few students sat around me and it almost seemed like they were sending some kind of energy my way. Like some kind of vibration that I felt - I didn't know if this was a hallucination or if I was really receiving this from other people. Is this metta? I did not want to leave but they forced me to. Needless to say I had a bit of an anxiety breakdown when I got back home(excommunication is not a pleasant experience). I had to take klonopin to stabilize myself.

Pretty much what I would like to understand is - was everything I described a hallucination or was anything real? - like seeing the bright lights and receiving/sending energy.

Is there any way I can remove the light visualization from the body scan technique? - so that I can go back to another retreat.

Another thing - I read in some article about Goenka and the Dalai Lama talk about seeing the light(like it's some important milestone)...
http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?o ... mitstart=1

Goenka speaking -
We started at nine o'clock the next morning and at two-thirty or three we were still talking-all about technique. He was very happy with my teaching. But when I said, "Quite a few people on the second day or third day see light," he responded, "No, no. That must be illusion. How can somebody see light in three days? It takes years to see light."

I replied, "Venerable sir, I saw light in my eyes. And so have many other people. I would not say it is an illusion. You better send a few of your lamas and let them experience it. If I am wrong, I will rectify it. I don't teach them that they must see light. It is merely a sign, a milestone on a long path, not the final goal."


Could this be the same light that I saw while doing the bodyscan? Thanks for any responses.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Tue Feb 09, 2010 9:32 pm

Hi Leo

Unfortunately some ATs are not very knowledgeable and their authoritarian attitude masks their insecurity when they are confronted by something that they haven't witnessed before.
From what you have said, it would appear that you were experiencing some form of visual hallucination during the retreat (re: frogs and dragons). Seeing the lights while maintaining awareness of sensation, isn't that unusual. If it was disturbing you or interupting your ability to maintain awareness of sensation, I would have suggested you return to anapana.
When you left, the AT and servers(?) perhaps were sending you metta.
I'm sorry you had such a difficult introduction. If you wanted to go back, I recommend that you first speak to the area teacher for your country as they are usually more knowledgeable and more experienced. Explain what happened and express your desire to return.
kind regards

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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Kenshou » Tue Feb 09, 2010 11:08 pm

About the nighttime hallucinations, did this occur when you were trying to fall asleep? I ask because it sounds rather like sleep paralysis. You can look it up, but the gist of it being that some weird subjective things can occur at the boundary of sleep. At this point the body can be mostly paralyzed, like during sleep, along with various hallucinations sometimes. I had this when I was younger, sometimes I would wake up in the morning and be unable to move, though I could open my eyes, and sometimes see things, like spiders crawling on the ceiling or something. Very odd, but it isn't that unusual, and nothing to worry about. I would not be surprised if a period of intense meditation might make someone more prone to this.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby leo123 » Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:27 am

Ben wrote:Hi Leo

Unfortunately some ATs are not very knowledgeable and their authoritarian attitude masks their insecurity when they are confronted by something that they haven't witnessed before.
From what you have said, it would appear that you were experiencing some form of visual hallucination during the retreat (re: frogs and dragons). Seeing the lights while maintaining awareness of sensation, isn't that unusual. If it was disturbing you or interupting your ability to maintain awareness of sensation, I would have suggested you return to anapana.
When you left, the AT and servers(?) perhaps were sending you metta.
I'm sorry you had such a difficult introduction. If you wanted to go back, I recommend that you first speak to the area teacher for your country as they are usually more knowledgeable and more experienced. Explain what happened and express your desire to return.
kind regards

Ben


Hi Ben,

Thanks for responding. The lights were not disturbing me- I could still feel the sensations. I just reported it to the AT because I've never seen it before. The AT did mention to go back to anapana. But when I later told him that I was still seeing light he got annoyed with me. I think his strong reaction might have set off the hallucinations I had later that night. However, another thing I noticed was that these lights became more focused over time. To the point that there was light shooting out of my forehead to the area of focus during body scan. I described this to the AT and he seemed disturbed. Another light feature I noticed was that once in a while there would be shimmering light and my body felt relaxed. Do you know what these lights are?
About the metta - is it really possible for me to feel someone else sending me positive vibrations? That's really mind-blowing if true.

Yes I would have to speak to someone before trying the retreat again. Although, even when they told me to leave, they said that I was welcome to come back in the future?!!?

Thanks..
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby leo123 » Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:36 am

Kenshou wrote:About the nighttime hallucinations, did this occur when you were trying to fall asleep? I ask because it sounds rather like sleep paralysis. You can look it up, but the gist of it being that some weird subjective things can occur at the boundary of sleep. At this point the body can be mostly paralyzed, like during sleep, along with various hallucinations sometimes. I had this when I was younger, sometimes I would wake up in the morning and be unable to move, though I could open my eyes, and sometimes see things, like spiders crawling on the ceiling or something. Very odd, but it isn't that unusual, and nothing to worry about. I would not be surprised if a period of intense meditation might make someone more prone to this.


The dragon hallucination occurred while I was trying to sleep, but I was not paralyzed - I was still tossing and turning. I was awake during the frog hallucination in a dim room about an hour before going to sleep. After these experiences I was able to get up imediately and tell them about my issue. Basically the AT's told me to eat food to settle down. The hallucinations went away when I had the food.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:42 am

Greetings Leo,

When I did a Goenka retreat I discerned a luminous blue triangle while doing the anapanasati component. I received similar advice to you from the AT, focus on the sensations, not the visualisation... and that's fair enough, and getting totally removed from the physical sensation would not be in keeping with the meditation technique you were being taught. That said, I found it difficult to separate the two, the triangle seemed to be a "mind map" of the physical area I was focusing on (i.e. the area around the nose)

This was confirmed later on the retreat when I would have a "mind map" of the physical area I was focusing on during the "sweep en masse"... a little like a mind-created segment of the body, with blue illumination on the mind-map corresponding with the sweeping. I think this mind-map might have been a by-product of the cognitive processes that actually direct the "sweeping", or the movement of the area of attention? What is it that moves the focus? How does it work? The deliberate act of sweeping must involve some volition, and some cognition of the physical space in which the body (and subsequently, feelings) can be observed. Again, the AT wasn't much help, I just persisted with the sweeping, accepting that I could not switch off this visual mind-map even if I wanted to, so whilst I didn't focus on it or try to accentuate it, or focus on it to the exclusion of physical sensations, why try to repress it? That would have merely led to frustration, and it did not interfere with my ability to follow the instructions that were given. If anything, it actually helped.

If you think about it from the AT's perspective though, they have to deal with 20-30 or so people, and try to keep them all tightly-aligned with the technique being taught. They also don't want to be responsible for the enset of some mental illness for which the centre might be sued, and which might cause you great harm. Given the signs you were exhibiting, it's totally understandable why they might send you home - try not to take it personally.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby salmon » Wed Feb 10, 2010 4:18 am

I, too, had once been in a similar situation (in dealing with ATs). My experience was more difficult as I was dealing with a Venerable rather than a lay teacher. I reported to him that I was seeing my body "fall apart" and he snubbed me by saying that he had been practising for decades and had not even seen that, how could I, a mere child in his eyes, achieve that when I had only been meditating for a year or so. Not having learnt how to deal with feelings, I left the temple a day after that, feeling upset and ostracized. I spoke to a lay teacher about it as well and while she did not told me I was hallucinating, told me to ignore it and focus on the tactile sensations instead. That, too, did not make the visions go away. Much later, I found another teacher who, having had the same experience before, taught me how to turn those visions into tools for developing insights. Like what retro said, it could be a by product of something...instead of fighting it, just accept it and park it aside so it doesn't disturb you main focus. Don't reject an apple just because there's a sticker on it.

Meditation is a personal journey and sometimes, we need to go through our own trials and errors to know which is right and which is wrong. If the Goenka method is not working for you, you might want to find another method which is more suited to your temperament. Takes a little bit of shopping around but you will know when you have found the right method.

Good luck and I hope that you can find a suitable teacher soon.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Wed Feb 10, 2010 5:55 am

Hi leo and all...

leo wrote:Thanks for responding. The lights were not disturbing me- I could still feel the sensations. I just reported it to the AT because I've never seen it before. The AT did mention to go back to anapana. But when I later told him that I was still seeing light he got annoyed with me. I think his strong reaction might have set off the hallucinations I had later that night. However, another thing I noticed was that these lights became more focused over time. To the point that there was light shooting out of my forehead to the area of focus during body scan. I described this to the AT and he seemed disturbed. Another light feature I noticed was that once in a while there would be shimmering light and my body felt relaxed. Do you know what these lights are?
About the metta - is it really possible for me to feel someone else sending me positive vibrations? That's really mind-blowing if true.

Some of the artefacts of meditation that I've experienced include visual, auditory and tactile hallucinations. The main type of light that I "see" tends to be flashing light that seem to occur with the vibrations that are going on within my body. Something similar to the shimmering light you noticed. The light didn't occur with some visualisation of my body, but just against the inside of my eyelids. I'm not sure whether someone can 'feel' metta from someone else.

retro wrote:When I did a Goenka retreat I discerned a luminous blue triangle while doing the anapanasati component. I received similar advice to you from the AT, focus on the sensations, not the visualisation... and that's fair enough, and getting totally removed from the physical sensation would not be in keeping with the meditation technique you were being taught. That said, I found it difficult to separate the two, the triangle seemed to be a "mind map" of the physical area I was focusing on (i.e. the area around the nose)

This was confirmed later on the retreat when I would have a "mind map" of the physical area I was focusing on during the "sweep en masse"... a little like a mind-created segment of the body, with blue illumination on the mind-map corresponding with the sweeping. I think this mind-map might have been a by-product of the cognitive processes that actually direct the "sweeping", or the movement of the area of attention? What is it that moves the focus? How does it work? The deliberate act of sweeping must involve some volition, and some cognition of the physical space in which the body (and subsequently, feelings) can be observed. Again, the AT wasn't much help, I just persisted with the sweeping, accepting that I could not switch off this visual mind-map even if I wanted to, so whilst I didn't focus on it or try to accentuate it, or focus on it to the exclusion of physical sensations, why try to repress it? That would have merely led to frustration, and it did not interfere with my ability to follow the instructions that were given. If anything, it actually helped.

One of the things I've come to realize is that it is really really really hard not to get caught up in some visualisation when one is attempting to move through the body and observe sensations. I've really had to work on just observing the sensation without conccocting a visualization or mental map in my head. Its an occupational hazard with this technique but I think the best thing to do is to try and just relax (mentally as well as physically). And perhaps it is the interaction of observing the sensation against the backdrop of the unconscious mental map of the body while engaging in some subtle visualization that some of the hallucinatory experiences come in. Some of the tactile hallucinations I have had is feeling like I had elongated to ten kilometres with my head somewhere up in the sky and my body reduced in width to a spagetti straw while other times believing my body had morphed into a completely different and irregular shape when observing sensations in my right lower arm and the next minute as I move along, my awareness pops out under my knees. Over the years, those novel events have decreased to the point where I don't really have them any more.

salmon wrote:I, too, had once been in a similar situation (in dealing with ATs). My experience was more difficult as I was dealing with a Venerable rather than a lay teacher. I reported to him that I was seeing my body "fall apart" and he snubbed me by saying that he had been practising for decades and had not even seen that, how could I, a mere child in his eyes, achieve that when I had only been meditating for a year or so. Not having learnt how to deal with feelings, I left the temple a day after that, feeling upset and ostracized. I spoke to a lay teacher about it as well and while she did not told me I was hallucinating, told me to ignore it and focus on the tactile sensations instead. That, too, did not make the visions go away. Much later, I found another teacher who, having had the same experience before, taught me how to turn those visions into tools for developing insights. Like what retro said, it could be a by product of something...instead of fighting it, just accept it and park it aside so it doesn't disturb you main focus. Don't reject an apple just because there's a sticker on it.

Sorry Salmon to hear of your less than ideal experience as well. There's a lot of wisdom in the instruction "just observe whatever manifests" There's an AT I know who is the 'Area Teacher" for a part of SE Australia. I've known him for over twenty years and if I have any difficulty, whether it relates to meditation or ethical dilemma, I speak to him. In the past, instead of raising things with an AT on retreat, I've waited until the course was over before speaking with my mentor/friend.

salmon wrote:If the Goenka method is not working for you, you might want to find another method which is more suited to your temperament. Takes a little bit of shopping around but you will know when you have found the right method.

Excellent advice!

Keep in mind Leo, that the intensity of the Goenka ten-day course may have been a factor in your adverse experience. If that is the case, you might want to investigate a ten-day course at International Meditation Centre. Its almost identical and is run by the successors of U Ba Khin. http://www.internationalmeditationcentre.org/ From what i have heard, not quite as intense as the Goenka 10-day course.
metta

Ben
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby salmon » Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:27 am

Ben wrote:Sorry Salmon to hear of your less than ideal experience as well. There's a lot of wisdom in the instruction "just observe whatever manifests" There's an AT I know who is the 'Area Teacher" for a part of SE Australia. I've known him for over twenty years and if I have any difficulty, whether it relates to meditation or ethical dilemma, I speak to him. In the past, instead of raising things with an AT on retreat, I've waited until the course was over before speaking with my mentor/friend.


On the contrary (and on hindsight) Ben, I'm glad I went through it. "Lessons" such as these teach me how to be more discerning with my experiences. As a result, I'm careful not to get overtly excited or doubtful when I encounter nimittas. :smile:
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby PeterB » Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:45 am

Nimittas can be scary. Or even worse can reinforce the ego of the experiencer. Experienced instruction is a must. Buddhist meditation is not a DIY excercise. Nimitta are actually very " normal", but we need to know what to expect and how to deal with them and let them go. The Buddha gave us three jewels Buddha Dhamma Sangha. I dont think that he intended that the third jewel be replaced by pixels and good intentions.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:52 am

PeterB wrote:Nimittas can be scary.
Dang right. At one retreat I saw Richard Nixon's face in anything that had a pattern: rugs, wood grain on the floor, cloth. Truly horrifying.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby PeterB » Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:55 am

That must have taken a wee bit of processing Tilt.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 10, 2010 8:59 am

PeterB wrote:That must have taken a wee bit of processing Tilt.
Well, not so much. It was a fairly short lived thing. I just recalled that he resigned in disgrace and it was not Spiro Agnew that assumed the presidency. My spirits lifted immediately - joy - and the rest of the retreat went along swimmingly.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby PeterB » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:00 am

Couldnt have a go at processing Gordon Brown could you ?
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:02 am

PeterB wrote:Couldnt have a go at processing Gordon Brown could you ?
And Tony Blair while I am at it? I was younger then.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Freawaru » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:32 am

Hi Leo,

leo123 wrote:Is there any way I can remove the light visualization from the body scan technique? - so that I can go back to another retreat.


Yes. During the experience you described your mind was misbehaving (not doing what you tell it to do). Whether the lights and other visualisations are useful or not, a sign or progress or not, when you say "stop" they have to do your bidding. How can you begin to trust your mind otherwise?

The way to "tame" your mind is to enter samadhi. Samadhi will give you strength. For this strength you don't need jhana but any samadhi will suffice. Practice concentration on an object of your choice. Any object, it does not really matter. You can even use one of the lights or hallucinations. Concentrate on one object to the exclusion of everything else. For example, when the object is a light your goal is to BE that light, to sense nothing else but that light. To merge with it. This technique will show you how to control your mind, how to reign it in. Afterwards - when you can trust your mind - it will be your choice whether you want to explore the lights or not.

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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Monkey Mind » Thu Feb 11, 2010 4:41 am

At the retreat, I injured my back on the third day. I approached the "male manager" and asked if I could use a back-jack or other back support, but he refused. He told me that discomfort was an important part of the technique, and that everyone's back was in pain. So I suffered through for a couple of days, but I absolutely could not sit still and I was constantly trying to adjust to ease the back pain. The pain became so intense a couple of days later, I fainted. Even then, the male manager accused me of "faking it" (I was pale as a sheet, dripping sweat). I requested to speak with the AT. The AT listened to my explanation, immediately arranged for me to have a back jack. He told me, "This technique is not about torturing yourself!" Moral of the tale: I should have spoken with the AT the first time.

I had two hallucinations and an ongoing delusion while on the retreat. During one meditation session, the meditation hall suddenly filled with hundreds and hundreds of doves, and the roar of their flapping wings was incredible. This lasted approximately 20 seconds. During another meditation, I could hear the beating hearts of 3 deer who liked to loiter outside the meditation hall. I am surrounded by 70+ people in the meditation hall, but I can hear the hearts of deer outside. This lasted until the end of the session, approximately 20 minutes. (When I exited the hall, the deer were exactly where I imagined them to be.) Starting about Day 3, I became aware that one of the men in my group was an "evil man". Every time I was near him, I was struck with this awareness that he is an evil man. I even wrote a note on a piece of scrap paper and kept it in my pocket, "If I am murdered it was this man [his name]." This lasted for the remainder of the retreat. I did not tell the AT about this, probably because of my experiences with the male manager.
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 11, 2010 4:48 am

Greetings Monkey Mind,

Just as a precautionary measure, I have resolved myself that next time I do a structured course, I will cite sciatica or lower-back problems as a "pre-existing injury" so that if I require a chair or a back-rest I do not get any grief about it. Your experiences have re-inforced my inclination to do this - so, thank you.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Monkey Mind » Thu Feb 11, 2010 4:57 am

One guy at the retreat has this nifty back support with straps around the knees to hold it in place. I now have one.
"As I am, so are others;
as others are, so am I."
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Re: Difficult experience at Goenka retreat

Postby Ben » Thu Feb 11, 2010 5:38 am

Hi Monkey mind

I'm not surprised that you had a problem with a manager on a course. Most of my course experiences have been fine, but occassionally, a retreat experience has been notable because of the attitude or behaviour of a manager or server. With some people, it appears their sense of self importance grows in an inverse proportion to their knowledge and compassion. On my last retreat in December, I was disturbed every day while I elected to sit in the meditation cell complex during the 5-6 tea break. Over the last few years, the way I've worked my retreats has been to convert all of my break times to time in the cell so that apart from 30 minutes for breakfast and lunch, it is an undisturbed period from 4.30AM to 6PM in the cell for meditation. Coming out finally to sit the last three hours in the hall for group sit, discourse and final sit. This last course, it was the male manager or a male server who came into the cell complex repeatedly during the 5-6pm break to ding the bell. I'm not sure whether you've sat in a cell for meditation but the experience makes one's hearing so acute, that one can perceive the sound of insects walking up the inside wall of the cell. One could hear the gong from anywhere on the centre. I knew it was tea time but I didn't want to come out and have tea. After some days I finally spoke to the AT about it. The AT we had on the course is an old, old student and was the guy who donated the land for the centre. We had known each other since we were both at Goenkaji's main centre in India in 1989, and he could understand my frustration. However, it continued to go on for a few more days before it finally stopped. I'm looking forward to the 30 day cours in August (family and work permiting). During the long courses, one doesn't see or hear the servers at all, and one communicates to the manager via written notes.

Whenever I mention my retreats to interested non-practitioners, there comes a time that I quash whatever stereotype they have of meditation being something nice and relaxing and self indulgent. Usually the words 'it is such hard work' is enough to do it, or 'not for the feint hearted'. But its usually with co-practitioners that I describe just how harrowing intensive vipassana can be. Working in a dark silent meditation cell intensifies the seclusion and the meditative experience. I am convinced that in order to be rid of one's defilements, one must remain equanimous to them and usually while they are manifesting. Perhaps this is what is alluded to in the descriptions of Gotama on the night he attained awakening when he was confronted by the armies and daughters of Mara. For me, the retreat, and sitting in a cell practicing anapana and then vipassana is the star chamber, the crucible, it is that intensely excoriating experience that takes one to the brink of insanity, suffering and liberation.

Monkey Mind, don't let some dimwit male manager put you off. the great thing about them is that they, like everything else, are anicca!
Take care friend and all the best with your practice!
metta

Ben
"One cannot step twice into the same river, nor can one grasp any mortal substance in a stable condition, but it scatters and again gathers; it forms and dissolves, and approaches and departs."

- Hereclitus


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
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Ben
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Location: Land of the sleeping gods

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