Recent retreat experience

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
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mikenz66
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Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:29 am

I spent the week before last on retreat at my local Wat, so I thought I'd write a little about some of my experiences and thoughts that might be of interest or use to others.

It had been a couple of years since I'd managed to find time for a week long retreat, so I was conscious that I might have a few physical problems. Bad technique that causes no problems for one or two sessions a day can be a problem when done continuously. So I tried to be careful about doing some warming up and stretching. However, about three days in I was starting to get some knee pain that would be foolish to ignore and so I spent a couple of days using a chair instead. This was interesting in that it did demonstrate to me that I can sit quite successfully on a chair, though the stability of being on the floor does have advantages.

I finally diagnosed two problems:
1. When doing walking meditation slowly I was taking steps that were too big, which was putting pressure on the knee as I lifted my heel. Something to watch for...
2. The "outer" knee (I use "Burmese" posture) was probably getting twisted a little due to lack of flexibility. I switched which one was folded first and used some padding to raise the other knee to keep pressure down.

The monk who I was meeting with had to return to Thailand to lead a pilgrimage to India towards the end of my stay, but we had a very useful conversation before he left.

One interesting observation came out when I asked him about how to maintain mindfulness in "normal life". His reply I reword/summarise as:
    The point is not so much to be trying to take techniques from those suitable for retreat training in continuity of mindfulness, etc, but to use the wisdom gained from retreat training.

i.e. on retreat one can carefully observe to determine what is skilful (or not). That's ideally what one should be doing at all times. Techniques such as doing everything slowly and deliberately are not so practical in normal circumstances, but its the quality of observation, rather than some particular technique, that needs to be carried over.

However, the most important thing I learned came out of discussing what I had thought was a minor problem --- that at the end of longer (1 hour) sits I tended to not be particularly mindful when switching back to walking. From this clue we diagnosed that I have a laziness hindrance. [Classically a corruptions-of-insight problem.] I can go on retreat, do a lot of sitting and walking, and develop enough mindfulness and concentration so that nothing particularly difficult comes up. And it's easy to "back off" the intensity and just keep it at the point where the mind is nice and stable, using the objects to just develop concentration, rather than increasing the investigation to go deeper, where the next layer of problems will arise.

What I got from this ten minutes of discussion is by far the most useful thing I've learned in the past few years. As in the MasterCard adverts:
    Realising you're lazy ---- priceless...

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:32 am

mikenz66 wrote:One interesting observation came out when I asked him about how to maintain mindfulness in "normal life". His reply I reword/summarise as:
    The point is not so much to be trying to take techniques from those suitable for retreat training in continuity of mindfulness, etc, but to use the wisdom gained from retreat training.

i.e. on retreat one can carefully observe to determine what is skilful (or not). That's ideally what one should be doing at all times. Techniques such as doing everything slowly and deliberately are not so practical in normal circumstances, but its the quality of observation, rather than some particular technique, that needs to be carried over.


Thanks, that's an interesting and useful perspective. It sounds like you had a good retreat. :smile:

Spiny

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby David2 » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:42 am

Realising you're lazy ---- priceless...


For me personally it is easy to realise that I'm lazy.
The challenge is to come out of it... :jedi: :tongue:

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:54 am

It is easy to forget the difference between a sustained practice and a sustainable practice.
a retreat/sustained practice is more for nourishing the sustainable practice, and keeping it on-track & alive, a long term goal has many short term achievements to meet.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Jan 21, 2012 10:39 am

Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:One interesting observation came out when I asked him about how to maintain mindfulness in "normal life". His reply I reword/summarise as:
    The point is not so much to be trying to take techniques from those suitable for retreat training in continuity of mindfulness, etc, but to use the wisdom gained from retreat training.

i.e. on retreat one can carefully observe to determine what is skilful (or not). That's ideally what one should be doing at all times. Techniques such as doing everything slowly and deliberately are not so practical in normal circumstances, but its the quality of observation, rather than some particular technique, that needs to be carried over.

Have you got some ideas on how you're going to put this advice into practice?

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: Recent retreat experience

Postby Ben » Sat Jan 21, 2012 11:58 am

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the post-retreat report. Sounds like it was an extremely productive time for you.
Practicing in the rarified environment of a retreat is a very different kettle of fish than practice in daily life. And although I come from a tradition which is emphasizes technique (in the beginning), its actually the wisdom or the quality of observation that one takes into daily life that is important. As you knnow, Ledi Sayadaw, referred to meditation as "insight exercises" which I believe is indicative of its role and function.

I think its great that with the assistance of Bhante, you were able to diagnose a significant issue with regards to your practice. My observation has been that many people tend to get stuck in some comfortable groove and their practice becomes a mechanical and familiar plateux. I think the development of genuine objective self-analysis is fundamental for continued progress.
Thanks again for sharing.
With metta,

Ben
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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby amtross » Sat Jan 21, 2012 7:08 pm

mikenz66 wrote:However, the most important thing I learned came out of discussing what I had thought was a minor problem --- that at the end of longer (1 hour) sits I tended to not be particularly mindful when switching back to walking. From this clue we diagnosed that I have a laziness hindrance. [Classically a corruptions-of-insight problem.] I can go on retreat, do a lot of sitting and walking, and develop enough mindfulness and concentration so that nothing particularly difficult comes up. And it's easy to "back off" the intensity and just keep it at the point where the mind is nice and stable, using the objects to just develop concentration, rather than increasing the investigation to go deeper, where the next layer of problems will arise.


I can see where I've been running into this problem lately. It helps a lot to see it put this way. Thanks!

:namaste:
sean

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:03 pm

amtross wrote:I can see where I've been running into this problem lately. It helps a lot to see it put this way. Thanks!

Yes, seems rather important to me. My teacher said he thought that this laziness, being satisfied with some reasonable progress, was the major reason for people eventually giving up on intensive practice.

Ben wrote:Although I come from a tradition which is emphasizes technique (in the beginning), its actually the wisdom or the quality of observation that one takes into daily life that is important. As you knnow, Ledi Sayadaw, referred to meditation as "insight exercises" which I believe is indicative of its role and function.

Yes, what my teacher said put into perspective what you often quote:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 15#p126191
Ben wrote:Sayagi U Ba Khin, used to have a saying 'work while you work and play while you play' which is to mean that you meditate during periods set aside for formal meditation and engage in other activities (work. sleep, etc) when it is appropriate to engage in those activities. When you mature in your practice, you will naturally be able to extend meditative awareness into other areas of your life.

One could read this admonition as a cop-out, but perhaps he's pointing to something more active than just "waiting for it to develop", but by using that wisdom when working.

retrofuturist wrote:Have you got some ideas on how you're going to put this advice into practice?

A very simplistic example: when typing, for example, one isn't going to be able to follow "raising finger, lowering finger, pressing key...". But one can see whether what one is trying to do is causing agitation, will lead to good outcomes, etc.

Cittasanto wrote:It is easy to forget the difference between a sustained practice and a sustainable practice.
a retreat/sustained practice is more for nourishing the sustainable practice, and keeping it on-track & alive, a long term goal has many short term achievements to meet.

Sure. My key point is that it is possible to get into a very "sustainable" situation that is not really going anywhere. Which, of course, means that it doesn't meet that long term goal...

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby Goofaholix » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:34 pm

mikenz66 wrote:However, the most important thing I learned came out of discussing what I had thought was a minor problem --- that at the end of longer (1 hour) sits I tended to not be particularly mindful when switching back to walking. From this clue we diagnosed that I have a laziness hindrance. [Classically a corruptions-of-insight problem.] I can go on retreat, do a lot of sitting and walking, and develop enough mindfulness and concentration so that nothing particularly difficult comes up. And it's easy to "back off" the intensity and just keep it at the point where the mind is nice and stable, using the objects to just develop concentration, rather than increasing the investigation to go deeper, where the next layer of problems will arise.


Sitting and walking is the easy part, giving 100% attention to each moment as one would if it were totally new and fresh is the hard part.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:46 pm

Goofaholix wrote:Sitting and walking is the easy part, giving 100% attention to each moment as one would if it were totally new and fresh is the hard part.

Quite. Especially when one has developed some facility with sitting and walking and feels one knows how to do it... :thinking:

I mentioned these issues at a meeting of a small insight group last week and unhesitatingly the oldest person there (recently retired) said: "Meditation on death is pretty effective motivation." :shock:

Actually, a younger Chinese-Malaysian friend who did a lot of intensive meditation in his early adulthood said the same thing when I asked him how he sustained it.

Maraṇa-dhammomhi maraṇaṃ anatīto...
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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby Goofaholix » Sat Jan 21, 2012 8:50 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I mentioned these issues at a meeting of a small insight group last week and unhesitatingly the oldest person there (recently retired) said: "Meditation on death is pretty effective motivation." :shock:


Complacency is probably a closer word to what your teacher was trying to convey than laziness, we don't pay attention to what we don't value.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby cooran » Sat Jan 21, 2012 9:49 pm

Hello Mike,

Sounds like a productive retreat. A little on the corruptions of insight by Mahasi Sayadaw:

The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha) by The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw translated from the Pali with Notes by Nyanaponika Thera http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... gress.html

Some years ago, I found that there is nothing like working in the Emergency Dept. of a large metro hospital and being confronted daily with all aspects of dead bodies, dying people, and grieving rellies. It certainly brings about an 'urgency' in ones practice.

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby retrofuturist » Sat Jan 21, 2012 10:02 pm

Greetings Mike,

mikenz66 wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Have you got some ideas on how you're going to put this advice into practice?

A very simplistic example: when typing, for example, one isn't going to be able to follow "raising finger, lowering finger, pressing key...". But one can see whether what one is trying to do is causing agitation, will lead to good outcomes, etc.

It's interesting, because that type of contemplation/reflection you provide in your example potentially falls under the scope of cittanupassana and dhammanupassana, so even though it won't involve any of the techniques you apply under retreat conditions, it can still be satipatthana-bhavana.

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby appicchato » Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:38 am

Ben wrote:I think the development of genuine objective self-analysis is fundamental for continued progress.


:thumbsup:

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Jan 22, 2012 12:54 am

:thumbsup: +1

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:29 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Mike,
mikenz66 wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Have you got some ideas on how you're going to put this advice into practice?

A very simplistic example: when typing, for example, one isn't going to be able to follow "raising finger, lowering finger, pressing key...". But one can see whether what one is trying to do is causing agitation, will lead to good outcomes, etc.

It's interesting, because that type of contemplation/reflection you provide in your example potentially falls under the scope of cittanupassana and dhammanupassana, so even though it won't involve any of the techniques you apply under retreat conditions, it can still be satipatthana-bhavana.

Sure. That's what I meant. The wisdom part is the same, but not necessarily the specific techniques.

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby retrofuturist » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:31 am

Greetings Mike,

Sweet. Yoniso manasikara is cool. 8-)

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


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)

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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:36 am

Goofaholix wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:I mentioned these issues at a meeting of a small insight group last week and unhesitatingly the oldest person there (recently retired) said: "Meditation on death is pretty effective motivation." :shock:


Complacency is probably a closer word to what your teacher was trying to convey than laziness, we don't pay attention to what we don't value.

Sure, complacency is a good description of the problem. However I tend to think of laziness as the result of complacency. And in terms of action (or not...) "lazy" is the opposite to "effort", which is what needs to be applied.

:anjali:
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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 3:51 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Mike,

Sweet. Yoniso manasikara is cool. 8-)

Metta,
Retro. :)

You mean pay attention wisely? Yes.

[Personally I don't use Pali in a practice context. For me it requires a lot of effort to translate. I actually spend a lot of time looking up Pali terms when reading this board... :reading: ]

:anjali:
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Re: Recent retreat experience

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jan 22, 2012 4:03 am

Hi Chris,
cooran wrote:Sounds like a productive retreat. A little on the corruptions of insight by Mahasi Sayadaw:

The Progress of Insight (Visuddhiñana-katha) by The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw translated from the Pali with Notes by Nyanaponika Thera http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... gress.html

Yes, also, perhaps more readably at: http://aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Progress/progress.html

I don't like to assume I'm really at any particular stage, but I think the following is worth keeping in mind no matter where one is:
http://aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Progres ... .html#Path
Mahasi Sayadaw wrote:V. Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What is Path and Not-path

While engaged in noticing, the meditator either by himself or through instructions from someone else, comes to this decision: "The brilliant light, and the other things experienced by me, are not the path. Delight in them is merely a corruption of insight. The practice of continuously noticing the object as it becomes evident — that alone is the way of insight. I must go on with just the work of noticing." This decision is called purification by knowledge and vision of what is path and not-path.

cooran wrote:Some years ago, I found that there is nothing like working in the Emergency Dept. of a large metro hospital and being confronted daily with all aspects of dead bodies, dying people, and grieving rellies. It certainly brings about an 'urgency' in ones practice.

Indeed it must!

:anjali:
Mike


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