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...