Day 4 – Meditation Retreat

Morning

⦿ I love sharing meals in silence with so many people. The chairs have something akin to small tennis balls underneath each leg to mute their movement. Each sits with their meal in quiet. Practically no eye contact and no exchanges; we are together not in words but shared purpose and silence.

The kitchen is sporting Kirkland’s swag: the same Valencia peanut butter we have at home. And Earth Balance! If they only had Vegannaise, they would hit the culinary trifecta.

⦿ 10 normal earth days in your life is no metric for the experience of total silence and days of meditation at a retreat. One cannot hit fast forward on this experience. We ride atop a tortoise. 6 days + 1 long evening remaining. I wonder what a 30-day retreat would be like. Later-me thinks that I would love to do a 30-day

⦿ The energy within constricts. The mind becomes agitated. A reciprocal loop. I seek release, relief, distraction in my normal run of things, but this is not a normal situation, and such outlets are unavailable to me. I’ve never been able to track down the source of this. Is this internalized tension from a childhood where voices raised in anger and conflict were so common? I don’t know. I call the pain existential because I can locate no biographical source, no particular incident or period or relationship which might serve as a causal factor.

⦿ Through these days of anapana meditation, I realized how I have inadvertently been attempting to control or manipulate the breath while observing it. Unless something more profound emerges, I think that learning to untangle control from observation could be one of my most helpful insights.

⦿ Back jack. Holy baby Jesus!! After three days of struggling on the floor, I finally relented and was one of several people who used one of the facility’s back jacks. Wow, it has saved my life. Placing it on my zabuton, I propped up my knees with two cushions underneath each as I sat cross-legged, my back held upright by the chair. (I was told at the end of the course by the fellow behind me that he had visions of me meditating as if I was in a race car.)

I would spend most of the next 6 days meditating in this. The sole downside I discovered was a potential increase in drowsiness at times, otherwise I was freed up from frequent focus on my back to bring my attention more firmly upon the breath.

(Around Day 8 or so I will begin to master sitting upright without the back jack on this sort of thingy. At home now, I have 1hr+ meditations with no support on this, but with less hair.)

⦿ It is not for me a simple matter of collecting and holding attention, this business of meditation. I frequently can’t seem to raise and gather the necessary energy for stabilizing an equanimous witnessing in detached distance. The awareness itself is subsumed, stolen, undercut by the blockages within me. There is an inner fog. Attempts to concentrate become diffused. The awareness seems pulled and stuck within deeper blockages, particularly around R2 and R4.

⦿ I accept the perfection of this, intellectually at least; but if I, if the Creator, don’t resolve or heal this situation, then my patterns will resume at home, including the self-sabotaging type of finding chemical escape (not through hard drugs but the still plenty disruptive of weekend alcohol and the even worse devil, nicotine).

⦿ The men’s area of the center includes several narrow walking paths connecting the various living/eating/meditation areas, the kind that activate my heart. Hard-packed, light brown earth, sometimes mixed with light grey small pebble gravels, they move up and down the rolling hillside through a landscape that reminds me of a Mediterranean setting. Pale green spring grass; purple lilacs and yellow tulips; gray stones and boulders, some quite large, often colored with variations of brown-and-green moss and lichen; giant pine trees (sequoias?); pale green bushes; and a tree new to me and marvelous in its appearance and design: the manzanita tree.

The shrubs-come-Manzanita-trees are covered in a brownish-red, hardened, resin-like casing. I would later learn from a US National Forest firefighter in attendance at the retreat that the seeming “resin” is actually the living tree that grows around a dead sort of skeleton. The following are not from the California Vipassana Center, but give an idea nevertheless.

⦿ Then there is a single hill that rises from the landscape like a vision from a dissolving dream. I don’t have words for this hill. On the outer level, it was alive with a grassland mystique, fitted with outcroppings of large stones, various trees, and enough open space between the trees and stones to invite Spirit in.

A small path leads up to its top. Following the group meditation on the morning of Day 4, instead of going directly to my room for continued meditation, I walked alone to the Vision Hill, as it became known to me. At the top, a small valley of sorts spread out in front of me with rising hills and plateaus surrounding, baby blue skies, distinct white clouds just over the ridge line, and a panoply of green covering the earth with various textures and hues of tree and grass. When the sun shines through the equinox air on the pastel greens, it looks like a new Earth.

I talked to the Creator here in prayer, seeking self-understanding and salvation.

⦿ Everyone has been so authentically kind here, from Mike who greeted me and offered a breakfast, to Eric the course manager, to Craig the main assistant teacher who emanates compassion, to the men who, in silence, share this special space and time in harmony.

Afternoon

⦿ I learned the actual vipassana technique. It consists of using the attention and focus we’ve been cultivating the past few days to perform body scans, essentially. Starting at the top of our head, we are given detailed, slow instructions for scanning each and every portion of our physical bodies at the surface level, primarily, one portion at a time. With equanimity—I repeat—with equanimity we are to register/become aware of any sensation that comes to our attention in that particular area, whether it be a gross-level sensation (pressure on the skin, temperature, the feeling of the clothing, etc.) or something more subtle, like an energetic sensation.

We are to become sensitive to all sensation and just observe it with equanimity, neither craving pleasant sensation nor having aversion to unpleasant sensation; just observing each sensation objectively, without reaction. This instruction toward equanimity will be repeated several thousand times, helping to install a rather missing piece in my own practice.

If taken to its fulfillment, this practice is said to yield the result of seeing the atoms of the body blinking in and out of existence.

⦿ Impermanence is a key understanding and teaching of Buddhism. All observable phenomena shares a common characteristic: impermanence. Everything, including the lifetime, arises and falls away. Thus, to react in craving or aversion, clinging and attachment, is bondage.

⦿ It is this practice which helps one to push through and dissolve pain that may arise during the sitting. And in fact, adhitthana, a Pali word meaning “strong determination,” began today. We are asked to hold the same posture throughout the hour-long meditation with no movement whatsoever. IF we find it absolutely necessary to move, we are encouraged to keep it to a minimum and to move slowly and quietly.

It produced a profound transformation in the quality of silence in the room. Where before a periodic shifting on the cushion could be heard (especially pronounced given the sound of buckwheat-filled cushions being moved), now everyone was virtually motionless. For an hour.

Silence was never 100% pure for the entire span. Tiny disruptions every few minutes in the form of a cough, a sneeze, or a gurgling stomach….

⦿ This afternoon, a gurgling stomach somewhere in the room was so loud and cartoonishly contorted in its sounds… it initiated a “call and reply” as other stomachs swooned in gurgling response… I had to bite my lip. Hard. Trish would have lost it if she were here (and been gurgling in reply, as she has a very musical stomach). I think that it was the cabbage at lunch.

⦿ Funny, all these guys, likely so colorful and talkative at home, each with a different voice, but here they speak and share only a single voice, that of silence. And often look like somber zombies.

⦿ Here’s where I deviated from the course. I continued to give the vipassana technique of scanning for bodily sensations my earnest best, but I was receiving little value from the practice. For me, the holy grail of meditation practice is a sustained and effortless single-pointed awareness. Cultivating that was what I came here to do, so I mostly resumed the anapana practice of bringing my attention to rest on my nose. This deviation would be heresy to the faithful, but it is this that would soon begin opening the gateway. I have no regret. In fact…

9:00pm

⦿ THE SPIRIT CHANNEL OPENED! Naturally, through meditation. MEDITATION!

Though I don’t think I’ve ever said or thought the words “spirit channel” before, this was the statement declared to my brain following a profound turning point in the 10-day journey. In the evening meditations, the attention became stable. I didn’t have to prop it up or struggle to hold it. Nor was the attention a fragment of the available energy. It had become more whole.

Thoughts still came. Mind still wandered. But there was an underlying stability. The breath slowed. The body eased. Space opened. There was a tremendous pressure in the center(?) of the brain. Clarity arose.

Just yesterday I had experienced my first dose of tranquility. I had let the body breathe itself, so to speak, with effortless witnessing in the exercise of my key insight thus far: observation without attachment or aversion. Then the prayer on the hillside.

⦿ I want more (says me in a totally non-craving way). I’m glad and grateful for six more days! It is so… amazing to be able to collect the focus upon a single point and not have it scattered to the daily winds.

⦿ Laying in bed tonight, a crisp, cool burst of air moved distinctly across my face in a room that had no moving air. Window was closed, ventilation not operating. I believe I was thinking of Trish?

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