Knowing others is cleverness.
Knowing one’s self is wisdom.
Conquering others is mighty.
Conquering one’s self is true strength.
My recent meditation retreats have been very special. I don’t know how to describe them. I’m not even sure if I remember them.
Back in June, I did a Hollow Bones Mondo Zen retreat at Dai Bosatsu Monastery lead by Junpo Dennis Kelly Roshi. I consider Hollow Bones to be my larger sangha beyond my monastic life. They are definitely the closest to me in heart although I haven’t formally taken vows with any group.
I digress. After that retreat, I could enter a high level of presence. I focused purely on outside sound and sight being completely still and silent inside.
In July, I did a retreat at the monastery cultivating great energy. I did a practice of doing long exhales from my abdomen core. Sometimes, when in private or during practice interviews, I would speak out loud an “oooooooooo” or “nooooooo” sound. I surprised myself being able to do exhales of this for two minutes or longer. I did this mainly because I could feel a lot of tension and stuckness in my core. Like a big boulder rock in my stomach that I couldn’t breathe beyond or below. Doing this focused, long exhale breathe forced me into concentration and forcibly breaking up that stuckness. Sometimes, it felt like I was becoming a primal animal shouting this “nooooooooooo” three or four times in succession. I had great energy the last few days of retreat sleeping only a 3-4 hours each night and still waking up with full energy.
After retreat, I went to NYC for circling training. The first two days I kept the breathing meditation going on the street. And living from this practice core of my belly, I started moving and acting differently. I just did what was necessary without thinking about it. Helping people on the street. Smiling at strangers. Immediately getting up to grab blankets or help others.
The August retreat was similar but less crazy energy. I didn’t have much momentum the first few days and struggled to get it back. One evening period I just forced myself to stay with the sensation in my belly and not move my attention. Kept yelling in my head to let go and stay with it. I started shaking and could feel great heat emitting from my body. I broke down into uncontrollable sobbing but kept still and concentrated. Then a great release and relaxation like floating in water. Very similar feeling to what I got a few times being circled with the attention of dozens of people on me. I moved into deep, deep concentration this retreat to the point of forgetting very basic things like how to chant properly. Learning how to concentrate by letting go instead of forcing it or maintaining it. Surrendering to the natural, existing rhythm.
The September retreat I got sick along with most of the other residents. But, by day 4, I finally got into my groove. I learned once again how simple meditation really is if you can actually maintain concentration. My technique?
Step 1 – Stop thinking.
Step 2 – Bring your attention low to your core.
Step 3 – Breathe. (feel the breathe as a body sensation from start to end).
Step 4 – Repeat.
I was able to get into deep concentration without needing to move for a hour or two at a time. The physical pain in my shoulders, back, and legs have gone away. I still have distracting thoughts so it’s not a full jhana. But, it’s very nice. A few times, I could witness the full arising and passing of hindrances like sleepiness. Its inception as physical relaxation into heaviness on my eyes to the arising of images in my inner eye and thoughts about characters. It wasn’t until the images appeared that I realized I was entering sleepiness and dreaming. But I was able to track it moment to moment. Likewise, I could witness my mind going into angry or solving mode and realize what was really happening was that I just wanted to think about the problem.
I’m excited for this October retreat. It will be more difficult as it’s my first time as the sit leader for the retreat. But, I expect and hope for deeper concentration and learning to integrate that into a working role at the same time.
On a side note, this should be day 7 of retreat, the final day when this post goes live.
I’m not too happy with the quality of my posts so far. Most of them are rushed and only lightly edited. But, the good news is I’ve still posted every day so far. And this retreat was definitely going to be the hardest I imagined.