7 Days of Silent Retreat
What is it like to live in silence, without eye contact or physical affection for seven days on a Zen retreat? Is it lonely? Madenning? Crazy? A waste of time?
Let me preface by saying that I wanted to go into this experience in an innocent way, so I deliberately did not look up the teacher. I was showing up for my mom, who has stage 4 cancer. This was important to her and all I really knew was that this would probably be good for both of us and represented our shared love for many aspects of Buddhist philosophy and ideas.
I am sharing here, because I’m sure many of you are curious. These are my notes, relatively raw and unedited.
I’ve found safety and security to ironically grow in a space of total vulnerability. My hope is that for many of you, these thoughts will give you some sense of what happened in my mind, what I may have learned and how my perspectives may have shifted here.
You’re results will definitely differ. It was very clear from the Q&A sessions that different meditators were each having very different experiences.
· DAY ONE THOUGHTS:
o Well, here we are. Let’s see what happens.
o Human Longing: A deep, fulfilling and meaningful life resting in the ground of being; happiness is not the goal, but a byproduct of a deeply fulfilling life, abiding with the undifferentiated source of emergent phenomena.
o Operate in wide spectrums of creative and cognitive dissonance. Cultivate the habit of NOT resolving uncertainty. Live in paradox.
o This whole experience, IMHO, is a slightly customized, classic but cushy, immersive Zen Sesshin.
o Rules and schedule designed to relieve you of 2 burdens.
o 1) Distractions of social concern and habitual inter-reactivity.
o 2) Clinging to discursive thought, the addiction of differentiation.
o RF struggles with:
o 1) A deep love and desire for discursive thought and refined language to describe the nature of mind and the human predicament.
o 2) Insatiable curiosity works both for me and against me. My life is full of the super rewarding distractions of learning and discovery.
o 2 most valuable and finite human commodities:
o Face honestly how you spend these and they reveal the values you already live by. Articulate your values and you can calibrate your choices to match them, and vice versa.
o Adya has a HIGHLY ecumenical approach to all religions. He will humor any attachment to any belief and link it to helpful metaphors, as best as he’s able.
o Adya is a Christian and Catholic apologist.
o OMEGA OPERATIONS:
o Trust but verify processes to discourage locals from free-loading.
o At first GP Home, run a “distributed free shop.” Mugs, magnets and T-shirts? Free consummables?
o ***BACK AT CASA SHIPWRECK, ONE DINNER PER WEEK IN TOTAL SILENCE, NO EYE CONTACT, ETC. SUNDAYS? MONDAYS?
o Adyashanti is nostalgic for times of unifying and shared values. Now is a much more fragmented time, which is both liberating and burdensome. The tasks of self-determination can feel a heavy weight to bear.
o WHY do you want to live? No more proscribed pablum of what to think and how to behave from birth to death.
· DAY TWO THOUGHTS:
o Lots of review and reflection on my daughter and her mum and that family.
o Watching many movies in my head.
o Dropping attentive faculty into “Hara” or breath.
o Falling asleep.
o Definitely calming down and layers of thought and achievement orientation falling away.
o Stronger and stronger pain in right hip, knee and back. Stretching and doing yoga during breaks.
o Mom is comforted and supported by sitting next to me at meditation, talks and meals.
o Allow your mind to spring back to primordial awareness, to silence. Allow your noise-makers to subside.
o Integrity feels like strength, groundedness and confidence. In its absence, we feel weak and shaky.
o GP Dinner #100 talk at Burning Man HQ: I noticed a similarity between meditation and social chemistry. They are less about rote instructions, things to do, and more about removing the noise and interference that separates you from your “primordial nature,” or separates each of you from each other.
· DAY THREE THOUGHTS:
o Resistance causes suffering. The more you resist, the more it hurts. The more you surrender, the less it hurts. To not be a doormat, be very selective about when you resist and how much you harm yourself. Fierce compassion is fierce self-sacrifice.
o Are you safe with you? What is the tone of the way you talk to yourself? Adya calls his wandering mind “sweetie,” then gently redirects it. Is my girlfriend safe with herself?
o IRREFUTABLE FACT: Teetotaling meditation time produces more and better ideas and more and better writing. To improve quality and quantity of writing, increase time in sober meditation.
o Your ideas are what you believe to be the defensible barrier of who you are. When you go looking for yourself, you cannot be found in an experiential (empirical) way. Eventually, this process is a shedding of attachment to ideas.
o Are you living from the deepest place possible for you? You do this once and all other options are removed from the menu. Live your deepest truth in everything you do.
o Adya shared various strategies for moving beyond the exhausting efforts to prop up “I am.”
· DAY FOUR THOUGHTS:
o For 44 years I’ve been devouring our world, food and drink, adventure, sex, learning and knowledge. It’s pretty great, but what would happen if I stopped? One day I’ll probably have to gently put my hedonist identity (mask) down. Like the onion, it is masks all the way down, no true, immutable, authentic self.
o HAIKU-ish (tanka?):
Suspended mists over the field
next to the main hall.
Near the basketball court,
geese, crows, larks and sparrows harmonize.
A car drives by.
o Well rested, healthy simple food, meditation, gentle attentiveness to nature, etc. = greatly increased frequency of sexual thoughts. Booze, distractions, relentless schedule, dampens this.
o Zen returns again and again to immediate and unmitigated experience. Now. Here. Helpful.
o MY MIND FIXATES ON (in no particular order)
§ People, closely observing them.
§ Narrative, recounting and inventing stories.
§ Words, impressing myself with vocabulary, poetry, eloquent descriptions or understandings.
§ Sex, with past lovers and other attractive women.
§ Death, what would it feel like to be dying right now?
§ The Future, plans, big dreams, accomplishments, adventures.
§ Loved ones, my daughter, girlfriend, mom, friends and “framily.” What makes them happy, feel safe, appreciated?
§ Male Dominance Hierarchies, how resilient and ubiquitous they are, how obsessed we are with social ranking (mostly men, e.g. “I’m with a lady who’s a 10 (own a boat, have demonstrable power, etc.), so I’m more worthy of love, respect, envy.”)
§ Philosophy, refining the ever edited quiltwork of understanding.
§ Books, reflecting on those I’ve read or speculating on books I’d like to read.
§ Physical pains or small pleasures.
§ Anger, at my ex-wife for what she did, taking advantage of trust, elaborate deception and betrayal, the ongoing separation from my daughter.
§ Money, tired of living on the edge, but love for entrepreneurial risk-taking.
§ Writing, what to write, strategies to write longer form pieces I’m proud of.
§ All kinds of delicious food and yummy wine.
o THE BEST TREATMENTS FOR ALL ADDICTIONS (so many addictions):
§ True Community, love, affection and belonging, emotional safety.
§ Time in the wilderness.
§ A reliable, stable and loving romantic partnership.
§ Guided psychedelic experiences.
o Adya, thinking beyond ecumenical attachments, to the shedding of all objects of identity fixation.
o Nirvana is beyond identity. Adya’s hunch about the Buddha, “identity is no longer a relevant concern.”
o Total acceptance of even the most horrific ideas; then allow yourself to oppose them. They exist in the world. Some are widespread.
o “If you want a perfect guru, pick a dead one.” You can confabulate all you want when the person is gone. Real gurus poop, make mistakes, die.
o Experience of enlightenment, lights go out on all of it, time, space, identity, a “snuffing out.” The lights go back on, because of causation, but some of what you used to be was extinguished forever. Human mind reboot and update metaphor. Adya made Sakyamuni a regular person more than any teacher I’ve ever met. He therefore made enlightenment a more real phenomena more easily accessible to all of us than any Buddhist teacher I’ve known. “Just through garden variety consciousness, available to any one of us, right now.”
o Dismisses hierarchy, but is still up on the double dais, playing the hierarchy game. I guess most audiences need that still?
o ***Adyashanti lives in Los Gatos! Create a dinner for understanding, 50% theists, 50% non-theists (empiricists)
o Adya argues for the use (metaphorical, physical sensation) of a sort of chakra system, head, heart and gut, grounding it in experience and feelings.
o There are NO GAPS in my everyday SF life — MAKE SOME. Slow the pace, savor the customized world you get to live in.
o Imagine trying to come on retreat and operate from a transaction mindset. The idea is so obviously absurd, because anyone who would come here for what is advertised would understand its inappropriateness.
o JUDGE LESS. Part of strong opinions, lightly held.
o Could imagine my girlfriend doing an Adyashanti spiritual teacher kind of work, ICONOCLASTIC and SUI GENERIS. Fresh, reveals her unique perspective rather than a strict lineage holder. Not another privileged white dude background like Adya (or me, or most of the spiritual teachers out there). People from other backgrounds would get curious and trust her. Could be how she owns her power, the ultimate exuberance I see in her.
o Mom’s question to Adya, “how do I die and do I send them away? (because their sorrow and grieving will bind me when I need to let go). ANSWER: Death process is taking off the veils of identity and leaving the world with the luminous innocence with which we entered it. Adya shares story of woman near his machine shop on her death bed. Almost gone, then one day awake and vacuuming. “Mom, what are you doing?” “I can’t die yet. I don’t know who I am.”
o The importance of spiritual autonomy (subversive revolution!). Cultivate spiritual backbone in the midst of grace and surrender. Find your own path.
o Female sense of inadequacy is global and epidemic, because of ubiquitous cultures of misogyny. “Good thoughts and useful ideas cannot come from a woman.” This plays out in millions of tiny ways and robs little girls of their potential for self-determination, some forms of deep fulfillment and leadership.
· DAY FIVE THOUGHTS:
o I am exceptionally good at making movies for myself. Two greatest strategies for my mind to become avoidant are 1) go to sleep 2) throw up some movies (often pastiches of new material, life experiences and movies I’ve seen, especially superhero movies). My mind is running away from paying attention. Identity is trying to protect itself. Distractions are infinite, easy and entertaining. I could sit meditation 15 times per day for years just watching movies.
o Create habits of the gentle U-turn. Be the awareness.
o I would like to die in this frame of mind — clear, calm, no rush, just aware and amused.
o The 40 minute sits have gotten easier, a pleasure mostly. They seem to pass in a blink. The 5th one today was noteworthy. 3 things happened.
§ 1) The vegan chili revisited me and I audibly farted several times. I wonder if my neighbors judged me, then chastised themselves for judging.
§ 2) I had enough tea and water that by the end, my bladder was about to explode. I stayed till the last bow, but bee-lined to the urinal.
§ 3) For the first time in meditation in over 20 years, I noted that I was experiencing several senses at the same time, as well as thoughts. There was the air moving from the fan on my skin, the sounds of people shifting and the AC ticking and crickets and the grumbling of my stomach and my heartbeat and the thoughts that noted all of this, and I was not those thoughts. It was an aware inventory of consciousness at that moment and felt like an old friend, a milestone.
o Falling into awareness and seeing the content of consciousness does seem effortless. I won’t second guess it. The issues I notice still…I drift away from this awareness, either into sleep (less and less) or into superhero movies (about the same frequency). I’m curious how stable this abiding might become over a month or so of retreat.
o Been eating only breakfast and lunch (mostly salads) and skipping dinner since Sunday. I allow myself an apple cider vinegar kombucha with turmeric and ginger around dinnertime. I feel great and still don’t seem to be shedding the belly (bloat). Drinking more water each day than I have in years.
o OMFG. In the Q&A tonight, Adya just kept going — the ball didn’t leave the park, it left the solar system. Someone asked how he relates to other people. Adya said, “I accept you completely, exactly as you are.” This is what has held me back in every part of my life. I don’t accept most people. I don’t accept so much about our society and its institutions (monetary, religious, political, etc.). I have been the dude standing fiercely against the tsunami, refusing to conform and getting squashed. I have not been surfing it, for the most part, not been doing Aikido. If my LIVED experience was total acceptance and grace, if people could feel that with me, it would totally disarm others. They would not be in fight or flight. Their identities would not feel so threatened and so they would remain open to dialogue. I could then fully disagree and offer reasons why and they MIGHT be receptive instead of defensive. This can’t be faked. I would need to truly, deeply, in my heart of hearts completely accept every single person, before anything constructive could happen. With most folks, it would stay there, acceptance and maybe a superficial exchange, but this would produce far less friction.
o For so many reasons I have the impression that Adya is the most realized spiritual teacher I’ve met, maybe ever. Meeting him is a little like I’d imagine it was for Chinese people meeting the Indian Bodhidharma in the 5th or 6th century. This is true in spite of the fact that he says plenty of things I think are preposterous, mostly about Christian theology. He’s as he says we should strive to be, a living paradox.
· DAY SIX THOUGHTS:
o Funny, I’m drawn to the café deck, overlooking the nexus of paths and the garden at the center of this campus. Even in silence, with no eye contact, I unconsciously go to the social space at the center of this little “city.”
o When I arrived, I was so agitated and anxious, opaque and sealed off. Time in silence makes us porous and permeable.
o I have a lot of compassion for people with a lot of self-directed violence; people who, as Adya says, “are not a safe space for themselves.” I’ve excised these folks from my life, because I couldn’t handle the ways they hurt all around them, myself included.
o *** Develop the Dinner for Understanding model with Adya and then open source it using “seed instigators.” Let’s talk across our differences.
o Diagnosing and fully understanding the great ills of the world is only the first half of the challenge — If you face those who are doing harm with your own antagonism, they just double down with damage and resistance. Radical acceptance followed by unshakeable backbone is the better way.
o Living your deepest truth. It is not a search for absolutes. It is an orientation of curiosity and discovery (with backbone). E.g. “What is the truest expression of love?” I’ll probably never know, but I love this journey.
o A great comedian is a magician, a shaman, holding up a mocking mirror to US (not specifically you) and saying “look at how ridiculous we are.” They allow us to see our darker qualities without judgment and in the light of humor. They “transmute” tragedy into redemption, even from death.
o Adya fully sees and takes on the mantle and burden of leadership, potentially dangerous and ego inflating. I bet he’s screwed it up a few times along the way.
o A few things I noticed in the final session today:
§ 1) Fewer and fewer people are showing up to all of the sessions. I felt a swell of pride at finishing out this marathon without missing a single session. Then I felt amused by this pride at being a “winner” meditator.
§ 2) I felt a growing resistance in me towards staying put on the zafu. My mind wanted to look at the clock on the wall. I gently said no. I take resistance as a sign of imminent insight or breakthrough. As I walked out, I felt calmer and slower than I have in years.
§ 3) I bought one scoop of chocolate ice-cream after lunch, couldn’t even finish it, but felt a lasting effect of the unfamiliar sugar, including a minor lingering headache.
o Bought a wrist mala a few days ago, of sandalwood with a saffron tassel. I fell back into the mantra of “Om Mani Padme Hum” from my time as a student in India, whenever I am walking. Thought this mala would be a happy memento of this time together after mom dies.
o *** Register for an Adyashanti 1 week retreat in California next year.
· DAY SEVEN THOUGHTS:
o ANSWER TO MY QUESTION LAST NIGHT ABOUT BEING JUDGMENTAL:
§ 1) Meet the world exactly where it is — total acceptance.
§ 2) Offer the world a better POSITIVE vision of what could be. Imagine secular humanist proxy of religious belonging that was in every way better than the dogmatic alternative.
§ 3) To create social change, use healthy social shame, levers of power employed by Gandhi and MLK Jr..
o Adya never contradicts or embarrasses anyone during Q&A.
o A woman who seemed deeply wounded, possibly struggling with mental illness, spoke at length and made almost no sense, I’d guess, to most of us. Adya hardly missed a beat and spoke at length about the interwoven nature of the linear time and timeless dimensions (time as another cognitive construct), as though from deep 1st person experience. She seemed to feel seen, heard, validated and satisfied. He gave her dignity, which may have been all she wanted in the first place. It made me very happy for her.
o Adya’s style in Q&A is the OPPOSITE of debate. What does he really think?! Who thinks it? Is attachment to a continuously refined point of view really such a bad thing? Is he comfortable with massive inconsistencies of logic? Probably he is, based on what best serves the people he’s talking to, classic “skillful means,” classic Zen. Making sense is secondary and from the ultimate viewpoint, all knowledge is bondage. Direct awareness is freedom. What are the strengths and limitations of this “no resistance” habit for managing the contents of consciousness?
o Free will is a red herring.
o Adya’s ontology (universalist). People all over the world and spread throughout time have similar transcendent experiences and assign a great variety of names and narrative explanations for them. He doesn’t resist theistic terminology and I guess doesn’t see harm in it. Still looks like wishful thinking and a huge blind spot, validating the ossified beliefs of the 99.999% of people who are NOT mystics.
o I will deeply miss this peace and silence. I hear more birdsong and crickets than voices each day.
o Clinging to this peaceful frame of mind will of course banish it. The only way is a regular early morning sitting practice. Do the things that produce equanimity.
o *** Return to the practice of silent Sundays? Try one?
o Primacy of experiential investigation leaves blind spot of sense and perceiver self-deception (illusions) which could be revealed through scientific inquiry.
o Struggling with the idea of continuity of awareness, however stripped of the contents of consciousness, before birth or after death. I don’t believe that’s true, but the wishful thinking we human animals would constantly produce out of fear of total dissolution upon death.
o Rationale: Don’t contradict the person who is in pain. Almost everyone is in pain. Socratic dialogue rooted in physical sensation is a tested path to more frequent ontological shifts.
o Taking a stand: If you’re living in integrity, you will have adversaries who don’t want things to change. Integrity is both resolute and pliable, not seeking a new stasis, but hoping for the implementation of new driving principles.
o Today’s talk: On Thought Forms and Mental Constructs. Still so blown away by Adya’s ability to free associate and improvise while engaging deep and complex topics with use of very minimal jargon or obscure vocabulary. Empirical universe and the thinker and time are all constantly being fabricated by the apparatus of consciousness. Full Heart Sutra philosophy.
o All thoughts are empty of inherent existence, but not all are equally good or useful. Really glad he finally said this out loud.
o Adya is being truthful and in full integrity, but the constant equivalencies between Buddhist and Christian ideas are wrong, not true. They are different and NOT equally useful thought forms. God, the soul, Holy Trinity, Prime Mover, etc. are damaging ideas, dead ends of endless suffering and confusion.
o I do see the utility in validating with “god talk.” Peoples’ identities as products of a culture deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian world view don’t feel that their identities are threatened by a too alien Buddhism, so they can let in more of the good and helpful Buddhist ideas, ideas that really do provide transformative insights, really are medicine for suffering.
o I am still and more clearly now not in favor of religious syncretism (it’s all good, let’s only focus on the commonalities). Yes, beneath all phenomena is a unifying emptiness (impossible to fully express, but best expressed in Mahayana scripture), but on the relative level of diverse thought, it is playing with fire and getting people very stuck and trapped in self-absorbed worldview, endless identity construction habits.
o By trying to graduate people to a kind of allegorical Christian mysticism that magically weaves in contradictory Zen Buddhism, Adya is ignoring the fact that many of the endemic and epidemic social ills of Western Civilization are the outcome, were built on the foundation of, Judeo-Christian theology. This is delusional optimism. If he started to point at what was not great about this theology, his audience and following would be much smaller, because there would be less room for the central cosmic parent and immortal soul metaphors of most westerners’ lives. They would be denied this false comfort.
o When it is your truth, it is vital to stay in integrity and say the unpopular thing. My truth is different than Adya’s, even if his realization may be far greater than mine.
o I still accept Adya fully and completely exactly as he is (thank you Adya for helping to show me the importance of this). I am very grateful for all the profound teachings he has shared on this retreat.
o I still doubt all of this (everything I’ve written), but it seems the most likely set of explanations for now. I genuinely reconsidered my opposition to religious syncretism and actually feel reaffirmed in it. No matter how expedient a means, it is truly out of integrity for me. What did change was my willingness to meet our world as a place where such syncretism may be an inevitable next step for most people.
o Autumn has arrived here in Rheinbeck. After days in the 90’s, it will get down to 43 degrees tonight. Today is cool and pleasant. The metabolism of nature seems to offer subtle clues of its shifting rhythms.
o Adya also spoke today about the erasure of dichotomies, as we spiritually awaken through meditation. Makes sense to me. All dichotomies on a deep level are false.
o Shorthand of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judeism, Islam): I am scared. I am small. The universe must be very much like me and care very much about me. (this is the ultimate in anthropocentric hubris)
o My own devouring behaviors are the logical outcome of my conviction that this one life is all we get. Even if that’s true, my priorities can shift. Maybe I’ll try that?
o There are likely a lot of things happening “out there” which are hidden from us due to the limits of what we can conceptualize “in here.”
o My mind and body are already trying to speed up in anticipation of all the backlog and doing that must happen starting tomorrow when we leave Omega. Aaah…impermanence. I need to continue to create gaps.
o Again, Adya blew it out of the park tonight. I think enlightenment may not be a superhero fantasy after all. It is a lasting shift in the nature of consciousness and perception, available to any of us, even if all we get is this one life. It requires indomitable effort, but something can be extinguished, our obsession with self, with identity, and it can be the most unburdening expansion of the ontological viewpoint we little apes are capable of.
o It is hard to truly see mom, not because of her, she is beaming and smiling as always, or to see that she’s grown older or sick with cancer, with her necrosis in her arm and such, but because I know she will eventually die from this illness and I want her to live forever, however irrational that may be.
o Behind my judgment is a smug satisfaction that I’m smarter (I got the sharp brain, so what?!). Whether differentials of intelligence are true or false, it’s unhelpful and unnecessary. Compassion, dissolving the boundaries, is the cure. This smugness manifests less when I feel I’m in dialogue with someone who’s ideas I deeply respect, for whatever reason.
o Had a fantasy today, very vivid sci-fi. Imagine entire universes “polyp” off of others, not just around divergent probabilities, but because our civilization’s technological progress continues unabated and exponentially. Eventually, we would have total control over time, space, energy, matter and could therefore create our own new plaything, an entire divergent universe. We could see the 10 or 20 billion year life cycle of such a universe all at once and peak in, tweak variables, etc..
o Thinking is definitely my favorite opiate. I might do well to shift attention some to feeling, to what I’m feeling in my body. What might happen if I do?
o On retreat like this, you see very clearly that most of us are operating in a state of panic and confusion in the “real” world. How did we get here? How did this invention we call civilization get so out of hand that most of us never reflect, enjoy truly idle time? Why did we build and are we feeding a system where we live in adrenaline and are hanging on for dear life?
o Adya is very aware of the audience and each questioner, great at improvisation and enjoys being challenged in an earnest way.
o In his last Q&A, Adya gave his most direct advice, to take us to direct experience. He refused metaphysical speculation about before birth or after death, “maybe this is all we get.” WHO OR WHAT IS SEEING THROUGH THESE EYES? WHO OR WHAT IS HAVING ANY SENSE PERCEPTION?
o BE STILL. And I would add. PAY ATTENTION.
o I will not “concept” or “vocabulary” my way out of this predicament. Will I?
o How can I fully let in the grief of losing Siri to her mother, of her living in England? It would be nice to stop grinding my gears of hurt.
· DAY 8 THOUGHTS:
Okay, that was a lot of thunderbolts. Now how to bring this into my everyday life in loads of simple and small ways? There’s one more talk…maybe I’ll add my notes from it later on.
Final talk, he touched on Zen direct transmission and the woman who was his teacher and asked him to teach, who taught every Sunday in her home, even with 5 children. Transmission is not verbal or conceptual. It is embodied.
What would the world look like if we each only spoke from our own authentic and direct experience? This is how we discover and operate from our unique spiritual autonomy; one with direct experience and therefore unity, yet infinitely varied in how we each uniquely express our own truths.