During this meeting, Peter provided a guided meditation regarding breath awareness that tracks the progression of focus on the sensations of breathing from the simple awareness “this is the in-breath…this is the out-breath” to cultivate continuity of breath awareness, then “looking closer” to note carefully the textural quality of each breath cycle to increase interest and investigation in awareness. Finally, the meditation students are invited to hone in on one specific touch sensation exclusively in order to cultivate the quality of awareness preparatory to practicing jhana, or alternatively, to maximize the practice of vipassana. A separate file is associated with this notation that reflects the question and answer period following the guided meditation, during which particular points of meditation practice were explored.
During this dialogue about the practice of Right Action, Peter again emphasizes the importance of combining a deepening understanding of our internal processes through mindfulness practice with a revisiting of the classic concepts and jargon of the Buddha. Peter offered some information from modern neuroscientific research that suggests how karma is formed through memory consolidation, citing various areas of the brain and their functions. This was combined with how the cultivation of samadhi (concentration/tranquility) and sati (mindfulness/insight) produce a “buffer zone” of non-reactive awareness that allows the application of benevolent intention to emerging behaviors. This was followed by a lively discussion of the implications that are presented through this new understanding of ancient wisdom.
The Buddhist concept of selflessness is not well understood by many Westerners. The misperception is that selflessness means emptiness like interstellar space, or a blank mind. This is not the understanding expressed by Peter in this guided meditation. When the mind is stable in focus and serenity is experienced, there’s a quality of softness or spaciousness in the mind. When the mind is caught up in the internal narrative that we call “myself”, it’s as if looking at a page and only seeing the print. The spaciousness is noticing the paper around the print as well as the print. Selflessness goes even further–it’s noticing the paper, the print, what’s around the paper, what sounds are apparent–the totality of present moment awareness without preference for any part of the experience, including the “self” that seems to be witnessing all this! During this meditation, Peter helps the listener open more and more to the inner spaciousness and quietude, until all the sensations that are in awareness have no reference to a body. Sensations that would normally be assigned a “space” in the body, such as pressure of the back on the chair, aches in the knees, sounds, etc., would not necessarily be identified as such. Instead, what is noticed is a difference in vibration, contraction, pressure, heat, etc. that exists as different than where there’s no sensation. Even the “self” that’s noting the sensations becomes another area of very fine vibrations, but doesn’t demand a location–just present awareness. This direct awareness of the field of awareness without any designation can be considered as selflessness. It’s quite peaceful, and reduces the strongly conditioned concept of self that we normally identify with.
During this final night discussion, after Tommy talked about gratitude and generosity, Peter talked about how to continue to develop the practices of cultivation concentration and insight after leaving the retreat. He referred to several areas of lifestyle arrangements that are enhanced and clarified by continuing a daily practice. The cultivation of serenity was the most emphasized.
During this first Dhamma talk of the one-week retreat, Robert reviewed the five Precepts: Avoiding hurting others, avoiding hurtful speech, avoiding dishonesty and theft, avoiding hurtful speech avoiding hurtful sexual behavior, and avoiding dulling the mind with intoxicants. He also talked of the three Refuges: Buddha (the potential for all of us to wake up from our delusions), Dhamma (the ways and means for waking up) and Sangha (the supportive community of like-minded people). Then Peter talked of the progressive course of training during the week, that is, increasing concentration and tranquility, then the practice of vipassana, often called insight. He also described two stages of development: first, that of the integration of self-states, then, when the personality is more integrated, the development of spiritual transcendence.
As is our custom, after a retreat, the participants have the opportunity to “think out loud” about their retreat experiences, and how being at home has been affected by the intensive meditation practices. It’s also hoped that the folks who weren’t at the retreat might benefit from the insights of the retreatants, and perhaps inspired to go on retreat themselves. This year’s retreat, called “A Peaceful Abiding”, lasted from Friday night until Sunday lunch, and had the most participants ever on a retreat sponsored by OIMG.
With the hope that verbally describing his retreat experience will help integrate the experience and perhaps inform and inspire others to go on retreat, Peter describes his recent 2 week self-retreat, during which he got a staph infection and had to get medical treatment. We often have agendas for our lives, and unexpected events like this on a retreat may seem like a setback, but the practice is to help establish ways and means to see how the mind creates suffering, in this case illness, and learn how to deconstruct the suffering self to find peace and clarity.