A Note From George (November 2017)


Mettagroup is offering The Meaningful Life Winter Retreat this year at Seven Circles Retreat Center in the Sierra Nevadas from December 26, 2017 through January 6, 2018. We use a Metta-Vipassana format for our retreats, and I want to talk through the differences between a Metta-Vipassana retreat and a traditional Vipassana retreat. 

The first four days of the retreat are organized around Metta Jhana practice, developing high concentration states using Metta (kind) mind as the meditation object. In the early stages of developing Metta Jhana practice, you develop the skill to cause the arising of Metta (kind) mind whenever you want to; in the middle stages of practice you develop the skill to sustain Metta mind for as long as you want to; and in advanced stages of practice, you explore how the view through Metta mind changes the way you perceive self and world, often eliminating the negative, critical self-talk that poisons the experiences of life for many. Most of us who use negative, critical self-talk do so to regulate our emotional reaction to the conditions of the present moment. One thing neuroscience tells us about emotional regulation is that we do not have a choice about whether we regulate or not; but we do have some agency in how we regulate. We can train our minds to use beneficial strategies for emotional regulation completely replacing the negative ones. This is one of the principle benefits of Metta Jhana practice.  

Metta Jhana states can also be very blissful. But, bliss is not the end game of practicing Metta Jhana, the end game remains classical enlightenment. The purpose of Metta-Vipassana practice is to concentrate the mind, make the mind kind to itself, and then jump with Metta mind into Vipassana practice for the last five days of the retreat.

Mettagroup retreats use the Sixteen Stages of Insight as the Dharma map for developing insight. We move through the stages exploring the insights described in each stage. The typical hindrances/difficulties (wanting something else, not wanting what is, sleepiness, restlessness, harsh self judgement, dysregulated emotions, and so on) I have so often countered on the teaching side of straight Vipassana or Mindfulness retreats from students, tend not to come up in the Metta-Vipassana format. Concentration is already established, the mind is kind toward itself, and emotional regulation using Metta practice is available to replace critical self judgement. So, the body/mind can be explored with great precision and ease. This was a surprising outcome - it had not occurred to me that focused practice on Metta at the beginning of a retreat could dampen or eliminate the distress experienced by so many yogis practicing Vipassana. 

Because this retreat is part of The Meaningful Life teachings, Mettagroup includes descriptions of Attachment Theory informed mind states as part of the exploration of view. We find that this is a useful way to explore the direct link between early conditioning and the way that conditioning effects how we experience self and world. Our view of self and world comes online so early, we are often in the position of the fish asking, “What water?” when trying to tease out the distortion of our conditioned view from what we are sensing in the here and now. Because Attachment Theory describes in such a direct way the common distortions of view, it acts like the illustrations we have always hoped for in unraveling the knots in our tangled personal narratives. The processes of seeing the view of attachment conditioning can then be applied to unraveling enlightenment. A total win-win!

On the practical side, Mettagroup wants as many students as possible to deepen their practice through retreat,  so scholarships are available - get in touch with the office at 213-378-0489 to find out more. See you there or be square.

Love to you,