A Note From George (January 2018)

 

I am getting off to a slow start to 2018, what with the hectic holiday build up, The Meaningful Life Winter Retreat, and then a bad bout of the flu. Speaking of the retreat, I think we have worked out the bugs at the new retreat center, so that the retreat container really supports the work we are doing. A typical day begins with chanting Om Mani Padme Hum at 5:30am (à la Shinzen), followed by a long sit, and then Blake Abramovitz’s trauma-informed yoga at first light. Breakfast.

 
 First light on the mountain.

First light on the mountain.

 

The vegan food provided by the Seven Circles Retreat Center was healthy, balanced and delicious. Instructions for the day in the Myanmar-style after breakfast. Sit, walk. Sit, walk. Metta Jhana practice for the first four days, then Vipassana. Because the retreat center is small we can do one-on-one interviews every morning. Lunch. Rest. The afternoon, four-hour duration sit. Soup. 

Because of our strong focus on attachment disturbance repair during the retreat, we have added a half-hour period of talking before the evening sit. Dan Brown thinks that noble silence can trigger attachment responses that interfere with practice, so he has no restriction on conversation during his retreats. I found on retreat with him last fall, “the talking” did not prevent me from concentrating, and going deep, so I thought that adding a short period of optional talking on our TML retreats (even though everyone in our community is totally conditioned to think that noble silence is the only right way) was worth a try. 

The feedback from the retreatants is that a scheduled window for talking is emotionally regulating, and (surprise) Sangha building! And after a few bumps in the first days, we found that this approach was supportive of a stronger noble silence the rest of the time. It will now be a regular feature of our retreat schedule.

The Meaningful Life Retreats are now family-friendly. We had our first four-year-old on retreat. I find having a ready example of what being a child is like is incredibly useful doing attachment work. (And joyful, and fun, and hilarious, and compassion-inspiring….) We can get so centered in our adult view. Now the child’s view of the retreat:

 
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That’s me in the red, double-breasted: tall, thin-thin-thin as I am in my own mind, with an incredible shock of hipster hair (I remember having hair), apparently given to expressive hand gestures as wide as the whole world! (Finally, someone sees the inner me!) Gigi St. John, our retreat manager in black hair, and the artist in “my cold-self,” wrapped in an orange blanket. 

As part of our New Year’s Eve celebration, we formally set intentions for the coming year by lighting votives, performing our culture-wide ritual of letting go of bad habits by beginning something new. Hoping that the something new will last… “Oh, noooooo….”

If we frame the notion of old, bad habits as emotional regulation strategies, keeping resolutions may become easier to manage over the long haul. How the process typically unfolds, something happens in the world and we react to it. If the reaction is within each of our windows of tolerance (the term coined by Dan Siegel), meaning we can tolerate the emotional reaction without needing to regulate it by thinking, no problemo with keeping our newly-minted plans of action. 

However, when a reaction exceeds our windows, we have an emotional event that needs to be regulated. The mind brings up the strategy for emotional regulation associated with that pattern of distress. If the strategy is afflictive, then we are engaged in afflictive thinking an/or behavior, in the pursuit of the positive goal of emotional balance. We all must emotionally regulate, we do not really have a choice about that. The body/mind will regulate itself with whatever means are currently available. If you want to change afflictive strategies, you will not be able to do it simply by stopping the old strategy. You will have to stop and replace. 

This is where your meditation practice comes in especially handy. You can track your emotional reactions to the present moment (Noting Feeling States technique). If you notice you are reacting strongly enough that you are losing equanimity, you can apply a technique to reestablish equanimity (Noting Intensity: Low, Medium, High, Gone; or Noting Subtle Changes in Intensity: More, Less, Same, Gone). If you notice that you are unable to reestablish equanimity, and the body/mind begins to generate thinking to rebalance itself, you can explore what strategy the body/mind is using (Exploring Self-Generated Emotion). If you notice that the body/mind is using a beneficial strategy (positive self-talk, for instance), you can reinforce it. If you notice that the body/mind is using an afflictive strategy (negative self-talk), you can stop it, and replace it with Metta practice and/or Vipassana (back Noting Feeling States). We have guided meditations available for these techniques, let us know at the office and we can send links.

A few last things: The new Six Month Intensives will begin in March, registration is open on the website. This includes The Meaningful Life Levels One and Two, and Meditation Interventions for the Addiction Process. Registration for The Meaningful Life Spring Retreat at the Watershed Center in Millerton, New York is also open now. 

Deepening Your Practice, the weekly drop-in classes in Echo Park on Monday nights, and Culver City Thursday nights will both end this month. I will be traveling to Myanmar for sightseeing and retreat for the month of February, and then out to New York in early March to read my poetry, and present my short films as part of the Club 57 Show at MoMA. I will begin teaching a new class focused around meditation for attachment repair in April, details to follow.

Here is a video of the mountains near the 7 Circles Retreat Center. Such a beautiful place to practice. Enjoy!

Love to you,
George