A Note From George (February 2018)

 

Off we go again to annual Metta Jhana retreat at the Chanmyay Myaing Forest Meditation Centre in Pyin Oo Lwin, Myanmar.

 
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Pyin Oo Lwin where the British Military summered, escaping the Rangoon heat in the mountains, and where Eric Arthur Blair lived in the 1920s, his experiences as a nineteen-year-old in the Imperial Police Force became the basis for the books he authored under his pen name, George Orwell. Burma Days. 1984, baby. Animal Farm. When I asked U Indaka Sayadaw which colonial sites were worth seeing, he said, “Why would you go there, don’t know what they did to us?” 

Seven of us are going this year. A week of travel in and around Yangon, Bago, down and back to The Golden Rock. Retreat, then a week of travel to Mandalay and Inle Lake. Home.          

In the beginning of Metta Jhana practice, the focus is on developing an awareness of the experience of Metta mind, to recognize when the mind state of loving kindness is present and when it is not. Metta is a Pali word that is most often translated as loving kindness. Given my conditioning, I tend to think of it more as a mind state of open-hearted curiosity. The body/mind cools, a total absence of heat – the heat of anger or desire. As the practice deepens, the focus shifts to developing the capability to cause the arising of Metta mind, and then to sustain as you wish. Advanced practice revolves around exploring the perception of self and world through Metta mind.  

Jhana practice is all about entering high-concentration states. The First Jhana has five qualities: Applied Thought, to place your attention on an object (vitakka); Sustained Thought, to maintain your attention on the object (vicara); Rapture, sometimes defined as interest, I think of it as a feeling of energy in the body (Piti); Happiness or Bliss, the pleasant feeling related to sensing experience (Sukha); and One-pointedness, the mind settling on the object of meditation, here Metta mind (Ekaggata). As the body/mind settles into Second Jhana, there is no longer a need to place and sustain your attention, so Rapture, Bliss and One-pointedness (Piti, Sukha and Ekaggata). Eventually, the coarseness of the Rapture is too much, and the body/mind settles further into the Third Jhana, One-pointedness and Bliss. Bliss in the English language often suggests an intense feeling, but here bliss can be subtle. Shinzen calls the Third Jhana the most pernicious trap in meditation, you get caught up in craving for the bliss experience and stop moving toward enlightenment. (Don’t do that!!) If you are willing to let go of the bliss, the body/mind settles further/deeper into the Fourth Jhana, One-pointedness and Equanimity, neither inclining toward something or away from it (Ekaggata and Upekkha).
 
In Metta Jhana practice, the object of concentration is the Metta mind. Because Metta mind is always inclining toward this cool experience of friendliness, loving-kindness, open-hearted curiosity, equanimity is not possible. Once you can attain Third Metta Jhana, the practice becomes about exploring how holding a mind state effects the way you form the experience of self and world. How the body/mind creates Conceptual Reality from Ultimate Experience. This, incidentally, totally supports the Vipassana side of your practice. Developing easy access to Metta Jhana provides an unfailing refuge you can come into cool down the body/mind if the Vipassana side heats up too much (craving, aversion, unconsciousness). 

We are going again next year, think about coming with us. Registration for 2019 will be on May 1st. 

This Metta-Vipassana practice strategy is the bedrock of The Meaningful Life Intensives and retreats. If this approach sounds interesting to you, please consider joining an intensive this March. We are offering two: The Meaningful Life – Level One, and for the first time, The Meaningful Life – Level Two.  

Meditation Interventions for the Addiction Process (MIAP) is a level one course for people working with substance and process addictions. We believe that the underlying cause of addiction is attachment disturbance and that the repair of the attachment disturbance is the foundation of long-term recovery. This class incorporates G. Alan Marlatt’s strategies for relapse prevention with psychoeducation of Attachment Theory, and meditation practices focused on developing emotional regulation within ourselves and between ourselves, and mentalizing looking at what we think and process information. MIAP uses a harm-reduction model of treatment. Most people that we work with have a combination of process and substance addiction, so we work to develop a harm reduction/abstinence program that works to foster the development of attachment security. This course is suitable for any level of practitioner.

The Meaningful Life – Level One course focuses on developing an integrated Metta-Vipassana practice, with psychoeducation of Attachment Theory. We use a secular Buddhist approach to teach meditation, keeping intact the linkages in thousands of years of teaching at the same time not requiring liturgical belief of any kind. We believe the long-term goal of meditation practice is classical enlightenment. For many people, stabilizing their householder’s life is a prerequisite for deep practice. Using the attachment mind states as a vehicle for practice helps build in the short run the social support necessary for sustained practice in the long run. Understanding the effects of our early conditioning on our current life path deepens our understanding of the nature of our karma, and the path to release it. This course is suitable for any level of practitioner.

The Meaningful Life – Level Two course is focused on deepening the understanding the dynamics of your own attachment strategy and shifting your relationships from an insecure stance to a secure ground. Relationship dynamics will be explored through an attachment lens, and the skill set of secure function will be practiced during class time. Meditation-based emotional regulation is emphasized, with instructions specific to individual attachment presentations within the Metta-Vipassana practice context. A period of The Idealized Parent Figure protocol, a guided-meditation designed to repair early attachment disturbance, developed by Daniel P. Brown Phd at Harvard, will be offered in every class. Each student will work with a mediation mentor one-on-one and will receive the Partner Attachment Interview developed by Stan Tatkin PsyD at the PACT Institute as part of the exploration of your personal attachment strategy. This course requires completion of any MIAP or TML intensive.

I often ask at the beginning of a course, “How many people here are planning on becoming a monastic? Who wants to be a nun or a monk?” Occasionally, a hand shoots up. 

 
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Most of us are engaged in our householder lives of family and work, and plan to keep it that way. These intensives are designed for householders. We want to offer to the householder community of mediation practitioners a way to go deep while at the same time functioning well in our day-to-day lives. Often, the examination of early conditioning, especially if there is trauma, is too disruptive to balance both. We have taken that to heart in our design of these courses. We want “going deep” to support the flowering of a meaningful life engaging self and world.

 
 George and the gang on The Meaningful Life Retreat

George and the gang on The Meaningful Life Retreat

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 213-378-0489. Hope to see you!

Love to you,
George