metta-vipassana

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

 

A Note From George (November 2017)

 
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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, 
George