retreats

A Note from George (February 2019)

 

Mettagroup x the Bay Area

There are a lot of events happening in the Bay Area this winter into spring from Mettagroup! 

 
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First up is my Dharma talk about meditation and attachment on Friday, March 1, followed by a day-long introduction to our Meditation x Attachment course (formerly known as The Meaningful Life) on Saturday, March 2. It all leads up to a special two-month version of the Meditation x Attachment intensive taking place over four day-longs on April 6, April 20, May 4, May 18. It's all happening at San Francisco Dharma Collective and you can read more here

Also in March (March 3 - 8 to be precise), my good friend Dave Smith and I are offering a six day/five night workshop called An Awakened and Meaningful Life at 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley. This is the first time we're co-teaching a retreat like this, focused on developing skillful emotional regulation strategies for use in intimate relationships (friends and lovers). Get the details and register here


We still ❤️ you, LA!

Back on our home turf in Los Angeles, we'll also be offering Meditation x Attachment – Level One during four day-longs, meeting every other week on April 13, April 27, May 11 and May 25. After a successful trial run of this new format in Santa Cruz last year, we're very excited to bring it back home - and it will be completely Dana-based, so here we go! Read more and register here

Then later in the Spring, Mettagroup will begin a series of day-longs under the banner Coupling for Single People, focusing on understanding the dynamics of collaborative relationships and meditation based emotional regulation strategies. We are taking a Noah’s Ark approach (is there a Buddhist metaphor that is equivalent?), inviting everyone whatever your object choice. We love a good mash-up!! Stay tuned for details.
 

Switching Up Our Retreat Schedule

Mettagroup’s ten-day Metta-Vipassana retreats will move from Winter and Summer, to Spring and Fall. Since we held the Winter retreat, the next 10-dayer will be in the Fall, back at Seven Circles Retreat Center in Badger, CA. Maybe California living changes your blood into wimpy, wimpy, wimpy, but many of our retreatants have emphatically stated that the meditation yurt is too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer, so we have opted for milder weather. People have also requested a lay-away plan for paying for the retreat, so we have created a pay-as-you-like possibility, so you can register now for the retreat and pay little-by-little over the months ahead of the retreat. Register here

 
The infamous yurt at Seven Circles.

The infamous yurt at Seven Circles.

 

I think we have finally perfected our retreat format (not forgetting that everything remains impermanent), adding a period of restorative yoga at the end of the day, so the body can stretch and relax in preparation for sleep and another day of practice. 


The Tiger and the Strawberry

Now for a little Zen story: a monk or a nun depending on which makes you happier, walks along a forest path on the edge of a steep, mountain cliff. S/he hears a crash in the forest behind him/her and turns to see a tiger lumber out between the trees. The tiger licks her/his lips and charges toward the nun/monk. The monk/nun runs as fast she/he can but loses her/his footing taking a turn and slides over the edge of the cliff. Just as he/she is about to drop a thousand feet to her/his death, s/he grabs ahold of a root sticking out of the cliff with both hands. The tiger looks over the edge of the cliff and sees the predicament of the nun/monk, then trots down the path until s/he is standing underneath the nun/monk waiting for her/him to fall. 

As the monk/nun attempts to pull her/himself up the cliff back to the path, two mice crawl out of a small hole next to the root the monk/nun is clinging to. One white mouse called, “Expansion,” and one black mouse called, “Contraction.” The mice begin to chew through the root. The nun/monk sees what quick work the mice are doing on the root, looks down, and realizes, if the fall doesn’t kill me the tiger will eat me alive. 

 
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Then, out of the corner of her/his eye, the nun/monk sees a perfectly red-ripe strawberry growing of the side of the cliff just within reach. With one hand clutching the root, the monk/nun reaches out with the other and picks the strawberry. S/he tastes its luscious loveliness, and exclaims to the world itself, “Ahh, how sweet it is!!” 

Happy practice, love to you,
George

P.S. As always please feel free to call the office at 213-378-0489 for answers to any questions you have about our stuff.

 

A Note from George (December 2018)

 

The Meaningful Life Winter Retreat is coming at the end of this month. If you have not already registered and plan on attending, the last day for registration is next Friday, December 14th. This is a hard date, the retreat center is not flexible around last-minute changes, so if you are planning on attending the retreat, please sign up now here. (Oh, come on – you know you want to!)

I am also very happy to introduce you to Samantha Akers, who will be providing Mindful Yoga to support everyone’s meditation practice on retreat.

 
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She is very knowledgeable working with the body-up approach to trauma and somaticized emotion. A great compliment to our practice of Equanimizing the Pool of Poison and Pain (PoPAP). We are very excited to have her join us and for her supporting our (often achy) bodies. You can read more about here on her website.

Speaking of The Meaningful Life, I had a wonderful conversation with Cory Allen on his podcast The Astral Hustle about that subject, and the attachment work we do here at Mettagroup. It was was just posted this week, so listen here.
 

Non-Profit News!

More good news!! Mettagroup is now a licensed non-profit!! I think I should go into this a little more deeply. Mettagroup has a hybrid business structure, we are a combination for-profit B Corp and 501 (c)(3) non-profit. We feel strongly that everyone who works here, teachers, meditation facilitators, yoga teachers, administrators, should all receive a living wage and benefits. In order to provide a living wage for our people, we need to ask our students to contribute through class fees what that costs. At the same time, we do not want there to be a financial barrier for anyone who wants to study with us. We understand this to mean that we will need to provide scholarships for people who need them. To achieve these disparate goals, we have formed a business structure at allows us to pay a living wage, and to raise funds to provide scholarships for low or no cost instruction for people who need that. 

B Corps (or Public Benefits Corporations) differ from typical for-profit corporations in purpose. The purpose of a conventional corporation is profit, at a B Corp the purpose is to fulfill the mission of the corporation. Our mission at Mettagroup on the B Corp side is to create a general public benefit by providing meditation instruction and psycho-education around attachment theory. In addition, using this benefit to provide employees with a living wage, safe environment, culture of growth, and concern for their lives as wholes; to provide its students the means to address attachment disturbances and to reach classical enlightenment; and to provide for its owners by balancing its external benefit purposes with its internal profitability. Our mission on the non-profit side is to raise scholarship funds for meditation instruction, and to carry on other charitable activities associated with this goal. 

Our recent experience offering The Meaningful Life classes at their cost, verses on Dana only basis (Dana is a Pali word meaning the practice of generosity which is the financial model of most meditation communities) demonstrates the challenge we all face in bringing the Dharma to the West. The classes we offered on a purely Dana basis provided one-tenth of the class fees that the classes with tuition provided, well below the cost of providing the classes with everyone involved in providing the classes being paid a living wage. We are hopeful that we can strike a balance between providing for our employees and making the teachings available to everyone who wants them. Fingers-crossed, spit twice against the wind.
 

The Practice of Compassion

With one holiday down and two to go, the practice of compassion is on my mind. The intension of the practice is to be willing to be open to the experience of another person’s suffering. So that when you encounter someone suffering you do not automatically turn away, protecting yourself from the empathic experience of their pain. I like to break down any activity into the individual skills need to complete the overall task. With compassion, attunement is the first stage, allow eye contact with the other person. They know you are focused on them, you know they are focused on you. This allows for the second stage, the empathetic connection between you and another person. You can feel their emotional experience in your body. With the empathetic connection in place, you can bring your emotional regulation skills to your experience of their suffering and send it back to them regulated, helping to emotionally co-regulate them. 

In formal practice, we sit on the cushion and develop the willingness to allow the experience of their suffering, so that Practice Is Life (PIL; not to be confused with Public Image Ltd.). 

May all being be free from pain and sorrow. 
May all beings be well and happy.


Meditate Every Day! 


Don’t forget, Mettagroup is now offering single mentoring sessions, so if you want to check in about your practice every now and then you can. And you can now book those sessions online! Click here to book online or contact our scheduling coordinator David Kriegel at scheduling@mettagroup.org or 213-378-0489.

And for your daily practice you can always go live with Mettagroup’s Morning Meditation, 7:30 to 7:55am PT with Vipassana practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Metta practice on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Sign up here.

Or for the more app-minded folks, Brightmind has just been fully redesigned and it's great! If you haven’t already tried it, it's the only meditation app based on Shinzen Young’s teaching, with Shin himself guiding meditation, as well as other teachers (full disclosure: I'm one of them!). Click here to try it out. 

However you decide to practice, happy sitting, standing, walking, laying down!! 

Love to you,
George

 

A Note From George (June 2018)

 

June Gloom Redux


If traffic is not the cause for complaint in Los Angeles, it is the weather. April Overcast followed by May Gray followed by June Gloom…not that I ever go, but I long for beach weather. My internal visual thinking, me, forever prostrate, worshiping the sun from the shade, my head propped up against a tree in perfect viewing position.

 
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Perhaps the last of the Brahma Viharas, Upekkha or Equanimity practice: 

Things are just as they are, things are impermanent. 
Joy and sorrow arise and pass away. 
All beings are the heirs of their intentions and actions. 
Our joy and our sorrow depend on our intentions and actions, not on our wishes for each other. 
Care deeply for each other, knowing we cannot prevent suffering.

Or the short form, when you find yourself in a pinch bopping around the planet:

Things are just as they are, etc. 
Things are just as they are, etc. 
Things are just as they are, etc.

 
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Retreat for Householders

For householders, maintaining retreat practice as part of your overall meditation practice plan is essential to making progress on the path. Mettagroup’s The Meaningful Life Summer Retreat begins June 29th at the Seven Circles Retreat Center in Badger, California. Ten days of retreat heaven/hell (there is no heaven or hell!). We have changed our admission policy to limit attendance to the whole retreat. Feedback from the past retreats suggests that people coming and going in the middle of the retreat is too disruptive for the long-haulers to make sense. For students that are not able to make a ten-day retreat work, we will offer long-weekend retreats in the future. 

 
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We limit the retreat to 24 participants, so there is a plenty of teacher/student support for your personal practice. Different from a traditional silent retreat, there is a period of talking after dinner each day to promote Sangha building. The Meaningful Life curriculum is all about developing strong interpersonal relationships, so getting to know the other people on this path is critical to making progress. 

From the Meghiya Sutta (liberally paraphrased), from the Buddha’s mouth to your ears:

Five things give rise to the release of heart and lasting peace: One, an engaged intimacy with close friends (As & Bs); Two, ethical conduct toward self and world; Three, frequent conversation that supports your ethical and meditation practice; Four, making a commitment to work for the good of all beings in the world; and Five, insight into the nature of impermanence.

This year’s summer retreat begins on a Friday evening. Arrival, settling in, etc., then four days of Metta practice followed by four days of Vipassana practice, then a day to wind down. (After the retreat, the biggest tree on the planet, a Sequoiadendron giganteum, the so-called, “General Sherman,” is still available for viewing at Sequoia National Park a mere half-hour away. Don’t miss it before climate change!!) 

There are a few spaces available, and some scholarship support if you need it. Please consider joining us. More info at mettagroup.org/retreats.

Scheduling Update

Dan Brown will not be coming to Los Angeles in June after all. His trip is tentatively rescheduled for October. We will keep you abreast of developments as we know what is happening.
 

The Meaningful Life Intensives


Registration for the Fall 2018 The Meaningful Life Intensives is now open. In Los Angeles, we are limiting each class to 12 participants. We find that the small cohort size provides space for actual understanding of the material. We will be offering a Level One for anyone interested in our meditation for attachment repair approach, and Level Two for people who have completed Level One and want to deepen their practice. Remote students can now participate in the classes live through video conferencing. 

For people who are already practicing Idealized Parent Figure Protocol or who would like to begin, we will be offering a Level Three class. More details on that coming soon!

If you have questions about any of the intensives, please give the office a buzz at 213-378-0489 to arrange call with me. I am happy to answer your questions directly. Or check out mettagroup.org/intensives sooner rather than later.

We will also be offering The Meaningful Life – Level One in Santa Cruz, at Insight Santa Cruz, in a new format, four day-longs over two months. Because this is a Level One class, and in keeping with the culture at ISC, these day-longs will be organized as drop in classes, so you can participate in as many as you like. Read more about that at Insight Santa Cruz

Summer is almost here. Go have fun! 

Love to you,
George

 

A Note From George (March 2018)

 

Retreat in Myanmar

This year, Mettagroup’s small band of intrepid meditators (Paola and the Metta Boys) hit the road to experience firsthand the three holiest sites in Myanmar. 

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The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, The Golden Rock on Mount Kyaiktiyo, and the Mahamuni Buddha image in Mandalay. Sann Yu Maung, our awesome Licensed Tour Guide, says that anyone who visits all of them in one fell swoop will have extraordinarily luck. So there you have it, six more people on the planet with extraordinary luck!!

hwedagon Pagoda

hwedagon Pagoda

Golden Rock

Golden Rock

Mahamuni Buddha

Mahamuni Buddha

On my return to the City of Angeles, my friend Daniel Ahearn reminds me of the Taoist story: “An old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. ‘Such bad luck,’ they said sympathetically. ‘Good luck, bad luck, who knows,’ the farmer replied.” Perhaps a little Mudita: May Good Fortune Fill All the Days of All of Our Lives….

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Mandalay has such a different vibe from Yangon. Smaller, slower, older.

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We flew south to Inle Lake. The light there after the sun sinks below the mountains is pure lavender.

U Indaka Sayadaw said during a Dharma talk he is continually surprised by the expressions of self-hatred that so many foreign yogis express during their interviews with him. He says, “I love myself. How can you not love yourself?” Perhaps the differences in child rearing, the Myanma (Burmese) community or alloparenting parenting model verses our western nuclear families cause one group to experience self-hate and the other self-love. Perhaps the differences in western personal identification verses the eastern group identification contributes. Western striving to be better than everyone else verses the eastern desire to fit in with the group. 

Sayadaw’s instructions for dealing with the self-hatred/western negative self-talk is to ignore it and focus your attention on Metta Mind. If the distraction of the negative self-talk is impossible to overcome, use a few minutes of vipassana meditation to examine the source of the negative self-talk and then when you see the root causes as empty, return your attention to the cultivation of Metta Mind. 

In the Myanma-style (Burmese-style) retreat interview, a yogi is meant to limit their report what is happening in the present moment and only the present moment. The teacher will then respond with instructions of where to go from here. What do you do when lobha (extreme greed), dosa (hatred that arises from greed) and/or moha (lack of awareness of your motivations driven by greed) overwhelm poor little ineffectual Metta Mind? What I found helpful on this retreat with endless lobha, lobha, lobha, ceaseless dosa, dosa, dosa and a cavernous lobha for moha was to drop into a short stretch of vipassana, examining the content of the emotional regulating self-talk, and to come up with Metta phrases that were an exact antidote to the agitated mind. During this retreat, fearful mind was frequently triggered by a sense of being unseen. Noble silence can easily trigger the attachment mechanism. The phrase the settled my mind and allowed me easily find Metta Jhana was: People see you, people love you, people support your work. 

Ignoring lobha, dosa, and moha seemed to ramp up the thinking mind. Providing a direct antidote to the content of thinking quieted the mind. Perhaps another difference between eastern and western?

Mettagroup will be going back to Myanmar next February for travel and retreat. We will be going to the Golden Rock and then Win Sein Taw Ya, the largest reclining Buddha image in the world near Mawlamyine south of Yangon. Then, a Vipassana retreat!! After the retreat, off we go to the Great Budhhas of Monywa, one standing, one reclining, then onto the 2,200 pagodas of Bagan. Registration will open in May.

Myanmar 2018: George Haas Does a Lap of Walking Meditation with Narration (VIDEO)

Join George for a walking meditation captured on retreat in Myanmar!

 

Spring Schedule

Spring has sprung or will on the 22nd. Which means our spring intensives will start at the end of the month. Here’s what we've got: 

Meditation Interventions for the Addiction Process (MIAP)

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. 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.  Register Now >

The Meaningful Life – Level One

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. Register Now >

The Meaningful Life – Level Two

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. Register Now >

The Meaningful Life Spring Retreat

Also, for people out New York way, our Spring Retreat at the Watershed Center, April 13-22,  upstate in Millerton, NY is open for registration. This is a Metta-Vipassana retreat, four days of Metta practice followed by four days of Vipassana practice. The Metta practice softens and opens the heart and mind so the Vipassana can go deep. There is no substitute for retreat practice when it comes to going deep. Hope to see you somewhere along the path.

Love to you,
George

 

 

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. 

 
monks.jpg
 

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 (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

 

A Note From George (December 2017)

 
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To begin, there are a couple of community events that might be of interest.

First: I am very (as in extremely) excited that Daniel P. Brown, the author of Attachment Disturbances in Adults: Treatment for Comprehensive Repair, a great champion of attachment work, and one of my teachers, will be in Los Angeles, this Sunday, December 3rd for Sacred Sundays at the Mystic Journey Bookstore, 1702 Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. Doors open at 5:30pm. Dan’s incredibly skillful amalgamation of Mahamudra practice and attachment theory in the form of the Idealized Parent Figure Protocol is a total game changer for people with attachment disturbance. Mettagroup is over-the-moon to have IPF as a part of our The Meaningful Life and Meditation Interventions for the Addiction curricula. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity to hear from the horse’s mouth. 

Two: Brightmind, the new Shinzen Young meditation app, is now available for iPhones everywhere (Android coming soon). If you are a longtime Shinhead (Shinzenite, Shinzenian, Shinzenic, etc.) and/or would like to deepen your practice with the app version of one of America’s preeminent deep practice teachers, try it out here. I have been a very grateful student of Shinzen’s for 20 years. His practices have completely transformed my life for the better, and they are heavily incorporated into all Mettagroup’s offering. Christian Stiller and the people at Brightmind are awesome! Check it out!

Christmas Time is Here. The holidays descend on us like a dense fog; except in Los Angeles, where it pops up as an ostensibly bulletproof marine layer. Some of us will spend the festivities with our families of origin, some with “families” of our own choosing, and some of us will do our very damnedest ignore the whole turkey, cranberry and mashed-potato klatch. Whatever you do, pay attention to the possibility that Mara, and his or her daughters, Greed, Hatred and Delusion, may make a surprise encampment. 

From a practice perspective, perhaps focus on developing patience for everyone catch up in their conditioning. Metta, Karuna, Mudita and Upekkha. Loving-kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy and Equanimity. Also, some focus on emotional regulation could come in handy. I would also suggest that you keep Sangha close. Make the extra effort to attend your sitting groups, keep up your daily practice. Pay attention to the people close to you, if you notice them suffering, see if you can help.   

Loving-kindness phrases:

  • May I be peaceful.
  • May you be peaceful.
  • May all beings be peaceful.

Compassion phrases: 

  • May I be free of pain and sorrow, may I be well and happy.
  • May you be free of pain and sorrow, may you be well and happy.
  • May all beings be free from suffering.

Sympathetic Joy phrases:

  • May good fortune fill all the days of all my lives.
  • May good fortune fill all the days of all your lives.
  • May good fortune fill all the days of all beings lives.

Equanimity phrases:

  • Things are just as they are, things are impermanent. Joy and sorrow arise and pass away. All beings are the heirs of the intentions and actions. My joy and my sorrow depend on my intentions and actions, not on other’s wishes for me.
  • Things are just as they are, things are impermanent. Joy and sorrow arise and pass away. All beings are the heirs of their intentions and actions. Your joy and your sorrow depend on your intentions and actions, not on my wishes for you. I care about you, but I cannot prevent you from suffering.
  • (Or in a pinch: Things are just as they are, etc.)

For emotional regulation, nothing beats Noting Feeling States technique:

  • If you notice an emotional sensation in the body and you know what it is, label it by name. Anger, fear, sadness, excitement are the base emotions. Love, joy, interest, loneliness, longing, guilt, shame, regret, remorse, some of the more complex emotions. 
  • If you are aware of an emotional sensation in the body and you do not know what it is, label it “Something” or “Don’t Know.”
  • If there are no emotional sensations in the body at any given moment, label that “Rest” or “None.”

There is always the possibility of simply enjoying the holiday season. I highly recommend that choice. And if practice calls out to you, you can always join us for a nobly silent New Year’s Eve celebration. There are few spaces left for our Winter Retreat in the Sierra Nevadas. Come. Enjoy! 

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

A Note From George (May 2017)

 
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I am very excited to begin our adventure as Mettagroup moves to our new location in Echo Park. We will be offering more day long retreats, more weekly series, and the intensive series in both The Meaningful Life and Meditation Interventions for the Addiction Process curriculums. 

The Intensives will now be offered in three six-month modules. The first module will be on the informational side of attachment-focused meditation, and second and third modules on the practice side with mentoring and optional attachment-focused psychotherapy.

We will offer four Metta/Vipassana retreats a year, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall in New York and California.  

The weekly Deepening Your Practice classes for intermediate and advanced meditators continue in Santa Monica and Echo Park. We will be adding beginners’ classes in both secular Buddhism and Mindfulness, and a monthly alumni class for people who have taken the intensives. 

Here we go, here we go!

Love to you,
George