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TOPIC: Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop

Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 27 Sep 2019 13:34 #111637

I'm currently preparing for a 2 day one-on-one samadhi workshop.

A dharma friend (from here on "D") approached me after a retreat we were on together, this summer. He thinks his practice is lacking - - there is steadyness, but not much juice. He thinks he might have experienced samadhi a few times, but "there's got to more to it than that." He knows that I am interested in developing samadhi and wants me to show him "some tricks".

For me the whole samadhi thing took off when I realized that there is always some kind of fabrication going on (sankhara). After a lot of (not always very directed) training I can now usually fabricate the conditions for samadhi in seconds, just by taking on a particular mental stance, or making a particular mental gesture. Fabrication unfolds in and is manifested by a spectrum of duality. There are other dimensions, like embodiment, directedness, distance, spatiality, movement, intimity... It is a thoroughly fascinating playground for developing all kinds of bliss and insight.

My goal is to equip D with new ways of looking, which in turn should help him invite himself into samadhi more regularly.

I am very much looking forward to this opportunity! I am far from being as surefooted as I'd like to be, so I intend to prepare myself thoroughly. I will work on the script for the workshop over the next days (meeting is on October 7th). I will log the progress here, maybe spin out standalone topics if it feels helpful. Be aware that it won't be polished.

You are not only very welcome to throw in any kind of feedback, I really do invite you to do so.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 27 Sep 2019 13:53 #111638

For some context here a bit of info about D:
  • 57 years old, a very successful stage designer, fascinating personality, beautiful soul
  • D has meditated for about 15 years, sits basically every morning (30 min).
  • His teacher is Martin Stern (see next post).
  • 10+ retreats and seminars with Martin. He will do a 2 month silent retreat in Spirit Rock in the beginning of 2020.
  • He practices mostly a kind of shi-nè. Meditates for emotional regulation.
  • no jhanas except maybe J5, suspects he has stumbled across samadhi but doesn't know to invite it more often
  • does 2-3 retreats and seminars per year, that's where we met
  • hasn't read many dharma books, doesn't identify w/ a particular Buddhist tradition
  • D leads small group sittings in his home town.

About me:
  • 50 years old
  • 8 years of practice, sit about 1h per day, first brief touches of samadhi basically right from the start, first jhana 4 years ago
  • Retreats and seminars with Christopher Titmuss, Leigh Brasington, Bodhipaksa, Akincano Weber, Shaila Catherine, Martin Stern
  • My main teachers are Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Rob Burbea (100s of hours of dharma talks, many books, I love "Seeing that frees").
  • currently mostly "vipassanizing shamatha" practice (based on anapanasati, find and let go of tension), also 3C w/ focus on dukkha, anatta
  • jhanas mostly via whole-body breathing, energy body, sometimes added metta; no stable nimitta
  • stable and easily accessible J1-J4, often J5, sometimes J6, rarely J7, maybe J8 - - difficult to delineate J6 onwards
  • I don't know where I am on the (Mahasi-)path. I really don't know if I want to know, but that's a different story altogether.
  • I read a lot about the dharma (mainly Western/Pragmatic Dharma including TMI and MCTB, Early Buddhism, also Dzogchen, Advaita), also about phenomenology, philosophy of mind, cogsci.
  • I'm a member of a small local practice group and a couple of dharma friends elsewhere.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 27 Sep 2019 14:01 #111639

Some info about Martin Stern, because he is a teacher of both D's and myself:
  • 30+ years meditation experience, 20 years as teacher, currently teaching a total of 6 weeks of retreats and seminars per year
  • psychotherapy background, then Zen, Vipassana (IMS-style) then Mahamudra with Dan Brown, recently Dzogchen - - explicitely no lineage
  • goes on silent retreats for 1-3 months per year, mostly Spirit Rock, also India
  • reads a lot
  • teaches a very ecclectic Westernized dharma, leaning on Dzogchen (mostly), some Mahamudra, no Zen, limited Theravada (focus on mindfulness)
  • evening talks revolve about mindfulness (always at the beginning of the retreat, defined very broadly), emptiness, one taste, non-meditation, non-duality
  • Steadying the mind is important, though. His guided meditations hint at shi-nè without naming it as such.
  • He talks about shamatha as being on the elephant path, refers to TMI, but seems to be not particularly interested in it.
  • doesn't talk about jhanas, neither about samadhi
  • Vipassana is limited to basic anicca, fuzzy about what "awakening" might mean in his framework.
  • no interest in goal-oriented approaches in meditation
  • He doesn't talk about advanced phenomenology, except about space, spacious awareness.

I have to admit that I'm not relaxed around Martin. I'm openly critical of his "no goals" teaching style and his bitching about Early Buddhism. A bit too much superficial Dzogchen "ocean & waves" for me, not enough hardcore Ngöndro.

Still, so far this year Martin has given me the opportunity to do an retreat evening talk (on anatta) and multiple practice talks (on hindrances), group sessions, even one-on-one interviews with fellow retreat participants. I'm grateful for his support. Martin knows about the samadhi workshop and has endorsed the idea. I don't want to fuck that up.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 27 Sep 2019 14:08 #111640

In the workshop (on October 7th) I indend to touch upon the following topics:
  • Why samadhi is a great tool, and how it relates to practice
  • General principles of phenomenology (branch of Continental Philosophy)
  • Feeling the body from within
  • Introduce and practice whole-body breathing (inkl. link to anapanasati)
  • Samadhi as result from playing with (breath-)energy in the bodymind
  • Intro to jhanas as states of progressively letting go, with some sutta references
  • Detailed explanation of jhana factors (inkl. links to the 7 factors of awakening, 5 strengths/faculties)
  • Nudge him towards J1, with concepts, metaphors, stances, gestures
  • Give him a "preview" on the jhanic arc
  • Outline a plan for follow-up meetings / meditations on Zoom
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 28 Sep 2019 16:32 #111642

Ok, I've thought a bit about how to come up with material which helps me cover above topics of the workshop.

The workshop will be backed up by talks, essays and papers, book excerpts. I'll first select a few main references which cover the points. Then I'll add to the points with snippets from additional texts.

Let's kick it off right away with maybe the most important "root text", a talk by Rob Burbea: "Creative Samadhi" from 2014-12-07. That talk covers a lot of points:
  • RB distinguishes between samadhi and jhanas. All jhanas are states of samadhi; some states of samadhi do not qualify as jhana, even if they can be characterized as mix of jhanic or otherwise beautiful qualities. In the workshop the time is too short to aim for a proper J1. Light states of samadhi are possible, though.
  • One of Rob's teachers is Thanissaro Bhikkhu (TB). With Each And Every Breath will be the root text for whole-body breathing. RB follows TB's definition of jhanas: relatively light absorption. Those light jhanas (or "very lite" in TMI terms) are a natural extension of the light samadhis. That's how I practice.
  • RB touches on the role of goals in the practice. I can use his line of argument to remove D's doubt (which he might have adopted from his teacher) that goal-orientation is a bit of an anti-thesis of meditation.
  • In the tradition of TB, RB talks about foreground/background atttention, feeling the body from within, connection between the breath and samadhi. Those are things I work with in my own practice.
  • The talk covers the concept of the energy body, together with a guided meditation [at 39:30]. In the "Shamatha Meditation" retreat from 2007 and "Art of Concentration" from 2008 RB talks about energy and energetic phenomena. The teachings on the energy body come later, with the turn towards Soulmaking. I "do" the energy body slightly differently to how RB teaches it, but who cares. I intend to do a write-up on this practice later in this thread.
  • It touches on metta, not much, but enough to fit it into an overall structure of samadhi practice for the workshop. I'll use one of the guided meditations by Ayya Khema (AK) as metta root text. Her jhanas (and by extension those of Leigh Brasington, LB) are "sutta styled" like TB's and RB's, so this is a nice fit. For my own metta practice I borrow heavily from AK.
  • RB names spacious, open awareness as one way of letting go and thus a way to open up samadhi. On the one hand that is a bridge to the 5th jhana. On the other hand, D's practice is heavly geared towards resting in space, so anything spacious is a helpful link with how he meditates.

I can wholeheartedly recommend that talk. I'd love to hear about your thoughts on it.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 29 Sep 2019 05:36 #111644

I've added some highlighting and comments in the transcript of "Creative Samadhi".

For the RB's talks I use the transcripts from the Rob Burbea Transcription Project, thank you u/flumflumeroo. It's a great resource for anyone who likes to listen to RB's talks. For an overview you might want to take a look at this AirTable with links to the talks and the transcripts, as well as keywords to filter for.
Last Edit: 29 Sep 2019 05:39 by Frank. Reason: fighting with the AN editor
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 01 Oct 2019 16:42 #111648

I've listened again to a couple of more talks by Rob Burbea (RB) and annoted them:
  • 2015_0807 Energy Body - Instructions - 1
  • 2015_0808 Energy Body - Instructions - 2
  • 2016_0728 I Sing The Body Electric - On Orientations in Practice
  • 2016_0728 On Orientations in Practice - live and shortened version
  • 2017_0328 Instructions - Letting Go
  • 2018_0623 The Energy Body - A Little Bit of What, Why, and How

I've put the transcripts with highlighting and annotions here. The PDFs contain the link to the audio on DharmaSeed.

The talks above cover a RB's practice of the "energy body". He introduced the concept at around 2014, in the talk "Create Samadhi" (also uploaded, see also the post above), probably around the time when he started teaching imaginal practice ("Soulmaking"). Before 2014, his teachings on samadhi included energetic phenomena, knowing what's it's like to be sensitive to energy in the whole body, but still very much following the outline of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's breath meditation (based on Ajahn Lee's "Method 2"). An in-depth exploration of this "pre-2014" teachings can be gleaned from the 2008 retreat "Art of Concentration". For the talks of this retreat there is a good summary, "aspirant4_s Art of Concentration Summaries", also uploaded. I will deal with that when turning to the jhanas, later this week.

RB defines energy body as "... a kind of poise of attention, a kind of attitude, a way of looking and of conceiving, that ... one feels ... the body as a field of energy, of vibration, of texture."

You open up the space of awareness just a little bit bigger than the whole space that your body occupies, then fill it with sensitivity to the field of energy in this space. The attention needs to be broader than standard mindfulness of breathing or mindfulness of body. It's not about focussing on a certain anapana spot or moving a narrow focus over the body for Goenka body-sweeping, rather an energized whole-body awareness. The field of energy can be felt in different ways, e.g. as a fluctuating field of energy, a cloud of light, or a body of light. It can radiate inwards or outwards. It can be bundled in energetic lines, e.g. vertical "central channel".

The energy body practice takes on a "phenomenological" stance. It's about feeling the field of energy and thus the body from within. Unrelated but still a good intro is a talk with guided meditation by Judith Blackstone: Can we embody nonduality?. There is a difference between putting the attention on a part of the body (which she calls "a kind of top-down maneuver") vs. living inside that body part. When I switch between those modes then there is a beautiful softening of the focus when feeling the body from within, a certain kind of well-being, of being collected. It's very much possible to do this with multiple parts at the same time, kind of feeling the body from inside "from the corner of the eye". For you guys doing TMI that's basically what awareness is about (as opposed to the "single-threaded" attention).

Note that the energy body will shrink. It can do so because the awareness is sucked into a though or emotion, or into a tension or pain, or just because out of habit. Catching this shrinking and then stretching it back out is a "coming back" pattern, like with breath meditation where we come back to the breath after becoming distracted. As meditators we are used to this kind of workout for the mindfulness-muscle, so the energy body practice has never felt alien to me. Of course it helps that my regular way of breath meditation and working with the jhanas is of the "ultra lite" style (in TMI lingo) of the kind what Thanissaro teaches.

I love the practice of the energy body because it's truly a Swiss Knife:
  • Stilling the mind. Stretching the awareness across multiple bodily volumes and feeling into >=2 of those volumes at the same time decreases narrative thought activity quite a bit.
  • Samadhi induction. In a way the energy body is samadhi: "...a sense of harmonization and good feeling and well-being". It just needs some attending to those qualities and they can blossom into piti/sukha.
  • Indicator for insight practice. RB: "When there is letting go, which is the function of insight practice - to let go, right here, right now - you feel it in the energy body." The energy body becomes a light which shines into the direction of progressive stages of letting go of fabrication.
  • Jhana inducation. Taking samadhi to the next level, the "coming back" pattern can be understood as vitakka/vicara, and ekagatta is built into the sense of a whole field or whole body anyways. In addition, you can turn felt sense of the energy in the whole space into a gesture to invite a stance of the Witness and then move along the Jhanic Arc.
  • Working with emotions. Emotions - - nice and difficult, gross and subtle - - are reflected in the energy body. The energy can be used to hold the emotion lightly, or dissolve it from inside, or form the safety net to allow the emotion fully.
  • Helper for metta practice. Radiating energy from the heart center is something which can be trained in a way that it can be switched on and off in seconds. I often combine this with jhanas, in both directions (metta helps jhana, samadhi helps metta).
  • Breath work. The energy can be manifested in a vertical axis, imagined to morph into the central nerve channel, then felt into with AYP-like spinal breathing.
  • Energy work. TB's whole body breathing uses chakras without actually naming them. The energy body practice builds from that, making the moving of the breath energies not just a secondary feature of the breath but actually a "first-class citizen" of the energy body.

BTW: I don't buy into the reality of chakras, i.e. for me there is no need to assume a physiological relationship of a chakra to certain nerve bundles, fasciae or the like. But that's the beauty of what's meant with "phenomenological approach": It's not about what's real but how it feels like. And that can be really everything.

In terms of using the energy body in the workshop, I still have to answer one question. RB: "I sit in my body and I sort of see a shape." What does "see" mean? This might seem as a totally nerdy question, but I think the role of the eyes and the mind's eye is totally underappreciated in Theravada meditation practice. Who sees? From where?

With the spacious awareness of the energy body we have quite a bit of flexibility here. I can throw "myself" into the Witness, or move the whole energy field around and "look" our of the back of my head, or move "upwards" inside the head and through the crown. The felt sense of the energy body can also collapse into itself, either pressing onto the sense of a self, or switching into "headless" mode à la Douglas Harding. A lot of those modes have only come after pretty intense practice, so what's advisable for the workshop?

I tend to translate "see" or "imagine" into "know", so e.g. if I'm supposed to see the shape of my body (which is impossible from within, from the range of what the eyes can do) then I don't change the perspectival cone of my mind's eye but rather just "know" the body, or know the energy lines, know the back of my head etc. This seems to be enough to activate the felt sense of a "seeing from within".

...

Any feedback? Does anyone here work with the energy body, or with something like it? Or tried it out and did not continue? Why?

(So far in this thread I've been intentionally a bit wordy - - I'm new to this forum and I think you should get to know me a bit better. Please note that I'm not a native English speaker, so without any doubt a lot of sentences will be a convoluted mess, unintentionally. In general it's a good working hypothesis that I don't know shit, really, so you should neither feel not experienced enough nor too accomplished to give feedback :cheer: )
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 02 Oct 2019 14:37 #111651

I've started to collect material concerning the "jhanas" part of the workshop.

You find a transcript of the YouTube series "Riding the Jhanic Arc via the Witness" here.

I've also added in the same document an excerpt from The Hamilton Project dealing with riding the arc, as well as some phenomenological details of the Witness practice, as explained by Kenneth.

The hints regarding phenomenology in the videos and blogs mentioned above are collected in a "phenomenological matrix".

This is work in progress, so the files in the workshop folder will change.
Last Edit: 03 Oct 2019 06:57 by Frank. Reason: added link to matrix
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 02 Oct 2019 21:50 #111652

I am really unqualified to give feedback on the subject. But I do admire your persistence, thoroughness, and sense of order. Those are useful qualities in many endeavors. Good luck.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 05 Oct 2019 17:05 #111664

The last two days were fun, with much jhana exploration and thinking about how to present the jhanas to a newbie.

I've beefed up the phenomenological matrix with additional infos:

  • Jhana factors, from Shaila Catherine's Focused and Fearless
  • Description of the jhanas 1-9 from F+F along certain dimensions, like I did it with the Riders of the Arc
  • Jhanas 1-8 from Daniel Ingram's MCTB2.

There are interesting parallels between the teachers. MCTB2 and RotA are "nearer" in jhana-teachings-space because they share the same lineage (Bill Hamilton). In order to complement the picture I will add the jhana phenomenology of the following teachers:

  • Rob Burbea (from his talks)
  • Thanissaro Bhikkhu (if necessary, RB might already cover it completely, I have to check TB's essays)
  • Leigh Brasington (from Right Concentration and my retreat notes)
  • Culadasa (from TMI Appendix D)
  • Richard Shankman (from The Experience of Samadhi)

For the upcoming workshop I'll give preference to RB and TB. The time for the preparation of the workshop is running out! I'll have to finalize the agenda tomorrow, then do the last finetuning on Monday morning. Yeah!
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 05 Oct 2019 17:14 #111665

Frank - a word of caution from my personal experience : it's easy to overwhelm others with lots of detail and our own enthusiasm. Consider a light touch.

Please don't take my advice the wrong way. I'm really trying to help.
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 05 Oct 2019 18:54 #111666

Do you mean "consider a light touch" for the upcoming workshop? If yes:

That's very good advice, thank you. I have made the firm intention to keep it in mind.

Actually I've waited since my first post for anyone to put out such a warning. ;)

I have a built-in safety net, though. I won't be able to make use of the info I've collected and shared on this forum. D is German and he doesn't even speak English. I'm German, too, but my Dharma is in Pali and English. I will have to translate on the fly which will slow me down enough to be comprehensible.

D has a good mindfulness practice but not much experience with anything of Early Buddhism. Anything else than broad strokes will be above his head.

D struggles with his meditation practice. It's heady; it lacks juice. Most of the workshop will therefore revolve around meditation practice which reconnects him with his body: the lived body (" Leib"), whole-body breathing (maybe "Körperatmung"), energy body ("Energiekörper"), samadhi (thankfully "Samadhi"). I hope I'll be able to help him, but he likes me and he doesn't doubt me and it's going to be new stuff for him, so it will work out just fine.

Originally I thought I might get some help here on the mere idea of a samadhi workshop, maybe some war stories of experienced practioners who taught samadhi, or who were in somewhat similar situation. I didn't get any feedback, so I put my thoughts and summary of talks on "the energy body" in a post (I needed that info the workshop anyways), but apart from Ona's encouraging post I didn't get any other feedback on that either. I felt the need to do a bit concentration practice this week to prepare myself, so I used that drive to work a bit on my understanding of meditative phenomenology. So I thought maybe summarizing the jhanas from one of AwakeNetwork's own (Nick) might elicit some feedback here, but got none. Well, I always wanted to put together a more diverse jhana synopsis anyways, so I used the momentum and added 1 source of interesting infos on the jhanas which is a close fit to this pragmatic dharma community (MCTB) and one which isn't so much (Focused and Fearless). That earned me another feedback, your post, so that's fine.

I sometimes wonder how many people actually think that really everything about meditative practice has been said. With tomes like MCTB2 and TMI it looks like that there is no need to think further. But even books dedicated to specific topics (like the jhanas) often fall short of giving enough useful pointers to "how it feels like" when we practice. There is value in having an arsenal of different ways to understand and verbalize certain meditative states. So I might not have own vocabulary to contribute, but at least I can make the effort to draw together different sources and organize them, for the sake of my own discriminatory purpose - - and maybe that of others, here, by posting the stuff. Let's see how long I can keep up the spirit ;)
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 07 Oct 2019 18:11 #111669

Actually I've waited since my first post for anyone to put out such a warning. ;)

Well then, I'm happy to oblige!
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Preparing for a 2-day one-on-one samadhi workshop 08 Oct 2019 08:44 #111675

The workshop went very well, intense fun. A lot of rather quick meditations sessions, often just 10 min to test something, then do something different with another 10 min etc. Time on cushion about 5 hours in total. Experiments we did were mostly different styles of anapanasati, with a focus on whole-body breathing, vipassana, energy body practice and of course samadhi cultivation. D has access to J5 (or a close relative) from his shi-nè practice, so we lingered there a bit and dipped into J6. We talked about jhana factors and access to first jhana but didn't practiced it. I've just did a very quick overview over J2-J4.

I think the most "aha" point for him was feeling a shower of well-being when switching from "paying attention" to his hands to "experiencing both hands at the same time from within". He felt his eyes deconcentrating and freezing, with co-dependent ceasing of thought activity. That was nice, because I was able to take this particular mode of experiencing easily into the guided (breath-) energy work. We also spent a lot of time talking about the relationship of samatha and vipassana, the uses of samadhi, the path, as well as a lot of phenomenological details about our practice.

Thank you for your interest and your support. Writing here on this forum about the workshop was motivating. I think it paid off for D, and for me anyways.

I'm a bit bummed out today, currently travelling back to my home town. I'll have to care about work the next days, then add to the jhana synopsis. I'll keep you posted!
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