Duck Dukkha, Sidewalk Jewels • 15 July 2009

Ok, I stopped making sense. Do-over.

Let me first write this like a sixth grader telling you about her summer vacation. Get the sentiments in the right places and the information that interests me in the center.

Last week was fascinating. I actually figured out what insight practice is, and that in the past, instead of implementing insight practices, I’ve used the slowed-down aspect of retreat to cruise in nondual anti-meditative states. Both are most wonderful. Nothing wrong with nondual surrender-mind. But since the insight thing is new, I’m a little flummoxed. This is my fourth trip to an insight meditation center (the visits to Zen and Vajrayana centers were sort of different, I suppose). Shouldn’t I have figured it out before? The practice is SO EASY and basic. Anyway, it’s all humbling but also thrilling.

On another note, the note I was attempting to make below, it seems like just straightup concentration is a great idea. It seems that the insight thing works now because I have done the concentration thing every day for two hours for five years. So I am also interested in the ways that all this concentration practice has changed me, and in why nobody wants to talk about this as an aspect of yoga practice, and why so many people aren’t even practicing it while they do their asanas.

Hello? Yogaschittivrittinirohada, eh? One-pointedness is so good! Are there a lot of people who do yoga the way I've been doing Vipassana… going to the center and paying the fees but never actually getting with the program?

That’s all.

Well also, because of Michael Jackson, there were big helicopters that made he zendo rattle and stacked my experience of sound and touch in an exciting way. And there were ducks. One of the ducks was white and couldn’t stop doing the shimmy; and I lay on the edge of the pond each afternoon watching its light ripple through the oak tree branches while the little guy had a sustained Daffy-level fit. It was as close to perfection as I’ve ever experienced, except for the terrible frustration of the poor duck. And: crucifixes everywhere, which I didn’t mind. That part was actually awesome: I’ll just admit it. I also didn’t mind the food, which I knew was horrible even though in my state of sensory sharpness it tasted delicious. Also, one night we never even went to bed and just sat there meditating for hours, and when the rest of us kids got up for coffee and chocolate and salami sandwiches, he just kept sitting there like a rock. The guy was gone. Completely disappeared to some other place, like Bodysnatchers. Next day he just went on teaching as usual. He’s 64. Technically.


Back to the topic of concentration, this time in conversational language. What I mean to suggest—and the idea is not new (CP pushed this for years)—is that Samadhi isn’t a “spiritual” or otherworldly state limited to demigods and freaky gurus. The development of one-pointed concentration is what yoga is actually designed to do; and once we pull that off consistently, amazing benefits begin to accrue. It’s ok to concentrate the mind. There’s nothing woo-woo or necessarily violent about it. Anyone can take in there.

Since it’s so beneficial, and since we’re hanging out doing some simple body movement anyway, why not go for it?

There is this wonderful stuff that happens when you learn to go in to deep concentration, and then just go there day after day after day. There is a dramatic increase in intelligence because your concentration ability and mental clarity bleed over in to the rest of your life. The positive emotion is pretty consistent as well; and according to the jnana techers it can and should be cultivated systematically.

I am not going to worry about mapping the old jnana terminology on to the new flow state terminology, or to engage in whatever enormous debates may exist around “samadhi,” but it seems that old jnana literature is what best describes the experience of people who do a deeply concentrated practice. And it has great instructions, whereas so far the literature on flow states (and its saccharine relative, the “positive psychology” literature) are all over the place.

From what I’m finding initially, it seems that the idea of jnanas was from the Theravada, but that systematic practice of concentration and absorbtion states became a “lost art” in the world of systematic deconstruction of the mind that is insight practice.

I’ve run across two teachers who have gone back to research and write about the old practices, and then taught them. One was Ayya Khema, who recovered them from bad translations of the Vissudi Maga that she mapped back on to her own experience. And there is is Shaila Catherine, who gave a 10 month silent retreat over to trying out the old descriptions of how to practice deep concentration and came back from it with something kind of profound to give. She’s unassuming and frumpy and female. Maybe this is why nobody is paying attention to the beautiful jewels she is shining up and leaving on the sidewalk.

But to me this sounds like a simple, clear agenda for how and why to concentrate.

I’ll drop some links in the comments section later, including an audio interview with one of Khema’s students and a google talk by Catherine.

:::EDIT::: Links added. The two podcasts are pretty inspiring.