Archive for the ‘Insight Meditation’ Category

If you look at a hurricane from space,  you see a well-organized, beautiful object.  If you are in the middle of one, the experience is brutal and deadly.

Expectations can be the same way.

I’ve spent the day struggling with being attached to expectations, and it has been like being in the middle of a storm.   I’ve felt battered and shaken from one side to the other by unexpected changes.

It started last night when the weather report predicted four to six inches of snow.  I looked forward to a nice walk in deeper snow.  I woke this morning to find almost no new snow.

Then the dentist called and offered me an appointment today (for a crown preparation) instead of tomorrow.  That sounded great, so we hurried to get ready.  By the time we were ready to leave a half hour later, it was snowing steadily.  A round trip of more than 80 miles in uncertain weather and road conditions seemed imprudent, so I rescheduled that appointment.

The snow Sunday was cold, fine snow that blew off the trees in mists of snowflakes.  Today’s snow was heavy and wet, falling off trees with a thump like a wet rag.  I did get out for a walk in the afternoon.  Instead of the bracing cold, dry weather of Sunday, wet snow was falling and almost immediately melting and soaking my coat.  Instead of sun breaks lighting up the snowy landscape, the clouds were dark and heavy.

I needed windshield wipers for my glasses with this snow!  My winter coat will need a day to dry out.  With greater caution needed for more slippery conditions, the walk wasn’t as easy as a few days ago.

I spent the day struggling with attachments to expectations.  It was hard slogging.  Meditating several times helped.  It was not until late evening that I began to feel lighter.

When I’m not feeling attached, I can go through the day like this with a “Wow! Look at what is happening now!” attitude.  It’s like looking at a hurricane from space–you can see the destructive forces as a thing of beauty.  I’ve reached the point where I can take mostly that view of my attachments to expectations today.

Which doesn’t mean the attachments and suffering won’t happen all over again tomorrow!

Several teachers have given talks on expectations.  Berget Jelane has a talk on expectations at the Insight Meditation Center that I found helpful.  Click  here to listen to that talk.

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Snow Buddha

Snowy Buddha

Snowy Buddha

May all beings be
free from animosity,
free from oppression,
free from trouble,
and may they look after
themselves with ease!

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It would be nice to learn from experience!

As I wrote on Tuesday, I applied mindfulness very successfully for reducing pain to simple sensation while having laser pulses to my retina.  This morning, I did something that resulted in low back pain.  Did I explore treating that just as sensation?  No, I forgot completely about that possibility and worried about what might be happening.  I went directly to using ice and resting to resolve the pain.  After I woke up from a nap, I realized what I had forgotten to do.

For better or worse, by that time, the pain was gone.

Well, maybe next time—and there will be a next time—I’ll remember to practice being mindful! “Practice” is certainly the correct word to use. It takes practice, practice, and more practice at being mindful.

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Note: Location of retreat has changed to the Port Townsend Yacht Club.

Heather Martin, Vipassana teacher from Salt Spring Vipassana Community, will lead a two-day retreat in Port Townsend, WA in January.  Several sangha members have attended retreats led by Heather and are very enthusiastic.  I’ve found her Dharma talks to be excellent.  Teresa and I are looking forward to the retreat.

Reservations are requested so that we know how many people to plan for.  The following is the announcement message from Selden of the Port Townsend sangha.


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This Monday was a lot easier than last Monday!

As I wrote last week, I have proliferative diabetic retinopathy.  This is being treated by pan retinal photocoagulation (PRP), or lots of laser pulses to the retina. On my treatment last week, I was able to tolerate only 200 laser pulses.  I slept like I was drugged for the rest of the day and did not feel well the next day.

This week, I had 700 laser pulses.  My discomfort level after 700 was less than my discomfort level last week after the first 100!  After the treatment, I was full of energy, active through the remainder of the day, and felt fine the next day.

What has made the experience so difference this time?

There are three major changes between last week and this: physiology, medication, and preparation and mindfulness.

Physiologically, sensitivity of the retina is not uniform.  Some areas are nearer to nerves and some farther away.  It’s possible that the first treatment hit the most sensitive areas and the second treatment hit less sensitive areas.  While that’s possible, the doctor gave me no reason to believe that was a factor.

Last week, I took a Vicodin after the treatment to alleviate pain.  I don’t know that it did much.  This week, I tried one before going in for treatment.   Comparing the most intense pains from both weeks, I would say that the Vicodin may have dulled the pain slightly but that it was not a significant factor.  This agreed with the doctor’s observation that she had  not found Vicodin to be helpful.

I see preparation and mindfulness as the key changes.  Last week, I drove an hour to the appointment, so my mind was very busy before the procedure.  I was also complacent about the pain, having been through the experience twice before—forgetting that the first time was four years ago and I was sedated and numbed the second time. Last week, I paid no particular attention to my posture, breathing, or to the sensations.  Every laser pulse felt like pain—some of it very intense.

This time I did it very differently!  Teresa drove to the appointment while I listened first to a guided meditation on healing and then to an excellent talk by Gil Fronsdal on Pain.  When I sat in front of the machine, I arranged some back support and made my posture as erect as possible.

During the procedure itself, I had to stay very still and keep my eyes focused straight ahead.  I paid regular attention to my breath to be sure I was breathing regularly and deeply.  I watched my posture to be sure I didn’t curve my back and shoulders to slouch—postures that would reinforce feelings of pain and fear.

Most importantly, I watched carefully the sensations accompany each laser pulse.  I watched with a sense of curiosity, asking myself “what, exactly, is this sensation, and this one, and this one, and this one….” If you’ve ever had an eye exam with a slit viewer, you know how bright and uncomfortable a light can be.  Every laser pulse was a flash of ultra-bright light.  Most of the pulses were accompanied by a sensation I can best describe as the back of the eyeball being pricked with a needle; the experience was sometimes more intense than others.  Some of those pinpricks were accompanied by a strong shooting pain, like a lightning strike from the eye to the left forehead.  (I speculate that the shooting pain was the result of a pulse hitting on or very near a nerve.)

I had nowhere near the pain as I did a week ago.  We were able to do 700 laser pulses before the discomfort level made it seem advisable to stop.

Now that we have a cumulative total of 900 laser pulses, it’s time to wait and see how my eye responds.  My next appointment is in early January.  After an exam, we’ll decide whether more laser pulses or whether another shot of Avastin might be the better treatment.

What is pain, anyway?

This experience has led me to a new understanding of pain.

In the Bahiya Sutta, the Buddha says “let sensation simply be sensation….”  In other words, don’t add anything to the sensation.  It seems to me that what when we say pain, we always include an element of aversion.

Dharma talks typically distinguish between pain and suffering.  To me, it seems that the important distinction is between sensation and pain, with suffering just more mind accumulation around pain.  I now see pain as sensation plus the emotional experience that the sensation is unpleasant.

If you “let sensation simply be sensation,” then anything added is just mental proliferation.  Add unpleasant, and the sensation becomes pain.  Add pleasant and the sensation becomes pleasure.

Now that’s a thought with unexpected ramifications!  Is pleasure a mental proliferation just as pain is?

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I used to get massages regularly, but have been dissuaded partly by my current insurance not covering it and partly by my focus on recovering from cardiac bypass surgery in April. I finally feel completely healed from the surgery and scheduled a massage last week.

When I get a massage, I focus my attention on sensation while keeping my breathing deep and regular. I view the sensation as a way to bring my attention to exactly what is happening in my body—in essence a mindfulness exercise. I follow the the moving hands, noticing which muscles are tight, which are relaxed, and how everything feels. It’s as if the moving fingers were continually saying: “Notice this. Notice this. Notice this.”

I track and notice sensation for about half of the massage. About half way through, I seem to tire of noticing and fall half asleep. But then it’s time to turn over and do the other side, so that wakes me back up—for a while anyway.

After a massage, I am much more aware of body sensations and posture. I find that I sit differently and hold myself differently. These changes last for several days, until habitual patterns reassert themselves.

I’ll get another massage in two weeks or so to refresh my body awareness.  I’ve found that as I get beyond the second massage, the benefits seem to be less.  It’s as if I were getting used to the massage and no longer receiving the same benefits.  I think that the massage penetrates the defenses until the defenses learn how to keep themselves intact.

The bottom line is that I’ll get a couple of massages then wait for perhaps six months before getting another one.  Changing masseuses “restarts the clock” as each masseuse has her own style and that reaches through defenses in different ways.

Anyway, I feel physically more relaxed.  That’s good, because tomorrow will be my next laser eye treatment!

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Smaller than a credit card, only 1/4″ thick, it holds 1,500 hours of Dharma talks—more than I’ll listen to in many years.  That’s my new mp3 player: a Sansa Fuze with 16gb of memory. (more…)

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