In November 2015 my life circumstances underwent a rare convergence of events, all sorts of things fell into place, and I was able to participate in a one-month Co-working Retreat Program at the Center for Mindful Learning in Vermont (I highly recommend this retreat center).
As excited as I was, I was also quite terrified.
Not a lot of Formal Sitting practice but…
I hadn’t been to a formal retreat for decades and my daily routine did not include a formal sitting practice. (I had however been “sitting” once a week with my wife, my brothers and a few close friends for a few decades).
I started into the retreat with 6 to 8 hours of sitting a day, to find myself actually settling into some fairly deep states. This surprised not only me, but the wonderful, wise, and compassionate Soryu Foral, the Founder and Head Monk at the Center. While he did not say it or show it explicitly I believe he was more than little intrigued – how was it that I, a “householder” with no formal daily practice, was already obtaining depth-experiences normally associated with long retreat settings or years of formal daily meditation practice. So what was going on?
There are two factors that makes sense to me. One is that I did have a series of in-life practices I did routinely, on and off, over the decades. Things like doing mantras while commuting to work, or placing my attention solely on sensory processes while walking and driving, being vigilant to not to let my mind wander while working with my clients, etc. The other was being deeply involved in what I call “Purification Process.”
The Magic of a Purification Practice
My Purification Practice is the Nedera Process I teach. I would “Neder” myself when I had strong and emotionally challenging interactions with clients, family, or friends. NEDER basically teaches you how to use the activation in your body to guide the process of discovering what you’re feeling emotionally. It’s part of the Bio-Emotive Framework I’ve developed and is used for processing current activation and old emotional scars. It’s actually quite a profound tool and once you’ve gotten skilled at it, you can use it to follow and work with all sorts of subtle energetic processes.
In doing my purification/ Neder practice, I’d discover and sit with the emotion, the interpersonal feelings, and the core feelings associated with an event, experiencing them fully, and crying about it when the energies were big enough. Over the years of doing that practice, not only was I making peace with and clearing lots of the emotional baggage of my past, but I found myself also moving forward in life without accumulating further baggage.
So how did all of this Purification work affect my meditation? Well its all in keeping with what I had learned intellectually a few years back while I was running and meditation group with my wife Darlene Tataryn. After doing a few exercises where people wrote down samples of their mind chatter, we all came to see, intellectually and experientially, that most of our mind chatter was being generated by activated and unresolved feelings. This is why, when I sat down to meditate at the Center, I didn’t have as much mind-chatter as most people: by cleaning my emotional system up during my daily life – processing and resolving my experiences and past as they got activated – there was no back log of issues and feelings vying for my attention. Thus I was able to move into deep states of absorption/ Samadhi/ Jhana relatively easily.
Facing my Feeling Demon(s)
I don’t want to imply that my retreat was all bliss and ecstasy. I had a few little emotional run-ins and postural pains to deal with from sitting so long at one time. There was one fairly big challenge I faced during my retreat time that was both fascinating and excruciatingly painful to go through.
It reared its head on my 3rd day of sitting. It was a physical pain under the right front side of my rib-cage that occurred after I sat for more than an hour. I can’t say it was painful, but it was excruciatingly scary to me. There is something about the pain that scared me to my depths and try as I might, some part of me just did not want to face it.
Luckily I’m smart enough to know that avoidance doesn’t work. So, I acknowledged and pushed through my fears, tuned into that spot on my body, and meditated on those painful and scary sensations.
Suddenly I began to see that my projections about being at the meditation retreat Center was part of the pain.
I had been ruminating on and off since I got there about having to submit to the rigorous and structured daily routine of the center. Up at 4:30, chanting by 5:15, meditation for an hour, an hour of exercise, silent breakfast, more meditation, etc. etc.
Why was I thinking “submit, submit, submit”, when I put myself here voluntarily? As I deepened into the excruciating sensations in my ribs, I suddenly flashed back to being eight or ten years old and being held down by four or five of my siblings while one was randomly tapping me on my forehead and my chest. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hit and bite. But I couldn’t. Not only could I not move a single body part more than in inch, screaming or yelling would just show my siblings that I was weak, that they had got to me, and I would have lost, acknowledging their domination not only of my body but of my soul.
As I named and felt the helplessness, a deep wailing cry began to emerge from my chest. A pain that I had locked into the muscles of my body and held inside for decades and decades of my life was now finding voice (ironically in a silent meditation retreat). Tears streamed down my face and I sobbed without making a sound, fully experiencing the feelings of helplessness and having deep insights into all the issues I had expereinced throughout my adult life and career around not wanting to be controlled by others, my resistance to submitting to authority etc.
My Take Home Lesson
Well that was it. Forty-five minutes later I could sit peacefully and the pain was gone, never to return for the rest of the meditation or the retreat.
Reflecting on this, I started to appreciate how “disidentified” with my emotional processes I am, and how powerful that is, largely as a result of my meditation practice over the years.
I was able to dive-deeply into my emotional experience, because I wasn’t afraid of it, or at least not willing to run from it because of that fear. I didn’t have to make big stories about ignoring or transcending my emotions, because I have the tools to work with them.
I understood that my pain and mind-chatter was simply manifesting the psycho-emotional holding pattern in my body-mind, and that I had do something about it if I wanted to release the pain and deepen my practice (and suffer less around the structure of the retreat).
The moral of the story and my life lesson, at least to me, is that as awesome as meditation is, doing emotional clearing/ purification work just makes that meditation process so much easier and has so many other benefits as well.
This experience also speaks to the Integral insight on Spirituality, that it’s not just a one dimensional process, that life and our journey of transformation is not just about just Waking up (the goal of most meditation practices). Cleaning up is also an important part of becoming a clear and lucid and compassionate human being. In other blogs I will also talk about the other two facets of transformation, Growing up and Looking Around/ Showing up!
Do you have an experience of facing your feeling demons in a meditation retreat? Please share how you handled it and the affect it had on your practice and life.
Dr. Douglas J Tataryn