Yep, back in 2008 I went on a 10-day retreat and ruined it for myself by writing a diary the whole time.

Goenka-style vipassana retreats have clear rules about the use of a diary (don’t), reading books (don’t) and doing yoga (well, you get the picture!) and I broke them all.

A dubious honour perhaps! At that time there weren’t many things I’d never have given up, but it happened to include journal writing, reading and yoga. All three are against the retreat Code of Discipline, which (me being me) I saw as a set of rules to break. While I loved the retreat, and other retreats I’ve done since, there were and still are aspects of the Goenka-style vipassana teachings that I don’t find helpful. The rule against journalling is one of them.

It’s my conviction that dedicated journal writers with a lot of experience are essentially practising insight meditation. I’m not talking about structured writing exercises, article writing or stories with a “beginning, middle and end”. I’m talking about streaming consciousness onto paper. It’s choiceless, objective, concentrated and based on the present moment (the mind-door rather than the touch-door). After keeping accurate journals for a year or two, one cannot help but stumble across the Three Characteristics (impermanence, misery and no-self).

I have no idea what the relative merits of journalling would be over something more traditional like vipassana, shikan taza or shamatha. Those sorts of conversations get old really fast anyway. The point is that I feel it helped my practice to keep this journal, and I can only imagine doing a course without one as an experiment … maybe another time.

[Editor: I’ve since done a Goenka course without journalling at all, and I did sink deeper into the practice. But since there’d been two years between courses, during which I’d meditated daily, plus attended a 21 day course in Thailand, it’s hard to say whether it was eliminating the writing practice that caused my increased traction, or whether it was natural progression.]

Without further ado, here are my mostly uncut journal entries from my first retreat, Days Zero through Five. Next week I will publish notes from the second half of the retreat.

Retreat begins with Day Zero, the arrival:

Day Zero :: Arrival :: 27 Dec 2008

Have arrived at Vipassana course. No room of my own: I am in a barn with 12 other men! Very dormitory-styles, although there are sheets strung between each bed and in front, to make curtained cubicles and give a little privacy.

The Men’s Manager reckons the barn is an experience and though I asked about rooms he sounded doubtful. I guess this course is especially busy being holiday-time for everyone.

I will not let it stop me from remaining OK with whatever comes along. In fact, it’s a great opportunity to practice & has already yielded a lot of feelings that I can watch.

At least there’s a flush toilet :-)

Day 1 :: 28 Dec 2008 :: 7:30am

OMG. I can completely understand how XYZ went manic in this place. I want to break every single rule and precept purely because everyone is acting so bloody devout! It’s like: give me a friggin’ break! You guys are just ordinary like me! Get over it!

All walking around as though already in pain, slumping in the shoulders and trudging. Trudging!

It’s a freaking miracle that we are here, alive, able to learn … and people take it like martyrs. Maybe I’m not getting something, but it’s driving me nuts.

This place is beautiful. Why so miserable?

Day 2 :: 29 Dec 2008

Things I like about this retreat:

[Editor: there are plenty of other things to like about these retreats, but I didn’t list them in this journal entry, instead I have embedded them in the later entries.]

Things I don’t like about this retreat:

Day 3 :: 30 Dec 2008

Nothing to report.

Day 4 :: 31 Dec 2008

Further things I don’t like about this retreat:

The Day 3 discourse is brilliant! Inspiring stuff about Gautama’s life. Goenka deconstructs reality down to wavelengths, wavelengths, wavelengths (I don’t buy all the pseudo-scientific clap-trap about kalapas tho ;-).

The Day 3 discourse is also very funny. “Today you are angry because your wife dropped hair in your soup, but last night you were saying ‘Oh, such beautful hair/So wonderful.’

“Where is beautiful?”

Agree with the main message from Goenka, that we must experience directly the Three Characteristics to attain “right understanding” of insight. This is in line with traditional Buddhist teachings.

What’s my middle way?

Me: v conceptual, intellectual, escapist. Lack bodily experience.

XYZ: has bodily experience of impermanence already? E.g. mood swings. Pushing to the limit and beyond to see what will happen. Lacks conceptual/intellectual understanding (“right thoughts” of insight).

Unresolved questions:

Day 5 :: 1 Jan 2009

Struggling with the vipassana technique. Have resolved to make the following mods until my sitting & sensing is stronger:

TOTAL: 69 parts.

During self-directed meditation periods I will use a clock, so that I don’t stop at a predictable place on the body. Otherwise it becomes a race to reach said part: not equanimous.

More positive reinforcement from teacher or Goenka would be helpful here. I wonder how many other people have these problems as beginners.

Obviously Goenka has experience himself, and Buddha’s message of anicca stunningly revolutionary to traditional Western thought. But I find that his teaching methods for vipassana are not entirely suitable for me, struggling with a lifetime of Western-style thinking. Instructions such as “have a balanced mind”, “remain perfectly equanimous” are frankly dangerous to anyone with my same sense of finely-honed perfectionism. Especially in an atmosphere like this retreat, which is so goal-oriented already. He should explain:

  1. How realistic it is for a beginner to have “perfect equanimity” (not very)
  2. How suppression can easily be mistaken for equanimity
  3. Some tricks to help people approach equanimity instead of just being told “remain equanimous”. It’s like: ok, but HOW?

E.g, for me the following help:

Also, his way of dealing with blind areas (to wait 1 minute then move further) is helpful to me, but not as described by him. He says “if no sensations after 1 minute, maybe next round. You will soon reach the stage where you can feel sensations over the entire body”. OMG! So much implicit goal-oriented grasping and clinging involved there, completely contradicting what he said earlier. How can one be equanimous but also hoping for sensation next round?

I deal with blind areas by having a very matter-of-fact, on-the-job conversation with myself. “Got anything here?” (e.g. left temple) … “No? … Ok, fine … How about now? No? Ok, fine… How about now? No? Ok, fine… How about now? Yes? Ok, fine. Next… Got anything here?”

Like a supervisor of longshoremen, going through a manifest. Tick tick tick Cross Cross Tick Tick Tick Tick. Neither the longshoremen nor their supervisor particularly care about crosses or the ticks … they care about an accurate inventory of what was on board the ship. The laws of trade will deal with missing cargo. Same as missing sensations — leave it to dharma (the law of nature) as Goenka himself keeps saying.

Further things I don’t like about this retreat:

Leave A Comment, Written on June 16th, 2013 & filed under

Snippet I

Darcy had been in prison at least a fortnight, but still didn’t know his cell-mate’s name. He called him The Wretch.

Lamp-light from the guards’ table filtered through the barred door. It glistened across The Wretch’s ill-sweating forehead and illuminated the bristly beard that sprouted, mould-like, in all directions. The Wretch muttered to himself often, and occasionally spoke to Darcy, but the words were lost to his whiskers and Darcy had no wish to reply. The sick woman down the hall offered her own accompanying moans.

The Wretch was a favourite with the guards, but not in a good way. Though the man rarely spoke, and did little to antagonise them other than lie on his rags and whisper, it was uncommon for the guards to enter the cell without kicking, insulting, or at least spitting upon his desperate, caved-in face. One time a couple of guards, obviously bored, entered the room, tied the prisoner’s hands and took turns to drag him around the room by the thick iron collar shackled to his throat.

Shackled to his starving throat, Darcy corrected himself. Since his own imprisonment, he had seen the guards feed the Wretch less than a handful of times.

Previous missions from the Spectral Archipelago of his birth had called this nation a “kindred antipodean state”, but those reports were filed almost a century ago. During that time, Darcy had discovered, the political system of this remote empire had fallen corrupt, and was now functionally the same as the tyrranies of the South. He had found only legislative lip-service to the power-sharing regime his precursors had written of, so that now the Free Samuryan State of older times existed in name only.

Help from his homeland was unlikely. He had been trained to establish a network of allies in any foreign country, and to rely on them for support. His only communication with home for the last three years had been covert espionage reports passed through his spice trading front. Fewer than six months ago, he had received his first personal update from home: news of the death of his mother. About time, he supposed.

There was little his superiors could do in any case. The distances between Samurya and the Archipelago were so great that any aid they raised would not arrive for a year at least. His only hope of rescue lay in the friends he had established in this now hostile land. Although they had good reason to pursue his release, they were lawful people and would follow the correct, lengthy, procedures. It was unlikely that the idea of covert escape would even occur to them.

Imprisoned, while his clothing rotted and his beard grew unchecked and his skin crawled with lice and his bones ached with cold? Linger, in the flickering light of lantern or brand, to forever crave sunlight, and the blue sky, and the smutty whisper of a summer breeze?

Never. This prison would fall before that happened.

Snippet II

To most people receiving such news laughter was an unlikely response. The source was trustworthy, and the outlook indeed grim. But nonetheless, peering at the note by reflected lamplight, Darcy felt a wheezy chuckle open up in his chest. He had long since reduced his circle of concern down to the personal misery of his own imprisonment. Each prisoner was the same: an island of self-sympathy. It was impossible to give a damn about anyone else in a place like that. Even the impending horror to be wreaked by the arrival of elven hordes meant nothing to Darcy anymore, except in how it may aid his escape home.

Darcy’s auxiliary had obviously written the note hastily, yet he recognised her delicate touch on the parchment, the hated word spelled out with obscure Askalleran pictograms to retain secrecy. Mustering a brief moment of pity for this land, he shook his head. Elves this far south? It was too bad. The pattern of fay migrations had altered drastically in the last few decades. The nomadic elves would crawl like winter through every crack in this land’s defences.

Despite the on-coming devastation, however, Darcy focussed on his own predicament. It wouldn’t help anyone, he thought, to die of starvation in an abandoned prison, or to become a victim himself of the elven fanatics. Indeed, Askallera and the Spectral Archipelago must be warned at all costs, that the northern faerie hosts were now roaming beyond the frozen wastes. It was only a matter of time before their southern cousins began to do likewise.

Ironically, the Samuryans’ new-found hatred of the gift had served him well. Although the Samuryan guards obviously possessed tools for locating the general use of magic, he could lay subtle wards with impunity, the aetheric ripple of their power held in check, undetectable until he invoked them. The ward of weakening he had laid on his shackles weeks ago still held, awaiting his command.

Darcy shivered. The temperature in the prison had dropped considerably since the last meal. Pulling his ragged blanket closer around his neck, he began to plan.

First would come the subjugated beast scouts, perversions of natural creatures. These were sub-sentient, controlled remotely by their wardens, the true elven scouts. Following behind, in vanguard to the real host, would come the ancients: demented, suicidal, rejected by their own for their age, driven forwards by the chaotic ranks of the cannibalistic clerics and mages. Behind them, the teeming Fallen Elf foot soldiers, thousands upon thousands of evil descendants of that once proud race; and finally, the Dark Elf minority: cold, calculating, utterly in control and utterly ruthless, urging the entire host forward with the subliminal chatter of their violent dreams.

The time to escape, Darcy mused, was during the period of early panic, before the countryside was completely overrun. This would come while the elven beast scouts roamed the fields at night, savaging the unwary, and rumour began to roll the eyes of the townsfolk.

Darcy tucked long grey hair behind his ears. The Samuryan people would lose their nerve early. Living in fear of their own leaders, the more able and those with the lowest morale would begin to flee long before the general evacuation order came from the so-called Senate. Desertions from the military were likely. In fact, Darcy began to doubt that in the face of such a threat the Samuryan military could even carry out an orderly evacuation.

He pursed his lips. Every man for himself. So much the better, he thought.

Still, it was one thing to hide from and outwit the beast scouts and the ancients — both were little more than animals after all, ruled by bloodlust, and anything with bloodlust could be deceived, turned upon themselves. It was quite another to be in the path of the religious elven warrior-monks, backed by rank upon rank of true elven soldiers, foul, fallen, yet nonetheless exquisitely graceful, organised and cruelly skillful. He must be rid of this land before the clerics arrived, else he would become yet another victim of their hatred for the free.

Leave A Comment, Written on June 9th, 2013 & filed under
Take words,
penned between points
en route to Delhi,

camel carried rubies
from broken lands,
to Istanbul

where your wailing song
beats the cool white brick,
the warm blue tile.

Yearn,
hold back our Bosporous
saline etch.

Where East and West mingle
take myrrh
and sprinkle it,

let flaccid sails unfurl,
thrum taut; groaning,
embrace your guilty love.

Such salted gulf between us,
your many-dreamed return
on worrying wind from Istanbul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The newly tweaked version of a poem I wrote back in 2009. Please share~~ poetry wants to be free :)

Leave A Comment, Written on June 1st, 2013 & filed under ,

dying-earthRIP Jack Vance, star-dreamer and father of space pirates, aged 97. A favourite of mine since I was a teen.

The image is a cover from his Dying Earth series. You can toast his long life on http://foreverness.jackvance.com

Leave A Comment, Written on May 31st, 2013 & filed under

The birth was not homely in the end. Despite thirty-one hours of candle-light and warm flannels, it came down to fluorescent bulbs and forceps — a tragedy for the father, who feared failing labour like a University exam. But the mother was just pleased to have her little boy latching on, in the multiple ways that a newborn does. In the boy’s – Darcy’s – innocence, her comfort. “I love you, Marion,” the father offered. His concern stifled the hot summer theatre.

In the months before Darcy’s birth, the river had been a place of solace to Marion. Afternoons with his two sisters had drifted by in the patterns of the clouds, in the habits of the ducks that lived there. While feeding them, Michelle had once forgotten to let go of the bread after an exuberant wind-up and had thrown herself in among them. Dear wee tot, bellowing in her bovine way at the unfairness of the world. Marion had waded through oxygen weed and stagnant mud then, to pull her oldest child to safety. The cool water had soothed her itching abdomen and the bubbles that rose like bath-farts from the swampy river-bed had turned Michelle’s upset into hysteria. Kids were so easy to please!

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave A Comment, Written on May 25th, 2013 & filed under

Dear reader,

Thanks for coming around. This site has been out of action for some time!

I’m a binge-writer. I go through long horrible dry spells and then short periods of wonderfully intoxicated activity.

In an effort to smooth out the ride I’ve built up a backlog of content that I will upload one piece at a time. Hopefully it will be enough to feed the site with fresh meat even while I’m sober and miserable.

Luckee

Leave A Comment, Written on May 19th, 2013 & filed under
The ponies run
The girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while
And then it's done
You're little winning streak
And it's over now
To deal, with your invincible defeat
You live your life
As if it's real
A thousand kisses deep

I'm turning tricks
I'm getting fixed
I'm back on boogie street
You loose your grip
And then you slip
Into the masterpiece
And maybe I
Had miles to drive
And promises to keep
You ditch it all
To stay alive
A thousand kisses deep

And sometimes when
The night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up
Our hearts and gold
A thousand kisses deep

Confined to sex
We pressed against
The limits of the sea
I saw there were
No oceans left
For scavangers like me
I made it to
The forward deck
I blessed the rambling fleet
And then content
To be wrecked
A thousand kisses deep

I'm turning tricks
I'm getting fixed
I'm back on boogie street
I guess they won't
Exchange the gift
That you were meant to keep
And quiet is the thought of you
The file on you complete
Except what we
Forgot to do
A thousand kisses deep

And sometime when
The night is slow
The wretched and the meek
We gather up
Our hearts and gold
A thousand kisses deep
The ponies run
The girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while
And then its done
Your little winning streak
And it's over now
To deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if its real
A thousand kisses deep

My Thoughts

That’s what we do, isn’t it? Sail beyond sight of land, out to the deep, blue water, with only our childhood memories as a compass. When we see a sail on the horizon … we drift closer. Check it out. Sail, sink or swim together for a while … and then if we’re still alive, we drift apart.

I think he’s a bit morose about drifting away, and sure separating can be incredibly painful. Two minds that were once entwined are suddenly ripped apart again, and there’s this time during which the ragged edges just hang in the rift, fluttering. People say unhelpful things like “plenty more fish in the sea” or “it’s not as if somebody died”. But I think it IS as if somebody dies. And there’s not even a funeral or anything. No gathering of family from around the country to mourn the loss.

Yet still, it’s what we do; the way we are. We pretend to mean “forever” when actually we just mean “for now”. It might go better for everyone if we weren’t raised with Disneywood images of happily-ever-after. They are just the decaying scaffolding of Catholicism anyway. Bloody Walt Disney’s got a lot to answer for in my book.

A breakup needn’t involve trashing the friendship. The sad thing is, most people let it.

Your interpretations and thoughts are very welcome and appreciated!

I also found a spoken-word version of the poem (YouTube) that’s even more powerful I think.

2 Comments, Written on May 19th, 2013 & filed under

Reading over my old archives from Rigpa Glimpse of the Day, I found an entry from way back on the 13th November 2009:

Imagine a blind turtle roaming the depths of an ocean the size of the universe. Up above floats a wooden ring, tossed to and fro on the waves. Every hundred years, the turtle comes, once, to the surface. To be born a human being is said by Buddhists to be more difficult than for that turtle to surface accidentally with its head poking through the wooden ring.

Gods, it is said, whether one believes in them literally or as a mythical notion to illustrate some truth, are less fortunate than us. Being unaware of misery, they have no chance of realising enlightenment.

Humans are to my mind deeply meshed in samsara yet endowed with a dream of something beyond it — and it is the disparity between these two factors that leads to misery and thence enlightenment. Gods live that dream, have no disparity and are therefore unable to connect with the truth of things. Demons do not dream so will never lift themselves into a connected state — always closed, always selfish, they suffer constantly yet never question it.

Humans are privy to all the darkest secrets of the Universe, largely to overwhelming effect, yet occasionally one comes who can bring light to shine, through their openness and compassion.

When the shit hits the fan, you keep your heart open.
Pema Chödrön

Leave A Comment, Written on March 4th, 2012 & filed under ,

This 15 minute, down-to-earth talk touches on natural building, sustainable seed management and above all, living a life of quality. I hope you find it inspirational.

Pun Pun is a sustainability centre and organic farm near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. More information at the video and at the Pun Pun website.

Don’t have 15 minutes? Simplify your life. And in the meantime, here’s my takeaway:

“Life is easy. The four basic needs: food, house, clothes and medicine must be cheap and easy for everybody. That’s civilization. But if you make this whole thing very hard for many people to get it, that is uncivilized. I feel like it’s wrong. It’s not normal. I just want to come back to normal. Like a bird — builds a nest in one or two days. Or a rat, digs a hole in one night. But the clever human like us — spends 30 years to have a house!”

Leave A Comment, Written on February 17th, 2012 & filed under , , ,

Looking for Tiny Homes inspiration? Rowdy Kittens has a detailed post about their new Tiny Home, including picture galleries of the design, build and completed project. Make sure to check out the Q&A section below the galleries too!

Leave A Comment, Written on February 17th, 2012 & filed under