Matt: I was completely there (the 3-day retreat experience in March 2014)
Before the retreat I was apprehensive but also excited. I was about to leave Taiwan and wanted to achieve something from the retreat. By achievement, I mean that I wanted to reach a significantly higher level with my meditation. I knew that my leg pain was a huge issue and was going to be a huge issue on the retreat.
When I arrived, I made the decision that I would try my best to concentrate throughout the retreat. I knew that the only way I would be able to survive was by doubting with all my will.
From the first meditation session I felt pain in my legs. I persisted and continued with my doubting question and following the sensation of doubt. I tried to maintain the position of not knowing anything and aimed to maintain this mindset of not knowing. I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what is no self.
Linda mentioned that we should try to find our beginners mind and I took this to heart. I tried to remember the first time I visited the none center and also questioned all of my beliefs about meditation and zen.
I continued to doubt in this way for the first four sessions. I reached a state where could see all of my thoughts coming one after another and all of my body and brain movements at the same time. I doubted on all of these till the point that I no longer had to ask doubting questions or had to think what to doubt upon. I doubted on everything at the same time and needed no words to contain this doubt. I was joyous and confident. This lasted until lunchtime of the first day.
Then I noticed that I only had brought one hoody. I meant to pick another one up as I left but had forgot. I became agitated with myself and angry at my negligence. I was worried I would get too sweaty and be uncomfortable with only one hoody. I started to think of strategies of how I could survive with only one hoody.
When I sat down in the afternoon I still carried this agitation and found it difficult to concentrate. I tried to focus on my doubt but could not generate strong enough doubt. I continuously tried different methods and then tried to relax more before trying to doubt again. In this way I dug myself into an endless whole. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but could not get out. Suddenly the pain began to hit. I tried to doubt on the pain, but to no avail. I kept thinking ‘why could I doubt so clearly and well in the morning but not now?’ ..’How can I reach a beginners mind again?’ . The pain got worse and became unbearable in the evening. I was eternally thankful with every last cell in my body when we were told we could go to bed.
The second day took a similar pattern. I started with the same level of vigor and told myself that this would be the day no matter what. I would continue to doubt on everything with all my heart throughout the morning. I reached an even deeper level of meditation than the previous day. Like the day before I no longer had to think what to doubt upon or even to doubt. I could see all of my mind and its vastness in unison with all my bodily feelings and pain. I doubted on everything and asked ‘if this is no self, what is no self?’. My pain was no more than an intellectual matter and no different from any other phenomenon presenting itself to me. I actually took pleasure from my pain as it was so strong that I could generate a lot of doubt from it, At this point I was even sad when the bell rung and could not wait to get on the cushion for the next session.
However, the afternoon of the second day was more disastrous than that of the first. I’m not sure why but once again I found it hard to concentrate and doubt. I became so exhausted that it became impossible to doubt on anything. I felt so pathetic. My only question became ‘who is this pathetic creature sitting here?’. The pain was so real and extreme that I wanted to cry and beg for mercy. From around 8, I was so exhaused that I begun to hallucinate. Every time I closed my eyes I could see objects moving. I was pathetic, defeated and in pain.
The final day I had no grand ambition. I just doubted on every thought and phenomenon, asking ‘who is the one experiencing this?’ ‘if there is no self, how can I be experiencing this?’ ‘If this is no self, what is no self?’ ‘what is no self?’. I did not try to answer the question, just followed the doubt as long as I could and asked another question. I used the same process for body movements, sounds, ideas, thoughts and even consciousness itself. I did not reach any amazing levels like the previous days, but my doubt was continuous. Every time I stumbled, I started the process in this manner. I also tried to doubt on everything in the break periods.
Linda mentioned we were afraid of pain. When I sat after this I became aware of this fact and doubted on my fear. That session the pain reached a new level of extremity, the pain was bigger than my body itself, a deep white all-encompassing pain. I was deep in my meditation and tried to doubt on this pain. Two thoughts kept blocking me though ‘this pain is too ridiculously unbearable’ and ‘how can i last till the bell?’. I had meditated through the pain before and knew that if I doubted deeply, I could go past the pain. However, this time it was pointless. I asked ‘who is the person feeling this pain?’ but in the back of my mind I knew I was really looking for a way to escape the pain. I tried to doubt on something else, my breath, my body movements, sounds, but it was pointless. Finally, I had no choice to accept that this pain was me and asked ‘if this pain is no self, what is no self?’ . Calculations about how to avoid the pain or how to doubt my way out of pain arose but I continued to ask this question and focused on it. The pain did not recede, there was nowhere to go. I was aware that this was truly me, it was truly me feeling this pain, I was completely there and just knew that this pain was no self and I did not know what that was. The answer would only come from going forward. My mind did not move after this, I did not try to escape the pain or accept it, I just truly asked the question. I realized that this pain was my great fear from the last three days and to truly know myself I needed to face the pain.
When the session ended, I continued to doubt on the pain as I massaged my leg. ‘if there is no self, how can there be this pain, what is no self?’. There is an I, but it is constantly changing (the pain had begun to recede), I had no idea who it was. There is no self, but I did not know what this meant. After this session, the doubt flowed naturally like a stream. I had faced myself and realized that I truly did not know. I could doubt on every last body movement, brain movement, sounds etc. All were no self and I had no idea what that meant. I no longer tried to intellectualize the question or tried to reach higher levels of understanding, I just asked. The final session was completely harmonious and completely in doubt.
The retreat was singularly one of the best things and worst things I have ever done. I say myself, from being pathetic to truly joyful. Even though at time I could have broken down and cried, I now feel I know what it means to doubt. Since the retreat I have taken this into my daily life. I don’t know who I am, I don’t know what is no self and I truly want to know. I will never give up. In the last week I have felt immensely joyful and in the moment. There really is only now. ***** Check for more Students’ Sharing *****