It is February 14, 2018 as I write this post.
I arrived at Koinonia on February 1. Thanks to the generous army veteran that gave me a ride all the way from the bus terminal, I arrived in time to settle into my room in the Fuller house and meditate before heading to dinner at 6pm.
The first several days I worked pruning and weeding grape vines. The weather was perfect for it most days, cool enough to wear long sleeves but warm enough to not need a winter hat. Some of the time I had interns to work with, or Steve my former apartment mate from when I was in intern here, and some of the time I worked alone. Like most work on the farm, it was familiar and easy enough for me to stay in mindfulness mode.
The farm currently has nine interns, four who started last year and five that arrived this year. On the first Sunday I was here, the last two new ones arrived in time for the potluck and devotions service. I’m enjoying getting to know all of them and it is fun remembering what it was like when I was in their shoes, having just arrived three years ago.
On Monday the five new interns all shared their spiritual stories, and then signed their intern agreements, just like my group did back in 2015. It was great to have a chance to hear them and I really appreciate that I was allowed to be there. For me this is an important practice of intentional community: making the space and time to get to know each other pretty deeply, as soon as is practical after a new person arrives. The new interns all did a wonderful job, courageously sharing even aspects of their past which they weren’t as proud of and that challenged them and / or their families.
It is incredible to me that it was only 3 years ago that I was starting my internship here. It feels more like 5-6. That has been the way my time sense has been lately, kind of stretched. The old adage “time flies when you’re having fun” doesn’t apply though, because I have been having a wonderful time even though it seems to be crawling. I think it is because I’ve been changing so much in the last 6 years, since I left my last computer programming job and started to take up spiritual practice as my primary, nearly full time priority.
The quality of my life experience has shifted so much in those years, especially in the last 3. If you have read the About the Author section of my book “Faith to Practice: Foundations of Happiness” (which is in the Kindle edition free sample) or certain parts of the history page here on my blog, you know what I mean.
I’ve been given permission to do a presentation on the ideas in my book for the folks here at the farm. I almost gave it last night, but it has been postponed until next Monday night so that more of the interns can come; it had been scheduled at a time that they would have been too tired, since they also had dinner clean-up duty and a study session the same evening. That will give me more time to polish up the presentation (I’ve created a set of PowerPoint slides). I’ll include a link to it in my next post, and I might even manage to make a video.
There is an “old intern” (meaning he started last year and has been here 5 months or more) named John that sometimes gets up early enough to meditate with me for 30-40 minutes before chapel. That has been nice. I’ve been getting to bed early enough to still do my morning routine of taking a walk before going back to bed for sleep witnessing meditation for an hour or so before I sit with him.
I’ve managed to do some sleep witnessing in the middle of the night and in the morning when I awake, without getting up and going for a walk first. I don’t know if this is a trend or just a couple of flukes; lately I’ve only been able to do it as part of my morning routine, or during the day if I’m not too tired. Like last weekend.
Saturday I did a few extra sleep witnessing meditation sessions, taking it as a mini solo retreat of sorts. I still did some regular activities, talked to folks, etc. when I wasn’t practicing, so it was pretty informal. I did walking meditation on the farm road between sessions, which was pretty sweet.
Last Sunday, I went to a Salvation Army church with John and his wife Evelyn, plus two of the new interns, Stephanie & Gabriel. I liked that the worship was very accessible, using projected videos for some of the lessons and words to songs, but I found it less engaging spiritually than a more tradional service. The bible passage and first lesson of the day, taught by our Koinonia friend John, was from Samual 1, about the story of King David. I hadn’t remembered the story, even though we share names, so it was good to review! The whole service was long: we started at 10am and were done at 12:45pm or so; there was a second adult Sunday school lesson that started around noon. I like their mission emphasis to help people that are financially disadvantaged. The church is in Albany, which is about a 40 minute drive, so it would be time and fuel consuming to be very involved with the mission work from Koinonia.
When I teach current moment mindfulness meditation, I suggest a number of different techniques and let each student experiment until they find the one that works for them. If they try a technique and find that thoughts are coming often and turning into thought trains before they realize they are thinking, I recommend they try keeping their attention on some additional thing. So for example, if following the breath is not enough, they could follow the breath and count from 1 to N on the in breath and out breath. My philosophy is to use a technique that involves keeping the attention on as few facets as possible while still remaining in the current moment and fairly thought-free.
In that light, I’ve made another change to my meditation technique, which seems to be working out well. In the last three years, I’ve gone through a process of gradually simplifying what I focus my attention on during meditation:
- In March of 2015, I started following my breath and heart beat, counting each “lub-dub” (three beats) on the in breath and thinking the phrase “I am” on the fourth “lub-dub” at the top and then doing the same heartbeat counting process on the out breath.
- At some point that first year I stopped counting each heartbeat.
- At the end of December, 2017, I stopped thinking the “I am” phrase.
- In January 2018, I switched to focusing on the space between the “lub” and “dub” of my heart beat and the pause between the in and out breaths. I was moving towards meditating on awareness itself, because Nisargardatta has said to some seekers, “You must stay aware of your awareness.” Honestly, I did not know how what he meant or to do that, so this was an experiment!
- This week I started another experiment. I’m keeping my awareness on attention itself, with the intention of not focusing my attention on anything in particular, across all of my senses, including thoughts.
I’ve been able to make these changes and still stay in the current moment fairly well, because my mind tends to stay clearer than it used to and when thoughts do arise, it has gotten easier and easier not to give them any energy or attention. Nisargardatta actually says that you have to come to a state of not thinking at all (unless you have made a conscious decision to think about something) and I’m getting closer to that goal!
The latest meditation technique, described above, was inspired by a couple of things:
- The current tendency of my vision to spontaneously stay in the wide angle mode where I’m taking in the whole field of view without focusing on anything right in front of me. This started to occur once in a while back in September. The most memorable example was while riding my motorcycle. Suddenly, the awareness of the trees rushing by me on either side was intense! Like many of my other shifts, at first this was sporatic. Now whenever I intend to I can go to that mode of vision without effort, when it does not start spontaneously.
- While doing walking meditation earlier this week, I realized that I had spontaneously lost all focus of attention to any specific thing, within the full range of all my senses. It was like taking the wide angle view from just the visual sense into all my senses and thoughts. Just taking them all in equally, without focusing attention on anything. Evidently the intention I was holding during the experimental meditation technique I started in January had been fruitful! Since it started to happen without intending it and the awareness was more pure than other techniques, I decided to take the experience into my other meditation practices.
This latest technique is the closest I’ve come to Nisargardatta’s teaching to meditate on consciousness itself, with awareness of my awareness, without thoughts. The key word for me was “attention,” or rather the intention of releasing it to a state of virtual “inattention.”
February 15, 2018
Today I worked in the bakery for the first time this visit. I always enjoyed the fairly easy repetitive work of packing product because it is so good for mindfulness practice. I put on the required hair net as usual, then laughed at myself because for me it is a “no hairnet!” Later Geneva (the head cook) agreed that I didn’t have to wear one.
You may not be surprised to hear that my latest meditation technique is difficult to use during certain activities, even if they are fairly straight forward, because some jobs just seem to require focused attention to get them right! Like today in the bakery, putting labels onto packages in just the right place. So for those activities I go back to simply following the breath and releasing extraneous thoughts.
Now that I won’t be going to the monastery at which I applied to be a guest, (that process was described in a previous post ) I asked for and got an extension for my stay here through the end of February. So this post won’t include any hitchhiking or bus terminal adventures.
I’m not sure where I’ll go next. I may just head west and see how far I can go each day, with the long distance goal of checking out Sonoma, Arizona. I’ve heard it is a spiritual Mecca of sorts! But now I have a couple more weeks to discern a plan.