Should YOU do a silent meditation retreat? Dr. Angelo DiLullo & I recently held a 6-day retreat with 30 healthcare folks from our audience, and here’s what happened 🤯
Get Dr. Angelo DiLullo’s book on awakening, Awake: It’s Your Turn, here. Check out Angelo’s YouTube channel with excellent pointer videos here. Sign up for Angelo’s email list for future meditation retreats and updates here. And watch ALL of our videos on awakening with my fellow Dr. D here. Full transcript in the “transcript” tab below.
– [Zubin] Dr. Angelo Dilullo, welcome back to the show. You are the author of “Awake: It’s Your Turn,” a book about awakening, realization, all that stuff. You have a YouTube channel “Simply Always Awake,” where you do, lots of videos. We’re gonna put a link to your book, link to your website, where you can sign up for what we’re about to talk about, which is an email list talking about any future retreats, meditation retreats you do. So we’re gonna talk about meditation retreats. And this is of interest to me because I’ll tell you why, because ever since I started down the path of like, trying to understand… 2012, meditating, this, that, Sam Harris, “Waking Up,” the app, all that, I’ve always wanted to do a retreat, but it sounded so daunting and so terrifying. And the people that I’d known who had done it would say things like, “You can’t really talk about it. Like, there’s no words for it.” And I’m like, “Lame!”
– [Angelo] Yeah, right?
– [Zubin] Like, there’s words for everything, bro. Like, I talk for a living. But then they would say it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll do, being in silence for days at a time and meditating and sitting. So I had a lot of anxiety around, I’m gonna be sitting in silence with a bunch of people I don’t know, meditating. Like, I can’t. You know, the most I’ll meditate is an hour and that’s like, can be torturous sometimes. And what am I gonna do? And didn’t know what I was in for. Then we did a retreat together that you led in Asilomar in Monterey and it was six days, semi-silent, meaning in the evenings you would talk, break silence, with 30 of our Supporter Tribe. And again, we’ll talk about it, but there were no words for it. Like, it was such a transformative thing for myself and I know for people who were there, if I’m believing what they tell me, that I thought let’s dive into that. So what is your conception of retreat? Like, what is that?
– [Angelo] I love it, I absolutely love it. So for anyone who’s meditated, I often give a introduction at the beginning of retreat and sort of contrast daily meditation with prolonged meditation. So when you do daily meditation, you meditate 20 or 30 minutes a day or twice a day or even longer. It tends to have a relaxing effect, a centering effect, a calming of the mind, calming of the body. There can be times when it’s kind of difficult, but for the most part, it tends to be enjoyable, especially once you’re sort of good at it, you’re seasoned at it. And when you sit to meditate in a retreat for one day, two days, three, four days, it becomes a whole different ball game. The mind likes to be calm for a short period of time, but it doesn’t like to be calm for a long period of time. It starts to act up a little bit. So one of the first things people notice is the internal thoughtscape seems to actually get pretty activated after a few hours of meditation or one day of meditation. So the first day or two days can be actually really challenging for people who’ve never done it because it seems like your mind is making a heck of a lot more noise than it usually does.
– [Zubin] So can I interject an experience? So when we did your retreat, we sat down the first day we arrived. You’re already in silence. Like, you had set the tone right away, like this is what we’re doing. Everybody’s all excited. “Oh look, we’re here with ZDogg, we’re doing this Supporter thing. And then sit there, quiet for hours. Go to bed that night, that whole night it was like a radio station was playing in my head just thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. Hey, here’s W106, thoughts, thoughts, thoughts. And I could see it ’cause I had some meditation experience. So I was watching this going, “Oh my God, that’s what a thought storm is like.” It’s non-stop, all night, I barely slept. So is that compatible with what you’re saying?
– [Angelo] Totally. So yeah, and it’s actually in and of itself, that experience, can teach you something just because you’re having it, right? And the lesson that that can be had by that is realizing how incredibly identified we are with thoughts all day long and not realizing it, because what I tell people, and it takes a bit of experience to really get this, I think, but after awhile it becomes obvious. And that is what you’re perceiving as a whole bunch more thoughts than you usually have is not a whole bunch more thoughts than you usually have. You’re just perceiving them as thoughts instead of as you, as your actual reality. So the analogy is you’re floating down a river. Let’s say it’s a large river and you’re floating down it and you’re in a boat and all your stuff is in the boat. And you’re kind of looking at the boat, you’re looking at your articles of clothing in the boat, and you can see the water moving with you around the boat, but your gaze is sort of downward or just sort of forward, and you’re seeing the boat in the water and yourself, and you’re all moving at the same speed. That’s kind of being lost in the thought stream. And most people, I think, spend most of their day doing that, whether they know it or not. The way you find out how much volume of thought is actually moving down that stream is you get out of the boat, you go to the shore, and you look directly across the river and you just watch that stream of water moving past you. And you realize, “Oh my God, that’s how much has been moving down the stream the whole time?”
– [Zubin] That’s it.
– [Angelo] That analogy is pretty apt actually.
– [Zubin] That’s it, yeah.
– [Angelo] And the more times you do this, and the more you de-identify from thought, the more you realize that’s actually what it is. That first day, definitely the first few hours, within the first day, day and a half, it seems like the volume just goes up in your mind. Like, there’s just more thoughts, more content. But what’s really nice is that after… That’s the first step. The first step is de-identifying. You have to be aware of the thoughts as such before the mind can really calm in a much more profound way than it does with daily meditation. And that starts to happen usually day two, three, up till day four. But you feel it in the whole group when all of a sudden everything just gets quieter. You literally feel it in the environment and in the way people move. You start to communicate on a different level because you’re not talking, you’re really communicating almost through movement. But you’re not saying something that you would say in language, it’s more of a communication of like empathic communication. It’s a feel and a vibe with the whole group, and it suddenly just drops to this calmer level.
– [Zubin] Okay so just so people know who we are, all right, because this is important. Angelo is a science, skeptic anesthesiologist doctor. I am a skeptical scientific hospitalist doctor. Any woo-woo stuff is like, it triggers an allergic response in both of us. What you’re saying, this idea of this empathic, energetic communication with a group of people in that space is absolutely true experientially, absolutely, in a way that it will challenge a lot of your own thinking about how humans are social.
– [Angelo] Mm-hm.
– [Zubin] You know, nonverbal energetic connection with others. And I don’t know how to describe it. I don’t know the science of it. But I’d say that it is absolutely real and you’re absolutely right that about day two, three, there’s a dropping feeling where you drop into presence with the others. And it is so profound, especially if you’ve never experienced it. Like, I had not experienced that communally. That it’s beyond to some degree the ability to describe in a way.
– [Angelo] Yeah, I would agree with that. I mean, that’s why I use the term like energetic and so forth. But there is a sort of model for that communication style, and you’ve heard 90% of communication is non-verbal. It’s facial expressions, the way the body moves, body language, voice, tone, all these sorts of things. So we communicate in nonverbal ways all the time, right? The ways we move, the ways we sit, the way, all of it. And we’re very good at picking up body language from other people. Even if we’re kind of lost in thought, we still pick up body language a lot more than we realize. If you’re in the room with somebody that gives you a weird vibe or creepy vibe, you pick it up and you notice them right away, like often. If two people are having a very quiet but kind of an argument in a restaurant, all of a sudden everyone in the whole restaurant can feel it, you can see what’s happening. So you’re picking up on cues all the time. And this set of circumstances, this set of conditions, this deepening of a retreat is just something that’s not a common thing to see or feel, but you can pick it up through body language. You can pick it up through, again, just the sort of collective empathic experience. It’s pretty obvious and it’s not woo-woo, it’s just like you feel it. You can feel it very, very clearly.
– [Zubin] It is experienced directly. But one interesting thing. So you set a tone in the beginning when you told us what this is, including in the written material. You said, “Listen, you’re not here to socialize. That’s not an obligation of yours. You don’t have to make eye contact with people. This is about your thing and the energy of others are all doing the same thing.” And what that did is it absolves a certain social obligation because we feel as social creatures, at least I do, I should make eye contact when I pass someone that I know, I should do this, that… And so I made it actually initially it had to be conscious to like avert gaze a little bit, pay attention just to what I’m doing. So your comment on the body language stuff becomes even more acute when it’s peripheral vision picking it up. So we’re used to focusing just on our macular vision, like, what are we picking out of the environment and focusing on? But when you really drop into that kind of presence with others without that obligation and relax, these very peripheral, more holistic cues become much more powerful. And that’s how I experienced it, is like I would sense in the peripheral what others, what they were communicating. I wouldn’t have to look at someone to get the body language. Yeah, really interesting.
– [Angelo] Yeah, and there’s also an emotional component to it, right? So when you start sitting without moving, without giving your mind anything to distract it for hours on end, you will go through emotional experiences. So one might be frustration, one might be restlessness, one might… And sometimes things that are not necessarily even appropriate to the situation, but they come up. Like sadness or grief or something that’s recently happened in your life may spark other kinds of emotions, even anger. You might get mad that that person’s breathing loud over there and that sort of thing. So you do start to feel these physiologic experiences, these emotional experiences, and everyone else in the room can feel them a lot of times with you. For instance, if somebody is really, really restless in a retreat, there’s always at least one person who’s restless at some time or another, you feel it, everyone can kind of feel it. And you might feel like annoyance. “Oh, I could be calm if that person was calm.” And then you realize like, “Oh, I’m a judgmental jerk kind of,” you know? Like, what they are doing has nothing to do with me. So you’re able to process that emotion in a different way, in a more direct way. And then you start to feel empathy. You’re like, “Oh, wow. I know what it feels like to be restless. Oh, I actually am restless too and I didn’t wanna see that. That’s why I was feeling judgment and frustration towards that person,” right? So you start to communicate with yourself in a different way on a more emotional level. And then as you know, people will, sometimes you’ll hear someone kind of softly crying or there’s emotional releases that happen during this. And so you really start to feel, at least I do, an empathic connection with everybody because we’re all humans and we’re all going through stuff and we always are going through stuff. But again, we often communicate and live in a busy world, a distracted world, a world of a bit of inauthenticity in the ways we communicate, so we don’t communicate on that channel, that empathic channel, that human channel. In this environment, you can’t help but notice if somebody’s having a hard time next to you and you start to really feel like a sort of sympathy and empathy for them.
– [Zubin] This is one that I think was one of the most powerful aspects of retreat that I really wasn’t aware of or prepared for is that emotional empathic connection. So the first day we were there, because there was a sense, my situation was weird because these guys all know me, but I don’t know them, right? So there was this weird thing and I felt a kind of responsibility like, oh, you know, ’cause of the shows we did before these guys said, “I trust these two. I’m gonna come to this retreat.” So there’s a sense of, “Oh, I hope they’re gonna be okay. I hope they get something out of this. I hope they don’t think it’s crazy.” You know, all this like self-referential thought. And there was one person who was having, I could tell they were super restless, even day one, day two. Just shuffling, sleepy, nodding, this and that. And I really, I felt connected to that person in a way that it started to intrude in my mind at night. Like, I would have these experiences of experiencing what it was like from their perspective, really deep, empathic stuff that I had not experienced and I wasn’t ready for it. But what I found was it was probably the most powerful aspect of the whole experience was feeling emotion and connection in a way that you don’t get to normally feel with our social conditioning and our constant blather.
– [Angelo] Mm-hm, yep. Yeah, I think we actually use language a lot of times to distance ourselves emotionally, even if we convince ourselves we’re using it to connect. I mean, I know that’s a kind of-
– [Zubin] It’s fully true.
– [Angelo] Yeah, I think it’s true. I feel it a lot because again, like through a lot of meditation and these types of retreats and stuff, I feel energetically connected with people. Like, I really feel that empathic channel all the time. I don’t always comment on it. I might, but I generally don’t. And I can also communicate at the sort of cognitive level at the same time. It’s pretty simple. So I feel that all the time. But when we go to retreat, that superficial layer is scraped right off the top. No one’s talking, so we can all feel that. So I feel more clearly and less distractedly connected with people in retreat, but the connection is always there.
– [Zubin] It’s always there, yeah. Man, all this talking about it is just bringing me right back to that space. It was so beautiful, man.
– [Angelo] And we’re talking about the collective nature of it and, you know, the group dynamic. And there is a group dynamic and it’s a powerful thing because for many people it would be very hard to make yourself sit and meditate that many hours a day, day after day after day. But when you’re in a group of people and it’s like you’re all committed to this, you’re kind of, “I’m sitting there because you’re sitting there and you’re sitting there ’cause I am.” And so we’re not actually gonna get up and leave. We’ll commit to going through this. So that dynamic is very helpful. The group dynamic of retreat is important. However, there’s a whole other dimension to this and that’s the personal journey inward.
– [Zubin] Right, which, okay, so before we leave the group dynamic, ’cause I think I really wanna emphasize this because I misunderstood this going into it. I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to sit still, that my stomach would rumble, that I’d be distracted, that I’d be the one who was like having a coughing fit in the corner and have to walk out and this and that. What you pointed at, that collective intention, you feel it energetically and it locks you into a kind of an ease. Even though it’s hard, there’s an ease to it that you could never get on your own if you haven’t had that experience. Like, could I sit in my room for that many hours meditating? I don’t think so. But having that collective was such a powerful sort of energy that allows you to do that, allows you to do things that you don’t think you could have done that then allow the individual journey that you’re gonna point to in my experience.
– [Angelo] Yep, yep. And so the individual journey is what we’ve been talking about in all these videos, but the gist of it is, you know, you get past that part where the mind is just kinda rambling on and you’re starting to disidentify from it and not pay as much attention to it. And then you start to just pay attention to anything else, whatever else is going on, your experience of just being alive, consciousness, being, or the senses, the sounds, the sensations. And what you find is you don’t really have to do much for presence to clarify itself. You just have to continue to not distract. Retreat is simply about not distracting. You’re just putting yourself in a situation where you don’t have your phone to mess with, you can’t get in arguments with somebody to distract yourself, you can’t go shopping, you can’t do all the hundred thousand ways we distract ourself. Your job is to really sit there and just let reality show you what it is. And that will take you deeply, deeply I’ll use the word inward, but, you know, it’s just for lack of a better word. But into a place of investigation that we don’t give ourself permission or time to do during the usual responsibilities of our day-to-day lives. And that’s really what retreat is ultimately about. And the social aspect that we just described, the collective aspect, is a sort of support system for that for each one of us. But it’s a very personal journey.
– [Zubin] That was my experience of it. Your retreat was exactly that. The social aspect provided like lift, but you’re flying the plane, you know? It is your journey and it can’t be anyone else’s. And even the concept of personal becomes very vague. It is just what’s happening. The distraction component, I think I wanna just emphasize that. This thing that runs our lives that we’re so plugged into and addicted to, when it goes away, it is almost, at first you get that bit of withdrawal, like, “I got to check Twitter,” or, “I got to check my email,” or, “What if my wife is texting?” or, “There’s something wrong with the kids,” whatever. But once that relaxes, and you know, at night you can check once. I had a little pattern of like, make sure there’s no emergencies. Okay, there’s no emergencies, let it go. But it’s such a relief. And you find that you’re able to be present in a way without distraction. That key of distraction is so important. We live our lives in distraction. And to give yourself permission to be undistracted is a huge gift. It’s not just a gift for you, but it’s a gift for people who are gonna experience you in their lives afterwards. But yeah, so, back to you.
– [Angelo] No, that’s it. And you find yourself in this environment, you’re supported by the environment and by the group you’re with and by whoever’s kind of leading the retreat that’s telling you, “Hey, this is your chance. This is your opportunity to pay attention to the one thing that we often just overlook.” We’re always looking outward from it, so let’s look directly inward at it, whatever it is, yeah. So you’re giving that permission. And then as I said, you know, the environment is already supportive of this and there aren’t distractions, or there are very few distractions if you play your cards right and you, you know, don’t mess around with your phone too much and stuff, you really have the opportunity to just sit. And as I mentioned, life will show you. There’s a quote, I’m gonna mess it up a little bit, there’s a quote by Franz Kafka, and he says, “You don’t even have to.” He said, “You can just sit at your table in your room and wait. Well, you don’t even have to wait. You can just sit there. Actually, just become quiet through and through and the universe will offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” That’s what this is about.
– [Zubin] That’s it, that’s it, yeah.
– [Angelo] And that’s the environment you’re in. So you really don’t have to do anything, really. You don’t have to know how to do anything. We could call that natural meditation or just sitting in presence. Now on top of that, if you have a real fire underneath you and your burning desire for awakening to find out what that’s all about, to dig into the root of identity and so forth, then you can add inquiry or something to it. And in this environment, that’s like rocket fuel.
– [Zubin] Yeah, absolutely.
– [Angelo] You’ll go through all kinds of crazy things. You’ll be destabilized, you’ll go through crazy emotional patterns and they’ll go away. The thoughts will come, then the mind will become extremely quiet. Then you’ll feel this profound presence. And it just keeps going, right? It’s like layer after layer after layer of experience and you just kind of keep drilling down through it. If that’s your bag, man, this is the environment to do that.
– [Zubin] You guys think he’s just saying this? This is absolutely how it is. Everything he just said, I was like, “Uh-huh, that happened, that happened, that happened. So , well, okay, okay, okay. There’s so much here. So the emotional piece of it, I thought, again, was the most surprising personally for me, because I didn’t expect it to be such a prominent component of the experience for me. But it’s clear that that’s a processing that had to happen for me, where as the mind got quieter and more unified around the intention of silence, presence, and witnessing what’s actually happening, what was actually happening was the arising of very, very, very strong emotion to the point where, you know, in between sessions, we would have a break where we could go back to our room. We had free time. And the idea was, don’t go talking, you’re still in silence, but use the free time however you feel. Go walk in nature, do whatever, ’cause it was near the beach, it was a beautiful place. And I went back to my room and for two hours just doubled over sobbing, right? All this emotion coming through. And it wasn’t conceptual emotion, like, “Oh, this is about this, or this is about that.” It was just pure emotion. And I think I told you it felt like the suffering of the entire world was just channeling through you. And it was good. Like, “more please,” you know? As you’re like… And I remember all my abs were sore because of that, just, yeah. But it felt like a purification, like it had to happen. It’s not a suffering. It’s experiencing emotion as it is. So that’s a clarification. I have people go, “I don’t wanna go through that.” Yeah, but I can vouch for it. It’s absolutely essential.
– [Angelo] Yeah, and it’s true. In one sense, you don’t go to retreat to have that happen to you, but I promise you once you go through that, you would not trade that for anything.
– [Zubin] Not for the world.
– [Angelo] It’s like you feel communion with the suffering of everyone. And there’s such truth in that, you know? That’s not the whole of retreat and that’s not necessarily the point of retreat, but that’s not an uncommon experience. And it’s quite something. I would call it your heart opening.
– [Zubin] That’s what it is.
– [Angelo] Your heart opening to everything.
– [Zubin] Yeah.
– [Angelo] And then you feel it. It’s very, very real, you know?
– [Zubin] Yeah, I remember the thought just kept arising, “My heart, my heart, my heart.” Like, what is this? And it was just, it felt like… You know what’s funny? I don’t think I’ve told this story ever. I have this weird thing since I was a kid. You cannot touch me right here in my sternum. It’s like a sensitive spot. Like, you know, some people have their neck or their armpit that get ticklish or whatever. I get violent when people try to touch me right here. And ever since I was a kid, people know, “Oh, that Zubin’s spot. Don’t touch him in his spot.” And if they knew, if they wanted to bully me or something, they would just touch me right here and I would lose my mind. Like, I would start punching. Even my kids know if they wanna torture me, they just come up and put their hand right here. I couldn’t touch myself there. So during the retreat, during all this emotion, I felt this space as a kind of a presence, like a wall that was starting to crumble and it opened. And I just took my hand and I was like, thump, and I put it right there. And I was like, “What the hell? I’ve never been able to even touch myself here.” There are these physical manifestations of repressed emotion or whatever it is. I don’t know what it is, but it’s energetic, it’s a kind of energy. And I would not trade that for the world. Now, since then it’s closed a little bit. It’s not like this is magic, but it is a process. But it can open and close. But that opening of the heart, it’s so indescribable. And you don’t have to be on retreat to have it happen, but man, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire.
– [Angelo] And it’s natural. That’s the other thing I wanna point out. It feels very, very natural. It doesn’t feel like some mystical experience.
– [Zubin] You’re on drugs or a mystical experience, right.
– [Angelo] It almost feels like you remember it from very, very, very early childhood. Almost like, I don’t know, being in the womb or some distant, distant memory before you became a self that’s thinking all the time. And it’s just that intimacy of aliveness. But, you know, it’s so instinctually real, yeah? That feeling.
– [Zubin] Actually, this is something I think we should really focus. It’s natural in the sense that people can have experiences on MDMA, on ayahuasca, on psilocybin, on psychedelics where there’s a heart opening and it’s real. I mean, it’s a real experience. But oftentimes when coming back from that, when they re-integrate and the ego kind of reforms and re-solidifies after being blown open, it tells stories about it like, “You were on drugs and had a drug experience that made you feel like this.” With retreat, it feels so natural and seamless with reality. Like I remembered like, oh, I had forgotten that this is how it is. That the integration of that is much softer and more natural and more, I feel like more durable, but everybody has a different experience, so I’m not knocking psychedelics or anything. But that was my experience with retreat. And I’ve had those other experiences but this was different.
– [Angelo] Yeah, people ask about psychedelics quite a bit. And I can’t tell someone what to do or what not to do, you know? Whatever, do things cautiously and be smart about what you’re doing. But I do say if you’re really interested in awakening, I know for certain you don’t need psychedelics. You just don’t, they’re not necessary to wake up. And if you think that’s your path, at some point you’re gonna have to let go of those. You will at some point. You might even have an actual awakening, a true, authentic awakening. And I’ve heard of that happening once or twice. I’ve heard of a lot of experiences that I wouldn’t necessarily call awakening, but I’ve met a couple people that I was reasonably convinced actually had an awakening. But beyond that, at some point, you’re gonna have to let go of that stuff for various reasons. But basically what you said is the truth of it, is like you can’t force hack the system. You have to do it through deep, thoroughgoing authenticity and vulnerability, not through causing a physiologic shift in your body, you know, by force hacking it with drugs. That only gets you so far, probably.
– [Zubin] Yeah, I think you’re right. Now, the vulnerability component at retreat is fascinating. You’re with other people, they’re strangers, but they’re all there for this reason. They all feel called to do this. So there’s a kinship there that you feel. But what’s amazing is as it settles in and that group, we can talk about this term samadhi, it’s a kind of wonky term but I think it’s very… Or joriki is another Zen term. But we can talk about that. But this energy of concentration and unity of mind that happens, you can share a space with them at a breakfast table, eating in silence, which you do, which people panicked about. They were like, “I don’t know how I’m gonna eat in silence.” Like, “Eating for me is a social ritual.” Like, “This is where I talk.” But eating breakfast in silence with other people who are there with the same thing is an energetic experience of just, I don’t know how to, just, it’s love. Like, I sat at the breakfast table and I’m like, “I’m in love with this table.” Like, how did that happen? And everyone there, you just feel the energy. And some of them are having a hard time. You can see they’re crying just at breakfast. They’re feeling the emotion and you just feel so connected to them.
– [Angelo] Yeah, it’s wonderful.
– [Zubin] It is, it’s beyond wonderful.
– [Angelo] Think about it this way. You could say you have six possible experiences, broadly speaking, right? You have sight, sensation, sound, taste, smell, and then blah, blah, blah, blah, blah of the mind. That’s going all day long. So when you’re sitting down to eat a meal and you release a lot of your attention from that blah, blah, blah thought gate, that thought experience, and you free up a lot of your attention for the experience of taste, sound, smell, it’s a very intimate experience. It is altogether different. It’s a different way to eat a meal and to share a meal with other people. And almost universally, people tell me that at the end of retreats. Like, “Oh, I loved the silent part. I really enjoyed eating with the group of people.” Again, logically you wouldn’t think it would be that enjoyable, but you have to do it. You can’t know that a priori, you have to go do it.
– [Zubin] You can’t know it. And the interesting thing is the mind will tell stories about that experience in advance and be like, “That’s crazy talk.”
– [Angelo] And it’s all fear-based.
– [Zubin] It’s all fear.
– [Angelo] It’s like, “It would be awkward, I would look weird. Oh my God, I couldn’t eat a meal alone. How could I ever eat a meal in silence?” And it’s all fear-based.
– [Zubin] I’ll make a statement that I think was true for me. Every resistance to retreat that I felt in advance was fear. It was all fear-based. Fear of vulnerability, fear of frustration, fear of boredom, fear of not succeeding. Like the goal-based striver. All of it was fear-based. And those fears dissolve into pure experience when you’re at the retreat. And that is a massive relief. It happened quick for me, for some reason. I just, even after day one, I was like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”
– [Angelo] Yeah, I could tell.
– [Zubin] And I know for others, it was a struggle for a few more days or hours, but they eventually opened into that too.
– [Angelo] That’s the beautiful thing about retreat is you never know what you’re gonna get. You just never know. You can have the best retreat in the world and the next one you’ll be like, “Oh, it’s gonna be the most peaceful,” and that’ll be the one where it’s like all this emotional turmoil. You just don’t know. Over time after you’ve done it a good handful of them, though, they just get more and more enjoyable and you’re always glad you went. Really, you’re always, at the end, no matter what you had to go through, coming out the other side, you would never trade it.
– [Zubin] Now, well, let’s clarify that one way. A different type of retreat without good support, like a, let’s say a Vipassana type retreat where there’s nobody really running it per se and you’re just left to be silent without a lot of processing, do bad things happen at retreat?
– [Angelo] They have, yeah, in the past. I mean, people find those valuable, the Goenka.
– [Zubin] Goenka retreats, yeah.
– [Angelo] Vipassana Retreat’s a 10 day retreat. It has a very specific schedule and you watch videos and so forth. And you have some support, but not a lot of support. And a lot of is just solitary meditation, body scanning and stuff. And that’s fine. If you’re a seasoned meditator, if you’ve done retreats and stuff, it’s fine and you’re safe. But with really very little to no support, there have been people who got into that, didn’t know what they’re getting into, and ended up very, very destabilized afterwards. Like long-term type stuff where they just, they didn’t know how to integrate it and that sort of thing. So I wouldn’t necessarily discourage someone from doing that if you’re really inclined to, but just know what you’re getting into and make sure you can do a two, three, four day retreat ahead of time, and you know what prolonged meditation’s about and all that sort of thing. Zen retreats, sesshin, very intense. It’s intense because you can’t even move. It’s like sitting on a Zen cushion for one hour, no big deal. Sitting on a Zen cushion for three hours gets painful. Sitting on a zafu, a Zen cushion, for four or five, six, seven hours gets actually very, very painful, and the knees and legs get, it’s very painful. You get into day two and you just are like, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this?” You can’t even meditate. You can’t concentrate. It’s just pain, pain, pain, pain, pain, right? And then then weird things happen. You get to day three, day four, and all of a sudden the pain just turns off like a switch. You’re like, “Wait, all that pain was just resistance. How is that even possible?”
– [Zubin] Oh, wow.
– [Angelo] You learn a lot about pain, but it’s a lot of pain physically. And then you do get into that kind of group mind space. You have a teacher that’s reasonably supportive depending on your situation. But Zen’s pretty masculine too. It’s a hard path. I structured my retreats, ’cause I’ve done those, I structured my retreats somewhat like that schedule wise, but I put a lot more support on there. And I do more talks, I do more interactive stuff, and I really help people integrate into the senses more consistently throughout the retreat, which really keeps you grounded. And it doesn’t actually preclude awakening or the expanse of experiences. It just gives you the ability to keep bringing it back into the physical, which I find actually helps people wake up. But also it avoids some of the dissociation you can get with those kinds of situations, or just feeling absolutely completely stuck for four or five days straight in a retreat. There’s just no need for that if you have somebody who can actually help.
– [Zubin] Can help you point.
– [Angelo] Through that stuff. So I try to integrate a lot of that. And I also do the semi-silent aspect for that reason. It’s a little jarring to go from a day of silent sitting and all of a sudden you’re talking and so forth, but it also teaches you how to come back into the world again and again. Like, you can practice doing that because it can be hard to come back from a retreat when you’ve been silent for days and days and then you have to go to work on Monday and the retreat ended on Saturday and you’re just kind blown out with awareness or whatever. It can be very challenging.
– [Zubin] You know, at the time, when we went through the retreat, at first especially, I was very jarred when it went to non-silence, because all of a sudden, all the sort of pent up social stuff that I was so glad was gone because I could relax fully into just this, because I was coming from a different angle too, suddenly was back and I had to be on, right? And all the conditioning and the veneer that we put on and all of that starts to come back. But as the days went on, that started to naturally relax. Like what you’re saying, you start to learn to integrate the presence that you’re feeling with actual other human beings and talk and only say what’s necessary. So all that unnecessary speech starts to drop away. And then you get to connect with these folks, you learn their story. And I thought some of the most powerful aspects of what you did were the group activities, which, okay, my mind told me stories about those in advance. “Dude, I don’t do group activity. That’s so lame.” Like, “I’m gonna have to talk. What are we gonna do? There’s improv comedy on here? What is that?” Like crazy stuff. And my mind is like, “Nope,” and it’s all fear. It’s all like, “I don’t wanna look stupid. I don’t wanna have to tell like my deepest, darkest secrets to some stranger.” What actually happened was opening of the heart, connecting with others, hearing their stories, whether that’s a story of trauma or a story of something beautiful, whatever it is, hearing their experience, and then feeling it, really, was just, it’s indescribable. I mean, I love everyone who was at that retreat forever, right? So that was beautiful. And the way that you did it was just absolutely, and I am not blowing smoke up your ass, I’m just saying this was my experience, it was masterful because by the last day, there was this reluctance to go back into the real world. Like, I could have done another month of that. I thought it was amazing. But I felt at least like, “Okay, I’m ready to do this, yeah.” And so it works, it really does. And again, I do wanna talk about samadhi and joriki. That energy of concentration feeds the ability to do that in a way that you wouldn’t just have it work, say, without that, I think, yeah.
– [Angelo] Yeah, joriki is sort of term, it’s a Zen term for a, it’s not necessarily a collective, but in a retreat setting, it is collective. It’s a sort of meditative concentration that builds. And it’s collective, so it’s not like you are personally making it happen. It just actually builds in the environment and every single person’s experiencing it. And it’s quite powerful. I don’t wanna give too many words to it. It’s a meditative knowing, a samadhi knowing. It’s very obvious. You can drop deep into meditation very quickly the moment you sit down, and it starts happening faster and faster every time you sit. And then you start noticing it as you’re walking, you know? And time starts to really change, the experience of time flow, and it’s just, when you’re it, you know it’s happening. And it’s like, it becomes the most prominent thing. It becomes more obvious than the physical bodies that are doing this. You’re on a whole other frigging wavelength and it’s great. It’s a wonderful thing to experience at least one time in this lifetime. And you would never, ever know what this is that we’re talking about unless you do it. It’s like a woman giving birth to a baby. If you’ve never done it, you just can’t really know what it’s like.
– [Zubin] Can’t know what it is.
– [Angelo] Even the father can’t really know what that experience is like. It’s probably something like that. You just can’t know. You could kind of guess maybe or get a sense of it, but unless you go through it.
– [Zubin] Man, it was such a… And look, I’ve been meditating for years. I’ve never had anything that, maybe here’s the asymptote of what that is. Like, it’s like here. And then you do it on retreat and you’re just always approaching. It just, it builds and builds and builds, and it’s a palpable presence. Like you said, you sit down, 30 minutes are gone. And it’s a kind of unification of mind. It’s like all your unconscious parts are coming together with this intention of this is what we’re doing. And that is so powerful. And actually you said something at the end of retreat. It’s almost like, “Oh, we’re at the apex and we have to end now.” That’s how it felt for me. You said, “Hey, don’t squander the joriki that you’ve built here. If you can take a couple days and just be like this, that energy’s there.” And man, that is so true. For a week, you’re spending this currency you’ve developed, you know? And it’s so powerful.
– [Angelo] Mm-hm, absolutely.
– [Zubin] Man, don’t even… It’s nothing you can really… You can talk and talk and talk about it, but you just have to do it.
– [Angelo] Yeah, exactly.
– [Zubin] Yeah, I guess my point to the group is this. I was very skeptical about this thing and then I did it. And you can just kind of get a sense from talking to us and you can either believe us, which I don’t recommend, or you can just go and try it and then tell us what you think. And so there’s a link, You can sign up for your email list. If we do another one, you’ll get an email. Or go find one in your area. Feel what kind of different traditions might feel right for you if you have any experience with meditation. You’re right, Zen is a very masculine kind of thing, which I think I’m drawn to it a bit because it’s so direct. There’s not a lot of mumbo-jumbo. It’s just sit, see what’s happening.
– [Angelo] Yeah, when it comes to the initial shift, the awakening, the Zen would be called kensho, the tradition I was in is actually a mixture of Soto and Rinzai, which are the two big schools of Zen and they’re fused, which is uncommon in Japan. That’s not a common thing at all. But this lineage did that. And so they use koans, like mu is a koan. What is the sound of one hand is a koan. But they also used shikantaza, which is more of the Dogen style, which is just sit. You’re already Buddha-nature, just sit. So it’s a combination of those. But the koan system, specifically mu, which is the most common first koan, I think is actually really, really good at bringing about that first awakening. It’s a very singular and specific way of doing it. It’s a hard path. It’s a sort of a warrior’s path in a way, ’cause you really dig in, work hard, push hard. And the big joke at the end is that all of that amounts to jack shit. You can’t force reality to wake you up. It decides when it’s gonna wake you up, and it’s when you give up. You get to the point where you’re physically and mentally, emotionally exhausted, energetically exhausted, and yet something in you still moves forward somehow. That’s when it kind of happens. So yeah, Zen is really a good way to go about that as well. But the retreats specifically are just challenging. Seven day retreats of sitting in the zazen posture-
– [Zubin] The Zen style.
– [Angelo] Is just challenging. It’s physically painful. And, you know, you can get used to it, but it’s no joke.
– [Zubin] Couple other practical things about yours. It had a Zen feel in that sense, but we’re sitting in chairs. We’re generally finding our comfortable position. So there wasn’t a torturous… And just a couple other things, if it’s okay, of my experience because in a way it helps me integrate it too. There was an experience where I was sitting in the chair, and I have chronic neck pain. And so one of my big fears going in was that if I don’t sit in the right chair, like I’m debilitated, right? Well, I was sitting in the chairs and it was fine until it wasn’t. So I think day, I don’t know, four or five, suddenly I started having really bad neck pain and I noticed my mind going right to resistance. “Oh no, now it started. Day five, just when you’re getting all that joriki juice, man. It’s like, now it’s gonna hurt.” And so I was like, “Wait, but what is this? What is going on? What’s the bother here? Is it resistance? What is it?” So I dived my attention with all that samadhi right into the pain. And it was a vibrating energy and it hurt. I mean, I’m not saying this isn’t pain, it’s pain, it’s a vibrating energy of pain. And it started to just become the entire universe was this vibrating energy. And suddenly it’s not pain, it’s just this. And the next instant that I knew I was aware, it was gone. I mean, what the hell, right? So that was one thing. And the second thing is what you said about like, some people may ask, “Well, what are you doing when you’re sitting there and meditating?” And I think your retreat, you did not say, “Oh, you do it this way, you do it this way, you do it this way.” You were just like, “Meditate.” And that was a very clear instruction. Like, “You can inquire, this is how you do that, but meditate.” For me, that was shikantaza. It was just sitting and whatever is happening is happening non-judgmentally and you’re letting awareness go where it goes. And to allow yourself that, that kind of surrender, it sounds like you’re doing nothing and you aren’t. There’s no you doing anything and it’s just absolutely indescribable.
– [Angelo] Yeah, so my experience of that is the daily guided meditations I do in the morning, right? And I say this at the beginning, I’m like, you know, “You can use whatever technique you like for meditation. You can use no technique, whatever feels relevant to you.” But the point of the guided meditations is to give you the vibe of the meditating experience, the meditative state itself, and help you just tune in to that. That’s all I’m doing with that. So it’s something like if you’re helping your kid learn to ride a bike. You kind of run along with them and you steer a little bit then you kind of let them go, and then they kind of balance. But you can’t logically tell them that. You can’t be like, “Okay, here’s what you need to do. You need to balance. Turn the wheel this way when you start falling this way.” That’s not gonna make any sense. You have to actually put them on the bike, run along with them until they get it, and then you can go, “Whoa, they’re riding.” That’s how it feels to me when I’m doing those guided meditations with a group of people, especially newbies who’ve never even meditated. I’m kind of like getting them up on that bike. That’s all at that that’s about.
– [Zubin] Okay, that’s something I forgot to mention. So those guided meditations you would do after a couple of silent meditations in the morning, you’d then do this guided meditation. And absolutely, there’s something about that exactly that just gives you, it pushes you on the bike, and you get a momentum. You’re pointing in a direction and it’s powerful. It’s not like these things are scripted or written. You’re just speaking from presence from the experience. And I can’t tell you, so I’ll just say this. You can watch Angelo’s videos, you can watch this video. That’s one experience of transmission. When you have that degree of samadhi or joriki or presence in a retreat, and Angelo is speaking from presence, in the room with you and others, it is a totally different game. Like, something happens. And I just tell you, so you did the guided meditations. That was one thing, amazing. Then you would do Q&A at the end, which was great because you could see where other people are stuck and kind of feel into that and go, “Hey, wait, you know what? That’s…” And if you feel resistance to what they’re saying, like, “Why are they complaining about that?” You can feel your own resistance. But then you would do these talks that were like, okay, and they’re really like meditations. So people are there in samadhi. And I tell you, all of them were good, but the last one you did on the day when we had the most… and it’s like, “Okay, you guys think you’re done? You’re not done yet.” And you took us on this ride of like, “Dude, walk right up to emptiness and experience you… WHO. ARE. YOU?” And I swear, I swear, like even now I’m like. It is beyond words to describe. So again, we’re talking about something that can’t be talked about, just try it.
– [Zubin] Thank you, Angelo.
– [Angelo] That’s it.
– [Zubin] I love you, brother.
– [Angelo] Thank you.
– [Zubin] Yeah.
– [Angelo] Love you too.
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