Technically this is a workshop review post; I'm two days into a six-day Matthew Sweeney immersion, morning 30 minute meditation and then asana practice, and then three hours of "subtle body in practice," which is our meditation practice and discussion.
Matthew does not teach in a conceptual way, not a sort of didactic, what he would call "heady," way. I mean, he brings up a ton of vocabulary and theory and concepts, but it's not about your head, it's about sensation and experience and FEELING things.
This makes it very hard (and also makes me unwilling) to break it down into conceptual chunks, because that's precisely what it isn't.
If I do that to it, I misconvey the very teaching itself.
Basically Matthew is teaching us in a Vipassana style (sit, stillness, insight, concentration, sensation) but he's also bringing up body sensation and tantras and male and female energy and quantum physics and bhakti and space and love and absorption and not feeling the body and so on and so on.
In the morning we sit for 20-25 minutes concentrating on the breath or that little area under the nose and above the upper lip. Strict concentration practice. Then we do Metta Bhavana (loving kindness) for a few minutes and then we're able to begin asana. I woke up this morning sore from sitting upright for 2 20-30 minute sits yesterday, really sore from right glutes to right shoulder blades. Figured it would be one of those sore practices, especially preceded by yet more upright sitting.
I was correct. Practice made me cry a few times. Not pile of tears on floor style, but just some sort of panting, laughing, incoherent emotional expression moments, particularly through the Janu/Mari stretch of Primary, which is the Emotional Road for me when I have one of those days.
Practice was sore, hard and painful, but had some nice graceful moments in (of all places) the Bhujapidasana-to-Setu Bandhasana ending postures. I could drop back but could not stand up, not four times. Onto knees, rock to kneeling, stand, do again.
A guy did a split of third series; many women did either full Intermediate or Primary and a hunk of it. So I was the little Primary-and-Pasasana practitioner in the corner. And I mean, ok, true, I never did traditionally get past Kapo, but I used to be a rock star.
Four years ago I was doing more practice than this, and this month, actually, in Minneapolis with Matthew. He taught me to drop back and he took me to my toes in Kapo, first time ever.
But not as deep a practice or as aware a practice.
In the meditation session we did a quick interpersonal thing, introductions, a thing you're working on in practice, and thing you're working on in life ("learning edge," Matthew called it). I said that my practice was eight years old this month (and it is) and that for five years I was being a hard-practicing rock star and then for three years I was being a parent and backing off, being gentle,learning how not to make things hurt, and so on, and then that the learning edge was trying to resolve my desire to be That Guy with my reality of being This Guy.
In the sit that preceded that exercise, Matthew invited us to do a body scan, just saying hello to all of the parts of the body, feeling them out, searching for blind spots. A couple minutes into the sit, I started getting intense painful (more emotional than physical; I can tell the difference now) sensations in the left hip and I couldn't get off it, couldn't move my attention. Pain, fear, aversion, terror at releasing some sadness, not sure how to do it, anxiety, pain. Sitting still. Wanting DESPERATELY to get up and run away. Literally run out the door and flee.
This impulse came HARD five times. I made the breathing bigger, easier to concentrate on. I tried to move into the pain and it just got more intense, but I stayed. Hands wanted to leap up, move. I mean, TERROR. Absolutely INCREDIBLE fear. Mind freaking out. Urge to feel tears, fear of letting them go. Energy in left hip swirling like a tornado-producing cloud. Begging it to stop, to go away, to back away, to run away from me, deviate, change course. Panic. Sitting still.
Silent, still, nasal breathing. Matthew said something, not an end to the sit, but something; I can't remember what it was, at all. By the time the sit ended, my bone marrow was shaking, but I wasn't. I opened my eyes and held the crossleggged position for most of a minute before stretching out; couldn't tell if my leg was asleep or not.
Later in Q-and-A I would ask about negative stuff (fear, panic) in sitting; I'm used to it by now in asana, but in sitting, I'm not. He said, "Well, humans have mess; this is entering the mess. But be careful not to turn FEELINGS, which are embodied and quite healthy, into EMOTIONS, which is how the mind ramps up feelings." I liked that. I like the idea of engaging the mess, and I've had this in asana for over two years. And I like this idea that sensation, feeling, is pure and healthy, while EMOTIONS are a sort of conceptualized feeling, the mind ramping up our feelings, sort of exaggerating them. Matthew also made it very clear: KEEP OBSERVING.
Which is what I did, through that horrorshow sit.
He made every attempt to get me into Pasasana, short of just twisting me into it. Strategies, discussion, interaction. I said that when I set up the twist, I get intense feeling in the outer hips, both, and then I usually quit. He urged me to at least send the bottom hand around the ankle, which about made me grimace unpleasantly but was ok.
Matthew watched me hang back in dropbacks (I hang back 8-10 breaths in three different hand/arm positions) and then drop, walk in a bit, rock up and fall onto my knees unballistically. He had no comments. I did not do any assisted backbending.
I was massively depressed after practice, because I really wanted the teacher-and-room to inspire better practice, but what they inspire instead is better HONESTY in my practice, which means deeper digging into the pain, into the mess.
Someone else would comment later that they can't tell FROM WHAT unpleasantness comes in meditation or practice, and Matthew said that that's typical. You don't get a source, and no, don't tell yourself a story, don't let the mind EXPLAIN your sensations to you, that only chases away the sensations.
With trying not to fall into it:
I really want to have my perhaps-imaginary big practice with me, but I don't have a big practice anymore. Right now it feels like I will never do Intermediate in this life, and maybe that's fine, I'll just reckon with the mess since that's where all the life is.
I mean, I can pull most independent postures from third (name the arm balance and I can demo it, from tripod and everything), but it's the SEQUENCE. The whole reason that I stick with the traditional system is because I know what I used to be able to do and it helps me get clarity on what I can no longer do. It precisely outlines the sensations of "the mess."
I didn't go near the relationship or the lost parent, in my interpersonal two cents to the group. Those have a "causal narrative" feel, and I've certainly spun them both that way, and it felt inaccurate to do that. I mean, for information, sure, you want that, but that's not what that session was about.
Matthew talked a lot, in the final hour today, about "contact," which he takes from Gestalt. How does one make contact, what is one's contact "style"? With a posture, with another, with a lover, with a stranger, with a relationship?
It got me thinking about what I perceived as my partner's great withdrawal from me (conversationally, physically, all other ways also) in our pregnancy and parenting, for those first three years. I called it a breakup and it felt like one. Not long before I set off on this trip, we were friendlier, and best of all, we had an ACTUAL CONVERSATION, not about our relationship proper, but sort of about energy, which is always what I've been keenly interested in.
I think she has it wrong (her rhetoric is "I'm broken, from giving birth" and my rhetoric, which I didn't say out loud, is "You're too damn busy and energetically over-committed to a job that is full of panic and worry, and simultaneously full of 'bad mother' guilt because you don't live in the Northwest and can't give your child kayaking and camping and natural food you cook yourself"), but I listened with full attention, because J *NEVER* talks about how she feels about relating or parenting, she just talks about what she's worried about at work and how cute the boy is.
I don't get ANY sex-or-relationship stuff in meditation, so for all my calling that the samskaric business, it has yet to make any appearance whatsoever, but maybe I've chilled it out with the past few years of progressively realizing that even when we have sex, it does NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING, to fix anything in my life, not energetically, not in relationship, not at all anywhere. It means nothing, has no effect. You make some noise and nothing happens. Nothing.
So this is "the mess." Four more days of it.