Elizabeth’s Retreat Report

I did a fire kasina retreat!  20  days with plus transitional ones on either end.  Originally this was to be a TMI – breath as object focused concentration retreat at Cochise Stronghold with Culadasa.  I’d been building up sitting time in advance using breath as my object.  Then Shannon and Daniel’s Fire Kasina book came out and I couldn’t resist trying it out as well.  Interesting things started to happen – quickly getting into jhana territory, odd pulsation “gone” effects that seemed like really intense versions of what I’d worked with in the fall on retreat with Michael Taft.  Somehow the retreat morphed into a fire kasina retreat at the stronghold with onsite support from Culadasa and offsite support from Shannon, Daniel and Michael – email plus a chat with Shannon midway through.  How incredible is that.  The retreat itself was absolutely amazing.

There was the mantra, actually a few of them.  I was skeptical about this going in, had trouble choosing one and getting any of them to stick.  But I tried it and loved it.  I’d brought a mala and sat in front of the wood stove watching the fire reciting mala rounds of one of the mantras.  Mostly I used the short one but the longer one would often start up on its own especially while walking.  Tried to start and keep it going often throughout the day, before bed, waking up, but especially as part of my modifed 4 step TMI transiton into meditation.  In meditation the mantra and external sound would interact and then perhaps blend and dance with the visual field.  At times the mantra would change or start to fall apart perhaps a syllable or two would remain for a bit go as well.  Off cushion – especially waking up it was facinating to watch the mantra and discursive thought and selfing taking turns in half awake awareness.

There were uncounted rounds of dot, dot, find the dot. Dot, dot, follow the dot.  Dot, dot watch the dot. Lots finding something, anything to pay attention to in the “murk” once the dot was gone. Lots of just being with the murk.  Lots of just letting what ever happened happened and resist the urge to map and compare as much as I could.

I focused more on color than form. There were amazing colors that mostly did what they wanted though sometimes would shift for my amusement and delight.  Form was not absent. Occasionally it would follow my intent.  Sometimes with no predictability and defying intention, there were either landscapes or seascapes seen through a color filter – mostly green sometimes dusky yellow brown. At other times there were amazingly detailed photoprealistic images, a few of whom stayed long enough to let me focus in a region and then they would seemingly bloom into more detail there in response.

Walking around visuals got more intense as well.  The sort of 3d to imax effect that happens even off retreat turned on even more and became stronger perhaps VR like. The part of that seems to reflect oneness or consciousness or something also became much more noticiable.  There were oddities of vision and an almost synthesia effect as senses blended as mental counterparts in meditation lingered that way when the sit was done. Toward the end of retreat there was if not drawing of lines and sigils, at least seeing light around my fingers and finger painting with it. Seeing it persist a bit as either color or as a more clear, more intensely 3d portal like space in front of me.  No wizardly robes, the closest I came was a Hogwarts sweatshirt. I did bring two different wands and tried them out just a bit at the end and noticed differences between them and my hands – intriguing suggestions of what might happen with more focus and time.

There were elemental energies, nature spirits,  I had candles, a wood buring stove, a radiant heater that would kick on with a sound of flame and often a fire in the fire pit in front of or fireplace behind the cookshack as well.  I saw flames on waking, during sits, and began to sense fire in everything and as expression of impermanence and oneness. Then there was a bit too much fire and I turned to the rocks and water and air and found a bit of balance. This was something of a balancing dance,  Adding more fire back then eventually all four flowing together expressing all that is.

But for me, above all there were jhanas.   It started as bits and pieces.  Much more sense of directed and sustained attention (vitakka and vicara).   Then a growing sense of and feel for other jhana factors  piti, sukkha, upekkha. Way more absorbtion that I am used to.  Little or no sense of body,  Piti was much more an intense interest and curiosity with little of the bodily pleasure or energetic part in evidence. Different variation of illuminations and then seemingly beyond then back to more intense color and form. Mostly the first 4 jhanas. Occasinally amazing tours of the formless realms.  Rounds that effortlessly went to 45, 60, 70 minutes before I surfaced. My meditation interviews with Culadasa focused on jhana and the how what I was experiencing matched  jhana factors, and what happens as absorption increases and made it clear how much more there is to explore.

This is just a quick overview.  I have a mess of written and audio logs, as well as the email thread with my reports and comments and suggestions from Shannon and Daniel.  I will also be working with Culadasa and Shannon and perhaps interested others post retreat to talk and write about how to adapt TMI to a different object – in this case the fire kasina. So hopefully there will be more to share.  In the mean time,  if you are drawn to the fire kasina, I urge you to give it a try.  There is something about the intensity of the focus of attention that led me almost effortlessly into color, form, jhana and insight.  May it lead you there as well.