Three days at a retreat house and what I learned there

Last weekend: first silent Buddhist retreat ever. Man man man I have like 3 posts worth about this. First, some very basic human thoughts:

1. my mind was waaaay on my regular life; it was very hard to disengage. (I wasn’t even sure I wanted to.)
2. napping on a warm deck is really very good!
3. my knees hurt a lot when I meditate for more than about an hour a day (we sat about 3x30-40 min; not even that long, all retreats considered, but long enough that I was really not looking forward to it)
4. Buddhism would be great if it didn’t have all that Buddhism in it. Particularly, I tend to tune out when a few things are mentioned:
a. reincarnation (although I might be sorta more understanding about this now, but that deserves another post)
b. HHDL (he’s an awesome dude, who I’m excited to see teach in McLeod Ganj in October, but I am very wary whenever people start focusing on any particular humans. don’t worry, he’s still head and shoulders more awesome than the last guy-who-was-followed-by-a-group-I-was-affiliated-with)
c. Medicine Buddhas, recitations, pure lands, or indeed, anything “magical”; this also deserves to be in that post about reincarnation
5. you might be part of a community, even when you don’t think you’re part of a community; this is nice.
6. sleeping in a tent, I do not sleep as well as I do in a bed. (surprise!)
7. really, I spent a lot of the time wishing it were over and thinking I was missing the point (see: #1, #3, #4, and #6), but I’ve felt a lot better about the whole mindfulness-and-Buddhism thing since I’ve been back.

Some higher-level thoughts that are relatively self-contained:
- Buddhist ethics are consequentialist (whether an action is good or bad depends on its effects) in theory but more like virtue ethics (whether an action is good or bad depends on the character of whoever’s doing it) in practice. Particularly, whether an action is good or bad depends on the effects on the mental states of all involved. This jives pretty well with me.
- Furthermore, we really don’t know all the outcomes of our actions at all. But we think we do, and we catastrophize; we worry about worst case scenarios all the time. So… don’t worry so much?
- If you just check in before you do anything and set your motivation, that is very powerful. (could we make software based on that perhaps?)

More to come, and soon!


Michael Nagle -


It’s Michael Nagle (from the Quantified Self conference.)

I wanted to say, mainly, that I just spent the last half hour reading your blog and it is very fun. I enjoyed myself quite a lot!

With regards to magical thinking in Buddhism, I was really drawn to Zen when I first got into meditation because at the school I was at, there was so little dogma. Everything was so experience-based, I felt like I could build up understanding out of my meditation experience, and ask a teacher for guidance when I felt stuck with my practice.

I don’t do Zen anymore, which is its own story. But I thought it was worth pointing out.

See you!

Dan -

Hi Michael (or do you generally just go by “Nagle”?)- of course I know who you are :)

Thanks! And yeah, Zen seemed that way to me as well. Maybe in the future I should look into it more- I think at the start I was put out by the super-minimalism, but I’d be interested in checking it out again.

(I should clarify that the group I practice with isn’t super-dogmatic, and they even mentioned that you might not believe in reincarnation or whatever part of Buddhism and you’ll still find the practice helpful.)

Thanks for the note!

Michael Nagle -

Hey again!

I generally go by Nagle. It’s a nickname, but it’s been with me since I was a kid. It’s more playful than Michael. And it’s a pretty unique identifier!

Zen is crazy minimalist. This really attracted me to it because I felt it let me create my own interpretations, and I think it might have been a stylistic thing (a friend of mine is fond of telling me that I fall for anything or anyone hardcore.) But I think can present some difficulties – it can be so austere that it can be hard to understand or even do…

But! I write because the following claim occurred to me…

that on the spectrum of dogmatic to minimal, I’d claim that you could organize practices of Buddhism as:

more traditional Buddhism —> insight meditation and vipassana —> zen as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh –> zen as more traditionally taught in Japanese / Korean centers.

And it occurred to me that something like Insight meditation or TNH’s work might be more up your alley. I’m assuming you’re practicing something more traditional (what style is it?) and I’m also assuming you even want something different!


Dan -

Hah, fair enough. I don’t know, this group really suits me pretty well most of the time. (sometimes I rat-hole on little problems.)

The best way I can describe it is sort of a “non-denominational” Buddhist group. The nun who leads it has studied in Burma and Thailand, and with the Dalai Lama, so there are many elements going on there. The practice we do is in the style of Mahasi Sayadaw, so it’s certainly close to Vipassana, but when a lot of people think about Vipassana, it’s in the context of S.N. Goenka and 10-day classes, which are not the style that we do (I think).

What’s insight meditation? I’m unfamiliar.

And Thich Nhat Hanh seems to have a lot of things right on, from what I’ve read by him. If there were a TNH-inspired group that I knew of, that might be interesting.

I appreciate your input! A lot of what we’ve talked about rings pretty true to me, so I’m interested to know your take on these things.

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