Sunday, June 6, 2010

Yogi Mind

During silent meditation retreats, especially longer ones of ten days or more, it is not uncommon to encounter an experience that is sometimes referred to as "yogi mind." Among other things, it describes how we jump to conclusions based on little or no information about other people on the retreat with us.

In daily life, our mind goes into habitual reactions to whatever stimulus is currently present. We may unconsciously imagine things about people we are in relationship with that have nothing to do with reality. When we are on long silent retreats, this experience is heightened because in our hyper-mindful state of mind, we become more acutely aware of it.

Jack Kornfield spoke about yogi mind once, and said that there are two main expressions of it. One he called the "Vipassana Romance." This is when you become interested in or attracted to someone at the retreat, and even though you've never spoken to them, or even looked them in eye, you begin to create possible futures with them. Not only that, but you become convinced that they are thinking the same thing about you. Your mind begins to think things like, "Maybe after the retreat is over we could do some meditating together. Or maybe we could do more than just meditate..."

Yogi mind like this can lead to unforeseen, and potentially embarrassing complications. I heard a story once about a certain Vipassana Romance in which a man had to leave the retreat early, but was positive that a woman he had become attracted to was interested in him as well. Before he left, he slipped a note into her shoe with his address in the San Francisco Bay area, inviting her to stop by after she had finished the retreat. The next day, when the man answered a knock at his door, there stood a woman he'd never seen before. Apparently he'd placed the note in the wrong shoe.

The flip side to the Vipassana Romance is the "Vipassana Vendetta." In this case, we can become overly annoyed by someone at a retreat, and again, even though we've never met this person, everything they do is wrong. They eat wrong. They breathe wrong. They sit wrong. They walk wrong. They're just WRONG.

As in our daily life stories, we cannot trust the yogi mind experience to be accurate. On a retreat in 2003, my roommate arrived after we had entered into silence, and in keeping with protocol, we did not talk or make eye contact, even though we were sleeping less than five feet from each other. The morning after he arrived, however, I couldn't help but take a peek at him. He was a diminutive Asian man who moved very mindfully in my peripheral vision. He even seemed to sleep mindfully. I began to think he was a Zen master, and so I was sure to do everything very mindfully whenever I was in his presence. 

When the retreat was over and we broke silence, my roommate and I finally spoke. He was not a Zen roshi after all, but a sculptor. Then he told me that he thought that I must have been an "important teacher" because on this particular retreat, I was a practice leader for several sittings. "When I saw you up there," he said, "I got very nervous. So from then on I was sure to be on my best behavior!"


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