Self Development Retreats: Part Five – An Interview with Sukhacitto Bikkhu

Sukhacitto BikkhuEver wondered what it’s like to join one of the self development retreats at New Life? In the fifth and final installment of a series of posts on the recent Insight Dialogue meditation retreat, we interview the leader of the retreat, Sukhacitto Bikkhu.

How did you start teaching Insight dialogue?

Eight years ago, I was invited to join a retreat with an Insight Dialogue teacher, Gregory Kramer, in Switzerland. I joined another retreat two years later.  I had really powerful experiences during these retreats and was very struck by the meditation technique.  So I joined more retreats, and started introducing the Insight Dialogue (ID) meditation to practitioners in Germany with the permission of  Gregory Kramer.   About three years ago I started teaching, and this year I had the privilege if teaching ID with Gregory Kramer because he wanted to support me with my teaching. Now they have developed a structured teacher training program to maintain the high levels of teaching.

Please explain the differences between traditional silent meditation and Insight Dialogue meditation.

In principal, the foundation of ID is the same as traditional meditation. The traditional silent meditation approach is mainly concerned with our mind and body, or you might practice loving kindness meditation to develop compassion.  However, very little traditional meditation practice is directly related to other human beings. ID helps us to explore the relationship with others and the mutuality of our experiences by speaking and listening and exploring the dhamma practice together with a meditation partner.

What’s the special thing about ID?

In a traditional meditation, you can be caught in your own experience for a long time, you can become absent minded, sleepy, etc.  But when you meditate with a meditation partner, the presence and calmness of the other person can help you to be more focused, mindful and calm.  Basically, the mutuality and the mirroring can be a tremendous support in terms of the quality of mindfulness, awareness, as well as calmness and clarity which may be developed.  With a meditation partner, you can’t hide and this helps you to be more present.

How can people stay in topic instead of just chatting?

Of course, I cannot control that.  Usually the interruption of the bell brings back people’s awareness and helps to bring the conversation back to the topic.  But sometimes people just wonder off the topic, and I cannot prevent that. It’s not always easy to bring your meditation partner back to the topic if he/she really talks off the topic.  Sometimes I pick up the conversation while I walk around, then I give more concrete guidance for the next meditation session to remind people to really stick to the topic.

How do these benefit ourselves and those around us and how can it help people with addiction or suffering from depression?

The purpose of this meditation is the same as the traditional vipassana meditation, which is to gain insight, that’s why it’s called insight meditation. It encourages the development of understanding, and enables us to see things changing. This practice can benefit our lives in many ways and can affect how we interact with others.

The development of natural kindness and compassion seems to be quite a common experience for people practicing insight dialogue.  Because people really see or hear the suffering going on with the other person, it’s not so difficult for people to connect.  Even though I don’t have much experience working with those who suffer with addiction or depression, I assume it can be very helpful because it opens your understanding and connection to other people.  This is the benefit which every meditator has, but I could imagine this is particularly beneficial for people with addiction or depression.

What do you like the most about ID meditation?

It’s just so beautiful to see how people connect and communicate with each other. But at the same time, those who are not used to this meditation can find it very challenging to meet someone new and talk intimately.  It can be quite difficult for some people to do that at the beginning, but usually, if people keep practicing ID meditation, it gets easier. You can really see changes and transformations in people, those who started the ID meditation feeling insecure feel more comfortable by the end of the retreat.  Also, the energy of the group changes over the days in the retreat, it is so beautiful to witness.

What’s the most challenging thing about ID meditation?

The most challenging thing is to encourage people to open and accept when people meet the real difficulty during the meditation. I usually stress the importance of friendliness and patience again and again during the meditation.

Can people who join the retreat keep practicing ID meditation continuously?

There is an encouragement if people want to continue their practice, they can connect with people regularly to practice ID meditation. There is also an online community where you can practice online ID meditation. Generally people are encouraged to connect with others from the retreat and keep on practicing together. In everyday life, you can also practice ID meditation by observing how you interact, and applying the guidelines of ID meditation.

How do you choose topics for contemplation?

It can be from traditional dhamma teaching, but you can basically choose anything. Gregory Kramer and myself use the context of Buddhist teachings.

What is your impression of New life Foundation and the ID meditation retreat which has just finished?

It is a very interesting place. First of all, the group who joined the retreat were a very interesting mixture of people. Some of them were residents, some volunteers, and there were also participants from outside of the community. In the past, participants of the retreat were mainly females, but in this retreat we had even numbers of males and females, it was a nice balance. I was very impressed by the dedication of all the participants, especially residents considering their different backgrounds. Because many of them don’t have a Buddhism background, it was a bit different from teaching in a monastery environment or in the retreat centre.  The natural environment was quite beautiful here, and also the meditation hall was very nice. I really enjoyed my stay in New life Foundation during and after the retreat. Thank you.

Upcoming retreats at New Life Foundation include:

Change Your Mind, Change Your World: A Mindful Yoga Retreat with Kim Roberts, 13-17 February 2013

The Hungry Ghost Retreat: Putting the Buddha Back Into Mindfulness with Vince Cullen, 11-15 March 2013

For more details see the Retreats page of the website or email retreats[at]newlifethaifoundation.com

* Many thanks to Sukhacitto Bikkhu for his teachings, and Tomoko for this interview and guest post

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