Notes from Howie Cohn Retreat 2019 – 5/1/2019


  • Not word for word from Howie.
  • When there were gaps I tried to use my own memory or understanding to fill in the blanks or clarify.
  • Apologies to the Buddha and to Howie for any transcription errors.

Overview – Four foundations of mindfulness.

Mindfulness of:

  • Feeling (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral)
  • Emotions (The results of the wanting craving mind of desire)
  • The Dharma (4 noble truths)
  • Additional Meditations
    • Open awareness
    • Open sky – bells

Felt Sense

  • To stop the monkey mind you must focus and concentrate to the point where you have a felt sense of your body.
  • Your mind is like a switch. It can only be focused on one of the 5 sense sensations at a time.
  • When you have a felt sense of any of the senses you can not focus on the other.
  • IF you have a felt sense of your body then there will not be a thought at the same instance you are feeling a sensation.
  • STAN’S COMMENT: Grounding, being centered is also about connecting with the felt sense of present moment experience. KEY SKILL IN MEDITATION.

Noticing’s Per Minute NPM

  • As your practice progresses you will be able to notice more frequently that you are distracted.
  • At first it will seem that the meditation is failing you because you feel more distracted, but is only that you are much better at noticing that you are distracted.

Example of Asthma Attack

  • One of the students had an asthma attack at the retreat and had trouble breathing.
  • This normally caused a panic attack.
  • Because of the practices we had been doing, he instead focused on the felt sense of the experience with curiosity and it decreased the panic.

Walking Meditation

  • Keep points
    • Balanced
    • Attentive
    • Relaxed
    • Integrated
  • Don’t try to turn slow into a religion
  • Keep the same mind that you had on the pillow.
  • Continuity – Gathering focus and concentration on the pillow and then maintaining it while you are walking
  • Walking meditation should be: Balanced, focused (2 0ther qualities)

Connecting and sustaining

  • The mindfulness practice is first about connecting. We are connect to FELT SENSE of present moment experience with any of the 5 senses.
  • After each meditation session we need to develop the capability to sustain our state of mind after we get up.
  • We can still be in touch with a continuing stream of our felt senses and not have to fall in to the samsara of monkey mind.

Qualities of the ground

We will know that we are connected and grounded when have these qualities

  • Comfort
  • Rapture
  • One Pointedness – Ekaggata
  • We will to see more clearly
  • Our senses are much more vivid.
  • Gentle
  • Loving
  • Intimate
  • Feel more spacious
  • Mind is quiet
  • Effortlessly aware


  • Let go a little and get a little peace. Let go a lot and get a lot of peace.  Let go completely and you will have complete peace.
  • If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.  (On Brian’s water bottle)
  • We should practice for the good of all the people that have to live with us.
  • Bring your practice into your life and your life into your practice.
  • Keep your mind in your body and your body in your mind.

Larry Miller growing old

Do you realize that the only time in our lives when we like to get old is when we’re kids? If you’re less than ten years old, you’re so excited about aging that you think in fractions. “How old are you?” “I’m four and a half.” You get into your teens; now they can’t hold you back. You jump to the next number. “How old are you?” “I’m gonna be 16.” Then the great day of your life; you become 21. Then you turn 30. What happened there? Makes you sound like bad milk. Then you’re pushing 40. You reach 50; then you make it to 60. By then you’ve built up so much speed, you hit 70. After that, it’s a day by day thing. You hit Wednesday… You get into your 80’s; you hit lunch, you hit 4:30. My Grandmother won’t even buy green bananas. “Well, it’s an investment, you know, and maybe a bad one.” Into the 90’s, you start going backwards. “I was just 92.” Then a strange thing happens; if you make it over 100, you become a little kid again. “I’m 100 and a half.”

Happiness is hearing the bell ring

  • During meditation we begin to believe that happiness is found by the bell ringing.
  • It is important for us to notice that we feel this way. Noticing that we feel this way takes the energy out of it.
  • No matter what is happening it is our job to notice it. When we notice something, awareness kicks in and we have the power to change how we RELATE to that experience.  Wisdom will eventually self-correct.
  • Needing things – As long as we believe that we need things to be happy, we will not be happy

Who are we?

  • We all have views of ourselves that are based on the stories that we tell about ourselves.
  • How we see ourselves is dependent about who we are with.
  • There is a lot of energy expended defending our identities.
  • We all want to be a “good meditator” but just that desire opens us up to trying to become some fictionalize character that our own minds have imagined.
  • We also have a need to want everyone else to believe like we believe.
  • We need to understand our fragility so that we can be free from the boundaries that place on ourselves by those identities.

George Carlin – Living Backwards

In my next life I want to live my life backwards.
You start out dead and get that out of the way.
Then you wake up in an old people’s home
feeling better every day.
You get kicked out for being too healthy,
go collect your pension,
and then when you start work,
you get a gold watch and a party on your first day.
You work 40 years
until you’re young enough to enjoy your retirement.
You party, drink alcohol, and are generally promiscuous,
then you are ready for high school.
You then go to primary school,
you become a kid,
you play.
You have no responsibilities,
you become a baby until you are born.
And then you spend your last 9 months
floating in luxurious spa-like conditions
with central heating and room service on tap,
larger quarters every day and then Voila!
You finish off as an orgasm.
I rest my case.

– George Carlin, 1937-2008

Present Moment

  • There is nothing else.
  • We only imagine the past and future, but they do not exist.
  • Nature calls us home to the present moment.
  • The mind is naturally pure but we are often distracted by the stories about the past and the future that keep running in our minds.
  • When we are lost in thought we forget the beauty of the natural mind
  • We need to absorb the beauty that is around us in the present moment. We need to be grateful for the sights, sounds and sensations the exist.
  • The monkey mind is your constant reminder to come back to the present moment.
  • The beginning and the end of the path are right here in the present moment. There is no place we need to go, we just need to be in the present moment.
  • The world is the way it is because people are the way that they are.


  • We need to be free from the conceptual roles that we believe define us.
  • We don’t need to be locked into this identity.
  • In a silent retreat there is no need to cling to an identity and you can just be aware of the present moment.

Morning Prayer

Dear Lord,

So far I’ve done all right.
I haven’t gossipped,
haven’t lost my temper,
haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.
I’m really glad about that.

But in a few minutes, God,
I’m going to get out of bed.
And from then on,
I’m going to need a lot more help.


  • We are just a stream of present moment sensations. On this retreat we can open up and be present to all of the sense sensations and let those be an anchor: Hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, thoughts (the mind is the sense organ that senses thoughts)
  • The true reality is not our identity but the present moment sensations. When we can stay with present moment sensations there is no need for past or future or the stories about our identities.
  • We can find peace in being conscious of present moment sensations and them be an anchor away from the stories and dramatizations.


  • It is not to get beyond pain.
  • If we can notice the pain and make it the target of our meditation, we may begin to see that it is just sensations.
  • We may also notice our reactivity to the pain and have a better chance of stopping it.


  • We live in the world of concepts.
  • We believe that we are separate and feel disconnected.
  • We want things to be different than they really are.
  • Joseph Goldstein. The big dipper is just a mental construct.   There are just stars in the sky.


  • Things will be constantly changing in your life. We need to trust that if we are able to bring the changes into full awareness that the awareness itself will be the skill that is the most helpful in dealing with those changes.
  • With open awareness, we can transcend 8 worldly winds: Pleasure and Pain, Gain and Loss, Praise and Blame, and Fame and Disrepute.

Stories – Samsara

  • The never ending flow of stories that we are generated by our thinking mind create our own unique Samsara.
  • The stories trigger emotions, change our mood and rob us of present moment awareness.
  • The thinking mind has 65,000 thoughts a day, 95% of which are repeats from the day before.

Open awareness

  • Guided meditation that led us into open awareness.
  • Choose any one of the senses, sight, sound, bodily sensations and focus on that.
  • You can change your focus whenever you want.
  • The key is to always be aware of what you are aware of.
  • It can be helpful to do single pointed awareness first this brings clarity and heightens the senses. The open awareness can then be a more powerful experience.


  • We are all interconnected and depend on each other.
  • Dana is an ancient tradition that honors this interdependence.
  • Rather than charging a fixed sum of money many dharma teachers count on the generosity of their students.
  • This can help the students feel generous and provide a living for the teachers.


  • There is a trance of unworthiness particular in modern wester culture.
  • Meditation practice helps us to become conscious of this and increases the chances that we can find ways to be self-compassionate.

David Wolf Budbill – bugs in a bowl

Han Shan, that great and crazy, wonder-filled Chinese poet of a thousand years ago, said:

We’re just like bugs in a bowl. All day going around never leaving their bowl.
I say, That’s right! Every day climbing up
the steep sides, sliding back.
Over and over again. Around and around.
Up and back down.
Sit in the bottom of the bowl, head in your hands,
cry, moan, feel sorry for yourself.
Or. Look around. See your fellow bugs.
Walk around.
Say, Hey, how you doin’?
Say, Nice Bowl!

Guest House – rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

– Jellaludin Rumi,