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Goenka Scanning vs. Mahasi Noting - retreat report and question

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Goenka Scanning vs. Mahasi Noting - retreat report and question
noting practice notes goenka insight practice matter of style meditation
Answer
9/28/10 8:37 AM
Hey all,

Lurking here for a while and first want to thank everyone that is a part of this community. This is a truly remarkable section of the internet, and the world, and very inspiring to see.

I have been meditating on and off for about 6 years, first doing zazen for a while, then doing qigong type exercises that were more body-based. My main practices for a long time were simply being present in the body, and trying to remain in a state of empty mind - empty of thought, that is.

I came across MTHCTB last year and read it through, was very inspired and began to practice vipassana. Practiced about 30 minutes a day for 3 or 4 months, until I moved to South America. It was a move from the states and life here has been very different, constantly changing, and in the midst of all the movement I lost the regularity of my sitting practice. Still in all moments I try to come back to the present and rest in the emptiness of everything, the sights and sounds and smells of the city, sensations, staying quietly and smilingly in the middle of all of this, watching as it arises and passes with each moment.

I just attended a 10-day Goenka retreat in Buenos Aires. It was good. I found the conditions to be less than optimal - there were neighbors nearby playing cumbia all day and night very loudly, that one could hear in the meditation hall - but I still feel I progressed.

The first day I told the teacher during anapana that I was noting the sensations to help keep my mind concentrated on the breath and not wandering. He told me 'We don't do that because blah blah blah...' so I decided to drop it. Give the technique a fair shot is one of their repeated phrases there, so OK. As the technique of vipassana body scanning was introduced, I found my concentration sharpening up a lot and being able to focus on the technique; however, as I became more familiar with the scanning process I started to think about other things while doing it, etc. Half-assed attention on the technique. I would not lose myself in thoughts for long periods, never longer than a few minutes and most often less than 30 seconds, but it would happen frequently.

As each new part of the technique was introduced (i.e. now scan symmetrically, now scan as much simultaneously and symmetrically as you can) I would repeat this process of at first being focused, and gradually losing my concentration as I became more familiar with the technique and could kind of put it on auto-pilot.

The fourth day I had lots of sharp pains in the legs but didn't move and watched them as individual sensations, and after that had virtually no leg pain the entire retreat. Thank you capoeira, for giving me strong flexible knees. Eighth day reached a kind of plateau where I kept getting lost in thoughts, couldn't focus at all, but the very last meditation of the day my body became all subtle sensations and I had a nice pleasant free flow (which I tried not to get attached to =D) and watched as they dissolved into gross sensations again, etc.

The fifth day, I began noting between meditation sessions, which helped a lot when I remembered to do it and I wish I had done it from the very start.

My questions are these. For you experienced meditators, which style in your opinion will get me to the other side of the stream most rapidly? The body scanning and everything I seem to make some process, but even in my meditation today I was very much lost in thought, so I tend to wonder if maybe the noting style could help. Goenka says no no no, has anyone made it to stream entry or further only doing goenka type scanning?

In terms of noting, when I have tried it, it seems like my attention jumps from sensation to sensation on the body faster than my mind can mentally classify and note each sensation. Should I just slow down my attention and only note one or two things per second until my mental verbage speeds up? What's the way to do this?

Now that I know that I can sit without pain, and having the experience of the retreat makes me more determined to keep up my regular practice and make progress on the path. Thank you all in advance for maintaining this community of practitioners.

May all be auspicious

RE: Goenka Scanning vs. Mahasi Noting - retreat report and question
Answer
9/28/10 10:48 AM as a reply to eric d.
Hey Eric,

1. Noting is better. Scanning is good to understand what "dissolution" is, since you get to see it happening all over the place. Noting is good to notice specific characteristic of the way experience is presenting itself. Particularly you should be looking for impermanence, non-satisfactoryness and no-self. Impermanence you know what it is, non-satisfactoryness you'll know when you see it (it sucks really bad at first), and no-self is when you realize "heh, there is no-one commanding the ship, intentions and mental dialogue and etc all arise of their own accord," and it will feel really strange not having the sensation of controlling what you decide to do.

2. If you are in this for the enlightenment thing, there is no reason not to go for stream-entry ASAP, except maybe, just maybe, you didn't decide to do this thing fully heads on with all you got no more doubts at all. When you do, you should find that progress will come (way more) rapidly. You are likely already very much on the ride, given you got A&P like experiences in the retreat, so now is the time to run to the finish line. If you are having difficulty focusing and having a hard-time dark-night like thing, then you could very well reach escape velocity, go for stream entry, and then get tired of the whole path thing, and go for arhatship.

3.
Eric:
In terms of noting, when I have tried it, it seems like my attention jumps from sensation to sensation on the body faster than my mind can mentally classify and note each sensation. Should I just slow down my attention and only note one or two things per second until my mental verbage speeds up? What's the way to do this?


Noting is the activity of really going down all those filters and "touch" the sensation in the way it really presents itself phenomenologically. It isn't looking at the sea and thinking "sea," it's diving into what and how the image of the sea presents itself to your mental apparatus. So the important part of noting is this "touching" of the sensation with your bare attention (and doing this you will find that the sensation is impermanent, unsatisfactory and not "you"); the actual verbal classification is more a device to make sure you are actually doing it right, and stay on track; it comes after the actual "noting." So you see, you can be "noting" 5 times per second or more, while at the same time only "noting out loud" once every few seconds.

Hope that helps, and take care,
Bruno

RE: Goenka Scanning vs. Mahasi Noting - retreat report and question
Answer
9/28/10 1:06 PM as a reply to eric d.
Noting can hang you up at first--it takes time to get comfortable and it also takes time to notice that the discomfort is actually part of the process (and part of what needs to be noted). I find the constant emphasis on speed at the DhO can make it a little daunting at the outset. Speed is helpful, but sati (mindfulness) is what you're really after. Remember that sati is a skill, not a state and as such it's a bit like a sport that demands effort/engagement. Speed will develop with effort and resolution. Also, I think that everyone needs to develop their own style/speed for how noting works for them.

Here are two pointers which helped me at the outset:

1. Take it easy at first. Try noting like "adding salt to the soup" of your sati. It should enhance your sati, not overwhelm it. As time goes by, your sati will sharpen (sati is a skill, not a state) and your noting will likewise sharpen and become more agile.

2. Finding the "right" label (ie. searching mentally for the right word) shouldn't slow you down. It's helpful to try to nail it with the right descriptor, but if you're searching your verbal database a lot you'll become distracted. Keep it going and trust that the labels will come. It's like learning to speak a foreign language--clumsy at first. Just have faith that the clumsy is actually helpful even though it doesn't feel that way.

Hope this helps,
Bruno

RE: Goenka Scanning vs. Mahasi Noting - retreat report and question
Answer
4/28/18 8:12 AM as a reply to boeuf f.