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Introduction and Questions on The Three Characteristics

Hi everyone!

I recently found out about MCTB and found it to be a great resource to the questions that I have regarding meditation since I am currently not in contact with any group or meditation teacher. First, I would like to start by thanking Daniel for managing the time and effort to write such a book. Second, I would also like to thank everyone who reads this post and can help me understand better.

I'll try to keep my background as short as possible. I believe it's important to know where I'm coming from and understand where I'm currently at. I have been practicing meditation for about 1.5 years now and doing it regularly every day for the past 6 months. It started with headspace, to insight timer, to Kriya Yoga and now to MCTB. I used to drink and do a lot of drugs back sometimes two years ago and lost my temper, punched the wall and fractured my hand badly. Long story short, it changed me. I started loving myself more, working out, eating healthy, reduced my drug consumption (weed is my vice), read more self-help book and overall working towards a better me. Sometime last year I did LSD, meditated and found this great feeling of bliss when I opened my eyes. Nothing particularly happened though, I only felt very present. Needless to say, since that particular session, I started disciplining myself to meditate every day. Last November/December I found out about this whole Enlightenment thing and have been very interested in this topic. Now I have been a non-believer all my life and realized that every human being in some sort of way is trying to understand the question of metaphysics in their own way. I guess this whole Enlightenment thing was sort of my answer to that particular question. I am currently really enjoying meditating and understanding about Buddhism. I also found myself wanting to meditate more and more since I can definitely feel that I'm slowly changing to be more compassionate, loving, calm and overall more present on my activities.

Now to my meditation experience, I have been practicing a regular Pranayama such as Ujjayi breathing, alternate nostril breathing, imagining air going up and down of my spine while chanting "so hum" or chanting "om" 6x during in/out breath while focusing on my third eye. I usually just swap each other if I feel bored. Little did I know that I was practicing concentration after reading about the training part in MCTB! Now it makes sense what I'm doing and I believe it helped greatly on my concentration. I found myself sometimes now able to gaze at an object and can focus on that object for 2-3 minutes, maybe even more. There's this feeling of intense focus and I'm able to hear the slight ring in my hear. I can also feel this sensation on my head, like a heartbeat I would say? During the practice, I am very used to the idea of noting, due to reading Om Swami's book on how to meditate where he says something about being an archer arrowing down your thoughts before it manifested into bigger thoughts. I am able to know or even feel the texture? as a thought about to rise and quickly note it and go back to my breath. There was a lot of consciousness to this as well, since I am able to link a certain emotion to tightness on my right (ex impatience is usually linked to tightness in my right side/shoulder). I don't know if this makes any sense but it's how I feel at the moment. I didn't do any insight meditation and only got to it recently due to MCTB!

I'm not a native speaker of English so it's hard for me to understand some of the terms in MCTB2 and I would like to ask some question about my meditation experience and about the book.

1. Currently, I find it quite easy to go into a focused stable meditative state. Now when I'm doing insight meditation. I'm unsure if I'm doing it correctly. Basically what I'm doing now is that I begin by trying to relax my body from the tip of my head to my toes. After I find myself relaxed, I focus on the breath, I can feel the sensation of the breath on my nose at the beginning, but I found myself after a while able to feel the rising and falling sensation inside my nose. Is this correct? Thoughts, feelings and physical sensation arise afterward during the session. Now here's the question, I have been practicing noting very-very diligently in my concentration practice. Sometimes in my daily life when I'm talking, or at the gym found myself lost in thinking or feeling, I note it as soon as I started to realize, I just let that thought go. What I'm unsure of is that during insight meditation, say there's a thought that I'm thinking about the time. I'm currently able to identify these thoughts before it even pops up into something bigger or even become an emotion, say "impatience". Should I just observe this thought and let it rise and pass away on its own? Or should I note it as soon as I start realizing it? Sometimes I have difficulty even labeling these thoughts as they go so fast when I realize they're rising. 

2. How do you actually properly label these thoughts or emotion during insight meditation? Say if I feel that there is a thought saying that what I'm doing now is incorrect. Should I label it as "thinking" or an emotion "self-doubt"? 

3. During insight meditation, without having prior knowledge about The Three Characteristics. I sort of get the gist of the idea that pain is temporary and or thoughts/feeling comes and go. Even focusing on my breath I can feel a bit of pain/heaviness in my chest at the end of the inhale and exhale. This is actually where I realize that the idea that there is pain, but it doesn't last. As a matter of fact, nothing lasts forever, and upon reading about The Three Characteristics, I realized it was impermanence. Now I don't quite understand the part about the book about "vibration" or "mental consciousness" due to my English skill. I have been reading it back and forth for almost 1 hour on impermanence and can't just wrap my head around it. Could you please elaborate about this in easier term perhaps? I am unable to progress the book since I just can't wrap my head around this part. I don't really understand about the part regarding the part about physical and mental sensations. I really don't feel like skipping this part and continue to read on as I feel this is very important for me to be able to progress further.

4. Upon knowing about The Three Characteristics, although not in detail, something interesting happened today during my insight meditation session. My body started swaying back and forth. When I note this as "swaying, swaying, swaying" it usually stops. Then I go back to the breath and it comes back. Again and again for almost an hour. I did two 1 hour session and this swaying begins as soon as I feel I'm quite stable and able to focus on the sensation of the breath. Should I continue doing this? I find it quite frustrating, to be honest since it's very distracting. However, I just gently note the thought "frustration" then to "swaying, swaying, swaying", am I doing it right? Sometimes even during this swaying, I am thinking, who is the one swaying or feeling the swaying motion? I can feel sort of a louder ringing on my ear and pressure on my head? What is going on?

5. Last but not least. During insight meditation, if I focus the sensation of the breath, the breath slowly gets really shallow and I find myself running out of oxygen. What am I supposed to do? I don't feel like I'm controlling the breath, but I feel that I definitely will stop breathing if I follow this sensation on and on.

I think that's about it for now. Again, many thanks to anyone who spend some time reading this and help me answer my question so that I can progress better on my spiritual path. Wishing you all the best too in your journey.

RE: Introduction and Questions on The Three Characteristics
1/21/19 10:32 AM as a reply to DD.
Dear DD,

Welcome to the DhO.

More lengthy responses might be given and be more helpful, but I am going to post a quick response that hopefully will be a start.

1) That sensations, such as thoughts, arise and pass (impermanence) on their own (no-self) is the point. Notice this as you have been, and keep noticing it, moment after moment. IThat's really it. By doing this, one can get more and more understanding of why that is important and get better and better at it, and we can slowly get to know this at a more precise and all-encompassing way that is direct.

2) Don't get hung up on which notes to use. I started with more elaborate notes, but moved to more simple ones, such as "thinking", "wandering", "feeling", "seeing", "hearing", "rising", "falling", etc. However, if some feeling, such as doubt, keeps coming up, it may need its own special note until you get more skilled at noticing the sensations that make it up rather than being caught in it.

3) You clearly understand impermanence, so don't overthink it, and clearly know about mental and physical sensations from your descriptions, so don't overthing this either. This is straightforward stuff, so just notice things arise and vanish on their own and feel any weird tension in the sense of observer, doubter, questioner, analyzer, etc. if you can, as those are just more sensations to notice as they are.

4) Swaying is a classically noted early insight stage experience, starting in Cause and Effect (stage 2), and getting worse in the stage called The Three Characteristics (stage 3), and finally getting wild for some in the A&P stage (stage 4). It doesn't happen to everyone, but it is often reported. Simply noting it is all you need to do, as with everything else. Really notice every little part of each sway and all the other little sensations that make up a sway, in all its fine-grained parts. Swaying is a nice, easy object, not subtle, easy to note. It stops eventually if one just keeps practicing. It should just be considered a neutral side-effect, unless one is in a place where swaying might disturb others, then some control needs to be used to avoid causing people to wonder what is going on.

5) The feeling that insight practice is messing up the breath is a common one in stages 2 through 4, so read about those in the Progress of Insight chapter in MCTB. The breath might stop or get shallow, yes, and this is common and expected, and, if you need to breathe, just breathe: it will be ok. If you change how you notice or note the breath, you can modify your breathing, so try using notes of different lengths and see how the breath changes. It really doesn't matter how the breath is, so long as you get enough oxygen and you notice what is going on.

Best wishes and practice well,


RE: Introduction and Questions on The Three Characteristics
1/22/19 9:32 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hi Daniel,

Could you please give your opinion on what I should do?
So I re-read the part again about dissatisfactoriness and especially the part on the bullet points where you say "turn on".
So I imagined I'm going to get enlightened soon, imagined I don't want to meditate, recalling the sensation of excessive pride, judgment, grandiosity and self-loathing that I felt, imagined being in the dark and seeing ghosts. I also imagined times where I experienced the 14 kilesas or the Seven Deadly Sins. I sort of understand what you mean by vibration now. At the beginning of meditation, the breath seems slow and mechanical, but as I breathe faster suddenly swaying occurs.

The thing is now even as I'm typing this, my body moving on it's on my belly area, there was also movement during meditation on shoulder/belly/hips. I have read on the stages of insight about the three characteristics and I'm pretty sure I'm in that stage at the moment. I too have read chapter 9 of A Path With Heard as you recommended. The part where the teacher says that "you don't really like it and subtly want it to go away" is what I'm trying to do when I meditate. However, when I focus on the swaying and at the same time imagining I want it to stop and go away, the movement gets crazier. Now as I'm typing this my hips are moving like nobody else's business!

Should I just continue on to observe the phenomena? Is it right for me to imagine this turning on of fear? Should I follow the advice of the book and imagine that I subtly want this movement to go away?

Thank you, looking back to hear from you.