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Questions about noting

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Questions about noting
noting mahasi
Answer
12/10/19 12:48 PM
Hi everyone, I'm new here. I read "Practical Insight Meditation Basic Practice" by The Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, as well as the section in MCTB2. I have two questions about the practice of noting.

First, are we supposed to actually think the words in our mind? Daniel seems to definitely be saying we should, but Mahasi says this in Exercise I: "Never verbally repeat the words, rising, falling, and do not think of rising and falling as words. Be aware only of the actual process of the rising and falling movements of the abdomen."

Second, it's unclear to me exactly what should be and should not be noted. For example:
  1. There seem to be billions of details in my visual field, so noting each detail is out of the question. So I take it we should be noting collective sensations. But this suggests we are noting objects, not the raw sensations that make up the objects, which Daniel criticized "mindfulness meditation" for encouraging: "... whereas more 'pure' concentration practices emphasize stabilizing in the illusion of solidity and continuity of those things we are mindful of while ignoring the fact that the sensations that make up this experience are all impermanent, etc."
  2. What should be the trigger for placing a note? Given the examples, it seems like the rule is: If there is a change in sensate experience, note that change. So then it's kind of like a change log. Except some of the examples also tell you to continue noting. From Mahasi: "However, you may intentionally look at an object; then simultaneously make a mental note, two or three times, seeing. Then return to the awareness of the abdominal movements."

So to summarize:
  1. Should we use words or not?
  2. Should we note individual sensations or collective sensations (what the mind interprets as objects).
  3. Should any observed change to sensate experience trigger a note? If so, what is the point of remaining with some things and repeatedly noting them when they are not changing?

RE: Questions about noting
Answer
12/10/19 3:32 PM as a reply to Ryan Cook.
You may use labels if you wish. Only until you don't need to anymore. It is just the baby-steps of meditation. What is important is differentiating between "what is happening" and how many "happenings" you are conscious of. Everything is always "happening" and you are unconsciously aware of it all. Mental noting is an instrument to magnify your conscious perceptions. 
Yes you can also start with collective sensations. The body, for example, is a collection itself that can be separated into smaller collections. The easiest "collection" of sensations is the breath though, popular among lay and advanced practitioners. Its a fine place to start.
Should any change in sensate experience be noted? Sure, why discriminate one sensation from another? Are you a sensation racist emoticon
If you want to stay on one object then do so. If you want to drift then do so. Decide what you want to practice before you get into the meditation. Those two practices approach the same thing differently. Instead of judging one as better over the other just look at them for the usefulness in each, you can either practice them separately or fuse them into your own unique style. or do all three. Suffice to say you shouldn't half-ass anything ever.

RE: Questions about noting
Answer
12/10/19 3:49 PM as a reply to Mista Tibbs.
Thank you for your answer!

RE: Questions about noting
Answer
12/10/19 4:42 PM as a reply to Ryan Cook.
1. I really like Shinzen Young's "See, Hear, Feel" as a method for noting (all of his stuff is good to check out). He says this about labeling:

To note a sensory event means to clearly acknowledge its presence and then to briefly focus on it. After that brief moment of being “fully present” to that event, you note again—either the same event or a new one. The sole purpose of labeling is to aid noting. As mentioned previously, the pacing of the label helps you to maintain a continuity of concentration. The wording of the labels helps you to maintain a state of sensory clarity. And the tone of the labels helps you to maintain an attitude of equanimity. We will say that anyone who’s labeling at a comfortable pace with an equanimity voice and using appropriate label words is, by definition, doing the technique with enough mindful awareness.

So the labels help maintain the noting and that’s their only function. If you can maintain a solid rhythm of noting without intentionally labeling, feel free to drop the labels any time you want. This gives you two basic ways to note: we’ll call the first “noting with labels” and we’ll call the second “noting without labels.” Sometimes we may refer to noting without labels as “noting with direct awareness.” Feel free to switch between those two possibilities or mostly to use just one of them – whichever appeals to you. But remember, if you find it difficult to concentrate or find it difficult to remain open to things, your automatic response should be to immediately start spoken labels or perhaps even strongly spoken labels. And maintain that until you’re back on track.

source: https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SeeHearFeelIntroduction_ver1.8.pdf


2. Label whatever you mind is most naturally drawn to. Vincent Horn has described this as "Let the mind meditate itself", and Kenneth Folk emphasizes this as well. Sometimes your focus will be broad and incorporate your entire body, sometimes it will focus on smaller points. You want your attention to flow naturally towards areas of interest, without being forced. While the machine gun approach that MCTB describes works for some, its a common approach to go much more slowly and take time to let your attention open up to the details of each sensation. I spend most of my time focusing on my breath and the sensations in my face, as my awareness shifts I might move to my hands and feet or back out to sense my entire body and sounds.

3. You can note changes, but you don't have to. You can stay with a sensation even if it doesn't change. The point is twofold: First, you want to be aware of what you are experiencing, regardless of whether it takes the form you want or not. This is an important part of developing equanimity (using equanimity here as a quality you develop, not a description of a stage of insight). Second, staying with an object often reveals its nature in greater detail, which is the whole point of the practice of noting.

This very paradoxical thing happens when I practice where I will be aware of a sensation that feels very solid. My attitude of wanting to see in greater detail somehow keeps it feeling more solid. As soon as I open up and accept that the sensation is what it is, I start to see the details. Having an attitude of acceptance can have a powerful effect on your ability to see things with clarity, but like I said, if your attention is inclined to stay with an object, stay there, but if it naturally flows away, don't force yourself to stay there either. Sometimes it can feel like having a dog on a leash where you try and put your attention one place, but your attention pulls you back to a more salient sensation. Best to just let the dog do it what it wants. As long as you are aware, and not lost in some thought, it doesn't matter where your attention wanders.

RE: Questions about noting
Answer
12/11/19 8:23 AM as a reply to Ryan Cook.
What do you notice? Notice that.