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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.

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Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.
Answer
12/23/19 5:44 AM
I recently started meditating in the Mahasi tradition(3 months). I attended a week’s retreat and I can see that Im making quite a good progress with it. It has brought a sense of peace and less emotional upheavals
There is a Mahasi retreat centre close to where I live(UK), which helps.
But after I started reading the reports of messy dark nights of Mahasi meditators in this forum (and other forums), I’m trying to re-evaluate whether I should continue with this or switch over to something like TMI which has more Shamata and hence less dark night issues.
If I  switch over to TMI, it will be another 2-3 months before I get enough grounding in the method and there are not many opportunities to do long retreats, and one is almost on his own. Again there is no guarantee that TMI can be as effective as my current method.
I’m in a family situation where I cannot risk any destabilizing effects or traumas arising out of meditation nor do I want to go back to my older self before mediation.
 
This dilemma has been going on for more than a week now, and it’s impacting my current practice too.
Can more experienced meditators in this forum, or someone who has experience in both the methods advise on how to progress in this situation?

RE: Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.
Answer
12/23/19 11:58 AM as a reply to prabhu ram.
Three to four months isn't a long time in practice terms. If you think you need to back off noting practice, then do it, but keep in mind that the other practice you mention may not get you to the same eventual places that a noting practice will.

JMHO, of course.

RE: Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.
Answer
12/23/19 3:22 PM as a reply to prabhu ram.
I think it's important to ask yourself what your goals are with meditation.

Are you simply interested in less anxiety / more mindfulness in daily life, classical awakening as taught by the Buddha / explained at MCTB.org, or something else entirely?

Based on this you can try to manipulate the probabilities by meditating more or less, focusing more on shamatha or vipassana, etc, but in the end you have limited control. Uncomfortable purifications and dark night episodes happen to plenty of TMI meditators and non-meditators as well.

The skillful way to approach this is to do your best, to accept that you might end up in uncomfortable territory and to resolve to deal with it skillfully when it arises. Your noting practice is a great foundation because noting is one of the best ways to gain some distance when things get tough. It might also help to find support in a sangha, get a mentor/coach/therapist familiar with meditation, get some flexibility for time off if absolutely necessary, etc.

As for TMI vs. Mahasi, don't think of it as starting over. Think of it as adding another skill to your toolbox.

While they do emphasize different skills at times (e.g. free floating attention vs. steady attention), the two can really support each other. Any mental improvements you've gotten from noting practice will almost certainly benefit your TMI practice and vice versa. And while it's good to have a main practice and stick to it for a while, switching from one technique to another, or attending retreat in one tradition even though you practice something else at home is generally Ok. Just be aware that a Mahasi retreat is not the best place to avoid insight experiences if that's really what you want. For a decent alternative that's compatible with TMI check out the Thai Forest tradition, which has branches and dana-base retreats throughout the world. https://forestsangha.org/community/monasteries/

As for what to practice, how about trying out TMI instead of Mahasi for a whlie (2 weeks? a month?) and seeing how it works for you? You can even split your sit - first half TMI second half Mahasi if you really want. I suspect that as long as you keep sitting regularly and don't force things too hard on the cushion you're unlikely to lose the benefits by experimenting a little.

RE: Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.
Answer
12/24/19 12:25 PM as a reply to mrdust.
Thanks Chris Marti and mrdust.

@mrdust, your answer has given a different perspective. I was reluctant to do split time between both the practices due to the oft repeated analogy of digging wells in two different places, and not going deep enough anywhere.

Will try to switch over to TMI for a month or two to see how it works, while keeping in touch with the noting practice too.

RE: Continuing with Mahasi Noting Practice.
Answer
12/27/19 1:42 PM as a reply to prabhu ram.
prabhu ram:
Thanks Chris Marti and mrdust.

@mrdust, your answer has given a different perspective. I was reluctant to do split time between both the practices due to the oft repeated analogy of digging wells in two different places, and not going deep enough anywhere.

Will try to switch over to TMI for a month or two to see how it works, while keeping in touch with the noting practice too.

Noting distractions is an option in TMI as of stage 3 and I'll second noting on its own as an excellent base for TMI. Doing TMI with noting feels quite different from noting whatever the strongest sensation is with no fixed object of attention, but it's not very different from noting rising and falling and whatever sensations take you off of it. It's more samatha-oriented, but hardly exclusively so.

A lot of people on the TMI sub-Reddit who are either authorized teachers of it or quite advanced at it tend to point out that vipassana (including noting) becomes an option as of stages 7 and 8. This is actually a misconception. TMI has vipassana built-in from the moment you start, since you're supposed to feel the sensations of the breath. Those sensations change, as do the distractions. Notice that and vipassana is happening . The emphasis in TMI is simply on attaining continuity of attention from your moment-to-moment noticings, rather than noticing change from your moment-to-moment noticings. The intentions you're supposed to cultivate in TMI to notice body sensations and sounds (extrospective awareness), emotions and thoughts (introspective awareness) are also vipassana techniques, as are checking-in and connecting.

If you use some vipassana techinques to do samatha, like TMI does, it really works quite well, but you're still going to move forward on the Progress of Insight map. That's not a bad thing.

It certainly becomes easier to track changing sensations after the mental clarity and exclusive attention of stage 6 and the effortlessness of stage 7, but it's still hard to avoid noticing those changing sensations in the breath and distractions from it before developing the samatha skills of those stages. Rather than avoiding noting, it's worth embracing it at those times when the mind is unruly and distractions are dominating. TMI is a flexible toolbox approach and noting and other styles of vipassana are part of it.

Some big advantages of noting for TMI practice are that moment-to-moment noticing of physical sensations cuts through dullness and encourages noticing the vibratory sensations of piti (jhana factor of rapture). Some big advantages of noting mental sensations are that by noting emotions and other mind states, you learn to monitor your level of happiness or lack of, further controlling dullness, which contributes to the jhana factors of joy and unification of mind. Noting thoughts and emotions teaches you introspective awareness. Combine those and you'll be able to tease apart the emotional and physical components of distractions and turn them into objects of attention, which strengthens your moment-to-moment attention and your continuity of attention. Those are the jhana factors of applied attention and sustained attention.