20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 3:38 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 3:37 PM

20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/27/20 Recent Posts
First time poster, long time lurker.

I have booked my first retreat. It will be solo in a cabin for 20 days coming up in August. Currently I'm meditating using TMI and I sit roughly around stages 5-6. I have been meditating TMI for over 3 years now consistently 1+ hour daily and I find it to be an absolute grind. There is some progress, but it's so painfully slow. I feel I'm ready to give up on concentration practices altogether. It seems some people have a rather low affinity for concentration, and that seems to be me.

At this point I am considering switching practices to just noting, Mahasi style. 

I'm not sure exactly the best way to utilize these 20 days though, and I've heard a few different ways to do noting, and not sure which one would be the most effective at moving me through the POI. I've heard anchoring to the breath at abdomen and noting rising/falling and then noting distractions. I've also heard of doing it where you note wherever your attention has landed, I guess in more of a choice less attention style.

I feel like I've busted my hump just to gain the stability of attention I currently have and don't want to lose it, will switching to noting cause me to lose concentration in this way or will it continue to develop it?

ill also take any other advice, at this point I feel I'm lost in analysis paralysis, torn between continuing concentration (TMI) or just giving it up all together and just moving to noting. After about 1300 hours of TMI I feel like I'm ready to throw in the towel. 
Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 6:05 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 6:05 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 2523 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Welcome to DhO! 

Im not familiar with TMI and am not sure what 5-6 stage is. Is that pre or post Arising and Passing Away of the PoI map? 

20 days is a long retreat and can be easier done using concentration practice than noting emoticon My longest solo retreat was 3 days Shamatha with 6 hours per day and walking meditation in between. As I was post A&P it was a joy to sit. Until my 2nd 3 day solo retreat were I hit the DN and not knowing about the Maps I freaked out as my lovely mighty meditator was gone to shit emoticon 

Anyway, noting can be very intense and going full on solo retreat for 20 days might be over your head. Or not. I would suggest not many hours daily and go for long walks too. 

As you are already accustomed to concentration I would not stop with it but include both into your practice. 

You can use a round Kasina object in front of yourself and gaze at it and let the image space get absorbed. You will likely experience changes in focus getting sharp and the diffused and maybe colors of the image space might start changing, flickering or even shaking at times. Basically you will be able to see things changing in the image space and absorption will take place. Maybe notprofound but still observable.

While letting image space do the absorption you keep Noting anything that arises in your experience, like body sensations, mind states and feeling tones. Some do this quietly but I find noting aloud keeps on the task without having lapse in constant mindfulness. For me main thing is not loosing the stream of labeling (stream of consciousness). 

If you find meditating with open eyes impossible and noting aloud too then quiet noting of rising and falling of the abdomen is a better choice. Just make sure you are not getting lost too much in la-la land. If you do get lost too much in thinking and scenario spinning or dozing off then by all means do try noting aloud. 

1-10 sensation per second is Ingram's suggestion. I find 1-5 sensation is more than enough. 

You can't force insight nor can you force SE. Be gentle to yourself and only focus on what is in the moment right now. Notice it and label it and move on, notice-label, notice-label ... 
In case you are using Kasina for image space then keep noting "seeing, seeing" when attention is on seeing. Also label changes in the image space as "flickering, strong focus, diffused focus, periferal seeing, blurred periffery, tunnel vision" etc. 

If things get too confusing concerning the mind states you can always retreat back to body sensations as they can be more available and more clear. 

Yes there are different ways to go about this Noting and is good to hear what others here have to say. 

Also if you really want to do Noting on this retreat I think it's good you prepare yourself a bit at home by already practicing noting once a day and see what is clear to you and what is confusing so we can help you out with it. You want as less doubt and uncertainty around a meditation method when on retreat. 

I hope others will chime in and offer more ideas. 
Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 7:45 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 7:45 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/27/20 Recent Posts
Hello, and thank you for your response, I appreciate you taking the time.

Firstly, TMI is The Mind Illuminated. It is mostly concentration based until the later stages (8-9). Currently, I have fairly stable attention but I cannot reach samatha access concentration. I have been doing concentration practice for close to 4 years now, and I am fairly disciplined. I have done about 1 hour daily. until the last 1-2 months where I have been averaging 3-4 hours daily. with the occasional 5-8 hour day. Even with all this practice, my concentration doesn't seem to budge. I am fearful that if I spend time doing concentration practice during my retreat that I will end up wasting my time spinning my wheels on the same thing I have been for the last couple years.

As far as POI, I am pre A&P, and as far as I can tell I haven't even hit mind and body yet.

I have been practicing noting off cushion during the day as well. I am giving concentration a few more weeks with the help of a teacher and to see if my concentration practice improves. If not I'm just going to move to straight noting and do it for a few weeks 3-4+ hours a day before my retreat to start getting things ramped up.

As I said, I'm getting fairly fed up with concentration and my motivation is starting to drop. I have been at this plateu for over a year now. I'm really not sure what to do with it or where to go from here. It's a shame to say I've wasted so much time (1300 or so hours) doing a practice that doesn't seem to be working for me. Anyways, I'm just looking for ways to move forward from here.
Jason Massie, modified 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 8:47 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/2/20 8:47 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 124 Join Date: 10/18/16 Recent Posts
Try noting several hours a day between now and August. See how it goes. If you have problems, post them here. I wouldn't try to switch on day one of the retreat. 
As the retreat gets closer, increasing the hours has helped me. 
Instructions from practical insight meditation or from vivikanada might help.
Brian, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:40 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:40 AM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 108 Join Date: 1/21/19 Recent Posts
Hi, I hope you'll stick with your current practice for the retreat just to give it the best possible chance of succeeding. If something isn't working yet, it's possible it just needs a bit more concerted time and effort.

But if it turns out that you really don't think that method is working for you, there's another method that might suit you better. It was formulated by a monk who stresses that the Buddha mastered but ultimately rejected concentration and absorption practices. The practice is described here: https://library.dhammasukha.org/uploads/1/2/8/6/12865490/the_path_to_nibbana__d_johnson_f18.pdf
Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 3:36 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 3:36 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/27/20 Recent Posts
Thanks for the link. So far so good. I don't find I spend much time on the abdomen, but mostly bouncing around to whatever catches my attention.

with my current level of concentration it seems I don't miss much though, just some of the more subtle thoughts. I spent a few hours today on cushion noting.

But now I am wondering, because even when off cushion noting it's hard to keep the momentum going? Also; I'm wondering if access concentration is possible during noting? And are mind/body and cause/effect easy insights to spot? A lot is said about the big 3, A&P and the rest, but not much about the first too.

seems my mind notes about 1-4/sec, and after a while I seem to slip into a bit of a groove and feels automatic. Anyways, thanks for the reply! 
Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:20 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:20 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 2523 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
1-4 per second is great stuff especially if you can do it without loosing the stream of noticing/noting/labeling. 

Mind Body, C&E and 3C's will likely come to you one after the other and most of the time you might not notice Mind and Body as you are likely passed that. What you will notice is feeling good as you start, noting easily "this is body stuff , and this mind stuff". I'm sure you have this one already. 
The C&E will likely come as train of some images of people you either know, knew or never ever met and some scenarios about it. This is all normal stage stuff. Keep noting it as "scenario spin" and "imagining". 
3C's will usually be the body posture issues and body jerks, body stifness, body pains, unpleasant feelings and emotions and rather jerky stuff popping up and vanishing but without much depth to see it clearly. It's not the most pleasant stage. 
Keep noting "unpleasant" but also that which might be pleasant or neutral in feel. Look for those stif and painful body parts, preassure in the chest or solar plexsus. See how you perceive this! Note all its aspects. When you contact a lower back pain is there an image in your mind of the lower back, is there "knowing" that it's a pain in the lower back, where is it distance wise from the Knower of this experience, note the breathing, is it long or short during the inbreath and compare to the outbreath. Is the inbreathing pleasant or unpleasant. Is the outbreathing pleasant or unpleasant or neutral even. 
Notice the image space; is there something flickering in the "murk" if you do it closed eyes. Note it as "seeing" if you do. Any feeling tone there? Etc 
If open eyes, notice the eye lids blinking, rapid blinks with agitation in the eyes or not many blinks but instead ease of focusing and maybe changes in how diffused or sharp the focus is. 

If you keep focus on some visual Kasina (I use dirt spots on wall or floor) or abdomen moving or some pleasant vibration on the body you certainly can get concentration and absorption's going. How deep these are will vary from person to person I guess. 
Keep noting these rather than just being embedded in such experience. 

Btw, I have passed all the way to low EQ with a Shamatha practice back in 2010-2011 and never knew really about the stages nor how to recognize this stuff emoticon Once I knew about the map I could then recognize it. 
This means that insights happen anyways even if they are not all that clear to the "knower". 

This is just my take on this and others might have more to say or even to correct me. 
Olivier S, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:51 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 5:49 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

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To me the "it feels automatic" corresponds to the 2nd jhana/4th ñana. 

What Papa Che said about people moving through these things unknowingly. One example : I got my dad to meditate for the first time the other day - just 10 minutes of breath meditation. He started getting "jewel tone lights" which is associated with the 4th ñana.

So you see, it's not like they are necessarily high attainments/dramatic events. The AP can just be "quickly arising and passing physical sensations"... not always anything fancy, quite easy to miss sometimes.

Not that I'm sugesting anything about your practice, just providing some context.

But when I read this 
with my current level of concentration it seems I don't miss much though, just some of the more subtle thoughts. I spent a few hours today on cushion noting.
that sounds way beyond access concentration. AC is just being able to stay with something with some stability.

Anyways, what happened during these hours of noting ??

Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 6:30 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 6:30 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/27/20 Recent Posts
Thanks for your reply. 

I'm not entirely sure if it felt automatic or not, but either way it felt low effort. I didn't have to do much other than maybe a little flick to keep the noting going. I'm not sure what access is supposed to feel like, I'm not even sure if I had it during concentration practices.

Maybe I have moved the through POI, but if I did my experiences have been more subconscious and subtle and this harder to make heads or tails of. But I can give you some highlights of what I have been experiencing:

- a month or 2 ago I had a dream that I had an A&P. It felt real I think but like most dreams the details faded away rather quickly. I woke up with a strong heightened perception of awareness and attention
- in general I tend to have more prelucid and detailed dreams, usually they tend to be pretty bizarre.
- the last few nights have been tough to sleep, I think. I can't tell if I'm awake or if I'm sleeping. My fitness tracker logs "good sleep" but I can hear my thoughts and have a general sense of what's going on for what seems to be hours, but I'm not sure? Oh and I have been sweating so much I have to turn down the A/C to like 55F/13C just to be able to fall asleep, and even then I am still sweating.
- intense feelings of rage and anger, coming and going, no real obvious reason why, could be samatha purification but again I'm not sure
- mindfulness is actually pretty decent. I can generally hear my thoughts at all times throughout the day, and generally can pick up within 1-5 seconds of it and call them on their bullshit and move on to something else
- I am not retreating currently but with my current life circumstances I can easily maintain 4+ hours of meditation and generally I am disciplined. Meditation is a mix between something I want to do and a goal I want to achieve ie stream entry
- I attempted concentration practice yesterday and my mind basically snapped and said "FUCK this" and that was it, I couldn't do it anymore. 4 years of samatha and I felt like I hit a brick wall. My mind totally gave up. If I try to sit samatha I last maybe 15 minutes (as opposed to my usual 60-90 minutes) and those 15 minutes or fidgety and restless which isn't normal for me. Also I am sitting somewhere between extremely frustrated and a big "fuck it I don't give a shit anymore" attitude about it. Seems to go back and forth between these two.

anyways, when noting on cushion it usually starts around 1/sec, and tends to ramp up to 2-4 within 20 minutes. It feels good and I feel relaxed in general. I tend to just follow wherever my attention goes, which tends to flicker between body sensations, sounds, and sometimes the breath. For example, in the body I can note "feel" or "itch" a few times a second as attention moves from random areas that feel highlighted. I will say sometimes it does feel like I'm forcing attention to go there, sometimes not. I also tend to lag on some more subtle thoughts. I will realize I was thinking briefly but only after a few seconds have passed, at which point I notice this but don't label it. In general I would say I'm on target 95% of the time. Again this is generalizations but the jyst I think. Sometimes I mess up my labels too, and sometimes I notice I'll be noting "hearing" for example 5-6 times in a row and then realize that I was lost somewhere else, but tends to only happen a few times within an hour session. Other than that I don't have any wild experiences haha
Pepe ·, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 7:11 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 6:45 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

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Shargrol       ( check  Shargrol Post Compilation )

The important thing to understand about the progress of insight is that it reflect patterns seen in meditators on retreat doing a particular practice. The further you get from that context, the less applicable it is... but it is amazing how it appears to have some pretty good applicability to lay people doing consistent high-quality home and off-cushion practice. 
Basically, it's the old unpeeling the onion metaphor. There are layers and layers of identification, but a finite number. 

  • If someone steps out of the trance of normal discursive thinking about their life, the first thing they notice is that they have thoughts and sensations in their body. Mind & Body.
  • If someone investigates Mind & Body, they will see that they influence each other. Cause & Effect.
  • If someone investigates Cause & Effect, they will see that we are most of what we do is actually driven by a visceral reaction to the unsatisfactory aspects of experience. Three Characteristics.
  • If someone investigates the visceral reactions to the Three Characteristics, they see how these reactions are like dominoes hitting one then the other then the other. Arising & Passing.
  • When they can simply watch all that happen, the body might have a small taste of the space between the dominoes. Arising & Passing Event

At this point, meditation is a comedy of errors, which comes from trying to "not see" what is actually happening. It's a more detailed map because this is where people really need help.  

  • Instinctually and somewhat unconciously, the person will try to "find" the spiritual experiences of the A&P of the nothingness of the A&P event. They don't find it and instead it feels like everything good is slipping away. If they actually just watch that happen, then they get the insight into the nature of Dissolution -- things don't stick around.
  • Instinctually and somewhat unconciously, the person will have a sense of loss of control and be surprized by something and evokes primal terror. If they don't see fear as an experience in awareness, then the meditator gets lost in thinking about all the things that evoke fear. If they actually just watch that happen, then they get the insight into the nature of Fear -- surprise is surprise, no big deal, and even fear is fear, no big deal. 
  • Instinctually and somewhat unconsciously, the person will want to protect themselves from surprises and will instinctually create an ongoing, low-level sense of Misery to fill up the space. It's a coping mechanism. But it the person sees misery as misery, then they get the insight into the nature of Misery.
  • Likewise with Disgust. Long term misery feels awful. Disgust is an empowering coping mechanism that allow someone to feel more in control and more powerful. "I am disgusted!" But if the person sees disgust as disgust, then they get the insight into the nature of Disgust.
  • Likewise with Desire for Deliverance. The person is somewhat empowered and thinks, "there must be a way out of this". There is a focus on problem solving, perfecting practice, finding better teachers, etc. It has the flavor of some confidence and passonate seeking. But if the person see this as another reactive pattern, then they get the insight into the nature of Desire for Deliverance.
  • Likewise with Reobservation. The person is now reobserving everything they went through, all the strategies, all the attempts to find the experience they think will make them happy. It has the flavor of desperation and failure. If they see this desparate feeling of "nothing works" as just another reactive pattern, then they get the insight into the nature of Reobservation.
  • Low Equanimity is finally realizing that fighting experience or trying to find a different experience other that what is actually happening is impossible.
  • High Equanimity is being mostly at peace with this and continuing to sit, mildly curious about "if all of these experience occur within awareness, then what is awareness? what is mind? what is knowing?"
  • Stream Entry happens when the pervasive non-reactivity of equanimity (not grabbing at objects, not searching for objects) allows for momentary non-grabbing. The meditator doesn't "do" anything. It's more like when a sun runs out of fuel and it collapses into itself. 

Another more informal description of the Progress of Insight, by Shargrol too, plus tips on retreats
  • 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years
  • Start with a home retreat. Don't skip steps. Life really happens when you meet it half way 
  • A general rule for retreats 
  • A month long retreat is not for beginners 
  • Five classic negative habits that show up on retreat
  • Pacing is everything on a long retreat
Finally, Balancing TMI and MCTB approaches 

[Added:] Also check some notes of Daniel Ingram's Framework - The Seven Factors of Awakening
Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 7:27 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/3/20 7:27 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

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Thank you! These posts by Shagrol are an absolute treasure trove of information. I have only read some so far and they have already been extremely helpful. What he says about moving up and down the map makes a lot of sense to how I have been feeling. I feel currently I could be in low/mid EQ....but it's really hard to tell.

The problem is I can't tell how much of this is genuine progress on the map, or if it's just my ego clinging to the notion of "progress". I have been up and down and sideways with these maps over the last year and one thing that has been happening over the last few months is that I've stopped reading books, podcasts, youtubes, and in general not looking at "theory" anymore and I am more interested in just doing the thing. Where I'm at is I want practical and basic instructions, "do this, do that, don't do this" etc. I have been looking for teachers and currently have one but I have only seen him once so far.

Anyways thanks a lot for this. This answered a lot of my questions.
Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 6:18 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 6:18 AM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 2523 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
You mentioned "itch" above. Can you tell more about how you perceive itching? Not just feeling tone but the body sensation of the itch spot itself. Does it change and if so how does it behave? 

As Olivier said these stages AND states don't need to be as "deep" and wow like as some traditional monks would like us to believe. They can have any depth. Sure one can Master these and go deeper development but Mastering is one thing and Awakening another. 
In Zen all is considered Makyo. I mean they can get to SE without ever knowing about it as such. Some people awaken without ever practicing formal meditation (if we choose to believe it of course as we can always be in doubt about other people's awakening).

I find maps useful especially when shit hits the fan. At least map tells me it's normal. Do t freak out but Accept it and see it for what it is. I can do that emoticon 
Nathan Sutherland, modified 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 2:07 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 2:07 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/27/20 Recent Posts
Hello Papa,

Thank you for taking interest in my post.

Wooo a lot to talk about here from just a few hours of noting. Well I use a few different labels depending on the sensation/tone I am feeling, for example I label twitch when I get muscle twitches, tickle for example when my hair rubs against my forehead, and itch has a different sensation/tone as well. Itch comes in a few various ways - generally I notice it being neutral or unpleasant, sometimes I note "aversion" as well as itch. Sometimes I can feel an itch for a few seconds to a fraction of a second, and then a new itch will pop up randomly somewhere else, and this can happen 5+ times with different areas/notes. Sometimes it's just one area and the itch can feel rather constant, increasing/decreasing in intensity, or sometimes it feels like it's pulsing like it's moving to the rythem of my heartbeat, or fluttering/flicking a little quicker than that.

Sometimes I feel a lot of vibrational energy, usually in my feet, again this can flicker or pulse, but I also find it kind of "flows" back and forth through the foot. I also find my attention alternates between one foot and the other for noticing/noting the sensations. It feels like someone is ping ponging from one foot to the next (if this makes sense?) and this can be 1 times a second or more. The faster I note this the faster the movements occur. I cannot tell which is causing which exactly.

As I get into the middle/end of the sit the noting/labeling feels more spontaneous. For example I had a dry/sore throat and noted "sore" and then "clearing" when I cleared my throat, and "swallowing" shortly after. It felt again kind of automatic, like the labeling was just happening on its own.

Also I found my body would get tense in certain areas, like my muscles were clenching in my arm a lot, but it didn't bother me and my mind didn't feel tense and fairly relaxed, overall I did enjoy each session.

The only part I find difficult to note are more subtle thought forms. Sometimes I notice them seconds after, in which case I don't bother labeling..but now that I think about it maybe I'll try labeling "noticing" haha. 

I feel like I'm getting the hang of it, so far so good. I've been reading more of Shargol's posts and it seems like I have cycled through the insights in rather a quick time - I think. When I originally made this post his definitions of desire for deliverence/re-obv sounded very much like mine, and his definitions of the Dukkha's sounded like a lot of what I have been going through the last month or two. Again this is just speculation. I kind of snapped the other day and said "fuck this" and shortly after "fuck it I'm gonna meditate anyways I don't care" seems to be my current attitude.
Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 4:31 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/4/20 4:18 PM

RE: 20 day solo retreat coming up, not sure what to do, but goal is SE

Posts: 2523 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
That sounds great Nathan emoticon you seem at home with this noting stuff! Nice one!

Just know that at times noting will be curious and engaging and easy going with good amount of sensory clarity and at times it might be rather confusing and discouraging and might need acceptance and applied effort to keep the stream of labeling unbroken throughout the sit, or at least keep you from giving up.

Look at the mind as a terrain that you are driving through. Up the hill downshift to 1st gear and note 1 sensation per second. Down hills up  it to 2-5 per second. If its foggy slow down as its unclear, you dont even know what you are noting or if indeed you are labeling matter of fact etc ... you can use word "certainty" for each sensation if indeed you were certain its matter of fact. This helps with removing doubt if indeed you are doing matter of fact noting. Or in case of not being able to find sensations or there are just too many and all seems confusing and too much, you can use word "there is ... (label here)" which gives you that time to be curious and listening-looking-sensing for a sensation/mind state/feeling; there iiiiiis ... itching, there iiiiis ... seeing , there iiiis ... etc ...
All these are tools as is the noting aloud voice. I used Shinzen's tip to really say out loud labels when hitting very unpleasant spots and where there is much unclarity and maybe even thoughts of giving up under the attack of Re-observation. Acceptance (letting the tsunami hit as hard as it needs to) and applied effort (shouting out aloud the labels if need be).

I use mainly Kenneth Folk's Freestyle Noting Aloud but I have come to develop my own method that seems to suit me better. I did include a Kasina of sorts to stare at with open eyes during the Noting. This helps with inviting absorptions in the image space which are observable and part of my freestyle noting aloud practice. Kenneth has a few vids where he breaks freestyle noting down into Body sensations, Mind states, Feelings.

Check this video by Shinzen on noting and options you can use in certain situations (I use these tips)