Breadth vs Depth

Sean McCarthy, modified 9 Months ago.

Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 2 Join Date: 5/26/19 Recent Posts
Hello everyone. Just as a quick introduction, I'm Sean and I've been meditating on and off for 5 years, but have only gotten interested in the Progress of Insight just in the past several months. In the past I have done a lot of choiceless awareness and self-inquiry style practices. Noting practice is relatively new to me.

My question is about what seems to me like a contradiction between two practice goals: 1) to penetrate the objects of awareness, breaking them down into smaller components and seeing their impermanence and 2) seeing everything that arises within consciousness clearly at every moment. The first goal seems to require that an object is held at the center of attention for an extended period of time and investigated, while the second goal for me seems to be better facilitated not by directing attention, but just by noticing whatever happens to naturally grab attention at any moment.

At the moment, a typical session for me involves me first getting centered with some shamatha and then "sitting back" and allowing any objects to grab attention naturally and I note the objects, usually 1-3 times per second. I feel like I am getting some sense of how the mind moves and creates impressions and intentions, but am I missing something important by not forcing myself to stick with a single object?

Any thoughts are greatly appreciated!
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Jim Smith, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 973 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
I think you will get different opinions, I'm not sure if there is a right or wrong answer. My choice is not breadth, but I don't know if you would call it depth either. First I prepare for vipassana with concentration meditation (samatha) to quiet my mind. Because the mind is quiet, it is slowed down. It is definately not looking at lots of sensations per second. Then with that quiet mind I try to be aware of sensations (direct sensory input) but not perceptions (recognition of objects). I pay attention to sensations of sight, sound, etc without doing any "cogitation" without thinking about what they are to the extent of not recognizing what they are - as far as is possible. Typically I do this when I am not in sitting meditation, such as when I am taking a walk or washing the dishes, etc, but it can be done sitting too..

To me it seems that the moment of recognition, when the mind understands what a sensation is, is when the mind recognizes (creates) not-self and that is when the separation between self and not-self happens. "If you can observe it, it is not you." And the comprehension of not-self implies self. You can't have not-self without self. So it is that instant of recognition of the things sensations represent in which the conception of self arises.

It is those moments of perception of not-self and self that combine like the frames of a movie to create a continuous sense of self that becomes ingrained in our world view and then taken for granted as truth.

When you preceive a sensation all you know is "sensation", but you don't know whether it is self or not-self. It is only when you recognize what it represents that you know whether it is self or not-self. The quiet mind that does not know is what a Zen master called it "the before thinking mind".

I try to cultivate that.

He also said: When seeing, just see.

I try to do that.

http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2020/09/when-seeing-just-see-when-hearing-just.html


Another exercise I do, after concentration (samatha) meditation but also typically when not sitting (but it can be done sitting) is to try to let go of my feeling of controlling. I just am aware of sensations but I let things happen by themselves, the movements of the body, and the activity of the mind (thoughts, emotions, impulses, intentions etc). I am aware but not feeling like I am controlling. The feeling of control is subjective, it is something we imagine. If you watch closely you will see this. You get rid of it the same way, by imagining. We think we are in control, we can think we are not in control just as easily. The point is to erode your sense of self as a controller. As you observe the activity of the mind going by itself, you see your multiple identies, the thinker, the analyzer, the planner, the rememberer, the hater, the lover, etc are all subjective too.

https://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2020/09/a-practical-exercise-for-eroding.html
shargrol, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 1563 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sean, this is where the progress of insight is helpful.

In general, Penetrative mindfulness or "attention" is preferred up through A&P, then more gentle allowing or "awareness" is preferred through the difficult stages of dark night. EQ is a natural blend of attention and awareness.

You can also use the different modes in a more subtle way - attention increases energy/tension and awareness softens energy/tension. So there can be fine tweaks during a sit, using more attention if there is boredom, using more awarenss if there is irritability.

But most of all, this is about developing intuitive skill in meditation --- just hearing this verbally won't help much, it takes a lot of experimenting and practice. 


That all said, pretty much everyone needs 10-15 minutes for the busy mind to relax and switch into practice mode. So it's totally normal to take some time at the beginning of practice to just settle into practice. 
Miso Pell, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/13/20 Recent Posts
shargrol:
Sean, this is where the progress of insight is helpful.

In general, Penetrative mindfulness or "attention" is preferred up through A&P, then more gentle allowing or "awareness" is preferred through the difficult stages of dark night. EQ is a natural blend of attention and awareness.

You can also use the different modes in a more subtle way - attention increases energy/tension and awareness softens energy/tension. So there can be fine tweaks during a sit, using more attention if there is boredom, using more awarenss if there is irritability.

But most of all, this is about developing intuitive skill in meditation --- just hearing this verbally won't help much, it takes a lot of experimenting and practice. 


That all said, pretty much everyone needs 10-15 minutes for the busy mind to relax and switch into practice mode. So it's totally normal to take some time at the beginning of practice to just settle into practice. 


"But the yogi will have to relearn the art of concentration.
One way to understand what is happening here is to hearken back to the
phases of chicken herding. In order to master the equanimity ñana, the yogi
has to completely develop the fifth and final phase of chicken herding. In this
phase, the chicken herder has become one with the flock and is aware of the
entire barnyard all at once. This takes a great deal of momentum, and a great
deal of practice, because you can’t “do” this as much as you can “allow” it;
the latter phases of concentration arise naturally when the momentum is
strong. And in order to have momentum, you must practice."- Kenneth Folk

Does one drop the noting to focus purely on samatha with an object before returning to note again? Or can noting alone in EQ develop this concentration Kenneth Folk speaks of? It seems like Kenneth, according to his chicken herding model is talking about at least first jhana. But, maybe his last stage is actually access concentration? 
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 5478 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
My teacher Michael Taft talks about these different approaches as working from opposite directions, and both work. He has made a model to explain this. According to that model there are basically four levels to work with: concepts, phenomena, vibrations, and empty awareness. Vipassana from the Theravadan tradition works by going down the stack, drilling down from concepts until you reach emptiness. Tha Mahayana traditions often approaches the practice from the other direction, starting with empty awareness and then going up the stack to empty out the constructs (although there are also many preliminary practices that help practicioners to find that startng point, as that is not always so easy). Both approaches work. They just go about it differently. What Michael has always wanted to do is to teach going in both directions - going down the stack and then turning around and reversing the stack. You know how sometimes when you visit a beautiful place, going back the same way is an adventure too because the light has shifted and thinks look different from another angle? I'm taking Michael's course "Reversing the stack" right now, and I find that it's like that with the practice too. Here is a series of teachings by Michael Taft at San Francisco Dharma Collective that explains the idea. 

https://youtu.be/52Ei9s8t2Sc
https://youtu.be/Q1XAqi6WMr8
https://youtu.be/1tdAQxM0t5Q
https://youtu.be/63MCO0SamEg

It seems to me like many pragmatic practicioners do something along that line, starting with Vipassana and then take an interest in Mahamudra or Dzogchen or something like that. That's how it has been for me, although even though I didn't have the words for it, I actually alternated between the approaches from the beginning because it intuitively felt right. Just like Shargrol says, different methods work for different phases. Regardless of approach, as far as I understand it, in later paths the subject-object duality collapses. 

The difference of approaches does not only apply to insight but also to concentration practice. Shamatha according to Theravadan approaches is very object-focused, although the point of it is to have the object gradually fall away more and more. Single-pointedness is emphasized. In my experience, this makes the jhanas very stylized and clean and following a very predictable progression. Zhine without and object in the Mahayana approaches has a broader approach. It's more about learning to not hold anything in attention. In my experience at least so far this gives different kinds of absorptions, and they don't seem to follow a predictable progression in the same way. It's more about a dance back and forth between emptiness and form. However, I haven't done it the proper way, as I come from a pragmatic background, so maybe there is a very predictable progression there too that I just haven't discovered. Also, zhine without an object is not the only concentration practice within Mahayana. 

I find it fascinating how the different approaches relate to each other and how insight and concentration relate to each other and altogether weave a complex and intricate multidimensional fabric. 
Miso, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/13/20 Recent Posts
How have you found zhine useful compared to the jhanas? 
Sean McCarthy, modified 9 Months ago.

RE: Breadth vs Depth

Posts: 2 Join Date: 5/26/19 Recent Posts
Very helpful replies from everyone. Jim what you described matches my experience perfectly, both in that my practice style is often very similar to what you describe and I have also noticed the feeling of self generated in a similar way. I got into meditaiton through Sam Harris, who takes a very Dzogchen approach. This approach was very useful for me in the first year or two of my practice, with some quite impactful realizations happening relatively early. In the intervening years however I feel as if my practice has stagnated somewhat, from what I think is perhaps too much zoning out and lack of sensory clarity, which seems to be a common trapping in open awareness practices. Reflecting now, I wonder if the real cause of my early insights was a result of the intense interest, investigation and amount of time I had committed.

I think my main goal at the moment is to increase sensory clarity and investigation. Linda, your point about the different directions the Theravada and Mahayana apprach practice, and legitimacy of both is reassuring. Going forward, I really like the idea of going from both directions, even within a single sit. My tendency is definitely to start with the stack reversed as you say (just by coincidence I started watching Michael Taft's guided meditations in the past ocuple weeks). 

The main point I am gathering here is that either approach will give results, though at different points in time one might be more useful than the other, as Shargrol suggested. So far I have not really seen my experience map onto the progress of insight too much. Like I said I have had some powerful nondual experiences, but descriptions of the A&P and transitition to dark night don't really seem to track, except for maybe a very subtle urge to "finish something". Since I cannot really place myself on the map, I think most useful would be to stick with whatever is calling for investigation at the time and to focus on increasing clarity. There's an interesting balance between sticking with what feels intuitive and comfortable and digging into the uncomfortable. Like you said, I think I could use more experimentation and investigation with this. This was useful in clearing up a bit of doubt about whether I am "doing it right", and writing this out has given me a bit more perspective. Thanks all.