Carol's Practice Log

Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 9/30/20 12:08 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/29/20 11:31 PM

Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
I've been re-reading the Insight books I've collected over the past months and found that I missed the "How to" of noting. No wonder I'm stuck. I was going for something in between straight jhana concentration practice and slowly noting any sensation that surfaces. Partly this is due to many years of kundalini meditation where control of the breath was the point (mostly breath of fire and chakra dhyana). I have to keep dropping the tendency to try to control the breath and that has taken some time. Also when I started exploring Buddhist meditation in 2015, I didn't start with basic insight or even jhana texts, I started with Tibetan meditation and at that time I thought I would have to perfectly visualize a deity (ha! little did I know). One of the teachers at Nyingma gently suggested using the breath, as this is what the lama teaches.

So I spun my wheels for a while before I switched to the breath as object and in 2017 took a copy of The Mind Illuminated on a 4-month retreat at Nyingma to learn more about Buddhism and Kum Nye practices. Our schedule was pretty packed (7 AM to 10 PM) but I found time in the early morning and part of the lunch break to go through the practices in TMI. I got up to a very wobbly stage six, but regressed when I went off retreat and my schedule was back to daily life. Then I went through the resources in the back of TMI, and encountered books on the jhanas, so I tried practices from Brasington, two books by Shaila Catherine, some by Pema Chodron, and several books on mindfulness.

The books were great resources, but my mind could not seem to incline its way to jhana. I also found that it became very painful, even though I was used to sitting. Since all the books said you should sit with a straight spine, this often meant I cut my practice time because it was too painful. I could remember how jhana just appeared years before when I was in the day long process with intense concentration, breathing practices and shakti from the guru, but aside from infrequent brief washes of access concentration, jhana was elusive.

I almost gave up and went back to the guided kundalini meditation, but I knew that I had stalled with that and the practices I encountered in the texts (and from some Nyingma faculty) called to me. I bumbled along until I kept seeing references to Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and I got a copy. Oh. My. God. What a breath of fresh air. Dr. Ingram's honesty perked me right up and I felt I had a clear step by step path. Also I could do reclining practice! Hot damn! So I increased my practice time with some sitting and some reclining.

I was not using the noting practice effectively.

Today: After I read the comments in response to my question (by Zachary, Laurel, and Shargrol), for my afternoon meditation I incorporated the "fast noting" and investigating the painful areas was easier. Thanks so much!! I now see why MCTB says that in the 3 Cs things speed up. I think I was trying too hard to slow it down with slower noting, but once I ditched that, I had thousands of sensations all over the body clamoring for me to notice them. As they sped up, I did the one syllable "bips" (recommended in MCTemoticon to zip around to acknowledge as many as I could, rather than trying to name all of them. Also, when I did this for the painful spots, they opened up. It was back and forth - they kept solidifying - but they are more accessible so I can learn from them.

shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 9/30/20 5:16 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/30/20 5:15 AM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 1763 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts

Yes, this is the real "trick" of noting. You don't need to directly change the experience. Even if it is sucky, if you go "into" the experience of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts then they seem to become purified and released. But even saying this is besides the point, because by going "into" the experience the most important thing that happens is we really experience them and then it is obvious to the primitive mind if these things are helpful or unhelpful.

In many ways, we are training our brainstem to allow us to be free and awake. So while there are many intellectual insights and spiritual thoughts that happen, at the end of the day: are we living in reactivity and limitation or not? Being "free" and "awake" is terrifying to our simple sense of self. No matter what books we read or ideas we have, we need to actually be able to fully experience what shows up in meditation as a practice, so that we can do the same in life. It sounds so simple, but as anyone who practices knows. Meditation is extremely challenging. We inevitably confront our own shadows and fears. We inevitably need to let go of our own self-comforting and psychological defense mechanisms (except the mature ones)...

For better or worse, the mind is both brilliantly smart and primitively stupid. We can have many spiritual insights, but still have unhelpful confusions in our mind and in our body. The only way to awaken is to enliven all these dead spots and uncover all of our psychological baggage. 

One thing that is different about noting is it doesn't have an idealized end goal. In other words, your aren't doing it wrong if you can't follow the breath, don't see the diety, don't develop heat, don't develop pleasure, don't develop space, don't develop clarity. Eventually all of those things will happen, but Mara (so to speak) will try to get you to want to cling to these things and make it an end goal --- which will stop progress. Those are all golden prisons. The important thing is the insights into what actually causes suffering and limitation in our actual experience.

I hope you'll keep going with noting practice. For what it's worth, here's other advice I've given on noting in the past. Hope it helps in some way!
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 9/30/20 10:01 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/30/20 10:01 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

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Day 2:

Thanks for your advice!!!

It's hilarious. All I had to do was to note in a different way and last night I ended up drowning in gratitude. I have a basic gratitude practice I do each night, but this one went on and on until I hardly slept. I'd been expecting maybe the A&P would show up sometime when I was in meditation practice, but I think it decided to sneak in last night as I went to bed.

I wasn't sure this was what happened until I ran into a problem this morning with a zoom "master class" I had scheduled with a book marketing specialist who created a password for the session (she'd never done this before but I think zoom might require now) and she had neglected to tell me, so I sent an email to her to get the password. She didn't respond. It makes sense, because she was in session teaching the class, not looking at email. So I decided to do my practice. But before I even started, anger came out of nowhere. That was the first clue. I mean, sure, it was kind of annoying that I couldn't attend the class since I'd set aside time for it but the amount of anger surprised me. It had nothing to do with a situation that was just an inconvenience. The mood rapidly degenerated into fury and then sank into despair. I started to moan to myself about how I could "never get my books in front of people who like to read my genre" blah blah blah. Then I remembered what MCTB said about doing "dark jhana" and even though I could not enter jhana in meditation, I bet I could create all kinds of negative situations if I didn't stop and investigate it. It was like peeling an onion so I just picked apart the upper skin of irritation and anger until I calmed enough to sit.

For my first sit, instead of either running the rapids of quick noting or lying contracted in hard pain, I slipped into a vast underground lake with the feeling tone of moderate depression. I've been there before when I had no idea what to do with it. Noting was hard. I kept losing track of whether I was noting an in-breath or an out-breath, so I slowed wayyyy down with it. I cast around while noting slow breathing until I remembered to look at the edges and the periphery. Soon I had the experience I used to have a lot in meditation when my body feels all puffy and I could sometimes extend the energy limbs way out. I usually try to reach the ceiling and when I was able to touch it with my extendo-arms, the mood lifted a little. I still investigated the dampened mood, looked at its color, its edges (mostly a self-cherishing two-year-old rant about not getting my way, very old stuff). It got slippery after a while and I spent the rest of the hour breathing as I floated on the huge underground lake.

After that I couldn't notice anything but the quiet and the edges of a depressed mood in the periphery that vanished when I tried to investigate it. In my second sit I ended up in the same place, but with more of a mood of resignation. It was very different from my meditation practice the past several months. It didn't feel at all like my experience of Mind and Body, though I guess it could be and I'm just cycling back again. That would be interesting too.

I'll see tomorrow if I am actually in Dark Night territory. Usually what I before called "the shadow side of spirituality" has manifested in my outside life and has always blindsided me. Once I was even mauled by a pit bull when I was doing a good deed (!!) by visiting a Unity church member who was in need of cheering up. The guy was pet sitting/house-sitting, and was really good with animals so it was a shock when he lost control of that dog. I wasn't even running the "Aren't I so spiritual doing this good deed" game. I genuinely wanted to see how he was doing and cheer him up. Also, until the dog knocked me down and started biting me, I wasn't afraid. I love dogs. The whole thing was so bizzare that I decided it was a shadow side because I had recently had a lot of shakti poured into me by the guru. It was quite severe - I ended up in the hospital for a week and had to go back in to have the foot the dog had broken (their jaws are so powerful they can break bones) debrided (is this the right word?) to deal with the canine bacteria in the bite. At least they saved my foot.

So I completely get how dark night can mess with your life! I'm a little apprehensive. Lots of other things have happened in my outer situation in response to the "two steps forward and one step back" phenomenon so I'm curious to see if being able to investigate the negative emotions blunts some of the outside effects.

Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 10/1/20 9:58 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/1/20 9:58 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
Okay. More hints of dark night territory.

A crown from my back molar abruptly fell out. Okay no big deal. My dentist can cement it back in. I put it in a sealed container and put the container in my handbag to take to my dentist.

Then I went to Safeway during senior hours at 6 AM. When I got home, the container was no longer in my handbag. Absolutely no way could that have fallen out without me hearing it hit the floor, as it was fairly quiet in the store. But still I called to see if someone had picked it up. Nope. Why would someone want somebody's icky crown??? It wasn't any precious metal.

So I must have another one made.

I sat with this and it was just three hours of looking at sensations, mostly dull sensations of floating.

In my Tibetan class this evening I chose to forgo my video feed because it was hot today, so my room is over 100 degrees even at 8 PM. Just a lot of frustration.

Of course, the floaty stuff in meditation could just be back in Mind and Body, but it feels different and didn't immediately move on to Cause and Effect and then the Three Characteristics.

I think I need more data!
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 10/3/20 6:16 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/3/20 6:16 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

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Hi Jarrett! The vajrasattva 100 syllable mantra practice is really powerful, even more than the prostrations. I only just started it because we couldn't meet in person. They are teaching on zoom and we are trying to use zoom to do group practice. I'm not sure how that will go.

I had some "clanging" meditations (where all that is happening is feeling I am in the inside of a metal cooking pot and someone is banging on it) the past two days, but today my second 90 minute sit came right after my mantra practice. I dropped wayyyy down, like a magnet in the earth had pulled me, and a really quiet mind just noted slow in-and-out breath. I see that this can be a feature of Mind and Body, so I may be still doing more rounds of the first three stages. It didn't match dissolution. Still need more data.

Carol Lynn
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 10/9/20 6:23 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/7/20 2:28 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
Not sure where I am in the process. I keep remembering my Hindu teacher in India (in 2007) who said "What to do when all goes wrong is a more important question than 'Is there a god?'" This "what to do" involved being still and looking at what is manifesting (once practical actions have been carried out - like reporting a minor traffic accident, ensuring that any mistakes in data at work were corrected, making sure that my son was still breathing after one of his sharp depressive episodes, etc.)

On October 4 there was a lot of abdominal pain so I was mostly dealing with that and sat only 90 minutes that day. It was pretty clunky, though I was able to stay with the object and tried to note any other sensations, but it was mostly "pain in upper right quadrant" along with investigating areas adjacent to it.

On October 5, I kept nodding off during practice. I think this was due to not sleeping for the past several days, which happens from time to time. Also quite clunky practice and only 90 minutes.

On October 6 I did a more intense gratitude practice before I started my early morning sit. Still, I'm back to the "thoughts running above" sensation where I'm noting physical sensations with subtle thought unrelated to anything running along above me. It's like having a radio on quietly sitting above my head so from time to time I catch a few words. I almost wanted to have my metal crowns checked to see if they could pick up radio frequencies, but the quiet thoughts don't feel foreign, they feel like "my" thoughts so I just note "thinking" and return to my noting of physical sensations.

The second 90 minute practice was clunky. It felt like I was just plodding along, even though I sat right after my three hour ngondro practice. Since I couldn't sleep again, I decided to do a reclining practice at 1 AM. I didn't fall asleep, but noticed the beginning of a sensation of a hand pressing down on me. When my alarm went off at 7 AM I just turned it off and dozed until 8:30. I'm not sure if the strong sensation of a hand pushing me down is related to practice or not sleeping. I had this a lot in 2012 when I was in and out of the A&P a lot. It's sort of like a physical manifestation of depression (without the self-hatred). No "why" questions (the maniac mantra of "why is this happening, why me, why now"), just the hand quietly pressing me down.

Today I have a process from India on Zoom. We do some practices and these often shoot me into bliss states, which can be useful to motivate me to do the 3-hour ngondro practice followed by a three-hour sit (since I missed the one this morning). I'm curious to see where the heavy physical sensation moves. It usually lifts on its own. More later . . .  

I did 3 hours on the 7th and 8th, but even though I remained focused on the object and noted as much as I could, it was almost dead. I haven't been able to sit today due to work on my house that needs my input so I can't sit or do ngondro until this evening. The hand-pressing-down lifted when I got busy.

I really can't tell if I just cycled back to Mind and Body and am now just at a dull part of Cause and Effect, or am in one of the post-A&P stages. I'll see if it changes tonight.

When this happened to me before, as I was trying to do jhana practice, I would give up and go back to guided kundalini meditation. It didn't work. Can't even feel the chakras, and breath of fire does not produce anything. The message that I needed to move on was clear years ago. I outgrew it but couldn't see a clear path onward. Sort of feels like I'm in middle school. I've already had a number of experiences that showed me some of the territory of awakened states when I was going to India for 10 years, but I'm in elementary school regarding samatha and vipassana meditation. I'm just clunking along.

It is very exciting to read the posts here. I know for a fact that awakening is possible. So I'll keep plodding on emoticon
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 10/20/20 12:33 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/20/20 12:33 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
Not sure where I am now. I think I just cycled back to before Mind and Body because mind is getting really good at running "above" my noting and though I generally can ignore it and just keep noting, it got so loud that I regressed and went back to square one. 
It's like a loud conversation going on in an apartment above you. Kind of bizzare.

I bought a copy of "In This Very Life" which has a lot of guidance and encouragement, so I'm studying it. I decided to get up early no matter how late I've stayed up because I found the early hours best for practice, though occassionally I would drop into sleep. I have a white noise soundtrack that is good at rousing me but I saw that I lost at least an hour to dozing each day so I moved to sitting and then reclining. Sitting means diverticulitis draws attention to it, so I used "In This Very" to note it until it subsided a little. I did 45 minutes sitting and 2 hours and 15 minutes reclining. Mind still is loud but easier to note and leave, note and leave, until it quiets for a while.

SInce I last posted, I have put in 24 hours of practice, not counting walking meditation and studying texts to see how to deal with loud mind floating over my noting practice. 

A few experiences of light effects behind the eyelids and a little floaty experience of piti but otherwise depressing.

I also had a lot of work done on my house and have a challenging class in Tibetan language with a lot of homework, plus 3 hours a day devoted to ngondro practice so the noisy mind could be just an effect of a lot going on.

I hope to be able to report better news later!
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 10/20/20 6:12 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/20/20 6:12 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 1763 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
In general, a loud mind isn't a problem for noting practice, you just note what sorts of thoughts are filling the mind.

It's very simple --  and different than other types of meditation which judge and strive for a particular quality of mind. The important thing is you note sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts as they arise. Just note whatever seems strongest in the mind at that moment. If it's thoughts, note the thought. Simple. 

Don't underestimate how powerful this can be.
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 1 Year ago at 1/12/21 12:28 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/12/21 12:28 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
Nothing much to report for the past several months. I continue to cycle from a brief Mind and Body stage through Cause and Effect and settle into the Three Characteristics, where I look at the impermanence of the breath and thoughts and the physical suffering of having a body.

I accumulated 677 hours of practice last year and my goal for this year is over a thousand hours. Whenever I despair about the apparent lack of progress in my practice, I read posts here or the various books I have collected in print or on my kindle.

I really appreciate the clear instructions from the books and this site. I hope to have something more interesting to report this year!

Carol Lynn
Sam Gentile, modified 1 Year ago at 1/12/21 1:07 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/12/21 1:07 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 1347 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
Hi Carol and welcome to Dh0. If I were you, I would do everything shargrol suggests, particuarly his excellent noting instructions. He is one of the best here.
Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 12:57 PM
Created 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 12:57 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

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Oh my. It really has been a long time since I got online to post here. In brief, the Vajrasattva practice took 3 hours a day, every day, for a year. Nyingma hasn't told us what is next in year 4 of ngondro because some of us have not completed the 108,000 recitations of the long mantra, so I increased the amount of time of my sitting practice and added walking meditation practice from Sayadaw's Manual of Insight (before I just read his practice instructions, now I'm reading the whole book). So I walk for 30 minutes and sit or recline, depending on what this old body needs, for about 2 to 3 hours a day. I have a retreat course by Pema Chodrun where she recommends taking one day a week as a retreat day and do meditation practice for at least 6 hours, so I started that three weeks ago.

I find I'm really disappointed with my progress. I'm stuck again, and trying to assess which stage I'm in. I think I just cycle from really short Mind & Body and Cause & Effect, and settle into the Three Characteristics. Even the 6-hours-a-day practice has not advanced anything. It's been like this since 2017. Up until I read Ingram's book, at this point of "what am I doing this for - there is no benefit that I can see", I would always go back to kundalini breath of fire and chakra meditation, but that goes nowhere too and I really want to make progress. I counted all the hours of Theravada practice since 2020 and it's been over a thousand hours so far.

I'm not sure what to do. I note the best that I can, I sit between 2 to 6 hours a day. What is up with this?

Chris Marti, modified 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 1:36 PM
Created 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 1:34 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 379 Join Date: 7/7/09 Recent Posts
Hi, Carol.

Can you post a narrative that describes one of your typical meditation sessions? Not just which practice you did, but what happened while you meditated? What was going on in your mind and in your body? How closely did you follow the practice? Did you get distracted? What did you do about that? What sorts of things pop into your mind as you sit or walk? What do you do with those things? What kind of noting are you doing? How fast can you observe and note individual objects?

Having that narrative will serve as a "sort of" baseline will help folks here to help you.


Carol Lynn Stewart, modified 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 4:43 PM
Created 8 Months ago at 10/27/21 4:43 PM

RE: Carol's Practice Log

Posts: 10 Join Date: 9/22/20 Recent Posts
Sure thing! For walking I do a very slow lifting, dropping, touching, pressing back and forth where I have 20 feet of space. That's to train me to notice all the sensations of walking and noting. I lose balance a bit because I'm 70 and I just lose balance.

For "sitting" which for me is reclining due to major gastric problems when I sit too long, I place my hands on my abdomen and note when the abdomen is rising with the breath and when it is falling with the breath. I just note "thinking" if random thought comes, and go back to noting the abdomen, then if thought process has grabbed and taken me away, or if the wandering goes along on top of my noting rising and falling, I note "wandering" and go back to the abdomen. I don't fall asleep when I'm doing this so that hindrance is so far not interfering. On days when I do 6 hours, I do 30 minutes of walking, and an hour and a half of "sitting" and continue on that way until the 6 hours are done. On other days, I do 30 minutes of walking and about two hours of sitting.

What I have experienced in meditation when I could actually sit longer was blobs of colored light or light that passed over my field of vision in waves. Mostly violet light, some white or blue light. I just note "lights" and go back to the abdomen. But I haven't experienced that in about a year, despite the dosage increase. 

What I experience now is just the rising and falling, the noting of it, and a lot of hard pain in the neck muscles, despite special pillows. Everything else is dry. I'm game to continue with this but not sure if I'm doing it right.

Partly it may be expectations. I only started to increase the dose of meditation practice again last month because I had completed the Vajrasattva mantra practice, so I had more time to prepare to launch my new book and to devote to meditation. Also, what I had experienced from the guru for ten years (who retired in 2015 so I turned to Buddhist meditation) was so huge that it is hard to assess what can be done on my own.

Thanks so much!

Carol Lynn