Help analyze my practice

aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Hi, I'd appreiciate if some experienced practioners would spare the time to read through my rambling here and offer any advice they could give. Apologies if it is a bit long.

I would probably be described as a long term dark night yogi. 10 years+ of practice. numerous retreats in many of the major styles. Bodyscanning, Mahasi, regular "following the breath". 

Recently I have found myself a bit stuck and i noticed that there is seemingly no progression to my practice and I'd like to step things up a level

I went quite a long route in learning to meditate, early on i tried to focus too much on the breath sensations without learning to relax properly first and probably spent around 4-5 years before finally beginning to get through this by relaxing.

Although I have done retreats with different styles, at my core I would like to go a similar path to that described in MTCB (also other reasons I will explain further along) due to my faith in that being a good guide. When reading this book it stated that before beginning noting I should attain a good degree of concentration/ access concention. The most concentrated state I have achieved is possibly 1st Jhana (soft) while on retreat in 2012. I was able to hear sounds of the environment around me, the mind inclined to stay on the breath object and i was filled with piti. The effect lasted for quite a few hours afterward leaving me in an odd state. I've never attained this since but in recent years I am not able to do retreats as easily.  

My practice is as follows:

I sit each day for 45 minutes but my sits usually follow the same routine. 

I sit:

- I centre myself on the present moment a while. Relax. Be aware of sensory data from the body and passively observe
- I then at some point from within this relaxed state, begin watching the rise and fall of the breath. I become distracted for a few minutes here and there. Usually I automatically return to the breath and only then realise I had lost it for a few minutes. 
- After around 30minutes I am still being distracted here and there for durations of maybe up to 30-60 seconds or more, but I can notice a concentrated state has begun to form.
- I finish the sit with a reasonably calm mind state. In the sit I would say I was with the breath 70% of the time.

I can sit like this , everyday for 45 minutes. There are effects off the cushion for sure. I have a good sense of "introspective awareness", However I became used to whatever state this produces long ago. 

So for the last few years I have focused on following the breath like this, with some idea that perhaps eventually I will stay with the breath for the entire sit, although this never happens. I seem to stay at the 70%-of-the-sit level

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That is where things usually stand. However,  because of this plateau, I sometimes find myself wondering how I can shake things up a bit. So sometimes I have done something different in my sit:

I sit
- I note the inbreath and outbreath, and amongst those things I also note other things. A sensation, a thought, a sound. But I try always ensure that I am anchored with the breath still.

When doing this I have noticed that unlike when I just follow the breath, I am not distracted as easily. I am with it 90%+ of the time. BUT, doing this makes me mentally tired, after 15minutes I get drowsy , sometimes almost fall asleep, then come back to the noting. Like the action of noting is expending energy. However, the mind actively doing something appears to increase how much I stay with the present moment. Instead of the usual "Just follow the breath for 45minutes", where perhaps through some underlying boredom my mind is distracted. 

I have never made this my primary practice, usually I just do it sometimes before reverting to my usual "follow the breath" style practice.

From all this I have some questions:

1. Is it possible that the drowsiness i experience from noting is just my mind not being used to noting, and that if it i do it more, just like exercising a muscle, I will increase my ability to stay with it?

2. Daniel says to be able to achieve access concentration before doing anything. How do I do this in practice?, does this mean in each sit I should begin, watch the breath until I am almost always on it, and then begin noting?. This is where my practice stalled as I never achieve this in regular daily life sitting

3. Can anyone recommend any teachers in same style as Daniel who teach noting?


I should add that I do feel like what I need to do is another retreat, however that isn't currently an option, but I do have a lot of time now to practice and so I would like to focus my efforts

Thank you to anyone who reads this 
agnostic, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 2026 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I would up my sit time. Try to sit for 1-2 hours and see what happens.
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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

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I happen to disagree with Mr. Agnostic.

It's not about how much time you spend meditating. You could spend all day at it and if you're not doing things properly it won't help you. You're using terms that come from the pragmatic dharma world. Do you want to practice vipassana? Noting?
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Chris Marti:
I happen to disagree with Mr. Agnostic.

It's not about how much time you spend meditating. You could spend all day at it and if you're not doing things properly it won't help you. You're using terms that come from the pragmatic dharma world. Do you want to practice vipassana? Noting?

I have before upped the amount of time I sit. It does help a bit, although I think you are correct in that the issue is more around my technique. I feel like this the thing that needs sorting.

Yes, I have been following the pragmatic world for many years. Noting is the style I wish to do. In summary I just want to do the pathway set out in MTCB. 

This is what I began with all those years ago, but I have been in a holding pattern at this concentration stage. I also broke off for a while to try TMI for around two years put had a similar issue of staying in levels 3-4. 

In the last week I have been trying noting again instead of just following the breath as I have been doing this year. I note using the rise and fall of the abdomen, and then after a while try include a note of whatever I sense between the breaths. As I mentioned above however, it makes me more sleepy and drowsy after 10-15mins, so I assume I am expending more energy in this active manner, rather than the usual purely passive observation without mental labels/notes. I am going to keep going and see if my stamina increases. 

I find guided meditations very helpful but cannot see to find many which focus on MTCB style noting, if anyone knows any they could recommend it would be appreciated  
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 2134 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
If you are interested in Noting and have issues with hindrances then try Noting Aloud. I do that as my main practice and even get into concentration because of it. Mind you that Concnetration comes AFTER the mind is glad, meaning, when mind realises that watching This-ness unfolding is actually the most sane thing it could do emoticon 

I follow noting aloud as thought by Kenneth Folk (find vids on you tube) and I aslo add a few suggestions from Shinzen and Ingram. 

Shinzen suggests using loud voice when hitting the hindrances and I agree. It worls really well. You want to hear your own voice loud and clear. You also want to note 1 sensation per second to keep the stream of noting without lapse. 45 minutes is fine with such a very potent practice (meaning; not much if at all lost in hindrances and scenario spinning thoughts).

Ingram suggests throughout his whole book to arm yourself with Acceptance of all that is arising no matter how bad it feels. Keep noting it, and by doing so you dissembed from it (not-self). 

It is important to learn what to note. Watch those Kenneth Folk videos; body sensations, feeling tones, mind states and thoughts. Once you know these then you can do what he calls Freestyle Noting Aloud. I love this practice and can warmly recommend it.

While at it check that Shinzen video on Noting (aslo on you tube). Very good to know his suggestions on how to use the Voice in noting for best benefit.

May you practice well! 
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Papa Che Dusko:
If you are interested in Noting and have issues with hindrances then try Noting Aloud. I do that as my main practice and even get into concentration because of it. Mind you that Concnetration comes AFTER the mind is glad, meaning, when mind realises that watching This-ness unfolding is actually the most sane thing it could do emoticon 

I follow noting aloud as thought by Kenneth Folk (find vids on you tube) and I aslo add a few suggestions from Shinzen and Ingram. 

Shinzen suggests using loud voice when hitting the hindrances and I agree. It worls really well. You want to hear your own voice loud and clear. You also want to note 1 sensation per second to keep the stream of noting without lapse. 45 minutes is fine with such a very potent practice (meaning; not much if at all lost in hindrances and scenario spinning thoughts).

Ingram suggests throughout his whole book to arm yourself with Acceptance of all that is arising no matter how bad it feels. Keep noting it, and by doing so you dissembed from it (not-self). 

It is important to learn what to note. Watch those Kenneth Folk videos; body sensations, feeling tones, mind states and thoughts. Once you know these then you can do what he calls Freestyle Noting Aloud. I love this practice and can warmly recommend it.

While at it check that Shinzen video on Noting (aslo on you tube). Very good to know his suggestions on how to use the Voice in noting for best benefit.

May you practice well! 
Thanks for the responses

So far my noting is limited to perhaps one or two things between in and out breaths. 

If I try go fast, i then begin searching for things to note in order to keep the speed of 1 per second. Should I be doing this? or when I notice something, do i stay with it and then naturally await for something to come up? 

Previously when doing this it builds into a kind of pressure where i am sort of frantically searching around for the next thing to notewithin sensory experience, and feels unsustainable

Perhaps If keep doing it, this will improve? Usually in previous attempts at learning to note, after a few weeks i revert back to my regular breath meditation in frustration
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 2134 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
emoticon every so often you remember to relax the body. Relax emoticon One sensation every 2 seconds is also fine. 

Noting example; coolness (inbreath in nostrils), falling (abdomen on outbreathing), hearing (fridge making noise), touching (hand in hand), scanning-intention (the body), tension (in arms and shoulders), relaxing-intention (the arms and shoulders), coolness (inbreathing in nostrils), warmth (hand in hand), pleasant (hand in hand), itching (on the head), unpleasant (the itching), scanning-intention (gently letting attention scan for tension in body), tension (in fingers of one hand that's holding the other hand), relaxing-intention (relaxing the fingers), coolness (in the nostrils on the inbreathing) etc ...

This ain't a race. 1 sensation every 2 seconds is very doable. Have 2 or 3 body sensations as your home run if nothing else is there. I use open eyes fixed on any dirt spot (anything that's a bit round) 1-2 meters in front of me and this is my "seeing" note, also "coolness" of inbreathing through nostrils and "falling" of abdomen when outbreathing. Anything extra gets noted and return back to noting your usual suspects so to speak emoticon

Start a journal log here on DhO and we can give you tips as you practice day by day. 
45 minutes once a day is good. What is important I find is to keep noting without lapse for those 45 minutes. In this case these 45 minutes are of more benefit than sitting for 2 hours bathing in bliss and joy emoticon 

Also when you feel frustrated , note it! "Frustration" "inability to find sensations" "unpleasant" emoticon ALL these are actually happening matter of fact. Or? emoticon so you HAVE found something even when you feel you have failed to find something to note emoticon "frustration" "dullness" "doubt (in this technique)" "unpleasant" emoticon all these are Mind States emoticon Well done on seeing this. All this is part of Noting. 

Try and check those videos on noting by Kenneth Folk and Shinzen. These can be of help. 
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Given I am following MTCB, my concern with going straight to noting however is that it states I should first have the ability to be at access concentration and stable with my object (the rise and fall of the abdomen). 

In this instance, given I have tried for great lengths of time without achieving the ability to stay on the object the entire sit, is it reasonable to proceed direct to noting?
shargrol, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 1614 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Yes, you can go straight to noting.

Everyone is different when it comes to how fast to note. For myself, I found that mostly noticing and simply noting once on each outbreath (so noting every 10-12 seconds) is what worked best for me. 

I also found that creating some structure helped my sits. 

here's a cut and paste:

Noting is simple and powerful, and it's okay to dive in if you are ready. The nice thing about noting is it takes you where you need to go. Something really amazing about the mind sort of points the way. The main challenge is that you must get used to (over time) being on the level of direct experience rather than interpreted experience. The more intimately you can be in experience, the more likely the experiences leading to legitimate insights into the nature of experience happen. The more abstracted and intellectualized the relationship with experience, the more likely experience will be shallow and the insights will be somewhat abstracted or intellectualized. This is a whole different domain than philosophy or therapy. The idealized 1+ hour version of a good noting session is:


1. Let mind get settled into practice mode, slowly letting day's thoughts get replaced with the intention to practice.


2. Let the body get settled. Sit. Rock left and right and forward and backward until you find the place of a stable upright spine. Move your head around until it is centered on your shoulders. Move your shoulders back and down so that they are hanging down and resting on your torso. Rotate your elbows without moving your shoulders and rest your hands in your lap. This should be a good comfortable position.


3. Take slightly longer and deeper breaths, just 20% deeper and hold it 20% longer. Start feeling that combination of relaxation and invigoration.


4. Now let the breath do itself normally. While the body breath itself, feel the relaxation of the out breath and count breaths from 1 to 10. If you miss a count, start over again. If you get to ten, start again at one. No big deal, just be honest. If the body can naturally breath itself and the mind can naturally from 1 to 10 three times then the mind is nicely settled. (It’s easy to get this part wrong by using too much effort. Anyone can count breaths if they use a lot of effort, like a soldier counting push-ups. This breath counting should be basically effortless, the body breathes, the mind counts, no effort.)


From this foundation starts the basic noting phase…


5. For 5 to 10 minutes, have the intention to notice sensations in a very intimate and direct way. On each out breath, note just one of the sensations that is present. This is a very easy rate (10 to 12 times a minute or so) which leaves plenty of time for directly noticing sensations. The mental note is a way to see if you haven’t entered a trance of sorts. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing sensations again.


6. Next slowly switch into urges and emotions. For 5 to 10 minutes, switch to urges and emotions in the same way. Urges are like little non-verbal motivational intentions that rise up, usually clinging/greed or aversion/resistance. Emotions are longer lasting non-verbal moods or feelings (different than the momentary sensations). If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing urges and emotions again.


7. Next slowly switch into thoughts. For 5 to 10 minutes, switch to “categories of thought” in the same way. In this step you don’t become imbedded in thinking, but you don’t stop it either. You let your mind think the way it naturally does, but you pay attention to it as thinking, and on every outbreath you note the general category of thoughts you are having. You might be planning your day, thinking about the past, worried about making progress, doubting the effectiveness of the method, etc. Perfect! You would simply note “planning thoughts”, “remembering thoughts”, “worrying thoughts”, “doubting thoughts”, etc. You can make up your own categories or style of labels. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing categories of thought again.


8. At this point, the mind is now very good at being mindful and discriminating (in the good “distinguishing” sense) between  sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. Now for 5 to 10 minutes, let yourself note any one of these things while you let your body and mind do what it wants. This is basically freestyle noting. If you slip into a trance and are lost in thought or are in a trance and forget to note, then simply note what was distracting you, give yourself a “good job!” feeling for returning to mindfulness, and start noticing and noting again.


This all sounds very easy, but very few people are capable of following the instructions above. Most people jump into freestyle noting, which is totally fine, but you need to be honest and admit if you are having any difficulty with any of the four categories of mind objects. You can't go wrong with checking in on all four before freestyling. But if one of the categories of sensations, urges, emotions, or thoughts is more difficult, you might want to spend more time on it. It might be you spend focused time on sensations and thoughts before going freestyle if you are already good with urges and emotions. . It might be that you need to spend a lot of time on urges or emotions before going freestyle. Etc. Basically, you are trying to design a practice that uncovers what is non-conscious or confused in your experience and what kinds of stuff you avoid by going into a mindless trance. Again, the path and goal is at the level of direct, intimate, visceral experience, including the direct experiencing of thoughts as thoughts. Definitely a different domain than therapy or philosophy (but obviously it supports both of those).


Now for the next phase….


9. Now simply sit for 5 minutes without applying any techniques. Let the mind transition from a practicing mind to a normal mind. Notice what observations from practice linger and what you might want to bring with you off cushion. What can you work on off-cushion during your normal life?


10. Dedicate merit


11. And now let the effort of practice go. It is important to have not practicing time to let the mind non-consciously digest what happens during practice. Yes, it’s okay to work on some stuff off-cushion, but don’t become neurotic or obsessive. Just like with physical exercise, you actually build muscle/mindfulness during your recovery from your workouts/meditation. Sleep is really important, too. Strange things can happen overnight in terms of developing awareness, attention, mindfulness, subtle distinguishing, etc.


The last thing I’ll say is that the direct and intimate experience of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts are like a gateway. We assume we know what these things are, but honestly we really don’t. If you can simply have the direct experience of these things, then some amazing progress is made and the seemingly mythical progress described in the traditions all makes sense. And practice does lead to nanas, jhanas, cessations, and awakening. Yes, don’t crave these experiences, but also don’t write them off as unimportant. You’ll be amazed at the powerful experiences that do happen. But the gateway to all of this is simply intimately and directly experiencing sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts. Don’t underestimate the power of doing these very simple practices. Also use caution with these very simple practices, the results can be destabilizing. 


In the same way that you tear muscle to build it back to become stronger, you tear apart confusions (fused-with-ness) about experience so that your mind grows clearer. 

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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 4066 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
In this instance, given I have tried for great lengths of time without achieving the ability to stay on the object the entire sit, is it reasonable to proceed direct to noting?


I second shargrol's suggestion - go straight to noting. You set a ridiculously high bar for yourself on concentration. Meditative concentration is so misunderstood. It gets interpreted as using the mind to focus on one thing like a laser beam. No so! It's gentle, soft, fuzzy, and holding it for super-extended periods isn't usually very useful. We meditate to learn about the mind. Learning about the mind means we have to observe the mind. It does not sit still 99.999% of the time, so we need to follow its movements (noting/vipassana). A mind frozen in "concentration" can't.
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Chris Marti:
In this instance, given I have tried for great lengths of time without achieving the ability to stay on the object the entire sit, is it reasonable to proceed direct to noting?


I second shargrol's suggestion - go straight to noting. You set a ridiculously high bar for yourself on concentration. Meditative concentration is so misunderstood. It gets interpreted as using the mind to focus on one thing like a laser beam. No so! It's gentle, soft, fuzzy, and holding it for super-extended periods isn't usually very useful. We meditate to learn about the mind. Learning about the mind means we have to observe the mind. It does not sit still 99.999% of the time, so we need to follow its movements (noting/vipassana). A mind frozen in "concentration" can't.

This part I understand quite well, as it was this realisation that helped me solve a big tension problem in my meditation and i dedicated many years to working through it. So I can sit in the present moment, but I never get to the level that I would consider to be access concentration. I think my mind gets too bored with the "sit and be aware of the breath in this month".

But the alternative: with an active practice like noting, I don't get bored as the mind has something to do, but in using energy to note and do something, it seems to crash after 15minutes into drowsyness, almost sleep. This doesn't happen on my "sit and observe the breath without noting" initial style of meditation.

I tried again today, i attempted my usual 45 minutes and somewhere around 25minutes I was falling asleep, i regained mindfulness for the last 5 but i was in an odd state of low power, and having a bit of a bad day ( i know i should just note these states but they beat me this day) and so i ended up stopping the sit after 30minutes. 

I am going to keep trying as perhaps this "drowsiness" is just something i need to work through due to my mind not being used to training like this and expending energy in meditation through noting and being active. Does this sound reasonable?

Thanks again for your time





 
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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 4066 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
... I never get to the level that I would consider to be access concentration.

Ok, so what do you consider to be access concentration?
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Chris Marti:
... I never get to the level that I would consider to be access concentration.

Ok, so what do you consider to be access concentration?

The state where the mind is relaxed and by default rests easily on the object, it still goes off to other things which arise but only for short moments before returning to the object and the state is sustainable.  I have achieved this on retreat. but in home practice it seems to be a elusive level. in home practice the most I ever go is a state where i am with the breath 70% of the time, and even though calmness and clarity of the object increases through the sit, i still off in thought at points for a minute or so at a time without realising. 

That when i do an active practice this does not happen, such as bodyscanning or noting, makes me think that perhaps it is caused by boredom
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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 4066 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
You are easily at a point where you can begin a noting practice.
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Chris Marti:
You are easily at a point where you can begin a noting practice.

Would the following be an okay idea:

---------------

I do my regular style of practice for 15 minutes, calming the body and mind and passively observing the breath in the present moment.

Using an interval bell, have it chime after 15mins. 

I then switch to add labels to the in breath and out breath and anything that arises around them?


thanks again for your help
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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 4066 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
You were given some detailed and helpful instructions here on this topic by my friend shargrol. I urge you to follow them:

Shargrol's instructions
aroundaround, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 12 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Chris Marti:
You were given some detailed and helpful instructions here on this topic by my friend shargrol. I urge you to follow them:


Shargrol's instructions

Yes, I looked through this post, and is interesting but this style and approach I do not think is suitable for me. Some people when they meditate to can interfere with the breath to relax, for myself I cannot do this and also the freestyle approach, even when limited to a single sense field does not seem to go well. I find I must have an anchor such the breath involved, even when observing the different senses otherwise i derail.

I have today found some guided meditations from the Mahasi tradition which take a similar approach to this where the meditator keeps on the rise and fall by default. I will try persist with this and hope that the drowsiness is produces is something which is just through not being used to a more active form meditation instead of purely passive 
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Chris Marti, modified 11 Months ago.

RE: Help analyze my practice

Posts: 4066 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Good luck!

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