10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 7 Months ago.

10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 264 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
I've just come home from a 10-day solo and I have accumulated some questions regarding practice. This text is quite long, sorry for that. However, if you feel like having fun answering just one question, please pick just one below as I would greatly appreciate any help clarifying either of these questions. I feel my struggle with them holds me back in my practice...

Background info:
On my 10-day I brought with me Mahasi Sayadaw's Manual of Insight and DI's MCTB. What a good idea that I did. Because even though I've been meditating for 5+ years, I have never really gotten into the theory and tried to meticulously hold it up against my own experiences. Attending to the books after a day's practice really helped me understand, look for the right things, adjust my practice and to motivate me.

The technique I used was Mahasi's noting technique as it's described in the manual. Before this I've never done noting, but have done 4.5 Goenka retreats (4 sits and 1 volunteer). But I don't like this technique too much, as it always felt off somehow. I always wanted a different technique, not really clicking with Goenka's style. Noting seems more like me and I think I had a really effective retreat, suspecting that I made it to Equanimity, but wasn't able to break through to SE due to the most extreme case of excitement I've ever experienced in my life.

Question #1: "What's the deal with noting fast?"
Daniel puts an emphasis on noting as fast and accurately as possible, while Mahasi Sayadaw doesn't seem to put much particular emphasis on this. His instructions are simply to note the rise and fall of the abdomen, as well as that one is sitting/standing/walking/laying. Mahasi says that one can add a touch point also, so the noting becomes "rising, falling, sitting, touching", and over time one will be able to note more. When reading Daniel's book I get almost stressed out about noting as fast as I can and this screws me over on the mat. I am quickly able to perceive more than I can note. Even if I just note with "beep" for every note, I simply can't keep up, and my head just fills with "b-b-b-beep-be-beep-b-b-b-beep". It tenses me to struggle with keeping up. So the question is: What's the deal with noting fast? Any tips for understanding this "noting fast" better. Should I just take it slow and let speed pick up on its own, perhaps?

Question #2: "Why include all/more of the senses?"
Insight is insight. The three characteristics reveal themselves in any perceived sense-door phenomena that is investigated, big or small, inclusive or isolated, or in a formation which can be very inclusive. So why don't we make it easy for ourselves and just perceive the 3 characteristics of the littlest, most tiny sensation (like a small fire kasina or only the rise and fall of the abdomen). Why do we try to expand the inclusiveness of our perception? Its true, in a formation the other day I saw clearer the No Self aspect than ever before. But on the other hand, I think Daniel has mentioned that he suspects some people have gotten stream entry from fire kasina practice (where zero note is given to hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling as far as I understand), and Mahasi writes that "there is no need to note ordinary seeing and hearing" [ch5, practical instructions, general objects] (except if one is actively looking or listening). Also, Goenka puts all his eggs in the basket of scanning the body and doesn't give any instructions for what to do with the rest of the sense doors (as far as I understand). I find all of this extremely puzzling. So is inclusion of all of the senses important or not? Why isn't it easier or more effective to just observe one sense door and one object?

Question #3: "Dissolving solidity"
Goenka puts emphasis on dissolving any solid-feeling parts of the body, even the spine. On my retreat I felt that I was sometimes having ultra-clear sights of the three characteristics in formation experiences, seeing No Self the most clear me thinks. In these instances my heart jumped into my throat and started racing. Several times I felt like the duality/sense of agency was collapsing and I went like "This is it, this is it! OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!" But it felt as if the excitement carried with it a little bit of a sense of separatedness/Self/agency. Somewhere in this excitement there was some bodily feeling, a solid feeling and my guess is that this is what kept me stuck to reality, missing out on...well, missing out (cessation). When I focus on these solid areas, especially in my skull, I find an internal pressure which seems homogenous, solid and not vibratory. This has been like this in all of my meditation history. How can I dissolve this solidity? Should I dissolve it? I tried to spend some hours sitting meticulously and trying to feel subtler sensations in solid areas of my skull, but it seems the effort doesn't really help to dissolve it. When I go back to noting and my awareness naturally expands to include the whole body, these areas remain solid and I sense that they provide a dualistic-split component to my overall experience which I can't see through.

Question #4: "Time scale of the Jhanas"
I am so, so, so very confused about what I hear of the Jhanas (the Vipassana Jhanas). The question could be phrased like this: Is the Jhanas something we should be able to observe from the beginning with every single sit, with the level of insight resetting every time our butt leaves the mat? Or, e.g. if on retreat, do you just experience each Jhana/insight stage once and then sort of leave it behind you once you've progressed? For instance, the bodily raptures I felt as I progressed during these 10 days were different and showed up only 1-3 times each, before the next kinds of raptures showed up. The humonculus (jhana 1 raptures) only showed up once on day 2 or 3. I never felt these again, but my bodily raptures changed nature, going through phases characterized by: contorted body, syruppy submersion, displacement of the body (into a hole), fluffy/airy body and then no bodily raptures except pleasant feelings of not caring about any thing at all for 4 days (equanimity?).

#5: Interesting post-effect of the retreat (not a question, but comments welcome)
I have woken up 2 or three days since my retreat, not quite awake, but definitely very conscious, experiencing something quite interesting. In my half-asleep state I have been playing with turning on and off my sense of agency. I can't remember what it is that I do in order to do it, but very clearly I'm doing it. It feels as if I'm going from being clearly a Self, somewhere within me, to being without a center, back and forth maybe 5 times or so before waking up. In my retreat I had very strong experiences of this as well, but not sure what to think of it. Not too much, probably, but I would still like to talk about it emoticon

Alright, I think these are the most urgent questions. Thanks for creating this forum by participating in it. It helps out a lot to search the posts in here and I hope to participate more going forward.

/ Emil Stillhoff
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Niels Lyngsø, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 323 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Hey Emil,

I'll take a shot at your first question:

Noting comes in many different flavours. Classic Mahasi, High Speed à la Ingram, Out Loud Kenneth Folk Style etc. It is a very flexible technique, and every meditator has their own way of twisting it, so the best thing to do would be to find out what works best for you. And to be prepared to change and finetune your noting technique as your practice evolves.

An example from my own practice: At one point I realized that I was not very good at detecting emotions and feeling tones, and so I came up with a noting style where I explicitly did not note Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Touching, Smelling, Thinking: When these classic notes were no-go, mind had to come up with something else – and it did. emoticon

Noting is a huge topic. You can find excellent advice on it – and on lots and lots of other meditation stuff – in this collection of posts from a very experienced Dharma Overground user by the name of shargrol. It is one of the best ressources I have come across, so I highly recommend you check it out.

Good luck with your practice, it sounds interesting, keep us posted!
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 264 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Hey Niels, 

That was actually a great link, very nice to read that. Thank you emoticon
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Noah D, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 1148 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
1 -

yes, just keep it slow. follow your intuition. but also be on the lookout for the side effects of the nanas which will cause you to want to change your noting speed but sometimes it can be good to resist that which causes the nanas to come more into the fore of experience rather than manipulating you in the background.

2 -

for the 1st & 2nd levels of mind ("paths", if you like, although I don't necessarily agree with this use), multiple senses don't matter - it's whatever gets you thru the POI.  But you might need to use multiple senses to get thru it.  Particularly in EQ when going wide & allowing spaciousness to become primary is helpful to go deeper into EQ nana.  Then for later levels of mind you do need to integrate all the senses into one monosense & then pierce through even that as being empty.  Furthermore you need to integrate the sense of knowing on your side with the sense of objects bursting forth in the field from all the sense doors.  These are non negotiable insights for deepening the thing & they have to do with multiple senses.

3 -

No don't worry about dissolving solidity in an artificial way.  But you can notice even small changes to seeming unchanging objects.  Even if the thing in your head maintains itself fairly well, the texture on the surface is likely changing in micro ways.  Perhaps the temperature inside of it is slightly altering over time.  Also there is 'big picture' impermanence.  If you zoom out over time, the thing in your head will not still be there in the same way a day later, I assume.  Therefore, it ultimately did dissolve, did it not?

4 - 

Understanding time scale of POI is important.  For some people, nanas are not occuring off cushion because they are not concentrated enough.  For others, they are.  In either case, when you sit down, you may start at nana 1 or a later nana, if you have been cycling off cushion.  Then in the course of the sit, you may go up through the nanas to your cutting edge, or to a nana below your cutting edge.  Then you may cycle back down through them in reverse order, or you may stay at your cutting edge.  Sometimes you may find that you shortcut & skip a few in the process of cycling back down.  The nanas generally occur in a sit on a scale from maybe 5 minutes to 50 minutes.  But in your cutting edge, that is where the real work is happening, so of course that can last for the rest of the sit.  Then off cushion, whatever your "center of gravity" is (the strongest nana for you at that time), it will cause mood side effects in your daily life.  People call this "macro cycling".  When people say they are "dark nighting", they are likely still experiencing A&P or EQ, but the side effects of them are not lasting after the fact.  These "macro cycles" occur on much larger time scales - days, weeks, months, years.  
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 264 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Thanks for the elaborate answers, Noah.

3- 
I'm still confused about this. Are you saying both not to worry about it, but also to look for subtle changes?
I was trying to do that, and I can do it for smaller parts if I really focus on it. Then the micro-vibrations at the surface show up. But I can't do it for all the solid areas at once as the vibrations seem to go away from one area when I move on to the next.

I'm tempted to think that if I don't worry about it, it will come naturally by itself at some point, just like all the other areas of my body I am able to feel now.

Can one say that these solid areas have to get dissolved in order to enter cessation?
Because then it could in a way be seen as a goal or perhaps a measure of progress. Although it would have to come "naturally" from following simple instructions of the technique...
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Noah D, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 1148 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
For clarification on 3 - 

Yes, I think it is good to look for subtle changes, as that is the general practice of vipassana.  However, it is not good to look for changes with the expectation that those changes will conform to a predetermined format - i.e. "by observing the textural shifts on the surface of this energy blockage, the core of the energy blockage will eventually dissolve completely."  While it is true that energy blockages or somatic solidity points dissolving is a common effect of vipassana, it is not true that it is a mandatory effect for progress.  Furthermore, reality is *inconsistent* - this is another way of talking about impermanence & unsatisfactoriness.  It might be nice if blockages always dissolved completely, because consistency is satisfying.  But reflecting on the metacognitive process of forming an expectation & having that expectation not be met is another layer of vipassana that can & should occur simultanous to the attentional layer of observing textural shifting or whatever.

In terms of progression through EQ in relation to this - I could see it going both ways.  I could see you might dissolve it or you might just stop caring about it & let it fade into the background but remain solid.  

Your signal for progress should be that you continue to practice vipassana well, in my opinion.  Regardless of how the objects of vipassana manifest.
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: 10-day solo retreat: Some questions :)

Posts: 264 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
You know, I already don't care about the solid parts. Thanks for helping with your perspectives.
It's true what you say, that continued and good practice is a better signal of progress. At least it's more important than such a detail such as a solid body part... emoticon

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