Momentary concentration and noting

yy f, modified 2 Years ago at 5/29/22 9:31 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/29/22 9:31 PM

Momentary concentration and noting

Posts: 6 Join Date: 4/24/22 Recent Posts
I recently started Mahasi noting (like a week ago - but just did a weekend retreat with it) and have been reading MOI. I feel like I am not "getting" what I'm supposed to be "doing" - maybe the answer is to just let all of these neuroses go and just practice, but thought it might be helpful to just ask the internet: Two questions arise from my reading and practice that I feel like could be illuminating:
  1. What is the difference between momentary and access concentration? I'm speaking about these terms as used in MOI. I know access/absorptive concentration are associated with "samatha"/wet practice whereas momentary is associated with "vipassana"/dry. My understanding of access is that it is when you can stabilize your attention on one object (e.g. breath) for a solid amount of time with relatively minimal "gross" distraction (to mix in a TMI term), whereas momentary is when you can keep the same sort of focus on whatever series of objects your mind moves to. But then what is the difference between concentrating on the breath, noticing distractions, and then bringing focus back for samatha VS noting the breath, then noting distractions, then going back to noting the breath VS totally choiceless awareness? Is it correct to think of Mahasi noting as a middle ground, where you are using access concentration to anchor yourself to the present with the breath and then holding it from moment to moment as attention moves (i.e. momentary concentration), and then bringing it back to the breath if you have forgotten - with noting being used as a tool to direct/check focus?
  2. Am I noting too much or too little? MOI says to start by noting rising-falling but to add more objects (up to 4-6) if I notice "gaps". When I start, I usually feel a gap and then add "sitting" (though I struggle to know what "MOI" means by noting the "sitting posture" vs feeling my butt touching the seat) or "touching" (my attention likes to go to my feet touching the hard floor), but then it a quickly starts to feel like I can't note fast enough. I know this is common in AP but I just don't feel like there's any way that I'm that far yet?
Thank you friends,

Alex Wu, modified 1 Year ago at 9/27/22 2:06 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/27/22 2:06 AM

RE: Momentary concentration and noting

Posts: 5 Join Date: 9/23/22 Recent Posts
From the book “Essential of Insight Meditation Practice” by Venerable Sujiva: (The book can be downloaded from Buddhanet’s)

“Touching” involves the sensations at the surface of the
body. The most prominent ones are at the posteriors, or
where the legs press on the floor. “Sitting” involves more of the internal
forces, a very strong force at the spine, the waist, the shoulders that
maintains the sitting posture upright. It is a kind of rigidity. Some
people feel it like a force pushing from the back.

Hope this helps
Eudoxos , modified 1 Year ago at 10/2/22 3:33 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/2/22 3:33 AM

RE: Momentary concentration and noting

Posts: 136 Join Date: 4/6/14 Recent Posts
Hi Yang-Yang,

welcome and good luck for all your future practice emoticon

In samatha, you aim for state where there is less/no distractions, so you notice them only to go back — to ignore them. The goal is for the mind to be united around a single static object of your choice, without distractions.

Momentary concentration is something that is quite difficult to grasp experientially: the mind is united in each "moment" around a single object, but the object itself changes moment to moment, so there is not necessarily any feeling of calmness or stability. I find that this can only become really apparent in ñ11 when the mind has little reactivity.

I like to think of concentration as magentic force. Strong pull = strong concentration. Samatha concentration is like a permament magent; it sticks to the object and won't let go. Momentary concentration is more like pulsing electromagnet: it is strong for a short moment, then lets loose and sticks again (perhaps to something else) for the next pulse; so it won't feel stable.

Noting is a good tool to make you momentarily concentrated; when you note & because you note (unless you "note" on autopilot, without being aware of the object; which is just an imitation of noting). So just keep noting, don't look for momentary concentration. You are cultivating it. And, if you have background thoughts about how to note and such, make sure to note those! Otherwise they will stay as a split piece of mind, breaking the momentary unity of mind which you are cultivating.

There is no "distraction" in momentary concentration, the word is misleading. There are secondary objects of attention. After you note them, you go back to the primary object. In contrast with that, choiceless awareness has no primary, all objects are equal, so you stay with whatever happens to be in the foreground, with awareness. I find this extremely hard, unless reinforced by e.g. noting aloud every 2 seconds — the mind gets lost in the content too quickly, or stays in some shallow awareness mixed with trains of thought (so not even momentarily concentrated).

Access concentration is not what the primary obejct is about; it is also momentary, since you stay with physical sensations which are also changing all the time (3c, BTW). If you become hyper-focused on the breath, tense, closed mind, disconnected from the body or the environment or similar: note that. That's the purpose of touching or sitting, to break the routine of rising/falling which might morph (by ignoring everything else) into a solid object of concentration; it gets you back into the momentary concentration.

How much to note? In each moment, there is what you are aware of (perceptual reality); its (non-strict) subset is what you notice (are aware of as happening); and yet its subset is what you note (label). So awareness ⊇ noticed ⊇ noted. No problem with that. Don't fall into the trap (a) noting more is better [no; you just note whatever you can note in this moment and that is the best] or (b) I will push more and thus will note more [no; stay middle way, push sometimes a bit, but stay focused on the objects; not on how to practice ;) ].

Don't forget to note thinking, doubting, analysing (the practice itself) when the mind comes up with questions like these during the practice. You can't let go of the neuroses without seeing them, they are your secondary objects; note them without following them, i.e. go back to the primary.

If you have a teacher you can work with, that  can be very helpful. His job is to know the theory and how to guide you, your job is to do the practice. Already as I am writing this, I am thinking if it won't be more confusing than helpful. You will see.

All the best.
yy f, modified 1 Year ago at 10/14/22 9:11 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/14/22 9:11 PM

RE: Momentary concentration and noting

Posts: 6 Join Date: 4/24/22 Recent Posts
I was on retreat a couple months ago (my first teacher-led one!) - and I think the biggest thing I learned was to let go of questions. I still need to practice (by noting them) - but at least now I believe it is the way!&nbsp;<br /><br />Now my view is that the benefit of answering a new meditator's questions is often just to get them to calm down and keep doing what they're doing emoticon<br /><br />Thank you for calming me down emoticon
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 10/15/22 6:26 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/15/22 6:26 AM

RE: Momentary concentration and noting

Posts: 2577 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
 Yeah, in a way practice is very very simple: be aware of this moment... and this moment has already happened so there is nothing more you need to do. It can get so over complicated but this is the foundation for awakening.

The human mind is usually in a "fix it" or "improve it" mode, but we learn to drop this during meditation. That's why the breath is often used as an initial meditation object - you can't stop and hold onto "the breath", it's always moving and changing and you learn that to "fully experience it" you have to just let it go and go along with it, so to speak. So it gives the beginner something to pay attention to that also leads them into insights...

The tricky thing is that we kinda half-ignore the things that seem like "me" -- the questions, the thoughts, the planning, the analysis, the getting worried, the doubting, the second-guessing, the uncertainty. BUT as soon as someone understands, "oh, all these thoughts and emotions are just more things to let happen and fully experience" then they are truly becoming a meditator. It's possible to watch any bodily sensations in the same way as watching the breath. It's possible to watch emotions in the body in the same way as watching the breath. It's possible to watch thoughts in the same way as the watching the breath. So all of experience can be included in meditation.

Then the final thing is to learn how to not indulge or complicate experience. So if the emotion of "uncertainty" shows up, can you just let uncertainty show up? Or does it lead to a lot of emotional reactions and thoughts and drama? If the emotion of "doubt" shows up, can you just experience doubt? Or does it lead to a lot of emotional reactions and thoughts and drama? Things like thoughts or doubts or uncertainty are not really a problem in themselves. It's only when we solidify and complicate them that nirvana becomes samsara -- in samsara we go round and round with our human dramas.

But the interesting thing about thoughts and emotions is they pass as soon as they arise. Look closely at a troubling thought: where does it come from, where does it stay, where does it go? It's almost like thoughts pass as soon as they arise. Same thing with emotions: they flair up momentarily and maybe what sticks around is some body sensations, but the inital burst of emotional meaning is very short lived.

And over time --- years, realistically --- thoughts and emotions become less of a problem. Their vivid and empty nature becomes more obvious and thoughts and emotions are more nirvana than samsara. Nirvana means "extinquishing" and with good practice, it's possible to see thoughts and emotions extinquishing themselves as soon as they arise. And the good news is that even with just a little practice, we can learn to see thoughts as thoughts and emotions as emotions and they become less and less sticky and problematic.