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Dealing with the Dark Night

Frustration and deliverance

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Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/19/09 7:08 PM
Or "Get Me Out of Here!".

I have been practicing a lot over the last month or so, typically sitting twice a day for 40-50 minutes each. Not a lot by retreat standards, but as good as I can muster as a householder. A while back, I thought I was doing great, and my sits would put me into this really still and calm place where I was barely aware of my breath and I could feel my core pulse, moving my body ever so gently like a tall flag pole. I thought to myself "equanimity, baby". Most recently, however, it seems like I have hit a brick wall and I am getting nowhere.

My typical sits involve some amount of concentration, some jhanic raptures, but way less than before. Thoughts intrude and, worse, I seem to have lost my ability to not get engaged in them and I will zone out for many minutes. Physically, it is even more disturbing. I am literally *wracked* by shakes throughout my entire upper body. Sometimes they are uncontrollable shivers like you have a bad flu, but other times I am almost knocked off my cushion. When I end a sit in this state, (sometimes prematurely) it takes up to 10 minutes for the shaking to subside.

Some other data points, if they help. I see amorphous blobs behind my eyelids, but nothing really recognizable or "vision-like". And very recently, I have had several occurrences of a noticeable tingling at the crown of my head.

Right now, I am on a business trip which has afforded me a lot of time to sit: at least 90 min in the morning and another 90 min at night. Not to mention the 4 hr sit I had on the plane ride down. But with all that time, I don't know how to crack this. In re-reading MCTB, it would seem that I am in the misery/disgust/deliverance/re-observation rut, but that is just me guessing. If true, however, what am I supposed to learn from this? How do I go past it?

I read the "Re-Observation" chapter, and it is like it was written for me: "aversion to meditation", check; "noise in our repetitive minds quite irritating", check; "desire to roll up the mat", check. I am not happy being in this place, but "this last important lesson, the lesson of Re-observation" is totally eluding me. I will say that on a couple of occasions, while I have tried to impassively watch this turbulence, I end up in a very peaceful place. But only for a few minutes, and it is back to the Exorcist.

The advice in MCTB seems to be "stick with it", but what does that mean, exactly? And again, how/what am I supposed to learn? Is this just a physical process that I need to just sit through while my body's energy systems do whatever it is they are doing, or is there some take-away item here that I am missing?

I would be grateful for any advice, cuz my mat is half rolled at this point.

-- tomo

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/19/09 8:30 PM as a reply to Tom O..
Tom, what would it be like if you did your meditation lying down? At the very least, you wouldn't have any further to fall! One of my-- fairly lengthy-- episodes of weird meditative phenomena meant having to spend long periods of time in a warm bathtub, mostly late into the night. I don't know why I had a weird, unjustifiable-at-the-time faith that what was happening needed to happen and that I could be OK with it. But I did, and I was.

Here's hoping that other, more knowledgeable of your comrades de cushion will offer their own merry tales...

Cheers,
Kate

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/19/09 11:45 PM as a reply to Kate Gowen.
Kate,

The quick answer is I would probably fall asleep. But more generally, it had occurred to me that part of the problem might just be a physical one from bad knees and general "uncomfortableness" from sitting Burmese. But I have also sat on the edge of the bed, or on a chair and, while the effects are not as pronounced, they are there nonetheless. Indeed, on the plane, I did not have any violent contortions (thank god), and I am attributing that to the fact that there, I was not in as deep a meditative state given the background noise.

But I gather that your recommendation is that it is necessary to soldier on and just keep from getting hurt? I was afraid someone was going to say that.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 12:21 AM as a reply to Tom O..
Hi Tom,

Seems to be part of the process – at least for some of us. It may seem like you are not getting anywhere but actually I think you are making good progress. Wish I could give you some magic cure. I don't think there is anything to learn. My sense is that it is more of a deep letting go at the body level. It wants to do this and it knows what to do. Trying to be sensitive to where there is tension and relaxing there might help. Another thing you might try is opening up around it – don't know quite how to say that but don't put all your attention there on the shaking – adopt a more expansive, open awareness that makes more space for it. Another thing to try is directing your attention to pleasant qualities – sort of out around the edge of the experience – cultivate those just by breathing in the pleasant qualities – let those spread out. It will pass in time – and may come back.

Shinzen Young has some good stuff on this phase I think.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 2:07 AM as a reply to Tom O..
Hi Tom,
Yeah, that place sucks. So it's a great opportunity to investigate stuff that sucks, and reactions and intentions around that. Noting practice was the straw I grasped. There are several good practice hints in the MCTB Chapter on Suffering.

Tom O.:
Indeed, on the plane, I did not have any violent contortions (thank god), and I am attributing that to the fact that there, I was not in as deep a meditative state given the background noise.


I think Chuck's suggestion to open up to the background a bit fits in well with what you observed on the plane ride, where the background became more evident in your meditation.

Don't worry about the "depth" of your meditation. But note, during meditation, how aiming for "depth" may be the desire to get away, i.e. aversion.

Tom O.:
But I gather that your recommendation is that it is necessary to soldier on and just keep from getting hurt? I was afraid someone was going to say that.


That's good stuff right there! "I was afraid..." - note, "aversion" ;) Seriously, there's this weird relationship between fear, aversion, and desire (repulsion/attraction).

A few typical examples from my practice. I like giving a questioning tone to my notes, hence the question marks.

"This is a waste of time" or "Every thought in my head is crap" - note something like "aversion?". Rambling thought trains can be labelled, "hearing", just like any other background noise emoticon
"I just zoned out!" - note "I'm back"; maybe backtrack to the moment I lost it.
"I want to get up" - note something along "desire?"
The physical sensations - tingling, shaking, can be noted.
The eyelid color blobs can be noted, "seeing".

Good luck! Keep up the practice.
Florian

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 10:51 AM as a reply to Florian.
Hello Tom,

There is no Truth to figure out here in an existential or ontological sense, although there may be one that is personal to you. Thus, there may be a lesson to learn if you notice it (it's optional), there may be a lesson that has to be learned to progress (it's requisite), or there may just not be any lesson to learn for you (it's absent). Your best option is to assume it's absent, but to proceed as if there is one which is requisite and unnoticed.

With that in mind, perhaps it would be worth while to consider the inverse of your queries or to try the inverse of your approaches (in both terms of intellectual reasoning and emotional intuiting). Similarly, perhaps it is worth while to consider the deeper context of one's intent: does one sincerely desire deliverance, does one sincerely desire the dissolution of the self, does one sincerely wish to proceed? And still more: is this aversion actually doubt, and if it is, why am I lacking sincerity? Or perhaps I am feeling something which is giving me permission to not proceed with this process (such as doubt in the previous example)? What is it that I desire to be delivered from when I check in with the fact that I am both the desire itself and the deliverer which is the object of desire?

Perhaps you would find it worth while to ask your gut if this is "right." Is this the right thing to do? Does this conflict with something strong, such as my common sense or ontological views? This may yield an important clue for a larger question, or it may show what is in the way. That question is important to answer/realize because Enlightenment is a process of surrender (a choice). Your self as ego (who 'I' think 'I' am) is surrendering to your Self as soul (who 'I' feel 'I' am) and the process of the dark night is the dissolution/'surrendering' of one's ego. If you are fighting the process in any way (doubt, lack of sincerity, etc), then you're not surrendering very well. As a result of indecision, you're going to feel a palpable amount of anxiety if you cannot cannot decide whether to stop or proceed (as anxiety is a physical reaction to an inability to make a decision, and this is a pretty huge decision).

Does Tom let go, does Tom hold on, or does Tom hold on while looking elsewhere for answers to his existential queries?

Helpful?
Trent

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 11:39 AM as a reply to Florian.
Thanks for your suggestions, Florian. Generally my noting is not particularly strong, but I will certain give that a go and see if it helps.

[quote=Florian "Monkeymind" Weps]I think Chuck's suggestion to open up to the background a bit fits in well with what you observed on the plane ride, where the background became more evident in your meditation.


That is a really interesting observation!

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 11:55 AM as a reply to Trent ..
Yes, Trent, that is helpful. I have been thinking (naively, perhaps) that this is "just" a body thing triggered by my mental rewiring, and did not consider that the effect might be a result of my fighting the process in some subtle way. Certainly at an intellectual level, I want to progress, so I don't think I am knowingly blocking it.

But am I nervous or anxious about the outcome? Maybe.

Let's say that my anxiety is gumming things up. What, tactically, would you recommend I do? If you say back, "surrender to the moment", I would ask: what does that mean? What does one do to surrender when you are on the cushion? I understand surrender doing, say, a bungee jump or some other real-world thing that you are scared of. But this thing I am supposed to accept or surrender to seems difficult to articulate in a way that gives a clear "action" to face it.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 3:47 PM as a reply to Tom O..
Fighting suffering is normal, and the sensations that make up those reactions also display the Three Characteristics as well as all the others.

Just an aside, the movement energetic stuff could also be the 3rd insight stage, Three Characteristics, which is underestimated by many and can really suck, with the breakthrough being into A&P territory, but it doesn't matter much, as the advice is the same.

I really like the hot tub advice above, and reclining is a good option sometimes also to experiment with.

Again, just got to be with it, including the reactions, which are part of it, not you, etc. It passes soon enough.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 8:23 PM as a reply to Tom O..
Despite the learning that I still have to do about dealing with bodily manifestations of suffering, here is some rambling with what I've found useful.

* Micro-technique 1 ("counterfactuals"): Say you're, right now, experiencing one of those super annoying upper body "scrunches". Your chest is constricting, it feels like you're going to belch or puke, or like you have a gremlin crawling up into your neck and wanting to take over the controls, etc. etc. You seem to know what I'm talking about. The technique is: take a couple of seconds to imagine what it would be like if the discomfort were suddenly gone. Poof, suddenly, no more pressure, no more struggle.

You can imagine this in the middle of struggling. Now, what is key is: as you imagine this, you can sort of picture the kind of relief that you would feel as a result. NOW: find the part that is relieved. Experientially, in body and mind and space, where is that (hypothetical) relief?

I've found that this "counterfactual" technique often points to a chunk of sensations that you were missing. After you find them, you can include them in the meditation, and see if that helps things. You don't have to keep imagining that they're gone (though that might be interesting).

* Micro-technique 2 ("what is that when it's me?"): Adopt the hypothesis that the source of this discomfort is a visceral distinction between the "you" that is trying to meditate and the "it" that insists on making you double over with tension. Not sure how to best say this, but: can you make the "it" part of "you", somehow? Can you include it as you? One inquiry that I worked with for a while and seemed to help was to ask in your mind: "what is that when it is me?" (where "that" is the thing that's annoying the hell out of you).

* Micro-technique 3 ("going along with it"): Again, this tries to get you to see that the "it" is really as much "you" as the other "you" that's struggling against the "it". And again, I'm not sure how useful this will be, since this description is imperfect.

You're there meditating, and you encounter some discomfort. Now, see what the discomfort "wants". Maybe it's hiding an emotion or a fear. Then, the technique is: treat it like one big joke, and humor it. "Oh, fear you say?, well, all right... if you say so, let's be fearful now" (if I were speaking I'd say that with a tinge of sarcasm emoticon. And then sort of "act it out" experientially. "Looks like it's fear time, huh? Let's feel fear." If your neck is kinda bending backwards, and the motion can be, perhaps faintly, interpreted as flinching backwards from something that's in front of you, again: "Oh, I guess we're avoiding that? All right, let's avoid..." , etc. etc.

Hmm. Was that helpful? I can't explain that well what I mean by "go along with it".

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 10:01 PM as a reply to Antonio Ramírez.
Antonio, I appreciate the thoughts and suggestions from your practice. Thank you...I'll let you know if they help.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 10:15 PM as a reply to Tom O..


hi tom,

try to find the energy fueling the shakes right before/right when they're starting. once you lock in on those vibrations/pulses, use antonio's counterfactual technique to open up a space through them/around them (like chuck recommends) so that you can stay in contact with the shaking/rocking/pulsing/vibrating sensations but without letting them getting coarse enough that they start moving your body or moving it much. for this reason, keep your muscles and joints relaxed (or let them relax after they clench) and open so you can feel the energy just kind of 'shoot through' them rather than causing them to contract and move your whole body. just let it shoot through repeatedly, attentively and relaxedly, contributing to the jhanic state*, essentially powering the meditation rather than distracting from it.

if you cant stop your body from moving wildly, this is not a problem at all. see if you can tune into the shaking's rhythm, work out what the energy pattern fueling that movement is like, and keep your mind locked in on that. dont forget to keep the non-active parts of your body (the ones you're not using to create the shaking) relaxed and pleasant-feeling, and to feel the relaxation working its way into the parts that are contracting at the end of every contraction. notice this constant oscillation between tense and release and join the impermanence fun.

let me know when you've got this down and what happens next, and i'll let you know what i recommend doing from there.

tarin

ps. the turning/revolving attention technique i mention in my initial reply to nick halay may be helpful to read about in this thread - http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/93757

pps. good if you notice a kind of similarity between this stuff and the core pulse making your body sway like a tall flag pole

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 10:15 PM as a reply to Chuck Kasmire.
Chuck Kasmire:
Shinzen Young has some good stuff on this phase I think.


Indeed, and I just found the reference (for those reading this thread that are in the same boat): The Icky-Sticky Creepy-Crawly...

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/20/09 10:26 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
Jesus! What a resource DhO is! I am just reading the thread you reference, Tarin. Honestly, you folks rock.

Now, I sit.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
11/21/09 1:18 PM as a reply to Tom O..
So the update is as follows. I sat for 2 hours last night, and another 4 hours this morning. My first resolve was to, if sitting more than 1hr, break it up into chunks of 1hr with about 5 minutes of walking meditation in between. Secondly, I resolved to follow the conventional wisdom on DhO and KFD and just "get into" the tremors, ride them out, and not let them take over.

After just under an hour (before which I had pretty excellent concentration with the "flag pole" thing), I did notice the tremors starting, but I simply noted them, stuck with the breath, and did not get engaged. They were pretty light at this point, so it was not too hard. During the walking break, they actually amped up a bit, but I focused hard on the sensations of walking and again kept them at bay.

The second hour last night was a bit of a battle, but I came to the realization that the tremors actual start with my discomfort from sitting. My hip joints and knees begin to ache, but then I seem to do something unconsciously to really amp up the discomfort. I found the Shinzen Young reference particularly useful, where he makes the proposition that: Suffering = Pain x Resistance. Up the pain, and you up the suffering. Up the resistance, you also up the suffering. But if you reduce the resistance to zero, the suffering goes away. It was a useful mental model, and it really helped me ride it out and not get taken over.

This morning, the second hour was actually spent sitting on stool, to confirm that the tremors are based in physical discomfort. Interestingly, the were still there, but not nearly as much, so it would seem like my aversion to the pain is really messing things up.

Back to the cushion for the remaining two hours (with a walk in between), and I really worked on not resisting things. Also, I made a mental picture of me melting the tension in my shoulders and back, from the tremors, as well as melting the pain in my joints. I pictured myself simply melting away into a big lake and, I have to say, it was pretty effective. I had to come back to that several times, but each time, the outcome was a decent stillness. Ok, so the lake is a Buddhist simile, but I always liked it and could imagine me being still enough that the reflection of the moon on that lake was largely undisturbed.

It was a battle. Melting, shaking, some stillness. It really helped, also, when that stillness was accompanied by very, very light breathing. If I breathed too heavily, I would shudder and trip off the shakes.

One other thing: I wonder if some of this shaking is because I am genuinely cold? I deliberately made it warm as hell in my hotel room, but nonetheless, by the end my hands and nose are noticeably cool to the touch. Is this a known physiological thing? Just askin'.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
12/14/09 11:21 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
the prisoner greco:

let me know when you've got this down and what happens next, and i'll let you know what i recommend doing from there.


I have not updated in a while, so here is where things stand. For the last several weeks, I seem to have plateaued. I am definitely not getting the extreme reactions I noted at the start of this thread, although my sits are not nearly as long as they had been. But I am also experiencing a fair degree of...laissez faire? Many times I am very peaceful and just sitting. As Daniel put it to me:

resolve, engage, be yourself, enjoy just being you, as you are, simply, completely, easily, no big deal, and complete confidence you can do it, or not, but regardless, as if everything is alright just being as it is, here, now


I don't know if this is equanimity, but I am trying to be there. But I feel like I am just putting in time, nothing more.

There was one experience of note that I had a week or so ago. While I was concentrating on nothing in particular, I began to "see" a dark circle; it was darker than the field around it, and it was distinctly circular. I felt myself being pulled into it, kind of like a vortex or black hole. I could feel myself straining, my neck muscles tight, bearing down. It lasted perhaps 20-30 seconds. It kind of surprised me as it happened pretty suddenly, and I don't think I was fighting it but, by the same token, it did not morph into anything else, especially nothing Else.

So, Tarin, I don't know if that qualifies as "got this down", but I would like to explore your teaser. What do you recommend? I did try your revolving attention thing once or twice, but did not really get very far with it. I may try to work with that more diligently, but am intrigued by whatever other techniques you are willing to toss my way.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
12/15/09 7:00 PM as a reply to Tom O..
Tom O.:
the prisoner greco:

let me know when you've got this down and what happens next, and i'll let you know what i recommend doing from there.


I have not updated in a while, so here is where things stand. For the last several weeks, I seem to have plateaued. I am definitely not getting the extreme reactions I noted at the start of this thread, although my sits are not nearly as long as they had been. But I am also experiencing a fair degree of...laissez faire? Many times I am very peaceful and just sitting. As Daniel put it to me:

resolve, engage, be yourself, enjoy just being you, as you are, simply, completely, easily, no big deal, and complete confidence you can do it, or not, but regardless, as if everything is alright just being as it is, here, now


I don't know if this is equanimity, but I am trying to be there. But I feel like I am just putting in time, nothing more.

There was one experience of note that I had a week or so ago. While I was concentrating on nothing in particular, I began to "see" a dark circle; it was darker than the field around it, and it was distinctly circular. I felt myself being pulled into it, kind of like a vortex or black hole. I could feel myself straining, my neck muscles tight, bearing down. It lasted perhaps 20-30 seconds. It kind of surprised me as it happened pretty suddenly, and I don't think I was fighting it but, by the same token, it did not morph into anything else, especially nothing Else.

So, Tarin, I don't know if that qualifies as "got this down", but I would like to explore your teaser. What do you recommend? I did try your revolving attention thing once or twice, but did not really get very far with it. I may try to work with that more diligently, but am intrigued by whatever other techniques you are willing to toss my way.



hi tom,

by noticing the arising and passing nature of phenomenal appearances (impermanence), noticing the qualities of spontaneity and/or totality of these appearances (no-self), or noticing the drive of desire inherent in (or concomitant to - arguable, but no matter) such appearances (suffering), you are basically causing the thing to crank along (with some kind of sharp turning point happening around re-observation).

here's a way i've looked at it but never quite articulated here before for some reason: the territory from a&p, through the dark night, and into equanimity may (and probably will) repeat again and again during the same path.

daniel ingram's model, that it is a process of wearing down the hill, is accurate but inadequate in the sense that it doesnt address exactly what the hill in question (that's being worn down) is. that hill is the structure of your mind, sometimes experienced as YOU.

for this purpose, i prefer to think of it as a surprise party at a secret location that requires people to be shuttled to. so the shuttle bus/van/whatever comes and however many people are waiting or can fit into it fit in, then off it goes, through the territory, dropping them off in equanimity. then back the shuttle goes, and picks up party-goers starting from a&p territory (and occasionally stragglers flag it down from within the dark night who were on board the the last time round but somehow fell out) and goes back to equanimity again, drops off the load, and goes back for more. when the last guest shows up, everyone yells surprise! at the same time and turn out all the lights.

from what you're saying, it sounds to me like it's probably a good idea to work as if you're in equanimity, even if you aren't. but work on the same token that equanimity can handle being shaken, can handle a broad and diverse array of objects, can handle some irritation and discomfort, etc. get the stability strong and solid and who cares what comes up next.. don't be afraid to shake it up, and don't be concerned with setting off some dark night stuff (it's simple, just don't do it).

and regardless of where you are, don't be surprised if you find yourself repeating old territory again and again. there's also the matter of equanimity being 4th jhana and 4th jhana naturally being the portal to all other places, but that's another matter for another time (unless that happens to make sense right there - if so, go for it!).

as for instructions on what to do next, here we go: when the shaking/perturbation/that energetic fixation is dying down, notice *how* it's dying down, and *what* your mind is doing. chances are that your mind, instead of swinging/oscillating along with the shakes, is now, in the absence of those physical impetuses, becoming quiet and still, and is resting in the middle of those oscillatory paths. nice, quiet, peaceful. NO! don't just do this. we're not just trying to deepen a jhana here.

if you notice this happening, broaden your mind out to include the parts that you were swinging through as well (which are now just inactive and appear to have nothing going on. those parts are still there,see? it just looks like nothing's happening, cos sure, nothing's happening in them, but them being there in the first place is what's happening. start noting the nothing that is going on everywhere that there was previously stuff going on but now there isn't.. notice the space, notice the emptiness, notice the silence, notice the open-ness, notice the peace, the stillness, etc etc. 3 characteristics to investigate, same instructions apply.

regarding the practical stuff, the jist is don't just sit there, there's always stuff to investigate and if it doesn't show up, go looking for it. the superficial shaking/restlessness/distraction is out of the way, for a while anyway, and you've got a clear and refined mind... make good use of it!

let me know when you've got this down and what happens next, and i'll let you know if i recommend anything from there.

(but if i do, it'll probably be something to do with noticing your mind, your attention itself, the investigation itself, there again and again, no matter what else you also notice or what you do or don't do.. so there you go)

tarin

ps. if that black hole thing happens again maybe it'd be better to just bounce off it again and again (using its energy as momentum to power the investigation into impermanence), instead of resisting against it, if you can. that'll take the strain off your neck.

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
12/17/09 12:16 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
the prisoner greco:


for this purpose, i prefer to think of it as a surprise party at a secret location that requires people to be shuttled to. so the shuttle bus/van/whatever comes and however many people are waiting or can fit into it fit in, then off it goes, through the territory, dropping them off in equanimity. then back the shuttle goes, and picks up party-goers starting from a&p territory (and occasionally stragglers flag it down from within the dark night who were on board the the last time round but somehow fell out) and goes back to equanimity again, drops off the load, and goes back for more. when the last guest shows up, everyone yells surprise! at the same time and turn out all the lights.


Sorry but I can't resist replying just to say: this is a beautiful analogy! And the rest of the post sounds right and I bet it will be very useful to me.

Just so that my post has some content, here's another data point: Tarin's previous advice in this thread ("work out what the energy pattern fueling that movement is like" and the rest of that message) helped me a lot at the spot where I was at the time. I subsequently had an IM conversation with him where he told me some other useful stuff too, about balancing energy and posture. Tarin: Would you mind me posting the relevant parts of that conversation?

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
12/29/09 10:36 PM as a reply to Tom O..
Tom O.:
Or "Get Me Out of Here!".

Is this just a physical process that I need to just sit through while my body's energy systems do whatever it is they are doing, or is there some take-away item here that I am missing?

I would be grateful for any advice, cuz my mat is half rolled at this point.

-- tomo


Tom,

Here is a video by Todd Murphy I found that tries to explain the neurology behind the sensations. There is a very cool field out there called Theo-neurology (sp?) which tries to explain religious experiences through neurology. I know nothing about Todd Miurphy's credentials. but the video is very interesting. He has several videos there.

The section on raptures, tingles, etc. begins about 20 minutes into it. He says it is a nervous system overloaded with emotion. May or may not help in your practice.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=1030598948823323439#

Metta,
Don

RE: Frustration and deliverance
Answer
1/18/10 7:41 PM as a reply to Donald Adams.
Don,

I missed your reply when it first came out, but thanks for the link. I will certainly check it out.

-- tomo