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Beginner Thread - Where am I at?

Beginner Thread - Where am I at?
12/22/11 1:18 PM
Hello all. Thanks to everyone for everything that's here. It's been fantastic to be a lurker and read things on here.

A little background about me. I've been practicing "mindfulness" for a few months now, and picked up MCTB about a month ago and finished it up about a week or two ago. I'm putting it to work. I've been sitting between 0.5-1 hour a day, usually once, but sometimes twice, for the past few weeks. Almost always watching the breath. One hour sittings are really tough - I don't think I've developed my concentration sufficiently to get as much out of these because the distractions get to be too much. I'm trying to build up to a few hours a day before I go to my first 10day Goenka retreat in mid March.

Here's about the best sit I've had. I sat for 15 minutes and did a metta practice while dinner cooked. About an hour later, I sat down with a fair amount of energy and determination, and really was intent on noting and seeing the 3 characteristics. Strangely, I was on the waning periods of a cold, so I had a cough at the time. I started out focusing on my breath, but soon switched to a point in the back of my throat that would normally have made me cough, but I just watched it. It was pretty intense, so I think that helped my concentration. If I had strayed, I think I would have coughed.

About 15-20 minutes or so in, I was feeling quite concentrated, and the sounds in my ears had gotten fairly loud. Normally I hear two pitches, one really high pitched, and another much lower pitched. I can't even begin to watch the higher pitched one for the 3Cs, so I started watching the lower one. I'd describe it sounding like a TV producing static with a box over it to take the "edge" off. Maybe similar to the roar of a jet plane engine when you're sitting in the cabin. Anyways, I followed this and really watched it, and it soon started spreading into a more vibration-like feeling in my ear and then cheek. I kept watching it, allowing it to grow, and soon it essentially took over my whole body. Essentially, I reached a point where my concentration was fairly strong, I felt like I was in a good place, and I could fairly easily do body scans. This Dhamma Talk about Rapture (first 5 minutes or so) really describes what I was feeling well. I haven't been able to replicate it since that time, although I have made a conscious decision to continue just focusing on concentration rather than get pulled into a "nice feeling" state.

I really wasn't able to see much of the 3Cs (besides some impermanence), so I'm guessing this wasn't the first Jhana, but I wanted to double check. At this point, I still don't think I've progressed into Mind and Body and really just need to hammer home my concentration practice.

I've now made an effort to be mindful as often as I can in my day to day activities. Mentally taxing things really pull me out of it (I'm an Engineer, so many hours a day tend to pull me out of the present).

I'm also a little nervous that I'm getting too much knowledge of what to expect, and that's either making insights less profound feeling, or it will. I'm going to cut back on the readings except the long discourses and middle length discourses. Maybe rereading MCTB in a month or so, and then one last time before the 10-day retreat (I'm not planning on bringing anything learning related outside of a pen and notepad so I can really focus on the 3Cs).

Any advice or guidance would be appreciated, although is not expected until I get a little further on. Thanks for reading.

RE: Beginner Thread - Where am I at?
1/11/12 8:37 PM as a reply to Eric O.
Ok, so first let me back up and say a few things. First, I'm not sure if it goes without saying, but my long term goal is stream-entry, and I can go from there. Middle term goal is an A&P event before my 10 day retreat (approx 2 months from now). Not sure if that's possible, but I'm hoping to ramp up to 2-3 hours/day soon, including some walking meditation to and from work (should be approximately 40 min both ways, plus 1-2 hour long sits per day). Short term goal is gaining the concentration necessary to start seeing the 3Cs and beginning progress through the nanas.

I've realized my issue with any sittings near 1 hour was avoidance of suffering associated with bodily pain in the tail end of my sits. I now have the mindset that if I'm going to meet my goals, I'm going to need to sit through things that I don't like, and I need to grit my teeth and do it. So I'm much more determined in that regard. I've sat for at least an hour a day for the past 1.5 week, although a few days have been a 45 min sit + a 20-30 min sit. Some of those sits were really rough, but I somehow survived. I've also been practicing mindfulness throughout my day, and have started getting better with that.

But I do now have a question. I've started noting at high speeds (1-5 notes/second) as recommended in MCTB, and that's helped significantly on one front. I'll probably estimate that I spend about 80-90% of time being mindful (if I have the necessary energy for it), which is much better than the 40-60% when doing Anapanasati. However, I'm curious what it's doing to my ability to concentrate. I don't want to develop bad habits or tenancies. When I'm rapidly noting, an example of what my mind is doing is "In, In, In, Out, Out, Hearing, Hearing, Hearing, Hearing, Itch, Itch, Itch, In, In, In, Out, Itch, Out, Out, Feeling, Feeling, Pain, Pain, Pain, Pain, Out, Out, In, Pain, Pain..." Where it's jumping all over the place to whatever sensation last made the most significant impression on "my" consciousness. Am I hurting my development of concentration by doing this? I probably end up spending, at best, an equal amount of time watching my breath, and in all likelihood I'm actually watching it less. I'm still fairly confident I'm not even to the 1st nana, so I'm not sure noting is an appropriate technique at my present level.

Any thoughts?