Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Jarrod Matteson, modified 11 Years ago.

Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi all,

As my first post, I'll give a little background on my practice. I first started sitting with a group about 10 years ago in Maryland, but having no clear understanding of maps, etc. I floundered and gave up meditating (at least on any sort of regular basis) when I moved back to Boston. I've picked my practice back up and thanks to sites like this and the Buddhist Geeks podcast, I've been motivated to make sitting part of my daily life. I've been sitting on a regular basis for the past 6 months. Currently I sit for at least 20 minutes each morning and usually longer sessions on the weekends while my son naps (around 40-60 minutes). I have not done any "live" retreat work but have found Shinzen Young's home based phone retreats to be a decent alternative for the time being.

During my sits I have tried various techniques, experimenting to see what works for me. Early on I tried some concentration practices, but lately I decided to stick with pure noting practices (starting with the breath at the abdomen) and note worry about achieving altered states. When not doing noting practices I've used various techniques taught by Shinzen Young which don't seem to be purely concentration or insight, but a kind of hybrid. On a few occasions I've had different "experiences", wave-like sensations coursing through the body, bright white light behind closed eyes, visual wave movements with my eyes open and some pretty solid outward pressure that felt like it was keeping my posture quite rigid. All interesting, but I try to just continue noting and not analyze too much.

During today's sit I had an experience that seemed different from the others, so I thought I'd check in here for a diagnosis. I was working on a guided meditation on Shinzen's audiobook The Science of Enlightenment called "Clarifying the sense of Self". Basically, attention is placed on all sense doors and as each sensation arises, either "self", "other" or "both" is noted. At first I struggled against being tired, but I tried to work with that sensation and found that as I snapped out of the tiredness, both the sense of "other" and my self-conscious awareness of it were arising simultaneously each time, so I went with that and fell into a groove. The guided portion ended and I felt compelled to continue my sit, but started to just note sensations (rising, falling, sitting, etc.) Pretty quickly the noting went into auto-pilot and picked up pace significantly. I just let it go and tried not to get in the way. At the same time a distinct pulsing sound/sensation began that was acting like a metronome to the noting. The whole process fell into a nice rhythm with probably 2-3 pulses per second and 3-4 notes per pulse. Each breath was noted by "rise, rise, rise, rise" "fall, fall, fall, fall" in this distinct rhythm plus additional notes between the breaths. The experience was both pleasant but weird at the same time, pleasant in the sense that it was not difficult to keep up with the noting, but weird because of the constant pulsing, which was a body sensation but also had a distinct audio feel to it.

I'm not sure if the pulsing was actually my pulse or not. It seemed like it could have been but it also seemed faster than what my pulse usually is. Any sense of what these sensations were and more importantly how do I deal with them if they come up again?

Any thoughts, tips, guidance would be appreciated.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations (Answer)

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Hi Jarrod,

It sounds to me like 2nd ñana / Knowledge of Cause & Effect.

From Mahasi Sayadaw's Practical Insight Meditation

"Now, at this advanced stage, mind appears to be the forerunner. The meditator readily notices the intention of bending, stretching, sitting, standing, going, and so on. He also clearly notices the actual bending, stretching, etc. So he realizes the fact that mind knowing a bodily process is quicker than the material process. He experiences directly that a bodily process takes place after a preceding intention… In contemplating regular and spontaneous bodily movements such as the rising and falling of the abdomen, he notices one after another continuously… One sensation has hardly disappeared than another arises, and he notices them all accordingly. While noticing every object as it arises he is aware that a mental process of knowing depends on an object." (pg. 17-18).

It sounds as though your shift in to "auto-pilot" noting was a shift from 1st ñana (Mind & Body) to 2nd ñana (Cause & Effect). First, one comes to know directly that both physical and mental phenomena are "objects". Then, one notices not only that intention precedes action (and that both arise on their own), but also that noticing occurs automatically as well, and only when there's an object to notice. Things start to speed up, just as you described.

In my own experience, my in and out breaths tend to stutter a bit during this stage ("in, in, in, in, in - pause - out, out, out, out, out.") - almost like skipping a stone across water.

Sound about right? If not, let's get some more info out of you! emoticon

~Jackson
Jarrod Matteson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Thank you Jackson and Daniel. Sorry for the delayed reply. I've been working like a dog at year end, but your thoughts are much appreciated. The Mahasi Sayadaw quote rings true. I also re-read parts of MCTB, and the description of relationship between physical and mental phenomena being "rachet-like" hit the nail on the head for me. As an update, the "pulsing" has never been as dramatic (loud I guess?) as it was at the time I described above. It has been consistently present, although sometimes it only presents itself if I look for it, if that makes any sense. My last several sits have had the quality of complete and utter stillness of the body and a relatively quiet mind. Thoughts that are not the object of the meditation (usually the breath at the nostrils lately) are definitely in the background and non-distracting. The whole noting 1--10 sensations per second seems like a piece of cake (and it seemed mind-blowingly impossible the first time I read that in MCTB a few months back).

As I said, I re-read MCTB, in particular the Progress of Insight chapters. I must say that the first time reading through, it was all fascinating but completely abstract material. Now, the Mind and Body and Cause and Effect sections are like a slap to the back of the head they are so obvious. The Three Characteristics piece seems reasonable, but I get the sense that I'm not quite there yet, and despite the couple of occasions with the lights and wave-like sensations, I'm remaining cautiously skeptical that I am anywhere near A&P. Maybe I just had a couple of good days?

So, it seems to me that the Three Characteristics are on the horizon. As a follow up question, how do I move that along? Is there a point where I intentionally "try" to observe the 3 characteristics in each sensation or will nature reveal the 3 characteristics to me as I dutifully note each and every sensation? Perhaps this is for another thread, so thread police please move this or feel free to point me to where this has already been discussed.

Thanks again to you both.

Jarrod
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Jarrod Matteson:
Thank you Jackson and Daniel.


You're welcome :-D I'm glad we were able to help out.

Jarrod Matteson:
So, it seems to me that the Three Characteristics are on the horizon. As a follow up question, how do I move that along? Is there a point where I intentionally "try" to observe the 3 characteristics in each sensation or will nature reveal the 3 characteristics to me as I dutifully note each and every sensation? Perhaps this is for another thread, so thread police please move this or feel free to point me to where this has already been discussed.


I think that you have some good momentum building at this point, and it would be best to continue practicing as you have been. Try not to stop and look around too much, nor to sit and reflect. If you stay with each new sensation that arises and passes, noting as much as possible, you'll notice the three C's naturally. When you notice it, note it, and move on. The 3rd ñana (Three Characteristics) can be a real headache, so don't worry too much if you experience some discomfort. It's all a part of the process.

Be sure to ask additional questions as you go along - if you need to, that is.

Practice well,
~Jackson
Jarrod Matteson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Thanks again Jackson.

What you say makes sense. This is revealing to me my tendency to really analyze what's going on when sitting. Of course, the analysis is just another arising sensation to be noted. The analysis never seems to lead to an adequate resolution. How ...unsatisfying.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
Jarrod Matteson:
Thanks again Jackson.

What you say makes sense. This is revealing to me my tendency to really analyze what's going on when sitting. Of course, the analysis is just another arising sensation to be noted. The analysis never seems to lead to an adequate resolution. How ...unsatisfying.


Yeah, reflection arises often in practice for those who are intelligent. It's really easy to get stuck on a reflection and continue to dwell on it for quite some time. Most of the time, it's best just to note the reflection and then continue noting whatever phenomena happen to be arising in the moment. You have the right idea emoticon
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Tom O., modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 122 Join Date: 7/19/09 Recent Posts
Jarrod Matteson:
This is revealing to me my tendency to really analyze what's going on when sitting. Of course, the analysis is just another arising sensation to be noted. The analysis never seems to lead to an adequate resolution. How ...unsatisfying.


I would add that, personally, stressing about exactly where I was turned out to be a real roadblock for me. Easier said than done, I know, but just try and sit consistently and "properly", and things will move along.

-- tomo
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 3192 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I was blessed in that by the time someone showed me the maps I was way more desperate for stream entry than anything else in my life and it generally would overwhelm my mapping obsession and get me practicing again. If it wasn't stream entry, I didn't really care what it was. That's also how I practiced at the end: if it wasn't finished, all the bells and whistles didn't matter at all, as even the best raptures and most spectacular openings and events were just more stuff, like so much stuff before. Lots to be said for that, as I look back on it.
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 3192 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Hey, cause and effect is a good guess, I agree.

Steady pulses like a drum beat can also come early 3rd vipassana jhana before the heavy Dark Night really kicks in.

Also, that thing you mention with lights and vibrations: very likely A&P.

Happy New Year,

Daniel
Jarrod Matteson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey thanks Daniel. My reply to Jackson above was intended for both of you, but I'm not as technologically savvy as I would like to be sometimes, thus the awkward ordering of the thread.

Jarrod
Jarrod Matteson, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Auto-pilot noting and pulsing sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for all the responses here. They've been very helpful. I seemed to have stumbled upon a nice "middle way" approach with the maps. Case in point, during my most recent morning sit, I set the timer for 40 minutes and was then met with total discomfort in posture and resisting the frequent temptation to check the timer, stop sitting and get on with the day. (Hasn't it been 40 minutes yet??). Rather than let this trigger an obsession about what this struggle means or where I was on the maps, having knowledge of the maps sort of informed the noting, allowing me to just note the struggle and continue on with the practice. I think setting the intention to "just keep noting" at the beginning of the sit was helpful in that regard as well. On the other extreme, I can recall sessions I did years and years ago when I had absolutely no knowledge of maps or stages and similar sorts of struggles/discomforts would arise. Inevitably this lead to thoughts that "I can't meditate" or "I'm doing it wrong", "that was a 'bad' sit", etc. Without a sense of where I was (or that these thoughts themselves are arising and worthy of noting), my attempts to integrate a meditation practice into my life dropped away when I moved back to Boston and got out of the routine I had been trying to establish.

Anyway, this has gotten a bit off topic from my original post, but from someone who over-analyses everything and is a do-it-yourself kind of guy, the input here, the site in general and Daniel's book have been invaluable. So, thanks for that.

Jarrod

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