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There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help please?

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I'm working purely on "Mahasi noting". I sit, breathe, and note the rising and falling of my abdomen. If other things arise I note them too. Simple in theory, but not always in practice.

A specific "problem" (I think) I'm seeing is the following progression. I start off any sit with my noting "focused" (I'll describe what I mean by that in a second). Then it becomes less so. And then I'm off thinking about other stuff and basically not noting at all. Finally, some minutes later, I realize what has happened and I start the process again. Focused, less focused, aimless day dreaming, catch myself.

Now I assume that what I'm after here is more of the first part. The more I can stay focused, then I assume the more I'll be able to investigate deeper, note more things, at higher frequency and so on. So the slipping into less focus and then onto mindless day dreaming is, for want of a better word, bad, or sub-optimal, or at very least "something that one hopes one will be doing less of as one develops in ones practice!". Yes? So I've found myself trying to examine exactly what the difference is between the focused noting and the unfocused noting. Maybe by seeing that I can avoid the latter and get more into the former. And I think it's like this.

There are two way a young person can say "mama". A baby just on the verge of speech capability merely gabbles the sound. When it says "mama" it is not *denoting* its mother. It's just a coincidence that it sounds that way. When a toddler says "mama" though, it probably is denoting its mother.[1]

The crucial point is in that word "denoting". In the best known philosophical sense, it's used to analyze phrases that appear to "point to" something -- like "The Present King Of France" -- but actually don't. And I'm using it in a similar (but not identical) way here. I think the difference between my focused and unfocused noting is that the former involves denoting, but the latter doesn't. The focused noting is like the older child saying "mama". When I note "rising", I am connecting the note word to the thing being noted. But in my unfocused noting, that connection begins to weaken. Eventually I *happen to be* uttering "rising" in my head, but it's almost independent of the actual rising of my abdomen. It's hard to describe that because it is actually different from the gabbling baby situation. While the baby doesn't but the toddler does know that the sound "mama" means the mother, both I while focused and I while unfocused know that "rising" means "the thing my abdomen is doing". But what I'm realizing as I practice is that mere "knowing that" the note word has something to do with the abdomen's movement, is not the same as "connecting" the note word to the movement.

Explaining further. I could break down what I'm doing into at least three "components". In no particular order, they are as follows:

1. The simple, pure, "note-less" observation of whatever the thing is. For example, the rising of the abdomen.
2. The mental utterance of the note itself. For example, the word "rising"
3. The "bolting together", as it were, of those two things

The difference between my focused and unfocused phases is that focused involves all three components, while unfocused is either weak on or completely omits point 3.

So, in a nutshell, my question is this:

When Mahasi Sayadaw taught noting, was he actually specifically talking about "denoting"?

Is the non-denoting style -- what I'm calling "unfocused" -- in some way a baby-style, a beginner's gabbling, and not what I'm after in the longer term? For Vipassana meditation, is it right to see the unfocused style -- the mere "gabbling" of the note words -- as somehow inferior to the focused style? As with a baby, should I be looking to grow to a stage where I have dropped the gabbling entirely, so I can then develop more sophisticated "speech" overall?

thanks.

[1] This is just an analogy. I'm not a child psychologist, so if in fact babies do know what they're saying, please just pick another analogy :-)


P.S. I've been wondering the above stuff for a while, but didn't ask because I thought I was probably just over-analyzing. But two things changed. First, in fact the proportion of focused versus unfocused time *is* changing (in favour of focused). Second, I've been reading Maung Tha Noe's transalation of Mahasi Sayadaw's "Fundamental's of Vipassana Meditation" and in the section labeled "Meditate Right Now" (page 77 on the PDF) he talks about the "seeing process", the " reviewing process", the "form process" and the "name process". They're not exactly my three components, but they sound like what maybe I'm just beginning to understand and am articulating as my three components. Also, they constitute even more "analysis" than I'm doing, so if it's good enough for Mahasi, it's good enough for me! :-)

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 1:13 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
I'm working purely on "Mahasi noting". I sit, breathe, and note the rising and falling of my abdomen. If other things arise I note them too. Simple in theory, but not always in practice.

A specific "problem" (I think) I'm seeing is the following progression. I start off any sit with my noting "focused" (I'll describe what I mean by that in a second). Then it becomes less so. And then I'm off thinking about other stuff and basically not noting at all. Finally, some minutes later, I realize what has happened and I start the process again. Focused, less focused, aimless day dreaming, catch myself.


Yeah. That's normal. That's what meditating is like. When notice you've lost track of what you're doing - either by noting in an absent-minded fashion or by getting lost in fantasy, etc. - gently bring your mind back, without judgment, and just start noting again. If you have to do it a hundred times in a sit, it's no big deal. As you progress through the ñanas, you'll notice that your concentration (i.e., ability to note without getting distracted) gets better. The point is to build it up along the way, but you do that by patiently bringing the mind back to noting when it wanders off. Like training a puppy.

The rest is tl;dr for me. Maybe someone else will feel like reading and responding to it.

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 1:47 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:


Explaining further. I could break down what I'm doing into at least three "components". In no particular order, they are as follows:

1. The simple, pure, "note-less" observation of whatever the thing is. For example, the rising of the abdomen.
2. The mental utterance of the note itself. For example, the word "rising"
3. The "bolting together", as it were, of those two things

The difference between my focused and unfocused phases is that focused involves all three components, while unfocused is either weak on or completely omits point 3.



You seem to be describing, in plain language, the difference between 'noting' and being distracted. So, if you are asking, will there be more noting and less distraction with practice, yup, that's the case, particularly once you realize you can just note 'distracted' when you catch yourself having drifted off. Like the last fellow said, this is all normal.

Also, because it can't possibly hurt, I'm going to say this: you really don't need to make this so complicated. The fact is, this practice (meditation in general, not just noting) is not really operating from a verbal-conceptual level. From a beginner's standpoint it is sufficient to conceive it as attentional training, simply training the capacity to notice explicitly what is occurring phenomenally moment by moment. It's really that simple emoticon

By just noticing how experience actually is, many many currently unquestioned beliefs about the nature of experience, identity, existence, time, etc., which currently give shape to your felt sense of experience, identity, existence, time etc, will automatically be debunked. This debunking (also called awakening) is, again, automatic. That's because these unquestioned beliefs don't correspond with how experience actually is. So paying simple attention to experience as it happens will naturally debunk these beliefs. You don't have to go looking for anything. Just pay attention.

Explicit verbal noting is one technique which can help someone to pay explicit attention to the experiencing of experience, rather than being caught up in the imaginary-verbal-conceptual-emotional commentary on experience that usually passes for the real thing.

have fun!

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 2:21 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Like Fitter Stoke said, that's normal. Keep in mind that noting rising and falling isn't the whole of the Mahasi technique. I've been told this repeatedly by Sayadaws who specialize in the Mahasi technique, who either studied with Mahasi Sayadaw or are longtime students of his students. They simply present the technique like that in short texts and in dhamma talks to simplify the translation. It's just the basic Mahasi noting exercise that's used until you're good at noting and probably a ways past the A&P. They really do want people to note whatever sensation comes up.

You can note the moments when you're noticing that you're just automatically noting. You can also note the emotional reactions to your "missing" of the sensation or the noticing of missing it (which is just as valid as actually noting the physical sensation). You just described this process in detail in your post. Given that you're observing such a detailed process, it's a great focus for noting. Just try to develop the vocabulary to do so. You've basically said that you're noticing thoughts. Are you noting thoughts? I just posted something on this thread that you might find useful: RE: Ajahn Brahm's book "Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond

What you're seeing is a sign of progress. Your mind is noticing more things than just the rising and falling of the abdomen. This is supposed to happen. You can use this extra attention. Have you considered a noting technique that tracks more sensations? Triplet noting and quad noting really help to use up the extra mental bandwidth. I'll post the links again, if you're interested. Slipping into dreaming isn't bad, the technique produces it. Is the dreaming pleasant? Can you note the daydreaming sensations? How wide is the width of attention? Does attention still have any physical spot, has it moved, where is it focusing? Is there any sort of physical reaction to the mental state that you can note (slumping of the body, posture of the eyes...)?

The fact that dreaming or mental wandering happens is just another symptom of the 3 characteristics. Your sense of attention isn't really under your control, it's not always enjoyable and concentration states are temporary. That's also just normal. The technique will show you that more and more. It's just as much as of an opportunity for noting as any other sensation. Your mind wants to expand, let it. Note what happens. Note things that seem important, note things that seem trivial, note things that are interesting, frustrating, unchanging, rapidly changing, obvious, subtle, physical, emotional and anything else that comes to mind.

One other benefit of noting things other than sensations tied to the breath is that you can note out loud. It's hard to note and breathe at the same time.

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 2:34 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:


When Mahasi Sayadaw taught noting, was he actually specifically talking about "denoting"?

Is the non-denoting style -- what I'm calling "unfocused" -- in some way a baby-style, a beginner's gabbling, and not what I'm after in the longer term? For Vipassana meditation, is it right to see the unfocused style -- the mere "gabbling" of the note words -- as somehow inferior to the focused style? As with a baby, should I be looking to grow to a stage where I have dropped the gabbling entirely, so I can then develop more sophisticated "speech" overall?

thanks.



The unfocused style is superior to the focused style in the equanimity ñana. At least to the extent that I think I understand what you mean by "focused", the focused style will simply break down as there is too much to note. Noting once per second doesn't give you time to think and you will end up noting that fast if you aren't already. Your reactions will simply get so fast that you'll accurately note what's going on as it comes up and goes away, including very brief sensations and notice where your meditation is going off the rails and needs to be fine-tuned.Things like triplet noting that track emotional reactions (both the feeling tone and whatever emotion you're feeling at the time) alongside the present physical sensation of the moment will do wonders during the dukkha ñanas but break down a bit later on requiring you to develop a more freeform technique. My apologies, I'm only remembering some of your other threads, so I'm not sure where you're at. Do you feel the vibrations?

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 7:48 PM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Try doing it out loud instead. That can help keep you on track.

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/23/12 8:15 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
I'm working purely on "Mahasi noting". I sit, breathe, and note the rising and falling of my abdomen. If other things arise I note them too. Simple in theory, but not always in practice.

If ever you'd want to expand your practice, know that in addition to noting the rising and falling of your abdomen when you're sitting, you can aim for 24/7 noting. To give you an idea of the sheer effectiveness and also the immense challenge that that poses: This approach is mentioned in the Pali Canon and the predicted outcome is enlightenment in 7 days.

Robert McLune:
A specific "problem" (I think) I'm seeing is the following progression. I start off any sit with my noting "focused" (I'll describe what I mean by that in a second). Then it becomes less so. And then I'm off thinking about other stuff and basically not noting at all. Finally, some minutes later, I realize what has happened and I start the process again. Focused, less focused, aimless day dreaming, catch myself.

You seem to be good at clearly and cleanly perceiving patterns and formulating your observations. My guess is that that will be tremendously helpful.

Robert McLune:
Now I assume that what I'm after here is more of the first part. (...) So the slipping into less focus and then onto mindless day dreaming (emphasis added) is, for want of a better word, bad, or sub-optimal, or at very least "something that one hopes one will be doing less of as one develops in ones practice!".

As already mentioned up-thread by Fitter Stoke, this is meditation (at this level and with this technique). I think of it like this: When I lift weights, in the beginning I'm having an easy time lifting it - I feel strong and capable. Gradually, as I keep repeating the lift, my muscles fatigue and I loose the ability to effectively lift the weight.

Calling the deterioration of strength while I'm lifting "bad" is totally missing the point. The fact that the body outputs "bad, or sub-optimal" performance is exactly what causes growth and one should appreciate it accordingly.

In a very practical way, it's completely true that the "bad, sub-optimal" practice is "something that one hopes one will be doing less of as one develops in ones practice", yet there's also a finer point to it: there is no other way about it. The fact that you experience "bad, sub-optimal" practice is the sign that you are at all able to progress.

The above metaphor is valid in both micro and macro perspective. Micro: what you describe. Moment-to-moment deterioration of attention/concentration. Macro: Progressing through the stages of insight, especially relating to 5th through 10th nana (aka. The Dark Night).

Robert McLune:
The more I can stay focused, then I assume the more I'll be able to investigate deeper, note more things, at higher frequency and so on.

Yepp.

Robert McLune:
So I've found myself trying to examine exactly what the difference is between the focused noting and the unfocused noting. Maybe by seeing that I can avoid the latter and get more into the former.

Very, very good. I would advise you continue with that open, explorative, inquisitive, allowing attitude. There are pitfalls on the path, meaning not everything should be examined, but, generally, such an attitude will overcome any obstacle.

Robert McLune:
(stuff about denoting) I think the difference between my focused and unfocused noting is that the former involves denoting, but the latter doesn't. (more stuff about denoting)

I love this stuff and I find that you communicate your point very clearly; I get it.

Robert McLune:
(stuff about "unfocused noting") It's hard to describe that because it is actually different from the gabbling baby situation. While the baby doesn't but the toddler does know that the sound "mama" means the mother, both I while focused and I while unfocused know that "rising" means "the thing my abdomen is doing".

Yeah, I understand. What's missing is what some people have called "touching" and/or "striking" - that awareness touch or strike the object. You're somewhat mechanically noting, and the note does happen to be correct, but your awareness does not strike the object. This striking is the same as what you explain in pt. no. 1, quoted below.

Robert McLune:
When I note "rising", I am connecting the note word to the thing being noted. But in my unfocused noting, that connection begins to weaken. Eventually I *happen to be* uttering "rising" in my head, but it's almost independent of the actual rising of my abdomen. (...) But what I'm realizing as I practice is that mere "knowing that" the note word has something to do with the abdomen's movement, is not the same as "connecting" the note word to the movement.

Sweet. Good progress.

Robert McLune:
1. The simple, pure, "note-less" observation of whatever the thing is. For example, the rising of the abdomen.
2. The mental utterance of the note itself. For example, the word "rising"
3. The "bolting together", as it were, of those two things

Very lucid breakdown.

This might be a bit radical, but I'm convinced that 2 and 3 are not required to progress through the stages of insight and awakening by any other map. I believe Tarver on this board expressed a view where 2 and 3 are essential to awakening. Admittedly, I feel that my understanding of the view Tarver expressed is quite contrived, so I might be totally misunderstanding his point.

As I understand it, many people on this forum often use the word "noticing" for 1.

Going by my own experience, I strongly advice you do as much of 1 as you possibly can, and if you can, drop 2 and 3.

As I think this particular point is quite important, hopefully someone more advanced than me can offer their take on this.

Robert McLune:
When Mahasi Sayadaw taught noting, was he actually specifically talking about "denoting"?
Is the non-denoting style -- what I'm calling "unfocused" -- in some way a baby-style, a beginner's gabbling, and not what I'm after in the longer term?

That is my current understanding, yes. But:

Robert McLune:
For Vipassana meditation, is it right to see the unfocused style -- the mere "gabbling" of the note words -- as somehow inferior to the focused style?

Not quite like that. There are elements needed along the way other than "simple, pure, "note-less" observation", one of them could be termed "surrender". In the case of surrender, you might experience that to progress you need to give up the clarity and seeming solidity of "simple, pure, "note-less" observation" in favor of more diffuse and less "in-control" attentiveness.

Robert McLune:
As with a baby, should I be looking to grow to a stage where I have dropped the gabbling entirely, so I can then develop more sophisticated "speech" overall?

Yes, with caveats mentioned above.


To me it sounds like you might be cut out for this. Best of luck emoticon

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/26/12 11:58 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Fitter Stoke:
The rest is tl;dr for me. Maybe someone else will feel like reading and responding to it.

Story of my life. My middle name is "to cut a short story long". emoticon Thanks for the input though.

RE: There's noting, and then there's Noting -- help ple
Answer
10/26/12 12:00 PM as a reply to Stian Gudmundsen Høiland.
Thanks Stian, and the rest. Really useful comments and advice.
Robert