Message Boards Message Boards

Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Verbal Noting - pros and cons

Toggle
Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/12/12 2:33 PM
I have recently been trying verbal noting. What I like about noting out loud is that my mind wanders less. As long as I maintain the technique I tend to get lost in fantasy/dream/memory/image/intentionality much less. This is huge.

My problems with the technique are:
1) It feels clunky and awkward,
2) The speed with which I am able to note is slowed down,
3) The number of sensations I am able to note slows down,
4) I am unable to note breath simultaneous to noting other phenomenon [primary and secondary object noting],
5) The type of things which get noted are the easier to describe gross sensations,
6) I have a secret suspicion/fear that since the number of sensations I am able to note slows down, the speed with which I am able to note slows down, the sensations I tend to note are gross ones, then possibly verbal noting is less effective at building concentration and is possibly less effective at getting a meditator through the insight stages.

My feeling is that with more experience and training the clunkiness and awkwardness will go away, so I guess my main questions are the others, particularly #6, since this really gets at the heart of the matter. I suppose that it is possible that, even though it feels like I am noting slower, noting less, noting grosser sensations, etc., since I am wandering and getting lost less, then in reality it is better at building concentration/getting one through the stages, etc.

Is noting verbally just a training wheels kind of activity or can a meditator take this technique all the way to stream?

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/12/12 2:54 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Keep doing it! People seem to add complexities to noting and it really is as simple as you describe. You don't have to note 5 million sensations a second. A nice, non-distracted pace is fine. Answers to your questions:

1.) It does feel awkward at first, but keep at it.
2.) Yes, that is ok.
3.) Yes, that is ok.
4.) Can you still breathe? If so, then you are ok.
5.) This will change with time too
6.) Note the fear and suspicion too!

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/12/12 3:48 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
I did not take it all the way to stream entry; in fact, I didn't even take silent noting all the way there. Once you get up to high equanimity, or even low eq, you just sit back and watch the show. At least that's what I did. But out-loud noting is a great way to get started.

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/12/12 4:35 PM as a reply to Jane Laurel Carrington.
Jane Laurel Carrington:
I did not take it all the way to stream entry; in fact, I didn't even take silent noting all the way there. Once you get up to high equanimity, or even low eq, you just sit back and watch the show. At least that's what I did. But out-loud noting is a great way to get started.


Agreed.

There are times it makes sense to note out loud. There are times it makes sense to note silently. There are times it makes sense to give sensations a quick "beep" rather than to find a word for them. And there are times it doesn't make sense to note at all but to simply perceive and understand.

Part of becoming an awesome meditator is developing the intuition to know when to do what.

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/13/12 10:53 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:
I have recently been trying verbal noting. What I like about noting out loud is that my mind wanders less. As long as I maintain the technique I tend to get lost in fantasy/dream/memory/image/intentionality much less. This is huge.

My problems with the technique are:
1) It feels clunky and awkward,
2) The speed with which I am able to note is slowed down,

As you've mentioned that you expect, it will start feeling more natural and you will end up speeding up quite a bit once you're used to it.


3) The number of sensations I am able to note slows down,


It's worth testing over time. It might speed up over time. My mind wanders when I do Daniel Ingram's "dat dat dat" superfast 10x/second silent noting technique. I can note out loud slightly faster than once a second and don't seem to miss stuff that I'm noticing (maybe as fast as twice per second). I can't note much faster silently and I find faster noting stressful anyway. It hasn't gotten in the way of getting the first or second path. I still prefer the feel of silent noting, despite having done lots of both. If I'm feeling drowsy, unfocused or find myself prone to mental wandering, I'll start noting out loud. I'll switch back to silent noting once I think I won't skip a beat. I might switch back and forth several times during one sit. The type of awareness can be a bit different, I feel more rapture, leading to jhanas and more energetic sensations when noting silently. Sometimes my mind is too dull to maintain silent noting, though increasingly I've found that's an interesting state to investigate or dwell in and accept, rather than something to get rid of through out loud noting.


4) I am unable to note breath simultaneous to noting other phenomenon [primary and secondary object noting],
5) The type of things which get noted are the easier to describe gross sensations,


I find noting breath sensations or otherwise paying attention to the breath drowns out other sensations. I find the sensations of the breath to be very gross, not that this really matters, though personally I avoid it as much as possible. I find this allows me to notice and investigate other sensations. Obviously, paying attention to the breath will also bring up subtle sensations related to it, but that hasn't been my thing. As for out loud noting prioritizing grosser sensations, that might be my experience, too, though I find I mostly only need it when my mind isn't energized and I'm not feeling the vibrations as much as the grosser sensations anyway. Once I get into the groove and start noticing energetic sensations more or start seeing quickly changing visual sensations more, I'll drop the out loud noting, note silently and allow the pleasant sensations to develop. If they develop enough and my noticing works better without noting, I'll drop the noting.


6) I have a secret suspicion/fear that since the number of sensations I am able to note slows down, the speed with which I am able to note slows down, the sensations I tend to note are gross ones, then possibly verbal noting is less effective at building concentration and is possibly less effective at getting a meditator through the insight stages.


I got the first path on a silent retreat. My main issue with that retreat was that I couldn't use my out loud noting technique. I'm certain I would have gotten stream entry faster had I been able to note in whispers when needed instead of only noting silently. I tend to enjoy noting subtle sensations more than gross ones, but I don't think it matters for the sake of moving through the ñanas and getting a path. In my experience, you can get to equanimity while noting anything, and the last bit is just a matter or continuing the same technique or enjoying the ride and noticing things as things get jhanic and move forward with their own momentum.


My feeling is that with more experience and training the clunkiness and awkwardness will go away, so I guess my main questions are the others, particularly #6, since this really gets at the heart of the matter. I suppose that it is possible that, even though it feels like I am noting slower, noting less, noting grosser sensations, etc., since I am wandering and getting lost less, then in reality it is better at building concentration/getting one through the stages, etc.

Is noting verbally just a training wheels kind of activity or can a meditator take this technique all the way to stream?


Both. Noting is a set of training wheels, whether you do it out loud or silently. As long as it works for you and you enjoy it, there isn't much reason to drop it while it works for you. It's a good tool to develop for your toolkit of meditative techniques. Like Jane said, you can cease to note at times and "enjoy the show". It depends on how you're feeling. One of the great benefits of out loud noting is ping-pong noting with someone else. It's very easy to maintain concentration for an hour when noting back and forth with someone else over skype. You can't do that with silent noting.

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/13/12 6:35 PM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Thank you for your thoughtful response. It has cleared up a few things and it is indeed a tool I will utilize when needed.

There is something interested in particular which I would like to address...

I tend to enjoy noting subtle sensations more than gross ones, but I don't think it matters for the sake of moving through the ñanas and getting a path. In my experience, you can get to equanimity while noting anything, and the last bit is just a matter or continuing the same technique or enjoying the ride and noticing things as things get jhanic and move forward with their own momentum.


You mention that "In my experience, you can get equanimity while noting anything" and, although you "tend to enjoy noting subtle sensations more than gross ones," you "don't think it matters for the sake of moving through the nanas and getting a path."

If this is indeed the case -- that one can make it all the way up to equanimity and then possibly to path -- all the while noting primarily gross sensations, then it doesn't get stated often enough.

This summer I went on a retreat where my concentration became super-charged and I was able to note multitudes of very subtle sensations all over the place. I shot through the A+P, spent a few days in the Dark Night, but then spent the rest of the retreat in High Equanimity.

After returning home my concentration dwindled and I gave up meditation for some months, discouraged and under the impression that it was really only possible to make real progress in insight on retreat, where powerful concentration can be developed.

I've decided to chuck all that and restart my daily meditation in earnest. I now sit roughly three hours a day.

The results have been perplexing. It seems like I spend most of the time in Equanimity, sometimes low, and sometimes high, in that at times I get a very wide panoramic focus that seems like some version of a 9th or 10th vipassana jhana, and I can sit very comfortably for relatively long periods of time - something I was never really able to do pre-retreat.

The catch has been, however, that my concentration still feels kinda weak, in that I'm not getting the wacky levels of super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzling, but it still seems like I'm getting Equanimity.

So, is it possible to be in Equanimity even though most of what you are experiencing are gross sensations? Is it possible to get to High Equanimity without the super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzlings? One night the other night I got some pretty subtle interesting stuff, but it was nowhere near retreat level?

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/13/12 11:59 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:

The catch has been, however, that my concentration still feels kinda weak, in that I'm not getting the wacky levels of super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzling, but it still seems like I'm getting Equanimity.


When you say that your concentration feels kinda weak, besides for noting feeling the same degree of vibratory or energetic sensations, how would you characterize your mental state? Equanimity frequently feels dreamy for me. It doesn't feel sharp and often doesn't meet the standard of what I previously considered to be "concentrated". It's also occasionally a bit boring.

About weak concentration, if you're noting every few seconds and don't get sidetracked much, your concentration isn't weak, regardless of the physical and emotional sensations you get from it. Noting is noticing and noticing is concentration, regardless of how it feels. If you note out loud with that frequency and are also noting emotional states, you're doing all you need to do. One more thing that happens to me in Equanimity is that I feel that I have no "traction" from noting. When I started noting, I found it to be a fantastically effective tool to keep my mind on the objects of concentration and pull it away from distraction. In Equanimity, it becomes so easy to note, that I can accurately note as fast as possible and still have some mental space left for mental wandering (which I can then use, though it doesn't really matter). There's no satisfying pull back to the objects from noting, it feels too effortless and automatic to feel like actually concentrating. And yet, it works.

One thing that adds a temporary (and very satisfying) feeling of traction is noting things I hadn't noticed before (it doesn't matter if it's gross or subtle) or some other kind of innovation or experiment with the technique that adds to my usual noting technique. The last thing that worked out well for me in this stage was noting eye posture (looking forward, looking up, looking down) and its relationship to attention (alertness vs dullness or drowsiness). You're experimenting with out loud noting, which is great. Once you get used to it to the point of it being effortless and you lose that feeling of traction, you may want to keep on shaking things up by adding another thing to the mix.


So, is it possible to be in Equanimity even though most of what you are experiencing are gross sensations? Is it possible to get to High Equanimity without the super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzlings? One night the other night I got some pretty subtle interesting stuff, but it was nowhere near retreat level?


Yup. If you're noting for 3 hours a day and you clearly don't feel being in the dukkha ñanas, the signs of which you should be very familiar with at this point, assuming your noting technique is decent, it's highly unlikely that you're not in equanimity. You can keep on doing the same thing and get the 1st path.

One of the reasons I was noticing energetic sensations less during my bout of equanimity before the 2nd path was that I was in formless jhanas a lot of the time while sitting. I tend to tune out most (but not all) bodily sensations in those states.

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/14/12 9:38 AM as a reply to Jigme Sengye.
Jigme Sengye:
Alan Smithee:

The catch has been, however, that my concentration still feels kinda weak, in that I'm not getting the wacky levels of super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzling, but it still seems like I'm getting Equanimity.


When you say that your concentration feels kinda weak, besides for noting feeling the same degree of vibratory or energetic sensations, how would you characterize your mental state? Equanimity frequently feels dreamy for me. It doesn't feel sharp and often doesn't meet the standard of what I previously considered to be "concentrated". It's also occasionally a bit boring.

About weak concentration, if you're noting every few seconds and don't get sidetracked much, your concentration isn't weak, regardless of the physical and emotional sensations you get from it. Noting is noticing and noticing is concentration, regardless of how it feels. If you note out loud with that frequency and are also noting emotional states, you're doing all you need to do. One more thing that happens to me in Equanimity is that I feel that I have no "traction" from noting. When I started noting, I found it to be a fantastically effective tool to keep my mind on the objects of concentration and pull it away from distraction. In Equanimity, it becomes so easy to note, that I can accurately note as fast as possible and still have some mental space left for mental wandering (which I can then use, though it doesn't really matter). There's no satisfying pull back to the objects from noting, it feels too effortless and automatic to feel like actually concentrating. And yet, it works.

One thing that adds a temporary (and very satisfying) feeling of traction is noting things I hadn't noticed before (it doesn't matter if it's gross or subtle) or some other kind of innovation or experiment with the technique that adds to my usual noting technique. The last thing that worked out well for me in this stage was noting eye posture (looking forward, looking up, looking down) and its relationship to attention (alertness vs dullness or drowsiness). You're experimenting with out loud noting, which is great. Once you get used to it to the point of it being effortless and you lose that feeling of traction, you may want to keep on shaking things up by adding another thing to the mix.


So, is it possible to be in Equanimity even though most of what you are experiencing are gross sensations? Is it possible to get to High Equanimity without the super subtle vibrations/pulsations/energy cracklin's/fizzlings? One night the other night I got some pretty subtle interesting stuff, but it was nowhere near retreat level?


Yup. If you're noting for 3 hours a day and you clearly don't feel being in the dukkha ñanas, the signs of which you should be very familiar with at this point, assuming your noting technique is decent, it's highly unlikely that you're not in equanimity. You can keep on doing the same thing and get the 1st path.

One of the reasons I was noticing energetic sensations less during my bout of equanimity before the 2nd path was that I was in formless jhanas a lot of the time while sitting. I tend to tune out most (but not all) bodily sensations in those states.


Thanks for your thoughtful and continued responses.

I guess somewhere in there I am using the terminology wrong, or something, so I'll try to be a little more specific.

When I'm meditatin' and I've got a good groove on, I am able to note the sensations [gross, semi-subtle, or whatever] with a high degree of continuity and traction. Meaning, my mind doesn't wander all that much. At times it does, but then I just note the image, fantasy, memory, or whatever, but, when I get into a nice groove, thoughts occur much less, and then I kinda pull my focus/awareness back a bit into a more panormaic position and then take in the sensation of the body all at once, like I'm standing up on high looking down and seeing the whole body at once, or I pull back and take in the sensations of the field of awareness and I kinda just sit there and note, taking it all in at once.

So, obviously, concentration has a "attentional" aspect.

What I was referring to in previous posts is that concentration also seems to have a magnifying element, in that, when it is really strong, whatever you put your focus on reveals very subtle sensations.

An analogy I thought of while on retreat is that in our normal everyday mode, we are simply looking at phenomenon [say, the body] with our normal, everyday eyes. When we have a minimal everyday meditation practice, and our concentration develops, we start looking at phenomenon [such as the body] with a magnifying glass [more subtle things are revealed]. When your concentration gets highly developed [such as while being on retreat], then you start seeing through an electron microscope, where whatever you focus on reveals incredibly subtle stuff.

Where I'm currently at feels like I'm looking at phenomenon through a magnifying glass. Continuity and traction are good, but I'm not seeing the really subtle sensations, mostly gross sensations, and not much in the way of the very fine vibrations/popping/fizzing/cracklin' pulses which underlie all the sensations of the body/mind.

RE: Verbal Noting - pros and cons
Answer
12/14/12 10:45 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:

An analogy I thought of while on retreat is that in our normal everyday mode, we are simply looking at phenomenon [say, the body] with our normal, everyday eyes. When we have a minimal everyday meditation practice, and our concentration develops, we start looking at phenomenon [such as the body] with a magnifying glass [more subtle things are revealed]. When your concentration gets highly developed [such as while being on retreat], then you start seeing through an electron microscope, where whatever you focus on reveals incredibly subtle stuff.


In equanimity, you need the opposite of a microscope. You need to be looking at everything at once. Wide focus. A microscope is an A&P tool.