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Everything GONE!
Answer
1/26/13 10:47 AM
Practicing Mahasi-style but have found it easier to watch the expansion/contraction of breath instead of rising/falling, which it's not really different. Noting as instructed. 15 minutes in, hit a point where EVERYTHING went POOF... gone... as if nothing existed. complete silence, stillness, dark, but somehow felt pretty darn good (or was this a feeling aroused after the experience?) which once i realized "where" I was, it disappeared almost as quick as my noting of it. I think I got a bit excited by it and that kicked me right out of whatever that was. It's happened twice in the past two weeks and both times were when I found some sort of stillness and was following Mahasi instructions as close as possible.

So, what was that? BTW I really know nothing about terminology in terms of mapping. I'm pretty swamped with academic studies and really haven't had much time to learn all the lingo and foreign terminology many use around here.

thanks all!

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/26/13 11:09 AM as a reply to A T M.
Hi ATM,

Practicing Mahasi-style but have found it easier to watch the expansion/contraction of breath instead of rising/falling, which it's not really different. Noting as instructed.

When you say "noting as instructed", what do you mean? You mention watching the expansion/contraction of the breath, but are you looking at any of the other sensations that happen before, after or along with the breath? Are you actually noting individual aspects of the breath, for example observing the point where the in-breath becomes the out-breath and the pattern of sensations involved in that process? Or are you just noting the overall movement of the breath, i.e. expansion/contraction?

Watching the expansion/contraction of the breath sounds like you're focusing on the abdomen or chest as the breath happens, which leads me to suspect that you may actually be doing concentration practice rather than full-on noting. I could be wrong and it could just be down to the words we're using to describe the same thing, but I'd say that focusing on the expansion/contraction would lead to attention being fixed on one area of the body. Following the inhale/exhale - as in the physical and mental sensations involved such as the length of the breath, depth, location within the body, coarseness and smoothness of each breath and all the increasingly subtle aspects of that process - causes you to focus on the breath as a (seemingly) unified movement which is then, via noting/vipassana/bare attention, broken down into its constituent parts so that insight into the Three Characteristics can be developed. If you're just looking at the sensations and focusing on them superficially, you're doing concentration; insight requires attention to the 3C's - impermanence, non-self and suffering - which is why I've questioned what you've described so far.

15 minutes in, hit a point where EVERYTHING went POOF... gone... as if nothing existed. complete silence, stillness, dark, but somehow felt pretty darn good (or was this a feeling aroused after the experience?) which once i realized "where" I was, it disappeared almost as quick as my noting of it.

Based on your description here, I can say for certain that this was not a Fruition or a Path moment.

In phenomenological terms, what actually happened when "everything went poof...gone"? You were obviously still aware of this happening otherwise you wouldn't have been able to ascertain whether or not "nothing existed" and so we can safely write off any experiencing of emptiness, so what appeared to be aware of this occurring? What sorts of sensation we you actually aware of at the time, and afterwards? What happened in your practice after this occurred?

It sounds likely to have been jhana-related, by which I mean related to concentration states, but without knowing more about your practice history and meditative background it's nigh on impossible to say with any certainty.

I think I got a bit excited by it and that kicked me right out of whatever that was. It's happened twice in the past two weeks and both times were when I found some sort of stillness and was following Mahasi instructions as close as possible.

Sounds typical of the first experiencing of jhanic strata, the stillness and silence, at least compared to what we're used to in daily life, of accessing 1st jhana can be quite incredible at first but, if you're doing insight practice, then these sensations need to be noted.

It sounds like you've got some good concentration skills, but it'd be good to know more about the specifics of what you're doing while practicing Mahasi-style noting.

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/26/13 1:16 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Thank you so much for writing and for taking the time to do so, Tommy M.

Tommy M:
Hi ATM,
When you say "noting as instructed", what do you mean? You mention watching the expansion/contraction of the breath, but are you looking at any of the other sensations that happen before, after or along with the breath? Are you actually noting individual aspects of the breath, for example observing the point where the in-breath becomes the out-breath and the pattern of sensations involved in that process? Or are you just noting the overall movement of the breath, i.e. expansion/contraction?


I start off the session just focusing on the crude movement, which progressively leads to focusing on the more subtle details, as well how the breath elicits movement all the way to the pelvic diaphragm. During this concentration aspect, I have notice breaks, pauses between the inhalation/exhalation. I note that and go back to the movement. Often during this pause, other "things" pop up... pleasure, a sound, a heartbeat, a thought, an itch, etc. and often more than one. I note. And go back to the breath. Each time going back seems to allow myself to break down the subtle nuances of the breath, mostly because I think my concentration is improving? That said, I do not get caught up in "thinking" about the breath... well, maybe I have at moments due to my interest in anatomy, but when I realize I'm doing this, I make note of it and go back.



Watching the expansion/contraction of the breath sounds like you're focusing on the abdomen or chest as the breath happens, which leads me to suspect that you may actually be doing concentration practice rather than full-on noting. I could be wrong and it could just be down to the words we're using to describe the same thing, but I'd say that focusing on the expansion/contraction would lead to attention being fixed on one area of the body. Following the inhale/exhale - as in the physical and mental sensations involved such as the length of the breath, depth, location within the body, coarseness and smoothness of each breath and all the increasingly subtle aspects of that process - causes you to focus on the breath as a (seemingly) unified movement which is then, via noting/vipassana/bare attention, broken down into its constituent parts so that insight into the Three Characteristics can be developed. If you're just looking at the sensations and focusing on them superficially, you're doing concentration; insight requires attention to the 3C's - impermanence, non-self and suffering - which is why I've questioned what you've described so far.


I would say that I have observed the impermanence and non-self (to some degree at least), the latter to a smaller degree though. Suffering, from a theoretical and philosophical standpoint, I can understand, but no I do not think I can say that my rookie-league meditation has me there just yet.

As far as breaking the breath down, I can say that sometimes it seems like "Whoa, there is a lot going on here!" I've had to tell myself to chill out and do what I can without stressing or slacking either.

[quote=] Based on your description here, I can say for certain that this was not a Fruition or a Path moment.

In phenomenological terms, what actually happened when "everything went poof...gone"? You were obviously still aware of this happening otherwise you wouldn't have been able to ascertain whether or not "nothing existed" and so we can safely write off any experiencing of emptiness, so what appeared to be aware of this occurring? What sorts of sensation we you actually aware of at the time, and afterwards? What happened in your practice after this occurred?

It seemed as if I didn't exist but then I was conscious of that and then whatever was happening ended. During it, there was nothing... or at least that's how I felt about it right afterward. Almost like the light went back on and then I can say, "whoa that was dark!" but I only became cognizant of this after-the-fact. I don't know. It was weird and I never experienced that before. Before I knew anything of concentration and noting practices I've had moments of full-on pleasure during meditation where my energy buzzed through my all (which is easily elicited at will now). Had "visions" at times, whatever that means. Other times experiences that felt like magnetic force of some sort moving through me, even to the point were this "wave", moving from the base of my spine to my head, actually induced a slow, rhythmical, snake-light movement that I was not consciously controlling. And even (and I feel a bit embarrassed to say this) intense feelings of sexual pleasure (including orgasm) during meditation. But the reason I wrote today, that is brand new and weirded me out a bit, even though it is probably not that big of a deal.

[quote=] It sounds likely to have been jhana-related, by which I mean related to concentration states, but without knowing more about your practice history and meditative background it's nigh on impossible to say with any certainty.

I really just started following the instructions in Mahasi's writings a couple of months ago. Before this, I spent years practicing internal martial arts, so meditation of some sort has usually been a part of life in some way shape or form. But I am very much a rookie in the realm of insight, no doubt.

[quote=] It sounds like you've got some good concentration skills, but it'd be good to know more about the specifics of what you're doing while practicing Mahasi-style noting.

I try to start the session simple and then as my concentration improves I note as much as I can. Anything that arises I note. Then I go back to the breath. If I have to move (or want to move) I note that desire. If I'm going to move, I note the intention, then focus on the movement in a manner similar to the breath, and try to break down the subtleties (I'm not very good at this, although tai chi practice in my past helps with this), and then go back to the breath, again trying to break that down into as many small frames as possible.

Thank you again for your responses Tommy. I really appreciate it.

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/26/13 2:56 PM as a reply to A T M.
Anytime! Glad to help, if I can.

I start off the session just focusing on the crude movement, which progressively leads to focusing on the more subtle details, as well how the breath elicits movement all the way to the pelvic diaphragm. During this concentration aspect, I have notice breaks, pauses between the inhalation/exhalation. I note that and go back to the movement. Often during this pause, other "things" pop up... pleasure, a sound, a heartbeat, a thought, an itch, etc. and often more than one. I note. And go back to the breath. Each time going back seems to allow myself to break down the subtle nuances of the breath, mostly because I think my concentration is improving? That said, I do not get caught up in "thinking" about the breath... well, maybe I have at moments due to my interest in anatomy, but when I realize I'm doing this, I make note of it and go back.

Sounds good, thanks for going into more detail. The line I've emboldened indicates you're doing what needs to be done, i.e. staying mindful and attentive to what's happening. There's nothing wrong with getting distracted as long as you're noting it, that in itself brings you back to where you want to be.

Noting in itself improves concentration and your practice sounds pretty good to me so far.

I would say that I have observed the impermanence and non-self (to some degree at least), the latter to a smaller degree though. Suffering, from a theoretical and philosophical standpoint, I can understand, but no I do not think I can say that my rookie-league meditation has me there just yet.

Insight into this stuff will arise naturally if you continue to practice well. Nikolai wrote an excellent post on discerning the Three Characteristics experientially which you can find here: The Hamilton Project. He says more in that post than I can offer here and so I highly recommend checking it out.

Also, don't worry about "rookie-league meditation" as it can be beneficial in itself by freeing you from worrying about attainments, states and all the technical stuff. Stay at the level of bare sensations and you can't go wrong. : )

As far as breaking the breath down, I can say that sometimes it seems like "Whoa, there is a lot going on here!" I've had to tell myself to chill out and do what I can without stressing or slacking either.

Excellent, this is good stuff. Just remember, you can only really note one sensation at any given time so go for accuracy over speed. The speed of noting will fluctuate depending on where you're at so don't worry about trying to note twenty sensations per second or anything, it'll come with time and practice so aim to experience the totality of each sensation you perceive with clarity.

It seemed as if I didn't exist but then I was conscious of that and then whatever was happening ended. During it, there was nothing... or at least that's how I felt about it right afterward. Almost like the light went back on and then I can say, "whoa that was dark!" but I only became cognizant of this after-the-fact. I don't know. It was weird and I never experienced that before. Before I knew anything of concentration and noting practices I've had moments of full-on pleasure during meditation where my energy buzzed through my all (which is easily elicited at will now). Had "visions" at times, whatever that means. Other times experiences that felt like magnetic force of some sort moving through me, even to the point were this "wave", moving from the base of my spine to my head, actually induced a slow, rhythmical, snake-light movement that I was not consciously controlling. And even (and I feel a bit embarrassed to say this) intense feelings of sexual pleasure (including orgasm) during meditation. But the reason I wrote today, that is brand new and weirded me out a bit, even though it is probably not that big of a deal.

Right, well we can probably assume that you've experience what's known around here as "Knowledge of the Arising & Passing Away", or 4th ñana in Mahasi's Progress of Insight model. The sexual stuff (nothing to be embarrassed about), the rhythmic energetic stuff, visions and all that cool stuff is classic A&P Event material so I'd say that you may well have been practicing insight without knowing what it was! It was only after finding MCTB and this site that I realized I'd been doing vipassana for years without knowing it, so you may just naturally (perhaps, karmically?) inclined towards insight practice in the same way.

Either way, what you've written here all suggests that you might be less of a rookie than you think and your previous history with martial arts (which is also part of my background too) will almost certainly have given you a good grounding in concentration, not to mention morality and insight into the automatic nature of everyday experience.

Everything else you've written suggests, to me at least, that you've probably got some strong concentration skills and are probably consistently getting up to, at least, 4th ñana, a.k.a. the A&P. This recent 'dropping out' may well be related to the later stages of 2nd vipassana jhana and may be indicative of entering 3rd vipassana jhana, but this is just speculation on my part.

See how things go in the coming weeks and if you notice anything different about your day-to-day experience, your practice or the way you experience the sense of "I" in general. It sounds like you're practicing well and maybe just need to refine your noting a little, focus on one sensation at a time and really experience it as it happen; the physical sensation, but also the mental formations arising are what create the sense of an object which is "noted". Try turning the lens of attention back onto what seems to be doing the observing, watching the watcher, so to speak. See if there's anything different about that pattern of sensations from any other pattern of sensations; is it permanent? Does it have any inherent meaning or contain any information aside from what you impute? What happens if you try to hold onto it?

Keep us updated on your practice!

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/27/13 8:59 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
[quote=] See how things go in the coming weeks and if you notice anything different about your day-to-day experience, your practice or the way you experience the sense of "I" in general. It sounds like you're practicing well and maybe just need to refine your noting a little, focus on one sensation at a time and really experience it as it happen; the physical sensation, but also the mental formations arising are what create the sense of an object which is "noted". Try turning the lens of attention back onto what seems to be doing the observing, watching the watcher, so to speak. See if there's anything different about that pattern of sensations from any other pattern of sensations; is it permanent? Does it have any inherent meaning or contain any information aside from what you impute? What happens if you try to hold onto it?

Keep us updated on your practice!

Thanks again for your coaching Tommy. Great to see there are so many knowledgable folks in these parts.

In reference to the bolded above, could you explain a little more about really experiencing as it happens? Should I just be observing the sensations, including where/how the sensation/thought emerged? Or is there any pondering in this? I remember reading in MCTB (which I only read Part I and should probably go back and read more) to not get caught up in "stories." Where does one draw the line. Seems easy to slip into philosophy and theory, or wondering where one is at on the path. My guess would be that the second one becomes aware of this slip, to note it, and get back to basics.

As for the sense of "I" it is funny you mentioned this because it something that I think I may have encountered from a very young age. I can remember being around 4 or 5 and playing with the mirrors in the bathroom. We had a cabinet mirror on the wall 90 degrees to the main mirror over the sink. When you opened the cabinet mirror and angled it a bit, the play between the two mirrors created a seemingly never-ending tunnel of repeated and progressively smaller "me's." I was moved by this. On one occasion, I had this overwhelming feeling of "who am I?" That "I" that I experience everyday just didn't seem so real (as if this "I" was almost not me, whoever "me" was- tough to put into words until this very day) and it was confusing, yet a pretty cool (and somewhat scary) experience. If I didn't think about, it was gone, and "I" was "I". I'd forget about it over the years, but play with the feeling here and there. But even years later, until this very day, I can elicit that same feeling. And it's still weird! hahaha! Guess I should eventually investigate that a bit more. I'm wondering if this is somewhat along the lines of "catching the observer" so to speak.

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/27/13 11:02 AM as a reply to A T M.
In reference to the bolded above, could you explain a little more about really experiencing as it happens? Should I just be observing the sensations, including where/how the sensation/thought emerged? Or is there any pondering in this? I remember reading in MCTB (which I only read Part I and should probably go back and read more) to not get caught up in "stories." Where does one draw the line. Seems easy to slip into philosophy and theory, or wondering where one is at on the path

There's a sort of balance involved, a groove, so to speak, that you kinda lock into but I'll try to explain it as I think about it and see if that's any more useful to you. Feel free to ask whatever you like if I'm not making sense and I'll try to rephrase it 'cause it's a subtle business. I don't actually use noting anymore in my own practice but I constantly practice bare awareness, which is what noting is but with the addition of conceptual labeling so as to facilitate the process of disembedding from identification with those sensations.

At the most basic level, we experience reality as an aggregate of six sense processes: Seeing, hearing, touching, thinking, tasting and smelling. If we start with those six points of reference, we can begin to get into that 'groove' by simply noting when you're aware of each one happening; there's no need to get caught up in thinking about it at this level as we're just acknowledging "thinking" as a process if we become aware of it, and then returning to noting whichever sense door we're aware of in the next moment. So, say you're sitting on your cushion and you notice you can feel your arse making contact with it; note "touching"; then you notice the sound of your neighbour dancing, presumably naked, next door; note "hearing", and so on and so forth.

It's a matter of breaking down those sense processes and seeing what they're 'made of', but the same process of identifying and recognizing is all that's required to start you off. If you start at the gross level, those 'blocks' of sensate data can then be broken down further and will reveal more and more as you go. When I talk about observing the whole sensation, what I'm getting at is that we're trying to experience the arising and passing away of each sensation. Try to catch it as it arises and stay with it till it's replaced by another sensation, just focus on it as it happens but don't worry about how it happened yet as the ins and outs of causality will reveal themselves soon enough.

Experiencing each one as it occurs is simply a matter of concentration, but there's a specific type of concentration required when doing vipassana, or noting, which is known as kanikha samadhi, or "momentary concentration", which gives a good indication of what we're talking about here. Just take one sensation at a time, as slowly or as quickly as you feel able to, and focus on it; experience it as a bare sensation without getting involved in the content or chains of association they throw up, the labeling of the sensation as an object is sufficient to allow you to identify it as being "not-self" since any object, by its very nature, cannot be that which observes it...but, and here's where it gets even more interesting, it cannot be found apart from that sense of an observer either since, in actuality, there is no distinction beyond imputation!

As for when to draw the line, try to avoid analyzing the sensations any more than their most basic identification. It's natural to wander off into trains of thought, particularly if, like me, you're prone to going off on philosophical tangents, but it's just a matter of discipline and recognizing that allowing the mind to follow those stories and cling to them - since those stories are a large part of what the sense of self is built upon - leads to more mental tension, a.k.a. dukkha. You're basically re-training the mind to drop those self-referential thought processes that contribute to the imputation of "I".

Something I've always found useful is using resolutions, e.g. resolve that, for the whole of your practice session, you will simply observe sensations as they arise without judgement or analysis. If you catch yourself wandering, remind yourself of that resolution and you'll be back where you want to be. Again, it's just a matter of practice and discipline.

My guess would be that the second one becomes aware of this slip, to note it, and get back to basics.

Spot on. : )

I'd forget about it over the years, but play with the feeling here and there. But even years later, until this very day, I can elicit that same feeling.

This can actually be quiet useful! If you can incline the mind in that way, try this...

Wherever you're sitting right now, just stop doing what you're doing and notice your whole experience, i.e. all the senses operating at once without any effort from "you". Incline the mind towards that "non-self" way of experiencing and then look at whatever is in front of you; if you look closely, can you find any distinction between what you're seeing and the experience of seeing it? Let go of any mental associations or identifications, just experience bare awareness of the process of seeing and notice how it's only through the imputation of a "seer" that a split is create in perception. Looking closer, notice how the process of seeing only actually contains colour, shape and light, with shape being implied through changes in colour and lighting; objects are imputed by the mind, through the false assumption that the perception of an object necessitates a subject to perceive.

I don't know how useful that last paragraph will be to you, but it's something I've suggested to others who've found it to be quite revealing.

As I said, feel free to ask away. I've been away from the site for a while but I'm generally back on daily now, so I'll try to reply as quickly as I can.

All the best,
T

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/27/13 2:02 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
I came across quite a good quote that might help a bit with regards to momentary concentration and what you're aiming towards:

Achaan Dhammadaro:
"The third kind of concentration is what is referred to in the eightfold path as right concentration or perfect concentration. This is concentration developed on a moment-to-moment basis in insight meditation. Only moment-to-moment concentration following the path of mindfulness leads to the destruction of defilements. This concentration is not developed by fixing the mind motionless to one object, but by being mindful of the changing bodily sensations, feelings, consciousness, and mind objects. When properly established in the inner body and mind, moment-to-moment concentration leads to the destruction of the rounds of rebirth. Through this concentration, we develop the ability to see clearly the five aggregatesform, feeling, volition and consciousness which make up what we conventionally call men and women."

To another question: "Would you elaborate on developing moment-to-moment concentration?" Achaan Dhammadaro replied: "There are two important points to make. First is that it is through the feelings arising from contact at each of the sense doors that we must develop insight. The aggregate of form is the basis for the development of moment-to-moment concentration and the resulting wisdom. Therefore we must be mindful of the sensation or feelings arising from contact at the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mental sense bases.

"The second important point is that continuity is the secret of the success in meditation. The meditator must strive to be mindful night and day, every moment, and thus quickly develop proper concentration and wisdom. The Buddha himself stated that if a meditator is truly mindful moment to moment for seven days and nights he will reach full enlightenment. Therefore, the essence of insight meditation is continuous moment-to-moment mindfulness of the sensation arising from contact at all six bases."

Source: http://www.angelfire.com/indie/anna_jones1/vip-jhana.html

RE: Everything GONE!
Answer
1/28/13 7:55 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
Looks I have my work cut out for me! Haha! I'm sure I'll have more questions (regarding your advice) as I practice this week.

Thank you Tommy.