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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder

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One of the common mistakes yogis going for stream entry make is not disembedding from mental states regarding practice. I call this the "throwing away the ladder" problem after a passage in Wittgenstein's philosophy, but the problem is really simple and tends to progress through three stages:

(1) The yogi is embedded at the level of mental states about practice. So the yogi is going along, dutifully noting bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings about this or that, mental images, etc., but there's a running narrative about where they are on the map, when the hell is stream entry coming, how they compare with other meditators, etc. Only part of the mind is devoted to vipassana while another part is merrily analyzing things.

(2) The yogi realizes that thoughts about progress, maps, and meditation are distracting from actual progress, meditation, etc. These practice-thoughts are considered a nuisance, so the yogi attempts to push them away. This usually causes practice-thoughts to arise with more frequency. When the yogi catches themselves having these thoughts, they get pissed. Meditating becomes a bit like being bitten repeatedly by swarms of green flies. No individual bite is that bothersome, but especially if you're on retreat, this can become absolutely maddening. This corresponds with a full-throated dark night.

(3) The yogi realizes there is nothing special about practice-thoughts. Thoughts about meditation, maps, progress, other meditators, and whatnot are no different from thoughts about the weather, an itch, or what's for lunch. It's just more grist for the vipassana mill. They neither push nor pull these mental states. This corresponds with late Reobservation.

(4) Practice-thoughts are mostly disembedded from and don't arise that much. This often starts in low Equanimity.

Another, subtler, more difficult version of this arises in Equanimity, though. Now the problem is that there doesn't seem to be much left to do. One can feel as though all that is left is a vipassana-izing observer. The task is now to vipassana-ize that vipassana-izing observer, to disembed fully from the process of disembedding. The last thing to do is to throw away the ladder, but the yogi is still standing on the top rung of it. This is confusing and frustrating in its own right and can easily cause the yogi to fall back to dark night.

It's important to realize that there is nothing you can do about this. The instinct is to want to master something else, but there's literally nothing left to master. You have to overcome mastery itself. At this point, the only thing you can really do is to cultivate as much dispassion as possible. You need to treat stream entry like the coy lover who only takes interest in you when you ignore them. Considering how much effort you've had to put in so far, this can seem insane. But it's really the only option you have left.

The wrong thing to do here is to bear down on the practice. "I'm going to master surrendering." That doesn't work. What you need to do is to pay extremely close attention to any mental state regarding practice that comes up - the desire for mastery, the desire to be enlightened, the desire to show up for the sit - and develop dispassion toward it.

"But how can I have dispassion for enlightenment? I wouldn't meditate if I didn't want to get enlightened."

That's true, but keep in mind, your concept of nibbana isn't nibbana itself. You don't know what nibbana is, because you're not a stream-winner yet. :-) So whatever your concept is, it's meaningless. So cultivate dispassion toward it. Cultivate disinterest and equanimity. It's really only once "your" back is turned that fruition shows up.

So for those of you who are stuck at Equanimity or who are sliding back and forth between Equanimity and dark night, try looking more closely at those practice-thoughts (map-thoughts, progress-thoughts, DhO-thoughts, enlightenment-thoughts, enlightenment-desire, etc.) and see what happens.

Addendum: If you're below the A&P, none of this applies, because you're not even on the ladder. Your job pre-A&P is just to blast the primary object with noting until reality breaks. You don't need to be like Wittgenstein, you need to be like Rambo. Completely different game.

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
Answer
2/20/13 12:19 PM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Wow, this is pretty solid advice. As a chronic EQ yogi, I appreciate it. I like the metaphor of Stream being like a coy lover. What it immediately made me think of was my cat: If you call her, she will ignore you. If you make a grab for her, she runs. No amount of "effort" will make her come. However, if you sit and silently go about your business, eventually, before you realize it or expect it, she will be there on your lap. Of course, you have to create "lap conditions" -- e.g. a lap must be there, you must be relatively silent and not move around too much, etc. -- in order for her to come, but once the conditions are set, it is just a matter of waiting in the firm knowledge that she inevitably will arrive. After all, she loves laps. In meditation, one similarly has to create the conditions for Stream, which in this case would be EQ, but once this is done, it is best just to properly maintain these conditions [without striving, without grabbing, without calling] in the firm knowledge that Stream will eventually come and snuggle up on your crotch for heat. Or something like that. Anyway, thanks brotha!

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/20/13 12:22 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:
Wow, this is pretty solid advice. As a chronic EQ yogi, I appreciate it. I like the metaphor of Stream being like a coy lover. What it immediately made me think of was my cat: If you call her, she will ignore you. If you make a grab for her, she runs. No amount of "effort" will make her come. However, if you sit and silently go about your business, eventually, before you realize it or expect it, she will be there on your lap. Of course, you have to create "lap conditions" -- e.g. a lap must be there, you must be relatively silent and not move around too much, etc. -- in order for her to come, but once the conditions are set, it is just a matter of waiting in the firm knowledge that she inevitably will arrive. After all, she loves laps. In meditation, one similarly has to create the conditions for Stream, which in this case would be EQ, but once this is done, it is best just to properly maintain these conditions [without striving, without grabbing, without calling] in the firm knowledge that Stream will eventually come and snuggle up on your crotch for heat. Or something like that. Anyway, thanks brotha!


This is correct. Stream-winners cultivate strong, steady crotch-heat.

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/20/13 2:21 PM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
I'm very grateful for your clear advice, thanks!! emoticon

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/21/13 6:10 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
I’ve found this very timely and helpful!

Edited as I forgot to say thanks! emoticon

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/21/13 7:03 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Hey!
Excellent. I'm heading off to do a self-retreat in a couple of weeks and this is a timely piece of gold. I've been suspicious of my full-frontal attacks on SE for a while now and hopefully this sagacity will flutter up at the right mindful moments.

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/21/13 8:35 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
Thanks very much for that, both Fitter for the original post and Alan for his cat analogy. It makes good sense and (as another cat lover) is very applicable. Likewise, a friend of mine once compared his pre-path practice to the endless bashing of a nail with a hammer - eventually he realised he just needed to stop hitting the nail and 'let go'. It worked for him.

Nick

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
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2/21/13 9:03 AM as a reply to Nick Green.
Nick Green:
Thanks very much for that, both Fitter for the original post and Alan for his cat analogy. It makes good sense and (as another cat lover) is very applicable. Likewise, a friend of mine once compared his pre-path practice to the endless bashing of a nail with a hammer - eventually he realised he just needed to stop hitting the nail and 'let go'. It worked for him.

Nick


But that's the thing. There is no "letting go". That's a bad analogy for what really happens. What I'm suggesting instead is that you train your mind to look more closely at the last vestiges of identification - especially identifications around practice-thoughts - rather than intensifying your investigation of things you've already investigated.

Good yogis are good at disembedding from practice-thoughts. Bad yogis - ones who eternally dark night - are the ones who don't disembed from that stuff. That's the more concise formulation of what I'm saying here.

RE: Techniques that Work: Throwing Away the Ladder
Answer
2/21/13 10:05 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
OK, thanks for the clarification Fitter, will bear that in mind. My sense is that you're being more clear about this territory than my friend was. Will be interesting to ask him more although I think the best thing for me is to keep working at 'dis-embedding from practice-thoughts'. They occur quite frequently at the moment and I seem to oscillate between noting 'expecting, expecting' and then back to 'doubt, doubt'.