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Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.

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Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/24/13 4:02 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. bill of the wandering mind 4/24/13 4:26 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. End in Sight 4/24/13 8:20 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/25/13 3:28 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. End in Sight 4/25/13 4:27 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. This Good Self 4/24/13 8:29 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Nikolai . 4/24/13 10:25 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Brother Pussycat 4/25/13 2:52 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. S. Pro 4/25/13 8:37 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Daniel M. Ingram 4/25/13 12:54 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. This Good Self 4/25/13 3:40 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. bernd the broter 4/25/13 7:39 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Daniel M. Ingram 4/25/13 1:00 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. This Good Self 4/26/13 12:01 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/25/13 3:32 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Richard Zen 4/25/13 8:37 AM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/25/13 3:35 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Dream Walker 4/25/13 1:27 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. fivebells . 4/25/13 2:00 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Matthew 4/25/13 2:17 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. fivebells . 4/25/13 2:32 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. Matthew 4/25/13 2:50 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/25/13 4:25 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. End in Sight 4/25/13 4:41 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/25/13 5:21 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. End in Sight 4/25/13 8:34 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/26/13 4:24 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. End in Sight 4/26/13 8:33 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. fivebells . 4/25/13 10:50 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. J C 4/26/13 4:05 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. fivebells . 4/26/13 11:14 PM
RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned. fivebells . 4/27/13 4:54 PM
Hi, I'm totally new to this. I found Daniel's book online and I'm really loving it. I just started meditating recently.

I have some questions based on a review I read on Amazon. Most of the reviews there are excellent, but one in particular troubled me, and I wanted to ask about it. While the review says many good things about the book, it also claims there's a problem with it.

Essentially, the review argues that the practice recommended in the book just leads to cycling through states over and over, which is supposedly a problem, and that the "noting" practice also causes problems and triggers the Dark Night.

I am very confused by this as "noting" seems to be just observing whatever thoughts come up, which I had thought was common to virtually all types of insight/vipassana meditation and the essence of the practice.

So, can you please help me understand this? Are there problems with noting? What are the alternatives?

As someone who came to this through seeking help for depression, I don't want to feel more depressed!

Thanks for all your help. I've quoted the relevant parts of the Amazon review below.

Apologies if this is in the wrong place or repetitious: please let me know if there's a link to something on this site I should read that relates.

The review states:

> The outcome of the practice recommended in the book is not the outcome of practicing the Buddha's teaching, which is nibbana ("unbinding"), the end of dukkha (usually translated as "suffering" or "stress"). The product of Ingram's practice as recommended in this book is a state of endless cycling through something which Ingram, borrowing from St John of the Cross, calls the Dark Night, some of whose stages are Fear, Misery, Disgust and Desire for Deliverance (as well as nicer sounding states like Equanimity). There is no end to be reached, just a state of endless repetition of these stages at four succeedingly higher levels which are called by the same names as the Buddha's four stages of awakening, although they are clearly not the same thing at all. Rather than being the end of dukkha which the Buddha taught, this is more "being OK with dukkha made worse by the practice". It seems difficult to understand why anybody would want to do this, unless it's to get the same kind of satisfaction that you get from ascending the levels in a computer game.

> The fact that the expected practice outcome is cycling though dukkha is not made clear in the book. The reader is allowed to assume that the objective is the same as the Buddha's, nibbana. It only becomes apparent from Ingram's website.

> Ingram himself has recognised that he has further to go (which "sutta arahats" don't) and a couple of years ago started practices inspired by a teaching called Actual Freedom, coached by some of his former pupils. Part of this practice is attaining states called "Pure Consciousness Experiences" ("PCEs") and Ingram has written freely about his attainment of these states and the fact that the experience of "PCE Daniel" is far preferable to that of "cycling Daniel".

> It seems to be emerging that the "Space Invaders / shooting aliens" noting practice (you'll have to read the book!) that Ingram teaches is what produces the "attention wave", "phase problems" and the perceptual instabilities and vibrations that he calls the Three Characteristics (the Buddha actually never used this term, and meant something different by the term Three Perceptions which he used) and it's what pushes people into the Dark Night.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/24/13 4:26 PM as a reply to J C.
My own experience (and some other's I have heard on this subject) confirms that the nanas were occuring in my practice long before noting was ever known about. There may be methods of practice which alter the experience of the nanas but I have yet to see anything conclusive and useful to someone who has crossed A&P... At least in my limited knowledge. Some people experience the nanas including the 'dark night' stuff for years without knowing that it even occurs as part of a pattern or is practice related.

Hoping some other people will chime in here.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/24/13 8:20 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
I am very confused by this as "noting" seems to be just observing whatever thoughts come up, which I had thought was common to virtually all types of insight/vipassana meditation and the essence of the practice.


Hi JC.

If you note like this (merely labelling in a very light way whatever comes up), it seems to me that you're less likely to suffer from whatever problems are alleged to come from practicing along the lines of MCTB, if the problems are specific to MCTB's style of practice. There are ways of noting that are very aggressive and which can exacerbate certain negative mental tendencies; I think that a common way of understanding what "shooting aliens" means (where you have a not-so-metaphorical experience of "hitting" the stuff you're noting, as fast as possible) is a big offender here.

On the other hand, I've done a lot of super-aggressive noting in the past due to reading MCTB, probably far beyond what most people would care to try, and while I found it quite unpleasant while I was doing it, I would say that in the medium- and long-run it only helped my mental health. And I say this as someone who has gone on to other methods of practice and other models for what meditation is all about which are, in my view, quite outside MCTB; i.e. not as a person wholly enamored with MCTB.

The stuff about the attention wave is meaningful, but probably not easy to explain to someone just beginning to meditate.

It's important to have confidence in whatever practice you decide to do. If you want to look at something that's extremely different from MCTB, perhaps someone like AEN will chime in with a helpful link.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/24/13 8:29 PM as a reply to J C.
JC, most people get attracted to spirituality when their lives suck. (for some this is not the case but they are in the minority).

Such people make up the bulk of members of the Dho. They have no will power and a negative self-image. They don't like themselves and are depressed and have no energy. Spirituality offers an "easy out". Spirituality says "the world is bad, dirty, unwholesome (just like you), and you should try to escape it". Go along to any meditation class anywhere on the planet and you will see that 95% of attendees are psychologically messed up. They are NOT nice people to be around. Horrible energy, and just weird and repulsive personalities.

The answer for such a person is to build a positive self image and strong will power. When this happens, any desire to meditate will just simply fade away. Also, any desire to read spiritual books will disappear. Happiness happens. To try to launch into meditation before one has developed ones lower energy centres will invite problems -- depression and anxiety will be severely aggravated.

Your question is the same question that occurs on the Dho over and over and over and over and over and over again.


Meditation will not make you happy. Meditation will not help your anxiety. You must FIRST have a good self-image and good will power. You must FIRST be happy and functional in the world.


People give up on life. They fail at normal happiness, then they read that Buddha said "Life is suffering" and think hey yeah, I'm on the right track!!! Then they try to escape. Big mistake.

I am the only one of this forum who will warn you. Everyone else will say "meditate as hard as you can...just keep going". But do you know why they say that???

I'll tell you. It's because they have not made it using this "push on" approach and they are desperate for someone... ANYONE to say it's possible. They want YOU to lead THEM!!

Learn normal happiness first. If you get that far, consider meditation.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/24/13 10:25 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
JC, most people get attracted to spirituality when their lives suck. (for some this is not the case but they are in the minority).

Such people make up the bulk of members of the Dho. They have no will power and a negative self-image. They don't like themselves and are depressed and have no energy. Spirituality offers an "easy out". Spirituality says "the world is bad, dirty, unwholesome (just like you), and you should try to escape it". Go along to any meditation class anywhere on the planet and you will see that 95% of attendees are psychologically messed up. They are NOT nice people to be around. Horrible energy, and just weird and repulsive personalities.

The answer for such a person is to build a positive self image and strong will power. When this happens, any desire to meditate will just simply fade away. Also, any desire to read spiritual books will disappear. Happiness happens. To try to launch into meditation before one has developed ones lower energy centres will invite problems -- depression and anxiety will be severely aggravated.

Your question is the same question that occurs on the Dho over and over and over and over and over and over again.


Meditation will not make you happy. Meditation will not help your anxiety. You must FIRST have a good self-image and good will power. You must FIRST be happy and functional in the world.


People give up on life. They fail at normal happiness, then they read that Buddha said "Life is suffering" and think hey yeah, I'm on the right track!!! Then they try to escape. Big mistake.

I am the only one of this forum who will warn you. Everyone else will say "meditate as hard as you can...just keep going". But do you know why they say that???

I'll tell you. It's because they have not made it using this "push on" approach and they are desperate for someone... ANYONE to say it's possible. They want YOU to lead THEM!!

Learn normal happiness first. If you get that far, consider meditation.



There is truly something to establishing a calm and collected, malleable and pliant, luminous and joy-filled mind before attempting to discern the nitty gritty of what's going on in the field of experience. If the mind is lacking in calm, collectedness, malleability, pliancy, luminosity (clarity) and (a factor of awakening) joy, then experience can run the risk of being quite 'dark', as the 'dark night' may be known for. With all these positive refined mental qualities in place (established through previous cultivation), the mind will not flop about like a fish out of water, and the nitty gritty of what causes one to flop about in the first place can be seen in real time and the causes and cessation known.

I agree that one should have their head in a good place before turning towards and seeing what one is truly made up of. Because often more than not, it ain't all pretty and golden inside. Lot's a baggage to address. And if one does not have the mental clarity and strength to see clearly and then relinquish such baggage, such baggage can weigh one down a bit. There are approaches, attempts, views that integrate the noting method but may differ from each other in results. I think an important difference may be whether a pliant, malleable and luminous mind is bypassed or not when attempting to notice and note the distinctions of field of experience. Because a pliant, malleable and luminous mind will not be as swayed by the mental proliferation one fears experiencing upon starting vipassana (due to reading the review shared on this thread). If one wishes, perhaps do things that make the mind like so first. Then when fears have been put to rest, then and only then start looking at (and perhaps noting) the causes of those very fears.

Nick

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 12:54 AM as a reply to J C.
hey, briefly:

these issues have been addressed in another thread about that same review, not to hard to find, I think, but many, many people I know and who post here ran into Dark Night stuff either: on their own without practice (most of them), or on retreats doing whatever (Goenka, noting, more soft or Thai-style vipassana, yoga, ceremonial magic, many other things...)

further, the suffering stages are outlines in very old texts, such as the Visuddhimagga and the Vimuttimagga, and these have a wide range of techniques they advocate

thus, it is not the techniques themselves that necessarily get you into the Dark Night stages, is it that the Dark Night stages are standard stages of development in insight that can arise spontaneously (for many, many people, including myself, who got into them about 10 years before I did any noting) or as a result of many meditation practices from many traditions

good noting is actually really helpful in the Dark Night, as has been mentioned, and moves things along much more quickly than many other techniques

If noting doesn't appeal to you for whatever reason, try something else, such as a softer style of vipassana, or whatever

Enjoy,

Daniel

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 2:52 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:


The answer for such a person is to build a positive self image and strong will power. When this happens, any desire to meditate will just simply fade away. Also, any desire to read spiritual books will disappear.


Yeah, no.



To the OP:

If you're worried about the Dark Night, End in Sight mentioned AEN (An Eternal Now) as someone offering an alternative view of practice, and he claims that he never had a Dark Night

Here's one relevant thread:

http://dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/3641495

At the same time, I don't want to speak for End in Sight, but as far as I remember he said that his Dark Night was more like a Slightly Cloudy Afternoon, even though his noting couldn't have been more aggressive.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 3:40 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel, there's a desperate need in here for a strict and reliable differential diagnosis for depression vs DN, if indeed DN exists.

I don't think it's good enough any longer for us to say "depression and dark night look the same".

You say many, many people have overcome dark night by continued noting. But millions have found relief of the same symptom set through enhancement of self-image (primarily a belief that "I am ok"), but also through medication. There's also scientific proof to demonstrate efficacy.

If DN is different to depression, then it needs to be properly defined and clearly differentiated from depression. It's far too important an issue to leave hanging, especially with all the new members complaining of the same issues.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
self-esteem
Answer
4/25/13 8:37 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
JC, most people get attracted to spirituality when their lives suck. (for some this is not the case but they are in the minority).


I agree, that was my case. "Suffering pushes you deeper" (E. Tolle)

C C C:

Such people make up the bulk of members of the Dho. They have no will power and a negative self-image. They don't like themselves and are depressed and have no energy. Spirituality offers an "easy out". Spirituality says "the world is bad, dirty, unwholesome (just like you), and you should try to escape it". Go along to any meditation class anywhere on the planet and you will see that 95% of attendees are psychologically messed up. They are NOT nice people to be around. Horrible energy, and just weird and repulsive personalities.

The answer for such a person is to build a positive self image and strong will power. When this happens, any desire to meditate will just simply fade away. Also, any desire to read spiritual books will disappear. Happiness happens. To try to launch into meditation before one has developed ones lower energy centres will invite problems -- depression and anxiety will be severely aggravated.


I agree. The solution is not no-self but a healthy self. The realm of the relative is not to be denied. I don´t understand
why most spiritual teachers that I´m aware of address this. See Ajahn Brahm´s talk on this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXd09oGHD0I

Adyashanti mentions it somewhere; there´s also a book called "Spiritual Bypassing" by John Welwood (who coined that term).

Sigmund Freud addresses religion as a form of a neurosis.

Self-esteem is the key. Don´t deny yourself, at least not this way. Glad you brought up this topic!

C C C:

Learn normal happiness first. If you get that far, consider meditation.


Yeah baby!

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 7:39 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:

If DN is different to depression, then it needs to be properly defined and clearly differentiated from depression. It's far too important an issue to leave hanging, especially with all the new members complaining of the same issues.


Right. Here's a suggestion:

The confusion caused by insight into at least one of the three characteristics to a great (A&P) but not sufficient (SE) extent.

If this kind of confusion remains and gives one the sense of "there's a bug somewhere in here, it won't be solved by anything dependent on mundane conditions (such as a good self-image, no depression and generally a good life), and it's really going on my nerves and feels just wrong" then maybe someone might want to take up insight practice.

If, on the other hand, one's difficulties existed prior to the A&P-experience or if an A&P hasn't been experienced at all, then, maybe, not.

Comments?

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 8:37 AM as a reply to J C.
If you want a good explanation on noting, how it's used, how it's abused, and how it can be practiced properly, I would read this from Gil Fronsdal:

Mental Noting

What leads to the dark night is seeing reality and the three characteristics. Our brains have an addictive centre that likes to day dream about possibilities (good and bad). When we day dream about them there is tension that we assume is just normal but if this tendency (as is for many people) gets too far you can eventually see you have decreased willpower and decreased peace. I used the noting practice and it lead me to the dark night (which is withdrawal symptoms), but the same practice will get you to equanimity. When you see the three characteristics:

1. Impermanence (nothing in the universe is permanent including in your entire existence)
2. Stress (when I get addicted to any part of my phenomenology and impermanence shows itself I feel stressed)
3. All phenomenology can be broken down into smaller activities that lean on each other (not self/not personal/not you). Eg. Thinking about yourself is not a self it's just more thinking.

Basically the practice is to look at reality over and over again to see that letting go of obsessive thoughts over likes and dislikes leads to more peace and equanimity.

When I used the noting practice I felt good for awhile but when I got to the dark night it wasn't so bad because I knew the noting practice would get me through it. It did. When you hit equanimity for the first time you won't care about the stupid amazon review which is out of context. Yes you cycle and cycle over and over again but each time you hit the dark night it will be less and less powerful. It becomes more of a "oh everything is so impermenent, I'm so sad" to "okay but there's nothing I can do about it except get on with my life." The practice also makes you feel less sorry for yourself and REDUCES DEPRESSION, not to increase it. Anyone who's getting more depressed or thinks the dark night is depression is getting caught in useless mental scripts telling themselves that noting is bad.

Noting can be done outloud/silently/with or without labels. It's good for when a person is sleepy and can be done in a less intense way when relaxing is better. You also need to develop good concentration and loving-kindness practice (also positive thinking) can be used as well to balance the practice. It doesn't have to be just pure insight.

The argument that people are egging you on so they can follow you doesn't make sense to me since the people I learned off of are more experienced at this practice than I am. They don't need to follow me.

I do agree that people with huge mental health issues should look at their self-image. A book I recently enjoyed goes over that much better than most self-help books. It's an old one called "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maltz and it goes over territory where you create habits of positive thinking and using imagination for positive thoughts related to actual actions you can take to develop a better self-image, but make no mistake, there is no permanent self. How can you develop or create something that's supposed to be inherent? Everything in the universe undergoes entropy so anything you create will undergoe it as well. Habits (including good ones) can fade. You don't stop being creative but you don't act addictive over preventing and wishing for no change to things you like because that DOES LEAD TO DEPRESSION.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 1:00 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
Daniel, there's a desperate need in here for a strict and reliable differential diagnosis for depression vs DN, if indeed DN exists.


You are definitely right there. While there are some phenomenological things about the two that are different, they share a lot of common ground. I hope that good information, good science, and an increased awareness of this issue in the psychological, medical and educational communities will help. There is much to be done. Want to help do it?

CCC:
I don't think it's good enough any longer for us to say "depression and dark night look the same".


You say "enough" as if that is the whole story and all that has been said. As I am sure you actually know well, there is a lot more said than that.

CCC:
You say many, many people have overcome dark night by continued noting. But millions have found relief of the same symptom set through enhancement of self-image (primarily a belief that "I am ok"), but also through medication. There's also scientific proof to demonstrate efficacy.


Ok, both are true. It is worth knowing that my self-image has been pretty strong, being prone to what might be called an excessive amount of confidence by some, arrogance by others, and have generally thought that I was beyond ok and into the realm of some degree of great: didn't help my Dark Night problem like retreats and a lot of consistent, meticulous attention to the specific phase-distortion of attention and perception that caused the sense that some part of the thing was split off, controlling things, and observing things. The elimination of that did wonders for all sorts of things, including mood things, perceptual things, Dark Night things, cycling things, and all sorts of other interesting things.

For those not interested in that sort of a solution (though from this vantage point that point of view seems woefully ignorant, as they are missing something that is as fundamental as it gets and as transformative as anything I have every known), I totally agree: standard solutions, exercise, positive (perhaps slightly delusionally so, just slightly) self-image, possibly SSRIs, talk-therapy, and dealing with life's specific problems head-on are all great ideas. I actually recommend those in MCTB, in case missed that part or didn't read it.

CCC:
If DN is different to depression, then it needs to be properly defined and clearly differentiated from depression. It's far too important an issue to leave hanging, especially with all the new members complaining of the same issues.


It isn't that this issue is left hanging, it is that all the technologies, structures, therapeutic practitioners with sufficient awareness of these issues, and the like are nothing resembling in place. I am one of the small people doing small things to slowly bring about that deep, massive paradigmatic change in the world of psych, health care, and basic public knowledge, but as has been mentioned before, these things take lots of time, generational changes, and a whole lot more.

Your concern, however is commendable, and your point that more needs to be done is valid. Thoughts on what would make all that happen in this conservative and confused world?

Oh, yes, you mention that people with low will power and low self-esteem would suddenly all feel better and not want to meditate if they just had those things, but, at least in my own personal experience, don't find that to be true. I have always had serious reserves of will-power and, rather than make it so I didn't want to meditate, made it possible to meditate when things were hard, which, until I solved my Dark Night problem, they often were.

Daniel

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 1:27 PM as a reply to J C.
Some thoughts-
1) Noting practice actually works well enough to move you forward (Into Dark night) If your practice does not move you forward you avoid the problem of ever experiencing the dark night.
2) If no one has explained the stages before you cycle thru them then whatever got you to them must be the cause.
3) There are always a minority of naysayers in every group and they tend to be the loudest and most active...they tell you what not to do...what can't be done...why everyone is wrong...they do not tend to create but tear things down...(they do not attain things, write books and start websites)

I recommend you read the book and instead of listening to others fears; make your own opinion.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 2:00 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Essentially, the review argues that the practice recommended in the book just leads to cycling through states over and over, which is supposedly a problem, and that the "noting" practice also causes problems and triggers the Dark Night.

I am very confused by this as "noting" seems to be just observing whatever thoughts come up, which I had thought was common to virtually all types of insight/vipassana meditation and the essence of the practice.

So, can you please help me understand this? Are there problems with noting? What are the alternatives?

As someone who came to this through seeking help for depression, I don't want to feel more depressed!


"Noting" doesn't precisely describe the practice which leads to the Dark Night. It is observing the three characteristics in each noted phenomenon which does that.

You can't actually "just observe whatever thoughts come up." You are always making choices, about what thoughts come up, and what to pay attention to. Explicitly choosing to note some class of phenomena will train your attention to habitually notice those things. So when emphasize the three characteristics in your noting, you train yourself to attend to the suffering, impermanence and nonself in your experience. This can lead to a fairly unpleasant relationship to the world for a while.

MCTB does not actually recommend that you attend to the three characteristics until after you have attained jhana (I suggest you read the whole thing, but the money quote is "In short, you must master the first jhana as a minimum basis for beginning the progress of insight, but this is all that is required for enlightenment"), and that is good advice. Particularly if you are feeling depressed, jhana will provide the sustenance you need to get through this practice.

You have a choice about which phenomena in your experience to note. If you chose to note phenomena associated with openness, relaxation, power, and (conventional) insight, that is unlikely to lead to the dark night. It may even lead you to jhana. Please note that this is my own speculation and I have not tried this, though. On the other hand, I am confident that you should not try insight practice before attaining jhana, and then depend on jhana to help you through the unpleasant parts of insight practice.

I think the criticisms in the Amazon review are actually a fair cop, but similar charges can be leveled at every other insight practice out there, too, including the bit about it not being how the Buddha taught meditation. No one actually knows how the Buddha taught meditation. The suttas give a rough outline, but leave out many details, and it's up to us to find a teacher who fills in the details in a sensible and productive way.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 2:17 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:

You have a choice about which phenomena in your experience to note. If you chose to note phenomena associated with openness, relaxation, power, and (conventional) insight, that is unlikely to lead to the dark night. It may even lead you to jhana. Please note that this is my own speculation and I have not tried this, though. On the other hand, I am confident that you should not try insight practice before attaining jhana, and then depend on jhana to help you through the unpleasant parts of insight practice.

I think the criticisms in the Amazon review are actually a fair cop, but similar charges can be leveled at every other insight practice out there, too, including the bit about it not being how the Buddha taught meditation. No one actually knows how the Buddha taught meditation. The suttas give a rough outline, but leave out many details, and it's up to us to find a teacher who fills in the details in a sensible and productive way.


"If you chose to note phenomena associated with openness, relaxation, power, and (conventional) insight, that is unlikely to lead to the dark night. It may even lead you to jhana."

Noting or noticing sense experience leads to disembedded examination of those objects which leads to insight, though depending where you are on the path, vipassana can pretty consistently bring about the 'soft' jhanas of momentary concentration. Pleasurable absorption in a particular object leads to samatha jhana as it's typically described.

The suttas show the Buddha teaching nonverbal, open-minded, questioning observation of sense experience resulting in insight. I don't think we know whether he preferred that people do so deep in samatha jhana or just walking around. From what we've seen with modern practitioners, different levels of concentration work better for different people, depending on their life circumstances and 'innate' proclivities.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 2:32 PM as a reply to Matthew.
Matthew, I think whether it leads to insight depends largely on the largely unconscious (at least at first) agendas driving the noting.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 2:50 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
Matthew, I think whether it leads to insight depends largely on the largely unconscious (at least at first) agendas driving the noting.


Agreed.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 3:28 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
J C:
I am very confused by this as "noting" seems to be just observing whatever thoughts come up, which I had thought was common to virtually all types of insight/vipassana meditation and the essence of the practice.


Hi JC.

If you note like this (merely labelling in a very light way whatever comes up), it seems to me that you're less likely to suffer from whatever problems are alleged to come from practicing along the lines of MCTB, if the problems are specific to MCTB's style of practice. There are ways of noting that are very aggressive and which can exacerbate certain negative mental tendencies; I think that a common way of understanding what "shooting aliens" means (where you have a not-so-metaphorical experience of "hitting" the stuff you're noting, as fast as possible) is a big offender here.

The stuff about the attention wave is meaningful, but probably not easy to explain to someone just beginning to meditate.


Thanks. This makes a lot of sense. Can you elaborate on "There are ways of noting that are very aggressive and which can exacerbate certain negative mental tendencies"? Is the idea that you reject parts of yourself and push them away rather than accept them?

If you could try to explain about the attention wave, I'd be interested.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 3:32 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
hey, briefly:

these issues have been addressed in another thread about that same review, not to hard to find, I think, but many, many people I know and who post here ran into Dark Night stuff either: on their own without practice (most of them), or on retreats doing whatever (Goenka, noting, more soft or Thai-style vipassana, yoga, ceremonial magic, many other things...)


Daniel,

I can't tell you how amazing it is to hear back from the author himself just a few hours later, especially since this has come up before! It's very much appreciated. Thanks!

Other thread for anyone who's interested. It's very helpful.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 3:35 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Richard Zen:


When I used the noting practice I felt good for awhile but when I got to the dark night it wasn't so bad because I knew the noting practice would get me through it. It did. When you hit equanimity for the first time you won't care about the stupid amazon review which is out of context. Yes you cycle and cycle over and over again but each time you hit the dark night it will be less and less powerful. It becomes more of a "oh everything is so impermenent, I'm so sad" to "okay but there's nothing I can do about it except get on with my life." The practice also makes you feel less sorry for yourself and REDUCES DEPRESSION, not to increase it. Anyone who's getting more depressed or thinks the dark night is depression is getting caught in useless mental scripts telling themselves that noting is bad.


This makes complete sense and I'm in agreement. Thanks for the clear and simple answer: that's just what I was looking for! I'm also a fan of the book Psycho-Cybernetics.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 4:25 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
J C:
Essentially, the review argues that the practice recommended in the book just leads to cycling through states over and over, which is supposedly a problem, and that the "noting" practice also causes problems and triggers the Dark Night.

I am very confused by this as "noting" seems to be just observing whatever thoughts come up, which I had thought was common to virtually all types of insight/vipassana meditation and the essence of the practice.

So, can you please help me understand this? Are there problems with noting? What are the alternatives?

As someone who came to this through seeking help for depression, I don't want to feel more depressed!


"Noting" doesn't precisely describe the practice which leads to the Dark Night. It is observing the three characteristics in each noted phenomenon which does that.

You can't actually "just observe whatever thoughts come up." You are always making choices, about what thoughts come up, and what to pay attention to. Explicitly choosing to note some class of phenomena will train your attention to habitually notice those things. So when emphasize the three characteristics in your noting, you train yourself to attend to the suffering, impermanence and nonself in your experience. This can lead to a fairly unpleasant relationship to the world for a while.


Could you elaborate on why? Now that I know about the three characteristics, I'm not sure how I can stop noticing them.

Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion. But how does that actually work in practice?

In practice, when I sit and meditate and thoughts come up, what do I "do" differently with them so I can build concentration instead of insight, and *not* focus on the three characteristics? Not having attained the first jhana, I'm not sure exactly what I'm supposed to do at that point or focus on. The thought comes up and I can't help thinking or noticing that it's impermanent and not me (though it really doesn't seem like suffering: it's usually a random thought about a TV show or economics or something).

MCTB says "Try not paying too much attention to the individual sensations themselves, but conceptualize the breath as a coherent and continuous entity, with many different types of sensations all being thought of as being the breath." Is it just a matter of letting the "impermanent and not self" thought go and returning to concentration?


You have a choice about which phenomena in your experience to note. If you chose to note phenomena associated with openness, relaxation, power, and (conventional) insight, that is unlikely to lead to the dark night. It may even lead you to jhana. Please note that this is my own speculation and I have not tried this, though. On the other hand, I am confident that you should not try insight practice before attaining jhana, and then depend on jhana to help you through the unpleasant parts of insight practice.


Could you elaborate? Are you suggesting doing concentration meditation with some noting, but only noting the relaxation and openness of the concentration meditation? I'm not sure I understand.

Thanks for your thoughts!

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 4:27 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Thanks. This makes a lot of sense. Can you elaborate on "There are ways of noting that are very aggressive and which can exacerbate certain negative mental tendencies"? Is the idea that you reject parts of yourself and push them away rather than accept them?


In a simplified sense, it's like this: if I showed you a video of some people moving around and asked you to notice when you saw a person raise their right hand, every time someone raised their right hand, you might have an experience that you'd describe as "recognizing". You might further describe it as a kind of mental gesture, a thing your mind does to indicate that you saw what you were looking for. (You might also describe it as a kind of contact between your mind and the thing you're recognizing, just like you shoot aliens via contact between your lasers and the aliens.) It turns out that 1) this peculiar mental gesture isn't required in order to know that you saw red, and 2) experiencing this mental gesture is very similar, in a structural way, to experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety (or elation!) or etc. If you train your mind to produce this mental gesture, you might find that you were also coincidentally priming yourself to be depressed or anxious or have other strong emotions. If you practice a form of meditation that requires you to recognize every experience you have, and so get in the habit of producing a mental gesture of recognition each time...the end results might not be so pleasant.

A contrasting way to note is to emphasize just being aware, in a "dumb", unreflective way, of whatever you experience, and using gentle notes only to keep yourself on track; so perhaps only one note per second or even less, not the rapid noting that MCTB endorses, and not trying to actively "recognize", but merely trying to keep yourself alert and attuned and not zoned out.

Other ways of practicing drop the idea of noting, and just emphasize "dumb" awareness: you see things and hear things and feel things and let all the experiences be there without separation, like some kind of hearty stew sloshing around aimlessly as it runs down the pavement. But I think many people just starting out will find it very difficult to do that well, while noting is a lot more beginner-friendly. (And noting has some other advantages.)

One thing you might find is that, if you're already depressed, you're already producing the mental gesture of recognition all the time: "Depressed, depressed, depressed...". Each time you feel depressed, you're recognizing it just by feeling it. So even aggressive noting might not be training your mind to do anything new that would harm you in the long run. (And I think aggressive noting has many attributes in its favor; it's not all bad.)

Going back to what you suggested, you might find that the mental gesture of recognition turns out to be a way of pushing things away rather than accepting them. Similarly and analogously, you might find that, a feeling of depression is not something that your mind passively undergoes, but is one way that it actively pushes things away! Whether you buy that perspective and whether it's helpful to you at this point or not is a whole big issue of its own...but, I think it's deeper than what some people might be getting at when they talk about pushing things away. For it could easily seem to many people that the mental gesture of recognition is not pushing anything away, but is simply being equanimous, impartial, objective...

If you could try to explain about the attention wave, I'd be interested.


I would need to know more about your meditation experience, what you could discern, what a typical sit is like, etc. to see if I could find a way to talk about it productively. It's a bit esoteric.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 4:41 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion.


If anything about MCTB's style of practice is likely to lead you to woe, then in my opinion, this viewpoint, when applied to meditation and to your moment-to-moment perception, is it.

I suggest not taking this on as a way that you view the world and your own experience. Instead, I suggest not taking on any particular view for now. Using your mind is like flying some kind of wacky alien hovercraft with too many levers and no instruction manual. You need to do some experiments with it to figure out how it works, using your own intuition and sense, and without letting some a priori theory govern how you think about it.

In practice, when I sit and meditate and thoughts come up, what do I "do" differently with them so I can build concentration instead of insight, and *not* focus on the three characteristics?


Easy advice:

Relax but keep your mind clear and alert (non-sleepy, non-zoned-out, non-spacey), see what happens. Don't "do" anything that doesn't contribute to these goals. If nothing good happens, it's because you didn't relax enough or didn't keep your mind clear enough or were doing something extraneous that got in the way.

Paying attention to your breath is a great thing to do, but only if you can do it in a way that contributes to those goals rather than detracts from them. (Think over this point very carefully.)

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 5:21 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
J C:
Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion.


If anything about MCTB's style of practice is likely to lead you to woe, then in my opinion, this viewpoint, when applied to meditation and to your moment-to-moment perception, is it.

I suggest not taking this on as a way that you view the world and your own experience. Instead, I suggest not taking on any particular view for now. Using your mind is like flying some kind of wacky alien hovercraft with too many levers and no instruction manual. You need to do some experiments with it to figure out how it works, using your own intuition and sense, and without letting some a priori theory govern how you think about it.


Why would that lead me to woe? It seems like it's leading me away from woe. This is my whole question: so many people seem to be warning that something bad will happen if I meditate and notice things. It hasn't and I don't think it will, but I'm curious and trying to understand why.

It's not that I'm taking on a particular view, it's that I can't help noticing the three characteristics and the illusion of continuity, which means that concentration meditation starts "blending" into insight meditation.




Relax but keep your mind clear and alert (non-sleepy, non-zoned-out, non-spacey), see what happens. Don't "do" anything that doesn't contribute to these goals. If nothing good happens, it's because you didn't relax enough or didn't keep your mind clear enough or were doing something extraneous that got in the way.


This is what I do -- just try to keep my mind clear -- and the way I do it is by noting very lightly. If a thought comes up, I try to note it and let it go and return to calm, clear, centered, alertness.


In a simplified sense, it's like this: if I showed you a video of some people moving around and asked you to notice when you saw a person raise their right hand, every time someone raised their right hand, you might have an experience that you'd describe as "recognizing". You might further describe it as a kind of mental gesture, a thing your mind does to indicate that you saw what you were looking for. (You might also describe it as a kind of contact between your mind and the thing you're recognizing, just like you shoot aliens via contact between your lasers and the aliens.)


With you so far.


It turns out that 1) this peculiar mental gesture isn't required in order to know that you saw red, and 2) experiencing this mental gesture is very similar, in a structural way, to experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety (or elation!) or etc. If you train your mind to produce this mental gesture, you might find that you were also coincidentally priming yourself to be depressed or anxious or have other strong emotions. If you practice a form of meditation that requires you to recognize every experience you have, and so get in the habit of producing a mental gesture of recognition each time...the end results might not be so pleasant.


I am having trouble understanding this. How is noticing something structurally similar to any kind of feeling?

My experience so far has been that the more I notice, the calmer I get.



Going back to what you suggested, you might find that the mental gesture of recognition turns out to be a way of pushing things away rather than accepting them.


What I meant to suggest is that if someone has a thought about something he did that he didn't like, and he imagines zapping it like an alien, that he may be pushing that part of himself away and refusing to accept it. I think the way to avoid this is just to remember to accept it as it is.

I'm not understanding how the gesture of recognition itself, without alien zapping, could be a way of pushing things away.

I'm very new at this, so I appreciate all your explanations.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 8:34 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
End in Sight:
J C:
Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion.


If anything about MCTB's style of practice is likely to lead you to woe, then in my opinion, this viewpoint, when applied to meditation and to your moment-to-moment perception, is it.

I suggest not taking this on as a way that you view the world and your own experience. Instead, I suggest not taking on any particular view for now. Using your mind is like flying some kind of wacky alien hovercraft with too many levers and no instruction manual. You need to do some experiments with it to figure out how it works, using your own intuition and sense, and without letting some a priori theory govern how you think about it.


Why would that lead me to woe? It seems like it's leading me away from woe. This is my whole question: so many people seem to be warning that something bad will happen if I meditate and notice things. It hasn't and I don't think it will, but I'm curious and trying to understand why.


I was suggesting that your particular viewpoint concerning what's real and what's illusory might lead to woe (on the assumption that something about MCTB might), since it will color the way you view your experience [in a way that might lead to woe].

I don't especially think that MCTB-style practice is likely to be bad for you in the long run, so I'm not trying to convince you that it will be, only that, if it would be, the viewpoint you mention here is a good candidate for what might be responsible for any harm.

It probably won't be obvious to you how this viewpoint is related to the gesture of recognition stuff, but that's OK. I'm not sure I could offer you an explanation that you would find clear at this point. But, I am offering you friendly advice.

It's not that I'm taking on a particular view, it's that I can't help noticing the three characteristics and the illusion of continuity, which means that concentration meditation starts "blending" into insight meditation.


Maybe what you think you're noticing (discontinuity) will turn out to be illusory in some way. Saying "this is how things are" is different from "this is how things seem".

About noticing the 3Cs: I think your problem is fairly common, and I've opined before that I don't think most regular western people who begin to meditate can easily figure out how to concentrate without doing insight work. So if you want to do concentration work, I'd suggest not worrying about whether you're doing insight work along with it or not.

Relax but keep your mind clear and alert (non-sleepy, non-zoned-out, non-spacey), see what happens. Don't "do" anything that doesn't contribute to these goals. If nothing good happens, it's because you didn't relax enough or didn't keep your mind clear enough or were doing something extraneous that got in the way.


This is what I do -- just try to keep my mind clear -- and the way I do it is by noting very lightly. If a thought comes up, I try to note it and let it go and return to calm, clear, centered, alertness.


How relaxed do you get? What do you think you could do to relax more?

It turns out that 1) this peculiar mental gesture isn't required in order to know that you saw red, and 2) experiencing this mental gesture is very similar, in a structural way, to experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety (or elation!) or etc. If you train your mind to produce this mental gesture, you might find that you were also coincidentally priming yourself to be depressed or anxious or have other strong emotions. If you practice a form of meditation that requires you to recognize every experience you have, and so get in the habit of producing a mental gesture of recognition each time...the end results might not be so pleasant.


I am having trouble understanding this. How is noticing something structurally similar to any kind of feeling?


There is more to the experience that appears to be "recognizing" than meets the eye. If you can have an experience for some time that's missing the ability to make that mental gesture, in whole or in part, what that mental gesture is (or isn't) might become clearer.

I don't think I can explain things to you in a way that you'll follow at this point in your meditation career. I'm just trying to sketch out what I think the book review was getting at. Hopefully you can see the logic of my reasoning, even if you're not convinced.

My experience so far has been that the more I notice, the calmer I get.


Good!

Going back to what you suggested, you might find that the mental gesture of recognition turns out to be a way of pushing things away rather than accepting them.


What I meant to suggest is that if someone has a thought about something he did that he didn't like, and he imagines zapping it like an alien, that he may be pushing that part of himself away and refusing to accept it. I think the way to avoid this is just to remember to accept it as it is.


Yes...that would be a bad practice. I don't think it's one that Dan Ingram had in mind when he used the metaphor. And it's not what I was getting at as a potential problem with aggressive noting either.

I'm not understanding how the gesture of recognition itself, without alien zapping, could be a way of pushing things away.


It may sound like I'm brushing you off by saying this, but that isn't my intention: more experience with meditation (and that includes MCTB-style noting) will put you in a better position to see why my claim may or may not be true.

I do think it's important to recognize, before setting out to do this kind of mind training, that your ability to see and understand how your own mind works is likely going to be a great deal better after you do it, and to understand some things relevant to that mind training may depend on you doing a certain amount of it first.

If I knew of a good, reliable way to explain this issue to a non-meditator or beginning meditator I would certainly offer that explanation. The only thing I can say, which is really just a hint, is that the gesture of recognition isn't what it appears to be.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/26/13 12:01 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
While there are some phenomenological things about the two that are different, they share a lot of common ground. I hope that good information, good science, and an increased awareness of this issue in the psychological, medical and educational communities will help. There is much to be done. Want to help do it?


What about this:

Depression: Usual diagnostic criteria, found anywhere. I'd add a special emphasis on:
1. high levels of compassion/guilt - might be a vegetarian, might help out at volunteer organizations, will not kill bugs
2. high level of social anxiety - can't do small talk, can't let go and have fun.

Dark Night: Has had a definite opening to Truth with all the bells and whistles (lights, unconditional love, bliss, visions,...the whole bit). Now feels a wistful longing to return to the light, but maintains reasonable self-esteem. Now sees normal consensus reality as a pathetic substitute for this other way of being. Has lost interest in social roles and respectability. The sadness he feels is a combination of loss (the ego senses its own demise), longing and loneliness. Understands he has to integrate his shadow self in all its ugliness.


Note that although about 1800 reads of the A&P phenomenology thread, and yet only 15 or so people posted what I would call definitive experiences. (Note that I don't consider my experiences to be legitimate 'openings to Truth' as described on that thread).

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/25/13 10:50 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Could you elaborate on why?


Sure, just let me know what needs clarification.

J C:
Now that I know about the three characteristics, I'm not sure how I can stop noticing them.


Concentration practice is fundamentally about learning to let your attention rest where you tell it to.

J C:
Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion. But how does that actually work in practice?


That's not quite the right distinction. Concentration practice is about generating a certain state of mind in which there is a perception of continuity, while insight practice is about relinquishing whatever the current state of mind has formed itself around. Often the process by which this relinquishing is achieved involves discarding some of the perceptions underpinning it.

J C:
In practice, when I sit and meditate and thoughts come up, what do I "do" differently with them so I can build concentration instead of insight, and *not* focus on the three characteristics?


Have you attained access concentration? ("the ability to stay consistently with your chosen object [of meditation] with relative ease to the general exclusion of distractions") MCTB is a bit thin on how to do this.

J C:
MCTB says "Try not paying too much attention to the individual sensations themselves, but conceptualize the breath as a coherent and continuous entity, with many different types of sensations all being thought of as being the breath." Is it just a matter of letting the "impermanent and not self" thought go and returning to concentration?


That is one approach. If it doesn't work for you, there are others. I would extend it to noting the sense of coherency and continuity you are fostering.

J C:
Are you suggesting doing concentration meditation with some noting, but only noting the relaxation and openness of the concentration meditation? I'm not sure I understand.


Restricting noting to sensations associated with a sense of relaxation and opening sounds like a great thing to try.

J C:
I'm also a fan of the book Psycho-Cybernetics.


It was a favorite of mine growing up, too. Interesting bit of trivia: It was also the the favorite book of MLK's assassin. He took a copy with him everywhere.

J C:
How is noticing something structurally similar to any kind of feeling?


You probably don't have the mindfulness for this, yet, but when a wave of depression washes over you, you might try to recall the sensations in your head just before that happened. You might see whether similar sensations occur when you notice something. I'm not saying you will find a correspondence, but that's how it's worked for me personally. Just something to keep in mind for the future, like I said, you'll probably need to develop some other skills before this kind of observation is possible.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/26/13 4:05 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
J C:
Could you elaborate on why?


Sure, just let me know what needs clarification.


You wrote "So when emphasize the three characteristics in your noting, you train yourself to attend to the suffering, impermanence and nonself in your experience. This can lead to a fairly unpleasant relationship to the world for a while."

I'd like clarification on how exactly and why emphasizing the 3Cs can lead to a fairly unpleasant experience. The best I can guess is that noticing suffering more will cause you to experience suffering more, but I thought the idea is that we're already suffering and only by noticing it can we do anything.



J C:
Now that I know about the three characteristics, I'm not sure how I can stop noticing them.


Concentration practice is fundamentally about learning to let your attention rest where you tell it to.

J C:
Basically, at this point, I'm having some trouble distinguishing concentration and insight meditation. I understand that concentration meditation means that you are attending to the illusion of continuity, while insight meditation means you pay closer attention and start breaking down the illusion. But how does that actually work in practice?


That's not quite the right distinction. Concentration practice is about generating a certain state of mind in which there is a perception of continuity, while insight practice is about relinquishing whatever the current state of mind has formed itself around. Often the process by which this relinquishing is achieved involves discarding some of the perceptions underpinning it.


Thanks, this helps a bit. So what I'm getting (from you and other comments) is that I should just let my attention rest on the perception of continuity, and that I should not worry about what's actually real vs. an illusion, but instead just focus on the perceptions without trying to interpret them based on my own preconceptions or theories about what's "real".



Have you attained access concentration? ("the ability to stay consistently with your chosen object [of meditation] with relative ease to the general exclusion of distractions") MCTB is a bit thin on how to do this.


I'm a total newbie at this. I haven't attained anything. I should probably just stop worrying about theories and start sitting. I'm asking mostly out of curiosity and also to make sure I don't have any misunderstandings that could mess me up.

As I understand it, the only way to gain that kind of concentration is to practice for a while, noticing when you lose focus and bringing yourself back. Is there more to it?


J C:
Are you suggesting doing concentration meditation with some noting, but only noting the relaxation and openness of the concentration meditation? I'm not sure I understand.


Restricting noting to sensations associated with a sense of relaxation and opening sounds like a great thing to try.


So to try this, would I tell myself "only notice these sensations"? What do I do when I experience different sensations, just try not to give them any attention?


J C:
How is noticing something structurally similar to any kind of feeling?


You probably don't have the mindfulness for this, yet, but when a wave of depression washes over you, you might try to recall the sensations in your head just before that happened. You might see whether similar sensations occur when you notice something. I'm not saying you will find a correspondence, but that's how it's worked for me personally. Just something to keep in mind for the future, like I said, you'll probably need to develop some other skills before this kind of observation is possible.


I've been thinking over this, and I tried to notice it this morning. I was reading some website and I was reminded of something that happened in the past that I was upset about. I got off balance and it took me a minute to recover, but as best as I can tell, there was sort of a feeling like "Oh yeah, I forgot about X bad thing." I can see how this might be a type of recognition, though I don't think I have the mindfulness to break it down to the sensory level or tell you the exact sensations. They all happened so fast.

Could you elaborate on how the correspondence you found works? I'd like to ask more specifics but I find myself getting extremely confused at this point: what is perception without noticing like? are there different types of noticing that correspond to relaxation vs. unpleasant feelings? Does being more attentive to noticing an unpleasant reaction encourage or discourage such reactions? Is this related to classifying, labeling, or categorizing perceptions rather than experiencing them?

Right now, I think noting will be helpful, even if I'm noting something unpleasant, because it will allow me to be more aware of whatever unpleasant stuff is going on in my head and it will allow me to detach from it a little. I get the sense that you're saying I'm missing something here, and maybe it can't easily be explained without me gaining more mindfulness, but if you could explain further or give me a hint, I'd appreciate it! Thanks!

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/26/13 4:24 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:


I was suggesting that your particular viewpoint concerning what's real and what's illusory might lead to woe (on the assumption that something about MCTB might), since it will color the way you view your experience [in a way that might lead to woe].

It probably won't be obvious to you how this viewpoint is related to the gesture of recognition stuff, but that's OK. I'm not sure I could offer you an explanation that you would find clear at this point. But, I am offering you friendly advice.

Maybe what you think you're noticing (discontinuity) will turn out to be illusory in some way. Saying "this is how things are" is different from "this is how things seem".


Got it, so don't assume that whatever perceptions I have, continuities or discontinuities, are either real or illusory based on some model. That makes a lot of sense.

Just out of curiosity, could you be more specific about how and what exactly might lead to woe? Are you saying that if I accept a discontinuity as "real" it could get in the way of life?

None of this "gesture of recognition" stuff is in any way obvious to me! But it's incredibly intriguing to me. Are there other discussion threads, links, or books on this concept? It's sounding like a cryptic riddle. I haven't really read much about this as far as I can tell and I'd like more information.



About noticing the 3Cs: I think your problem is fairly common, and I've opined before that I don't think most regular western people who begin to meditate can easily figure out how to concentrate without doing insight work. So if you want to do concentration work, I'd suggest not worrying about whether you're doing insight work along with it or not.


That actually helps a lot.



Relax but keep your mind clear and alert (non-sleepy, non-zoned-out, non-spacey), see what happens. Don't "do" anything that doesn't contribute to these goals. If nothing good happens, it's because you didn't relax enough or didn't keep your mind clear enough or were doing something extraneous that got in the way.


This is what I do -- just try to keep my mind clear -- and the way I do it is by noting very lightly. If a thought comes up, I try to note it and let it go and return to calm, clear, centered, alertness.


How relaxed do you get? What do you think you could do to relax more?


I get distracted by thoughts a lot. I'm not sure what else I could do, other than keep practicing. Are you suggesting that noting technique might have something to do with how relaxed I am, or that changing or stopping noting might relax me more?


There is more to the experience that appears to be "recognizing" than meets the eye. If you can have an experience for some time that's missing the ability to make that mental gesture, in whole or in part, what that mental gesture is (or isn't) might become clearer.

I don't think I can explain things to you in a way that you'll follow at this point in your meditation career. I'm just trying to sketch out what I think the book review was getting at. Hopefully you can see the logic of my reasoning, even if you're not convinced.


Yeah, I may not be able to understand now, but this is exactly what I'm interested in understanding. I take it you're hinting at the idea that recognition is a form of dualistic thinking? Are you referring to having a more non-dualistic experience? I confess to not being sure exactly what I mean by that.

If there's any way you could elaborate further on what the "recognition" experience is, even if I can't follow most of it, I'd be curious.

How do I have an experience without that mental gesture? How would I know that I see, say, the color red, without being able to recognize it?

It seems to me that the process of recognition requires turning focus away from sensory perception, creating a mental picture or abstraction of the sensory perception, then relating that to a whole host of other concepts in my mind about the self and the world and what's out there. Is that accurate? Is there a specific part of that process that you're referring to?


It may sound like I'm brushing you off by saying this, but that isn't my intention: more experience with meditation (and that includes MCTB-style noting) will put you in a better position to see why my claim may or may not be true.

I do think it's important to recognize, before setting out to do this kind of mind training, that your ability to see and understand how your own mind works is likely going to be a great deal better after you do it, and to understand some things relevant to that mind training may depend on you doing a certain amount of it first.


Understood. So would you say I should focus on concentration meditation for a while, say until I can hold focus for X length of time, then once I have that ability, start further looking into the 3Cs as I do?

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/26/13 8:33 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
Just out of curiosity, could you be more specific about how and what exactly might lead to woe? Are you saying that if I accept a discontinuity as "real" it could get in the way of life?


The discontinuity that you are experiencing may just be an artifact of your current mode of perception. And if you believe that that experience of discontinuity is a fundamental truth, you may be encouraging yourself to stick with that mode of perception. And you yourself said that you hoped to deal with some depression that you were facing, so perhaps the mode of perception that you have now, which includes feeling depressed more often than you'd like, is one that you'd do better to experience with a very light touch, not holding on to it any more tightly than you have to.

The teachers I know of who talk about fundamental discontinuities often seem to be talking about a really fine level of analysis...something that happens at the level of a millionth of a second or more, at the very least. Probably not what you're experiencing.

None of this "gesture of recognition" stuff is in any way obvious to me! But it's incredibly intriguing to me. Are there other discussion threads, links, or books on this concept? It's sounding like a cryptic riddle. I haven't really read much about this as far as I can tell and I'd like more information.


The way I describe it comes from my experience practicing along the lines that MCTB describes, so I doubt there are too many references to it, when described in this way, in the outside world. That could be an indication that thinking about it in this way isn't profitable (unless you're steeped in this sort of tradition already).

As a beginner, every moment you spend thinking about this and searching for more information would more profitably be spent meditating, I promise.

How relaxed do you get? What do you think you could do to relax more?


I get distracted by thoughts a lot. I'm not sure what else I could do, other than keep practicing.


Think about other times in your life when you've been more relaxed. What kind of attitude did you have then? What kind of attitude do you have when you meditate? How were you using your attention then? How do you use it when you meditate? Maybe you can learn something from those experiences that you can apply to meditation.

Otherwise, you can just think of it this way: "I'm piloting a wacky alien hovercraft but don't really get how to do it well! What if I try this button? What if I try that lever? Are these things getting me closer to doing what I want to do, or not?" You can try different attitudes, different ways of approaching the basic task (following your breath), and see what happens, with an eye towards figuring out just what you would have to do to be able to be more relaxed than you already are (without messing up your clarity of mind).

Are you suggesting that noting technique might have something to do with how relaxed I am, or that changing or stopping noting might relax me more?


No need to search for a subtext here. emoticon No one can tell you precisely how to relax your own mind. We can give some advice or some techniques, but a lot of the work is just figuring out how to apply those things in a helpful way. That's all.

Yeah, I may not be able to understand now, but this is exactly what I'm interested in understanding. I take it you're hinting at the idea that recognition is a form of dualistic thinking? Are you referring to having a more non-dualistic experience? I confess to not being sure exactly what I mean by that.

If there's any way you could elaborate further on what the "recognition" experience is, even if I can't follow most of it, I'd be curious.


If you're not sure what you mean, then if I said "yes" or "no" to it, would we even be communicating? I don't see that talking about it would help, sorry. But if you investigate it for yourself, maybe you'll see for yourself, and then you won't need to ask anyone.

How do I have an experience without that mental gesture? How would I know that I see, say, the color red, without being able to recognize it?


1) That's a nice koan you've got for yourself there. It sounds like this question is really burning you up. You know, there are traditions in which you would just sit with a question like this and your perplexity towards it, as your whole meditation practice, until something happens. "How to experience without a mental gesture? How? How?"

2) Relax more, that's how.

3) Here's a take on how, from a very different tradition. But don't read it through the lens of MCTB or you won't do it justice. Read it on its own terms, as if you never read anything about meditation before. http://www.shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=3490

It seems to me that the process of recognition requires turning focus away from sensory perception, creating a mental picture or abstraction of the sensory perception, then relating that to a whole host of other concepts in my mind about the self and the world and what's out there. Is that accurate? Is there a specific part of that process that you're referring to?


Sounds like a good start on your insight practice.

So would you say I should focus on concentration meditation for a while, say until I can hold focus for X length of time, then once I have that ability, start further looking into the 3Cs as I do?


Everyone has to make an educated guess about how much they should focus on concentration and how much they should focus on insight for themselves. When I got serious about meditation, I focused 100% on insight, and I got good results from that. But that wouldn't suit everyone. Some people are inclined to different things, and might not make good progress that way.

What I would suggest is, if you're worried about whether insight work is going to make you feel worse, then focus on concentration, but measure your success by your ability to relax with alertness (which should give you the ability to hold focus for a certain length of time automatically). And keep in mind that you might need to do some pure insight work in order to get better at relaxing, depending on the strengths and weaknesses you bring to the table.

I found that aggressive noting was a great way to hold focus and not get distracted. And if you aggressively note your way to Equanimity nana, you'll be really chilled out in a way that you probably never would have expected. So there are no hard-and-fast rules, and I recommend taking a pragmatic view about all of this, where you think of your meditation practice as an experiment that gets you some data on how your mind runs, and you look at the data you have at any particular point and make an educated guess about what would be best to emphasize in that practice. (It's easier to think this way if you have a cerebral temperament, and it might be a bad idea if you have a totally different temperament, but I assume that if you read MCTB and liked it, this way of thinking is natural enough for you, as long as you don't go overboard with it.)

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/26/13 11:14 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
I'd like clarification on how exactly and why emphasizing the 3Cs can lead to a fairly unpleasant experience. The best I can guess is that noticing suffering more will cause you to experience suffering more, but I thought the idea is that we're already suffering and only by noticing it can we do anything.


In any given moment, there are many things you could notice, and many frameworks you could interpret the things you notice. 3Cs practice trains you to notice the 3Cs, and to interpret experience in terms of them. It can get pretty dark, like today my cat came over and I was thinking about its constituent flesh and its eventual death while I was petting it. Not great if you're depressed.

J C:
Thanks, this helps a bit. So what I'm getting (from you and other comments) is that I should just let my attention rest on the perception of continuity, and that I should not worry about what's actually real vs. an illusion, but instead just focus on the perceptions without trying to interpret them based on my own preconceptions or theories about what's "real".


Yes, that's a good approach. Also, don't be afraid of adopting different preconceptions or theories about what's going on. Something I do a lot is breath-energy manipulation, where you imagine the breath coursing through the body, breathing through different parts of the body. There is no scientific basis to these visualizations, but they are extremely useful.

J C:
I'm a total newbie at this. I haven't attained anything. I should probably just stop worrying about theories and start sitting. I'm asking mostly out of curiosity and also to make sure I don't have any misunderstandings that could mess me up.

As I understand it, the only way to gain that kind of concentration is to practice for a while, noticing when you lose focus and bringing yourself back. Is there more to it?


Yes, there's quite a lot to learn about concentration practice. It all ties back into insight practice in the end, but it's used to a different purpose. Noticing when you lose focus and returning is the basic idea, but there are MANY ways to make this easier. Which ways are best will depend on the difficulties you run into.

J C:
Restricting noting to sensations associated with a sense of relaxation and opening sounds like a great thing to try.


So to try this, would I tell myself "only notice these sensations"? What do I do when I experience different sensations, just try not to give them any attention?


It's like resting attention on the physical sensations of the breath, except you rest it on these particular sensations, the ones associated with relaxation and opening. When attention wanders from those, bring it back.

Personally, I find this kind of thing much easier than using the full set of sensations associated with the breath, as it is more pleasant. Plus, it trains your mind towards noticing pleasant things, always a good thing for someone struggling with depression.

J C:
Could you elaborate on how the correspondence you found works? I'd like to ask more specifics but I find myself getting extremely confused at this point: what is perception without noticing like? are there different types of noticing that correspond to relaxation vs. unpleasant feelings? Does being more attentive to noticing an unpleasant reaction encourage or discourage such reactions? Is this related to classifying, labeling, or categorizing perceptions rather than experiencing them?


It wouldn't do you any good. The benefit comes from learning to do it yourself. It's the skill of perception, not the intellectual understanding based on it, which is transformative.

J C:
Right now, I think noting will be helpful, even if I'm noting something unpleasant, because it will allow me to be more aware of whatever unpleasant stuff is going on in my head and it will allow me to detach from it a little. I get the sense that you're saying I'm missing something here, and maybe it can't easily be explained without me gaining more mindfulness, but if you could explain further or give me a hint, I'd appreciate it! Thanks!


Just that there are many ways to practice concentration. Try it and let us know what hindrances arise. We may be able to suggest ways to mitigate them.

RE: Does Noting cause the Dark Night? Concerned.
Answer
4/27/13 4:54 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi, J C. Was just reminded of this essay. You may find it helpful for some of your questions.

At this point the breath and your awareness seem to have melted into each other. It's hard to draw a line between the two and, for the time being, you don't try. Allow the awareness and the breath to interpenetrate, to become one.

You have to allow this awareness, this sense of oneness, to get really solid. Otherwise it's easily destroyed because the tendency of the mind is to shrink up. As soon as we think, we shrink up the energy field in certain parts of the body to block them out of our awareness, which is why there's tension in the body every time a thought occurs. This part of the body gets tense so you can think that thought; that part of the body gets tense so you can think this one, back and forth this way. It's no wonder that the simple process of thinking takes a lot out of the body. According to some Chinese medical treatises, a person whose work is mental tends to use up energy at three times the rate of a person whose work is totally physical. This is because thinking involves tension in the body. And, in particular, thoughts that go off into the past or into the future have to create whole worlds for themselves to inhabit.

When we're getting the mind concentrated, we're thinking in a different way. In the beginning stages we're still thinking, but we're thinking solely about the present moment, observing solely the present moment, being alert and mindful to what's going on here, so we don't have to create worlds of past and future. This imposes less stress on the body. In order to maintain that present focus and not go slipping off to your old habits, you've got to keep your awareness as broad as possible. That's what keeps you rooted in the present moment, all the way down to your fingers and toes. When your awareness stays broad, it prevents the kind of shrinking up that allows the mind to slip out after thoughts of past and future. You stay fully inhabiting the present. The need to think gets more and more attenuated.


(Just ignore the part about getting all the oxygen you need from the pores of the skin. He is a master of meditation, but his grasp on basic anatomy seems a bit shaky here. emoticon