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Lost long time Goenka practitioner

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Lost long time Goenka practitioner
goenka
Answer
6/3/13 10:12 AM
Hi all.

I started reading Daniel's book again lately and I'm trying to get a sense of where I might be (or more importantly, what is the most skillful way to continue practicing from here). I've been practicing in the Goenka tradition for about 7 years and have taken 5 10-day retreats and 2 8-day retreats in those centers. I've been practicing daily (1-2 hours a day) for 6 years.

I got back from my most recent retreat (an 8-day one) about a week ago. That retreat was very calm, and it seemed that the main obstacles I was fighting were distraction (seeing thoughts as thoughts) and some minor pain. I felt a lot of minor negativity that had been thick in the previous months burning off like layers of skin. Unlike some other retreats I was not hard on myself for getting distracted, but instead just assumed practicing immediately. I was trying to hone in on practicing with precise effort, instead of being too detatched or too attached.

I became aware that the scanned body sensations were serving as a kind of foreground with other body sensations (especially in the head) and thoughts forming a subtle background. I started investing as much of my awareness as I could into the scanned body sensations. When I did this the oscillation of awareness between the scanned body sensations and other body sensations become more clear.

In one notable experience was where I got particularly concentrated, the body-scanning meditation seemed to become equivalent to a silent noting practice. Mental and physical sensations became distinct, and the body sensations were just one object being noted in the chain instead of seeming as a kind of foreground.

The sensations I was experiencing on the course (and am still experiencing) are pretty low frequency (5-7 hz) and mildly irritating. After the course ended I felt very peaceful, very clear, and energized about doing more practice (particularly going on longer retreats). I felt re-connected with my more charming and spontaneous side, after having felt disconnected, anxious, and bland for the months leading up to the retreat.

In the months leading up to the retreat I was getting very stressed about what to do in my life. I got obsessed with things I've never been very interested in, like optimizing my diet and making sure to get enough exercise. I also developed a consistent habit of overeating. Often I would end up oscillating rapidly when trying to make a decision, and then even change my mind after having made the decision. Occasionally I would feel some strange intense fear that there was a presence in my apartment.

A lot of that stress has disappeared and I feel kind of idle as I'm unsure what to do next (but not worried about it). I was thinking of doing some sitting and serving at the Goenka centers, or saving up for a longer retreat (at IMS or elsewhere).

There's plenty more I could say about my earlier practice and retreat experiences, but I'll start with this for now. Does anyone have any recommendations on how to practice from here on out? I'm also interested in recommendations for places to go on longer retreats this year (1 month or longer).

Thanks for reading!

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/2/13 5:05 PM as a reply to Luke G..
Luke G.:


I became aware that the scanned body sensations were serving as a kind of foreground with other body sensations (especially in the head) and thoughts forming a subtle background. I started investing as much of my awareness as I could into the scanned body sensations. When I did this the oscillation of awareness between the scanned body sensations and other body sensations become more clear.

In one notable experience was where I got particularly concentrated, the body-scanning meditation seemed to become equivalent to a silent noting practicing. Mental and physical sensations became distinct, and the body sensations were just one object being noted in the chain instead of seeming as a kind of foreground.



My advice: Keep exploring this supposed foreground to a supposed back ground. From a base of 8 years of goenka practice I started to explore something similar with noting practice.

The sensations I was experiencing on the course (and am still experiencing) are pretty low frequency (5-7 hz) and mildly irritating. After the course ended I felt very peaceful, very clear, and energized about doing more practice (particularly going on longer retreats). I felt re-connected with my more charming and spontaneous side, after having felt disconnected, anxious, and bland for the months leading up to the retreat.

In the months leading up to the retreat I was getting very stressed about what to do in my life. I got obsessed with things I've never been very interested in, like optimizing my diet and making sure to get enough exercise. I also developed a consistent habit of overeating. Often I would end up oscillating rapidly when trying to make a decision, and then even change my mind after having made the decision. Occasionally I would feel some strange intense fear that there was a presence in my apartment.


Sounds like certain nanas.

A lot of that stress has disappeared and I feel kind of idle as I'm unsure what to do next (but not worried about it). I was thinking of doing some sitting and serving at the Goenka centers, or saving up for a longer retreat (at IMS or elsewhere).


Maybe another nana. More info needed though.

There's plenty more I could say about my earlier practice and retreat experiences, but I'll start with this for now. Does anyone have any recommendations on how to practice from here on out? I'm also interested in recommendations for places to go on longer retreats this year (1 month or longer).


Keep exploring the foreground, background assumptions. Notice what the forground and background are actually made up of as they arise and pass? Do they occur at the same time? or like you said in a chain of events sto to speak? Blinking?

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/3/13 10:12 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Thanks so much Nikolai! Today and yesterday I've been experimenting with noting practice. So far it allows my awareness to be more inclusive, and seems like it takes me to the edge of investigation. As you mentioned in your post it helps me to see mental states more clearly (like visualization, irritation, boredom, etc.), whereas I would often push them away slightly to get back to body sensations with the body-scanning method.

A lot of that stress has disappeared and I feel kind of idle as I'm unsure what to do next (but not worried about it). I was thinking of doing some sitting and serving at the Goenka centers, or saving up for a longer retreat (at IMS or elsewhere).



Maybe another nana. More info needed though.


The past few days I've been consistently equanimous, but I'm alternating between being half-distracted and being extremely present, clear, and peaceful. The noting practice has been helping me enter in the latter more consistently, as my awareness doesn't get caught by thoughts as much and becomes more unified. While most of the day goes by in a natural flow I notice a handful of thoughts that stick more and re-occur, though I do my best to note them when they come up.

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/3/13 5:12 PM as a reply to Luke G..
Luke G.:
Thanks so much Nikolai! Today and yesterday I've been experimenting with noting practice. So far it allows my awareness to be more inclusive, and seems like it takes me to the edge of investigation. As you mentioned in your post it helps me to see mental states more clearly (like visualization, irritation, boredom, etc.), whereas I would often push them away slightly to get back to body sensations with the body-scanning method.

A lot of that stress has disappeared and I feel kind of idle as I'm unsure what to do next (but not worried about it). I was thinking of doing some sitting and serving at the Goenka centers, or saving up for a longer retreat (at IMS or elsewhere).



Maybe another nana. More info needed though.


The past few days I've been consistently equanimous, but I'm alternating between being half-distracted and being extremely present, clear, and peaceful. The noting practice has been helping me enter in the latter more consistently, as my awareness doesn't get caught by thoughts as much and becomes more unified. While most of the day goes by in a natural flow I notice a handful of thoughts that stick more and re-occur, though I do my best to note them when they come up.



Gather a gapfree momentum in such an awareness and keep doing what you are doing. Doing the same thing led to the first permanent perceptual baseline shift for myself.

Nick

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/4/13 2:08 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Hi Nick,

I have a question related to this. (Luke, I hope you don't mind it.)

In your linked HP post you write:

"I would also note mind states that took centre stage. For me, this was the biggest improvement over the sweeping method. I was not always aware of how lost I was in mind states when practicing the sweeping method. I would often find myself allowing the mind to wander, space out, get bored, lose concentration for long periods. And I would never really know what to do about that. I would shake my head to rouse myself and return to observing the sensations. Sooner or later, I would fall for the same tricks again and lose momentum in my practice."

My understanding of Goenka's method is that one does the scanning of body sensations as long as one is able to observe (objectively) their impermanence characteristic. If one is too much lost in thoughts, spaced out or have lost concentration and hence not being able to see the anicca characteristic, it is better to switch to observing the breath at the nostrils - anapana, as taught by Goenka - and go back to vipassana once concentration is regained. So, the vipassana practice is not entirely dry, it is rather a floating equilibrium between vipassana and anapana.

After practicing for a while, I realized that I can switch to anapana and still do the scanning. (This is something that Jill also mentioned somewhere here on the DhO - back then when she was active in these forums.) This tend to result in a more concentrated state which can be conducive to vipassana.

My question is that, isn't the reason why Goenka teaches anapana precisely to not being lost in thoughts or spaced out? Isn't his hybrid method, as I understand it, an alternative to switching to noting?

Anyways, I think many of us Goenka students struggle to understand how to incorporate his anapana teachings into the vipassana practice off-retreat. On retreat is maybe more clear: 3 days anapana, and the rest is vipassana. After my third retreat, I came up with the above understanding. Basically, I think Goenka does not teach as dry a vipassana for off-retreat as it might seem for the first.

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/4/13 5:11 PM as a reply to Zed Z.
Zed Z:
Hi Nick,
I have a question related to this. (Luke, I hope you don't mind it.)

In your linked HP post you write:

"I would also note mind states that took centre stage. For me, this was the biggest improvement over the sweeping method. I was not always aware of how lost I was in mind states when practicing the sweeping method. I would often find myself allowing the mind to wander, space out, get bored, lose concentration for long periods. And I would never really know what to do about that. I would shake my head to rouse myself and return to observing the sensations. Sooner or later, I would fall for the same tricks again and lose momentum in my practice."

My understanding of Goenka's method is that one does the scanning of body sensations as long as one is able to observe (objectively) their impermanence characteristic. If one is too much lost in thoughts, spaced out or have lost concentration and hence not being able to see the anicca characteristic, it is better to switch to observing the breath at the nostrils - anapana, as taught by Goenka - and go back to vipassana once concentration is regained. So, the vipassana practice is not entirely dry, it is rather a floating equilibrium between vipassana and anapana.


And at times I would do that, but in my experience, compounding phenomena like 'spacing out', 'wandering', 'boredom' etc, where never really addressed, rather they were subtly avoided/averted from/pushed away when shifting to anapana. They remained the potential to create gaps in the momentum of practice. This was my own experience. It may not be for others in that tradition. My conditioning suited faster progress with the noting technique, which did not allow (for me) the subtle aversion/avoiding/pushing away/making into a potential trigger for gaps in momentum.

After practicing for a while, I realized that I can switch to anapana and still do the scanning. (This is something that Jill also mentioned somewhere here on the DhO - back then when she was active in these forums.) This tend to result in a more concentrated state which can be conducive to vipassana.

Yes. But are there any gaps in awareness of the 'entire field of experience'? By that i mean is EVERYTHING that arises and passes eventually noticed and seen to arise and pass? All phenomena of mind and body or is some apsect of the field of experience given weight over other aspects? Are the phenomena termed 'spacing out' and 'wandering' given mental weight as in something to avert the mind from (and point at the anapana spot) thus setting up a subtle relationship of aversion? Or are such phenomena stripped of mental weight and included in the mix?

In my experience there was a lot I wasn't noticing using the sweeping technqiue, such as the foreground and background assumptions mentioned in posts above. The noting technique in my own experience shed more light on all of this and led to much more concentration and discernment than anapana at the tip of the nose ever did (anapana taught in the anapanasati sutta leads to different result in my own experience. It seem quite different to Goenka's anapana). But this is due to my own conditioning. Luke has arrived at something similar using just the sweeping method.


My question is that, isn't the reason why Goenka teaches anapana precisely to not being lost in thoughts or spaced out? Isn't his hybrid method, as I understand it, an alternative to switching to noting?


There was a big difference in my own experience of averting from 'spacing out' via anapana VS noticing and noting the very phenomena being termed 'spacing out'. The results were vastly very different too for myself. Call me biased.

Anyways, I think many of us Goenka students struggle to understand how to incorporate his anapana teachings into the vipassana practice off-retreat. On retreat is maybe more clear: 3 days anapana, and the rest is vipassana. After my third retreat, I came up with the above understanding. Basically, I think Goenka does not teach as dry a vipassana for off-retreat as it might seem for the first.


For those not wanting to swtich or mix techniques there are ways I think to hone those anapana and sweeping skills.

Each to his or her own conditioning (strengths, weaknesses, bias, views, leanings, atthachments objectives etc).

Nick

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/4/13 8:32 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Thanks very much Nick. I'm working on it...

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/6/13 3:13 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Nick,

Thanks for the reply. It was not my intention at all to imply that you were biased. I also tend to agree with you that different people could find different methods fruitful. I think talking and thinking about issues around meditation is a huge identification problem: Too many unknowns, too few equations. The only solution for finding the answers seems to be the practice of meditation and direct experience. But even this can seem questionable (for me - I have no attainments at all), as even the advanced meditators, who claim to have various attainments, seem too often to disagree and unable to credibly verify/falsify each other's achievements and claims.

On the substance. Yes, I think I understand what you mean by averting phenomena via anapana. On the other hand, the Buddha thought jhana as an important basis for insight meditation. As I understand (I think from one of Bhante G's books) that strong concentration helps temporarily put aside some hindrances, and this can be useful for vipassana meditation. Is this inconsistent with what you think?

Also, switching techniques seems an important issue. Especially for those who report to be in the Equanimity nana. It seems that many people sort of get lost at that stage, and those who find the way out are often the switchers. In this forum, obviously many switched to noting. But I also read somebody here who switched from noting to scanning and got Stream Entry. So, maybe not the method itself but the fact of changing from one method to another is what matters. Some variation has to be introduced, a shock to the system. But I guess I'm just speculating.

For the moment, I don't want to change from scanning, I want to give it a real try. I've already read your SE blog post (a while ago), I remember you saying to follow Goenkaji's teachings "to the tee" as an alternative to what you did. But I keep noting as Plan B...

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/6/13 3:39 PM as a reply to Zed Z.
I expect it is quite common for an identity to form around the particular practice used to develop the necessary mindfulness and alertness, and for this practice identity to constitute a final barrier to stream entry. It's one of the problematic aspects of an inflexible practice regime like Goenka's. I know it was a problem for me, although I was doing a completely different practice and have no one to blame for my inflexibility.

This may be why attachment to habits and practices is one of the fetters which must be broken for the attainment of stream entry.

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/6/13 7:54 PM as a reply to Zed Z.
Zed Z:
Nick,

Thanks for the reply. It was not my intention at all to imply that you were biased. I also tend to agree with you that different people could find different methods fruitful. I think talking and thinking about issues around meditation is a huge identification problem: Too many unknowns, too few equations. The only solution for finding the answers seems to be the practice of meditation and direct experience. But even this can seem questionable (for me - I have no attainments at all), as even the advanced meditators, who claim to have various attainments, seem too often to disagree and unable to credibly verify/falsify each other's achievements and claims.


One of the drawbacks of an open approach such as the pragmatic dharma movement. But the positives have outweighed the negatives in my own experience. Past the tipping point (i think being 4th path as talked of in pragmatic dharma circles), there is all sorts of disagreement on what means what. Except i dont think anyone will disagree that it isn't a 'tipping point'. Lots of places to explore post-tipping point. A vast improvement on the baseline pre-tipping point. And a place i highly reccomend getting to to then do what one wishes to do.

On the substance. Yes, I think I understand what you mean by averting phenomena via anapana. On the other hand, the Buddha thought jhana as an important basis for insight meditation. As I understand (I think from one of Bhante G's books) that strong concentration helps temporarily put aside some hindrances, and this can be useful for vipassana meditation. Is this inconsistent with what you think?


Yes. But i'm biased towards a more 'panoramic' peripherially informed means of calming and collecting the mind (as opposed to narrowing it on an object). The anapana sati sutta calls for this in my take on it. A narrowly focused approach tends to cultivate a a tendency to narrow awareness. What is the alternative? A narrow approach VS a panoramic peripherally informed approach (all encompassing of the entire field of nama rupa). I reccomend experimenting with the differences in approach to see what the differences in result i may be pointing to. I think the anapanasati of the anapanasati sutta avoids the narrow focus and is more all encompasing. The practices we do over and over cultivate and reinforce habits. The habit of narrow focus is a hard one to overcome. And a narrow focus often arises with the object it is narrowed around, coarising/giving rise to. This goes for any aspect made an obejct of mind from the field of experience which ends up in the sequence that has craving and clinging involved. When craving and clinging, is the mind more narrowed in focus? And when not craving and clinging, is the mind more panoramic and periphally informed?

Think about the territory where 1st path is supposed to happen (as talked of here). Is the focus narrow or panoramic? High equanimity (4th jhana territory), is it a narrow focus or peripherally informed? If awareness was trained early on to not be so narrow, perhaps the route to 11th nana territory would be a much quicker one. My current 2 cents.

Also, switching techniques seems an important issue. Especially for those who report to be in the Equanimity nana. It seems that many people sort of get lost at that stage, and those who find the way out are often the switchers. In this forum, obviously many switched to noting. But I also read somebody here who switched from noting to scanning and got Stream Entry. So, maybe not the method itself but the fact of changing from one method to another is what matters. Some variation has to be introduced, a shock to the system. But I guess I'm just speculating.


Yes, this was my own experience. I was getting stuck, bored, spacing out in the meh-ness of equanimity of formations territory. In other words, the tendency of the mind was to still lunge on (narrow focus on) aspects of the field of experience that were presenting, and here it would narrow onto the compounding of 'spacing out, wandering'. If awareness was more informed peripherally, it would be aware of all the phenomena, including the urge to wander and space out and identify such compounding phenomena as self. Too narrowly focused and ignorant of the rest of the field of experience was the block. The noting technique snapped me out of such stagnation. If one is aware of the dangers of getting stuck at certain stages, then perhaps a technique change is not so neccessary. Which is why i wrote that article on "to the tee".

For the moment, I don't want to change from scanning, I want to give it a real try. I've already read your SE blog post (a while ago), I remember you saying to follow Goenkaji's teachings "to the tee" as an alternative to what you did. But I keep noting as Plan B...


Being wary of the places one gets stuck is a good idea i didn't know to follow. The maps for me shed light on where i was spinning wheels. Then, I found it helpful to think it was SE i was aiming for, not to get stuck supporting and adhering to the dogma and rules of whatever tradition. After SE i would ask for forgiveness for using and abusing. Do what you have to do to get where you wish to go was my approach. I didnt feel like following goenka into the next life (some of the dogma i referred to).

Edited more than a few times as per usual, typed on a mini ipad, forgive the typos.

Nick

Edited again for more info,

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/6/13 7:29 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
fivebells .:
I expect it is quite common for an identity to form around the particular practice used to develop the necessary mindfulness and alertness, and for this practice identity to constitute a final barrier to stream entry. It's one of the problematic aspects of an inflexible practice regime like Goenka's. I know it was a problem for me, although I was doing a completely different practice and have no one to blame for my inflexibility.

This may be why attachment to habits and practices is one of the fetters which must be broken for the attainment of stream entry.


Nail head.

RE: Lost long time Goenka practitioner
Answer
6/9/13 7:05 PM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Nikolai .:
fivebells .:
I expect it is quite common for an identity to form around the particular practice used to develop the necessary mindfulness and alertness, and for this practice identity to constitute a final barrier to stream entry. It's one of the problematic aspects of an inflexible practice regime like Goenka's. I know it was a problem for me, although I was doing a completely different practice and have no one to blame for my inflexibility.

This may be why attachment to habits and practices is one of the fetters which must be broken for the attainment of stream entry.


Nail head.


Why the noting technique may have an extra something to it:


Putting FeelingsInto Words
Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli


Neural Correlates of Dispositional Mindfulness During Affect Labeling

Nick