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painful sensations
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4/22/10 3:59 AM
So I tried a bit of insight meditation, first time ever. Probably too early since I don't consider I have access concentration, however I just wanted to see what happened.

Closed my eyes and the first thing my mind was drawn to was physical pain in my feet, a burning, tingling and underneath that a deep bony sort of aching. Hurts like hell, to the point of distraction. I pay attention to it as close as I possibly can and find that it is permanent; it doesn't arise or pass....5 minutes, it's still there unchanging, 10 minutes it's still there. How can I understand the impermanence of sensations if they are permanent?

Please, if you answer, keep in mind I don't know a lot of the words you guys use, so keep it simple if possible. Thanks. emoticon

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/22/10 5:38 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
I can give you an advise that took me a few years to realize. Stop expecting to be successful overnight and complaining at each difficulty. It serves nothing but to distract you, and in the worst case it puts your practice to a halt. Instead of complaining that you can't manage to do something, just keep trying to do it, for a long long time. It's the only way. Nobody can ever intellectually explain to you things that you need meditation to get to.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/22/10 6:12 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
It's usually not a good idea for a brand new insight meditator to try and deal with unpleasant situations by noting them until they go away. Why? They often don't go away when you're first starting to do insight meditation. The spirit that tries all this out is definitely to be encouraged, but things often don't start to disappear when noticed mindfully until you get to Cause and Effect. It might not show up until A&P, but there's a good chance that you'll have an I-noted-it-and-it-disappeared experience before A&P.

Until you have a bit more experience under your belt, it's probably best to use a meditation object that is pretty neutral in feeling, rather than pleasant or unpleasant. Some form of breath noting is usually the first thing an insight meditator will work with, though some people prefer starting out with vision. For now, try using breath noting. You can note the physical sensations of the breath going in and out of the nose, or the sensations of the abdomen expanding with each inhale and contracting with each exhale. The abdomen movements are usually called rising and falling even if the motion isn't actually going up and down. You can note "in, out" or "rising, falling" or "touch, touch" (referring to the nature of these sensations which come from the sense of touch) or whatever works for you.

Just practice with that for a while and get the hang of it. If it starts to get boring or slow, then that's a great sign because your mind is starting to see things faster! Just note quicker to keep the mind occupied instead of bored. You can do this by trying to note multiple parts of the inhalation and exhalation, and/or noting the pauses that occur between the two phases of the breathing cycle. You might start by noting "in, pause, out, pause, in..." Or you could do "in, in, out, out, in, in..." by noticing each inhalation twice and each inhalation twice. If all of these choices seem overwhelming, then there are stricter instructions out there like those used by Mahasi Sayadaw. I can link you to some of those instructions if you'd like to check them out.

One trick for noticing the "vibrations" (which might or might not actually feel or seem like something vibrating or shimmering) is to watch a particular sensation, say the feelings occurring at the nose during breathing, like a hawk. DARE it to be permanent and solid, with the attitude that you'll be watching to notice if there's even a single demonstration of impermanence. It may take a good while to see this -- usually there are no vibrations until the Cause and Effect stage of insight. Before you get there, you'll have a shift into the first stage which is Mind and Body. Mind and Body is a pleasant feeling, and it's usually accompanied by an increase in the ability to watch sensations happening without being immersed in them. If you have a pleasant feeling, perhaps like you're floating, and then you start seeing a hint of vibration or shimmer or impermanence, then that probably indicates the transition to the Cause and Effect stage.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/22/10 6:29 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks both.

Adam, do you actually verbalize the words 'in in, out' etc. using your mind's voice? Also, when you say 'parts of the inhalation', it seems like one continuous 'thing' to me. Is 'breaking it into bits' just a matter of very close watching? Can you give me a subjective description of what it is like to be able to notice parts of in/exhalation? Thanks again.

And yes I'd like that Mahasi Sayadaw link too.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/25/10 5:57 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
Notice that every little tingle is a new sensations and each shows change, impermanence, at a fine level.

Notice that every time you notice a sensation that implies feet or burning or aching, that is a new sensation, even if it has a similar quality to previous sensations.

Notice that there are all sorts of sensations involved in moving attention around, in analysis, in thinking about the aching, burning and the like, as well as wondering if you are doing it right, frustration, etc. Each new presentation in each new instant is actually new, not the same old thing, even if it is similar.

Examining thus, you will find that you are perceiving impermanence and have access to much more reality than you give yourself credit for.

Helpful?

Daniel

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/25/10 8:50 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Yes, helpful thank you. I need some clarification though.

Regarding investigation of the 3 characteristics, should I take one of the three - say "not Self" and actually verbalize to myself "this sensation in my foot is not Self" over and over....and then maybe "this sensation in my foot is not satisfying", doing each in turn. I ask this because I've noticed that whenever i introduce words into my mind this way, that it interferes with the noticing by removing me from the 'bare sensate' level. Or, is it that by staying at the level of raw sensation that these characteristics make themselves known, and that i notice them then?

Thanks Daniel.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/26/10 2:17 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
That would likely be too much verbal thought. Yes, I do often note the sensations verbally during certain nanas because they help me focus on them. For example, verbal notes help me get to Mind and Body and Cause and Effect. However, in Cause and Effect, the noting interferes with too much stuff so I often try to drop it and just watch sensations occuring. At the A&P nana, notes aren't necessary because strong effortless attention is a characteristic of that stage.

Once the A&P nana is over and I hit Dissolution, I usually need to resume the verbal notes because the sensations look so fleeting -- by the time I've seen a sensation, it's already gone! The same can be true of Cause and Effect, but in Cause and Effect, using a note would prevent me from seeing the next sensation because I would be attending to the note, not the sensation (which is usually the mind's knowledge of what phase of the breath I'm at, or the physical touch sensations associated with breath at the nose or abdomen, or the flickering of the visual field). But in Dissolution, the notes help me remember to keep trying to see the sensations because otherwise, I may either stop meditating or start doing pure concentration practice instead of insight practice. Throughout the rest of the Dark Night, I find notes are helpful on a more psychological level than on a technical level. They help me keep everything in the perspective of "these are just sensations that are coming and going, and I don't need to be immersed in the content."

In Mind and Body, Three Characteristics, and often in the Dark Night, I tend to note the actual sense base that I'm watching: touching, touching. Knowing, knowing. Seeing, seeing. I use the "-ing" ending because the sensations are occurring in the present moment, and that linguistic choice cues me to stay aware of the present moment instead of thinking of what sensations have arisen in the past or sensations that I think could arise in the future.

In Cause and Effect, Dissolution, and often in the Dark Night, I tend to use non-meaningful notes like "dat, dat, dat" or an imagined clicking noise. This interferes less with the sensations, which can be a concern in those nanas.

Any time I find myself able to drop the notes, I do so and start attending to the sensations themselves and trying to watch how fast they shimmer. Specifically, I try to observe every shimmer or vibration occurring. Even if I can't notice every vibration, noticing many of them can be helpful. If the effort to watch very fast vibrations becomes draining, I have to switch back to verbal notes or the clicking noise otherwise I'll become too mentally exhausted to continue meditating and the sensations will stop presenting themselves as impermanent.

Please note that these are just MY experiences, and your mileage may vary! I think many of the experiences I described and the strategies I used are common, but not universal by any means. There is a very important element of exploration and trying things out on your own here, which does NOT oppose the idea of learning from the experience of others. Learn from others, AND find the things that work best for you. That's how it goes.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/26/10 7:29 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks very much Adam. I've cut and pasted that!

I've decided I might shorten it to something like: "that - impermanent", as in "that sensation there, that I just noticed is impermanent". I'm yet to reach Mind and Body although a certain 'widened perspective' happens every now and then and I just needed to check my technique.

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/28/10 5:28 PM as a reply to This Good Self.
Can you see how the feeling of widened perspective it itself made up of sensations? What are those sensations? Where are they, and can you tell what sense base(s) they are arising in?

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/29/10 5:00 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
No I can't sense that yet. They are very short lived and infrequent moments.

But it makes me think of another question: are there ways to experience things other than through the 5 senses? Can the mind itself have sensations?

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/29/10 5:53 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
are there ways to experience things other than through the 5 senses? Can the mind itself have sensations?


Well, in the Buddhist framework, the mind is just another sense organ (for thoughts, memories, plans etc.).

That's what all the "6" in "6 sense bases" is about.

"Seeing" the sensations of the body as sensations, and the sensations of the mind as sensations, is a pretty deep insight in its own right, and it's right there at the beginning of the progress of insight as well.

The next big one is to "see" that all sensations - body and mind - exhibit the three characteristics (i.e. they don't last; they are seen as other, not a self; they don't permanently satisfy). Noting practice is really great for this. You'll find threads discussing noting techniques for all three "characteristics" in the archives; or you could ask your own questions.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: painful sensations
Answer
4/29/10 9:52 PM as a reply to Florian.
Thanks Florian.