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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Question about flickering noting + progress

Hey everyone,

I've been quietly reading this site for a while, being turned on to it through Daniel's book and Buddhist Geeks. I later read Mahasi Sayadaw's book on noting, and started the practice for myself. Now I'm hoping to get some diagnostic on where I'm at in the mind-map scheme of things.

I've had a personal practice for almost a decade, but it really solidified at a 10-day Goenka Vipassana retreat a couple of years ago. About halfway through, with no expectations whatsoever, I seemed to develop very fine awareness, down to the "kalapas" or molecules (at least, that's what it felt like).

Shortly after I experienced what I imagine what being transported in Star Trek would feel like. It was a wave of white energy in which I felt all the molecules in my body vibrating, sweeping with vibrations. I told one of the head monks during our consultation time, and he said I must have practiced before in a previous life, but it means nothing, so keep practicing. After reading this site and Daniel's book, I'm assuming it was the A&P, but I'd love some clarification if I'm off the mark.

More recently, I started up the noting practice hoping to push my meditation to the next level (and feeling like I was making little progress after the experience above.) Granted, since I'm not on retreat, my sitting time is very limited. Within a few weeks of noting, I got to the point where each breath was subdivided into so many notes that I could hardly continue, it was almost like tiny slices of time, like a video playing just below 24FPS. Each breath went something like this:

Desiring - responding - filling - rising - fullness - dissatisfaction - need - releasing - relaxing - falling - emptying - dissatisfaction - desiring - needing

It was tough to meditate like this, not to mention the other things that would creep in (thinking, itching, etc). As a result, I've been bouncing back and forth with noting and zazen for a break, but progress seems slow.

If you guys don't mind, my questions are these: Where am I, and what's the next step? How can I take this to the next level?


RE: Question about flickering noting + progress
8/22/13 7:27 PM as a reply to Duane Mathes.
Duane Mathes:
After reading this site and Daniel's book, I'm assuming it was the A&P, but I'd love some clarification if I'm off the mark.


Each breath went something like this:

Desiring - responding - filling - rising - fullness - dissatisfaction - need - releasing - relaxing - falling - emptying - dissatisfaction - desiring - needing

At that point, do not name the sensations anymore, just observe them.

RE: Question about flickering noting + progress
8/22/13 8:53 PM as a reply to Duane Mathes.
It looks like A & P. Now the dark night should appear because as you notice sensations arise you are also noticing them passing away which should bring home how impermanent everything is and how even present moment experience is just short-term memory. The way to get through it and into equanimity is to continue practicing regardless of the unpleasant thoughts and sensations or difficulty with too much sensations. Acceptance of what is and consistent noting of good or bad experiences will get you to equanimity eventually.

I agree that noting without labels will be helpful at this point because you can get stuck with a disassociative "thought self" that is stopping thoughts and sensations with verbal noting thoughts which will limit you. At some point if you can start noting things without blocking sensations so they have a chance to end naturally without a word note you will be able to see the relief happening on it's own because you don't 1) Repress sensations and 2) are not ruminating about likes and dislikes. Both are forms of clinging. It's like taking a shower of sensations and thoughts and just letting it roll off you. Over time the disenchantment deepens month after month.

At some point you may want to notice how the knowing part of your mind/consciousness (eg. You know you see the wall when you are looking at it), it knows the other sensations and thoughts/memories/paying attention/making choices/taking actions/body sensations (pleasant/neutral/unpleasant)/deep thoughts/having less thoughts. It sees a lot. When you tune in with what is hitting consciousness all that is noticed can be seen with the 3 characteristics. When the mind wanders it's always in the present moment and you can wait for thoughts to vanish instead of hard noting them away. Being lost in thoughts if truly left alone is like a cloud obscuring the senses but then passing away on its own and the senses are just as vibrant as ever.

Since all this stuff is automatically hitting consciousness a strain or need to push thoughts away isn't needed. You want to uncover how thoughts are trying to pretend to sense other senses even though your senses are hitting consciousness before thoughts can pretend to feel them. Treat thoughts like sensations and try not to mistake them for a little version of you in your head having experiences that your body is actually having.

Mindfulness during the day will help rewire the brain much faster because you are doing more (just like in any other skill). The following Kenneth Folk advice was pretty useful for me for daily life practice.

Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thougts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.
"While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."

-Master Shengyen
Kenneth: See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation.

Mumuwu: Do you mean the moving out of the body to the mind and back?

I mean the creation of a third "thing," this pseudo-entity that is a composite of body sensations and mental phenomena. Living in this third thing is suffering because it takes you out of what is really happening in this moment; it becomes a proxy for experience. You can train yourself to stop living this proxy life of suffering by coming back to the body sensations in this moment. The body cannot lie. Being in the body is being present in this moment. Being present in this moment does not allow the pseudo-self to form. When the pseudo-self does not form, life is simple and free. It will be pleasant at times and unpleasant at times, but it is always free.

There is no conflict between noting and living in your body, by the way, whether you note silently or aloud. You can note or not note, think, act, talk, love, live; there is very little you can't do; you just can't suffer. If you choose to note, understand that there is nothing magical about the noting itself. The noting is simply a feedback loop to remind you to feel your body and observe your mind in this moment.

These practices will help you a lot but I would also be doing some reading on the aggregates and dependent origination to aim your attention more specifically:

Essential books of Theravadan Origin

Take your time as it's a long process.

RE: Question about flickering noting + progress
8/23/13 11:28 AM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Thank you guys very much for taking the time to help me figure this stuff out!

I don't feel particularly depressed about my practice, certainly nothing that would warrant the name "Dark Night of the Soul" emoticon
There were some times in which I lost interest in meditating post A&P, but these days I'm feeling pretty equanimous about everything, especially my practice (not sure if that's good or bad).

I'll spend some time studying what you've written here and see how it all comes out in my practice. I'm sure I'll have more questions later, thanks again for your help!