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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?

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I have been formally meditating now for about 6 weeks and came across MCTB and the insight map maybe 3 weeks ago. Today was my first 3 hour meditation (usually 1-2 hours) and now have some questions as to whether I am cycling through the first few stages, possibly up to Equanimity, or if I am still just in the first stage. Here is first a reflection and a question, followed by a description of some experiences I had today. I would really appreciate some diagnosis here:

First a reflection: Except at the very beginning in order to frame the object of focus and maybe build some momentum, I find the mental labeling process fairly distracting. I feel like I am able to directly perceive things (emotions, body sensations, vibrations, thoughts on process, etc) which a fair degree of precision and accuracy. But when I start trying to mentally label everything, it seems like 75% of my mental energy is dissipated in just coming up with words to describe things. And in order to try and keep up the pace my mind starts manically noting on autopilot, saying many things that weren't even perceived or directly forcing sensations in order to perceive them. Then when I drop the noting again and allow myself to just be aware, the precision, depth, and speed of awareness quickly picks back up.

I know that as people progress they tend to drop the noting. But my question is. Am I finding noting distracting because I have progressed past needing to use it, or is it because I haven't progressed hardly at all and still need to build that skill?

Now a description of my practice today and the stages I feel like I might have traversed.

At a certain point my awareness felt very refined, I started cycling through the different sense gates - in hearing for example, I could follow multiple continuous sound vibrations at once and still notice discrete sounds as they came. While doing this I started incorporating body sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Occasionally I would drill down into one sense gate and maybe one particular area and after a while widen back out. I knew exactly which were thoughts and which were body sensations. Everything felt alive. Everything became less content oriented and more energetic. "Mind and Body" or "A & P"?

Then after a certain point my neck became stiff and I got thrown off a bit. "Cause and Effect"? Then I noticed some distinct pains in my knees, and also a certain anxiety came over me, a feeling that "I want this to end" and "I need to rest". I then shifted into some direct inquiry approaches. I started asking: "who wants this to end"? and "who is feeling this pain"? and "where am I". In other words I started directly undermining the perception of myself as somebody having this experience. This led to the last few minutes where I calmed down and kind of spaced out a bit, I became relaxed and peaceful.

So I am wondering if I was possibly cycling through the first few stages of insight. The skeptical part of me suspects that this was all part a parcel of the "Mind and Body" first stage and I am making too big a deal out of this.

Thoughts?

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
9/29/13 9:24 PM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
I've been wondering this about myself, too. I've been doing insight practices roughly the same amount of time as you and my best guess is that I attained SE a couple weeks ago, though I'm open to being wildly, wildly wrong.

The stage that seems the most obvious symptomatically to me is the 3Cs (third nana). I sit for about 2-4 hours a day on average, though often a lot more, and in [what I'm taking to be] my first cycle there were a number of days of intense, weird soreness. Head pains, usually. Feeling compressed. Sharp pains within my chest. Odd knots in my brain. These were all relieved after an intense experience which seems characteristic of A&P. I think I'm on the second path now, and I encountered almost this exact same set of experiences again (in a way that didn't feel like simple first-path cycling).

I'm less clear about almost everything else. For dark night, I tend to watch more for the attentional shifts than anything else. I did notice a clear 24-48 hour period of an inability to effectively concentrate on anything centrally coinciding with a general sense of unease.

I'm much, much less confident about what constitutes a fruition experience. Like, if what I experienced wasn't fruition, I am totally in the dark.

I'm resigning myself to a commitment to practice every day, and keeping in mind that any accuracy I have about my stage will only be in serious retrospect.

Anyway, I doubt that was helpful, but I feel like I'm in a similar boat and thought I would share.

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
9/29/13 10:56 PM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
Make sure you guys are looking at the 3 Cs of the 5 aggregates/4 foundations of mindfulness. It's a gradual process that gets you to look at phenomenon (especially thoughts) as being not a YOU. At this point identification with thoughts on the practice is just more stuff that has to be noted. The point is to have a baseline awareness that is less stressful and to learn that thoughts create emotional experiences and everything that is going on is an experience. There is nothing fixed anywhere in your mind and body. When you are getting on with your normal life notice the imperfections in your vision (including fine grain). Notice the vibrating in the senses. Notice how when you pay attention to ear consciousness and the ambient noise around you that it's easier for mental music and mental talk to quieten. Notice how your consciousness needs objects to be conscious. You don't need to do anything to notice that consciousness is operating. As long as there is sense organs and objects it automatically works. It's not a "me".

It's sometimes better to look at something that is feeling sticky and stressful and pick that aggregate as something to investigate for awhile until it doesn't feel like a "you" any more. This is especially true for thoughts because they pretend to be a meditator and pretend to be seeing etc. and disturbingly they pretend to be a consciousness/knowing. The knowing part just knows and that's it. The thoughts are mischievous because they are trying to label things (perception) as "worth craving" or "worth hating", including your meditation practice. It wants a dopamine spike. When that happens all the chemicals are set off via instructions from the amygdala and the entire craving and clinging starts in force. Consciousness -> Feeling tone (more in the skin, nose, and tongue. The eyes and ears lead to perception more quickly) -> Perception -> Craving -> Clinging (mental talk about why you like or dislike something) -> Taking action based on the craving and clinging. This happens so fast that it's practically all at the same time.

Try to see this in real time while you note

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
10/10/13 1:47 PM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
Jason - I'm not going to give you a hugely helpful answer but just to say you are doing amazingly well, one can tell from your writing that you have great perception, awareness of your own processes, and also you show a good awareness of your own tendency to want to 'script' (force your own experience to conform to the map). Note it! 'mania', 'wanting', 'thinkin bout map', 'forcing' or just be aware of it without labels. Maybe use labels when you seem caught up in sensations/states that are unfamiliar, then drop them. Whichever seems good.

So anyway your skills are clearly sound, don't cling to the map too much, just stay aware and you are going to crack this thing in no time emoticon

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
10/10/13 8:11 PM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
Jason Emmanuel Snyder:
I know that as people progress they tend to drop the noting. But my question is. Am I finding noting distracting because I have progressed past needing to use it, or is it because I haven't progressed hardly at all and still need to build that skill?


Hi Jason,

I also found that noting did not work well for me, even in the beginning stages (1-3) - I spent all my mental energy trying to come up with the 'correct' label for the sensation I was observing and, thus, would miss many sensations entirely. I found that 'bare attention' to the sensations worked a lot better in that I was then able to much more easily make the observing concurrent with the sensation. I don't think that you necessarily need to progress to 3 chars or higher to drop noting. You just have to be careful that your 'bare attention' does not get sloppy - keep the precision very high.

That being said, you may (if you haven't already) wish to try a simpler style of noting, such as "beep" or something like that. Daniel talks about this in his book in the context of ways to streamline noting when the number of sensations you can perceive per second increases beyond your ability to note more specifically. You don't necessarily have to wait for things to speed up before trying that approach.

Hope that helps.

Cheers,

Nick

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
10/11/13 12:52 PM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
Jason Emmanuel Snyder:
I have been formally meditating now for about 6 weeks and came across MCTB and the insight map maybe 3 weeks ago. Today was my first 3 hour meditation (usually 1-2 hours) and now have some questions as to whether I am cycling through the first few stages, possibly up to Equanimity, or if I am still just in the first stage. Here is first a reflection and a question, followed by a description of some experiences I had today. I would really appreciate some diagnosis here:

First a reflection: Except at the very beginning in order to frame the object of focus and maybe build some momentum, I find the mental labeling process fairly distracting. I feel like I am able to directly perceive things (emotions, body sensations, vibrations, thoughts on process, etc) which a fair degree of precision and accuracy. But when I start trying to mentally label everything, it seems like 75% of my mental energy is dissipated in just coming up with words to describe things. And in order to try and keep up the pace my mind starts manically noting on autopilot, saying many things that weren't even perceived or directly forcing sensations in order to perceive them. Then when I drop the noting again and allow myself to just be aware, the precision, depth, and speed of awareness quickly picks back up.

I know that as people progress they tend to drop the noting. But my question is. Am I finding noting distracting because I have progressed past needing to use it, or is it because I haven't progressed hardly at all and still need to build that skill?

If you are finding the practice of noting to be distracting, then you are not the first person to make note of this. Not everyone needs to learn (or practice) this noting business in the way it is being taught. Its practice is usually meant to help people who have trouble observing (taking note of) subtle mental phenomena. If you are not having any trouble noticing these subtle phenomena, then the practice itself can become annoying or distracting. In which case, it is better to stop using it altogether.

When you have to stop briefly in your mental observation to come up with a word, this holds you back (interrupts you) from making progress in the direction in which you were proceeding, which may have been a very fruitful direction had you not been distracted from continuing to follow it. The distraction may have even "bumped" your progress toward whatever insight or observation you were on track to discover that now it has completely slipped your mind and observation. Are you beginning to see how detrimental to one's practice that this business of noting can be?

I have experimented with this practice myself and speak from experience. Noting is an innovation that was developed by the Burmese monk Mahasi Sayadaw. He used it in teaching his householder lay practitioners who were having difficulty in discerning subtle phenomena. This practice helped them to become able to notice phenomena more clearly as it was occurring during the early stages of their meditation training, so he continued to use and recommend its use.

However, it is not always necessary, depending upon the individual. If you want to continue using this practice, here is a suggestion that may help make it more palatable. When you come across a phenomenon that you notice, simply make a quick mental note (without verbalizing it) and continue on. In other words, just recognized that you have recognized what just occurred, and continue on. In the discourses this is called "knowing." For example, from the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10): "Here a monk knows a mind consciousness affected by lust as mind affected by lust; and a mind consciousness unaffected by lust, as unaffected by lust..." It is just an inner knowing (or recognition) that takes place. See?

This way, noting should not become a distracting practice.

Jason Emmanuel Snyder:

Now a description of my practice today and the stages I feel like I might have traversed.

At a certain point my awareness felt very refined, I started cycling through the different sense gates - in hearing for example, I could follow multiple continuous sound vibrations at once and still notice discrete sounds as they came. While doing this I started incorporating body sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Occasionally I would drill down into one sense gate and maybe one particular area and after a while widen back out. I knew exactly which were thoughts and which were body sensations. Everything felt alive. Everything became less content oriented and more energetic. "Mind and Body" or "A & P"?

To answer your question: you were aware of the arising and passing away of mental and physical phenomena. This is good. It means that you are on track to develop a deeper practice using insight meditation.

Jason Emmanuel Snyder:

Then after a certain point my neck became stiff and I got thrown off a bit. "Cause and Effect"? Then I noticed some distinct pains in my knees, and also a certain anxiety came over me, a feeling that "I want this to end" and "I need to rest". I then shifted into some direct inquiry approaches. I started asking: "who wants this to end"? and "who is feeling this pain"? and "where am I". In other words I started directly undermining the perception of myself as somebody having this experience. This led to the last few minutes where I calmed down and kind of spaced out a bit, I became relaxed and peaceful.

So I am wondering if I was possibly cycling through the first few stages of insight. The skeptical part of me suspects that this was all part a parcel of the "Mind and Body" first stage and I am making too big a deal out of this.

Perhaps. At least in a minimal way. Richard Zen's comment regarding observing phenomena with the three characteristics in mind (and so forth) is more to the point, though, so keep that in mind when you are seeking confirmation of observation of the "stages of insight."

RE: Am I advancing quickly or have I barely begun?
Answer
10/25/13 3:22 PM as a reply to Ian And.
***This is the same Jason Emmanuel Snyder...I had to change my account because I got locked out***

Thanks for all of the advice. It has been incredibly helpful. I no longer waste energy trying to note quickly - which just doesn't work for me at all. The words take up the majority of awareness, not the bare sensations. I have found noting incredibly useful in two ways though: As a general framing device (such as "hearing") which might be invoked once every minute or so. And also to stay on track. If I note a distracting thought or feeling or narrative, then I can basically "catch" it, and by placing attention on it, allow it to dissolve or make it a new object of attention.