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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors

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Still vibrating from an amazing session.

I haven't been posting much here as I've been working through MCTB, and have had plenty to do as I've been trying to "understand" the stuff about vibration and "bare sensations". Especially since I've been switching over to breathing from 18 months of Goenka style body scanning.

But todays session was a wild one, and I'd love to get some feedback both on what happened, and any thoughts or direction.

I've upped my time to an hour a day over the last few weeks, and have been making some real progress over that time.

That said, I've been struggling with concentration on occasion, as well as feeling "stuck". Luckily, I'm pretty hard-headed. When I'm working a system I like to push hard into it, and really see if what has been described in that system exists for me.

So, for today I wanted to focus on seeing if I could sense vibration on the sensate level, as described in the book.

For a good long time there was nothing. Just another session of breathing attention that seemed to not be yielding much.

Then at some point during the session, some noisy birds were in a nearby tree, meanwhile sunlight was flickering across my closed eyes, dancing against my eyelids it was being filtered through the branches of a tree outside of my window.
Rather than fighting it I began working through the seven factors.

For an instant, the light was cleared, and the vision turned to heat. At that instant it dawned on me that perhaps I've gotten stuck on investigation. I added in energy to allow me to start to process all these elements as quickly as possible. Then I pushed on even more, focusing on the birds, the lights, and the back to my breathing—seeing how much I could handle if I overloaded, and what sensations from that would appear.

Zoom! Things started going faster and faster. I could feel sensations rising and falling. And there was a dawning realization that the way to get to bare experience was to move to the next moment without following the need for the mind to create context for each sensation. One simply proceeded the next. There was no narrative for them—no story. I could feel the self peeling away as sensations occurred faster and faster!

Woo hoo!

Then I reached a point of struggle. I've hit rapture occasionally over the last few weeks, but it's throws me off (and out) of my experience. There's a terror and dread that comes with it. It's a lot like turbulence for me.

I checked in with the factors. Could I fix my fear with concentration? I tried! (As write this, I realize I had the order of concentration and tranquility reversed, so it was a wonky sort of rapture trip. Not terrifying, but not stable.)

My quest for concentrations seemed to help. I sat there for a while, enjoying the the moment of respite, shootin' aliens.

"Strip narrative from experience" a realization. It became a mantra now. I couldn't wait to write it down. It was so exciting! But my focus and excitement on that realization was consuming my mind. I was actually losing mindfulness.

"When in doubt, note it out." I turned my attention on the realization. I reduced it to a thought. I stripped narrative from the idea of stripping narrative, and played with that until the bell rang to end the session.

Some thoughts:
The seven factors are, for me in this moment, something that are stacked. When I'm going through them, the next step is to see out how I can reach the next element. Although I didn't fully get there (and I got the order wrong), I'm suddenly seeing how you each factor "stabilizes" the one that proceeds it.

The "strip narrative from experience" message is a powerful one for ,me, especially as a writer. I'm not going to over value it, but I really do feel like I'm seeing the beginnings of bare experience, and how observing transcends the story of self.

Does anyone have an thoughts or hints that might be helpful going forwards?

RE: Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors
Answer
11/19/13 11:55 AM as a reply to Andrew Mayer.
Hi Andrew,
its nice to see that your having good sits and making progress.

i like using the 7 factors of enlightenment as a tracker for sits sometimes. i generally sit and start anapanasati and after i reach a certain level of calm concentration i check in with my experience sequentially up the 7 factors ladder.

to me, it is a "subset" of the satipatthana sutta meditation which can be used as a progressive meditation, going from body to feelings to mind to dhammas (including the 7 factors).

that of course is not the only way that that sutta can be used but i use the progressivly subtler sections of the sutta to good effect.

cheers

tom

RE: Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors
Answer
11/25/13 9:00 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Thanks Tom. Good to hear that I'm heading in a useful direction.

Things have been a bit uneven since that experience, but came back together nicely today.

I hit a friction point as I'm going deeper into the idea of having awareness of emotions, and not trying to change them. There was loosining of that today as I started to get some focus on the vibratiing of expeirences. Decoupling narrative has been a useful concept for me, and I seem to be able to sense more raw experience for a longer time.

I got stuck for a bit in wanting the session to finish, but I'm getting more comfortable with simply noting and examining that as well.

RE: Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors
Answer
11/25/13 10:01 PM as a reply to Andrew Mayer.
Hey Andrew,

I think stripping narrative from experience is the very essence of what meditation is about. "Narrative" should be understood to include things focuses of attention, mental commentary, mental images, mental sounds, sensations implying time, sensations implying space, sensations implying perceiver, sensations implying object perceived, or anything that fabricates experience into something it isn't. Ultimately what you are looking for is what is described in the Bahiya Sutta: "In the reference to the seeing there is only seeing, in referenced to the hearing there is only hearing etc."

"Narrative" builds on itself exponentially as it relates objectified conglomerations of experience to each other and then relates the relations to other relations etc. What you get is a web of object relation that creates diverse and complex phenomena like loneliness, racism, guilt, doubt etc.

Using the seven factors of awakening as a yard stick for how well you are doing with stripping narrative is a good idea and one I use myself.

For me the way to get into a state of pure "experience" is to allow my attention to be as intense and vivid as possible such that the "floodgates" are opened and the totality of my senses, emotions, and thoughts are registered in as much detail as possible, when this is done there is no room for narrative. I often think of it like a TV monitor, I can always increase the width and resolution up to the point where the totality of what I could potentially experience is being registered.

The only remaining non-refinement/non-emptiness is the effort which maintains the vivid sensitivity which crowds out all narrative. This can be dealt with by simply relaxing and if you do that trick right then the resolution and width of the TV stay maxed out yet there is not the constant effort to maintain the attention. Here there is a total equanimity as there is not even the basic notion that this is "experience" or that this is "here and now" and certainly there is no notion of various ways it could be different than it is. At this point one realizes that it actually requires no effort to keep maximum resolution and width, it was just that previously the mind found cause to distort its natural sensitivity in order to maintain a sense of self.

My personal practice these days is basically a movement (which I engage in both in daily life and sitting) from concentrating on the breath at the nostrils to deal with the most coarse narrative, to then increasing resolution and width across all senses as much as possible, to then relaxing all effort and resting in the maxed out resolution and width.

RE: Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors
Answer
11/25/13 10:27 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
Adam . .:
Hey Andrew,

I think stripping narrative from experience is the very essence of what meditation is about. "Narrative" should be understood to include things focuses of attention, mental commentary, mental images, mental sounds, sensations implying time, sensations implying space, sensations implying perceiver, sensations implying object perceived, or anything that fabricates experience into something it isn't. Ultimately what you are looking for is what is described in the Bahiya Sutta: "In the reference to the seeing there is only seeing, in referenced to the hearing there is only hearing etc."


Is there a difference in results if one takes the training as in the hearing just the hearing versus in the heard just the heard? The latter is the most common translation in english but still people spread the other gerund version. A present continuous versus a noun. Would it matter which is taken as the training buddha gives to bahiya? Does language influence how the world and experience is viewed?

RE: Stripping Narrative From Experience & the 7 Factors
Answer
11/26/13 12:23 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
well i guess it should be "the heard" in "the heard" because it seems that "hearing" as a continuous sense-door is something added on top of the actual sensations.

i dont know if it really matters too much because as long as you are looking for the most refined experience possible and refuse to settle for second best you will naturally investigate really subtle things like that... I guess it could become a problem though if you held on to some metaphysical notion about what the end of suffering should entail (i.e. some continuous awareness) which is why I have been veering away from any philosophical concerns and focusing on how refined my experience is here and now.