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Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling

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I'm trying to figure out if I'm cycling. I've put in some decent dedicated time to doing vipassana in the past, but over the past 2 or 3 months, I've really not been formally practicing at all. However, in this time when I've been least engaged in formal, structured practice, I've realized that I'm still crossing the A&P and cycling through the dark night. The frequency varies, but I notice either a textbook (so to speak) A&P, or a larger cycle level A&P that flavors experience for a day or so (high energy, mindfulness is high, jhanas are easily accessible and harder than usual). Dark night stuff is sometimes easy to work through, sometimes not, but the intensity feels comparable to what I would expect after building up a lot of mindfulness and concentration and then crossing the A&P. I also realize my whole concept of mindfulness has changed. Whereas practice used to feel so effortful with a sense of getting a running start, climbing up the nanas, and sometimes getting overwhelmed with a certain bit and "falling off" the meditation, now it feels as though there is no tangible way to proceed but forward through the nanas. Re-observation is definitely recognizable almost every time, by the annoying and recursive thought patterns. Equanimity isn't really so recognizable, but I assume it's there, as I would describe the feeling after re-ob as simple, non-denying of qualities of things (another way of saying equanimity, I suppose). There isn't really any preoccupation or fascination with the feeling as a state, which feels like an odd thing to call it since it feels so down to earth. This is in contrast to my memory of hitting DN and re-ob, getting frustrated and walking away from it, and feeling like I was falling off of the nanas and mindfulness. Now, it seems like mindfulness has the intuitive (or automatic) instinct to stay online, especially with recurring thought or emotion patterns and stressful experience.

I started considering all of this because I started recognizing negative emotional patterns that corresponded with negative and unjustified thoughts. Although, sometimes my negative emotions COULD be logically explained, I got the overwhelming sense that these thought and emotional patterns were related to this cycling. In a bigger and more important way though, thoughts and emotional patterns can all be traced back to temporary ideas which maybe would have occurred no matter what, I don't know. But it is clear that the patterns arise from the weight, the way we believe in and try to rest on ideas, thoughts, or emotions. And about that, it seems like the prospect of perfecting my mental state, my thought and emotional patterns, seems impossible and maybe not necessary. I suppose that maybe old patterns just disappear if they stop being invested in, or maybe they don't, or maybe some do and some don't. It seems like the point is to be able to just keep going forward, or rather, staying with exactly what is there at the moment, of which nothing is there forever. Does seeing the self as an ongoing process that doesn't leave a trace count as having realized not-self? It doesn't feel like there was anything that was severely demolished, removed, or changed. The only thing that I could suggest that has changed is the automatic nature of mindfulness. It doesn't seem possible to "fall off the meditation" anymore, and to some extent, the barrier between meditation and not-meditation seems unreal now. You sit, sensations change like they always do, and concentration may be high or low, emotions may be good or bad, thoughts might be calm or excited, and even so, jhanas are still possible. But besides jhanas, the situation I just said isn't any different from not sitting. The 3 C's are constant, so on some level, even being worried about constantly being aware of them seems unimportant in the way it used to be. Somewhere along the way, seemingly for the better, mindfulness seems to have gotten the instinct to just do it's thing, and there is something peaceful and reliable about it, even though when things are hard, I can't remove the negative feelings. It's like the problem was thinking enlightenment was closure in thoughts and feeling, whereas the opposite seems to be true: it's about giving up on control of thoughts and emotions. Even though I can't say I'm always aware of the 3 C's, can't see emptiness real-time, maybe can't see emptiness not real time, and can't say I destroyed the self-ing pattern, there is something very peaceful and 100% reliable about how mindfulness is willing to watch the procession and motion of things, even if it isn't pixel, pin-prick sensation awareness. It's just this reassurance that things will continue to move on, and an intuitive and automatic reflex to keep the mind or awareness or whatever it is moving with the things, not trying to get to a certain state of things, which necessarily includes dropping the pursuit of getting my thoughts and emotions to any particular point. There's all this talk of removing fetters, which makes sense, but I think people get the impression that they're trying to rearrange this complex of sensations, whereas it seems more important to just take the complex as it is and be mindful of it, as the freedom seems to be in having the instinct to not get "stuck" in any of the patterns of sensations. Rather than thinking of it as dropping things, I think it's healthier to think of it as not modifying it, but just applying mindfulness and equanimity. They supersede states in some way, and while it feels intuitive to try to modify the things making us suffer, it actually seems better to find a strategy that you can adopt independent of the things which make us suffer. Our instinct is that we have to make the bad thought and emotion patterns go away, but the salvation is in seeing that all that is constantly going away, along with our expectations and ideas related to the patterns. It seems like you have to put faith in mindfulness and equanimity, unnaturally applying them, but it seems like after awhile, they start applying themselves, and luckily, it seems like these things are at the least, able to melt away stress related to holding on to fluxing and impersonal things. Maybe some patterns could even be stopped, and you'd never know since you don't do anything besides not invest in them like you normally would.

Another thing that is really confusing my brain is the dichotomy between content and insight. Previously, it felt like content was a trap and insight was the goal and destination. But isn't all insight understood through content? That is, to say, some people get enlightened and seem to say, "it's ineffable, no point in trying to describe it". You could say, okay, this is true since insight is not intellectual/content based. However, you CAN describe it and intellectually understand it, which seems to be the whole point of maps and structured practice and any "fingers pointing towards the moon" that aren't actually the moon itself. But people still point to the moon. I feel as though some people are saying, "if you describe your enlightenment through an intellectual understanding, it can't be enlightenment since it's intellectual". Now I totally agree that intellectual understanding of enlightenment doesn't produce benefits. But I still think that the benefits that meditation instill can be intellectualized, I mean, that's the whole point of these things being written down and taught. I have lots of trouble being "sure" my experience is anything, and I have a lot of trouble diagnosing my experience post-"different mindfulness" in terms of maps. Recognizing nanas and jhanas is easy enough, but recognizing enlightenment seems tricky. I'm sure that mindfulness has changed in that it goes automatically and has drastically less trouble staying with exceptionally good and exceptionally bad sensations. The thing that this mindfulness reveals is enough to disrupt and choke out a lot of negative thought and emotional patterns. In a way, this seems to match up with stream entry, although it doesn't seem impressive like I thought it would, although who goes into this thing and gets what they initially expected enlightenment to be? So the things that seem to be enlightenment-or-whatever-insight-caused still have the property of not being owned and still temporary. Permanent enlightenment makes temporary stuff better? The whole point of working through the insight world has to be simply to be more comfortable in the transient content world. Like I said, it's a dichotomy that I can practically understand (i.e. keep applying mindfulness in spite of whatever content), but that has to break down at some point.

I still get caught in thought and emotional patterns. It just seems like I have this deep, innate conviction that these patterns aren't ever the droids I'm looking for, and though I never got any sudden "snap" of perceivable, strong, powerful insight, the automatic nature of mindfulness and equanimity towards things is so silent, so quiet, so subtle, but still definitely there and calming, in an almost imperceptible way. The only way it is perceptible is by the feeling I have towards the sensations. It almost feels like a homelessness of sorts, but peaceful. I still don't know what I'm looking for in this enlightenment quest and I don't think I'm nearly done, but there is a lot of conviction now, since mindfulness seems to be paying off. I can't quite say why it's good, but it's consistent and reliable in a way that all of the sensations I try to arrange are not. The arranging is still seen, on more subtle levels.

I would honestly love any input or diagnostics. I know what I know and I experience what I experience, but there just isn't that much information out there on what path might look like. Maybe someone who is more experienced can relate or try to guess what my experience could line up with. I'll post more later when I have time.

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/29/14 11:06 PM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Keep noting the 4 foundations of mindfulness. Mind Objects include a lot of things like hindrances/clinging/aggregates. Looking at the types of thoughts you have will clue you into Mindfulness of Mind States/Moods. All of this analysis should also clue you into how attached to the practice instructions and results you are in.

Noting more detail, relaxing more and thinking about the practice less. Let mental habits bubble up and pass away and even welcome it with attention and interest.

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/30/14 12:35 AM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Hello MindOE,

I don't know how well this commentary will be received, since I'm not a hardcore affiliate of the MCTB methodology, but what you are putting yourself through just seems so blatantly obvious that I'm surprised that a bright and intelligent person such as yourself cannot seem to discern it, too, in order to get beyond it. What I am going to do is tell you what sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Take it or discard it as you will.

I wasn't going to bother reading through the whole post, because it just repeats the same pattern, over and over again, and wasn't worth spending time on. But I ended up spending the time anyway. Why you bother spending time on it, though, is troubling in a sad kind of way. A kind of self-deception.

I'm seeing a lot of insight in your descriptions, but very little discernment or wisdom about what this insight means in the larger scheme of things (i.e., your mind and how it acts and reacts to phenomena). And so, the mind remains caught in this cloud of unknowingness, a voidness, struggling and wriggling around, seeking clean fresh air to breath. Seeking release from all this crap that keeps coming up. Is that a fair assessment? If it is, keep reading. If not, don't bother to go any further.

Mind over easy:
I'm trying to figure out if I'm cycling. I've put in some decent dedicated time to doing vipassana in the past, but over the past 2 or 3 months, I've really not been formally practicing at all. However, in this time when I've been least engaged in formal, structured practice, I've realized that I'm still crossing the A&P and cycling through the dark night. The frequency varies, but I notice either a textbook (so to speak) A&P, or a larger cycle level A&P that flavors experience for a day or so (high energy, mindfulness is high, jhanas are easily accessible and harder than usual). Dark night stuff is sometimes easy to work through, sometimes not, but the intensity feels comparable to what I would expect after building up a lot of mindfulness and concentration and then crossing the A&P.

Easy to work through when you see that what you thought was consequential, really isn't any more.

Mind over easy:

I also realize my whole concept of mindfulness has changed. Whereas practice used to feel so effortful with a sense of getting a running start, climbing up the nanas, and sometimes getting overwhelmed with a certain bit and "falling off" the meditation, now it feels as though there is no tangible way to proceed but forward through the nanas. Re-observation is definitely recognizable almost every time, by the annoying and recursive thought patterns.

What difference does it make if you recognize "the nanas" but are ignorant of what they mean. From this passage, I'm not really convince you have the vaguest conception of the purpose for which mindfulness is really meant. I would recommend slowing down, and going back and finding out what you missed along the way toward your headlong dash for enlightenment.

Mind over easy:

Equanimity isn't really so recognizable, but I assume it's there, as I would describe the feeling after re-ob as simple, non-denying of qualities of things (another way of saying equanimity, I suppose).

More indecision and doubt. Another reason to slow down and go back to get things misunderstood, understood.

Mind over easy:

There isn't really any preoccupation or fascination with the feeling as a state, which feels like an odd thing to call it since it feels so down to earth.

I presume by "feeling state" you mean vedana. But vedana is not a state. It is a reaction to phenomena. It is one of the five aggregates, and plays a central role in the pattica samuppada, the dependent co-arising of phenomena. When you finally figure out its role and how it influences mind states (happiness and anger, to name but two), then you will be onto something. But until then, limbo and self-deception according to whatever current misapprehension happens to plague the mind.

Mind over easy:

I started considering all of this because I started recognizing negative emotional patterns that corresponded with negative and unjustified thoughts. Although, sometimes my negative emotions COULD be logically explained, I got the overwhelming sense that these thought and emotional patterns were related to this cycling.

Well, that's a very good beginning. You need to keep exploring that avenue of thought. Examine it with greater discernment as to why it is.

Mind over easy:

In a bigger and more important way though, thoughts and emotional patterns can all be traced back to temporary ideas which maybe would have occurred no matter what, I don't know.

Yes, but to whom did they occur? And who is it that is bothered by them? Things to think about. Though, admittedly, not very easy to see or think about.

Mind over easy:

But it is clear that the patterns arise from the weight, the way we believe in and try to rest on ideas, thoughts, or emotions. And about that, it seems like the prospect of perfecting my mental state, my thought and emotional patterns, seems impossible and maybe not necessary.

"This is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself." Do these words mean anything to you? You spend too much time being tied up and invested in the concepts of your life's story without seeing it as it is, and thus seeking release through that insight. In other words, this insight hasn't occurred to you yet. We'll see whether or not this provides any food for further thought.

Mind over easy:

I suppose that maybe old patterns just disappear if they stop being invested in, or maybe they don't, or maybe some do and some don't. It seems like the point is to be able to just keep going forward, or rather, staying with exactly what is there at the moment, of which nothing is there forever. Does seeing the self as an ongoing process that doesn't leave a trace count as having realized not-self?

Not fully. But seeing it with wisdom does. Anatta seems like just a faceless concept for you, not something that has any reality in any affective way.

Mind over easy:

I have lots of trouble being "sure" my experience is anything, and I have a lot of trouble diagnosing my experience post-"different mindfulness" in terms of maps.

Discernment seems to be a shortcoming. Which means distraction can easily take hold. Too busy being concerned about abstract thought (like maps) and not enough attention being paid to what is right under your nose. You think?

Mind over easy:

Recognizing nanas and jhanas is easy enough, but recognizing enlightenment seems tricky.

Maybe because you don't yet seem to have a conception about what it is you are seeking. Or how to get there!

Here's a hint: awakening has to do with nibbana. Might want to focus on the meaning of that word and contemplate what it means to you. Have you had a look at K. Nanananda Thera's Nibbana Sermons yet? Might be a good place to start figuring out what this term might mean to you.

Mind over easy:
So the things that seem to be enlightenment-or-whatever-insight-caused still have the property of not being owned and still temporary. Permanent enlightenment makes temporary stuff better?

Something you'll just have to find out for yourself. I can answer that for myself, but not for anyone else. Something that only time and self-knowledge will answer.

Mind over easy:

The whole point of working through the insight world has to be simply to be more comfortable in the transient content world. Like I said, it's a dichotomy that I can practically understand (i.e. keep applying mindfulness in spite of whatever content), but that has to break down at some point.

Are you really certain of that? (Meant to be something that one ponders or contemplates on one's own.)

Mind over easy:

I would honestly love any input or diagnostics. I know what I know and I experience what I experience, but there just isn't that much information out there on what path might look like. Maybe someone who is more experienced can relate or try to guess what my experience could line up with. I'll post more later when I have time.

You mean, more concepts that you can invest yourself in? More distraction and self-deception. Aren't you tied of that yet? (That last, a rhetorical question.)

Like I said, I don't know what you'll be able to make of this commentary. Just ignore it, if worse comes to worse.

In peace,
Ian

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/30/14 1:11 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Hello MindOE,

I don't know how well this commentary will be received, since I'm not a hardcore affiliate of the MCTB methodology, but what you are putting yourself through just seems so blatantly obvious that I'm surprised that a bright and intelligent person such as yourself cannot seem to discern it, too, in order to get beyond it. What I am going to do is tell you what sticks out like a sore thumb to me. Take it or discard it as you will.

I wasn't going to bother reading through the whole post, because it just repeats the same pattern, over and over again, and wasn't worth spending time on. But I ended up spending the time anyway. Why you bother spending time on it, though, is troubling in a sad kind of way. A kind of self-deception.



Ian, it sounds like you have some good ideas or insights into what's going on with Mind Over Easy, but you're being very cryptic about what you mean. Clear, direct, and straightforward answers would be very helpful. I could relate to much of what MOE said, but I have no idea what you think is "so blatantly obvious." What is it that's so obvious? What is the pattern that gets repeated over and over again? What is the self-deception?

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/30/14 1:09 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks for the response, Ian. I can take it as is, no hurt feelings. I know my insight isn't fully mature and I'm not suggesting that I'm convinced that my approach, practice paradigms, or concepts of enlightenment and insight are complete or accurate. I'm also cognizant of the difference between MCTB methodology and culture and more "traditional" approaches, to generalize.

But it does take some kind of effort to come to insight, doesn't it? I can't just have perfect discernment and understanding of reality and the enlightenment problem, so I have to work from the bottom up. I understand that practice isn't to "escape" anything or get that clean breath of fresh air. But you are right, that is the instinct, still. I don't have to own up to that though, do I? It's an instinct, but I do feel like I've at least made some progress, as in the past, diligence and mindfulness were so hindered by how good and bad things were, going "offline" when things got too good or bad. The thing with the nanas... It wasn't so much to say that I think going through nanas is the end-all of practice. Rather, I meant that my practice has changed in that the mind is willing to stay with the present nana/moment/experience, which results in staying with the present moment's sensations more often, and reveling in/reacting to pleasant and unpleasant things. At the least, it seems to make my mind calm down and stay with the constant motion of things. This is good, isn't it? I mean, isn't that what practice is about, eliminating stress by mindfulness? I'm not trying to assert that I've figured it out and you think I haven't. I know I haven't figured it out, but isn't this at least the right track?

From this passage, I'm not really convince you have the vaguest conception of the purpose for which mindfulness is really meant. I would recommend slowing down, and going back and finding out what you missed along the way toward your headlong dash for enlightenment.


Is it fair to ask you to be more specific? My take on mindfulness at this point is that things are always in flux, and stress can result from fixing the mind on things and becoming attached, making mindfulness a 100% always accessible way to return to the fact that things are fluxing, which makes the mind naturally release it's stressful grip. Could you critique this, or let me know what is right/wrong about this? I'm trying to be fair to both me and you, since I respect your advice and usually find it very helpful. But at the same time, I can't help but feel that I'm at least on the right track with mindfulness. So what I'm asking is: what is mindfulness really meant for? What do you mean by slow down? Not practice as much? Not want the end goal as much? Didn't Buddha say that the one desire that was okay was the desire for enlightenment? Most of the advice I hear nowadays from people who seem to be getting path is, "Work your ass off, reaffirm your desire for stream entry and beyond, practice like you might die tomorrow". Are they wrong? I understand that even desire for enlightenment is a hindrance, but we all start with hindrances/fetters/desires/whatever. My feeling is that the desire for enlightenment is motivation enough to get the thing done, but is still subject to the 3 C's, so I shouldn't be gung-ho about removing or fostering the feeling either way.

Mind over easy:


I would honestly love any input or diagnostics. I know what I know and I experience what I experience, but there just isn't that much information out there on what path might look like. Maybe someone who is more experienced can relate or try to guess what my experience could line up with. I'll post more later when I have time.


You mean, more concepts that you can invest yourself in? More distraction and self-deception.


I mean, people have taught other people dharma, people have guided and instructed other people in order to help them to enlightenment. I understand that we can only communicate intellectually, but what are we supposed to do? Not try to seek guidance? Not share our experiences with others who might be able to relate and then offer advice that helps one progress? I'm a dharma dummy, I don't know how to just discern insight and be done with the thing and get the benefits. I have to have some sort of practice, thing I can do, thing I can work on. If I didn't find any dharma material, what would I be doing otherwise? Buying yoga pants and using ear-candles to purify my chakras? My point is that I'm completely willing to change my conception of how things are and how one should go about this enlightenment business, but I don't know how. It takes specific things for me to work on, such as various insight practices suggested by various teachers. Give me simple instructions on jhana, and after I work on it long enough, I can get into jhana. Give me vipassana instructions and an insight map and I can very clearly see nanas happening. Easy to understand instructions, easy to identify the territory. I know you said you're not a hardcore affiliate of MCTB methodology, but hopefully my point was still clear.

How should I practice, in order to get the discernment you speak of? I do appreciate your response, but I'm trying to find out what it is you're suggesting I change about my approach or practice, or what it is you suggest I investigate, and how. I do try to pay attention to reality and the whole mind/body complex, but if I'm to be down to earth, I can't realistically expect that I'll be able to discern insight immediately upon investigating. And I'm all ears for how to investigate better, how to proceed more skillfully, what to worry less or more about, where to pay less or more attention. I just like specifics, you know?

J C:

Ian, it sounds like you have some good ideas or insights into what's going on with Mind Over Easy, but you're being very cryptic about what you mean. Clear, direct, and straightforward answers would be very helpful. I could relate to much of what MOE said, but I have no idea what you think is "so blatantly obvious." What is it that's so obvious? What is the pattern that gets repeated over and over again? What is the self-deception?


That there is a self to deceive, and the attempts to come at it from a reductionist point of view is in itself I making. Turn mindfulness and curiosity onto that desire.

Sorry if that's too simply put, and I certainly don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but Ian's post triggered a lot of insight for me. I've been struggling with the same attempts to try and "understand" what it that I needed to do next to move forward, and I found this discussion really helpful.

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/30/14 7:31 PM as a reply to Andrew Mayer.
Andrew Mayer:
J C:

Ian, it sounds like you have some good ideas or insights into what's going on with Mind Over Easy, but you're being very cryptic about what you mean. Clear, direct, and straightforward answers would be very helpful. I could relate to much of what MOE said, but I have no idea what you think is "so blatantly obvious." What is it that's so obvious? What is the pattern that gets repeated over and over again? What is the self-deception?


That there is a self to deceive, and the attempts to come at it from a reductionist point of view is in itself I making. Turn mindfulness and curiosity onto that desire.

Sorry if that's too simply put, and I certainly don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but Ian's post triggered a lot of insight for me. I've been struggling with the same attempts to try and "understand" what it that I needed to do next to move forward, and I found this discussion really helpful.


I've been struggling with those attempts also, but I haven't found this discussion to be clear or helpful. I'm not clear what you mean by "the attempts to come at it from a reductionist point of view is in itself I-making." How is that? Wouldn't that mean that all of MCTB is I-making, since MCTB is an attempt to understand the process from a reductionist point of view? And then what's the alternative?

What exactly did you find helpful, and how will you put it into practice? By ignoring maps, or not paying too much attention to them?

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/30/14 7:39 PM as a reply to Andrew Mayer.
Thinking about meditation is "thinking". Analyzing meditation is "analyzing". Thinking about a future result is "thinking". Having doubt about the practice is "doubt". Wanting to meditate to fix how you feel is "aversion". Wanting results right now is "aversion". Thinking that when you achieve what you want to achieve you will then be happy is "aversion" for not being there now. Feeling stress when the mind wanders is "aversion" to the mind wandering. Not knowing where you are on the maps is "confusion" and "aversion".

Thinking many negative thoughts in a row leads to a negative mind state. Having strong habits of doing so means lots of hindrances that you should weaken with a lack of use. Letting these mental habits arise and pass away while only looking at the actual effects in real time will weaken them. Wishing they weren't there is "aversion". The more averseness you cultivate in thinking will lead to those thoughts being habitual.

All this stuff is felt in the body including the results of thinking about likeable or unlikeable concepts.

RE: Still struggling to understand experience in terms of maps/cycling
Answer
1/31/14 12:19 AM as a reply to Mind over easy.
Okay, KP/MindOE, point taken.

The point of my even pausing to comment on your dilemma was to see if there was any interest in any of the points being made in the commentary. Apparently, there may be. Now that I've got your attention, let's see what, if anything, can be done to begin adjusting some of your views about practice and your approach.

Actually, I liked what Richard Zen had to say. He noticed the very same things I noticed from your initial post. Also, his suggestions were very good. Although I'm not sure you understood them any more than you endeavored to understand what I was pointing out. That's not to suggest that you should have understood any of this. But perhaps it has piqued your curiosity to learn more. If so, then we are on good footing.

You must know that attempting to do this over the Internet is not only awkward and difficult from the standpoint of accurately receiving, translating, and benefiting from communication, but also highly not recommended. You would be hundreds of times better off if you had an actual guide there by your side who you trusted and with whom you were able to communicate successfully. I'm having to make adjustments all the time attempting to assist people over the Internet because of the imperfect medium that it is when two people who haven't met or spoken face to face with one another attempt to communicate and understand one another solely using the written word without any idea of who the person is at the other end. So, let's take this slowly, and work to clear up quickly any misapprehensions that might creep into the conversation.

One of the first things I realized when I resumed a study of the Dhamma several years ago was that if I wanted to succeed at this endeavor, I needed to find out just what its originator, Gotama, had to say on any given subject (which means I needed to find and read his discourses, or at least the important ones). And I had to figure out what his intent was based upon my own experience as it related to the points he was endeavoring to communicate. That's not an easily accomplished venture, especially when the teacher has been dead for over 2500 years and he spoke using a different language. So, I realized that I needed to endeavor to understand the definitions of the key words and ideas he was attempting to get across if I were to have even the slightest chance of comprehending what he was teaching.

One of the points I'm endeavoring to make here is: it is important to go back to the original source and not rely on second hand accounts when studying something as vast, complex, and subtle as the Buddha's Dhamma. This can reduce the chances for error in understanding. In light of this, then, let's look at this word "mindfulness" or sati and become clear about what it is and what it means depending upon the context of it use.

(I majored in English at university, so words and their intended meaning are very important to me. Especially in activities like this where nuance can come into play. You cannot get anywhere in this world if you don't understand what you are doing and how to do it correctly.)

Mind over easy:
My take on mindfulness at this point is that things are always in flux, and stress can result from fixing the mind on things and becoming attached, making mindfulness a 100% always accessible way to return to the fact that things are fluxing, which makes the mind naturally release it's stressful grip.

There's nothing wrong with your take on mindfulness. That is, as far as it goes (implication: it may not go far enough). However, were you aware that the word sati has several different yet related meanings depending upon the context in which it is used. Sometimes the context encompasses only one of these meanings, and sometimes it encompasses more than one or even all of them at once. When you have a more comprehensive idea of what is being discussed, chances are that your understanding of the subject matter will increase.

The word sati doesn't just mean mindfulness when translated. Its root word smr.ti [see etymology under sarati] means memory, recognition, consciousness; intentness of mind, wakefulness of mind, mindfulness, alertness, lucidity of mind, self-possession, conscience, self-consciousness.

And under sarati we find: [smr., cp. smr.ti = sati; Lat memor, memoria = memory; Gr. me/rimna care, ma/rtu witness, martyr; Goth. maúrnan=E. mourn to care, etc.] to remember D ii.234; Vin i.28; ii.79; J ii.29. …. — Caus. sāreti to remind Vin ii.3 sq., 276; iii.221; sārayamāna, reminding J i.50; ppr. pass.
In this context, then, since writing and literacy was only known at the time of the Buddha to be used for correspondence between kings on official business and was not used by the ordinary people, how did the ordinary people, for instance, make a shopping list? If you wanted to make a shopping list at the time of the Buddha, if you wanted to catch and "note" and witness something, you needed to use your memory. You needed to mentally take note of the things you needed to obtain in the market.

So 2500 years ago the Buddha did not say to his monks: “Whenever you see a form, hear a sound, etc. just ‘take a note’.” He did not say “please label the sense impressions.” But he used the proper Pali word for the same activity based on the prevalent oral culture, and so he asked people to use “sati” or “remembering” to “take a (mental) note” of or to “mentally witness” what just occurred.

In this context, then, there comes the added idea of sati sampajanna, which means "to remember or mentally take note" of an object with "clear comprehension or clear knowingness." To see the object as it is, in its bare constituency, without any added influx of ideas (biases) that may color its character and therefore cause a false perception of the object, which in turn may cause an affective reaction.

And here is where equanimity or evenness of mind comes in. One is to look upon the arising of dhammas – phenomena – with an evenness of mind (without attaching to any reaction that may arise to overtake and to color one's perception), thus avoiding any positive or negative in the reaction. This ability does not develop overnight; one is bound to experience bumps along the pathway. It takes time to become ingrained within one's psyche. How one handles those bumps can make all the difference in how easily one makes one's way through this period of adjustment. This way of observation is then coupled with being able to view things with what is called yoniso manasikara or wise (or appropriate) attention (reasoned reflection) toward the object in an effort merely to see it just as it is.

This kind of reflective mindfulness of the arising and passing of phenomena, coupled with the practice of equanimity toward mental formations, helps one to be able to maintain their composure, easing the mind. The wisdom (or clear comprehension of the object under observation) allows the mind to view things with an easy disposition. While the wise or appropriate attention toward the object allows one to see it in a different light than the conditioned (either positive or negative) light that it was formerly viewed in, which in turn is easeful on the mind.

If this is what you have been practicing, then, good, keep practicing in this way. If not, then, you might want to consider the benefits of this method.

In peace,
Ian

I've been struggling with those attempts also, but I haven't found this discussion to be clear or helpful. I'm not clear what you mean by "the attempts to come at it from a reductionist point of view is in itself I-making." How is that?


Because you're trying to figure out how you relate to all this, and think that determining a proper point of view about it will lead to insight. That hasn't been my experience so far.

Wouldn't that mean that all of MCTB is I-making, since MCTB is an attempt to understand the process from a reductionist point of view? And then what's the alternative?


The map is not the territory. The book isn't the sit. The road isn't the car.

My alternative is to pay attention the road as I'm moving along it, notice the experiences in front of me as they arise (and pass away), and steer the wheel accordingly.

When the car drives off the road (and I'm finding in my current meditations that happens a lot) it doesn't really help to blame the road or the directions.

The metaphor breaks down as I begin to realize that on the cushion it doesn't help to blame the driver either... But the maps and teachings are what are helping me to get better at staying on the road. Does that make sense?

What exactly did you find helpful, and how will you put it into practice? By ignoring maps, or not paying too much attention to them?


I wrote about it over in my journal yesterday, but I can repost the relevant insight here:


Ian wrote:
*This is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself.* Do these words mean anything to you? You spend too much time being tied up and invested in the concepts of your life's story without seeing it as it is, and thus seeking release through that insight. In other words, this insight hasn't occurred to you yet. We'll see whether or not this provides any food for further thought.

My attempts to define a sense of self is something that concentration could be turned on.

The desire for security of self is what is holding me back, and any attempt to 'understand' this in the concept of a me is, in itself, I making.

The deeper insight is that there is no I to understand. My fear *is* the result of looking for an reason or a context.

Every time I move beyond a desire for an I, there is also a fear of not an I.

That desire to maintain a me is binds me into the chains of karma, because I am looking for a way to maintain a self in each event as it arises and passes. But if i can turn my attention to that desire *within* the events, I can recognize that they will happen with or without that response and sense of self that I have been inserting into them.

Instead note that 3 truths of that desire. Note the 3 truths of the insight into that desire.

In every moment I can turn the attention can turn to investigation of the sense of self that is looking to arise in response to every experience that I note.

There is no me to be held back.