Pablo's Zen/Taoist Practice Log [Pablo . P] [MIGRATE]

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Pablo's Zen/Taoist Practice Log [Pablo . P] [MIGRATE]

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Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log [Pablo . P]

Pablo . P - 2013-08-25 01:01:46 - Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log

I start here a new practice thread, following Shinzen Young's noting protocols. Below, a short summary of his work.


Shinzen Young offers four Noting strategies, plus a traverse noting tool that crosses/mixes with all of them.

Focus In:  deconstruct the self by exploring mental images and talk, plus emotional body sensations. The divide and conquer strategy (five aggregates, four foundations, four elements). Itís the closest method to Mahasi Sayadaw Noting.  

Focus Out:  experiencing oneness with the outside world by anchoring to external sights and sounds, plus exploring the physical body sensations. It merges aspects of Zen practice and Taoist monistic philosophy.

Focus on Rest: feel a restful body and mind, by learning how muscles relax either by themselves or because of an intentional relaxation. Also note when the body is without emotional feeling. The main difference with a other Samatha traditions is that you have to note/label whether the restful feelings come from visual, auditory o body aspects. Added: Once in jhanas, look for the Three Characteristics. 

Focus on Flow:  keep track of the change of sensory experience, and the (outer and inner) forces that create that change. There are two versions of this noting strategy. The first one is focus on the flow of phenomena (akin to noting impermanence, or the Qi flow focus of Chinese medicine and martial arts). The second one is focus on expansion-contraction (akin to Taoism (Yin-Yang), Taichichuanís filling & emptying, and Joshu Sasakiís Zen).  

In the first version, notes should be done on visual, auditory and somatic flow. The labels are just those three, though they are referring to the many facets of flow. For example, in ìsomatic flowî you keep track of increase-decrease of intensity, frequency and size, and the inward-outward pressures plus the display of vibrations (as bubbliness, undulations, vibrations,etc). 
In the second version, you note the simultaneous expansion-contraction forces within each phenomena, or of different ones. IMO, this kind of method works best when coupled with the Gone noting tool, which a describe below.  Here the labels are just three: expansion, contraction and both, where you add later ìgoneî.

Focus on Gone:  note vanishings, that is the passing part of A&P.  This noting tool feeds and is feed by all other four focuses, though itís not easy to note vanishings in an already restful  body and mind (Focus on Rest). The idea is that by noting a stream of ìmicro-endingsî eventually the gaps between the ìgonesî get shorter and shorter until a figure-ground reversal takes place. Gone then becomes the abiding ground.  IMO, the shortage of labels in Shinzen Youngís noting strategies seek not only reduce the complexity of the job, but also foster an equanimous  perception and in particular let those ìgone momentsî show up. 


So far, I have tailored my own noting strategy (as Shinzen Young encourages), where off-cushion I Focus Out and Focus on Gone, and on-cushion I blend both Focus on Flow versions with Focus on Gone. In particular, I found that there is a (needed) complement to note vanishings, which is noting the ìtipping pointî when/where and expansion switches to a contraction, and vice versa.  Itís like a gone moment while Iím still fully immersed in the phenomena. In that way,  I put myself in a situation where equanimously should wait for all phenomena to unravel and show itself. Thereís also another third tipping point, where phenomena arises out of a restful state, but itís harder to catch (unless probably you already have a deep concentration skills, which I donít). Occasionally, I do see that happen with spontaneous Taoist reverse-breathing. 

In short, my noting labels are:  ìpopî when a visual, auditory or body phenomena pops up, ìexpansionî when it grows, ìcontractionî when it shrinks, ìchangeî in the tipping-point, ìgoneî when it vanishes, and ìrestî when nothing arises.  All along the sitting session there are plenty of times when I have a broader perspective and Iím able note expansion-contraction by pairs (ìbothî label).  So far, I havenít seen them both disappear by pairs too often, but do happen individually or in sequence: an expansion-gone moment and then (or before) a contraction-gone moment.


Change A. - 2013-08-25 16:57:18 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Pablo . P:
Focus on Flow:  keep track of the change of sensory experience, and the (outer and inner) forces that create that change. There are two versions of this noting strategy. The first one is focus on the flow of phenomena (akin to noting impermanence, or the Qi flow focus of Chinese medicine and martial arts). The second one is focus on expansion-contraction (akin to Taoism (Yin-Yang), Taichichuanís filling & emptying, and Joshu Sasakiís Zen).

I tried this approach off-cushion and noted that there is flow all the time be it of sound, vision, body or mind (including that of this noting itself). This had a catharsis effect and I went to sleep for an hour or so.


Pablo . P - 2013-08-26 03:36:29 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Interesting!  So far, I had off-cushion short periods of time (few minutes) where no thoughts arise (though intention was present) while sounds could be heard very clear, even the minor ones, almost like having a fascination with sounds. 

Sensing the expansion-contraction is easier once a "gone moment" occurs. Funny enough, the expansion-contraction is felt also outside the body.


Pablo . P - 2013-09-01 04:43:48 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Usually I sit for about an hour. At around the 45' mark, I power up the sitting with 5' diaphragmatic breathing and keep the rest of the session in a restful samatha-like state and/or follow expansion/contraction at the dantian. 

- The "pop" label I mentioned earlier is needless. Phenomena always is arising, but I can't note it at the very beginning. The rare occasion when I can note it is when just before there was a gone moment. But in this case, the phenomena (usually bodily sensations) show up as expansion/contraction. So, the noting labels in use are expansion, change, contraction, gone, rest.

- Only a few longish events  can be noted with all of the labels, like outside sounds, a full tension-relaxation cycle, the breathing cycle. Otherwise, spanning from easy to difficult, I:
1) Note contraction in one place, and expansion in other non obviously related place. 
2) Note expansion and an associated contraction in the same place, with different intensities.
3) Note a rapid succession of expansions and contractions.
4) Note a gone and then either a restful state or a clear stream  of expansions/contractions.
5) Stay fully equanimous  (as I can) not trying to relax a building tension, in order to let develop completely, arise and pass away (when the tension is big, usually a gone moment vanishes that tension).

- During the first couple of days I had these moments when I stayed without thoughts while performing daily tasks, amazed by sounds. Then this disappeared and my mind was full of thoughts anytime. Nowadays, if I focus on sounds off-cushion I may (not always) have this thoughtless moments. Other phenomena spotted during these days (colorful dreams & cool flow energy -->  fear images & restless thoughts & uneasiness in the chest and throat -->  vanishing of all of the later coupled with easier concentration and more gone moments) let me think that I was sailing through A&P, D— and Low EQ.


Pablo . P - 2013-09-08 07:01:50 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

- Focusing Out on sounds when walking down the street has shown interesting things. Most of the time, it's hard to override loops of thoughts because of the inner mind instability plus the many distractions of a big city.  But sometimes I can stay focused on  sounds, which are heard bright and clear (many times I would say amazingly bright and clear!). It's a stream of outer sounds, either close or distant. Verbal and image thoughts disappear completely. Instead, emotions are shown very clear, something that don't happen on-cushion because of the reduced stimuli. So, it's funny to see that seeing and hearing things trigger emotions but that doesn't end up triggering thoughts. Because of this, restful moments are longer and more frequent. 

- Regarding noting Gone moments on-cushion, it's much easier to note the vanishing of sounds, while body sensations are a bit more difficult (because the vanishings are not complete, covering only a small part of the body), and sights vanishings seldom happen. But, when sight vanishings happen they are the deepest, while sounds ones vary in intensity and somatic ones are shallow. Nevertheless, any kind of vanishing pulls the other two into display too, at a lesser degree. 

- Keeping track of expansion & contraction gets easier after some gone moments happen, but that may take long minutes. So, I found that getting back to note vibrations and zoom in a little patch of body let me see those expansions & contractions plus gone moments. And noting sounds vanishings happen much automatically.


Pablo . P - 2013-09-18 22:35:42 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Usually, it takes around 20 minutes before gone moments can be noted. In that lapse of time the meditation is kind of messy, sometimes daydreaming, others focused, full of images, etc. So I have tried different approaches to make efficient use of that time *. Probably the best solution so far is to do a body scanning spotting tensions and actively releasing them, much in Vimalaramsi's way. This can be combined with a 5 minutes fast diaphragmatic breathing, then stay 1-2 minutes with breath retention and finally getting back to normal (but calmer) breathing. This brings out lots of vibrations and/or expansion/contraction, so I can do noting. If even this doesn't work, then I can rely on Mahasi's 4 Foundations noting.

Once while lying in bed before falling asleep gone moments happened "fast", say 5-6 (big) vanishings in about 2 minutes. This was followed by quick visual flickering and then bright spot lights spread in the space, which I could start to investigate, in particular the space in between. The conclusion is that I need to improve a lot samatha just to get here and be able to investigate. 

Noting sounds in daily activities isn't an easy task. Most of the time I'm not able to do it. But when it happens, it's delightful. Sounds are heard sharp, like when hearing a good CD in a high-end B&W speakers. Yesterday I made a little experiment while having dinner with friends. I just heard them speak, every word. It felt restful, specially as being aware of silences between phrases. But the interesting fact was that when I stopped listening/noting, I noticed how my mind is reacting to the words heard, tension arise as there's an intention to speak back to their remarks. So, there's the tendency to get involved in emotionally-triggered thoughts when in fact I could "easily" just hear them fully (instead of only pieces of their words) and only elaborate a response later. 

* One of the strategies I tried out was simply doing nothing. Strangely enough, I'm probably seeing formations. That is, I'm aware of being watching people doing their daily activities, no story telling, investigate what it's at display. Unfortunately, I didn't focus the  investigation in myself as a watcher. I have seen this many times before, which I cataloged then as clairaudience. Are one part of the other?

Edit: Tarin Greco mentions in an old thread that formations are experienced earlier, during re-observation, not only in Equanimity.


Pablo . P - 2013-10-10 20:29:46 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

In these two weeks I've learn the hard way that the only thing that works for me is not sticking to a single practice but to use different tools as needed. Every sit is different. It's not that I'm not able to cope with boredom, but pushing too hard sometimes when another tool would work best. Jumping from gone noting to mahasi noting to Bhante V protocol to do nothing to concentration practice doesn't seem wise. But the alternative is worse, specially in my perpetual DN-ReOb-LowEQ cycling.  Progress, if any, is slow, but that's perhaps the best I can do, working at home babysitting an almost three months old son. In fact, I'm waking up 3:30 am to meditate before work, as it's the only time when there's silence inside and outside my flat. Whenever I was able to add another hour of daily meditation, a difference was noted. But I cannot count on that extra time. 

On the bright side, even with DN symptoms off the cushion, they disappear during the sit. And I'm starting to connect body sensations and thoughts with body parts (faces & eyes specially) and words. There's a clear sequence happening here, and it happens a lot during the session. Haven't been able to see what happens in between body sensations and images, though. Just allowing myself to get use to it. 

My concentration has improved a little bit too, regarding jhana factors.


Pablo . P - 2013-10-27 06:38:03 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

In these past two weeks I've been through DN > EQ > DN > A&P > DN. Once the hardest part of DN is gone, the self-referencing body/face to thought connection is shown clearer, specially after the initial 40 minutes of the sit. Anyway, due to a non consistent practice during the week, I fell back to A&P...which wasn't that bad after all! Lacking solid jhana skills and enabled to stay in EQ, A&P is kind of a consolation prize: noting practice are sharp and I have a big boost in (artistic) creativity and (a sample of) the powers. This time A&P lasted much longer than expected, and DN is slowly showing up. 

Following Change A's advice on the Working with the Throat thread, I had to end up acknowledging a long time energy blockage at the solar plexus. Funny enough, I can connect soles-legs-dantien (because of my Taiji practice), but the descending line from the crown stops either at the throat, chest or solar plexus. One real promising practice I have found by trial and error DO clean up that blockage (for a while). It's been only a few days since I started, so I can't say much about it's long time effects. I'll describe it below for future reference. If anyone is reading this and want to try it out, please be careful. If anyone has done a similar practice and can comment about it, or can post a link to someone who knows about this, I'll be very thankful.

The procedure consists of:

1. fast diaphragmatic breathing for about a minute.
2. One big in-breath and out-breath to clean the lungs.
3. A second in-breath (70-80% of lung capacity) and breath retention.
4. While holding the breath, do vipassana (just noticing) starting from the chest and slowly going down to the dantien. 
5. At about 1:30 the abdomen starts to pulse violently. Just let it happen and notice it and if possible relax after each pulse. A tension is built along the center line but after relaxing, cool (strong) energy flows down by itself and eventually reaches the dantien.
6. When I can't hold the breath any longer (as I can't pass the pulsing stage and step in the later calming stage mention yet, as mentioned in the tummo tradition), I just breath in and relax and after half a minute or so, I start again from point 1.

I repeat the cycle for 5 times and then start the noting practice.


Pablo . P - 2013-10-27 19:20:12 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log


Sitting posture is key to this practice. Sit in a chair with the ischiums at the border, the legs wide open in V and with the toes lightly pressing the ground. Add to that a gentle pull of the lumbar region to the front. This posture would enable to sense a little tension and nice warmth in the rectus abdominis muscle in the first 5 cm above the pubic bone, just below the dantien.  This tension is needed in order to make that the pulse starts in that area and so sucking the energy down from the chest / solar plexus to the dantien. Also, the toes at the ground and the legs in the V shape will let sense the energy flowing in the inner side of the legs.


Pablo . P - 2013-11-21 23:04:21 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Nowadays I can connect the front line without interruptions, but it's not a default state, I need to focus consciously in order to get it. So, lately I got back to noting gone moments plus doing the 6R's protocol whenever needed. 

It's well known that Bhante V's 6R are a mix of vipassana and samatha. But didn't expect to find that Shinzen Young's note vanishings had that mix too! Rereading his stuff, I found this:

How can anyone experience something that is not an experience? Well, of course you can't! But what you can experience is a continuous sequence of "momentary advertings of awareness towards nothingness". After a while, this string of acknowledged vanishings sum to a a deliciously fulfilling sense of nothingness. That "deliciously fulfilling sense of nothingness" is not nothingness itself. It is a human sensory event, the closest experience a human can have to direct contact with the non-human nothing(ness) of the Source. ............. As you note vanishings, it can sometimes happen that a kind of figure-ground reversal occurs. Instead of observing the vanishing point, you become it!  

So, by observing a discrete string of vanishings, the mind eventually interpret this as continuous and so the figure-ground reversal occurs. In some way, you slide from a vipasanna to samatha in order for that to happen. In Mahasi noting it's said that High EQ is a mix of vipasanna & samatha, but what's implied here (as far as I understand) is that in this branch of Zen, the equivalent of Fruition stage is an (on and off cushion) vipasanna & samatha mix! That is,  the Fruition is stretched by (implicitly) applying samatha... 

Added: In other words, in Mahasi Noting the time-length of Fruition is determined by the energy released as a consequence of stepping into Path (in the first ones it seems, but in the 4th too?), while in this Zen branch is achieved by a discrete-to-continous samatha triggered by a brain rewiring. Does this means that enlightenment is a fabricated experience? That is, not fabricated by the will of the practitioner but because of putting himself in a place where this rewiring happens. Kind of tricking yourself to see things in a different way, not exactly seeing things as they are?


Pablo . P - 2013-12-09 00:45:26 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

There are two possibilities of noting vanishings: single and compounded phenomena. Either way, when you focus on it/them, I found that the key to success is to watch/hear/sense the periphery and not the center. Now that I'm writing this down, it sounds pretty obvious, but if you have been previously conditioned to Mahasi noting, you (IME) go straight to the center of the phenomena and from there observe its parts / deconstruct it. Although it's true that in DN you shift to the periphery, that's because the center is usually very unpleasant. This isn't the case in noting vanishings, either center or periphery is much the same pleasant or unpleasant.

The thing is that when focusing on the boundaries of the phenomena, the vanishings are deeper. If the phenomena is compounded (eg: many sounds), then doing this the vanishings are deeper and broader. And if by chance, the vanishing happens while the out-breath, then its much more deeper and longer in time.

Related to this, one thing I noticed is that even when the pull "back to the source" feels like going deeper, when the next phenomena arises it seems to arise from a shallow place, not from the source, more like from the periphery and not the center.


Pablo . P - 2013-12-21 04:24:05 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

  • In order to trigger a vanishing, when a sound is e.g. in C key, I set my mind to wait until it goes down to G, and then let myself be surprised as the pitch goes lower to E. The thing is that the vanishings occurs when Iím expecting that something should keep being solid, but suddenly it disappears. Much like when youíre walking down the stairs and suddenly a stair is missing. The difference is that instead of panicking and getting tense, you relax and enjoy the drop (and later expansion). 
  • I found that many times Iím actually practicing mindfulness half-way, that thereís a general and unspecified aversion to all phenomena. So, one solution is to put some concentration on the job, not an equanimity pose, but more like a ìforcefulî noting/noticing, and as vanishings start to pop up (no pun intended), let the equanimity grow on its own. 
  • When silence has grown wide and body tensions were released enough, but thereís subtle sounds & sensations at display, I ask myself ìWhere the silence is hiding?î. This make me go deeper already, but not lasting so far, just started to try it.
  • In an earlier post I talked about focusing in the periphery instead of the center of the object to watch it vanish. In the case of sounds, that works best when they grow slow & fade slow. But when they are fast, there isnít time enough to step into the periphery. So, the solution I found is to try to hear/sense closely them as soon as they appear and immediately after drop them, in order to be thrown away to the periphery.
  • In the case of sounds, some frequencies/pitches work better than others regarding vanishings. Middle-slow frequencies seems to work best. Once I had noted one or two of these vanishings, then itís easier to replicate them in lower and higher frequencies. Funnily enough, vanishings are spotted best while hearing the (manual) gear changes of bikes and cars. Thereís always some space between the gear changes, there are sudden drops of sounds. 
  • I had an interesting ìThe Watcherî experience while practicing vanishings. Instead of falling into a somewhat contracted & silent space, I stayed like expanded and seeing things from above. I was kind of amused by the experience, so I couldnít check if the practice changes with this position. Next time, Iíll do it. 
  • Regarding spatial expansion/contraction as explained by Shinzen Young, I found that the lateral direction is key in sounds, the vertical direction in thoughts and emotions, and the forward/backward direction in images. 


Richard Zen - 2013-12-21 21:38:23 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Pablo . P:

  • I had an interesting ìThe Watcherî experience while practicing vanishings. Instead of falling into a somewhat contracted & silent space, I stayed like expanded and seeing things from above. I was kind of amused by the experience, so I couldnít check if the practice changes with this position. Next time, Iíll do it. 

This reminds me of the Shingon practice described by Hokai Sobol:

Integrated Daniel - Podcasts and Videos

Hurricane Ranch Part 1 Starting at 21:20


Pablo . P - 2013-12-22 19:06:12 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Flow Practice Log

Wow, thanks! Seeing emptiness as space, the expansiveness of The Watcher, seem to be just the same.  Yesterday I got to that perspective again, but briefly, and played a little with vanishings. But my concentration need to be improved before being able to notice the third feature*, the waves, "the resonance between space and awareness". 

This, the three features, seems to answer too my question about how a discrete string of vanishings turns to be perceived as a continuous flow of vanishings. The key here is that you need to be in 4th Jhana to see the three features clearly. 

Thanks again,

* Hokai Sobol says three features / three characteristics. I avoid using the latter, not to get mixed up with Buddhist's Three Characteristics.


Pablo . P - 2014-01-23 03:48:09 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log

As I said in an earlier post, I need to deepen my (poor) concentration skills, in order to go further on shinzen young's  10 steps towards enlightenment , as I hit a plateau in my practice lately. I believe that the way to go is an indirect way, not working on "concentration" per se but in "equanimity". Shinzen Young says that there are three pillars: insight, equanimity and concentration. Probably I don't have much problem with insight, so if equanimity is added to the mix, then concentration will come along. 

What I mean by equanimity nowadays is more like "open awareness" (see  Richard's post) but with a little twist. It's not only allowing anything in, and let clinging/aversion pass away on its own. The practice is like this: start by noting vanishings of sounds and body sensations until stepping into access concentration. Then sent that awareness to the background and let images/light/sight at the foreground. Soon, clouds of light, waves, filaments, bright spots, nimitta, etc appear. The key is to watch them without trying to manipulate them, and that includes noting its characteristics, trying to see patterns, shapes, etc. As long as I'm able to do this, in 5-10 seconds the relief comes and concentration deepens, in a wide way. The little twist is that that kind of relaxation leads usually to getting out of concentration, so I need (I think I need to) to put a little effort to see new phenomena to do a next round to deepen it a little further. 

So far, what I see is that in an open awareness approach there's the risk of not seeing a "subtle" aversion to deeper phenomena, as you have plenty of shallower phenomena available. So even in this Wu Wei path, there's a need to to push and pull.


Pablo . P - 2014-02-04 03:04:02 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log

Shinzen Young says that the fastest path is to stand still as long as possible while meditating. What I found lately is that this means no blinking too! emoticon I start by noting vanishings of sounds and let me be hooked by the latter silence. This transfer the awareness to sight. Then I get aware of the frame of sight (can't find a better word) and keep it still while being aware of any kind of sight phenomena. It's kind of a mix of vipassana and samatha. I have to go through the aversion-blink link. Once done, in a few seconds there's a letting-go happening by itself, and a deeper concentration is reached. Then, the cycle starts again with sounds or sight. 

There's a mechanical/organic need to blink once in a while, not aversion driven. I can easily see it coming, so by adjusting the frame you can avoid it or make it less raw/hard. I also play trying to relax the eyes while keeping the frame still. 

A couple of times I went deep and the outer sound was felt like happening and ending in me (kind of expanded me). 

Don't know yet if this no-blinking method leads to standard lower jhana (as happened), or sort of The Watcher (which happened too) ***. Hopefully in the future I'll be able to stabilize it and get a clearer sense of what is happening.

*** Added: The former seems to happen when the eyes are pointing downwards (tip of the nose) and the latter when pointing upwards to the Third Eye.


Pablo . P - 2014-03-26 23:10:16 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log

Given that English is not my first language, I thought that "Passing Away" meant really "away", like seeing watching cars passing by. Actually,  there's a time in the session where vanishings happen & end "in" me. It's felt like a vibration plus a sinking. These vanishings seem to happen when the attention was already expanded (spacious).

When noting vanishings of sounds, I found that I was focusing too early in the vanishing. Instead, when letting go the process, after the "long" fade there's a silence and then like a "short" sound rebound which rapidly dissolves. That's when the vanishing really happens. These sounds vanishings happen at the edge of my attention, but somehow it's connected to what I described in the previous paragraph.  

Every now and them while waking down the streets (with no hurry) there's a big silence in the scene even when there are sounds popping out from multiple sources. The silence isn't only me -because thoughts aren't arising- but perceived also outside. 

In these 5-6 weeks, there weren't the usual signs of passing through a Dark Night, felt more like an unusually long A&P (though with different peaks and valleys in the precision of the noting). Perhaps it's low EQ. Maybe the change in diet has had an impact. I lost 7 kilos in the past two months, mainly by limiting carbs (flour) to twice a week and having fruits only for dinner (in my country, dinner is the big meal).


d j - 2014-05-06 13:03:03 - RE: Pablo's  Zen/Taoist Practice Log

Hey Pablo,

Just wanted to check in and see how your practice is going and how you responded to the herbal teas. My messaging function seems to be turned off and all our previous exchanges were deleted for some reason.