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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Beginner's Questions on Noting

Beginner's Questions on Noting
3/18/17 10:15 AM
Hello everyone.

I’m relatively new to this forum and very much a newbie to insight meditation. I’ve been practising the Choiceless Awareness//Do Nothing technique for around 7-8 months and it’s been great. Whilst practising a small amount of the Noting technique here and there, it’s only now (past month or two) that i’ve really started putting in the hours. I’m quite familiar with Shinzen Young’s techniques and have been using his Noting words. I like the simplicity of being able to note basically any sensation with just a few basic single syllable words (e.g. feel, hear, see, rest, gone), so his format works well for me.

I just want some clarification on the Noting technique because as far as i’m aware there seem to be a number of different approaches and I was wondering which is correct? Is the technique…

a) To stay on one main focus object, something ‘solid’ like the breath or the sensations of the lips for example, and note that repeatedly  for the whole duration of the sitting, with the aim of staying concentrated on that one object. Then, if the mind looses focus and gets drawn to a random thought for example, note that quickly and then go back to the main object of focus (i.e.breath or lips), like “feel…feel…feel…feel…feel…hear…feel…feel…feel…see…feel…feel…etc? 

b) To sort of let your awareness ‘float around’ and note whatever it is naturally drawn to - usually resulting in a sort of scattered, irregular series of notes i.e. “feel…hear…feel…see…hear…feel…etc”?

c) Or does it involve a kind of mix between a) and b) where you intentionally move around different objects within your awareness depending on what seems to be most prominent, but stay with them rather than letting your awareness float around naturally. So say there are sounds, sights and physical feelings all happening at the same time, you might choose to focus on a feeling, note that repeatedly either for a few seconds or until it goes away, like “feel…feel…feel…feel…feel…”, and then at some point switch to a different aspect of experience, maybe a particular sound, “hear…hear…hear…hear…hear…etc”?

Maybe none of these are correct, maybe all of them are correct. Maybe i’m thinking about this too much. Either way i’m feeling a little lost and would greatly appreciate some help.  For me personally, all of these approaches feel very different, but maybe there isn’t much difference at all. I just want to make sure i’m on the right track. 

Also, is the ability to get into access concentration absolutely necessary before any significant progress can be made with insight practise? In other words, as a beginner should I be doing solely concentration practise rather than insight?

I hope I haven’t made this too complicated. Either way, any advice would be much appreciated. 


RE: Beginner's Questions on Noting
3/18/17 11:47 AM as a reply to Alex.
Hi Alex,

Both a) and b) are appropriate techniques. The recommendation usually is to start a meditation session with an intention to pursue one or the other and stick with that. But it is possible that something may come up that causes you to switch. Like for example, you start with a), let's say noting "see in" and in the middle you start getting a sharp tearing sensation in your knee. Rather than constantly have your attention drawn to the knee then back to internal imagry, you can switch to "feel out" and focus on the knee.

Hope that helps.

RE: Beginner's Questions on Noting
3/18/17 5:52 PM as a reply to Alex.

RE: Beginner's Questions on Noting
3/20/17 11:41 AM as a reply to Alex.
I've done a mix of all of these approaches. When I first started noting I confined myself to three notes: rising, falling, touching. Just doing rising and falling can lead to mantra-like repetition, so I added in "touching" to indicate any time I noticed any tactile sensation, pressure, awareness of my skin, and so forth.

So I'd just note rising-rising-touching-touching-rising-falling-touching-falling and so forth.

Then I added in seeing, hearing, and thinking.


Also, is the ability to get into access concentration absolutely necessary before any significant progress can be made with insight practie? In other words, as a beginner should I be doing solely concentration practie rather than insight?

No. That's the advantage of the rapid-fire noting technique - because you're noting everything that comes up quickly, you get immediate reinforcement and your mind doesn't drift off. Also, noting can actually make the mind more concentrated as well.

Also, you probably already have access concentration - it just means that you can stay somewhat focused for a few seconds, as I understand it.

This was confusing for me when I started out - I didn't know if I needed to do concentration work first, and I didn't realize I had access concentration until long after I had it.

Don't worry about it. Just do rapid-fire noting as quickly and as often as you can.