A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice

Patrick Metz, modified 4 Years ago at 12/19/17 3:34 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/19/17 3:20 PM

A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/19/17 Recent Posts
Hello All,

First, let me say how great of a resource I have found MCTB and this site to be. I am beyond grateful. 

After many years of skipping from technique to technique without much direction, my practice starting getting serious after (and during) reading TMI (Culadasa) and Ajahn Brahm's Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond. I am now about 7 months into an hour-per-day practice. 

Those two books and some audio from Thanissaro led me to being regularly able to progress though the first 4 "light" jhanas with an occasional (and so far not reliably repeatable) jaunt into harder jhanic states. Anyway, after reading MCTB I decided to focus primarily on insight practice and have resolved to stay there and give up the search for a "better" techinique. I have dabbled in trying to combine concentration and insight practices (a la Thanissaro, general anapanasati, etc) but have found the maps covering this territory to be lacking in detail in comparison to Daniel and company's maps associated with the noting traditions. All of that introduction is just to say that I am giving noting an earnest shot and plan on sticking with it.

During my first sit using noting rising and falling of the breath from the outset I noticed at one point that the mental sensation and physical sensation of breathing seemed to separate. At times the physical sensation would come first and the mental sensation would sort of follow it around (in like an energetic figure 8). At other times the mental sensation would get out ahead and be happening before the physical sensation reached that point in the breath. Cause and effect? Or Mind and Body? Since it wasn't really fluctuating, I also wonder if it wasn't more of a concentration state than a step toward seeing impermanence. That's a bit of a side question. I'm about two weeks into strictly noting now.

My real question is this: When working to increase speed in noting does my attention basically land on the physical sensation, then I note it, bringing my attention to the note, and then going back to the physical sensation? Doing this seems to produce the strobing effect that is common in most descriptions that I have read of this territory. It also seems to be able to speed up and slow down depending upon the quality of my focus (both location and effort).

I've noticed that when I try to stay fully with the physical sensation, it tends to solidify and the noting is happening on auto-pilot in the background.

I'll leave it at that for now. I've read a ton on here and wanted to get my first question out here with you guys. I have a lot more, but I want to limit this query to the subject of this thread. 

Thank you for any help that you might be able to provide.

Patrick
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Noah D, modified 4 Years ago at 12/19/17 10:10 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/19/17 10:10 PM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice (Answer)

Posts: 1198 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
You can't go wrong.  Just keep noting, non stop.  The variance you describe is acceptable, either way.  That cause & effect piece is everything as well.
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streamsurfer, modified 4 Years ago at 12/20/17 3:43 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/20/17 3:43 AM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice (Answer)

Posts: 97 Join Date: 1/19/16 Recent Posts
The questions about noting and the sensation should be noted too when they arise. Don't worry to much whether where you are, what the technique does, etc. etc.
Note everything and go note by note, you just have the present moment and your current experience.
One hour a day WILL bring you results.emoticon
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 4 Years ago at 12/21/17 2:59 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 12/21/17 2:59 PM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice (Answer)

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
All sound advice. That oscillation is what happens anyway in attention even without any practice, as we live in a mix of physical sensations and mental impressions, fluxing back and forth, so, by noting, we get a better sense of what is going on in our actual experience.

Practice well!

Daniel
Patrick Metz, modified 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 2:35 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 2:35 PM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/19/17 Recent Posts
Thank you all for your replies.

I have been just noting away. After reviewing the MCTB chapter on the factors of enlightenement, I think maybe my question arose out of an imbalance between the wisdom and faith pair. Just overthinking it... not uncommon for me!

After practicing this for a while, another question has come up. 

Practice seems to go fairly predictably at this point. After an initial period of calming down a bit, the mental and material aspects of rising and falling of the breath seem to seperate and become distinct. Then there follows a shift into a light piti (maybe access concentration?). When that arises, I typically try to note those sensations for a while, though I have a hard time knowing how to label them. They really aren't distinct sensations so much as sporadic and hard to pin down waves or pulses, tingling, etc. So I end up going back to the breath sensations as just quickly noting a nonsense word hasn't really lead anywhere. 

After returning to the breath, things seem to get deeper. Everything speeds up. There are flashes of light, swirling and random surges of energies, waves of rapture, unusual raptures, tingling, vibrations, the sense of time slowing, all sorts of phenomena which I sometimes take interest in and sometimes try to leave in the periphery. The most unusual experience of this kind felt like an electric shock that ran from the front of my head to the back. It surged a few times. I could also "see" it... lightning, magenta in color.

Which finally brings me to my question: should I go back to the breath as soon as possible when phenomena like this arise, or try to explore what's happening apart from the breath? While these things seem interesting, most of the time they don't really draw me away from the breath unless I choose to investigate them. These investigations haven't yet had the feel of deepening the practice. They usually just end with me not being able to distinguish anything particularly noteworthy and I lose focus or end up wondering where to go next. 

Any further thoughts or pointers for me?

Thanks!
shargrol, modified 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 7:04 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 7:04 PM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice (Answer)

Posts: 1790 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
"Which finally brings me to my question: should I go back to the breath as soon as possible when phenomena like this arise, or try to explore what's happening apart from the breath? While these things seem interesting, most of the time they don't really draw me away from the breath unless I choose to investigate them. These investigations haven't yet had the feel of deepening the practice. They usually just end with me not being able to distinguish anything particularly noteworthy and I lose focus or end up wondering where to go next. "


On one hand, there is nothing magical about the breath, it's just one of many possible meditation anchors. On the other hand, it's really easy to fall into thinking too much and not really meditating.

So in general, it's usually better to stay with your meditation anchor if you have doubts or confusion. But that said, it's okay to leave your meditation object to investigate your experience, especially if you are curious about the sensations and emotional feeling aspect of the experience. But know that it is slightly more prone to falling into distraction. So be prepared to switch back to the breath if you feel like you have been lost in thought for longer than normal. 

Basically, have an anchor you are good at using, but it's okay to pull up your anchor and sail around a little, too. emoticon


shargrol, modified 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 8:56 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 1/2/18 8:56 PM

RE: A Very Basic Question on Attention During Noting Practice

Posts: 1790 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
And just adding on... it can also be good to add in a few notes about losing focus and not knowing what to do next, just so you are also noticing those experiences as experiences.

So:

breath meditation...
interesting sensations, so investigating those sensations...
feeling like focus is lost, so noting "absense of focus feeling"
feeling like not knowing what to do next, so noting "not knowing what to do"
and then returning to breath meditation...

this kind of cycle is a valid practice approach.

hope this helps in some way!

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