RE: Colin's log

Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/11/18 7:42 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/8/18 11:16 AM

Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
(EDIT: I added a brief note about why I'm keeping this log online, how I think you as a reader might be helpful, and my meditation background)

Technique: noting
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: seated

I began the session with the intention to note sense experiences at a rate of at least 2 notes per second. I began by noting with specific sense descriptions (e.g., feeling, hearing, imagining). As I felt like I could distinguish more sensations, I switched to the simpler "noting" or even just mentally acknowledging the sensation without a specific mental-verbal marker; when I felt myself losing clarity of the sensations, I went back to the one word descriptions.

During the sit, I noted some episodes of mind-wandering in which I would get absorbed in particular thought, then would note the thought as such and return to noting more frequently. I estimate that these periods of getting lost in thought were short, on the order of 5 seconds or less.

There were moments in which I clearly saw the interaction between the five senses and thoughts. I would note an unexpected sound (like a bird suddenly chirping), and then note the swing of mental focus to that object, the mental imaginging of the "thing" of that sense (e.g., imaginigng there was a bird sitting in a particular direction that was the source of the sound). Other times, as I applied attention to various senses or areas of the body, I could note the bodily sensations as an effect of the mental attention.

I tried turning my attention to noticing sensations as attractive or aversive. There were isolated notings in which I thought I could identify a sensation with those labels, but it may have been a mental label I applied afterwards. The instances in which I felt least like I had scripted those labels were notings that followed the note of an odd touch sensation and a mental intention to move the body.

Throughout the sit, the impermanence of the experiences was clear. By contrast, I realized that I had no sense data that I could identify as pointing to a self. I realized that there was a spatial dimension to the sense data and I attempted to investigate where that came from. I had a few "blips" of consciousness in which my spatial orientation suddenly was lost. The experience was much like when walking down stairs and missing the last step; there was a jarring, unexpected falling sensation before the spatial orientation stabilized again.

Over the course of the sit, there was a gradual speedup of the average rate of noting. By the end, I felt like either the clarity of the noting had fallen back slightly, or the sensations I was noting were more complicated and so labeling was more challenging.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/9/18 4:34 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/9/18 4:32 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: noting (tried noting "gone" with little success)
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: seated

At the beginning of the sit, I experienced an extremely painful itch on my neck. I immediately made that pain into the object of my noting and attempted to see the component elements of the pain: the physical sensations on my skin, the aversion in my mind, etc. I was moderately successful in seeing the pain as an object to investigate that was made up of many impermanent flickers of experience, although I sensed that I still have more to do in order to truly see things as they are.

After a few minutes, my noting increased in speed and I felt a mild vibratory, flickering sense of experience. It was similar to viewing the world when you squint your eyes just enough that the eyelids flutter open and closed, creating a strobe-like effect. I continued noting through that experience.

After a few more minutes, the sensations became noticably less clear and the speed of noting dropped. I started noting more of the edges of my field of experience - body parts that felt distant, afterimages on the ends of my visual field, etc. I tried experimenting with noting "gone" when sensations disappeared, but I found that I was tending to prolong the experiences in order to make the disappearance clearer and felt like that was not helping me see the impermanence. I went back to basic "noting, noting".

Around this time, I realized that I still had a solid sense of spatiality and I tried to investigate what sensations were behind that. The best I could come up with was a vague sense that I was having a sense experience with a quality "there" and a corresponding mental event with a sense of "here."

This phase of the meditation consumed most of my sit. I had a couple of mind wanderings during this time. I think most of them were no more than 10 seconds, but it was hard to tell. I think I kept noting around the edges of my perception during this time (which is why it took so long to notice that the center of attention had shifted), but I can't be sure.

Towards the end of the sit, I attempted to incline my mind to see these experiences as both impermanent and unsatisfactory. I can't tell how successful I was. I had those thoughts, but they may have been scripted rather than organic insights.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/10/18 8:47 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/10/18 8:47 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: noting
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: reclining

This session was really a struggle. I felt like my attention was unclear and unfocused for most of the sit. I probably should have switched to a seated position.

My noting was extremely slow and inconsistent. I struggled with keeping attention "awake" enough to register anything to note. I think this wa a dullness of attention, as opposed to a lack of clarity in the field of experience itself like I would expect in a textbook version of Dissolution.

I had a couple of moments that were suggestive of other Dark Night stages. When observing the afterimage-like glows on the back of my eyelids, I watched the glow coalesce so that there was a small hole of black that seemed shaped like an insect and it appeared to dance around for a few minutes. I also dealt with a musical earworm for most of my sit, which kept playing in the background of my mind regardless of how I attempted to note it. However, I didn't experience any clear sense of vibrations or energy beforehand that would have indicated raising up through A&P.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/11/18 7:30 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/11/18 7:30 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Why I Am Posting
I've decided to keep an online practice journal for a couple of reasons. First, I am looking to hold myself more accountable for my meditation practice. I've had streaks of meditating every day for a month or even a year at a time, but I have always lapsed at some point. My hope is that a public journal will encourage me to keep going, even if I don't receive any comments or replies.

Second, I want to be more deliberate about my practice. I hope that being able to see trends and patterns over time will help me to practice more effectively.

How You Can Help
First, thank you for reading. There's a lot of great discussions on this site, so I appreciate that you're taking time to read through my logs.

I'm not currently at a point where I can afford to go on retreats and I don't have a personal teacher that I can use to guide my practice. But, I am open to suggestions by others who are walking this path. Feedback on what you recognize in my journey, tips that helped you through this territory--all of that is appreciated.

A Brief Meditator's Background
About 15 years ago, I was part of a non-specific meditation group. During one of our group meditation sessions, I had an unmistakable A&P event. I didn't know anything about the progress of insight maps at that time, but some years later I encountered MCTB and through that the Vissudimagga, the Manual of Insight, etc., and my experience hit nearly every box on the checklist for the corruptions of insight.

I have not had a stream entry experience, but I also stopped meditating for a number of years just because it wasn't a priority. So, I may be somewhere in the dark night as a starting point, but I can also easily imagine that I backslid and am starting that progression over. I've been doing somewhat consistent meditation for the last 2-3 years - mostly in the TMI framework, getting into stage 4/5/6 territory but struggling with making the transition to body scanning. The start of this log coincides with an attempt to use noting practices instead in order to work through the stumbling blocks I've been having with TMI.

Good news: if I am in the dark night, it's been very mild and there's been no obvious bleedthrough over the years.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions about my practice background or experiences.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/11/18 10:00 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/11/18 10:00 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: brief concentration on the breath to stabilize attention, followed up noting
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: seated

I started this sit with a bit of concentration practice in order to build stability. After struggling with wandering attention in my last sit, I thought this would help establish a stronger baseline. I think it was helpful in creating focus initially, but it didn't persist through the entire meditation.

At the beginning of the noting part of this session, I was consistently noting 4-8 times per second. Most of the notes were physical; I'm still not always catching the mental component of a physical note. I am noticing aversion and attraction a little bit more.

The mind wandering returned to some degree. I realized that I had been thinking "noting, noting" without actually connecting the notes to particular experiences. When I caught this occuring, I refocused my attention. I found it helpful to concentrate on the unpleasant dimensions of sensations to do so (it's a humid room and I am right under a fan vent, so my skin was alternating between sensations of stickiness and sharp coldness).

During this sit, I felt like my attention stayed much more in the center of focus rather than on the periphery. I didn't notice any significant vibrational patterns.

During the last five or ten minutes, the contrast between the changing phenomena of experience and the seemingly stable perspective of conscious as the observer of that activity came into awareness. I attempted to see if there were any sensations that I could connect with that spatial stability of consciousness, but made no progress.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/12/18 10:02 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/12/18 10:02 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: concentration on the breath
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: reclined

I decided to switch to concentration practice for this session to better handle the mind-wandering I've experienced in the last few noting practices.

It took a few minutes to make a mental shift from noting all the sensations of the breath to observing the breath as a whole. I focused on two things: first, redirecting attention back to the breath gently when I noticed that it had wandered; second, playing with the balance between effort and observation.

I had two brief periods in which I noticed a subtle but qualitative shift in the calmness of my field of experience. Both times, my effort had stabilized at a low level (10-20%) but the background sensations had decreased in intensity enough that this minimal level of watchfulness was sufficient to keep the attention on the breath. Physically, the shifts were accompanied by an notably increased sense of relaxation, but without drowsiness. The first of these periods ended when I spontaneously sneezed; the second when I let my watchfulness drop too low and my attention wandered to a song that ran through my head.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/13/18 8:31 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/13/18 8:31 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: noting
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: reclining

I began by focusing on noting the sensations of the breath in particular. As I became aware of distractions (such as musical earworms), I explicitly looked for the three characteristics within those senations. In general, I find that I am able to note suffering more easily with distractions, while impermanence is easier to recognize in the object of my focus. I did have some success with breaking through the solidity of the earworms while noting suffering, and they faded from consciousness for a while.

During the middle of the sit, I felt my attention coalesce briefly. The speed of my noting increased and I became aware of a mild vibratory sensation to my experience. I continued to note and felt the clarity of the experiences themselves fade, although I felt like my awareness itself was still relatively strong at that time.

Unlike some of the earlier sits I described in this journal, I did not have a corresponding shift to more awareness of my periphery. After a while, I noticed that my mind was wandering in mental imaginings. I attempted to note both suffering and impermanence when I recognized this, but I was unable to penetrate the sensations like earlier in the sit.
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ivory, modified 4 Years ago at 7/13/18 8:49 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/13/18 8:49 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 199 Join Date: 9/11/14 Recent Posts
Do you plan to develop concentration and work on insight simultaneously? Or do you think you would benefit more if you solely focused on concentration until the mind is stabilized more consistently?
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/14/18 11:44 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/14/18 11:44 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Thanks for the question. I don't know which would be more beneficial. My working hypothesis was that the distractabiity is part of the territory that comes up during the dukka nanas and that continuing to note will eventually work through that phase. But I can also imagine that stronger concentration might be helpful. I'm open to suggestions or experiences on how to best navigate this part of my practice.

If I were to focus more on concentration, what kinds of milestones should I aim for as indicators that the practice is progressing appropriately? Assuming that I don't get into hard jhana states (which seems overkill at this point), what would be signs that my concentration has strengthened sufficiently to return to insight practices?
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ivory, modified 4 Years ago at 7/14/18 12:38 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/14/18 12:38 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 199 Join Date: 9/11/14 Recent Posts
I'm woking on both simultaneously. I'm emphasizing concentration but when I become curiuos about phenomena I check it out.

I'm curious to see what you decide.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/15/18 8:38 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/15/18 8:38 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Report for two "sessions"

Session 1 (last night)

Last evening I experienced an extremely scary family situation which left me pumping with adrenaline all night. I was extremely restless and wasn't able to sit still for any length of time normally, let alone formally meditation. I tried to use the opportunity to observe how my physiological reaction was affecting my mental state as I paced around. I noticed being on edge, hypersensitive, lots of anger and fear projecting outwards, and the physical unpleasantness of having that much juice running through my body.

Session 2 (this morning)
Technique: concentration on the breath
Duration: 20 minutes
Position: seated

I find it harder to give a phenomenological description of concentration practices than insight work. I began the session with similar jittery nerves from last night (although thankfully at a much quieter volume). I found that I was relatively quick to return to the breath when something else became the focus of my attention. Even when something else was the center of my attention, I found that the breath remained in my peripheral awareness (as opposed to completely losing track of the breath and forgetting why I was sitting).

I experienced a little bit of relaxation towards the end of the sit, as if the storm of mental energy had calmed slightly. It was a change in degree rather than a qualitative change, but it was noticeable.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/16/18 7:33 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/16/18 7:33 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Technique: noting
Duration: 30 minutes
Position: seated

I had much better concentration in this session--almost no mind wandering.

The session started a vivid mental image of my awareness. The image was the surface of a pond during a rainstorm. The pond doesn't reveal the rain drops, but the ripples from the aftermath of the impact of the raindrops appears at seemingly random locations across the surface of the water. That image captured the experience of my sense reality. There were scattered sensations hitting consciousness, at which point attention was called to the "ripples" even though the raindrop/sense data had passed.

After a while, the sense impressions slowed and became more subdued. I felt the need to ramp up the effort in my noting, and the result was an increased sense of the edges of consciousness. I felt a couple of spatial disorientations; the mental frame of awareness/perspective jarred in a manner analogous to when the body misses a step while walking down stairs and needs to catch/restabilize itself.

During the increased effort phase, it was easier to think of the sensations as not-self. I recognized that the need for extra effort was unpleasant, but the sense data itself didn't bring dukka to mind in any obvious way.

Also during this phase, I felt my awareness of the body expanding, and it was easy to "feel" some parts of the body as collections of flickering sensations rather than solid masses.
Jon Reid, modified 4 Years ago at 7/16/18 8:39 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/16/18 8:39 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 2 Join Date: 7/15/18 Recent Posts
Hi Colin, 

Just curious to understand your approach during the meditations. It sounds like you are actively utilizing your right brain and analyzing your experience as you go rather than observing then analyzing after the fact. Is this a fair assessment? If so what are the benefits of this approach for you?
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/17/18 6:51 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/17/18 6:51 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
It sounds like you are actively utilizing your right brain and analyzing your experience as you go rather than observing then analyzing after the fact.
I don't know whether I agree with that statement or not. Is there analysis happening during the sit? Yes, and when I catch it happening I note it as "thinking, thinking" just as I note awareness of sounds, sights, attraction/aversion, etc. Am I actively trying to analyze as I go? No; I'm focusing on noting as best I can. In the previous sit, for instance, I wasn't thinking about coming up with a visual image for my thought-field. That image just occurred, and I noted it many times while it stayed in the foreground of my experience.

This is an area where I'd be happy to hear from more experienced practitioners. I'm trying to implement the noting instructions as I understand them, but it's entirely possible that I misinterpreted something. My understanding is that noting is a technique to tune in to the sensate experiences and to see them as such. While noting doesn't require perfect labels (or even labels at all once practice gets stabilized), the goal is not to become lost in a dullness of awareness such that things can happen in sense awareness without registering. So, I am trying to note whatever comes to mind--mental images, physical sensations, impresssions of spatial awareness, whatever. If that's an incorrect understanding of the noting technique, I'd welcome feedback on how to practice better.
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Chris M, modified 4 Years ago at 7/17/18 7:43 AM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/17/18 7:42 AM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 4475 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Colin, you're doing the right thing by focusing on sensate experience as you sit. The ultimate objective is to really dig into what those are, where they come from and how they're constructed. This means developing, over time, a faster and more precise ability to stay with those sensations. Of any type, of course, including thoughts.

Keep going!
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/18/18 8:19 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/18/18 8:19 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Quick summary of the last two sessions (both noting, 20 minutes, seated):

In both of the last sessions, I experienced a surprising amount of dullness. I felt like there were relatively few sensations to note compared to previous sits, and as the rate of noting slowed I felt extremely lethargic and unfocused. I would have described the experience as mind wandering, except there was very little mental content that my mind could have followed.

In both sessions, I tried increasing my effort to little effect. I may have to experiment with more drastic measures (cold water on the face or focus on unpleasant sensations) if I experience the same kind of mental sluggishness next time.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/20/18 9:25 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/20/18 9:25 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
I'm going to group practice sessions together in my reports unless there's something unusual that occurs.

In my last two sessions, I spent the first few minutes building concentration on the breath, then switched to noting practice. I feel like this combination improved the quality of my noting. I did not experience the same kind of mental dullness that I had experienced recently.

Sometime between 20 and 25 minutes into each sit, I experienced significant restlessness. When that next occurs, I will try to note the sensations underlying the experience of restlessness. In these sits, I was able to note aversion but I didn't manage to penetrate further into the sensations.
Colin, modified 4 Years ago at 7/25/18 7:41 PM
Created 4 Years ago at 7/25/18 7:41 PM

RE: Colin's log

Posts: 20 Join Date: 6/10/15 Recent Posts
Summary of recent daily sessions: mix of seated and reclining positions, 20-30 minutes, primarily noting with a little bit of breath concentration early on to stabilize attention

I've alternated between sessions in which noting has remained relatively clear and sessions in which I experience lots of mental dullness. During the sessions with relatively clear noting, I'm finding noting increasingly unpleasant in that there are lots of sensations to note and they feel like they are clashing with each other.

It's a distinct feeling from the more rapid noting I've described earlier. In the earlier experience, more rapid noting had a vibrational/strobing quality. In the more recent experiences, there's still the sense of impermanence and a somewhat accelerated rate of noting compared to what immediately preceded it, but the sensations feel more disorganized and exhausting. It takes a lot of effort to keep noting, and it feels like my attention is experiencing whiplash in jumping from sensation to senation. I've found that during these periods I am noting more mental impressions compared to my practice in previous weeks.

My working hypothesis is that I'm somewhere in the middle dukka nanas. I'm trying to figure out if I should be applying lots of effort at this stage or if that is counterproductive.

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