Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Sameer, modified 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 2:08 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 2:02 PM

Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 2 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
I have been meditating on and off over almost two years, based on Shinzen Young’s home practice program. Only a few months ago though I have learned about the path(s) and stream entry etc.  Since then, having read Daniel Ingram’s book (first few chapters, not the whole book; it is too early for the later chapters), I have gotten an idea of the “lay of the land” and so, recently, I have started noting practice in earnest based on Mahasi Sahadaw’s instruction booklet.  Naturally the background in  Shinzen’s teachings is very useful.

What I find is that my sessions seem to follow a pattern and lately I seem to be stuck in a groove. I was wondering if this is standard experience, and if there are standard things to try out to progress (other than of course doubling down on noting). The details of the pattern/groove are as follows. It might be too much information but you can always skip it :-).

My noting practice is every morning, for 30-40 minutes; sit and start noting (free style) any sensations (see, hear, feel (touch), emotions and intentions. Generally the first three come easy and the last three are tough and hit or miss. Throughout the noting practice I try to sense the three characteristics mentioned in DI’s book. I have been doing this daily for some 4-5 weeks now. On weekends I do longer sessions, of about 1hr 15 mins.

My sessions usually progress  like this: Noting starts immediately without hesitation when I sit. Mostly note feel but also some see, some hear-talk. Speed seems to be consistently around twice a second. But could slow down to once.  Body feel (itch, tingle …)  moves around quite a bit, almost always progressing to a bit of tightness and unpleasantness in the forehead. Noting is fairly consistent with some mental floating away but I always come back to noting.

After a while (15-20mins?) this solidifies into very slow movement of focused attention around the body (mostly torso, face). Noting slows down to maybe once every 2-3 seconds (breathing also slows down and becomes deepr). I try noting aloud to speed up but vocalizing feels impossible. Attention seems to slowly move around the body and wherever I attend, I notice feel. The feel seems solid and is tough to penetrate. There is mental talk and it is about the current state of meditation and my inability to note with speed. Noting this mental talk and attendant emotion then immediately makes the thoughts disappear but not completely. They seem to be just outside my attention, but still there.  However the emotion lingers and I continue noting emotion. Then I slowly develop a general feeling of overall body compaction and mild images of a person sitting (identify as self) and meditating and contracted/compacted. After a while this compaction disappears and there is a feeling of returning to initial state but not really as there is still a focusedness of attention.  Now I start feeling intentions to move various parts of the body. But don’t. Sometimes I notice intentions to move attention and let it happen.
Then a slow growth of mild tingling in the arms and face. Some mild variations in brightness through the eyes. Like clouds moving across the sun. General feeling of positivity. Ease/frequency of noting body senstions increases. I seem to note in tandem with my heart beat. 

After a while there are growing sensations in the legs (I am siting cross legged) with increasing intensity. The sensation loses any content of good or bad and are simply sensations. The instensity increases a lot but I get the thoughts that I can deal with this no matter what. At this time usually the (45 min) timer goes off. For my latest longer sits, I found that the sensations only increased in intensity. The increased intensity becomes unpleasant and I am wishing they are over. It is a relief when the (1hr 15 min) timer goes off.

So now how do I move forward from here? I understand that I should keep noting and I do remind myself to keep at it through out the practice. Except for the period where I find it very every tough, I do note. Aloud when things seem muddy, mentally when flowing fast. Is it just the matter of doubling down? And yes, I note the impermanence of my attention of speed of noting and all that good stuff. 
Bardo, modified 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 2:49 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 2:49 PM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 263 Join Date: 9/14/19 Recent Posts
Hi Sameer!

Welcome and thank you for sharing.

When we move our attention from one sensation to another that attention moves through the concept of space - which has the very subtle sensation of separating one coarse sensation from the other. Perhaps you could include that as part of your noting although it calls upon some gentle diligence. In the beginning it will likely manifest as a fine-grained intention to depart from one sensation and alight on your next chosen sensation. It is the journey between the two that could become another object of noting. This may have the effect of shrinking your spatial awareness such that sensations form into a single mass. This happens because space itself is a creation of the six-sense consciousnesses and any scrutiny on these six-sense consciousnesses reveals a deeper truth about their conventional constructs. Moreover, this is also the case with time. One could pay careful attention to any notion of the passage of time. A fair degree of suffering can arise when the mind operates through the passage of time and is therefore prime territory for dropping in the three characteristics. 

Good luck in your endeavours. :-)
Sameer, modified 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 4:35 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 11/30/20 4:35 PM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 2 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Hi Bardo, Thank you for your reply and the welcome.

These are some very interesting suggestions; new objects to examine and note!
Actually, when the noting slows down, and the attention automatically focuses, I can follow it move around, in fact it makes me follow it (there are some conceptual issues in that statement, I know). So far I don’t see any intention; it is happening on it’s own. Following your suggestion, I wil start examining the movement of the attention to see where that leads and if I can detect intention. Hopefully not too tough as I am already following it around.
Bardo, modified 3 Years ago at 12/1/20 2:23 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/1/20 2:23 AM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 263 Join Date: 9/14/19 Recent Posts
Sameer - "it is happening on its own".

Excellent. And when things are automated like this there seems to be less effort. These are often little glimpses of anatta (not-self). Often the things we note during these phases are just sensations with no name-form behind them. They have no story. This is the suffering aspect which arises quite naturally from our persistent observing of rise and fall (impermanence). This is a reversed way of describing the experience of noting and so the correct order is usually, impermanence, suffering and not-self. One does not necessarily need to have the three characteristics in mind because a deeper level of understanding can come to the fore which is often called wisdom. Therefore, wisdom needs to be gently encouraged using the three characteristics framework. 

Eventually, you will come to see the absurdity in there being a controller and you may look back at its primative function with such incredulity. However, the world still remains in that place and adjusting to their primative methods of behaviour can be quite tricky so a whole new journey begins.
Tommy M, modified 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 4:49 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 4:29 AM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
Hey Sameer,

Good descriptions here, and Bodhi's advice re. sensations implying space/time is solid but may be difficult to ascertain based on where you're at currently in your practice.

If we're using the Progress of Insight model, then I'd guess that you're circling between 1st and late 3rd/maybe early 4th ñana based on what you've described. There's also suggestion that you're consolidating into the 1st samatha jhana, such as the variations in brightness, tingling in the body and so forth. Being aware of those sensations is important, but try to avoid seeking stabilization by clinging to the pleasantness, etc.

The physical discomfort and tension tends to be related to 3rd ñana, which suggests that you're doing something right.

My advice would be to simplify your noting, e.g. instead of "feeling" when it comes to physical sensation, note it as "contact". The feelings that arise with each sensation are better noted according to their affective overlay, i.e. pleasant, neutral and unpleasant, which will allow you to avoid getting drawn into the content.

As for noting "intention", it's maybe easier to note the urge to move as being just that: An urge to move. Intention is subtle and not really related to the desire to move due to discomfort, so you may be inadvertently confusing yourself with that.

Aim less at noting with speed, and pay more attention to the arising and passing away of each sensation. Investigate where it seems to come from, and where it seems to go to as this can be very revealing. Don't worry about how many sensations per second you're noting as it'll just distract you from the immediacy of the practice and pull your mind towards more subtle forms of conceptualization. Instead, be aggressively present with whatever arises and use the concentration you've clearly developed to really penetrate each sensation.

Once you're more familiar with observing the origination and disappearance of thoughts, it may be helpful to then shift attention to the 'space' between them.

Something else to consider, especially in the moments when you're finding noting difficult, is taking a more non-conceptual approach and silently observe whatever comes up, i.e. observe the arising and passing of the sensation with spaciousness and ease, but without trying to label it as being this or that.

It's worth starting a practice log on here, similar to what you've done already, and seeing what sorts of patterns tend to arise over time. It also gives others a better chance to offer advice as much of the territory covered is common to all of us, so it's easier to get an idea of where you're at and how to refine your practice.

Best of luck, practice well!
shargrol, modified 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 5:53 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 5:53 AM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 2515 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Good replies so far. I'm going to suggest that Sameer, you are still developing the basics of noting practice, even after all this time with Shinzen Young's method. Don't worry this has created a solid foundation, so it was time well spent. 

But I think you are also reaching the limits of what is possible in a morning 30-40 minute sit. That's normally how long it takes for people to regain their cutting-edge from a previous day's practice. Usually the minutes from 40 to 55 minutes is where all the new progress happens.

So I think you are naturally choosing a time to stop that is keeping you from making further progress. This is NOT a bad thing, especially if you haven't thought about your goals, your dedication, and the consequences of serious practice.

I'm glad you are reading MCTB -- it's about the only book that is honest about how things can go wrong in meditation. There is a lot of psychological and social maturing that has to happen as part of meditation and this psychological growth can be very challenging, especially if we have had difficult lives, experienced trauma or abandonment, etc etc.

Do you think you are prepared to deal with the possible consequences of more serious practice? Do you have the time? Do you have the support groups? Do you have someone you can talk to when old psychological material starts bubbling up and cause challenges?

I think it's always good to think about these things before working on "more progress".
Sameer, modified 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 11:05 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/2/20 11:03 PM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 30 Join Date: 12/2/20 Recent Posts
This is the original poster. I did not reset my original password and the login page would not send a link to my email account when I tried logging in again. So I created new account etc. 

Thank you all for your replies and sorry about the delay in writing. 

@Tommy M: Thank you. There are quite a few suggestions here that I am looking to incorporate.   Especially the distinction between intention vs. urge to move. I have already started labeling “touch” for “feel” though I sometimes fall into old habits.

About the practice log, yes I have been considering it. Especially starting a weekly log to keep better tabs on change/progress.

@Shargrol.  I was rather on and off with mediation until recently, so it is not two solid years of noting practice and I am not very good at it yet. That should change now. And thank you for pointing out the possible negative issue coming up, I do have some personal support system in place. 

Sometime earlier this year I had some “bubbling up” with lot of negative memories. I am usually a cheerful person and made the connection between my practice and the negativity. So I stopped for 5-6 months since there were other stresses at that time. The negative bubbling went away. Since then I learned about the 3rd stage and the possibility of the dark night in the future. Now I know what it is and that one can get through it. So I am starting again with earnest. Let’s see.

Actually, starting tomorrow (3rd Dec), I am on vacation and have decided to conduct a “solo retreat” to the extent is possible at home. I hope to get 8 hrs a day for about ten days. I will make my sits at least one hour followed by 45 minutes walking meditation (used on TMI).

@Bardo thank you once again for your replies. I will try to keep some of this in mind during my sits.
shargrol, modified 3 Years ago at 12/3/20 5:20 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/3/20 5:20 AM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 2515 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Wow, that's a lot of retreating for someone who hasn't been practicing solidly. I don't think I would advise it unless you have friends and a teacher supporting you. I should warn you that if you try pushing really hard... it probably won't be a good retreat.

What are you hoping to accomplish?

If you practice gently, alternating walking and sitting, and are accepting of your thoughts, emotions, urges, and sensations, and don't start fighting with yourself, then it might be okay. But make sure you have a teacher to check in with every day or so. 
Sameer, modified 3 Years ago at 12/3/20 6:11 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 12/3/20 6:09 AM

RE: Seemingly stuck in a Groove.

Posts: 30 Join Date: 12/2/20 Recent Posts
Yes, I will be taking it easy, alternating sitting with walking. My main aim is to get really good at noting. If that takes me up a couple of stages, good, as I hope to carry the momentum to daily practice while I am  stuck home. 

I don't think I can get too ambitious about one self directed retreat. I will take whatver progress I can get out of this. There has ben some mention about circling the first three stages and lower fourth. Let me solidify that and making solid progress to A&P would be a very good accomplishment.
About findng a teacher, I tried couple of names I have heard but they don't seem ot be accpeting students or will not consult unless you have taken a retreat with them before (fair enough, they want to make sure you will be using their method correctly). I have tried the Deep Mindfulness Collective also, but setting up an account involves having them send an email and for some reason that seems to be impossible for meditation websites (ioncluding this one).

Thanks again for your warnings. If there are any issues, I intend to back off (not stop). Also, one sit every day, probably the last one will be devoted to "feeling good".