Mental Noting

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Mental Noting

Postby meindzai » Mon May 02, 2011 12:10 pm

I have always had trouble with mental noting techniques in Vipassana, so I've generally not used them. I've tried working from the writings of Mahasi Sayadaw but I've found them to be too much for me, as in, too many labels. I always found that I spent more time obsessing about labels, worrying about whether something should be labeled or not, making sure I chose the right one, figuring out how to categorize things, etc.

I think labels should bring attention to sensations and mind objects but I don't think that amount of precision is useful for me. Any recommendations? Or even just tell me what list you use. I'd like to divide it more or less into the four foundations of mindfulness or something similar. What labels do you use for the body, (or sensations), feelings, thoughts, mind objects?

-M
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby tiltbillings » Mon May 02, 2011 1:14 pm

meindzai wrote:I have always had trouble with mental noting techniques in Vipassana, so I've generally not used them. I've tried working from the writings of Mahasi Sayadaw but I've found them to be too much for me, as in, too many labels. I always found that I spent more time obsessing about labels, worrying about whether something should be labeled or not, making sure I chose the right one, figuring out how to categorize things, etc.

I think labels should bring attention to sensations and mind objects but I don't think that amount of precision is useful for me. Any recommendations? Or even just tell me what list you use. I'd like to divide it more or less into the four foundations of mindfulness or something similar. What labels do you use for the body, (or sensations), feelings, thoughts, mind objects?

-M
Don't use mental noting. Just pay attention.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby mikenz66 » Mon May 02, 2011 1:59 pm

Hi meindzai,
meindzai wrote: I always found that I spent more time obsessing about labels, worrying about whether something should be labeled or not, making sure I chose the right one, figuring out how to categorize things, etc.

If that is happening, then, as Tilt says, you'd probably be better off not using noting, since that's certainly not what should be happening.

As U Pandita says here, it's about preventing, not creating, proliferation! It's completely the opposite of "creating a mental story".
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pan ... structions
In making the verbal label, there is no need for complex language. One simple word is best. For the eye, ear, and tongue doors we simply say, “Seeing, seeing... Hearing, hearing... Tasting, tasting.” For sensations in the body we may choose a slightly more descriptive term like warmth, pressure, hardness, or motion. Mental objects appear to present a bewildering diversity, but actually they fall into just a few clear categories such as thinking, imagining, remembering, planning, and visualizing. But remember that in using the labeling technique, your goal is not to gain verbal skills. Labeling technique helps us to perceive clearly the actual qualities of our experience, without getting immersed in the content. It develops mental power and focus. In meditation we seek a deep, clear, precise awareness of the mind and body. This direct awareness shows us the truth about our lives, the actual nature of mental and physical processes

And Mahasi Sayadaw here:
http://aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Fundame ... tml#Method
Every time you see, hear, touch, or perceive, you must try to see the mental and physical processes that enter through the six sense doors as they really are. When you see, the seeing is real. This you must note as “seeing, seeing.” In the same way, when you hear, note “hearing.” When you smell, note “smelling.” When you taste, note “tasting.” When you touch, note “touching.” Tiredness, hotness, aches, and such unpleasant or unbearable sensations arise from contact too. Observe them: “tiredness,” “hot,” “pain,” and so on. Thoughts and ideas may also occur. Note them as “thinking,” “imagining,” “pleasure,” “delight,” etc., as they arise. For the beginner in meditation to observe everything that enters the six sense doors is hard. So one should begin by noting only a few things.


Patrick Kearney's retreat talks are very good for putting the ideas in perspective. He comments that some people find labelling useful, and some find it annoying and drop it almost immediately.
http://www.dharmasalon.net/Audio/audio.html

As are U Vivekananda's talks:
http://www.dharmaseed.org/teacher/186/

Remember that, in common with instructions from any teacher, the details of this particular approach simply may not fit a particular person (or a particular time) well. Such technique details are not the point of meditation, they are, in my view, potentially helpful hints.

:anjali:
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon May 02, 2011 2:19 pm

U Pandita explained in retreat that the noting technique was simply to develop the awareness to ‘fall upon’ whatever arises and whatever one does, so that sati is always present.
Although the Mahasi method may seem pragmatic about mental noting, I found that in their retreat training they are not as rigid as all that, and would advise that as awareness becomes steady with the changefulness of objects or conditions, that noting will naturally give-way to just awareness of these (or ‘pure awaring’ as U Pandita’s translator put it). This makes sense for me because I feel that when a mental tag is applied to the awareness of conditions as they arise, their full knowledge cannot be gained.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby meindzai » Mon May 02, 2011 2:52 pm

In full awareness and appreciation of what has already been said here, I'd still appreciate if somebody can answer my initial question which is to find a list of usable labels outside the Sayadaw model.

-M
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Kenshou » Mon May 02, 2011 3:17 pm

Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby ancientbuddhism » Mon May 02, 2011 3:42 pm

meindzai wrote:In full awareness and appreciation of what has already been said here, I'd still appreciate if somebody can answer my initial question which is to find a list of usable labels outside the Sayadaw model.

-M


You have already mentioned that you have exhausted the Mahasi boilerplate found in books and found yourself only obsessing over how it is applied. The main point that I have taken from this system is to train awareness to be present with what is arising – changing – falling. The satipaṭṭhāna refers to direct knowledge (pajānāti) of these conditions, so consider the Mahasi method as a tool box method to develop this. As I mentioned earlier, this method is not taught in retreat as rigidly as the books imply. One can use softer (non verbal) tags to conditions, rather than the suggested ‘rising, falling, sitting, touching’ etc.

Eventually you will find a method that fits. Whatever method you find useful, remember that it is just a tool to train awareness to be present. As you stay with that method you will notice that the noting method is a little chaotic, when this happens just let the noting fade and stay in awareness of the conditions.
Fingers walk the darkness down
Mind is on the midnight
Gather up the gold you've found
You fool, it's only moonlight.
If you try to take it home
Your hands will turn to butter
You better leave this dream alone
Try to find another. – Townes Van Zandt ‘Lungs’

Secure your own mask before assisting others. – NORTHWEST AIRLINES (Pre-Flight Instruction)

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby meindzai » Mon May 02, 2011 3:44 pm

Kenshou wrote:Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.


I thought there was something out there loosely based around the four foundations of mindfulness. Maybe 2 or three labels for each. I first learned this through Gil Fronsdal's online teachings. I might just have to go through those again.

-M
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby meindzai » Mon May 02, 2011 3:47 pm

ancientbuddhism wrote:
meindzai wrote:In full awareness and appreciation of what has already been said here, I'd still appreciate if somebody can answer my initial question which is to find a list of usable labels outside the Sayadaw model.

-M


You have already mentioned that you have exhausted the Mahasi boilerplate found in books and found yourself only obsessing over how it is applied. The main point that I have taken from this system is to train awareness to be present with what is arising – changing – falling. The satipaṭṭhāna refers to direct knowledge (pajānāti) of these conditions, so consider the Mahasi method as a tool box method to develop this. As I mentioned earlier, this method is not taught in retreat as rigidly as the books imply. One can use softer (non verbal) tags to conditions, rather than the suggested ‘rising, falling, sitting, touching’ etc.

Eventually you will find a method that fits. Whatever method you find useful, remember that it is just a tool to train awareness to be present. As you stay with that method you will notice that the noting method is a little chaotic, when this happens just let the noting fade and stay in awareness of the conditions.


Yeah, and that is the goal for me. I sometimes pick up tools to use in meditation when things are going stagnant or when I'm getting lazy or too mechanical. For example I sometimes go back to counting inhalations and exhalations when I am too scattered to merely focus on the breath. Then I put it back down again. Occasionally I try some sort of vipassana-based technique when my awareness becomes too narrow, which is what is happening now. I just want to sharpen the saw a bit.

-M
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Jack » Thu May 05, 2011 12:48 am

meindzai wrote:
Kenshou wrote:Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.


I thought there was something out there loosely based around the four foundations of mindfulness. Maybe 2 or three labels for each. I first learned this through Gil Fronsdal's online teachings. I might just have to go through those again.

-M

====================
I posted something about noting using the 4 foundations of mindfulness. See viewtopic.php?f=17&t=7905

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu May 05, 2011 4:56 am

It is normal, when newly acquiring any skill, that there seems to be too much to remember. When learning to drive, it is at first overwhelming trying to remember all of the instructions to control the clutch and accelerator when changing gear, checking the mirror, using the indicator, etc., before moving away from a stand still. Most new drivers stall the engine regularly.

When learning to meditate, one should begin by noting only a few basic objects: the rising and falling movements of the abdomen, the sitting posture, and whatever points of touch are predominant. Soon, one is ready to note hearing, thinking, and so on.

If, at any point, one becomes restless or doubtful, then one should note the restlessness or doubt in accordance with the method in the section on contemplating the five hindrances.To paraphrase the relevant section:
When restlessness is present, the meditator knows, "Restlessness is present in me." ... when doubt is present, the meditator knows, "Doubt is present in me."

Success in meditation requires persistence and continuity. Gradually, the mental restlessness will disappear, and the meditation objects will become clear. The mental noting and labelling is an aid to mindfulness, as a magnifying glass is an aid to reading small print. Don't focus on the magnifying glass — focus on the print. Don't obsess about the labels, focus on the objects that are arising and disappearing in the present moment, and which should be known as they occur.
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby buddhajunkie » Sat Jul 09, 2011 6:41 am

Keep it simple! I agree with Jack's use of the Four Foundations, however, I prefer to keep it very, very simple (at least for now). Get more nuanced later if you want.

Right now, I basically pay attention to

Body: "tightness/tension", "excited heart", "butterflies"
Feelings: "pleasant," "unpleasant," "neither"
Mind States: "desire," "aversion," "obsession"

I tend to "verbalize" some things more than other. The important thing is recognition, whether you do it with a note or not.

Also, remember that your mental noting should have a volume control. Dial it down.
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:47 am

buddhajunkie wrote:Right now, I basically pay attention to

Body: "tightness/tension", "excited heart", "butterflies"
Feelings: "pleasant," "unpleasant," "neither"
Mind States: "desire," "aversion," "obsession"



I've find the four frames very useful both on and off the cushion. I've also worked with the 5 hindrances.

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Sun Jul 10, 2011 9:50 am

Kenshou wrote:Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.


The problem I have with using the aggregates as labels is getting involved in the technicalities, eg does memory come under perception? :juggling: :D

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby daverupa » Sun Jul 10, 2011 3:00 pm

Spiny O'Norman wrote:
Kenshou wrote:Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.


The problem I have with using the aggregates as labels is getting involved in the technicalities, eg does memory come under perception? :juggling: :D

Spiny


The six sense bases mode is fantastic here.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jul 10, 2011 8:34 pm

I'd like to revive this quote:
ancientbuddhism wrote: The main point that I have taken from this system is to train awareness to be present with what is arising – changing – falling. The satipaṭṭhāna refers to direct knowledge (pajānāti) of these conditions, so consider the Mahasi method as a tool box method to develop this.

Because it seems to me that some of the discussion here heads in quite a different direction to the point of the noting method (or any "vipassana" method, such as what Goenka teaches), which is to get one focussed continuously on whatever is arising in the present.

What one sees arising is things like "pain", "lifting", "hard". The actual experiences. Those experiences do, of course, have characteristics such as anicca, and can be analysed in terms of various satipatthanas, but if one is sitting there thinking "oh I'm seeing the anicca in my breath", that's just mental proliferation, not actual paying attention to experience.

U Vivekananda http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/186/ http://www.panditarama-lumbini.info/ a student of U Pandita, often emphasises that when students come to him to report experiences he does not want such proliferation, or any Pali terminology. He wants to know what the experienced. What did they feel when they lifted their foot?

The noting is not a story, it's a focussing technique. And the continuous focus is the goal, not the particular trick used to get focussed.

:anjali:
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby daverupa » Sun Jul 10, 2011 10:45 pm

The more these various methods are explained, the more sense they make. In this specific instance, the practice seems to be in accord with the principle of using the Dhamma to think with, not to think about, and this approach appears useful for many. If such methods are conducive to the subsidence of tanha, that they should be popular strikes me as enormously wholesome. It seems to fulfill satipatthana, at any rate.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Jul 10, 2011 11:17 pm

Yes, it's important to understand what different teachers are trying to get at. I should make it clear that I'm not claiming that one shouldn't sometimes do some conceptual analysis of experience. But as I understand it conceptual analysis is not the intention what is taught by Mahasi-style teachers. What is taught is to drop the proliferation and get closer to:
"Then, Bahiya, you should train yourself thus: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. ...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

:anjali:
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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Mon Jul 11, 2011 8:24 am

daverupa wrote:
Spiny O'Norman wrote:
Kenshou wrote:Is 6 too many? There's always the 5 aggregates, or you could really simplify it and go to nama-rupa, 2 categories.


The problem I have with using the aggregates as labels is getting involved in the technicalities, eg does memory come under perception? :juggling: :D

Spiny


The six sense bases mode is fantastic here.


Do you mean for example "hearing", "smelling" etc?

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Re: Mental Noting

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Mon Jul 11, 2011 8:26 am

mikenz66 wrote:The noting is not a story, it's a focussing technique. And the continuous focus is the goal, not the particular trick used to get focussed.


I agree. I think it's useful to become familiar with a number of different tools from the box ( we're all different ) and discussions like this are useful from that point of view.

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