Ben wrote:Just attend to whatever is rising and passing away.
For me, as a student of SN Goenka, I attend to the dominant sensations that are rising and falling at that time.
I just returned from a Goenka retreat and am trying to understand better. I remember one of his discourses advised one to be aware of sensations on the body as a proxy to watch mind states. How does that work? If someone shouts at me, am I supposed to look for sensations on my body?
I think this is good advice. The observation of sensation is indeed a proxy for the observation of the mind. One step removed from the proliferating mental content, and our ingrained habit of identifying with our mental contents, it is easier to observe sensation then mind and mental contents - particularly when faced with difficult situations. As you know, mind and body are intimately linked. Body is conditioned by mind and mind by body. We can notice this ourselves when during anger our heart rate quickens and our breath becomes faster and more shallow. Lustful thoughts cause other physical and somasomatic changes to the body. My own experience has been that certain mental states and thought processes correspond with different types of vedana. Gross and compounded states such as strong emotions are composed of the four primary dhammas and different types of sensations occur within and on the body while one is experiencing one of these composed (emotional) events. In time, you will notice this yourself.
When someone shouts at you the sensations experienced relate to your perception of what is going on. The shout could be a warning of immanent danger, a shout from a long-lost friend to get your attention, it could be an abusive shout. As far as what you are "supposed to be doing", I refer you to Sayagi U Ba Khin's classic discourse: The Essentials of Buddha Dhamma in Meditative Practice
it would be wise for him to follow the motto of work while you work, play while you play. There is no need for him to be activating the experience of Anicca all the time. It should suffice if this could be confined to a regular period, or periods, set apart in the day or night for the purpose. During this time, at least, an attempt must be made to keep the attention focused inside the body, with awareness devoted exclusively to Anicca; that is to say, his awareness of Anicca should go on from moment to moment so continuously as not to allow for the interpolation of any discursive or distracting thoughts which are definitely detrimental to progress.