Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

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Invincible_Summer
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Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Tue Feb 25, 2014 6:49 am

So after a few years of jumping around from zazen to Mahasi, then back to zazen, then to anapanasati as in Thanissaro Bhikkhu's "With Each and Every Breath," I'm settling in on Mahasi-style meditation once more. I feel like it's more structured than zazen, yet not as "imaginative" as Thanissaro's style of anapanasati where one is encouraged to manipulate the breath.

Anyways, I've got a few questions regarding my burgeoning Mahasi practice:

1) When I note a feeling or emotion (e.g. "judging, judging..." or "impatience, impatience..."), I sometimes feel like the feeling/emotion gets cut off and I'm unable to notice it anymore. It disappears in a matter of seconds. I'm worried that I may be subconsciously shutting them down because I consider them to be "bad" feelings or emotions, and I'm unable to just let them be so I can sense their fading away.

Is it okay for the feelings/emotions to quickly dissipate after noting?

2) When one falls back onto noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, is this basically a form of anapanasati?

3) After about 10-15 mins of sitting, my breath sometimes gets slow and shallow. There is a large gap in between breaths, and sometimes the rising and falling is difficult to distinguish. What should I note in between breaths (if anything at all)? Should I note anything if I do not notice the rising and falling of the abdomen (and there is no other object such as an emotion)?


Thanks!

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:45 am

  1. This is normal. Thoughts and emotions are impermanent. If you note them then you see them as they really are. If you fail to note them they tend to go on for some time, and awareness is lost.
  2. Mindfulness of the rising and falling movements is not mindfulness of respiration (ānāpānassati), but attention to the four elements (dhātumānasikāra). It is the same meditation method if noting the movement of the limbs when changing position, or while walking. The element of motion or pressure is the wind element (vāyodhātu).
  3. If the abdominal movements become hard to discern, you can also note other objects such as sitting and touching. When noting "Sitting," be mindful of the entire posture of the body — whether it is erect or slumped, tense or relaxed, etc. When noting “Touching” any predominant point of contact can be noted — the buttocks touching the cushion, the feet touching the floor or the opposite leg, or the hands touching together. So note as “Rising, sitting, falling, touching,” so that there is no gap between the rising and falling movements where the mind might wander off and start day-dreaming.
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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:06 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:
  1. This is normal. Thoughts and emotions are impermanent. If you note them then you see them as they really are. If you fail to note them they tend to go on for some time, and awareness is lost.
  2. Mindfulness of the rising and falling movements is not mindfulness of respiration (ānāpānassati), but attention to the four elements (dhātumānasikāra). It is the same meditation method if noting the movement of the limbs when changing position, or while walking. The element of motion or pressure is the wind element (vāyodhātu).
  3. If the abdominal movements become hard to discern, you can also note other objects such as sitting and touching. When noting "Sitting," be mindful of the entire posture of the body — whether it is erect or slumped, tense or relaxed, etc. When noting “Touching” any predominant point of contact can be noted — the buttocks touching the cushion, the feet touching the floor or the opposite leg, or the hands touching together. So note as “Rising, sitting, falling, touching,” so that there is no gap between the rising and falling movements where the mind might wander off and start day-dreaming.


Thank you, Bhante.

To clarify on point 3:
Since "sitting" and "touching" can be indefinitely long sensations (as I am sitting and touching for the entire duration of the meditation), how long would I be noting this for?


Also, I have not as of yet practiced Mahasi meditation enough to know if I'm supposed to simply be aware of the sensation/feeling/etc that I'm noting, or if I'm to evaluate it as well (e.g. when noting "anger," should I also mentally note if it's a strong or mild emotion). What is the proper technique?

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:55 am

Hi Invincible_Summer,

You might find the book "In this very life" by U Pandita helpful. Ven Pesala has it on this web page:
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pandita/
U Pandita wrote: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.

There are some other Mahasi-style resources here: viewtopic.php?f=41&t=341#p6695
From that post:
I found Bhante Sujiva's book "Essentials of insight meditation practice" quite useful in answering some of the questions you have.
I also found Patrick Kearney's retreat talks very helpful. They include question-and-answer sessions, which is useful.

Do keep in mind that the noting is an aid to clearly focussing on objects that arise (as explained by U Pandita above), not the point of the practice. Done properly, it reduces the tendency to have an internal dialog about what is going on. [Some, who I presume are unfamiliar with it, seem to have the misguided impression that it is about internal dialog...]

:anjali:
Mike

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 5:10 am

By the way, I tend to see similarities, rather than differences, between many approaches, including those of Vens Mahasi and Thanissaro.

As I said here:
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 74#p202976 and
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 80#p174339
Ven T's approach, as explained in his talks, is not so different from Mahasi, or other approaches. I.e. have a "primary object" (breath, motion of feet, etc) and also pay attention to what comes up.


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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Thu Feb 27, 2014 7:54 am

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Invincible_Summer,

You might find the book "In this very life" by U Pandita helpful. Ven Pesala has it on this web page:
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pandita/
U Pandita wrote: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.

There are some other Mahasi-style resources here: viewtopic.php?f=41&t=341#p6695
From that post:
I found Bhante Sujiva's book "Essentials of insight meditation practice" quite useful in answering some of the questions you have.
I also found Patrick Kearney's retreat talks very helpful. They include question-and-answer sessions, which is useful.

Do keep in mind that the noting is an aid to clearly focussing on objects that arise (as explained by U Pandita above), not the point of the practice. Done properly, it reduces the tendency to have an internal dialog about what is going on. [Some, who I presume are unfamiliar with it, seem to have the misguided impression that it is about internal dialog...]

:anjali:
Mike


Thanks for the reply, Mike.

I didn't mean to give the impression that I'm struggling to search for the proper noting "words." Rather, I'm just trying to flesh out some proper technique in terms of the objects of meditation during a sit.

If the rising and falling of the abdomen becomes indistinct and I focus on the sensation of sitting/touching, would sitting/touching become the "default" sensation to fall back to for the remainder of the meditation period (in the way that the abdomen's rise/fall is typically the "default" sensation in the Mahasi tradition)?

And again, it's not that I'm unsure of what words to use to note, but I'm also unsure as to how much scrutiny I should give objects of meditation. Should I be noticing quality of the object (e.g. long duration, strong, weak, etc... not necessarily noting this, but just observing), or simply be aware of it on a more superficial level (i.e. that it happened)?



Interesting re: Thanissaro's similarities to Mahasi. I'll have to give it a read when I have some more time!

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Feb 27, 2014 8:22 am

The way I've been sometimes instructed is what Bhikkhu Pesala said: in the gaps between the in and out breaths you can note sitting and touching. There are different ways of implementing this "primary object"/"secondary object" approach.


I think most people pick a primary object, such as motion of the abdomen, and only pay brief attention to other objects that come up, unless an object becomes so strong that it really makes sense to make it the primary object.

An example from my experience. Suppose you're sitting and someone is mowing the lawn. I might be noting "rising, falling hearing, rising, hearing, falling ..."
No suppose the mower gets really close, just outside the window, making the hearing experience overwhelming relative to the rising-falling. I'd switch to just "hearing, hearing, hearing..." for a while. When it goes off into the distance, I'd go back to "rising falling..."

Another approach that can work on a retreat, when you get really mindful and concentrated, is to not really bother to choose a primary object --- just pay attention to whatever comes up. This is sometimes called "choiceless awareness".

I think that awareness of whatever comes up is actually the aim of any of these approaches. It's what the Buddha is referring to in some suttas:
"And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness? There is the case where feelings are known to the monk as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Perceptions are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. Thoughts are known to him as they arise, known as they persist, known as they subside. This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to mindfulness & alertness.

"And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents? There is the case where a monk remains focused on arising & falling away with reference to the five clinging-aggregates: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is feeling, such its origination, such its passing away. Such is perception, such its origination, such its passing away. Such are fabrications, such their origination, such their passing away. Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.' This is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the ending of the effluents.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

But the reason we use a primary object/secondary object approach is that the primary object builds up concentration and mindfulness, and enables us to be able to pay close attention to the secondary objects that pop up.

:anjali:
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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby culaavuso » Thu Feb 27, 2014 4:59 pm

mikenz66 wrote:But the reason we use a primary object/secondary object approach is that the primary object builds up concentration and mindfulness, and enables us to be able to pay close attention to the secondary objects that pop up.


This is discussed in A Good Dose of Medicine by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote:This is why you need a technique in your meditation — you've got a focal point, the breath, as a measuring stick for the movements of the mind. You watch the breath as it's coming in and going out, and you notice when you get pulled away from it: That's a good measure of when the mind is being influenced by something. If you don't have this kind of focus, it's hard to tell when anger comes and when it goes. There's nothing to measure it against. Like the clouds in the sky: You can't tell how fast they're moving unless you've got something still and solid on the ground to use as your reference point — a tree, a telephone pole. If you focus on that one point, then you can see whether the clouds are moving north or south, and how fast they're going in relation to that point.

It's the same with the mind once it has a focal point like the breath: As soon as your attention gets pulled away from the breath, you know something has happened. Then you check to see what it is.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Sun Mar 02, 2014 9:21 pm

So today during my sitting meditation, at around 25 minutes I began to have a sensation of lightness in my forehead/between the eyes. By lightness, I mean in both weight and that it was as though a flashlight was shining onto that area... it's like I could sense light from a lightbulb but not actually see it. At this point, I was mainly focusing on "sitting - sitting" or "touching - touching" as my breath was difficult to sense.

It was so sudden that I wasn't sure how to approach it. I noted "feeling - feeling," and it slowly grew stronger for what felt like a few minutes until it fizzled away.


Is this normal? Was my way of observing the sensation correct, or is there a better way of doing it?

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Mar 03, 2014 4:41 am

I would tend to note that sort of thing as "seeing" and/or "lightness" but I don't think it matters how you note it - the important thing is to notice it, the noting being just an aid.

Did you notice whether you were more or less concentrated/mindful just after that experience?

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Mon Mar 03, 2014 8:21 am

mikenz66 wrote:I would tend to note that sort of thing as "seeing" and/or "lightness" but I don't think it matters how you note it - the important thing is to notice it, the noting being just an aid.

Did you notice whether you were more or less concentrated/mindful just after that experience?

:anjali:
Mike


I felt an acute increase in my awareness for a very short period of time (probably a minute), then it kind of got foggy and back to my usual state of awareness.

After I got up from my meditation session though, I did feel more mindful than usual.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Mar 03, 2014 9:30 am

OK, I've sometimes noticed such things being the sign of some sort of transition. But I don't the the experience to really analyse what might develop. Interesting that the change is short-lived. Perhaps pay attention and see if it gets longer over time.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:51 pm

Okay, so last night the same sensation came up after maybe 15 minutes, and then it turned into this long-lasting pressure/tingling sensation in the same area. Long-lasting as in at least 10 minutes in duration. My awareness of this sensation was quite strong, but it felt uncomfortable to focus on it for too long. However, it was difficult to move my awareness to another object.


mikenz66 wrote:
Another approach that can work on a retreat, when you get really mindful and concentrated, is to not really bother to choose a primary object --- just pay attention to whatever comes up. This is sometimes called "choiceless awareness".


Sounds a bit like zazen

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:04 am

Greetings,

Invincible_Summer wrote:Sounds a bit like zazen

It also sounds a bit like the Buddha's instructions in...

MN 10: Satipatthana Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

... in particular this refrain, which can be adapted to either body, feelings, mind, or mental objects...

"In this way he remains focused internally on mental qualities in & of themselves, or externally on mental qualities in & of themselves, or both internally & externally on mental qualities in & of themselves. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to mental qualities, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to mental qualities, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to mental qualities. Or his mindfulness that 'There are mental qualities' is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the four noble truths...

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Mar 05, 2014 8:51 am

And see this thread: http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.ph ... 20#p210963 regarding Theravada meditation and Shikantaza.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby Invincible_Summer » Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:48 pm

I understand that being aware of all sensations, feelings, etc that arise is part of insight meditation. But is the awareness supposed to feel like I'm waiting for something to come up so I can blast it with my Awareness Ray? Lately that's how I feel it is - I know that all things are impermanent and all that, but I really feel as if I'm just sniping, as my awareness of an object makes it vanish.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby culaavuso » Mon Mar 17, 2014 11:31 pm

Invincible_Summer wrote:I understand that being aware of all sensations, feelings, etc that arise is part of insight meditation. But is the awareness supposed to feel like I'm waiting for something to come up so I can blast it with my Awareness Ray? Lately that's how I feel it is - I know that all things are impermanent and all that, but I really feel as if I'm just sniping, as my awareness of an object makes it vanish.


It might be useful, then, to be aware of the feeling of waiting or sniping and see if it subsides. This sounds a bit like restlessness arising and wanting something to happen in the form of a sensation or feeling rising to awareness. Perhaps being aware of that restlessness itself will let it cease. Then if it ceases, be aware of whatever is left after that. If it seems like there's nothing to be aware of, that's just a perception. Be aware of it.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby xinuflux » Tue Mar 18, 2014 10:30 pm

mikenz66 wrote:The way I've been sometimes instructed is what Bhikkhu Pesala said: in the gaps between the in and out breaths you can note sitting and touching. There are different ways of implementing this "primary object"/"secondary object" approach.

I think most people pick a primary object, such as motion of the abdomen, and only pay brief attention to other objects that come up, unless an object becomes so strong that it really makes sense to make it the primary object.


I like the term Patrick Kearney uses - "grounding object" instead of "primary object". It helps to remind me that it's not necessarily going to be where I spend all my time meditating but, while not optimal, is "ok".

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby anatta1 » Tue Mar 18, 2014 11:12 pm

There won't be extinction of suffering, by defeating tanhā first rather than ditthi.
There is an extinction of suffering, by defeating ditthi first rather than tanhā.

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Re: Starting Mahasi-style again - questions

Postby zon1989 » Wed Sep 10, 2014 9:46 am

Hi , i have a question about mental noting

as i try to mental note , i observe a very slight movement of the tongue as if i was speaking the noting , that i find to getting in the way of meditating because it takes some energy and precision away and hinders the potential rapidity of noting . Is it something that goes away with the practice , is it something i have to focus to minimise , or something i have to accept and go on .

Thank you


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