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Back from retreat Eran G 7/12/10 5:59 PM
RE: Back from retreat Trent . 7/13/10 4:56 PM
RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/13/10 5:12 PM
RE: Back from retreat Steph S 7/14/10 12:08 AM
RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/14/10 1:28 AM
RE: Back from retreat Steph S 7/14/10 3:26 PM
RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/14/10 8:05 PM
RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/15/10 4:28 PM
RE: Back from retreat Eran G 5/10/13 2:39 PM
RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/16/10 3:32 PM
RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/17/10 6:50 AM
RE: Back from retreat Eran G 5/9/13 8:56 PM
More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/20/10 1:26 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/20/10 5:14 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Steph S 7/20/10 6:44 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/21/10 7:34 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Steph S 7/22/10 3:31 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/24/10 1:31 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 5/9/13 8:57 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Luckee Simpleton 7/22/10 12:18 AM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/22/10 5:42 AM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 5/9/13 8:58 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Pavel _ 7/26/10 6:05 AM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/26/10 12:06 PM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Luckee Simpleton 7/21/10 1:08 AM
RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat Eran G 7/21/10 8:23 PM
Back from retreat
Answer
7/12/10 5:59 PM
Hey Guys,

Just got back from a 9 day insight meditation retreat in the Santa Cruz mountains. Here's an accounting of some of my experiences. Would love to hear what others think about this.

A bit of background first.
- Recently I've mostly been doing noting practice at home about 30 minutes every day or two with some concentration thrown in on occasion. At the retreat I focused on Noting the breath at the nose with some attention to body, feeling tones and thoughts.
- On the first or second day of the retreat I started experiencing vibrations mostly in the feet, arms and face. This made any sort of analysis based on vibrations and frequencies almost impossible as I would be flooded with those all over the place. OTOH, thanks to the accounts of people here, I knew enough to expect this kind of phenomenon and was not too disturbed by it.
- On a pleasant note, some of the teachers have read or at least were familiar with MCTB and at least one of the teachers had intimate familiarity with the maps.

Day 2

"Feeling as if mind and body are somewhat disconnected. Breath feels as if in someone else's body. Thoughts feel echo-i"

"Went on a long series of notes following a pulsing that turned into a vibration that eventually dissipated and ended up right back where I started. Feeling loss for not having more intense result"

Day 3

"Took even more subtle and easy attention to breath (NOTE: I've been suffering a pain just above the right eyebrow that seemed related to increased concentration or effort). A shift to a state that feel like Access Concentration: easy attention on breath, pulsing in center of attention, feeling somewhat disconnected and remote from experience of body, as if split at two at the level of the nose. State feels very fragile. Noted attachment and craving. After a while feeling like a curtain rising (NOTE: this experience of a curtain rising or a veil falling repeated several times through the retreat) and experience became more uniform and spacious. Started exploring. Discovered I can keep attention on breath without pain. Pulsing is not attached to me, not mine, is hanging in front of me. Breath as well and noticed thoughts are the same. Both mind and body are experienced at the same level."

Coming out of this sit I was pretty sure I'd just hit Mind and Body.

"Next sit. About 10-20 minutes to reach a similar state but with all the painful throbbing included. After a while experienced a few breaths where a connection (NOTE: I imagine it to be like a string of gum) was drawn from the breath sensation to the note ("in"/"out"). Then a state where object and note are indistinguishable (NOTE: That is the sensation of the in-breath and the note "in" became inseparable, one sensation). At some point started to experience auto-noting, that is, the note appeared with me doing the action of noting. This lasted for a while and resolved to a more normal state with very subtle feeling of object. Stayed there till bell."

Day 4

Some repeating of similar experiences. Frustration at not making progress. Encouragement from teacher to explore more and be patient.

This is regarding my experience coming out of meditation: "Everything is more here. Experience is more immediate. Even writing (the physical act of writing this note in my journal) is easier and more flowing (NOTE: my handwriting at the time seemed to be much clearer that it usually is. Looking at it now, it is not).
When in a room with much going on, everything (NOTE: mostly meaning sounds) blends together. Sounds that are clearly connected do not necessarily appear so.
There is still craving, attachment, feelings although general experience is pleasant." (NOTE: this last line was added since I was thinking this state may be some form of PCE).

Day 5

"Sat for a while doing Open Awareness practice (resting in experience of sounds mostly). Experiencing sounds arising and passing away in field of awareness. Faced repeatedly with boredom, attachment and craving for something to happen."

"Resting in awareness, sounds arise and pass away, breath and physical sensations even thoughts arise and pass away." (NOTE: this refers to the gross sense of sounds, body sensation and thoughts, not a subtle sense of things breaking up into smaller sensations that arise and pass away).

Day 6

"Believe that experienced M+B again at some point this sit. Mostly experienced a clear, effortless state. Trying not to get entranced by breath. At some point feeling of removing a veil to remove a similar but more clear state. Hard to describe the difference but appears to be in the feeling of the space (more clear, solid sometimes) and the breath appears more ordinary."

Advised by a teacher to look deeper and closer so several sits follow where I tried to get closer and closer to the breath, believing I can see the breath breath down into individual sensations that arise and pass away. None of the impressions that follow really felt true and were hard or impossible to repeat.

"After a couple of false positives saw the breath as small river of tiny flickering points of light (just inside of the anapana spot). Second experience, seeing fewer points of light randomly going on and immediately off."

Later that day while doing walking meditation could feel feet vibrating with every step.

"Sensations on face start crawling around then spread all over the face vibrating."

Both vibrations were at about 5hz. Hard to account for how trustworthy this experience is since the issue with vibrations i mentioned above and the feeling of quick vibrations that started whenever the lights were turned on.

Day 7

Nothing special. Repeated M+B state with a resolution. Could not replicate experience from the day before with flickering sensations.

Day 8

"Sky-like open awareness meditation with sounds (NOTE: this time it was a guided mediation with the addition of bells). Got back into state where sounds arise and pass away without "self"-ing. With some effort could see forms and colors in that way as well for a couple of seconds at a time. I find that focusing attention on the other senses makes this easier."

Finally realized that this state is the way experience really is at the raw level and had some interesting insights into not-self as a result of that. Also, some insight into the goal of practice, as a way of seeing things are they really are not a way to change experience but a way to know experience truly.

If you've read this far, thank you for your time. There will likely be a couple more posts following up with questions that came up.

Eran.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/13/10 4:56 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran,

Nice report, despite the frustrations you seemed to experience, it seems like you had a relatively fruitful retreat, eh?

Trent

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/13/10 5:12 PM as a reply to Trent ..
I feel like I pretty much hit the edge of my practice, which is a good thing. Now that I can see where the edge is, I can start expanding in those directions.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/14/10 12:08 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Sweet. Which center did you go to?

Finding edges and shifting beyond them is good stuff, since I've found those edges are illusions anyways. So, what does hitting the edge of your practice feel like for you? And what are you doing to expand in different directions?

emoticon
Steph

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/14/10 1:28 AM as a reply to Steph S.
yana pets:
Sweet. Which center did you go to?


The retreat was at the Vajrapani institute which is a Tibetan Buddhist center but this particular retreat was actually a Spirit Rock retreat so very much in the style of western insight

yana pets:

Finding edges and shifting beyond them is good stuff, since I've found those edges are illusions anyways. So, what does hitting the edge of your practice feel like for you? And what are you doing to expand in different directions?


It was a bit weird and unexpected (and very frustrating at times). I was thinking that the practice will somehow evolve in a seamless way and will just open up more and more without much effort on my side. Then I spent 2 days sitting immersed in what seemed to me like exactly the same experience over and over again. I poked and prodded all over the place and couldn't find a way through, past or under. With some help and encouragement from my teachers I managed to find some new places and new ways to look. I thought I was looking as close as I could but that wasn't nearly it. I thought I was being as gentle as I can but that wasn't true either. So now I mostly want to find new ways to look at experience. There seems to be much more depth and breadth to it than I imagined. For example one of the teachers spoke about looking at the different muscles involved in the breath and about looking at the breath closer and closer until the experience breaks down. From other sources I'm seeing ways to look at the breath in more detail: shape, temperature, the speed in which it moves and changes in that during different parts of an in-breath or out-breath. It may look obvious to some but I never really thought about bringing up my investigation that far.

Another thing I'd like to start incorporating more into my practice is looking more at the presence of the 7 factors of enlightenment and of the hindrances. These came up during the retreat at dharma talks and at interviews and when I managed to use them in my practice they really helped staying in there, keeping focused and having more fun. Using investigation to increase energy and fight sloth and torpor, finding the joy in the practice, increasing concentration to fight restlessness, etc. Just being more aware of these things seems to be helpful in doing the practice.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/14/10 3:26 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:

The retreat was at the Vajrapani institute which is a Tibetan Buddhist center but this particular retreat was actually a Spirit Rock retreat so very much in the style of western insight


Oh, cool coincidence. I live in Los Angeles and sometimes go to Noah Levine's Against The Stream center here for group sits. This week was the first time I happened upon a sit he was leading, and he talked about teaching at that retreat. Is he one of the teachers you mentioned that knows all about the maps... if so I'd love to talk with him about that next time.

Eran G:

There seems to be much more depth and breadth to it than I imagined. For example one of the teachers spoke about looking at the different muscles involved in the breath and about looking at the breath closer and closer until the experience breaks down. From other sources I'm seeing ways to look at the breath in more detail: shape, temperature, the speed in which it moves and changes in that during different parts of an in-breath or out-breath. It may look obvious to some but I never really thought about bringing up my investigation that far.


Yeah, it wasn't really obvious to me to be that thorough until I started feeling bored and like I was seeing the same things too. The fact that you realize that is probably a sign of progress and that it's time to move on. This whole business is a matter of continual refinement and precision. Sounds like you're on the right track. *Have you tried including more than the breath in your experience? You mentioned the different muscles in the breath.. do you mean how muscles all over the body correspond to the breath? That's good, if so. Pay attention to how the breath moves throughout your body.. where it's going, how it changes in different areas. Where's the so-called "edge" of the breath in your experience? Is there one?*

You're also right to want to be more conscious of how fun this is. So on that note, here's a few pages with sound advice - "The Joy of Effort" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/CrossIndexed/Uncollected/MiscEssays/The%20Joy%20of%20Effort.pdf

(*added in edit*)

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/14/10 8:05 PM as a reply to Steph S.
yana pets:
Eran G:

The retreat was at the Vajrapani institute which is a Tibetan Buddhist center but this particular retreat was actually a Spirit Rock retreat so very much in the style of western insight


Oh, cool coincidence. I live in Los Angeles and sometimes go to Noah Levine's Against The Stream center here for group sits. This week was the first time I happened upon a sit he was leading, and he talked about teaching at that retreat. Is he one of the teachers you mentioned that knows all about the maps... if so I'd love to talk with him about that next time.


Noah was not the person I was referring to although it is possible that at this point he is aware of and maybe read Daniel's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. Whether or not he's intimately familiar with the maps, he does seem to have a personal familiarity and intimacy with the Dharma and can share it in a way that very few people can.

Interesting coincidence indeed, BTW. I was just discussing synchronicity with a friend. He'll get a kick out of this one emoticon


yana pets:

Yeah, it wasn't really obvious to me to be that thorough until I started feeling bored and like I was seeing the same things too. The fact that you realize that is probably a sign of progress and that it's time to move on. This whole business is a matter of continual refinement and precision. Sounds like you're on the right track. *Have you tried including more than the breath in your experience? You mentioned the different muscles in the breath.. do you mean how muscles all over the body correspond to the breath? That's good, if so. Pay attention to how the breath moves throughout your body.. where it's going, how it changes in different areas. Where's the so-called "edge" of the breath in your experience? Is there one?*

You're also right to want to be more conscious of how fun this is. So on that note, here's a few pages with sound advice - "The Joy of Effort" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/CrossIndexed/Uncollected/MiscEssays/The%20Joy%20of%20Effort.pdf

(*added in edit*)


Thank you for your encouraging words. It helps when I get thinking "I'm doing it wrong"

My noting practice usually focuses on the breath but also includes physical sensations, sounds, feeling tone and thoughts. Some of those, like sounds or physical sensations, are easier to include but thoughts can be tricky. It may be due to practicing too much concentration or just a general tendency to assume that thinking during meditation is wrong but what usually happens when I note 'Thinking' is the thinking process immediately stops and I'm unable to really explore that layer. I just started experimenting with a more open attention in an effort to be more inclusive of thoughts and others experiences instead of trampling all over them as soon as they show up. This experiment, btw, was inspired by a Buddhist Geeks interview with Neurologist James Austin here: http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/236-buddhist-geeks/episodes/52229-brain

I've looked at the breath in different ways so far but usually focus on the breath at the nose. I've experimented some with feeling the breath in the whole body as Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes. I can definitely feel the breath spreading throughout the body all the way to the fingers and toes. I've found that way of attention to the breath to be useful for calming the mind and therefore practicing Samadhi. But I've not really tried exploring it in the way that he describes. That sounds like a very interesting exercise. I think as part of my experiment with wider attention I'll try taking a wider view of the breath as well to see how it works in different parts of the body.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/15/10 4:28 PM as a reply to Eran G.
It may be due to practicing too much concentration or just a general tendency to assume that thinking during meditation is wrong but what usually happens when I note 'Thinking' is the thinking process immediately stops and I'm unable to really explore that layer.


Its really really usual for the thought to cease as soon as attention is brought to it, it is not a mistake, or something that you have caused through specific practice, its just what it does. Moving with whatever attracts your attention next is perfect, whatever is there is there, if thought disappears, whats there now?

If you want to look at thought in more detail, label it specifically, ie. planning, hoping, fantasizing, worrying,... Also be on a lookout for what the thought constitutes, for example there could be visual elements that can also be noted.

"Sky-like open awareness meditation with sounds (NOTE: this time it was a guided mediation with the addition of bells). Got back into state where sounds arise and pass away without "self"-ing. With some effort could see forms and colors in that way as well for a couple of seconds at a time. I find that focusing attention on the other senses makes this easier."

Finally realized that this state is the way experience really is at the raw level and had some interesting insights into not-self as a result of that. Also, some insight into the goal of practice, as a way of seeing things are they really are not a way to change experience but a way to know experience truly.


Thats really wonderful, thank you for sharing! It sounds like you had a blast on retreat. All the best.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
5/10/13 2:39 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel,

Thank you for your reply.

Pavel:
It may be due to practicing too much concentration or just a general tendency to assume that thinking during meditation is wrong but what usually happens when I note 'Thinking' is the thinking process immediately stops and I'm unable to really explore that layer.


Its really really usual for the thought to cease as soon as attention is brought to it, it is not a mistake, or something that you have caused through specific practice, its just what it does. Moving with whatever attracts your attention next is perfect, whatever is there is there, if thought disappears, whats there now?

If you want to look at thought in more detail, label it specifically, ie. planning, hoping, fantasizing, worrying,... Also be on a lookout for what the thought constitutes, for example there could be visual elements that can also be noted.


I often do label thoughts with more details as you mention. I think when that happens it's usually because I get a slightly longer glimpse into the content of the thought. I'm thinking that being able to observe the thought a bit longer and from a bit of a distance would be helpful in exploring how thoughts work, what they feel like, where they come from, etc. As things are right now, it is very difficult for me to bring any investigation into thoughts since they pop so quickly just as I note them. This seemed to change a little bit today as I was practicing a more open and inclusive awareness rather than the detailed and close up attention I use by default.

Eran.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/16/10 3:32 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Cool, perhaps one other thing. There is a reason why thoughts are considered to be a sense in Buddhist meditation theory, which is that they also can be defined by the three characteristics.

This may be helpful in figuring out why insight wont help you to find out where thoughts come from, they simply do (in insight terms). If you find otherwise, please let me know.

Also, in order to observe thought a bit longer I believe that you would have to use a mix of concentration and insight in order to make it stay in place and not disappear as the impermanent little bastard that it is. As in, if it was disappearing before and now it stays in place, is there something that you are doing to make it so (or is it really just a different way of looking)? Do thoughts appear to be impermanent, not you, etc.?

I dont have much experience playing around with thoughts so I would be most interested in hearing what you find out. All the best and much fun.

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/17/10 6:50 AM as a reply to Pavel _.
I have been checking this thought observation thing out for the last two days and there are a couple of things that came out of it.

First, thoughts naturally come and go. Attention without any manipulation naturally makes thoughts disappear. (as in, thoughts naturally arise and disappear)

In order for thoughts to stay in place or keep on rolling, there needs to be a manipulation of the thought, which I would best note as holding, this is a tangible action separate from the thought itself. It is not different from the manipulation of breath that may occur during the observation of it (forcing it to go deeper, moving it along instead of allowing it to do its own thing, stopping it,...). Once this is observed, the thought disappears.

There are some physical sensations that accompany the effort to stay exclusively with the thought or to try to 'allow it to keep on going' (ie. force it), for me this would be constriction in the chest, or pressure/tension around the temples, on the sides of the head. As soon as these are noted, the thought disappears.

All in all, it appears impossible for me to stay with thoughts without manipulating experience in some way and as soon as the manipulation is noticed and focus naturally shifts, the thought is finally allowed to do its own thing and goes the same way anything else would.

Is this at all helpful?

RE: Back from retreat
Answer
5/9/13 8:56 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel:
I have been checking this thought observation thing out for the last two days and there are a couple of things that came out of it.

First, thoughts naturally come and go. Attention without any manipulation naturally makes thoughts disappear. (as in, thoughts naturally arise and disappear)

In order for thoughts to stay in place or keep on rolling, there needs to be a manipulation of the thought, which I would best note as holding, this is a tangible action separate from the thought itself. It is not different from the manipulation of breath that may occur during the observation of it (forcing it to go deeper, moving it along instead of allowing it to do its own thing, stopping it,...). Once this is observed, the thought disappears.

There are some physical sensations that accompany the effort to stay exclusively with the thought or to try to 'allow it to keep on going' (ie. force it), for me this would be constriction in the chest, or pressure/tension around the temples, on the sides of the head. As soon as these are noted, the thought disappears.

All in all, it appears impossible for me to stay with thoughts without manipulating experience in some way and as soon as the manipulation is noticed and focus naturally shifts, the thought is finally allowed to do its own thing and goes the same way anything else would.

Is this at all helpful?


Thank you for taking the time to experiment with this, Pavel! From a quick experiment it feels like I can hold on to the "flavor" of a thought by kind of freezing it in the middle but I think that what I feel more at this point is the effort of holding on to the thought. Most noticeable at this point is, as you mentioned, some tension around the temples. The effort in general is similar to the feeling of "directed thought" (I'm thinking of Vitakka and Vicara as jhana factors here) so I can understand why turning the attention to note any part of the experience would let the thought go. I'll have to sit with this longer and sadly that's not gonna happen this weekend. I'll report soon.

More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/20/10 1:26 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Here's what I got so far:

Thoughts appear and pass away on their own but can also be made to appear. I can echo a thought repeatedly for a while keeping much of the same flavor of the original thought.

Thoughts seems to mostly appear in the front and top part of the head but sometimes they appear to be located somewhere else (back of the head or deeper inside most often).

Most thoughts appear to have a voice and sound very similar to how I would say them if they were actually speech. Some thoughts are more subtle and lack a feeling of a voice (sub-vocal?), some don't even have all the words but still convey the meaning.

Every so often I would get caught up in a thought and only notice the distraction after a second or two. In those cases it's hard to see what the thought was like as all I could see was the content.

As for holding on to a thought, there is definitely the tension in the temples and that general area but I also seem to be holding my breath and tensing up the body.

This idea was sorta put in my head at a Dharma talk last night but I may be starting to get a sense of the Witness when trying to watch thoughts. Especially in the periods were thoughts are absent, there is a sense of someone still be there to notice the absence. It is difficult, though, to distinguish between that sense and the sense of the body.

Eran.

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/20/10 5:14 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Fascinating stuff (thanks a lot for the notes)! Let's see how far we can take this :-) (and apologies for changing the focus of your thread)

Thoughts appear and pass away on their own but can also be made to appear. I can echo a thought repeatedly for a while keeping much of the same flavor of the original thought.


Right, the nature of thoughts is that they arise and pass away and are not me (happen without there being a self to experience them), this is apparent if I observe them without manipulation. One thing that I was wrong about is that thoughts disappear automatically when attention is brought to them, in my last sit it was obvious that they could keep on going for a while, only disappearing when focus moved to a more predominant experience (as in, whatever was being observed was there, if thoughts then thoughts, if something else then something else - thoughts are not special after all :-) ). What I also missed last time is that thoughts are made up of smaller parts, there are smaller sensations that make up thoughts (which makes their impermanence clearer).

Doing anything to the thought (any sort of action) moves the meditation from pure insight to shamatha, which makes it impossible for me to see the three characteristics (they are not readily apparent). I tried echoing a thought and pretty much instantly landed in a jhana (I suspect that this form of thought manipulation/concentration is mantra, am I right in thinking this?).

Thoughts seems to mostly appear in the front and top part of the head but sometimes they appear to be located somewhere else (back of the head or deeper inside most often).


Is it possible to be aware of both of those at once or does the awareness of one (thought or location) take place followed by the other? For me, there is thought, then there are sensations that appear to be the location of the thought but as soon as those are recognized the thought is not there.

Most thoughts appear to have a voice and sound very similar to how I would say them if they were actually speech. Some thoughts are more subtle and lack a feeling of a voice (sub-vocal?), some don't even have all the words but still convey the meaning.


That's fascinating. I remember at one point differentiating between thoughts that were heard and those that were spoken but this difference has not been apparent to me for a while. How do the thoughts that do not consist of words convey meaning? Is the meaning emotional, or physical,...?

This idea was sorta put in my head at a Dharma talk last night but I may be starting to get a sense of the Witness when trying to watch thoughts. Especially in the periods were thoughts are absent, there is a sense of someone still be there to notice the absence. It is difficult, though, to distinguish between that sense and the sense of the body.


That's really interesting, is the sense of someone being there made up of observable sensations? Does it appear to be you? Does the objectification of this sense stop it from appearing the way it did before? /if these questions are not helpful, I most sincerely apologize, I have come across the Witness being mentioned before but I do not understand what it means or what it is supposed to represent/ - the questions are the approach that I take with any new phenomena, as in, everything is food for insight.

All the best and happy thought hunting (it has been most useful to me so far so thank you).

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/20/10 6:44 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
This sounds like really useful practice and you guys have me wanting to test it out too. I'm a bit of a daydreamer, so getting lost in thought can be a bitch for me at times. Breaking it down really well like this would help probably.

How about the part of a thought just before it arises? When you can tell you're about to have a thought, but it hasn't quite panned out yet. Hmm.. I wonder what it is that "can tell" there's about to be a thought. Maybe related to what Eran was saying about sub-vocal thought.. your brain is processing some sort of information, trying to generate something. I can feel activity and vibration there, but nothing audible. I'm paying attention to the sensations as I'm typing this and it feels like there's vibration on each side of my head that then radiates inwards towards the center. Then towards the back of my head... base of head/back of neck (actually that's an area I very often feel lots of energy in..). I'm going to try more when I get home and report back.

Steph

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/21/10 1:08 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
Here's what I got so far:

Thoughts appear and pass away on their own but can also be made to appear. I can echo a thought repeatedly for a while keeping much of the same flavor of the original thought.

Thoughts seems to mostly appear in the front and top part of the head but sometimes they appear to be located somewhere else (back of the head or deeper inside most often).

Most thoughts appear to have a voice and sound very similar to how I would say them if they were actually speech. Some thoughts are more subtle and lack a feeling of a voice (sub-vocal?), some don't even have all the words but still convey the meaning.

Every so often I would get caught up in a thought and only notice the distraction after a second or two. In those cases it's hard to see what the thought was like as all I could see was the content.

As for holding on to a thought, there is definitely the tension in the temples and that general area but I also seem to be holding my breath and tensing up the body.

This idea was sorta put in my head at a Dharma talk last night but I may be starting to get a sense of the Witness when trying to watch thoughts. Especially in the periods were thoughts are absent, there is a sense of someone still be there to notice the absence. It is difficult, though, to distinguish between that sense and the sense of the body.

Eran.


This is great insight Eran. I recently returned from a 10 day retreat (write-up soon to follow) and found that I could "tune in" to distraction by recognising body sensations associated with it, way before I would notice it by simply following the thoughts.

This reminds me of an old thread on the Wetpaint forums that I meant to read but never did, about taking concentration itself as the object of insight (!). Not sure what the verdict was there as I didn't read it, but I may try and dig it up for our perusal.

Update: found it! At least, this is what I was thinking of, although it now appears to rapidly hone in on awareness/intrinsic luminosity than thought per se. Somewhat relevant anyway, as whatever the object you'll end up facing questions of what - if anything - is observing all this: http://tinyurl.com/2d2vzxg.

One further note, if you have not yet tried any of Shinzen Young's techniques for meditating on the thought process, I can highly recommend them. He breaks them down into "Talk" and "Image" thoughts, which I find particularly helpful. The majority of my thoughts are Talk at this stage (although he suggests that this evens out as practice matures) but there is the occasional storm of Image that just leaves me feeling battered if I am trying to focus on something else. Another benefit of Shinzen Young's approach for me at least is that he encourages a very free-flow from object to object within a single sit. So if you start by observing body sensations but get continually interrupted by thought, then switch to observing that. Very pragmatic and leads to a naturally more relaxed experience, in my case at least.

Here are a couple of links if you're interested (all PDFs):

Experiences Associated with Meditating on the Thought Process: http://www.shinzen.org/shinsub3/artExperAssoc.pdf
How to Echo Talk: http://www.shinzen.org/shinsub3/artEcho.pdf
Working with Mental Images: http://www.shinzen.org/shinsub3/artWorkWithImage.pdf

His other articles are highly recommended also, see http://www.shinzen.org/Articles.htm

With metta,
Jules

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
5/9/13 8:57 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel:
What I also missed last time is that thoughts are made up of smaller parts, there are smaller sensations that make up thoughts (which makes their impermanence clearer).


Can you elaborate on this more? What do you mean by "smaller sensations"? I'm guessing you mean more than the gross division of, for example, verbal thoughts into words? Right now I can see different properties of a thought (tone, voice, subtlety, etc.) but each thought seems pretty solid in and of itself.

Pavel:
Doing anything to the thought (any sort of action) moves the meditation from pure insight to shamatha, which makes it impossible for me to see the three characteristics (they are not readily apparent). I tried echoing a thought and pretty much instantly landed in a jhana (I suspect that this form of thought manipulation/concentration is mantra, am I right in thinking this?).


I don't know much about mantras but I can see how that would happen. The echo starts taking on a trance-like feeling and I can see how one would drop into absorption. I also think that trying to manipulate thoughts is less interesting from a vipassana point of view.

Pavel:

Thoughts seems to mostly appear in the front and top part of the head but sometimes they appear to be located somewhere else (back of the head or deeper inside most often).


Is it possible to be aware of both of those at once or does the awareness of one (thought or location) take place followed by the other? For me, there is thought, then there are sensations that appear to be the location of the thought but as soon as those are recognized the thought is not there.


It is hard to say if those sensations (thought and location) are separate or now. At this moment it feels similar to the way hearing works, the direction sound is coming from is indistinguishable from the sound itself. Sometimes, though, it seems like the area I'm focusing on is affecting where thoughts show up. This is definitely true when I generate a thought intentionally but maybe sometimes for 'natural' thoughts.

Pavel:

Most thoughts appear to have a voice and sound very similar to how I would say them if they were actually speech. Some thoughts are more subtle and lack a feeling of a voice (sub-vocal?), some don't even have all the words but still convey the meaning.


That's fascinating. I remember at one point differentiating between thoughts that were heard and those that were spoken but this difference has not been apparent to me for a while. How do the thoughts that do not consist of words convey meaning? Is the meaning emotional, or physical,...?


When observing a thoughts I am aware of two distinct levels (and now of course, I'm aware of a third one). One level is the thought itself. Separate from that is the level where the thought is perceived. Of course this second level, the observer, is also made up of thoughts but for this discussion we look at them as two completely different things. At the base thought level thoughts appear and pass away. The observer sees thoughts as sometimes having a voice in which case it's exactly like hearing. Sometimes having no voice but having words, so you can think of this as whispering but really the property of voice is not present. Last, some thoughts or parts of some thoughts will not have words but the observer still sees the meaning as words, maybe you can think of this as telepathy but inside just one mind emoticon I'm not sure how the observer sees that meaning as the experience itself is just jumbled except for a meaning that pops out of it. Maybe it's more like completing someone else's sentence.

Pavel:

This idea was sorta put in my head at a Dharma talk last night but I may be starting to get a sense of the Witness when trying to watch thoughts. Especially in the periods were thoughts are absent, there is a sense of someone still be there to notice the absence. It is difficult, though, to distinguish between that sense and the sense of the body.


That's really interesting, is the sense of someone being there made up of observable sensations? Does it appear to be you? Does the objectification of this sense stop it from appearing the way it did before? /if these questions are not helpful, I most sincerely apologize, I have come across the Witness being mentioned before but I do not understand what it means or what it is supposed to represent/ - the questions are the approach that I take with any new phenomena, as in, everything is food for insight.


This is a good way of looking at things, since I'm also using this entire exercise as a way to develop my investigation it's good to see different ways you can explore a sensation. The feelings of witnessing is very fuzzy and hard to point at. It makes it hard to actually investigate the sensation since I'm not sure where to look. It's kind of like trying to explore the feeling of space, it mostly feels spacious and that's about it. In the same way the sensation of someone observing is there but it still feels very vague. When trying to locate it I keep getting back towards my heart-center or sometimes my head.

Tried to expand my investigation today but I don't think I got very far. At some point in the meditation I got into an absorption state with characteristics of Mind & Body (sensations and thoughts appear disembodied). I tried looking at thoughts in that state and to my surprise discovered that thoughts appeared to be more subtle and almost none of them had a voice, despite almost all of them being verbal. There was one or two visual mind sensations that I'm labeling as thoughts but I'm not quite sure what they were. I can see the absorption being the cause of feeling more distant from experience and as a result thoughts feeling less substantial but I'm not sure that is the entire explanation.

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/21/10 7:34 PM as a reply to Steph S.
I'm sorry to say I can't quite find the experience you're talking about, Steph. I cannot find any specific experience that precedes thoughts. Perhaps it's all the noise in my experience already or perhaps it is just too subtle for me.

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/21/10 8:23 PM as a reply to Luckee Simpleton.
Thanks for the tips Juian and thanks for digging up that old thread, it looks like a good one! I've been meaning to check out Shinzen Young more deeply for a while and somehow never get around to it.

From the other threads it sounds like you had an intense retreat, way to go!

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/22/10 12:18 AM as a reply to Eran G.
I don't know much about mantras but I can see how that would happen. The echo starts taking on a trance-like feeling and I can see how one would drop into absorption. I also think that trying to manipulate thoughts is less interesting from a vipassana point of view.


You are describing exactly the same thing Shinzen Young talks about in the article about echoing talk that I linked to above. He encourages echoing the talk back in a mantra-like tone. While it is less interesting from a vipassana perspective, this practice can apparently help to sharpen your awareness of the thought voice. I personally haven't bothered much, preferring dry observation.

This is a good way of looking at things, since I'm also using this entire exercise as a way to develop my investigation it's good to see different ways you can explore a sensation. The feelings of witnessing is very fuzzy and hard to point at. It makes it hard to actually investigate the sensation since I'm not sure where to look. It's kind of like trying to explore the feeling of space, it mostly feels spacious and that's about it. In the same way the sensation of someone observing is there but it still feels very vague. When trying to locate it I keep getting back towards my heart-center or sometimes my head.


Is it fuzzy, or does it come and go?

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/22/10 5:42 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Steph: by all means, join in!

Julian: Thanks so much, Shinzen Young is a meditation monster, those pdfs are amazing! He also seems to combine concentration with insight in most of the techniques that he describes, incredible - and probably a lot more pleasant than the practice of dry vipassana/pure noting. Especially the pdf 'Experiences Associated with Meditating on the Thought Process' is amazing in explaining a lot of the things being talked about here. It would be great if someone was to test the approach/technique that he describes there.

Can you elaborate on this more? What do you mean by "smaller sensations"? I'm guessing you mean more than the gross division of, for example, verbal thoughts into words? Right now I can see different properties of a thought (tone, voice, subtlety, etc.) but each thought seems pretty solid in and of itself.


Not quite. Its similar to listening to sound and realizing that it is possible to be aware of many parts of that sound - instead of a sound, there are 20 flickers of sound (all of them arising and passing away, hence flickering) one after another that make up that sound. In the same way, and as with all other senses, thoughts are also observable many times throughout their arising - as in, it is possible to be aware of the thought many times when its playing out. And when this is done (insight on thought), there is no knowledge of the overall thought, there is only knowledge/awareness of the component parts one after another, moment-to-moment. (same as, for example, the visual field flickering when seeing a series of mental images)

It is hard to say if those sensations (thought and location) are separate or now. At this moment it feels similar to the way hearing works, the direction sound is coming from is indistinguishable from the sound itself. Sometimes, though, it seems like the area I'm focusing on is affecting where thoughts show up. This is definitely true when I generate a thought intentionally but maybe sometimes for 'natural' thoughts.


Yeah, its the same for me now that I looked (thanks again). But as soon as I look for the location, there is only that to the exclusion of the thought and then looking at the thought there is no location, even though the location is somehow implicit.

When observing a thoughts I am aware of two distinct levels (and now of course, I'm aware of a third one). One level is the thought itself. Separate from that is the level where the thought is perceived. Of course this second level, the observer, is also made up of thoughts but for this discussion we look at them as two completely different things. At the base thought level thoughts appear and pass away. The observer sees thoughts as sometimes having a voice in which case it's exactly like hearing. Sometimes having no voice but having words, so you can think of this as whispering but really the property of voice is not present. Last, some thoughts or parts of some thoughts will not have words but the observer still sees the meaning as words, maybe you can think of this as telepathy but inside just one mind emoticon I'm not sure how the observer sees that meaning as the experience itself is just jumbled except for a meaning that pops out of it. Maybe it's more like completing someone else's sentence.


Thats amazing!

The feelings of witnessing is very fuzzy and hard to point at. It makes it hard to actually investigate the sensation since I'm not sure where to look. It's kind of like trying to explore the feeling of space, it mostly feels spacious and that's about it. In the same way the sensation of someone observing is there but it still feels very vague. When trying to locate it I keep getting back towards my heart-center or sometimes my head.


This is from the thread that Julian was linking to:

I'd like to go back to the original question: "Can awareness be a focus of inquiry?"

From a very stripped down point of view that is at once practical and very ultimate at once, all sensations are aware where they are. There is no separate observer, though the sense of one is contrived by a very complex process of layers of content, inference, habit, poor perception, false assumption, and in general poor perception of the true nature of one's sensate reality, and investigating that is direct wisdom practice.

Thus, investigation of "awareness" yields the following: one finds only sensations, and the more one looks, the more one finds that all the things that were pretending to be an observer, attention, consciousness, awareness, and the like were merely transient, ephemeral, implied by habitual patterns of association, and not the true nature of things. Even the looking is just a causal, transient process, not self, not other, part of a naturally unfolding field of experience that never needed to nor did contain any experiencer apart from that which is experienced.

Thus, taking on "awareness" or similar objects, such as "investigation" or "attention" or "consciousness" as object takes on an illusion to try to see through that illusion, and show it to be just a trick of smoke and mirrors, something that never actually was, and all that is there is the self-luminous flickering sense-field.

Daniel


However strange it may be, the sense of self does seem to reside as physical sensations somewhere in the body (at the moment for me its in the back of the skull), but as it is something that can be objectified and noticed it is not a/the self. The easiest way to see this is to ask yourself 'Who am I' and watch where the question takes the focus - there will be a spot that appears to respond to that question, even thought it can't obviously be the right answer.

I think that you already kind of got this one (no-self) on retreat (Got back into state where sounds arise and pass away without "self"-ing.), this is the way that all experience is (it is not a state, that is how things are moment-to-moment) - it all happens of its own accord, to no one. There is just the experience. Why that does not prevent it from being experienced gets explained in a similar fashion, thought insight practice, at a later time (and is actually explained in Daniel's response which I copied from Julian's link).

Keep the updates coming :-)

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/22/10 3:31 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
I'm sorry to say I can't quite find the experience you're talking about, Steph. I cannot find any specific experience that precedes thoughts. Perhaps it's all the noise in my experience already or perhaps it is just too subtle for me.


One of the Shinzen Young articles that Julian posted does a good job of explaining it, if you're interested.

Excerpt:

Experience 7
You may become aware that "subtle processing" is continuously present. This makes sense because subtle processing is pre-verbal, pre-image mental activity. It is the continuous background hum of the subconscious mind which churns the internal words and images into existence. One might compare it to a subterranean root bed from which flowers (words and images) shoot up above the ground and back into which they decay. When you become aware of this subtle current of activity, you can choose to selectively focus on it. You may find that it seems to be located at your "internal screen", or the "internal loudspeaker" or both or neither. The latter case means you can contact it, but it is not in the same place where the words and images occur.


(see pgs 7 - 8 for the rest of that excerpt) http://www.shinzen.org/shinsub3/artExperAssoc.pdf

The noise in your experience you're talking about - is it the hum he mentions? I tried this out today and can feel the hum, and also the expansion & contraction. It's pretty cool to notice the ebb and flow of what's happening there, as frequencies.. the hum doesn't feel central to a particular location in the head to me, but it's so subtle I'll have to look more closely to make sure. The expansion & contraction has been either outward/inward or upward/downward.. sometimes expanding quickly (almost like a pop), other times slowly (radiating). I almost want to see if there's any relationship btwn the type of expansion and what thoughts arise, but that might lead to content traps.

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/24/10 1:31 PM as a reply to Steph S.
yana pets:

The noise in your experience you're talking about - is it the hum he mentions?


I was referring to something not nearly as subtle. The noises the body, vibrations, the breath, movements of muscles related to the breath, tensions building and releasing... that kind of stuff.

Speaking of tension, there seems to be some play of tension buildup and release that's more or less at sync with the breath but occurs around the forehead and temples. I'm not sure if it's physical, mental or both. Occasionally I seem to feel a similar tension (around the temples and pulling back a bit) around the thoughts as they arise but it is hard to distinguish if it's just the same tension as before or something else.

Finally got to reading what Shinzen Young has to say about this. As always, I'm struck with his level of details and ability to break down experience and investigation. I need to read more but I'll see if I can apply what I've read.

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
5/9/13 8:58 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
Pavel:

It is hard to say if those sensations (thought and location) are separate or now. At this moment it feels similar to the way hearing works, the direction sound is coming from is indistinguishable from the sound itself. Sometimes, though, it seems like the area I'm focusing on is affecting where thoughts show up. This is definitely true when I generate a thought intentionally but maybe sometimes for 'natural' thoughts.


Yeah, its the same for me now that I looked (thanks again). But as soon as I look for the location, there is only that to the exclusion of the thought and then looking at the thought there is no location, even though the location is somehow implicit.


I think I'm starting to see what you're talking about here. It's hard to be aware of both the location and the content of the thought at the same time. One is always slightly in the background. There might also be a fraction of a moment where the location is not yet known and there is only thought. Related to that, I think I'm starting to feel the mind jumping between the breath and the thought when I focus on one or the other. It's like there are short moments where I have the feeling I've been paying attention to both but then I realize there's a tiny little blank in my mind regarding one or the other. The funny thing is that the mind seems to want to ignore this and pretend it's watching entire sensations.

As far as the sense of the witness goes... It still is very fuzzy and therefore hard to tell if it's constantly there or not. There's some guided meditations I intend to try that are supposed to lead one to exploring this sensation but I've not got there yet and I'm not sure how effective that would be. For anyone who wants to check those out: http://manybooks.net/titles/ramacharakay13651365613656.html (courtesy of Tom O and Haquan over at KFD).

Pavel:
However strange it may be, the sense of self does seem to reside as physical sensations somewhere in the body (at the moment for me its in the back of the skull), but as it is something that can be objectified and noticed it is not a/the self. The easiest way to see this is to ask yourself 'Who am I' and watch where the question takes the focus - there will be a spot that appears to respond to that question, even thought it can't obviously be the right answer.


I'm aware of this style of investigation. My problem with it is that I just see the answer (in the form of taking focus somewhere in the field of experience) to just be wrong and therefore not indicative of anything. To clarify, if you asked a 3 yr old what's 2+2? and they said 5, would you assume that all of math is wrong or that the 3 yr old needs to hit the books? Maybe after exhausting all options that first option starts to seem more reasonable but that would take me a while... emoticon

Pavel:
I think that you already kind of got this one (no-self) on retreat (Got back into state where sounds arise and pass away without "self"-ing.), this is the way that all experience is (it is not a state, that is how things are moment-to-moment) - it all happens of its own accord, to no one. There is just the experience. Why that does not prevent it from being experienced gets explained in a similar fashion, thought insight practice, at a later time (and is actually explained in Daniel's response which I copied from Julian's link).


I agree. That was a good insight into anatta and I think that getting to a similar conclusion about the witness will take at least that level of insight as well, possibly many times.

Anyways, enough talking, I'll go sit now. Thank you all for your support!

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/26/10 6:05 AM as a reply to Eran G.
I think I'm starting to see what you're talking about here. It's hard to be aware of both the location and the content of the thought at the same time. One is always slightly in the background. There might also be a fraction of a moment where the location is not yet known and there is only thought. Related to that, I think I'm starting to feel the mind jumping between the breath and the thought when I focus on one or the other. It's like there are short moments where I have the feeling I've been paying attention to both but then I realize there's a tiny little blank in my mind regarding one or the other. The funny thing is that the mind seems to want to ignore this and pretend it's watching entire sensations.


Awesome!

I'm aware of this style of investigation. My problem with it is that I just see the answer (in the form of taking focus somewhere in the field of experience) to just be wrong and therefore not indicative of anything. To clarify, if you asked a 3 yr old what's 2+2? and they said 5, would you assume that all of math is wrong or that the 3 yr old needs to hit the books?


Right, you are right. The thing is that I found it helpful to realize that any sense of self/attention/focus/observer is made up of sensations that can be observed /they are therefore not the observer/ (this would be something that I would investigate whenever I came across it during my sits). The thing is that the sense of observer/self/focus/attention is always in the field of experience and to notice this is to become aware of the fact that it is not you. (as in, everything that you are aware of moment-to-moment is in the field of experience, right? - so whoever appears to be watching the show can't be watching the show if they can be observed/made into object). Did I misunderstand what you wrote or is this relevant?

Thank you for your notes! Have fun :-)

RE: More on thoughts. Was: RE: Back from retreat
Answer
7/26/10 12:06 PM as a reply to Pavel _.
I'm aware of this style of investigation. My problem with it is that I just see the answer (in the form of taking focus somewhere in the field of experience) to just be wrong and therefore not indicative of anything. To clarify, if you asked a 3 yr old what's 2+2? and they said 5, would you assume that all of math is wrong or that the 3 yr old needs to hit the books?


Right, you are right. The thing is that I found it helpful to realize that any sense of self/attention/focus/observer is made up of sensations that can be observed /they are therefore not the observer/ (this would be something that I would investigate whenever I came across it during my sits). The thing is that the sense of observer/self/focus/attention is always in the field of experience and to notice this is to become aware of the fact that it is not you. (as in, everything that you are aware of moment-to-moment is in the field of experience, right? - so whoever appears to be watching the show can't be watching the show if they can be observed/made into object). Did I misunderstand what you wrote or is this relevant?

Thank you for your notes! Have fun :-)

I think you got it perfectly. I just need to keep paying attention to the sense of self and the sense of an observer and notice that they can be observed as a part of the experience (however subtle a part) and therefore cannot be self. Even if I can't pinpoint them exactly, they're still observable and that's the important part.