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Reversing the Stack—A Nondual Practice Map, with Michael Taft


In this episode, host Michael Taft remixes his map of deconstructing sensory experience, and talks about how to use it to work in nondual traditions. Essentially the idea is to reverse the stack by starting out with Stage 4 (pure awareness) and then working your way up to stage 3, etc. Michael also spends some time talking about maps of meditation, problems therewith, and why he is already reworking this map after a short time.

Show Notes

0:25 – Introduction
2:11 – Michael’s reasons for opposing maps, and creating the Deconstructing Sensory
Experience map
5:05 – Critiques Michael has heard about the map since first presenting it, and his responses
10:13 – Brief review of stages 1-4 of the map
14:41 – The logic behind putting cessation as stage 5 in the previous map; why it’s now
removed from the map
18:19 – How each stage is useful and no stage is lesser than the others
21:13 – Description of stage 4, pure awareness; how this stage is viewed in other traditions
25:43 – Reversing the stack, using this model bidirectionally
29:56 – The observer trap and how reversing the stack overcomes this problem
34:34 – Outro

Note: this is only a map, only a model. Just like a menu is not food, this model is not claiming to be reality. It’s just a handy way to help you orient your practice.

This model doesn’t count for nondual meditations, high-concentration/jhana practice, etc. It is only to help you with your vipassana practice.

These are not discrete or digital stages. They are analog, and shade into one another. Each stage is desirable and useful for various things. No stage is somehow better than another.

In vipassana practice, however, we are usually attempting to tranverse the stack from stage one to stage four.

When doing nondual practices, we transverse the stack from bottom to top (4 -> 1) and do what we might call “nondual vipassana” or something akin to many Mahamudra practices—which is what this episode describes.

1ConceptualThinking about sensory experience objects using words.
2Phenomenal ObjectContacting the phenomenology of sensory experiences in the form of objects.
3Flow / ChangeContacting the phenomenology of sensory experiences as vibration, waves, or change.
4Pure AwarenessNoticing awareness itself with no content.

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11 thoughts on “Reversing the Stack—A Nondual Practice Map, with Michael Taft”

  1. This episode resonated a lot with me. I recently experienced a shift which my teacher Tucker Peck diagnosed as stream entry, using a method which seems much more like this “nondual vipassana” than standard vipassana. One curious thing I have noticed is that my experience does not seem to correlate with the Progress of Insight map used by much of the pragmatic dharma community. There are ups and downs but I am not seeing the pattern of the POI stages. I wonder if this is due to practicing from this nondual direction. Has anyone else practicing in this way noticed this?

      1. Haha, that may be. I had not used it much myself before, but so many people take it as gospel and claim that others just haven’t noticed the signs of their cycling. I have to wonder if it is actually that they are being scripted by the map into experiencing these symptoms.

      2. On the other hand, I can see why practicing vipassana in the standard way may lead to something like this cycle. It seems like with that method, one is drilling down into sensations and getting deep with respect to a more narrow aspect of the self (the self relative only to those sensations). With the nondual method, it feels broader because one is not initially drilling down on any particular sensations and just resting in non effort, so more purifications have to be competed before enough momentum is generated to reach such a deep level. I could see how if the witness was seen as empty before this point, how the remaining purifications could result in a fallout manifesting as a dark night as the insight integrates into the rest of the mind. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for this excellent series on your model.

    In my self-appointed role as typo-sniffer, I may have spotted some more truffles. In the above, you wrote “tranverse” and “transverse”, where I think you intended to use the verb “traverse”. I hope that’s of help.

    All the best.

  3. Good riddance of the “cessation”! Asaññā (non-perception) trance is not what the Path is about

    “I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying among the Kajjangalas in the Bamboo Grove. Then the young brahman Uttara, a student of Parasiri went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, exchanged friendly greetings & courtesies. After this exchange of courteous greetings he sat to one side.

    As he was sitting there, the Blessed One said to him: “Uttara, does the brahman Parasiri teach his followers the development of the faculties?”

    “Yes, master Gotama, he does.”

    “And how does he teach his followers the development of the faculties?”

    “There is the case where one does not see forms with the eye, or hear sounds with the ear [in a trance of non-perception]. That’s how the brahman Parasiri teaches his followers the development of the faculties.”

    “That being the case, Uttara, then a blind person will have developed faculties, and a deaf person will have developed faculties, according to the words of the brahman Parasiri. For a blind person does not see forms with the eye, and a deaf person does not hear sounds with the ear.””

  4. Hi Michael,

    I just finished listening to your latest interview with Steve Of The Boat. It really had me wishing that you were working on a book that goes into detail describing your “map” and how one can walk it forwards and backwards (and what kinds of individual characteristics might make one direction better than the other). Deep bows for all the Dharma. Wishing you well.

Let us know what you think