Message Boards Message Boards

Morality and Daily Life

Talking with non-practitioners about Dark Night

Toggle
I've been working through a Dark Night period for several months. Most of the time off the meditation cushion, I've been able to keep the fears and unhappiness to myself, but recently, it's gotten orders of magnitude worse (perhaps reobservation?), and for several days I've found myself significantly impaired from my normal work and family interactions.

I don't attempt to bridge the understanding gap at work, but at home my wife deserves more than silence from me. She is more than willing to do what she can, but I find it difficult to put into words that make sense to a non-practitioner (and non-Buddhist) enough to give her a sense of what's going on.

What I've tried so far sounds mystifying and more than a little like mental illness to her. That's fair, as before I started meditating, it would have sounded that way to me, too.

Any suggestions about describing vipassana stages -- or even just Dark Night, since that's the part that seems to affect family more than the others -- to non practitioners would be welcome.

RE: Talking with non-practitioners about Dark Night
Answer
10/28/10 1:26 PM as a reply to Sean Lindsay.
Given that many non-practitioners or light practitioners think of meditation as simply a tool for relaxation, maybe something along the lines of "a lot of people think of meditation as simple relaxation exercises, but what's interesting and a little surprising is that if you pursue it long enough it actually develops into these cycles where you work through difficult periods as well as pleasant periods, and right now I'm going through one of the difficult periods where things seem ugly and scary (or however they seem to you). It's a normal part of the process and this phase will pass, so thanks for being supportive and I'll do my best not to let it color my daily life". ?? I'm always a fan of not blinding people with too much science, even if the oversimplification misses a lot of relevant (to you) detail.

I also don't share any of my practice experiences with non-practitioners (family, colleagues, etc.) as I don't think it's any of their business any more than the state of my digestion or what I dreamed about last night. (My husband practices, so that's not been an issue.)

Has anyone had a productive conversation about this stuff with non-practicing family/friends?

RE: Talking with non-practitioners about Dark Night
Answer
10/29/10 2:41 AM as a reply to Ona Kiser.
I've had the opposite attitude on my end --- I tried to explain everything in detail; my good experiences, my dark night anguish, my insights, etc.

There were some good results and some bad results. My mom really understood what dark night was like, since she had been through depression herself quite a few times. But when I explained to her what I was aiming at, she would be alarmed and convinced I was aiming at "indifference" (what a cliché, hun?). My father paid a lot of attention and took great intelectual interest in what I was striving for, and as a very positive bonus, he decided to start doing exercise (and this happened because I convinced him to try a chi kung-like exercise I was doing at the time), and is now doing better from his joints. I think he is curious to see where meditation will ultimately take me, and maybe he will start doing it too, if he is likes how I ultimately turn out.

On the other hand, whenever I talked to others about my condition expecting to feel relief through their understanding, then for some mysterious reason people would react negatively, reject what I was saying, and interact with me in a way that brought me no relief, but tangled them somehow in the painful knots in my mind (partly their behavior, partly my own distorted interpretations). Dark night brought an itchy rash into some of my friendships, and I am still working on recovery to this day (and successfully, I might add emoticon). Furthermore, the fact that I was so descriptive and open about my symptoms caused great concern and stress to my parents, which also lasts to this day, and which I would rather have avoided.

So, I would recommend being highly alert to when you are talking to someone because you want this person not to worry about what you are going through, and when you are talking to someone because you want this person to "understand" and somehow relieve you of your condition. The first conversation might be beneficial for this person, the second will probably not (and it won't help you either, only practice and common sense seem to help).

Take care emoticon
Bruno

RE: Talking with non-practitioners about Dark Night
Answer
10/29/10 10:48 AM as a reply to Ona Kiser.
Ona Kiser:
Given that many non-practitioners or light practitioners think of meditation as simply a tool for relaxation, maybe something along the lines of "a lot of people think of meditation as simple relaxation exercises, but what's interesting and a little surprising is that if you pursue it long enough it actually develops into these cycles where you work through difficult periods as well as pleasant periods, and right now I'm going through one of the difficult periods where things seem ugly and scary (or however they seem to you). It's a normal part of the process and this phase will pass, so thanks for being supportive and I'll do my best not to let it color my daily life". ?? I'm always a fan of not blinding people with too much science, even if the oversimplification misses a lot of relevant (to you) detail.


Thanks for this, Ona. I've noticed that when I try to explain things at a level that I think would make sense to me if I weren't practicing, I always over-explain, so clearly I'm not gauging my audience very well. I'll try your approach and see how it turns out (though I'll need to add something more to get across the fact that now and again, I'm completely incapable of anything other than splitting firewood and the like).

RE: Talking with non-practitioners about Dark Night
Answer
10/29/10 10:51 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Bruno Loff:
There were some good results and some bad results. My mom really understood what dark night was like, since she had been through depression herself quite a few times. But when I explained to her what I was aiming at, she would be alarmed and convinced I was aiming at "indifference" (what a cliché, hun?).


I can relate to this, Bruno. When I tried to explain what I was about, it struck my loved ones as nihilistic. It seems to be a common reaction. I wonder if the fear reaction would be different in different cultures.