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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality

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I wanted to share an experience, a set of experiences really, that happened over a year ago. I thought that people might find the experiences interesting or amusing in the context that they were brought on through, of all things, technology.

Some context: My background is in Western Occultism, mostly Chaos Magick, and while I do have experience in meditation, it had never been in the forefront of my work. I do, however, love technology and gadgets, and I got into virtual reality.

Many of the experiences were thrilling and delightful: flying through the sky in the body of a bird, floating in a field of light without any body to speak of. But I suddenly hit a bit of a wall.

I had purchased a VR game that I thought would be a lot of fun. It was a game where you had to jump platform to platform in the sky and collect crystals. It seemed like the perfect light hearted game for me, but it didn't quite work out that way.

The minute I put on the headset and looked down, my body went into a full blown panic. It was so bad that, pardon the description, my feet were actually sweating. I was covered in cold sweat. But my mind kept saying, "What is this? You're standing on the ground, on the first floor of an apartment building. Why is this happening?" There was a full split between what my body was feeling and what my mind was thinking. This seemed almost "offensive" to me that this would be happening, so I decided to pursue this. My curiosity was peaked, and I needed to explore it more.

There's a phenomena called "L'appel du vide", the "Call of the Void". It's an experience you get when you're standing near the edge of a very high place, like the edge of the building. A tiny voice that urges you to jump, even though you would never actually do such a thing. I decided to start here. I loaded a simulation where you had to walk a plank that was suspended over the edge of a tall building. I walked to the edge, fully immersed myself in both my panic, and the "Call", and then would step off the plank and "fall to the ground". I would repeat this experience over and over again, until both my panic, and "L'appel du vide" were extinguished.

I would put myself into simulations where I was given different kinds of bodies, and I would reflect on this. I would think about how I would act as if the virtual body was real, and how my mind would accept that virtual body as real, but then I would challenge myself on that. My thoughts and reactions are acting as if this virtual body is real and material, but it is neither real nor material, but simply a construct presented to me. But what does this mean when I take the headset off in terms of my real body? Is that nothing more than a construct that my mind has decided to accept as real?

I would put myself into simulations where I was part of a dramatic story full of emotions, and I would reflect on that. I would reflect on how I was reacting as if the story was real, that it was my story, and would have all these waves of emotions and reactions to the story. But then I would think about how all these stories were really just simulations given to me. I was feeling, but the stories were nothing more than artificial constructs. I would feel joy, sorrow, and fear, but all of it was just a construct my mind was reacting to. I would think to myself, "All of these stories are false. They're just a construct that I'm reacting to. But when I take the headset off, what is it that I have there? Isn't all of this nothing more than just stories that were given to me, constructs that I was presented with, that my mind is simply reacting to? Can I step outside of that? How is a story in the flesh different from a constructed story in a virtual presentation?"

Over the course of months, I pursed this relentlessly, daily. I would put myself into different situations, and I would try to see how exactly it differed in essence to regular life. I used it to question myself and my experiences. I tried to understand what exactly reality was if I could react so much to something that was virtual. I tried out experiences of death, and I put myself into trance states while trying out VR experiences where I was immersed in colors and light without a body to speak of.

Sometimes it was absolutely delightful, sometimes it was downright frustrating and infuriating. But I kept working at it. I kept working with it and facing it over and over again because there seemed to be something there that I needed to understand. That original sense of panic that divided my mind and body compelled me to keep searching and looking.

And then one day, something interesting happened.

I was walking through the park, just mulling over the experiences I had, when something happened.

It was odd in that the experience was very quiet. There was no "flash" or "sizzle" to it. No fireworks to speak of or waves of sensation. It was very "thusly" or "as is".

Reality seemed to "flatten", then it "shifted", and then it felt like all the dialog and "stories" about the world and myself were just deleted. Like someone took all the text and just cleared it all out. And then, nothing. There was a moment of nothing, but this wasn't the nothing like dreamless sleep, or the formlessness of deep meditation in a sensory deprivation tank. This was an absolute nothing. A nothing without quality, if that makes any sense.

The way I'm describing it makes it seem like it took a long time, but it presented and was gone in a moment. The only emotion I felt before it was a very brief moment of fright, but turned all the way down to about a 2 out of 10 in terms of scale. After it happened, it felt like I broke something, but it was a good thing and I was glad. I didn't have context for it, and I didn't know what it was. I hadn't experienced something like that before, and I had experienced a LOT of things before.

It was definitely transformative, but it was interesting because I never experienced something so transformative that was experientially so quiet.

Anyway, I just wanted to present this as an interesting story because it was an experience that was influenced not by traditional meditation, but through technology.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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6/26/19 1:41 PM as a reply to Eddie Z.
Very cool. You invented your own practice and it sounds like it was effective. Do you have any notes on what happened directly after the nothing, when you came back to experiencing things? In what ways did it transform your life?

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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6/26/19 2:07 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
I was kind of blindsided by the experience, so I didn't think to look for something. I think I vaguely remember thinking, "And I'm back" or something like that, but I wouldn't take that as absolute fact. I wasn't playing as close attention to the return as I should have, but I didn't know to do that.

Things don't "move" me in the same way as they once did. Not in terms of me being apathetic, or anything like that. Rather think in terms of swimming, if that makes any sense. If emotion provoking events were like a turbulent ocean, I've become a better "swimmer" instead of just flapping my arms around chaotically. Of course, I still end up "swallowing water" on occassion. emoticon

My meditation skill has definitely gotten better, although I know I'm not as skilled as the people here. I can sit longer than I previously did.

Also, rituals that I used to enjoy don't quite make as much "sense" as they used to. Or rather, they don't seem necessary in the same way as they used to. Is that weird?

I definitely don't feel compelled to do anything like abandon all my material things or run out to become a hermit or anything like that. I do feel like I have a different relationship to the thoughts and ideas that arise in my head.

It was actually that event that brought me here. I didn't have context for that experience, but friends of mine with more experience ended up pointing me in this direction.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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6/26/19 2:35 PM as a reply to Eddie Z.
Thanks for sharing! It does make sense and I don’t think it’s weird at all, not that there’s anything wrong with weird either. I think you have come to the right place and I hope you will like it here.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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6/26/19 2:49 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Thank you. emoticon I think I will! emoticon

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/17/19 9:55 AM as a reply to Eddie Z.
I was hoping to get a little more feedback on this, if anyone wants to share their thoughts or observations.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/17/19 9:46 PM as a reply to Eddie Z.
This is way cool to hear! On a Sam Harris podcast, a guest (pretty sure it was Thomas Metzinger, but could have been Max Tegmark) brought this up once, that he though immersing onceself VR, then jumping out of it, then jumping back in VR and staying in until fully immersed again, then back out, and so on, could do something strange and knock a few bolts loose in the VR we call "reality" and avatar of embodied self.

Amazing to hear you found this out for yourself—that VR could be this kind of tool! And the dedication you put into this—that's incredible that you had an intuition about it and dug the well deep enuogh to find something. Much gratitude for sharing, and congratulations—whatever this change is or is not.

Curious, what VR system or setup did you use? That's rather off-topic, but I've never done any VR games or similar—sounds fun to try. emoticon

IMHO, this certainly could be SE. (But I'm not a "regular" here, so defer to the judgement of anyone who is, instead.) While I believe mistaking experiences for SE is extradinarily common and thus skepticism is always prudent, I also believe there are many practioners, especially of an older generation, who are wildly naive about the frequency with which attainments are being experienced in this day and age. In other words, a great number of people believe they have "woken up" when they haven't, and many more people are waking up than ever before. Both are true (again, IMHO).

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/17/19 2:21 AM as a reply to Eddie Z.
I have worked a bit with immersive motion tracked VR in a high resolution environment with detailed object modelling.  It is super cool in the sense that it just tranports you to another place - almost like a star trek transporter.  My sense was of being right there, totally immersed, in what was a real but different world - and yet I could somehow interact with the audio and conceptual input from the other world at the same time (that is, people talking to me about the experience).  I didn't get any specific insights out of it, but it wouldn't surprise if some people did, and it seems pretty likely to help shake up our simplistic conceptions of our perceptual input of the world.

We used HTC Vive with motion tracking and a simulation built on Unreal Engine. Towards the end of the project we also added Emotiv EEG headsets which was pretty cool too. Great fun to apply meditation levels of concentration to the Emotiv calibration exercises !

I would think that both VR and EEG could be adapted to be effective insight tools, but it might require decades of research to get it right.

Malcolm

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/17/19 10:05 AM as a reply to Chris O..
I'm definitely going to check out that Sam Harris podcast! It sounds rather interesting!

At the time, I was using a Playstation VR headset and an HTC Vive.
I've explanded my collection significantly since then!

I'm still working with it and seeing how far I can take things.
For example, I've been using a VR headset to practice Fire Kasina.

I've also done some work with a Muse headset (a neurofeedback headset), but I have to experiment with that a lot more.

After a lot of self-debate and analysis, and with the help of friends who are more experienced than I in meditation work, I would also say that I had SE.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/17/19 6:57 PM as a reply to Eddie Z.
Eddie Z:
I'm definitely going to check out that Sam Harris podcast! It sounds rather interesting!

At the time, I was using a Playstation VR headset and an HTC Vive.
I've explanded my collection significantly since then!

I'm still working with it and seeing how far I can take things.
For example, I've been using a VR headset to practice Fire Kasina.

I've also done some work with a Muse headset (a neurofeedback headset), but I have to experiment with that a lot more.

After a lot of self-debate and analysis, and with the help of friends who are more experienced than I in meditation work, I would also say that I had SE.
Awesome if you have had stream entry Eddie, although as you will appreciate none of can really tell from the other end of this stream of electrons.  My favourite advice in these situations is twofold.

1. Work on the seven factors of liberation.
2. As Daniel says, whatever you think you have, deepen that.

This should be good advice regardless of whether you had an A&P or stream entry.  But watch out for negative mentals states (dukkha nanas). They can follow both A&P and stream entry.

Practice well!  Keep striving.

Malcolm

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/18/19 12:26 PM as a reply to curious.
Thanks! :-)

Yes, my mentality tends to be to always keep working. 

I'll definitely try to keep an eye out for any kind of negative mental state.
Although I'll also say that ever since my experience, I've been able to roll with negative states a lot more easily than I previously did.

RE: Experiences brought on by Virtual Reality
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7/18/19 3:48 PM as a reply to Eddie Z.
Eddie Z:
Thanks! :-)

Yes, my mentality tends to be to always keep working. 

I'll definitely try to keep an eye out for any kind of negative mental state.
Although I'll also say that ever since my experience, I've been able to roll with negative states a lot more easily than I previously did.


Sounds very promising Eddie. Another wrinkle of negative emotions is that later on insights can sometimes empty out one part of the self, but not another. That can set up a resistance from the non-empty part of the self that really sucks. If that happens, just know that it is temporary and you just need to keep praticising.  Having strong concentration can help to deal with that - but working on the seven factors of liberation includes developing that concentration.

Best of luck
Malcolm