Another Dark Night Yogi?

James Mitchell French, modified 10 Years ago.

Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 1/27/11 Recent Posts
I suppose I already know the answer to this question, but I wanted to type it out anyway and get some feedback from a group of people I've come to trust with this kind of thing. This is my first post here, by the way, and the first time I'll have described this experience in writing.

As a kid, I'd lay in bed in the dark before falling asleep and watch innumerable, colorful little dots dance around my room. It wasn't till I was about 8 or 9 that I realized these dots were part of my visual apparatus, that they were there when I closed my eyes, and were also there and in basically the same orientation when I moved my eyes around. I didn't have to follow them with my eyes, they'd just flow around and do their own thing. So it's like, what am I really looking at? It's more like these things are somehow "behind" my vision or part of the visual field itself than an object of vision. It was fascinating and fun. The more I focused, the smaller dots I'd see, and the more they'd take on a definite color: a violet hue, with red and bluish hints.

In my room, in the dark, about 10 years old and following the dots, I start thinking about God stuff, which was something I thought about often. Specifically the hereafter, and how long we would be there. It was an eternity we're talking about, after all. I thought, Wow that's a long time: after a million years, you'd have an eternity left. After a billion billion years, you'd still be sitting there singing or whatever and you'd still have forever to go. The time frame kept expanding, and suddenly something changed. Now it felt REAL. I had been pondering this question intellectually till then, keeping myself at a safe distance from the truth of my situation, which now presented itself. The situation is that this very world I was in is endless, that I'm in it, that I have never not been in it, and can't escape it in sleep, in forgetfulness, or even in death. That was the weird part: I knew somehow that death was no escape. I don't know why this was such a big deal, since I hadn't truly believed in an afterlife, but I began to feel a fear that I had never known till then, with a set of feelings that I can only describe as crushing and blasting, and a sense of being imprisoned in the universe with nowhere to go, just wanting to forget. I was wimpering pitifully, in pain, eyes wide with recognition, just wishing this would go away. If you've seen Michelangelo's painting of The Condemned Man at the Sistine Chapel, you'll have a perfect portrait. Strangely enough, I had been thinking about heaven.

The only way I felt I could calm down and deal with this prospect of eternity would be if the universe were to wink out and die, but without ever having known that it had already been reborn infinitely many times. Total memory wipe. Maybe we could figure it out while we were alive, but since it's too crushing to know this and too much of a burden to live forever, we could just forget, and could wake up fresh and naive.

The fear passed, and all I wanted was to hear human voices and see a television and artificial lights for the distraction, so I stumbled downstairs to the kitchen. My mom took one look and asked me if I was alright. I answered that I was just thinking about things I didn't want to think about.

Since then, I've often felt kind of like an alien. It' s just so hard to describe, and obviously you can't give someone a taste of your inner life. I'd say my dominant attitudes toward this experience have been continued shock, overweening pride at having glimpsed The Truth!, combined with worry that it would come back, but with a desperate, almost masochistic need to re-experience it. Not the content of the experience itself, but the associated crushing, blasting, REALNESS feelings, which I seem to have incorporated into my criteria for the "truth" of an experience. I've had them return a couple times since then, and each time, when I'm in the midst of it, I wonder why the hell I ever wanted to feel them again. Funny, never thought much about this fact, but I never really looked at the colorful, tiny, innumerable dots after that.

There've been others, but the first one feels like a pivotal moment in my life, and I definitely haven't gotten over it, and have felt alternately proud, embittered, and confused by it for like 20 years now. I feel like I saw too much too soon, and I'm afraid sometimes it fucked with my development as a person. Again, I'm probably answering my own question just by the fact that I ended up finding Daniel's work and joining DhO, but I'd really love to hear from someone with some perspective on all this. I'm really grateful to anyone who's read this whole thing.
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Nikolai H., modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Sounds like you crossed the AP. Lot's of young kids seem to do it via "explorations" like the one you described.

Some helpful links:

http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/4420747/Mind+Games+as+Kid
http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com/2010/12/if-this-is-indeed-a-p-congratulation.html

emoticon

Nick
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
/agree with Nick! This part stuck out for me:

James Mitchell French:

Since then, I've often felt kind of like an alien. It' s just so hard to describe, and obviously you can't give someone a taste of your inner life. I'd say my dominant attitudes toward this experience have been continued shock, overweening pride at having glimpsed The Truth!, combined with worry that it would come back, but with a desperate, almost masochistic need to re-experience it. Not the content of the experience itself, but the associated crushing, blasting, REALNESS feelings, which I seem to have incorporated into my criteria for the "truth" of an experience.

Thus begins the spiritual pull after one crosses an A&P... here are some tales from Daniel Ingram.

Perhaps it's time to act on the feeling and see where it leads? =).
C C C, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Your writing reminded me instantly of Nietzsche's Theory of Eternal Recurrence. Maybe there's some help there? Amazing to me that you realized this at age 10.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_return
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Paul S., modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 196 Join Date: 8/16/10 Recent Posts
10 years old? That's insane. Maybe it's time for a MCTB "kids edition"? emoticon
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Paul S.:
10 years old? That's insane. Maybe it's time for a MCTB "kids edition"? emoticon


I feel if we got kids to do this stuff they'd just blaze through it, lol.
James Mitchell French, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 1/27/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for the replies.

I've been working on shamatha meditation, as taught by Alan Wallace, for about 5 months now. It was a conscious decision, since the practice is based on relaxation and stability, with the goal of achieving meditative stabilization. I think I definitely need all of these things, and I feel like I'm making progress. I'm heading out to CA in March for a five-day non-residential shamatha retreat led by Mr Wallace. It'll be my first "retreat", aside from a weekend spent at the Rochester Zen Center 7 years ago. Gotta start somewhere.

However, I also recognize that shamatha is not an insight practice. I have a sense, based on experience and based on Daniel's work and the DhO, that the feeling of being a wild bird in a cage won't go away till I achieve deep insight. I hope. Because that's the rub, isn't it? Part of what attracted me to Buddhism was the promise of achieving, as Kapleau-roshi put it, a "diamond-like" concentration. And since that event all those years ago, the AP thing if you guys are right, my daily experience has been trying to reign in the desire to cut all ties and run to a monastery. This need is hugely distracting, as you guys know well. I wanted to live at the RZC, practice all day, attain insights. But I didn't, bc I felt like I'd be running away from relationships, from having to grow up, support myself, have a job, and I'd be carrying with me all the nonsense and idealization I'd conjured up regarding the idea of enlightenment.

But the need is still there. I've supported myself for years now, and I still feel as if I'm working with the express purpose of saving enough money to leave. Is this a normal part of the dark night experience? Is that where I'm at? Does anyone think I'll be able to clean this out of my system? And what happens if I do leave for 6 months, a year, 3 years. What the hell do I do after that? .... I guess I just want to have a normal life. I just feel like that's impossible for me with this sword hanging over my head.

I seem to be spilling my guts over here. A little embarrassing. Thanks again for reading.

ps As for Nietzsche, I was obsessed for a while with the guy, especially the idea of the Return. I majored in philosophy, but I was pretty much skimming all the reading material looking for clues and insight about my experiences to latch onto. The tradition doesn't offer much in the way of practice, at least compared to the Buddhists. So here I am. Jim
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Beoman Beo Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
James Mitchell French:
I have a sense, based on experience and based on Daniel's work and the DhO, that the feeling of being a wild bird in a cage won't go away till I achieve deep insight. I hope...
my daily experience has been trying to reign in the desire to cut all ties and run to a monastery. This need is hugely distracting...But I didn't, bc I felt like I'd be running away from relationships, from having to grow up, support myself, have a job, and I'd be carrying with me all the nonsense and idealization I'd conjured up regarding the idea of enlightenment....
But the need is still there. I've supported myself for years now, and I still feel as if I'm working with the express purpose of saving enough money to leave.
Is this a normal part of the dark night experience? Is that where I'm at? Does anyone think I'll be able to clean this out of my system? And what happens if I do leave for 6 months, a year, 3 years. What the hell do I do after that? .... I guess I just want to have a normal life. I just feel like that's impossible for me with this sword hanging over my head.


Yeah sounds about right, and matches my personal experience. You can definitely get through this stage by practicing well. As to what happens if you leave for a year and what to do after that, no one knows, but you'll be in a much better position to figure all that out once you are out of the dark night.

Oh I might also add, I also had a perpetual nagging feeling that I wasn't going through the dark night, that I was just being whiny, unable to cope with life, going through (conventionally) tough times, etc... only in retrospect was I confident it was a dark night.

You might be happy to know that you don't need a year-long intensive retreat to make significant progress. Some people have done it only w/ practice in daily life, others have done that + 10-day retreats. Dark Night can get annoying as the negative feelings will intensify as your concentration improves, but you get through it at some point. I kind of didn't do much about them except wallow and keep meditating, but maybe others have found better ways to deal w/ it.
James Mitchell French, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 1/27/11 Recent Posts
BBB:

I totally identify with that nagging feeling of incapacity. It's tough to feel competent when everything looks useless. After a long, long time of viewing the world like this, you look back and realize that it's just a dumb way of being, and that you've (I've) failed to develop real skills that would actually benefit the people around you. Gotta run, or I'd write more. Thanks Beoman.

Jim
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Bruno Loff, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Hi Jim, welcome to the DhO!

You might be happy to know that your story is very typical, and here at the DhO we get to read it in variations many times. It seems you've gone through A&P due to your mental explorations as a child. You've then stumbled and from then on struggled with the Dark Night.

James:

Since then, I've often felt kind of like an alien. It' s just so hard to describe, and obviously you can't give someone a taste of your inner life. I'd say my dominant attitudes toward this experience have been continued shock, overweening pride at having glimpsed The Truth!, combined with worry that it would come back, but with a desperate, almost masochistic need to re-experience it.
(...)
I've supported myself for years now, and I still feel as if I'm working with the express purpose of saving enough money to leave. Is this a normal part of the dark night experience? Is that where I'm at? Does anyone think I'll be able to clean this out of my system?


Yes, Yes, and Yes. You probably have been alternating between A&P (including euphoria, pride, elation, etc) and Dark Night (including depression, lack of self-worth, etc) for the last twenty years. Having gone through the A&P, you likely had the urge to "get something done," perhaps not knowing what that something is. Eventually it led you to meditation. This is what makes you think of running to a monastery. Very common.

Did you have long periods of OKness also, or do you always feel very off (either euphoric or depressed) every day of your life? I'm wondering whether the Equanimity stage has opened up for you.

James:

Not the content of the experience itself, but the associated crushing, blasting, REALNESS feelings, which I seem to have incorporated into my criteria for the "truth" of an experience. I've had them return a couple times since then, and each time, when I'm in the midst of it, I wonder why the hell I ever wanted to feel them again.


You can think of these stages (A&P, Dark Night, Equanimity) as parts of your psyche that are being emphasized in turn. You can think of it as territory in a map. As you moved along, you are likely to have numerous experiences, odd physical sensations, bizarre psychological states, maybe even convincing hallucinatory delusions. The feeling of "REALNESS" you alude to is likely a component of one or more of these stages. So is your feeling of having glimpsed "The Truth." And any existential fear you might have had. It is just how the psyche works, these experiences are very common, and there is no need to get metaphysical about it, even if it's very tempting. [1]

Have you read MCTB to the end? Notice the emphasis on technique (meditation) and the unimportance of content (mental stories, mystical experiences, personal drama, metaphysical interpretations, etc).

In either case, the way out is forward: you do insight meditation. I would sugest having stream-entry as your next goal. A lot of things become much more clear and pleasant after that. Also feel free to ask any questions.

Take care,
Bruno

[1] You could compare these kind of feelings, such as the feeling of having glimpsed "The Truth," with the feeling that one might get in a dream that one knows "Something" (such as "how to fly with willpower alone"). In the dream one is really convinced that this something has real, vital, useful content. One then wakes up to realize that "feeling that one knows" might actually not translate into anything tangible.
James Mitchell French, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Another Dark Night Yogi?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 1/27/11 Recent Posts
Bruno:

This is great counsel. The way you describe the maps is especially useful. I hadn't thought of them as ... well, as maps: it's not just a linear description of "progress", instead one can journey through and visit different locations, and if you don't know the maps, you're just sort of wandering around haphazardly. The world looks differently from each of the various locations, and this can be distressing and confusing when you're not aware that there is a mental topography. Thanks again.

Jim