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Need help navigating strange fear experience

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I was hoping that someone who has gotten at least 1st path could help me with an issue that I have been having.

I have been practicing for quite a few years now, initially doing Goenka retreats and more recently started Mahasi style noting based on reading Practical Insight Meditation and endless podcasts, reading and research. Suffice it to say that things started to ramp up big time pretty quickly using this method.

So let me explain my problem if I can. My sits pretty much follow the same pattern just about every time:

My body gets relaxed fairly quickly and pretty much immediately get into lots of energetic stuff and the sensations get pretty wild. 

Then everything gets pretty buzzy and finally calms down and it feels as if I came out of my meditation. However I keep noting the sensations and over time stuff starts speeding up to the point where it is like one of those scary scenes in a movie where everything is happening at once. My mind kind of automatically backs up and looks at everything as a whole, then stuff starts to disolve.

I feel all these solidified sensations around different spots in my body and they all seem to have a ticklish spot somewhere in the middle of them. As I notice the tickling sensation and watch it, the tightness around it explodes, the the whole part of the body kind of dissolves. 

I am feeling all kinds of emotions that I watch and note. The emotions are like annoyance or something similar. Like when you are on a bus ride where you are standing the whole way and you just want off. Really intensely want off.

I go from feeling fear and anxiety to just wanting it all to end. Like just shut the power off so to speak.

Eventually the emotions and my body sort of dissolve away, like being sucked into a tiny point in space. Immediately, I feel a very raw and powerful fear arise that consumes my entire consciousness. It doesn't break my concentration though. Sometimes it is accompanied by an overwhelming bright light that starts to pour over my entire field of vision with all kinds of wierd shapes that look like one of those kaleidoscope toys you play with as a kid.

Here comes the problem. This builds and builds. Eventually my heart starts pounding out of my chest. I keep observing what is happening, trying to stay objective but then out of nowhere, the lights, feelings everything just goes away. The pounding heart and fear seem to knock me out of my meditation. It feels as if I was never meditating, except I feel super calm.

At this point, I can continue meditating, but I can't figure out what to do. I don't feel frustrated or anything, but a weird indifference comes over me.

This happens pretty much every single time now. Does anyone know how to counter this? Is there a way to stop this heart pounding from breaking my meditation?

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:46 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
To me it sounds like you are doing progress. It’s great that you are able to continue meditating throughout this intense feeling and see it dissolve on its own without you having to do anything about it. That’s both impermanence and not self right there. Maybe you can investigate why you feel like it’s a failure? What are your ideas about what meditation should be like? What happens when you want your meditation to be different from what it is?

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 10:48 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
To me it sounds like you are doing progress. It’s great that you are able to continue meditating throughout this intense feeling and see it dissolve on its own without you having to do anything about it. That’s both impermanence and not self right there. Maybe you can investigate why you feel like it’s a failure? What are your ideas about what meditation should be like? What happens when you want your meditation to be different from what it is?

Yes, I remember that to start with the rapid heart beating would shake me up. It is basically exactly like the sensations of a full on panic attack. But I have gotten to the point where I can watch all of the change happen without getting involved if that makes sense.

Good point on investigating why I think it is a failure and why I have preconceived notions on what meditation should be. I think what my mind does when I hit this stage is that it feels lost, like I am at a crossroads and don"t know where to go; whereas earlier I was on a ride that sort of guided itself in a way.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 3:30 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Learn the lessons of the Dark Night or cycle this way forever.

If you read Dissolution to EQ in MCTB2 again, as many times as it takes, something will click.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 4:09 PM as a reply to Shaun Steelgrave.
Shaun Steelgrave:
Learn the lessons of the Dark Night or cycle this way forever.

If you read Dissolution to EQ in MCTB2 again, as many times as it takes, something will click.


So to you, does my description sound like I am getting to EQ at the end, then cycling back back to the DN upon starting to meditate again?

I was suspicious of that but I didn't want to self diagnose too much. I feel like most of the time when someone says EQ on here, someone else immediately calls it out as being A&P so I have just been avoiding calling it anything and just describing what is happening to the best of my ability.

I do own a copy of MCTB2 (I am an extremely slow reader, a bit dyslexic so that book can be a bit daunting for me) but I will take your advice and have a look at the section about Dissolution to EQ. Hopefully I can figure out how to push through because I always feel like I'm very close to a breakthrough but somehow miss it.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 4:57 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
This sounds familiar to me. At a Goenka retreat last year, I had a lot of those same experiences: energetic stuff, fear that consumes the entire consciousness, bright light, kaleidscope images, heart beating. Pushing through all of that led me to the most frightening two days of my life, where my mind suddenly felt 20 times faster than it ever had before, and I felt like I had zero control over anything. Looking back, as scary as that was, it was a great learning experience. My mind has not slowed down since then, but it doesn't scare me anymore. I have a few competing theories about what it all means, but I don't know for certain where it is on the map.

I agree with Linda that it sounds like you're making progress. I suspect the feeling of "I'm very close to a breakthrough" is trying to get you to put your attention in the wrong place. There's something very addictive about "being on the ride". When that feeling goes away, it's a letdown. I think maybe this is part of the stage of Equanimity? It all needs to become equal for you: the craving for a breakthrough, the feeling of disappointment, the excitement when something interesting happens, the fear when something really interesting happens, etc.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:15 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
I go from feeling fear and anxiety to just wanting it all to end. Like just shut the power off so to speak.

I had a major fear problem after switching to MCTB-style meditation. I would sit and a slowly building crescendo of sensations would appear. For some reason, this never freaked me out so much that I'd stop a session, but the fear was present almost every time. It was tied to the breath in my case. This seemed to have been a phase and part of the process because after I got used to it the fear stopped occurring.

A number of weird things arise when we really get deeply into vipassana and they're not things we have experienced before so they scare us a bit. At the height of my own fear cycle I was almost convinced I was going crazy and doing some kind of damage to my mind. But these things really are signs of progress, signs that we're getting somewhere with our investigations.

My experience was the closer and more diligently I watched this stuff the less it scared me and the more I learned, insight-wise. The mind is an amazing thing. It acclimatizes to weird stuff pretty quickly.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:17 PM as a reply to spatial.
Thanks for your response Spatial - it is nice to know that someone else has had a similar experience. The first time I ever experienced the fear/bright light/kaleidescope thing was on about day 7 of my last Goenka retreat. At the time, I was (so I thought) quite concentrated so attempted to observe the whole process with equanimity. It would always crash right when the light completely filled my field of vision. It was sort of light going to do a backflip then chickening out in the middle, if that makes any sense. That is sort of what I meant by a breakthrough - like I am supposed to continue observing objectively, but then a fear of the unknown makes me 'chicken out' at the last second. Does that make sense?


But I like what you say about the breakthrough thought leading me astray. I will definitely keep that in mind for next time. And yes, it is definitely an insane ride followed by a really boring feeling which triggers letdown thoughts to arise. 

So it seems to me that I might just need to keep doing what I am doing, except for the subtle craving for the ride to continue all the way into fruition. I think I have been unintentionally craving for that fabled cessation.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:24 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
A number of weird things arise when we really get deeply into vipassana and they're not things we have experienced before so they scare us a bit. At the height of my own fear cycle I was almost convinced I was going crazy and doing some kind of damage to my mind. But these things really are signs of progress, signs that we're getting somewhere with our investigations.

My experience was the closer and more diligently I watched this stuff the less it scared me and the more I learned, insight-wise. The mind is an amazing thing. It acclimatizes to weird stuff pretty quickly.


Yeah, totally! You know the thing is though, it isn't the fear that derails me; it's the insane panic attack style heartbeat that ramps up as the sensations start moving at a breakneck speed. It doesn't seem to matter how calm and concentrated that I am. It's like trying to drink a teaspoon of medicine while someone is vigorously shaking your shoulders. I know I shouldn't want what isn't happening, but I find myself just wanting the fear without the rapid heartbeat so that I can investigate the fear quietly if that makes sense.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:29 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
I know I shouldn't want what isn't happening, but I find myself just wanting the fear without the rapid heartbeat so that I can investigate the fear quietly if that makes sense.

There aren't a lot of people in the world to whom this makes sense, but you're here among a bunch of us. Of course it makes sense! I used to force myself to endure my panics, somehow "knowing" they weren't going to drive me to insanity.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 5:51 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Ricky Lee Nuthman:
It was sort of light going to do a backflip then chickening out in the middle, if that makes any sense. That is sort of what I meant by a breakthrough - like I am supposed to continue observing objectively, but then a fear of the unknown makes me 'chicken out' at the last second. Does that make sense?

Yes, that makes sense. 

You might also find it helpful to realize that the mind is already observing more than you think it is. The fact that you are aware that you are chickening out at the last second is proof that you are noticing what's happening. You're just bothered by the fact that it's not what you want to be happening...

(and maybe, this is what's causing the energy surges in the first place?)

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 6:09 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
There aren't a lot of people in the world to whom this makes sense, but you're here among a bunch of us. Of course it makes sense! I used to force myself to endure my panics, somehow "knowing" they weren't going to drive me to insanity.

Haha, indeed. That is why I love this community. You can actually discuss concepts that seem bizarre to most people without folks automatically jumping to suggesting mental help.

That knowing is so powerful too. That is what frustrates me about this weird chickening out thing that I am doing when the fear ramps up to the max. Even though from my perspective I am just watching things happen, something in my body just reflexively takes over and makes my heart pound at the fear and shuts everything down leaving me feel as if there were some failure. I wonder if that is just how equanimity happens in my case? This huge burst of fear, followed by complete mundaneness. 

But doesn't re-observation come just before eq? Does my fear experience match up with Re-observation from your perspective?

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 6:12 PM as a reply to spatial.
You're just bothered by the fact that it's not what you want to be happening...

(and maybe, this is what's causing the energy surges in the first place?)
Ahh, this could very well be. Something to work on - the being bothered part!

Hmm. I suppose the trick, then is to allow what is happening to happen without making any judgements. Which is really always the trick, I am guessing.

 

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 10:03 PM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Yes, this is normal and expected. As others have said, dissolution. The first time I ran into this my mind interpreted it as the dying process. You'll be ok. See if you can step outside the experience and view it as another process/phenomena/stuff being interpreted by the mind as a physical sensation.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/9/19 10:33 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Yes, this is normal and expected. As others have said, dissolution. The first time I ran into this my mind interpreted it as the dying process. You'll be ok. See if you can step outside the experience and view it as another process/phenomena/stuff being interpreted by the mind as a physical sensation.


Yes! The more the fear ramps up, my mind tells me in the most convincing way that "This is dying! If you don't snap out of it, all will be over."

I'm going to try, as you and others have suggested, to just see it as sensation like any other.

So I am guessing that you don't think that I was at EQ, since there are several stages between Dissolution and EQ. I don't remember going through Disgust or Misery in the most recent sittings. Although, I have experienced what I think to be these stages before. I am not sure if you always go through every in-between stage or not. Perhaps you zip through them sometimes?

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/10/19 6:38 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Even though from my perspective I am just watching things happen, something in my body just reflexively takes over and makes my heart pound at the fear and shuts everything down leaving me feel as if there were some failure. I wonder if that is just how equanimity happens in my case? This huge burst of fear, followed by complete mundaneness. 

I'm very familiar with this process because it happened over and over again for me... until it didn't anymore. The fear was existential, so the mind treats it that way and tries its best to shut the meditation/observation process down. This is just something that has to be worked through, and it provides great insight into the mind as a process. Keep going!

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/10/19 3:29 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Existential is exactly right. This has been happening for over a year now, but I don't always make it all the way to this phenomena while meditating. It seems to happen when I am really putting the effort in. 

I think I am going to need to get this state to manifest as much as possible so that I can really start to work through it.

RE: Need help navigating strange fear experience
Answer
9/11/19 12:25 AM as a reply to Ricky Lee Nuthman.
Ricky Lee Nuthman:
Milo:
Yes, tis is normal and expected. As others have said, dissolution. The first time I ran into this y mind interreted it as thdying process. You'll be ok. See if you can step outside the experience and view it as another process/phenomena/stuff being interpreted by the mind as a physical sensation.


Yes! The more the fear ramps up, my mind tells me in the most convincing way that "This is dying! If you don't snap out of it, all will be over."

I'm going to try, as you and others have suggested, to just see it as sensation like any other.

So I am guessing that you don't think that I was at EQ, since there are several stages between Dissolution and EQ. I don't remember going through Disgust or Misery in the most recent sittings. Although, I have experienced what I think to be these stages before. I am not sure if you always go through every in-between stage or not. Perhaps you zip through them sometimes?


You might have touched on EQ in that experience but just been afraid to fully embrace it. For me, EQ always takes the form of a very stable, balanced, neutral state that is a strong mental attractor and a positive feedback loop once entered. I'm tempted to say more about my own experiences but I've come to suspect it's often more helpful not to script the experience too much beforehand. Once you get a taste of it you'll know, and the fear phase can even start to look a little comical - the mind is apparently afraid of dissolution but strongly attracted to what follows. Keep at it!