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Dark Night? Goenka retreat, left early

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I just ended up leaving my second 10-day Goenka retreat early. I completed the first one about 6 years ago. I hadn't practiced much after that - one 3 day course, a few 1-days, and group 1-hour settings, but very little on my own beyond the first couple weeks after the first.

This time, the beginning of the retreat had gone really well, days 1-3 for anapanna was fruitful, I felt a high level of concretration and was
able to maintian my focus on my breath for longer and longer periods before my mind wandered. I spent a lot more time in the hall, basically every opportunity I could. On Vipassana day (4), that evening sitting after the discourse, I had a horrible pain in my knee, but continued to scan and reached the point of total body subtle vibrations, although the pain was still there and was hard to tune out.

I kept scanning and shortly after the pain was there but very different, I was not reacting to it, and there was almost a pop of just total
vibrations everywhere. Far more intense than anything I had experienced before. It kept expanding outward almost, but eventually, the session ended and I returned to my room.

Day 5, my adhittana sittings (sittings of great determination) went well, I had never managed to sit an entire hour before but I did then. I felt concentrated, focus, and was getting subtle sensations most places although not like the previous night.

Then on the 6th day everything started falling apart, and I realize now this may have been the beginning of the dark night. I had heard the term before but didn't know anything specific about the ñāṇas until I picked up MCTB.

I couldn't be comfortable in any position. Fear, like I had never felt before, set it. My mind spent the next 3 days imagining the most
horrific things happening to my husband, house, family, dog. I couldn't sleep, I had nightmares. I spoke with the teacher multiple times,
including privately on the 7th day, and she suggested a few things (lay down, focus on extremnities, etc). She said it was a storm and normal and not a regression, but no one explained it was an actual normal part of the process or gave it a name. I felt that it was my fault for not being strong enough or enough willpower to sit still and meditate.

I returned to my room early on the 7th day and tried to sleep but had a lot of trouble. On the morning of the eighth, I did the 4:30-6:30 sitting in the hall but it was even worse. I could feel the anxiety and fear in my chest like a heavy weight. I ate breakfast, and did a ton of loops on the walking path. Finally at the beginning of the group sitting at 8am, I had resolved maybe I should ask if I could use my phone to call my husband and see if everything was ok, to ease my fears, but by the end of that sitting I resolved I just needed to leave. I felt like a caged animal and had to get out, so I told her I needed to leave and they were very kind about it. I took a taxi to the airport and got home yesterday.

I read large parts of MCTB on the plane ride home, and I realize now this was possibly the dark night. I wish I stayed but I don't feel like I had the resources or the knowledge/support from there, the respones from Geonka's AT's always seem a bit... scripted? But it did get me (I think) past the A&P stage, not sure where I am now.  Do you agree this is what happened? I really want to continue my practice and reach stream entry but not sure where to go now.

I have been thinking about trying out other techniques (e.g. noting) but I do feeel comfortable with Goenka's method, although it doesn't seem like there's a lot of support for me as I continue further down on the path. I'm also lucky to be in Massachusetts which seems to have a lot of options. There's a 1-day Mahasi-style workshop later on in the month.

RE: Dark Night? Goenka retreat, left early
Answer
1/4/20 3:19 PM as a reply to Stephen Benjamin.
Hi and welcome.

Sometimes the darkness that descends can make your teeth itch (an idiomatic to describe something unsettling). This has been the typical pattern I've noticed with my practice. An event occurs usually involving some deep experiential knowledge into one of the three characteristics. Following this a darkness descends with which I've developed a familiarity with, so familiar that it doesn't bother me in ways that it used to. It is made far worse when thoughts try to interpret the darkness and this results in some form of panic. In the bright gaze of attention, it is just darkness but that may not be so helpful when you first come across it. Nevertheless, there is knowledge to be had even here. Your internal world has seen something very significant and is responding with resistance. One should try to refrain from buying into the thoughts that arise around the darkness. Let the thoughts come but don't entertain them. I often clean the house during such times but mindfully or consciously (consciously cleaning the toilet is a little tricky).

I've become respectfully hesitant in defining my own place in Daniels model, and I therefore offer the same respect to yourself. It can be comforting to read the Progress of Insight parts of Daniel's book but that's all it is: a comfort blanket.

Sometimes it can seem like people are unsupportive, but they don't want to interpret your experience too much and, in doing this they implicitly encourage you to work through it yourself. That's the lesson one eventually learns harsh as it may sound. You can colour your progress with stages, steps and whatnots by they tend to become a hindrance.

The Goenka method seems to be working for you but you don't want to experience the darkness or you feel the support isn't suitable. I think I read somewhere that Culadasa's The Mind Illuminated tries to - somehow - circumvent that darkness but I don't subscribe to that. We are all wired in our own unique ways so whatever arises that's what we have to work with.

RE: Dark Night? Goenka retreat, left early
Answer
1/4/20 5:30 PM as a reply to Stephen Benjamin.
Stephen Benjamin:
I kept scanning and shortly after the pain was there but very different, I was not reacting to it, and there was almost a pop of just total vibrations everywhere. Far more intense than anything I had experienced before. It kept expanding outward almost, but eventually, the session ended and I returned to my room.

...


Then on the 6th day everything started falling apart, and I realize now this may have been the beginning of the dark night. I had heard the term before but didn't know anything specific about the ñāṇas until I picked up MCTB.

I couldn't be comfortable in any position. Fear, like I had never felt before, set it. My mind spent the next 3 days imagining the most horrific things happening to my husband, house, family, dog. I couldn't sleep, I had nightmares.

... I could feel the anxiety and fear in my chest like a heavy weight. I ate breakfast, and did a ton of loops on the walking path. Finally at the beginning of the group sitting at 8am, I had resolved maybe I should ask if I could use my phone to call my husband and see if everything was ok, to ease my fears, but by the end of that sitting I resolved I just needed to leave. I felt like a caged animal and had to get out, so I told her I needed to leave and they were very kind about it. I took a taxi to the airport and got home yesterday.


Yes, classic A&P followed by fear nana/dark night. Like lightening and then thunder, one follows the other  --- sometimes strongly and sometimes without much drama, but no one can really predict it. Good for you for backing off and taking care of yourself. I think you made the right decision.

I think you would like retreating at IMS in Barre. Lots more opportunities to do walking practice and it isn't a huge deal if you need to do walking meditation instead of sitting --- in other words you are more empowered to moderate the intensity of your practice. 

In general, my own hunch is that it really doesn't matter what technique someone uses... what I would say is that people who have consistent daily practice of about an hour or so a day seem to do better. You could think of it as a bleeder valve analogy -- people who sit consistently and for longer sits seem to be able to process more of the challenging stuff as it arises. The pressure doesn't tend to build up as much. (And they have probably worked through more material during home sits before going on retreat)

But there is no 100% guarantee that we can completely avoid difficult dark nights. It's good to be forewarned and prepared to moderate the intensity of practice accordingly.

Again, good job! I respect your decision a lot.