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Dealing with the Dark Night

Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?

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Hi all! I'm a long time meditator, (about 20 years) until recently mainly via Goenka retreats and that style of Vipassana. Sat maybe 7 ten day retreats over the years including 'satipatthana' courses, plus a few shorter ones. Right now I'm living in London with my wife and son (8 years old). Day job in digital product design (thankfully part time at the moment, so a bit more time to practice). Work is going pretty well (though it's a bit precarious, as a freelancer) relations with my missus are 'OK', been better.

A few months back I came across Daniel, MCTB and kasina practice thanks to my brother (also a 'Goenka sitter'). Started experimenting with kasina practice a couple of months ago via mostly-daily, 20-60 minute sits. Wow! It's really been a remarkably interesting experience. Felt (I'm not sure, terminology and concepts are new to me) I was getting into 3rd jhana type states very quickly. I've generally been getting to levels of concentration I'd usually associate with much deeper meditation, during courses. 

So. A couple of days ago I had a 'kundalini' type Arising & Passing event during a morning sit. Funnily, not at all ideal conditions for meditation, with a loud conversation next door! Wouldn't have expected anything so strong to happen. Such is the way, with A&P sometimes, I gather. Previous A&P experiences have generally been slow and deep while on courses (sometimes some crazy shit in daily life) - though I didn't know that's what they were.

This most recent A&P was very intense - equivalent to a strong pill of MDMA, though shorter lasting! That's the closest analogy I have to it in my experience. Also came with an odd feeling of 'powers' - some kind of awareness of energy, what seemed like the ability to read intent of people around me, strange encounters with strangers(!) Was fully tripped out for a day and half, but in an enjoyable, rushing kind of way!

I still seem to be in the afterglow or whatever from this A&P event - vibrations are tingling away at 20hz, and sitting produces low strength echoes of the A&P. But I can feel (predict?) dissolution approaching fast. From reading MCTB, I'm now in apprehension of dark night territory, so I'm trying to pre-empt it, get ahead of the game so to speak, by asking for advice here. I have an urge to retreat and do loads of sitting, but current commitments preclude it! What approach would you advise for going through insight stages in daily life? Is there a specific type of practice most recommended as I move forward - concentration or insight?

Any other advice from those who've skillfully navigated this territory is most welcome!

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/10/20 5:52 AM as a reply to Bill T.
The main thing is to not take the attitude of "dealing with it" but rather to think of the dark night as an opportunity and to  "learn from it and master it". All the primal dark night urges/emotions/thoughts that come to the surface are EXACTLY the kind of stuff that humans need to learn to see clearly and make friends with if we're ever going to become more than barely-intelligent monkeys. emoticon 

The stuff of the dark night are all the human triggers that send us into trance or traumatic over-reaction, and there is no way to develop a stable and courageous mind unless we can handle these things. So the dark night is a great opportunity. That's the way to think of it. 

Plus as an added bonus, you're working toward a profound state of equanimity -- which is good. And if you are able to dwell in equanimity (which is sometimes surprisingly difficult, it's almost too easy, so we miss the subtle resistances that are still there and we get up earlier or we quit practice completely or we just kinda phone it in and don't really investigate...) then we eventually hit stream entry --- which is also good.

But if you discount the dark night and just try to get through it in order to get to equanimity/stream entry, then you'll probably fail at both.

So really look at this as an opportunity to look into your own psyche and grow in wisdom.

Another little bit of advice is to establish your support group now. Who can you practice with? Who can you talk to just as normal friends? Who can advise you on meditation practice? Who can help you if you totally freak out and just need a safe place to be? (The last item is rarely required, but I mention it out of throughness.) Establish your support group now, before things get difficult.

The last thing I'll mention is that there can be a lot of benefit in studying the dark night stages and then writing out how this shows up in your life... and how to meet those challenges. Like if misery totally dominated your psyche, what would that look like? What are your misery triggers? How does misery show up in sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts? What is the best thing about misery? What is the worst? What allows you to simply be with experiences of misery? What would like to learn more about the whole mechanism of a state of misery? What do you tend to avoid or ignore about misery?  

You see what I mean? This kind of analysis helps you sensitize yourself to the sorts of things you might experience, how you might react, how you might sabotage yourself, how you might learn something about yourself.

For example, I might say "I have a lot of trouble just being with someone who is feeling miserable and sobbing and wimping out of life. Therefore when experiences of misery come up during a sit, I will make an explicit effort to full experience them and not avoid or ignore." Or "I can't handle the image of my children suffering. Therefore I will know that this is a possible trigger that would get me to over-react and I'll be prepared for it if it comes up during a meditation." Etc. etc.

Hope this help. Most of all, don't feel like you need to script yourself into having a horrible time in the dark night. It can be tough, but with the right attitude and commitment, it really can be a deep purification and refinement.  Hope this helps! 

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/10/20 6:04 AM as a reply to shargrol.
p.s during the dark night, concentration (which is a horrible word to use, I like "relaxing and centering") and insight (or investigation) start becoming less distinct. This is the domain of vipassina jhanas. You'll feel yourself pulled into mind states, often with a wierd kind of dreamy or trance-like depth. Not quite pure concentration, not quite pure insight. Dissolution will feel like not quite being present and daydreamy. This is good and fine.

No need to force the mind to be super clean or super clear -- that's where people get into trouble during the dark night; they think things are wrong, but actually it's just fine. 

So mostly, simply follow what the mind does.

If there is an option, then tend more towards relaxing the body and mind and feeling centered in the body and mind. Neither lean forward into experience nor backward away from experience (I mean this both physically and poetically). 

i.e. more toward concentration... but not the kind of strict "I will force my mind to pay attention to a narrow bandwidth of sensations on my nose and if I don't do it then I don't have concentration and I'm messing up my practice" kind of attitude. Concentration means the accepting and allowing of experience to arise and pass, while identifying more as the mind which "holds" these experiences.

So relaxed, accepting, allowing, not straining, not seeking, not interrogating, not forcing.

Hope this helps! 

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/10/20 3:07 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Amazing, thanks so much shargrol. So much here - I'll review and return to your posts.

Great to be reminded about the kind of states one experiences in dissolution. Already starting to experience this. Interesting - super clarity at times, after sits - out walking and trippy VR-like clarity. Then sitting through misty waves of ?? on the mat.

By the way - is it possible to get email notifications from this forum? I only spotted your reply by chance just now!

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/10/20 10:50 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks, shargrol. I'm returning back to vipassana practice after spending the last year and a half a bit lost in the woods and have immediately (after a week of basic six-sense door monitoring) found myself (back) in the territory you describe in your second post. Very useful context and advice you've offered here.

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/11/20 9:01 AM as a reply to Bill T.
Shargrol does post well and helpfully! Yay!

As to email notifications, go to the Message Boards Home and there is a way to subscribe to the subtopics, I recall. You must subscribe to them each individually.

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/12/20 6:44 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Many thanks!!

Had trouble replying yesterday - some problem with the board ("unavailable")

Thanks also Daniel for writing MCTB, and all the work you do! Literally life-transforming for me in the past few months.

RE: Advise for dealing with dark night during daily practice?
Answer
1/12/20 6:45 AM as a reply to Bill T.
An aside -

I've now managed to get email notifications, but I get the error "You do not have the roles required to access this portlet" if I click the link in the email.