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Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)

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Question: Has anyone else noticed that exiting from concentration states can precipitate the symptoms of HPPD?

Background: 15+ years ago, I did some experimenting with psychedelics and some of the substituted phenethylamines. For several years after giving those up I experienced some mild forms of HPPD; mostly irregularities in the perception of the size of objects, halos around things, and abnormal sensitivity to perceiving patterns in the visual field. All but the last effect resolved on their own over the course of two to three years, and even the patterning became mild enough that I’ve never been certain that what I still experience isn’t within the normal range of how people perceive patterns in visual stimuli.

Fast-forward to today, and I’ve noticed that some of those old symptoms are starting to re-appear. More to the point, I find that meditation sessions can bring these things back to nearly 100% of their former intensity, although they tend to fade away after an hour or two. However, not every session does it. As best as I can tell, it appears to be linked to the depth of concentration attained during the sit. As a rough framework, TMI stage 1-4 almost never triggers the symptoms, stages 5-6 may or may not (and they are likely to be on the mild side if they do arise), while stage 7+ is pretty much guaranteed to trigger the them. I have since been wondering if this is overfitting and/or unique to me (surely not, right?) or if this is a common experience.

Wild Speculation: If these things (psychedelics, samadhi, and these perceptual effects) are linked, and I strongly suspect they are, this strikes me as very interesting evidence for the predictive coding model of meditation’s efficacy. (see, e.g., https://opentheory.net/2018/12/the-neuroscience-of-meditation/?fbclid=IwAR2xEuSBLPw2R8Lbd8JAnLDWcau156huv-oTPWb1nwJJ0v_0gd7CKtfZdf4; cf. https://slatestarcodex.com/2019/09/10/ssc-journal-club-relaxed-beliefs-under-psychedelics-and-the-anarchic-brain/) By that I mean specifically the idea that meditation induces a weakening of top-down priors in a way that is similar, but not identical, to psychedelics and that this is the effect that causes the Insights & perceptual shifts to occur. This might even help explain why they can indeed be permanent.

The various methods we use to reach access concentration/samadhi/whatever, all have at least one thing in common, i.e., we engage directly and immediately with bottom-up sense data until our phenomenal experience of these data streams *shifts* in a way that is hard to describe but patently obvious when experienced. This shift might be conceptualized as the first-person experience of the weakening of top-down priors. Of course, not all shifts are created equal, deeper concentration would seem to correspond with a greater weakening of priors, and the weaker those priors become the further we can travel in realm of possible phenomenological experience and perceptual shifts. Why else would it be the experience of practitioners that the deeper states/momentum of a retreat is so, so helpful in getting over some of those “humps” on the path of progressive Insight?

I'd be interested to know if this jives with anyone else's experiance, or if I just sound like a lunitic emoticon

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/16/20 1:25 PM as a reply to Ryan.
I was a regular tripper throughout my twenties and have most certainly retained permanent visual distortions such as visual snow and bubbling/waves rippling across patterned surfaces such as walls or carpet. I remember a time in my late teens or early twenties being concerned about these regularly occuring side effect hallucinations.

The perceptual shifts of insight work have brought upon a new cast of permanent visual effects and they are very similar to those of what you call HPPD. It's just that now there's a peace with all these "hallucinations" both drug and meditation-induced; The experiential knowledge of one's experience being merely a mental model of approximation makes these distortions seem normal.

It's always snowing the visual field these days and nothing appears stationary; It's more like objects projected into the field like somewhat unstable holograms. In my druggy days I would have been very concerned that I broke my brain. But after insight work, it's more like "Well, yeah, of course!" emoticon        
       

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/17/20 9:35 AM as a reply to Nick O.
 
Visual snow is an interesting example. I feel like the snow/static aspect of visual-sense objects is something I was vaguely aware of as a kid, but didn’t give much thought. It is a more noticeable aspect of experience now, though I don’t know how much of that is due to just paying more attention to the sense-streams vs how much to actual perceptive shifts due to Insight and/or experimental chemistry. Maybe those two things aren’t actually best thought of as different categories??
 
Also, I wonder what these persistent changes to the visual field suggest about changes to the other sense spheres. For example, what about the tendency to believe in various flavors of woo or undergo personality changes in the general realm of “out-there-ness”? These traits/effects strike me as way, way over-represented in both serious meditation practitioners and long-term users of certain substances. (I feel personally attacked!! Relax friend, just playing devil’s advocate here…) Could these changes be analogous to the halos, or undulating walls and so forth? I see halo’s while you believe in forest gnomes, she sees objects as holograms while he is certain that certain rocks have healing properties. 

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/17/20 9:39 AM as a reply to Ryan.
Put another way, if 'mind is the forerunner of all things,’ it can sometimes feel like my forerunner could use a trip to the Buddhist ophthalmologist: “Hey Doc, the contacts have done wonders for my astigmatism, but can you do anything for my deteriorating sense of object permanence?”

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/18/20 10:23 AM as a reply to Ryan.
Ryan:
 
Visual snow is an interesting example. I feel like the snow/static aspect of visual-sense objects is something I was vaguely aware of as a kid, but didn’t give much thought. It is a more noticeable aspect of experience now, though I don’t know how much of that is due to just paying more attention to the sense-streams vs how much to actual perceptive shifts due to Insight and/or experimental chemistry. Maybe those two things aren’t actually best thought of as different categories??
 

It'd be difficult to argue them into different categories. Practicing paying attention is likely to make one notice finer details of what they already experience, but on the other hand, from personal experience, I've noticed certain insight events immediately unveil subtle shifts of visual perception. If we look at the theory of psychedelics and meditation removing the layers preceptual preprocessing, it might feel appropriate to open a separate category for "perceptive shifts due to insight". No?
Also, I wonder what these persistent changes to the visual field suggest about changes to the other sense spheres.  
In my experience, there's been a similar tranformation in tactile perception. Interestingly, hearing has been transformed the least. I attribute this to being an audio engineer and musician, years of scrutinizing and meditating on the most subtle details in sound. Perhaps there had already been a lot of work done there.
   For example, what about the tendency to believe in various flavors of woo or undergo personality changes in the general realm of “out-there-ness”? These traits/effects strike me as way, way over-represented in both serious meditation practitioners and long-term users of certain substances. (I feel personally attacked!! Relax friend, just playing devil’s advocate here…) Could these changes be analogous to the halos, or undulating walls and so forth? I see halo’s while you believe in forest gnomes, she sees objects as holograms while he is certain that certain rocks have healing properties. 
         
This reminds me of one of Michael Taft's blogposts where he talks about nondual perception AND there still being a "blood and guts" world out there. Seems to me like an obvious "safe" and dare I say "rational" model to work from to avoid unnecessary "flavors of woo".

But then I have experiences where ñanas seem to intertwine with "out there" reality in ways that transcend mere random coincidence and a persistent back of the mind "knowing" of some greater universal gear turning. That said, the best part of all of it is being completely at peace with the very real possibility of it being utter delusion. Views are only useful for a good laugh! emoticon      

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/19/20 3:43 PM as a reply to Ryan.
Ryan:
Put another way, if 'mind is the forerunner of all things,’ it can sometimes feel like my forerunner could use a trip to the Buddhist ophthalmologist: “Hey Doc, the contacts have done wonders for my astigmatism, but can you do anything for my deteriorating sense of object permanence?”

Why?  Is your sense of object permanence not deteriorating fast enough?  emoticon 

The solidity we 'see' is mostly a creation of the mind - it happens deep in the chain of dependent arising, deep in the sensory pre-processing. The raw sense data are themselves not at all solid, or lined up nicely, and they don't cover the whole sensory field. We get glimpses and flashses and the mind extrapolates; the mind fills in the gaps and imposes order. 

So if you sometimes see a different order - a non-solidity or flux in perception - that it is a good sign. It shows the sensory part of the selfing process is losing some of its grip (this happens in the A&P too). So you are loosening the knot of self at the base of the chain of dependent arising.  

These sensory fluxes are not permanent. They are not self. They are unsatisfactory. They are not to be clung to, not be desired or avoided, obsessed with or resisted. They just arise and pass away.  But their appearance shows you are becoming less of a slave to the perceptual end of the selfing process.




RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/24/20 11:10 AM as a reply to Nick O.
(sorry for the italicized quotes, I can not get DhO’s system to play well with my browser)

If we look at the theory of psychedelics and meditation removing the layers preceptual preprocessing, it might feel appropriate to open a separate category for "perceptive shifts due to insight". No?

I’m not very confident in this, but maybe categorization is less helpful here than shifting to a continuum model. For example, as you touched on regarding your experience with sound, where does paying attention to sense-streams leave off and ‘meditation’ begin? Also, are layers really ‘removed’ or are they altered in such a way that pre-processing (or top-down prior) machinery just outputs a different result in some percentage of cases (leaving aside the question of ‘how altered does something need to be before it’s an entirely different thing a la Theseus’ Ship and all that’)? Alternatively, maybe there’s just one process or prior that gets fully removed - the ‘the world and self as I experience it is ‘Real’ in the sense of a reified, non-empty space in which I am an independent actor’ process, which is necessary to the felt sense of there being a center to experience, and so is a sort of meta-prior which all other processes are subordinate to. Repeated weakening of priors or preprocessing tweaks might at first weaken, and eventually break this meta-prior, providing a much greater degree of freedom, but you could still, ya know, pay your taxes and believe that your SO still exists when he/she leaves the room.

But then I have experiences where ñanas seem to intertwine with "out there" reality in ways that transcend mere random coincidence and a persistent back of the mind "knowing" of some greater universal gear turning.

And there’s the rub! I agree totally with you and Michael’s point that there is a world “out there.” Also, though we can’t know it directly, we can make inferences about it from experience, such as physics (also leaving aside the whole Kantian, synthetic a prior knowledge question). In fact, we HAVE TO make inferences about it: “I should not go to work naked today” or “Rice Krispys are a better breakfast than a bowl of Lye”. But when we engage in the process of weakening our priors, be it through meditation or direct neuro-chemical intervention, bugs can creep in – such as woo, increased perception of sensory noise, etc.

...the best part of all of it is being completely at peace with the very real possibility of it being utter delusion. Views are only useful for a good laugh!

Well said! emoticon

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/24/20 11:14 AM as a reply to curious.
These sensory fluxes are not permanent. They are not self. They are unsatisfactory. They are not to be clung to, not be desired or avoided, obsessed with or resisted. They just arise and pass away. But their appearance shows you are becoming less of a slave to the perceptual end of the selfing process.

Hmm... Equinimity then, yes? 

RE: Samadhi and Hallucinogen-Persisting Perceptual Disorder (HPPD)
Answer
1/26/20 1:00 AM as a reply to Ryan.
Ryan:
These sensory fluxes are not permanent. They are not self. They are unsatisfactory. They are not to be clung to, not be desired or avoided, obsessed with or resisted. They just arise and pass away. But their appearance shows you are becoming less of a slave to the perceptual end of the selfing process.

Hmm... Equinimity then, yes? 

Well in everthing really. I am describing the three marks of existence.  The fluxes are a great opportunity to see them in an obvious context, but the three marks of existence occur in everything all the time (and Daniel tells us this all the time, but many of us don't seem to get it).

The fluxes may be more obvious in equanimity (as well as the A&P), but I am not skilled enough in Mahasi-style practices to say for sure - for example they may appear in dissolution too.  But I can say that when the perceptual sytem is very calm and somewhat deconstructed, fluxes will appear either by surprise or when reflected on. 

... not sure if this helps !