Message Boards Message Boards

Toggle
Moments of Terror
Answer
1/18/20 2:22 PM
I’ve had some strange experiences recently and am hoping someone can provide some context or suggestions.

They happen ‘off the cushion’ when I catch myself lost in discursive mind wandering, but instead of a pleasant and open ‘aha’ moment, I experience a brief but visceral shock of terror. In my mind it feels like ‘I’ am somewhere else observing things from a distance but helpless to do anything. In my body it feels like being startled by a loud noise; muscle contractions, spiked heart rate, and loss of breath. The intensity lasts only a brief moment but the reverberations and aftershocks linger for 30 seconds or so. 

There is some seemingly associated trauma where in moments during the following days I can feel another shock coming on, but in these cases there is a discernible conceptual/narrative component and I am able to remain mindful and direct my awareness to bodily sensations which helps me stay composed. There has been occasional skin-crawly weirdness/creepiness. I have also experienced an uptick of hypnagogic jerks which experientially seem very similar to these waking terror shocks. 

I have not experienced any of these shocks while meditating. Lately I have focused on body work (Goenka-style body scans and whole body breathing), brief glimpse practices (Sam Harris, Diana Winston, and Loch Kelly), and Metta sprinkled throughout the day.

What is this? Dissociation? Depersonalization? Derealization? Dark night?

More background information about me and my practice:

I started meditating about six years ago, but developed a daily practice (20 to 40 minutes) in the fall of 2017, using guided meditations from Joseph Goldstein and others found on YouTube and Insight Timer. I sat my first seven-day retreat at the Springwater Center in upstate NY in August of 2018 which consisted of open awareness and zazen in the style of Toni Packer who was influenced by Phillip Kapleau, Krishnamurti, and Huangpo Xiyun. After this retreat I sat regularly for an hour or so a day in this style, and have done maybe 10 informal weekend-retreats there since (sitting for 4-6 hours a day). I attended a Goenka 10-day course in May 2019, and started doing ‘The Mind Illuminated’ (TMI) style samatha-vipassana since June 2019, and have consistently say an hour or two a day, while missing a couple of days here and there. 

I suspect I am going through the purifications associated with stage seven of TMI and might be in dark night territory as outlined in MCTB. Both on and off retreat I have gotten into the first and second samatha pleasure jhanas as described in Leigh Brasington’s ‘Right Concentration’.

I am comfortable using the conceptual frameworks used in the aforementioned texts. My immediate goal is to make sense of these moments of terror and not go crazy (or at least not too crazy) while pursuing the larger goal of on-going awakening. I have recently taken a job in the financial office at the Springwater Center so will have the time and resources available to pursue this kind of work with more focus than before.

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/19/20 3:29 PM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
It's difficult to add anything here as you seem already quite self-knowledgable about your process. I've had a few moments of jolting terror but I take two approaches with it either smiling through it or I'm completely non-responsive. It happened on the train recently and I remained present while watching it come and go without judgements. So the same mantra of observing the terror come and go is a good approach to realizing that you're not the owner of it. It's just phenomenon passing through. The skin-crawly creepiness is probably related as being a fear based aspect. Fear will come in many interesting forms. The karmic creditors are stepping up as you appear to be leaving them.

I would try not to get too caught up in diagnostic criteria. The experience only now lives in your mind as a reverberating thought; it's a figment of your imagination, the same imagination that keeps you stuck in mindless dream-states. Keep it simple: it arrives, then passes; it waxes, then wanes; it comes, then goes. There is something that is unmoving that knows all of this activity is impermanent and that is where you must lean towards.

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/20/20 7:51 AM as a reply to Bardo.
Thank you for for the reply, the reassurance, and the suggestions! 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/20/20 1:32 PM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
Tom Robert Schwab:
Thank you for for the reply, the reassurance, and the suggestions! 

I'm sure someone else will drop-in as fear and terror are quite common experiences in this arena. In the meantime head over to these other discussions...

Here

Here

Here

Here


RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/20/20 5:48 PM as a reply to Bardo.
Great. Thank you Bardo, I will check these out! 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/20/20 8:39 PM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
Been there, felt that, didn't like it. The worst experience occurred one evening when I was reading some Sherlock Holmes. I had recently had surgery on my thumb, which was encased in a cast. The tip started to itch, but I couldn't get at it, and then suddenly it was as if my entire being shrank into the space of that tiny cast, where I (it) was completely paralyzed and enclosed. I sprang to my feet and began feverishly walking around the room in circles, focusing on my feet until it passed. The whole episode lasted about 90 seconds, the worst hell I have ever known. About a week later I got stream entry. 

I tend to be hard-wired for anxiety, plus I did some internet research and found out that there's such a thing as cast claustrophobia. In general, intensive practice can cause this stuff to bubble up to the surface, as the dukkha nanas. It's best not to get melodramatic about it--it's just a mindstate. Of course I indulged in lots of drama, but that's why I know it doesn't serve any useful purpose. All the best to you. 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/21/20 1:14 AM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
I don't know if it's any consolation at all, but I have found that cessations have a way of taking away the terror associated with at least some phobias, at least for me, and a whole lot of other anxieties, so it was worth it. I still have a long way to go, so I can't say anything about the end result, though. I got to think of it as I read Laurel's reply (I can relate to cast claustrophobia, by the way). Best wishes.

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/21/20 3:36 AM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
So, lots of great reflections from others.  I'll add something about emotions ... not sure if it will help, but here goes.

As we advance in meditation, it's a bit like we get access to this secret control room.  But at first, we don't really realise we are there.  We don't realise we have opened a door and started playing with all the buttons and levers.  But there is a subconscious monkey that gets in and starts playing.  The green button ... FEAR ... oh shit!   The red lever ... ESCTASY ... dang, where did I leave that lever?  I want to push it again.  And then maybe we break open the safety glass, and see something ugly, and go NOOOO and push the button, and that sounds a horrid klaxon. If we are unlucky, we hate the klaxon so we push the button again ....

Eventually, it calms down. We learn to accept who we really are and stop panicking at the glimpses of the truth. Eventually, we get the instruction manual, and work out how to push the different levers in the control room. Eventually, we realise the control room states all have their purpose, and that we cycle through them, and that we can control them a bit. And they are just part of being human instead of things to charge towards, or charge away from.

But also, if you really study those emotions closely, you will see that they are composed of both a physical state and a mental reaction.  The physical state arises first, and then we react to that physical state mentally.  So there is the fear, and then there is mental resistance to it (the negative vedana).  There is the pleasure, and then there is the obsessive rejoicing in it.  So if you can, try to notice these two things separately - first the emotion, and then the mental reaction to that emotion.  Then, you suddenly realise that the emotion is not self, because you can wactch it arise and pass away, without buring with the flame of resistance or obsession. 

Just some thoughts.

Malcolm

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/21/20 7:58 AM as a reply to curious.
Excellent analogy, Malcolm! Hits the nail on the head. Linda, I also have had a wonderful lowering of anxiety over the years. Every so often under an unusual stress it tries to come back, but it doesn't last. Confirms what Malcolm (curious) says here. 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/21/20 8:45 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
That's good to hear, both for your sake and mine. I am under unusual stress right now and I have noticed that it tries to come back just like you said. There is a difference in that now I know that it can just suddenly disappear, so it doesn't feel like something with an essence. I agree that Malcolm's reply was excellent. It made a lot of sense and explains my experiences very well.

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/21/20 6:58 PM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Thank you for the stories and the feedback!

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/22/20 7:42 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Thank you for the perspective Linda, but I am curious, how do I have a cessation? Is that something that just happens as a result of consistent practice? 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/22/20 7:54 AM as a reply to curious.
That's very helpful Malcolm, thank you. I definitely can separate the physical from the mental, at least some of the time, but other times these jolts happen too fast. I trust that with relaxation, surrender, patience, and time things will improve.

What has been happening now is, from a place a relaxed concentration (not quite access methinks) a feeling a quick expansion envelops me, like the universe is rushing toward me (or maybe like I am dissovling?) but I get scared, as it seems like another jolt is coming, and I quickly contract back into my body. This whole process happens in less than a second.

What should I do here? Ignore this? Stop doing glimpse/insight pratices for the time being? Or should I play with this more and try to surrender completely to this experience?

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/22/20 8:45 AM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
Tom Robert Schwab:
Thank you for the perspective Linda, but I am curious, how do I have a cessation? Is that something that just happens as a result of consistent practice? 

I'm not qualified to tell anyone how to have a cessation. Right now I'd say it was a miracle or a manifestation of mercy that it happened to me. In a way, that's good, because that means that it can certainly happen to someone who is very human. In some other thread, Chris Marti pointed out to me that it isn't really a miracle, but built in. I cannot recall whether that was specifically about cessations, but it had to do with awakening. There is a list of the factors of awakening in MCTB2. I think I'm not totally rambling if I say that cessations follow from the insight that you get from diligent and committed practice according to those factors, and that it's sort of the restart required to apply the changes of programming to your functioning after downloading them through practice. So basically, yes, I think so, if the practice gets beyond your defenses enough for it to happen. 

RE: Moments of Terror
Answer
1/26/20 12:53 AM as a reply to Tom Robert Schwab.
Tom Robert Schwab:
That's very helpful Malcolm, thank you. I definitely can separate the physical from the mental, at least some of the time, but other times these jolts happen too fast. I trust that with relaxation, surrender, patience, and time things will improve.

What has been happening now is, from a place a relaxed concentration (not quite access methinks) a feeling a quick expansion envelops me, like the universe is rushing toward me (or maybe like I am dissovling?) but I get scared, as it seems like another jolt is coming, and I quickly contract back into my body. This whole process happens in less than a second.

What should I do here? Ignore this? Stop doing glimpse/insight pratices for the time being? Or should I play with this more and try to surrender completely to this experience?

Very good and precise obervations. The other things you need are concentration, calm and intention. Build concentration to stay focussed on the experience, calm (e.g. through metta practice) to take the gas out of the desire to recoil, and reflect on the intention to accept and closely examine the whole experience when it returns. 

So yes just keep on going, but strengthen your supports.

Good luck!

Malcolm