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Agnostic's Log 2

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Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
1/22/20 12:55 PM
I am starting a new practice log with the explicit recognition that I suffer from strong narcissistic tendencies. To those of you familiar with my first log this will probably come as no surprise, possibly accompanied by mutterings of “about bloody time”.

In this log I will refer to myself as a narcissist as shorthand for having strong narcissistic tendencies. Of course we all have narcissistic tendencies to some extent and there is no clear demarcation between healthy and pathological, but I am reasonably confident that I am well to the right of center on the spectrum.

I haven't been diagnosed (yet) with full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) but I am looking for a therapeutic diagnosis. My current therapist agrees that I have strong narcissistic tendencies, however it was me who initiated the subject and he is reluctant to classify me as a narcissist. Actually he is my sixth therapist in 15 years and none of my previous therapists brought it up either (obviously that’s not to say they didn’t think it). Part of the problem is that narcissists are very hard to treat. They only go to therapy if their situation deteriorates sufficiently and even then they find seeking help shameful and need to feel superior to the therapist. Narcissists are also experts at garnering sympathy. I went through several severe depressions and periods of suicidal ideation, but in retrospect they seem like elaborate bids for attention as my former sources of narcissistic supply dried up.

What really put me on track to recognizing myself as a narcissist was reading Sam Vaknin’s book Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited. It was both a shocking and uniquely insightful experience. At almost every page I had the thought “that’s me exactly”. I had the feeling that the author was inside my own mind and explaining what it was like to be me. Vaknin is himself a narcissist and says that the prognosis is poor – the narcissist will always be a narcissist and the best they can hope for is to understand their condition and try to avoid creating so much suffering for themselves and others.

My purpose in blogging about being a narcissist on the spiritual path is twofold:

1) To try and help myself by being honest about my problems.

2) Possibly to help others who may be narcissists or have relationships with narcissists.

Please feel free to comment on any narcissistic patterns you observe in me, especially if I don’t seem to be aware of them. I will try to take the view that “if it hurts, it helps”. Naturally this log and your views and comments is a source of narcissistic supply for me, but I am sincere in my desire to reduce the suffering caused by my narcissism (or at least, as sincere as it is possible for a narcissist to be).

This log will probably end up being more related to “stuff” than meditation. I have basically spent the last year on a kind of home meditation retreat. Whilst I have had some relatively deep meditation experiences and insights into the “ultimate nature of reality”, I am painfully aware that my basic personality as a source of suffering has not improved all that much (or maybe it has and I’m just more aware of it, but that amounts to the same thing).

I am actually somewhat ambivalent now about the value of heavy meditation as a narcissist at this point in my practice. Whilst the serenity and insight of meditation seem to be valid universal experiences, they might actually worsen my narcissism because they encourage me to feel special and different. The “personality is fabricated” message of Buddhism is like catnip to a narcissist, because that’s how they’ve always felt about themselves and others (having constantly had to create new personas to secure new sources of narcissistic supply). However as a narcissist my real feelings are so deeply suppressed that I may not even be accessing them at all even in meditation.

In simplistic terms, the narcissist creates a “false self” because they were taught to deny their “true self”. A healthy Buddhist will see that their true self is still a source of suffering and learn to penetrate that illusion. A narcissist will tend to think that they are more enlightened than they in fact are because they already know the false self is a sham. But in reality they haven’t even gotten their suffering down to healthy levels because they are in constant denial of their true self. Maybe that is overly simplistic, but I would rather err on the side of caution.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/3/20 5:59 AM as a reply to agnostic.
I’ve been pretty busy the last 3 weeks, our kids nanny having finished and me taking over looking after the kids in the afternoons. My mind has been in turmoil digesting the realization that I am a narcissist. It seems like I’m going through a process described by Christine Hammond as Narcissism Awareness Grief, which is the grieving process which happens when someone becomes aware of narcissism. Most of the narcissism help genre is focused on the victims because narcissists rarely seek help, but I’ve been following it by imagining that I am the victim of my own narcissism (which is true but the irony is not lost on me!) Narcissists will only seek help if it is in their self interest - i.e. they become aware of their narcissism and are sick of the suffering it is causing themselves – so that is all I have to work with. As a narcissist I don’t recognize my own authentic self, so a fortiori I don’t recognize other people’s feeings/suffering. Anyway, here are the stages of "NAG" I’ve been going through.

1. Denial. I first started reading Sam Vaknin’s book 9 months ago and instantly recognized myself as a narcissist, yet I quickly put it on the back burner and told myself that meditation and the spiritual path would somehow dissolve the issue of their own accord.

2. Anger. Interactions with my wife and therapist 3 weeks ago brought me back to Vaknin’s book and the realization that I am a narcissist, leading to strong feelings of anger. Anger at my current and previous therapists for failing to diagnose it; anger at myself for failing to see it and then denying it; anger for the wasted years and needless suffering for myself and others due to my undiagnosed narcissism; anger at my parents for passing on their narcissism to me; and anger about receiving a life sentence with an “incurable disease”.

3. Bargaining. I’ve been questioning how my parents ended up as narcissists and why they got together and had 3 children who have all suffered and created suffering as a result. I’ve been questioning whether my meditation journey over the last year has all just been spiritual bypassing. I’ve been trying to cut myself a “bargain” where I say that the experiences on the cushion were valid and it’s how my off-cushion personality has used those experiences which is unhealthy, and that somehow I can keep the good and get rid of the bad.

4. Depression. I’ve already worked through a lot of depression over the last 10 years and accepted that my parents and upbringing will never change, so maybe I get a pass on this stage.

5. Rewiring. I’ve already done quite a bit of this in the past as well.

6. Acceptance. It seems too early to be thinking I’m here yet, but in the last few days I’ve started to recapture some equanimity. Radical acceptance through meditation has been quite a powerful tool.

My daughter was sick with the flu all last week and I was caring for her constantly, barely leaving the house. Actually we had a nice time together and I felt it deepened our relationship. I notice that I think about the effect on me first rather than what it’s actually like for her being sick, which is typical of a narcissist. However I feel like this kind of “enlightened narcissism” is the way forward for me. Based on my research, it seems unwise to hope that I will ever fully stop being a narcissist. But if I can focus on finding “me first” practices which help rather than hurt others then that seems like the best I can do with the selfish vessel I have. In retrospect my decision to start taking over the childcare 5 months ago seems to have been in the same spirit – it was motivated by a desire to reduce my own suffering by being less selfish, with the positive for my kids coming as a secondary benefit rather than being the main motivating factor. Maybe that is a bit harsh on myself, but I wouldn’t say it was better than 50/50 on the me/others motivation. After all, we’ve had a nanny for 7 years and I could have stepped in at any point but was too preoccupied with my work (which was barely successful). And I’m choosing to do it at a time when it’s much easier now the kids are both in elementary school together.

That having been said, I am painfully aware that I’ve passed on some strong narcissistic tendencies to my son (as well as possibly created some codependency in my daughter), so it is going to be a lot of conscious hard work over the next 10 years or so to try smooth those out as best I can. I’m still looking for the right therapist who can help me specifically with these issues. But it feels good to have finally identified the fundamental causes of suffering in my life and taking steps towards reducing them. It seems significant that I have decided to take on this role when my son is about the same age that I was when I was sent to boarding school. Whilst I had suffered basic insecure attachment, emotional deprivation and parental anger by that age (as has he to some extent), it wasn’t until I was sent away to fend for myself in a highly socialized afamilial environment that I developed a fully fledged narcissistic personality structure (false self) as a survival mechanism. Hopefully I can rewrite that chapter with my son. Taking a step back, narcissism is pure samsara in that it is such a faithfully self-replicating personality structure. I feel like this is probably the most important thing I can do before I die. My reasons for having a family were purely narcissistic, but running away from it will guarantee that the pattern repeats with my children.

In terms of meditation it’s been “quality over quantity”. There’s a clear dynamic pattern: more time caring for others => less time for meditation but deeper and more powerful meditation experiences. Kundalini is stronger than ever now. I have an extremely powerful headache which seems to be connected with the thought “I am a bad person”, but there’s a lot of flux around it and waves down into the heart and belly. The heart waves seem to be engender a vulnerable feeling of being connected to others and the belly energy (which I have barely tapped) seems to be more about a secure sense of simply existing without having to justify it or even think about it.

One of the things which really bugs me about accepting that I am a narcissist is that before I knew what NPD was I naively imagined that being a narcissist must be quite enjoyable. My thinking was something like - sure they leave a trail of destruction in their wake, but at least they are (or believe themselves to be) successful, attractive and powerful and can do whatever selfish and pleasurable things they like, damn the cost. But in reality being a narcissist is not at all like that. Narcissists really don’t love themselves at all, they hate themselves and have a hollow emotional core which they are desperately and futilely trying to fill with narcissistic supply. The hits of narcissistic supply are really fleeting and accompanied by an immediate comedown and feeling of dissatisfaction, because you know it’s all a fake, but still you can’t help looking for the next hit. It really is a crappy drug and I’ve had enough.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/3/20 11:21 AM as a reply to agnostic.
Kundalini is very strong now, almost overwhelming at times. I feel like my subtle energy body is being remade, accompanied by psychological shifts. The process seems to work best on an intuitive level, rather than thinking about what's happening and questioning what should be happening. I notice this during meditation when I get lost in some random thought chain and when I come back I'm surprised to find there has been some significant energy shift and kundalini is flowing quite pleasantly thank you. Whereas if I focus on the kundalini I get more painful blockages, presumably because I'm trying to control it on some level.

That still leaves me with the question of what higher authority I should or can trust during this process. The best answer I can come up with is just trust the process itself (kundalini shakti). It's how I imagine first time childbirth might be for a woman - trusting that the physical body will know what to do what it was designed to do. So I find myself thinking "ok, I give up, just do what you need to do". At a certain point I started to think about the lotus leaves opening in my head and wonder if that’s what’s happening with these energy waves in the head, but I didn’t feel ready to let that happen yet. I still haven’t felt much kundalini coming up the spine yet and my gut tells me that I need to let the kundalini work downwards through my heart and into my belly first.

Being a narcissist I naturally find it hard to trust higher authorities. They invoke in me jealousy, anger and suspicion. Whenever I consider gurus or deities I find myself adopting a critical attitude and thinking “why can’t I just do this myself”, probably because I have a narcissist need to think of myself as at least their equal. Of course self-realization has a long tradition and possibly narcissism can be transcended that way. But it’s dangerous because there’s always the risk that the part-realized narcissist uses that realization to secure new narcissist supply. Forewarned is forearmed.

My wife is travelling on business this week and I find myself missing her more than usual. I realize how much I take her for granted as a pillar of emotional and financial stability in my otherwise chaotic life. Of course that’s still a narcissistic point of view, it's all about what she does for me, I don’t actually spend much time thinking about her needs as a person in her own right. As I write these words I find myself cringing, but that’s more about being perceived as a shallow and manipulative person rather than remorse at actually being such a person. Anyway my goal is to be honest about what it’s actually like being a narcissist, so there it is.

I tend to find most of my past behavior pretty cringeworthy, and reviewing my previous log is no exception. It’s totally self-absorbed. I realize that I did myself a disservice by allowing myself to get seduced by the idea that soft jhana is much of anything. There’s not much you can take for certain in meditation but I’ve seen enough evidence to know that (i) hard jhana exists; (ii) I haven’t gotten anywhere near experiencing it; and (iii) the obstacles to hard jhana are the hindrances. After a year of relatively intense meditation I realize that I’m actually right back at the beginning. What’s going on with me now is basic morality, a.k.a. being less selfish. Anecdotally it seems to me that people who get into hard jhana easily have better morality (less guilt), whereas people like me with poor morality have painful energy blockages which prevent them from getting into hard jhana. This reply from Nicky was very helpful to me in assessing where I am on the path, i.e. right at the beginning. It’s humbling to accept that you are not all you thought yourself to be, but also very humanizing and it just feels good to accept the truth which in my heart of hearts I feared all along anyway. I do have a newfound respect for why the insight-first path is considered by some to be unwise/dangerous and it's better to work on your morality first and then concentration/serenity. Sure I got some insight despite being morally lacking and of unstable mind, but it alienated me from my family and caused new suffering. The reality at least for me seems to be that you can't get stable integrated insight without hard jhana and you can't get hard jhana without proper morality.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/3/20 2:27 PM as a reply to agnostic.
I think Adyashanti once said  "Everyone's doing a dance. You must dance your dance all the way out." Such dances can be very draining almost bordering with insanity at times hence me writing you the next paragraph;

I was totally lost when I decided to contact Kenneth Folk last year. I needed some one to give me a push in the right dirrection. Kenneth Folk told me that one CAN NOT do Mahasi style Vipassana if one is not in the Human Realm (if the Mind is not in the Human Realm) as only humans can notice all the sensation. This acted on me like a slap in the face, like a total wake up call! It helped! He gave me a teaching on the 6 Realms and how to recognise them, when Mind gets into any of them and also how to use the Bardo to find my way back into the human realm so to be able to continue with Vipassana practice. BTW, his 6 realm teaching is not the same as the one Tibetans teach. Im not good at teaching this stuff. I can only warmly suggest you contact him and ask about it. He is a very helpful person and also Daniel Ingram's friend. They had the same teacher Bill Hamilton. (also Shinzen Young was a good friend with Bill Hamilton). This is a good line of people.

I have a strong feeling this might help you a lot so to bring you in the place where you can actually do the Vipassana to Investigate sensations that make up your reality.

I wish you and your familly all the best.




RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/3/20 10:08 PM as a reply to Che Guebuddha.
Thanks for the advice. I had thought about contacting him a year ago but had gone with a kundalini therapist instead, however I might consider it again at a suitable juncture.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 10:04 AM as a reply to agnostic.
I was listening to Tony Parsons again last night and I realized that I am falling into another dualistic trap with this narcissism thing. I’m falling for the idea that if only I could somehow fix my narcissism … then I would be happy. I’m forgetting that happiness is right here right now if I can give up the notion of I, the idea that there is a me who is lacking or incomplete in some sense. Suppose I was a healthy non-narcissist, I would still be subject to the vagaries of life, fortune and death. Presumably there are healthy people on the path as well, everyone is unhappy and seeking at some level. If I want to cause less suffering with my narcissism then it’s quite clear what I need to do – smile more, treat other people as if they really existed and their concerns and affairs are important, engage in more small talk and less big talk and constantly acknowledge my anger to avoid acting out on it.

My meditation yesterday morning was suffused with a basic feeling of happiness which was quite new for me. The pain in my forehead was gone and the strong painful/blissful sensations had subsided, I just felt happy and content, which is something I have basically never felt before. I attribute this shift to acknowledging my narcissism and seeing that my spiritual ambition is just as narcissistic as my former more worldly ambitions. Of course the happiness couldn’t last, it’s still too new and I feel like I don’t deserve it. By the end of the day I was back in fullblown personality crisis mode. I spoke with my therapist and we agreed that it was time for me to move on as he doesn’t really do the depth work and issues of transference. I had a session with a new therapist who does old school stream of consciousness listening. It felt cathartic and like the start of a new chapter … except do I really want or need to go down that route? Maybe, maybe not, I really don’t know at this point. I will probably have another session and see, but I want to avoid creating another dualistic ego trap.

Looking back, I think my depersonalization episode four months ago was a genuine taste of anatta but it was too much too soon for me to handle at the time. But it was enough to shock my ego that it really was under threat. So the ego devised a cunning plan: I’ll let you give up your business fantasies and look after the kids if that’s what you think will make you less selfish, just don’t fuck with my basic personality structure. Now I’ve broken the agreement and my narcissistic personality structure is coming under attack and my ego is pissed, hence the turmoil. It raises the question who is driving this attack on the ego? Is there a higher power (God/love/consciousness/the universe) guiding me to dismantle the ego? Or is there really nothing else and it’s just that I know in my heart of hearts that the ego is the cause of my unhappiness and suffering and therefore it has to be let go if that is to change. But how can the illusion let go of the illusion?

Kundalini is on the rise again and facial pains as I raise these unanswerable questions. I already know the answer – I can’t think my way out of this, I just need to let it happen – and yet I’m still not quite ready to let it happen. Just one more day my ego tries to bargain. Sure I’ll let you be awakened, just not quite yet. Meditation lately has been like an unpleasant medical procedure. I know there is a tumor in there and it needs to be removed, I’m resigned to go through with the operation, but still I’m too scared to let them take it out all at once.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 10:30 AM as a reply to agnostic.
just my suggestions, brain storming if you wish. 

Instead of labeling your rich experience with "my ego", "the narcissist me" etc... instead of seeing them as opposing each other, maybe try to feel gratefull about them as they offer you so much clear material for investigation (sensate investigation). 

While at work today I've pondered about your experience and came to conclusion that the 6 Realm Model might not suit you that well. Such practice seeks to get out of other realms via Bardo back into the human realm. This way you can not learn about what your Narciss is made off. 

I feel Ingram's 5th Bend/Mode fit better your personality. Ingram invites us to get to know it rather than run away from it or eradicate it. Apparently all Bends/Modes have their Good and Bad side. Hence good to know them so one can act on them according to situations that arise. 

It might be helpful to drop the view of opposing sides and take on a view that these Modes/Bends go around and come around all the time. Even if an Arahant these maybe still go around and come around. 

ok. So this Narciss is gear to stay. Fine. As it's here to stay, in your home-Mind then get to know it well. 
how to know it? Noting technique would seem like your best option. Why? Because if indeed This is your Personality then you are mainly in the Deva-Azura Realm and these are realms of Jhanic absorption. Meaning they could just Solidify that persona even more. 

As you seem in a turbulent spot at the moment I think Noting Aloud would be of benefit to you. Why? It is very important to keep the stream of awareness unbroken during the Practice time so not to get lost in the objects hence reinforcing them more. 

I agree, you can not talk yourself out of this. emoticon 
but you can Notice yourself out of this emoticon 

take care. 

p.s. apologies if my writing sounds a bit off as I've had a hard (physically) day at work emoticon

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 10:56 AM as a reply to Che Guebuddha.
If the primary issue here is treating narcissistic tendencies then it's best to stick with therapy. All the suggestions and comments that address the pros and cons of a multitude of meditation practices should take a back seat. Treating a mental illness like this is not the purpose of meditation practice.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 2:04 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
My aplogies dear Sir. I will leave the room now emoticon

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 2:55 PM as a reply to Che Guebuddha.
My reply was to your post but it was meant as a general comment for everyone.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 5:26 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
No worries. I assumed the OP desired to find a meditation practice that can assist him in seeing the fabric of his condition. At times finding a stable footing to start walking on the path can be tricky so certain detours can help gain the clarity and resolution hence me suggesting such. 

i might have jumped to conclusions as this is a pragmatic meditation forum interested in awakening, moment to moment, sensation after sensation, matter of fact rather than doing psychoanalysis.

OP may have the last word of course as this is about his Mind. My respect to all. 

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/5/20 9:43 PM as a reply to Che Guebuddha.
Thanks Che and Chris for your concern. I should say that since I am a narcissist there is probably a part of me which is enjoying the attention (and quite possibly seeking it as well).

I think both your points of view are valid.

Che thank you for taking time during your work day to think about my situation. You are right, I should face reality and investigate in every way possible what it is like really to be a narcissist. In the past I have applied noting practice on the bare sensate level (sense impressions and very basic “proto-thoughts”). Now I shall try to apply it to more complex narcissistical thoughts such as “I am a good/bad person”, “I am better/worse than this person”, “I am attractive/unattractive”, “I am good/bad at X”, etc.

Chris, you shocked me a little as I don’t think of myself as being mentally ill, but yes you are right, at least according to Freud’s definition of mental health as the ability to love, work and play. I can maintain passable impressions of those abilities periodically but they usually fall apart. I’m going to keep looking for a clear therapeutic assessment, although it is proving harder than I expected. Part of the difficulty is that I have given up most of my grosser external narcissistic behaviors but meditational awareness has magnified my internal narcissistic mindset. I present as less of a narcissist from the outside whilst I feel like more of a narcissist from the inside.

The first step to recovering from an addiction (in my case to narcissistic supply) is accepting that one is an addict. I think that is what is I am doing, hence the feeling of relief at knowing what my problem really is as well as the deepening of meditative experience and feelings of happiness, despite the fact that it is painful to accept.

Of course we all have some narcissistic tendencies and it’s a question of degree. Since my narcissistic tendencies are so strong they are hard to ignore, which might prove a blessing. The incidence of NPD is anywhere between 1-10% and spirituality is a very appealing arena for narcissists, hence there is probably a significant population of narcissists on the path who aren’t really admitting it to themselves. Trying to identify the narcissism in others is something I do quite often (“what kind of person abandons their wife and newborn child to go find themselves?”) however it is itself a narcissistic thought pattern for me (“hey at least I’m a better kind of narcissist”) and probably best avoided.

I think awakening and mental health are probably orthogonal. To me awakening is about seeing that there is not a real me and then integrating that insight into daily life. A lot of therapy seems to be about building up a healthy sense of self, but from a Buddhist perspective even a healthy self is still a cause of suffering and has to be seen through. One therapist looked like she was reaching for the panic button when I started to tell her “I don’t know who I am, I don’t think I’m anybody really, it’s just an illusion that I’m such-and-such a person with a past”. However I will keep trying to find the right therapist, whilst trying to avoid further reifying my sense of self. Thanks to you both again.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/6/20 6:38 AM as a reply to agnostic.
Part of the difficulty is that I have given up most of my grosser external narcissistic behaviors but meditational awareness has magnified my internal narcissistic mindset. I present as less of a narcissist from the outside whilst I feel like more of a narcissist from the inside.

This is exactly why a medical/therapeutic situation is what you probably need. Meditation can be a negative influence in some cases. It is not a cure-all for every mental condition.

I think awakening and mental health are probably orthogonal. To me awakening is about seeing that there is not a real me and then integrating that insight into daily life. A lot of therapy seems to be about building up a healthy sense of self, but from a Buddhist perspective even a healthy self is still a cause of suffering and has to be seen through. One therapist looked like she was reaching for the panic button when I started to tell her “I don’t know who I am, I don’t think I’m anybody really, it’s just an illusion that I’m such-and-such a person with a past”. However I will keep trying to find the right therapist, whilst trying to avoid further reifying my sense of self. Thanks to you both again.

What's missing from most people's notion of the relationship of therapy to meditation is that meditation requires a healthy sense of self to start. Another incorrect assumption some folks maintain is that meditation will somehow erase the sense of self, which is just not the case. So if you are having mental issues and you pursue mediation based on false premises you're just asking for more problems.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/6/20 9:14 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Well said!

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/6/20 12:11 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
What's missing from most people's notion of the relationship of therapy to meditation is that meditation requires a healthy sense of self to start.

I agree that ideally it would be better to have a healthy sense of self before starting to meditate. However the question occurs to me that if you really had a healthy sense of self then why would you start to meditate? Maybe you think you have a basically healthy sense of self and start meditating for relaxation or to help with some external life stressor or to get deeper in touch with yourself or because you have a nagging sense there must be something more to life etc. Then what if meditation starts throwing up all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings and you realize you may not be as healthy as you think? I guess that’s where therapy comes in. I think probably I have some sort of stigma about therapy due to narcissistic shame about needing help from another person.  Maybe it’s helpful to think about therapy as the lay-practitioner’s equivalent of the preparatory guidance that more experienced monks would provide to novices.

When I started reading Daniel’s book and got to the warning I remember thinking “well if I'm honest with myself I’m not in full health but I’m probably healthy enough to at least start on the path and I can back off and get help if necessary”. There was definitely some arrogance there, but there was also the sense that this was the way to real insight and I had to at least make a start, otherwise I would waste more years wallowing around in ignorance. And overall I would say the results have been as advertised. I’ve experienced strong anxiety and anger and some troubling psychological issues, but I feel like that stuff was there anyway and it required meditation to uncover it. I don’t think therapy alone would have done the same job from where I started, or at least not so fast.

I’m not sure I understand it when you say that erasing the sense of self is a false premise. The view seems pretty common across different spiritual traditions that the cause of suffering is the belief in a separate sense of self and the way to end suffering it to see this illusion for what it is and learn to drop it (i.e. “erase”  the sense of self). To quote MCTB:

With systematic debunking through insight practices of the illusion of some sense of a permanent, separate, independently existing self, we learn to perceive things as they are naturally.
...
I realize that most people go into meditation looking for stability, happiness, and comfort in the face of their own existence. I have just said that I have spent many years cultivating extreme experiential instability, careful awareness of the minutiae of my suffering and the clear perception that I don’t even exist as a separate or continuous entity. Why this would be a good idea is a very complex topic that I will try to deal with later, but I can honestly say that these practices are without doubt the sanest thing I have ever done in my life.


If debunking the self and adopting the perception that I don’t even exist as a separate or continuous entity is not erasing the self, then what is it?

You are right that I'm asking for problems, however to me that seems to me the purpose of the spiritual path – asking for more refined problems!

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/7/20 1:14 PM as a reply to agnostic.
agnostic:

If debunking the self and adopting the perception that I don’t even exist as a separate or continuous entity is not erasing the self, then what is it?


When I watched Scooby Doo cartoons as a kid, the gang would be chased around the entire episode by a ghost or some other kind of monster. Lots of "jinkeys!" and "zoinks!" to be had as they ran around in a panic. Eventually one of them would grab the ghost, pull off the sheet and it turns out it was old man Jenkins the whole time wearing a bedsheet. When they realized this, old man Jenkins wasn't "erased", but the mistaken assumption that he was a dangerous ghost disappeared. As well, all the panic and suffering they experienced due to that mistaken impression also disappeared. I don't think it's so much about erasing the self, it's more about "seeing old man jenkins under the sheet" and realizing it wasn't what you thought it was (and the associated stress involved in that mistaken assumption is dropped as a result).

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/7/20 2:30 PM as a reply to Lars.
Nice, Lars.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/7/20 2:32 PM as a reply to agnostic.
You are right that I'm asking for problems, however to me that seems to me the purpose of the spiritual path – asking for more refined problems!

Well, my verison of the purpose of the path has changed over time but I'd say overall, the purpose is to discover what we, as human beings, really are. How do our minds work?

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/7/20 2:39 PM as a reply to Lars.
Really great analogy!

Old man Jenkins was a bit of a whizz with the sowing machine, making evermore intricate character's episode after episode seemingly reappearing time and again. He was a persistent little bugger!

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/10/20 8:08 AM as a reply to agnostic.
There’s been a lot of sleep related disturbances the last few days and continuing kundalini process. I kept preparing posts but never had time to post. I was trying to edit everything into one long post and then I thought … why do I need to do this? Why do I need to give a blow by blow account of every little mental episode and energetic shift? They all seem like big deals to me at the time but a few days later and it’s all just water under the bridge.

I realize how self-absorbed and selfish I am in my practice. I start out with the best intentions of letting go, but the more I let go the more stuff bubbles up and then I get wrapped up in it all and forget it was letting go that got me to this point in the first place. And then just on a basic level I find myself grasping after the pleasant meditational experiences and resisting the unpleasant ones.

I take on board the comments above about not erasing the self but seeing old man Jenkins under the sheet (or the snake is just a piece of rope). The personality seems real on the relative plane of existence and inter-personal relationships, no point in denying that, but the more space I create in absolute existence the easier it is to step back and get some perspective on relative issues.

Rather than anatta or not-self I’m finding it more helpful to use words like “not mine” and “not me”, they have more of a personal impact for me. If I’m trying to focus on the breath and kundalini is distracting me then I say to myself “this energy is not mine, there is no permanent underlying me this is happening to, this is just an impersonal energy process liking watching a stream flowing around rocks”. If I’m getting frustrated looking after the kids and wish they were in bed then I say “these feelings are not mine, there is no solid underlying me they belong to, they are just feelings arising dependent on prior non-me causal conditions”. I’m not denying the feelings, if anything I’m feeling them more fully because I’m able to observe them without getting caught up in the story of “I’m suffering because of these feelings”. It seems to work in reducing suffering and I don’t think I’m disassociating, my external behavior seems better even if my head is a “total mess”.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/10/20 10:26 AM as a reply to agnostic.
Thanks to Tony Parsons’ Open Secret, I am realizing that the feeling of being on a progressive path towards awakening is itself the main barrier to awakening. A lot of my though processes around awakening go something like this: “I will be free once my kundalini blockages are cleared”, or “I will be more awakened once I can let go enough to attain a hard jhana”, or “I will be free once I am less of a narcissist”. These thoughts all have the same pattern: “there is something wrong with me which needs to be fixed before I am free/awakened”. And they all reinforce the basic underlying assumption – there is a real solid existing me which needs to be worked on. But if right now I adopt the attitude that there is no real underlying me, that these issues are all just impersonal conditioned thoughts which don’t rely on an underlying me in order to keep playing and self-perpetuating, then suddenly they cease and I see that I am already free.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/10/20 1:04 PM as a reply to agnostic.
I was just waiting for my phone to be fixed, temporarily free of its hold on me, when suddenly it occurred to me that there's nothing really wrong with me at all. The only thing wrong with me is that I grew up believing there was something wrong with me and eventually started acting that way to confirm my belief. It's a very liberating thought - I don't need to impress or repel anyone any more to get attention, I'm fine just as I am. Then the thought occurs "but what next?" followed by the realization that "what next" is the problem and there doesn't have to be a what next. Everything is fine just as it is and taking care of itself. Past karma still needs to be burnt off but that's happening by itself anyway.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/10/20 3:12 PM as a reply to agnostic.
Nice !

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/11/20 6:56 AM as a reply to agnostic.
 The only thing wrong with me is that I grew up believing there was something wrong with me and eventually started acting that way to confirm my belief.

I feel as though you're lost in a hall of mirrors. You select the image that is most pleasing to you today, so today that's "you." Tomorrow, you might select another image because that one is pleasing.

Comments?

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/12/20 8:50 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
 The only thing wrong with me is that I grew up believing there was something wrong with me and eventually started acting that way to confirm my belief.

I feel as though you're lost in a hall of mirrors. You select the image that is most pleasing to you today, so today that's "you." Tomorrow, you might select another image because that one is pleasing.

Comments?

Well this is the first time that I've really accepted the thought there's nothing wrong with me. It seems like an improvement, but I get your point - "I'm a bad person" or "I'm a good" person, they are both just self-selected mirrors which are equally problematic from an anatta perspective.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/12/20 9:59 PM as a reply to agnostic.
I've been having more clear insight of anatta in daily life than meditating recently, which is a reversal for me. When I started this game it seemed relatively easy to see that sense impressions and thoughts were anatta, but I failed to notice that underlying it all was still the basic assumption that it was ME who was choosing to play the game of dropping the me-ness in everything else. Now that my core personality is wobbling I'm finding myself seeing anatta in all sorts of daily life situations where I wouldn't have before, however when I meditate it seems harder to let go of the sense that this is MY experience. If I had to speculate I would say that the ego is willing to let you play sensory anatta games when it still runs the whole show, however once it's power comes seriously under threat then it starts to clamp down.

Yesterday I was crossing the road and I had one of those "there really is no me" moments. Reality was just there as it was with no need for a me to be there. I see no-me several times a day but then find myself getting caught up in the dream of a me again and have to keep reminding myself to let it go. In the evenings no-me tends to bring on feelings of anxiety and dread. It's easier during the day when I know there is another me activity round the corner. At nights I start to get the fear that me is really going to disappear for good. Last night I woke up at 1:30am feeling pretty depersonalized and lay away for an hour freaking out. I was having trouble remembering who I was, where I was and what my life was. I tried to remember Zachary's advice from my first depersonalization episode - to focus on the freakout itself. I had a hard time finding the physical sensations but I remember thinking they were mild and basically seemed ok. As for the existential panic, I found myself saying "ok panic is happening but there's still no me who is panicking" and that seemed to take the edge off it. At a certain point I was able to laugh about it and fall back to sleep.

Is this kind of experience normal? Mostly when I read people's accounts of realizing anatta it's liberating, blissful, realizing they are unconditional love etc. However I remember Suzanne Segal's book where it took her years to get used to being nobody. I have a big ego and narcissism issues so I suppose it should be no surprise that my ego has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the cinema. I guess there is a reporting bias because the published accounts are by people who "made it" whereas the more troublesome cases are probably under-reported because they're not good for business and those people are more likely to get scared off the path.

A simple remedy would be not to meditate before bedtime or lie on my side so that I fall asleep faster, but that seems like a cop out to me. I try to fall asleep on my back if I dare precisely so I can watch myself fall asleep slowly and see what bubbles up from my subconscious. I feel like these fears and neuroses are in there and if I don't face them now then they will continue subconsciously to drive my behavior and probably resurface when I'm dying, wherever that may lead. I'm going to dump a couple more nighttime experiences here which I didn't post before, in case anyone has any insights.

A few nights ago I was falling asleep and suddenly I became aware that I was thinking a totally alien thought stream, almost as if somebody else had taken control of my brain and was using it to think their thoughts. Usually when I fall asleep slowly I notice the thought stream becoming more random and disconnected and that’s the sign I’m about to fall asleep. But this time it was a more coherent thought stream that was developing as I fell asleep however the content was completely alien to me and I suddenly snapped awake thinking “that’s just not me who is having those thoughts”. It was somewhat like a dream, except when I wake up from a dream there is a definite sense of I was asleep, I had this dream, the content might have been alien to me and I might not have had a clear sense of myself being in the dream, however it was definitely a dream that happened to me while I was asleep. Because this falling asleep experience was more continuously connected with the preceding waking state, it felt more threatening to my sense of identity.

The same night at 2am my daughter came into my room with growing pains and I had to get her medicine and milk and an ice pack and massage her to sleep in my bed. Afterwards I lay there awake for an hour feeling much more calm and contented, relieved that however messed up my mind might feel at least I can adequately perform the basic tasks of parenting. At a certain point I started thinking about her and her stuffies and suddenly I had the sense that I was inside her mind looking at the world from her point of view. Actually this kind of thing has happened with a few people recently when I think about them and on a couple of occasions I have found myself “allowing” other people into my mind to have a look around. Maybe I’m just imagining it, or maybe since we are talking about mental space here then imagining it is the same thing as it actually happening.

The other morning I woke up spontaneously at 4am and lay on my back meditating. For the first time in weeks I found myself going through the nanas (recently I’ve been dominated by kundalini which I guess is A&P territory). I got to equanimity a couple of times, experience got real slow and granular, I started to become aware of the gaps between formations, I felt like I was in fruition territory but each time I fell back with fear and restlessness. After a couple of hours I got tired and turned on my side to sleep. Suddenly I found myself in the familiar situation of semi-awake but trapped in my paralyzed body vibrating harshly. This time I was able to relax and ride it out for longer, playing with it a little, semi-waking up, moving a hand and then falling back into it. At one point I was stuck vibrating too hard, freaking out, and became aware of  my wife getting up. I called out “help” several times but when I asked her about it later she hadn’t heard anything. It was definitely a lucid experience. I was able to zoom in and look at some plants and enjoy their beauty, then zoom out and fly a little. I saw a field of stars and zoomed in real close until they became little pinpricks of light and then vanished and some other weird hallucination popped up. At another point I say a young calf flayed and bloody and I had the idea that the vibrations were related to my past meat consumption and suffering animal toxins in my body. The overall tone of the trip was still harsh, but it was definitely more fun, pleasant and lucid than previous ones. I want to say this is a good thing as it seems I’m working the harsh vibratory energy out of my system and freeing up my subtle body, but I don’t want to read too much into it or get overly fixated on such experiences as they are a byproduct of purification and not the end goal.

RE: Agnostic's Log 2
Answer
2/13/20 10:33 PM as a reply to agnostic.
I woke up again last night after an hour and went through another anxious depersonalization experience. There was slightly less depersonalization than two nights ago and more anxiety, also bits of my body felt like they didn't belong to me.The anxiety reminded me a bit of how I would get anxious sometimes trying to fall asleep when stoned on marijuana, although this is much worse. That used to happen before I really got into meditation. I'm also on antibiotics which I read can cause hallucinations & delerium, although my first depersonalization experience was 4 months ago so the antibiotics are probably incidental. Interestingly my mother called me yesterday afternoon which I usually find uncomfortable and she had just arrived for her annual stay during the DP of 4 months ago, so that could be a pattern.

I think the anxiety which anatta causes me could be related to my insecure attachment style. I read somewhere that the infants primary attachment style becomes the model for its attachment to itself and whether it can form healthy self-esteem. My attachment style (from later self-obervation of relationship with mother and others) seems to be anxious-avoidant, so if the theory is true then that would explain why I get anxious when my self "leaves the room". I assume people with a more healthy relationship to self are more relaxed when they see their personality depart, because they are secure in the knowledge that it will come back when they need it. Anyone care to comment?