Mahasi noting - Interaction with mental illness

Tommaso Tommasi, modified 1 Year ago at 7/29/20 12:31 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 7/29/20 8:49 AM

Mahasi noting - Interaction with mental illness

Posts: 12 Join Date: 5/29/20 Recent Posts
Hi all. I've been undergoing an interesting period of my life where I've been recovering from a lifelong mental illness. While meditating diligently (2 hours per day at least, sometimes 3, both sitting and walking in the Mahasi style, noting my entire sensate experience as a single field, using breath at the abdomen as an achor) I've been undergoing some rather interesting, and very dramatic changes to my psychology.

I thought I would give an account of this for those who are interested. As Daniel Ingram notes in MCTB, a healthy and well-developed ego is a boon to our lives, spiritual practice included, and this difficult road of self-actualization is on a different axis to our development of concentration and insight, but nonetheless interweaves with it.

To use some psychological jargon for a second to briefly describe my illness, I never properly internalized an "Other", which is necessary to develop the capacity for one's ego to connect not only with itself, internally, but also to other egoes "out there" in the world. The self-other dynamic in the human psyche is a kaleidescopic one, a hall of mirrors, and as we all know, the ego is an illusion -- for this illusion to function properly, it must not only be able to "transmit" itself, but also to "receive" the Other inside it, thus the requirement for an already-internalized Other to use as a template or framework (this explains why people interpret others relatively and differently, why things can be taken "personally", and so on. Interactions with 'Others' is not via some invisible particle that travels from them to us, rather they stimulate our "receptors" in some way and we interpret in our own little inward dreamworld of the ego).

My primary caregivers were unreliable and I was an extremely sensitive child, and I pushed them away and placed them always "outside" and "beyond" me, thus my entire life I have been living with an undeveloped and disconnected / fragmented ego, a "self" infinitely far from its "other", very much unable to connect to anybody else or myself, and feeling always empty, unreal, and enmeshed with the world around me, as though there were no boundaries between myself and the reality around me. Everything was personal and yet nothing could reach me inside. It was (and sometimes still is) agony.

Here's the interesting part. I started doing diligent Mahasi noting around 6-8 weeks ago, with around 6 months of diligent shamatha practice before that. I began getting good at "containing" all of my sensate experience within my field of awareness after a month or so of noting, and thought I was making good progress. However, one day I woke up and noticed that my self-other boundaries were suddenly more defined, and I could relate to others and had a more coherent sense of self. I am also doing therapy in conjunction with this so it is like I "internalized" the therapist more efficiently, the "observer" I've been training suddenly became more "who I was" and the confusing, enmeshed world of experiences more "contained". However at that point, my Mahasi meditation became much more difficult, as though my sensate experiences were more "blended" into my reality, less easy to spot and define and hold in awareness. 

I've come to understand that the healthier the mind, the more one's sensate phenomena feel natural and blended into one's experience, in other words you have to work harder to "stand back" from them and observe them. When I was less healthy, my own thoughts felt utterly disonnected from the world and people around me, and thus were relatively easy to observe.

I realised I am travelling through fractals of my own ego (self - other dichotomy). This cycle has happened in exponentially faster and faster iterations. Here is the anatomy of one "egoic fractal cycle":

1. I am lost in the content of my thoughts
2. I work hard to become aware of my sensate experience as a single field and allow it to "do itself".
3. I achieve rapid "flickering" awareness of my sensate field.
4. My mental illness subsides somewhat, something "clicks into place", something deepens, strengthens, consolidates, and my sense of self and other are more clearly defined, and my ego is more "built up" in a Western psychotherapeutic sense.
5. Back to .1, except this time my sense of reality feels different, and it is as though I am practicing noting from the beginning again from a different angle, different viewpoint, though my skills are still there, I have to "step even further back" to get a grip on my sensate field from a new, richer, deeper angle.

At one point I went through this cycle in a SINGLE DAY. I woke up in step 1, feeling more mentally healthy and egoically well-defined than ever in my life before, but very unfocused in a vipassana sense, and meditated 3 hours that day and by the evening had very fast flickering awareness of my entire sensate field (step 3), and by the next day the had fractal deepened and widened back to step 1 again.

I decided to write this because I have not read this account of things anywhere and I am quite surprised about what I'm going through right now. All my old neuroses remain each time I cycle up a new level of the ego fractal, it's just they seem more "invisible", "natural", "spontaneous", "embedded" in reality, and each time this happens I have to remind myself of what is a neurosis and what is "reality".

What was previously a neurosis contained within the awareness of the observer becomes a neurosis spoken in the voice of the observer itself; and then, a new observer must be formulated. If this is not indicative of a fractal-like dynamic, I don't know what is.

It becomes a more subtle art to be aware of what's going on inside me, but it is more rewarding when I can achieve mastery in the landscape of that new fractal. It's disorienting to say the least, but extremely dramatic, and is giving me a front-row seat into the mechanisms of the ego and the illusion of duality.

At the point where the fractal cycles were the most rapid, my brain would buzz, like so much stuff was emerging from my unconscious into my conscious mind that the brain could hardly contain it all. It was almost unpleasant, like drinking way too much coffee, and I could barely sleep that night. I became slightly worried that I might trigger some kind of psychotic break (which has not happened to me so far), so I took a brief break from meditation, starting back up again the next evening. Every time I meditate now it is like entering into a psychedelic tunnel and the self-other warps and distortions are really something to behold. Of course, I am aiming for as healthy and built-up an ego as I can achieve, as this is quite clearly something I have to resolve before meditation can really go anywhere for me. Each time I feel like I am reaching the "edge" of what my awareness can achieve, my ego shifts, pops and clicks into some new, deeper configuration which provides what feels like a permanent relief on the axis of ego development, but then my goal of achieving great Mahasi awareness stretches out into the horizon again, and I must work harder with my new "ego powers" to achieve a stronger, more comprehensive kind of awareness.

Thanks for reading. I am curious what others have to say about this phenomenon. I might also note that I did a lot of psychedelics earlier this year, in conjunction with almost 2 years of psychotherapy, and that every time I meditate now (and for the last three or four weeks) I have been crying a lot.

All the best,