post-SE confusion

a my les, modified 7 Months ago.

post-SE confusion

Posts: 13 Join Date: 11/19/19 Recent Posts
Hi There,

I'm not really sure why I'm writing this, I guess I just have been
having a really hard time, and curious if others relate. Sometimes, I
don't think it has all that much to do with what's on the
cushion--when I can muster the motivation and discipline, and sit with
the difficulties, sitting is restful and interesting. So maybe this
isn't the right sub-forum, but perhaps it speaks to assumptions one
makes about what SE will do versus how it plays out. Even if it wasn't
SE (which I've tried to convince myself of, but it seems kind of
undeniable given the differences in experience), I think to some extent the challenges and the way forward would be similar.

In August, after a several months of solid practice in life, capped off by a few days of at-home retreat, I experienced cessations, and had a distinct shift in my moment-to-moment sense of being. My teacher seemed to confirm this progress, but he encouraged me to wait "one year, one day" before being too sure of it (although he joked that he, and his teacher, were never able to follow that same advice emoticon ).

Life since has been interesting. I often feel tapped in to a freedom and space that feels so natural and familiar. I also feel unavoidably aware of how I am making life difficult for myself. I plan to leave my miserably busy job next year, take a couple months off to sit and just be, and go back to school. Other shit on my plate: loneliness and relationship difficulties, projects in the community/with friends, etc. I'm too busy, and my life doesn't match up with my values. I feel like I'm waking up to stuff that I've neglected for too long, and it really hurts.

On top of that, I have dealt with depression for a good portion of my life. I know the standard tools for managing it, but am finding it difficult to really use them. I do psychotherapy, which at times I am very grateful for and at other times find it not that helpful. Meditation has certainly helped me dis-identify with the depression, and helped me tap into something fundamentally trustworthy, pure, and worth living for. That being said, my motivation for practicing since August has been so-so: I've wanted to refine and appreciate what I've already learned, and practice in life comes more easily, but I'm also pretty lazy, and for awhile felt like I had gotten what I was looking for. There was an impressive and pervasive afterglow for weeks following the shift, but it all feels normalized now.

I strongly identify with the descriptions of post-path cycling. I observe contractions and expansions in awareness, the associated energy levels, thought/emotional patterns, etc. Every 24-48 hours I seem to have a very difficult time. I don't know when/how I'll get better at managing this, feels like most I can do is to bide the time, intend to not let it bleed into others' lives, intend for loving awareness to arise, etc. Combined with what life is in 2020, it all just feels like a bit too much. I guess I am just burnt out and desperately need down-time, since I just lay around after work, full of fog, and don't do much. I suppose that is coming in ~2 weeks.  

I have a one-week retreat (on Zoom) with Daniel Brown of Pointing Out the Great Way, which I am super excited for. I hope that I can really show up and practice strongly. I wanted to be in "good shape" prior to the retreat. It's still possible, but I'm not sure if I'll get there. At this point I should probably just sit for a few minutes, drink some water, and get some sleep. Thank you for listening. May all beings be happy.
Olivier, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 733 Join Date: 4/27/19 Recent Posts
Hi a my les,

Thanks for posting, and congratulations on the achievement, if indeed that was it !

You can rest assured that this is pretty standard stuff post SE. 

New baseline of ease and awareness, unexpected discoveries, which bring a light to the unconsciousness/unskilfullness in your life, cycles with DNs which seem to bite more than they used to when you expected suffering to lessen, emotions being as intense, perhaps more, than ever - but passing away easy, naturally and quickly...

You realize you can't control the damn thing and that's a bit scary ! But acceptance does marvels.

Don't worry, be grumpy.

Over a year later, the best formulation i've found is that SE put an end to rumination. 

It can be confusing to have reality question your assumptions, but you'll get used to it. 

Is like you've stumbled into a new field, new grounds of reality, and you have to explore them ; there is a wealth of insight, but it doesn't exist in the way you thought, and it's very very real and unavoidable.

I hope you will indeed be able to show up for that upcoming retreat.

Sorry for the somewhat redundant message but editing difficulties with my phone. Know that you are not alone in this. Your resolutions for your life sound just right and further progress is guaranteed with your inuitiin of going towards the resistance/limitations. So, no need to pressure yourself !

Peace ! emoticon
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Tommy M, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
Meditation has certainly helped me dis-identify with the depression, and helped me tap into something fundamentally trustworthy, pure, and worth living for.

Firstly, I won't speculate on whether it was Stream Entry or not and will leave that to the diagnostic experts. What I did want to offer was something related to depression and the Path. I was on and off SSRI's and anti-anxiety medication for the best part of 20 years, so I understand how difficult depression can be, and how easy it can be to engage in spiritual bypassing as a way to kinda 'push away' or dissociate from the pain.

One of the biggest changes in my life and mental health came when I started practicing gratitude, as well as the Four Immeasurables. It can sound weird, but just cultivating a sincere sense of gratitude for even being able to wake up every morning can be really powerful. Over time, I began to appreciate the fact that I was even able to suffer in the first place, and it helped me to lean into the pain without fear or aversion. Not in any masochistic way or anything, it just gave me a clearer perspective on my own pain and how, compared to countless others across the world, it wasn't anything unique or special.

Bringing it into the context of Buddhadharma, I found it extremely helpful to recognize how fortunate we are to have been born as human beings with the ability to hear the Dharma and to practice towards the liberation of all sentient beings. Appreciating this good fortune, and really putting that gratitude into practice did something profound to this mind.

Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that your practice should take precedence over dealing with the real, and often painful work involved in therapy. In my opinion, addressing these very human issues - and the habitual (karmic) patterns involved in their arising - with professional therapists can improve our practice greatly, and may be more helpfully viewed as being part of our practice itself.

Good luck with your retreat and with the therapy. As you've seen for yourself, there really is a happiness beyond conditions and having tasted this even once can be like finding a lifeboat in the middle of the most hellish of seas. Never, ever give up; just know with absolute confidence that you'll make it through and can weather any storm.
a my les, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 13 Join Date: 11/19/19 Recent Posts
Thanks, both Olivier and Tommy, for the kind relatable words and advice.

Tommy, I have also been on/off SSRIs a few times. Thank you for sharing. I don't know if they truly helped chemically in the long run but they certainly helped me orient myself to taking depression seriously.

What you said about the four immeasurables and gratitude is so true and funny because it's probably always the answer, like, can I ever really practice those enough? These are so fundamental and yet so easy for me to ignore. Even my mother, the queen of ignorant depression, reminded me to be grateful last week. I've been filling up my meditation plate with concentration and open awareness, but not balancing it out with the other essential components. I have done the immeasurables occasionally but never gave them my full focus. I give lip service to the bodhisattva vow at the beggining of all my sits, and sometimes even throughout the day. Sometimes it feels like just words; at other times it is full of confidence and intention. Interesting to note that appreciating the opportunity to practice is part of the preliminaries which are traditionally done prior to serious meditation/insight practices emoticon

May all beings be happy.

Andy
agnostic, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1878 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
a my les:
I feel like I'm waking up to stuff that I've neglected for too long, and it really hurts.

I don't know about SE, but I definitely went through a phase of this after some perceptual insights and it seems to be a pretty standard development. It sucks but you know that's just the way the karmic cookie crumbles unfortunately. emoticon

I suffered from 10 years of depression, went through psychotherapy and anti-depressants which helped on the margins but never really addressed the root problem. What eventually cured it was just sitting down on my own in my room with my eyes closed and allowing myself to be as truly depressed as I really fucking wanted. No bitching, no verbalizing, no running away - what does it truly FEEL like to be depressed? What is your BODY trying to tell you?
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Noah D, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1148 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
a my les:
I have a one-week retreat (on Zoom) with Daniel Brown of Pointing Out the Great Way, which I am super excited for. I hope that I can really show up and practice strongly. I wanted to be in "good shape" prior to the retreat. It's still possible, but I'm not sure if I'll get there. At this point I should probably just sit for a few minutes, drink some water, and get some sleep.

It's good if you did have a cessation, as prep for the POW retreat.  Folks who come in with one or two POI cycles tend to benefit more from that program.  Make sure to take really good notes on the retreat!  It is so chock full of instructions that can last you for years practicing at home.  I think they will help you accomplish your goal of getting better at managing your inner swings.

Other thoughts -

I think it may not be that helpful to associate cessation with sotapanna in the classical sense.  Decoupling these concepts might help you.  For me, cessations & the changes to the sense of self on this 'ultimate' level are really just the set up for the deeper rewiring of character & even body chemistry that probably takes decades necessarily.  I think the classical stages of enlightenment are actually degrees of this rewiring which have this path of perceptual transformation as a necessary foundation.  Fun fact -  Dr. Brown translates the Tibetan term for this rewiring process as "automatic dharmakaya release."  Anyway, for me I just always feel hopeful knowing that I am still relatively early in the path & there is much more progress to make.
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Tommy M, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
I think it may not be that helpful to associate cessation with sotapanna in the classical sense.  Decoupling these concepts might help you.

This, a million times over.
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Steph S, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 669 Join Date: 3/24/10 Recent Posts
Tommy M:
I think it may not be that helpful to associate cessation with sotapanna in the classical sense.  Decoupling these concepts might help you.

This, a million times over.

+1

And as far as depression & meds, I've been on an SSRI and what it's helped me with is reducing that sense that little things were such a huge burden. It helped turn up the brightness and clarity a bit so things don't seem like such a chore and also helped put some more destructive thought patterns at bay so I can really examine things more clearly. Gave me the motivation to practice consistently.

Have fun at Dan Brown's retreat. I've been wanting to do one of those. I went to a weekend long pointing out retreat with one of his former proteges, John Churchill, when he was still with that group... it was really good stuff. 
a my les, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 13 Join Date: 11/19/19 Recent Posts
Thanks Noah, Agnostic, and Steph for the thoughtful replies. I do feel like the intention and suggestions and support go a long way, already.

I suppose I have made this thread complicated by talking about attainments and depression at the same time, but I need all the help I can get emoticon

1) RE: Cessation and attainment: I do appreciate some of the idea behind decoupling these things. I suppose I have learned to make this criteria a priority, and in this thread I used it as a shorthand to rapidly say "hey, this is where I'm at", without telling you my life story, although I appreciate that the path is subtle and complex. There were a lot of important events and learnings in the last couple years that gradually accumulated, but I'm using August/visible cessations as a reference point because it's like oh, ok, there was a discernible shift. Maybe I'm just trying to fit in with how I think people talk on the DhO emoticon

This is why I said "maybe the issues and the way forward are the same". Independent of maps/attainments/etc, it's like "is there suffering/clinging?" => OK, investigate/let go/etc. There is a certain trust and confidence that doesn't worry about lining up with maps, and like you said, Noah, it means there is always more to learn, which is exciting emoticon

When cessations happen, they seem to always happen on their own in a surprising manner. I'm aware of some of the qualities of my experience leading up to them, but while some people talk about setting an intention or orienting towards them--IDK, that's not me, or I'm not there yet in terms of being able to train myself towards that repetition. I found that both before/after they started to happen, focusing too much on wanting something to happen has not been productive (big surprise, I know!)

Noah/Steph, would you recommend I read Dr. Brown's book on Mahamudra as prep for the retreat?

2) Agnostic, I'll admit I was a bit defensive to your response, as it felt a bit heroic/masochistic to me, especially given my current reserves of strength and courage. Don't get me wrong--I appreciate your input and I'm glad that you were able to heal through this.

I'd react by saying "one doesn't simply sit with depression," but that's basically what meditative instructions or wisdom is saying -- it's simple, just let it work itself out.

In a word, my body is trying to say "no": not this, don't exist, don't be here, etc. No no no no no. Sure, I will meditate on this. . . but I do think context and timing is important. I suppose if one sets the intention to sit with it, honoring it with the proper time, space, and awareness, it's different than feeling attacked by it during one's daily life. In my day to day I struggle to gauge the difference between "coping" (skillful) and "avoiding" (unskillful), i.e. I am super avoidant. Your approach suggests the extent to which anything else might be avoidance. Thank you.

With Metta,
Andy
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Noah D, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1148 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
a my les:
Noah/Steph, would you recommend I read Dr. Brown's book on Mahamudra as prep for the retreat?

Absolutely not, lol.  I heard in one of the POW videos on the site Dr. Brown admit that it's not really a practice manual it was more an effort to preserve the tradition via encyclopedic record keeping.  For the retreat I would try to just be as happy & relaxed as possible.  And then also try to build up momentum with samatha before.

Edit: Also really feel into a deep heart felt wish to surrender your hang ups & transform.  Open your heart & let the curriculum just sort of whisk you away.
agnostic, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1878 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
a my les:

2) Agnostic, I'll admit I was a bit defensive to your response, as it felt a bit heroic/masochistic to me, especially given my current reserves of strength and courage. Don't get me wrong--I appreciate your input and I'm glad that you were able to heal through this.

I'd react by saying "one doesn't simply sit with depression," but that's basically what meditative instructions or wisdom is saying -- it's simple, just let it work itself out.

In a word, my body is trying to say "no": not this, don't exist, don't be here, etc. No no no no no. Sure, I will meditate on this. . . but I do think context and timing is important. I suppose if one sets the intention to sit with it, honoring it with the proper time, space, and awareness, it's different than feeling attacked by it during one's daily life. In my day to day I struggle to gauge the difference between "coping" (skillful) and "avoiding" (unskillful), i.e. I am super avoidant. Your approach suggests the extent to which anything else might be avoidance. Thank you.

With Metta,
Andy

Hi Andy,

I was a bit confrontational - partly because I was in some kind of dark night myself, partly because thinking about your depression triggered memories of my own depression and the associated anger, and partly to see how you would react! Please note I'm not a therapist and can only speak from my own experience and general understanding ...

Avoidance is clearly the main symptom here ... so, what are you avoiding? As I understand it in general terms, depression is a defense mechanism, a way of shutting down to protect ourselves from some painful aspect of our past experience. If you have suffered some serious trauma such as abuse, violence, unexpected loss of a loved one or other tragedy then I can't help because I don't have experience of that. In my case I had an angry narcissistic father and a self-involved mother and I was sent away to boarding school aged 8. By no means the worst circumstances in life, but it was an environment where it was not safe to express anger so as a consequence I built up a huge reservoir of repressed anger - enough to to fuck me up and lead me to create even more suffering.

I have no idea about your history, but since repressed anger and depression are often so closely entwined I will give you a few more details in case you recognize anything.

- I liked to think of myself as a "cool" person, despite the fact that I suffered a lot of anxiety and would occasionally break out in inappropriate rages. (repressed anger)

- I built up a tremendous sense of grievance. Thoughts like: "My parents didn't love me enough. I should be more popular and successful. No one understands me." (gap between expectations and reality)

- I both loved and hated myself at the same time. I loved the idea of who I thought I should be and hated the idea of who I thought I really was. (Binary thinking - reality is more nuanced than this) 

- I put a huge amount of pressure on myself to be the best and do the best, resulting in frequent loss of motivation and changes in direction.

- When well-intentioned decent people tried to give me good advice I would get very defensive and angry, developing complex speculations about how their interests were self-serving. (Paranoia essentially)

- On some level I recognized that my sense of grievance and depression was incommensurate with my actual circumstances and history. This made me even more depressed, thinking "I must be totally fucked up if I can't appreciate what I have."

Sorry to clutter up your thread with all sorts of personal stuff if none of this resonates with you. And I'm sorry if I'm totally off the mark and you really have suffered some terrible trauma. If on the other hand it's "just depression" then I seriously recommend you take an inventory of your life and ask "what do I actually have to be depressed about?" I remember my bother-in-law asking me that question in 2008 and I felt so enraged, thinking "who the hell is he to dismiss my feelings like that!" Turns out he was right, but it took me another 10 years of depression, therapy, SSRIs and suicidal ideation before I was mature enough to accept it. I don't mean to knock therapy, therapists do a huge amount of good work and help a lot of people (myself included). But for a certain kind of self-interested client, at a certain point it's just easier for the therapist to offer sympathy and keep taking the money (and I don't necessarily blame them). There's also a huge amount of cultural pressure to achieve things and be a success, which tends to contribute to depression.

Anyway, the way I got to the bottom of it was meditating on the depression which led to me discover how much repressed anger there was in me. At first my belly just fely like a solid impenetrable ball with no feelings inside at all, but that started to break down and the anger came out. It was a challenge integrating that into daily life and there was a period where I seemed to be getting more angry about small things, but that was just my way of learning to experience and express healthy anger (which is a good thing by the way.)

Again sorry if your depression has nothing to do with represssed anger, but maybe it can help someone else.

All the best
George
a my les, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 13 Join Date: 11/19/19 Recent Posts
Dear George,

No apologies needed. Again, I really appreciate how forthcoming you are in this thread emoticon I don't know if I can match it, feeling already a little anonymously over-exposed, but to say the least I relate a lot to your story and to some of the thought patterns/beliefs/behaviors you exhibited:

-love/hate self
-learned sense of grievance
-reflection on depression incommensurate with circumstances
-pressure on performance/perfection

I very muchso relate to repressed anger, as I too have it, and have spent time cultivating a persona or mode of being that is not equipped to deal with it. I would estimate that I am probably a lot younger in my journey on uncapping this anger and learning from it. Sometimes I'm able to see anger and explore it, feel its surface and what it's really pointing to, before it catches me off guard. Sometimes I feel like I can even understand it and leverage the energy there. Overall though I can't say I've done the work you have to investigate it and fully understand its root.

I avoid discomfort, especially related to truth about myself, who I want to be/how I want to be. It feels paradoxical, since I have worked doggedly hard at many things, and in others have created such a numbing comfort zone--avoiding my anger and dissatisfaction with myself, others, or the state of things.

I guess I'm trying to get in touch with what's really important to me and move towards it, but the results are not always convenient. I'm trying to come to terms with this while acknowledging my limits and being a bit more gentle, having spent enough time thinking through unskillful self-help paradigms, where I tried to force myself overnight to become something that really wasn't me.

Thanks again for sharing your story openly.

Andy
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Tommy M, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
Quick reply to George specifically here: My man, that was one of the bravest, most honest and heart wrenching posts I've seen on here. The amount of self-awareness, wisdom and compassion involved in what you wrote actually left me choked up and so I wanted to say thank you. I hope it helps Andy and others too, but the openness and brutal self-honesty (all clearly stated from experience) here was fucking beautiful to behold.

That's a wonderful heart you've got there, and your ability to share it so freely speaks volumes.
agnostic, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1878 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Thanks Tommy. Your response brought a tear to my eye too, which is saying something. I still find it hard to think of myself that way, so it's good to hear someone else say it.

----------------------------

Andy:- you probably don't feel this way but you've already won half the battle, which is becoming aware of and acknowledging the problem. It really is true that we start to outgrow these primitive defense mechanisms once we see what they are, how they once served a purpose and how they no longer work. When I got to this point I remember thinking how I had these tough decisions to make, but looking back I can see how everything basically took care of itself once I trusted in the process and body/mind's ability to heal itself if you give it a chance. It's natural to avoid discomfort, but actually it's the avoidance which is the problem. Once you give up the avoidance then the uncomfortable magically becomes comfortable.

Acknowledging your limits and being gentle on yourself are an important part of the process, especially if you are used to driving yourself hard. You are right that there is a certain energy in anger which can be leveraged. At some point you might want to check out 5 elements practice which talks about basic emotional reactivity patterns and how they can be transformed. Anger is the water element, which can be transformed into clarity and insight (think about how precise you can be when you are angry). Compulsive consumption is the fire element, which can be transformed into compassion. Depression/numbing yourself is the space element, which can be transformed into pervasive intelligence. Spectrum of Ecstasy and Wake Up To Your Life are good sources.
Ben Sulsky, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 118 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
Please have compassion for yourself. 

I think you're bringing keen awareness to sensations just by going through the day.  This is excellent practice!

It seems like it might not be helping to continually lash yourself with the whip of heroic effort when it seems obvious you're already doing your best.  Your best is good enough!

Don't worry, it'll work itself out,

Ben
a my les, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 13 Join Date: 11/19/19 Recent Posts
Hi All,

I thought it worth a brief update, thanks to all who offered their thoughts in this earlier post. I was able to "show up" to the retreat, enough to get a good taste of what the teachers were pointing to, taking it off the cushion with a lot of momentum for a few weeks afterwards. Naturally, then there were more low periods. Then, some relief, then some slumps, then some progress, etc. emoticon Overall, though, It's hard to overstate the impact of this retreat. It provided a lot of trust, clarity, calm, openness, determination, etc. . . all the positive qualities I'm seeking to cultivate, that I'm keen to deepen. It provided a clear vision of what I want to work towards, and to an extent, I know what I have to do.

As far as negative emotions go, I'm still working to try and see more clearly into them, though at times it has felt like I'm just coping, doing damage control, or tolerating, rather than seeing into. I do have a sense for how to work with these emotions; the tricky thing is remembering to work with them before letting them get to me, recognizing their subtle flavours and whispers, acknowledging and honoring where they're coming from without making them into something they're not.

There's a lot of real-life stuff that I've been able to move forward on, namely, quitting an unfulfilling job and deciding to move across the country and go back to school. I don't expect these big changes to magically wash the problems away, but it has felt massively empowering because I've been waiting to take action for years. Who knows what will come next!

Again, thank you all for your support.

With kindness,
Andy
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: post-SE confusion

Posts: 1878 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Thanks for the update. Great stuff! Well done emoticon​​​​​​​