Anxious Dissociation

Jessica Bradford Brock, modified 9 Years ago.

Anxious Dissociation

Post: 1 Join Date: 10/26/11 Recent Posts
Hello all,

I recently (as in last week) heard the Buddhist Geek's podcast with Willoughby Britton in which she discussed the Dark Night. I listened to this and thought, "Holy crap. This might be me." I immediately then watched the hours of interview that Dan Ingram gave at the Cheetah House and only became further convinced that I might be in the Dark Night.

I come from the Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I have been meditating for about three years since studying for a semester at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharmasala, India (also where I took refuge). My practice is not formal or structured in any way really. I have never been on a guided retreat. I have taken multiple retreats on my own, but never anything formal. I mostly follow the instructions of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, but also read and meditate on various academic works, mostly by B. Alan Wallace. My main forms of meditation are observing the mind and Loving Kindness. I also use yoga as part of my practice. However, when I'm not meditating I try to apply the same sort of mindfulness to daily life and also stop to observe my mind at any opportunity during the day. Especially while doing things like driving. I say all this because when Daniel Ingram talked about those that reach the Dark Night through any formal practice and have no idea how they got there...well, if I'm there, that's probably how I got there.

Anyways, the reason why I'm writing this is because I have been having these moments of dissociation from myself and the world. In these moments, I am unable to recognize "me" being something separate from "my" surroundings or as being myself at all. These happen both during meditation and outside of it. Here are a few examples:
(1) I'm walking up the stairs at my house and suddenly become acutely aware of everything I'm doing - every movement, all parts of my body, my entire surroundings from the stairs, to the room and everything in it to the entire house. I feel like I'm almost observing all this from the outside. Not in an out-of-body experience kind of way, but as if I'm in a hyper-aware virtual reality game.
(2) I'll notice myself in the mirror and have this knowledge that it's not me in the reflection even though I know that it is. This isn't always how it is. If I'm looking in the mirror while brushing my teeth or to see if I have something on my face, clearly it's me. It's usually when I get a small glimpse
(3) I am aware of parts of my body, but cannot recognize them as being inherently my own or separate from my surroundings. This mostly happens when I am stationary, especially while meditating. I sort of melt into my surroundings.

This started happening to me when I first returned from India. In India, I had these moments, but only felt this overwhelming feeling of bliss and love during them as if I was a part of inherent nature. However, when I returned and continued practicing, the sensation became marked by confusion and terror. They are a lack of truth and all truth at the same time; I see everything and I see nothing; I know reality and I am ignorant; I feel fear and comfort. It can be overwhelming and sometimes I have anxiety attacks because of them. I'm not sure what is happening. Is this a Dark Night sensation?

Affectionately,
Jessica
Stian Gudmundsen Høiland, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Anxious Dissociation

Posts: 296 Join Date: 9/5/10 Recent Posts
I will not say much, others will probably help you far more than me, but I wanted to say that, in my own experience, those moments of dissociation are absolutely gold. While I do not know much about you, and therefor this advice is quite unqualified, I would suggest you cultivate those moments. If ever you experience fear/terror during those moments of dissociation, you should investigate fear/terror itself - never mind (yet) the feelings/sensations of dissociation.

How does one cultivate this dissociation? Ask yourself suggestively, "why does this feeling of dissociation feel good?"
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Anxious Dissociation

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
Jessica, what you're describing could be a lot of things, but it's difficult to guess without knowing more about your practice history. Perhaps you can tell us more (such as how things have changed for you throughout your practice, as well as before you started a practice if you think you had some spiritual experiences or insights beforehand.)

But, more importantly, what are your goals in posting about this? Do you want advice about how to make this kind of experience to go away? Do you want to understand it better? If we told you that this was or wasn't related to the Dark Night, what would you do?
C C C, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Anxious Dissociation

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
I've also experienced this type of thing Jessica, and it's not something you want to encourage. There's nothing useful about this type of experience.

Remember dissociation is an ego defense mechanism. In other words, it's a mechanism your mind uses in order to avoid facing fear, and it's maladaptive. Well I guess it's adaptive in some ways, because it stops you going insane, but in the end we always have to face our fears - the grand daddy fear being loss of self. I've found that if fear comes up, I try to stay with it, allow it fully but at the same time keep an alertness and mindful stillness if possible. This gives me a slight detachment without zoning out into dissociative la-la land.