Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Decaf Wolf, modified 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 2:24 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 2:24 PM

Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/2/23 Recent Posts
My practice has been in a strange place since I returned from a Goenka retreat at the end of January, and I wanted to see if anyone has been in a similar situation or possibly has any advice. It's certainly not a spiritual emergency or anything, it just seems a bit odd to me. 

I've been practicing for about eight years and have made a great deal of progress, though I have not hit stream entry. About two years ago, I slipped into the first Jhana on retreat and there were real fireworks, incredible visuals, loads of spasms and shaking, indescribable joy, etc. Since then, I've been able to consistently stabilize concentration and the breath and can usually slip into the jhanas without too much effort. 

The retreat in January contained many episodes of energy and light coursing through and exploding in the body, and over the course of two days, a series of acute fear clustery panic attack swarmy things buzzed out of my system. For the first time, I was also able to sit in effortless concentration for hours at a time, with tiny little thoughts swimming by lazily every few minutes, like fish swimming around a statue at the bottom of the ocean. By the end, I was experiencing very high equanimity. 

Afterwards, the flashing lights and psychedelic flavour didn't go away. It got annoying after awhile and I eased off my practice. I've been getting back into it the past two weeks, stabilizing attention on the breath and then letting whatever wants to come up come up. Every single time, I start having psychedelic visions composed of images I've been taking in or themes I've been playing with, and energy surges through my body. There's an energy block in my stomach and upper abdomen that often seems to release fear and anger vibrations, and these sensations seem inexhaustible. 

It's not a huge problem, and it's actually kind of fun, but it's REALLY intense. I just had a kid and I'm starting a teaching program in September, it would be nice to slip down to non-heroic, daily low-simmer practice. I used to fall asleep falling asleep while examining sensations on my yoga mat, and those days seem far away now. When the lights, visions and energy get going, I am just acknowledging and fully experiencing it all with as much clarity and care as possible. Let it come, let it be, let it go. But this phase just seems to go on and on, and it's next to impossible to set practice aside, because the physical sensations and the energy blockage or very loud and persistent, even during my non-practicing hours. Dialling down the practice hours does not reduce this effect. 

Anyhoo, thanks for taking the time to read and let me know if ya have any thoughts. Thanks. 

 
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Chris M, modified 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 2:48 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 2:48 PM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 5091 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
 I slipped into the first Jhana on retreat and there were real fireworks, incredible visuals, loads of spasms and shaking, indescribable joy, etc.

That sounds like an A&P experience. Since that time, how would you describe your jhana experiences?
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Mind over easy, modified 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 3:08 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 7/31/23 3:07 PM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 285 Join Date: 4/28/12 Recent Posts
Are you familiar with the stages of insight/nanas/maps of how vipassana progress and stages can play out? I think it might help you understand where you're at and what's going on. If you haven't, I'd recommend checking out Daniel Ingram's book (free at https://www.mctb.org/ ), or even just checking in with another great resource which outlines the nanas- https://www.integrateddaniel.info/insight-stages-table

Anyways, here's my impressions on what might be going on by your descriptions:

"real fireworks, incredible visuals, loads of spasms and shaking, indescribable joy"
"able to consistently stabilize concentration and the breath and can usually slip into the jhanas without too much effort. "
Highly energetic stuff, fireworks, intense visuals, shaking and spasms, overwhelming joy, 2nd jhana/A&P territory. Practice feels great and effortless, etc...

"an energy block in my stomach and upper abdomen that often seems to release fear and anger vibrations, and these sensations seem inexhaustible"
Generally sounds like fear/dark night stuff

"with tiny little thoughts swimming by lazily every few minutes, like fish swimming around a statue at the bottom of the ocean"
Maybe slipping from A&P into the next nana- Dissolution? For me, this stage is usually very content, especially after flashy A&P experiences. Content, thoughts and impressions lazily wafting by, gentle and diffuse wavy slow pulses, etc...

"a series of acute fear clustery panic attack swarmy things buzzed out of my system"​
Sounds a lot like the nana of Fear

"an energy block in my stomach and upper abdomen that often seems to release fear and anger vibrations, and these sensations seem inexhaustible"
Nana of Fear, but also in general could be the dark night stages in general (Dissolution through Re-observation, the stages between A&P and Equanimity)


​​​​​Hope that helps a little... also I feel like bringing up, there's the nana you're experiencing during a sit, but there also seems to be a baseline/threshold background nana which can predominate experience even off the cushion, which is often based on your cutting edge of practice. So you could be progressing squarely into/through A&P territory, and have general A&P flavors to everything on and off the cushion, you could be sitting and progressing through other stages but have them be strongly A&P flavored, etc... 

"It's not a huge problem, and it's actually kind of fun, but it's REALLY intense. I just had a kid and I'm starting a teaching program in September, it would be nice to slip down to non-heroic, daily low-simmer practice. I used to fall asleep falling asleep while examining sensations on my yoga mat, and those days seem far away now. When the lights, visions and energy get going, I am just acknowledging and fully experiencing it all with as much clarity and care as possible. Let it come, let it be, let it go. But this phase just seems to go on and on, and it's next to impossible to set practice aside, because the physical sensations and the energy blockage or very loud and persistent, even during my non-practicing hours. Dialling down the practice hours does not reduce this effect."

Sounds like you have a decent mindset going into it, seems good! I feel you though, learning to balance the effects of insight practice on your life has definitely been tricky at times but I feel like the more familiar you get with the stages, the more you can say stuff to yourself like-

"Ok, I'm experiencing a lot of A&P stuff... energy is high, things are buzzy and vibratory, I'm a little on edge from the intensity, so I'll do my best to reflect on that as I go about my life, realizing I might be operating and thinking and feeling a little differently than if I were baseline."

That advice is also great for the dark night stages in general, which Daniel talks about extensively in MCTB. Speaking of the DN... the dark night stuff tends to follow up A&P territory, so it's a decent idea to be somewhat familiar with those stages, and be comfortable working your way from the energetic and effortless A&P stuff, to the diffuse, peripheral, edgy, out-of-sync, effort-doesn't-quite-work-the-same, potentially difficult stuff. Staying anchored into the basics of taking care of your human life in the normal ways helps, making resolutions to keep progressing helps, reading up on the territory helps, relaxing your energy and effort and learning to let your attention be less laser-focused and more diffuse helps, letting yourself feel energy and effort drop off and allowing your attention to naturally get wider and less specific helps, etc...

It can feel like a backslide in progress to go from all the energy and effortlessness of the A&P to the lower energy, weirder and creepier and more unsettling content, feelings of being stuck, feelings of not being as focused, not feeling as good or centered or on top of things. It's just natural though, you are still progressing, there's just different things to learn, attention turns to less straightforward and more challenging content, the limitations of effort and concentration and energy can feel challenging but if you're still practicing and sticking with it, you're still progressing!

Hope this helps, and best of luck with your meditation efforts and your parenting/teaching efforts!
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 7:34 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 7:34 AM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Hi there! You are not alone. It's pretty common for people to go through an intense A&P at a Goenka retreat and then need to deal with some confusing energetic stuff. It sounds to me like you are handling it skillfully, neither fearing it nor getting too caught up in it. 

I have been through similar territory, though not from a Goenka retreat. I find that getting grounded helps a lot. Taking care of your body, getting enough nourishment and rest. Getting the right kind of exercise - I would recommend hatha yoga, yin yoga, swimming, gardening and/or nature walks. Some forms of exercise seem to make it worse; I would avoid anything that gets your pulse up too high and instead go for low intensity. As for food, healthy but relatively steady food helps. If you ever do pranayama, I would recommend sticking to the calming and balancing ones, such as alternate nostril breathing or slow breathing with a longer outbreath. If it gets really intense, go for barefoot walks and dig your feet into the soil and lie down on the ground in nature, or take a swim in a forest lake. I usually crawl around on my floor at home too, doing slow and grounding yoga flows. 

Metta practice is often recommended, both for the soothing effect and as a skillful outlet of the excess energy. 

My teacher Michael Taft usually recommends trying to focus your energy down into the belly. Personally I find that if energy gets too high, it helps to remind it that it can go subtle and doesn't need to be stuck anywhere, and then tell it to dissipate and go where it is needed. However, if it's not too much and not causing you any trouble, it can fuel your practice and help deepen it. Set a clear intention for it not to get more intense than what you can deal with skillfully. 

Lama Lena (Tibetan Buddhist lineage holder and trained in Chinese medicine) recommends vitamine B complex for issues like this, or brewery yeast. If applicable, a glass of bear or wine can calm down the excess energy (she claims it relaxes the energy channels while at the same time cooling down the lung/prana). If it gets too energetic, she recommends eating organic meat (or broth made fom it) from the legs or feet of a grasseating animal, to help get grounded. If that's not available, or if you don't eat meat, french fries or macaroni and cheeze can be an option. If you have trouble sleeping, she recommends peanut butter (always makes me sleepy too). 
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 8:11 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 8:10 AM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Oh, I almost forgot: if you feel like you are getting electric shocks, you are probably working from sharp attention rather than a wider and softer awareness. Here is a series of exercises that might be helpful for gradually widening your stance in a way that softens and gets more inclusive and less dualistic:

https://www.reddit.com/r/Arhatship/comments/tuc8ij/vipashyana_geared_towards_the_quality_of_anatma/

The sense of a subject-object duality creates tensions, and together with strong concentration it is prone to zapping you. 
Decaf Wolf, modified 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 2:14 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 2:12 PM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/2/23 Recent Posts
@chrismarti

It's possible it was an A&P experience. I have ADHD and sometimes I get confused between all these stages and experiences. I have read through the MCTB stages section a few times, but it's hard for my brain to relate to them for some reason. 

One reason I labeled this as Jhanic experience is that it seemed to correlate with several descriptions I've heard from Michael Taft, Lee Brasington and Culadasa. Basically. It was the first time I'd been able to stay very consistently with the breath for a long period. At a moment where I was acutely aware of the sensation of the breath at the nose and everything else sort of dropped away, patterned lights started flashing behind my eyelids. Those morphed into colourful swirling patterns. Then came all the convulsing and energy releases. 

It wasn't until about a year after that retreat that I read Lee Brasington's book about the Jhanas. Since I read it, I've developed the ability to stabilize attention on the breath until Piti starts welling up, and I can flip to the Piti as it grows, experiencing waves of joy and pleasure. I often get the same light flashing on the back of my eyelids, and my eyes kind of vibrate. Sometimes my eyes are sore afterwards. Often I have strange psychedelic visions. I have found that the energy block I'm experiencing resists the Piti and it feels muted, corked or muffled. Still nice, but the first time was like being shot out of a cannon. I'm not necessarily chasing or craving these stays, I play with them sometimes, but I'm keeping equanimity front of mind. 

Again, even the descriptions of the Jhanas from 1 through 4 are hard for me to comprehend in my actual practice, but I believe there was a period where I was consistenly reaching the second jhana, as I felt a deep sense of Sukha, in that the rapture eased into a more peaceful, relaxed state, where I could rest and there were almost no thoughts going on. 
Decaf Wolf, modified 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 2:26 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/1/23 2:26 PM

RE: Stuck(ish) in a weird phase (Shock me like electric eels)

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/2/23 Recent Posts
@pollyester

Wow, Linda, thanks so much for all this. I feel like there are many invaluable things to dig into and I certainly agree that grounding is the name of the game. Also, I love Michael Taft, his podcast is unreal, I bet he's a great teacher. I've been practicing at the Zen Centre here in Toronto and the Roshi really encourages us to hold attention in the hara, just below the navel. I'll definitely work with focusing energy there, in addition to these great exercises in the Reddit link. 

It's also good to be reminded that there are gentler ways to practice. I am a intense sensation seeking ADHD person, and getting really gentle, quiet and going into the yin can be very challenging for me. For exercise I play alot of tennis, which is ripping hard cardio, and my preferred breathwork is Wim Hof, which can stir things up intensely. Might be good to ease off on those. For nature walks, I have a dog, and we're out in the woods daily. 

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