help!?!

Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 10:05 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 10:05 AM

help!?!

Posts: 23 Join Date: 12/12/23 Recent Posts
hey folks:

requesting help with "diagnosing" my practice. I have meditated with the Headspace app for about seven years, but rather inconsistently - I tried to be as gentle with my practice as possible and not get discouraged if I missed days or weeks at a time. I went daily in 2020 but found it hard to maintain after lockdown ended, and fell back to twice or thrice a week.

Around December of last year something shifted very profoundly in both life and meditation.
My mind quieted (in comparison), and I still get caught up in thoughts but much less frequently and with less confusion than I remember. I've been able to sit every day and for much longer periods (I'd say usually anywhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours, sometimes up to three or four). In the spring, there were meditative experiences that felt profoundly blissful and euphoric. They still show up during almost every sit but dissipate into more difficult phenomena quickly.

I also have classic "Kundalini" type phenomena: severe exorcist-like muscle twisting and back-bends, constant energetic pain that moves around, usually around the chakra centres, visions or "knowings" about phenomena like chakras, involuntary seizure-like movements, very transient psychic experiences. I've tried to pay as little attention to these as possible, but the pain is often disabling. Last winter, the seizure-like movements happened eight hours a day, but the energy seems to be finite and dissipating over time; I am mostly functional five days of the week or so but still lose a day or two to pain.

I try to apply "discipline" to the above phenomena but when the pain becomes debilitating I often have to abandon my technique in order to like, physically nurture it, by touching it and telling it I love it, etc. "Loving what arises" seems to work better for me for the difficult parts, but I worry my poor discipline and inconsistency of technique will mess me up down the line.

I found MCTB after trying to figure out why euphoric states were showing up in meditation, as Headspace offers very little information or guidance beyond basic techniques. I have read it about seventeen times at this point but worry I only *think* I am cycling through because I've scripted my experiences against the map.

Throughout the day, whether I am meditating or not, I seem to cycle through emotional states. Great bliss, intense pain, fear, self-loathing at my own delusion for thinking I could attain enlightenment, hatred of my attachments and addictions, despair at the thought of ever losing them, usually move into a "breaking point" of feeling lost where I ask God/Jesus/Buddha for help, then a short period of relief and ambivalence. The cycle seems to repeat, sometimes twice a day, sometimes every day-and-a-half.

I seem to drop into meditation whenever not actively engaged in an activity, while walking, on public transit, etc..

I don't think I *should* be anywhere on the path; I was not pursuing it intentionally, I've never been on a retreat, and if Headspace's timer is accurate (it is not, as I often sit beyond the bell), I only have about 15,000 minutes, not hours, of practice over several years in an "anything goes" manner.

I don't have any training in vipassana although I apply rudimentary noting to my everyday experience when I feel capable of doing so, especially when I notice thoughts corresponding to the negative affect cycle I list above. Shinzen Young's "gone" technique has been helpful for dissolving pains into heartbeat-like "pulses".

I have just enough insight into my daily experience to know that "reality" does not quite add up to my conception of it beyond the sensory input I'm receiving at any given time, but not enough to undo the illusion in any meaningful way. I understand "no-self" conceptually but not experientially beyond two or three transient experiences.

All I know is that my "old life" seemed to have ended in December of last year and that the only way out of the predicament I find myself in seems to be through it. Any help you folks can provide is profoundly appreciated.
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 10:06 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 10:06 AM

RE: help!?!

Posts: 23 Join Date: 12/12/23 Recent Posts
I am sorry for the length of this post. As my awareness grows there becomes more and more experience to remember and list but much of this is probably irrelevant.
shargrol, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:27 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:10 AM

RE: help!?!

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That level of detail is perfectly fine. The big question is whether you want to tackle this with a psychological framing or a meditation framing?

With a psychological framing, you would investigate your views and emotions and ask "is this true? is this appropriate?" and you would work very practically on your emotions and addictions. And of course you could have professional help. That's not a bad way to go.

With a meditation framing, you would basically commit to regular practice and developing an intimacy and equanimity with all of these body and mind states. You would basically not try to "fix" anything, but rather just allow the stuff to arise and let it be, sort of like listening to a friend complain except that friend is your own mind. That's not a bad way to go either.

Ultimately you have to decide on one or the other or a hybrid approach. Of course a meditation teacher would say "use meditation!" and a psychologist would say "use therapy!"  emoticon  Ultimately you'll need to decide for either or both for yourself. 
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Chris M, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:37 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:37 AM

RE: help!?!

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What are you most afraid of or worried about? 
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:53 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 11:53 AM

RE: help!?!

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thank you Shargrol for your kind words and your reply.

I have done thirteen years of therapy. Unfortunately much of the actual trauma was subconscious until it manifested as somatic pain, which led me to the 'breakthrough' moment a year ago. I have done about six months of EMDR for the conscious triggers and continue to see my regular psychologist. l would say I no longer derive as much value from the western psychological model, as it is clear these "mental illnesses" I had were and are simply repetitive cognitive patterns borne out of my childhood living situation that I then solidified into identity categories, and that all of these behaviours were different manifestations of an unaddressed core problem - PTSD from negligent caregivers. After fifteen years and many diagnoses (common experience in "the system"), faith in and enthusiasm for the model has waned, especially when I consider how much I pathologized myself with it.

I do try to sit with whatever arises. New suggestions of techniques or approaches spontaneously show up when I reach a point of surrender in the hard spots. But this feels like 'bad practice' because I can't remain with the primary object while attending to the difficult elements as they arise. Attending to them, recognizing them, allowing them to say what they need to say and then applying love to them

Do I just keep sitting? Do I sit longer? Do I give up? I cannot imagine returning to my previous level of (un)awareness or life prior to meditation. Life has a new richness to it. But it also feels empty.
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 12:30 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 12:09 PM

RE: help!?!

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Fear of being delusional, a fool who feels he is on the path to enlightenment.

The fear that arises on the cushion is pure sensation, never any thought or image associated with it. Just pure breathlessness and choking sensations and the diaphragm contracting, trying to breathe.

Images of doubt and self-loathing appear after I note the fear. I do not transcend the fear ever, but it does quiet down after I say "fear, fear, choking, agony".

During walking meditation it is not as intense, but I'm new to walking meditation and have difficulty stabilizing on the object.
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Geoffrey Gatekeeper of the Gateless Gate, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 1:45 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 1:45 PM

RE: help!?!

Posts: 396 Join Date: 10/30/23 Recent Posts
Well, since you're asking for a diagnosis- it sounds like you could have crossed the A&P and be in the dark night, which is one of the reasons it seems to suck so badly. The reason I'd say this is the phenomenon you're describing, the attitude you have, and even the "philosophical outlook" in your last two paragraphs. Which if true would mean you're on the path, whether or not you want to be. So the the way out is through. In terms of practical advice I'd say keep working at walking, since that will give you a meditation style that lets you dissipate energy. Try adding notes if you find it helpful - stepping, or lifting, moving, placing. I'd also encourage you to try different postures (Ive been know to shake a lot as well so I usually tend to use chair or lay down). And it sounds like you're pretty jarred, so try techniques that might help you smooth things out a bit - metta, spacious awareness stuff (the waking up app is pretty good imho), just being mindful throughout the day, etc.
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Geoffrey Gatekeeper of the Gateless Gate, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 1:51 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 1:51 PM

RE: help!?!

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Oh and one thing I forgot to add - you're coming from a world of concentration, where there is an object to focus on, hence a goal, and hence a yardstick to think about "good or bad" practice with. I'd say it could also be worth it to try a meditation style that's inclusive of all phenomena - whether that is vipassana, mindfulness, just sitting, noting, whatever, because at the end of the day mindfulness (being directly with sense data) is the primary thing that you need to be doing in meditation. The satipanna sutta starts "this is the direct way..." or "this is the only way..." depending on your translation, and then goes onto elaborate mindfulness. It could actually be a good time to read that sutta if you're into that kind of stuff. 
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 2:24 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 2:24 PM

RE: help!?!

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Thank you all.<br /><br />Even a few hours later I see these posts as evidence I was in the part of my cycle where I doubt myself, my practice and seek reassurance. Often this is a purely mental process, but this time I actually went and posted!<br /><br />And you are right - my posts are suffused with a rather self-pitying energy that seems obvious now in retrospect.&nbsp;<br /><br />I let a few self-care elements drop last week due to some life stressors/COVID recovery. Maybe I need to reestablish those before I can reestablish mindfulness.&nbsp;<br /><br />If I *am* in the Dark Night and seem to cycle through it throughout the day - am i 'stuck' at equanimity? That seems too far along.&nbsp;
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 2:26 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 2:26 PM

RE: help!?!

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Thank you, Geoffrey. I am slowly working my way through the primary literature. Revisiting the Satipanna Sutta is a good idea. emoticon
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Bahiya Baby, modified 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 3:10 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/12/23 3:10 PM

RE: help!?!

Posts: 523 Join Date: 5/26/23 Recent Posts
Make sure you're familiar with the chapter on the three characteristics in MCTB, that is, if you choose to meditate.&nbsp;
shargrol, modified 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 9:54 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 9:42 AM

RE: help!?!

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Qwentin Groth
thank you Shargrol for your kind words and your reply.

I have done thirteen years of therapy. Unfortunately much of the actual trauma was subconscious until it manifested as somatic pain, which led me to the 'breakthrough' moment a year ago. I have done about six months of EMDR for the conscious triggers and continue to see my regular psychologist. l would say I no longer derive as much value from the western psychological model, as it is clear these "mental illnesses" I had were and are simply repetitive cognitive patterns borne out of my childhood living situation that I then solidified into identity categories, and that all of these behaviours were different manifestations of an unaddressed core problem - PTSD from negligent caregivers. After fifteen years and many diagnoses (common experience in "the system"), faith in and enthusiasm for the model has waned, especially when I consider how much I pathologized myself with it.
Sounds good. It seems like you have given the psychological approach a good try and got some benefit from it. The nice thing is if the meditation approach doesn't work out or if you run into difficulties you know that you can always return to therapy --- and you are a lot smarter about the system and will be a much wiser shopper for therapists/diagnoses/treatments. 

Honestly, it can be very difficult to jump into meditation with PTSD and so I'm glad you got some grounding (limited as it might be) from therapy.

I do try to sit with whatever arises. New suggestions of techniques or approaches spontaneously show up when I reach a point of surrender in the hard spots. But this feels like 'bad practice' because I can't remain with the primary object while attending to the difficult elements as they arise. Attending to them, recognizing them, allowing them to say what they need to say and then applying love to them

Do I just keep sitting? Do I sit longer? Do I give up? I cannot imagine returning to my previous level of (un)awareness or life prior to meditation. Life has a new richness to it. But it also feels empty.

Okay, so it sounds like you want to give meditation a serious try, but you're a bit confused on how to handle the difficult stuff that shows up. 

It's very important to have a good sense of "the view" when it comes to meditation. In meditation, it's important to remember that you are basically just sitting in a very safe room, with no obligations for the next half-hour or hour, and nothing in particular you need to do. When you think about it that way, then anything that arises in meditation is partially an illusion or dream-like, because it is arising in your mind not "triggered" by anything in the real world. This meditation-arising stuff is all old undigested psychological material and partial memories and habitual dramas that bubble up into consciousness. 

If you were doing psychology/therapy, you would take this stuff very seriously and analyze it and look for associations from your past, your childhood, your traumas, or old feelings of neglect etc etc. But in meditation, you basically allow all of this to arise and then you remind yourself -- how interesting, this is all arising on it's own, due to past karma you could say, but it isn't anything really real. What is really real is that I'm a human body, sitting right here, breathing right here, and there is nothing much going on in this room. All this stuff that is arising is a vivid display of mind.

Can you see how having this attitude is really helpful for when the difficult stuff shows up? And can you see how it's okay to change attention from the primary object (e.g. the breath) and pay attention to the arising mind display... but only if you maintain "the meditation view" of this mind display?

Basically, a lot of old psychological content and habitual ways of thinking/worrying get exposed through just allowing them to bubble up. It's perfectly fine --- and even good --- to just allow stuff to bubble up in meditation. In a way, you are purifying yourself or "digesting old experiences" you could say.

Now the other aspect of meditation is also being kind and respectful to yourself. Sometimes the stuff that shows up is very powerful and still feels damaging. If that is the case, it is perfectly okay to get your head out of the drama/trauma. Basically, if you cannot maintain "the meditation view" then you are simply re-traumatizing yourself. Another way to say it is "if your ability to pay attention is weaker than the power of the emotion/memory, then you are just re-experiencing trauma/neglect". Healing only happens when your ability to maintain the meditation view is stronger than whatever arises. So if it gets too much you can refocus on the primary object, or you can stand up instead of sitting, or you can do walking meditation, or you can quit --- all of those are legitimate and appropriate options. 

Over time, you'll notice that you become more and more able to stay clear minded even when strong body sensations/emotions/thinking arises.

When I was developing my meditation practice, I would sit in the evening before going to be. My little ritual was to take a shower ("washing myself clean" both litterally and symbolically) and put on sleeping clothes and sit on my cushion. In the beginning I would also light a candle and burn just a little incense. The candle was to remind me of the power of my inner mind, the mind that knows. The incense was to give me a little happy feeling and remind myself that I was "in the meditation view" now. And then I would sit... and most of the time, after 5 minutes or so, tons of stuff would just bubble up into my mind. And I just stayed with it as best I could, like being on a horse and trying to stay in the saddle. emoticon

One other thing that is really helpful is simple "noting" or "labelling" what is occuring. This helps you remember that you are basically watching all this mind activity -- you are the watcher. So when worries show up -- be sure to label those as "worrying thoughts". When kundalini shows up -- be sure to label the feelings of heat, energy, twitching, etc.  The more simply and clearly you can note or label what is arising, the more clear-minded you will stay.


Most of all, go slowly and go gently. Meditation is powerful stuff. You can't force it and you can't really direct it. It takes a lot of confidence, built up slowly over time, to become clear minded in the middle of a messy mind display --- but it is possible. But only if you are very gentle with yourself, if you are not then you are just re-traumatizing yourself or neglecting yourself the same way you were neglected in childhood. In a sense, you need to be the good parent to yourself that you never had. You won't be perfect at first, so don't be too hard on yourself. It takes time to heal and to learn how to be kind to ourself.

This "bubbling up" phase is very important. You don't need to cre ate a perfectly clear meditation mind or stay on the breath perfectly etc. etc.  All you really need to do is allow your mind to "off gas" this stuff emoticon  ...and slowly develop a very gentle yet consistent daily sitting habit.

​​​​​​​Hope this is helpful in some way.  
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 11:08 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 10:52 AM

RE: help!?!

Posts: 23 Join Date: 12/12/23 Recent Posts
Shargrol:

Thank you for taking the time to reply.

Some of the replies in this thread seem to be suggestions for someone newly considering meditation.
I have had an active practice for several years, so I'm feeling a bit confused. But your reply is filled with invaluable advice for any stage of the path, so thank you anyway.

Your suggestions about making it a ritual and setting clear boundaries on practice versus everyday life could be a way to re-establish safety and control around the practice; I will strongly consider those.

I guess I just find myself not wanting to return to my previous life or conception of reality. I feel as though the only way "out" of my predicament is stream entry, and so there has been a feeling of great urgency to proceed.
shargrol, modified 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 11:15 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 11:15 AM

RE: help!?!

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Eric Abrahamsen, modified 6 Months ago at 12/13/23 12:44 PM
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RE: help!?!

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I'd also note that it's possible to find therapists who do meditation- or mindfulness-based therapy, and you can get the best of both worlds that way. It's hard enough to find a therapist you like without adding these extra requirements in there, but you can find them.

Shargol's recommendations are excellent, as always. I feel like calling it "bubbling up" might downplay the potential violence of the process, though! There are situations where what we usually term "acceptance" or "allowing" is better described as "surrender", and this might be one of those situations. It can be a radically difficult to let go of fear and resistance.

In my case, a mindfulness-based therapist also took me through a guided MDMA session, which eased a lot of the fear associated with surrender, though in no other way was it a short-cut. Six months later I now believe that experience led to stream entry, though I don't want to over-sell it! Just something else to put on your radar.
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 9:56 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 9:55 AM

RE: help!?!

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If MDMA could lead me to stream entry, I would have <em>instantly</em> become enlightened in my early twenties...emoticon

I'm glad it worked for you in a therapeutic setting, I believe that particular chemical has many wonderful lessons to teach (although I learned many of its harder ones through youthful foolishness and overuse).

Thank you all - I don't know if I was in the official nana of desire for deliverance or re-observation, but sensations - and the prospect of forever being trapped in the process of craving and suffering felt unbearable yesterday and the day before. However, accepting and peering into such unbearable sensations like you all recommended did weaken their grasp, and the mind and body feel more spacious today.

I am hoping to redouble my efforts today to see if I can dismantle these even-keeled sensations, as I suspect the place I am getting is in the relief after a hard part of the cycle.
shargrol, modified 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 2:40 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 2:40 PM

RE: help!?!

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There is a lot of good advice here: 5. Dissolution, Entrance to the Dark Night – MCTB.org

I know you've read MCTB, but it can be good to remember some of the basic rules about navigating the dark night. It's so easy to forget the big picture in the midst of the challenge/intensity of what arises in our minds. 
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 5:11 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 5:11 PM

RE: help!?!

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Qwentin Groth
If MDMA could lead me to stream entry, I would have <em>instantly</em> become enlightened in my early twenties...emoticon

Can you imagine all the accidental Buddhas walking around? emoticon

Best of luck!
Qwentin Groth, modified 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 6:15 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/14/23 6:15 PM

RE: help!?!

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Thank you, Shargrol. I hope I wasn't behaving too unskillfully, but I was lost "in it" this time for sure.
I never mind revisiting MCTB, and I am so grateful to have it as a resource.
C B, modified 6 Months ago at 12/17/23 2:54 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 12/17/23 2:52 PM

RE: help!?!

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Just want to send an encouraging word here. I can relate to this extremely intense, hyper-invigorating stuff. It comes in waves, right? Keep a wide mind, wide enough to maintain a grounded view of all that stuff. It'll still sway you back-and-forth, but keeping anchored with an objective view of what it actually is, is important. Maintain a connection to basic physical human activities - walking, exercise, etc. Heck, go ride a bike.

I wish I had more to offer, but thought it could be at least partially helpful for you to know that others experience this, and in time, do in fact make sense of it and work through it to a stillness.

All the rustling leaves in your being will settle, and the settling will come from something other than those leaves that were rustling. Bear with it, be smart, and try not to relate to it on too personal of a level. It's imagery. Stay steady.