strong & unpleasant altered state

Brian M, modified 11 Years ago.

strong & unpleasant altered state

Posts: 35 Join Date: 11/22/09 Recent Posts
A few days ago, was doing noting practice (actually more like "noticing"-- non-verbally-- but I'll just call it noting) before going to sleep, with an emphasis on trying to perceive the three characteristics. I began with a brief contemplation on the simple fact of existence, which helps me to "descend to the level of bare sensate experience" in a very experientially noticeable and focused kind of way. 10 or so minutes in, I began getting tingling / vibratory sensations all along my body (was lying down). This was accompanied by a noticeable acceleration in the rate at which I was making contact with and transitioning between the noticing of sensations-- subjectively I felt "speedy" in a somewhat druglike sense, like the same physical rapid bubbling tingling was beginning to happen mentally. After several minutes of this escalating I opened my eyes and had a similar tingly / vibratory thing going on visually-- like the sensations you get pressing your hands against your eyes, but superimposed on top of the visual scene, flickering and dancing quickly at a similar rate to my bodily and mental impressions. As I looked at the spot where the wall met the ceiling I perceived it wave in several abrupt pulses, like a tablecloth or blanket appears when one flicks it up in order to work out the wrinkles. As this was happening I had a couple of thoughts. I don't recall the content of the thoughts, but they seemed to have a distinct and vivid physical presence-- they felt like ghosts moving across the room slowly in external space from left to right. This experience was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. However, shortly afterwards I got a bit spooked by the intensity and craziness of the perceptual distortions. I have had all sorts of strong altered states doing meditative practices, but usually blissful and non-visual. Those are nice. This, however, felt mildly psychotic. So I was a bit freaked out, heart rate jumped a bit, but all in all not too bad and I just let myself fall asleep.

The next day I was reflecting on the experience. Was it a dark night thing? I thought it might be a good idea to push through it by doing more noting practice. I did the same experiential shift as the previous time (to the "bare sensate level" in a direct and vivid way), to get ready to do focused noting. But, uh oh. The shift itself was somewhat abrupt and intense and already I felt a bit in over my head, perhaps unconsciously anxious about the last experience. Worse, I felt like I was already pulled into an altered state (not nearly as intense, but definitely there) and was just coasting there for a while, whether I liked it or not. I got extremely anxious and had to pull out various tricks to try to ride it out, white knuckle style. I felt trapped and not in control of my experience. Trying to note the three characteristics was not helpful as it seemed to just direct my attention to the problem and perhaps exacerbate it (or perhaps not and I was just afraid that it would-- I was not having a high degree of clarity at the time). In any case, I wanted to land and it felt like doing more noting would just make me blast off. Fixating on visual objects was the same way-- not helpful and if anything, either made me more aware of and / or increased the intensity of my altered state. Eventually I got over it by doing some deep breathing and distracting myself with a word game, which helped ease me through it as I got back to normal in 40 min or so. In retrospect, probably a panic attack. (I had a brief bout of panic attacks years ago but have been perfectly fine since.)

Well well well. I hadn't quite counted on meditation giving me bad trips. Since then I haven't done any really intense practice, but have done some milder exercises to good effect, and I don't feel particularly anxious about going in deep again.

I am somewhat disconcerted though about the visual hallucination and the later experience of being overwhelmed. Are these "normal" things to happen as a result of deep meditation?
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Florian "Monkeymind" Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: strong & unpleasant altered state

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Brian,

Well, Seeing Clearly will clearly reveal both good and bad stuff more clearly. (couldn't resist)

You are already familiar with the "Progress of Insight". The corresponding chapter in MCTB is always worth a re-read, I've found, as it's so packed with detail. Each time I re-read it, I recognize something I seem to have skipped over before.

Noting the 3 characteristics is a good strategy. Maybe do some pure concentration stuff (not exclusively!), which can give you a break and also added clarity in your insight sits. Study teachings like the "5 spiritual faculties", to see what can be balanced or what might be out of balance. Play with your focus: maybe a more inclusive, wide one is good, maybe just sticking with a narrow focus is good.

Tarin recently wrote about an interesting practice trick: if an unpleasant sensations comes up, try to imagine where you would feel relief if it were gone - what's being hidden by the unpleasant stuff? This can lead to surprising results. Don't know if it would work with the kind of experience you had, though.

Keep up the practice. Good luck!

Cheers,
Florian
Brian M, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: strong & unpleasant altered state

Posts: 35 Join Date: 11/22/09 Recent Posts
Florian "Monkeymind" Weps:
Tarin recently wrote about an interesting practice trick: if an unpleasant sensations comes up, try to imagine where you would feel relief if it were gone - what's being hidden by the unpleasant stuff? This can lead to surprising results. Don't know if it would work with the kind of experience you had, though.


Had a similar but considerably milder experience recently and this technique helped a bit. I don't really have the poise yet to just examine three characteristics in a detached way when I feel I'm gripped by fear. It seems like a good idea in retrospect, but in the moment that strategy feels like a recommendation to stay calm and examine the three characteristics of my house burning down. Maybe I should work on my concentration practices...