Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Zbigniew Delikowski, modified 1 Month ago at 4/23/24 8:25 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/23/24 7:01 AM

Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 3 Join Date: 4/23/24 Recent Posts
Hi there, I just wanted to share parts of my weird meditation journey and ask some things.
I have started meditating around 5 years ago, I did not know anything about buddhism, but I was immediately hooked, I was so hooked that after few months I was meditating 6-16 hours a day. I was paying close attention to every sensation from every sense even when I was not meditating. I could be aware even during my whole sleep, I never lost attention. During meditation I was discovering things about the mind which later I found out to be the 4 Noble truths and other things buddhism talks about(no self etc), and entering states which later came out to be Jhanas. I had a perfect, stable model in my mind on how to have infinite happiness all the time, no matter what is happening. I thought my mind was so much transformed, that my perception would forever be this way, and nothing could shake me off. But then, something happened.Someday, when I was meditating and going through Jhanas(which I did not know they are Jhanas), and entered a state where there was nothing in my mind. Everything disappeared, including moments later my consciousness all together. I dont know how long I was unconscious, but when I came back, nothing was the same anymore. My perception of reality was distorted in every fundamental way. I did not know how to think properly, how to control my body properly, how to control attention etc. Everything was chaotic and painful. My subconscious was working weirdly fine, so I just dissociated as much as I could, and then my subconscious would take over some control over my thinking and body, but every time I was trying to do something consciously, I just could not, did not know how to do it. But it worked only to somehow get through school and stuff. But my condition was getting worse and worse. I was having psychosomatic pains all over my body, delusions, paranoia, hearing things that are not real, got into heavy depression, suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts. I was trying to get help, but doctors did not find anything wrong about me physically. Then I got into psychiatric ward. They also did not quite know what is wrong with me, so just druged me with every medication they had for depression, anxiety and psychosis. Nothing was working, I was getting out of and into hospital few times. After around 2 years I was slowly getting better, maybe some medication finally worked or it just naturally got better after so much time.Then I had quite a normal life. I still did not feel quite normal, but I was functional, and almost all symptoms subsided. Then I tried meditating again, but I saw after few minutes that every of my symptoms were slowly getting back again. So I stopped meditating for a few months and lived normally like nothing happened.Few months later I again tried meditating, and it weirdly worked. I got into theory of buddhism, so I could understand what happened to me, and how to prevent it the second time. I learned about some dark stages in meditation, but still my experience did not quite matched what was described in buddhist maps. Now Im still not near the level of meditating skill I had before, but I am starting to enter the first Jhana sometimes, and progressing. But I still dont quite get what happened to me. If someone reads all this, maybe will suggest what was that. Nonetheless thanks. Cheers
Conal, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 12:59 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 12:59 AM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 75 Join Date: 6/3/17 Recent Posts
Hi Zbigniew,

This unfortunately is a danger of doing high intensity vipassana practices. You are a lot safer combining vipassana with shamatha. I recommend a practice called TWIM (Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation) as it combines metta and the other brahmaviharas with vipassana. It's therefore a lot safer. My experience is that it also works a lot quicker than just vipassana. Alternatively you could just do metta on its own. I worked with the instructions in Daniel Ingrams book for the brahmaviharas before I took up TWIM. Another approach that combines vipassana and shamatha is that of TMI ("The Mind Illuminated" book). I haven't tried this though.

Your experiences remind me of the book by "Silicon Valley Monk" which is available on Amazon. He also used to post here as svmonk.

Daniel Ingram also warns about the dangers of practicing too intensely in his book.

best regards,

Conal
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Chris M, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 7:00 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 6:57 AM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 5269 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Cheetah House is a great online resource for folks having these issues:

MissionCheetah House exists to provide support to those experiencing meditation-related difficulties, to train meditation providers in understanding and treating meditation adverse effects in a person-centered way, and to empower people to make informed decisions about the role of meditation in their lives. In a world in which claims about meditation are often overhyped, Cheetah House also aims to provide a balanced, realistic and informed perspective about the risks associated with meditation through the dissemination of research-based information.

Vision: Our vision is to be a global gathering space for meditators in distress and to lead the conversation about the existence of, treatments for, and solutions to meditation-related adverse effects; we envision an environment where meditators-in-distress are adequately supported by communities and professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to prevent and mitigate adverse meditation experiences.
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Dream Walker, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 10:21 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 10:21 AM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 1746 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Conal
hi there
This unfortunately is a danger of doing high intensity vipassana practices.
what is exactly the "this" that is the danger? Did "this" happen to you? Did it happen to people you actually know? How many? You make it sound like this is normal....
HIGH intensity of any contemplative practice can be benifitial as well as cause unstability. Are you speaking from direct experience?
You are a lot safer combining vipassana with shamatha.
You actually can't do one without the other.
I recommend a practice called TWIM (Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation) as it combines metta and the other brahmaviharas with vipassana.
It seems that TWIM is very popular to recommend lately. I continue to see it mentioned. Metta and the 3 other? hmm, that would be interesting, could you give an example of mixing 
  1. equanimity (upekkhā)
  2. with vipassana/
It's therefore a lot safer.
Please explain whatever evidence there is that might possibly be 'safer' in some way.
My experience is that it also works a lot quicker than just vipassana.
Ah, in my experience, claims without some kinda evidence is ....um....something
Alternatively you could just do metta on its own.
tru dat
I worked with the instructions in Daniel Ingrams book for the brahmaviharas before I took up TWIM.
I worked with a lot of instructions in many books about stuff before I didn't take up TWIM
Another approach that combines vipassana and shamatha is that of TMI ("The Mind Illuminated" book). I haven't tried this though.
Ya, you are absolutely wrong here. But since you never tried it, shrug.

Your experiences remind me of the book by "Silicon Valley Monk" which is available on Amazon. He also used to post here as svmonk.
Yep, kinda.

Daniel Ingram also warns about the dangers of practicing too intensely in his book.
Yes, he also warns of good things too.

best regards,
to you too, warmly

Conal
~D
Conal, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 1:11 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 1:11 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 75 Join Date: 6/3/17 Recent Posts
Hi Dream Walker,

 I agree that you can't do vipassana without shamatha. Do you prefer the wet/dry terminology? I was trying to keep it simple. I think we can both agree that some practices emphasise shamatha more than vipassana.

In TWIM, equanimity is combined with vipassana by applying the 6rs whenever a hindrance comes up that takes you out of equanimity:

https://www.dhammasukha.org/the-6rs

By doing so, you gain insight into the hindrance and return to equanimity.

 Best regards,

Conal
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Dream Walker, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 1:58 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 1:58 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 1746 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Conal Hi Dream Walker
,  I agree that you can't do vipassana without shamatha.
cool
Do you prefer the wet/dry terminology?
Any precise phenom of any sort first hand is good
I was trying to keep it simple.
uhhhh....ya... thats good
I think we can both agree that some practices emphasise shamatha more than vipassana.
totally agree
In TWIM, equanimity is combined with vipassana
I tried to ask a question. thank you for explaining.
by applying the 6rs whenever a hindrance comes
What does that mean? 
up that takes you out of equanimity: https://www.dhammasukha.org/the-6rs By doing so, you gain insight into the hindrance and return to equanimity.
ok, anything that helps is cool

 Best regards, Conal
thank you for your patience with my questions. I do appreciate your willingness to be succinct.
TWIM might be the mostest awesome ever....
I feel like we hijacked this thread. Do let us move...
~D
Olivier S, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 3:48 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 3:48 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 958 Join Date: 4/27/19 Recent Posts
Hi Zbigniew, 

Sorry to hear about the challenges. Although it sounds like things are looking up. I have to say you story is quite interesting. I second the Cheetah house recommendation, but I'm pretty sure they have a 3 month waiting list.

Something I could do, if you wish, is to share your story with the EPRC network, and see if anyone wants to meet with you/offer support? There are quite a few people there who specialize in that. Let me know.

Cheers,

Olivier
Derek2, modified 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 4:49 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/24/24 4:49 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 231 Join Date: 9/21/16 Recent Posts
Hi, Zbigniew,

I'm sorry to hear you are experiencing this.

See if you can get hold of Beng-Yeong Ng, "Qigong-Induced Mental Disorders: A Review," Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 33 no. 2 (1999), pp. 197-206. That paper describes common sensory disturbances, motor disturbances, and psychic disturbances arising from qigong practice. Do any of the symptoms match the disturbances you are experiencing arising from meditation practice?

More accessibly, Shinzen Young has some videos on enlightenment's evil twin, depersonalization and derealization (DP/DR). One example is "Enlightenment, DP/DR & Falling Into the Pit of the Void ~ Shinzen Young" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zIKQCwDXsA
Zbigniew Delikowski, modified 1 Month ago at 4/26/24 8:22 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/26/24 8:22 AM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 3 Join Date: 4/23/24 Recent Posts
Hello Olivier. Thanks for the reply

​​​​​​​I dont know, if anyone from the EPRC would be interested in this case, because things already got quite better, its just my curiousity and a bit of worry about what was that and if it could happen again. Also, I am from Poland, so I dont think there are any people there that could meet me directly
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svmonk, modified 1 Month ago at 4/27/24 9:25 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/27/24 9:25 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 401 Join Date: 8/23/14 Recent Posts
Hi Zbigniew,

So I had similar experiences twice in conjunction with retreats. Once I ended up in the emergency room for 4 days and they were about to transfer me to a psychiatric hospital when my wife showed up to take me home (you can read about it in my self-published book Silicon Valley Monk). The second time, I experienced what I think was stream entry, including fruitions for about a day and a half, then began to experience ego inflation. I thought I was the new Buddha. It's a bit like the incident mentioned in the Majjhima Nikaya where the Buddha met Upaka, an ascetic of another sect, on his way to Varansi shortly after his enlightenment and said: "In this world, I am the supreme teacher. I alone am the fully enlightened one whose fires are quenched and extinguished." Upaka said "Maybe so, friend," shook his head and walked away. For a month after that, I was convinced I would start the Fourth Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, until reality finally settled in.

What I've done is basically given up on intensive meditation and retreats since I know my mind can't handle it. I don't know why, maybe it has something to do with my practice technique but since the late 1980's I've always practiced with great teachers. I do 40 minutes of mindfulness meditation in the morning and 40 minutes of concentration in the evening, and I'm not fanatical about it. For example, I don't meditate on nights when my wife and I watch a streaming movie or go to a concert because I know I will just sit there and think about the event. I also don't sit when we travel.

Other resources have been mentioned in this thread. Also Willoughy Britton at Brown University has done a lot of research on meditation induced psychosis, you might want to check out some of her publications. I hope some day somebody figures out what causes some people to freak out when they do intensive meditation while other folks are fine, but until then, I'm inclined to be careful.

Hope this helps.

           svm
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Chris M, modified 1 Month ago at 4/28/24 7:38 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/28/24 7:38 AM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 5269 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Also Willoughy Britton at Brown University has done a lot of research on meditation induced psychosis, you might want to check out some of her publications. 

​​​​​​​Just FYI - Willoughby Britton is the founder of Cheetah House.
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terry, modified 1 Month ago at 4/28/24 3:32 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 4/28/24 3:32 PM

RE: Hardcore meditation induced psychosis and suicidal tendencies

Posts: 2531 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
Wet and dry, I like that. Prayer and meditation. Insight outsight, balance.

Meditation and mental illness. Zen and the art of maintaining.

People going overboard with their training intensity and developing overmuscled minds. Feeling bad is doubled and redoubled by the sense of failure. Some take it very hard, are very attached to their former success, so sweet.

svm describes the break, the turning point, as "ego inflation." For some this is just a problem, for some it is disabling.

Perhaps it is an imbalance between insight and emptiness, as the boys imply.

I think so, you know... 


Let's look at sitting meditation as purely openness to emptiness. And insight meditation as purely inviting and indulging insightful thoughts and perspectives, at whatever level of rarefication you conceive them. Insight as illuminating concepts, ideas of explanatory power, language as sense and perception. Just sitting one expereinces bliss, to whatever degree.

Meditation in this sense is purely individual, while language is purely collective. Meditation confronts us with our individuality, while insight may be expressed and shared.

Buddha did not talk about god and self but then as now much was taken for granted.

Let us take the individual self as "ego" with all that implies and take the collective self of language and insight as "god," with all that implies.

The successful meditator on his - generally "his" - way to paranoid schizophrenia appears from their stories to experience some great sense of being directed by one cosmic other, some divine force that is vaguely felt but definitely not ego. After awhile this pleasant womb-like sensation fades and there is only terrified little old me and no mommy, no nourishment, only this omphalos, this bellybutton. Wailing and tears.

The problem is not that god (as defined above) is not dependable, it is that the ego becomes identified with god, aka narcissism. Atlas crushed by the world. Omg, I am responsible! I can't bear it. Insight rescues us by undermining the sense of ego, of agency, of guilt. We're all in this together. And god love us we care about each other.

Narcissism is not inevitable, not normal, or at least, not healthy. It's more like a sugar addiction. Which is to say, a dopamine addiction. 


My shepsky kala is 2 1/2 and I have been with her continuously since she was six weeks old. Huskies are notoriously troublesome puppies with an extended adolescence. The dog's developing ego is what one "trains" or I would say "tames" in order to keep the critter out of trouble. Habit and repetition are the essence of the process, and of course kindness and patience. Interesting that the two most effective methods for dealing with depression are meditation and caring for a pet.

As the dog matures a peaceful and positive relationship with her most significant other becomes her priority and the dog becomes more cognitively able to sacrifice immediate gain for, may we say, peace of mind.

Like overcoming a sugar addiction.




Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

~omar khayyam

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