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Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened

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Hi. I’m new to DhO, and I need some feedback and direction.

I’ve read MCTB up through the vipassana nanas. I watched the talk Daniel Ingram did at Cheetah House on the nanas. I’ve read some of the threads on here but by no means all of them. I relate to a lot of it, but I’m still pretty confused.

I’ve been meditating daily for about two and a half months now. I took an MBSR class and liked the effect a lot. I decided to look deeper into vipassana, and that led me to MCTB and intensification of my effort. This has been going on a few weeks now, and there are some weird things that have happened – both good and bad – and I need some help sorting them out and deciding which direction to go next.

A little bit of background on me: I began experiencing depersonalization (DP) as a kid. At first it was just a weird experience, but by adolescence it had become powerful and frightening. I took a lot of hallucinogens in late-adolescence which produced some very powerful depersonalization. I stopped taking hallucinogens in my late-teens, but I think all the DP pushed me into philosophy, especially existential phenomenology. I would occasionally get DP, but only when smoking pot. I haven’t had a non-drug-induced episode of it since I was a teen – that is, before today.

Now, I have no idea if that means I crossed the A&P at some point in the past. I get the impression from Ingram and from other people here that this sort of thing happens accidentally all the time if you pay close enough attention to your experience. I have no memory of A&P, and almost none of the A&P descriptions sound like anything I’ve gone through. I’ve experienced hypomania before, and I’ve had these really neat, kind of glowing, compassionate states of mind before, but I never thought of them as anything other than very elevated mood. And I don’t necessarily recall any crash happening afterward that I would necessarily count as Dark Night. But then, maybe my memory isn’t very good.

This DP experience has been lurking in the background for a few weeks now, pretty much since I stopped the MBSR course and became more intense about my meditating. There was a feeling like it was sitting there in the background of experience, but I just couldn’t see it. This is weird language, but if you’ve had one of these experiences before, you kind of know what I mean. There’s something “dark” in there, and it’s waiting to come out – if you look at things a certain way.

There have also been positive experiences popping up. While I was still in the MBSR course, one day I had this feeling almost as if I were perfect. The sun looked beautiful. I was really glad to be alive. I felt so grateful for everything. It’s not really like me. I’m usually like Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man at work. I’ve had this experience maybe two other times in the past few years. I don’t know what the hell it is. It just feels like goodness and capability just flow out of me when I’m like that. Sometimes it feels sexual. Sometimes I just feel like I could forgive anyone or anything. I’d increase the frequency of such experiences if I could, obviously.

Two weekends ago I went on an all-day vipassana retreat: 8 hours alternating sitting and walking meditation. I felt like I had a breakthrough on my second sit. I was doing Mahasi-style noting, and after a few minutes of this, the “noting” part of my mind kind of “broke off” and I could see it sitting “out there” with the other thoughts and sensations. There would be thought, there would be the noting of the thought, and I’d “see” both of these. It was pretty cool, I got excited, but then my concentration broke, and I wasn’t really able to get it back.

I’m guessing this was Knowledge of Mind and Body.

Nothing spectacular happened for the rest of the retreat. I remember being really conscious of the sensations in my feet during walking meditation. I was aware that my feet weren’t solid, that they were made up of multiple, separate sense experiences that kind of “flashed” in and out very quickly, kind of like two bunches of blinking Christmas lights, one bunch for each foot. I chalked that up to having a little bit of insight into impermanence.

A few days after the retreat, I began to notice mild dread – the sensation in the stomach. I wasn’t sure what the dread was connected to, but I guessed it had to do with two doctor’s appointments I had that week. I didn’t really analyze the feelings, just kind of felt where they were physically and kept an eye on the relationship between thought and sensation. This is bread and butter MBSR stuff, and I find it helps.

By the way, is that Knowledge of Cause and Effect?

Bad stuff unrelated to meditation happened during the week, leaving me kind of emotionally vulnerable, but I had a pretty good meditation session on Saturday. I did 2.5 hours of sitting and walking. I experienced a lot of pain and impatience in the second half. I was alternating between a racing mind and falling asleep. There were flashes of hot and cold up my back. I had a bad tension headache which seemed to go away as soon as I got off the cushion. I felt like shit, but I stuck it out.

Fast forward to this morning: I did a short session: 10 mins walking, 20 mins sitting. Lots of weird sensations as soon as I sat. At first I couldn’t tell for sure which way my head was pointing. It felt like it was pointing at the ceiling, but I was looking straight forward. The breath felt tight in my chest. There was a lot of itching, a lot of thinking and picturing. Just a swarm of shit going through my head. But I just kept noting, kept going back to the breath, and about 5 mins in, it broke, which I’m used to, and I had a relatively calm mind and I was with the breath.

The breath came across as more “granular” that usual, though. Hard to describe exactly, but it felt like it had texture. (I’m not congested or anything.) And experiencing the breath felt really, REALLY good. In a way I’m not used to. I felt warm in the center of my chest, and I switched from the breath to just feeling the warmth, and for about two or three minutes I was just really happy. I didn’t care how long I was sitting, I just wanted it to go on and on.

But this only lasted a few minutes and then subsided, and there was a flurry of thinking again. I started to feel some worry about what I was doing, but for no good reason. The breath felt tight again. My shoulders tensed and raised a little. Itches and pains – especially behind my forehead – came up again. I could remain with the breath, but I was more distracted.

I felt okay after that. I washed, got dressed, went to work, and as I was settling into my desk to start my day, I started experiencing depersonalization. I could sense it coming. I really didn’t know what to do, so I got up from my desk and walked toward the stairs to get out of the building, and that’s when it really broke through and I started to panic.

I remembered my mindfulness at that moment and directed my attention to the sensation of panic. I didn’t know what this was going to do, if it would calm me down or make things worse. I could feel the sharp pains going through my shoulders and across my collar bones. Noting this kind of calmed things down. I got in the stairwell and just kept reminding myself that the world, indeed, is whole, and nothing is happening that hasn’t happened before. I knew getting outside would help, which it did, and by the time I came back from the walk, things had calmed down. I had managed to seal over the breach and reabsorb myself into experience.

Now there’s this pervasive feeling of, I guess, jitteriness. I feel fragile, like experience is just superficially held together. I just keep distracting myself with things and not thinking too much about experience itself. Work is just not the environment I want to deal with this in. DP is about as easy to ignore as a pterodactyl locked inside a phone booth with you.

So I’m guessing there’s some combination of three characteristics, A&P, and dark night stuff in here, but I’m confused by the relatively non-linear nature of the whole thing. Is depersonalization always dark night territory? If I’ve been in dark night (maybe since adolescence?), then why would I start meditation at Mind and Body? What about the positive experiences I mentioned, like feeling perfect/compassionate/capable and the warmth I experienced this morning? Is that jhanna stuff? Nana stuff?

Also, seeing how fucking scary some of this is, I’m thinking I might tone down the vipassana practice and find a teacher, someone who’s familiar with this stuff and can guide me. I was able to chill myself out today and remind myself about the maps and all that. But I also know my depersonalization experiences can be a lot more powerful than what I went through today. So I think some help might be a good idea. Also, I’m a little surprised at how much is happening so fast. There’s this feeling like I’m psyching myself out somehow or planting ideas in my own head and expecting to see things. But there’s really no mistaking or controlling depersonalization. There’s no way I simply could have talked myself into that or fooled myself about that.

Opinions?

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/24/12 5:43 PM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Hiya Jim, welcome to the DhO,

Based on your post I think you've already got a decent handle on where you're at, it's just a matter of knowing the most effective way to practice and how to deal with some of this unpleasant stuff skilfully i.e. without harming yourself or those around you. As far as I can see from your writing, you've got your head screwed on and have had enough experience of observing this stuff to be able to make progress. I'll go through your post and see if there's anything useful to suggest...

I was doing Mahasi-style noting, and after a few minutes of this, the “noting” part of my mind kind of “broke off” and I could see it sitting “out there” with the other thoughts and sensations. There would be thought, there would be the noting of the thought, and I’d “see” both of these....I’m guessing this was Knowledge of Mind and Body.

Aye, you've got it. Good description too.

A few days after the retreat, I began to notice mild dread – the sensation in the stomach. I wasn’t sure what the dread was connected to, but I guessed it had to do with two doctor’s appointments I had that week. I didn’t really analyze the feelings, just kind of felt where they were physically and kept an eye on the relationship between thought and sensation. This is bread and butter MBSR stuff, and I find it helps.

By the way, is that Knowledge of Cause and Effect?

Sounds likely, and given that you describe this next...
Bad stuff unrelated to meditation happened during the week, leaving me kind of emotionally vulnerable, but I had a pretty good meditation session on Saturday. I did 2.5 hours of sitting and walking. I experienced a lot of pain and impatience in the second half. I was alternating between a racing mind and falling asleep. There were flashes of hot and cold up my back. I had a bad tension headache which seemed to go away as soon as I got off the cushion. I felt like shit, but I stuck it out.

...which sounds very much like Knowledge of the Three Characteristics, then it's pretty clear.

Fast forward to this morning: I did a short session: 10 mins walking, 20 mins sitting. Lots of weird sensations as soon as I sat. At first I couldn’t tell for sure which way my head was pointing. It felt like it was pointing at the ceiling, but I was looking straight forward. The breath felt tight in my chest. There was a lot of itching, a lot of thinking and picturing. Just a swarm of shit going through my head.

Late 1st vipassana jhana a.k.a. still in the late stages of 3rd ñana, Knowledge of the 3C's.

But I just kept noting, kept going back to the breath, and about 5 mins in, it broke, which I’m used to, and I had a relatively calm mind and I was with the breath.

Excellent.

The breath came across as more “granular” that usual, though. Hard to describe exactly, but it felt like it had texture. (I’m not congested or anything.) And experiencing the breath felt really, REALLY good. In a way I’m not used to. I felt warm in the center of my chest, and I switched from the breath to just feeling the warmth, and for about two or three minutes I was just really happy. I didn’t care how long I was sitting, I just wanted it to go on and on.

Two possibilities here: Either A&P or you got too absorbed in the breath, shifted to the pleasant warmth and ended up in 1st samatha jhana. I'm more inclined to go with the 1st jhana idea for a few reasons which I'll point out...

But this only lasted a few minutes and then subsided, and there was a flurry of thinking again. I started to feel some worry about what I was doing, but for no good reason. The breath felt tight again. My shoulders tensed and raised a little. Itches and pains – especially behind my forehead – came up again. I could remain with the breath, but I was more distracted.

This sounds more like going back in 3rd ñana, 3C's, especially the bodily stuff even down to the areas you've noticed as being the most uncomfortable.

Now there’s this pervasive feeling of, I guess, jitteriness. I feel fragile, like experience is just superficially held together. I just keep distracting myself with things and not thinking too much about experience itself. Work is just not the environment I want to deal with this in.

This also sounds like the 3C's, it's definitely more of a fragility rather than a full blown dissolution of experience which is more common in, you guessed it, Knowledge of Dissolution.

Then again, I could be wrong and you may well have moved into Dark Night territory! Bear in mind that the best you're likely to get in terms of a diagnosis, based on a forum post, is an educated guess so don't take my word for it. Continued practice is the best way to ascertain where you're at.

So I’m guessing there’s some combination of three characteristics, A&P, and dark night stuff in here, but I’m confused by the relatively non-linear nature of the whole thing.

I've found that the maps are useful as a framework, they're wonderful to know about and can normalize some of the shitty stuff, put it into perspective and remind you that it's all just causes and conditions. Be aware of expecting to experience things in the way you've read them described, or that one persons unpleasant experience will necessarily be experience by you in the same way.

If I’ve been in dark night (maybe since adolescence?), then why would I start meditation at Mind and Body?

It's pretty normal if a long period of time has elapsed since you crossed the A&P for the first time, don't get too hung up on the technicalities of the maps as it's not very useful in practice. Your notes suggest to me that you're practicing well and that you've got a grasp of the basics of the thing so keep on doing what you're doing and all the technical stuff will become much clearer in time. Don't overthink this, it's experiential and needs to be understood through direct experience.

What about the positive experiences I mentioned, like feeling perfect/compassionate/capable and the warmth I experienced this morning? Is that jhanna stuff? Nana stuff?

The positive stuff could have been anything from a jhanic experience to the often mentioned PCE, the fact is that it's been and gone, it's not happening right and so it's not actually happening anywhere else other than in your head. I don't mean that to sound curt, it's just more useful to pay attention to what's going on right now; what sort of feelings come up when you think back on those experience? Is there a tension you notice anywhere? Investigate!

I've deliberately avoided anything to do with your experiences of depersonalization as I don't know enough about the clinical side of things to say anything useful, what I do know is that it's something I've experienced through these practices but that it gradually takes on a different tone and can be quite revealing.

Overall, it sounds like you've got a decent level of practice going and your descriptions are clear. A few practice suggestions:

- Have you tried more detailed noting? Check out Kenneth Folk's site for some good info on this, it helps to minimize the mind wandering by engaging more of the attention. Also, you mentioned that you're interested in maybe finding a teacher who knows their way around the maps. Kenneth is y'er man, he's a good guy and his approach has been very, very useful for me in the past so I recommend having a read at his site.

- See if you can catch how a sensation begins. Look how it comes up and watch how it behaves, how it comes to be noticed and the instant it stops being noticed to be replaced by another one. Watch what happens in between two sensations and see what's going on there...

- Check out The Hamilton Project and this blog in particular. Solid pragmatic tips on noting and it's benefits. The whole site is a goldmine and I recommend it highly.

- One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was this: Be mindful before your arse hits the cushion.

Best of luck with things and hopefully you'll stick around to keep us updated on how you're getting on.

A'ra best,
Tommy

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/24/12 7:19 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Tommy M:

- One of the best pieces of advice I ever had was this: Be mindful before your arse hits the cushion.


Yep. I highly recommend checking out this sticky thread here on Dharma Overground:
The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/24/12 8:23 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
I'm sorry - what's PCE?

Thanks so much for this! More later...
Jim

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/25/12 5:47 AM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
I'm sorry - what's PCE?

PCE stands for "pure consciousness experience", there's a complete absence of any sense of "me" and perception becomes crystal clear. I don't want to complicate things or confuse you by throwing in unfamiliar terms, particularly since the PCE is a term more commonly used in reference to another approach to ending suffering called "Actual Freedom". A dig through some of the more recent threads on the subject of AF should give you an indication as to why I'd prefer not to bring it up since it's a controversial subject and it might end up confusing things more. Suffice to say, the PCE is something mentioned in pretty much ever mystical tradition and most people will have experienced one at some point in their lives.

Don't worry about it, I only mentioned it as an example of the range of possible meditative experiences available to a person. Apologies for any confusion.

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/25/12 9:22 AM as a reply to Tommy M.
I've deliberately avoided anything to do with your experiences of depersonalization as I don't know enough about the clinical side of things to say anything useful, what I do know is that it's something I've experienced through these practices but that it gradually takes on a different tone and can be quite revealing.


It was probably a mistake for me to call it “depersonalization” since that gives the impression that I’m talking about a pathology.

The experience I’m talking about comes on pretty suddenly. All of a sudden one is very aware that one is having experience. It’s like suddenly realizing that there is experience in a way you hadn’t before. There’s a sense that one was asleep and has suddenly come online. One recalls having had the experience before, and one realizes that the “normal” self really can’t even begin to comprehend what this is like and how all-encompassing this feeling of dread is. One wonders why one would ever risk having such an experience, since as soon as one is in it, they want to get out as fast as possible.

My choice of language here (“one is aware” … “one was asleep”) is apt, because there is a sense that someone, somewhere is awake, but that person is anonymous. It’s not a sense of “I see experience,” it’s more like “One has experience” or even “There is experience” or even “There is.” There is no longer any personal self. Or there is; it’s just not identical with awareness anymore. Experience is observed, but all there is observed to exist is perception and the object of perception. No self.

Thinking takes place normally in such experiences. There’s no insanity or delusion or anything like that. Sense perception is still normal. There’s no hallucination or distortion. But something ABOUT perception is very weird. It’s seen as perception, and this is alarming. There’s the feeling that something really horrible and possibly irreversible has happened. One is not dying in the physical sense, but the awareness might break off or cease to exist somehow. Nothing is holding experience together. Indeed, nothingness pervades everything.

The weirdness isn’t confined to the object of perception or to the self. It seems to bridge both. It’s not just the absence of the self that’s alarming, and it’s not just the existence of the world which is alarming. The two are held together in some kind of unity, and that unity is very weird and alarming. (I think the word here is “non-dual”.)

The experience is scary, and the impulse is to flee it, back into reabsorption with experience. But there is a sense as one is fleeing it that there’s really no way to flee it. Whatever “it” is, it’s always there, it’s what experience really is, and the best one can do is to try to ignore the fact that it’s there. There is the sense that one has seen ultimate reality - or something about ultimate reality - but that it’s too horrible to stay with consciously.

Immediately afterward there’s the fear that it will happen again, that reality will “come apart” again if one looks at it too closely. Experience doesn’t feel entirely solid, but it nevertheless stays together so long as one remains absorbed with ordinary stuff. Therefore, a feeling of danger, frailty, and instability remains.

Does this sound like what you've experienced? How does this experience change with practice, and what sorts of things does one learn from it?

Two possibilities here: Either A&P or you got too absorbed in the breath, shifted to the pleasant warmth and ended up in 1st samatha jhana. I'm more inclined to go with the 1st jhana idea for a few reasons which I'll point out...


I’m inclined to think that the warm, happy experience was unitive, i.e., the start of 1st jhana, but then the concentration slipped, and I was out of it, probably back in three characteristics.

I think I’ve been experiencing the difference between unitive experiences and non-unitive, deconstructed experiences. My practice has gone back and forth between them. I do a lot of noting, but then some sessions I’ll only work on access concentration. Yesterday, when I started having the panic attack at work, I made a conscious choice to reabsorb into my experience, and as I was doing it, there was an overwhelming sense of trying to hold things together. I wanted to be under the sky, because it seemed large enough to contain me somehow. And then afterward there was a sense that the seams of experience were weak, and it was taking some effort to keep things together.

So going by that and what you say here, I’m inclined to think I was in the 1st vipassana jhana, just moving “horizontally” between unitive and deconstructed states. The extreme united state was what I experienced on the cushion with the warm, happy feeling. The extreme deconstructed state happened at work and led to the panic attack. I managed to get experience back to a “normal” level of unity, but I’m really still up at the end of the 1st vipassana jhana, since things seem “edgy” and like they could fly apart if I look at them the wrong way.

Question: If 3rd nana is this bad, what’s the Dark Night like? Ingram is adamant that people who get really interested in this type of stuff have already crossed the A&P and are Dark Night Yogis. I have my doubts. It seems like most of the “dark” stuff I’ve seen throughout my life could fall in the 3 characteristics stage. But I don’t know these stages well enough to say for certain. But I’m concerned. I don’t exactly shy away from dissonance, but if 3 characteristics is this messed up, I’m not sure I want to see Dark Night (assuming I haven’t already).

I mean, I didn’t even know my mind was powerful enough to bring on the no-self state without drugs. I usually only have that experience if I take LSD or if I smoke certain types of ganja. (And this is the main reason I don’t do drugs anymore.) I’m impressed by my ability to have done that, and I’m impressed by the power of the technique. If you follow it to the letter, strange shit will happen. I’m just not sure how strange I want things to get.

I appreciate the suggestions. While I feel a strong temptation to stop meditating so as not to fuck with my life or my head too much, I think I’m going to continue moving forward, albeit gently and slowly. Kenneth Folk is no longer teaching, but I see he suggests three other teachers. I may seek one of them out and get some guidance.

In general I like what I’ve been able to do so far. The mindfulness stuff alone has made a big difference in my life. Even when I hit the no-self experience and started to panic, I was able to deal with the panic in a mindful way and not have some kind of an episode at work. I haven’t gone very far down the path of insight, but I’ve made sure to get a lot out of what I’ve experienced so far. I just need to find a way to do it that’s not going to be totally disruptive and scary. That kind of stuff was fine when I was a kid, but I’m in my 30s now and it’s less appealing.

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/25/12 9:23 AM as a reply to Steph S.
Yep. I highly recommend checking out this sticky thread here on Dharma Overground:
The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness


Thank you. I plan to read this today.

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/29/12 7:21 PM as a reply to Fitter Stoke.
Does this sound like what you've experienced? How does this experience change with practice, and what sorts of things does one learn from it?

Aye, it definitely sounds familiar and now that you've described it more I've got a better idea of what you're talking about here. It sounds like some experiences I recall from before getting stream entry, looking back at it I can see more clearly why it was that these things seemed so frightening and unsettling...and why similar experiences can be far more enjoyable once you understand what it was that was actually afraid in those moments!

To cut a long story short, the fear is down to your entire sense of existing as a seperate and permanent self beginning to be seen through. You've crossed the A&P and gone through the earlier stages of Dark Night, namely Dissolution and Fear, to put it in terms of the maps. You've directly experienced the impermanence, emptiness and unsatisfactoriness of sensate phenomena and your old ways of experiencing are being broken down, stability is seen as being based on fear of instability and what you thought "you" were is suddenly seen for what it is: Just more fluctuating, flickering sensate phenomena.

What can be learned from it? Well, where do we start?! Shit as it sounds, this is something you really need to do for yourself and a lot of questions are put to rest through practice since the direct experience of fundamental truth has a way of convincing you. emoticon Look at the three characteristics, see how they present themselves and investigate sensations as they happen. It's all happening right here, right now but it's a matter of seeing it the right way. Look at what's happening in this moment, it's the only place you can.

Just a quick reply, I'll get back to you with more tomorrow but I had completely forgotten to reply to your post.

RE: Another person wanting to know what the eff just happened
Answer
1/30/12 6:35 PM as a reply to Tommy M.
Hi Tommy, thanks for the continuing feedback.

I had a feeling it was dark night territory. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the three characteristics stage sounds more physiologically challenging than psychologically challenging. It seems like the real head-fuck starts once you get over the A&P.

I guess the puzzle for me is why the A&P isn't more pronounced for me. I'm guessing that warm, fuzzy feeling I had on the morning of the panic attack was the A&P.

I feel a little gypped, though. I get all this nasty dark night crap, and I don't get to feel like Neo in the Matrix. I want my money back. :-)

I'm thinking about your advice. I'm wondering where to go from here. The no-self/panic attack was pretty disruptive. I backed off vipassana and have been working on concentration/metta instead. I trust my intuition in that regard, but I think now would be a good time to find a teacher.

I've actually been dealing with this dark night stuff for a long time (if that's what it is), at least since I was a little kid. I feel like the worst has happened already, and I've actually learned to inhabit some of these states with good cheer. From what you say, it sounds like you incorporate the insights from these stages, and they're there, but they're no longer threatening. Maybe I just need to get through it and bring the process to resolution.

Jim