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ok, here it goes... experiences of pure and utter fear

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One of the most difficult aspects of practice for me, is to experience the fear in and out of meditation. And I'm not talking about fear of mistakes you have made/will make in your life, not fear about money or even death. Not a paranoid checking under the bed fear or experiencing anything fearful. I wasn't afraid OF anything. I feel like if you distilled the essence of fear then tasted a drop of it it would be like what I experience. Just pure fear- of everything and nothing. My stomach would get queasy, I would start to sweat and then my heart start pounding in my chest. This is where panic sets in and I feel like I can't breath. I cannot emphasize enough how raw and intense this feeling is.

I've just finished a 21-day beginner course in vipassana noting technique and theses feelings came up. More than anything I just want to get these things off my chest, and I have no dharma friends to talk about it with in person, so I thought this was a good enough place as any to share my experiences and maybe get some advice. This is my first post on the forum.

The first time it happened on this retreat I was in meditation (walking, then sitting- it happened twice) and I witnessed all of the physical sensations (queasy, sweaty, heart pounding) but not the actual feeling of fear. I examined and noted all the sensations as they arose with a calm and peaceful mind. The whole process probably only lasted 5 minutes (? It’s hard to tell) both times, and passed. During the time leading up to the experiences I feel like I had finally quieted the thinking process by stopping and noting anything that appeared as a thought in my mind to the point where thoughts stopped arising spontaneously. I felt very fleshy, especially when I was sitting I had the perception of being skinned and just sitting as a raw and oozing body. Again, no fear arose, just the sensations that I normally associate with fear.

Then I experienced it all with the feeling of fear after a rather strong formal sitting where my concentration was quite high. It seemed as though this was occurring with the change in the way I perceived my surroundings. When I looked up at the tree tops I felt tall and vast and airy like them. When I looked at the ground I felt like I was a inch away and an actual part of the earth. All the colours where very vivid and clear and the air arround me felt more like liquid than air. When I looked at my body I felt a strong sense of "this is not MY body". My hands were like two little helper monkeys that were mostly attending to my face. It was all unfamiliar and I felt like I missed the comforting feeling of being "me". When I read over what I just wrote pretending I was someone else, I would say hey, that sounds pretty neat- what's there not to like? I asked myself the same thing during the experience and I couldn't really pin-point any specific thing that made me so fearful. Like I said, I wasn't afraid OF anyting, if felt like I was just experiencing raw intense animal fear. But I probably was in fact terrified of the change in my perception on an unconscious level. Especially that feeling of not actually being in control of your body or your thoughts. That voice inside my head that is contantly yammering away didn't feel like "my" voice anymore. That was extremely creepy. My breath was also something that, oddly enough, I felt like I had gained more control over. To the point where I was worried that if I didn't remember to breath I would just stop and have a heart attack. So I would take a big breath every once in a while to remind myself I was breathing. It wasn’t a comfortable sense of breath, but like I was drowning in air. I noted all of these feelings (“Feeling, Knowing”) and reminded myself that my body can take care of itself and I would breathe when I needed to so I just needed to let that control go. I feel like I was too caught up in the wanted for it to end (“Dislike, dislike, dislike. Wanting, wanting, wanting”) to really objectify the situation. Is that the intention of noting? This was my first noting retreat so I’m still very new at this.

[As a disclaimer, I have experimented with LSD in the past (15 years ago) and I found this experience to be quite similar. I could just say I was having a "flashback", but I don't think I really did enought to warrant having one of those. Although it does arise in daily life (maybe once every year or two lasting for less than 15min but I've had it last for more than a day in the distant past. When it was happening over the course of a couple of days I found out what the expression being "scared shitless" means. Like it actually gave me the runs) it comes up more strongly during my meditation practice when I reach a certain level on retreat and I have found it hard to move through. If you have any real knowledge or experience with LSD and can offer any wisdom I would greatly appreciate it, but if not then please keep your speculations and stories of your friends or friends of friends to yourself. There is so much ignorance about this topic I'm really not willing to listen to anyone that hasn't done it themself to talk about it. Much in the spirit of this forum if you haven't had the experience yourself than I don't want to know what you have to say about it. That being said I'm posting on this forum because I would more like to frame it as an experience that arises in meditation (because it does, and consistently) and maybe someone else with similar meditative experiences, LSD aside, can offer some wisdom. I really hope that this disclaimer does not detract from the conversation.]

So diligent practionner as I am, I did note all of this. As a noob it felt quite clumsy and didn't change anything. I just noted then continued my mini freak-out. This whole episode only lasted half an hour. I just tried to acknoweldge fully what was happening and tell myself this is a normal part of practice and I should be cultivating equanimity. Besides, there is an actually "fear" stage in the insight process so it's good practice to prepare for the real deal (holy crap, does it get worse than this? I am literally almost pooping my pants). I really don't think that it's possible that I'm at this stage because I've had no A&P event that's discussed here often whatsoever. Nothing even close (I wish, it sounds fun). I feel more like this is the first step of calming the mind but I’m latching on to some old familiar feelings and running with them to the point I’m afraid I’m losing my mind.

The feeling of "not MY body" has spilled over a touch into regular day to day life and I feel like I'm becoming more acustomed to it. Maybe?. During one walking session I stopped to note some stuff my face was doing - "Blinking, Swallowing, Licking, Blinking" - and I had a strong sense of "frog face". Like it wasn't my face, just like a digusting image of a frog that you see in cartoons looking really spaced out and doing gross frog things. Also do other things to a lesser extent all the time, especially related to my mouth and hands, feeling like they are not a solid part of me like before but separate entities. The way my tongue moves around in my mouth sometimes really grosses me out when I am eating. It's not a "freeing" feeling, just weird and uncomfortable.

If I'm aiming for an understanding of the three characterisitics, how would I use these experiences to do this? That's what confuses me about this practice. Do you just do the practices and whatever happens happens, or are you forming certain intentions to dissect certain aspects of your practice that affect your progress into insight? I can say, ok acknowledge no-self when fear arises around control of the body/mind? I guess I'm a little bit confused because I feel exactly the same as I ever have. I mean, it can't really be real insight if nothing has shifted can it? How do you know if you are practicing correctly (ie. on the path to awakening)? At this point (it’s just been a day since my retreat ended) I just feel a little bit weirder than I usually do and a lot more confused.

I feel like this post seems scattered but it has been three-fold for me: to be able to share my experiences with others, because I can't talk to any of my family or friends about it since they have no meditation experience, to maybe connect with someone that has experience with LSD and meditation, and finally to try and figure out if I am practicing correctly or moving in the right direction. I’m hoping that I can use these intense experiences to fuel my practice in a constructive manner and not just causing some psychological problems (which I have none). I did talk to my retreat meditation teacher about some of my experiences and she acknowledged them as part of the practice and suggested that the worst of it had passed. Ha ha. Maybe that's all I need to know emoticon

RE: ok, here it goes... experiences of pure and utter fear
Answer
1/29/12 7:00 AM as a reply to Anonymous.
Here are a few interesting things to notice about fear (and anxiety in general):

- Fear can be triggered when something which was taken as solid and stable is suddenly no longer so.

- It can feed on itself - fear of fear. This leads to an out-of-control panic attack. I have gained something in my relationship towards fear when I managed to break or weaken this loop. Fear can be managed through tranquility - instead of feeding more fear into the loop, feed patient relaxation.

- It makes you HIGHLY alert, although unable to focus steadily.

- It makes you prone to think pessimistic, ominous thoughts.

- It can transform itself into aggression.

- If you do not fear the fear, it eventually peaks and then soothes.

---

LSD has a way of making visible and explicit certain process which used to be unconscious. An added awareness of mental processes which were previously unseen and seemed like a solid part of reality and/or personal identity. Once they are seen, something breaks loose, insight kicks in, and this is one way how fear might be triggered. (I am speaking from personal experience BTW) Meditation also has a similar effect (of making subconscious processes explicit), and I think this is why you associate both.

RE: ok, here it goes... experiences of pure and utter fear
Answer
1/30/12 9:52 AM as a reply to Anonymous.
I'm not sure I'm really in a position to help or give advice, but thought I would have a go as there are no other takers! (edit: Bruno beat me to it!)

I also experimented with LSD and mushrooms in my youth, but have not taken either for probably 15 years. I remember periods during the trips which were fearful and paranoid, but I never had a completely 'bad' trip. My main memories are of perceiving 3 dimensions as 2 (not witnessing perspective), time slowing down, apparent telepathy, lots of giggling, boredom. There was also lots of effervescent tingling, surging energy sensations. These sensations are actually very similar to those perceived during the 4th nana, Knowledge of Arising and Passing Away; make of that what you will. I don't think I ever had a flashback. I have wondered if the use of psychedelics in my youth influenced my interest in meditation, and it is definitely part of the puzzle: familiarity with/ desire for altered states.

On a different note, a 21 day 'beginner' retreat seems very hardcore (I have nver been on retreat). I am not surprised you feel slightly out of sorts, and I would be surprised if you had not made some significant progress in that time; indeed your descriptions of not-self imply that you have. You say you did not remember an A&P event, the normal indicator of entry into the Dark Night, but it is quite common for people to break through the A&P in normal life and not realise what it was, especially under the influence of LSD. Like you my own manifestations of the Dark Night have also been mainly just physical symptoms.

It would be interesting to hear from other practicioners, but I would hypothesize that you are indeed in the Dark Night, and I would take the advice and practice that goes with those nanas. My personal advice is to develop your samatha/ tranquility/ concentration, get into some jhanas for a while, when it is developed go back to vipassana. Try to widen your concentration to take in the whole body at once and just let the sensations arise and disappear with out manipulation. Try to see the sensation of fear as just sensation and not let it develop as a mental event. There may also be pleasant sensations at the same time, don't forget to watch them. I wouldn't personally do noting practice at this point.

Good luck.

RE: ok, here it goes... experiences of pure and utter fear
Answer
1/29/12 10:06 PM as a reply to Anonymous.
(I guess I can't reply anonymously, oh well, here I am. Kind of emoticon

Thanks Bruno and Dodge E for your replies. It's especially useful to me because you've both had experience with LSD and meditation and I'm reluctant to bring it up to a meditation teacher who doesn't have that experience. (Although I have been talking about all the feelings that are happening in my current practice- just not the similar feelings I have had in the past).

I feel like there's potential for me to experience these feelings of fear with a little more spaciousness because of my experience with it in my sitting (noting just the sensations in a peaceful way). I think the changes in perception that accompany it during my every day life make it a little more difficult, but I'm willing to really try to infuse it with a sense of calm, interest (just examining what is actually happening), and also looking for the pleasant (thanks Bruno). Maybe a little more surrendering to the process rather than trying to fight it or get rid of it.

When I first did LSD it was really a pleasant experience for me- intense interest in the world that normally would be boring, I felt like I "knew" things that other people didn't - like this world was just a cheap overlay that was hiding a more vast and real world, I saw beauty in velvety starry skies, I had giggling fits and a sense of connectedness with my friends. But then there was more and more feelings of "out of body" and fear that made me eventually stop. I did LSD because it was cheap and easily accessible where I lived (sleepy suburbia) not on some spiritual quest- I just thought it was fun. Whether or not this was anything on the insight maps, maybe, maybe not. Either way I would like to continue with my insight practice and I accept this means that I will be faced with drastic changes in perception and intensity of emotions.

I think I will add some pure concentration practice along with my otherwise dry vipassana (thanks Dodge E), but I do have strong feelings of wanting to just move past this or get this done so I can't drop my insight practice all together. Eventually I'm going to have to come to peace with fear so might as well do it now and as fast as possible. I still feel like I have a long way to go so I don't want to waste any time. If I feel like if I don't have the capacity to surrender any longer I can back off. Again, your perspectives are greatly appreciated.