Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

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Daniel M Ingram, modified 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 3:08 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 3:08 PM

Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 3275 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
 This winter I went on two small, private fire kasina retreats in Asia with some old friends.

The first retreat was 16 days, not particularly deep, lots of distractions due to some things happening in the venue out of our control, and 2 days after it, as I was in a car riding down the mountain, I shifted into a state whose full implications became obvious as, about 2 hours later, I entered the airport for a border-run flight.

In this state, which ended up lasting a whole week, there was this surprising and challenging mix of amazement at the beauty of everything and the underlying horror as well. It was most striking when talking past the duty-free shop in the airport, where I was totally struck by thoughts like, "Ah! Such beautiful, sparkly, glittering poison! Such pretty people selling poison! Such a kind, thoughtful governments subsidizing greedy horrible companies peddling pretty poison!"

It was like the sensuous beauty aspect of everything was enhanced, like a tripping person, like I imagine LSD with MDMA might produce (thought haven't done either) perhaps. The depravity, absurdity, cruelty, exploitation, toxicity, greedy psychopathy, short-sighted wrecklessness of humanity, and similar themes underyling everything were also dramatically enhanced, making for an experience that was at once very insightfully realistic, staggeringly beautiful, and also totally unfilteredly jarring and awful, all at once.

Had I been on a quiet beach, perhaps with one very nice, chill, low-psychic space friend, the experience might have been delightful.

Instead, in two major Asian cities, dealing with traffic, polution, transportation, and hassle, all the wonder and muck of life, as well as 1,400 emails, board meetings, etc. it was really way too much, and definitely hope it doesn't happen again in any but the most peaceful context.

Even then, I suspect just staring at sparkling water on the ocean, I would have thought, "Wow! Amazing! Such a gorgeous, sparkly ocean! So poisoned by mercury, runoff, and rising acidification, and so staggeringly beautiful! So many animals eating each other, so delicious, so vicious!"

Nothing I did helped, no tricks made it better. Diet, sleep, exercise, meditation, grounding, energy stuff — all useless.

About a week in, it started to fade, just had to wait it out, was fine after, and only the faintest whif of it still remains.

In retrospect, the really good part of it, the amazement, the sense of peaceful wonder, the openness to the extremely rich tapestry of life, felt a bit like the afterglow of Nirodha Samapatti, but more psychedelic and unfiltered, sort of like it had something from San Pedro added to something profoundly cynical but insightful, like if San Pedro grew in Eastern Europe and had soaked up some of that cutting darkness into it while preserving the light as well.

From another point of view, was just insight into Suffering and Rapture, standard stuff, just fused together in a surpring way.

I report this in case anyone ever runs into something like this, hopefully can get more data points around it, perhaps make more sense of it, learn more about it.

Also, do not understimate even moderate-dose fire kasina, as it is potent stuff, and does all sorts of weird things.

Best wishes,

Daniel 
 
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J W, modified 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 7:27 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 7:22 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 687 Join Date: 2/11/20 Recent Posts
Thanks for sharing this experience Daniel.  Not to make this too much about psychedelics (though it does seem to be a comparison that many are curious about, including myself); but I can perhaps offer a couple of data points here based on some simliar experiences I have had, both on LSD, and sober on 10 day retreat.  Apologies in advance if this isn't super clear, trying to be concise, but please feel free to DM or let me know if I can clarify anything:
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"It was like the sensuous beauty aspect of everything was enhanced, like a tripping person, like I imagine LSD with MDMA might produce (thought haven't done either) perhaps. The depravity, absurdity, cruelty, exploitation, toxicity, greedy psychopathy, short-sighted wrecklessness of humanity, and similar themes underyling everything were also dramatically enhanced, making for an experience that was at once very insightfully realistic, staggeringly beautiful, and also totally unfilteredly jarring and awful, all at once."

I had a couple of experiences while on LSD where I would describe everything as being both perfectly obvious and infinitely complex at the same time.  It seemed to be like a physical / visual / emotional manifestation of dependent origination.  This was accompanied by waves of 'thisness' which would sort of wash through the body.  This was experienced from the comfort of my home and was generally pleasant, and less tinged with the cringeness/suffering aspect that you describe, but I imagine if the environment had been more chaotic there would have been more of a bite to the experience.  This experience was also preceded by a period of fear/dread, but the fear was not present during this experience.  It had a profound effect on my at the time and to this day I think there is still some permanent insight that I stumbled upon through that experience.  The main thing and visual ended when the drug wore off (as would be expected) but for about a week or two afterward I continued to have powerful experiences including visits to dakini realms in dreams, and powerful heart openings.

--

Recently, during a 10 day solo retreat over the holidays (no psychedelics involved), I had an experience of 'prescence' or 'thisness' that began around day 7 of the retreat, and lasted for probably a week, which was similar in a lot of ways to the LSD experience.  The most powerful aspect was the sense of knowingness 'like a jewel on the side of the road had just been uncovered that i had passed by every day', if you get the idea, that was very much at the emotional/heart level moreso than at the visual/perceptual level.  A deep sense of 'this is it' that was just so clear and obvious, and to this day I can remember vividly.  This part sort of matches with the 'waves of experience' that I felt on the acid trip.  

As far as perceptual changes: there was sort of a playfully inquisitive attitude towards the external world, where the intrinsic beauty and profundity of pretty much everything was much more enhanced, more obvious, and where the inquisitiveness would sort of lead me back to/remind me of 'this' and the tears would well up, etc.  There definitely was a heightened awareness around non-dual meaningfulness of environment and social structure.  For example, I was in retreat in Koyasan, which has sort of turned into a mostly tourist destination, so you had a lot of people visiting and learning about Buddhism on a very surface level, which was really odd to me as a "serious" meditator.  
I ended up socializing with people out of necessity as it was not a normal retreat setting, which was pretty weird but ultimately very meaningful and cool, but it was a little bit awkward sometimes trying to talk to people in the same way it would be a little awkward if you were for instance on acid or mushrooms trying to talk to someone.  

As a sometimes psychonaut, my natural inclination was to compare various states during the sitting retreat to being high on whatever.  What I wrote in my retreat notes during that time was that it was 'like the best acid trip ever, but even better than that'.  

The differences I would say are as follows -

Visually: sober there were not as many differences from the way one normally experiences the world, it was more normal, with the changes being more at the emotional/cognitive level - whereas LSD is, obviously, a hallucinogen, so there was more of a visual element to the trip.

Rawness: I would describe the sober experiences as much more smooth, easy, lighthearted, whereas with the LSD experience there is more of a bite/fear factor.  I do think the environment comes into play here, and in both cases I was in a good environment, but even still, on acid it felt a bit more like i was on a knife's edge.

Duration: the length of the experience sober was much longer, like 3-4 days or more of this feeling, which would last the whole day, and would become stronger with meditation.

Both experiences I think resulted in some permanent insight, but the sober experience I think had a much more profound lasting effect: it was a more clear experience, lasted longer, it felt like I was more aware about about what was going on, and how I got there, etc.

In summary, my humble opinion is that experiences like the one you describe are way better sober than they are on psychedelics.




I hope this is helpful in some way!

Thanks
John
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Siavash ', modified 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 10:05 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 9:48 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1697 Join Date: 5/5/19 Recent Posts
 I guess it's a matter of degrees, and difficult to compare,
but this kind of seeing the world happens frequently to me, seeing the beauty and ugliness and good and evil in the same object. Seeing pain and pleasure, which I don't think is much related to practice for me, it has been this way for me, since when, I don't know. Though, there are degrees.

-- Edit:
But, yeah, I remember that fire kasina intensified it during a period that it was my main practice, and before that, beauty was mostly about beautiful appearances, after that, beauty is about appearance, most or all appearances are beatiful to degrees.
 
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Jim Smith, modified 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 9:52 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 9:50 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1750 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
I had an experience once when I was outside doing walking meditation and I saw a trash can overflowing with refuse and I felt it was as beautiful as flower bed because of colorful labels and plastic in the garbage.

It seems like it might be somewhat similar, but it didn't have a suffering aspect so whether it should be considered a related phenomenon or not is left to the reader to decide.

(Off topic (sorry) but also a kind of weird psychedelic-ish experience ... Once I was walking past a hillside with beautiful yellow flowers growing on it. Then suddenly the flowers took flight because they were actually not flowers but a flock of gold finches.)
Martin, modified 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 11:25 PM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/17/24 11:25 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 873 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
Interesting state! It sounds like the positive vedena is very immediate and sense-based and the negative vedena is based on concept/knowledge. That has an archetypal feel to it -- very human. It brings to mind Faust and Eve and all those good folks who saw the shininess but also the implications. 
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Dream Walker, modified 1 Month ago at 5/18/24 1:18 AM
Created 1 Month ago at 5/18/24 1:18 AM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1746 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Perfect Buddhas and mush demons?
Interesting sliding down from highs. 
Makes me wonder about super duper Jhana practice results might be/happen. 
​​​​​​​~D
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Pawel K, modified 29 Days ago at 5/18/24 4:54 PM
Created 29 Days ago at 5/18/24 4:54 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1172 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Nothing I did helped, no tricks made it better. Diet, sleep, exercise, meditation, grounding, energy stuff — all useless.

Sounds like fun.
The most important question: what did you learn from this experience?
Would you recommend it to sentient beings?
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 29 Days ago at 5/19/24 10:58 AM
Created 29 Days ago at 5/19/24 10:57 AM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 3275 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Recommend it... sort of like recommending weather...

Well, while phenomenologically interesting, was very jarring from a work point of view, and felt like too much, too long. 

In the right context, maybe, or as a life lesson of some hybrid kind, perhaps, but, in that context, at that time, it just felt like too much, garish rather than gorgeous, distorted rather than profound, exaggerated rather than truthful, not that it didn't have its gorgeous, profound, and truthful elements, as it did, but it exceeded my aesthetic and temporal preferences for such things by a wide margin. 
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Jim Smith, modified 29 Days ago at 5/19/24 1:26 PM
Created 29 Days ago at 5/19/24 1:11 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1750 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
If you are in uncharted territory it could be hard to tell where it is eventually going, but maybe sometimes one can do too much (of certain types of) meditation. Sometimes more of a good thing is not always better ... and it's conceivable that there are effects like that that have to do with aging. Exploring has its risks as well as its rewards.

UPDATE: Have you asked Willoughby Britton if she has heard of anything like this?
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Pawel K, modified 28 Days ago at 5/20/24 1:10 AM
Created 28 Days ago at 5/20/24 1:10 AM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1172 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Jim, it is not such a mystery as it might seem.

You can practice concentration in such a way that activates more neurons at the same time to make experiences have more flare, be more fancy. It works well when done in short bursts with enough rest in-between and not so much if you blast it until every fiber of your soul is tired. When that happen its recovery mode.

Of course it is finding our limits that motivate people to new developments by trying new methods. Maybe make recovery faster or develop better ways to concentrate to not cause such issues.

Either way it is ignorant to assume that person's brain has no limits just because normally there is no dukkha. To even hit those one have to push oneself. If you look at monks do they really push themselves that much? Sitting even for few months might be pushing brain far less than few hours of doing something that blasts activity on all cylinders. Heck, one can if one has literally nothing better to do speedrun that by making shamatha use as much brain resources as its humanly possible by breaking limits of how much of them are used - it is silly but doable. Normally shamatha should be done (IMHO) in such a way that it rather relaxes than tires the brain.

As for persons age - it probably doesn't help to be older but I don't think this is an issue in this case. Heck it just is what it is, there is really no issue. Also I suspect its actually beneficial for brain to be able to tire oneself quickly. Just maybe not overdoing it and with plenty of rest in-between.
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Jane Flowers, modified 28 Days ago at 5/20/24 1:48 PM
Created 28 Days ago at 5/20/24 1:48 PM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

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As someone who has pretty much only ever done kasina practice (i.e. not much jhana and barley any insight), this was super interesting to read, because I've experienced something similar to what you described, but chalked up to "general sensory clarity increases" from whatever incidental concentration and insight work was going on through kasina—and not to kasina specifically.

For me, it kind of feels like everything in reality is all part of the performance an elegant symphony. Objects in motion in particular seem to have a kind of silky, magical smoothness about them, and I perceive both light and shadows as deeper and fuller than normal. This is enough to add up to a smoother, warmer picture of reality as a whole. 

It does also remind me a bit of the come-up on a moderate dose (1-2g) of shrooms/LSD, particularly how there's more indeterminacy about which signals you're perceiving are coming from your environment vs. which are artifacts of your own altered state consciousness. Put another way, happenings seem less "tightly coupled" between "originating from me" and "not originating from me."

Now, my theory for all this is that, within our visual field in particular, we seem to maintain some degree of hypervigilance about our environment on the sense-data level. I'd argue that our brains mostly (and perhaps somewhat reasonably) overshoot on this mark, and so our experience of external reality is "choppier" and more adversarial (via over-reification of the sensed self/other divide) than it need be.

Not unlike biofeedback, I suspect kasina practice "tunes," "un-frays," or otherwise synchronizes something that correlates to our "felt sense of safety in the face of raw reality." It's almost a sort of reductio ad absurdum: by showing us that we can essentially recreate all of the appearances see in "reality," sans the external visual stimuli we assumed to be "them," we come to understand more precisely what percentage of our own "reality" we're actually generating, thus don't need to be so hypervigilant about. ("Scaring ourselves with our own shadow-puppets," to borrow Rob Burbea's term.)

(I think the glossary on the fire kasina website notes that after spending enough time on the hyperreal fourth screen, people sometimes get the sense that "all of reality is fourth-screen," and I think this is getting at the same phenomenon.)

I have some additional crazy folk neuroscience theories on what exactly is going on mechanistically with kasina, that it's essentially turning our brain's circuits for generating volumetric shadows inside-out—which, what are shadows if not the brain's way of rendering gradients of uncertainty—but I'll leave those for another post!
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Jim Smith, modified 26 Days ago at 5/22/24 4:35 AM
Created 26 Days ago at 5/22/24 4:35 AM

RE: Weird "full-spectrum" opening after fire kasina retreat

Posts: 1750 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Ni Nurta
Jim, it is not such a mystery as it might seem.

You can practice concentration in such a way that activates more neurons at the same time to make experiences have more flare, be more fancy. It works well when done in short bursts with enough rest in-between and not so much if you blast it until every fiber of your soul is tired. When that happen its recovery mode.

Of course it is finding our limits that motivate people to new developments by trying new methods. Maybe make recovery faster or develop better ways to concentrate to not cause such issues.

Either way it is ignorant to assume that person's brain has no limits just because normally there is no dukkha. To even hit those one have to push oneself. If you look at monks do they really push themselves that much? Sitting even for few months might be pushing brain far less than few hours of doing something that blasts activity on all cylinders. Heck, one can if one has literally nothing better to do speedrun that by making shamatha use as much brain resources as its humanly possible by breaking limits of how much of them are used - it is silly but doable. Normally shamatha should be done (IMHO) in such a way that it rather relaxes than tires the brain.

As for persons age - it probably doesn't help to be older but I don't think this is an issue in this case. Heck it just is what it is, there is really no issue. Also I suspect its actually beneficial for brain to be able to tire oneself quickly. Just maybe not overdoing it and with plenty of rest in-between.


Have you seen this? It is from an interview with Willoughby Britton she is a neuroscience researcher who studies people who have messed up their brain by meditating too much.

https://web.archive.org/web/20160213012433/http://www.buddhistgeeks.com/2011/09/bg-232-the-dark-night-project/

The Dark Night Project
...
Willoughby: So, in psychology, we have this little book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM. It’s like our little bible. And they like to divide things up into category. So I sort of divided these experiences into categories, but they’re just completely made up. So the first category is cognitive experiences. There tends to be an, I would say, increased sampling rate of reality. So your ability to notice things has increased.

And that might be pretty fun on retreat but when people get off retreat they still have so much information coming into their systems that it can feel very overwhelming, like stimulus overload. And along those same lines a lot of increase in sensory clarity and sensory threshold. So meaning that you can hear much softer sounds which also means that louder sounds sound louder and you might even feel them in a different sense.

Like a truck might feel like it’s actually driving through your whole body rather than just hearing it and that goes with every sound. So that’s the sort of cognitive effect. They tend to be very just overwhelming and disorienting. I would say one of the most, besides sort of sensory overload, one of the most common central features–it’s not everyone but its pretty close, which is a change in the way people experience their sense of self.

And this can be an attenuation in self or it can be a complete dropping away. And even though you can read about this and think that this might be the goal of the contemplative path. For a lot of people it’s very very scary when that happens. And so when I mean dropping the sense of self, it can be a lack of a feeling like there’s anybody controlling. So one word are coming out of the mouth like who would be speaking them. When you move your arms and legs and walk it’s not really sure who decided that. When somebody ask you a question there’s almost a panic feeling because you don’t know who’s going to answer the question. There’s a sort of temporal disintegration. So the sense of time can fall apart, along with that your sense of a narrative self over time. Part of the sense of self is about being able to have continuity over time. And if you just don’t have that kind of sense of past and future and you only have a sense of now, your sense of self just by not having a past and a future and being able to imagine that can be sort of truncated and attenuated.

And then temporal disintegration can kind of go even further beyond that where people almost like they’re waking up in a new reality every several minutes. And they don’t really have any way of describing the reality that came before that and it can be very disorienting. You can wake up and really have to study your environment to figure out who you’re talking to and what the conversation is about. You can learn to get good at that, but it’s pretty disorienting for a while. And then I don’t know if this go in order but I think that the most common symptom, it’s hard to say but again these are all really common, but one of the most common symptoms is fear. And the lost of the sense of self I think is very tied in with this fear. And people can have really phenomenal levels of fear. I mean really just existential primal fear.

And what’s interesting about this fear and what I think seems to differentiate it from a lot of other kinds of fears is that it doesn’t seem to have any reference point. It just comes out of nowhere. It can be very debilitating. And then along with fear spectrum you also anxiety and agitation and panic and paranoia. Those are pretty common. Then there’s a sort of affective dimension. Affective is emotional. And the affective dimension seems to go in both directions. There can be a massive lability.

Your emotions can get really high in both direction both manic manifestations, euphoria, sometimes grandiosity and also the worst depression, meaninglessness, nihilism the other end of things can also happen. In addition to that, people can also just lose all affect all together. They don’t feel anything. Things become numb. So it’s a pretty wide range of changes. But I don’t think anyone has gone through, anyone that we’ve interviewed hasn’t had some kind change in their emotional life.

And usually it’s sort of an eruption of emotional material. So that comes to the next level which is a de-repression of the psychological material. Very often it can be traumatic material but it can also just be whatever can be traumatic in our lives. It doesn’t necessarily have to be memories of death or abuse or something that would sort of classify as classic trauma. It can just be whatever our particular psychological knots are. They seemed to come up with practice in a way that doesn’t necessarily seem to be contained to the cushion. It’s almost like you tear something open and then it’s just open. That’s the sort of affective dimension. And then the last dimension is physiological. So there seems to be a lot of physiological changes which are really surprising to a lot of people.

So things like general musculoskeletal body pain, headaches, and very strange sensations. Because we told people not to use the word energy so we got a lot of metaphors. So things like being plugged into a wall, like having a thousand volts running through you. There are a lot of electricity type metaphors. And then finally we gave up because people just kept using the word energy. So it’s not really a scientific word but it seems to measure something so some kind of movement sensation in the body. Vibrations a lot of different kinds of vibration. Changes in temperature. People are having really hot flashes and burning sensations. And then the one that I am really fascinated by because everything that we’ve been talking about up until this point has been subjective, like you can’t really see it on somebody. But the last category is involuntary movements. They look like convulsions. People twitch. They report feeling like a lightning bolt going through them but you can actually see it. This is something that you could actually take a video of. Their arms flap. Grimacing; different kinds of facial ticks and contortions. That’s kind of the laundry list. Oh yeah, I forgot one whole category, which is perceptional changes. And perceptional changes along with this faster sampling rate there also seems to be I don’t know if I would call them hallucinations but experiences in every sensory modality especially visual lights.

So that would be a perceptional change. So the lights again are particularly interesting to me because they tend to differentiate a spiritual experience from a potentially psychiatric situation. But seeing pinpoints of light, people call them Christmas lights, they might be different colors or lightning of the visual field in general. I should say that all of these symptoms or sorry, experiences, these are not just things that are happening on the cushion during meditation. These are things that are happening off the cushion which is where this starts to become difficult. They’re fine when they’re on the cushion. But you need to go to work and these are happening. People are having involuntary movements at their desk at work and you know eruption of emotions that’s where it becomes difficult is when it comes into your daily life. And the other thing that was very surprising to me was the duration of symptoms.

So I asked people how long did this last and how did this affect your life to a point where it was really difficult for you to work or take care of children. So we call that clinical impairment. So far in our sample the average amount of time that somebody is impaired so this is not just how long this experiences last but how long they are to the point of interfering with daily functioning. The average amount of time was 3.4 years. It’s actually quite a long time and there’s a huge range in that duration. And so sort of the next wave of research is trying to figure out what determines that duration. So people seemed to go through these experiences fairly quickly like under a year and other people can last a decade. So we’re trying to figure out what are some of the factors that might predict that.

...

But it is definitely true that that when I hang out with researches or people that don’t have a lot of meditation practice that’s where I get all the resistance and a lot of questions about sort of the prior psychiatric history of a practitioner. Whereas when I hang out with really advanced practitioners, nobody ask that question. So it does seem to be the case that the longer that you practice and the more intensely that you practice that these types of experiences seemed to be the norm.

...


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