Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/18/24 6:45 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Bahiya Baby 6/17/24 8:41 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/17/24 8:45 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Bahiya Baby 6/17/24 8:52 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 7/8/24 7:56 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Adi Vader 6/17/24 10:22 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Monsoon Frog 6/18/24 12:22 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt Jon Rousseau 6/18/24 4:12 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Olivier S 6/18/24 7:03 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/18/24 11:07 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/18/24 3:35 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Olivier S 6/19/24 3:47 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Ruth Davies 6/18/24 4:48 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Chris M 6/19/24 6:50 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/18/24 6:40 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Chris M 6/18/24 7:57 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Dream Walker 6/19/24 5:13 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Matt 6/19/24 11:22 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise svmonk 6/22/24 1:30 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Jim Smith 6/23/24 5:51 AM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Tank the Plank 6/28/24 3:22 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise shargrol 6/28/24 5:58 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Tank the Plank 6/28/24 10:11 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise Aviva HaMakom 6/29/24 10:49 PM
RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise shargrol 6/29/24 9:30 AM
Matt, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 6:45 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:07 PM

Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 10 Join Date: 2/20/20 Recent Posts
Hi everyone,

I apologize if this is not the correct forum, but this is time sensitive "diagnosis" as my friend is currently suffering.

On Saturday (2 days ago), a close friend of mine was halfway through a 14 day Theravada-style retreat when he called me to be picked up. Apparently he was asked to leave because the facilitators were concerned for his well-being. He informed me that  in the past 24 hours he had a traumatizing experience in the forest where he felt "forest spirits" tricked him and injected something into his brain. He felt positive he was going to die imminently. He reported sleeping <3 hours per night during most of the retreat. Ultimately his parents picked him up instead of me, because it became clear this was a psychotic episode induced by his intensive meditation. According to his parents, the retreat facility offered no resources to help the situation (I will be investigating this further, as I find that shocking and disconcerting given the retreat center's otherwise positive reputation).

He was closely watched by his parents the first night, and after sleeping there was some improvement in his clarity of mind and reduced panic, but he still felt like he was being mind-controlled by the forest. On Sunday, I recalled the MCTB chapter "Crazy?" (which seems to directly reference the type of experience he is going through) and sent him the instructions in that chapter to cease all meditation and perform clearly-verbalized resolutions. He reported this helped, and he seemed to have a marked improvement over the course of Sunday.

However, this morning his condition had worsened. His parents brough him to the ER, but ultimately decided to not have him committed to a psychiatric ward. As you may expect, the psychiatrists had never heard of meditation inducing such a psychosis. The current plan is that if his condition stays the same or gets worse by Thursday, they will have him committed.

I am hoping you can help me to help my friend. I've directed his parents to Cheetah House, but apparently the resources they recommended have an 8 week waitlist. He told me he contacted Daniel Ingram, and while Daniel graciously agreed to meet with him, he's currently on vacation. What other lifelines might be available that I can explore to help stabilize my friend?

Potentially relevant details about my friend:
  • Practicing meditation for 30-60 minutes 5-7 days a week for 3+ years, mostly via techniques from The Mind Illuminated (anapanasati) and MCTB (Mahasi noting)
    • To my knowledge, he has passed the A&P, has achieved jhana (1-3) a handful of times, but has not achieved stream entry, which was his main goal
  • No other past psychotic episodes that resemble this

Thank you so much for any advice or resources you might have. I will answer follow up questions to the best of my ability.

TL;DR
Friend is suffering a traumatizing psychotic episode that was induced while on retreat. The retreat center had no advice. Cheetah House offerings have long wait lists. Daniel Ingram is unavailable for now. Who else can we reach out to that might have dual competency in meditation and psychiatry?

Update: This friend is now relatively stable, and we are in contact with Dan Gilner (https://thecaringspace.net). Things are trending in a positive direction. Also removed personally identifying information.
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Bahiya Baby, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:41 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:38 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Is there a therapist or counselor he could speak with while waiting for other resources?

I imagine it would be helpful for him to have a safe environment to communicate what is going on. 

Has he had any episodes like this before?

And does he have a meditation teacher?
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Matt, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:45 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:44 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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His family is getting in contact with his psychiatrist, but that psychiatrist is based in Alaska.

He does not have a formal teacher, but the teacher on his previous retreat (last year, not this recent one) was Greg Scharf. If anybody has Greg's contact information, I would appreciate it (feel free to message me directly with that information).

​​​​​​​As stated, he's had no past psychotic episodes that resemble this.
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Bahiya Baby, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:52 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 8:52 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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I would recommend they see someone, soon, that they can speak to about the issue. A therapist or a counselor. There's likely someone nearby they could speak with relatively quickly. I think finding them a safe space to communicate their experience ASAP would be helpful. 
Matt, modified 3 Days ago at 7/8/24 7:56 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 9:09 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 10 Join Date: 2/20/20 Recent Posts
Agreed -- I'm hoping to track down someone with meditation+psychiatry dual compentency for him while we wait for his psychiatrist to respond.

​​​​​​​(edited to remove personally identifying information)
Adi Vader, modified 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 10:22 PM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/17/24 10:22 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Hello Matt

I am very sorry to hear about your friend's distressing experience. I hope from the bottom of my heart that he will find relief immediately and on a long term basis he will be able to bring his practice back on track. I want to offer the following to you - some thoughts regarding meditation practice and themechanics of why stuff go wrong. Some resources / advice for the long term -  this is not applicable immeditately, but maybe after this acute distress is taken care of.

Some connected thoughts regarding what could have gone wrong

1. The mind is a meaning making machine - but that meaning making isnt purely based on perception and cognition, it also has a major role for affect to play in the process of the meaning making itself. When we look at a rope and we perceive a snake our cognitive models come into play and trigger the affect function of our mind to generate negative affect. This negative affect gets intertwined in perception and cognition and constructs an entire story about doom that we then act on. The twist here is that our ability to perceive is itself shaped and directed by our affective state as a starting condition. When we are relaxed ropes usually look like ropes but when we are already agitated and feel threatened due to a prior story line then the chances of perceiving a rope to be a snake increases. In fact if there is persistent agitation in the heart without a clear connected story line that we can attribute it to then the mind goes out looking for snakes in order to attribute the agitation to and in that process tends to increasingly see snakes instead of ropes simply to have a neat logically consistent story to make the agitation 'fit'

2. In a retreat like situation where a yogi has the skills to get to the udaya abbbaya nana - but currently has no skill of getting the nana or the knowledge of dissolution, fear, misery, desperation - the yogi is likely to get the experience but not the knowledge. This creates a continuing ongoing experience of agitation in the heart. My theory is that retreats have noble silence in order to prevent people from ripping each other's throats out. I believe your friend experienced the Dukkha, did not get the nanas, continuously stayed in an agitated state for an extended period. His mind then constructed the story of forest spirits poisoning him in order to contextualize and explain away the near continuous agitation he was feeling. This is of course speculation on my part 

3. Is your friend undergoing clinical psychosis the way it is defined in the DSM 4 - I dont know. The clinicians that meet him will have to decide and their advice will have to be taken. But what I can understand is that your friend has the ability to get to the Dukkha Nanas - but is only getting  the experience of Dukkha and has no skill or appropriate guidance of how to get the nana. Your friend has an imbalance of skill. He is good at observation and not good at gaining knowledge and wisdom. I am speaking freely. I dont have any hostility towards your friend or his teachers / retreat guides. But I genuinely think that your friend should from this point onwards not join a 'Sotapanna Factory' like setting and should work with teachers one on one in an at-home atmosphere with his friends, family, parents accessible to him always. After addressing this acute highly elevated state of agitation and perverted dysfunctional perception/cognition, your friend should return to systematic structured practice


Some advice and resources:

1. Your friend should right now seek guidance from qualified clinicians - psychiatrists preferably, maybe therapists and strictly follow their treatment advice.

2. Once the acute maginified distress has significantly reduced, the feeling of 'I am in danger' has passed, your friend needs to educate himself on meditation and how it works

3. Patrick Kearney's talk on google podcasts app on Dukkha and the Dukkha nanas - https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZGhhcm1hc2VlZC5vcmcvZmVlZHMvdGVhY2hlci81MTYvP21heC1lbnRyaWVzPWFsbA/episode/MjAxNTA5MjItUGF0cmlja19LZWFybmV5LUJNSU1DLW9uX2R1a2toYV9kdWtraGFfbmFuYS0zMjMxOC5tcDM?ep=14

4. An article on when practice gets rough - https://www.reddit.com/r/Arhatship/comments/11z7cyn/when_practice_becomes_tough/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web3x&utm_name=web3xcss&utm_term=1&utm_content=share_button

5. An article on how to get the nana in the dukkha nana - https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/osqhcg/vipassana_the_progress_of_insight_part_3_dukkha/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web3x&utm_name=web3xcss&utm_term=1&utm_content=share_button

6. A way of getting back to practice as and when your friend does get back to practice - while keeping his physicians in confidence - https://midlmeditation.com/meditation-for-anxiety

7. Teacher suggestion in case your friend would like to engage with them - Stephen Procter - midlmeditation.com, r/midlmeditation (reddit)


​​​​​​​I hope your friend finds relief. Best of luck to him and to you.
Monsoon Frog, modified 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 12:22 AM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 12:22 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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If you can't locate contact info for Greg Scharf try reaching out to the administration at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts they should be able to connect you (Greg's a layman who also spent some time as a Theravadan monk; he taught there at a retreat I attended).

Good luck getting your friend grounded.
Matt Jon Rousseau, modified 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 4:12 AM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 4:12 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Sounds like he is in good hands. Let the psychiatrist  deal with the acute phase. Let him get grounded.  . Sounds like he is somewhat of an advanced meditator.   He had a hard time crossing the abyss in the DN . Ego fought back.  He might have some issues he needs to deal with a therapist for a while than re implement  practice(gradually). I have a gut feeling he is on his we to stream entry 
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Olivier S, modified 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 7:03 AM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 7:03 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 968 Join Date: 4/27/19 Recent Posts
 Hi,

Do you want me to share your post with the emergent phenomenology research consortium maillist? There are people in there who have skill in handling this sort of thing. There are also people he might be able to talk to about the experience, either now or when more stable, who will be able to relate, as this actually happens to many people.

For context, I know several pople (e.g. in the EPRC group), who have had seeming psychotic episodes during meditation retreats or outside of it, some of whom have been forced hospitalized for a bit, and though these were not easy experiences to integrate, have moved way past it without recurrance and are now doing fine or better than fine.

Also, if this is really an emergency, I can signal boost your message to Daniel Ingram, as I think he's probably as good as it gets for handling this kind of stuff. But busy indeed.

Let me know.

As an fyi, people like David Lukoff, who is one of the people responsible for the introduction of the V62.89 Religious or Spiritual problem into the DSM, list (1) acute onset of the episode, (2) good functioning previous to episode, and (3) an exploratory attitude towards the experiences, as good prognosis factors usually leading to good outcomes. At least (1) and (2) seem to be the case with your friend.

IMHO, just my 2 cts, a degree of insight, some ability to distance oneself from the experiences and to maintain some form of critical judgment around it, although it may still be really weird and disturbing, is an important factor as well.

Best,

​​​​​​​Olivier
 
Matt, modified 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 11:07 AM
Created 24 Days ago at 6/18/24 10:23 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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@oliviers yes, I think sharing with the EPRC would be helpful (edit: my email is mattrslattery@gmail.com if anyone wants to contact me directly).

Regarding V62.89 Religious or Spiritual problem features, my hope is we can convert him to 3) as well. Thank you for that reference!

I'm going to reach out directly to Daniel now and try to fill in the gaps of where he's at and what his availability looks like.

Thank you everyone for the help so far. I'm super appreciative of the community coming together for this one.
Matt, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 3:35 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 3:35 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Update: My friend is doing better today. Me and two other friends are visiting him tomorrow at his request. We're going to relax, play some games, get some good laughter in, and ground him down.

​​​​​​​Someone helped put me in contact with Dan Gilner who worked with Dr. Willoughby Britton to develop Cheetah House. Dan is going to meet with us Wednesday and Friday.

I think we're on the right course of action now. Thanks so much for all the advice and support. Will update again when there's more to say.
Ruth Davies, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 4:48 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 4:48 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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That's really good to hear. I'm glad that you're getting him the right help, he's lucky to have you. I hope he gets through this soon. 
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Chris M, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 6:50 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 6:13 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Matt, out of caution and discomfort with the amount of information you have posted about a third party, does your friend know you're posting this here? Do they approve of this information being posted?

These boards are publicly available, and we need to be careful about posting personal or medical information that could be used to trace someone or use the information in unhealthy ways.

That said, it is impressive how the group here has jumped in to assist.

Chris M
DhO Moderator
Matt, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 6:40 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 6:40 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Chris,

I have mentioned to him that I posted to online forums asking for assistance, to which he did not seem to care and was thankful. He has shared intimate details of his practice in other forums, but I appreciate your concern and will remove some of the identifying information, just to be extra cautious.
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Chris M, modified 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 7:57 PM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/18/24 7:57 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Thank you, Matt. 
Olivier S, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 3:47 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 3:47 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Hey Matt,

I'll assume I can then hold off from reaching out to the group now that your friend has found support?
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Dream Walker, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 5:13 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 5:13 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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TL;DR

Update: This friend is now relatively stable, and we are in contact with Dan Gilner (https://thecaringspace.net). Things are trending in a positive direction. Also removed personally identifying information.
Please continue to update the final point.
No one ever gives the conclusion to these issues.
Thanks for the info.
​​​​​​​~D
Matt, modified 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 11:22 AM
Created 23 Days ago at 6/19/24 11:22 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 10 Join Date: 2/20/20 Recent Posts
Yes Olivier, you can hold off on sharing with the group. I believe my friend has what he needs for now. 

I'll do my best to close the loop on this, and share which resources were most helpful. 
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svmonk, modified 19 Days ago at 6/22/24 1:30 PM
Created 19 Days ago at 6/22/24 1:30 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Hi Matt,

Sorry for the late response, it sounds like you and your friend have the resources you need to resolve their problem.

Unfortunately, most meditation centers and teachers don't want to acknowledge that meditation induced psychosis exists. Having experienced this twice during and after intensive retreats, the measures I would recommend it seems your friend has been taking: stop meditating, get more sleep and undertake activities that ground your mind in your body. If your mind is still making things up, it might be worthwhile to see a psychiatrist and get a prescription to an anti-psychotic for a couple months, something like risperidone (Risperdal). These drugs all have side effects, but if you only take it for a couple months, long enough for the symptoms to subside (assuming you don't have a history of psychosis), then there should be no long term issues. Anti-psychotics helped a lot when I had an incident of meditation induced pychosis in 2011. Ultimately, your friend needs to decide whether their mind can handle the intensive altered states of conciousness associated with a long retreat and act accordingly. In my case, the answer was "no", so I don't do long term retreats anymore.

Best wishs and I hope your friend does better!

       svm
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Jim Smith, modified 19 Days ago at 6/23/24 5:51 AM
Created 19 Days ago at 6/23/24 5:51 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Matt, 

What is the name of the retreat center?
What kind of meditation were they teaching?
Who was leading the retreat?

Thanks,
Tank the Plank, modified 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 3:22 PM
Created 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 2:34 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

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Hi everyone,

I'm the friend in question who had a psychotic episode. I’m stable and doing well all things considered - actually, now that the dust has settled, I’m doing better than I was leading up to the retreat. Everything feels nice and flowy. Conversations with others are much more fruitful and a thick layer of anxiety has been removed. I did relieve a lot of trauma on this retreat, so it makes sense that I’m feeling good, despite having a bout of psychosis. There are some very minor symptoms still remaining, which I’ll get into. 

I want to start by saying THANK YOU. Going through all these posts on this platform brings a tear to my eye. It feels so comforting that random people on the internet who have no idea who I am are willing to take time out of their day to lend a helping hand to someone in need. This truly is such a wonderful and supportive community. Thank you. emoticon

Outside of doing recreational drugs or alcohol, this was the first time in waking reality that I felt out of control. There were lots of unknowing events that I’d like to diagnose, but not in this post. What I’ll do is give you background info about myself, a very very very brief description of the retreat, the trauma and its aftermath, what helped/didn’t help in my recovery, my current symptoms 2 weeks later, and a conclusion. I will probably post a separate thread with my phenomenological retreat experience and cross post it from this thread. 

Know that this is going to be a long response. While I’ve tried to be as brief as possible, I also wanted to give you the full picture. Most importantly, I’ve put in a lot of information that I wish I knew about before going on a retreat like this. A lot of these traumatic events could’ve been avoided. I put most of the blame on myself, but I also think the culture around retreat centers in the US is too lax. I was dismissed from a retreat and left to my own vices without any sort of support. They didn’t even give me a flyer with helpful websites or hospitals that I could go to. That seems crazy to me. I’m so lucky I have the support network of friends and family and like minded practitioners who were willing to talk me out of these delusional states, give me tools to prevent them from coming up, and made me hopeful for my future. 

​​​​​​​
This post has been very difficult to construct. Knowing that I’m probably going to say something that future me will cringe at, produces a lot of anxiety. I’ve also made myself pretty vulnerable in hopes that someone who is on a similar path will read this, relate to it, and alter their trajectory. If I do a meditation faux paw or you think something should be omitted from this post, please let me know and I will edit it out. 

If you wanted to cut the amount of reading in half or are in dire need of a strategy to ground down, you could probably start the story at ‘symptoms days after the retreat’ and read from there.

I wanted to avoid posting an attachment pdf, but I'm having trouble with DhO formatting (IE: everything is bolded and I can't change it - haha). Anyways, here's the pdf. The intro is the same thing you just read, so you can just skip to 'relevant background information,' and read from there.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sources that helped when I was at my worst

Talking to someone:
Valuable readings that gave me techniques and tools
shargrol, modified 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 5:58 PM
Created 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 5:43 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 2558 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Thanks for posting all of this.

For what it's worth, I was on a 16 day retreat where I kept getting more and more dialed in and continuously noting right at the point of arising, and I had a number of experiences that coorellate to yours --- but for better or worse, you win the extreme experience prize! emoticon  It was all very magical/energetic and it would lead to non-knowing events and I'm-going-to-die purification events, but it also was very very very draining/exhausting. (Which was the main clue that it wasn't  wisdom.) What I call it now, a decade-plus later, is a "A&P-Reobservation loop".

Basically, I was dialed in the A&P vibe, went through the nanas in a very 3rd jhana/manic way, and I would reach my limits in a kind of near-death purfication state that would break apart into an enlightenment experience. And this experience gave me EVEN MORE clarity and energy and kept me right at the cutting edge of experience in a very 3rd jhana/manic way, and I would reach my limits in a near-death purfication state and it would break apart into an enlightenment experience.... etc. etc.  But if you think about it, all of this was mostly the ten corruptions of insight: illumination, knowledge, rapturous happiness, tranquility, bliss, resolute confidence, exertion, assurance, equanimity, ... or maybe the 8 corruptions, because there wasn't true EQ nor true tranquility emoticon

I also thought I had SE and what I was going through "post SE cycling"... but actually, I knew in my heart that couldn't be it. The path wasn't this cruel, was it? What I was going through was too draining, too unhealthy, too extreme...  I stopped before I destroyed myself, but I was still weak for a month or two after the retreat and there was no way I could/should meditate (which is another clue that it wasn't wisdom/SE...)  

Well anyway, that's my story with nearly going off the rails on retreat.

For what it's worth, a "A&P-Reobservation loop" is where the meditator carries too much effort and doesn't gently surrender in Reobservation. If you meet reobservation with lots of energy, it doesn't send to you to SE, it sends you to the closest thing --- which is an A&P event. The A&P event seems like SE, but it isn't. An A&P event has that "data download" kind of feel and feels stunning in it's significance. It feels like being on the ragged edge of reality, etc. etc. 4. The Arising and Passing Away – MCTB.org

"When we do have a distinct A&P event, it can happen in three basic ways corresponding to some combination of the three characteristics, just as can happen at the entrance to insight stage fifteen, Fruition. The A&P and Fruition are easily confused for this and other reasons. There is great variation in the specifics of what we are seeing and feeling when we cross this profound and often intense event, but certain aspects of A&P events will be common to all practitioners. A&P events tend to manifest in a way that can mimic the three doors (described in a few chapters) at about the middle of the out-breath, leading to an “unknowing event”, which consists of moments about which we know little. During unknowing events, the sensory information available to us is very sparse or vague..."

Anyway, for me the end of this particular phase of practice was I licked my wounds for two months, then realized I wanted a teacher. I gave myself a month to find someone in-person, but when I couldn't I decided to work with Kenneth Folk over video-call. He normalized a lot of stuff for me and helped me deal with the raw FEAR I felt when I restarted meditation. He got be back to focusing on the basics, relax and note, relax and note. The 10 corruptions of insight arose, but they didn't corrupt because I relaxed and noted. I realized that mastery wasn't anything fancy, it was just getting good at relaxing and noting. And eventually I fell into SE at home in a very non-dramatic way. 

Now that I've actually had SE, it's clear that back then I didn't. SE is very simple, plain, complete, and healing. No mania, no egotism, no pride, no mega-wow factor. Just really simple. Like a candle being blown out. Like putting a spoon down after eating a bowl of soup. Simple. Nice. Good. Done.

(Yes, perhaps people get SE like Daniel, like being a race car out of control... so I might be wrong, who knows? I don't know everything for everybody. I could be wrong... But 99% of people who truly get SE have long periods of EQ that preceeds it. If there aren't days/hours of simple, plain, spaceous, calm sitting... non "energetic", non "mystical", non "magical" sitting... then 99% chance that the person is probably in an A&P-Reobs loop.)


Glad you're doing better and hope you find a gentle and healthy and healing path forward. Best wishes for your future practice (when the time is right to practice again.) 

Be gentle and kind to your self! Thanks for the report and may all beings benefit from this conversation!!
Tank the Plank, modified 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 10:11 PM
Created 13 Days ago at 6/28/24 9:09 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 2 Join Date: 6/25/24 Recent Posts
Thank you Shargol. This is the third time you've given me really on point advice and I really appreciate you taking the time to both read my 16 page essay and write out these heartfelt responses.

Man, hearing all these adverse psychosis experiences amongst high level practitioners makes me think that everyone has gone through a bout of psychosis in their practice (though maybe that's just comfirmation bias since that's been my general vibe as of late). It's good to hear (but also a little scary) that this is a normal occurence.

I agree that there was probably a lot of fake equanimity in there, but I do think there was some of the real stuff too. Days 4 - 6 were incredibly tranquil and clear headed. Days 5 and 6 in particular was when I really felt like I nailed down samadhi. Everything became so clear and content. In fact, day 6 felt so freaking normal that I quickly got bored with anything meditation related, so I opted to just go on walks through the forest instead of sitting. Now that I write that out, that restlessness and aversion to practice kind of sounds like reobservation minus the consistent buzzing thought cycle. hmmm.

Looking back at the words I used in the post, "punching through reobservation" was hardly what happened and the word 'punching' was probably the worst verb I could've chose. In fact, it was the opposite of that. In reality, I just surrendered everything and welcomed all emotions: whether it was meta, karuna, anger, sadness, restlessness, equanimity, or what have you. And the surrendering was legit, I had already learned about faking it days prior. Unfortunately I couldn't talk much about the lead up to anything, because the post was already so long, and I mostly just wanted to talk about the traumatic event itself so other people knew to avoid the super super common trap of accidentally plugging themselves into a tree.

On the other side of the coin, I now recognize what my mind is capable of, and having intensely studied the PoI no doubt puts me at risk for scripting. Not to mention, not having a teacher to call me on my shit probably makes it even more of an issue. I try to hold true to the line "be honest with yourself," but I'm sure there are more pieces to the scripting puzzle.

FWIW, I don't think any of the things that happened the day of the traumatic event were insightful in terms of the 3Cs. Maybe I learned a thing or two about how to give up control in a non striving, fake, sort of way. I certainly learned a lot about my own psyche and the dangers of meditation, but as to gaining insight into the 3C's, I agree with you, they were very superficial and didn't have a lasting imprint. In fact, that whole day seemed superficial.

Before your post, I was on the fence about having attained SE. On one hand, i was almost certain that a lot of the events perfectly matched both yours and daniels cessation definition (some of the events at least). At the same time, my timeline and sensitivity to energy and rapture is indicative of someone who crossed the A&P, not attaining SE.

TBH, I dont really care about diagnosing SE at this point. What I do care about is cycling and if my own diagnosis of how I cycled matches others based on my phenomological description. If there was anything to diagnose, I'd really wondered if that was truly the realm of maleability, or if it was just classic AnP event stuffs (I'm guessing the latter). Feeling like you can do anything - powerful resolutions - gaining insight or jhanas that you thought were unobtainable, seems to fit in both the Anp-unknowing event category AND malleability-conformity knowledge category. So confusing.

I'd still like to give a bit more info about the lead up to some more profound unknowing events, both to understand cycling better and to learn more about these unknowing events so I can decipher them myself in the future. 

Anyways, thank you again for sharing your story and for the valuable insight into the situation. I always get excited when I see your name in the comments of the SE subreddit and DhO.

Take care.

EDIT: Upon futher review of both your response and reading about the A&P, I'm going to cut the thread here since we have kind of closed the loop on this whole psychosis situation. I'll probably post at somepoint this month on a different thread with a much clearer representation of my questions and the sequence that ensued. I need to ponder this a little bit more. So please disregard the questions I asked in this post. Thank you Shargol for your responses and thank you everyone else on dharma overground for your help in this matter. emoticon 
shargrol, modified 13 Days ago at 6/29/24 9:30 AM
Created 13 Days ago at 6/29/24 7:52 AM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 2558 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
 I think any retreat longer than four days has the opportunity to go off the rails.

And yeah, I think most "serious" meditators will at some point discover the hard way what "too much effort" in meditation looks like. This is no big deal if there is a culture of recognizing this as something that happens -- humans will naturally go a bit too far at times -- and hopefully there is good guidance and a good cultural value for being a responsible meditator that knows the risks and knows they need to be careful about using too much energy. 

For the benefit of others, here's what I've learned:

* A manic phase always (almost always?) proceeds a psychosis event. Most of the time the meditator reports a high level of clarity, of precision, of energy, of sensitivity. Usually tantric, psychic, and/or magical sensitivity too. So the main guideline is: no indulging in manic effort or too much woowoo. Normal effort and naturally occuring woowoo is fine. emoticon

* Sleep is a very important thing to monitor. In most cases of psychosis, sleep is greatly reduced or very poor quality (feeling like the mind never turned off, even in sleep). Some of this is natural (since you are just sitting and walking all day), but everyone has suspicions when it goes too far. I've noticed that once sleep is messed up, then the person is kinda doomed because at that point they aren't thinking well --- they become very prone to rationalization and delusions of grandeur. If you haven't slept well for a couple days, tell a teacher and say "I'm worried about myself, I'm not sleeping normally. I give you permission to let me know if I seem to be acting strangely. I'm also going to take time to lie in bed today and relax... I know my body wants to sleep and I'm going to give it the opportunity." 

* It might be necessary to exercise to lose some manic energy. That's fine. Just don't indulge it and run a marathon because you feel so clear and powerful. Think about cortisol - you want to move the body, but not make the body sore and achy and strained. You also don't want to over-stimulate the body, that's counter productive. Ideally the walking sessions will keep you loose and tissues flushed. (Which reminds me: you don't need to walk slowly! You can walk a respectful, mindful, normal pace emoticon ) Walking is about the right level of physical exercise, feels good and it's non-stimualting. 

* There is usally a repressed worry that drives the mania. The classic is: "this is my only chance for a retreat in the next two years, I have to get SE on this retreat!" And usually there is a deep unacknowledged belief "if I don't make progress on this retreat, I'm a failure". This becomes a kind of freudian repression. A lot of times there is a lot of judgement of the sloppy retreatants that are in the meditation hall. This becomes a kind of fruedian projection (they suck) and narcissism (I'm rocking this retreat!).  All of this provides a lot of unconscious DRIVE during retreat that might not feel like "effort". But it's there.

* The mind becomes naturally powerful in a renunciate environment. Fire kasina is a good example, just looking at one thing over time trips out the mind. Solitary confinement tortures the average prisoner. And walking/sitting meditation for days on end cooks the retreatant. Not much else needs to be done except keep the basics: notice, note, relax within the experience. The mind naturally notices --- you don't need to "look". The mind naturally investigates --- you don't need to "figure out". The mind naturally appreciates --- you don't need to "create metta all the time". So really the goal on retreat is to connect with the natural intelligence of the mind and the natural good-heartedness we all have.

* The main thing that is train on retreat is not-clinging. Retreats are easy if you let experience arise and self-liberate (when and how it naturally does, something last a while, many things evaporate upon arising). If you cling, hold, pursue, resist... then experience kind of piles up and becomes heavy/thick/impressive/powerful. This means not-clinging to even the good things. And don't fight calmness, quietness, and boredom. A fancy buddhist way to say it: notice and note greed, aversion, and indifference.

* The ego (I need a better term) of the meditator also needs to be an object(s) that get's noted: look at this body/mind searching, hoping, planning, worrying, happy with progress, becoming a good meditator, etc.  All of this isn't you, it's just more stuff to note. A very gen-x way to say it is "don't believe your own hype". emoticon 

* Related to the above, if you find yourself talking with yourself, note that too. Normal people's minds have a self-talk loop that goes on all the time, a meditator's does too. But this internal talk can become your "friend" on retreat and you can spend the whole time planning, justifying, convincing yourself to yourself of how things are going, what you need to do next, how magical/awesome you are. It becomes very vivid and clear and frankly enjoyable to self-talk. Don't try to stop the internal talk, that's stupid. But definitely notice and note when you are spending a lot of time in "story time" in your head. 

* It's common to have great ideas while meditating on retreat. It's also common to review those great ideas afterwards and be a lot less impressed with how brilliant it seemed at the time!! Decide an approach -- either keep a pad and allow yourself to write one sentence (no essays). Or, what I recommend is, "On this retreat, knowing that I tend to indulge my ideas, I vow not to worry about documenting good ideas because I trust that I will remember the truly great ideas in the aftermath of the retreat. May my retreat benefit all beings and may I remember any truly great ideas after the retreat is over when the time is appropriate."

* Instead of thinking "about" mind objects, try to experience them directly. Instead of thinking about a sensation, try to feel the sensation directly. Instead of thinking about what an emotion means or comes from, try to experience the raw emotion itself. Instead of thinking more thoughts about thoughts, try to experience what thinking is, what a thought IS. Can you "hear" the thoughts in your head? What do they sound like? It's very common on retreat to get to the point where "thoughts" become sounds and pre-meanings, these elemental blips of thought-objects that bubble up in the mind. (It's hard to go into story-time mode if you are noting your thoughts as thoughts.)

* Whenever the meditator ego starts getting prideful about how things are going, note the pride. Note the pride mindset, ambition mindset, desire mindset, endurance mindset, greed mindset, anger mindset. (This is where 6 realms practice is very helpful. If you are in any realm except the human realm, and if your human desire is anything else but health and dharma... then you better notice and note what is going on! Note god realm, titan realm, human realm, animal realm, hungry ghost realm, hell being realm) By dharma here I mean: the actual sensate experience of the present moment. If you are not intimately and gently experiencing the present moment, you are not desiring the dharma. 

* Ideally find a retreat place where you can go for walks if needed instead of always adhering to a schedule --- and then be responsible for moderating your dose of meditation and integrating/cooling off. In general, follow the retreat schedule unless you have a good reason, but if you have a good reason then take a nap, go for a walk, go for a run -- then take responsibility for yourself and do it mindfully.

* One thing to remember is that being in EQ is being very content with very simple experience. Like a deer chewing on grass: simple, precise, healthy, calm, quiet, sensitive. A deer can't be tense all the time (even if there are mountain lions) otherwise it will wither away. And the deer needs to be eating almost all the time it's awake otherwise it will wither away. So the deer shows how to be aware and healthy by calmly, simply, precisely, quietly, sensitively walking and eating grass all day. That's the vibe of being a good meditator. Being restless or bored or manic is a flashing warning sign -- something is off.

* 99% of the time, problems arise because we aren't being honest with ourself. We are feeling like we're failing but we fail to accept it and notice/note it as an experience. Or we feel like a mediation god but we fail to acknowledge it and notice/note it as an experience. Anything that isn't noticed/noted becomes part of our unconscious identity and piles up until it becomes a bigger problem needs to be notice/noted. So a big part of retreat is just staying "with" experience and very maturely admitting that some things arising that we aren't so proud about. Feeling lonely, sad, bored, worthless, doubting the dharma, being sore, tired, angry, etc. etc. etc.  Honesty solves a lot of problems and frankly this is how meditators mature and become wise. They don't become perfect, they just don't have anything that is hidden.

* "Solve problems when they are small and then you will never have a big problem". Mind objects (sensations, emotions, thoughts) are just mind objects. Only the human lumps things together and makes it into a big deal. Try to mostly deal with the small problem of noticing mind objects. (But of course don't repress the truth of having big problems when they do arise.)

* Sometimes you need someone to talk to -- then make sure you talk to someone. If you need help/guidance --- then ask for it. They aren't necessarily responsible for fixing YOUR problem, but they should listen and give advice. If you don't feel safe in asking the question, if you aren't getting the care you need, then you might need to leave the retreat. Better to be safe than sorry. Take care of yourself. 

Just felt like typing all of that this morning...



EDIT: one additional idea "lend being and follow along" -- this is basically an approach that softens the "I'm over here and the world is over there" position. You "lend your being" to the outside world, softening this sense of boundary. In the same way you feel intimate with a beautiful sunset, you also feel intimate with a banana peel. And then you follow the lead of the world (which includes the sensations, emotions, and thoughts that appear within you). It tells you to adjust your sitting position, it tells you how slow or fast to eat, it warns you to step over a slippery rock, etc. You don't impose your will, you follow along. And it's hard to say where the boarder between you and the world is and that's not a problem. Yes, this is the same as mindfulness, but it isn't "I'm mindful over here of the world over there". Yeah, respectful intimacy is other way to say it.  
Aviva HaMakom, modified 12 Days ago at 6/29/24 10:49 PM
Created 12 Days ago at 6/29/24 10:49 PM

RE: Meditation Induced Psychosis On Retreat -- Please Advise

Posts: 103 Join Date: 12/17/22 Recent Posts
So happy that you are doing better now! I saw your friend's post on Reddit.

My heart goes out to you, man. I had a very similar experience, right down to the forest spirits (and I have ADHD as well, I REALLY think that is important and we are wired for dopaminergic rollercoaster rides). I  happened to have done a ton of trauma work in the years prior to that retreat, which is probably the only reason that (just barely, by the skin of my teeth) I could keep reminding myself that everything was meditation-induced and not real. 

I look forward to hearing how you do as integration continues. It can take a while but it's all worth it.

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