Dignosis? Not in the traditional sense. Seeking advice and perspective.

thumbnail
Adam L, modified 9 Years ago.

Dignosis? Not in the traditional sense. Seeking advice and perspective.

Posts: 45 Join Date: 1/25/12 Recent Posts
Hello Everyone,

This is my first post, though I've been lurking (i.e. reading obsessively) on the site for several months now. Despite having many questions and actually "joining" the site a couple months ago to ask them, I have avoided posting mostly out of a superficial self-conscious anxiety and difficulty in making a coherent post about my experiences without writing a novel. I'm finally biting the proverbial bullet, thinking that perhaps getting my thoughts in writing will help put them in better perspective. Gaining some wisdom/insight from you all would be great too.

I've got an upcoming Goenka retreat in June that I'm on the fence about attending, mostly because of fear from reading DN experiences and my apprehension of putting my family through a DN-fueled neurotic breakdown. I'm reluctant to name drop, but Eric O's recent posts illustrate exactly of what I'm afraid. I'm hoping his experiences settle quickly and wish him the best with quickly gained progress; my fear is that a similar thing will occur to "this me" and I'll hence be incapable of transcending these stages in a time frame that is measured NOT IN months or years.

Now, pardon the cliche, but the glass-half-full part of me believes that I may be currently experiencing what MTCB refers to as the 'dark night yogi', having begun gaining insight inadvertently into the DN nanas many years ago while experimenting with a variety of completely undisciplined and unguided contemplative practices, mostly involving the use of psilocibin mushrooms and other psychotropic substances like cannabis that lasted a year or two. Around this time (college-age years, doing the college culture thingy) while/soon after diving into these practices, I began a period of experiencing intense fear and anxiety; daily, mostly middle of night but not always...classic "panic attack" symptoms. My current meditation practices have helped me understand and realize more about this anxiety and fear from a phenomenological perspective: dull pain and nausea in the guts, increased heart rates and (what feels like) quickly elevated blood pressure, a desire to flee and/or pace and/or "do something", heat radiating up my spine and intensifying in my neck with accompanied perspiration in this area of heat, sometimes it transforms into anger or hopelessness with those accompanied sensory phenomena. Over the years I have used various techniques of "coping with"/treating these conditions, starting with daily booze intake and an SSRI/benzo cocktail, eventually "realizing" that the alcohol was exacerbating the situation and thus ceased its consumption (~7 yrs ago). This was followed by (a couple years later and a few years ago) the desire to not be dependant upon these other drugs for my "sanity" so I titrated off them as well (except for an occasional/once-a-week half-mg of clonazepam when I can't manage to mindfully experience these sensations without attachment and when sleep is of paramount importance due to a looming work deadline that needs focus or something like that). I replaced the drugs with attempts at 24/7 mindfulness, rigorous exercise (brazilian jiu jitsu), and seated meditation practice. I'm not "completely without" the fear and anxiety, not even close, especially in times of great stress, but things have improved considerably over the years.

So, back to the optimism with regards to my situation. The optimism is rooted in Daniel's (and many other's) story of dark night yogi-hood along with the section where he posits (and please excuse me, I'm paraphrasing from memory) that very few individuals whom actually begin a serious effort into insight practice are not at least in the first nana of the Dukkha Nanas.

The pessimistic side of me, however, is criticising this perspective/theory as an attempt at what is very clearly just confirmation bias; only seeing the correlation between "my personal story" and these others' stories in order to explain away my psychological problems. I chide myself for thinking I may have realized something during those years and that I should just resign myself to the fact that I'm a classic case of mental illness resultant from neurochemistry and psychological "stuff". That I will have to either give up my "goals"/desire for awakening or deal with the horrific episode dark night that will inevitably ensue if I continue my practice. In times of greatest fear, I decide to "give up", only to find myself soon after being mindful of breath or on my cushion later that day...something "in me" or "in my brain/heart/pick-a-metaphor" won't allow me to stop my practice. So it goes...

These competing and diametrically opposed positions also have me questioning whether or not I should cancel my reserved "seat" at the Goenka retreat (despite this diatribe, this dilemma is more or less the "point" of my post). If I am, in fact, rocking a dark night paradigm then my notion is "go for it Adam, use this as an opportunity to perhaps blast past this proverbial demon your mind has been carrying for over a decade...hey, maybe you'll get to 'desire for deliverance', or even equanimity and you can use the momentum to power through the rest of the first path...hell, maybe you can attain stream entry and fruition" (please forgive my crude use of the Theravada maps, they're not really of great importance to me, but I think they help illustrate the point of my fears of a this particular place on the path). However, if my situation is that I actually have no knowledge of any of the mapped insight stages then I can't help but think that it would be remarkably unkind, even cruel, for me to potentially push myself into a position that has the possibility of causing my family (wife and two kids) so much suffering for an indeterminable amount of time, sometimes years. That it would be better for me to cancel, gain insight the slow way, or simply give up (yeah right, my stubborn character defects alone probably won't allow for this). I really want to find a teacher locally (Salt Lake City area), but have been either unable to or procrastinating. There are a few people I want to meet and speak with, but time and circumstance has made these meetings difficult to accomplish.

I suppose this brings me to the point where I should give details about my practice. I'm a complete noob, having started doing basic, seated Anapanasati practice just under a year ago and have since been tweaking and adjusting technique based on the various dharma books I've read. I sat (and still sit) 45 mins to an 1.5 hrs per day over one or two sessions. Perhaps three or four months ago, I realized that my concentration skills were mostly crap and I was still dominated by "monkey brain" thought patterns. I felt like I had attained access to jhana on several occasions, but at any given sit it sure was hit-or-miss. I really wanted to get more "bang for my buck" with my time on the cushion and thought that improving my concentration skills could not hurt. Also, having signed up for a 10 day Goenka retreat, I felt like I better get my concentration as dialed as possible in the upcoming months to make that time worth while. As such, for the past few months I have since decided to focus solely on concentration practices. I devoured Shaila Catherine's books "Focused and Fearless" and "Wisdom Wide and Deep" in an attempt to figure out how to improve my concentration skills and better understand the relationship between concentration and insight practices. Though based on what I've read on this site, I'm clearly a slow learner, I'm happy to say that my concentration has improved considerably. And although I am of no experience level to diagnose with certainty, I feel like now I can gain access to jhana practically at will with the right external conditions, with less than ideal conditions (a closet at my work, for example), I can gain access within 5-15 minutes. I am almost certain I have attained first samatha jhana on at least three occasions, once quite deeply (though it only lasted a minute or two) with a very clear nimitta present and all the jhanic factors present, "piti" being dominant (again, forgive my crude use of the terminology, and don't forget these are novice interpretations of the phenomena...I can go into actual phenomena if anyone thinks it would add value to the post). Lately, I've been trying to do a short amount of insight practice after "emerging" from concentration, usually noting or sometimes observing my abdomen while breathing, but feel like I have no real clue as to what I'm doing...aside from some wildly jerky-type phenomena from my visual senses when I open my eyes, I've not really gained any insight during this time...it'll come though, sorry for yet another digression. In addition, I try to supplement my current seated practice with an attempt at constant mindfulness: I'll cycle between sensory noting exercises, mindfulness of breath, or mindfulness of thoughts. Oh, and take these terms "constant mindfulness" with a grain of salt, it's more like "ah, be mindful"...mindfulness ensues for a minute or two...lose it...2 to 30 mins later "remember"...repeat. Pathetic, I know, but the effort is there...I told you, I'm slow...but I'm trying emoticon

My internal dialogue is laughing right now because when I sat down to write this I intended (or did I?) to break my DhO discussion board cherry (please pardon the crude expression) by posting a question about my concerns with doing meditation practices with my young kids; only to have my current narrative spill out of me like a tipped over bucket of sewage. My meditation practice with my kids will have to come another day, haha...what a selfish bastard I am.

I know that I posted very few, if any explicit questions in this post. I'm hoping that one or more of the wizards on this site will read this, understand where I'm coming from, and offer advice or perspective. I am not afraid/opposed to answer personal questions or have my teeth kicked in, so feel free to hammer me for any glaring problems with my rationale, logic, conclusions, practice strategy, etc...

O, what I would give for a crystal ball revelation that my pre-stream-entry Dukkha Nanas experiences will come and pass in a matter of minutes, hours, or days. I would give even more for the knowledge that they're here and have been here for years now and that things are only going to get better, or only very mildly "worse". I can't abide the fact that once propelled into the dark night, that I may have no option than to gain this knowledge of suffering for years to come. I'm terrified to put my family through that or, worse, put them in a position where their best recourse is to leave me (this last point is very likely unfounded, but in the interest of full disclosure...)

Thanks all. SINCERELY, thank you all for what's being done on this message board. I can't properly express how wonderful a resource all you and the DhO are to my path.

-adam
thumbnail
Daniel Johnson, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Dignosis? Not in the traditional sense. Seeking advice and perspective.

Posts: 401 Join Date: 12/16/09 Recent Posts
Hey,
That's a long post, and I didn't read it all. But, it makes sense that you'd be concerned about your retreat. Many people feel anxiety and hesitation leading up to a retreat.

You may not have much choice about what sort of dark night you may have to go through, but you're left with this choice: 1. face it or 2. stay where you are. It's your choice.

If you do go ahead, then do your best to make your resolutions now that you will do your best to handle the side effects.

Personally, I've done a bunch of Goenka retreats, and haven't regretted a single one.
Daniel Johnson:
Hey,
That's a long post, and I didn't read it all.


Haha, Yep. When I saw the end-resulting wall of text, I was worried that it may result in being overlooked by those of us with little time to waste on other people's drivel. That said, it was cathartic, and I couldn't honestly figure out properly do a 'too-long;didn't read' abridging so I left as-is, having faith in the thoughtfulness I've seen from so many on this site, that an answer would come.

Daniel Johnson:
You may not have much choice about what sort of dark night you may have to go through, but you're left with this choice: 1. face it or 2. stay where you are. It's your choice.


Is it really as simple as this? I was thinking that perhaps there were ways I could mitigate the effects of the darker of the dark symptoms. Daniel/MCTB eludes to the fact that an accelerated path comes with its "shadow sides" like, perhaps, seemingly magnified symptoms of misery/fear/etc. One can infer that from this that if one decelerates the rate at which one gains insight, that these experiences may be less...ummm...intense, no?

At this point, it's not really that I intend on "giving up" but more like asking questions like, "should I adjust my strategy?" Should I spend more time ramping up, gaining more insight and concentration before doing an intensive retreat? Are there ways to diagnose a DN yogi from past experiences Or, would the DN yogi status even matter with regards to the experiences (i.e. is my presumption incorrect that if I'm in the DN it can't get that much worse than it already is or take too long to work through these stages)?

Daniel Johnson:
Personally, I've done a bunch of Goenka retreats, and haven't regretted a single one.


That's fantastic news. I've read a mixed bag of experiences, but I'm sure Goenka is not alone in this regard.
thumbnail
Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Dignosis? Not in the traditional sense. Seeking advice and perspective.

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
There are several things that come to mind. First, it's not necessarily either/or as you consider whether your problems are path related or psychological. A combination of both is always a possibility. Good cognitive-behavioral therapy, or maybe EMDR for trauma, could possibly help you. If on the other hand you've crossed the A&P because of drug use, previous practice, or just spontaneously, there's no point in avoiding insight practice in the hopes of avoiding the Dark Night because you're already there. I can tell you from experience that trying to figure out what is causing your symptoms, psychological problems or Dark Night, is difficult if not impossible.

So I would recommend a two-pronged approach: a regular, daily insight practice, with the support of retreats when you can manage them; and some good therapy with someone who isn't going to think you're nuts for doing insight practice. I wouldn't focus on concentration as your main practice at this point, as it sounds like you've already accomplished a lot there, and what you really need is to move along the progress of insight path. Also open a practice thread, either here or on another similar forum such as Kenneth Folk, and get feedback from people as you describe what happens in your sits. Finally, I strongly endorse your proposed objective of finding a teacher, either by Skype online or near where you live.

Now I'm not an expert, only someone who has been through some of the same stuff you have and who has benefited from insight practice. A teacher can help you sort out some of the pitfalls that you might experience. But as Daniel here has said, you won't make progress in insight without doing insight practice. Good luck, and hope to hear more from you.
thumbnail
Nikolai ., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Dignosis? Not in the traditional sense. Seeking advice and perspective.

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
I did over a dozen 10 days and regret none of them. Goenka talks about the potential 'sleeping defilements' arising after certain experiences, but he also dedicates the 10 days to 3 techniques in which you start to become established ,which if put into appropriate action will aid one in dealing with those 'sleeping defilements' appropriately and one gains important tools that will lead to stages of awakening and much much less suffering overall

I became a much better person with my family after only 2 courses. I had no idea about maps and after some intense long term serving and sitting, I was finding a lot of 'sleeping defilements' awakening and i had no idea or lacked the direction in myself to apply the techniques learned at all times to address those arisings.

You have an idea about what to possibly expect. I didn't. It took me a number of years till I was introduced to the maps that I gained some perspective, motivation and objectives (stream entry for one). Once that happened, it didn't take long to zoom right through the dark night onto the 11th nana and beyond.

What is your goal/objective/that which pulls you to practice?

Nick
Thanks, Nick! I can't wait to study the content of that link you posted. Your experiences ease many of my fears, especially with regards to my family. I think I know a little of what you mean by a "better person", I'm a bit amazed at how even my small amount of insight into my thoughts and their effects has yielded much wealth in my interpersonal relationships, very much so with my family. When I reread my post, I was embarrassed at how much I sounded like a whiny baby who can't seem to handle life. I guess it's best to get this garbage out of the way before retreat, so I can focus on the fruits of insight.

Nikolai .:
What is your goal/objective/that which pulls you to practice?


Long term: To fully undersand the true nature of reality. To realize not-self on something other than an intellectual and/or 'gut' level. To bring an end to my suffering. Perhaps to help my fellow humans bring an end to their suffering as well.

"Short" term: To get closer to these things. Really, I'm not meaning to be deliberately obtuse; I can't think of another answer that doesn't sound trite or disingenuous. I want to do this with the least expense possible to the poeple whom I care deeply for (namely, my wife and kids). I would like to attain stream entry, but doubt I'm capable of it in such a short amount of time.
Just finished reading that article, Nick. It was very helpful. My deepest gratitude for sharing this knowledge. Now I just have to find time to devour the five other tabs to which your writing linked that are waiting for me to read.

Thanks again!
Jane Laurel Carrington:
I can tell you from experience that trying to figure out what is causing your symptoms, psychological problems or Dark Night, is difficult if not impossible.


I kind of expected this. To my 'engineering' brain, it just seems like a diagnosis would be flimsy at best considering all the possible variables. Timeframes seem to match, some vague A&P type experiences during some of my trips, but there is also ample evidence that suggests genuine mental illness. I can say I am pretty knowledgeable (from a non-insight perspective) of fear and a bit knowledgeable of misery, so perhaps this anecdotal experience will help me cope with DN insight.

Jane Laurel Carrington:
someone who isn't going to think you're nuts for doing insight practice.


There's the rub. It has been difficult for me over the years to find a therapist who is ... umm ... a good fit for my brand of dysfunction, to put it kindly.

Jane Laurel Carrington:
I wouldn't focus on concentration as your main practice at this point, as it sounds like you've already accomplished a lot there, and what you really need is to move along the progress of insight path. Also open a practice thread, either here or on another similar forum such as Kenneth Folk, and get feedback from people as you describe what happens in your sits.


This all seems like sound advice to me emoticon Thank you for stating the obvious which, for some reason or another, often eludes me (again, I can sometimes be a bit slow on the uptake). Insight practice is a bit puzzling to me, perhaps because I have control issues, so my attachment to things like thoughts is sometimes difficult. During noting practice, I'm often second guessing how I should be classifying things...you know what, never mind, I don't want to bore everyone with another wall of text...I'm just a beginner experiencing normal beginner difficulties. Progress and answers will come, I'm sure.

Jane Laurel Carrington:
Finally, I strongly endorse your proposed objective of finding a teacher, either by Skype online or near where you live.


This is a great idea. Can you point me to any resources. I'm sure dropping names is probably against some etiquette or something. How would one find a teacher who can visit with me using these wonderful internet technologies we have?

Again, thank you for your thoughtful reply. Be well emoticon

Breadcrumb