Help and new member

Martin Verbeke, modified 9 Years ago.

Help and new member

Posts: 16 Join Date: 3/26/12 Recent Posts
Hello, my name is Martin and I am a Buddhist practitioner. I am 24 years old and I got into meditation at the age of 17. I was ordained as a Bodhisattva in the Soto Zen tradition under master Roland Yuno Reich about 4 years ago. But I left this tradition three years ago. I am currently stuck in the Dark Knight, a stage which I now recognise thanks to Daniel Ingram. I have stopped practicing for three years out of fear. I am here to seek help or advice on how to move on. If Daniel reads this, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for pointing the obvious to me. Without him, I would have never known what happened to me.

Here is a story of my practice:

I think that I have always had a certain appeal and maybe aptitude for meditation and spirituality. As a kid and teenager, I would always have a strong feeling of peace of mind in sacred places like churches or cathedrals. And I remember that as a very young kid (I can’t remember the age but very young) I asked myself some philosophical questions that only made sense to me much later when I discovered Buddhism. I was wondering if people existed outside of myself and my perception of them. I remember thinking that I could not imagine how it would be the case. To me, they only existed in interaction with me. I don’t know where those questions came from but I remember distinctly being very preoccupied by them although my parents were atheist and we would never discuss religious or spiritual topics. I remember feeling this strong urge and need to investigate this matter.

At the age of 17, several books lead me to the discovery of Buddhism, but more importantly something called enlightenment. This idea was completely new to me and once I discovered it, I simply couldn’t let go of it. I just new it had to be both true and possible and I knew I would achieve it, or that it would be my goal in any case. This lead me to the first book that I read about Buddhism, a book that changed my life forever. It was called “The awakening according to Tchan” (“l’éveil selon le Tchan”

Looking back, I guess that I was very lucky to be introduced to Buddhism purely from the standpoint of practice and in a very “hardcore” way, I imagine. This book focused on one thing only: awakening. Its premise was simple and straight to the point: there is such a thing as awakening and it can be achieved in this life time. Whether or not you had past lives does not matter, whether or not the Buddha ever existed does not matter. The point is that he came up with a very simple, yet profound, method to achieve enlightenment which works if applied and that method is called “satipatthana” or “establishment of the attention”. The book explained in great length how to practice this establishment of attention which was, according to the Buddha, the only path to nirvana.

I was very inspired by it and I started practicing very very intensively. I have always been a very dedicated person, as I was always a top pupil at school and an elite runner, so when I put my mind to it, I really did it and I concentrated on the task of observing my body all day long as much as I could and as often as I could.
Back then, I thought that I was rubbish and that I had no talent for it. But with hindsight, I now realise the extent of my effort and I realise that I was actually practicing much more and much more intensively than most other practitioners that I have met so far. This awkward practice of observing my body and sensations all the time became like a second nature and one day I experienced profound peace from it, I felt like I was part of the universe, that there was no me, all there was was profound peace and understanding. I would also routinely get to this stage in seated meditation. It is not easy to describe what happened to me, especially as I have no predisposition to explaining spiritual things to others. But reading Daniel Ingram’s book leaves me with no doubt that this practice lead me to the Arising and Passing Away experience.

This stage of my practice was also accompanied by strange dreams. I started to have lucid dreams and sleep paralysis. Here is one example of such dreams. I awoke within my dream and realised that it was all a dream, so I simply left the location that I was at in my dream to go and sit in lotus posture on the street to start meditating. The whole time, I was aware that it was but a dream. As the meditation continued, my dream kind of vanished, I found myself in some sort of emptiness and I experienced profound peace of mind. These sorts of lucid dreams reoccurred several times and I remember that one time, I had a conversation with one of my friends, in my dream, trying to tell him that he simply did not exist. That this reality was a complete creation of my own mind, that it was a dream. He refused to listen to me and got really scared actually because I started flying to show him that it was indeed a dream. So I left him, flying away and went to meditate in my dream. My friend was probably a manifestation of my own fear, which by then had become very real.

Fear indeed, because it is by then that my problems really started. I had never been depressed in my whole life and always said that I didn’t understand how someone could be depressed but meditation practice made very depressed. I felt like my old self was gone, that I just couldn’t believe anymore that there was a “me”. It felt that I could see so clearly through that deception that I had to act really strongly to look normal and act like my old self. It is the right description: the impression of having to pretend, to act, and the impression that my old self was gone, much to my fear and despair. This was not an experience of happy awakening but rather deep psychological pain and trauma. As if I was a mirror that had been broken to pieces and my consciousness was trying to hold all the pieces together for the sake of sanity and social appearances. I also started to have hallucinations and probably some form of psychosis and/or neurosis. I would see people’s faces expand and disappear sometimes for no reason in the middle of the day, their voices would stop making any sense to me (and I would start panicking). And one day, as I was smoking a joint (I don’t normally do this, this was very rare) I had a terrible bad trip in which I saw everything disappear around me. I had only smoked half a joint. It could have been only caused by the joint but I don’t think so.

I also started to have really bad nightmares. Nightmares had always been a problem to me but here a very common theme would always repeat itself: I would be chased by someone or something who/which had the intention of killing me. I would wake up screaming, sometimes run away from my bed, etc. But often, I would suddenly realise that I can actually escape this, that it is not unavoidable and I would start flying away in my dream, away from the danger. This is a very common theme in my dream: threat, fear and then flying away, above it all.

In short, the Dark Knight got me pretty good and I would feel like my mind, and my sanity, was breaking apart, exploding into peaces. This completely freaked me out and I started to get into fasting, veganism and cleanses to cleanse this obvious sickness from my body(note that I had no idza it was "the dark knight" at this point, I just thought I had gone crazy and didn't think it was linked to meditation, if anything, I felt like a failure in meditation). I would do fasting and meditation but it only aggravated the symptoms. I became obsessed with food and plagued with weird visual hallucinations and I started experiencing anxiety and panick attacks. Eventually, I stopped practicing for the sake of my sanity and tried to get away from diets and cleanses. I developed a real fear of the darmha but at the same time a fascination and a deep desire to progress, although I was to scared to do it.

About two years ago, I bumped into Daniel Ingram’s book and it all became so clear and obvious. I had gone through A&P and I was now in the dark Knight and I was not one of those people who would go through it without noticing its effects. I had a spark of hope and motivation again but my fear of practice took over and I eventually stopped practicing entirely. But in reality, such a thing is impossible for me now. I practiced satipatthana so strongly that it is part of me, so I never stopped doing it entirely, although I did make a conscious effort to let go of it.

Several times, I tried to find Daniel Ingram’s book again without success and I started to have this faith that the book would find me again when the time would be right. And three days ago, for some reason, I had an urge to find it again and I found it within a few minutes, whereas I had spent hours before trying to find it. (I did not remember the name of the book nor Daniel Ingram’s name, all I could remember was “the dark knight”... which due to its resemblance with Batman, doesn't help much LOL !) To my joy, I realised that he now had a blog and videos and that there was an online community of dedicated practitioners who have some experience with what I am dealing with.

So it is with great humility that I introduce myself to you today and that I ask for your help and advice. It is much needed.



PS: Daniel Ingram, if you read this, I would particularly value your insights into my practice.
Nikolai ., modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help and new member

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Hi Martin,

Welcome to the DhO,

Have you read the rest of Daniel's book? Probably a good idea. It will then orient you on what you can do. Do you have a current practice? What is it? What are you doing? When you sit, what is happening phenomenologically? Sensations? mental phenomena? What is exactly occuring when you practice or in daily life as a result? How does fear manifest phenomenologically? Where is it located? Does it have an object? What are you doing when it arises? How do you deal with it?

Orient yourself to the main practice that Daniel speaks of in his book (noting), see if you can start to put it into practice and start a practice thread here at the DhO where you can record what is happening in your practice. Other yogis can then offer advice that is tailored for where you may find yourself.

There is a way to deal with the fear appropriately so that one begins to progress through it, learn from it, gain insight from it and continue on towards equanimity of formations, stream entry and beyond.

What is your goal/objective/reason for practicing? Where do you wish to take your practice other than dealing with the fear?

Martin Verbeke, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help and new member

Posts: 16 Join Date: 3/26/12 Recent Posts
Dear Nick,

First of all, I would be more than happy to move this thread to this practice thread you are describing. Maybe the admin(s) could do this for me. I didn’t really know where to talk about this and this place seemed like the most appropriate one. So, admins, please go ahead and move my thread if you want.

I did read daniel’s book entirely but it was two years ago (or so) now so I am actually in the process of rereading it again. My usual practice is and has always been to observe my body and sensation during the day whenever I can (while, walking, exercising, being alone, etc.). I am not sure whether that is a good idea after all. Maybe this is too much? Maybe I need to give myself more mental rest and this could be one of the reasons why I crashed like that… I don’t know. What do you think? When I was still practicing normally, I would also usually do 1h of seated meditation a day (morning and evening) in a zazen-like manner (observing, breath, body, sensations, posture, mind). I would also go to the Soto Zen dojo 3x a week (3x1.5hours).

Otherwise, for now, I am going to do some seated meditation for 30min a day. I don’t really focus on the concentration Jhana’s, as it is not an aspect of the Buddhist practice that I am familiar with, although I think I will in time when I get to know it better. What I usually do, is that I sit and observe my body, my breathing and my sensations as they arise, I do the same thing with thoughts and emotions, I try to simply observe them and see them appearing and disappearing. I don’t like “naming” things very much, if that is what you mean by noting. How is it possible? There are so many different sensations and feelings arising and disappearing so fast that I don’t have enough speed to name them fast enough. Speaking in one’s head only occurs a little faster than regular speech whereas phenomena appear and disappear at such great speeds… It seems like an impossible task. So I am not in the habit of doing it (I tried), I simply observe myself intensely.

The fear has been present for such a long time that I don’t really find it abnormal anymore. It manifests itself by a difficulty of breathing, a sensation in my throat and/or belly. Sometimes, I see it clearly while meditating and sometimes it goes away. But it is not just fear, I feel like I have been on a rollercoaster of negative emotions since discovering meditation and actually putting my heart to it.

My goal is arahantship. I feel drawn to it and I cannot imagine not trying to attain it in this life. It has been clear in my head since starting my practice. And I also feel like I don’t have a choice anymore. I feel like I set things in motion and now I have to finish what I started or I will be in this state of spiritual crisis indefinitely... Not my idea of fun.

Martin Verbeke, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help and new member

Posts: 16 Join Date: 3/26/12 Recent Posts

Please answer me there and close this thread that was misplaced, really.