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Longstanding meditation problem

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Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 3:12 PM
First off, thanks for taking the time to read this. I'm brand new to the forum, and hope that my participation here will bear some fruit.

Some background:

I started meditating about a year and a half ago as a way to deal my anxiety issues. They had always been around, but had begun to flare up in the form of panic attacks. To keep it short, the meditation and mindfulness work has not yet cured the anxiety, but put a halt to panic attacks. I'm grateful for that. The form of meditation I've been doing is essentially all anapanasati, with metta thrown in on occaision.

There was a turning point in my practice about a year back. I had gotten fairly concentrated and switched my attention to a pleasant tingling sensation on my forehead. After focusing on it for a bit, it felt like it "zipped open" down the back of my head, and my whole body erupted in the most intense physical pleasure I've ever experienced. If I had to describe the sensation in any detail, I would say it was like an incredible number of tiny energy particles shooting straight up from each point of my body. I was very grateful for this experience, and ever since then, I've felt as if I ultimately cannot escape meditation and Buddhism. I've been able to dupicate the experience a few times since in kind, but have gotten nowhere close in terms of intensity.

The problem:

In the past several months, I've found that I'm barely able to bring myself to meditate. Each time I begin to get concentrated, a large lump of discomfort appears in the area immediately below my heart, stretching to where the abdomen meets the chest. It feels almost like something is caught, or there's some kind of energy blockage. When I examine it, I feel nauseous, and sometimes even find myself burping. It's quite unpleasant, very persistent, and always leaves me feeling kind of edgy when meditation is done.

I've tried ignoring it, but the discomfort becomes worse. I've tried applying less effort, and the lumpy, "blockage" feeling doesn't manifest, but the concentration feels hazy and rather useless. I've tried doing metta instead, but the feeling manifests anyway. (It appears to be a function of concentration.) Most interestingly, when I've tried examining it really deeply, with as much concentration as I can muster, I find a sort of physically painful and vaguely frightening center. I can watch this center for several minutes, but the result is that I come out of meditation suddenly, often with a gasp of fear.

Concurrently, my practice has largely fallen apart. When I think about sitting, it brings up feelings of futility, a vague sense that no technique is satisfactory, any pleasant experience I could have would be temporary, and any insight I acquire is just a perception, and therefore not completely certain. I feel stuck, but again, somehow compelled to meditate.


Well, there you have it. I don't really have a teacher to take this to, so I'm posting it here for the consideration of meditators more experienced than I. Again, thanks for reading.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 3:34 PM as a reply to J. Miller.
What kind of metta practice have you been doing?

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 3:42 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
In short, repeating metta wishes directed toward different individuals and groups of beings ("May you be well", etc,). I'll also typically visualize the smiling face of the person toward whom I'm directing the wishes. I can get quite concentrated using this method, but again, I still have the distinct feeling of discomfort in my chest.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 3:47 PM as a reply to J. Miller.
Can you cultivate metta for the feeling of discomfort itself? (Don't push it if it's difficult.)

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 4:12 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Thanks for the input. emoticon It's certainly worth a shot. I'll try it the next time I sit.


I'd be interested in hearing other people's thoughts as well, especially those with vipassana experience (since I know so little about it). Does appear that I'm dealing with any particular stage of insight, and if so, what's the best way to proceed according to that tradition?

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 5:58 PM as a reply to J. Miller.
By Vipassana, do you mean Mahasi-style noting?

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/14/12 9:06 PM as a reply to fivebells ..
Essentially, yeah. I don't know if other traditions (Goenka, Shwe Oo Min, etc.) also reference the nanas, and wouldn't want to exclude their input, so I just used the generic term "vipassana".

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/15/12 1:11 AM as a reply to J. Miller.
Pleasurable experiences: A&P

Following unpleasantness: Dark Night. All the signs you mention are VERY typical (frustration, no concentration, feeling you are stuck with the dhamma, discouragement, etc)

You need to persist until you reach Equanimity.

These are all stages of insight, and all of them are very well described in Daniel Ingram's book "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" (freely available online in pdf format). Have you read this book?

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/15/12 1:36 AM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
Hi Bruno,

Glad to have your input. Yeah, I have read chunks of the book. I came across it a few days ago. The feeling of blockage and pain, as I recall, was described as a third nana experience, while the feelings of frustration are more typically DN. Perhaps I remember incorrectly, but it led me to feel kind of uncertain about where I fall on the map. Maybe it's common to have characteristics of different nanas present at the same time?

Anyway, moving forward as you recommend, do you think I should attempt to address the discomfort (examining the sensation deeply, tending to it with loving-kindness and awareness, etc.). Or, should I just kind of let it hang as one sensation among many, and proceed as I had in the past?

I'll try to get the book printed at a local copy shop in the next couple days so I can read it a bit more extensively.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/15/12 2:59 AM as a reply to J. Miller.
Or, should I just kind of let it hang as one sensation among many,


That would be the U Ba Khin / Goenka recommendation. Pay it no more attention than you do a common itch on the foot or pleasant vibrations in the heart region. Treat all sensations with equanimity.

If you had trained some in the body scanning method it might be that you could "dissolve" this sensation with light attention but as you have not (right?) I would favour fivebells approach, at least for some time before carrying on.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/15/12 4:19 AM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Interesting. Nope, I have no experience to speak of with body scanning. I found this series of videos by Kenneth Folk where he talks about dealing with patches of anxious energy in the body: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WiCXn87BF4 It seems like I just happen to have a particulary nasty one, which makes sense given the issues I've always had with anxiety. Anyway, he recommends an approach that ties in nicely with fivebell's advice: let attention rest on it as if it was a hand on the shoulder of a friend. I'll be trying this in the days to come and see what the effects are.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/15/12 4:22 AM as a reply to J. Miller.
Sounds like a sensible plan. Do keep us updated, and good luck!

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/17/12 5:21 AM as a reply to Bagpuss The Gnome.
Hi everyone. Thought I'd give an update. The combination of fivebells' and Kenneth Folk's advice ("giving the sensation some light and friendly attention, like a kind hand resting on it") seems to have worked quite well. Within just a couple of sits, I found that the pain subsided enough for me to begin moving forward again, and I'm sitting much more often already. I feel a general coolness and readiness to proceed. I could always be mistaken, but I feel pretty certain I'm moving on quickly to early equanimity. Thank you everyone for the help. I have to admit I feel slightly embarrassed, since the chest discomfort was something that had been really bothering me for months, but has largely cleared up in just two days or so.

Another interesting development from my most recent sit: I got concentrated using the breath, turned to a tingling sensation, and noticed that in a very subtle way, it seemed to be going "on and off". The closest thing I could compare it to, I guess, is the frame-space-frame-space pattern of a rolling movie reel, where the frames are somewhat longer than the spaces. It even seemed to have the same kind of speedy blur to it, which made it hard to tell for sure that I was seeing it right. I had always thought of sensations as being kind of "static-y", but never flickering off and on. I tried to kind of peer in to confirm that this was, in fact, what I was seeing, but I never did manage to get a clear look at it. I came away with a light headache, which tells me I need to take it a bit easier going forward. Interesting stuff, anyway.

I've been reading MCTB, which gives me the inclination that I might have noticed something significant. I specifically remember that somewhere in the book, Ingram described reality as "strobing", which I thought was kind of a wierd adjective at the time. If I'm seeing what I think I'm seeing, how should I proceed? Is trying to look into the gaps the right approach?

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/17/12 10:10 AM as a reply to J. Miller.
I'm really glad this worked out for you. If the sensation comes back, try to remember that the metta is not so much a technique as an attitude. That is, the warm, friendly attitude to the phenomenon is more important than the specific metta practice, and you can't "fix" someone with the "technique" of friendliness.

RE: Longstanding meditation problem
Answer
8/17/12 11:26 AM as a reply to J. Miller.
Another interesting development from my most recent sit: I got concentrated using the breath, turned to a tingling sensation, and noticed that in a very subtle way, it seemed to be going "on and off". The closest thing I could compare it to, I guess, is the frame-space-frame-space pattern of a rolling movie reel, where the frames are somewhat longer than the spaces. It even seemed to have the same kind of speedy blur to it, which made it hard to tell for sure that I was seeing it right. I had always thought of sensations as being kind of "static-y", but never flickering off and on. I tried to kind of peer in to confirm that this was, in fact, what I was seeing, but I never did manage to get a clear look at it. I came away with a light headache, which tells me I need to take it a bit easier going forward. Interesting stuff, anyway.


In the U Ba Khin tradition one focuses on the impermanence of such sensations. The ever changing flow and the arising and passing away of these vibrations (and all sensations) as they occur. Not the gaps, or the vibrations but the aspect of change.

I think i've heard other people talk of noticing the gaps, but its not something I have done.