Insight for the mentally ill?

Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 3:49 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 3:49 PM

Insight for the mentally ill?

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I've suffered from clinical depression for about 10 years, with one brief psychotic/non-dual experience (a blinding realization felt in every cell of my being after a few nights with no sleep that 'all-is-one'). I've made some progress with generating some 'samadhi' in meditation which makes me feel much more sane and is starting to bleed through into my day-to-day consciousness, but don't think I've passed the A&P yet or made any progress in terms of insight.

In your experience, would you recommend continuing with intensive meditation for someone with my history? I know Shinzen Y says people here are overplaying the DN and in his experience it isn't nearly the big deal we are making out? What is it they say - 'better not to start, once started, better to finish'? Should I not even 'start' and just try and focus on Jhanas as a period of respite from my endless negative thoughts?

I know people will say I should seek professional advice, but I can hardly ask a psychiatrist about this?! I'd really appreciate any feedback as I'm not sure where else to turn?
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Florian, modified 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 3:54 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 3:54 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Hi Robin

I think there are many psychiatrists who definitely can be asked about this.

Do you know Jackson, who used to post here? He's active over on Awake Network nowadays.

Cheers,
Florian
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 4:40 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/10/12 4:40 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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There's a guy on here by the name Tom A. Vitale who really knows a lot about doing insight practice while dealing with serious mental illness. Having dealt with clinical depression myself I can understand, to a certain extent, what you're saying and so here's what I'd say:

In your experience, would you recommend continuing with intensive meditation for someone with my history? I know Shinzen Y says people here are overplaying the DN and in his experience it isn't nearly the big deal we are making out? What is it they say - 'better not to start, once started, better to finish'? Should I not even 'start' and just try and focus on Jhanas as a period of respite from my endless negative thoughts?

I can see how people would come away with that impression a few years ago, but I reckon that's less of an issue now than it was when MCTB came out. At that point nobody had really dealt with the dukkha ├▒anas in such an upfront, real-life way and it probably helped a lot of people go "Shit, so it's Dark Night that's been fucking me up all these years", but at the same time maybe seemed placed too much emphasis on one aspect of the overall conceptual model. I agree with Shinzen though that it doesn't need to be anywhere near as a big deal as it's made out to be sometimes, but even Dan says that the descriptions he gives are examples of extremes, not of things that'll definitely happen.

So, depending on how intensive the clinical depression is it'd really be down to you to decide whether you want to go for it or not. In the end, there are no decisions to be made anyway and so whatever you do will be the right thing, even if it doesn't seem that way sometimes. Take it easy, go at your own pace and practice compassion as well as concentration and insight, make sure you're o.k. and be mindful of your actions.

Best of luck whatever you choose to do.
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago at 10/11/12 8:12 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/11/12 8:09 AM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Robin Woods:
I've suffered from clinical depression for about 10 years, with one brief psychotic/non-dual experience (a blinding realization felt in every cell of my being after a few nights with no sleep that 'all-is-one'). I've made some progress with generating some 'samadhi' in meditation which makes me feel much more sane and is starting to bleed through into my day-to-day consciousness, but don't think I've passed the A&P yet or made any progress in terms of insight.

In your experience, would you recommend continuing with intensive meditation for someone with my history? I know Shinzen Y says people here are overplaying the DN and in his experience it isn't nearly the big deal we are making out? What is it they say - 'better not to start, once started, better to finish'? Should I not even 'start' and just try and focus on Jhanas as a period of respite from my endless negative thoughts?


I think there may be a lot of individual variability here, both with regard to the way different mental disorders interact with meditation, as well as with regard to the way that different minds interact with meditation.

Kenneth Folk famously claimed to have cured his (clinical?) depression after meditating a lot. Other people have said similar things. On the other hand, googling around should find you lots of people who claim that their problems have been exaggerated (or created!) by meditation in general or particular meditation practices (e.g. transcendental meditation).

From my perspective, you should ask yourself how much you'd like to start an intense meditation practice, and how that's balanced against the worst thing that you think might reasonably occur if you meditate a lot. The more you'd like to start, or the less bad you think the consequences of starting could be on your illness, the more experiments you can run where you try high "doses" or different styles of meditation. The more wary you are, less more conservative these experiments should be.

As far as practice styles, if you think about meditating as trying to relax while staying alert and not zoning out, I think you're less likely to run into negative stuff than if you practice MCTB's Mahasi-style vipassana. "Relaxing" encompasses concentration and "staying alert" encompasses insight. (This is an oversimplification, but a surprisingly useful one nonetheless.) You don't need to go for any weird flashy altered states to count as doing serious practice. It can actually be quite ordinary and mundane-seeming. And relaxing with a clear mind seems less likely to aggravate your illness, and more likely to help it, than many other things.

Certainly lots of people around here claim that meditation has done wonderful things for their moment-to-moment level of happiness, so don't lose sight of the fact that that's what intensive practice is supposed to be good for.

Good luck with whatever decision you make!
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/12/12 6:55 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/12/12 6:55 AM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Thanks for your kind and considered responses!

I guess what I want to ask now then is, if I focus on mastering the territory between access concentration and the first jhana (which I where I think I seem to be knocking about at the moment) - which at least gives me some peace of mind for a few hours a day - do you think I might just stumble upon some early insight stages 'accidentally' if I'm bobbing around the world in a concentrated state? Like those 20 mins or so when you leave the cushion and your mind is a lot quieter?
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago at 10/12/12 8:05 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/12/12 8:05 AM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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To concentrate in a way that doesn't produce insight is a fairly tricky thing, so the risk of going through some of the insight stages accidentally is significant, in my estimation. (Especially if you've already been through some of them: see below.)

As I recall, either MCTB or Daniel say that 1st vipassana jhana is basically the same as the 1st samatha jhana you're talking about, which is getting at the same point in a slightly different way.

It does seem to me that if you're hanging out on a board like DhO and you think it's a reasonable thing to do, that there's a good chance that you've already gone through some insight stages and developed an interest in the subject of meditation (and in the subject of progress in meditation) on that basis...if that were true, "holding back on insight", as it seems that you're attempting would likely be both ineffectual and counterproductive.
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/22/12 4:34 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/12/12 1:44 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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To concentrate in a way that doesn't produce insight is a fairly tricky thing, so the risk of going through some of the insight stages accidentally is significant, in my estimation.


To Robin,

This is true if you have access to least the first samatha (or vipassana) jhana. If the mind is currently a huge mess, then the likelihood of being able to access the first samatha jhana is low and you have to deal with your "waterfall" or "monkey mind" first. This is what I mean by the "training the puppy" stage. However, this does not negate the possibility that you could have previously crossed into insight territory during certain periods of strong mental shifts/reality-shattering-periods in the years/months previous to this.

However, these statements seem to indicate that you are already passed this point in your practice. Plus there is the fact that this forum seems to attract people who are already passed the "waterfall"/"monkey mind" stage. It is less likely someone would come to this forum or read MCTB (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha) during that phase of practice.

bobbing around the world in a concentrated state?


the territory between access concentration and the first jhana (which I where I think I seem to be knocking about at the moment)
Kalyan MitraG, modified 9 Years ago at 10/13/12 3:31 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/13/12 12:49 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Hope, these links from KFDh may be useful to you.

1) Ron Crouch - Dark Night and Depression
http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/4526064/Dark+Night+and+Depression

2) Kenneth Folk: Has meditation cured your depression?
http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/4952935/Has+meditation+cured+your+depression%3F


3) Discussion: Vipassana and mental health?
http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/3424101/Vipassana+and+mental+health%3F

4) From brianm2
good article recently in the NY Times about the link between depression and highly concentrated, analytical attentional styles.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/magazine/28depression-t.html?pagewanted=1

Seems evocative of the link between vipassana and the dark night.

Metta
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 8:28 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 8:28 AM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Right - so, perhaps foolishly - because meditation had been making me feel so much better I've been sitting quite intensively. Not trying to do 'insight', just getting to access concentration and getting deeper into mental quiet, just kinda focusing on the feeling of quiet space in my head. However, I think I might have inadvertently crossed the A&P? (Feelings of spasms of energy firing off in my stomach and being able to watch mental images arise and then pass away in real-time). Sat down last night. Got to access concentration and the stable field of vision behind my eyes started to flicker and turn vibratory. Then, out of nowhere, I just felt this overwhelming sense of primal FEAR which reminded me instantly of the psychotic experience I once had. Just total fear in every direction.

Can such a total sense of FEAR arise like this at any stage in practice - or is this the DN stage intself? I tried noting it as 'fear' but this didn't make any difference. I'm sorry but I'm really scared now of continuing to practice - or is it already too late for that? Don't know what to do or who to turn to. I suddenly felt that I'd been there before and that the maps and bipolar cycle really are related....

Tom - I'd really appreciate your thoughts? Should I just try applying mindfulness in daily life and noting negative thoughts and stay off the cushion?
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/22/12 4:35 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 1:37 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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If trying to do just samatha practice or sitting at access concentration, it's important not to investigate and to just stay with the single chosen object of the meditation. Making resolves to stay at access concentration and not to enter (vipassana) jhana can help, as well as reducing sitting lengths. Sentences like this:
just kinda focusing on the feeling of quiet space in my head.
indicate too much investigation.

It's possible you were sitting in about first jhana territory, started inadvertently investigating and thus passed through mind and body, cause and effect, and into three characteristics and that is where the fear occurred. It's also possible you could have passed through the A&P and through dissolution and into the fear nana, but I think this is less likely without longer sitting periods for at least a couple days.

Feelings of spasms of energy firing off in my stomach and being able to watch mental images arise and then pass away in real-time


This could be strong mind and body, and not necessarily A&P.

Here is a quote by Daniel Ingram that might help:

First seeing the dot is the first samatha jhana, and in this case is the equivalent of Mind and Body, where mental phenomena become clear external objects. Noticing things about intention influencing the position and stability of the dot is cause and effect.

Shortly thereafter this would become irritating and the dot would begin to shake, shudder, split up, spin off to one side or the other, and generally seem to misbehave quite on its own. This was the entrance to the Three Characteristics.


So the point where your visual field turned vibratory could have been three characteristics and the three characteristics can be easily mistaken for the dark night.

So reduce your sitting lengths and make a resolve to not enter jhana when you sit (if this is even possible at this point), if you wish to avoid doing insight practices. Also, all your fears about not investigating while you're sitting may be causing you to investigate. Sort of like telling someone not to think about a "white elephant." Don't think about that white elephant! (and then someone immediately thinks of a white elephant). In this case, just stop practicing until the fear goes away. Don't let your fears become "self"-fulfilling prophecies!

EDIT: Also, try meditating with your eyes open instead of closed and see if that helps. This is to avoid inadvertent investigation of the flickering visual sensations.
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 3:25 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 3:25 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Thanks so much for such a kind and thoughtful response. The thing I don't understand though is that saying I do just focus on counting the breath with my attention at the nose, won't I eventually just become so concentrated that the breath will automatically break up and become vibratory etc? Or am I getting this whole thing wrong?
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/26/12 1:36 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 3:33 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Thanks so much for such a kind and thoughtful response. The thing I don't understand though is that saying I do just focus on counting the breath with my attention at the nose, won't I eventually just become so concentrated that the breath will automatically break up and become vibratory etc? Or am I getting this whole thing wrong?


Samatha practice is about cultivating bliss. If it's not blissful, you're not doing it right. So if you experience anything other than pleasantness, blissfulness, or peace and happiness, then you're doing insight practices and thus should immediately stop sitting if you wish not to do insight practices. Keep your attention on your chosen object and do not move it anywhere else until bodily blissfulness and happiness arise. At that point you can then move the attention onto the bliss or other attributes, but do not do it before then (EDIT: don't do this purposefully, but keep attention on breath until this happens on its own) . It will be overwhelmingly obvious, as there are few other conditions in daily life that can provide such bliss (with exceptions such as sex or a massage or doing mdma). Yes, it needs to be equivalent to these things, or actually exceeding them in blissfulness, especially if you wish to avoid insight practices.
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:42 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:42 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Also, if you are noting (in any way shape or form) you are doing insight practices and not pure samatha.
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:43 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:43 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Thanks for this. And for restating the positive blissful quality of Samatha. I think I might have been mistaking the absence of negative thoughts in access concentration as being a kind of bliss - compared to my day-to-day state of negativity and confusion and not realising what I'm looking for is a positively blissful experience....
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:49 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 4:49 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Tom A Vitale:
Also, if you are noting (in any way shape or form) you are doing insight practices and not pure samatha.


Sorry to go on, but do you think I should not note when I'm walking around in the world then? I'm in the habit of noting negative thoughts as 'talk' in day-to-day life to effectively cut them off?
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 8:07 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/18/12 8:07 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Sorry to go on, but do you think I should not note when I'm walking around in the world then? I'm in the habit of noting negative thoughts as 'talk' in day-to-day life to effectively cut them off?


No need for apologies! If you currently would like to avoid negative side effects of insight practices then you should stop noting completely and instead spend lots of time doing samatha to clear your mind. It is definitely possible to do samatha at the beginning of a day and have your hindrances suppressed so that there will be little to no negative thoughts throughout most of the day without having to note at all.
Robin Woods, modified 9 Years ago at 10/25/12 8:28 AM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/25/12 8:28 AM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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Tom A Vitale:
Sorry to go on, but do you think I should not note when I'm walking around in the world then? I'm in the habit of noting negative thoughts as 'talk' in day-to-day life to effectively cut them off?


No need for apologies! If you currently would like to avoid negative side effects of insight practices then you should stop noting completely and instead spend lots of time doing samatha to clear your mind. It is definitely possible to do samatha at the beginning of a day and have your hindrances suppressed so that there will be little to no negative thoughts throughout most of the day without having to note at all.


Right - I'm following your advice and trying to stick to samatha. However, I seem to be getting so concentrated that when I come out of it I'm having virtually no thoughts and so my quiet brain is just starting to notice reality as being a 'soup' of various sensory impressions arising and passing (raindrops on my skin, sound of a car horn, swallowing sensation) and I can't help it. I feel like I already 'know too much' and wonder if concentration isn't just going to automatically push me towards insight territory? Or am I getting this wrong? Do the sensations need to be felt at a 'micro' level to lead to insight? I feel totally trapped now between going back to my old negative thought patterns and mindfulness born of concentration which I feel is gonna push me inevitably into The Dark Night?

haha - I guess I've done it to myself haven't I? Why didn't I heed the MCTB warnings! No-one else to blame.....
Tom Tom, modified 9 Years ago at 10/25/12 4:39 PM
Created 9 Years ago at 10/25/12 4:37 PM

RE: Insight for the mentally ill?

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I'm following your advice and trying to stick to samatha. However, I seem to be getting so concentrated that when I come out of it I'm having virtually no thoughts and so my quiet brain is just starting to notice reality as being a 'soup' of various sensory impressions arising and passing (raindrops on my skin, sound of a car horn, swallowing sensation) and I can't help it. I feel like I already 'know too much' and wonder if concentration isn't just going to automatically push me towards insight territory?


If it's sort of syrupy this could be cause and effect. Run an experiment where you stop practicing completely for a few days to a week and see if you return to the old patterns. I think there may be differences in the way we both cleared our minds to come out of the "monkey mind" stage. Since you cleared it using noting (insight), and I cleared it by spending long hours(years) sitting observing the breath at the nostrils (with no noting whatsoever, and thus was more experienced doing it this way). Thus, it could be quite difficult for you to keep the attention this way as "End in Sight" stated.

This is stated by you in another thread:

My only question, though, is that without some degree of noting (labelling thinking as 'talk' a la Shinzen Young) I would've never even got to access concentration in the first place.


Try not practicing for a few days to a week and see if the old patterns return. If they do not, then you'll have to re-adapt to a slightly more vipassana-ized practice.

My thoughts would still be swarming and proliferating like a hive of angry bees behind the breath and I would've given up some time ago...


Ideally, I would recommend going back to the bee-hive state, and then go back to starting at the breath and clearing the beehive through attention at the breath (with no noting whatsoever).

If you find this is not possible (or current conditions won't allow you to do this), then I recommend you proceed to noticing the three characteristics of body sensations (keep the eyes open). Flip back and forth or combine with samatha sits to keep the attention stable (keep practicing samatha to learn not to let your attention wander around so much throughout the day - like sharpening a sword). I would not recommend noting, as that may move things along at too rapid a pace for you (and thus falling out from control).