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meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/16/12 12:07 PM
I would appreciate any feedback on some disturbing experiences I’ve been having recently. The symptoms are abating but I’m very, very unsure when it would be safe or wise to resume my meditation practice, as I’m now leaning toward a psychological/energetic explanation over a physical abnormality. Originally I did not think my meditations were long or intense enough to qualify as an explanation, but now I am not so sure.

Essential facts:

1. Approximately three weeks ago I started having attacks of groundless fear, confusion, and a sense that I might be losing my grip on reality that would last several hours.
2. These attacks occurred about every 5 days.
3. There is no precedent in my psychology for these attacks and they mystify and frighten me.
4. I have been doing samatha and vipassana meditation for 1 – 1.5 hours daily since March, following the books and podcasts of Alan Wallace. The emphasis was on samatha. Prior to this formal meditation interval, my primary practice was self-enquiry in the Advaita tradition of Ramana Marharshi, although in an informal sense.
5. I have also been doing lucid dreaming practice and dream yoga, regularly comparing waking life to a dreamlike state.
6. These experiences were so alarming that I consulted a medical doctor. My blood workup was normal. So far I have declined a CT brain scan, as it would be expensive.
7. I have been experiencing pressure in the back of my neck and various places in my head.
8. My qigong and yoga practice seem to help the situation.

Secondary facts:

1. One week before the attacks began I had extreme vertigo every time I rolled over in bed. I tentatively believe this to be unrelated to the fear attacks and to be a common condition called “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo”. This condition only lasted about 24 hours.
2. The fear attacks are almost always accompanied by gastrointestinal distress. I’ll spare you the details. Is there perhaps a connection with the enteric nervous system?
3. The first attack was preceded (6 hours) by a feeling of vague discomfort after taking 8mg of Galantamine during the afternoon as a supplement to provoke a lucid dream during a nap.
4. Two months before the first attack I participated in a shamanistic ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon.


Thank you in advance!

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/16/12 5:30 PM as a reply to anti anti camper.
I am no expert, but I have had some of the anxiety you've mentioned, and my antidote was to do grounding practices. The source of the problem for me was getting too concentrated at a point when I was unable to handle it. There may be other things going on for you. What I did: lots of walking meditation with bare feet, paying attention to the sensations of the soles of the feet on the floor. Standing meditation, imagining roots growing into the ground from the spot on the feet just between the ball and the arch. Eating heavy foods. Walking outside, in nature. Mindfulness of breathing that follows the breath all the way into the gut, rather than staying at the nostrils. Also, a good acupuncturist might help, but he or she should be experienced with such things. Back off of the lucid dreaming and the samatha for awhile until you're stable. Good luck.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/16/12 7:01 PM as a reply to anti anti camper.
John Mark Ettinger:
1. Approximately three weeks ago I started having attacks of groundless fear, confusion, and a sense that I might be losing my grip on reality that would last several hours.


Are those the only symptoms?

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/16/12 8:26 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
[
Are those the only symptoms?


Including the neck/head pressure and the gastrointestinal issues, yes.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 2:52 AM as a reply to anti anti camper.
It may be due to the Galantamine. There is a symptom of antipsychotic drugs called akathisia that produces a transient sense of terror and doom. I'm not familiar with Galantamine, but I looked it up and it looks like a drug for Alzheimer's and is a "acetylcholinesterase inhibitor." I don't know what this means, but it's possible it could work on similar receptors in the brain that the antipsychotic drug does that produces this same effect. In my opinion, this seems like a dangerous drug to be taking just to induce some lucid dreams.

Edit: Akathisia induced fear is far more intense than any dark night nana fear I've experienced.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 2:31 AM as a reply to Tom Tom.
Go to this website http://akathisiainfo.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/akathisia-info/ as it describes akathisia much better than the wikipedia article (as well as giving a long list of drugs that can cause it).

This website http://www.ehealthme.com/ds/razadyne/akathisia shows a few reports of akathisia with razadyne (brand name for Galantamine), but it does look to be a relatively rare side effect with it (.77%). However, this doesn't mean anything as the drug I took which gave me some form of akathisia just about every time I took it for many years has seemingly an even lower percentage of incidence of akathisia than Galantamine (.51%): http://www.ehealthme.com/ds/seroquel/akathisia

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 2:56 AM as a reply to Tom Tom.
Also, this website http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a699058.html says Galantamine may upset your stomach at the beginning of treatment. So the Galantamine may be the source of all your problems.

"Galantamine may upset your stomach, especially at the beginning of your treatment. Take galantamine with food and drink 6 to 8 glasses of water every day. This may decrease the chance that you will have an upset stomach during your treatment."

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 5:28 AM as a reply to anti anti camper.
Howdy John,
sorry to hear of your difficulties. i would eliminate some of the unknowns (like supplements) and focus on grounding practices.

you mentioned that your yoga helps. try to stop sitting or cutting it back for several days and just focus on your yoga and see if things don't settle down. i found that, for myself, pushing too hard brought a delayed wave of disharmony a few days later. ofeten we disconnect the cause and effect when they are delayed for a couple of days.

there is a a website which I reccomend ( aypsite.org ) which focuses on advanced yoga practices. for you the take home message would be: slow down, ground yourself with yogic, body-based excercises.

if you find that when you are more in balance you want to experiment a little, try ramping up your particular sitting practice and look for a "delayed reaction" some time afterwards to test whether the symptoms you are experienceing are tied to your practice or whether they are more organic based symptoms.

take good care and know that you are in good company

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 7:42 AM as a reply to anti anti camper.
John Mark Ettinger:
End in Sight:
[
Are those the only symptoms?


Including the neck/head pressure and the gastrointestinal issues, yes.


So, you would describe it mostly as a "change in consciousness" with some physiological effects, rather than e.g. a panic attack with racing heartbeat etc.?

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/17/12 9:50 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

So, you would describe it mostly as a "change in consciousness" with some physiological effects, rather than e.g. a panic attack with racing heartbeat etc.?


I'm honestly not sure how to answer this question. Coincidentally, a friend of mine who is a psychotherapist was visiting when the last very intense attack occurred. He assured me that it was not a panic attack, by the standard definition, even though I felt very anxious and disoriented.

The "derealization" aspect would qualify as a change in consciousness. And when the attacks pass I am left with a certain amount of relief and peace (as you might expect from the passing of an unpleasant experience). However I am alarmed by the physiological symptoms as I still fear, to some degree, a physiological problem.

I hope I have addressed your question, End in Sight, but I'm not sure I have.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/20/12 8:35 AM as a reply to anti anti camper.
John Mark Ettinger:
I hope I have addressed your question, End in Sight, but I'm not sure I have.


You did, but unfortunately it doesn't give me any ideas that might be helpful to you.

I think it could be related to meditation, but it just as easily might not be. (There is no precedent in your psychology, but there doesn't necessarily have to be one. Psychological illness sometimes begins spontaneously, especially in the teenage years / 20s.)

If you assume that it's a psychological problem and not physiological, does it (this experience on its 5-day cycle) still bother you much?

One thing of interest that you may already do is to chart these experiences, and observe whether the cycle is stable over time or not.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
10/21/12 8:51 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Fortunately, the situation is improving. The experiences are less frequent and I seem to be able to handle them better by being less reactive. Unfortunately, I've always been a bit prone to anxiety in the face of certain types of unusual experiences and I may have exacerbated the problem by reacting poorly. I still have no idea what this experience is all about, though, which is not completely satisfying.

RE: meditation sickness and fear?
Answer
12/3/12 9:52 AM as a reply to anti anti camper.
The symptoms are abating but I’m very, very unsure when it would be safe or wise to resume my meditation practice, as I’m now leaning toward a psychological/energetic explanation over a physical abnormality.

Based on your descriptions, I'd suggest that it's far more likely to be meditation-related rather than a physical abnormality. If you're still concerned about this as a possibility though, obviously seeking more medical advice is the way to go.

Originally I did not think my meditations were long or intense enough to qualify as an explanation, but now I am not so sure.

Insight meditation done properly, and even without consciously knowing that you're actually doing it, is incredibly powerful. If you've been practicing regularly since March then it's likely that these issues are related to your practice.

1. Approximately three weeks ago I started having attacks of groundless fear, confusion, and a sense that I might be losing my grip on reality that would last several hours.

Can you recall how you felt prior to this? Do you remember there being a notable 'spiritual' experience prior to this fear arising?

2. These attacks occurred about every 5 days.

Is this an approximation or have you recorded a 5-day cyclical pattern to these feelings?

3. There is no precedent in my psychology for these attacks and they mystify and frighten me.

Don't worry about it, this sort of thing is actually par for the course when doing vipassana properly. Regardless of how intense it may get, always remember that none of these feelings are permanent and that they will change without your input. To fight with these feelings or try to change them is to invite more stress and tension, learn to simply experience them as they occur and look directly at their impermanence, their emptiness and inherently unsatisfactoriness.

4. I have been doing samatha and vipassana meditation for 1 – 1.5 hours daily since March, following the books and podcasts of Alan Wallace. The emphasis was on samatha. Prior to this formal meditation interval, my primary practice was self-enquiry in the Advaita tradition of Ramana Marharshi, although in an informal sense.

The self-enquiry method is essentially a form of insight practice; bare attention paid to the sensations implying an "I". It's worth knowing that, in the Suttas, there is no distinction between samatha and vipassana so it's not unlikely that you've been inadvertently doing insight practice alongside concentration.

5. I have also been doing lucid dreaming practice and dream yoga, regularly comparing waking life to a dreamlike state.

This process of comparing waking life to the dream state leads one to look more closely at the phenomenology of your experience, the way that sensations are perceived or the emotions arising and how they differ from everyday life. Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche has an excellent book on this which I recommend highly, if you're not already aware of it.

7. I have been experiencing pressure in the back of my neck and various places in my head.

These sorts of physical sensations make me think that, in terms of the Progress of Insight model, you're either cycling up to 10th ñana, Knowledge of Re-Observation, or you're hitting 3rd ñana, Knowledge of the Three Characteristics. The intensity of the experiences you describe suggest 10th ñana as I always experience this sort of discomfort in the upper chest and head area, whereas 3rd ñana tends to be more of a whole-body thing. Just a suggestion, I may be totally wrong.

8. My qigong and yoga practice seem to help the situation.

I'd be quite confident in saying that you're in the dukkha ñanas, a.k.a. Dark Night. A lot of people find that these sorts of energetic practices are very helpful in negotiating these stages so it's good that you've found a way to manage it somewhat.

1. One week before the attacks began I had extreme vertigo every time I rolled over in bed. I tentatively believe this to be unrelated to the fear attacks and to be a common condition called “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo”. This condition only lasted about 24 hours.

I honestly can't say whether or not there is actually any connection between the two, although I have experienced similar things while cycling through Dark Night, particularly in late 5th ñana and early 6th, Knowledge of Dissolution moving into Knowledge of Fear.

2. The fear attacks are almost always accompanied by gastrointestinal distress. I’ll spare you the details. Is there perhaps a connection with the enteric nervous system?

It might be related to going through 8th ñana, Knowledge of Disgust, but I don't know for certain. I used to experience a lot of nausea and discomfort, but never to the point of gastrointestinal distress. I have no idea about the connection to the enteric nervous system, to be honest.

3. The first attack was preceded (6 hours) by a feeling of vague discomfort after taking 8mg of Galantamine during the afternoon as a supplement to provoke a lucid dream during a nap.

I think Tom. A. Vitale has answered this better than I possibly could.

4. Two months before the first attack I participated in a shamanistic ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon.

I'm very interested in how entheogenic experiences might work to bring one to similar, albeit considerably amplified, experiences to those encountered via insight practice. I know of several people who crossed 4th ñana, Knowledge of the Arising & Passing Away (A&P), while under the influence of LSD and so I wonder whether or not it's possible to utilize entheogens in a similar way. With this in mind, I wonder whether or not you've maybe encountered what the Progress of Insight model describes as the A&P during your shamanic experience. It's just an idea I thought I'd throw out there.

Hope that helps in some way but feel free to ask whatever you like.