avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/16/12 11:16 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/16/12 11:16 AM

avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
Hello! This is a general post about my current practice, wasn't sure where to post it. I'd very much appreciate comments and/or suggestions.

Over a month ago my flatmate moved abroad for a year. So I have the place to myself, and have had the urge to make good use of the opportunity and meditate more. I work freelance part-time from home, so have a fair amount of free time and relative peace and quiet.

I'm avoiding insight practice at the moment, and instead I'm 'training the puppy', as advocated here by Tom A Vitale, until I feel mentally and physically stable enough to do insight practice.

I've had 'chronic fatigue' on and off since 2001 (currently slowly recovering from a relapse lasting 2 years). I've also been (undiagnosed) hypomania/bipolar for most of my adult life (I'm in my mid-30s). No psychosis, but some fairly strong and debilitating anxiety/depression/rage. All these mental symptoms have much improved over the last few years.

After reading MCTB in the spring, I resolved to avoid insight practice and instead only cultivate a relaxed and physically grounded concentration, along with metta. Exploring DhO and recently reading Tom's posts reaffirmed my decision: My health is slowly improving and I don't want to rock the boat too much. I'm still trying to calm quite a restless mind and cultivate access concentration. I think it might take me some time! But I'm (mostly) patient.

Because of the chronic fatigue I have to rest a little in the day and generally space activities out. Energy-wise I do sometimes feel like a building with a very powerful state-of-the-art central heating system, but no roof. Though like I said the situation seems to be improving. Perhaps now there is a roof, just no insulation! I think this is connected with being better grounded now, see below.

Generally speaking I am a pretty positive person. I don't buy into my dramatic stories anything like I used to, and have much more metta and humour available to bring to any difficult stuff. I'm also much more grounded than I used to be (I used to be in orbit!). In fact, it feels like my practice over the years has been very much a returning to earth, and learning to occupy my physical body and bring my wild energy back down too. Sometimes I get the sense that my hypomania and fiery ungrounded energy is somehow connected to a deep fear of being present in the body. I still get quite a fiery/adrenalin rush thing at times, but to others I'd just appear slightly over-excited and enthusiastic, and I've pretty much stopped putting the manic-energy into crazy new projects - though do I still do get restless/busy and then exhausted later.

My daily practice:
Morning: 20-30 mins qigong followed by
Metta bhavana (40 mins)
Mindfulness of Breathing (40 mins)
Later in the day I might add another couple of sits.
Finishing day with a very brief chanting and transferrence-of-merit ritual thing I like to do.
I try to maintain awareness of the body/belly/breath during all activities throughout the day, along with metta/gratitude and humour... of course there are big gaps where I forget, or get lost in something, but I do think this is one of the stronger aspects of my practice.
Also, I regularly go to the local Triratna Buddhist Centre, including weekly puja and a meditation class/discussion or two.

I don't know if I'm in the Dark Night or not. I'm pretty sure I've grieved, reeled and raged in it in the past, a lot. I also think I may have once hit equanimity 5 years ago (perhaps I'll post that later), but then backslid.

  • What's the difference between your 'stuff' coming up as a result of concentration practice and the darkness of the Dark Night? I do experience a background anger/rage thing fairly regularly, but I usually don't let it bleed through any more than perhaps being a bit abrupt with people at times. I also can get quite anxious, but again, it doesn't stop me functioning.
  • Is it possible to exit the Dark Night without getting Stream Entry? Can you return to a pre-A&P place?
  • If I am in the Dark Night, is that such a problem? and can I 'train the puppy' regardless? I'm much better at dealing with strong emotions these days, but do think I need more stability before I go for proper insight practice.


Thanks,
Martin emoticon
thumbnail
Bailey , modified 10 Years ago at 11/16/12 6:36 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/16/12 6:36 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 267 Join Date: 7/14/11 Recent Posts
Coming from someone who also has schizo, bipolar, and attainments...

you gotta....


EXERCISE!!!

30 min aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week.

It will help you SO MUCH. It will help you as much as an attainment lol. I know you have chronic fatigue so I know how hard this suggestion will be for you but maybe you can take small steps.

I remember being on the opposite side, being on the side you are now, it is a rut, but if you can just make it to the plateau...


You will get to a point where the exercise becomes very easy. At this point you will be addicted to it and will feel bad if you don't do it.
Tom Tom, modified 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 1:28 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/16/12 10:21 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
Exercise is definitely helpful. I run, lift weights, swim.

What's the difference between your 'stuff' coming up as a result of concentration practice and the darkness of the Dark Night?


I think this is referring to using the powers/visualizations as a method of gaining "relative" insight into day to day stuff. This is unlikely to be possible unless you have access to the fourth samatha jhana.

I do experience a background anger/rage thing fairly regularly, but I usually don't let it bleed through any more than perhaps being a bit abrupt with people at times. I also can get quite anxious, but again, it doesn't stop me functioning.


Try taking Niacin (vitamin b-3) as a vitamin supplement in addition to a daily b-complex. It helps with anxiety and has been reported to be helpful for anger/rage. There are three versions in three preparations: nicotinic acid, niacinamide, and inositol hexaniacinate - in slow release, extended release and immediate release. Immediate release is known to be the safest, and that is what I would recommend. There is a harmless "flush" with nicotinic acid but not the other two. Nicotinic acid works the best, but you have to start the dosage out small and then gradually increase, and within a few days/weeks the "flushing" goes away completely. See http://www.doctoryourself.com/anxiety.html

Is it possible to exit the Dark Night without getting Stream Entry? Can you return to a pre-A&P place?


In my experience (if you're not intensively meditating), it's not so clear cut. If you're not actively meditating it is unlikely you would stay in that territory and the next time you do more intensive sitting you will find you will start back at mind and body. However, in my experience, after having passed the dark night, there is likely to still be residual coming and going "dark night symptoms" (or some transient feeling of malaise or dissatisfaction with reality) even after having fallen all the way back to the beginning.

If I am in the Dark Night, is that such a problem? and can I 'train the puppy' regardless? I'm much better at dealing with strong emotions these days, but do think I need more stability before I go for proper insight practice.


Just make sure you're meditating properly the way you would like to and are not accidentally doing insight practices. Meaning stick to your object, when the mind wanders, put it back on the object and don't experiment too much with doing things outside of that. Also, someone with a "messy mind" is less likely to progress in insight since the mind will stabilize only when sitting (and for several minutes, hours, to days afterwards - depending on your ability) and then it will eventually re-configure back into it's original messy patterns when you're off cushion and thus the amount of mindfulness required to make progress through the nanas will not occur. I've been meaning to write more about this, and will eventually do so at some point. EDIT: It's important that you don't note, at all, while doing this. Any noting (objectification of phenomena), whatsoever, will very quickly put you in mind and body.
thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 4:13 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 4:13 AM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
Thanks Tom and Blue!

EXERCISE!!! 30 min aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week. It will help you SO MUCH. It will help you as much as an attainment lol. I know you have chronic fatigue so I know how hard this suggestion will be for you but maybe you can take small steps.
Thanks. I've been thinking this recently too. A good way to burn off the excess adrenalin. Yes, I definitely need to build it up step by step. But will do this. At least I can start by taking a slightly longer (or brisker) daily walk. Would love to swim and dance too, so I have lots of incentive! Also, my qigong teacher says he might get me on some martial forms soon.

Try taking Niacin (vitamin b-3) as a vitamin supplement in addition to a daily b-complex.
Will look into niacin, Tom. Already starting a quality high-dose multi vit/mineral supplement (including lots of B vits, and niacinamide at 50mg). So I'll let that settle into my system for a couple of weeks before thinking about adding more niacin.

It's important that you don't note, at all, while doing this. Any noting (objectification of phenomena), whatsoever, will very quickly put you in mind and body.
I've stopped noting this week. I was reluctant at first because it was so useful to name a hindrance/distraction - and it also brought clarity. It's probably too early to tell, but I do feel more stable without noting.

During meditation, I'm simply trying to relax into the physical feeling of the flow of the breath in the belly. Coming back over and over, no noting. With metta, I'm with the breath too, but also bringing to mind the person and feeling/listening for the warm subtle feeling of metta/friendliness in the heart. No noting! When I realise I'm distracted I just ignore what distracted me, and come back to the object.

But what about things like this?... Yesterday I began feeling low and mildly depressed in the afternoon. I realised this was only depression and my job was not get into a story about it. In the evening I reflected more positively on my day (with gratitude reflections, metta, etc.), and began smiling and feeling happier. Does this 'realising it was only depression' constitute noting? When a low mood/anxiety comes along, I tend recognise them and not spin any story. Is this noting? Not sure how I can stop that.

Another question on avoiding insight practice: I get quite inspired dipping into pali canon stuff, and from time to time perhaps memorising bits, like say another chapter of the Dhammapada. The thing is, a lot of it mentions insight, enlightenment, the 3 C's, etc.etc. Should I avoid thinking about such things too? And should I avoid reading up on the insight maps here at DhO? Reading people's posts as they approach and pass SE really inspires me.

Thanks. Off for a walk now...
Martin
Tom Tom, modified 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 12:50 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 12:47 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
Does this 'realising it was only depression' constitute noting? When a low mood/anxiety comes along, I tend recognise them and not spin any story. Is this noting? Not sure how I can stop that.


This isn't what is meant by the term "noting." By noting I mean a mental or verbal "note" that is very purposefully used for the purpose of gaining insight. I also sometimes note with "visual pictures" of words and I would recommend not doing that, at this point, either.

Another question on avoiding insight practice: I get quite inspired dipping into pali canon stuff, and from time to time perhaps memorising bits, like say another chapter of the Dhammapada. The thing is, a lot of it mentions insight, enlightenment, the 3 C's, etc.etc. Should I avoid thinking about such things too? And should I avoid reading up on the insight maps here at DhO? Reading people's posts as they approach and pass SE really inspires me.


Alter your reading list to things more related to tranquility based meditations, for now.

I would recommend at the very least having some level of mastery of the first samatha jhana before consciously going at insight practices. There is a very dry "hardcore noting" attitude in MCTB (though even MCTB recommends the first samatha jhana) that doesn't work very well for most people with mental health histories (and has the potential to be very harmful). See the post I wrote here.

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/3631675
thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 2:19 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 2:19 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
Thanks for the clarification, Tom. Will do as you suggest. Yes, I'd read that post, and have started Ajahn Brahm's book. I'm quite happy to become a jhana-junkie first, however long it takes.

You suggest not more than 3 hours for insight practice. How about for samatha? I do between 2 and 2.5 hours a day (3-4 sits), but I've probably got the time to do more with a bit of planning. Also, is it best to space sits out across the day? Sometimes I get 4 done across the morning, and leave it at that. Other times 2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon/evening.
Tom Tom, modified 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 5:41 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/17/12 4:46 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
If possible, it would be better if you can do less sits but longer time periods. This would allow you to enter more highly absorbed states as well as reducing the possibility of falling into insight territory. So do 1-3 hour single length sits per day and that would be sufficient. I wouldn't bother sitting more than twice a day. Personally, during this phase of practice, I very rarely sat more than 3 hours continuously (I can think of maybe two exceptions - one where I sat 5 hours), but would often sit for a full 3 hours (without getting up) when I did this, though more often only 1-2 hours or some days I wouldn't sit at all.
thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 4:25 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 4:25 AM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
Tom A Vitale:
If possible, it would be better if you can do less sits but longer time periods. This would allow you to enter more highly absorbed states as well as reducing the possibility of falling into insight territory. So do 1-3 hour single length sits per day and that would be sufficient. I wouldn't bother sitting more than twice a day. Personally, during this phase of practice, I very rarely sat more than 3 hours continuously (I can think of maybe two exceptions - one where I sat 5 hours), but would often sit for a full 3 hours (without getting up) when I did this, though more often only 1-2 hours or some days I wouldn't sit at all.

OK, will do.
I sat one 2-hour sit this morning. That's probably as much as my backside can handle right now!
What about a little leg stretch in the middle of a long sit? Does this technically make it two sits? Or a short walking meditation in the middle?
I think I need a nice soft cushion. I want to enjoy this, not endure it.
thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 11:14 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 11:14 AM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
Also Tom, did you make any changes to your lifestyle when you were doing this? or did you just carry on as usual? Did you simplify things? do less? make conditions more 'conducive' to calm and jhana?
What was your off-the-cushion practice like?
Tom Tom, modified 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 3:25 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/18/12 3:12 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 466 Join Date: 9/19/09 Recent Posts
Also Tom, did you make any changes to your lifestyle when you were doing this? or did you just carry on as usual? Did you simplify things? do less? make conditions more 'conducive' to calm and jhana?


I was in college at the time, but was taking less units when I was sitting longer. It helps if you can find somewhere clean with less clutter to sit. I would actually often do this outdoors, by a creek in a somewhat secluded area on campus. If noises are a distraction, it's quite easy to enter deep states using lawnmower earmuffs or earplugs, and I would do that from time to time too. In the beginning, I often would light a candle flame and place it in front of me.

What about a little leg stretch in the middle of a long sit? Does this technically make it two sits? Or a short walking meditation in the middle?


There is no need to be "hardcore" about it, if your legs hurt then move/stretch them or stand up and stretch and sit back down. Walking meditation could work, but I would do the more concentrated form of walking meditation Ajahn Brahm writes about. Personally, I didn't do much walking meditation, but was already spending a lot of time walking around anyways.
thumbnail
Martin Sokolski, modified 10 Years ago at 11/24/12 3:51 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 11/23/12 2:41 PM

RE: avoiding Dark Night, training the puppy, bipolar, chronic fatigue

Posts: 21 Join Date: 10/20/12 Recent Posts
(EDIT: Now posted as a separate thread here.)

A lot of fear and anxiety is coming up when I sit.

I don't think I've ever experienced proper jhana, even though I've been meditating regularly for about 10 years. Certainly I've experienced jhana factors like piti and sukkha during meditation, but I've never been absorbed with the object of meditation anything beyond access concentration.

A couple of days ago a lot of fear came up as it seemed I was getting closer to letting go into the breath and absorption. Certainly my experience resonates with the following passage from Ajahn Brahm's book (p.24):
“...The more likely obstacle, though, is fear. Fear arises from the recognition of the sheer power and bliss of the jhana, or else at the recognition that to go fully inside the jhana something must be left behind -- you! The doer is silent before entering the jhana, but is still there. Inside the jhana, however, the doer is completely gone.”

The thing is that since that sit, my fear and anxiety outside of meditation have increased considerably, and I'm more restless, and have more adrenalin pumping around too. Every time I sit to meditate, the fear gets stronger. Today I just stopped meditating when it came up. Is this a common experience for people, especially control-freaks like myself who have problems letting go?

I'd be quite happy to just carry on despite the fear if knew it wasn't going to send me doolally. But my concern is that it will turn me into an anxious wreck!

Though it does seem to make sense to me that big fear would naturally make me think these fearful thoughts, and maybe the sensible thing to do is just to let go, relax into the breath and trust... let the fear come and just keep returning to the breath (trusting trusting trusting...), till it subsides. Even if it takes a few weeks, or more.

I'm not sure whether I should stop meditating for a while, or just go for it. Any thoughts? Thanks, Martin

Breadcrumb