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can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?

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Hello all,

First post here on the forum. I appreciate any thoughts you all might have. I will try to keep my post fairly clearly and concise, as much as possible.

Problem - I feel drawn to focusing on the breath, particularly at the upper lip and nose. It is very concentrative. However, the day after doing this for even half and hour, I have significant social anxiety (which mostly manifests at work). I also notice tight trigger points of muscular tension around my shoulders and scapula. I also build up tension in the face, during such a meditation. I also have a tendency during meditation to force the break into a relaxed state and cause more anxiety, although I am better about this lately.

Background - I have been meditating for 1.5 years. I prefer using the upper lip as a focus point, but have switched to the abdomen because it causes less social anxiety symptoms afterwards. But abdomen focus still causes signfiicant anxiety.

I have therefore switched entirely away from breath meditation recently, doing kasinas, metta, and four elements style meditations, which actually lead me to being more calm socially. Not perfect but a lot better.

I do not have any specific experience I can point to, to say that I "crossed A&P". I have read the descriptions of these experiences and don't believe that I've had anything quite the same.

Despite these social anxiety symptoms, which are mostly at work, I still feel drawn to breath as an object, especially the concentrative focus point of the upper lip.

Question - Therefore, I wonder if this anxiety is related to being in the 3rd stage of insight, before crossing A&P, the fourth. Any thoughts appreciated. (I recognize also that I am not seeking any psychological or medical advice, of course! I may have underlying tendencies to social anxiety, which are just being exaccerbated by the meditation, temporarily.)

Related question - would it be possible that I break past some of these symptoms by crossing A&P. I wonder if I should take a bit of time off work, away from the social situations that stress me, and really work on my breath meditation/concentration to try to move on, have an A&P experience, and move away from this stage.

Or, should I just stick with metta, and other forms of meditation, and try to develop concentration and insight with them? I am worried that the worsened social anxiety is -- possibly, and in a way -- a sign that i am progressing in insight, and that by turning away from it I am not progressing further. If I was a monk , this would not be an issue and I could just stick with the breath.

Thanks in advance! [I edited the post because I wasn't sure if I was using the term 'nana' correctly]

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/4/13 10:01 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Hi Michael,

Welcome to the Dharma Overground.

Question - Therefore, I wonder if this anxiety is related to being in the 3rd stage of insight, before crossing A&P, the fourth. Any thoughts appreciated. (I recognize also that I am not seeking any psychological or medical advice, of course! I may have underlying tendencies to social anxiety, which are just being exaccerbated by the meditation, temporarily.)
Great. I am glad you wrote, "Any thoughts appreciated."
My first thought is: cardiovascular exercise, such as timed swimming and elliptical workouts--increasing weekly in rate, a nice gradual healthy practice. Consider adding weights and yoga.

This is a real cross-training dedication: really allocating two hours before work (exercise, clean-up, eat, re-hydrate), and if you can afford it, consider getting some personal training, too. The trainer can safely help a person exhaust themselves, and going into work after a healthy workout is likely to cause the mind to be much less anxious. Furthermore, as things are cause-and-effect, the less anxious mind can interact with colleagues differently, start to grow safety and enjoyment. :]

As well, with exercise calming the mind, meditation can develop with better perspective and new terrain.

This level and frequency of exercise doesn't need to go on forever, but it is well worth a month-long dedicated trial, in my opinion and experience. It's important to stay friendly with oneself: not push too hard, not hurt oneself, but to really apply good training and effort. Treat oneself kindly, but make a good effort. A trainer can really help prevent injury and help one push. One week even with a trainer is insightful (I am not a trainer; this is not a sales pitch : )

There was a time when I would also have my just-outta-bed coffee with a vitamin B complex, and then I'd have another vitamin B complex after lunch. I was cautious to not consume too much coffee in the afternoon (one cup at 4 p.m. ish): coffee can really exacerbate anxiety/stress when the mind is already disposed that way.

What do you think?


Related question - would it be possible that I break past some of these symptoms by crossing A&P. I wonder if I should take a bit of time off work, away from the social situations that stress me, and really work on my breath meditation/concentration to try to move on, have an A&P experience, and move away from this stage.
Everyone is different, but I think there may be some consensus that what comes after A&P can be harder. The mind is said to enter the the so-called dark night stages (dukkha nanas). Maybe you are there? Anyway, it may be a harder development (aka: bhavana, meditation) phase simply because a person may not know the development is coming. So, for example, if I had known the buddhist framework for mental events at age 15, I'd like to think I'd have known how to skillfully continue. ;) Probably not.

So I'd prioritize a good sensible and sustained exercise effort now: consider having someone get you started right, some trainer who's recommended and who you basically like/feel good around (because it's normal to resent them a lot in the middle of a hard work out).

I know I did not speak much to meditation, but I am offering you the consideration that I think are most useful for what you've posted and in my experience.

Good luck.

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/5/13 7:56 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Katy,

Thanks for the ideas. I think you are right on in suggesting means of dealing with anxiety other than meditation. I took up yoga in the evenings and find it very helpful. I might try it in the morming or do weights or something as you suggest. Will have to check out b complexes as well.

This is a tangential thought, but i am jist curious how mindfulness is portrayed as a stress cure all. In my experience, secular mindfulness meditation was challenging and led to a more religious inquiry and goals rather thann "fixing" stress.

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/7/13 3:04 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Okay. Well, I'm glad you're considering exercise as part of your meditative interest: it has always helped me tremendously. I'm also a big fan of animal behaviourists who first work to wear out an animal with games suited to its nature: the discipline is introduced as part of the games and the tiring out. Meditation is a lot like taking a puppy out for a walk on a leash: when is the puppy or a cooped-up healthy dog ready for that short walk on a tight leash at a slow pace? It's not. That's a lot of restraint and takes a lot of constantly imposed control to sustain. So a 20-minute cardiovascular workout at a pace where one finds it hard to hold conversation takes advantage of the mental energy in big emotions, including anxiety and depression. So best wishes on that front. I hope you provide updates. Many people just enjoy a new lifestyle if they do a year with dedicated daily work-outs and meditation is delayed (which is fine) or it enters gently (which is always useful) like having a nice few minutes on a park bench to just breath in the pleasantness.

About mindfulness: for me it was kind of a "blah" topic because I long viewed it as like a brand, well-adverstised with teachers aplenty. But actually it now seems to me to be an inherent, quiet, and natural metric that comes into the fore of one's own attention like an ebbing and receding tide. Sometimes, usually after something very uncomfortable, I become quite aware (not vigilant), and then other times - generally not so skillful times often - the mind indulges in narratives and plans and stories, and then those mental wanderings and agendas bear out their fruit. I was reading an article in the New Yorker this weekend about the pickpocket Apollo Robbins and that gave me a different sense of present mindfulness.

Anyway, welcome again and hopefully the site and many contributors will become a useful place for you to share from your practice.

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/8/13 9:53 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
I hadn't considered the similarity to walking a cooped up dog. That actually makes some sense!

Thinking a bit more about my anxiety/meditation issue, I think it may also be related to a more abstract issue of samatha versus vipassana. Given my personality, I find an open, Mahasi Sayadaw style of noting to be somewhat anxiety provoking. But if I treat the breath as primarily being concentrative first, in more of a Thanissaro Bhikkhu/anapanasati sutta method, then I find this much more calming. A focus on mental formations (and calming them) is then appropriate later. To me, this is in the same vein as calming the body with exercise.

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/10/13 7:45 PM as a reply to Mike H..
I hadn't considered the similarity to walking a cooped up dog. That actually makes some sense!
Yeah, we're in the animal kingdom, eh? And there's a huge change in the mind/brain when the body gets good cardiovascular exercise - like a cooped-up dog learns its household lessons better after a long hike/run/play session. You might also see how your anapanasati practice develops in conjunction with cardiovascular exercise and some gentle stretching with long breathes.

Exercise is also very useful for helping to change the mind of anxiety and social situations. It can just really change perspective and rapport for the better. So, again, best wishes here. It's something I also have to keep up on. Good diet, good health. I do think it takes a sustained practice to see the changes: we get what we put into it!

Thinking a bit more about my anxiety/meditation issue, I think it may also be related to a more abstract issue of samatha versus vipassana. Given my personality, I find an open, Mahasi Sayadaw style of noting to be somewhat anxiety provoking. But if I treat the breath as primarily being concentrative first, in more of a Thanissaro Bhikkhu/anapanasati sutta method, then I find this much more calming. A focus on mental formations (and calming them) is then appropriate later. To me, this is in the same vein as calming the body with exercise.
Like you, I'm partial to breathing meditation. I just know I sometimes have to help the mind, holistically: make sure I'm basically exercising and leafy greens ;) Some of the difficult mental formations are just arising because of poor bodily conditions, and theses simple won't arise or they arise less with a healthy lifestyle. Further, one gets to deal with arising positive mental formations (which can be just as derailing!) -- and that can get into developing the jhanas, if one wants. So! Take care, emoticon

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/11/13 7:19 AM as a reply to Mike H..
then I find this much more calming. A focus on mental formations (and calming them) is then appropriate later. To me, this is in the same vein as calming the body with exercise.
I agree, and, Michael, I want to add another thing, because I am reminded of its importance by working on a teacher's materials this morning: joy.

Cultivating joy is a key part of the training. It is the second concentrated state (piti) in breathing mediation -- anapanasati.

So when one starts to take up the breath one follows it closely and -- especially if one is dealing with difficult mental states -- it's useful to sustain the thought/feeling of liking the inhalation, liking the exhalation. Just appreciation for the breath. If that appreciation is hard to imagine, one can trigger a positive regard for the breath by just starting with something positive and external: I like the sound of animals' breathing with they sleep, how they kind of purr and snore. So one way that has tripped my mind into taking up the breath with a natural smile is remembering that: animals snoring/purring when they sleep. :]

This joy is vital: the mind will, for better or for worse, pursue activities that are pleasurable for it. This is why, in my opinion, breathing meditation trains right out of the gate in suffusive joy, piti. In joy, the mind naturally and willingly starts to move into studying itself; the mind will naturally start to view meditation as a friend, a safe haven, even when very difficult thoughts arise and even when one wants to shy away from letting these difficult thoughts and emotions pass through without aversive obstruction or reactivity. I have not mastered this at all, but I am sharing my limited experience so far. And so even though I've made many mistakes, my mind is very inclined to stay with this practice and continually trying.

This is true with exercise, too: if we train in a gradual, friendly way, the mind and body are inclined to keep at it and to willingly take up new challenges.

And in both exercise and mediation, if there's taking up either with a severe or harsh intention, these are likely to be grueling and cause physical and mental injury, respectively.

Finally, for myself, I would just say it takes time, like turning a forest into pasture takes several seasons, years. Also, without regular intention, the pasture reverts to forest. So I am using these words to explain something, but I haven't mastered these things.


Okay, take care emoticon

RE: can moving up insight stages worsen social anxiety? am i near A&P?
Answer
1/11/13 9:13 AM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
In great agreement here! Contemplating animals breathing reminds me of the satipattanha (sp) sutta, referring to contemplating body internally and/or externally.