sudden surge of fear

Cam cam Cam, modified 11 Years ago.

sudden surge of fear

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Hi,

I've recently started meditating with some concentration practice. I stare at a golf ball (favourite object!) for a while, then close my eyes and continue to pay attention to the imaginary golf ball. Then when my mind just starts to drop into a quiet state (which happens fairly suddenly), fear arises just as quickly and ruins it. Actually it's more like a surge of panic. The panic has no thoughts or images attached to it, so I don't really know what it's about, but if I had to guess I'd say it's like a feeling of "not existing" or impending death. It's frightening and of course it ruins my practice. Any ideas what is happening here? Thanks.

CCC
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Florian Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Cam cam cam

Welcome to the Dharma Overground.

I don't think your practice is "ruined" by this. I'd take it as an opportunity to investigate, and treat it like an exercise the universe or the Dharma or whatever gives to meditators sometimes. So when the fear arises, since it's already happened, why not look at that surge of fear more closely? Where is it located, how long does it persist, does it grow or subside at this moment, etc? Does it have a spatial feel to it, and if so, how wide is it, how deep... Does it vibrate or beat in some way? Is it just unpleasant, or are there some exhilarating harmonics to it?

If you'd rather stay with pure concentration practice, maybe changing the object will help. With the breath, for example, there can come a point where the breath sensation becomes very hard to notice, and fear of drowning or suffocation can set in. One thing to try in that case is to be aware of the whole body, or of the sensation of sitting.

Useful?

Cheers,
Florian
Cam cam Cam, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Hi Florian,

Thank you! The surge comes and goes very quickly so all I have time to do is try to protect myself from *death* (since that what it feels like), and it's hard to have the presence of mind to just observe it. In waking up, it goes away immediately, so the only after effect I can observe is a pounding heart, but I usually just pay attention to my physical body just to reassure myself I'm still alive and real. I really feel like something terrible could happen if I let go into it, but I guess it can't....can it?!! emoticon It would be much easier if it came on more slowly and gently so I could watch it for a while.

The other thing that may have some bearing is that I've had quite severe depression for 20 years, and that's the main reason I'm starting meditation.

I will try a different object as you suggest. And I'll try to let the feeling happen without interrupting it, but I'd like some reassurance I won't actually have a heart attack or something awful.
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the prisoner greco, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
you (almost certainly) won't have a heart attack or something awful.

florian's tips are good.

further advice from someone who's been there: learn to develop a taste (an appreciation) for the fear-filled experience without getting addicted to the rush of it. there are some good insights and hints in there.

tarin
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Tom Carr, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 128 Join Date: 2/17/10 Recent Posts
I really feel like something terrible could happen if I let go into it, but I guess it can't....can it?!!


Nothing terrible happens. This is a common experience. That doesn't make it any less frightening. I like all the advice other people have given you so far.
Cam cam Cam, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Thanks everyone for your replies. Certainly good to know it's a common thing.

I've just read Daniel's foreword from his book and it states that before starting you should have your psychological stuff pretty much together before beginning. So here's me with 20 yrs of depression - I wonder should I even be doing this? Then another part of me wonders whether I am in the grips of a 20 year dark night, but then again I've only just started, so how could I be at that stage? I'm busy reading as much as I can on this forum and the book. I guess it will gradually start to make sense.

Any further input greatly appreciated, particularly from anyone who started meditating to help fix their depression.
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Bruno Loff, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
CCC this is exactly my case: I had severe depression for about one year, all the usual symptoms of long-term clinical depression and some unusual symptoms (derealization and mild hallucination). I started doing meditation hoping it would fix it, and although it took many months, and two very intensive 10-day retreats, I finally got to stream entry, four months ago, and haven't been depressed since.

I don't know about you, but my periods of depression where interspersed with short periods of euphoria. These are also gone. Interestingly, it seems that the good things about euphoria remained (such as vitality, joy, enthusiasm, concentration), and the bad things went away (such as arrogance and eagerness).

I learned a lot about physical and emotional pain, particularly what it is exactly and what it is for. I learned a lot about fear, also. You might discover that fear is something which I we habitually "add" to whatever is causing the fear. I.e., there is some experience X, and then, because it is unusual, or because we feel loss of control, then we react and produce fear. We say that it is "fear of X," but really it is just X and then the fear we add to it.

You could try to do the following exercise, which is what I do to deal with fear: you approach the matter of your fear repeatedly, and try to see how fear arises but it is something different from that which causes it, and then try to calm it down, gently. E.g., try to get into that state which causes you fear, knowing that it will arise and that it WILL cause you fear again, because it is a habitual response. As fear comes, change your object of meditation to fear, see it arise as soon as possible, and try to calm it down, relaxing it as you would a muscle, without letting it overwhelm you. If it begins to be overwhelming, stop going deeper, get up and walk around a bit. There will still be residual fear. Now focus on this residual fear, calming it down. See, it is not so bad! It is just fear, and it is NOT the sensation you where having that caused the fear. So they are two separate things. As soon as you're back on track, repeat the whole thing. Now you are in more familiar territory and have something to do specifically for fear. It will be less scary.

One thing which you should be aware of, is that you should never be afraid of fear. I mean, if fear gets to be overwhelming and stays that way for a while, then you might start thinking "Oh my god it isn't going away, why isn't it going away?!," thus becoming afraid of fear; this causes even more fear, which will feed on itself into a panic attack. You don't want that to happen, so if fear got TOO overwhelming, walk it off in the park or in the living room or with a friend, and try again another day. Don't push hard! Don't strain! If you do, you risk worsening the habitual fear response, and then you'll be worse off than when you started.

With my meditation practice, I was able to see fear arising earlier and earlier in the process (it starts in the belly, where the adrenal glands are located), and learned to calm it down before it escalated. Now I understand that fear is something that is "added" to experience, and by understanding that no good will come from it, I just calm the fear down and let experience do what it wants. I find that with ongoing practice I became able to let more intense things happen without becoming fearful. This is an ability one develops through contemplative practices.

But the most interesting outcome is not that you will become able to let unpleasant stuff happen and be ok with it, what will really blow your mind away is when all the beauty, which was being blocked out along with the bad stuff, starts slowly seeping in.

I recommend meditation to anyone I know :-)
Cam cam Cam, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Hi Bruno,

Thank you. I do something similar to what you describe at the moment, just that I can't get to the point of seeing the thought attached to the fear - it's still an ugly blur that hits me. The best I've ever had was an image that I thought came on just after the fear but it disappeared as I tried to look at it. You do say 'try to calm it down' about the fear, however I have heard some say try to 'feel it in its fullness'. Do you try to calm it down so that you can then feel some control over it, and thereby feel less overwhelmed by it?

I'm really encouraged you got such a good result with your retreats and it gives me some hope that I can maybe do the same.

Cheers.
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Bruno Loff, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: sudden surge of fear

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Well "feeling it in its fullness" can be very hard if the fear is very strong. If it is just mild fear, then it isn't hard at all. The "calming down" the fear corresponds to something I've learned to do to prevent having panic attacks, which I haven't had since I've learned how to calm it down. It works by focusing on the source of fear, and relaxing it, as if you would whisper to a child "it's ok, everything is ok".

I do it because I don't like fear, and I don't find any value in keeping it. I mean, suppose, for instance, that dissolution was getting very intense because of meditation. If I become fear-striken, dissolution still happen, and the intensity of the experience will become even less manageable. So what is the point of feeling fear in this situation? If it was unavoidable, what the heck, but if one knows how to "calm it down," then so much the better.

I have to admit that I'm not much of a meditation cowboy. In retrospect, I learned many valuable things during my depression, such as compassion for other people's suffering, perspective on how what seems bad outside is most of the times really bad inside, etc. But I would prefer not to be again depressed, if at all avoidable.