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Sensation
Answer
11/17/13 5:46 PM
I was wondering if anybody else had a similar experience, and also where they would place it on the progress of insight.

The experience is feeling like you are dying. Not thinking you are going to die, but feeling as if your brain is being suffocated or fried. Like your brain is drowning. And I'm not talking about a subtle sensation. I'm talking about an 8-10.

If you've had this experience, do you have any idea what it is?

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/18/13 2:40 AM as a reply to J !.
Howdy J I,
its a little tough for me to get a clear handle on the sensation(s) you're describing. The FEAR of dying is a common theme but not really a sensation. When you describe your "Brain" are you describing the physical organ or are you conflating that with your mind and / or thought processes? When you describe your brain as "drowning" I think you are coming closer to the description of the real sensations.

Does drowning mean a "flood" of thoughts or thought fragments which crowd out other thoughts? Is it a physically perceived pressure, pain, vibration, dizziness, disorientation?

Is it all unpleasant? If so what is unpleasant about it?

cheers

tom

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/18/13 11:16 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
Hey Tom,

Thanks for answering! I'm not talking about something on the thought level. It's not like I'm thinking, "I might die because..." I'm am talking about a physical sensation. It's like my brain was in a vice grip, and everything that I am was being snuffed out. The more I observed the sensation the closer I came to total obliteration.

I remember asking a monk about it he seemed to find it normal and said something like "You will know what death is like, but you won't die."

Thing is, I've always wanted to find some writing about the experience, but never quite have.

J!

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/19/13 1:14 PM as a reply to J !.
J,

First, of all, I want to express my empathy for your experience, it's a tough one. I feel for you because I have also had a lot of physical manifestations during my dark night. Although these manifestations are experienced physically, they are actually manifestations of consciousness being expressed through body sensations, muscle tension, and movement. There were times when I saw my body to be de-composing in to ashes in front of my open eyes, and times when I was utterly convinced that I had stopped breathing and was going to suffocate to death. Finally, I have experienced all kinds of extreme physical pressures felt inside my body. If the pressure is painful and solid feeling, then it's stage 3. If the pressure is moving around, squeezing or expanding, etc. Then it's one of A&P, fear, misery, disgust, or re-observation (squeezing in a vice grip sounds like re-observation to me). If you are caught in fear, adopt a tough guy attitude and basically dare the fear to get even worse. That resolves it faster than anything else I've tried.

One thing I've found very helpful if physical symptoms become too intense is to lie on a soft mattress and let my whole body spontaneously shake for as long as it needs to. This really tends to calm down the feeling of extreme internal pressure.

Another strategy that I've adopted recently is based on the realization that consciousness can express itself through any modality. Since body pressure and movement is a particularly unpleasant modality often, I've worked to transfer the expression of consciousness to the inner visual field (mind's eye). Here's how to do it. When you begin to experience a physical symptom like cranial squeezing, focus on this while also consciously resolving to experience this very same sensation in the visual field. You might, for example start to see a hard rock being bashed repeatedly into your skull or something like that. Go with the imagery that comes naturally, and don't worry that it's "really" happening (it's not happening on the physical level). Just watch it and try to to dissolve the visual image into impermanence, and non-separateness. For example, if you see a rock basing into your skull, you'd watch attentively and notice how the rock keeps moving, and the "camera angel" won't stay still, that's impermanence starting to show up. Also, if the rock breaks the skull up into little pieces of bone and flesh (more impermanence), keep watching the little pieces until they turn into ash or insects or something like that, and then finally, keep watching until those little things until they dissolve into flickering particles. This might look like a bunch of little balls appearing and dispersing, or fluctuating waveforms, or TV screen static or something like that. Then you'll really be at the bottom of it, and you can go back to observing the bare sensations. In terms of the third characteristic, you might see the rock fall to pieces and sort of merge with the broken pieces of the skull. Also, sexual imagery often shows up in the mind's eye when you focus on the third characteristic, sometimes this may be disturbing, but again, go with it and focus on seeing it as a manifestation of the third characteristic.

Those are all just examples. You'll see what you'll see, but that gives you a sense for how it goes.

Best of luck, keep us updated.

Avi
Toronto Spiritual Direction

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/19/13 2:58 AM as a reply to J !.
Howdy,
So you are talking about a mix of physical and mental sensations and I would guess that Avi is right in that you are probably experiencing post A&P stuff. Have you had a clear A&P experience?

As to how to deal with things like this there is the basic instruction of "keep doing what you've been doing that got you here". After that the exact instructions seem to fall into two camps. The one, which Avi describes colorfully above, is to bear down and follow these sensations to the bitter end. The other is pretty well explained by Vimalaramsi in his 6Rs teaching which basically entails noticing the tension and specifically / intentionally relaxing into it.

Te monk's advice to you sounds good too. Don't sweat it, you'll get through it, keep going.

Have fun,

tomh

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/19/13 5:38 AM as a reply to Avi Craimer.
Avi Craimer:
J,
Since body pressure and movement is a particularly unpleasant modality often, I've worked to transfer the expression of consciousness to the inner visual field (mind's eye). Here's how to do it. When you begin to experience a physical symptom like cranial squeezing, focus on this while also consciously resolving to experience this very same sensation in the visual field.


@Avi,
I just read this again and, while my skills at visualization don't apparently come close to yours, I have also used this method myself without having named it nor having the descriptive abilities to elucidate it. Cool.

@J, If I were to characterize the feeling tone of the two different directions (Avi's or Vimilaramsi's) I would characterize Avi's as the bold, jump-into-the-fire method while the big V's method 'shrinks back from the flame and slow-cooks.

In any case good luck.

RE: Sensation
Answer
11/19/13 1:37 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Tom,

I just read this again and, while my skills at visualization don't apparently come close to yours, I have also used this method myself without having named it nor having the descriptive abilities to elucidate it. Cool.


Glad to help. Visualization has saved my butt during dark night cycles more times than I can remember, although it has taken a long time for me to get so clear on what was actually going on with that. It helps to study Jung, shamanism, and other maps to the meanings of symbolic imagery. That really helped me chill out about the often disturbing nature of the symbolism.

@J, If I were to characterize the feeling tone of the two different directions (Avi's or Vimilaramsi's) I would characterize Avi's as the bold, jump-into-the-fire method while the big V's method 'shrinks back from the flame and slow-cooks. In any case good luck.


In terms of that, in my post, I emphasized the direct approach. However, in light of your comment, I feel I should add that going for the 3 characteristics right away and following them to the bitter end is not always the best approach in my experience. In fact, it can be more than a little traumatic at times to just keep digging deeper. Frequently, I'll get to a point where some imagery reveals itself that is particularly interesting, disturbing, or wondrous and I just stop doing vipassana and go into content engagement. There are a lot of dire warnings in Daniel's work about not getting "lost" in content, but I'd say that there is an equally problematic tendency of some mediators to get "lost" in impermanence. The important thing is to be able to go back and forth between dealing with the content and dealing with the pure sensation and to be aware about when you are doing one thing and when you are doing the other. Far from being at odds with each other, in my experience, skillfully working with content facilitates breakthroughs in my meditation practice, and vice versa. There some nice discussion of this in Jack Kornfield's book A Path with Heart, in the section on healing.

There are lots of great ways to work with content through contemplative work, but the methods are different from either vipassana or Jhana. It's a whole other skill set. In the example I gave, rather than just dissolving the rock and the skull, you could ask, "what is this this rock bashing into my skull?," then you might see a figure holding the rock, and begin speaking with the figure. The figure could be a spirit guide, or a demon, or a person from your life or your past. There are different responses appropriate to each of those cases and it's often by no means clear how to proceed. The figure might tell you that you need to "open your mind to new possibilities" or it might tell you "you're a worthless slug that deserves to die," clearly, the skillful response would be different depending on which of those things the figure said. In the first case, it might involve bringing awareness to some intellectual hangup that is no longer serving you. In the second case, it might involve standing up for yourself, and bringing a fierce protectiveness to that part of yourself that feels so vulnerable and filled with self-loathing. Over time, working with such content using methods from wisdom traditions like alchemy, shamanism, and depth psychology, you develop a really strong intuitive feel for how to work with different types of stuff, although there is never a simple formula for it.

Best of luck J, let us know how it goes.

Avi
Spiritual Direction