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Unable to Speak
1/4/14 5:03 AM
Hey out there,

Don't know where else to turn on this one and I can't seem to find any literature. As the title indicates, at certain points in my practice I run into territory where I seem to lose speech. I can pass air out of my mouth and make humming noises if I close my mouth, but not at the same time. If I try for a few minutes I can get a distant gasping sound. Not new exactly, but lately it has been more frequent and long lasting (previously less than a minute, now nearing an hour). My real concern is that I'm not able to pass it off lightly in front of others, which will cause problems for me if it continues to occur (relatively) unprovoked. I don't map much, but it seems like Dissolution to me. Does anyone know what I might be overlooking that's causing this to rise to the fore? I'd even prefer a more unpleasant manifestation. Practicing more only seems to depend the state, while stopping leaves me stranded. It seems like I need to go through, but this comes during a period when I have been trying to reduce the intensity of my experience. I'm kind of stuck here, unable to function either way I go.

Even just a confirmation of the experience would be comforting. This isn't a permanent part of anybody's path, right?

RE: Unable to Speak
1/8/14 1:16 AM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
Hi Paweł,

You're definitely right that I am very in my mouth (or at least the very back of the throat-mouth junction) when this is going on. However I can't say that this is totally entangled with wanting to control. Hesitantly, I would say quite the opposite. That if I let go, the connection between thought and speech just gets away from me leaving me stuck on one side or the other. Perhaps this is just another skill to learn. But as I mentioned, my concern is my inability to cover it up when it happens in social situations; were I alone on a hilltop I wouldn't care in the least. (Although I obviously still like to know that other people have gotten through the experiences I have intact.)

Anyway, I'm not really sure how to apply your second paragraph. I'm not interested in occupying any special role or space as it concerns the whole watcher-watched dilemma. That's been the theme for me lately, if that helps to indicate anything. Honestly, this situation seems to come about from some insight related to that very dilemma which I am touching - so to speak - but don't yet grasp, rather than a mistake as such… Not sure though! Normally just note it and move on, but this is a bit different sadly.

As an aside, if you don't mind a bit of cheek, I'd say it's actually quite a lot easier to do than say. Who knows how many people have figured this stuff out. Putting it into words is the most difficult hurdle I have ever come across, far harder than the practice itself. Practice is easy, self-contained, and with a fantastic work to reward ratio.

Getting back on topic… I appreciate your responding to me, but I was hoping for more specific help related to this inability to speak situation. My normal wait-and-see method works fine when it comes to many things which crop up along the path, but not this. It's already got some of my family & friends worrying, and I have nothing to reassure them with. Especially as it is happening, it is unhelpful if I am flailing in the attempt to communicate that it is not troubling to me that I am unable to communicate. If this is all desire-to-control, it's some very recursive stuff…

In the event I seem to have run away with your point and lost it, that's not my intention. Sorry if I did. I guess what really throws me for a loop in all this is that it doesn't feel like I'm screwing up. No more than the usual near-miss didn't achieve total yoga-butt enlightenment misgivings. It feels like when I 'finish' to use a really poor word, that I end up in this territory and it's really inconvenient. Thanks for reading.


Edit: Dark l's are cool.

RE: Unable to Speak
1/8/14 4:27 AM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
My normal wait-and-see method works fine when it comes to many things which crop up along the path, but not this. It's already got some of my family & friends worrying, and I have nothing to reassure them with. Especially as it is happening, it is unhelpful if I am flailing in the attempt to communicate that it is not troubling to me that I am unable to communicate. If this is all desire-to-control, it's some very recursive stuff…

I think you have not received many responses to this because it is very unusual. There are only a few reasons I can provide for why this is happening. One is that you are entering a very deep state of the concentration states or samatha jhanas which could potentially temporarily suppress thought (and perhaps verbal output). However, it doesn't seem from your description that you are doing pure concentration practices but rather are doing insight practices: Insight is always with some component of samatha and you could inadvertently be doing more samatha than vipassana. On the other hand, it would take a very pure, long duration, and high degree of samatha to achieve this kind of mental and verbal suppression. Are you experiencing thought suppression as well as an inability to speak or are you just experiencing an inability to speak?

Another explanation I can think of would be a form of what is called "psychomotor retardation" or catatonia due to some variant of mental illness or medical condition. A state of psychomotor retardation or even catatonia is very similar, in experience, to what can happen after exiting from a deep state of samatha practice though if it is from samatha practice then it is harmless, unrelated to any mental illness, and likely would not even trigger any catatonia or psychomotor retardation for someone who has experienced both. I think this explanation seems even less likely than the first unless you have some previous history of these things. See and

Another possible explanation could be that it is your own individual reaction to a certain insight stage and if you meditate past that stage then this problem will disappear. Let's say if you find that when you are hitting equanimity regularly and consistently and then the problem disappears then it may only be related to a particular insight stage.

RE: Unable to Speak
1/9/14 2:31 PM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
From a medical point of view, I was wondering some more things about you, such as age and TIA/stroke risk factors, as well as complex migraine history, etc. just to be sure we are still talking about something meditative and not medical, as sorting out which is which is not always easy, and attributing everything to meditation side effects sometimes misses other things.

If this is dharmic, I did have this odd thing where after my last retreat in 2003 it felt like I had two speech centers, one on each side of my brain, and they both would send a stream of word intentions to the speaking center, and these would sometimes be the same, in which case everything went well, and sometimes be totally different, in which case what came out would be a jumbled mess of the two sometimes and sometimes some odd synthesis of them that was different from both, but it was quite disconcerting at points, as it happened post-intention, as it were, so there was no real controlling it. It lasted a few weeks and gradually faded, but I still occasionally have moments when it happens.

Strange motor-control problems with the throat in general make me think of the stage of the Three Characteristics, 3rd ñana, and I routinely have had odd gagging when brushing my teeth in that stage, as well as some problems with my jaw being asymmetrically tense leading to TMJ pain, but I haven't had or heard specifically of not being able to speak for that long. Still, it might happen, as the dharma can do some pretty weird stuff at times.

Anything else stressful going on in your life? Any other effects meditation-wise worth mentioning?


RE: Unable to Speak
1/9/14 7:58 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks for the responses.

Tom Tom: I would be surprised if this was a consequence of powerful concentration. My concentration has been crap for months by my measurements. Not that I ever identified myself as someone with powerful concentration, but at some point it does seem to have turned into an 'always on' situation. Since then it's usually dull and broad (if not all encompassing), and yet somehow still very tied to my forehead and top of the head area. I try to take the advice of seeing it as 'concentration-as-it-is'. At any rate, insight is my goal and I just don't care about concentration except as a tool to that end. So I've always assumed my concentration to be poor, especially in light of some of the descriptions I have read which have always made me feel like a caveman with a rock while everybody else is tenured at CERN.

Your question is tricky, because I do experience thought suppression. The problem is that although the two seem related, I can't work out a solid understanding. Either can follow the other, both can happen at the same time, or just one. Gotta say it's pretty restful if they're both gone. It's like when that obnoxious aunt/uncle finally goes to get another drink - "Thank God!" One thing I can say is that neither occur without first losing the ability to move the grosser parts of my body (head, arms, legs) while still being able to move eyes, lips, that kind of thing. That said, once the thoughts or voice go, I can move the body again (although I rarely try). In my own mind, I figure it's just volition moving on a spectrum: physical-verbal-mental-'stuff past that'. More and more I feel it coming, but I'm at a loss to explain that feeling except as the product of experience. Is that helpful at all?

Looking at your wiki links, I can't say that I couldn't fit myself into either of those profiles if I wanted to... Certainly I get slowed thoughts at times (indeed comically, because I will seem to 'send' the thought at normal speed and then have to wait for it to 'play back' before I can continue) and some lack of responsiveness in the body following or during particularly long/intense meditation sessions. But I've always disregarded it since it's not really difficult to push through it - I just have no particular desire to unless I need to function. That being the real difference with the inability to speak: can't push through, do need it.

Certainly I've considered that this might be a temporary stage, but usually things get more severe before going away. Which isn't a huge concern, but I'd like to know I'm working on a solution if it persists. Problem is that I'm frankly abysmal at mapping. I don't consider that a huge handicap, but it makes it difficult to apply the sort of reasoning you outlined. Usually I just keep pushing forward. The problem, as I mentioned in my first post, is that presently more practice seems to deepen this particular manifestation. Currently the plan is to make more private time to deal with it and save a buffer to resurface afterwards.

Daniel: Stroke has been suggested to me previously, and I really should have it checked out more formally, but I just don't feel that it's a terribly likely thing for me. I've wondered previously if I wasn't mini-stroking, but at this point I would be at hundreds of such mini-strokes. I assume that would have given me some permanent impairment by now. I'm thin, 21, good blood pressure (if low), heart rate, take care of my diet, etc... Although there is history of stroke on both sides of my family, but not until late age. Of course if things continue I'm going to have some brain scans and a general physical just to make sure. On the other hand a large part of me would consider a stroke just another stage on the path, as all things can be as seen through a certain lens. I look at Ram Dass and think that he has grown extraordinarily following his experience of fierce grace, as he calls it. Not trying to belittle the suffering, just noting.

As for the migraines, I am unsure. I have rather strange sensations inside of and on the head which I identify with concentration, as I mentioned above (not that I can stop if I want to. I used to use alcohol as a brake but that has pretty much ceased to work - haven't had any success with resolutions or outright refusal to participate, it seems to just take that as another mode and continues in spite of me). Sometimes they will grow so severe that it feels like my head is splitting (or already split) open, other times somewhat pleasurable, but this I connect with previous experiences which were first in the extremities, then the lower body, then the spine, now the head. (I used to like kundalini as an explanation, but it doesn't really go from the bottom all the way through like it used to.) That the previous locations have passed as a focus in time has diminished my sense of urgency now.

Anyway, these sensations contain what I think are repressed memories as well as strange out-of-body experiences, impossible smells, visual hallucinations, complex or simple tones - that sort of thing. Not that they ever divide so neatly, just trying to give a feel for it. Attending to it/them leads to bodily twistings which have followed a similar up-and-out directionality. I also tend to jut my jaw forward without being totally aware of it. Interestingly, if I try to correct the jaw, it feels wrong and increases my discomfort substantially. When I try to apply this to the maps, it seems like I'm all over the place.

On the other hand, this inability to speak seems focused on the throat/mouth as Paweł quite correctly determined. Usually that isn't a major area of activity for me. The only other thing that happens there is when it sometimes feels like I'm passing a caltrop through my throat which emerges from one of my eyes as a rather continuous flow of tears (though slightly less salty). If pressed, I could say that I have had vaguely similar experiences with the other orifices (but without any fluid!).

I had a split hemispheres experience (as I call it) about a year and a half ago. Both had their own stream with pretty well defined difference in perspectives, but I was still in control of my speech and kept a separate sense of agency. Enough to comment on it as it was happening. Not at all scary or disturbing - at this time I was pretty into powers and felt incredibly powerful. It only occurred the once though. Didn't really seem related to the path as a whole to be honest, I tend to forget about it.

Stress is on a three-year low for me, following a pretty serious state of affairs and some rather dark suicidal times which has forced me to put my life on hold temporarily. Wouldn't connect that to this particular problem, as it only seems to start coming on when I am at least partially comfortable - a double-edged sword if ever there was one.

The length of this response really got away from me, sorry about that. Going to stop editing now and say that I'm more than happy to clarify if I missed the target.


RE: Unable to Speak
1/9/14 8:53 PM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
Don't have any related experience, but when googling I found this account:

They mention inability to speak and uncontrolled vocalizations as a side effect of a 'kundalini awakening' experience. As well as a million other symptoms.

In their case, at least, it did go away.

RE: Unable to Speak
1/10/14 2:52 PM as a reply to Daemon Shockley.

That's a pretty impressive and exhaustive list of symptoms. I think it could be vastly simplified if more attention was paid to the subtle connections between manifestations - but I usually rely upon the vast work already completed (well... maybe not completed) by various Buddhist and Indic traditions for that. Makes me wonder why they don't mention this one. Unfortunately, like the writing of most Kundalini experiencers, there's not a whole lot in the way of definite, clear practices like you can find in the MTCB and other dharmic works. Her tips for how to deal with it I've already been using. The problem is that they suffer from diminishing returns and take away from one's self-reliance. That's one of the primary reasons I have discarded kundalini as an explanation - it takes a lot of the credit from the practitioner and gives it to some separate ineffable force. Which is fine, but it's not my deal. Unfortunately the author also died some years ago so she isn't available for further questioning. Glad to see a confirmation of experience, though. Thanks for finding that.


RE: Unable to Speak
1/11/14 4:28 AM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
following a pretty serious state of affairs and some rather dark suicidal times which has forced me to put my life on hold temporarily.

If this were occurring in the context of "dark suicidal times" then I would probably attribute this experience to psychomotor retardation from the depression. In my experience, in an incident over eight years ago before I started doing any dharma stuff, depression manifested with psychomotor retardation as the only symptom though this occurred shortly after a state of depressed mood. Meaning the mood was depressed, but then several hours later when I became immobile, thoughtless (zero thoughts arising for hours at a time) and mute (unable to speak even when I wanted to) the mood became normal. This was likely due, partially, to the silencing of the thoughts and their negative mental patterns.

Given this experience, then perhaps it's possible for psychomotor retardation to manifest as a symptom of depression without actually experiencing the standard mood changes. You could be experiencing symptoms of depression but don't know it since your mood is normal. This is a theory I'm suggesting and it's possible it could be wrong.

One thing I can say is that neither occur without first losing the ability to move the grosser parts of my body (head, arms, legs) while still being able to move eyes, lips, that kind of thing. That said, once the thoughts or voice go, I can move the body again (although I rarely try).

This sounds pretty much like psychomotor retardation or a mild state of catatonia.

RE: Unable to Speak
1/11/14 1:46 PM as a reply to Tom Tom.
That's fair enough. I'm certainly not taking a defensive tack with your responses, honestly I appreciate you guys taking the time. I'm just verbose and I hope that's not coming across adversarially.

It will be extremely helpful to have a medical theory when dealing with concerned family and the like; thank you. For me though, and perhaps I expect the timing to be more neat than I have any reason to, but this certainly didn't occur in the thick of it. As I said before, it seems necessary for their to be a measure of comfort or acceptance in me at the time. If I reject it, it can't work properly: that sounds like esoteric stuff to me. I'll not claim to have a clinical understanding of depression, but what is depression without the affect of mood? More likely, if your suggestion is correct, this now is just a lull in the storm. Not a cheery thought as I'm not sure my strength is where it needs to be for that.

Interpreting this as dharma, which I'm going to even if this is depression, I don't know what to do. Usually there is a conventional lesson to learn that expedites the understanding of something deeper. There's lessons to learn from a paper cut, I don't see why that shouldn't apply here. A lot of dharma is very helpful by pointing out that lesson explicitly. I'm stumped. I mean, I thought I had "done" the not identifying as this or that function or part or whole. I feel like I'm talking myself in circles. Note it and move on?


Edit: Is it normal to get fourteen emails notifying me of your response?

RE: Unable to Speak
1/11/14 5:31 PM as a reply to Avidya Badhogong.
How many sensations related to this can you perceive to arise and totally vanish each second and what is the longest period of time you have maintained that level of investigation continuously?

RE: Unable to Speak
1/11/14 11:22 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hopefully a short response as I'm tired of feeling like I'm wasting your time.

If you mean lots of tiny particle-like sensations arising and totally vanishing every second independent of one another that's all the time in the hundreds, even during conversation. I attend to the 'colour' (visual component unnecessary); don't know if that's really noting, but it is staying with it in a continuous fashion. It goes for hours on end. Either I perceive at this level, or I perceive changes in the quality of attention that make it otherwise. However, these small ones tend to make up larger sensations which only rarely are composed entirely of non-existent sensations. The small ones are made of smaller ones, but I can't see all the sensations simultaneously at that level, which I feel important. Not that there's distinct divides between size, or that size is even really what I mean, but I don't know how else to put it.

If you mean while perception itself arises and passes into nothing as a whole all together, how many sensations do I perceive after each complete strobe I'd be pulling a number out of my ass. Lots and pretty poorly, but they all definitely pass away completely! I don't seem to adjust to the shift quickly enough yet before it's gone again. Yesterday I watched the whole thing go for what seemed like ten or fifteen minutes. To give a definite number I was sitting there for an hour and a half total. But knowing my bad judgement for time the true duration was probably five minutes or fewer. The more I think about it, it might have been seconds. I'm getting insecure here, but there were hundreds of frames - regardless of how long it went on. Full out, normal, full in, normal, repeat. In each of those normal frames, I'm sure that the above paragraph applies, but it goes too quickly for me to actually prove it to myself. The longest I've kept that going is four to six times that long; an hour in the first sense of time that I used.

This really sets my insecurities ablaze. If I'm just a crackpot, please let me know.