Is this the Dark Night?

Anonymous Coward, modified 7 Years ago at 6/10/14 11:41 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/10/14 11:35 AM

Is this the Dark Night?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/10/14 Recent Posts
Hi all,

(English is my second language, so my apologies for the occasional bad spelling and odd grammar.)

I finished my firt 10-day Goenka retreat early May after about one year of mindfulness meditation and reading MCTB. 

The retreat helped deepen and fine tune the practice but has filled me with some dark anxieties that further meditation practice does not reduce. Have I entered the Dark Night, without noticing the A&P? Or am I making a big deal of my "stuff" without progressing on the Path?

I'll try to give as much details as possible -- sorry if I'm a bit long. 

What happened during the retreat?
  • (Before): For about 2 weeks before the retreat, I had quite a bit of stress at work, culminating with a heated conversation with my boss the evening before leaving. We were not arguing aginst one the other: I was sharing some strong opinions things that I felt were not received enough support from higher management. The issue was that my boss thought everything was completely under control and so was very surtprised that I bring up the topic. 
  •  The first day, about developping basic concentration, went fine as I could very easily build on my previous practice. The mind wandered every now and then ; noting followed by gently focusign back on the breath ; playing around with the best sitting position, etc.
  • Second day fine, with a bit more "stuff" creating distractions. 
  • Third day: I could developped some good concentration during the practice sessions, as I actively wanted to "steer" my mind durign that time.  I could keep my mind on a single object for relatively long stretches of time. However I did create quie a bit of mental noise during the breaks : my stuff (quite a bit work-related, some on other personal issues) was fermenting and started to stink
  • Fourth ou fifth day: The meditation instructions shifted from Concentration to Insight (if I remember correctly). No major problem as I used to do body-scan meditations.  during one of the afternoon breaks, my "fermenting stuff" just exploded, but in a rather constructive way : I must have spent 90 min. doing, re-doing and refining a long to-do list of things I wanted to do after the retreat.  To note that the "mental postponing" to after the retreat really helped calm down my worries. Also, I did not have very strong emotions linked to all this worrying (ie, I slept and ate well; I was not angry, etc.)
  • Sixth day: Body scans became more and more "fluid" (ie, not stuck in a single place with no sensations), faster and maybe more precise. Big focus on impermanence / equanimity thoug it is difficult to say whether it "worked". Soon, I felt a "flow" of sensations, from top-of-head and down to the neck, then neck to fingers, left and right sides. That was agreeable but then again not a climax. Stable mind all along during the sessions (I think). Mind was wandering during the breaks.
  • Seventh day : Some difficulties to get really concentrated. Once concentration established, body scans mixed between the "flow sensations" on the parts of the upper body and "block" sensations on the lower half (esp. legs -- but that's linked to pain in the knee and foot I think). Difficult to judge how equanimous I actually was, but I was definitely more "balanced" and "stable" then on day 3 ou 4. 
  • Eigth day : Difficulties to get into concentration at the beginning of each session (I don't remember why). As above, insight meditation by observbing the "flows" and the rougher sensations. 
  • Ninth day : As above, with some added boredom, or maybe a feeling that there is no progress. Insight is insight; sensations are sensations and what's the big deal? Blurring the line between equanitmity and indifference? Getting some thoughts about being "stuck" in equanimity and not caring as much about the real world.
  • Tenth day : as above, with less pressure / more relaxed / ready to transition back to daily life.
What happened just after the retreat?
  • Not much of 1 or 2 days. Did a minimum of meditation as I'd rather spend time with my wife. 
  • Felt more relaxed / in control at work. I had a clear experience of what is meant by "no attachment" while still caring about stuff. That is, reacting wisely and not over-reacting. 
  • After 4 - 5 days, when looking at myself in the miror one morning, I was suddenly very very sad. Sad face -- almost a grimace. Borderline crying. It lasted 10 sec. before I realised I was surprised by this reaction. It just passed away. The sadness came back 4 - 5 other times over the following 1 - 2 weeks. Nothing since 
  • About the same time, with my wife in my arm, I spontaneously started "meditating" in the sense of focusing on the sensations and "observing" while we held each other. I could observe the emotional charge (I AM very much in love and feeling her was GREAT) but with a distance I was uncomfortable with.
What is happening now? 
  • As per the last item above, there are areas where my sensations are still "there" and I recognise the emotional charge -- but with a loss of attachement that is creating an anxiety of its own. for example
    • In a good restaurant.  I "recognize" good (even great) food and the associated pleasure -- but much less joy
    • Lower libido / sex drive. Very nice sensations without the "fire" or passion  ;-(   
    • Stand-up comedy -- I am amused but not do laugh out loud 
  • I stopped practicing almost entirely for about 1 month.  Some concentration work in the evening and some body-scan but that's more a relaxing technique before sleeping than insight
  • I am seriously starting to get anxious about my state of mind.  Not sure if it's Fear with a capital F and I function pretty well in daily life but I think I have changed something fundemental inside me

Have I progressed further than I thought and entered Dark Night without realising it? Am I just having some unconscious over-reaction to my "stuff" / "content" and need to have a loooong conversation with a shrink?

Your perspective and advice on how to deal with this, on- and off-cushion, would be most welcome --  


Thanks to all -- may you be happy --
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Eric M W, modified 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 8:08 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 8:08 AM

RE: Is this the Dark Night? (Answer)

Posts: 288 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Anonymous Coward:

  • Sixth day: Body scans became more and more "fluid" (ie, not stuck in a single place with no sensations), faster and maybe more precise. Big focus on impermanence / equanimity thoug it is difficult to say whether it "worked". Soon, I felt a "flow" of sensations, from top-of-head and down to the neck, then neck to fingers, left and right sides. That was agreeable but then again not a climax. Stable mind all along during the sessions (I think). Mind was wandering during the breaks.


The "flow" of sensations could possibly be A&P. A&P isn't always big or dramatic, sometimes it is fast and subtle.  If you can say more about the "flow" it would be helpful.  

Your current symptoms do fit DN descriptions.  Best advice is to continue practicing, sit with the negative sensations and note them diligently, accepting them for what they are.  
Anonymous Coward, modified 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 11:10 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 11:10 AM

RE: Is this the Dark Night?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/10/14 Recent Posts
Eric M W:

The "flow" of sensations could possibly be A&P. A&P isn't always big or dramatic, sometimes it is fast and subtle.  If you can say more about the "flow" it would be helpful.  

Your current symptoms do fit DN descriptions.  Best advice is to continue practicing, sit with the negative sensations and note them diligently, accepting them for what they are.  


Thanks Eric. 

When starting the vipassana body-scans, I could rather easily feel some basic senasation on every part of my body -- the touch of the T-shirt cloth, a bit of cold air, the points of contact with the cushion and the florr, etc. 

Quickly (second day of vipassana, IIRC), at the beginning of a scan cycle, I felt a "tingling" at the very top of the head. A bit like the "ants" one can feel in the legs when blood returns after being cut off for a while -- but without the pain / unpleasantness.  The tingling sensation was agreeable -- in the sense of "nice", not climaxtic. It expanded slowly from the very top of head to the neck in 10 - 20 sec (difficult to be sure about timing). Imaging warm honey poured on your head. 

I could recognise a "vibrating" feel too -- quite fast but not too fast -- 5-10-ish times per second ? -- actually I remeber thinking at the end of the session "Are those the vibration mentionned in MCTB?" -- Another interesting characteristic was that absolutely all areas of my scalp were sensing this and that it was slowly moving by itself.

This type of sensation stopped at the top of the neck / around the jaw and just below the ears.  On the nex and top of shoulders, just the "basic" sensation of clod / warmth / air / cloth. 

Tingling and flow on the arms, and occasionally torso -- A couple of times in the legs, but some pain in the knees and feet overwhelmed any subtler sensations. On a few occasions, I had that flow not only one the skin, but also "inside" the body mass. 

I'll take your advice to continue practicing and incorporate the DN sensations into the practice.  Better face the situation clearly -- but maybe not too fast / too frequently before I understans better how to manage the side-effects in daily life better. 

Many thanks -- 
Anonymous Coward, modified 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 11:15 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/12/14 11:15 AM

RE: Is this the Dark Night?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/10/14 Recent Posts
Paweł K:
Dissolution is lazy state, not that bad but without much energy to practice or do anything. If you had major bliss-explosions A&P then you would probably need 12 hours a day to to sleep and still be tired at Dissolution and rest of DN would be just hell...
I actually experienced a few weeks where I slept a lot -- no clue if that actually relates to the practice / Dissolution state. 
I'll re-check the section in MCTB ;o)

Paweł K:
as I get it you have family and important job, so maybe its actually better to take things slower? Layer by layer over time you will get there. Not most hardcore-dharma way to do that but not everyone can afford strong DN's that make people into easily irritable jerks... 

anyhow, do not stop practice now!. Its best to get through this with full mindfulnesses, otherwise some part of time and effort will go to waste and will have to be repeated again. This business is about countless cycles its best to get most from each cycle to not have to repeat them again.

Thanks for the advice -- I got into meditation partially to help with anger and stress management related to work, so I'm not taking risks on that front ;o)  
I'll try ontinued-but-not-too-intense practice incorporating investigating how those feelings turn into sensations and see how it goes -- 

Many thanks -- 
Anonymous Coward, modified 7 Years ago at 6/13/14 12:47 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/13/14 12:47 PM

RE: Is this the Dark Night?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/10/14 Recent Posts
Paweł K:
there is nice video Daniel made that talks about stages http://integrateddaniel.info/graphs/
periods when there is higher need for sleep might be related to dissolution, and probably less in further DN stages

Thanks -- I'll have a look -- 

Paweł K:
note I do not so much recommend to take slower as more lazy and non-practice kind of way but maybe less hardcore meditation obsessed way, like it was going to solve all your life's problems kind of way. Sitting eg. hour a day with clear goal of seeing sensations is probably better than sitting two hours a day but being obsessed with progress, struggling with ones mind and expecting god know what out of it without actually trying to just notice sensations.

Point taken -- 
I usually do not track progress nor think about it. The MCTB maps provide useful information and advice though I cannot easily make the link with daily practice -- it would feel too starnge to me to try to make a resolution along the line of "I resolve to sit for one hour inorder to reach the 5th Jhana" -- That sounds like a sure recipe for priming the mind to focus on content and not sensations. 
The one thing I AM actively looking for in practice is the ability to be present in the moment and get clarity of sensations.  In that knowledge and awareness I can detect upcoming "inappropiate" emotions and behaviours and react wisely (ie. I can stop myself saying stupuid things during business meetings!).

Thanks again ! 
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 7 Years ago at 6/13/14 4:25 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/13/14 4:25 PM

RE: Is this the Dark Night? (Answer)

Posts: 3226 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
It is common for sorting this all out to be tricky, when looking at big trends and large stages, but sorting out what sensation is going on right in each moment should be easier, and this will definitely do you better in general.

You probably are experiencing some Dark Night stuff, but, as you may have noticed, just as the A&P is not always dramatic, just so with the Dark Night stuff. You also probably got into some Equanimity there, I agree.

Each of these flavors (A&P, Dark Night, Equanimity) is likely to show up at points, so your best bet is just be with whichever one is showing up at that moment and just do your best to both investigate just what it feels like, what those sensations are, and also come up with skillful responses to what is going on. Getting fluent in each of them helps you master the territory, as each of them has some lesson to teach, some point of perspective to present to you that you can bring awakeness and skill to, so just realize that this is like an opportunity to see all sorts of parts of yourself and learn more about each of them and wake them up, like a tour of brain centers that you wire wakefulness and wisdom to as they present.
Anonymous Coward, modified 7 Years ago at 6/16/14 4:27 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 6/16/14 4:27 AM

RE: Is this the Dark Night?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 6/10/14 Recent Posts
Daniel M. Ingram:
[...] sorting out what sensation is going on right in each moment should be easier, and this will definitely do you better in general.
Indeed! 
I have spent a few hours this weekend reading again the Dark Night section(s) in MCTB and came to the simple conclusion that 
  • I experience the DN, likely past Dissolution and Fear, maybe past Misery / Disgust / Desire for Deliverance, possibly Re-Observation
  • That would be a "mild" case of DN, in the sense that, a) from an everyday-life perspective, I am not so depressed / irritable that I'll screw my life, and b) from an insight / spiritual perspective, I'm back to bein motivated to progress
  • Best course of action is to include the DN-related sensations into the practice.  not by obsessing about the DN, but rather to gain insight from all sensations as they arrise and pass away, including the DN ones without seeking them out 
Given personal circumstances, I anticipate I can practice formally for 30 min. to 1 hour a day. A 10-day retreat next year -- that 'Ill call Goenka plus Noting -- could give me a shot at Stream Entry. 

Thanks fo rthe advice, and, maybe more importantly, the renewed motivation.