Really scared

Will, modified 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 6:51 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 6:50 PM

Really scared

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/14/14 Recent Posts
Hello, I am really freaked out about some Dark Night issues right now and I could really use some help. I have never posted here before, but I came across this website by accident a few months ago when I was trying to find out what the hell has happened to me. My meditation practice started off strong about a year ago, and I was having many blissfull, still moments of mind. And then all of a sudden it was as if I could no longer meditate. Every time I would sit down my mind felt like it was made of porrige. It wouldn't stay on the breath and when it did out of sheer will power it only lasted for about 20 seconds and then would run off somewhere else.  Anyway, after a period of about three months of this, I started having the feeling of near-constant anxiety, with periods of just full blown terror. I am not interested in anything anymore and I can barely work, partly because I am so anxious, partly because I cannot focus on a damn thing. Everything that I have read about the DN from MCTB convinces me that I am somewhere in the dukkha nanas, but it feels utterly overwhelming. I just want it to end. I just got up from laying in a ball in my room begging Buddha to make the pain stop and I realized...maybe I need to do something about this. So I decided to post on here. I have read numerous other posts that are very simliar, so I apologize if this has already been answered. I am just freaking out so much. I don't know what to do. I have tried noting practices all week, and for some reason I find them terrifying. I have never read anything in any of my Dharma books that explains this. I don't even know what I'm afraid of. Anyway I could really use some hope right now. I am scheduled to go on a 10 day Goenka retreat next week, and I am really afraid that it will make things worse and that I will flip out. Sorry again about the repetetiveness of this post and thanks in advance.
M C, modified 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 10:47 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 7:15 PM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 116 Join Date: 2/27/13 Recent Posts
First thing that comes to mind: You can find some comfort in knowing that other people have been there and passed it. So it is temporary, like all things. And we have some knowledge about how to get through it. Make sure to read up on the suggestions given in MCTB and the discussions here. But the bottom line is just sitting and observing.

As for what makes it easier, in my experience metta meditation helps a lot. Also group meditation makes it possible to sit when it isn't possible otherwise.

And the attitude of "surrender" is helpful.

About the 10 day Goenka retreat. I was also in dark night (I still go back and forth) when I went to my first 10 day retreat last December. I also had anxiety and fears. They blew up during the retreat. I had an pretty bad panic attack. It was a very difficult and traumatic experience. I don't think it was entirely a good idea for me to do it at that time. 

I don't want to scare you more but 10 day in isolation is a difficult thing as it is. Moreover people in there don't have a clue about how to deal with people with anxiety. If you are feeling really scared now in the comfort of your home and with all the distractions, you can be sure that they will get more intense when you are in isolation.

If I was doing it again I would hold off the retreat. Just my two cents as someone who has been meditating for 2 years or so, deals with anxiety and has been through the dark night stuff and still goes back and forth.

I hope I didn't add to your fears. I just thought I should share my relevant experience.

My suggestion would be to work on strengthening your concentration, mindfulness and presence. Don't rush things. Be patient.

-------------------------------------

As for hope, sure there is a lot of hope. Look at all the people here who are dealing with or have dealt with the same stuff. They understand what you are going through. Some of them have seen the other end. There is a lot of compassionate, helpful and supportive people here. Make use of it. 

There is a guy who mapped this thing about 1500 years ago. How cool is that. It is known territory. Or at least we have some idea. You just need to sit down and observe. Observe that these things are impermanent and impersonal. 

You are getting to know what suffering is. The more you see it for what it is, the easier it will become.

Important thing is you need to stop wanting to get out of it. Desire is a big hinderance. Surrender is a better attitude.

Find a meditation group in your area.

Exercise, eat well, be in good company, be kind to yourself.
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 10:44 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 10:26 PM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 1656 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Acceptance is important in the practice but make sure you're still noting.  Try and note with bare awareness first before the note and don't exclude any experiences like "analyzing", "strategizing", "doubt" etc.  You're trying to notice enough detail so that it looks like there is no self but cause and effect instead.  You can note intentions and then actions.  All forms of thinking are allowed.  Sometimes just having people be completely normal and let go of clinging is good to simplify the practice so noting isn't too mechanical.  Let your attention go where it wants to and focus more on noting it than stopping it.  When you realize that your mind wandered you're already back so there's no need to have extra aversion to a wandering mind.

Next make sure you welcome all sensations because habits will come out of your unconscious and trying to block them with more thinking/noting is more aversion. When there's no mindfulness the habitual impulses will likely guide you to the same thinking and acting behaviours you've done in the past.  Maintaining awareness (in a gentle way) and by not clinging/ruminating/fixating/obsessing you can notice that those impulses (positive or negative) extinguish on their own and don't require any repression but instead waiting and patience.  It's like waiting for it to naturally pass away while staying with the body.  You can feel if you like or dislike a thought in the body that's why in Buddhism it's treated as 6 senses instead of 5 to be mindful of.  When the impulse passes away on it's own it should feel like the brain resets into a non-reactive normal state.

In the dark night (which is really just withdrawal symptoms because we are addicted to the chemicals triggered by our thinking and perceptions of objects), it's good to block out all thinking and develop a concentration practice to reduce agitation.  You see this as a steadying move in the 7 factors to awakening.  It's a temporary action but it can reduce the clinging and you can return to the insight practice.  Have faith and belief that it will pass because these bouts feel like crap when you're in them but when they disapate on their own your new baseline habit of equanimity is becoming stronger and stronger. When you see the relief happen on it's own you can trust on patience.

So some ways to avoid trapdoors:
  • Maintain awareness without examining it. Notice any aversion connected to the intention to pay attention.  That's a clue that there's some aversion to thinking you don't want.  Paying attention should be an understanding that the consciousness (knowing part of the mind) is already automatically registering experience (including thinking) so nudging awareness to the objects of investigation should be gentle and have little strain.
  • Everything has the flavour of the impermanence (emptiness is another way of saying the same thing).
  • Everything is cause and effect including your meditation practice.
  • Allow fast thinking to arise and don't cling/repress/ruminate etc on it.  Thinking has to be allowed otherwise it's just a temporary concentration practice.  With time and practice seeing thinking as it's happening is easier.
  • Do not view appearances as being deficient (eg. have preferences but don't hold/cling/repress/ruminate on them)
  • When you're not clinging to preferences the thoughts that naturally happen simultaneously arise and pass away.  This is what makes thinking okay but at the same time not hurt.  Thinking is so highly manipulated in meditation because when it goes negative we start having aversion to thinking.
  • If you welcome thinking impulses and elaborate and add on to the skillful ones and let drop the unskillful ones then there's less need to rein in thinking like reining in a horse. Everything is letting go if you don't cling to anything.  Studying Right Effort should be useful here and is very similar to classic cognitive therapy.  When you look at the word effort it should be more about consistency than forcing and straining. Gentle consistent effort.
  • When welcoming impulses try and relax the body because fight or flight responses tend to tense the body and the tense body can continue to feed negative thoughts.  This is because vedana (pleasant, neutral and especially unpleasant sensations) triggers craving or aversion which in turn triggers clinging/complaining thinking/fixation/obsession/rumination.  To explain clinging look at how the mind quickly dislikes a situation with perception..."this is bad", but then it goes into a story "this is bad because, because, because etc".  That "because" in the repetative stories is clinging.  The brain can cling all day if you keep feeding it.  Instead of repressing it you can just stop feeding more becauses and the last impulse will die on it's own.
  • As you put into place these practices (which is less a doing and more a letting be) you should eventually see equanimity and eventually develop a strong habit of it.
  • Summary: Don't repress, don't cling, relax muscles, and don't measure/rehearse/examine/self-reference over awareness or the practice instructions.
I've been through the dark night and it's just temporary waves of withdrawal symptoms but you should look into those negative feelings until you see some freedom hidden in there.  You're becoming less addicted to your habits.

Hopefully that helps you!

Metta,

Richard
Will, modified 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 11:15 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 11:15 PM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/14/14 Recent Posts
Thank you both so incredibly much. Just hearing back from someone makes all the difference in world. I feel so much more confident. I will reconsider whether going on retreat is something that I am up to at this point. After I read both of your posts, I sat down and just followed the breath for a little while. It was relaxed and calm and the fear from earlier seemed to have definetley dissipated. Sorry about my freak out earlier, I suppose it was a long time coming. Thank you again to both of you, just knowing that this experience is in a sense normal and inevitable and that other people here have dealt with it helps so much. 
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Jenny, modified 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 11:52 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/14/14 11:52 PM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 566 Join Date: 7/28/13 Recent Posts
Hi, Will. When I was going through this same terror (February till June), my only way of coping was to back off insight/vipassana practice completely and stick to "calm abiding" breath meditation and loving-kindness (metta) practice. And, as mentioned above, sitting with a group somehow makes the energy so much more supportive and gentle. I had a really rough two DNs in a row, and I didn't practice much at all through them, maybe only 30 minutes per week. But that didn't stop me at all from getting to low and then to high equanimity. 
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finding-oneself *, modified 7 Years ago at 9/15/14 1:49 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/15/14 1:49 AM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 253 Join Date: 1/7/14 Recent Posts
Will:
Thank you both so incredibly much. Just hearing back from someone makes all the difference in world. I feel so much more confident. I will reconsider whether going on retreat is something that I am up to at this point. After I read both of your posts, I sat down and just followed the breath for a little while. It was relaxed and calm and the fear from earlier seemed to have definetley dissipated. Sorry about my freak out earlier, I suppose it was a long time coming. Thank you again to both of you, just knowing that this experience is in a sense normal and inevitable and that other people here have dealt with it helps so much. 
Hey will. I'm glad you found the help you need. This place really is amazing for dealing with this kind of stuff. And no need to worry about posting a "freak out", we need those posts. They keep it real so people know the full range of what can happen from meditating.
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 9/16/14 5:44 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/16/14 5:42 AM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
Hey Will,

I don't have time to read through the whole thread right now, so I'm sorry if I'm just repeating things here.

It's important to realize that anxiety and emotions always have a reason for existing.  My personal theory on the dark night is that meditation increases concentration, but it does not resolve problems.  So what happens is, as the mind becomes more focused, even very small problems that you used to forget about very quickly are focused on and this creates rumination that leads to powerful and terrifying emotional states.  The advice on this forum - to stick with sensations no matter what - is a kind of brute force way of dealing with things.

There is an easier way through, though.  My advice would be that, the moment you notice any kind of desperation in your desire to get out of an emotion, you distract yourself.  Go play some games, go for a walk, do something physical.  F orget about the sensations completely.  Then, once you've calmed down a bit and aren't obsessing, examine what caused the emotion to find the cause.  There is always a cause!  After you understand the cause with a clear mind, try to notice when the cascade effect is starting again in the future and take your atention off of it.  The dark night is rumination, so break ruminations as soon as they happen.

Now, at a specific time you set aside (this is important - call it you self-therapy time or something - don't do this throughout the day, just at the special time) perposefully bring up these issues and visualize yourself accepting the most negative outcomes you can imagine.  It's important to realize that the fear DOES have a cause.  Don't just say you have no idea where it's coming from, that's just giving your mind an excuse to suppress things.  If you can't think of anything, assume you're afraid of terrible pain and death, and imagine yourself calming walking to a firing squad or getting into a car accident.  If this makes you agitated, stop for a moment, take a few deep breaths, and try again.

This works, please try it.  There's no need to blindly stare at horrible sensations.  The key to getting through any anxiety is to learn to trust yourself and feel confident that you can deal with the things your imagination presents to you.  Right now you are afraid of your imagination, and you are afraid of the sensations themselves.  By visualizing yourself actively dealing with the worst you can imagine, it will allow you to let go into spontenaity because you will trust yourself.  This is the direct path to mental stability.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 5:15 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 5:15 AM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Lots of good advice here already.

Notice that the sensations of fear can't hurt you. This is a really important thing to just check out.

Consider opening your eyes, sitting in the room, noticing the room and your body in it, and just notice that the part of the room where your body is has some sensations of fear and that is ok, as it can't actually do anything bad at all, so you will be ok.

The room is safe.
The body is safe.
The sensations of fear are totally safe, totally non-toxic, just more qualities of what is going on, like colors, like the textures of a small part of the space in the room, that is all.

Being an adrenaline junkie (remember, I work in a trauma center ER), I actually find Fear really thrilling and enjoyable, like a good horror movie, like a good roller coaster.

Try to appreciate that perspective, as, just like a horror movie and a good roller coaster, nothing is actually happening that is going to hurt you, so you can enjoy the thrill, the charge, the juice of that fear and really get into it if you wish to and be just fine.

Thinks to play around with and think about and enjoy the adventure of,

Daniel
Will, modified 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 10:26 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 10:26 AM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/14/14 Recent Posts
Thank you all very much for your help. It did not occur to me that the Dark Night is a period of rumination but now that I think about it I totally agree. Most of the time the fear is about the future, whether or not I have been a good person, am going to hell, am going to come back as a spider monkey, i.e. pretty useless but nevertheless frightening thoughts. My mind has always had a tendency to go to these places in the past, and whereas six months ago I could effortlessly drop the thoughts and return to breathe meditation, now its seems like its in complete overdrive. I think I am having a hard time believing that Stream-entry is possible for me, but maybe that's just more rumination. And taking a break from the rumination and doing something else like going for a jog sounds really, really good. 

I will put the advice given here to good use and let everyone know how it is turning out for me. I think that I will still go for the 10 day retreat starting next week, because I am feeling more confident and would really like this Dark Night night crap to diminish. I hope you guys  know how much it helps to be able to talk about this stuff -- I haven't been able to really express to the people around me what the Dark Night is like, so it is very reassuring to have everyone's help here. Thanks again everyone.
Will, modified 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 10:31 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 10:31 AM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/14/14 Recent Posts
By the way Daniel, as soon as I started looking at the anxiety in my stomach as something enjoyable and thrilling and not unhealthy, I felt calmer almost immediately. This is something that had not occured to me to try.  Thank you and everyone else for all of your help.
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Not Tao, modified 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 6:21 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 9/17/14 12:28 PM

RE: Really scared

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
Will:
It did not occur to me that the Dark Night is a period of rumination but now that I think about it I totally agree. Most of the time the fear is about the future, whether or not I have been a good person, am going to hell, am going to come back as a spider monkey, i.e. pretty useless but nevertheless frightening thoughts.


You can resolve those thoughts by asking yourself a simple questions. Can you trust yourself? If you answer "no", then those doubts are why you believe you need to hold on to your fear. At our core, we are all "good" - the things that cause us to be malicious or sad or angry are aquired traits we use to protect ourselves. If you trust yourself and allow your actions to come from spontenaity, you can see in real time that these "feeling" reminders aren't needed. It brings relief to take your trust away from anxiety and put it onto the spontaneous core of your intellect.

If you ask yourself, "have I been a good person?" Resond with, "will this question help me be good in the future?" Someone who is tense and anxious is likely to take out their feelings on other people. Instead, by being relaxed, you will be likely to be kind and generous. You don't need to be anxious about your morality because it doesn't help you be more moral. You are perfectly capable of pondering the merits of any action without fear of those actions, and without fear, you can more easily decide what will lead to your goal - being a good person.

If you ask yourself, "am I going to hell?" You can respond with, "does asking this keep me out of hell?" This question will just make you anxious, and that anxiety may cause you to do things you don't want to. There's no need to be afraid of hell if you're a good person, and the easiest way to be a good person is to be content and relaxed. There is no purpose for the anxiety you feel, so you can safely drop it, walk away from it, see it as useless. When you think about hell, consider the best attitude that will keep you out of it. By feeling contentment, you will not do anything that will lead you to hell. Thus, feeling contentment becomes the goal.

The best way to be content, is to trust yourself and trust the ultimate benevolence of spontenaity. Trust the core of who you are - a happy and harmless human being.

As for being a spider monkey, their lives don't seem so bad, eh? Haha