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Dealing with the Dark Night

Something to understand about the Dark Night

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Hello,

I'd like to point something out quickly that might be helpful to people experiencing depression or negative mindstates.  While it's certainly okay to feel negatively and have existential crises while trying to develop your mind, it isn't necessary to push your way through these things or use them as meditation objects.  Put another way, you do not have to practice detachment or acceptance (etc) directly on all mental states to make progress.  The concepts in the progress of insight can be a double edged sword.  On one hand, they can give hope to people who have gone through A&P type experiences only to fall into a dark period and believe they have lost their way, but they can also encourage a masochistic kind of thinking, where it's assumed that you need to "go through the pain" to get to the other side.  Please drop this idea for your own sake.

Consider this carefully: staring at great mental pain and anguish is not meditation.  If you feel overwhelmed, it is not going to prevent progress to lean on a tranquility meditation and intentionally escape your problem for a while - it will actually make things go faster.  When you are overwhelmed, you are buried in what the Buddha always refers to with the word "ignorance" - you can't see what you're clinging to or how you're clinging.

This is something that I've wondered/worried over a lot in the past, so I thought I'd make this thread for anyone else who felt the same way and needed a prod in the right direction.  I got into meditation after having success using a kind of radical acceptance to go through negativity.  What got me caught up was that it would often work very well, and then I'd get stuck and it wouldn't work at all - instead throwning me into hellish negative concentration states.

So, if you are experiencing negativity, practicing concentration will actually show you how to let go of the clinging, since you need to stop clinging to concentrate.  After practicing this way, when the issue comes up in the future you will be more inclined to let go than you will be to cling, and your insights will come naturally rather than with "no pain, no gain" gritting your teeth and smashing your way through.  Clinging can be a brick wall sometimes - you just can't smash it down, you really need to use the gate.

I hope this helps anyone who's confused or has doubts about what to do.  The antidote for persistent negativity is tranquility - and tranquility is achieved by temporarily forgetting the objects we're clinging to.  Remove your attention from the negativity for a time.  When you go back later, as happens naturally after concentrating, you'll already have an idea what it means to stop holding onto it, and this will show you how to leave it be even while it's still within your awareness.

EDIT: Doing this consistently can also be a great confidence builder.  When you see the power you have over your own moods, you will be less afraid of strong emotions when they come up, and this will make you more willing to investigate them and let go of control and effort in spite of them.  Nothing will build equanimity faster.

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/21/15 2:30 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
Thank You Not Tao

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/21/15 12:59 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
My opinion is that the investigation of difficult sensations is a productive way to navigate difficult experiences. However, a meditator also has to recognize that if one is incapable of fully experiencing a sensation, it can reinforce the original reactivity to that sensation. So it's really a matter of being honest about one's capabilities. The fastest way to get past tough stages is to go through them, but it's also important to recognize if we are actually going through them or just spinning our wheels. This is when teachers and dharma friends are very helpful, because it might not be obvious to us at the time.

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/21/15 9:10 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
It is definitely possible to go through the Dark Night with no difficulties at all using high degrees of concentration, as he says.

The fire kasina, so popular as of late, is one example. It is possible with very strong concentration to pass from the red dot phase to the spinning red/yellow dot phase to the vague wide phase to the 3D luminous phase to Fruition all in realms of light and color and geometry and imagery without mental hiccups or difficultues at all. It does, however, take a degree of concentration that really takes work to develop and not everyone will be able to do this, it seems, though I still believe in the notion that this stuff is trainable with good instruction, support and effort.

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/21/15 12:34 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hey Daniel,

If you're just trying to escape a difficult mental states, I've found that a high degree of concentration isn't as necessary as simply forgetting about the mundain problems you're attached to for a while. I've seen you reccomend eating heavy foods or going out with some friends to distract yourself for a while - there is actually a meditative equivalent for this, kind of like a "quiet time" meditation. The essential ingredient is just moving the attention off of anything stressful and allowing yourself to forget about it. I usually use an object as an anchor for this (I just count breaths) but there is no real intention to stick to the object, it's just something to go back to when you notice yourself tensing up anywhere. It's possible to drop all stress without any real concentration built doing this - which is to say, after doing it I feel immensely better, even if there is no particular locking-in of focus. Jhanas come, but the whole thing is very quiet. If you're interested I made a thread about this a little while ago:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5666656

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/21/15 1:13 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Thank you very much for this thread. Getting through dark nights cleanly is really important for me because otherwise it makes it hard to hold down a job and have a decent life. I'd sort of worked this out on my own but very it's useful to have it explained explicitly.

So far my practice has mainly been watching and investigating flickering objects having first obtained a basic level of tranquility. The main way I control the 'intensity' of the DN stuff is to not to rush and try not to bite off more than I can chew so a complete insight cycle usually takes weeks or months. If I get stuck I use psychedelics to temporarily increase meditation abilities. I spontaneously get into deep absorption states quite consistently if I do a longer sit but I'd not really understood how to cultivate jhanic states until some of the posts recently, and I still can't do the "pick a jhana" thing even though I've completed quite a few runs through the cycle.

More practice needed! Now if only I could get the afterimage of that flame not to go scooting off to one side...

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
2/23/15 1:09 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
2 things that helped me that I worked on all through the waking day:
-Changing my attitude that I was some kind of 'victim' that had to suffer through this and that to advance, to an attitude that I was captain of my ship.  OK, yes I know that Buddhism often advocated that there is no 'I' or one should not think in that manner.  My feeling on that is that if you were at the point where there was no "I" then you would not be in dark night, but while still stuck in probs of "I" then why not use "I" to get out of the problems.  (what works at one point in the road is not always the same as what works in another point of the road)  End result is that I concentrated not on my suffering so much, a bit more on my reasons for suffering and a lot more on how to get out of my suffering and an attitude that I was going to do it. You get what you concentrate on, so for that reason, I don't suggest fixating on the suffering itself too much but more knowing there are ways out and a determination to keeping looking until those ways are found.  Determination was important for me.

-Observing self scripts and noticing how often they were negative, counterproductive, and often downright illogical.  This I think is part of what they mean by waking up.  We tend to walk around in a kind of a dream state of things we tell ourselves and program ourselves with every day without even being aware of it most of the time.  Part of waking up I think is shining light on all that stuff that was previously flying under the radar.

Anyway, I think that many commonly used psychological techniques can also be useful, cognitive behavior therapy, NLP, etc.  IMO, dark night is you dealing with your stuff and the human race has developed a number of methods to help with that, why not use more than one of the available methods?  Meditation is not the only way and not the only effective way, especially when you may only do that a few hours whereas life is happening all day. 
-Eva

RE: Something to understand about the Dark Night
Answer
3/7/15 6:30 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
idea:

Go to buy a car, set up a meeting place with the dealer, small testdrive, few jokes with the dealer, affection grows. But at some point you discover that you don't actually need a car. You somehow need to tell to a happy dealer(by now) you don't need one. 
By reasoning it will be easier to let go. If selfishness level is high you can easyly say no. But if you take into account dealers feelings it becomes harder and harder to say no.

something like that happens in meditation too(the complex multiple level stuff) but in your mind. Overcoming self can be and is painful, it requiers effort and your will. It takes skill and previous experience to see what is the case.

1.Suffering is not just suffering it is a word for a huge complexity. Also the self, can't point it and say not-self or that is impermanent. 
2.Suffering is a diagnose of a disease, but what disease or what is the cure, one needs to find out by himself. 

and once you overcome you see things in a new light and you can start all over again with more experience.