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negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?

I've been meditating for a few years now and met some of you at the Boulder Buddhist Geeks event.

Here is my difficulty: I can have a pretty clear experience of 'emptiness' of self or of objects walking around in day to day life. In some ways this is freeing. But I am seeing that this tends to overlap with asort of negative, existential emptiness that leads to more dissatisfaction. 

For example, I frequently experience avolition. Arguably this matches up with the theravadan tradition, which describes a gradual lessening of craving as you advance along the path.  I have certainly had avolition seem freeing in my daily life, because I wasn't craving anything.  But this can also be a symptom of a personality disorder/depression.  It has also been frustrating when this pops up at work and at times, even in my private life.  This frequently crosses into not really caring for/taking enjoyment from things I generally like.

Further, I frequently start to experience boredom and craving for intense experiences and feeling. Dissatisfaction with the hollowness of day to day routines. So the meditative practice is really starting to push into the sense of 'emptiness' that people with personality disorders might feel.

I feel this sort of disconnectedness growing between the calmness of my formal practice and the sort of boredom and craving that starts to crop up at other times because I am seeing things as more hollow. And I attribute much of it to the fact that the 'enlightened' experience of emptiness and the 'disordered' experience of emptiness have significant overlap.  I can go for extended periods where i am very contented and not craving things,  but at other times i feel strongly disatisfied, untethered, spontaneous, and needing need something dramatic and super awesome to be happening. 

So I consider myself a pretty functional, upstanding person, but I want to address this increasing disconnectedness. At the very least, I am dealing with some of my own baggage at this point in my practice. Maybe this is a symptom of being in a dark night.  Does anyone have suggestions?

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/9/15 6:08 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Well, I hear you on the avolition thing, that resonates with me.

For me I would say I tend to have more concerns about that kind of thing if I'm indulging a bit more in attachment to thought.  YMMV.  Along those lines:

The fact that avolition is a direction that is antithetical to mainstream society, I guess that is maybe something to look at "just in case", but does it really matter?  What if were absolutely, completely okay to just be?

When you experience boredom and craving, are you really aware and present in your experience of being alive in that moment and vipassanizing it?

But yeah, definitely some very adept people would fit into some depersonalized/derealized psych categories.  I would say that for me, it's all very okay, but there is certainly a great deal less attachment and meaning to things, and it has taken some getting used to.  For you, could be dark night, or psychology, or whatever.  I think a fair number of people report a long stretch of some stuff like this around MCTB 4th.

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/9/15 6:12 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Here are just some thoughts, with two disclaimers (1- I'm below third path, and 2- I dabble in AYP as well as magick/mental science, which are sort of unpopular here):

The process of perception IS reality because we can't know anything outside of it.  In other words, you now experience this reality as the process of perceiving emptiness.  But since that is ingrained/hardwired, how about experimenting with different perceptual processes that run parallel to this emptiness?  Specifically, I'm suggesting you DO intentionality/intentional thinking to shape your world.  Although scriptural Buddhism might have us thinking that there is no point other than getting off the wheel, I think there might be a parallel point that is co-occurring:  Samsara is really interesting and keeps getting more and more complicated/evolving.  The fact that we have sentience is really cool and shouldn't be taken for granted.

Pardon my quantum-fiddidle, but haven't experiments shown that a human eye causes the probability wave of an electron shooting through two holes to solidify and shoot through one hole as a particle instead?  To me that suggests that by looking, we are actually shaping our world.

In Zen they say that however long it takes to get fully enlightened, one will still need to spend at least ten years integrating it... Maybe this is part of what they mean by that integration. 

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/9/15 8:29 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Hey Mike,

Are you sure it's avolition and not an actual aversion to doing things?  Maybe, rather than seeing emptiness, you're still looking at samsara, except you've just changed your habits from moving to staying still.  Before, you used to find peace of mind doing specific things, indulging in specific sensual pleasures, working towards a goal to attain, and now, after spending a lot of time meditating, you find peace of mind doing nothing - does this sound right?

Emptiness doesn't mean everything is pointless, it means everything is effortless.  A possible solution to this problem is to do the things you don't feel like doing and find the emptiness of each feeling of aversion that arises.  These feelings that are coming up are just as conditioned as the cravings for sensual pleasures.

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Savatthi in Jeta's Grove, Anathapindika's monastery. Then a certain devata, in the far extreme of the night, her extreme radiance lighting up the entirety of Jeta's Grove, went to the Blessed One. On arrival, having bowed down to him, she stood to one side. As she was standing there, she said to him, "Tell me, dear sir, how you crossed over the flood."

"I crossed the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."

"But how, dear sir, did you cross over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place?"

"When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."


Perhaps right now you're staying in place and this is making you sink.  What is it about everyday life that is routine or hollow?  What is it about these big experiences that is going to fix how you feel?  This is all still conditioned reality, no?  The key is to be able to be active or passive without being distubed.  Imperminance means everything is unreliable, even the concepts we hold about emptiness, imperminance, anatta, and enlightenment.  Don't rely on staying in place or moving forward.

Oh, also, remember to note everything.  Haha, it's stupid advice repeated everywhere on here, but I'm starting to see it's rather true. emoticon

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/10/15 7:03 AM as a reply to Not Tao.
Emptiness...means everything is effortless- Not Tao

It means that even what appears to be effort or effortless is neither, containing neither anything that can be separated to be called "effort" or "effortless", that is not relational. It means  -every "thing" being a mental concept and relational- there are no things that stand apart, there are no things, and so effort and effortless are relational constructs that do not exist in the immediacy of experience. And yet, everything I just wrote is empty too, an approximation, and not the experience itself.

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/9/15 9:27 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Shinzen Young: "from advanced students, the most common question is 'how do I deal with the seeming negative consequences of the Void (Emptiness)?' ...the answer is focus on Positive" 

Regarding Emptiness:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=812I4KYLMF8

Focus on Positive:
http://www.shinzen.org/Retreat%20Reading/Focus%20on%20Positive-Summary.pdf

There's a longer version in his webpages.

Best of luck!

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/9/15 10:37 PM as a reply to Mike H..
It is possible upon seeing emptiness to be caught up in nihilism, as what we had invested in is seen to be absent of the redeeming qualities with which we had previously imbued it. The same is true for negative qualities. And emptiness is empty of the concept of emptiness. It is lived experience, neither positive or negative, but immediate and undivided, and without position, or relation.  These too are just signifiers, laying claim to a reality that does not contain them when experienced directly. Truly, the task of approaching this stuff through concept is beyond us, and there are only pointers, like The Heart Sutra, which seems the most perfect exposition of emptiness for those who have truly grasped the empty nature of reality, and truly absurd, abstract, and theoretical for those who have not yet had the insight.

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/10/15 9:25 AM as a reply to Mike H..
(damn, just composed a good response and it didn't save!  here is the shorter version)

i liked all the responses but marked Pablo's as the 'answer' to the thread, because Shinznen Young, respect!

I think there is a real adjustment to the feelings of contentment and avolition.  they are really counter-cultural in the most basic sense of that term.

i do like the description of effortlessness from the suttas.  that is probably down the road for me, but it is a good pointer.  i think that there is this surface level issue of 'avolition' just being a natural result of seeing that certain needs and wants are empty.  then there is a deeper issue that when i do act with intention, that intention should be seen as not-self.

also, i definitely agree that there is room now to say 'what positive thing do i put in this spaciousness, instead of all the crap and confusion that was here before'.  i understand the post about magick/intentionality as getting to this same point, basically.  i will need to try the focus on positive practice.

partly, i feel like i should go see my in-person teacher again.  it has been a long while since i've gone to a sitting with him, and he is just a good example and grounding.  i think that community, virtual or real life, is grounding.  i've been making progress mostly on my own but probably need to drop by at least DHO more often to help have a sense of integration and positivity.

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/12/15 1:57 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Hi Mike,
 i will need to try the focus on positive practice.


I like your post point. There's even aggitation/dissatisfaction after a lot of desire dissolves and perhaps in a mild cultural isolation (although I think there's not much isolation anymore with growing perspectives on enjoying/being with the present moment as causal to a worthwhile future moment/worthwhile inheritance for future generations of sentients).

At this place I think you're identifying is where, to me, what the Pali-calls "Brahmaviharas" are logical orientations/natural mental starting points of any action (whereas at the beginning of a practice "brahmaviharas" can be more like challanging/brief/doubted aspirations). 

Thank you.

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/10/15 9:42 AM as a reply to Mike H..
Here is my difficulty: I can have a pretty clear experience of 'emptiness' of self or of objects walking around in day to day life. In some ways this is freeing. But I am seeing that this tends to overlap with asort of negative, existential emptiness that leads to more dissatisfaction.
I've experienced this too. I think the usual prescription is to focus on the clarity aspect of emptiness. To get to the experience of emptiness, I spent a lot of time examining the contingent nature of things, which leads to seeing them as if they almost don't exist. This is nihilism, and it's a standard mistake. So, my working understanding of clarity is that it's a kind of rapture of experiencing the persistent dream-like, event-making aspect of awareness. In other words, despite having no intrinsic anything, appearances and awareness always arise together. Here's a quote from Dan Brown's book on Mahamudra (Tashi Namgyel speaking): 

"'The pracitioner with strong special insight may develop continuous mindfulness in such a way as to develop a subtle attachment to emptiness. In this case, no special insight is developed and pride is mistaken as emptiness.' Proper balance of staying/calm and insight... insures the correct realization of the simultaneous mind in a way that includes both... the natural mind's spacelike awareness as empty, and non-obstructed manifestations of appearances and cognitions as the natural mind's clear light."

Hope that helps some.




RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/12/15 12:00 PM as a reply to Mike H..
I have noticed something similar in recent years.  Things that used to bother me, either no longer bother me or barely bother me.  But on the flip side, things that used to please me, like my favorite things, just don't hold the zing they once did.  Not surprisingly, I am happy to not be bothered by a lot of stupid stuff that used to bother me, but not surprisingly, a part of my mind sometimes misses the pleasureable parts it remembers from the past.  But I think we tend to idealize the past and remember it as better than we actually experienced it at the time.  Like a difficult math class that we hated at the time but later brag about the horrors of it fondly.  I think the pleasure I felt seemed more intense because it was contrasted and a relief against the other half of me that more intensely felt negativity.  Now with the lessening of the negativity, the pleasure has less contrast and seems less amazing.  I am not sure it was ever that amazing though, just that before it was more of a relief to escape negativity.  But my mind remembers back and sometimes misses that extra good feeling component of the game, not thinking about the bad components that came with it.  Now with everything more even keel, the pleasure stands out less.  Also, I think that motivations I used to have are altering and becoming less intense, yes, I don't worry about stuff as much as in the past, and sometimes that was a motivator, so motivations are restructuring inside me and my reasons for doing things are changing.  Some things I used to think were important, I now no longer think so.   

One might realize that apathy and lack of drive are hallmark signs of depression.  However, I think we are best served by looking at the wider picture.  Those are signs that are often present in depression, and i do think it's a good idea to keep an eye on one's self, but they do not mean you are depressed or will become so.  To be depressed, you need to feel depressed, not just bored and irritated.  Personally, when i look at the big picture, although I have abandoned some pursuits and my motivations have changed on some things and I have certainly changed, overall IMO I am performing better than in the past, getting more of value done than before with less stress, and I'm overall in a better mood, ie NOT depressed although sometimes yes, kinda bored/irritated, but no longer much angry, depressed, feeling helpless, etc, things I used to feel much more.  So in the overall scheme of things, being sometimes bored/irritated is IMO better than my previous common emotions.

The more recent thing I have noticed is focusing on these kinds of thoughts of irritation and where they come from and how they develop and what they mean sometimes helps me get to a point where instead of everything being boring, instead everything seems all great and fun.  Like it all flips to the opposite of boredom.   There is this boredom but you can flip it to the antiboredom like they seem opposites but they are actually almost the same thing, like 2 halves of the same coin, separated by only a tiny thin line or a tiny yet profound shift in consciousness.  The experience is like a PCE type thing. I think the boredom thing is like a stage, part of self is still clinging to just the good parts of the old days (but forgetting the bad), but looking in another direction, better things can be found if you dig for them and find a certain way of thinking.   IMO the boredom is not depression, but still is itself a motivator to find the way out of the boredom and IMO going back is not an option (there was a part of me that wanted to go back but eventually I got over that for the most part), nor do I think that if you really thought about it, you would want to anyway.  If your path is at all like mine, I am betting the past was just not as fun as you may be casually remembering it!  ;-P   
-Eva

RE: negative effects of seeing emptiness in day to day life?
Answer
4/13/15 10:22 AM as a reply to Eva Nie.
Eva M Nie:
[ . . .] .  Some things I used to think were important, I now no longer think so.   

One might realize that apathy and lack of drive are hallmark signs of depression.  However, I think we are best served by looking at the wider picture.  Those are signs that are often present in depression, and i do think it's a good idea to keep an eye on one's self, but they do not mean you are depressed or will become so.  [ . . . ]

Thanks Eva.  This is definitely part of the feeling of emptiness that can swing in either a positive or a negative direction.  When craving loses its strength, then I am left looking directly at the emptiness of day to day life.  My incessant craving was really a distraction covering all of this up.

For example, I used to be a bit of a 'foodie'.  I still like good food, don't get me wrong, but there isn't much drive to search out new food experiences like there used to be.  It seems fairly vapid now, like it would take a serious effort to go and get excited about some food cart or craft beer.  (That very sentence seemed laughable as I wrote it).  I am getting to be a lot more apathetic.  To the extent I still drink, it seems more like a dependency than something interesting or valuable.

As a general matter, I enjoy this change and it is much better than how I used to live.  It is definitely freeing.  I don't like to set up these big mental pictures/stories about how awesome some experience will be in the future, or how much I want it.

But at the time I wrote the original post for this thread I was definitely feeling more agitated.  Like I was frustrated with the lack of excitement, and the lack of diversion from seeing emptiness everywhere.  There was this deep feeling of agitation, that seemed like craving, or being upset, but wasn't actually tied to any specific need.  Thankfully I don't always feel that way!

I am interested in your description of taking a close look at feelings of boredom and seeing them go away/transform.  Or your comment that boredom may be a stage.  Personally, I am guessing that if I could meditate twice a day that some of these feelings would diminish.  I don't feel bored after doing some concentration practice, even though my mind is quieter. 

I believe Joseph Goldstein said 'if you are bored, you aren't paying close enough attention.'  I always hated that quote for some reason.  But maybe it's true.