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Dealing with the Dark Night

Just stumbled into it..

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Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/10/15 10:47 AM
Sorry for the wall of text. If you can't read the whole thing just skip to the questions at the end emoticon Any answers are greatly appreciated!
_________

Some background 

I'm 19 years old, currently studying Computer Science in a highly ranked university. My intention is not to brag but to give some background into my personality -- the overly intelligent, difficult to fit in type of person. Being an overachiever, I formed very few genuine relationships throughout my life. In my teen years I went through a period of depression where all I did was avoid people, force myself to study for school and for math competitions, and binge watch TV-series -- for 3 years. In my senior year I started smoking weed and at the time that was the best thing I could've done for myself. While the weed didn't miraculously help me learn how to connect to people, it gave me hope that it is possible to feel good, and it allowed me to fit in, however superficially, into a group of smoking buddies. With weed I also got the first I've-met-god type of experience, where my thoughts were racing so fast that in 10 minutes I deconstructed my ego and learned more about myself than I had in the last 18 years. The result was a state of mind that lasted about 4-5 days, where everything was going great, there were no feelings of shame, anxiety, depression, guilt, etc and life was just amazing. While I didn't get there again by smoking weed, the experience left a powerful seed that eventually brought me to where I am right now.

How I got into meditation

I got into meditation completely by accident. I was bored, having just moved to a new country, and missing weed I decided to dabble with meditation as I had read that it provided similar benefits. Long story short, I read Mindfulness in Plain English, got very interested and started practicing, and somehow in 2 weeks I got into a state of mind that felt better than anything I had experienced before: heightened awareness to the point that I could read others' body language and manipulate my own, very strong concentration, noticeably increased memory and ability to learn stuff, genuine joy and love and compassion for others, incredible charisma, feelings of invincibility, etc. Although it didn't last more than a few days, it left a very strong impression on me and I continued with meditation, thinking that if only I could get it right I could stay in that state of mind forever. I practiced for about 10 months, although not very skillfully as I had no idea why it was going well at some times and not so well at others. Despite the setbacks, my outlook on life started to improve significanly and things started going well. Soon I learned about the Goenka vipassana courses, and signed up immediately, naively thinking that it would make me progress towards being in that state more consistently.

Other related experiments

In addition to mindfulness, I also experimented with concentration meditation for a few weeks. It felt amazing, but the results were just too scary and it became obvious that I could abuse the "power" and wind up on dangerous paths, so I decided to quit until I do more research. In the meantime, I discovered LSD and tripped twice.

The dark night

Very excited, I went into the retreat and I gave it my 100% for the first 8 days. Then during one of the strong determination sits, something happened. I wasn't sure what exactly at the time but there was a strong feeling of there-is-no-going back as soon as I stood up, even though there was nothing wrong with me at the time. After the retreat, even though there were obvious positive changes, soon enough I knew that something was wrong. The symptoms are not as extreme as some of the descriptions I've read, but there are horrible feelings of being frightened, disconnected, doomed, and sad for no reason. In addition, I feel stupid, remembering things is difficult, and my concentration is off. While I've accepted that there is no going back, I have certain questions about the choices available to me at the moment. 

My questions 

1. I've noticed that my mood is not always bad -- it shifts between terrible and better-than-normal. I think I read somewhere that the bad phases won't be as bad if I don't indulge in the good phases. Could you elaborate on this? How exactly do I avoid indulging in the good phases? Is running and boxing OK to do in either of the phases?

2. Meditating vs not meditating: Right now my priority is to be as normal as possible -- being in an overly-sensitive, don't-care-about-anything, overactive-observer mode is not very conductive to studying. On the other hand, I'm afraid that if I stop meditating I'll 1> lose the ability continue to meditate, and 2> go into full-on madness mode as I won't be able to separate myself from the negative feelings and see them for what they are. Would you recommend for me to stop meditating completely, do body-scanning vipassana (how much would be optimal?), or perhaps try working on metta or concentration meditation? Will concentrating on the breath while running make the symptoms better or worse?

3. How will insight meditation impact my intelligence and learned skills, both in the short term and in the long term? Is the feeling of being dumber permanent? I'm studying Computer Science so I need as many of my reasoning abilities as I can get.

4. Stream entry. I read that it's the only way to get out of the dark night. How long would it take me to get there with persistent daily practice? Would a 2-3 month retreat somewhere in Asia be enough?

5. After stream entry: what will my life be like after stream entry? Will I be able to connect to people, or enjoy travel, sports, arts, casual sex, exciting activities, and just do things I've always wanted to do? Will I still be able to have a desire to make money? Will I be able to learn new things? Will the feelings of inadequacy and isolation from the dark night disappear? My biggest fear at the moment is that I'm destined to turn into a boring monk, although that might just be the dark night talking emoticon

6. Reading resources! I hadn't read much about meditation before, but it's painfully obvious that I'll have to do my research if I'm to get out of this. Where would you recommend I start? I'm interested in learning as much as I can about different insight and concentration practices in order to make informed decisions about how to continue my practice. 

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/11/15 1:29 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Your post resonated with me, as I´ve just asked myself the same question if I should stop meditation altogether for a while to avoid too much instability. Happy to pass on some of the advice I got and and give some answers based on my own experience.

My questions 

1. I've noticed that my mood is not always bad -- it shifts between terrible and better-than-normal. I think I read somewhere that the bad phases won't be as bad if I don't indulge in the good phases. Could you elaborate on this? How exactly do I avoid indulging in the good phases? Is running and boxing OK to do in either of the phases?
Generelly I try to fully experience the positive moods in the sense of being aware of them and trying to memorize what it feels like to be happy etc. That can help in difficult times to have easier access to more positive mind states. I wouldn´t necesarily call that indulgence, though.
As for physical activity, I would guess that that´s always helpful.

2. Meditating vs not meditating: Right now my priority is to be as normal as possible -- being in an overly-sensitive, don't-care-about-anything, overactive-observer mode is not very conductive to studying. On the other hand, I'm afraid that if I stop meditating I'll 1> lose the ability continue to meditate, and 2> go into full-on madness mode as I won't be able to separate myself from the negative feelings and see them for what they are. Would you recommend for me to stop meditating completely, do body-scanning vipassana (how much would be optimal?), or perhaps try working on metta or concentration meditation? Will concentrating on the breath while running make the symptoms better or worse?
I would recommend and have been recommended myself to do concentration and metta meditation. It´s useful in any case. If the negative emotions get too strong or interfere too much with life, you could limit or stop anything insight-related for a while. It´s a bit of a balancing act of how much insight you can take without being thrown too much off balance. At some point, you would have to continue with Vipassana, though, to get to equanimity and stream entry.

3. How will insight meditation impact my intelligence and learned skills, both in the short term and in the long term? Is the feeling of being dumber permanent? I'm studying Computer Science so I need as many of my reasoning abilities as I can get.
Personally, I don´t feel that I am losing any intelligence. Rather the opposite: The more inner freedom I gain, the more I can focus my skills and not get distracted that much by personal stuff, insecurities etc.. You may become more intuitive rather than rational, though, which I guess even in computer sciences can´t hurt.

4. Stream entry. I read that it's the only way to get out of the dark night. How long would it take me to get there with persistent daily practice? Would a 2-3 month retreat somewhere in Asia be enough?
You could also try to work with a teacher where you live or per Skype. I could highly recommend Ron Crouch (www.alohadharma.com)

5. After stream entry: what will my life be like after stream entry?
Life is likely just going to continue, just be a bit freer, better and nicer emoticon And you will probably want to continue with mediation...
Will I still be able to have a desire to make money?
At some point, you may not find it that important anymore to still be able to do so ;)
Will I be able to learn new things?
Yes!
Will the feelings of inadequacy and isolation from the dark night disappear?
The negative emotions that are directly related to the dark night will disappear. However, I think that very often the DN amplifies psychological issues which exist anyways. Some of these may disappear with stream entry (that happened to me) and some will still be there (happened to me as well) and will continue to produce negative emotions.
My biggest fear at the moment is that I'm destined to turn into a boring monk, although that might just be the dark night talking emoticon
I never heard of anybody becoming boring through getting closer to enlightenment ;)

6. Reading resources! I hadn't read much about meditation before, but it's painfully obvious that I'll have to do my research if I'm to get out of this. Where would you recommend I start? I'm interested in learning as much as I can about different insight and concentration practices in order to make informed decisions about how to continue my practice.
See e.g. Daniel Ingram´s reading list: http://integrateddaniel.info/book-list/

Good luck with it all!

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/10/15 1:51 PM as a reply to John Doe.
Hi John,

I did CS in a highly ranked university too!

John Doe:
1. I've noticed that my mood is not always bad -- it shifts between terrible and better-than-normal. I think I read somewhere that the bad phases won't be as bad if I don't indulge in the good phases. Could you elaborate on this? How exactly do I avoid indulging in the good phases? Is running and boxing OK to do in either of the phases?

What I would suggest is, regardless of what mood/emotions are going on (good or bad), stick to your regular schedule as much as possible. e.g. if it's lunchtime, and you are experiencing the purest form of terror at the intense ego-assault-deconstruction you are inflicting on yourself, go to lunch regardless and don't act out the terror or do anything "weird" (i.e. that which others would consider weird, like yelling out that nobody in the room really has a self). This will serve as a natural limiting effect - you won't take the emotions so seriously.

John Doe:
2. Meditating vs not meditating: Right now my priority is to be as normal as possible -- being in an overly-sensitive, don't-care-about-anything, overactive-observer mode is not very conductive to studying. On the other hand, I'm afraid that if I stop meditating I'll 1> lose the ability continue to meditate, and 2> go into full-on madness mode as I won't be able to separate myself from the negative feelings and see them for what they are. Would you recommend for me to stop meditating completely, do body-scanning vipassana (how much would be optimal?), or perhaps try working on metta or concentration meditation? Will concentrating on the breath while running make the symptoms better or worse?

1> It's a skill. Just like any other skill, if you stop for a while you may get rusty but then you can just pick it up again.
2> You may want to consider that the meditation/whole approach is actually causing the negative feelings. Thus if you stop meditating, there won't be those negative feelings that you will then want to separate yourself from. I don't meditate now - nor do I experience dark night symptoms - but I remember well the feeling that "I must meditate or the dark night will eat me". But yeah, no meditation, no dark night (though it's more than just not meditating, it's also no longer going down the entire path that meditation is just part of).

John Doe:
3. How will insight meditation impact my intelligence and learned skills, both in the short term and in the long term? Is the feeling of being dumber permanent? I'm studying Computer Science so I need as many of my reasoning abilities as I can get.

Certainly experiencing intense negative emotions, agitation, frustration, etc., will make it difficult to do anything requiring intelligence. It definitely makes it hard to program! I don't think it permanently affects your intelligence, though - as in your capacity to do things. i.e. when the intense negative feelings are not occurring but you are instead in a good mood, intelligence should function normally.

John Doe:
4. Stream entry. I read that it's the only way to get out of the dark night. How long would it take me to get there with persistent daily practice? Would a 2-3 month retreat somewhere in Asia be enough?

It's not true. There are dark nights after stream entry (the dark nights of the later paths) and they can actually be worse than the ones before (now you have more rope to shoot yourself in the foot with (I know I mixed those analogies =P)). According to MCTB, you have dark nights for the rest of your life, they just don't bother you as much after 4th path. So you would have a long way to go in order to go 'through' (i.e. through dark night, equanimity, stream entry, then more dark nights, more paths, more cycling, etc., all the way out the other end, where there are still dark nights at the end anyway) as opposed to 'out' (i.e. back out of this path now, in favor of an alternate one (the 'real world' approach isn't ultimately satisfying either) while it's still relatively easy).

John Doe:
5. After stream entry: what will my life be like after stream entry? Will I be able to connect to people, or enjoy travel, sports, arts, casual sex, exciting activities, and just do things I've always wanted to do? Will I still be able to have a desire to make money? Will I be able to learn new things? Will the feelings of inadequacy and isolation from the dark night disappear? My biggest fear at the moment is that I'm destined to turn into a boring monk, although that might just be the dark night talking emoticon

The connect/enjoyment thing seems sort of unrelated to where you are on the paths. It may be easier to enjoy, it may be more difficult (more dark nights). You may be more sensitive to other people.

John Doe:
6. Reading resources! I hadn't read much about meditation before, but it's painfully obvious that I'll have to do my research if I'm to get out of this. Where would you recommend I start? I'm interested in learning as much as I can about different insight and concentration practices in order to make informed decisions about how to continue my practice. 

If you have the patience, I'd recommend you read this long post which has a lot to say about Buddhism and the modern takes on it (which Goenka is a part of). I summarized the contents of it in this post on this forum.

Cheers,
Claudiu

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/11/15 10:42 AM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
You might consider exploring another method. My interest has been to learn to disembed from phenomena. If I have a negative emotion, I want to fully experience it but to be OK with it. Every day I use the Mahasi Sayadaw vipassana meditation method to disembed from the usually minor things that come up when I meditate. For instance, my knee hurts. I watch it and I am OK with it. Slowly over years this ability has expanded to more intense emotions. But, I have a long way to go.
 
Vipassana meditation also enables me to deconstruct phenomena into its parts. Shinzen Young, has an interesting way to put it. Say I get angry while driving a car when another car cuts me off. That anger could have as components, a physical sensation, thoughts about the other driver’s lineage, the action of giving him a finger salute and an image of that car in a wreck. Shinzen says each of these four could have a force of 10. Without mindfulness, the total force of this anger is 10*10*10*10=10,000. But, if one can experience each part, the total force is 10+10+10+10=40. And, if one can disembed and not react to each part, the total might be 2+2+2+2=8 or even 0+0+0+0=0.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 5:32 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Re reading resources: Though a humanist by training, I've noticed for me the most useful meditation instruction to come from people with some background in the (neuro)sciences, particularly Shinzen Young, Upasaka Culadasa (John Yates) and Gary Weber. Each of these dudes has decades of experience with various types meditation, and are able to express themselves in secular and easily understandable, yet precise and thorough ways.

The most practical text by Shinzen that I've come across is his free pdf, Five Ways to Know Yourself. Culadasa's best is The Mind Illuminated, which even the founder of this forum - himself the author of an amazing meditation book - praised as being the best meditation manual ever. Culadasa's best free text that I'm aware of is Progressive Stages of Meditation in Plain English, which might still be split into several pdfs. Weber's main text is Happiness Beyond Thought.

Each of these guys also has plenty of meditation instruction on YouTube, but I feel their texts are more practical.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 7:53 AM as a reply to John Doe.
re: John Doe (10/10/15 10:47 AM)

Well expressed description of your situation; and many good perspectives, tips from other answers so far offered. I'll add a bit more as to meta-process, or call it heuristics.

"…it's painfully obvious that I'll have to do my research if I'm to get out of this. Where would you recommend I start? I'm interested in learning as much as I can about different insight and concentration practices in order to make informed decisions about how to continue my practice."

1) Look for a teacher
-- on one-to-one level (in person, or skype, or …) Lots of good starting places mentioned here: Guranatana, Daniel Ingram, Richard AF, Mahasi Sayadaw, Shinzen Young… Everyone, naturally, recommends their own teachers, which I will do also, with a twist…

1A) consider Thanissaro Bhikku's (Than-Geof) article ("The Power of Judgement")
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/power_of_judgment.html
which deals with how students and teachers find each other, and evaluate whether the relationship is working or not.

"When the Buddha told Ananda that the entirety of the practice lies in having an admirable friend, he wasn't saying something warm and reassuring about the compassion of others. He was pointing out three uncomfortable truths — about delusion and trust — that call for clear powers of judgment. The first truth is that you can't really trust yourself to see through your delusion on your own. When you're deluded, you don't know you're deluded. You need some trustworthy outside help to point it out to you."

"…second uncomfortable truth:
You can't open your heart to just anyone. Our powers of judgment really do have power, and because that power can cause long-term help or harm, you have to take care in choosing your friend. Don't fall into the easy trap of being judgmental or non-judgmental — judgmental in trusting your knee-jerk likes or dislikes, non-judgmental in trusting that every dharma teacher would be equally beneficial as a guide. Instead, be judicious in choosing the person whose judgments you're going to take on as your own."

"…the Buddha's third uncomfortable truth…:
You can't be a fair judge of another person's integrity until you've developed some of your own. This is probably the most uncomfortable truth of all, for it requires that you accept responsibility for your judgments. If you want to test other people's potential for good guidance, you have to pass a few tests yourself. Again, it's like listening to a pianist. The better you are as a pianist, the better your ability to judge the other person's playing…."


1B
.  Another metaphor: When choosing a college / university for undergraduate study, you might use a broad-based search algorithm, multi-dimensional in both problem-space and solution-space. I

This case (finding a dharma guide) however, is more like searching researching for a PhD graduate program, finding a mentor – an outstanding teacher of successful PhD candidates in your area of interest. The PhD mentor carefully selects students who are bright enough, trustworthy (character) and motivated, such that the teacher feels confident in teaching more or less everything he/she knows, because eventually the student replaces the teacher. The Western classical academic tradition, like monastic traditions, survives by lineage passing -- essentially an oral, one-on-one system.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 8:03 AM as a reply to John Doe.
"Would you recommend for me to stop meditating completely, do body-scanning vipassana … or perhaps try working on metta or concentration meditation?"

2) mindfulness, vipassana, concentration, samadhi, etc.

A key point in Than-Geof's thoughts (earlier post above) on judgment (and all his teaching) is the continuous evaluation of experience, of intention and effort – sati / mindfulness. I bring this up because it was touched upon that there's something distinct, even conflicting, between insight (vipassana) and concentration (samadhi). It's forgotten (or not recognized) in this interpretation that concentration, samadhi, jhana, as used in G. Buddha's teaching is always fully infused with sati, with mindfulness. Scanning the sutta-s,the word vipassana always occurs paired with the words amadhi.

The confusion is understandable, in terms of historical perspectives:

a) The jhanic meditation states were already well-known from Vedic, Brahmanic practice tradition in the context the Buddha inherited. In this prior usage* samadhi was a sort of using bliss to temporarily suspend suffering, as anesthesia, so to speak; and full liberation was thought to be achievable only at death, with merging of this blissfull state into Brahma, the True Self (to s/w simplify).

* As researched and demonstrated on many fronts. For instance Alexander Wynne's book The Origins of Buddhist Meditation.

b) And this notion, of nivranna as blissing out, is deeply ingrained in the Western mind, from the 1960's or so when the initial major influence of the new-age generation came from exposure to Indian Hindhu sources. Deep understanding of Buddhist sources, and exposure to a braod range of competent teachers came about later, and the earlier impression still prevails.

A crucial aspect of the Buddha's radical insight was that the use of hardcore sati / mindfulness, in the development of concentration and insight together, is key to the solution, the kind of liberation, in this life, that he found.

A teacher at a recent retreat (Ven. U.Jagara) gave an interesting related perspective (relevant perhaps to John Doe's kind of questions here): If you're not clear as to aim, direction, what exactly to do, he said a key technique is simply cultivation of careful observation (sati) – watch closely your experience, what you intend, what you try, how it works out. This will, with persistance, gradually come upon clarity, perspective where further direction and effort become self-evident. Similar to that development of judgment as evaluation that Than-Geof speaks of.

This approach can make a difference in dealing with negative moods and phases John Doe mentions. Having a steady resource of mindfulness skill helps avoid getting helplessly carried away with them, can transform them into learning experiences.

I interpret the advice in Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem's initial paragraph ofresponse as also (implicitly) suggesting this kind of monoriting, mindful observation to help steady one's behavior no matter what going on inside. Also seconding his 2nd paragraph of advice: "It's a skill. Just like any other skill… ", like the piano-playing metaphor Than-Geof uses, or the observation practice U. Jagara described. "Practice makes perfect", whether it's some formal meditative endeavor or just living daily stuff attentively.

(btw: In naming a file directory to hold downloaded copies of Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem's suggested links, I noticed, for the first time (duh?), that that curiously long name abbreviates to the alphabetic string "BCDEFG" -- and the "A" missing at the beginning would be something like "Actual"?)

Even the cultivation of samadhi/ jhana, or the brahmavihara meditations (metta etc., which are concentration practices), are intense mindfulness practices – constantly watching and evaluating what's happening – though not as verbal cognitive processing. Good will, compassion, empathic joy are not wallowing in emotive states as much as intensifying vivid, limitless awareness of those qualities pervading consciousness.

"Vision and Knowing" --Concentration (keen vision) enables insight (clearly knowing).

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 9:38 AM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:
(btw: In naming a file directory to hold downloaded copies of Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem's suggested links, I noticed, for the first time (duh?), that that curiously long name abbreviates to the alphabetic string "BCDEFG" -- and the "A" missing at the beginning would be something like "Actual"?)

Hehe nice! The string of letters is indeed why I picked the name. Initially my name was just "Beoman", fully anonymous. Then someone asked me to reveal my first name, so I did, but as I had been known as Beoman before I didn't want to drop it, hence - Beoman Claudiu. I also liked Emus and found/find my avatar hilarious, so I had Beoman Claudiu Emu. Then I saw the "BCE" and was inspired to fill it in all the way through to G. The lack of "A" is that I didn't want to change my first name since Beoman was my previous moniker.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 10:03 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Thanks for the links everyone, I'll dive into reading as soon as I get the chance. For now I stopped with body scanning and the symptoms seem to have receded, though my brain still feels kind of fried. While I'm waiting to see how much of the changes from the retreat (both positive and negative) are permanent, I'll do concentration practice with some metta thrown in between.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/12/15 3:49 PM as a reply to John Doe.
Metta is a good practice, which usually has beneficial effects.
Insight meditation is good as well, but may more easily produce 'bad' side effects which may be hard to deal with. If you find that those effects overwhelm you, practicing Metta instead for some time may be a good idea.
In the long run, I think it is a very good idea to learn both.

Stream entry is possible, though difficult, without retreat. I did it by doing home retreat (2 hours a day), led by teacher, and at the end a determination phase (2 days of full time no-sleep home solo retreat), which is the system designed by Ajahn Tong's tradition. But there's no guarantee for these things.

Assume that SE will answer part of the question, but mainly it will remove doubt. Probably not much changes, but, you know, there are no guarantees about that stuff. If we could predict what happens exactly, it would be in the books.

Regarding feelings of isolation/inadequacy: sounds like things conditioned from your upbringing. Insight meditation can uncover those, but assuming that SE will just remove all of them is a bit... optimistic.

Meditation practice probably won't negatively affect your capacity for coding/solving differential equations/solving P=NP with something other than P=1 or N=0, but maybe your motivation changes and the whole system involving money suddenly seems like a big joke considering that awakening is possible and debugging silly stuff written by incompetent lazy bums isn't really fun, not even for lots of money. Or maybe not.

btw it seems that DhO has become some sort of safe space for nerds so you're welcome ^^

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/13/15 5:36 AM as a reply to bernd the broter.
Hahah reading my post I realize I made myself seem much nerdier than I am. Though it's true that my social skills could use some improvement and meditation is definitely helping.

When I posted the question I felt really trapped in the present moment after all the body-scanning, I felt like the past and the future were completely irrelevant, nothing would excite me anymore, everything was pointless, etc. Naturally I assumed that by getting to SE I would completely lose my sense of identity and start wandering around without any desire or intention to do anything, living in the moment in the most literal sense, which is what scared me.

After all the reading though (MTCB was fascinating!) what I still don't get is why work so hard and go through Dark Nights to get to SE -- what are the tangible benefits? What I imagine is something like, better ability to deal with emotions, more enjoyment out of life, increased awareness, more energy, less anxiety about trivial stuff.. but am I right or is it just my imagination? emoticon Also, would you say that going through the dark nights was worth it to get to SE? 

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/14/15 1:04 PM as a reply to John Doe.
John Doe:
Hahah reading my post I realize I made myself seem much nerdier than I am. Though it's true that my social skills could use some improvement and meditation is definitely helping.
Are you sure? You DO realize you managed to sign up on date "10/10", right?
When I posted the question I felt really trapped in the present moment after all the body-scanning, I felt like the past and the future were completely irrelevant, nothing would excite me anymore, everything was pointless, etc. Naturally I assumed that by getting to SE I would completely lose my sense of identity and start wandering around without any desire or intention to do anything, living in the moment in the most literal sense, which is what scared me.

After all the reading though (MTCB was fascinating!) what I still don't get is why work so hard and go through Dark Nights to get to SE -- what are the tangible benefits? What I imagine is something like, better ability to deal with emotions, more enjoyment out of life, increased awareness, more energy, less anxiety about trivial stuff.. but am I right or is it just my imagination? emoticon Also, would you say that going through the dark nights was worth it to get to SE? 

Some comparison used to float around at this space: "SE is not finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it is an empty pot, which holds all of the insights you've gathered up to that point."
I didn't approach insight meditation with a "Let me calculate if this is worth it"-mentality. This is spiritual materialism. I'm not saying this is morally bad or something - I'm saying this isn't how practice works. Those benefits you mention may happen, but needn't. You could get them from other endeavours. I asked this question:
breads actually have these sorts of questions:
Do you have some really important intuition that breaking free from identification with phenomena (as you've already experienced partly in practice) is supremely important, even if it doesn't yield any other benefits?


By the way, going through 'dukkha nanas' is very rarely a big problem. Calling them 'Dark Night' every time you see them is quite over the top.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/14/15 1:51 PM as a reply to bernd the broter.
Bernd:

I'm saying this isn't how practice works. Those benefits you mention may happen, but needn't. You could get them from other endeavours.


Sometimes positive side-effects of meditation can ONLY occur through meditation.  Or other endeavours (such as psychotherapy or bodywork or lifestyle improvements) will bring those things up to a certain level, but contemplative development can bring them up even further after they've plateaued through 'conventional' means.  I find that many on the DhO don't like this type of thinking, so I am here to provide an alternate view.

Which was in reference to this comment from upthread:


John Doe:

What I imagine is something like, better ability to deal with emotions, more enjoyment out of life, increased awareness, more energy, less anxiety about trivial stuff.. 

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/16/15 4:10 AM as a reply to Noah.
Noah:
[...]
Sometimes positive side-effects of meditation can ONLY occur through meditation.  [...]
Yes, I don't disagree with that at all. What I was trying to say is that - at least for me - this prospect isn't what was driving the practice.
Put another way, there's a reason why the saying is "Done is what needed to be done." while it might as well have been "Done is what I decided I should probably do based on careful calculation how to maximize being relaxed, enjoying travel and casual sex and being able to connect to other people."

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/16/15 5:09 PM as a reply to bernd the broter.
bernd the broter:
Noah:
[...]
Sometimes positive side-effects of meditation can ONLY occur through meditation.  [...]
Yes, I don't disagree with that at all. What I was trying to say is that - at least for me - this prospect isn't what was driving the practice.
Put another way, there's a reason why the saying is "Done is what needed to be done." while it might as well have been "Done is what I decided I should probably do based on careful calculation how to maximize being relaxed, enjoying travel and casual sex and being able to connect to other people."

What I'm trying to do by asking the question is to find a way to frame a state which I can't possibly understand (why would not identifying myself with phenomena be a good thing for me or others?) in terms of tangible benefits which I can understand or try to imagine.

In other words, why did it need to be done? If doing it involves lots of effort and results in emotional instability and undesireable consequences (for example, a strong desire to abandon everything and live in a cave), why do that instead of something else? 

After certain negative experiences with the truth, "it's the truth" is just not a satisfying answer. If (I realize that this is probably a projection of my fears) the truth simply reveals that everything is indeed meaningless and makes things less beautiful and exciting, or just completely kills my drive to do things, than why not keep the illusion?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking your point of view -- just trying to understand it emoticon

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/19/15 4:05 AM as a reply to John Doe.
John Doe:

What I'm trying to do by asking the question is to find a way to frame a state which I can't possibly understand (why would not identifying myself with phenomena be a good thing for me or others?) in terms of tangible benefits which I can understand or try to imagine.

In other words, why did it need to be done? If doing it involves lots of effort and results in emotional instability and undesireable consequences (for example, a strong desire to abandon everything and live in a cave), why do that instead of something else? 
Because identification is itself a subtle form of suffering.
MCTB:

There is more to this truth, and it relates to the third characteristic, no-self. We are caught up in this bizarre habit of assuming that there is an “I.” Yet the definition of this seemingly permanent thing has to keep constantly changing to keep up the illusion in an impermanent world. This takes up a lot of mental time and is continually frustrating to the mind, as it takes so much constant work and effort. This process is called ignorance, i.e. the illusion of an “I” and thus that everything else is “not I.”

This is the illusion of duality, and the illusion of duality is inherently painful. There is just something disconcerting about the way the mind must hold itself and the information it must work to ignore in order to maintain the sense that there is a permanent and continuous self. Maintaining it is painful and its consequences for reactive mind states are also painful. It is a subtle, chronic pain, like a vague nausea. It is a distortion of perspective that we have grown so used to that we hardly notice it most of the time. The suffering caused by continually trying to prop up the illusion of duality is fundamental suffering. This definition of suffering is the one that is most useful for insight practices.

By doing insight meditation, this became obvious to me even before SE.

Nobody believes you will want to abandon everything and sit around in a cave. Then, I don't understand what you don't like about caves ( :

After certain negative experiences with the truth, "it's the truth" is just not a satisfying answer. If (I realize that this is probably a projection of my fears) the truth simply reveals that everything is indeed meaningless and makes things less beautiful and exciting, or just completely kills my drive to do things, than why not keep the illusion?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not attacking your point of view -- just trying to understand it emoticon
No one is trying to persuade you. This path may not be the right one for you. If, after real practice with real results, you do not have an internal drive to do it, why bother? What is it that still makes you hang out on obscure internet forums like this one, when you could spend your time chasing money, girls, entertainment, solving P=NP... instead?

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/19/15 8:08 AM as a reply to John Doe.
Let me give you some standard advice first.

Your magic meeting with god is a kind of experience people here usually categorize as part of a stage called "the arising and passing away", aka "A&P". It feels very, very pleasurable, but it is an extremely imbalanced experience.

As for the feeling of "there is no going back", this has actually been the case ever since that A&P experience.

As for the feeling of fear, and feeling very dumb --- I imagine you stoped being able to concentrate properly, perhaps even at times you may have difficulty following what people are saying --- this is what is known as 'dark night' territory. That you get these feelings is a sign of progress. But it is extremely unpleasant.

Before addressing your questions specifically, I would recommend that you read the free book "Mastering the core teachings of the buddha", which is written by "Daniel Ingram", the founder of this website. Really all you describe is described therein, in the various sections on "the progress of insight".

Now let me answer your questions:
1. I've noticed that my mood is not always bad -- it shifts between terrible and better-than-normal. I think I read somewhere that the bad phases won't be as bad if I don't indulge in the good phases. Could you elaborate on this? How exactly do I avoid indulging in the good phases? Is running and boxing OK to do in either of the phases?

The arising and passing away, as I understand it, is the result of an unbalanced rise in energy. You will think faster, be smarter, more charming and attractive, and pretty much everything you try to do will feel more pleasant than normal. Because of this, when you go through these stages for the first few times (that could mean the first several years), you usually dive head-first into them, to try and suck in all that pleasure; this causes a rapid and extreme release of energy throughout the body --- you are actually spending more, your body temperature may even rise slightly (mine did). Such an increase in energy can sometimes cause the experiences of meeting god and such others.

With time and attention you will also learn to see the disadvantageous aspects of A&P: you become more arrogant, more self-indulgent, and generally more inconsiderate and disregarding of other people's pain ('party boopers'). And there is a rush to it, which is as if a slightly desperate and anxious need to suck up pleasure from the universe.

Unless you learn to see this dark side of the A&P, what usually happens is that you power it up, increasing your metabolism to the point of overburning. Your body then protects you by powering down to save that precious energy. Depression is usually the result.

Don't be like Icarus, and you won't splat to the ground. At least I can speak for myself: I used to be diagnosed bipolar, but every since I saw this dark side of A&P around March 2012, I haven't had a single episode of euphoria or depression.

So you avoid indulging by seeing the disadvantages of doing so --- and by "seeing" I mean feeling deeply and intuitively; much like your body learns to pull your hand away from the fire. There is also a good side to the dark night, which basically mirrors the dark side of A&P.

Exercise of any kind that I tried is not only OK to do, it is an overal *EXCELENT* way of balancing your energy. Feeling over-excited? Go exercise until you are really tired, it will smooth it out. Feeling down in the gutter? Go exercise until you get that nice boost of energy and endorphines that comes from it, it will smooth it out.

A junk-food-free diet was also very beneficial to me, in balancing out my mood swings.
2. Meditating vs not meditating: Right now my priority is to be as normal as possible -- being in an overly-sensitive, don't-care-about-anything, overactive-observer mode is not very conductive to studying. On the other hand, I'm afraid that if I stop meditating I'll 1> lose the ability continue to meditate, and 2> go into full-on madness mode as I won't be able to separate myself from the negative feelings and see them for what they are. Would you recommend for me to stop meditating completely, do body-scanning vipassana (how much would be optimal?), or perhaps try working on metta or concentration meditation? Will concentrating on the breath while running make the symptoms better or worse?


Did I mention exercise is a really good idea? Exercise is a really good idea. Your concentration will improve, you will be better able to do normal things even when going through difficult mental teritory. If it feels hard to get your ass out of the chair and do exercise because you are going through difficult mental teritory, then it is really the ideal time to get your ass out of the chair and do exercise. You'll thank yourself later.

I can pretty much guarantee you that one-hour of intense daily exercise for, say, two weeks, will pull you out of the gutter, and improve your life tremendously in many other ways.

Also, your mental speech about whether you should stop meditating, and what will happen if you do, or if you don't, or should you change method? what will happen if you change method? or if you don't? etc, that's just your anxiety talking, you're going through difficult mental territory.

Even if you wished you would stop meditating, or doing some sort of mental training, it is highly unlikely (but not impossible) you would succeed in doing so. Fact is, and I'm sure you can feel it, there is something which is not quite right about how you perceive the world, and that needs to be fixed. So you'll meditate until you fix it.

This feeling of something wrong diminishes very significantly when you attain 3rd path.
3. How will insight meditation impact my intelligence and learned skills, both in the short term and in the long term? Is the feeling of being dumber permanent? I'm studying Computer Science so I need as many of my reasoning abilities as I can get.
The feeling of being dumber is not permanent, it is a symptom of the dukkha nanas ('dark night stages'). Though the feeling of being very intelligent is also usually not permanent: it is most often just a side-effect of youth and lack of experience. Kind of cute and naive, if you ask me.
4. Stream entry. I read that it's the only way to get out of the dark night. How long would it take me to get there with persistent daily practice? Would a 2-3 month retreat somewhere in Asia be enough?

I would suggest you read MCTB ("mastering the core teachings of the buddha"), give yourself a few weeks of daily or almost-daily practice so that you know how to do vipassana more-or-less properly (in a nutshell pay attention better and more, include everything including "including everything", and don't believe your own thoughts), and then take two weeks off and do a home retreat where you meditate every waking hour of the day. That was enough for me.
5. After stream entry: what will my life be like after stream entry? Will I be able to connect to people, or enjoy travel, sports, arts, casual sex, exciting activities, and just do things I've always wanted to do? Will I still be able to have a desire to make money? Will I be able to learn new things? Will the feelings of inadequacy and isolation from the dark night disappear? My biggest fear at the moment is that I'm destined to turn into a boring monk, although that might just be the dark night talking emoticon
Just like every other experience, stream entry will change you. Some parts of you will die, and some others will be born.

You will still be able to learn new things, and the feelings of inadequacy and isolation from the dark night will improve imensely.

Your biggest fear is, indeed, just the dark night talking. That you suspect as much is a good sign ("don't believe your own thoughts").

6. Reading resources! I hadn't read much about meditation before, but it's painfully obvious that I'll have to do my research if I'm to get out of this. Where would you recommend I start? I'm interested in learning as much as I can about different insight and concentration practices in order to make informed decisions about how to continue my practice. 
Read MCTB. That is an almost bullshit-free book, which gives you a measure of how good a meditation book can be. After reading it you will learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, meaning, you will know how to distinguish helpful and practical instructions from mysticism and fabulation (this does not mean you will necessarily dislike books with mysticism and fabulation, but if you do read such books, you will be able to tell which part is clear instruction, and which part is colorful decoration).

If you want specific instructions on vipassana, you could try Mahasi Sayadaw's "Practical Insight Meditation", which teaches you noting.

The essence of vipassana, as I understand it, is to see clearly, intensely, calmly, consistently, everything. You could simply loop over these five:
  • Am I seeing clearly? If not, try to see more clearly, so your mind is less obstructed.
  • Am I seeing intensely? If not, try to see more intensely, so your mind is less dull.
  • Am I seeing calmly? If not, try to see more calmly, so your mind is less over-excited.
  • Am I seeing consistently? If not, try to see more consistently, so your mind is less dispersed.
  • Am I seeing everything? If not, try to include more things, so you don't miss-out on anything.
You can also focus on just one of the five aspects (e.g. whichever you think is most lacking): "everything, everything, everything, everything ..."

And so on. The best thing, really, is to teach yourself: try different stuff and do what works for you.


Now let me give you a very specific and very personal piece of advice

Stay the hell away from "actual freedom" and the Australian guru called Richard.

Take care,
Bruno

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/19/15 8:12 AM as a reply to bernd the broter.
bernd the broter:

when you could spend your time ... solving P=NP instead?

lol, that has already been done, didn'tcha know? :-)

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/19/15 8:27 AM as a reply to John Doe.

After all the reading though (MTCB was fascinating!) what I still don't get is why work so hard and go through Dark Nights to get to SE -- what are the tangible benefits? What I imagine is something like, better ability to deal with emotions, more enjoyment out of life, increased awareness, more energy, less anxiety about trivial stuff.. but am I right or is it just my imagination? emoticon Also, would you say that going through the dark nights was worth it to get to SE?


Ah, so you already read MCTB. Then fuck research, go for stream-entry. MCTB + DhO contains more than enough information to attain that.

John Doe:

When I posted the question I felt really trapped in the present moment after all the body-scanning, I felt like the past and the future were completely irrelevant, nothing would excite me anymore, everything was pointless, etc. Naturally I assumed that by getting to SE I would completely lose my sense of identity and start wandering around without any desire or intention to do anything, living in the moment in the most literal sense, which is what scared me.


Just note 'scared, scared' he he

No, actually, your fear is just the dark night talking.

Dark night is the phase when you want to be paying attention to "the edges" of perception (meaning, those sensations that seem to be "at the edge"; actually they aren't at the edge of anything, but it should feel that way at this stage).

  • include more and more, include more and more, include more and more
  • what is this at the edge? what is it? what is it? explore it! expand it! include it! See beyond it, through it, with it!


Getting into equanimity means you start being able to see all of it at once, so then you'll have background, foreground, "edges", everything at once. Then just do everything, everything, everything again and again and again and again, more wider, more thorough, more consistent. Include time, include space, include EVERYTHING!

Then there is a relaxing in the middle of the brain (perhaps you can feel a "strobing sensation" there? the key for some people is to include that together with everything).

And then it flips.

RE: Just stumbled into it..
Answer
10/19/15 10:10 PM as a reply to Bruno Loff.
You can power through the Dark Night as Bruno is suggesting, or you can go a safer route and that is to get your concentration and metta down real well. Those who have great concentration can go through the stages of insight without ever experiencing the dark night. There is a great video where the Dalai Lama is asked about the dark night, and he is completely oblivious to it's existence.

Culadasa, whose book "The Mind Illuminated" I highly recommend,says the same thing. Great concentration and the joy that comes with it and you wont' have to worry about the dark night.

My personal opinion is that there is also a bunch of cultural differences that explain why us westerners get the dark night, and not the tibetans. But great concentration is our best bet to do it with as little difficulty as possible.