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an introduction and a question
12/18/15 12:45 PM
I'm new to posting, but have been periodically reading the forum for a couple of years. Thanks for providing support to me and the rest of the community! Buddhism wasn't really on my radar until about 7 or 8 years ago when I first found Daniel's book online. I'm still pretty ignorant, so please excuse any butchered terminology.

I'm due for a closer re-reading of MCTB, but I have a specific question and maybe you guys can help me out or direct me to specific passages or other resources.

A brief history of where I've been: first A&P around age 9 or 10, dark night yogi for over a decade.There was a major shift that ended it and changed everything in 2001, and another one around 2008. Quiet moments, but dramatic changes. From what I've read, probably what you would call stream entry and second path.

It was after this second shift that I had the experience that led me to discover Daniel's book. I was doing insight practice when my cat jumped
on my lap and started licking my arm, and when I focused my attention on that sensation I ended up in what sounds like really intensely hard
first jhana and then somehow stumbled into weirder territory (formless realms, maybe??) I'm still not sure what happened there and am having trouble finding words to describe it.

The experience itself wasn't a big deal, but the next day it was like I was on serious drugs. It felt like my affective empathy channel was stuck on full blast (its default setting is very low) and I could hear what people were going to say a split second before they opened their mouths. Also, I could sort of see through my eyelids. It was not at all fun trying to act like a normal person in school and by the end of the day I was worried it might be an ill-timed psychotic break or manic episode.

Fortunately, the effects receded quickly and after some research I discovered MCTB, which reassured me that I wasn't crazy (or at least not any crazier than my normal baseline). And obviously reading about the path of insight was a major “aha!” moment.

Since then, I've mostly avoided any serious concentration meditation because I need to function like a responsible adult to do my job and don't want to risk those sorts of side effects. Also, insight practice has been tremendously fulfilling, with tons of little blips and reboots and a sense that everything is going exactly as it should, even when there are occasional glitches (if that makes any sense).

But the last few months I've been wanting to start working on jhana. I'll be attending my first retreat next week at a Thai Forest Monastery, which will be a great opportunity to explore freely, but I would like to understand better what happened and how to make sure it doesn't occur again at home when I have to adult. My suspicion is that it's unlikely to happen again even if I want it to without a lot of work and good conditions, and this experience was likely due to a combination of A&P, particularly good concentration skills at that time, chronic sleep
deprivation, feline intervention, etc., but I'd rather not leave it up to chance.

Long story short: how do I avoid tripping balls after meditation?

Thanks for your time.

RE: an introduction and a question
12/18/15 3:33 PM as a reply to Ann.
some guesses/things that have somewhat helped me: greasy foods, exercise, sex, diaphragmatic breathing, holding mind in lower dan tien, sleep, a little bit of alcohol

RE: an introduction and a question
12/18/15 5:47 PM as a reply to Ann.

The experience itself wasn't a big deal, but the next day it was like I was on serious drugs. It felt like my affective empathy channel was stuck on full blast (its default setting is very low) and I could hear what people were going to say a split second before they opened their mouths. Also, I could sort of see through my eyelids. It was not at all fun trying to act like a normal person in school and by the end of the day I was worried it might be an ill-timed psychotic break or manic episode.

This made me laugh.  I'm the same way,  my default empathy is pretty low.  But now I may be walking through Home Depot, or a grocery store, and see someone pushing baby stroller.  I'll be overwhelmed by the beauty of what I am seeing, and I'll have tears in my eyes.

Before I read MCTB and started following the forum, I would have episodes like this. I actually started to wonder if I was developing a brain tumor.  I was meditating everyday, but I just thought it would just help me relax a bit.  I didn't think it was going to change everything.

RE: an introduction and a question
12/18/15 9:54 PM as a reply to Ann.
Hi Ann,

Welcome to Dho!

I have a similar problem, in that I end up having major modifications in my perception away from baseline normal reality after a major meditation retreat where I've experienced some breakthrough, and especially during/after concentration focused retreats. The trick is to not let it impact your external behavior if at all possible, as Pawel K alluded to in his reply to your post and as Daniel mentions in MCTB. In my experience, you really can't throttle this process in any fashion, so the best strategy is just observe and enjoy. Usually, it lasts for a few days to a month then things settle down to normal again (at least, that's been the case for me up until now). Some people take time off from work after a retreat, and reduce social contacts, to avoid having their external behavior accidentally manifest in some strange fashion. I haven't heard of a case where a cat was involved in a meditation breakthrough before, but if you were doing daily meditation at the time, or periodic retreats, probably you'd built up a solid baseline and the cat was the trigger. Good luck!


RE: an introduction and a question
12/19/15 4:57 AM as a reply to Ann.
Paweł K:
 Now I do nothing and am in bliss all the time. 

See, that doesn't sound at all appealing to me, but maybe I'm not understanding what you mean by "bliss."

RE: an introduction and a question
12/19/15 5:13 AM as a reply to Ann.
Thanks for all the suggestions and comments, everyone! Glad I was able to give you a laugh.

And I have noticed that since starting a regular meditation habit, I've developed the ability to strategically turn my affective empathy dial up a bit as needed, which has helped me become a kinder, more considerate person. But stuck all the way up like that--not something I care to experience again.

Funny, but after this happened I talked about it with a friend on the other side of the bell curve, whose affective empathy channel default setting is very high. "Is that what it's like for you all the time?" I asked her. "That must suck. No wonder you have social anxiety!" She looked at me like she wanted to hit me. Still working on that tactfulness...

So, I think the general strategy I'm going to take with working on concentration states is to treat it like any mind altering substance: small doses here or there are fine, but in larger amounts only on holidays when there's time to recover. My job requires me to be totally focused in the face of a lot of extraneous sensory information and people could be seriously injured or worse if I make a mistake, so best not to risk it.

RE: an introduction and a question
12/20/15 1:47 PM as a reply to Ann.
Paweł K:
In any way imho enlightenment without constant bliss is fishy so I made myself enlightened with bliss. There are various methods to do without needing to experience bliss in such ridiculous quantities and I can use them to stop it should I need to if there is need to clearer perception. 
Not boring, thanks for the detailed reply. 

I guess for me the big advantage to be cultivated with meditation is clear perception. Blissful states, nice as they may be, are not generally as conducive to getting stuff done in the world--but that's me and my chosen roles. I can see how it might be different for monastics or people in other professions. 

RE: an introduction and a question
1/16/16 8:34 AM as a reply to Ann.
Just a post-retreat follow up for the record.

Was lucky enough to get a few days to shake off the jet lag before heading to the retreat center. Worked hard to ramp up the concentration immediately upon arriving at the hermitage and was able to stabilize the first jhana the afternoon of day 1 and my day 3 was able to go 1-4, back down to 1, then back up to 4, which was a first to me. Unfortunately, at about that time the amped up empathy thing started happening and I realized a silent retreat is actually not a great situation for that to be happening.

Whereas the first couple of days, what with keeping the silence and averting my gaze, I'd been pretty oblivious to other people, all of a sudden I was sensing all kind of potent negative emotions from others--rage, general hostility, fear, and a lot of desperate neediness. It was rather disturbing. Also, some mild sensory distortion and lots of piti, even when just walking around--felt like A&P. Thought it was a good time to switch to insight. That night, lying in bed was really just focusing on the fading away of bare perceptions, was finally able to get to sleep after lenghthening the pause after exhalation and focusing on the sensation of blood pulsing in my abdominal aorta (my go-to technique for cooling things down fast).

Woke up in the middle of the night with a feeling of intense fear, back to sleep using the above technique. Had an extremely lucid dream where I was curled up in the fetal position sobbing for no discernable reason and I could feel a profound sense of loss and sadness. Woke up again about 10 minutes before the morning bell with residues of the dream.

Spent about 10-15 minutes of the early morning session with silent tears running down my face and intense feelings of sorrow, with flashes of paranoia and revulsion, but it was all devoid of context. Like broad brush strokes of primary colors on a blank canvas. I just noted them and eventually it tapered off, leaving me with a sort of hollowed out feeling (in a good way) and a sense of peaceful catharsis. 

The empathy thing slowly tapered off over the rest of the retreat, and it mostly wasn't as bothersome as that first day. And getting to that level of concentration was hugely beneficial for insight practice, so it was definitely worth it. I think in planning future retreats, I'll make a point of picking places/times when retreat centers are less crowded, so it will be easier to avoid social contact and stay in my happy little bubble.

It was a tremendously valuable experience and I'm extremely grateful for having had the opportunity. It was quite interesting to see how much more recognizable the stages of insight were when on retreat versus at home. But I'm glad I left the retreat thing for so late in the game for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that I've developed a rock solid, dedicated daily practice.

It was sad, about 25-30% of attendees quit before day 10 and one woman had to be taken to a mental hospital. I hope she's doing okay.

Thanks again for all the help!