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Retreat centres that accept practitioners with psychiatric history?

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Hello. (Long time lurker here)
Are there any retreat centres that welcome people that have psychiatric history (bipolar disorder, psychosis... etc)?

I was banned from a Goenka centre after I suffered an episode of psychosis and experienced a near death experience the day after my first 10-day retreat. (A&P was definitely crossed)

Needless to say some periods in the pyschiatric ward was required and antipsychotics were prescribed. (but I discontinued them as the side-effects were too strong. To be honest, the medication didn't help. My psychiatrist hasn't provided any solid diagnosis after one year of sessions we discontinued.)

Coming out of this, I had no idea what was going on, and had no ability to handle the increased sensitivity to some phenomena... but a year later and exploring various contemplative practices, there is a much better understanding.  I've continued a daily practice on my own for a while.

However, I've come to a point in my practice where I need external guidance and longer sit periods that can't be done alone at home.
People say it's hard to advance on the path without a spiritual friend/teacher. I've come to realize this is very true.

Any advice is appreciated.
Thank you. Metta.

There is a community called The Icarus Project found here.  They are a meditation community that deals specifically with mental illness.

As to a retreat center, I don't know of any that are set up to possibly provide psychiatric stabilization, nor do I know one that is likely to accept someone with a history of psychosis. Still, if anyone would know, it would likely be Spirit Rock, as there are a number of mental health practitioners that run the place, so you might ask them.

As to good guidance, again, you need someone with dual training in meditation and psych. People to look up that might be interesting to talk with are Nina La Rosa and Sean Pritchard. You might also talk with the people at Cheetah House. Lock Kelly also might be interesting to talk with: easy to find on the internet.

Did you have any psych diagnoses going into the Goenka retreat? Were you on meds before the retreat? Were you on them during the retreat?

Hope those referrals help.

Daniel

RE: Retreat centres that accept practitioners with psychiatric history?
Answer
3/19/16 12:37 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Oh wow. I'll definitely look into these resources and pointers. Thank you very much.

As to a retreat center, I don't know of any that are set up to possibly provide psychiatric stabilization, nor do I know one that is likely to accept someone with a history of psychosis. Still, if anyone would know, it would likely be Spirit Rock, as there are a number of mental health practitioners that run the place, so you might ask them.
It's somewhat dissapointing to hear that... but actually confirms what I thought; my options for retreat time within a sangha context are limited or non-existent at this point. Thought about continuing with solo-retreats (renting a yurt in the woods) but it's just not the same as the protected environment provided by retreat centers.


As to good guidance, again, you need someone with dual training in meditation and psych
Yes definitely. Those are really hard to find. Funnily, I attended a conference on meditation by Judson Brewer a couple of months ago, and stumbled on a psychiatrist I consulted (unfortunately not well-equipped to help me). I've been tempted to reach out to Ron Crouch, but I'm looking for real-life contact as opposed to sessions on the internet. (This is hard as I'm based in Canada.)

You might also talk with the people at Cheetah House
Discovering Willoughby Britton's work helped immensely in my healing process. I'm aware that she went through those experiences herself and now that drives her research to help others. She once mentioned in these forums that well-established meditation teachers had visits to the psych wards. Just knowing that fact is a relief. (That others have walked this messy path) I often revisit her work when I hit dark times.


Did you have any psych diagnoses going into the Goenka retreat? Were you
on meds before the retreat? Were you on them during the retreat?
No pre-existing pysch diagnoses whatsoever.  No medication ever taken. There was a crippling depression for a huge portion of my life, but that mostly went away after delving into absurdism/stoicism.

Truly, I went into the retreat looking for watered-down mindfulness and for self-improvement. Had no idea what was about to hit me. Those 10 days of silence actually went really well...but I was perhaps in a manic state coming back into the world.

The real trouble started when I hit phenomena that resemble siddhis... those things can't be unseen. And I certainly do not wish to explore them further (except for metta which has been essential in the healing process).

I was cycling badly in the stages of knowledge the day just after the retreat... and decided to take a drive with my car. Bad idea. I basically drove semi-unconsciously for hours on the highway... which led to a moment of cessation. There are no words that can describe the experience. Attempting to do so led me to be arrested by cops who drove me to the psych ward.

More than a year has passed now, and I'm back to my regular life. Things are the same. But not truely the same.

Sorry, went on ramble here. All this to say I'm just another dark night yogi, unsure how to progress further on the path.

Thank you Daniel for everything.
(Your dharma contributions and MCTB allowed me to reconstruct my sanity.
Never would have been able to survive this without coming across your work)

With appreciation.
-D.

Hi David
sounds like an example where a decent follow-up process by a good teacher would have been immensely useful after the retreat. Sorry to hear that it all went so wrong!
I could recommend to still get in touch with Ron Crouch. I´ve worked with him and find that his combined experience in psychology and insight practice is extremely valuable. He might be able to point you to some other people as well.
All the best!

Definitely agree, I actually didn't have any interviews with the attending teacher during those 10 days. In retrospect, I really should have taken the opportunity to ask questions. The assistant-teacher came to me at the end of the retreat... saying something in my face changed. It was bizarre the way he approached me about it, but I'll never know what he meant by that.

In some ways, yes it went really wrong, but I do not regret the experience itself. 
It is a blessing to have stumbled onto the path.. however messy it is and will be.

And yes, I have heard really good things about Ron Crouch, the material on his blog is top notch.
Perhaps I'll reach out to him for advice. But at the moment I'm looking for something more engaged with a community.
Some real-life contact with an accomplished teacher accompanied by practice.
Ethan Nichtern gives a good talk about the limitations of online dharma here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMY7AJcsgIw 
(surface dharma vs depth dharma) 

Thank you Caro!  

Hi David,

I had a similar experience at Forest Refuge in Barre in 2011. Won't go into details here, you can read about it if you like in a memoir I wrote, Silicon Valley Monk, available for free at Smashwords.com in all formats or at Amazon. Even though I had no history of mental illness, I ended up in the psych ward of the local hospital. For about three months afterward, I took half and quarter dose antipsychotics and saw a psychiatrist.

In my case, the periods of wierd reality last for about a month after a really deep retreat, then disappear, usually very quickly. I don't work in a profession that can tolerate long absences so I can't take that time off by myself, though some strange behavior is OK for a short period of time. If I don't go very deep, then there's no problem, so in a sense it is controllable, though that is somewhat disappointing, since it limits the depth of insight I can develop.

I'm encouraged to see Daniel's list of resources. Back in 2011, the only person I knew of who was working on the problem was Willoghby Britton, and she had just gotten started. Most Buddhist meditation teachers don't talk about the possibility of going crazy, but the Sufis do. One Sufi saying lists the benefits and obstacles on the spiritual path, and the last thing listed is the possibility of losing touch with reality. There are stories of Sufi sheiks being commited to a mental hospital and having their students visit them there. While there is some of the same in the "crazy wisdom" tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, I'm not aware of any modern teacher who knows much about it.

RE: Retreat centres that accept practitioners with psychiatric history?
Answer
3/19/16 10:14 PM as a reply to svmonk.
Hi svmonk,
I do recall reading a bit of your memoir a few months ago but didn't go through it entirely. Now that I sift through it more thoroughly, I do see a lot of similarities in our backgrounds and experiences. 

Paraphrasing a teacher I like from Spirit Rock, this practice is a little bit like going to Hogwarts in Harry Potter (when you describe getting access or glimpses to the "other world") 
I don't work in a profession that can tolerate long absences so I can't take that time off by myself, though some strange behavior is OK for a short period of time.
Same here. (I actually work in a similar field to yours, but only in the beggining years of my career. Whenever I go down the rabbit hole, it can have a Ray Kurzweil flavor to it.)

If I don't go very deep, then there's no problem, so in a sense it is controllable, though that is somewhat disappointing, since it limits the depth of insight I can develop
I remember a period of time I had a deep thirst for insight.... but got way too much of it and that backfired real bad.
Nowadays, I try to keep the practice more simple.... but the equanimity is mediocre at best. There is so much more to be uprooted.
I'm encouraged to see Daniel's list of resources. Back in 2011, the only person I knew of who was working on the problem was Willoghby Britton, and she had just gotten started
Both Daniel and Willoughby recommend the book "A path with heart". It definitely has become my own bible. It's really sad that even today, there's no general awareness of these issues with meditation in mainstream media.  I had to literally google my way out of this mess.  
Most Buddhist meditation teachers don't talk about the possibility of going crazy, but the Sufis do. One Sufi saying lists the benefits and obstacles on the spiritual path, and the last thing listed is the possibility of losing touch with reality. There are stories of Sufi sheiks being commited to a mental hospital and having their students visit them there. While there is some of the same in the "crazy wisdom" tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, I'm not aware of any modern teacher who knows much about it.
I've read that in indigenous tribes, "going crazy" is actually something to be celebrated. Like getting access to the spiritual world. 
In the western world, you are stigmatized and medicated with pills. (not that medication is a bad thing.)

Crazy or not... I don't think there's any choice to continue on the path once we've stepped on it.
There is this quote from Chogyam Trungpa, that rings a lot of truth:
“My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and is too demanding. I suggest you ask for your money back, and go home. This is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you. So, it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish.”