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continuous awareness in the city is making me freak out

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Hi everyone,

I have a question about mindfulness practice. I just came back from spending a week in nature where I did this practice continuously--noticing every single thought and sensation, no matter what I was doing. I was in a really nice place near the ocean, with no traffic or other stressful stimulation. While I was there, my meditation took on a wonderful clarity and unceasingness (I've been practicing for a couple of years) and I was aware of my mind, body, and sensations in a way I'd never been before. My mind was so clear, and I was literally aware of every single moment that passed. When I did run into people, I felt open and warm towards them, able to handle any kind of interaction with no stress whatsoever.

Now, I am back in the city and had resolved to maintain continuous awareness--only to be overwhelmed with horror and panic. I can feel the vibrations of each car that drives past on the busy street where I live. Everything looks and feels ugly and harsh. I can't look anyone in the eye and just want to hide. When I try to bring my awareness to my sensations as I did for seven days straight by the ocean, I want to bite myself and pull out my hair, the sensations of the city are so awful. I don't want to shut down my awareness, but I'm afraid I'll go crazy if I let myself experience the reality of who/what I am in the city.

Any advice most appreciated!

RE: continuous awareness in the city is making me freak out
Answer
7/12/16 3:38 PM as a reply to Olequa.
Part of this is simple biology.  If your body has been stressed in the past, it's easier to stress it out in the present. Unfortunately human beings can get into a feedback loop where stimulation leads to stress which leads to more sensitivity to stimulation which leads to even more stress. Be good to yourself. It's okay to seek quiet and avoid stressful situtations.

One memorable quote from a retreat I was on: "Yes, it's eventually possible to meditate in the middle of the battlefield, but that's not the right conditions for developing a meditation practice."

So get back to your relaxed baseline and then take it in small doses. Let your body return to normal (catch up on sleep sleep, eat good food, clean your body, put on clean clothes, sit quietly in meditation). Make sure to reconnect to your feeling of strength and capability. Once you've reconnected with yourself, then you can think about one stressful thing you want to face the next day. Visualize the experience, pretend your there, feel the sensations in your body, watch how your thoughts behave. Notice that you can be aware of negative things without freaking out. Then sit quietly again and let all those feelings slip away. Forget about and go to sleep. The next day, test it out. Face the stressful thing and use it as a meditation, feel the sensations, watch your thoughts. Then get out of the situation and recover. And repeat, learning along the way.

There's a real danger in trying to do too much too soon. No one gets strong in a day. No one awakes in a day. Keep practicing consistently and you will be amazed at where you are in a year. But if you go too far too fast, you're just traumatizing and re-traumatizing the body and mind. That's not how you actually make progress. You make progress by slowly expanding your equanimity to include more and more. It takes time and intentional cultivation/practice.

The reality of the city is many things. On one hand it is stimulating and potentially stressful, on the other hand it is exciting and interesting. Don't buy into the trap of saying that stimulation is inherently stressful. That belief (when applied to any experience, not just cities) tends to become self-fulfilling.

Be good to yourself!

RE: continuous awareness in the city is making me freak out
Answer
7/13/16 2:00 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks, Shargol. That helps a lot and I'm feeling a lot calmer since I scaled things back. It does feel disappointing to block things out/shut down my senses just to get through the day, and I'm hoping someday I can get to the point where I can be mindful in the city without freaking out. One step at a time!

RE: continuous awareness in the city is making me freak out
Answer
7/13/16 3:01 PM as a reply to Olequa.
Good plan!   emoticon

RE: continuous awareness in the city is making me freak out
Answer
9/1/16 8:07 PM as a reply to Olequa.
See number 6: 16 knowledge of insights. Number 6 is the 6th one and is what practitioner may experience.

4. Udayabbaya-ñāna : knowledge of rising and passing away
This stage is central to the practice. Practitioners enter into the purification of
knowing and see what is and what is not the path. The arising and passing away of
experience is very clear. They can notice everything easily, and it seems that the
meditation is going on by itself. They understand more clearly the importance of just
seeing experience as experience, not getting stuck by ego or attaching a judgment on
to it. Practitioners have experienced faith, rapture and bliss.

5. Bhanga-ñāna : knowledge of dissolution
At this stage, practitioners see only the passing away of phenomena. There are two
signs at this stage. Firstly, practitioners seem like they no longer focus on anything.
Their attention keeps sliding off whatever they try to look at. Or, they cannot focus
on anything. It is nothing at all. Lastly, the sense of body disappears. There is only
the act of experience or knowing the act of sound. There is no ‘body’.

6. Bhaya-ñāna : knowledge of fear
In the appearance of everything that is examined, the mind begins to realize: there is
nothing beneath the parade of changes and there is no foundation. The result is
existential anxiety. At this stage of practice, the practitioners’ insight into anatta,
non-self, takes the form of a sense of loss of control. The realization is that ‘I am not
in control of my life.” Some practitioners may very much be afraid of what they see,
even if it is only a water jug or a bed post. There are no feelings of happiness,
pleasure or enjoyment, and they cry when they think of their friends and relatives.