A&P during chemotherapy

Jack, modified 5 Years ago at 4/27/17 4:53 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 4/26/17 10:09 PM

A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 2 Join Date: 4/26/17 Recent Posts
EDIT - this is more a question about what happened not claiming any attainment so feel free to move to a different thread admin

Hi there. I'd love some insight into what people may think this experience was that i had during the last month of intensive chemotherapy for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL).

A bit of background. I'm 23 and on the 13th of June 2016 i was diagnosed with B Cell ALL after being severely sick with fevers and bone pain for a few weeks beforehand. Prior to my diagnoses i had completed my first Vipassana retreat of Jan 2016 which was quite profound at the time. I also practice yoga asana's daily and breath work. Currently i'm in remission and finished all the intense chemo 3 months ago.I'm now just focusing on healthy lifestyle, yoga, meditation, qigong ect. 
I am thankful to have come across Vipassana before my diagnoses as it has really helped with inquiry into the nature of suffering through direct experience as it was happening. During chemo I found letting go and just observing the pain as it arose diminished the mental anguish that was often accompanied with resisting needles, sickness, chemo ect. I won't go into detail about specifics but i became truly sick and withered and had really had to push myself to get through the days of treatment. I was pushed to my physical, emotional and mental limits, gave it everything i had in me. 

I was mainly in hospital for 9 months so this to me seemed like a great opportunity to delve deep into my practice. I was sitting and listening to guided meditations for many hours everyday and was doing a lot of metta practice as this helped bring on feelings of deep peace and joy and bliss. The first few months of practice and chemo i became acutely aware of the mind body connection and spent a lot of time investigating these sensations.  Things started to get interesting towards the end of my treatment around Christmas. I had come home for hospital for what would be the longest stay back at home before starting my last round of chemo. At this time i was incredibly skinny, lost all my hair and my head was moon shaped due to the steroids i was on. Nonetheless i was sitting for about 4 hours a day including guided yoga nidra. During this time of long sits i actually never got sick even though my immune system was completely shot. 

It was during this period at home that some intense raptures began to happen. One night i was sitting as usual when i started to experience an oscillation of white light flashes going past like frames of a movie. My eyes were closed and it was pitch black yet these white strobes became more and more intense. I had experienced this a fair few times before this but it would generally fade away. This time it felt as if my eye lids were physically shuttering at the rate of the frames so to speak. It's really hard to explain but there was a considerable shift in consciousness at this point followed by a complete dissolution of self and a falling into something, maybe the place in between the frames of light? Followed by an 'aha!' moment. it only lasted a split second but it shook me to my core and was more intense than anything i had previously experienced (including previous experimenting with DMT and mushrooms.)

After this experience the self i previously identified with had completely vanished and it stayed this way for the next 3 weeks or so. When i looked in the mirror i couldn't identify with 'Jack'. The shedding of my hair and general looking like shit probably had something to do with this also heh. For the next few weeks awareness of the present moment felt sharp as a razor. Each cell of my body permeated ecstasy and i generally felt like i was floating a few cm above the ground. Sounds become acutely more resonant and reality took on a new level of depth. When i concentrated on an object, say, a salt rock lamp, it would start morphing and melting.

When i sat i would instantly be absorbed into that same rapid intensity feeling somewhat like a pebble at the bottom of the ocean with the currents pushing me this way and that. When i practiced metta my body would fill with white light that would then start pulsing out of the boundary of my body and submerge the house, then suburb and city. It was deeply satisfying to feel such joy and bliss after so many months of suffering.

I was concerned that i wasn't sleeping as when i laid down my mind would automatically start scanning for sensation, sometimes i would be immersed into a river of golden light. other times my awareness shifted to my heart and blood, i could follow it through my veins which was a little disturbing. though my sleep felt more like deep meditation i woke up feeling very rested but i was aware during my sleep which lead me to taking sleeping pills for a few nights. Raptures were happening quite frequently.  Sometimes while i was in the bath, other times during dinner when eating i'd start to feel a pull as if i was floating out of my body. This rapture was particularly frightening as i had a chest infection and the doctors had said 'if you feel worse come into hospital immediately'. That night i thought i was dying  and remember telling my parents “i think i may be dying, i keep consciously floating out of my body.” Reality became ‘hyper real’. My only reference to this state of consciousness is probably akin to a light DMT trip and the afterglow. That night i was terrified, was in bed crying next to my girlfriend trying to let go of this intense fear. To my relief i woke up the next morning emoticon To me this felt like a dark night experience, the terror and anxiety was astounding and brought up memories of having asthma attacks ect.

Probably one of the most memorable rapture was when i went to the out patients cancer centre for my dose of chemo. At this time i was still in that floaty blissful state and was reading a lot of Thich Naht Han so had been doing a lot of metta. When i sat down for the 4 hour infusion of chemo i went instantly back into that deeply absorbed state during which some giant knots started to unravel and i had insights into the nature of suffering and letting go as the chemo was coursing through my veins. Residual pain and resistance was loosening and when the 4 hour infusion had finished i felt like only 30 minutes had gone past. Yet i felt like a lifetime of anxiety and fear of death had been lifted off my shoulders. Incredible. 

After about a month or two i became more grounded and stopped meditating so frequently as my state of being was concerning for my family and girlfriend. I now feel back to 'normal' but left with a general deep sense of peace. Since finishing treatment i went to a Zen Sesshin which was lovely but nothing to that level of profundity. I'm really not sure what to make of this experience. I feel like what i went through was potentially amplified by the steroid medication i was on at the time, but even then i had been on it earlier and nothing like this happened. 

It was during this time that i was reading Daniel Ingram's Core teachings of the buddha and honestly think if it wasn't for that i'd think i was going through psychosis. (maybe i was?) 

Anyways this is a long post but i'd love some insight into what people think it may have been. Arising and passing? There were stages where i felt like all the dots of my life were connecting, i could follow timelines back to the root of my anxiety and asthma, parents anxiety, grandparents anxiety, conditioning ect. When reading the stages of A&P i felt like i went through all of them. That night i thought i was dying was truly terrifying and sounded like a dark night experience. If anyone would like me to expand on certain points please say, as i could probably go into detail further about specifics. 
shargrol, modified 5 Years ago at 4/27/17 5:42 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 4/27/17 5:42 AM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 1870 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Yes, I think A&P as driven by the intense concentration on the sensations of the body makes perfect sense. Dark night nanas, too -- of course which were blended in with the gritty dark experiences of treatment. 

Seems like you found a lot of purification by going >into< the experience of being ill/treatment. I think many people encounter spirtual/meditative territory the same way. Even though we make a big deal out of meditation practice, human beings are wired to have these kinds of developments and they can be catalyzed by a wide range of things - from intense boredom to childbirth and everything in between.

Hope you'll find time to gently sit without much expectation, just connecting to your normal mind and body. The fireworks come and go during practice, but sitting seems to help integrate and explore further insights. But no big deal, no need to rush into something -- you've already been through a lot!!

Best wishes!
C P M, modified 5 Years ago at 4/27/17 7:58 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 4/27/17 7:58 PM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 218 Join Date: 5/23/13 Recent Posts
Thanks for posting your experience. Very interesting and moving.  I was at a Shinzen retreat recently and he talked about hospital stays as being an opportunity for a retreat like experience.  It sounds like you made a lot of progress.
: ladyfrog :, modified 5 Years ago at 4/28/17 9:28 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 4/28/17 9:28 AM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 38 Join Date: 8/6/13 Recent Posts
Thanks for sharing this, it was moving for me to read.  I am not a progress of insight expert.  For what it’s worth, I think a rapid elimination or attenuation of the fear of death is something profoundly significant (especially if permanent), and there does not seem a way for me to not relate that to something "important" when i hear that report.  For myself lining up , let’s say, my energetic experiences on the progress of insight has not always made things more clear - sometimes much less.  It may take a while for you to understand these experiences (either what conditions led to x or y, and how they fit into your larger path) and / or do clarify their nature and place on whatever map(s) you use.  Possibly the medical situation will add a layer of confusion, too, in analysis.

It took years for me to understand the “nature” of my initial experiences. Like i just didn’t have any meditative clarity at the time.  Years later, using different maps as reference, and having been through other cycles/paths i can back-interpret it well, and it seems my teachers agree with my assessment. When you repeat things you learn their “taste” and “aftertaste”, and then you recognize things by that. But all of that is totally separate from the obvious profound changes in my life/perception/level of suffering etc.  So i will leave the stage assessment to people with more skill here.  I would say though, from my perspective, it’s “game on” for you, somehow.
Jack, modified 5 Years ago at 4/29/17 9:57 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 4/29/17 9:57 AM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 2 Join Date: 4/26/17 Recent Posts
Thanks for the input. Yeah being in hospital and taken care of by so many nurses, doctors, family and friends really humbled me.

Could the experience i had have been stream entry? Looking back on the experience since Chistmas, the energy of intense concentration / ecstasy and 'powers' that came with it lasted about a month then slowed down. Before this experience there was this underlying drive or urgency to push myself as far as i could along the path to find release from the pain and uncertainty of living through treatment. Now i don't have that same urge to meditate as much as i did but still do everyday to sustain metta and progress on the path.

Anyways my focus now is on the physical, to try and maintain a life long enough to further progress along the path. Hopefully will go on a retreat later in the year when my energy levels are back.  
: ladyfrog :, modified 5 Years ago at 5/1/17 6:58 PM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/1/17 6:29 PM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 38 Join Date: 8/6/13 Recent Posts
Hi Jack,

I wasn't trying to say one way or another...  Shargol is a very good person for map considerations and i agree very much with his “relax and keep meditating” advice.  But a kind of real depth of shifting in perspective or experience if it's lasting is something that relates to stream entry.  Not sure where you find yourself now in terms of deep shifts.

My experience with most purely A&P experiences is they didn’t deeply alter my level of freedom relative to larger existential things, however some of them were so strange and powerful that i was very very convinced they had to be “important”.  (like in my meditation journal i wrote “this seems very important!!!”, but in hindsight i can see it was just a super crazy weird one-off experience that lay outside what i thought was possible, so therefore seemed like “something important”).  Too, i would say some kinds of unitive knowings which don’t come from a cessation experience, but maybe more of an A&P one, do have a kind of value to the being that is somehow lasting, but the flavor is different, as is the depth and radicality of understanding that becomes available, and that's not visible except through hindsight.  That being said my initial opening if i had described it lets say on this forum i bet would have been called and A&P thing based on what i could describe phenomenologically, but based on the after effects which i had to play out over time, the taste of it, and what i know now and have experienced now, i would say it was stream entry for sure. But that took me many years (and later paths) to determine.  Maybe this is more confusing, i'm just throwing out my experience for what its worth.

So i’m happy you have found your way to your path, and i’m sure over time you’ll have the clarity you need. It seems like you have the sense of it's meaning for you, and that's what's ultimately required, to open to it and practice over time.
shargrol, modified 5 Years ago at 5/5/17 10:02 AM
Created 5 Years ago at 5/5/17 10:02 AM

RE: A&P during chemotherapy

Posts: 1870 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Jack, the maps are easiest to apply when someone is on retreat, doing noting practice, under controlled conditions. It gets very hard to apply the maps with any certainty the further you get from those conditions.

I will say that A&P almost does everything that SE does in terms of creating insight, powers, concentration, freedom. It also can have a cessation-like event, called the A&P event, where reality seems to come and go outside of time.

If you just want the odds, it's probably 90% likely to be A&P, but it could be SE.

In any case, A&P, SE or any other set of initials doesn't matter in the big scheme of things. The important thing is doing things daily to help strenthen those insights, to reduce confusion/suffering, and to be happy. emoticon