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Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?

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Hey guys,

I'm not sure whether or not I'm already in the Dark Night of the Soul or still in the 3rd Nana, Knowledge of the Three Characteristics.

Basically, my story is this: in August, I did mushrooms for the first (and only) time in my life. Long story short, I ate way too much, the trip started out with some mild anxiety, later on spiralled down into complete terror and then towards the end became a bit nicer again (I pet a Golden Retriever, these guys have the power to calm anyone down haha). I could have had my A&P then, but since I don't actually remember much of the trip, I can't think of any part of it where that could have been. Anyways, I haven't really been the same person ever since.

After this experience, I first became very aware of the suffering of others and it occurred to me that everyone suffered and suffering was completely inevitable. Mind you, this was before I knew anything whatsoever about Buddhism, I only got into that later on. I would get panic attacks just upon observing other people, watching movies etc. i became hyperaware of all the suffering that I saw everywhere I looked. I developed mild derealisation and depersonalisation. I started psychotherapy.

After that, I started meditating with the Headspace app. I worked my way up to 20 minutes, using their normal program of mindfulness of the body and focus on the breath. I haven't been too consistent with it, and I don't feel like I progressed very much.

I've constantly experienced anxiety and despair in all the suffering of the world ever since. It's worse sometimes, sometimes gets better, but there's always an undercurrent of it.

Somehow ironically, the mushroom experience left me completely terrified about any altered states of consciousness and spirituality in general, so while I feel myself strongly drawn towards Buddhism, I also feel revolted and horribly scared of it.

The last 2 months I managed to develop some degree of equanimity, sometimes I even felt incredibly blissful during the day for no reason other than just the joy of existing. Then at other moments, the black, existential despair creeps back into my soul as it is doing right now.

The reason why I'm confused is because I don't seem to have the ability to discern anywhere up to 10 experiences per second. I can barely keep my focus on the breath for 20 minutes. So maybe, I'm not in the dukkha nanas yet after all.

What do you think? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

EDIT: maybe it's also just regular depression or anxiety disorder, Uni isn't working out well lately and I have social anxiety and pretty much no friends

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/23/17 6:05 PM as a reply to Tim.
Tim, As far as 10x a second or keeping a focus on the breath --- it doesn't matter how good or bad your sits are. Just sit a little each day and let them be how they are. The body/mind is much "smarter" than we are and there are usually good reasons why we are where we are in meditation. 

The body/mind changes slowly. That's just how it works. Many times when things are progressing slowing in mediation, we're basically recovering from some trauma (physical, social, drug-induced chemical) or we're developing psychologically (e.g., going from young adult to adult, etc.) and so there is a very good reason why things are going slow. It very very very very very very rarely makes sense to try and make or force progress happen. Usually that just results in more psychological instability.

My honest advice is do what ever creates basic sanity in your life. Just really basic meditation and psychotherapy is a great mix. Give yourself time, don't worry about the maps and making progress. Just cultivate basic contentment in the midst of change. That's the important thing. 

Since you are lucky enough to be at a university, please make the most of it and study enough to get decent grades, make yourself exercise, try to eat decent stuff some of the time, try out social situations that are scary and challenging, and get enough sleep to allow your brain to develop and your body to recover. Sit most days but don't get obsessed about it. 

Rather than fast noting, I would actually recommend something more like "RAIN" meditation: 

https://www.mindful.org/tara-brach-rain-mindfulness-practice/
https://www.tarabrach.com/meditation-the-rain-of-self-compassion/

The secret to a good mediation practice is finding something that works for you where you are at. That's what allows you to develop a good foundation. Then during summers or after you graduate, you can really go explore more intense meditation practices -- hopefully under the guidance of a good teacher.

Best wishes!

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/23/17 6:22 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks a lot for your kindness shargrol, I will try to do that meditation you linked me to.

That's very helpful advice, I do lots of sports and definitely notice that I feel a lot better on the days that I do get my exercise (and the harder I exercise, the better I feel haha). I haven't practiced any fast noting at all yet, which was kind of the reason why I got confused, from reading the MCBT chapters on the Dukkha Nanas it seems like this kind of thing is a prerequisite for that to happen. Anyways, I'll follow your advice, take it nice and easy with the meditation and try to work on the rest of my life first. Thanks a lot again.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/23/17 9:39 PM as a reply to Tim.
Tim, please, pretty please with sugar on top: please get some friends!

About 15 or so years ago, I was lonely, isolated, unbalanced and depressed (and it was around Uni, too, during and after). What got me out of it was socializing. Some person reached out to me, and thus I entered a circle of new people, made some good friends, met other people, got involved in various activities (social gatherings, mountain trips, birthday parties, going out), and little by little I changed. We need social interaction for psycho-emotional self-regulation. There's a reason that people who live alone for a long time get changed by that experience, on a scale from "a bit quirky" to "completely nuts". It's out of the back-and-forth social interaction that the mind builds sanity. https://youtu.be/r2y3ZkI6zQA?t=8s

Other than that, make sure you get plenty of sleep (it's during sleep that the brain closes its open browsing tabs, and defrags and organizes the data on its hard drive), sunshine on your skin, and nature. You could add anything else that's positive: upbeat music, a motivating book, a hot shower, comedy, plants in your room, a pet, whatever else works for you. A romantic partner works wonders, and lacking that can be a big factor for depression at your age (heck! at any age); but just be out there, and that's coming too.

Not everything in life (especially at your age right now) is (or should be) about meditation. Don't go overboard. You need a bit of everything, just like a good nutrition (all those fad diets that unbalance some component are bullshit). Go out into the world, have experiences and interactions, grow as a person, before you turn to meditation as a panacea. You better build a life and a mind, before striving to deconstruct them with meditation. 

I'm not a guru. Just some random average guy on the internet, with an OK life, that got through some past shit, and cares to give some advice to the best of his ability. If anything I said resonates with you, maybe use it.

And maybe don't just buy into everything you read online. Open some other book, browse some other forum, and you're going to find different ideas. I'm not criticizing Daniel here, if anything, it's his book that got me into giving mediation a harder try. I say keep a skeptical mind along an open mind, see what works for you and what doesn't. The territory is murky at best, and all the gurus are so dead sure of themselves. In Soto Zen for instance, they put the utmost emphasis on the zazen posture; I think that's bullshit, it's more important what you do with your mind than with your body, but tell that to the people who buy into that tradition! They think the posture itself is essential for enlightenment. In some book I even encountered the idea that the zazen posture itself IS enlightenment!?

On the other hand, there's such a thing as loving-kindness meditation. Maybe give that a try too, see if it lifts your spirits: https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/wiki/twim-crash-course

May you be truly happy and free from suffering!

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 10:02 AM as a reply to Tim.
A bit more advice for you, Tim: go see a doctor. Meditation is not medication. If the mushroom trip has had you off-kilter for a long period of time then get professional help from a good psychiatrist

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 11:02 AM as a reply to Tim.
Hi Tim, hope you are well today. 

I'm someone who made the mistakes above. I was not gentle or compassionate with myself during meditation practise. And in hindsight, I did not work on my life with balance. Fortunately in my case, I was very intense about doing things the wrong way, so I burned myself out quickly, then came to an understanding of self-compassion/balance by painful necessity. 

So I'm in full agreement with the posters above. 

Also, I've gone through very brutal psychiatric drug withdrawals (e.g. benzos and SSRIs), and have had experiences with substances that seemed to trigger prolonged fear/stress cycles. I experimented a lot to find a way out. So I empathise with the suffering that seemed be triggered by mushrooms. I think there's a big physiological/psychological basis for these, outside of any interpretations within insight meditation.

In essence, I discovered that it's best to work on each of the levels that sustains it. One way to break this down is by seeing the stress cycle as sustained by body tension, breath, and psychology. There is far too much to write about here, but maybe some simple techniques might help: 
  • Body: Look up the constructive rest position from the alexander technique: http://alexandertechnique.com/constructiverest/. Try just lying in it for 20 minutes and doing absolutely nothing. This is very powerful. Do it whenever you feel like you want to reduce agitation.

  • Breath: Look up the buteyko technique. See what your breathing is like with the test here: http://www.buteyko.com/practical/elements/index_elements.html . Hyperventilation sustains a hypervigilant state: high body tension, hypersensitivity and reaction to your environment. The simplest way to describe this technique is that it gradually reduces your automatic breathing volume via relaxation. Practising this for several months totally eliminated my 10 year insomnia, but it takes time.

    Two simple variations to use straight away: One simple technique, is to chop 10-20% off the top of each inhale, so you get a feeling of very light air hunger, then sustain that, as long as you want or until you feel better. It should be comfortable, and if it's working, you should start to feel warmer and more relaxed. A second simple technique when you feel panic, is to pause 3-5 seconds at the end of every other exhale. e.g. inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale _pause 5 secs_ inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale _pause 5 secs_ and so on, until you feel better. 

  • Psychology: What you're doing with psychotherapy sounds good. As is being gentle with yourself, giving your body/mind time and space to heal. Paying attention to eating well and enough, exercising, socialising, all the basics. Insight meditation will probably not improve your life quickly, it might even destabilize it. Likewise, a balanced, healthy life, will definitely help insight meditation. 

    Perhaps for you, it could also be interesting to look at what fear and despair actually are when they arise; What are the sensations? Where are they? How big? Do they change? What are the thoughts? Are they logical? Are thoughts about the physical sensations accurate? A simple, curious investigation into what is actually occuring can lead to less reaction. 

Hope that was helpful and feel free to message me if you're interested in body + breath techniques. 

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 11:09 AM as a reply to Tim.
Some great advice on this thread. I was stuck in DN for a while. I still experience it to some degree from time to time but it's totally manageable.

I'm re-emphasizing some of the above but am offering some additional advice. Here it goes...

1. Do balance exercise and socializing. I experienced DN which resembles depression but I also found that I was also depressed simply because I was lazy and isolated. Exercise and social time can promote a sense of well-being and it keeps depression at bay. Since you are shy and don't have friends, commit to some kind of group activity such as volunteering or taking a class. Just being around people, without socializing, can help stabilize the mind. The commitment itself will help you feel like you are a part of something.

2. Breathe. Braething just makes dealing with unpleasant mind states a whole lot easier. It calms the mind and can reduce the number of thoughts by a large percentage. Don't even worry about concentration. Just let everything be there.

3. See a therapist. A therapist can help you with some of your blind spots. This is especially true if you aren't able to make friends. The inability to make friends is a good sign that you need therapy. I can say this from personal experience. I'm still shy and very introverted, but now I'm able to make friends and my social skills have improved immensely. For me, the lack of social skills was a huge reason as to why I didn't have friends. It took a lot of practice.

4. Give up alcohol and other substances. Even nitocine can contribute to darker mind states. If you can't give it up at least try to keep it at a minimum. If you're paying attention to your suffering you'll notice that substances amplify suffering once you come down. Most substances are classified as depressants including alcohol and marijuana.

5. Some may disagree with this but I found that concentration wasn't really possible until I was in EQ. So now if I dip down into DN I keep light attention on the breath and just ignore the contents of mind. Instead of thinking "I'm going to contentrate" think "I'm going to keep shifting attention away from thought." I do that until I hit EQ.

Hope this helps.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 2:06 PM as a reply to Ed Ge.
Ed Ge, thank you a lot for your kindness & compassion, it's much appreciated. I've been practicing Metta meditation and I do feel like it helps me, but you're right about the friends thing, that's one of the main things my psychotherapist is also focusing on and I've been making some progress on my self-worth. I try to go to martial arts training 3 times a week and play music with some others once a week. Didn't make any friends yet, but  hey, it's human interaction haha.

Your comment helps a lot, thank you.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 2:08 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Well I want to try to get out of this whole thing without any chemical intervention, but you're right, if it turns out that other things don't work, I will definitely look into that. Thank you a lot.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 2:15 PM as a reply to Doctor Avocado.
Thank you Dr. Avocado, appreciate the kind words. Hope you're also feeling better now and those prolonged fear cycles are better these days.

I'm going to try this position when I go to sleep, hope that doesn't defeat the purpose haha. I also took that Buteyko test and my control pause was only 25 seconds which shocked me; I always though my breath was very deep and healthy. So I will work on these breathing techniques. Thank you a lot for showing me these things, I would've never found those.

Thanks again, your comment really helped and I will work on these things you mentioned.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/24/17 2:22 PM as a reply to ivory.
Hey Ivory, thanks to you as well for the kind words.

I go to martial arts training a few times a week and you're right, it is a great help and definitely keeps me grounded in a way. It's hard to be overly caught up in your own thoughts while a grown man takes a swing at your face haha. The rest is also really solid advice, I'll try to follow these recommendations, thank you a lot.

RE: Dukkha nanas or Three Characteristics?
Answer
7/25/17 11:28 AM as a reply to Doctor Avocado.
Doctor Avocado:
feel free to message me if you're interested in body + breath techniques. 

Actually, how DOES one send a private message on this forum? I haven't been able to figure it out yet.