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Please help a beginner diagnose

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Please help a beginner diagnose
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9/23/17 1:41 AM
Hi everyone. I was going to write a nice thoughtful introduction, say hi. Then something crazy happened. I guess this will have to do.

I discovered Daniel's book two days ago. I immediately related to the description of the vibrating quality of reality, how emotions come and go one by one with no "realness" and his descriptions of the A&P and the Dark Night. He made me realize I probably had an A&P event in grad school when I wrote my first paper. I then went through the Dark Night for a year, never understood what happened, and just settled into a feeling of ambient badness for the next 10 years. It's like a permanent headache that you learn to live with that makes everything more difficult. For this moment it's actually not important whether this is an accurate diagnosis, unless I'm actually mentally ill except that my daily functioning is absolutely fine.

I started reading MCTB 2 days ago after I stumbled on Slate Star's description of David's map and the parallels I saw in it to my experience. I dropped work and read the whole thing cover to cover, then read the first part again. I took away that insight practice works, that I seem to understand his instructions for the early stages, more conceptual understanding doesn't seem necessary, and that I should just try to experience the Three Characteristics directly. So first I tried access concentration, it seemed easy to attain. It seemed like the first jhana came easily. Noting worked very well to help return to the breath. I'm not sure of anything because I don't have a teacher.

Tonight I decided to allow myself to investigate the Three Characteristics of my breath after "settling into" the meditation. I started by visualizing the breath as one round-trip sensation. This worked as before, the pings and twitches and sporadic thoughts eventually decreased and it was easier to just focus on the breath. Then I stopped visualizing the roundness and "zoomed in". I could sort of feel like the breath, especially the out-breath, was made of hundreds of tiny pieces, flashing too rapidly to see. The in-breath felt like it was shaking and out of focus. As I tried to "zoom in" on the breath, the feeling of calm rapidly changed to a kind of strong ragged sensation. I forced myself to "look closer" to try to "see" the Three Characteristics. I could maybe perceive that the breath is made out of pieces but not clearly, I couldn't see the unsatisfactoriness or the no-self aspects at all because I couldn't focus on the pieces. I mean, I can tell that the breath sensation is not me but that's not new. I was looking closer again and I felt a vibration at the base of my spine. My body was not moving but my perception of the base of my spine was vibrating like a tuning fork, at maybe 5Hz or so. I noted it, noted that fear, excitement, and an attempt to tell some BS story about A&P appeared, and focused on the breath.

The vibration got stronger and started moving up my spine. I decided to try to stop investigating the Three Characteristics (if you could even call it that, it was more like "staring" at the breath without seeing anything clearly) and just try to "calm down" by going back to a rounded visualization of the entire breath, which is what worked for me to reach the first jhana. The vibrations began to subside. I went back to "looking" closely at the breath. The vibrations came back. I decided to keep looking - that's what I was here for. The vibrations got stronger and stronger until I was starting to note fear coming frequently. They spread up my spine to my head and in four thick tendrils down my face towards my eyes and nose, two tendrils on each side. So I decided to go back to the first jhana by visualizing a rounded quality of the entire breath. It did NOT help this time. It was like my breath was inflating the vibrations. It didn't really spread but I felt like I was ringing like a bell. It was hard to breathe. I got scared. I tried to note but it completely overwhelmed me. I opened my eyes before my timer rang and fell over. It took a while to get up, I don't know how long, no longer than a few minutes. My body was still ringing and it was still hard to breathe. But not actually hard to breathe, I have asthma and I know what that feels like, it definitely wasn't that. Maybe I was hyperventilating, I don't really know what that's like. I turned on the light and tried walking to "break the spell", it didn't help. I tried talking and had a lisp. I then counted to 100 and around 70 it finally started to fade. I feel fine now.

Edit: After I got scared and opened my eyes, the entire back of my head felt warm. Not hot but quite warm. Warm enough that I noticed while I was scared and coming out of it.

I feel like I can just barely perceive impermanence. The descriptions make sense, not a vague kind of imaginary sense but an "I've seen this before" kind of sense. I'm quite sure I saw that the out-breath was composed of multiple, very very fast separate pulses of something but I couldn't make them out. It definitely does NOT have any quality to it like "clarity". On the other hand the experience of physical vibrations was incredibly vivid and real.

Sorry about the stream of conciousness style writing and the wall of text. It's late, I haven't been sleeping more than about 5 hours a night all week, and I'm still shaken by the experience. Even so, I don't think it's the A&P because of the lack of clarity. This was literally my first attempt to let go of the roundness visualization and "zoom in" and really try to do insight practice.

If I'm not in danger and I'm on the right track, I would really like to keep going. I want the endless mind-ache to stop. More importantly I really believed from Daniel's book that I could do it, his no-BS approach really resonated with me, I still believe, I believe more after this highly physical experience.

I guess it's probably not strictly speaking necessary, but some help diagnosing would be good. At least an assurance that I'm not in medical danger?... Should I stop meditating until I find a teacher? What happened?

Thank you for reading this mess.

RE: Please help a beginner diagnose
Answer
9/23/17 12:45 PM as a reply to Eugene.
Eugene:

If I'm not in danger and I'm on the right track, I would really like to keep going. I want the endless mind-ache to stop. More importantly I really believed from Daniel's book that I could do it, his no-BS approach really resonated with me, I still believe, I believe more after this highly physical experience.

I guess it's probably not strictly speaking necessary, but some help diagnosing would be good. At least an assurance that I'm not in medical danger?... Should I stop meditating until I find a teacher? What happened?

Thank you for reading this mess.
Not a mess at all. I think many of us know the kind of experience that you are talking about. 

The interesting thing is there seems to be a bit of beginner's luck a lot of the time... People can have quick experience when they start sitting, almost like a sneak preview, and then it takes a while to work back to that cutting edge. So don't be surprised if the next time you sit it doesn't go the same way. Pretty much the whole path of practice is sitting, glimpse of something, losing the something, sitting for a long time and getting frustrated, but then (usually when you give up on making progress) the something comes back and more, then it's lost, then you work up to it again, etc. etc. 

So, here's the thing: seems like you are primed for this kind of work in one sense, but also maybe a little fragile in another sense. The whole trick of getting out of being a dark night yogi is to learn to sit gently, without pushing progress, but also to sit daily, without taking the momentum away. A dark night yogi tends to be prone to sitting too long or seeking too strong and experience, which only re-traumatizes their psyche. There is a tendency to say "I'll take all this abuse if it will fix me", but this is NOT a [EDIT:] healthy approach to meditation practice.

What you did was perfect. Explore, investigate... but when it becomes a little too much, STOP and let it calm down and re-integrate.

Now all that said, yes the A&P is probably going to be exactly like what you experienced, lots of vibrations and a feeling like you are being shook/scattered apart. It can be overwhelming if you don't have a good foundation to ride it out without freaking out. It's also really wild and amazing, too. Kinda like an insane roller coaster or a rocket ship rumbling through the turbulant atmosphere into space. It can also feel like having an anxiety attack. If you can ride out the sensations of an anxiety attack, it comes and goes, but if you start freaking out, it can basically become an anxiety attack.

It is HIGHLY recommended that you develop your support team before getting into disruptive stuff. Finding a local practice group and teacher is best. Posting on here is okay, but it's kind of a crap shoot on who is around to reply. Some people set up practice logs here, on AwakeNetwork (my personal favorite place for people with committed daily practices), or Reddit Stream Entry, etc. Many of us have worked with meditation teachers/fellow practioners via skype/google hangouts and that has worked well, too.

You have been given a nice sneak preview -- how very kind of the universe! emoticon But now take precautions and set up things so you can do this practice and make progress without really disrupting your life. 

Hope this helps, best wishes!

RE: Please help a beginner diagnose
Answer
9/23/17 9:50 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thank you! What you're saying makes perfect sense. I will find a teacher.

You are right that there's a "this will fix me" aspect to my thinking. It's also very much true that I am absolutely not a victim of some disease. I've been shown something incredible and I mostly feel grateful and excited. The price is the price.

Thank you for the advice to not push into it like this. There's a First Training aspect of this for me. If I really screw up the lives of the people who need me I will never forgive myself. Then, if I try to go to the first jhana, instead of bubbles to pop I'll get giant ICBMs of guilt and self-loathing.

And thank you Daniel for presenting the information in a way I relate to you. Just want to say I don't feel like people who need to will find it automatically. Instead people like me would probably cycle through the manifestations, without ever understanding anything, until we run out of time.

RE: Please help a beginner diagnose
Answer
9/23/17 12:46 PM as a reply to Eugene.
And just to clarify... meditation is ultimately a healing practice (I'll edit this above), but what I was trying to say was "I'll take this abuse if it fixes me" is a bad approach to meditation, it doesn't ask the question "why am I setting myself up for abuse?".

Basically meditation is >challenging< but it shouldnt be abusive. Same thing with teachers, they might be strict or somewhat demanding, but they should NOT be abusive.

Sometimes people will push their practice hard, thinking they just need to get past a certain point... and while there is a slight element of truth to it, the people who make real progress are more inclined to be the type that never miss a day of sitting-- consistent practice pretty much always progresses fastest.

Hope that helps!

RE: Please help a beginner diagnose
Answer
9/23/17 11:06 PM as a reply to shargrol.
shargrol:
And just to clarify... meditation is ultimately a healing practice (I'll edit this above), but what I was trying to say was "I'll take this abuse if it fixes me" is a bad approach to meditation, it doesn't ask the question "why am I setting myself up for abuse?".

Basically meditation is >challenging< but it shouldnt be abusive. Same thing with teachers, they might be strict or somewhat demanding, but they should NOT be abusive.

Sometimes people will push their practice hard, thinking they just need to get past a certain point... and while there is a slight element of truth to it, the people who make real progress are more inclined to be the type that never miss a day of sitting-- consistent practice pretty much always progresses fastest.

Hope that helps!

Thank you shargrol. I do think I understand. I do hope it will heal, but I don't want to focus on that right now as I have a long way to go and I just need to experience what's in my head I think.

I did an hour of practice today in two 30 minute sessions. All my clarity is gone. Yesterday I was assigning shades of color to the jhanas, today I can barely concentrate at all with the endless noise in my head. Even noting is hard (it was super easy before) because I don't clearly see when things start or end. Practice sucks now emoticon I didn't realize how clear things were yesterday, now I do emoticon Outside practice I have no energy. After practice the center of my vision was annoying and the periphery was more pleasant, this was quite obvious but passed eventually. I feel cold. It feels kind of good in a lazy sort of way, at least when not meditating. The sensations outside practice could be misleading me but the difference when I sit is enormous and unambiguously bad. Could be wrong, but I'm guessing I'm in for an unpleasant ride soon...

But good news - I was more gentle with myself and at least that helped I think. In the first session I tried to focus like yesterday and it was really unpleasant and just didn't work. The second time, after I stopped visualizing the roundness aspect of the breath, I didn't force a "zooming in" and just kind of relaxed my inner eye and stared into the distance, and examined what arose without engaging. That was better, although nothing like before. At least like this I can investigate something... That's how I realized that I can't see the start and end of many of the things in my head clearly anymore.

Anyway, thank you again. I will find a teacher, will not stop practicing, will not be abusive to myself or others, and eventually awaken.

RE: Please help a beginner diagnose
Answer
9/24/17 7:24 AM as a reply to Eugene.
Sounds like a good plan.

By the way, a lot of people assume that the stages of insight are linear and you keep going higher and higher, but the truth is you can often go up and down and up and down even in a single sit. You can start lower than you were than your previous sit. etc. etc. etc. Basically the maps were developed for people on full-time retreat, not lay people with home practice, so our practice going to look a little more confusing and much more up and down. So don't make too many assumptions about where you are in the map, just practice with a good balance between effort and relaxation. Make the effort to practice daily and not get up, but try to relax into the experiences that are showing up.  Best wishes!