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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective

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A couple of things to preface this with:

First, I'm not working with any mentor right now, just a friend or two 
Second, words don't feel like they hold any truth now; trying to explain this or communicate anything feels like lying.

After some discussion on the philosophy of skepticism that allowed me to process some of the things I've been thinking about, I found myself not believing in anything. I was asking myself 'do I believe this?' when thoghts would arise and the answer that came each time was always 'no, this is just a working hypothesis'. The next day my friend and I were breaking down in confusion over how they could have so many people in their lives who over and over again were just doing everything they could to hurt them. We got caught up in the senselessness of it, how this kind of pattern was beyond understanding or explanation.

At some point after that, my brain's thought patterns started to break down, or at least awareness of them or introspective abilities seemed to dissapear. My mind would start to process information to come up with patterns but every time they would break down as if the scafolding they usually were built on was no longer there. No apparent logic or reasoning, no sense of empathy, but lots of anxiety and fear. Everything got jumbled and confusing, was beyond understanding or explanation that didn't come until I went to sleep that night and woke up again (or maybe it was understood, I don't know, it's just the story I have in my head). I started to panic and reached out for connection with my friend, my mind coming up with words to describe what was going on, which always came back to something like 'I don't know what this is, so confused'. I was starting to feel like I was going to have a panic attack but something in me responded to that by starting meditation... at which point where I was started to become apparent, and the word my mind came up for it was 'void'.

After working through some fear and anxiety, which I instinctually seemed to recognize as guides rather than flee from once in meditation, all the thoughts my mind was coming up with became apparent. They were arising and immediately disolving. There was nothing there except awareness or an observer. At some point, my mind got caught up seeking connection, specifically to my friend. It wasn't until waking up from sleep later that it occured to me that that was an absurd concern coming from a dualistic misunderstanding, but this perspective of void/nothingness was still there. When my friend started to try talking to me again, it didn't feel like it was even possible to interact. I just smiled and shrugged when he asked me questions. Some kundalini awakening started happening and after a while I was able to communicate again on some limited level.

So, I wake up the next day with my brain now able to form patterns to describe the previous day, but there's still no belief, but it soon became apparent that I wasn't quite the same person I had been before (which is not unfamiliar; it happened after the first awakening). It didn't feel like there was even understanding going on in the minds patterns, for one thing, which was seen as a positive, if anything, but a more concerning change seemed to be that anxiety, fear, and anger were now out of 'control'. I had been practicing ways to handle emotions, reprograming my brain in a way that had started allowing me to feel all that pain and love and accept it at the same time without letting it drive me towards hurting myself or others (to some extent), and suddenly my brain was acting like a teenager again, acting out the emotions... and I just feel like I'm sitting here watching it all happen.

So, I'm left with a few thoughts:

There's no sense to this, no understanding or explanation to be found here, though my brain is going to keep looking regardless.

There's nothing to cling to but I'm still clinging to something for some reason.

I should just go with it and not post this or look for mentorship, but at the same time I'm not trying to control anything and this post is something that came of that.

So, I'm here lost and confused and could use some perspective or advice, seemingly.

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 3:31 AM as a reply to Danielle.
Hello Danielle!

It seems that you are dealing with some difficult territory here, I am sorry to hear that. It sucks, but good news is that you can make good progress out of it if you work smart. Unfortunately, it is a bit hard to answer your message without some basic info on your current and practice. This is what I have come up with after giving your post some thought. I have some questions, some observations, and a tip for you on how to put the two things together.




--- Part 1: Questions about you ---

Could you share some more about your practice history? Some basics like: What techniques have you practiced in the past, how long for, and so on? What is this thing that you call "the first awakening" above?

What does your practice look like right now? What techniques, how many times a day, how long for, what difficulties are you encountering applying the techniques, do you feel that you are getting mileage out of them, stuff like that. Also include: What do you mean by "reprogramming the brain"? How do you do that?

Also important: What are your goals right now? Why do you meditate/practice?

(For completeness: Have you been diagnosed with any kind of medical or psychological illness that you feel might be playing a role here?)




--- Part 2: Impressions about your message ---

Specifically about your post: It would seem that:

a) You are relatively engaged with the content of your thoughts;

b) There is some unpleasant emotional material being activated that you seem to be engaged with from the point of view of its content (anxiety, fear).




--- Putting the two parts together ---

The way you are handling this sensory / cognitive / emotional material coming up is at least partially by looking for external or conceptual solutions, such as: contact with friends, external meaning, is the world empty or meaningful?, philosophy, scepticism. Is this in any way related to the practices that I asked about in Part 1?

More generally, your intended practices and techniques, how do they suggest to handle this stuff that is coming up? Do you feel that you are practicing your techniques as you were instructed to (whether by a person, a book, a video)? Specifically:

i) In what ways do you think that you are doing a "good job"?

ii) In what ways do you think you could be applying your techniques better, more effectively, and/or more as intendended?




Hope this helps!

neko

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 7:16 AM as a reply to Danielle.
Danielle:

...I found myself not believing in anything.

... they could have so many people in their lives who over and over again were just doing everything they could to hurt them.

...I had been practicing ways to handle emotions, reprograming my brain in a way that had started allowing me to feel all that pain and love and accept it at the same time 

It's hard for me to tell if this applies to your situation, but here's my thoughts. I hope they help in some way.

Just for context, it's important to realize that most people live their lives as if their emotions are true. They lash out when they are angry, they indulge what makes them feel good. They are basically trapped in their emotions. But emotions are just emotions, they don't necessarily need to translate into action. There can be a lot of freedom around emotions if you can learn to just let them be as they are, but not necessarily react to them all the time. I have hunch that your practice with emotions is allowing you to see this.

And this probably led to the next observation that "beliefs are just beliefs". This is a major realization. Even more people are trapped in their beliefs, but beliefs are just beliefs and they don't necessarily need to translate into action. There can be a lot of freedom around beliefs as well... but unfortunately, the first true realization that beliefs are beliefs can feel like a scary void.

We all have ways of reacting to void/absence/lacking... basically lots of different overreactions: freaking out, shutting down, distracting ourselves with drama, having sex, self-medicating, reckless behavior, guilt/shaming ourselves... All of us have our own flavor of dealing with fear of the void. It's strongly conditioned by how we dealt with it in the past. It usually is a combination of how our parents related to us and how we instinctually dealt with the absence of the parent; plus how we dealt with presence/absence as children, teenagers, etc.  It can be be amazing to see all the ways we live in patterns... 

The trauma cycle is a pattern too, of course. I have a hunch you were starting to see how traumatized people tend to shut down and how that weakness makes them even more vulnerable to abusers. Abusers tend to hunt for previously abused people to abuse, and they find them by noticing when people shut down. Tragically, abusers are usually abused people themselves, trying to gain power over their trauma by being an abuser, which just continues the pattern. It's fucked up. It's a horrible set of recurring patterns.

But it is definitely possible to climb out of patterned behavior. The biggest challenge is learning how to be with the kinds of feelings that caused us to shut down or overreact. That's the goal of psychology and mediation: being able to experience things without falling into patterned behavior. 

The bigger the feelings, the more beneficial it is to work with therapists and meditation teachers. Therapy really is the most direct method for dealing with difficult feelings. Some people use meditation but it just takes too long, why waste time? So much better to grow past the major traumas. Mediation is probably better at subtle stuff, but it makes a great combination with therapy. Folks that do both seem to make the quickest and deepest progress.

Anyway, hopefully you will give yourself some time to recover from your shock, but I hope that you will continue to explore ways to find acceptance and freedom even during strong experiences. 

It's very worthwhile but it isn't easy. It's very much progress then fall back, learning something and then needing to learn it again and again. It's important to surround ourselves with friends and professionals and aquaintences and books and youtube videos etc. that can support us, because none of us are perfect at this stuff.  

Best wishes Danielle!

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 8:12 AM as a reply to Danielle.
Hello Danielle I see what you are experiencing is a great opportunity for contemplation. You seem to be going through an interesting period as learning new ideas and modes of thinking would quickly restructure your world view. But in times like these when conceptual reality is disolving and our cognition seems to be restructuring itself it is necessary to guard oneself from the traps of nihilism. Seeing your interest in certain philosophical/spiritual and mainly human issues of today's humanity you should definitely check this blog https://meaningness.com as I think it would be very relevant to what you are going through. It ecompasses a lot of subjects with a rather precise analysis and balanced approach.

With Metta,

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 12:05 PM as a reply to neko.
Hi Neko,

Thanks so much for your response. I'll try to answer these as best I can:
Could you share some more about your practice history? Some basics like: What techniques have you practiced in the past, how long for, and so on? What is this thing that you call "the first awakening" above?

What does your practice look like right now? What techniques, how many times a day, how long for, what difficulties are you encountering applying the techniques, do you feel that you are getting mileage out of them, stuff like that. Also include: What do you mean by "reprogramming the brain"? How do you do that?

I’ll answer these together because it hasn’t changed too much over time except by increasing or changing in consistency and adding different ways of approaching the same questions or concerns. I’ve tried various things but this is basically what stuck:

Sitting meditation for me normally involves watching the breath, then letting thoughts arise and watching them, then asking who or what is seeing the thoughts (or something like that), then returning to the breath; also frequently loving kindness meditation; other stuff as well, but this is the most consistent way I’ve done it. Then it’s mostly watching and naming thoughts, watching my reactions to thoughts, working through reasons for my behaviors and beliefs, sitting with feelings, questioning everything, stuff like that. 

What I meant by the first awakening was stream entry. I can go into the details of that but that’s a whole other can of worms. Basically it involved dissolving, awareness of oneness boundless in space, without beginning or end, boundless consciousness, seeing human life as only a snippet of the continuing chain of being, with ecstasy, bliss etc.
Also important: What are your goals right now? Why do you meditate/practice?

I’m feeling a bit divided over the term goal. One part of me is just happy watching and being, no goals to be had, and the part of me that posted this is looking for a different perspective on all this because none of it fits together in any clearly meaningful way. Honestly, if your advice is just to sit with that, it would probably give me some peace of mind.

I meditate/practice because I love myself enough to not just keep suffering and I love humanity enough to put myself in a place where I could actually be helpful to others in that respect.

EDIT: for whatever reason, forgot to say a reason even more fundamental than that previous paragraph: to realize truth. I don't buy that the human mind can touch knowledge (that it's a Chinese room if you're familiar with Searle); ego is a barrier to seeing truth. Everything that seems important I suspect will come from realization of truth... not that awareness isn't already aware of truth...

There’s probably contradictions in all that, but that’s how everything looks now…

(For completeness: Have you been diagnosed with any kind of medical or psychological illness that you feel might be playing a role here?)

No but I self-diagnose as an Aspie. That was all unprecedented and not something chronic.

Specifically about your post: It would seem that:

a) You are relatively engaged with the content of your thoughts;

b) There is some unpleasant emotional material being activated that you seem to be engaged with from the point of view of its content (anxiety, fear).

Sure it’s unpleasant. The concern here has more to do with losing my handle on those emotions. I trained myself to not always let them drive me and to happily let them be, and all that seems to have gone away, leaving me with a seemingly less-trained mind, like returning to my teenage brain.
The way you are handling this sensory / cognitive / emotional material coming up is at least partially by looking for external or conceptual solutions, such as: contact with friends, external meaning, is the world empty or meaningful?, philosophy, scepticism. Is this in any way related to the practices that I asked about in Part 1? 

Processing ideas to use in practice without clinging to them or assuming they hold truth has gone hand in hand with practice. There are a lot of levels friends play into that as well, so yes and no.
More generally, your intended practices and techniques, how do they suggest to handle this stuff that is coming up? Do you feel that you are practicing your techniques as you were instructed to (whether by a person, a book, a video)? Specifically:

i) In what ways do you think that you are doing a "good job"?


ii) In what ways do you think you could be applying your techniques better, more effectively, and/or more as intendended?

I could meditate more often, more consistently, but with watching my thoughts and all that stuff, it has gotten pretty consistent; it’s something I do most of the time rather than just when I intend to focus on it. More importantly, I started practice with the expectation that it would bear some fruit and it has, which is why I intend to keep at it. However, I’m always looking for ways to hone the practice rather than being content with it just because it’s working. Making it more consistent would help too.

Accepting what is has been a big one: on one hand, I’m accepting this state of confusion and on another I’m writing this out of accepting that my brain is looking for perspectives because it’s not content with this confusion.

thanks again

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 11:33 AM as a reply to Bhumi.
Hi Bhumi,

Thanks for the reccomendation, that blog does appear to be worth exploring, especially if it discusses the traps of nihilism.

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 11:43 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Hi Shargrol,

It seems I haven't explained this well enough to communicate effectively (or maybe it's just that this is full of contradictions). It's okay though. Thanks for the help. As you said, it was hard to tell if it applied and I can see why you would interpret it that way.

To help clarify: it's not so much that I've started to 'realize' these things as it is something switching from intellectualizing things I've understood for a long time to that knowledge becoming wisdom.

I'm really fine despite how all this sounds; am past the shock of it, just want to figure out where I am and how to be effective. 

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 1:45 PM as a reply to Danielle.
The advice I give myself: 

If it feels good, dont get attached to it because it will pass. 
If it feels bad, dont worry, it will pass. 

You have no control, so you are free and innocent and perfect.  Just enjoy it no matter what arises.  

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/6/18 7:50 PM as a reply to Danielle.
Danielle:
I'm really fine despite how all this sounds; am past the shock of it, just want to figure out where I am and how to be effective. 

Wonderful. Sounds good. Sorry about missing the target. emoticon

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/7/18 4:17 AM as a reply to Danielle.
Danielle:

Sitting meditation for me normally involves watching the breath, then letting thoughts arise and watching them, then asking who or what is seeing the thoughts (or something like that), then returning to the breath; also frequently loving kindness meditation; other stuff as well, but this is the most consistent way I’ve done it. Then it’s mostly watching and naming thoughts, watching my reactions to thoughts, working through reasons for my behaviors and beliefs, sitting with feelings, questioning everything, stuff like that. 


I will keep it simple and focus on what seems the main thing to me. It looks like your current practice is not working very well for you when dealing with negative emotions and mind states. Would you consider trying a technique that actually allows you to work with negative material in a more systematic manner? If yes, one option might be Shinzen Young's system. It would allow you to work with thoughts and emotions as purely sensory events, exploring whether they are visual, acoustic, or tactile in nature, how they interact with one another, and what their qualities are in terms of intensity, quality, location, dimension, change, movement, and so on. You could adapt this system to your current practice with minimal changes. Basically, when you are watching the breath and letting thoughts arise and watching them, instead of doing a self-inquiry type of work, or in addition to it, you would be investigating the qualities I listed above.

If you like reading, you might start from one of these PDFs

https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FiveWaystoKnowYourself_ver1.6.pdf

https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SeeHearFeelIntroduction_ver1.8.pdf

Alternatively, there is this quick online course that you can take for free, put together by some of Shinzen's senior students / facilitators / teachers:

https://unifiedmindfulness.com/core

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/8/18 8:40 AM as a reply to Danielle.
Ok, i didn't read through replies, so just about the orginal post:

The point that you don't believe anything you say is a normal phase for a lot of people when they decide to be truthfull (can bet you are early 20ish).
Basicaly you have to abandon everything you don't know for sure is true, which will make up probably of about 97% emoticon
The positive thing is that this will leave a solid fundation that nothing will move, but will make you quite a lousy companion for a while emoticon

Let is settle down for a few weeks, don't just jump to conclusions. (Also you might consider writting everything down for future reading, you will be surprised ;) (or poaint if you feel like it))

Also pick a phisical aim, like cleaning your room ;) This will help.

As for the skepticism itself, from wiki:
Thomas Reid (1710 - 1796), founder of the Scottish School of Common Sense, argued that, if perception and the other cognitive processess are not reliable, then the faculty of reasoning which the skeptic uses is also bound to be unreliable too. So, either the skeptic is right, in which case we cannot trust our ability to reason and therefore cannot trust the skeptic's conclusion; or the skeptic is wrong, in which case again we cannot trust the skeptic's conclusion.

But this is for you to process and find out what is actualy a reality. You could follow a thought of philosophy as it somewhat explore the road you'll probably take, or mayeb just jump to a modern (western) conclusions(well...) at the moment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n5GD69wFOA

Anyway, the botom line is that everything is fine and you'll be ok.

RE: Feeling lost and confused; could probably use some perspective
Answer
1/9/18 9:44 PM as a reply to Danielle.
Danielle:
So, I'm here lost and confused and could use some perspective or advice, seemingly.

Your descriptions remind me of these stages


If you are truely working on second path, I find that it is much more about the mind than the 5 senses at this point. Nothing in the mind is permanent, you, or satisfactory.
Sounds like good progress so far
Good luck,
~D