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Dark Night Research
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6/13/18 9:30 PM







RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
1/8/18 3:46 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Howdy,
I will check out your link now but just wanted to make sure you know about Dr. Willoughby Britton's work.

https://vivo.brown.edu/display/wbritton

Cheers

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
1/8/18 8:52 PM as a reply to tom moylan.
Yep, sure have! Thank you emoticon

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/16/18 9:27 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Hi Anna, I spent 5 years in dark night.

I'd be curious to hear more about what you are doing, why you're doing it, and what you've been finding.

You should elaborate.

Best

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/17/18 3:04 AM as a reply to ivory.
Hi ivory, 

My research looks at why adverse effects of meditation have been ignored in modern secular contexts in the West. So far I have argued that this is because:

1. in contemporary Western applications of meditation the goal has shifted from enlightenment to symptom relief (e.g. stress reduction, better sleep, reduce depression), leading to the assumption that meditation is harmless and ‘good for everyone.’ Meditation has been reconceptualised as a therapeutic technique, rather than as a method used to achieve a religious or spiritual goal. When people hold this view of meditation, adverse effects tend to be ignored.

2. secular meditation has been decontextualized and divorced from the traditional religious literature and contemplative practitioners who could shed light on possible difficulties associated with meditation. Traditional texts and teachers point to a number of difficulties associated with meditative paths (e.g. the dukkha nanas, Zen sickness, Tibetan lung, kundalini syndrome). Some of these difficulties are a normal part of the contemplative path, others may be due to incorrect technique or practice (e.g. excessive practice, lack of sleep, not enough time spent doing physical work or enaging with the scriptures). Some traditions also acknowledge the difference between mental illness and the "dark night" and recognise that for some people, meditation is contraindicated. Most people who meditate now do not have awareness of this type of information. 

3. the image of meditation in popular media has been manipulated to fit contemporary consumer demands for a secular Westernised therapeutic technique that can be commodified. I.e. meditation has been presented as a harmless and sell-able technique. This view is propped up by social discourses such as wellness culture, self-care, and the turn towards happiness. Meditation has also been presented as a glamorous technique and has been promoted via celebrity gurus and also via stories of celebrities meditating (actors, CEOs, silicon valley entrepreneurs), and tends to be associated with "happiness" (e.g. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Dalai Lama, Matthieu Ricard). 

All of these factors have come together to present meditation in an overly positive way, and have ignored the complexity and depth of their religious traditions of origin. 

I became interested in this topic after experiencing my own dark night, and meeting many other people who had interesting (and not always expected) effects from meditation practice. I have also always been interested in the link between altered states of consciousness and human development. Finally, I just noticed a whole heap of misinformation about meditation in the media and got really annoyed by it, and decided to investigate for myself! ;)

I hope you are now feeling that you have passed through your own dark night?

Cheers
A

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/19/18 12:36 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Yeah, I'm out of it now. But I really screwed my life up while I was in it. I spent the last year trying to fix things that I broke. Things are looking up now so that's good news.

As for meditation, I have no desire to keep practicing right now. I suspect that will change in the near future though and I'm just being patient until that changes.

Best

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/19/18 7:25 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna, are you aware of the work that has been and is being done in this area at Brown University by Dr. Willoughby Britton? Here's a link:

https://www.brown.edu/academics/contemplative-studies/research

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/19/18 9:15 AM as a reply to Anna L.
I'd love to learn more about how you're able to tell whether meditation truly is the cause of supposed dark night symptoms. Seems like most people who report this stuff happen to be very young--precisely in the age range in which a lot of psychological and emotional problems tend to emerge.  

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/19/18 11:23 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
For me I guess only one thing removed my doubt that I reached some nanas (beside that advanced meditators, not young like me told me that) was my Kundalini Awakening without that I wouldn't believe I'm in nanas.

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/19/18 3:56 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Hey Tashi, good question.

That is a question for someone like Willoughby Britton - she has a very thorough understanding of the phenomenology of meditation adverse effects. My research looks (from a sociological-historical perspective) at why these adverse effects have largely been ignored in academia and the media until very recently; when people like Daniel Ingram and Willoughby started to speak about them openly.  

I remember listening to a Buddhist Geeks episode with Willoughby where she said that her research had disovered two main cohorts of people who experience meditation adverse effects: young males who meditate a lot, and middle-aged women who have a history of attending retreats. This would seem to fit with the theory that meditation is triggering some pre-existing condition (such as a latent mental illness or a midlife crisis).

However, the case studies I have seen published in the literature have been so varied (age, gender, type of meditation) that it's difficult to find a common thread other than meditation. 

It's also worth noting that Western psychology is a modern invention (c.1879), however meditation traditions have been talking about adverse effects for a very long time. 

E.g. Visuddhimagga, Vimuttimagga, Manual of Abhidhamma. 
Bhikshu Dharmamitra, The Essentials of Buddhist Meditation: The Essentials for Practicing Calming-and-Insight & Dhyāna meditation—The Classic Śamathā-Vipaśyanā Meditation Manual by the Great Tiantai Meditation Master & Exegete Śramaṇa Zhiyi (Seattle, WA: Kalavinka Press, 2009), 169-188.

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/19/18 5:57 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Those are all very good points, Anna. In addition to the Theravada stuff, the Tibetans have their 'geyser of black mud,' and, of course, there's the Christian Dark Night as well. I do find the attribution of a cause for some of this stuff to be quite tricky. I had an emotional breakdown at a time when I was meditating fairly intensely. Not sure I can confidently say whether meditation truly was involved, although the descriptions of the dukkha nyanas certainly ring true and match some of what I went through.   

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/19/18 8:03 PM as a reply to Anna L.
I'm glancing Willoughby's work and I get this feeling the scientific framework is too rigid for evaluating meditation. It's fine for basic mindfulness but the later on the range of experience is too vast to study in a traditionnal approach, with a control group, etc.

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/20/18 12:59 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
I think meditation can be fairly looked at as a form of pyschedelic and that the same kind of side effects and care needs to be given to a Yogi as you would to someone engaging in pychonautic activities.  Obviously, the more intense the meditation and the isolation the stronger the dosage.  It works, but it is not a relaxing ease into happiness.  For that, thank Jah for making the world more beautiful today, for every little thing and for what shes doing now. 




RE: Dark Night Research
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4/20/18 8:59 PM as a reply to Mathew Poskus.
Mathew Poskus:
For me I guess only one thing removed my doubt that I reached some nanas (beside that advanced meditators, not young like me told me that) was my Kundalini Awakening without that I wouldn't believe I'm in nanas.

Or it could be kundalini and a common case of depression. You need to be precise. I experienced kundalini and had no depression. Dark night came much later.

RE: Dark Night Research
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4/21/18 2:08 AM as a reply to ivory.
U can read ealier posts of my practice https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/7285839 well yes it could be deppression and anxiety ,because it was allways there emoticon without Dark Night or with.

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/23/18 12:55 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Hey Tashi, do you have a reference for the Tibetan 'geyser of black mud' ? I've not come across that one before and I would be curious to read about it ... 

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/23/18 7:45 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
Hey Tashi, do you have a reference for the Tibetan 'geyser of black mud' ? I've not come across that one before and I would be curious to read about it ... 


Hi Anna.
My guess is that I ran across this in Trungpa Rinpoche's writings/talks. Its origin could be from one of the tales of Milarepa, but unfortunately I can't really find the original reference. It seems to correlate pretty well with the notion of samskaras.

See this article in which the phrase is used.
https://tricycle.org/magazine/demons-mouth/

Reggie Ray makes reference to it in this exchange with Tami Simon as well:
http://www.soundstrue.com/podcast/transcripts/reggie-ray.php?camefromhome=camefromhome

Reggie Ray: Yes, I mean, the geyser of black mud is essential to the meditative journey. If you have gotten into a state of mind where you don't' have that then, you're not going to grow anymore. So within the Vajrayana tradition, we love the peace, we love the openness, we love the experience of expansiveness, but when we get really turned on is when the black geyser of mud comes up and we have material to work with, and we have experience to resolve, trauma to resolve. And in the dark retreat that cycle of tremendous openness and peace and stillness and emptiness and then the eruption of unresolved trauma is the nature of the practice. And you do that day in day out for twenty-eight days. And night in and night out, I might add, because your sleeping thing is very disrupted.

Now I'll tell you it's a very difficult situation to be in because you're pushed to your limit and then you are pushed beyond your limit, and most of us are not really that easy with being pushed beyond our limit. I went into a couple of states that represent trauma from the age of two. And it's not like I saw the trauma and I was watching it, I became it. I became the two-year-old who had been basically ejected from my family. I was the two-year-old and I experienced what that two-year-old was not able to experience at the age of two. And just simply pulled back and shut down. And it was horrifying, and one of the episodes lasted for twenty hours. And during that time—of course I knew what was going on and I stayed with it—but during that time I had two thoughts. One was the gates of hell are open, and that kept going through my mind, "This is what hell is like. This is hell." And number two, "I'm fighting for my life. Am I going to go insane? Is this going to simply sweep me away?" But the thing is I had the practice and I stayed with it. And strangely enough, it's not a technique; it's opening, opening, opening, opening. And whatever fear comes up you let it go and you open, and you let yourself go through it, and last year—same thing happened last year, different traumas—I felt, when I got on the other side of it, that something fundamental in my state of being had been resolved. And truthfully, I've done a lot of practice as you know, many many years of solitary retreat, and this is different. And I felt things were resolved in this situation that I've never really been able to get at. So it's very powerful and very, very interesting, but it's extraordinarily challenging for anybody.


Another reference from insight meditation teacher Jill Shepherd:
https://jill0shepherd-insightmeditation.com/tag/viriya/

Sometimes we can have reservations about doing longer retreats because of the possibility of some kind of “geyser of black mud” emerging.  But in my own experience, one of the benefits of retreat practice is that even though challenges may come up, often these challenges catalyse the inner strengths that are needed to meet them, and this is part of the magic and mystery of being on retreat.  With hindsight, this is what I experienced during the recent two-week retreat. Afterwards, I recognised that even though the inner challenges I’d been working with had been deeply painful, each time I was able to accept them as a necessary part of the journey, somehow the energy needed to work through them became available.

Hope that helps! 

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/23/18 5:10 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Hi Tashi, 
             Are there any descriptions of the experience one has when this stuff comes up. Descriptions that show detail of different aspects that make up the experience. I Googled and got only the sites you listed. Sankaras have descriptions, but this doesn't.
                                                                                                                                        With Thanks.
              

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/23/18 5:41 PM as a reply to Bigbird.
Bigbird:
Hi Tashi, 
             Are there any descriptions of the experience one has when this stuff comes up. Descriptions that show detail of different aspects that make up the experience. I Googled and got only the sites you listed. Sankaras have descriptions, but this doesn't.
                                                                                                                                        With Thanks.
              
My take--and it could be an incorrect one--is that this is a catchall phrase for the surfacing of any disowned or repressed material relating to individual experience/karma, as well as more universal stuff like the terror of death or the void. (Pema Chodron's best writing relates to this, methinks.)

Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any phenomenological descriptions or detailed geyser maps. Maybe Anna could ask a scholar of Tibetan Buddhsm and report back on the origin of the phrase and/or any more details! :-D However, there's some pretty good stuff on the dark night as the Tibetans see it in the comments to this blog post, which you may already have seen: http://www.ryanoelke.com/2009/09/you-might-be-in-the-dark-night/

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
4/23/18 6:19 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thank you! That's very interesting. I'm going to a talk next month on Tibetan understandings of psychiatric illness, so I will ask the scholar/speaker if he has come across the term and might know of its origins emoticon



RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
11/30/18 5:39 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Hi all,

This is an amazing thread. Anna, I have been checking out the slides from your Dark Side of Dharma talk. Is there a paper to go with it?

I am starting a research project for my counselling course. I want to guage the level of awareness of adverse effects of mindfulness as it is being delivered in MBSR and MBCT courses, as well as being used as a counselling/psychotherapy intervention, and in popular apps.

I was also keen to look at what advice and signposting to help is available. My current understanding is that almost no one understands there are potential problems with practicing mindfulness, and that no one would know where to look for help, or what to call their experiences.

Willoughby Brittons work seems to show that people doing MBSR courses are not forthcoming when then run into problems, which is apparently more common that previously thought.

If anyone else could tell me about how they tackled their experiences of the dark night, especially if they had no idea there was such a thing at the time, that would be fantastic and very much appreciated.

It's great to finally get on the legendary Dharma Overground.

Much Love.

Will.

RE: Dark Night Research
Answer
11/30/18 4:25 PM as a reply to William Farmer.
Hi Will 

Yes, there is a 35,000 word thesis that accompanies that slide deck - however it is currently being marked so that hopefully my degree can be awarded soon! As soon as this process is complete I will make the thesis freely available on a website.

Re awareness of adverse effects, there really is a wide range of meditation teachers/scholars who vary in their knowledge of meditation-related difficulties. Some are obviously very aware of potential “dark night” issues (Daniel Ingram, Shinzen Young, Willoughby Britton, David Treleaven) and others may not have come across this type of territory in their training (e.g. some MBSR instructors).


It’s difficult to comment on general level of awareness, however Western psychologists and dharma teachers have been talking about these issues since
at least the 1970s (e.g. Transpersonal psychology, spiritual crisis literature). More recently I think both Willoughby and Daniel’s work has brought much more awareness to meditation adverse effects. Also check out Treleavan’s work on trauma-sensitive mindfulness.

Willoughby et al. also run workshops on harm reduction: 
https://www.brown.edu/research/labs/britton/news-and-events/first-do-no-harm-meditation-safety-training-description

Scholars of Buddhism have also spoken at length about meditation adverse effects and there’s a recent anthology on Buddhism and Medicine that references how meditation can both harm and heal:https://cup.columbia.edu/book/buddhism-and-medicine/9780231179942

In terms of my own personal difficulties, I ran into dark night territory back in 2013 when no one was really talking about this stuff in depth except for Daniel, and he helped me greatly. I found MCTB online and Daniel was extraordinarily generous with his time - he has spent many hours over the years coaching me through various cycles! Interestingly, MCTB maps the most closely to my own personal experience with dukkha nana territory, hence my predilection for Daniel's work and this particular forum. Shinzen's "pit of the void" also closely reflects my own personal "dark night" experience - i.e. how insight gone wrong can look like dissociation. 

Hope this helps! emoticon