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Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 12:02 AM
Alright so I have been meditating for about 2 years now and have been having a lot of amazing experiences. I have been doing a mix of samatha and insight meditation. I am wondering if any one might know where I am at in terms of the progresses of insight.

I have been having wild mood swings. Sometimes I feel absolutely amazing, like I am absorbed into the divine. I feel very blissful and everything just feels amazing! Almost too amazing, like I could explode at any minute. I was dancing one time and it just felt like I wasn't the one doing the dancing, but some divine force was doing the dance for me. My friend said it looked choreographed lol.

Other times it is the opposite, I don't really feel motivated to do anything, I hate everything and I get angry for no reason. Sounds a lot like traditional bipolar disorder, but the highs sound similar to what is desribed in the maps of insight.

I also sometimes run into these homicidal thoughts, where I just feel like my intentions are pure evil at times. I feel really really powerful. It just feels like I have so much energy, like I am constantly in fight or flight mode and am ready to strike at any moment.

Anyway I cycle between those 3 states sometimes all during the same day. I sometime feel insane honestly and am wondering if this is a meditation thing or if I need to get some psychiatric help. Thanks!

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 4:19 AM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
Regardless of the cause of these feelings, if they are becoming a serious problem, it would be advisable to seek advice from a doctor. The lines between peak (and low) spiritual experience can be blurry at times, and the important thing is that you healthily recognise these as objects and continue with the practice if it is not causing you problems you feel are out of control.

What you describe sounds like both bipolar and A&P/dark night, however with bipolar there is a tendancy to attach to these experiences as 'me'. For me, and for what I have seen of others, the problems with bipolar are very selfish, so perhaps (key word perhaps), due to your no self experiences, it is just material coming to the surface that your mind has been too intent on smearing over with ideas of control and normality. This can explain the insane amount of energy you feel.

Providing you don't have some deep program embedded in you with the urge to kill people, then it's likely that these are just thoughts that have arisen from these new conditions. Note them and move on. Remember that thoughts are just automatic and impersonal by nature. Be aware how there is not any entity in control of these thoughts or their content however bizarre and how they just pass away again from whence they came.

Are they just thoughts or do you actually have intentions to do so, as that would be quite a different situation. Actions are deeply conditioned and requires a conditioned view of reality to attempt to go ahead with things. If this is the case, then seek help.

I sometimes sleepwalk, especially when I was younger and I used to get scared I might do something horrific, even stab my girlfriend or something totally irrelevant. It never happened because anything I actually did always remained in line with the actions I would make while awake. It can take a lot to deviate off course, a lot more than just thoughts, the amount of resistance to this is usually far greater.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 4:40 AM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
[quote=
]Here are some simple criteria for determining if you are 'ill':
- do your relationships suffer?
- is your ability to work (support yourself) diminished?
- do you harm yourself or others?

Regarding evil intentions: contemplate the consequences / wait for them to pass.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 3:18 PM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
aloha tyler,

   It doesn't sound like a meditation thing; it sounds bipolar. But that could still just be your clever ego (mara) trying to tempt you out of your practice.

   If you get "help" from the medical establishment I can virtually guarantee you will get medicated. Then your practice will surely suffer.

   As long as your evil tendencies are "all in your head," it could still just be the usual histrionics the ego uses to try to get you to take meaningless stuff seriously, or meaningful stuff personally, so that you will quit pursuing the Way.

   Try meditate more and tell your uppity nafs to shut up. If it works, you're golden. You can always resort to meds. In the end, your maras only want to be converted to the Way, so persistence is key.

   You *are* getting help, bra.

terry

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 4:26 PM as a reply to terry.
I have to respectfully disagree with Terry’s advice. If you have a psychiatric condition, taking medication WILL NOT cause your practice to suffer. It will help you stabilise and get back on track. We don’t live in the dark ages of medicine anymore - there are effective treatment options available and new treatments with fewer side effects (such as NAC - see research of Prof Michael Berk) emerging all the time. 

Sometimes organic biologically-based mental illness can co-exist with progress on the path of insight. It can be tricky to dis-entangle the two. 

If you feel that your life is being negatively impacted or that you may harm yourself or others, please see a doctor ASAP. Please also do not meditate excessively - especially to the point that you might cause sleep deprivation (which exacerbates bipolar symptoms). 

Practices that work on the positive constructive aspects of the psychological self (such as Metta and Western style cognitive behavioural therapy) are extremely helpful regardless of whether this is bipolar or dukkha nanas. 

Look after yourself and please reach out to a doctor if you feel the need - Meditation and Western medicine can co-exist harmoniously together. 

With Metta
Anna 

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/21/18 8:43 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
I have to respectfully disagree with Terry’s advice. If you have a psychiatric condition, taking medication WILL NOT cause your practice to suffer. It will help you stabilise and get back on track. We don’t live in the dark ages of medicine anymore - there are effective treatment options available and new treatments with fewer side effects (such as NAC - see research of Prof Michael Berk) emerging all the time. 

Sometimes organic biologically-based mental illness can co-exist with progress on the path of insight. It can be tricky to dis-entangle the two. 

If you feel that your life is being negatively impacted or that you may harm yourself or others, please see a doctor ASAP. Please also do not meditate excessively - especially to the point that you might cause sleep deprivation (which exacerbates bipolar symptoms). 

Practices that work on the positive constructive aspects of the psychological self (such as Metta and Western style cognitive behavioural therapy) are extremely helpful regardless of whether this is bipolar or dukkha nanas. 

Look after yourself and please reach out to a doctor if you feel the need - Meditation and Western medicine can co-exist harmoniously together. 

With Metta
Anna 

   Faith is very important. When I worked in hospitals, I would avoid telling patients what incompetent fools their doctors were, even if I had to bite my tongue. People do better with their treatments when they trust their health care providers. 

   Skillful means. That's fine.

(gassho)
(and a wink)
terry

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 1:12 AM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
Hello Tyler Winter,

It most probably could be becasue of your meditation practices only. Don't drown in the states of your mind. Please try to understand how your mind works.

Be as detached as possible to all your mind states. Watch all your mind states as a third person and keenly observe how it acts and changes.

Observing your body sensations during negative mind states will help you to watch it more as a third person.(Your ability to observe body sensations will improve if you practice more of body scanning meditation).

Noting practice will also help you to observe your emotions as a third person. (Read about Mahasi Noting technique.)
Eg:- Note Anger, Anger,Anger when your are angry. Anxiety,Anxiety,Anxiety if you are anxious.

My suggestion would be to combine both the above practices. Note and observe the body sensations of your mind states.

Meditation is a way of studying the machinery of the mind which helps you to become more and more detached. Hope this helps.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 1:57 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Anna L:
I have to respectfully disagree with Terry’s advice. If you have a psychiatric condition, taking medication WILL NOT cause your practice to suffer. It will help you stabilise and get back on track. We don’t live in the dark ages of medicine anymore - there are effective treatment options available and new treatments with fewer side effects (such as NAC - see research of Prof Michael Berk) emerging all the time. 


As with most things I suspect the answer is somewhere in the middle. It depends on the patient, the drug, and the dosage. Long story short, a few years ago I was put on opiates, SSRI's and benzodiazepines to deal with the physical pain and depression caused by an injury and following botched corrective surgery (which caused extensive nerve damage). The drugs "helped" in the sense that they allowed me to sleep and numb the pain somewhat, but I became a flattened affect zombie. I didn't care about anything or anyone, it was equanimity's evil twin indifference in full form.

It wasn't until I stopped taking all the medications and just accepted the pain and depression for a while that the fog lifted (and real equanimity began to develop). The SSRI's and benzos in particular put me in a state of constant dullness and apathy. They're powerful tools, but they absolutely can interfere in practise, and shouldn't be taken lightly. Some doctors are far too quick to just hand patients a bottle of pills, without any regard for how they'll influence the patient.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 4:13 PM as a reply to Lars.
Yes, agree that it is definitely a complicated issue and that sometimes medication is unnecessary. My point is that if you have a true psychiatric condition like bipolar, then medication can help stabilise (particularly if in acute crisis) and I think that’s the most important thing in terms of harm reduction. Enlightenment can come later (maybe others will disagree with me on that!).

I am glad to hear that in your case you are feeling well and able to practise! emoticon 

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 4:15 PM as a reply to Anna L.
There must be pyschologists who specialize in working with people who meditate.  Any one know one? 

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 11:38 PM as a reply to seth tapper.
seth tapper:
There must be pyschologists who specialize in working with people who meditate.  Any one know one? 


Seth, check out http://www.spiritualemergencenetwork.org/

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 8:00 PM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
Hi Tyler,

As others have mentioned, whether you need professional help or not depends a lot on how much your symptoms impair your normal functioning and how much distress they cause you.

You didn't mention your age, but the early to mid twenties is often when bipolar disorder first manifests in people.

When you're feeling high, if you:
  • Are unusually grandiose/self-confident
  • Spend a lot of money that you don't have
  • Have way more sex than usual
  • Take unnecessary risks (dangerous speeding, etc.)
Or when you're low, you:
  • Can't meet your social/occupational obligations
  • Have serious suicidal intentions
Or at any time, you:
  • Have serious intentions to hurt yourself or others
  • Experience psychosis that you take seriously
You should probably seek professional help.  On the other hand, your description does sound a lot like the A&P followed by the dukkha nanas, so it really comes down to how impaired you are by it.

I have experienced the extremes due to bipolar disorder, and some really good advice that applies in any case is to not attach (either with fascination or resistance) to whatever you're currently feeling.  Just observe it all come and go on its own.  I've also found it helpful to notice the body sensations that occur with the emotional states.  And take meds if you need to.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 9:23 PM as a reply to Anna L.
Hi seth,

Last I checked, that organization was defunct. It was set up by Stanislav Grof in the late 90's. I think more therapists and medical doctors are becoming familiar with meditation due to the popular press coverage of mindfulness, but they may not be familiar with the negative side effects, or interactions with mental illness. Willoughby Britton has worked with negative side effects but I think her work has mainly focused on training her students as therapists and researchers.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 9:39 PM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
Hi Tyler,

My experience is that it can be hard to differentiate the negative side effects of meditation (Dark Night, negative mind states associated with kundalini, etc.) from symptoms of mental illness. I had some problems with hallucinations during and after a retreat in 2011 that led me to be admitted to the psyc ward of the local hospital for a few days (if you want to read the full story, check out my online practice memoir, Silicon Valley Monk). Many other meditators have had similar problems, most don't talk about them. In my case, I had no problems in daily life prior to the retreat (and don't now), and after about 6 months on half and quarter doses of Seroquel, I was able to drop the medication and haven't needed it since. Fortunately, I was able to work with an elderly psychiatrist who had some meditation training.

I think the key question is: do you normally have difficulties with depression, anger, etc. or does it just occur during and after a retreat or during periods of intense meditation? If the answer is no, then my advice would be to back off the meditation for a bit, use a technique that is less likely to lead to difficulties, and spend some time having fun with friends. If the answer is yes, then you should probably see a medical professional and enter into a longer term treatment relationship.

Hope that helps.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/22/18 11:41 PM as a reply to svmonk.
svmonk:
Hi seth,

Last I checked, that organization was defunct. It was set up by Stanislav Grof in the late 90's. I think more therapists and medical doctors are becoming familiar with meditation due to the popular press coverage of mindfulness, but they may not be familiar with the negative side effects, or interactions with mental illness. Willoughby Britton has worked with negative side effects but I think her work has mainly focused on training her students as therapists and researchers.
Sorry, I posted the wrong link! Edited my post so correct link is now up: http://www.spiritualemergencenetwork.org/

They also have an active Facebook page.

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/24/18 5:49 AM as a reply to Anna L.
Old but perhaps useful thread to be found here.

As to medications, that is a very complex topic.

Is emergency medication-based pschychiatric stabilization sometimes very valuable and life-saving? Definitely.

Can psychiatric medications cause all sorts of side-effects that can adversely affect mental function and physiology? Definitely.

Are modern medications way better than the meds of old? Definitely.

Does it often take a lot of trial and error and guesswork and dose-tweaking to come up with a medication or combination of medications that really work for someone? Definitely.

Do we really know what medications are optimal for any particular person ahead of time? Not necessarily.

Do we have sufficient well-done science on exactly how medications alter meditation across populations and in specific individuals? Not even close.

Are medications often reported to help anyway? Yes.

Are psychiatry and medication-tweaking and selections sometimes as much art as science? Definitely.

Do practitioners here on this forum who have personal experience with meditations and medications report a very wide range of positive and negative experiences and opinions on the pros and cons of mixing them? Definitely.

Is it easy to come to definitive conclusions based on these reports beyond the meta-conclusion that people have widely varying experiences? No.

Are there any known scientific studies on psych meds in meditators that use the sort of sophisticated meditation map terminology and technology found here? None that I have ever heard of.

My two cents this early morning after a long night of taking care of kids on meds with psych problems, along with flu and other conditions.

Daniel

RE: Insights or mental illness?
Answer
1/24/18 7:02 PM as a reply to Tyler Winter.
I recently read most of "Anatomy of an Epidemic" by Robert Whitaker. Here is an oversimplified synopsis:

Medicine is good in the short term. It should probably be a last resort and mostly for the sickest patients.

The idea of a chemical imbalance in the brain causing mental illness is as likely as masturbation theory from the 1900's based on research. The drugs themselves are likely to cause imbalances. 

Mental illness used to be episodic and the prognosis was good. Most people got better within 6-10 month. When psych meds came around, these illnesses became chronic with a bad prognosis.

The numbers of people on social security disability for mental illness can be seen to increase drastically as each new class of drug was released.

He mentions study after study to back all of this up. I am sure you could argue the otherside and find studies as well though. I dont really have an opinion.