Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

pickled radish, modified 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 2:00 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 1:57 AM

Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/22/21 Recent Posts
Hello - really excited to be posting in this community for the first time!

I am extremely new to practice and went on a 7-day Theravada insight retreat. Just came off of it and have been feeling like on a very low dose of LSD since (only psychedelic I've tried) and not very cognitively functional. I'm in a job which involves caring for people and will starting doing very fast-paced stuff in a couple of weeks so I need to be as cognitively normal as possible - especially not keen on the idea of having to Dark Night at any point in the day while on a fast paced situation and would appreciate some advice on what to do.

- Background
Basically no regular practice, averaging maybe 30 min every 1-2 weeks for 5 years in Theravada(?) listening to the likes of Shinzen Young. Fairly young and no life traumas, "sciencey"-outlook on life, motivation to go was to learn about the mind.
Not following any particular map but I'd skimmed through the mentions of the jhanas and the A&P/DN in Daniel's MCTB so I guess that lightly stuck with me.

- The experience
It was a silent retreat and earnestly followed the instructions - I did not take breaks from practicing with anything and everything, from waking up till nighttime.
Day 1-3 seemed consistent with Mind and Body and Cause and Effect.
Day 4 I attained to be what seemed like 2nd (maybe 3rd?) shamatha jhana, with being able to express first intense visceral joy (felt in inside the chest in the outbreath) from breathing meditation which on the next days evolved into more ease than joy.
Day 5 the "weird" experience happened - for 15 minutes in eating meditation I was looking at my plate and I had no desire to move, eat, or look elsewhere as usual, but that time everything else around seemed fundamentally "different". Everything around didn't matter and seemed to move "faster" but it didn't dissolve or anything - I was still conscious of where I was.
After breaking silence, conversation threw me into a joy more intense than I'd felt. By controlling the speed and level of reflection during conversation, I felt able to control the level of metta I felt towards whoever I talked with. Had felt a strong desire to not lose the joy and equanimity and skillful speech I'd attained because of coming down from retreat but was able to be at peace with that possibility. I'm fairly certain that by this time I'd crossed the A&P, although I don't know for sure. Caveat is that of the Three Characteristics, I don't feel having much work done in no-self.

Day after coming down was the most intense yet. Reality now feels different at baseline, I don't need to meditate for it to feel weird. I am extremely slow reading long texts because I can get stuck in concentration with any word or letter and forgetting everything else. When conversation goes slow and lets itself to self-reflection, I sometimes get stuck in concentration being silent for several seconds and completely forgetting what was being discussed. I can also make myself cry in 15 seconds of being mindful of metta when talking with someone. Any emotion and little sensation gets amplified - especially when sitting silently - and I get scared with loud noises as if on LSD. I've always been a bit paranoid at baseline (e.g. feeling uneasy every time I walk alone), I know that can be exacerbated e.g. on LSD but I haven't tested this in my new state of mind so that worries me a little. I experienced some tinges of fear of my mind "breaking down" but chose to actively push it away and not think about it instead of meditating on it and letting it be. I'm faintly starting to associate practice with danger, going from not wanting to "start over" to actively wanting to not practice to "guard my mind". I feel it would be "easy" to just continue practice if I was still on retreat, but it's different now that I have responsibilities.

I want to keep the benefits of my practice so far (having zero cravings, not needing visceral motivation to do anything, being able to muster true compassion for everyone I meet), but I'm worried the risks might be greater than the benefits. I had resolved to practice as much as possible in daily activities, but now I am hesitant to continue. I have slow-paced work for a couple weeks before I start fast-paced, high-stakes stuff where it would be terrible to "start tripping" at any point in the middle of work. And if I do go through the DN, I'm still worried that doing that further stages will break reality for me in a way that prevents me from being functional and "blend in" with other people.

No access to sangha and no teacher, although I could try to look for one on Zoom.

My questions are:
1) Where am I on the path?
2) Am I bound to Dark Night?
3) Should I keep practicing, or should I stop (at least for now)?
4) In case I should keep practicing, should I keep it intense or mild?
4a) What should I practice on?
4b) Should I only practice on formal sits or in any activity I can?
4c) If I should keep practicing and am bound to DN, is it a reasonable expectation to push through it in 2 weeks?
4d) If I am bound to DN and am about to start very non-forgiving parts of the job, how do you feel about "postponing" going through it?

Would appreciate any advice on any of these. Thank you all in advance witih boundless gratitude.
Eudoxos , modified 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 4:51 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 4:50 AM

RE: Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

Posts: 131 Join Date: 4/6/14 Recent Posts
Interesting and good learning experience emoticon As I understand what you write, you came off the retreat just a few days back, are concerned about your stability in the days/weeks to come and need some predictability in this situation.

High concentration makes experiences more intense, and it will drop by itself without intense practice; that is simply causal (non-self, if you want).  You will see how it evolves within a few days. The A&P territory (and that is what I guess happened to you, though the stage of insight has its own evolution) brings the 10 corruptions of insight (piti, knowledge, faith, rapture, tranquility, energy, ...: see what Mahasi has to say on that) which are related to the level of concentration, and those will also wane with time. The antidote is to add more mindfulness (i.e. knowing about these corruptions happening, knowing about how delightful they are etc without following them). Some of the benefits of the practice you mention will also change (such as true compassion for everyone you meet emoticon or zero cravings emoticon ), which in itself might be chilling (disappointing).

The danger of hurting oneself, especially when leaving retreat, is real; a friend of mine left a retreat high on A&P and it took her one week to recover (including prescribed psychiatric medication). She never practiced before. And never after.

It seems though you are not in the high anymore, are you? You might be in the DN already (dissolution — getting stuck, forgetting, disoriented; fear — jumpy, paranoia, fear of the practice, fear of managing the future job, fear of not blending with others), this is somethimes only clear in hidsight (if at all).

I don't want it to sound definitive, not being a skilled diagnostician (others here are), but what can you do, anyway (it happens by itself, as a result of causes).

I'd think it is generally better to keep practicing, but you know your situation better; definitely try to keep it light in the attitude, not too serious. Meaning: extra mindful about wanting to solve stuff, go through the DN, mapping youself during the practice and such. See what works for you in terms of quantity. Confidence in you being able to manage whatever is happening (which is also confidence in the practice) comes from facing challenges.

Having a teacher you trust, physically or over the wire, could be definitely useful.

Please post to this thread how it went, this is a nice opportunity to learn for everybody. There are many threads of people asking for advice, never coming back, so it is not clear what was helpful for them and what not.

Good luck!
pickled radish, modified 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 6:31 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/22/21 6:31 PM

RE: Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/22/21 Recent Posts
Immense, heartfelt gratitude for your kind advice.

Reading more closely, I feel this seems to align to the couch potato descriptions during Dissolution (going to lift my hand to turn off my alarm clock but my hand not moving as per Daniel, or intending to write an email but spending 3 hours stuck on the individual characters). I feel the effect wearing off more which is relieving, and my desire aligns with keeping meditation light and not serious as you say. Light as in being okay with sensory experience, and not serious as in meditating about letting go of the desire to not meditate deeply, letting go of the circumstances that keep me wanting to not meditate deeply (eg having a job), letting go of the maps (during the retreat one of my tenets was to let arise and pass away any and all theory about the mind I might have at any point)). I would say that the model of my mind I ascribe to right now is that of a hot metal on an anvil, with meditation adding heat which makes it more malleable. I'd like my mind to cool down to a nice shape, and so I plan to keep it at least a little bit hot so I can fine-tune the behaviors I aim for, but not melt it completely. Will check back in a few days to report back on how it goes, although now it does feel closer to normal...
pickled radish, modified 1 Year ago at 12/10/21 12:18 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/10/21 12:18 PM

RE: Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

Posts: 3 Join Date: 9/22/21 Recent Posts
Just following up 3 months after. I kept it very light on the meditation (30 minutes each morning + 7-minute periods of walking every hour whenever I could, sometimes adding 30 minutes at night on weekends), mainly doing concentration (mindfulness of breathing and the body), and sometimes meditating on desire or aversion. When cognitively active I am not mindful at all, and when doing menial tasks I try to be mindful of my body with ever-so-slightly decreasing level of success.
Existential fears, fears of modifying my core assumptions or values, fear of actually understanding no-self, dissipated quickly over a few days, and were afterwards again inaccessible, even if I tried slightly. I can no longer access a direct reflection of why I have chosen to work where I am or why I have adopted these or those life decisions.
Perceptually, reality returned to baseline save for a few things: most of the time now I can perceive a pleasant pressure every time I breathe at the level of my nostrils and my chest, and also while walking slowly. It is very much easier for me to accept every moment of reality the way it is without wanting to be someplace else. I am baseline happier than before, definitely. Cravings for sense experience have definitely returned and I have given in to some of them especially while very cognitively active - stuff like scratching itches away, eating junk food, reading on topics different from the ones I'm supposed to be reading on, sleeping indulgently, etc. I feel every time I give into one of those, it normalizes giving into what I just gave into, and I need to put more work into the meditation to return to the state I was before giving in. I am sometimes not able to give enough time (or more lately, inclination) to practice more after these slip ups, which is why I suspect there's a slight gradual decline in my whole mindfulness state overall. Metta has also decreased and I'm no longer able to meaningfully grasp the emotional implications of a stranger's state of mind. However, at baseline I feel more inclined and happier to talk to other people.

...I could let go of the need to be free of cravings, or be more aware of how I'm clinging onto the newfound baseline happiness I'm at right now. While I predict that would be a next step towards maintaining insight, I do not really feel inclined to do that. I predict progress would take some work and would probably imply being okay with returning to the state I was in before the experience (I really do not want to return to that state). I'm much more inclined to maintain this stable happiness, and probably reexplore these attachments, or whatever comes, in the next retreat.
Eudoxos , modified 1 Year ago at 12/13/21 12:11 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/13/21 12:11 PM

RE: Asking for advice - practice and responsibilities probably after A&P

Posts: 131 Join Date: 4/6/14 Recent Posts
Thanks for getting back to us! Well done; sadhu, sadhu, sadhu! You see, mind states are changing, they do whatever they want, and the more there is the wanting to control them, the more suffering comes with that. 3c on your plate. Give yourself appreciation for having faced all that, for wrestling with doubt, fear, disorientation, pleasure and attachment to it etc. And leave it in the past. Whatever comes next, you are now much better equipped to face it.

Daniel mentions sometimes (and this was/is very useful for me): in each moment of experiencing suffering, underneath, there is the wish to be well, the metta for yourself/others. You can look at meditation in that way, as a way of caring and service to yourself (+ others around you).

See what comes next (you know the saying: if you want to make God laugh...?). Good plan to do a retreat again.

Good luck!