Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 9:03 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 8:56 AM

Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Hi all, quick question for you folks. I'd posted a while ago about a concentration retreat I had gone on (see: https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/25613332). I've continued practicing concentration, which is a mix of one-pointed attention, metta and energy body practices in the style of Rob Burbea. I practice anywhere from 1-3 hours a day usually broken up into 30-45 minute sits, with the occasional hour long sit.

My main quandary:

My perception (specifically visual, but it's happen in others as well) of the world is increasing in intensity quite a bit - the analogy I would use is akin to wearing glasses vs not. The world prior to my retreat seems blurry compared to how I experience the world now. Things are really vivid, almost intensely so, if I move my attention anywhere, I cannot help but notice all of the richness in the detail of every object, almost like I'm looking at it for the first time. When I came out of retreat this perception was only 20-30% of the time, now it's started to become more like 60-70%. It feels almost like the come-down of a strong mushroom/acid trip, but I haven't taken any psychedelics in a few years. 

The main problem I have is that I can't tune it down, it's almost always on and very persistent . This may seem pleasant, but in my professional life, I'm basically a tech bro (any fellow data scientists on here emoticon?) so looking at a screen for a long period of time leads to a lot of head tightness that's a bit uncomfortable. Does anyone have any advice on this (besides stopping meditation, which I love so much now and don't want to give up)?

Some additional details about my practice if that's helpful:

I've been practicing for ~4 years, but the concentration retreat has been the largest quantum shift for me. It feels like my practice has hit a new level that I didn't even know existed for me, which has been great, but also brought some subtle, but tolerable, instability to my life.

Out of retreat my concentration is continuing to deepen, although fear sometimes arises as concentration gets really strong but I've been titrating how deep I go in concentration until I feel like I can handle it, and then continue to go deeper or stay at that level. The "bright diffuse white light" phenomenon is starting to show up which had never happened to me before, it feels quite easy to sit for long periods of time (as long as the fear of deepening samadhi doesn't get too out of hand), and I get piti quite often. Concentration also doesn't have much striving or efforting in it which was the biggest gift I got from the retreat I did.

The piti manifests in many forms (flowing pleasant vibrations in the face, a stable body buzz, flowing bliss waves etc) but my current meditative goal is to have really strong access concentrations before I even bother with entering the first jhana. I've tried to do it from weaker access concentration and it felt quite unstable so building a super strong foundation of stability is my current goal. 

Additionally, I occasionally practice insight ways of looking a la Rob Burbea. I particularly love his "dukkha 2" method which is similar to flavor to Shinzen's do nothing or Michael Taft's dropping the ball practice, where you notice clinging when it happens and then let go of that clinging and feel the freedom that arises from that release as deeply as you can.

In addition to all this, the intensity of my emotional life is also quite strong. I am frequently moved to tears by music, nature documentaries, percieved injustice in the world, hearing the joy of children playing outside, a video about physics that feels like it's revealing something particularly deep about the fabric of reality etc. etc.

My current solutions:

My current solutions have been to spend a lot more time in nature walking my dogs. I'm lucky to leave in an exurban neighborhood so there's a lot of nature around me. It's been quite soothing for the eyes. Obviously I can't do my job just staring at trees, but it has been helpful for reducing the intensity of my life a little bit.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading emoticon
Martin, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 11:59 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 11:59 AM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 725 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
It sounds like things are cooking nicely :-) 

This visual intensity thing seems to be quite common for some people. I have had a lot of it, and I have noticed other people mentioning it. The similarity with coming down from psychedelics is very apt, for me. My experience has been that it basically became a baseline mode of perception. At a guess, I would say it could be a result of extra processing power, which had previously been used up by thoughts, being available for graphics processing. That's just a guess though. In any case, it can cease to feel weird, and just be permanently nice, after some time. 

In the meantime, however, the discomfort of noticing the intensity, and particularly the head tightness you mention sounds like it could be addressed by a concentration/awareness adjustment. It sounds like the visual intensity is drawing your attention (as is only natural) and that is uncomfortable. The discomfort you report is, of course, just dukkha, and so, of course, it has, as a condition necessary for its existence, clinging. In this case, clinging to the intensity of visual appearances. It's very easy to tighten up around cool/new stuff. I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with that, and there is also nothing wrong with being a bit uncomfortable. But it is also a nice opportunity because it's a type of dukkha, clearly born of clinging, that doesn't suck all that much. So it's a nice lab project. You can see what happens when you soften the push and pull around the sensation or the situation. During the day, you can use mindfulness to notice when the discomfort has arisen and to pause, even very briefly, and physically relax while allowing awareness to move to a broader range of objects than the visual input (for example, broadening to include sounds or touch). Because your attention is already very high, it may be easy to notice the changes in the discomfort. If it works, you will have a tool that can be generalized and used in a range of situations. 

I found this post by Adi Vader very useful: 

https://www.reddit.com/r/streamentry/comments/ekrscz/samatha_practices_to_balance_attention_and/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3

If it doesn't resonate, please disregard it because I realize that is not exactly what you are talking about, but it seems like there might be a commonality there. 

In any case, your practice sounds very good. I found the diffuse white light an important and useful marker in concentration. Your move of getting out in nature and moving the body also sounds good. Letting the body run things for a while, instead of the head always running the show, is generally a good antidote to a wide range of head problems :-)
Freya , modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:16 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:16 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 64 Join Date: 8/15/21 Recent Posts
The visual intensity and richness of detail I experienced a lot, and also spent a long time at first studying trees and leaves as though I'd seen them for the first time. 
Re the head pressure have you tried focusing on your lower dantian (just below your navel) in meditation, or expanding awareness. I find I can get highly concentrated and the focus is often on my forehead area, but dropping the focus down brings a different energy to practice. Rob Burbea will have lots of useful body based practices for this. 
Re emotional intensity, I also experience very high emotional intensity, it's a strong part of the path and I find as emptiness deepens a sense of wonder, awe, deep love and compassion arises and thats a lot to hold.  
jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:54 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:54 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Thanks for the advice Martin! There actually isn't much head pressure when I meditate since my attentional touch is quite light - it's only present after I've been forced to focus my attention strongly by looking at a screen for 8 hours in a day, which funnily enough, I don't notice the richness of detail when I'm at my job. It's mostly outside my work setting that it becomes apparent.

So it's a nice lab project. You can see what happens when you soften the push and pull around the sensation or the situation. During the day, you can use mindfulness to notice when the discomfort has arisen and to pause, even very briefly, and physically relax while allowing awareness to move to a broader range of objects than the visual input (for example, broadening to include sounds or touch). Because your attention is already very high, it may be easy to notice the changes in the discomfort. If it works, you will have a tool that can be generalized and used in a range of situations. 
Thanks for the tip, I'll try that out. This is actually similar to the dukkha 2 practice I was mentioning, I feel silly that I didn't think about this or bother to do this while it was happening. I was more like "oh bother, guess this is happening."  
jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:56 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 2:56 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Freya .
The visual intensity and richness of detail I experienced a lot, and also spent a long time at first studying trees and leaves as though I'd seen them for the first time. 
Re the head pressure have you tried focusing on your lower dantian (just below your navel) in meditation, or expanding awareness. I find I can get highly concentrated and the focus is often on my forehead area, but dropping the focus down brings a different energy to practice. Rob Burbea will have lots of useful body based practices for this. 
Re emotional intensity, I also experience very high emotional intensity, it's a strong part of the path and I find as emptiness deepens a sense of wonder, awe, deep love and compassion arises and thats a lot to hold.  
Thanks, I'll try dropping my attention down there. Body starts to feel a bit weird when concentration starts to get high but I'll report back what happens emoticon
jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 3:37 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 3:37 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Also, have you tried psychedelics since you've gotten deeper into meditation? I find that my curiosity has waned but I'm still vaguely interested. 
Martin, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 6:22 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 6:22 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 725 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
No, I haven't. There was quite a long pause between those parts of my life. It's not something that tempts me now. For one thing, I've spent all this time and effort getting my mind in good operating order, or customizing my mind, or however you want to look at it, and I would not want to mess that up. That would be like building some precision machine and then, once it's working, smacking it with a hammer to see what happens. Also, what can be done with chemicals really isn't half as good as what can be done with the cushion, so if I get a hankering for that kind of stuff, I'd rather go on retreat :-)
User 08, modified 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 8:55 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/5/23 8:52 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 57 Join Date: 7/31/23 Recent Posts
Pretty much all I do in meditation is concentration and this has never happened to me. This leads me to guess that it must be due to the energy body practices? Maybe dial those back a bit? Maybe also consider that it may not be meditation-related?
jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/7/23 6:18 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/7/23 6:18 AM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Could be that we are different people emoticon. It started with an opening that happened during a concentration retreat, where I was practicing concentration so...
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Dream Walker, modified 6 Months ago at 8/7/23 9:01 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/7/23 9:01 AM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 1643 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
My main quandary: My perception (specifically visual) of the world is increasing in intensity quite a bit
Thats great, like a hd tv verses an old tv.

Things are really vivid, almost intensely so,
More data is coming thru because you unfiltered the visual system.

When I came out of retreat this perception was only 20-30% of the time, now it's started to become more like 60-70%.
Go for 100%

The main problem I have is that I can't tune it down, it's almost always on and very persistent .
Tune it up instead.

This may seem pleasant, but in my professional life, I'm basically a tech bro (any fellow data scientists on here emoticon?) so looking at a screen for a long period of time leads to a lot of head tightness that's a bit uncomfortable. 
A bit ? that sounds fine....there are worse things.

My current solutions: My current solutions have been to spend a lot more time in nature walking my dogs. t's been quite soothing for the eyes. Obviously I can't do my job just staring at trees, but it has been helpful for reducing the intensity of my life a little bit.
Cool, Nature is a great focus to work with.

Check out this post --->
RE: A Framework of Awakening
I list the various visual upgrades as you unfilter more stuff. Also a recipe that may help you get to 100%. That should fix your problem.
Good luck,
​​​​​​​~D
jhanic ceramic, modified 6 Months ago at 8/17/23 3:42 PM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/17/23 3:42 PM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 40 Join Date: 7/25/23 Recent Posts
Thanks for the tips everyone, looks like the discomfort went away on its own. The perceptual intensity thing still comes in and out which can be fun. I've noticed that the deeper the concentration (especially if I've had a few days of deep concentration sits), the more intense the perception. Likely it's something akin to scrubbing clear the doors of perception. Quiet mind means greater clarity of the surrounding phenomena. 

​​​​​​​At least that's my current working model emoticon
Ben Sulsky, modified 6 Months ago at 8/23/23 8:54 AM
Created 6 Months ago at 8/23/23 8:54 AM

RE: Perceptual intensity (and discomfort as a result) - what to do?

Posts: 169 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
Sense perception keeps getting more intense until it's fully on all the time.  It can be a lot to deal with.  Sleep, exercise, and doing relaxing activities will make things easier and safer.

Intend to maintain a non grasping and relaxed attitude during your concentration sits.  The more grasping there is during concentration, the more it will stick away from the cushion and cause trouble.  

It can also be helpful to do purification practice prior to a concentration sit in order to prepare the mind for concentrating with right view.

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