Lack of sleep and dread

Jon Messner, modified 9 Months ago at 8/6/23 8:49 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/6/23 8:46 PM

Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 19 Join Date: 9/20/20 Recent Posts
Hello! I recently had this question hidden in another thread, and Martin advised I create a new topic, so here goes!...

I have a pretty long history of practice, albeit self taught (meaning: I have no idea what I'm doing).
Since 2020, I upped my sitting to somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 to 30 hours/ week. For much of that time, I was counting my breaths. However, recently I stopped (at the advice of a teacher) to just focus on the breath.
I am a small business owner (stress!), have a side job (college track coach), and I am single, so I am able to make my work schedule around my sitting schedule. I have never been on retreat.
For the past few years, I have been having darker and darker thoughts. I've alywas had a battle with sadness, and at first, I thought it was just me getting older, being a busines owner, single, etc. But something felt different about it.

Anyways, the last 2 weeks, to try and build longer term 'momentum' and 'stability', I averaged 5.5 hours/day over 11 days. It was pretty intense... Towards the end of the 2 weeks I was having trouble sleeping (only a few hours each night) and feelings of intense dread. I am on 2 day 'break' (1 hour yesterday and only 15 minutes today) and I feel (much!) better.

​​​​​​​I'm looking forward to getting back into my practice tomorrow, but I am a bit concerned about sleep and dark feelings, and would appreciate any feedback! Thank you!
kettu, modified 9 Months ago at 8/7/23 3:08 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/7/23 3:06 AM

RE: Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 46 Join Date: 10/31/17 Recent Posts

as I only read your post above, my ideas are very limited and general. They are also not my ideas but gathered and got from wherever during years of wondering what life is. I'm not anyones teacher of anything. So discard as needed, use what seems useful.

Sounds very good that you are having a break. Ordinary balance may be necessary thing to maintain when approaching out of ordinary insights.

Sleep is essential to wake up in a balanced fashion. Though it's not dangerous to have some difficulties sleeping. Take care of the needs of your body: food, water, exercise, relax, play, get into nature... Maybe some grounding/relaxing tools into your practice may help, or very simple physical exercise in contrast to sitting.
Don't worry about dark thoughts.  They are only thoughts, they cannot harm you, and you will be able to see what sensations and emotions fuel them, eventually. Avoiding them will not help much. But do get actual help if needed. A mirror of someone else may be necessary - a listener, a therapist, a councelor, a friend to dicuss it with, a mentor or teacher of meditation... Be generous toward yourself.

It may be quite usual that intense practice adds to the energy that goes through ones physical and psychic structure. That may put one face to face with intense unconscious stuff - pain, suffering, and pleasure too if that is neglected. These may put off the balance for some time, but need to be seen and welcomed in order to gain more suistanable balance in the long run.

In the end all dark thoughts and feelings are gifts that help us see more of ourselves. Though, one does not need to solve them, either.

Anyways it is your travel, and you'll see for yourself, what works in your situation. Be well.

[edited order of sentences for clarity]
Jon Messner, modified 9 Months ago at 8/8/23 5:55 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/8/23 5:55 AM

RE: Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 19 Join Date: 9/20/20 Recent Posts
Thank you very much! Your words are very helpful.
I remember listening to Joseph Goldstein talk about how sometimes for (newbies?) to stop and step away (read a book, go for a walk, etc.) because "it" gets to be too much. Is that what is referred to as "uprooting"?
kettu, modified 9 Months ago at 8/8/23 7:59 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/8/23 7:59 AM

RE: Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 46 Join Date: 10/31/17 Recent Posts
Glad to be of help. Anyone may encounter a crisis, not only a "newbie".

Can't answer your question about uprooting since am not familiar with the concept!
Smiling Stone, modified 9 Months ago at 8/10/23 11:03 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/10/23 8:41 AM

RE: Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 341 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hello Jon,

Thanks for giving details about your intense practice, it's impressive. I read the different threads but answer here...
It triggered a few comments on my part. It's an opportunity for me to organize my thoughts, so I hope you don't mind!

My first comment is that 10h a day, or 5 1/2 h a day is akin to a retreat (a home retreat).
And a retreat does not directly increase concentration, it pushes you into unknown territory, making you move through the vipassana jhanas (have you heard of these?... in some of these, concentration is turned upside down, see below)...
Also on retreat, many people experience trouble sleeping, usually when their system is excited by some new experience/perceptual ability (whole body buzzing/vibrating comes to mind). Dread often follows these openings, as you are also more vulnerable due to the increased sensitivity and the intensity of practice...
(Intensity can take many forms as well :
Physical : many sits in a day, longer sits
Mental : intensity of awareness -noting-, strong  mindfulness in daily activities...)

Then, when you count from one to ten repeatedly following your breath, you are monitoring continuity (less so than if you counted incrementaly, but still).
And continuity is only one aspect of concentration. Others are depth (how it isolates you from your surroundings/how attention to the foreground separates from the background of awareness), focus or breadth (being able to focus on a small zone of space/a small slice of time or being able to take "everything" at once)...
There are advanced states of concentration where there is no sense of continuity, so it is not necessarily  a recess ( read about the third vipassana jhana, where the periphery takes the fore).
I do not doubt that your practice is fruitful, if not you would not have kept to it  all these years. Maybe you lack confidence these days because you do not have the right framework to assess your practice... But you are well aware of what is happening in the background when you count, and some interesting things happen for sure... (becoming more aware of the background is a good way to increase sensitivity/progress).

There are other ways of practicing samatha: focusing on a small zone (at the tip of the nose), or a bigger one (the abdomen), or another object at another sense door (a sound or a visualization if you create/move toward them, a sound nimitta, a visual nimitta if they emerge from the meditation)... there is also unfocusing/deconcentration/open awareness where you will shut down the foreground to take all the backround to the fore.
Each has its pros and cons, each is interesting in its own right...

Also, retreats usually have a beginning, an ending, and a framework.
In the Goenka tradition, we dedicate 1/3 of the time to samatha, 2/3 to vipassana (through bodyscan), and we close with metta...
Each practice induces certain types of experience.
On mahasi retreats (so I've heard) the noting gets subtler and subtler, following the stages of insight monitored by the teacher who gives instructions so that one might get aware of their characteristics (so the focus changes as well during the retreat).
So the idea of a progression of some kind is embedded in most retreats. Maybe that’s something to ponder...
Note: one of the translations of sati (mindfulness) is "memory" so vipassana has to do with continuity...

I still practice in the Goenka tradition. So I'm (often) an advocate of the bodyscan as a next step after one-pointed concentration (that's what we do and that's very effective... for certain results). If you have not tried it, I would recommend  following a guided meditation by aya khemma (I posted it near the end of this thread) once you're well established in concentration (after a couple of hours maybe)... You also need to be aware of some degree of continuity to perform a scan, so there are a few bridges to your practice!

I did not say anything about letting go but it is central to meditation. It is different from "turning away from (all other objects passing through consciousness)" which you learn in concentration practices and which eventually leads to absorption as letting go happens in the relationship to the object of attention. There are many matices to letting go, and I think they are all useful...

This only reflects my current understanding, so don't take anything for granted ! I went all other the place, sorry for that...

All the best with your practice
with metta
smiling stone

*Edited to include the links*
Jon Messner, modified 9 Months ago at 8/12/23 2:18 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 8/12/23 2:16 PM

RE: Lack of sleep and dread

Posts: 19 Join Date: 9/20/20 Recent Posts
Smiling Stone,Thank you for this wisdom, and thank you for taking the time to help me with my practice.I am aware of the vipassana jhanas - yes.

Often times, when I build “momentum”, I am definitely buzzing and vibrating. I’ve also gotten better about not moving while sitting.I don’t think I’ve experience increase awareness in daily activity, but maybe it is something more “under the surface” - my job often involves coaching very simple exercise over and over and over…I am very aware of the difference between foreground and background - I think this is because of counting while sitting.I’ve also found that “later on” in the meditation day (4, 5 hours in) - if I don’t count my breaths, it is extremely peaceful to just be aware of the breath.

I will absolutely check out Aya Khemma!
​​​​​​​You’ve given me much to ponder! You (and everyone else on these forums!) have have also helped me to feel not alone in this - and to that I am very grateful.