Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

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Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby manas » Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:16 pm

Hi all, sometimes when the mind becomes quite calmed, beautiful images arise, conducive to serenity, and easily let go of, bringing the mind back to the breath.

Sometimes, however, my worst fears arise, scary as hell (literally), and quite distracting, making me wonder if I should be calming my mind to this degree. I am getting fed up with my practice, I missed meditation for the first time in a month yesterday, because of this disturbing image that my devilish intellect has devised to 'spoil' my peace of mind and happiness. I am scared that if I let go too much, let go of all thinking and just merge into the breath, that the image will likewise become even more vivid and real-looking and scare the hell out of me or even drive me insane. Maybe too much concentration is not right for me at this time.

But without daily meditation, I tend to slide back into a less skilful life in general, into depression, and into seeking relief from addictive patterns.

I'm in a bad way.
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Ben » Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:33 pm

Hi manasikara
I'm not sure whether you are practicing samatha or vipassana when these disturbing images arise. Don't be put off by them. Know them for what they are - just mental images. Keep your focus on your meditation object and don't give them any importance. It may just be the hindrance of restlessness and worry manifesting. Keep going!
metta

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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Modus.Ponens » Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:49 pm

Hi manasikara

As a person with experience with dealing with scary thoughts and deep fears in meaditation, and with some experience with insanity, my advice is: practice mindfulness meditation when not in the cushion in order to learn how to deal with these fears. The best strategy is to say to yourself "let the thoughts come at will" and when they come deal with them with mindful equanimity. When you let your thoughts come at will, they usualy weaken or don't come at all. Once you have learned how to deal with these thoughts with a certain degree of ability you can practice samatha (or vipassana), aplying what you've learned in order to not get disturbed by those fears.

I hope this helps.

Metta
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Sep 02, 2010 10:54 pm

Hi, manasikara,
Ben's advice is good. (It usually is. :smile: )
Can I just add something? Often, it seems to me, meditation lifts the lid on thoughts and experiences we have repressed - sometimes years ago.
If we are ready and able to look at them calmly, we can deal with them appropriately (e.g. saying, "Gee, that was a silly thing to get upset about - now I have seen it properly I can let go of it."). If not, we can can tell them to stop butting in on our meditation and come back some other time.
Knowing that they are just thoughts, and that in meditation you are learning to direct your thoughts, allows you to manage the process and avoid being overwhelmed by what can (especially for newer meditators) be a flood.
:namaste:
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby IanAnd » Thu Sep 02, 2010 11:01 pm

manasikara wrote:Sometimes, however, my worst fears arise, scary as hell (literally), and quite distracting, making me wonder if I should be calming my mind to this degree. I am getting fed up with my practice, I missed meditation for the first time in a month yesterday, because of this disturbing image that my devilish intellect has devised to 'spoil' my peace of mind and happiness. I am scared that if I let go too much, let go of all thinking and just merge into the breath, that the image will likewise become even more vivid and real-looking and scare the hell out of me or even drive me insane. Maybe too much concentration is not right for me at this time.

And then again, maybe using that concentration in a more skilful way will help you to alleviate the frightful visions you have. If, on account of the calm developed, you are able to trace the vision back to the source of its root, you will see the inherent emptiness in it such that you are able to let go of the vision and find one that more aptly entails the kind of reality you would like to inhabit, one that is less disturbing and yet more skilful.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu wrote in an essay on the attributes of emptiness the following: "Emptiness as an approach to meditation is the most basic of the three kinds of emptiness. In the context of this approach, emptiness means 'empty of disturbance' — or, to put it in other terms, empty of stress. You bring the mind to concentration and then examine your state of concentration in order to detect the presence or absence of subtle disturbance or stress still inherent within that state. When you find a disturbance, you follow it back to the perception — the mental label or act of recognition — on which the concentration is based. Then, you drop that perception in favor of a more refined one, one leading to a state of concentration with less inherent disturbance."

Give that essay a read, especially the section titled Emptiness as an Approach to Meditation, and see how you think afterward. If you allow the mind to bring in its conditioned prejudices and biases, you allow the mind to control your meditation through the fabrication of your experience. On the other hand, if you can observe this disturbance as it arises and passes away simply on its own terms, neither adding any other perceptions to it nor taking anything away, you would be adopting a more skilful approach to your meditation while at the same time watching the disturbance become reduced to nothing. Thanissaro once again: "By dropping the causes of stress wherever he finds them in his concentration, he ultimately reaches the highest form of emptiness, free from all mental fabrication."

This advice is not inconsistent with the advice given by Ben and the others. The skilful use of equanimity will assist in allowing the mind to carefully deconstruct the stressful images that arise, thus allowing you to see and confirm first hand their inherent emptiness. This realization in itself can be the jumping off point for a more stress-free meditation session.

Give it a try and see how it works.

In Peace,
Ian
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Goedert » Fri Sep 03, 2010 1:29 am

manasikara wrote:Hi all, sometimes when the mind becomes quite calmed, beautiful images arise, conducive to serenity, and easily let go of, bringing the mind back to the breath.

Sometimes, however, my worst fears arise, scary as hell (literally), and quite distracting, making me wonder if I should be calming my mind to this degree. I am getting fed up with my practice, I missed meditation for the first time in a month yesterday, because of this disturbing image that my devilish intellect has devised to 'spoil' my peace of mind and happiness. I am scared that if I let go too much, let go of all thinking and just merge into the breath, that the image will likewise become even more vivid and real-looking and scare the hell out of me or even drive me insane. Maybe too much concentration is not right for me at this time.

But without daily meditation, I tend to slide back into a less skilful life in general, into depression, and into seeking relief from addictive patterns.

I'm in a bad way.


The more we concentrate, doing samathabhavana, we become aware of things that we could not be aware.

Sati and Samdhi are to sides of the some coin. When this images arise, is the time to let them go, using insight, not-self/dukkha/impernance, do not have fear. This images are the subtle world of the tricky mind.

Thats it just approach this experiences as not-self and imperment.
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby chownah » Fri Sep 03, 2010 2:10 pm

Most everything is dukkha if you cling or are averse to it......welcome to the dhamma.....I guess......
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Sanghamitta » Fri Sep 03, 2010 2:35 pm

Kim O'Hara wrote:Hi, manasikara,
Ben's advice is good. (It usually is. :smile: )
Can I just add something? Often, it seems to me, meditation lifts the lid on thoughts and experiences we have repressed - sometimes years ago.
If we are ready and able to look at them calmly, we can deal with them appropriately (e.g. saying, "Gee, that was a silly thing to get upset about - now I have seen it properly I can let go of it."). If not, we can can tell them to stop butting in on our meditation and come back some other time.
Knowing that they are just thoughts, and that in meditation you are learning to direct your thoughts, allows you to manage the process and avoid being overwhelmed by what can (especially for newer meditators) be a flood.
:namaste:
Kim

Very true. I think sometimes we assume that beginning to meditate will swiftly bring us to the sunlit uplands where all is peaceful..eventually it does. But because of the repressed material there can be for many people an INcrease in fear, and resistance etc. It passes. Its normal and it passes.
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thanks everyone!

Postby manas » Fri Sep 03, 2010 10:36 pm

I never expected so many replies, so much good sane advice, and helpfulness. Now I can really perceive that the 'virtual sangha' is for me, living so isolated as I do! Thanks to all of you who have replied. :anjali:

I must admit that 'all round mindfulness' is a weakness for me (ie 'mindfulness in daily activities), so I am going to make an effort to be more aware, in a relaxed kind of way, of the mind's workings while doing the mundane, often uninspiring activities of life where the mind feels aversion (such as cleaning, dishes etc).

As for doing a sitting, I will resume today. I will not progress beyond dukkha by being fearful. They are just images, and if I maintain strong mindfulness I will not identify with them, should they arise. I need to remember, whether lovely or terrifying, none of them are self. In short, I need to not identify with the contents of my own mind...

I have to remember how Buddha practiced before enlightenment. He had fear in the mind, but he did not run away from it, but rather would not move from his current posture until he had fully dealt with that fear! I feel that 'dealing with (previously subconscious) fears is what I currently need to do in my practice. I'm going to try to be more brave. Let em come (the mind's disturbing images), I'm ready! :jedi:
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby manas » Fri Sep 10, 2010 2:08 am

On the scary thoughts, I'm back in the saddle and sitting every morning again. I feel like I have 'grown up' a bit more as a meditator through this whole affair, because I now make myself sit as an act of caring for myself; not because I know it can lead to peaceful, blissful states of mind (they are not happening as they were a month ago, and I am just getting over it), but as a matter of duty to myself and to the beings in my care, who benefit from having a clearer-minded dad. :)

I still see things that can be unpleasant, but I'm taking the Buddha's advice to heart about developing mindfulness of the body. I find that if I am truly in the body (awareness merged in the body), then the disturbing images lose any power to upset me, because they don't seem very real or substantial, just fleeting phantoms.
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Re: Scary or horrific images or thoughts in meditation

Postby Kim OHara » Fri Sep 10, 2010 3:46 am

:thumbsup:
Stay with it!
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