Frightening experience

Discussion of Satipatthana bhavanā and Vipassana bhavana.

Frightening experience

Postby greggorious » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:30 pm

I've just been meditating for 15 minutes and some really horrible images were coming up, very disturbing. I suddenly feel frightened, I'm shaking with anxiety and feel like crying. Is this normal? If not maybe I should just stick to samada for now?
I have a history of depression and I thought Vippasana might help me see through it.
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby David2 » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:41 pm

This is definitely normal.
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby Fede » Fri Apr 29, 2011 8:43 pm

Mental issues are not always helped by meditation. They can occasionally, if not aided and supervised, be detrimental to conditions.
If you are under a specialist/therapist, take some advice or seek counsel.
I have heard from others who have experienced mental issues that their meditation was also not always a positive experience.

Take care, breathe, and relax.

be well.
Fede.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

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Re: Frightening experience

Postby greggorious » Fri Apr 29, 2011 9:07 pm

What's the point in meditating then? I thought it was to see through the veils of ignorance, to look at suffering face on. Depression is pretty much the first noble truth all over.
"The original heart/mind shines like pure, clear water with the sweetest taste. But if the heart is pure, is our practice over? No, we must not cling even to this purity. We must go beyond all duality, all concepts, all bad, all good, all pure, all impure. We must go beyond self and nonself, beyond birth and death. When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the true Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind.” Ajahn Chah
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby ricketybridge » Fri Apr 29, 2011 9:18 pm

greggorious wrote:I've just been meditating for 15 minutes and some really horrible images were coming up, very disturbing. I suddenly feel frightened, I'm shaking with anxiety and feel like crying. Is this normal? If not maybe I should just stick to samada for now?
I have a history of depression and I thought Vippasana might help me see through it.


Hm, wow. Personally, I would hold off meditating until I felt better, even if it was the next hour. Also, I think jhana is much better than vipassana (at least at first) for alleviating depression--not just in terms of getting to feel momentary happiness, but in changing one's entire outlook on life, making one content most of the time. If you really want to stick to vipassana, I think it's usually advised to accept the feelings and stop fighting them off, and eventually they'll subside. (Again, anyone please correct me if my understanding is wrong.) However, I would consider this, just personally, a bit masochistic.

Reading suttas and such sometimes helps me feel better... Maybe do that for a bit and then try again? Actually, that sort of reminds me of what people have already said on this board: work on earlier stages of the path (e.g. morality, generosity) before focusing on vipassana.
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby Ben » Sat Apr 30, 2011 1:40 am

Hi greggorious,
Fede's advice is excellent.

greggorious wrote:What's the point in meditating then? I thought it was to see through the veils of ignorance, to look at suffering face on. Depression is pretty much the first noble truth all over.

If one is suffering from an acute phase of depression and/or anxiety then it maybe better to seek medical advice as a first port of call. Get an assessment and treatment plan, take medication and enact other lifestyle changes that will have a positive impact on you. Diet, exercise, sleep, maintaining contact with important people in your life. Many people who attempt to engage with vipassana while suffering acute mental distubance may find their experience so confronting or uncomfortable that they do harm to themselves. Even for a well person, a deep experience of vipassana can be extraordinarily confronting - it certainly has been in my experience.
I wish you the very best,

Ben
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby Nibbida » Sat Apr 30, 2011 2:43 am

Seeing horrific images is not at all uncommon, whether meditators are depressed or not. I had nightmares like that when I was on retreat for a week. I found that doing metta before I went to sleep at night helped noticably.

It might be helpful to consider how long you've been meditating for. When people have a serious practice, long-term the can get to stages called bhanga, which may feature frightening images. Or, as you suggest, it could be a manifestation of depression during meditation (or a little of both). Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy is used to alleviate depression, so most people who do mindfulness/insight meditation don't experience that early on, which is why I bring up the point about how long/intensively you've been practicing.

One explanation why images of death appear later on is because of insight into impermanence. One constantly sees everything deteriorating as soon as it comes about. Also insight into anatta can also bring about images of death because it's as if the self thinks it's dying.

If samatha give you less trouble, that may be a better alternative for the time being. Meditation on brahma-viharas may also do well. Many people who do jhana practice notice their depression may reduce or disappear (according to jhana teacher Shaila Catherine). If you have considerable experience meditating, it may be a good idea to hook up with a teacher who can guide you through this. Many psychiatrists and psychotherapists may not be familiar with "spiritual emergence" There is a resource called the Spiritual Emergence Network in the USA that can make referrals to therapists who are familiar with this phenomenon: http://www.spiritualemergence.info/
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby Fede » Sun May 01, 2011 6:42 pm

greggorious wrote:What's the point in meditating then? I thought it was to see through the veils of ignorance, to look at suffering face on. Depression is pretty much the first noble truth all over.


The Point of Meditating (according to a Tibetan Lama/Master) is to "Bring the Mind Home".

The point is to still the frenetic activity of the active mind, and calm the thinking, steady the rhythm, and observe the events and activities of what arises.

Which is all well and good, if the mind has no tendency towards extreme states, which may necessitate prescribed medical assistance, intervention or therapeutic support.

There is no stigma here, no prejudice against depression, nor is there ever any criticism or contrary advice, regarding the need to take medication.
But when a person suffers from depression, it can be said that they are not "in their right Mind".
Which follows that their state of Mind is "wrong", or off-kilter.

It is hard to balance and calm something that is teetering on the edge of un-ease.

All medication has side-effects.
Therapeutic ministrations, also have side-effects.
Therefore, it should be no surprise that meditating also has side-effects.

For a person whose mental condition is stable and not given to depression, there can be set-backs, difficulties and obstacles. The Mind becomes more resistant to being calmed to begin with, and appears to become "noisier" and more difficult to control and Master.
This is because we Notice our thought-processes more. We become distinctly aware of just how active our mind is, when we're not fully attentive. By meditating, we are actually training ourselves to watch the Mind. And it is by watching it intently, that we realise just how skittish it is.
This can be demoralising for someone who is not used to meditating. It can be a turn-off and can hinder progress.

But we are taught to persevere, and gradually, we become more able to control our thought processes, and calm our Minds.

However, a person suffering from depression can be so overwhelmed by the hindrances that arise - which can (as they have in your case) manifest in extremely powerful and frightening ways - that the experience leaves them feeling extremely discouraged.

This is when you need to examine whether the form of meditation you are undertaking is positive and conducive to your progress, and whether in fact, it would be better to concentrate on a different - but equally effective - type of Meditation, such as following an activity without a commentarial thought process. Focussing intently on the task you undertake but ensuring that you do not add a narrative.

I urge you again to perhaps discuss this experience with your therapist//counsellor, and enquire whether, at least to begin with, the alternative suggested method of meditation I have given you, wouldn't be more suitable.
It is no less worthy than Vipassana, and may indeed be far more beneficial.

I wish you well and hope you progess as you would wish.
"Samsara: The human condition's heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment." Elizabeth Gilbert, 'Eat, Pray, Love'.

Simplify: 17 into 1 WILL go: Mindfulness!

Quieta movere magna merces videbatur. (Sallust, c.86-c.35 BC)
Translation: Just to stir things up seemed a good reward in itself. ;)

I am sooooo happy - How on earth could I be otherwise?! :D


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Re: Frightening experience

Postby cooran » Sun May 01, 2011 9:10 pm

Hello G,

In addition to the comments above, this list from Sayadaw U Tejaniya might be of interest:

Sayadaw U Tejaniya 'Right attitude for meditation'
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=7155

with metta
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Re: Frightening experience

Postby rowyourboat » Sun May 01, 2011 10:39 pm

Hi greggorious,

I'm not sure what you are doing is vipassana. It would help to hear what exactly it is you are doing. My guess is that it is a samatha process, where you are letting the mind settle, and that brings up these horrible images. It must be said that feeling depressed in meditation is NOT seeing the first noble Truth. The Truth is a cognitive/ thinking or conceptual output of the meditation- 'this is unsatisfactory' rather than the emotional 'I feel rubbish'. If someone is prone to depression it is important to do a lot of mental purification first (samatha proper-ideally jhana; overcome depression) and only then undertake vipassana. Vipassana takes a very strong mind to withstand, if it is the real thing.

With metta

Matheesha
With Metta

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Re: Frightening experience

Postby manas » Sat Jun 18, 2011 11:21 pm

We need to know what is in our best interests, which might not always be identical to what we want at a particular time. That's part of caring for ourselves. It's like a kid in a candy store: the kid wants a whole bag of sweets, but the parent knows that this is going to make the child sick, and only buys one candy bar for the child. The kid can yell and scream, but a good parent doesn't just give a child what it wants, but first considers what it needs. We can take this attitude with our own minds also. I often have to take this stance with my own mind.

I had some pretty scary images coming up earlier this year. It's well and good for us to say, 'none of these images are self, they are just images in the mind', which is perfectly true, but not all minds are ready or able to have this perspective. I feel that identification goes deeper than what we might think. We might not even realize that we are identified with our body, our feelings, perceptions etc. And so, when the scary images came up for me, although I 'knew' they were not real, they felt real anyway - and that wasn't purely just a lack of sati-sampajanya, it was also because, on an emotional level, I was identifying with those images. (In fact, I still could do so, except that I restrain it - will elaborate below.)

I stopped meditating for a few days. I was scared to do the practice. Then I tried to think it out thus: What are those terrible images, really? They are just made of mind, nothing more. They have no more substance than that. My body, by comparison, is solid and stable. Why don't I spend all my energy in this meditation just grounding my awareness in the body?

It worked. I 'allowed' the scary images to enter, with one crucial precondition: I maintained (strictly) awareness in this physical flesh-and-bones body. This 'gounded' me, kept me from 'floating off' into the scary images and believing in them. I perceived that 'this body is one thing - (solid and stable) - and the horrible images / ideas are another thing - (comparitively insubstantial, like phantoms). Whenever my mind drifted off into the scary images, I patiently brought it back into awareness of kaya, the body. Thus I was able to not care anymore whether they arose or not. But it was crucial to be able to stay with the perception of this physical body as a sort of 'anchor'. That was what undermined any belief in the scary images as being anything of substance.

Disclaimer, however: please take the advice or more experienced practitioners above mine, and as has been pointed out, be careful. I'm not a medical professional, nor a qualified counsellor. I just wanted to share how I deal with this issue. :smile:
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