Author Topic: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?  (Read 3717 times)

sarah2k

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Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« on: January 18, 2016, 12:39:51 AM »
I just came back from my fifth vipassana retreat.  My fourth was an amazing experience, I was at the Italian center and loved meditating, felt very calm and peaceful almost all of the time.  I felt like I went very deep, my meditation improved, and I felt great on leaving.
I say I felt peaceful 'almost' all of the time because one night I could not sleep, my heart started racing, and the next day I awoke plunged into negativity.  I felt extremely sick, tired, my heart beating overwhelmed me.  I sat through it and two hours later I felt suddenly *pow* maybe six or seven extremely painful sensations on my stomach, like I was being stabbed from the inside very quickly, and then suddenly everything subsided and I felt very peaceful.  I realized it was something coming out of me, and that it was gone.

The first meditation retreat I went on was a less positive experience, paranoia, I had never meditated before and didn't really know what Vipassana was when I arrived, and I began to think it was maybe a weird cult and they were putting something in the food (I was freaked out by everyone's gas in the meditation hall).  I meditated through it though and when I came back I started getting very strong muscle spasms in my back, like excess energy emanating out - this lasted more than a week, and freaked me out so much I stopped meditating altogether.

I finally came back and was happy I did on the second and third retreats.  This fifth experience though was maybe too intense for me.  I meditated very intensely, almost always alone in my room - I didn't take breaks.  Everything was going well - I started cycling rapidly from free flow to blindness over most of the body to extremely painful prickling sensations (so intense it was hard not to physically react, like needles stabbing me, somewhat like the arms dealer Goenka talks about but not to that extent, but so much that often my body would react regardless of my trying to remain equanimous) to back to free flow and peaceful calm, first the whole cycle would take a day, then I could go through it in two sittings.  I wanted to keep going, I felt like I was releasing so much negativity and tension so I kept meditating.  Energy spasm emanations started up again (this always happens, but was particularly strong this time), which I took as a sign I was 'going deep.'

My bodily vibrations started to become very strong, and one morning my heart started racing again, I felt ill, pressure in chest, pain all over my body, but I maintained calm after initial fear (my father died from a heart attack and I believe I have a weak heart, I was born with a heart defect that ended up healing up on its own when I was a week old, although in general I am very healthy and used to be an athlete, I am active, etc. etc.) but being already a bit paranoid my heart beating so quickly really freaked me out and I thought I might die.  I calmed down and returned to calm, free flow, and was soon laughing at myself for my 'silly freakout.'

Ninth night I penetrated through my torso (I've felt inside my legs before but never penetrated, just followed my blood flow) which caused a lot of energy to start pulsating extremely intensely on the area I was concentrating on.  That area felt like it started bubbling over with energy - if someone else had put a hand on my torso they would have felt the muscle spasms.  My entire torso is pulsating, and I could feel my entire body vibrating, it was all I could feel - very intense vibration.  I thought it might be too much but then I was like 'I am not afraid - better out than in' and kept going. 

Then the tenth day I felt like with the 'healing balm' of talking I wasn't able to work through it (I wanted to keep meditating because I could feel negativities and tensions on the surface but my husband was also at the retreat and so I felt like I had to go talk to him and then stayed with him, despite pain in chest).  Then that night I tried to get rid of some of the tensions but couldn't get through all of it and go to sleep.  Then all of a sudden I am awoken by a woman's face over me shaking me - my roommate.  She has awoken me to tell me I'm snoring but I'm so freaked out I can't say anything, only to go away.  My heart is pounding, extremely hard, I am really worried that I might die.  I know it's anxiety coming to the surface but I'm also worried that it's possible that it's too much and could be bad for my heart.  I calm down eventually and I feel everything vibrating very intensely again, and weakened and confused finally go back to sleep, worried about snoring, wondering if snoring is a sign of poor health, etc. etc. (I am 30 and am thin, people are always very surprised when I snore because I don't look like I would, but my dad had major problems with sleep apnea which may have contributed to his death). 

Now I am out but I still feel pain in my chest.  All day I felt very empty and vacant.  Communicating with people didn't feel like a relief, more exhausting.  And I do not feel like a 'weight has been lifted' but rather am still covered in painful sensations.  I want to work through them.  But should I take a break from Vipassana? Is it possible that it is dangerous? I can handle it mentally I feel, I do not hallucinate, but I do have obvious issues of paranoia about my health (I used to smoke, and sometimes get heart palpitations), and am worried that it could be bad for me.  If it's just a matter of anxiety I think I can keep going.  Next time though I should probably not go so hard (is a 20 day course out of the question at this point? I feel like I still have so much tension and negativity to get rid of! and I felt like I was going through so many layers, releasing so much of it, I was thinking how amazing it would be to be able to stay longer and get rid of even more), take more breaks. 

Or should there be a next time at all? Advice? Help! Thanks

Attachless

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2016, 05:32:56 AM »
Hey Sarah.

Reading this out:

"I feel like I still have so much tension and negativity to get rid of! and I felt like I was going through so many layers, releasing so much of it, I was thinking how amazing it would be to be able to stay longer and get rid of even more"

very often made me musing about the intentions of your participation in such retreats, and maybe it would help (is just me) to develop a different perspective on the technique, or practicing in general. If it is not to develop tranquility, mindfulness, concentration and equanimity, to see things as they are with a clear eye and no resistance, but to get rid of tension, negativity, "work through layers", release stuff - or seeing tranquility, mindfulness, concentration and equanimity only as a `means` to get rid of tension, negativity etc., then that approach in itself may lead to tension and confusion, to expectations what will not get fulfilled, and generally to a mindset that seems not as the "working as intended" in regards to how one should practice.

It`s of course comprehensible that, after having attended some courses, and having seen the benefits that it can yield, that one starts to see the practice as a mean for the benefits, forgetting that they are only side-effects of proper practice, and that they can not, and probably will not be "gained" by intending them, or practicing only as a means to get to the results.

Paradoxically practicing without any such expectations is the most likely to yield "results", and also "trying to practice without any such expectations as a means to get such results" will not work either, if you know what I mean.

Trying to "establish awareness and equanimity no matter what as a means to get results" won`t work either, telling from my experience. It`s all a learning experience IMO, and you may take that experience as just that, as a means to recalibrate your approach to practicing, and to deepen your understanding of how one should practice, noticing the pitfalls one has stepped into, laugh about oneself, and learn from it.

I could be wrong of course and it`s all a big tragedy and you should stop, you want to await for more perspectives on that (as I can`t and won`t give any advice regarding your heart problems and your anxieties regarding them and such), but as far as what I wrote above is concerned, that`d be my two cents, and I wouldn`t take it too close - it`s all a learn experience and I`d see it as that.

Talking to others who have also knowledge about vipassana always helped me to figure out where my deficits are and find the blind spots, but that`s basically what you`ve come here to do :-)

On my 4th retreat I was basically in a similar situation as you, totally dissolved and unsatisfied with the "results", uneasy you know, (the "trying to establish awareness and equanimity no matter what as a means to get results"-experience I mentioned, which is just a slightly different variation of what seems to have been your approach), and talking to others made me identify and spot that. Although I went out pretty much with the same feeling as you, it turned out to be the experience I learned most from - trial and error, and trial again. That`s the way we learn.

Hope it helps some,

metta

to be or not to be - one hardly notices the subtlety

Vivek

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2016, 07:21:19 AM »
Quote
But should I take a break from Vipassana? Is it possible that it is dangerous?
Sarah, once you have ruled out any medical conditions with the help of a medical practitioner, I think it is a matter of personal choice whether you should take a break or not. As you mentioned, you can try to soften your approach towards practice. I would look also into expectations I have about myself as a practitioner, as well as the practice itself. Am I trying to be a "hardcore" practitioner? Am I trying to get enlightenment? Am I trying to be the best meditator? Do I want to have only positive experiences out of my practice all the time? Such are the kinds of questions I would use to introspect and let go of. It is amazing what happens once we let go of expectations about ourselves as well as the path. You can also consult your teacher who presided over the previous retreat and get his suggestions also.

Quote
is a 20 day course out of the question at this point?
I think for doing a 20-day retreat you should also serve one 10-day retreat as well as attend a 8-day Satipatthana course. Please consult Global Vipassana Foundation's website for more details.
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

sarah2k

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2016, 01:47:17 PM »
Hi to both of you, thanks for your responses.  See this is indeed the thing, I do have an underlying health issue - I have a bad heart.  I get palpitations even when I'm not meditating and have terrible circulation (my feet fall asleep after sitting in the lotus position for even five minutes, I have an issue with the sciatic nerve).  So my question is really could meditation be dangerous for someone already in weaker health? In general meditation is supposed to be healthy but considering my experience (rapid heart rate as anxiety comes to the surface) I am not sure how to proceed.

Vivek

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2016, 05:16:59 AM »
Can you do one thing: please contact the teacher through the center where you did the last retreat, and consult him/her directly to help you address your situation. Your question is understood but it is difficult to comment since we don't have any teachers in this forum who are affiliated to GVF. Only a competent teacher can discern with the help of the information you provide him/her, about what adjustments you need to make to your meditative practice in order that there would be no risk to the health condition you have explained. Members in this forum may be able to provide you some helpful suggestions in this regard but I think the safest approach would be to contact the teacher directly.
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

VipassanaXYZ

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2016, 08:36:49 AM »
Sarah2K

Beautiful work Sarah. You have been brave and got good concentration.

Equanimity and clear articulation, with strong grounding helps.

You are a strong woman - inside out.

Delighted to read you got so much off your back.

Writing to say that it is important to be with eqaunimity and clear articulation of what is going on.


Tips:
1. When you feel the sensations are getting overwhelming, return to the breath - get your balance back and then again plunge.Staying equanimous is important to stay clear of harm or getting carried away.

2. When the sensations are intense and there are blind spots, work on the surface of the body. When agitation clears fromt he surface (no matter how long it takes) then go inside. Trunk, seat of the spine have densely packed sankharas from innumerable past lives - work on these spots when you have free flow all over the body. Otherwise, just accept the situation and keep working on the sensations on the surface. So progressively it is like this: start with a frame of joy/delight in meditation/skillfulness; Work on the breath -> work on sensations on the surface if you can easily concentrate on the breath for a good stretch -> if free flow everywhere, you may start penetrating. Come back to breath/surface as the situation requires. Watch the soles of the feet and palms of the hands when sensations are too intense and difficult to handle. When heart is palpitating too much - lie down in a quiet place, and watch the breath and sensations on the soles of the feet and palms - this will immediately help.

3. Know that you are not alone and that this happens :)

4. Work with confidence and delight. Notice the lightness and increased flexibility in the body ...
Investigation: observe what helps you in concentration - conducive space, conducive mental reflections (buddhanusati: remembering qualities fo the Buddha, punyanusati: remembering wholesome skillful  deeds done by you in the past) ...

I will suggest you read the Sattipatthan Sutta where Buddha elaborates more on how to observe the physical and mental phenomena:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html

These are more elaborate instructions for those getting good concentration on the courses.  Sattipathana course and longer courses also help deepen the understanding :)

Sit with relaxed mind, with joy: pitti (joy) is one of the seven factors of enlightenment:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/piyadassi/wheel001.html

May you be successful!
« Last Edit: January 21, 2016, 09:21:32 AM by poojavassa »

Jen

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2016, 12:53:28 PM »
Hi Sarah,
It sounds like you had a very intense experience! I think only you can answer for yourself whether you are ready for another course or for a longer course, but I would think that you might benefit from some time spent in your daily practice, which tends to be a lot more gentle, before another retreat. Do you have any trace of aversion when you think of sitting another 10-day course? If so, it might be best to wait until things have settled down a bit. How are things in your daily practice?

Attachless brought up some very poignant questions about goal-oriented practice that are very useful. It sounds to me that in your effort to maintain equanimity with the overwhelming physical sensations, you may have embraced them as a means to eradicate negativities. This embracing is yet another form of attachment, which ultimately only serves to make the sensations stronger and more overwhelming. However, only you can know if you were remaining truly equanimous and experiencing a moment of choiceless observation in those moments. My own personal experience of the practice of equanimity is that it is a matter of degrees. It is rare that I feel I've practiced perfect equanimity with sensations that arouse strong pain, fear or aversion, but any step in the direction of detachment is progress along the path. It seems to me like your overall attitude to eradicating the negativities as quickly as possible might be anchored in a deep-seated pattern of achievement or attachment to results which have now been directed toward your meditation practice. This goal-orientation towards practice will only create more misery for yourself.

The #2 tip that Poojavassa gave is spot on in terms of the best instructions you could hope to get from a teacher in terms of the technique. It sounds like you were working quite intensively, and when the sensations become very intense it's a good idea to focus on the hands and the feet, and to work on the surface of the body after things have calmed down. Piercing and penetrating should only be attempted when there is a subtle free-flow throughout the body. I made the mistake of not heeding that instruction once and experienced the most intense pain I have ever felt in my trunk area for what seemed like an eternity.

I agree with Vivek's advice to contact an assistant teacher. Have you ever thought of asking for a chair for all or part of the course to keep your legs from going to sleep?

You may also consider serving a course on a part-time basis as an alternative to sitting another 10-day course right away. Serving part or full time will give you the opportunity to meditate somewhat intensively but only 3-5 hours per day. You'll be in an environment conducive to working through some of the things you're experiencing, but in a more gentle and relaxed manner. You'll also be able to discuss your experiences with the assistant teacher face to face, which might be helpful.

I hope you are feeling more at peace after the course! Best of luck managing your health concerns, and in your meditation practice in general.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2016, 01:03:23 PM by Jen »
As an archer aims an arrow, as a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.

Matthew

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Re: Meditation - too intense? Stop going to Vipassana?
« Reply #7 on: January 22, 2016, 02:25:41 PM »
Hello Sarah,

From this description:

Quote
That area felt like it started bubbling over with energy - if someone else had put a hand on my torso they would have felt the muscle spasms.  My entire torso is pulsating, and I could feel my entire body vibrating, it was all I could feel - very intense vibration.

It sounds like you could benefit from "Trauma Release Exercise" or TRE which are physical exercises to release body tension held from previous trauma. They come highly recommended and you can find someone close to you here: http://traumaprevention.com/

Do you continue to meditate? I see no reason not to yet with the caveat that you find ways not to get stuck in these states of anxiety. There are good suggestions from fellow members of the community regarding your practice and TRE could be very helpful too.

Kindly,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

 

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