Author Topic: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat  (Read 1755 times)


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I went on my first Vipassana retreat more than three years ago, in july of 2014 and kept meditating for close to a month or so afterwards, when I stopped completely. My next retreat was on march of 2016 and I kept meditating continually, without a single day's interruption, until the day of my third retreat, five weeks ago. I'm not meditating any more.

Starting on the morning of the third day of my last retreat, I started to hear music in my head, similar to what you would experience if a certain melody or tune just got stuck in it and I kept hearing music almost constantly throughout the rest of the course and until this day. It's turned my life upside down and it's weakening me.

It all started to happen after a particularly painful 1-hour meditation session. Even though you still don't need to sit in Adithana on the third day, I decided to to prepare myself for the next few days (or so was my rationale). I was in agony the last ten minutes and I thought I wasn't going to be able to stay still so, for some reason, I decided to distract myself by listening to music, mentally off course and deliberately. I managed to make it through without moving. Later, as I was walking back to the dining hall to have lunch, however, I realized I had been hearing the same piece of music, without interruption, for the last two hours.

I requested to meet with my teacher almost daily to tell her about my situation and she somewhat managed to help me calm down, but she also never gave a straight and concise answer. I was looking for an explanation and a way of moving past it, but she always just told me to ignore the music and work on my meditation. I was unsatisfied, but I still followed her advice: I tried not to pay attention to the music as well as I could and I put myself to the task of meditating conciously and fervently.

The last day of the course I told her I was feeling miserable, heavy and anxious. I told her I was worse off than when I arrived. Her answer was something like this: "You didn't want to listen... I told you what to do, but you didn't listen". She gave me some therapist's number for me to call when I got back home.

I left the retreat, took a bus with some of the other attendants and got back to the city. I then took another bus back to my house, all the while feeling like my chest was being squashed by a giant weight putting pressure in every direction. My dad opened the door for me, he was in the kitchen, cooking lunch. I followed him there. He turned his back on me so as to continue with his task and then asked me how I'd been. After I didn't reply for a few seconds he turned back and looked at me. I crumbled in tears.

The music hasn't stopped. Anytime I'm in silence it plays on and on. I can ignore it somewhat succesfully when my mind is occupied, reading, writting, listening or talking to someone. But I have no peace when I'm alone and idle. I have no rest.

I saw the therapist twice. His advice: ignore it and move on. He even said I should try to enjoy it. I won't even say what my reaction was. I also started to look for help anywhere I could find it. I started to go to church even though I've been agnostic for the past 12 years. I went to a psychiatrist whose first impulse was to put me on anti-psychotic medication (I refused).

I don't know what to do. I feel like I've lost the grip on my life and I'm desperate.

I will be really grateful to anyone who could offer some insight on my condition, some advice or, at least, share his/her experience if they've gone through something similarly challenging.

I wish you peace and quiet. 


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Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #1 on: October 19, 2017, 05:45:58 PM »
Hi Mardeabril,

I am so sorry you are going through such a rough time.

Would it be possible to give yourself compassion?  To notice your resistance to the music, to wanting it to go away, your thoughts, images, and sensations about it, and hold it all in lovingkindness?

Your story reminds me of the debilitating depression I went through after my first 10 day retreat.  I thought I could meditate out of it, but in my meditation I was resisting the depression so much that I dug myself in deeper.  What worked was breaking it down into components - my thoughts about it, my sensations, any images, and also a hatha yoga and pranayama practice to help move the energy rather than continue to fight with it.

I spoke to a number of therapists at the time until I found the right one, someone who could support me through the experience was quite helpful.

Wishing you all the best as you move past this... It will pass, even though I know it feels like it will be with you forever.

Shinzen Young has very effective commentary on these kinds of experiences... in his book the science of enlightenment, he spoke about seeing bugs on him for weeks...

Much metta,
"You are the Sky.  Everything else is just the weather." - Pema Chodron


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    • Vipassana - Phra Ajarn Tong Sirimangalo Lineage
Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2017, 09:05:19 PM »
Hello Mardeabril,

I don't know if I could be of any help, but I wanna tell you my personal story of suffering (and a way out of it), which maybe allows you to get a different view on your actual situation. If I sound a bit harsh, direct or "cloudy" - this is due to the circumstance that English is not my native language – sorry about that. :)

Social-anxiety has been my opponent, since the beginning of my life I guess. It caused suffering for me and my nearest friends/family in many parts of my life. In my youth (14-22), Alcohol and drug abuse to compensate my anxiety where my first attempts of getting rid of my problem. But as you may guess, those things didn't make things better. With 22 I came to a point where I had to decide whether I wanna live or die. I happily chose live. I stopped smoking and drastically reduced my alcohol consumption and my first attempts of meditation followed. At a first glance things became more difficult than before, because facing your enemy with no weapons made me vulnerable and I fell quite into a depression/or probably have already been here.

From 22 till know I steadily became better. In short, I became able to arrange my live, but in my subconscious I was still unhappy. In the last two years I realized, that anxiety was the main root of my suffering since the beginning of my live and that I became a master in avoiding situations which triggered social anxiety - which still caused suffering.

That's why I went on my first vipassana retreat (10 days). The first two days where overwhelming in a very negative way. My enemy attacked me in the worst manner and in an ongoing frequency (like your sound is “attacking” you). My only strategy by far, which was fleeing, didn’t worked out. In this second day I had the most helpful conversation ever (with my teacher). To be precise, it was the “simple” suggestion to have a glance at my anxiety – to look it directly into its eyes. This instruction was a game changer for me. First time in my live I knew exactly: this is anxiety. For the first time in my live I realized: Anxiety comes and goes in many different situations and intensities and durations. I became aware that sometimes sounds (like the sound when someone opens a door to my room, or the sound when someone is walking over a wooden floor…) or thoughts, or visual impressions, my underlying mood, etc.  triggered my anxiety in different kind of variations. After a few days my anxiety became less and less threatening because of mindful observation. I also realized that anxiety was/is a kind of protection to me for keeping me away of more underlying “threats” like e.g. self-hatred and non-acceptance.
Know, three month later anxiety is still present in many situations in my life, but our relationship has changed – from an enemy to a friend, because it brings me back to mindfulness – at least most of the times.

So, finally, what are the points of my story:
- Sometimes people need a big amount of words to come to a point  ;)
- Try finding a psychotherapist which seems trustworthy to you. Sometimes the first is not the best.
- Running away may extend the duration and intensity of suffering over the time
- Be kind to yourself
- Maybe observing your sound in a mindful way can be a gamechanger to you too
- When you recognize suffering, know that there is suffering
- When you regognize anxiety, know that there is anxiety, etc...
- Understanding/Observing of suffering can lead to freedom and insight, even if your inner sound persists

What "strategies" despite distracting have you tried out yet? Have you already tried some of the suggestions Paula gave you?

Best wishes,
may you be healthy


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Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2017, 01:14:31 AM »

The music hasn't stopped. Anytime I'm in silence it plays on and on. I can ignore it somewhat succesfully when my mind is occupied, reading, writting, listening or talking to someone. But I have no peace when I'm alone and idle. I have no rest.

I saw the therapist twice. His advice: ignore it and move on. He even said I should try to enjoy it. I won't even say what my reaction was. .....

Hello and welcome!.....Wow!, a fellow sufferer.  But in my case the "muzak" has been with me for as long as I can remember, although it would be difficult to peg to what extent I had this problem in or before adolescence (I'm 56 now).  My practice has not deepened as much as I would have like at this point and I go through phases where I'm meditating more regularly and then fall back to maybe once every 1 or 2 weeks.  But this cycling has helped me to observe that my "inner muzak" gets worse when I have NOT been regularly meditating.  And I can distinctly notice a lessening of the muzak when I've been meditating on a more regular basis and with longer meditative sessions.  The middle of the meditative session is one of the few times that I experience peace from the muzak......and it felt almost scary calm for the first few days that I noticed it being gone from my regular day chatter.

As you noted, your therapist and others often scoff and say "hey, enjoy the free groovy sounds in your head...", but it's NOT goes from background to something that won't allow you calm introspection.  So I can much relate.  Don't know in what way that continued practice might reverse your predicament, but hoping some solution comes your way.


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Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #4 on: October 22, 2017, 05:13:41 PM »
Hey Mardeabril

I’m sorry to read about your crisis.

You already received some reactions with personal accounts showing that aversion /resistance/avoidance to unpleasant experiences/emotions actually leads to more suffering. We want to be in control and fix the problem, but it doesn’t work, so we feel powerless, which we don’t want, and which makes us suffer more up to a point that we may become desperate.

An instruction is also given. No magic cure, but something to work with: continue with the practice and incorporate the music as just another part of your experience. Noticing both on and off the cushion when your mind goes looking for the music (hypervigilance), and when/how you are reacting to the music when it's playing (aversion). Maybe noticing when you are ruminating or catastrophizing how bad it is. Maybe noticing when you are worrying about how you might lose your mind during the next episode or how bad your life will be if this never goes away. Maybe noticing how this music is taking so much of your attention that your time/decisions are more focused with coping/avoiding than pursuing other valuable goals in your life.

So much to notice, so much to learn, so much opportunities to stand back, to expand awareness and observe your mind-body. And to experience for yourself what happens.

I invite you… try to find within yourself the courage, and the kindness to approach the music in a different way. No expectations. No guarantees.

Both Paula and Georg describe a point in their process where they stopped fighting and instead opened up to their experience as it is. The illusion of control is given up. Your relationship with the experience changes. And that ‘s a world of difference.

I wish this crisis might be an opportunity for growth.

On a side note… I ‘ve also encountered being stuck on a song on retreat. It’s usually some real silly song. I used to get tempted to engage with it in a negative manner, depending on the conditions, but that usually didn’t last very long. Over the years I ‘ve seen what happens when I try to resist or control my experience, even difficult ones. And I’ve seen what happens when I remain mindfully with my chosen object of meditation as best I can…

Kind regards



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Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2017, 07:30:49 PM »
Well, thank you all for the kind words of wisdom.

I have to concede I know it only makes things worse when you fight them but that's just been my default attitude for I don't know how long. I always push back when pushed against and I still hold on to the belief that improvement only comes as a result of changes brought about through will alone. Indeed, I always feel as though I'm betraying myself when I do nothing, when I let things be as they may.

That's my struggle, to fight or to let go. To embrace the latter, as you might imagine, would be one of the most difficult things for me to do... and yes, probably the one that would be most worth it for the same reason.

Right now I'm just trying to regain some semblance of balance but, eventually I guess, I'll have to learn my lesson.

I wish you all strength and clarity. Thank you again for the much needed insight.


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Re: Constant mental music - Brain disruption after recent Vipassana retreat
« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2017, 09:08:37 PM »
You're welcome. May you find balance  ;)


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