Author Topic: Vipassana and ego dissolution  (Read 587 times)

giovyledzep

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Vipassana and ego dissolution
« on: May 30, 2019, 08:38:34 PM »
Hello.

I am new to the forum and relatively new to meditation, but I wanted to share my experience here and ask if anybody can relate or point me in the right direction.

A few months ago I attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat in the tradition of S.N. Goenka.
The first 3 days everything was good, I was also really happy to see that I was able to perform Anapana well and keep my focus on the breath for entire sessions.
Then on 4th day the actual Vipassana was taught and I started to experience strange sensations. I would feel as if I didn't have a body, and if I pinched myself on my arm I would feel a lot less pain than usual. Also I experienced a worrying detachment from my emotions, like I was descending into apathy. The most frightening moments were when I was in bed trying to sleep. I would close my eyes and feel like I didn't have a body, like I was floating in a vacuum that was sucking me in and if I allowed it to happen I would cease to exist. It is really hard to explain to someone who hasn't experienced it, even right now that these symptoms have vanished I have a hard time remembering what it felt like. Then one night at the end of the retreat, after I finally fell asleep, i woke up (or better, my consciusness woke up) in what I can only describe as an infinite void, and I was just a spark of consciousness without any memories or emotions staring into this abyss. Once I realized this I panicked and woke myself up.

For the next  week I felt like I was disappearing into nothingness, without a body, without a self... so I would exercise or take a shower to get back in my body and feel real again. After the retreat I stopped meditating because I thought I would go crazy or that I did something wrong.

Then I researched my experience and it sounds like a pretty normal scenario in Buddhist teachings, although at the retreat no one could explain what was happening to me and I was just told to keep meditating. I talked to many different people since who told me that I probably experienced the beginning of an ego dissolution and that I fought it, while I should have let myself go. But it really felt like total annihilation! And according to the literature about it it really does feel like that and one should embrace the process.

Does anybody have any experience with any of this? After I informed myself I really want to go back to meditation but I'm afraid of what could happen if I let myself sink into an egoless state, I mean, how long does it last before you're back to normal? Do you even have any control over it?

Thanks!

Goofaholix

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2019, 03:03:37 AM »
I would recommending putting aside speculation about whether you are experiencing ego dissolution or not, while letting go of self view is an important aspect of the Buddhist path it takes time and a lot of objective reflection.

What it sounds like to me you are experiencing is that you are directing the mind to be sensitive to moment to moment sensation and it is not used to that so it's getting dissociated, this is a pretty common experience when starting out.  Think of it like a camera lens (or an eye lens for that matter) it's fine focusing in the distance but when you try to switch focus on something close up it struggles.

Just notice what you experience, notice in particular then sensations, notice the reactivity, and drop the speculation.  Keep doing that and the mind will get used to doing what you are trying to train it to do.

giovyledzep

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #2 on: May 31, 2019, 11:13:14 AM »
I would recommending putting aside speculation about whether you are experiencing ego dissolution or not, while letting go of self view is an important aspect of the Buddhist path it takes time and a lot of objective reflection.

What it sounds like to me you are experiencing is that you are directing the mind to be sensitive to moment to moment sensation and it is not used to that so it's getting dissociated, this is a pretty common experience when starting out.  Think of it like a camera lens (or an eye lens for that matter) it's fine focusing in the distance but when you try to switch focus on something close up it struggles.

Just notice what you experience, notice in particular then sensations, notice the reactivity, and drop the speculation.  Keep doing that and the mind will get used to doing what you are trying to train it to do.

Thanks for the reply, I understand your suggestion. The only thing is that after this I almost had a psychotic break and was put on antipsychotics and antidepressants, so I would hesitate to characterize it as something "minor". It was a terrifying experience that clearly no one around me was having or could relate to.
Also I have experienced dissociative symptoms a lot in the past such as derealization etc.. so I'm used to the feeling you seem to be describing but this was just on another level. I was told that people meditate for years before reaching similar stages when they have all the training to handle the situation.

Goofaholix

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #3 on: May 31, 2019, 08:43:59 PM »
You are best to find a teacher that you can talk these things through with I think.  If the assistant teachers at the Goenka centre aren't helping find someone from the insight meditation tradition or another Buddhist group.

mobius

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2019, 06:52:41 PM »
I've had similar experiences.
It's a bit relieving to me to hear that others have had similar things. When I started all I heard was peachy and great things. People experiencing waves of joy and that the dissolution feeling was 'being one with everything' and beautiful. However my experience was (and sometimes still is) not very positive like this. I also felt/feel like when I 'do things right' I'm going insane or going to go insane. Losing control of one's self doesn't feel or seem good at all so I too am very reluctant to just 'let go' and let it happen. Especially considering though rare, and people endorsing meditation seem reluctant to discuss it, I have read several times now of people driven crazy by it so it's certainty nothing to take lightly imo.

My only solution is to take it much slower and not be intense about it. I only meditate briefly everyday. I've tried thinking deeply about; exploring myself and my memories; asking could it be something I'm doing wrong? Am I neglecting something about myself/my past? Am I being dishonest with myself? I don't know. It seems like I am not ready to handle this at this point in my life; maybe years later things will be different.
"Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away."
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giovyledzep

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2019, 10:03:27 AM »
I've had similar experiences.
It's a bit relieving to me to hear that others have had similar things. When I started all I heard was peachy and great things. People experiencing waves of joy and that the dissolution feeling was 'being one with everything' and beautiful. However my experience was (and sometimes still is) not very positive like this. I also felt/feel like when I 'do things right' I'm going insane or going to go insane. Losing control of one's self doesn't feel or seem good at all so I too am very reluctant to just 'let go' and let it happen. Especially considering though rare, and people endorsing meditation seem reluctant to discuss it, I have read several times now of people driven crazy by it so it's certainty nothing to take lightly imo.

My only solution is to take it much slower and not be intense about it. I only meditate briefly everyday. I've tried thinking deeply about; exploring myself and my memories; asking could it be something I'm doing wrong? Am I neglecting something about myself/my past? Am I being dishonest with myself? I don't know. It seems like I am not ready to handle this at this point in my life; maybe years later things will be different.

Can totally relate to everything you wrote. The advice I've been given is that if there is so much resistance to the process it probably means that there is some kind of unresolved trauma or underlying issue. For me it is years of anxiety so it makes sense.
In the literature of all mystic traditions experiences of no self are very commonly described accompanied by a feeling of total annihilation from which one comes out anew (hence the themes of death and resurrection, the phoenix rising from the ashes etc...). It is usually said that the only thing causing the distress is the resistance to the process, and that everything will be fine if you allow it. Similar to experiences of ego dissolution with substances like Ayahuasca etc...
After a couple weeks of stopping the meditation I was back to normal, before I was put on medication, so at least there's that. I don't want to make it sound like the medication was necessary to stabilize me, I think it's just the way western psychiatry responds to these kind of symptoms.

giovyledzep

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2019, 05:11:23 PM »
I found this video to be pretty helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg-h_MSijDo

And this notebook explains the experience in general mystical terms: https://paulbrunton.org/notebooks/23/8

Matthew

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2019, 11:43:51 PM »
...
Also I have experienced dissociative symptoms a lot in the past such as derealization etc.. so I'm used to the feeling you seem to be describing but this was just on another level. I was told that people meditate for years before reaching similar stages when they have all the training to handle the situation.

You would be well advised to avoid the Goenka technique given your history of de-realization. Meditation techniques differ and the Goenka technique is quite forced. De-realization and other dissociative spectrum disorders do not respond well to forced techniques - I think this explains the serious reactions you had.

A more gentle technique based in calm and relaxation rather than forced focus would work better with the disposition of your mind.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

giovyledzep

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #8 on: June 04, 2019, 04:25:23 PM »
...
Also I have experienced dissociative symptoms a lot in the past such as derealization etc.. so I'm used to the feeling you seem to be describing but this was just on another level. I was told that people meditate for years before reaching similar stages when they have all the training to handle the situation.

You would be well advised to avoid the Goenka technique given your history of de-realization. Meditation techniques differ and the Goenka technique is quite forced. De-realization and other dissociative spectrum disorders do not respond well to forced techniques - I think this explains the serious reactions you had.

A more gentle technique based in calm and relaxation rather than forced focus would work better with the disposition of your mind.

Thank you for your suggestion, that makes sense. Can you recommend a specific technique?

Matthew

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #9 on: June 04, 2019, 11:20:48 PM »
Thank you for your suggestion, that makes sense. Can you recommend a specific technique?

The one one the homepage could be a good method to experiment. Relaxation is key: breathing in and breathing out with a wide awareness of all sensations created by the breathing process. The outbreath needs to be relaxed and slightly longer than the inbreath. This increases vagal nerve stimulation and engages the parasympathetic nervous system (aka "rest and digest") - it slows your heart rate, calms body and mind. This allows you to "rest and digest" both physically and mentally.

You'll find it here and there is a pdf version you can print out to work from/remind yourself of the instructions.
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Stroaem

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Re: Vipassana and ego dissolution
« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2019, 11:35:35 AM »
Tried ayahuasca at peruvian ayahuasca retreat a year ago. Fortunately, I didn't have any diseases before (it's told to cure some) but I started feeling better as a result. I think the relaxing effect was also part of nature, we had a lot of different activities there.