Posted by: Jane | July 6, 2008

Dark night of the soul

On occasion I get some very moving correspondence from people from all walks of life, from all over the world about my videos and writings.

This post is more about the specifics of processing yourself with meditation. I try to answer questions as honestly as I can and shed some light on the phenomena of experiencing regressions, worsening and mental instability caused by meditation practice.

A recent correspondent sent me substantial background story about their mental health situation and the problems they were facing daily. This person found me from my youtube vids and I assume they know about my recovery strategies because this person wanted to know more about it and what to expect.

My answer was very long and detailed and I wanted to share it with other people who have similar questions and issues.

The context of this quote was pertaining to starting a mind-body discipline lifestyle to recover from mental illness. The individual is gainfully employed and desires to be cured/recovered.

“but if I am to commit myself to finding a cure, then I need to have certainty that I am going to get to the destination I am looking for.”

What you asked, I can not do. I can not guarantee for you or anyone that this will work. What is the adage? The only things certain are death and taxes?

There are no guarantees in this work.

In my enthusiasm I have often thought that what I did, anyone can do. I have had time to rethink that stance and I no longer believe that to be so. I was deeply religious growing up and the discipline of prayer and worship prepared me for meditation in my teens. I got a head start on meditation by studying and practicing it when I was 13. Over time I learned more and more meditation systems and paradigms and the body of knowledge I had concerning meditation and the potential of it expanded and grew.

It is important that you understand I was not following anyone’s master plan for mental wellness here. What I did, I did by living one day at a time. By surrendering my long term fate, destiny and planning I was able to live in the present moment and work on being well only for one day at a time. I had no guarantees when I started this. There was no certainty of anything here. I just wanted to survive the day alive and free from restraint. I found that life went wrong when I interacted with people, so I stopped interacting with people as much as possible and life right away got better and less intense.

What happened was very much like walking through fog blind. One hand outstretched, one foot in front of the other. I stopped worrying about tomorrow and just worried about staying alive and calm from sun up to sun down. That was accomplished best by hiking into the park or driving out to a remote area and meditating all day. After awhile it was my routine and I resented having to go to work because work was a distraction from being alone all day. In time I learned to apply meditation to my job. It is much easier to meditate when doing manual labor than it is to meditate when you are talking on the phone in an office all day.

Eventually I was able to transform my life, employed or not, so that meditation pervaded everything I did at all times. I was meditating when I walked to work or rode my bike. I was meditating on lunch break. I meditated at my work station, on the commute back home, on my way down to the park and then in the park all evening.

“You said you meditated for 8 to 12 hours a day with/without tai chi and yoga. Did you do this while maintaining a full time job? Or were you on social security disability at the time? Or did someone else support you? ”

Yes I did do this while maintaining a full time job. Sometimes a job with mandatory overtime which cut into my healing schedule.

I was not on SSD at the time.

In truth, I worked in blue collar industry. Warehousing, shipping, packing, factory work etc. In that industry you might work 9-5, as in 9 pm to 5 am. You might work 60 hours a week, in 5 days with mandatory OT. Sometimes industry down time causes work slowing which meant maybe working only 4 days a week 8 hours a day.

It meant sometimes months long lay offs. I never had the same work schedule for long from age 18 to about age 22. Around age 23 I got employed with a start up company and stayed with them for several years working all manner of shifts, hours etc. At one point I made it clear that I was not available for overtime any more. Not for peer pressure or financial incentive would do I it. I decided my work time was no more than 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, period. After I punched out at 3:30 pm, I was done with work. I did not think about work for one split second longer and I did not bring work home with me. As soon as I was out of the building I was back in my own world and preparing for my evening workout.

There were firings, quittings and layoffs and whenever I found myself without a job I immediately ramped up my practice to full time.

I lived pay check to pay check on the tightest shoe string budgets in order to keep a roof over my head and to eat. Over time I became quite happy and content being poor and alone in the middle of a modern city living the life of an urban recluse.

“I only want to use what works. I need to know what to do to get results. Please tell me exactly what I need to do to cure myself of this paranoia and depression. I need to know. I need to know what to expect on this path.”

As for what to expect on this path? I can not predict that for you. I can only share what happened to me as a result of forging on ahead with my lifestyle ideals.

What happened is as follows.

When I first started out, I was just plain desperate and at wits end. I did not want to be alive but I felt like the Universe was keeping me alive so I decided to endure one more day. Just one more day. Day in and out.

Over time I began to realize that there were small signs of improvement. Better sleep, more relaxation, less anger, less paranoia, less flashbacks, less pain psychically, physically and mentally.

Then I realized that there might be hope for me after all so I dug in and got even more involved with mind body training.

As I gave myself over to this lifestyle I was buoyant about my prospects. I thought there was a possibility for real change and progress. I had no idea what that would mean though. I found out soon enough what the price would entail.

Dark night of the soul.

For a time, all went well and I was walking on air. I was full of hope and energy and positive I could do this. Things were looking better…

At first the meditation had only positive benefits. I was noticeably calmer, more relaxed and genuinely nicer to be around. Everything was going fine. Meditation was working.

Alone without distractions or diversions eventually the only thing I had to face was me. I began to catch clearer glimpses of what was inside me and what I found was not pleasant. Then the content of my own mind, my emotions, my thoughts began to churn anew making a mockery of my feeble new skills.

The closer I got to my real self, the stormier my mind became. I became deeply afraid I was going to walk off a metaphorical mental cliff and become totally unhinged. There was a feeling that I was going down the well and I could not control the thoughts in my mind. There was a tangible internal sense of a kind of impending doom.

Then it passed. A measure of calm was restored. I got a grip as the expression goes. I resumed my practice, wary but relieved. Days went by and I was all zen and tranquility once more.

Then all hell broke loose.

My entry level grace period into meditation was over. I had put in enough to time to gain inner momentum and the ride began to get more intense. My Sunday drive had become a Hellride.

Waves of panic assailed me. I wondered what I had done to open Pandora’s Box. I wondered if I was ever going to be able to close it again. I was relieving my nightmares more intensely than in years. My flashbacks came, untriggered, unasked for constantly as though I was reliving my past on some level all the time.

Years of pain, rage, denial, insecurity, fear, doubt, self loathing, betrayal, revenge, hate, it was all there inside me like a storm cloud that never went away.

That was only the first wave. That process of descending into hell, riding it out, surfacing, gaining a moment of calm only to descend, sometimes plummet back down occurred again and again. Sometimes over the course of months. Sometimes several times in a day.

Eventually all of my worst fears and problems were revisited. The urge to hurt myself or others came at me in visions and compulsions and intrusive thoughts like a transmission I could not turn off. I was alternately floored into deep depression and red lined into deep mania. I was sometimes psychotic and unpsychotic, over and over in the space of minutes like some kid playing with a light switch. Baseless paranoias, obsessions, compulsions, fixations, inner directive and command voices, the angry mob of voices in my head threatening to break down my castle walls.

The years of unprocessed life events had been adding up. The speed at which I had been propelled through childhood into adulthood had left me without enough time to be a proper teen. I had had not a moments rest to really let life catch up and to decompress and unwind from all the stress in my life. Now the interest that accrued on my debt of unfinished business was due and demanding to be paid.

All these thoughts came at me like a hurricane wind without the influence of any meds at all. This core of darkness and chaos was inside me. It was natural. It was what I had become. I had to face my own evil and look at it in the eye while honestly recognizing it for what it was.

During the worst of it, especially when I understood the extent of my *karma* I begged the Universe, God, whatever, to kill me. I was dead serious and I meant it. At my weakest moments I cried out loud to God, to smite me where I was so I would not have to keep screwing up and making life worse for myself and people around me and turning the wheel.

Through all this I made no phone calls for help. I had no internet to check to see if other meditators were going through what I was. I could not count on the guidance of my teachers because their spiritual offerings were paid for with cash and they were not obliged to teach me how to swim in deep waters having already taught me how to tread water in the shallow zones. Many of my teachers had lives and were not available to tutor me because I happened to be in a meditation crises or experiencing a dark night of the soul.

I endured and I persevered. I stuck with it because I had nothing else to do and I was committed to following this path no matter where it led. Underneath all the trauma, hell and sickness was my Original Mind waiting to be uncovered, literally uncovered from the dust and fog of life’s experience, social programming and knowledge that had obscured it. I knew that in theory, my Original Mind was a tabula rasa upon which I could reprogram the code of my personality if I could get there and stay there long enough to access the matrix.

Perhaps you may wonder, how it was I could bear my own madness unbuffered and live in it without respite, not knowing when or if it would end. I was prepared for that when it happened. I had read the lives the Christian saints as a kid. I was in love with St Francis and St Catherine and many others. I remember when Jesus went into the desert to fast and contemplate, he was assailed by no less than Satan. Other saints had been tormented by visions and visitations while praying in their cells.

From the Three Pillars of Zen I read that visions and demons would come to torment me and it was called makyo and you could work through it as several Zen saints have done.

In Taoism there is a warning of the experiencing all the winds of chi, of having the ten thousand experiences but that like clouds, they would come and go, come and go and I had but to dissolve my attachment to them, to let them go.

I also had inspiration, not from real world saints and mystics but by heroes and mystics in stories of science fiction.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer, Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

The Bene Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’

From the Dune Canon created by Frank Herbert

My only anchor during this was that I knew it had been done by others before me. Before I was even born for that matter. Knowing that it had been done by others, I felt I had to try. I really had no choice in the matter but to go in and nakedly face full on the fury of the voices in the whirlwind.

The Country of the Mind (Boldly going where [you] have never gone before)


Like a spaceship burning up on reentry into the atmosphere I stayed the course and continued to breath and dissolve despite the demons and visions and memories and voices that came to plague me.

In time I punched through the lowest cloud deck of my internal world and for the first time I saw my inner landscape clearly or at least part of it. While I was far from hopeless, it very clear that I had a lot of work to do. An incredible amount of work to do. I had to rediscover myself. I had to find myself and map the surrounding country. Find who and what I was and what I wanted. I had to deprogram myself of everything I had been told was important in life and stay present inside my being when I wanted to be anywhere but here, now.

Now that I was touching down on my home world, I was going to have to live here and make the best of the soil I was standing on.

My soil was toxic and dirty. The contamination ran deep. I knew that if I had continued in my life without taking time off to do this, there was a good chance that I would have passed some point of no return sooner or later and become a homeless bum, jail bait or stuck in a chair in a psych ward muttering to myself endlessly.

Underneath all that, once I kept digging deep enough, I found new soil. (to continue this metaphor. ) I had to do a ton of earth moving to expose more of that soil. The crops of personality that I sowed in that small patch of good soil in me were healthy and strong and a variety that no one had seen from me in years if at all. Meditation had started to change me, for the better, one day at a time.

Meditation grows connections in the Prefrontal Cortex

Of course now we know more about the process of meditation and what actually happens in your brain when you do it for long periods of time. Simply put, you grow a meditation circuit of calmness in your brain and after awhile you continue to give off deep brain wave states even when you are not meditating. Meditation makes use of the brain’s ongoing neuroplasticity to heal and to become denser, healthier and more stable.

The mental state of peace instilled from meditation is at first a lifeline. Then it is a crutch. Then it is cane. Then it is you and you are it. No longer a device to stay upright, you are becoming meditation and meditation is becoming you. In time your calm and peace is who you are and not just something you are striving for.

Eventually you blow away the frame and scaffold around your mind and keep only the practice, ontologically speaking. You become what you do. If you do it long enough, you become a meditator and the mind of a meditator repels neurosis and mental distress. It is resistant to depression. It is stable under pressure. It is a natural psychic armor that protects you from sliding back down again. The longer you stick with it, the harder it is to slide back to what you were because of what you are and what you are becoming.

You will change as a person and you will be different. Life will be different and the meaning and purpose to life will be that much the clearer for you.

That is what happened to me. I can’t say for sure that is what will happen to you. You will have to discover your own Country of the Mind. You have to fly through your inner storms and clouds to find your inner world. You have to map out the features of your inner landscape and your world will not be quite the same as my world. All things being equal, we are still humans with brains performing meditation techniques. These trainings have been successfully transmitted and handed down for generation after generation because they work. They work quite well if you are serious about making it work and you have an open ended commitment to stick with it.

A word of caution about meditation teachers and paid enlightenment

Meditation experiences don’t come on cue in a predictable schedule. They happen when they happen. When these experiences happen it will be because you have prepared your mind and consciousness through repetition, practice and patience. It will be because it is time.

Be highly suspect of any teacher or training that promises to shorten your meditation time or offers a quick path or hidden technique to enlightenment or liberation.

A meditation teacher can only show you the gate. You have to go through it. You have to hack down your inner jungle and blaze your own inner paths. No teacher or system can do that for you. It is going to take as long as it takes.

Neurologically speaking, it takes time to grow those meditation circuits in the brain and no lineage master, no two day meditation seminar at any price can grow that circuit for you. You have to do that yourself. You will get out of it what you put into it. The more you practice, the sooner there are results. The longer you stick with it, the more permanent the benefits.

A note on differences in meditation teachings

I have learned a plethora of meditation techniques over the years. Not all these techniques are designed to heal your emotional and mental problems. There are meditation techniques that exist that presuppose you don’t have any major problems and the purpose of those meditation techniques are to open up the psychic functions and full spiritual capabilities of a person’s being.

If those meditation techniques were taught to say…an enthusiastic but insecure, abused thirteen year old with a natural inclination towards witchcraft and the occult. Without supervision and with regular practice, such a teen could theoretically give themselves a severe case of what is called irregular kundulini awakening or meditation psychosis and no one would be around to notice it.

Such a problem would create symptoms identical to what is known in the DSM as mania. Neither this dedicated but damaged teen, nor anyone else in that teen’s life would know it was happening if they themselves did not know what to look for.

A certain amount of unlearning then, needed to be done. Unlearning of what really constitutes meditation practice and what is genuine meditation practice versus occult training designed to unlock your super powers.

You can hurt yourself with meditation. Some techniques of focusing consciousness exacerbate tendencies towards neurosis, grandiosity and a need for personal power. That path may lead to being really intense but it is a false path to pursue those states purely to possess them.

Years of such meditation practice had done me no lasting good whatsoever. Arguably, they made me worse and insufferable. Since I was unable to make it big in life by pursing power as an end to itself at the age of 22 nearly ten years after my initial exposure to meditation training I decided it was time to change my practice.

Taoist Meditation and Relaxing Into Your Being

If you believe in synchronicities then you should realize that it was no coincidence that I found out I lived only 100 miles away from a master of Taoist arts. Bruce Frantzis is a lineage holder and master of several martial arts, chi gung systems, nei gung and meditation.

I had to save every last scrap of money for weeks to be able to afford to train with him. I attended his lectures, seminars, classes and retreats on Taoist meditation. It was worth every cent.

He teaches a technique called dissolving which uses your awareness to release and resolve not just physical pain, but energy blockages, emotional states, mental triggers, psychic noise and so on.

Day after day, hour after hour, millimeter by millimeter I dissolved myself as bit by bit I gradually learned to relax, to surrender into my being.

I went over each and every trigger and relived some of the most horrible things that had happened to me years after it had happened and I survived many unsupervised, solo explorations into my nightmare past.

This method is very soft and gentle and does not cause explosive catharsis, although catharsis happens. It is a method that I used to free myself from the prison of my inner world. It takes the thorn out of your paw. It defuses the triggers of your ticking emotional bombs.

At first, much energy was spent over-dissolving. I threw a massive amount of energy into dissolving. I had been trained to focus fiercely like a beam and my dissolving was poor quality. I could do it, but it was draining and that draining was not the effortless hallmark of water method, of letting go, of effort without striving. I spent the first year or so dissolving like that. It works but it is hard work and it was not supposed to be.

Then I stumbled upon the trick of causing the dissolving reaction by barely dissolving at all. I went instantly from using 1000 volts of focus to get 1 volt of dissolving to using 1 volt of focus and getting 1000 volts of dissolving from it. It was like a technology breakthrough. When you can join with the mindstream, you can use a minimal amount of energy and the reaction sustains and you can dissolve as long as you wish, without interruption, for hours, days and weeks if you so desire.

You go through the top of your head and you work your way down dissolving everything that comes up no matter what it is. Alternately you can dissolve with a purpose. You can open the scrap book of memory lane, visualize faces or events from your past and deal with stuff you know is going be there.

That is how you catch up your past to your present and finally move on and change.


It gets worse before it gets better

Perhaps one of the scariest yet most thrilling aspects of this was the not knowing who or what I was going to be further down the line as a result of this training. I say ‘further down the line’ and not ‘when it’s over’ because it’s never really over.

In the end I was liberated from my emotional (ptsd) triggers and from my internal suffering, just like the masters said would happen. It works if you follow the directions, give yourself to the discipline, make it your life’s work and stick with it no matter what, especially when it seems like it is making you worse off.

That will happen, You will get worse before you get better. There is no escaping that part. You have to face your demons and memories, all of them. The worst of them. When that happens you will be in physical pain, emotional pain, psychic pain and you will want to quit or even die.

But if you quit while you are in the process of triggering yourself without processing and dissolving the triggers, the pain, the events and emotional connections of those triggers and memories will still be waiting for you , right were you left them like an unfinished conversation with someone on the other line. The work will still need to be done and you are back to square one.

Misidentification of self and responsibility

If you have misidentified yourself as a page from the DSM, you must be ready to surrender your labels and all the ways which you identify yourself as diseased. You have to take 100% full responsibility for your personality. It can not be because of the stars or the planets. It can not be the devil making you do it. It can not be some unknown and unspecified chemical imbalance that makes you the way you are. It can not be God’s will that you were made that way for life.

You must not accept any ideal or paradigm that places the cause and blame for your problems on any agent other than yourself and your past. While it may be true that some past abuser or trauma helped shape the way you are now, if you have physical distance from recurring abuse and trauma, you have a say in how long you will continue to behave in scripted fashions while your strings can be jerked around by anyone that sees them.

You have to forgive yourself for being sick and being weak and for failing. You have to decide that becoming sane in this lifetime, means more to you than anything else. For some folks, only when you are desperate enough to renounce everything in life, everything that you are and do. Only then will you be ready to take full measure and full responsibility for your emotional and mental states and begin making the cognitive and lifestyle changes needed to heal.

In the final analysis, and I have said this before. I think you really need to be in a place of being sick of being sick. You have to be sick of who you are, really ready to change and be different. You will feel yourself changing, You may even walk or talk differently over time. You will change and if you can not imagine yourself as being free of mental illness, I assure you, you never will be.

Will it work for everyone?

I don’t think this can work for everyone. Some folks are perpetually in search of someone who can do the work for them! Some folks for better or for worse would exhaust every option to include medically induced harm in an effort or a hope that someone else could fix them some how some way.

As long you expect other people to perform miracles on you. Or if you are in love with your own suffering. As long as you need your pain and the recurring reminders of past events. As long as you expect healing to come from without as opposed to within then the method I have outlined here may be of limited value to you.

This is a path of inner confrontation and resolution. It is powerful and painful and a lot of hard work. It requires much time and effort on your part to do. If you don’t have the time, or the energy. If you are just not ready, then this path is not for you. If you find yourself on this path and stick with it, you will gain a quiet inner strength that you had no idea you were capable of. You will cultivate it. It will always be there when you need it.

So is this the One True Only Way or what?

Not at all. The phenomena of looking down the barrel of madness is old news. People of all faiths, practices, cultures can have a Dark Night of the Soul or grapple with madness and come out ok.

From a meditation point of view. There is always more than one way to go about a thing. This particular approach worked for me. I do think that learning different meditation paradigms and techniques can be of great value to some people.

Among people who have had some classical training as opposed to people trained solely in the more recent New Age meditation inventions there are subtle nuances and refinements to proper technique. It is worth learning them. Knowing or not knowing them can make a difference in how quickly you progress and whether or not you are progressing at all.

Some folks believe meditation is personal and open to interpretation. They believe meditation is whatever you want it to be. That is an opinion I do not agree with.

Basic confusion over what meditation really is, hence what proper practice should be, is what causes these spin offs to gain some traction amongst other meditators but they may have their own value in their own place. They just do not carry well into the realm of mental health repair.

When it comes to lasting healing benefit, there is the expression about where the rubber hits the road. I have tried many forms of so-called meditation and they do not all lead to the same place. Not at all.

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Responses

  1. beautiful post…I’m going to link to it!!

  2. Thank you, you are wonderful.

    I caught your comment just as I was making a few tweaks. It should be good to go.

  3. ah…the never ending tweaking…I find typos and awkward sentences in my old posts all the time!!

    It’s exasperating, but I post almost daily and don’t have time to do all the editing I should…

    I didn’t notice any problems with this piece though!

  4. Excellent post!

    Explains further why I nearly “went down the well” this weekend, now that I eventually started to do meditation more regularly (I wish, I’d done it a long time ago, but, well, it is as it is…), and why I did go down the well, time and again, during ongoing therapy (=”meditation light”, which I made it into, although I wasn’t asked to do so).

    I’ll link to this, too.

  5. This was unbelievable. I read it yesterday…emailed it to a pen pal and then came back today to read it again.

    You’ve really discussed something quite fascinating about meditation.

    The mysterious phase where meditation seems to bring to surface all the sludge in our hearts…it can be a dark time especially after the often euphoric beginnings of “calm” with meditation.

    I think it is wise to note for people with some trauma in their past the process can seem quite frightening…this is why it is sometimes good to have a “go to” person for discussing the various experiences with.

    You also inspired me to track down the news stories about meditation and it’s scientific studies on the brain. I will post some links at my blog in the coming days.

    I had been taking a break at blogging for a couple of weeks…so I am slowly getting back into it, but slowly!

  6. Marian-

    Thank you very much Marian! I am glad it helped you in some way.

    Candy-

    You made a great point and I agree. It is a lot scarier and confusing to handle it alone.

    As a general note to both of you

    It goes fine, than bad, then fine. then bad will continue to do so until you deal with enough *stuff*

    Then it may revisit in lesser forms later but the phase of Dark Nights will be over.

    Candy-

    I will give you a head start by posting some links for you here that I had all saved up from a video I made on brain science and meditation.

    —————————————–
    —————————————–

  7. It’s funny that you write this, Jane. Yesterday, when I did the translation of the Danish version of my “nearly going down the well” this weekend, I added the somewhat daring statement, which the Danish version not yet has added to it, that I don’t expect it to get that bad as it has been, since i have faced (most of) my demons, and have had my “dark nights of the soul”. Maybe there are a couple of demons, I haven’t faced yet. Time will tell. But I’m pretty sure, that I have faced the majority of my demons, and definitely the “worst” ones. I survived that, so why wouldn’t I survive facing one or two additional demons.

    Actually, the impact therapy had on me often reminded me of how homeopathy (and obviously meditation, too) works: it gets worse before it gets better. Exactly. It seems to me that this getting worse though, only is a sign of the healing forces within being activated furthermore. Every symptom-relief, that comes from without, does only suppress the healing forces the symptoms are a manifestation of.

    From that point of view, there can be no doubt for me which way to go. It’s a choice between healing and growing, or suppressing and getting stuck in stagnation (=”chronic illness”).

  8. “It seems to me that this getting worse though, only is a sign of the healing forces within being activated”

    That is it indeed. Like navigating a hurricane, sort of.

    You are very adept at self psychoanalysis it comes right through your text. You have the mind for meditation analysis. You already know what to do and can observe yourself.

    As long you make enough time to do it the sky is the limit to how far you can take your own evolution and self healing.

  9. Oh Jane, thanks! But as late as this afternoon, I got so absolutely non-enlightened, non-awakened, non-Buddhist, non-whatever of that kind, angry, you have no idea. About an article in this users-magazine, I’m still doing research for (though not writing any articles myself anymore: “leave what you can’t change…”). Not enough with getting angry, I posted all my anger on their blog. And actually, I feel like doing a translation, and post it on mine, with some comments added. You’ll see, I still have a looong way to go…

  10. Updated with a video introduction

  11. Jane, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found you, both on YouTube and this blog. We have walked a similar path in terms of those dark nights, and I hope one day to be where you are. Thank you for sharing your insight!


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