Zen Freak Outs!

zen freak out4A few people have forwarded me an article from the Atlantic called Dark Night of the Soul. Pirooz Kalayeh, the director of Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen (you can download and watch it now!) was especially concerned when he read it. “Is this true?” he asked. “Has anything like this ever happened to you?”

I told him he might try reading Hardcore Zen. I’ve heard some good things about that book. It’s available as an audiobook now too (read by me, with all kinds of extra sonic stuff included). In the chapter “I Think of Demons,” I wrote about something very similar to what this article talks about. (Pirooz said he last read that book in 2005 and forgot about that chapter)

A website called Occult Forum has preserved an early version of that chapter that I published on-line before the book came out, so you can read that version here if you like (but buy the book anyway, I’m really broke these days! Besides, the version in the book is better.)

The Atlantic article is about people freaking out from meditation. One meditator says, “I started having thoughts like, ‘Let me take over you,’ combined with confusion and tons of terror,” and, “I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought ‘Kill yourself’ over and over again.” Another called his meditation experiences “psychological hell.” Yet another says that for three years he believed he was “permanently ruined” by meditation.

According to the article, “Dr. Willoughby Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, works at the Brown University Medical School. She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe–let alone understand–their stories of meditation-induced affliction.” Dr. Britton runs an organization called Cheetah House that helps freaked out meditators get back to normal.

The article says, “For Britton, the widespread assumption that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, ‘because that’s what Americans value’ narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable–and fundable–research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.”

In other words, people are being sold on meditation as a stress reduction technique that has the added bonus of being able to boost their productivity on the job and generally make them happier. But they are not being told that meditation can sometimes have a dark side to it as well. And there is an economic aspect to why they’re not getting this message.

The push to promote meditation has resulted in a situation in which all too often even those who are teaching meditation these days lack proper training. Many of these teachers are beginners in meditation, and some don’t practice it themselves. They may not even be aware of this darker aspect at all. So they’re blindsided when their clients start freaking out.

But the mindfulness revolution is all the rage. Even Time magazine says so. The Atlantic article notes that, “Given the juggernaut–economic and otherwise–behind the mindfulness movement, there is a lot at stake in exploring a shadow side of meditation. Upton Sinclair once observed how difficult it is to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

We meditation teachers are often guilty of this too. We want people to show up at our classes and buy our books and DVD sets and what-not. We don’t want to scare them off right away by telling them they might get a few months or years into this and start thinking they’re losing their marbles!

When I put that chapter in Hardcore Zen, I wasn’t thinking about using the book to launch a career as a full-time Zen teacher. I was still working for Tsuburaya Productions and would continue there for the next five years. I just wanted to present an honest account of my journey. If I had been thinking in terms of career, though, I wonder if I would have put that chapter in there. I probably would have. But I’d have given a thought or two about whether it was a wise career move.

If you’re working with a decent teacher, a little bit of freaking out is not likely to become a huge problem. It would be very rare for anyone who hasn’t undergone their own meditation-induced freak-outs to be able to get permission to teach. A teacher who has gone through this stuff herself can help a student get through it and not feel like they’re going insane. On the other hand, if a teacher hasn’t experienced this personally they’re not going to be much help.

There’s no Zen Training Manual that specifically stipulates this as a prerequisite for getting ordained. But it’s widely understood within the Zen community that this is a necessary step. I’m sure other meditation communities understand this as well.

Whether or not you ever experience this kind of thing depends not just on your teacher but on the intensity and direction of your practice. Practices that are intended to produce spectacular results in the form of amazing experiences, and furthermore promise to get you to have those experiences as quickly as possible are more likely to produce deeper and more serious freak-outs.

This is one of the many reasons why I’ve ranted so much against Genpo Roshi’s horribly misguided Big Mind® program. That’s exactly the kind of practice that is most likely to have its participants freaking out all over the place. And since it’s targeted at newcomers without an established relationship to their teachers, those folks are going to have a very hard time finding help when that happens.

However, if you engage in a gentle practice without any specific pressure to quickly reach some kind of a goal, and you do so with a teacher who has been working on her/himself for a while, chances are you either won’t freak out at all, or, if you do, you’ll have been well-prepared for it by the time it starts happening. Plus you’ll have someone to talk it over with if it does happen.

In case anyone misses the joke of the image above, here's what I'm parodying.

In case anyone misses the joke of the image above, here’s what I’m parodying. It’s a great album!

So read the Atlantic article. It’s a valuable one. But don’t let it scare you too much. Just take it slow and find yourself a decent teacher and you’ll be just fine!

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I’m working hard on a new book so it’s only your donations that are paying for my rent and food these days. I appreciate your support! You can become a micro-donor now too. Every little bit helps!

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Here’s my upcoming touring schedule:

Aug. 2 Dogen Sangha Los Angeles

Sept. 5-7 Houston Zen Center (I will probably do events in Austin  around the same time)

Oct. 1 Turku Panimoravintola Koulu, Finland– Movie screening

Oct. 2 Helsinki, Finland — Lecture Event

Oct. 3-5 Helsinki, Finland Zen retreat at Helsinki Zen Center

Oct. 6 Movie Screening in Espoo, Finland

Oct. 8 Lecture in Munich, Germany

Oct. 10-11 Retreat in Munich, Germany

Oct. 12-17 Retreat at Benediktushof near Würzburg, Germany

Oct 18-19 Retreat in Bonn, Germany

Oct 20 Hamburg, Germany

Oct 24: Lecture in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 25: Day-long zazen in Groningen, Netherlands

Oct 26: Movie screening in Eindhoven, Netherlands at Natlab

Oct 27: Evening zazen in Eindhoven, Netherlands

Oct 28: Evening zazen in Nijmegen, Netherlands

Oct 29: Lecture in Amsterdam, Netherlands  at “De Roos” bookstore from 19.00-21.00  (P Cornelisz Hooftstr 183)

Oct 30: Lecture in Utrecht, Netherlands at “De wijze kater” bookstore from 19.00-21.00 ( Mariaplaats 1,  Utrecht)

Nov 1-2: Retreat in Utrecht, Netherlands

Nov. 2: Movie screening in Utrecht, Netherlands at ACU

Nov 6-8: Retreat in Hebden Bridge, UK

Nov 9: Noon — 5pm  Manchester, UK

66 Responses

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  1. mb
    mb June 27, 2014 at 10:12 am |

    Shinzen Young (also mentioned in the Atlantic article) has spoken extensively about this: http://shinzenyoung.blogspot.com/2011/11/dark-night.html

    Some people have had these “dark night” experiences without meditating – viz. Suzanne Segal: http://www.nonduality.com/suzanne.htm

    The Shadow Knows.

    So when Nishijima looked directly at you and said to stop drinking (even though you didn’t drink), what was that communication all about? You didn’t elaborate too much in that excerpt…

  2. Dan
    Dan June 27, 2014 at 10:51 am |

    However, if you engage in a gentle practice without any specific pressure to quickly reach some kind of a goal…

    On the other hand, looking back I think that having read/heard a lot of entirely valid advice like this, I made the opposite mistake: people warned me not to slam on the gas so I slammed on the brakes instead. Like, putting myself under pressure not to want to reach some goal. In retrospect this was very silly and probably caused a lot of trouble.

  3. minkfoot
    minkfoot June 27, 2014 at 11:34 am |

    Being pretty much out of such a scene these days, I’d like to see data on how many of the people mentioned as having problems from meditation practice have never done a solid hit of acid or similar substance. My feeling is that most of the acid heads that got into Zen paid that kind of dues already.

    A few years ago, I mentioned to a teacher that I was having really positive, enjoyable experiences, and she asked, “Have you had the nightmares yet?”

    Well, so far, so good. None of us have exactly the same path. Maybe I had my nightmares in my everyday life, and don’t need to go through them again.

    Then again, Mara is real. Or so he says.

    1. Mumbles
      Mumbles June 27, 2014 at 7:18 pm |

      As I recall, and it’s been a while for me, too, out of hundreds of trips I only had a few that might be termed “bummers,” but those…were dark nights indeed.

      Freakiest time of all back in the day was straight as hell one afternoon spending about an hour in a sensory deprivation tank. Waking nightmares.

      &”Dark night of the Sol” is an oxymoron.

  4. John_eg
    John_eg June 27, 2014 at 11:50 am |

    “Where the danger is grows also the saving power” -Friedrich Holderlin

  5. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 12:13 pm |

    Jack Kornfield talks a lot about when psychology is more appropriate than dokusan:

    “Some people have come to meditation after working with traditional psychotherapy. Although they found therapy to be of value, its limitations led them to seek a spiritual practice. For me it was the opposite. While I benefited enormously from the training offered in the Thai and Burmese monasteries where I practised, I noticed two striking things. First, there were major areas of difficulty in my life, such as loneliness, intimate relationships, work, childhood wounds, and patterns of fear, that even very deep meditation didn’t touch. Second, among the several dozen Western monks (and lots of Asian meditators) I met during my time in Asia, with a few notable exceptions, most were not helped by meditation in big areas of their lives. Many were deeply wounded, neurotic, frightened, grieving, and often used spiritual practice to hide and avoid problematic parts of themselves.”

    (from here)

    Soto Zen in Japan doesn’t usually involve dokusan, if I understand correctly. Seems like a lot of karma coming down the pike for Soto in America, that teachers here have changed that. I’m not saying that folks don’t need a listening ear and some feedback once in a while, I’m just saying that putting the interaction in a formal teacher-student setting sends the wrong message about goal-less practice, and encourages people to think the psychological problems they encounter are practice problems. Two-cents.


  6. pk
    pk June 27, 2014 at 1:26 pm |

    All I get during meditation is my feet falling asleep.

    Dark stuff sounds like a bad acid trip.

  7. sal
    sal June 27, 2014 at 2:18 pm |

    Perhaps this is why almost every tradition strongly suggests that a teacher is a necessary component of the training.


  8. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 2:31 pm |

    The link to the source of the post by Nikolai caused my avg antivirus to do some work (on the dharmaoverground.org website)- fyi.s

  9. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 2:33 pm |

    @sal- sixth patriarch was reportedly smacked with the ugly stick while walking in a marketplace, listening to a sutra– believe he had no teacher at the time.

  10. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 2:40 pm |

    Cardinal sin!– I posted with two links. Let me repeat the part that was not a requote of Jack Kornfield here (Stonemirror, I don’t suppose you could delete that– no?– well I’ll edit a little anyway!):

    Soto Zen in Japan doesn’t usually involve dokusan, if I understand correctly. Seems like a lot of karma coming down the pike for Soto in America, that teachers here have changed that. I’m not saying that folks don’t need a listening ear and some feedback once in a while, I’m just saying that putting the interaction in a formal teacher-student setting sends the wrong message about goal-less practice, and encourages people to think the psychological problems they encounter are practice problems (and that Zen teachers are psychologists/psychiatrists). Two-cents.


    1. mb
      mb June 27, 2014 at 6:48 pm |

      Cardinal sin!— I posted with two links.
      What! There’s a prohibition against this here? No wonder my post from 10:12 a.m. is still “awaiting moderation”. I will repost separately forthwith…

  11. Wibble
    Wibble June 27, 2014 at 2:55 pm |

    If someone with a mental health issue begins cultivating it could be that they become worse hence those medical disclaimers at the front of ‘how to’ books.
    Accredited Mindfulness trainers here in the UK have something similar they give out and record as having given in the client’s notes.
    That way one’s erse is covered if the client does go Tonto, blames the cultivation and calls up one of those ” where there’s blame there’s a claim” lawyers.
    IMO anyone who starts out from a reasonably stable place north of their neck aint gonna be any worse by cultivating.

  12. mb
    mb June 27, 2014 at 6:49 pm |

    Shinzen Young (also mentioned in the Atlantic article) has spoken extensively about this: http://shinzenyoung.blogspot.com/2011/11/dark-night.html

  13. mb
    mb June 27, 2014 at 6:50 pm |

    [never seen this before: “You are posting comments too quickly – slow down!”]

    Some people have had these “dark night” experiences without meditating — viz. Suzanne Segal: http://www.nonduality.com/suzanne.htm

    The Shadow Knows.

    So when Nishijima looked directly at you and said to stop drinking (even though you didn’t drink), what was that communication all about? You didn’t elaborate too much in that excerpt…

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm |

    Yeah, they have the WordPress here set to hold anything with more than one link for moderation, to avoid folks that do this:

    new levis for less!

    top fashion, cheap!

    enlightenment easy, no mediation required!

    converse allstars, no enlightenment necessary!

  15. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm |

    was supposed to be underlined like a link but I guess WordPress took care of that, too…

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 27, 2014 at 9:06 pm |

    If someone linked this article, I missed it, sorry:

    “Britton shows me a 2010 paper written by University of Colorado-Boulder psychologist Sona Dimidjian that was published in American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association. The study examines some dramatic instances where psychotherapy has caused serious harm to a patient. It also highlights the value of creating standards for defining and identifying when and how harm can occur at different points in the psychotherapeutic process.

    One of the central questions of Dimidjian’s article is this: After 100 years of research into psychotherapy, it’s obvious that scientists and clinicians have learned a lot about the benefits of therapy, but what do we know about the harms? According to Britton, a parallel process is happening in the field of meditation research.”


    1. Mark Foote
      Mark Foote June 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm |

      uh, that would be Brad, who linked to the article; it’s only the subject of the post. Missed that here, picked it up somewhere else… sorry Brad!

  17. Leah
    Leah June 27, 2014 at 9:13 pm |

    Very interesting. I have not had any freaky experience like seeing demons while meditating. I have, however, seen a few ghosts or spirits of someone not living while *not* meditating. Psychic sort of stuff kind of runs in my family, so it doesn’t bother me.

    But here’s something I’ve experienced while meditating that is kinda freaky, and I wonder if anyone else has had this happen.

    It’s kind of like a vibration or a buzzing throughout the body. It’s not shivering or anything someone else could observe, not goosebumps, nothing like that. It’s mostly in the torso, arms/shoulders, head, maybe feet or all over. It’s been a long time since that happened.

    But early on when I meditated by myself without much knowledge and no instruction–except what I had picked up from my older sister’s hippy friends and whatever like that, probably some books, too–that would happen sometimes.

    It was just regular sitting meditation, but sometimes I would lie down for a non-nap in between classes and work or something. Never falling asleep, just focusing on my breathing and lying still, sort of hovering between awake and asleep but still alert to noises in my apartment or a car driving by or something. Right on the edge of dreams, and I’d see a few distorted images and whatever, and I’d watch them just like you watch thoughts and return to focus on breathing. And then this buzzing or vibration would start.

    Anyone ever hear of that? I’ve never asked anyone. It wasn’t scary or painful. Not particularly pleasant either, just there.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 28, 2014 at 5:14 am |

      Not exactly the way you describe, but lots of passing phenomena, and some persistent or recurrent stuff. It may be that a lot of it happens all the time, but we’re usually too dead or distracted to notice. When we start to slow down, we notice stuff that’s always been there.

      But I think your buzz is probably a different sort. At the beginning of Dharma Drum retreats, the teacher often talks about hindrances to practice. The three most common spoken of are, drowsiness, scatteredness, and “chi movements.” This last is based on East Asian theories of subtle energy, for which science has uncovered no physical evidence, but which remains a useful way of talking about these phenomena.

      Basically, the explanation is this: many practices stimulate the production, collection, or movement of chi, the vital energy almost every culture has a term for, like “animal magnetism.” It’s a natural component of our makeup which we usually don’t perceive, as it’s, well, subtle.
      In a discipline like meditation, sometimes more is produced than the rest of the physical system can normally deal with, and various symptoms manifest, like patterns of rhythmic movement. Eventually, the system gets used to it and adapts, and the symptoms fade. Sometimes, the symptoms are too disruptive, and corrective measures need to be applied.

      What you describe may be in that class of phenomena. If it’s not disruptive, you can just take it as an encouraging sign. It will likely fade or transform to something else. If it gets so strong that it’s distracting, you should consult with an expert.

      1. Leah
        Leah June 28, 2014 at 11:29 am |

        Minkfoot, Thanks for that. I was wondering if it’s something along those lines. I used to have a book on Kundalini yoga, and though I never got into it, I read a little plus other stuff on those topics.

        No, it was never disruptive, just something I’ve wondered about. It hasn’t happened in a long time. Then again, I haven’t been the most disciplined sitter these days either.

        Thinking on this made a lightbulb sort of go off: I’m a Reiki practioner (level II, no big deal). I got trained on humans but use it only for animals. And it seems like the energy field (as I move the hands over the person or animal) that I can feel in my hands might be what I have felt but from the inside. Who knows. I don’t worry about this stuff but I do wonder sometimes.

        Agree about consulting with an expert if it’s a problem.

  18. The Brain Police
    The Brain Police June 28, 2014 at 1:31 am |

    What if a teacher is not available? Should we stop meditating by ourSelves?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence June 28, 2014 at 6:06 am |

      You can do zazen by yourself if you like. But if you develop a strong practice, you will almost certainly want to talk to someone about your experience. It is also likely that you will have questions that you cannot answer. I think it is helpful to have a “good counselor” when you reach that point.

      1. The Brain Police
        The Brain Police June 29, 2014 at 12:20 am |

        Yeah, you’re right in fact after three years i think i reached that point but it’s not so easy to find that “good counselor” . You have to be careful because gempos are everywhere.

  19. Fred
    Fred June 28, 2014 at 5:38 am |

    I use to do the vibration thing after sex with a woman I shacked up with for a

    I could do it right now by manipulating my body. As Minkfoot says, it’s there
    right now, but the conditioned overlay blocks your awareness of it.

  20. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 28, 2014 at 7:53 am |

    “If it gets so strong that it’s distracting, you should consult with an expert.”

    Damn straight! Years and years ago I was in a yoga class doing The Plow. I experienced an awakening of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundalini according to my teacher at the time. I moved to another city, continued to do yoga, and every time I did that posture the same thing would happen. Then it became something that would happen when I would just sit. And on and on.

    A Tibetan Buddhist teacher instructed me on how to channel this energy (long long explanation here, see: Mahamudra). This was very tricky and after about a year something went wrong, and I had what seemed to be a pinched nerve that was diagnosed as sciatica. Chronic 24/7 pain. I couldn’t walk on my left leg without a lot of pain so I used a cane. Every excursion, even out of bed, out of a chair, became first a mental challenge, then a physical one.

    Eventually, through meditation methods taught to me by a Vipassana teacher now most closely associated with “mindfulness meditation” (yes, I endorse it wholeheartedly), I was able to not identify with the pain and manage it, and by and by it “went away.”

    I do and have done (even when it hurt) yoga every day for 30+ years. I must admit I rarely do formal meditation, or practice much of the psychocybernaut-like methods anymore, using my body/mind as a sort of alchemical lab. I am in great physical shape today, and mentally understand that nothing is really anyway, it’s all a dream, and you are both dreamer and what is dreamed. So proceed with caution, care, and above all, hope that this big whirling dream will include those guides you need when you need them most, along the way.

    1. Fred
      Fred June 28, 2014 at 9:24 am |

      “I am in great physical shape today, and mentally understand that nothing is really anyway, it’s all a dream, and you are both dreamer and what is dreamed. So proceed with caution, care, and above all, hope that this big whirling dream will include those guides you need when you need them most, along the way.”

  21. AnneMH
    AnneMH June 28, 2014 at 9:01 am |

    I saw that article too, and it addresses what has been making me nervous the last couple years. When meditation got to the front page of magazines (mostly for wonderful stress reduction) i was nervous that it was being downgraded to a medical trick. Then I realized that after you start some shit starts coming up, sometimes lots of shit. Someone who just was sent to a lovely meditation class with work might get a lot of other things happening which are not work friendly ya know.

    I am really nervous because our little group is peer led, different levels of practice, but a teacher about once a month. We can call the teacher for advice and I am looking into more training myself. As far as not having a teacher, I still practiced but I noticed that when I got close to some real deep stuff I would slow down and relax. I would go slow (I had had a teacher previously so that helped) and just do different things like run or do walking meditation. Really listen to your limits instead of being caught up in reaching the goals of sitting every day no matter what, but if you don’t have a teacher how do you know this?

    Hopefully this article will balance out some of the grandiose claims as well. Brad is this the book on meditation? Looking forward to it.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 29, 2014 at 7:08 am |

      Anne sed:
      Someone who just was sent to a lovely meditation class with work might get a lot of other things happening which are not work friendly ya know.

      Like maybe, “Why am I working this stupid job? To afford the gas to get to work?”

  22. Shodo
    Shodo June 28, 2014 at 9:47 am |

    This may be an applicable talk…

    “Self Deception in Spiritual Practice”


  23. IuseComputers
    IuseComputers June 28, 2014 at 11:29 am |


    Fifteen years ago I was practicing a technique from a book about Out of Body Experiences. During one of the attempts a strong vibrational buzzing took over and it was buzzing in my ears and all over. My immediate and somewhat fearful body reaction jolted me back out of it. None of the practice ever produced any OBEs but that is something I will not forget.

    The only other vibrational experience I had that intensely was after eating space cake in Amsterdam but that was a different feeling altogether.

    1. Leah
      Leah June 28, 2014 at 11:51 am |

      Interesting, Uusecomputers. “Vibrational buzzing” sounds like what I experienced–in the ears, yep. I remember that. I don’t know why it didn’t scare me. I tried to observe it without thinking about it because, if I starting thinking, then it would start to dissipate. But I definitely am not into OBEs!

      Thanks for the tip about space cake. I was a little tempted when there awhile back to “do as the Romans do,” but now I’ll definitely stick with my “just say no” stance if I visit Amsterdam again 🙂

      1. DjakFrost
        DjakFrost June 29, 2014 at 2:12 pm |

        I think you’d find the Wikipedia article on hypnagogia useful. I started experiencing it (hypnagogic hallucinations) in my early 20s whenever I was lying down, tired, but not really trying to fall asleep but not trying to stay awake either. It feels and sounds like someone plugged my brain into the wrong port on an amplifier.

        Scared the hell out of me the first time, but after a while I kind of got used to it and almost found it enjoyable in a strange way. There’s a kind of relaxing body buzz along with it, but that may just be because I’m usually in need of some rest when it happens. Often, I kind of dip in and out of it until I either get up or just fall asleep. Some people can use it for lucid dreaming or the aforementioned OBEs, but I’ve never been able to.

        It wasn’t until my wife emailed me about a similar experience she kept having while I was out at sea that I really started looking into it. Loud noises, not being able to move, an oppressive feeling of a presence. It sounded to me about what I’d read recently about sleep paralysis, and then I put two and two together and realized that was what that strange vibration I occasionally had must have been. Once I told her what I’d read about it, she started using it as a platform to lucid dream for a couple minutes, leading into real dreaming, and it stopped entirely a couple weeks after that.

        Apparently it’s also been used to explain alien abduction experiences, and before that succubus visitations–to be so lucky!–and so on.

        1. Leah
          Leah June 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm |

          Huh. Interesting, DjakFrost. I hope this reply goes right to you; sometimes they end up at the end. Oh well.

          I haven’t heard of that term: hypnagogia. I looked it up: “the state of consciousness during the onset of sleep.”

          That’s a pretty cool transition period I’ve always experienced. Or almost always. At that point you can watch dreams like you watch thoughts. Or sometimes in the morning I’m aware that I’m dreaming, and I just sort of watch it.

          I’ve heard of lucid dreaming, but I’ve never tried anything like that. It never really attracted me. Sounds a little scary–I’m just kind of basic even though I’ve seen some weird things. I don’t seek them out.

          But yeah, “body buzz.” That’s a good way to put it. Succubus visitations! lol I think an incubus would be more my thing 😀

  24. woken
    woken June 29, 2014 at 12:14 pm |

    Articles like this strengthen my belief that modern anglo saxon mercantile culture is incompatible with authentic eastern traditions. If it doesn’t make money/ncrease your status and/or productivity it has no value.

    In North America especially, but increasingly wherever neo liberal market driven values have taken root, society is literally unable to conceive of the value of human experience outside of accumulation and consumption. Basically, Americans are unable to train in eastern traditions properly. They simply can’t do it in ther dominant culture.

    The Irony is that even though dictatorships such as communism suppressed spiritual practice, spiritual traditions such as buddhsm in China and Russian orthodox mysticism survived. They survived because the “value” of these traditons were intrinsic: Practicioners did them without goals or hopes.

    In modern American society, EVERYTHING is goal orientated. EVERYTHING is profit driven and everything has a price. This cannot be escaped. Hence the “mindfulness” rip-off movement. Hence the utter disasters and scandals whenever eastern teachers attempt to set up groups in “The west”.
    The only possible option is quiet private cultivation, without any advertising of one’s practice, like the taoists did in imperial china.

  25. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer June 29, 2014 at 2:46 pm |


    I’m curious what has led you to such a black and white view of the purity of eastern practice vs the degraded state of western practice.

    I can think of several western zen groups that are completely untainted by disasters and scandals.

    I’m even in one of them.


  26. AnneMH
    AnneMH June 29, 2014 at 4:11 pm |

    The point is that it will no longer be ‘pure’Eastern style or totally corrupted Western Buddhism, It will be something different which is what it is. There are so many great teachers, they are not flashy or necessarily writing or have large groups but they are out there. And it is okay

    1. Leah
      Leah June 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm |

      Good point, Anne!

  27. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm |

    @DjakFrost, interesting about the hypnagogic hallucinations; sounds like the principal hallucination for you was the buzzing, the “wrong port of the amplifier” thing. “Loud noises, not being able to move, an oppressive feeling of a presence”– these were reported by your wife? Does sound like a hypnogogic thing, at least as far as not being able to move and still aware, but the other two signs I’ve never heard of in association with hypnogogia. Not that I’ve researched it a lot!

    How did she move into lucid dreaming from there, I wonder?

    I play a lot with states that seem to follow from a relaxed movement of breath, the principal characteristic of which is a one-pointedness in the sense of location and continuity afforded by a non-exclusionary awareness. I don’t like to speak in terms of negatives, but Gautama’s “with no part of the body left out” somehow captures it better than “with all parts of the body included”. I can fall asleep most nights if I wake up early with a practice like this, although I’m convinced the relationship between equalibrioception and proprioception (and the sense of gravity) doesn’t really have continuity except in the state between waking and sleeping induced in a relaxed movement of breath. The bottom falls out of the bucket, fortunate I still know how to breathe sometimes because not knowing what I’m doing is an important part not to be left out.

  28. Fred
    Fred June 30, 2014 at 8:37 am |


    “nothing is really anyway, it’s all a dream, and you are both dreamer and what is dreamed”


    “All things leave and all things arrive right here. This being so, one plants twining vines and gets entangled in twining vines. This is the characteristic of unsurpassable enlightenment. Just as enlightenment is limitless, sentient beings are limitless and unsurpassable. Just as cages and snares are limitless, emancipation from them is limitless. The actualization of the fundamental point is: “I grant you thirty blows.” This is the actualization of expressing the dream within a dream.”

  29. Fred
    Fred June 30, 2014 at 8:39 am |

    When you jump into the void, the universe will do the breathing for you.

    1. minkfoot
      minkfoot June 30, 2014 at 8:46 am |


      1. Fred
        Fred June 30, 2014 at 9:07 am |

        When you jump into the void, the universe will do the sighing for you.

        1. The Idiot
          The Idiot June 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

          When you jump into the void, where are you jumping from?

          When the universe does the sighing for you, what do you with your free time?

          1. The Idiot
            The Idiot June 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm |

            Hint: Post on Brad’s blog.

          2. minkfoot
            minkfoot June 30, 2014 at 6:38 pm |

            What we need is someone like Harry Belafonte:

            Everybody jump, I say
            Everybody jump!

            Don’ wanna be a lump, I say
            Everybody jump!

            Skirtin’, skatin’
            Swayin’, prayin’
            At the edge of the void
            Is all I’m sayin’

            Everybody ‘fraid a-fallin’
            Black hole nervous
            Backwards stallin’

            Everybody jump, I say
            Everybody jump!

            Don’ wanna be a lump, I say
            Everybody jump!

        2. minkfoot
          minkfoot June 30, 2014 at 6:24 pm |

          I was sighing for the universe to do the sighing for me.

  30. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 30, 2014 at 9:23 am |

    Row, row, row your boat,
    Gently down the stream.

    If you see an alligator,
    Don’t forget to scream.

    Row, row, row your boat,
    Gently down the stream.

    Throw your teacher overboard
    And listen to her scream.

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 30, 2014 at 10:23 am |

    Love to eat them mousies,
    Mousies what I love to eat.
    Bite they little heads off
    Nibble on they tiny feet.

  32. woken
    woken June 30, 2014 at 3:26 pm |

    My point is not that Eastern practices are “more pure” than western ones. t is that westerners simply can’t conceive the depth of the meditative aspects of these traditions, any more than medieval tibetan monks can conceive of our modern day cosmology.

    A good example is the issue of the “subconscious” as referred to in describing the dark night of the soul. The vast majority of us will envision this a vast eruption of uninhibited lusts and wants that are suppressed by our culture, like a bubbling pot with a lid on it as explained in this article. This is basically the freudian explanation of our consciousness and is meaningless to anyone unschooled n our modern western culture.

    It is a fiction, a myth of consciousness that is so commonly accepted by our culture we don’t even question it.

    In essence, we imagine everything.

    In classical zen and Japanese culture, you imagine nothing, you become the buddha/your teacher by doing exactly as they do/did. We cannot do this in our culture because we have to imagine what it is they are doing/did first, and then take steps to achieve our dream.

  33. shade
    shade June 30, 2014 at 5:44 pm |


    you make it sound like the world is made up of two mutually exclusive kingdoms, whose respective peoples constitute two entirely different species and whose cultures are so alien to one another there might as well be a five thousand foot high wall between them. That’s silly. Things only work that way in comic books… no I take that back. Most comic books I’ve read are quite a bit more sophisticated than that.

    Anyone who takes so much as a casual look at the way things have been going down in, say, China the last thirty years or so can see that “Easterners” are just as capable of the acquisitive, goal-oriented mind-set as us fat stupid Americans. So I don’t see why, conversely, “Westerners” should be incapable of locking into the spiritual insights associated with “The East”. Anyway, I’m not sure “mercantile” culture is such a distinctively modern, anglo-saxon thing as you seem to think. People in ancient India during the Buddha’s lifetime were engaged in buying and selling too (Certainly people in Spain during the life of St. John of the Cross were).

  34. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote June 30, 2014 at 8:05 pm |

    T. W. Rhys Davids, founder of the Pali Text Society, wrote that Buddhism only came about in India because of the rise of a middle class, a class that was a step removed from the natural world and could, in fact, feel alienated.

    Woken, how about the best of both worlds, get a Western explanation of the science involved in Eastern spiritual traditions–and not in terms of physics and philosophy; in terms of kinesthesiology, therapeutic hypnosis, and medical science.

    I have it right here; step up, ladies and gentleman, this is guaranteed to have you running around in a loin cloth before you know it! Money back guarantee! Uh… gotta go now, have a nice day…

  35. Mumbles
    Mumbles June 30, 2014 at 8:47 pm |

    “Beauty plus pity is as close as we can get to a definition of Art.” -Nabokov on Kafka

    1. Fred
      Fred July 1, 2014 at 4:51 am |

      There were westerners born opening to the universe and unconcerned with
      the demands of materialistic culture.

      All they needed was a turning word for the pull of the ineffable to activate.

      Mystics were born in all cultures. It’s a natural, normal phenomena.

  36. Wibble
    Wibble July 1, 2014 at 8:07 am |

    +1 Mark.
    Mystics need a leisured class to both recruit from and also to support them.
    Old monastery sign ( from the Original Pali)…
    ” You don’t have to be bourgeoise to meditate here. But it helps.”


  37. Fred
    Fred July 1, 2014 at 8:29 am |

    You can meditate through the content of your day, even while working.

  38. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer July 1, 2014 at 8:52 am |


    A commenter who went by the moniker CosmicBrainz used to post here. He had a similar viewpoint to yours with deep divisions between various cultures.

    My own view is that as human beings we all share a great deal on a fundamental level, but that living in various cultures layers a lot of non-essential stuff over these fundamental levels.

    I don’t think that it is impossible to teach a Tibetan monk modern cosmology or that it’s impossible for an American to reach “the depth of the meditative aspects” (whatever that means).


  39. navybsn
    navybsn July 2, 2014 at 10:39 am |

    I remember reading this article a few months ago. It led me to Ron Crouch’s site Aloha Dharma. He has a good explanation of all the stages of meditation including “The Dark Night”: http://alohadharma.wordpress.com/the-map/the-dark-night/

    As someone who works in healthcare (and particularly government healthcare), I see meditation pushed for all sorts of things like PTSD, Substance Abuse, and other conditions. Many of the people with the conditions aren’t exactly what you would call “stable”. When the freak out’s happen, these people can be particularly vulnerable to scarring (for lack of a better term). I definitely see meditation by people who know very little about the practice and are not equipped to handle problems. It’s kind of like a new wonder drug no one thinks has any side effects so they just give it out like candy. I don’t know of any cases of permanent harm being done to or by someone specifically, but I’m sure there are examples.

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