First Post to the Dharma Overground

[This post was made to the Pragmatic Dharma site the Dharma Overground (DhO) 4 August 2013, soon after I had read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, by Daniel M. Ingram, the site’s owner, soon to be my friend, and nowadays my “enemy” as we are in a legal dispute over rights to the second edition of the book, which I worked on. I had been practicing fast “noting” in the Burmese style as the first edition of MCTB enjoins, with some scary results.]


Hey, guys. I’m new and wanted to come into this forum more gradually, but I find I need some triage. Incredibly, I just lost a post I spent hours writing while trying to fend off “wave” vibrations that have me, um, starting to freak the hell out, frankly. I can barely see to type, for example. Basically, I’m now going to have to cut and paste a clumsier background and skip some things for now, including a description of an OOB experience I had around age 18. Apologies, but triage is triage. I’ll backfill later — if I survive, heh heh.

Early Meditation Background

I started meditating and identifying myself as a Buddhist only 2 years ago (after 25 years as an atheist existentialist poststructuralist, etc., etc.) in an effort to cope with pervasive fear and an odd sensitivity to the edginess surrounding pleasures that I felt I just “flitted” to and from.

I experienced raptures and firework-like lights (like flying shards of mirrors) after only my first sit or three, and after only 10 minutes. I seem to have a low threshold for crossing over into altered states and seeing everything as not solid. This propensity hasn’t always been convenient.

My immediate concern is that I’ve stumbled into vipassana territory I am not ready for, or haven’t practiced nearly enough to push up through precisely to higher insight stages. I’m worried I’m risking a meltdown. Yet I feel trapped, like I can’t go back now and simply dwell in samatha states. I wasn’t carelessly disregarding my medical history by engaging in noting practice; this just happened. I’m sure now that I’ve been “Dark Night” cycling most of my life.

I want peace.

General Medical History

Briefly, I have a history of anxiety/depression (no depressive episode since 1999, though) and, more disturbing and impactful to my life, vivid complex migraine auras that often include full-blown hallucinations, panic states, and neurological deficits that amount to loss of all but the strangely surviving and struggling-to-survive Observer. This is a rare but well-documented form of migraine diagnosed at UNC Hospitals back in the late eighties. My son has a version that is milder on the aura side, but heavier on the headache side, not really complex but classic textbook migraine. I only rarely get actual headache, which is why diagnosis was so difficult back in the day. It used to be known as basilar-artery migraine and hemiplegic migraine, which are poorly sorted diagnostically. Most just say “complicated migraine variant.”

Recent Progress through Insight Stages

I’m sure I crossed the [Arising and Passing Away insight stage] A&P (again) last weekend and have been experiencing irritation/fear states (along with vibratory and “boiling” vision all this past workweek. I had a short Misery stage Tuesday at work, though nothing in my life situations was making me miserable. As best I can make out, I entered Reobservation Thursday or Friday, if not earlier.

Yesterday afternoon, at a coffeehouse, experience shifted. The fine, irritating, furious vibes (mainly visual) suddenly morphed into much bigger “macro” waves of undulating distortions, like fabric on a slow but crazy breeze. Very LSD. They, like the finer layer of vibrations, never stop, even in my nighttime dreams, which remain ridiculously lucid and suddenly a bit powers-y (last night I was making other people do things in my dreams, just for perverse fun).

These big waves are even more obtrusive off the cushion than the irritation vibrations were, making me barely able to read as I sit here and queasy as if seasick. I want them to frigging stop! I’m now experiencing some anxiety spikes because I can’t control them and need to get some work done for my new job! Everything is “breathing,” but in distorted, house-of-mirrors ways I’m emphatically not enjoying.

Triage suggestions anyone? Or will I have to resort to lorazepam, rolling up the mat, and hanging on for dear life and sanity? I thought the waves meant I had hit Equanimity stage, so I meditated last night diligently, but this doesn’t feel nice or even neutral. I don’t even want to be conscious for this, let alone practice. What should I do? And is there hope I can hit a nicer version of something soon?

Migraine History

I had my first altered experience of consciousness at age 12, in an overheated crowded church while singing a hymn and staring at the cross above the altar. I suddenly experienced a “rain” of bright sparkling white lights, altered sound (everyone sounded plunged under bass-booming water), loss of perception of body fields, profound numbness, loss of speech, a plunge into slow-mo, and more (ie, less sense of even being there). This event was later diagnosed as complex migraine aura. My family has always joked that it was a religious experience. Now I wonder.

I’m 49 now and have sometimes been disabled for months with these migraine attacks (though less so since the last bad one in 2007). I would experience radically altered states of consciousness that are difficult to convey but not at all subtle in experience. These involved shimmering lights (common migraine fortification spectra), total blindness in the center of vision only, distorted or absent body fields, profound numbness, left-sided paralysis, slurred speech, loss of the ability to think in or understand language, uncontrollable twitching and body movements, and so on. These attacks usually began with a visceral fear state (terror, really) that suddenly arose from my gut into my mouth. It was much the way you feel when an elevator drops too rapidly and your heart is in your mouth, so to speak.

I had the last big one of these during a vacation in the Smoky Mountains in 2007. I had been well for a long time before that vacation. Suddenly, a particularly bad attack came on, proceeded by extreme vertigo (I lay down on the floor for stability, but the room was spinning). It went on for hours. At its worst, I was screaming because I was “experiencing” utter annihilation. I was yelling to my husband, “I’m disappearing! I’m disappearing! I’ll never come back!” Just real terror like you can’t imagine–the observer was there only to witness the impending destruction of even itself. All sense of body and most of mind were turning off. I was struggling at all costs to maintain a self.

After the first attack when I was 12, I was eventually diagnosed, but not before suffering extremely for decades and often feeling I was literally losing my frigging mind. In fact I suffered three nervous breakdowns because of the poorly controlled migraine condition and was then also diagnosed with severe agitated major depressive disorder. Phobias emerged also around travel, because of the migraine disease and the attacks that caught me by myself on the road or trapped in an airplane.

History of Other Strange Experiences

At age 19, trauma induced two weeks of hallucinations. I witnessed my mother have a seizure, stop breathing, and turn blue. I “saved” her when I bolted up out of sleep after hearing her fall. When we returned from the hospital after this event, I was drawing a bath and, sitting on the side of the tub, I went through a white light tunnel, thinking, “Oh, a migraine.” When I emerged, for a couple of weeks, everything I looked at that was organic died and rotted to nothing before my eyes: fruit, people, whatever. Music was broken down into its individual notes, and was painful to listen to, as if each chord was a tactile lashing. The music sounded discordant. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced and not to be forgotten. I was rational, too, and knew that I was “seeing things.” But I couldn’t stop it, until I finally slept one day after consulting a psychologist for hypnosis, woke up, and it had all just completely stopped. This happened 30 years ago, and it still haunts me.

I also around the same time experienced leaving my body, as if a mirror flipped into outer space and I was seeing myself and a friend from the other side. It was rapturous and time was passing. I felt like I could keep going deeper into space and never “come back.” I remembered my loved ones, though, contracted, and flipped back into my body state and point of view lakeside, with a friend, where we were watching “falling stars.”