Nightmare on Meditation Street

Or, A Meditation on Nightmares… a progress report.

It is neither a coincidence nor a sign of senility that this blog has been talking off and on about meditation for the past few weeks. This is precisely a time in world evolution that calls for personal resilience and equanimity — the kind of resilience and equanimity that skilled meditators are known for.

Last night I experienced a milestone of sorts — I spent some time in Stage 6 meditation — the “nightmare stage. But wait! I am only officially a Stage 1/ Stage 2 meditator. What is “Stage 6 meditation” and how did I end up there, if only for a half hour or so?

According to the well respected meditation guidebookThe Attention Revolution” by B. Alan Wallace PhD, Stage 6 is the stage where all your fears, nightmares, and phantasms come marching out in a vast river of mind-warping delusion, where your conscious mind can see them more clearly.

What happens here is a kind of luminously clear… free association of thoughts, mental images, memories, desires, fantasies, and emotions.

Stage 6

Here is how we recently described Stage 6 from Wallace’s “The Attention Revolution” in our recent outline of two valuable guidebooks to the 10-stage vipassana path to enlightenment:

At this stage, a wide range of deep and powerful emotions may well up, including a fear of the loss of personal identity and a feeling of hovering over an empty luminous space devoid of personhood.

Enlightenment in Discrete Stages

I am still a novice meditator in the breath meditation, where I focus on the physical sensations of the breath for approximately 30 minutes at a time. The challenge is to keep the mind from drifting onto unrelated topics — and to keep from falling asleep. Flying off into the waking nightmare world is certainly not a part of early stage (Stage 1 to Stage 3) meditation.

But even if you are not seeking out the nightmare, the nightmare may be seeking you. And if you do find yourself floating in this meditation world of waking nightmare, what should you do? The same thing you should do if you find yourself in a sleeping nightmare: step back into the “observer mode.” Just watch, but don’t attach yourself to anything.

During Stage 6, the mind comes to terms with a wide range of vivid emotions, memories, and other phenomena that usually remain deeply buried in the murky depths of subconsciousness. If you can carefully watch that troubled river flow through the heart of your awareness and let it pass through, you may allow some healing and energizing to occur. If you can do this over and over again for an incalculable number of times and hours, a great deal of healing and energizing should occur.

“The key is to let the knots of the psyche unravel themselves and let the extraordinary healing power of the mind be revealed on the path to a deeper sanity.”

Stage 6 — the nightmare stage — must be mastered before one can move into Stage 7 — the stage of joy and enthusiasm. Why did they set things up that way? Probably because you are more likely to hold onto your gains if you earn them in a way that leaves no doubt what you are capable of.

Which is why I am back in Stage 2 breath meditations, rather than trying to jump straight into the bliss of Stage 7 and beyond. It just wouldn’t work any other way. But there is nothing that will keep me from exploring and taking side trips every now and again . . . I won’t pretend to be more accomplished than what I can demonstrate to myself beyond all doubt.

The following audiobook provides six hours of explanation and description of the basic reasons for mindfulness meditation and how to go about it.

You Are a Mess, And You Know It. But You Hide it Well!

Almost every author and guru maintains that it is vital to get a teacher before going very far into meditation. I won’t argue with that. Even the Dalai Lama said that a person can waste a lot of time by forging ahead without a teacher — although he says a teacher is not absolutely necessary.

More advice on meditation from the Dalai Lama

BTW: What was the “nightmare stage” like? Over roughly a half hour, I watched a lot of very personal and sensitive things pass through my mind that would ordinarily upset me. The whole macabre procession through my consciousness was self-powered, effortless on my part. And reasonably vivid. But perhaps the experience did not seem vivid enough or overpowering enough to quite match the description of Stage 6 — probably more like the Stage 5 mindfulness of following the thoughts, with the thoughts being exclusively troublesome thoughts /images /memories /sensations. At least I tell myself that.

In vipassana meditation, the first 4 Stages help to strengthen the attention on “an object of meditation” while slowly deepening the broader awareness of the meditator. Having mastered those skills, the meditator is supposedly ready to move deeper into observing the actual workings of his own “mind system.” I have a long way to go.

Remember: Just as the muscles have a lot of knots that must be unraveled before they can function smoothly and with minimal pain, so does the mind have a lot of knots that need unraveling. The times we are living in are times that create a lot of severe mental and emotional knots very rapidly. We are either going to have to learn to meditate very fast to keep up with untying all of these knots, or we will need to learn an even better path to unraveling these troublesome impediments to peace and happiness.

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