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My background is that my father was/is an alcoholic and I had pretty rough childhood. I recently turned 33. I always was pretty self aware. I have a good job. I’m easy going open person, have a bunch of friends, but in spite of that there are often times when I feel really lonely. I always had this anxiety/fear shadow on my shoulder, usually visiting me while I was walking street alone, or commuting. I got divorced 3 years ago and after some “rebound/reset” period and couple of toxic relationships decided to get my head straight. Wanted to end the family script of going into toxic relationships and then getting divorced again. That’s why I decided to start meditating.

My journey with meditation began a little more than a year ago. Since then I’ve been meditating almost every day for about 15-20 mins (usually in the morning). I’ve been using one of the more popular apps on the market to guide me through this process, and never had a real life teacher. It’s a standard practice of body scanning, and then observing the breath (+ sometimes some noting/visualisation techniques). I feel that I’m still a beginner in all of this and barely scratched the surface. I started reading “Mindfulness with breathing” by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu but after the first steps the rest is hard for me to understand.

During that year of meditation I gradually got calmer, gained a bigger distance to myself, stopped drinking so much, my empathy and understanding towards others grew. I stopped partying so much (realized it’s meaningless). I pretty much resigned from part of my activities that I noticed had bad motivation underneath.

Seems great, and I’m really greatful for all of this, but recently some dark thoughts began to cloud my mind (thoughts like ‘will I always be alone?’, ‘what if everyone turn their back on me?’). I’m not sure what’s the cause and I’m afraid that my meditation had something to do with it.

Recently during the weekend I had a big panic attack while in the pub with my friend. I quickly got home and realized that I can’t go to work on monday cause I’m too scared of walking the street… I wrote to my boss that I’m sick and I had to work remotely. I even thought about quitting my job on the spot, I couldn’t imagine walking to work again. I still continued my practice. When I finally went out to get to work (just couldn’t give up), the whole journey was a nightmare. I couldn’t stop thinking about the imminent danger. When I walk, the bad thoughts start to arise I try not to repress them, but see them, observe, accept, and get back to the breath. I have to do this almost every 30 sek, cause they keep coming back. It helps when I occupy my mind with other thoughts. But whenever I bring my mind to present moment the anxiety kicks in and I start having this panic attacks again. I have a feeling that by practicing the meditation I dig up something buried very deep inside me and now it messes up my mind. I know I couldn’t handle it alone, so I went to psychiatrist and got some meds to help me during this period. I will begin the therapy shortly.

My question is, should I quit meditating? is that bad for me because of my childhood experiences? am I doing something wrong?

Best regards, Robert

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Pleased to meet you Robert.

It is very difficult to answer your question precisely however it is certainly likely/probable that practicing the meditation & the accompanying mental solitude is digging/bringing up something (i.e., a disposition or mental tendency) buried deep inside your mind.

I doubt you are doing anything wrong. As said, the mental solitude & quietude of meditation will bring things up, including existential fear. This is generally related to the ego diminishing, which in the beginning will generally be somewhat traumatic.

Even when the mind becomes increasingly calm, such as from Anapanasati, a certain threshold of calmness may threaten the (conditioned) ego, resulting in fear arising.

Such fear may not be explicitly related to your personal childhood experiences because such existential fear is a normal event when "crossing-over". Some meditators use an old Christian mysticism phrase for this existential fear, namely, 'Dark Night of the Soul'.

However, that your mind projects this existential fear into ideas of being abandoned by people may possibly relate to your childhood experiences & underlying fear of aloneness.

I offer the following suggestions:

  1. Quit meditating.

  2. Do the therapy, which is hopefully a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) where you learn to rationally reflect/think that there is nothing to fear. This is similar to the Buddhist technique called 'wise reflection' ('yoniso manasikara').

  3. If you decide to meditate again, meditate at a good competent Dharma centre with a group of people. I always recommend meditating with others is the best way to start meditation. The group vibe is helpful to reduce or remove anxiety. Also, hopefully meeting trustworthy reliable friends provides a necessary social support.

  4. Do not use recorded guided meditations when alone because these can take the mind deeper than the mind is prepared for. In general, avoid all guided meditations (including in Dharma centres) that go beyond the mere basics of letting go of thoughts & observing the breathing. Any guided meditation that seeks to diminish the ego or observe emptiness, space or clear light should be avoided.

  • thank you very much @Dhammadhatu. I already feel somehow relieved by what you wrote. I'll definitely follow your suggestions. – Robert Mar 5 '17 at 19:18
  • @Robert thank you for asking a question. Your meditation sounded like it was bringing the results as intended; before it found a sensitive place. As I posted, if you wish to live a more spiritual life, attending (good) dharma groups can help a lot. Here, you learn there is a different community out there. It can change your perspectives. Kind regards & my best wishes. May you get through & overcome this unnecessary anxiety. – Dhammadhatu Mar 6 '17 at 1:41
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I must say that I had a similar experience at one point of my meditation/mindfulness development. Personally, meditation opens my mind and makes me more aware of feelings and thoughts. The awareness is the first step toward resolution if those thoughts and emotions are negative. But there is a big step between realizing the presence of negative thoughts and resolving what is underlying and causing them. Between those two islands are the waters that must be navigated to not be engulfed by the immediate negativity.

It seems that you do have some deep childhood experiences which can be motivating dark feelings. The mediation practice has brought the effect of these experiences to the surface. Perhaps this is your cue to finally address the experiences that have been troubling you for a long time, either consciously or sub-consciously.

My father too was an alcoholic. This fact about your past does not need to become a part of your identity. For me meditation was very valuable in disconnecting myself from the ties I felt to this part of my past and how I felt they should affect me. However rather than simply observing my thoughts in meditation, I pointed them where I wanted them to go - compassion and love for others and myself.

I do not dare to give advice on how to continue with your meditation practice, just wanted to share my experience and hope that you can draw some parallels to your story.

  • Hi Chris and welcome to Buddhism SE. We also have a Help Center with useful resources that you might like. Enjoy your time here. – Lanka Mar 7 '17 at 14:10
  • thank you for sharing @ChrisKoran, it's nice to know that someone with similar problems made it through :) – Robert Mar 9 '17 at 14:20
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It helps when I occupy my mind with other thoughts. But whenever I bring my mind to present moment the anxiety kicks in and I start having this panic attacks again.

I heard that one of the types of therapy, which are taught to people to help manage panic attacks, is to come back to the present.

For example someone might be alone having a shower, and have a PTSD flash-back or panic attack, where they're afraid of being attacked by someone (again). A "mindfulness" or meditation-like counter-measure is to be aware of the present (moments): for example the sensation (touch) of the water, and of the floor they're standing on.

I think these (present-moment) sensations might be the subject with which "I occupy my mind with other thoughts"; and which (being conscious of one thought at a time) replace the panicky thoughts.

There are other mental phenomena beyond (physical, tactile, visual) sensations: for example the mind creates feelings ("how do I feel about this?"), theories ("I am", "I am this way because etc."), cravings ("I want"), attachments ("I want something in particular"), etc.

Perhaps the specific type of "bring my mind to present moment" that is less panic-inducing is to concentrate on sensations, instead of thinking about the theories, desires, attachments, and on.

Maybe that's what you do already when you "get back to the breath".

My question is, should I quit meditating? is that bad for me because of my childhood experiences? am I doing something wrong?

On the subject of "doing something wrong (or right)", sometimes people say there are three parts to Buddhism, of which meditation is one; and that it's important to get the sila (virtue) aspect of your life in order, and that if you don't then meditation may be more troubled.

So examples of Sila might include, for example, avoiding alcohol, having good-will towards others, making good (or wise) friends and learning from them (or learning from their good example), being harmless, being kind, and so on.

My background is that my father was/is an alcoholic and I had pretty rough childhood.

You started by saying you're troubled by alcohol in the family. I personally found that visiting with Al Anon was surprisingly helpful to get some perspective on that: hearing other people's stories. I can't tell you what Buddhist-specific equivalents to Al Anon might exist where you are. Google might find something, for example http://www.buddhistrecovery.org/ lists meetings and blogs and so on.

You might also find some of the answers on this site helpful, for example this one or this one.

  • thank you for your input @ChrisW. I'll work on those other two parts of Buddhism. :) – Robert Mar 5 '17 at 19:19
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Allow me to share my part. Since i have a few panic attacks myself..and i also do meditation.

First, lets understand that anxiety or feeling anxiety is a mental illness at a different platform. (Not crazy or so). In scientific, the brain lack of some crucial vitamins or minerals..such as inositol or some other thing else. These can be replenish thru appropriate diet...but note that it can be leaked thru various reason...celiac....gluton....alcohol..excessive sweating....people may disagree because the question is why sometime one won't feel anxiety only at certain incident....so my question is...do you know what vitamins or mineral is missing from your body on a particular day? People with anxiety problem can't stop themselves from the excessive thinking or non stop thinking...is a medical condition but is not becos of "think too much". I know it because i have it. There are times when my body condition is good and when i try to think some bad event in the past but the thoughts just stop and it just choose to ignore those bad things easily. But there are times when the body condition is no good...some past bad events just pop up of" no where" and without mindfulness....we just keep dwelling non stop ( and this is where meditation practise came in handly which i will explain later on)....to the extend that we do silly thing that impact our life....

So this is a medical condition that need medical help...and to exercise moderately without sweating too much...take good care of your guts and make sure u got what is missing from your guts...you must kick alcohol out of your life...not only it causes mineral leaked out of you...it is damaging your liver which regulate the mood.i would advise some vitamins instead of medical drug....

Meditation is a practise to train the brain to stabalise. And it may need a long term practise before one could understand how feeling arised and how to stop them.

And without a good foundation in meditation, it is difficult to attain peace when you are having anxiety problem.

Meditation correctly "train" you to be "aware" of "present". It should be able to tell you " i am feeling nervous now...and this is due to xxx xxx. So you start acknowledging in your heart and mind...saying in your mind... ....anxiety...anxiety....anxiety....many many times until your brain feels numb and tired"..(do not think about any event at this points. Focus on "saying" anxiety..anxiety..)...then it should go away for a while...but at this time normally i will pop in a mutli b complex vitamin as i know that something is missing from my guts...causing me to spirl into anxiety easily..and in just 10 -15 mins every would be fine...

How to meditate?. The basic sitting comfortably....take few deep breathe until the body relaxed....then start to focus on your stomach area. Two inches above the navel.....chant this in your mind......when the stomach inflated...say "rising"...when the stomach deflated...says "falling". With the "zing" end at highest point....and "ling" end at lowest point. When you feel itchy...focus the consciousness at the place...keep saying....itchy...itchy....a lot of time until it go away...it will if you are focus enough...likewise for numbness, pain etc...it will keep coming back and you just need to attack this phenomenom..and sometime you basically spend half to one hr doing so and you find that you failed to attain peace....the truth is...you are training in your mind to be focus and in long term...it will be easy and helpful. Yet sometime your body is very cooperative and easily you will go into a calm state..a bit like sleepiness but not so, your breathing will automatically be very shallow...you will realise your mind is not thinking at all....a elementary peacefulness or calmness...and if you are lucky....you will go into a state call "deep absorption" when your senses is all closed....where you can't hear any noise at all...can't feel anything.. you will find that you are in a dark space without anything...no movement...no nothing....no sense of time....but you are aware that you are conscious....lets skip this for further discussion.

What about thoughts? When thoughts arised...shift your focusing to the centre of your rib..at the triangle meeting point....keep saying in your heart too...thinking..thinking...thinking....until it goes away...sometimes it is difficult....and sometimes it keep coming back..just keep doing it....it will become a habit and you will be able to tackle it quick and move on...

Take note of feeling too...in every session of meditation....our feeling and mental stage is different....thus we need to know we are frustrated, boring, exciting or anything else...and using the same method of reciting again and again until it goes away...as i say...sometime u end up sitting frustrating and no peace at all....don't worry....just know that your brain is practise focusing....

A quiet place is needed for beginner. So that you one less obstacle to attain to....

Some dont understand the real feeling of calmness and peacefulness...choose one meal time at home with no people disturbing....choose a food easy to eat....just need a spoon... Bring the foods into your mouth..close your eye...shift your focus to the side of your mouth where the teeth is biting...concentrate on the biting and the food...keep watch of the bite...keep notice the food become smaller and smaller...keep watching until you swallow the food...watch out your tongue move..after you do a few times...you will find your brain goes into a calm stage..your eye will become lazy....you will become slow and calm.......do it very very slowly...as if you are a small living thing in your mouth...this method rip faster result for calmness...but the calmness it short too....

Wisdom will arise through constant and diligent practice of correct meditation...i can't explain this wisdom....i am not intelligent....but a lot of answer will just pop to me whenever i have a question in my mind....in some occasion it allow me to see problem in as if it is slow motion and and i can point out the problem easily.....i know its happening.....its very different from know how to solve a math question easily...or maybe it is the same...

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Good answer by Dhammadhatu. In addition, Robert, I suggest that you practise loving kindness or metta and also other the other Brahmaviharas like compassion and empathetic joy, instead of the mindfulness of breathing. Metta and the Brahmaviharas should invoke positive emotions within you that could replace the negative thoughts and bring about a positive feeling about yourself.

You can find the expression of Metta in the Karaniya Metta Sutta which I will quote below. The Mettanisamsa Sutta states that among the benefits of practising Metta is that one sleeps in comfort, one wakes up in comfort, his mind can concentrate quickly and his countenance is serene.

Happy, at rest, may all beings be happy at heart. 
Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong,
without exception, long, large, middling, short,
subtle, blatant, seen & unseen, near & far,
born & seeking birth:
May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere,
or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life to protect her child,
her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart
with regard to all beings.
With good will for the entire cosmos,
cultivate a limitless heart:

Above, below, & all around, unobstructed,
without enmity or hate. 
Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down,
as long as one is alert,
one should be resolved on this mindfulness.

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