Open spacious awareness and sensory overwhelm

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  • Gooey
    Member
    • Nov 2023
    • 16

    Open spacious awareness and sensory overwhelm

    This may be a bit long so I can try to explain my experience clearly.

    I have noticed that when I am sitting, I often experience a lot of sensory overwhelm. When I'm not sitting, even in a quiet space I'm actively working to filter out lots of sensory information (particularly sounds, like birds, traffic, neighbours, the wind, small electronic sounds that other people don't tend to notice, etc). When I sit, I stop filtering and try to let myself experience the present moment fully without judging or changing. My automatic response to that is often panic, which then sort of short-circuits my brain so that spacious awareness is shut down and I'm not usually able to return to it.

    I'm wondering if anyone has had a similar experience to this and what was useful to them? I don't think this is exclusively about neurodivergence but might be a more common experience for neurodivergent people (for me, I think it is due to my autism and ME/CFS). I had the thought today of trying out wearing earplugs for a period of time to help myself slowly adjust and teach my nervous system that sitting is "safe". And of course continuing to sit with the panic and accepting that it exists in the current moment.

    Gassho,
    Gooey (sat/LAH)
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39485

    #2
    Originally posted by Gooey
    This may be a bit long so I can try to explain my experience clearly.

    I have noticed that when I am sitting, I often experience a lot of sensory overwhelm. When I'm not sitting, even in a quiet space I'm actively working to filter out lots of sensory information (particularly sounds, like birds, traffic, neighbours, the wind, small electronic sounds that other people don't tend to notice, etc). When I sit, I stop filtering and try to let myself experience the present moment fully without judging or changing. My automatic response to that is often panic, which then sort of short-circuits my brain so that spacious awareness is shut down and I'm not usually able to return to it.

    I'm wondering if anyone has had a similar experience to this and what was useful to them? I don't think this is exclusively about neurodivergence but might be a more common experience for neurodivergent people (for me, I think it is due to my autism and ME/CFS). I had the thought today of trying out wearing earplugs for a period of time to help myself slowly adjust and teach my nervous system that sitting is "safe". And of course continuing to sit with the panic and accepting that it exists in the current moment.

    Gassho,
    Gooey (sat/LAH)
    Hi Gooey,

    I cannot comment on the neurodivergent aspect, but I might encourage you to just lightly focus and follow the breath as a place to put your attention during Zazen. Just feel and allow the breath to enter and exit the nose, at a natural pace, nice and deep from the belly.

    If that does not work, I might even suggest some kind of Mantra (some folks sometimes need an extra anchor for centering attention.)

    See if that helps. Report back to us.

    In both cases, sit with the same attitude of allowing, equanimity, as any Shikantaza, with deep trust that this sitting is whole and complete as it is.

    Gassho, Jundo

    stlah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Doshin
      Member
      • May 2015
      • 2642

      #3
      Gooey

      Jundo offers good wisdom. My experience, I like the sounds of birds when in Zazen or not. It grounds me. I feel part of a greater presence.

      Meta for you and your practice,
      .
      Doshin
      Stlah

      Comment

      • Bion
        Treeleaf Unsui
        • Aug 2020
        • 3840

        #4
        Originally posted by Jundo
        If that does not work, I might even suggest some kind of Mantra (some folks sometimes need an extra anchor for centering attention.)
        There is one I used to recite a while back as I was taking the posture before sitting and sometimes I used to mentally go back to it during the sit whenever I caught myself tangled in thoughts:

        “Sitting here, is like sitting under the Bodhi tree
        Mi body is mindfulness itself,
        Entirely free from distractions”.

        It was helpful. It still comes to mind quite often.

        Gassho
        Sat (under the bodhi tree) and lah
        "Stepping back with open hands, is thoroughly comprehending life and death. Immediately you can sparkle and respond to the world." - Hongzhi

        Comment

        • Kokuu
          Treeleaf Priest
          • Nov 2012
          • 6792

          #5
          Hi Gooey

          As you doubtless know, one of the features of autism is that the filtering of sensory input is not the same as for neurotypical people, often leading to the kind of overwhelm you talk about. Also, as someone with ME/CFS I note this overwhelm when I sit at times, and am in direct contact with my symptoms.

          Jundo's advice is good. In Tibetan Buddhist practice they talk about meditation with support and meditation without support. Shikantaza is a form of meditation without support, in which we sit with direct awareness of what arises. Meditation with support uses an anchor such as the breath, or mantra recitation, so that we do not get swept away or overwhelmed by what is happening. When I experience overwhelm and struggle to sit with what is going on, I turn to the breath to give me that anchor, and the mind is then not totally overdominated with what is happening and I am able to continue sitting.

          Gassho
          Kokuu
          -sattoday/lah-

          Comment

          • Alina
            Member
            • Jul 2023
            • 158

            #6
            Hello Gooey,

            I've experienced sensory overwhelm during Zazen similar to what you describe, and it was too much for me, until one day I was able to "embrace it", as if I would be giving a hug to the experience of being overwhelmed and myself all at the same time. Somehow this allows me to stay present with it, until "the overwhelm" is over. Now, whenever this happens I change my focus to "embracing it", as if I was surfing a big wave or crossing a bridge or tunnel (or whatever other mental image you may find helpful to describe it). The sensory overload is still big, but I don't feel like I drown in it anymore. I hope this may be of help.

            Gassho,

            Alina
            st+lah

            Comment

            • Gooey
              Member
              • Nov 2023
              • 16

              #7
              Thank you everyone for your support and advice. Especial thanks to Kokuu and Alina for sharing your experiences - it's helpful to know it's not just me. I have been practicing following my breath and it seems to be helping so far. It has definitely slowed down the feeling of overwhelm so it doesn't feel like such an automatic tripping of a switch. I think with time this will help give me enough space around the experience that I can embrace it more fully.


              Gassho,
              Gooey (sat/LAH)

              Comment

              • Antonio
                Member
                • Mar 2024
                • 67

                #8
                @sensei Jundo, I hope that you give me your permission to give a piece of advice here to Gooey from a person that experience something similar.

                ----

                Hi Gooey,

                First, let me introduce myself. My name is Antonio. I practice Zazen everyday for at least 6 years. I do have problems similar to yours related to anxiety and panic attacks. These problems used to happen more often in the past but making exercises regularly and practicing zazen everyday helped me to control my condition, that by the way was caused by excessive workloads.

                In addition to this problem, when I was a kid I was diagnosed with an abnormal behavior in my brain. Something similar to epilepsy but it is not really epilepsy, it is a condition that the doctors described as epileptiform. In other words, my brain works in a different way, improving my IQ but in other hand reduced my capacity for some activities, like driving (I am a little bit slow person) . Also, I have a sleep disorder that impact in my sleeping quality, this way, I cannot recover myself properly during my sleeping time. This is very tricky specially during the zazen. Somedays I really need to fight to not sleep during the practice. This is quite a personal challenge and honestly during the time I learned how to deal with my limitations.

                The lack of resting also increase episodes of panic attack. In these episodes, i feel a terrible sensation, it is like somebody is choking me. This happens included during the zazen time. I know that this is a different kind of panic attack but by experience my advice to you is that during your zazen, when these episodes happens, try to control your breath. Also, try for a moment to think in something that will make you forget your panic sensation like a beautiful white sand beach and when your breath return to the normal, return to the "shinkantaza" mind, no-mind.

                More, I believe that it is important, according to your limitations, to have a health life. Make sports, sleep well and eat well. Also, try to have the same mentality of zazen in your everyday moments, live here and now. If you have this mind, zazen will not be different than wash the dishes and this attitude will increase the chances to you reduce these panic episodes.
                Antonio

                "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the body and mind of others drop away. No trace of realization remains and this no trace continues endlessly" - Dogen Zenji

                Comment

                • Onki
                  Treeleaf Unsui
                  • Dec 2020
                  • 699

                  #9
                  Hi Gooey,

                  Lots of great suggestions here!

                  Let me first say that I am a Priest in Training. Please take what I say with a grain of salt.

                  As someone with ADHD as well as sensory issues (hearing, touching, smelling, tasting, seeing) I tend to get distracted easily. For example, I will go to my spot to sit Zazen. I assume the posture that my body allows (sometimes sitting upright on the couch or zafu, other times in reclined posture if my Fibro is really bothering me). For a few moments at the very beginning, my mind is quiet. However, it doesn’t stay that way for long. I will hear the birds singing, our neighbour upstairs shuffling around his apartment, Sandy, the dog, breathing, vehicles driving up and down the street, the wind blowing, people opening and closing their apartment doors, I could go on and on.

                  These natural sounds are all part of Practice (I remind myself of this each day).

                  There is no “perfect” time to sit, as there is no non “perfect” time to sit.

                  Thank you for your Practice, Gooey [emoji1431]

                  Gasshō,

                  On

                  Sat today/LAH
                  “Let me respectfully remind you
                  Life and death are of supreme importance.
                  Time swiftly passes by
                  And opportunity ist lost.
                  Each of us should strive to awaken.
                  Awaken, take heed,
                  Do not squander your life.​“ - Life and Death and The Great Matter

                  Comment

                  • Gooey
                    Member
                    • Nov 2023
                    • 16

                    #10
                    Thank you Antonio and Onki for sharing your experiences and suggestions, it's really helpful to hear. It means a lot to me to be part of a sangha where we can share and support each other this way.

                    Gassho,
                    Gooey (sat/LAH)

                    Comment

                    • Onki
                      Treeleaf Unsui
                      • Dec 2020
                      • 699

                      #11
                      Originally posted by Gooey
                      Thank you Antonio and Onki for sharing your experiences and suggestions, it's really helpful to hear. It means a lot to me to be part of a sangha where we can share and support each other this way.

                      Gassho,
                      Gooey (sat/LAH)
                      Absolutely!

                      That is one of the reasons that I wanted to be involved in this specific group.

                      I think it’s very beneficial for us to share our stories and experiences with one another in order to not only see how others manage/live, but also to have that sense of community; Sangha.

                      If you, or anyone here, is struggling, I am more than willing to lend an ear [emoji1431]

                      Gasshō,

                      On

                      Sat today/LAH
                      “Let me respectfully remind you
                      Life and death are of supreme importance.
                      Time swiftly passes by
                      And opportunity ist lost.
                      Each of us should strive to awaken.
                      Awaken, take heed,
                      Do not squander your life.​“ - Life and Death and The Great Matter

                      Comment

                      • Antonio
                        Member
                        • Mar 2024
                        • 67

                        #12
                        Originally posted by Gooey
                        Thank you Antonio and Onki for sharing your experiences and suggestions, it's really helpful to hear. It means a lot to me to be part of a sangha where we can share and support each other this way.

                        Gassho,
                        Gooey (sat/LAH)
                        You are not alone in this kind of fight. I am a very calm person but my anxiety and panic attacks also come and go. Once in my case it is a subconscious disease, that deregulate my sense of danger, there is not too much that I can do. In this case it is better to embrace your condition in and out the zazen, try to keep calm and carry on. As an additional comfort, I suggest to remember that the impermanence(anicca) is one of the tree marks of the existence and nothing last forever.

                        The sangha is here for you.
                        Last edited by Antonio; 04-17-2024, 08:18 AM.
                        Antonio

                        "To study the Buddha Way is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self; to forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the body and mind of others drop away. No trace of realization remains and this no trace continues endlessly" - Dogen Zenji

                        Comment

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