One snowy evening in the mountains of North Carolina, I snuggled into bed on the second night of a Buddhist meditation retreat. I was exhausted, and lay alone in my tiny cabin, longing for nourishing sleep. It didn’t come. My body was strangely restless, and despite being cocooned in a mound of blankets, I was still cold.
The type of meditation I had been practicing was jhana, a deep state of absorption concentration said to be essential in the Buddha’s awakening. All day I had been concentrating on my breath and scanning my body for various sensations. I had 13 days ahead of me to work, with the goal of experiencing highly refined states of awareness — and perhaps something beyond.
As I lay there musing in the brisk darkness, I suddenly sensed a tightening inside me. It was as if I was being ever so gently wound. Then quickly, the pressure intensified, and I breathed in rapid-fire staccato and violently shook. I was a guitar string being tuned beyond its highest range. The string popped. A spike of fear slashed through my guts. And that’s when I split apart.
The next four hours were a hellscape of terror, panic and paranoia. There were almost no thoughts, only my body begging to escape my skin, convulsing like a fish fighting for life. The fear was a bottomless trench.