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Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course

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Over a month ago I attended a 10-day vipassana meditation course that is taught in the tradition of Goneka. On the night of the 5th day I developed a horrible and loud ringing or shrieking in my ear that has been with me 24/7 ever since. At first I thought this was a medical problem that developed coincidently, but 4 doctors, an emergency room visit and an MRI confirm that I am healthy and there is no medical cause to this. I even have "better than perfect hearing." This apparently meditation induced condition has caused me a great deal of distress and anxiety. It is so loud I have to be medicated to sleep. I've lost concentration of my work and meditation is almost impossible. I'm trying my best to be objective about this, but as I said, it is beginning to make me insane. I am a novice to Dharma and meditation but I am very open to any and all perspectives on to why this happened and how I might resolve it. I am desperate at this point.

peace and silence to all

Brian

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/4/10 8:43 PM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
I'm sorry to hear about your troubles, Brian. I've had ringing in my ear for many years now, which used to be somewhat intense. I eventually got used to it to the point where I hardly notice it unless I concentrate on the sound...but it sounds like you're experiencing that on a whole other level, at least for now. While I'm not as an experienced meditator as many of the people on this board are, I was would guess that you're going through an especially intense part of the Dark Night in the Stages of Insight or something leading up to that.

If you're not familiar with the progress of insight in the vipassana tradition, check out this link which will bring you to the Dark Night stages, but maybe read through the introduction to that section as well.

It would be helpful to people on the board if you can describe your meditation experiences on the retreat. Any major events come up during your meditation? Bright lights, intense vibrations, etc?

Anyway, as it's meditation related I think it's pretty certain that it will pass. When you start doing meditation on an intense level, there are many changes that occur in the brain and sometimes they're not altogether pleasant...but I think in the end it means progress towards insight which also means the issue will eventually subside (or at the very least, your anxiousness and suffering about it will). For instance, right now I've got an intense pressure that moves around in my sinuses to the roof of my mouth and nose that shows up every time I start to gain some concentration. While I'm curious about it and you may see a post about it pop up at some point, all the advice I've been given is not to worry and just keep practicing as one can. And in my last sit I just focused on it for most of the hour and at one point it began to "open up" and loosen some, although it still is hanging around. So these things do change.

So fear not, all is impermanent, though I imagine it's hard to gain any comfort from that right now. But if you've made it this far, hang in there a bit longer and it should pass.

In terms of advice about what to do, it generally boils down to sitting with whatever ails you and staring it straight down, at the very least trying to see its impermanence, in order to gain insight. I'm going to hold off on making any solid recommendation given my lack of depth of knowledge about this territory, so hopefully some of the more experienced meditators will chime in.

So anyway, just my take on your situation given the information you provided and my limited knowledge and experience in meditation. Once more it will really help if you can supply more information about your experience with the Goenka retreat and your experience with meditation in general.

I wish you the best of luck and that you find relief soon...which I think you will.

Best,
Chris (formerly of the "C K" account...accidentally locked myself out of it, but I wanted to reply to this post sooner rather than later, so I created another account)

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/5/10 3:21 AM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
Hi Brian,

I can perceive or tune into something like what you describe; with me, I became aware of it when I was about seven years old. I don't find it distracting, but then, I've been used to it for most of my life.

Here are two old threads you might find interesting:

Shamatha on cicadas
"Nada" sound

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/5/10 10:16 PM as a reply to anonpathein ..
On the suggestion of CTK and for the benefit of everyone on this board, I will first describe my experience with vipassina and then talk about my horrible and persistent ear ringing problem that has persisted since I learned the technique.

I am new to Dharma and first became interested and fascinated with Eastern traditions of enlightenment during a couple of trips to Cambodia I was privileged to take in 2008 and 2009. In a country wreaked by political violence and intense poverty I was amazed at how peaceful, wise and happy the Khemer people were. I fell in love with the country and culture. Officially I am an atheist and recovering Catholic, so I am very skeptical of religion and claims to past or everlasting life. That said, I have always been intrigued by the principles of eastern philosophical traditions including Buddhist thought.

I signed up for a 10-Day Vipassana meditation retreat taught in the tradition of Goneka. The place was in the Pacific Northwest in a beautiful setting. You are not to talk to people and must follow a code of discipline that includes getting up at 4AM and not really eating after noon, no intoxicants and no sex. The first three days of the retreat all you do is focus on your breathing. That is it. It was very boring but during these three days I began to focus on thoughts and anxieties that have plagued me for several years. It was very productive. I also spent a lot of time thinking of inane things like episodes of South Park or my favorite movies, which was not very productive. I had my eyes closed for 10 to 12 hours each day focusing on breathing. During this time I began to see hallucinations on the back of my eyelids and uncomfortable and bad thoughts about things that have haunted me over the years, but it was really good because I was processing them in a new and "objective" kind of way. On the fourth day you begin to learn vipassana. At first I stumbled and a man in the meditation hall who must have had tourettes or other mental problem kept making noises and fidgeting so it was hard to concentrate. However, after much struggle on the fourth day I learned vipassana meditation and it was total bliss. My whole body shimmered, I felt that there were the hands of 1000 tiny apsaras messaging every inch of my body. The sensations came in waves, at first I was unable to control them but then, under the guidance of recorded audio, I began to control the sensations in a systematic way. My body hurt from hours and days in the lotus position, but it didn't matter. I loved what I was learning. The fifth day progressed and I suddenly noticed that my ears were ringing during the hypnotic trance I put myself in. At first this was not uncomfortable at all and I just observed. I figured it was part of the experience. I did spend some time focusing on the ringing in my ears, but quickly moved to other parts of my body per the instructions. On the morning of the sixth day, I woke up with a horrible ringing in my ears that was very distressing and uncomfortable. I continued to learn and practice, but it was distracting me and I had a bad day. On that day, I broke silence (as was permitted) to talk to the teacher about it. He told me to continue and that it was part of the process. The seventh day was much better and I was able to meditate and learn more methods about observing thoughts and sensations in my body, I was aware of everything my body was doing, heart valves working, digestion, minute movement. The ears started ringing horribly again and I did not sleep at all that night. I was stubborn and persisted throughout the eight day, but I was beginning to lose it. The ringing was going on all the time and I was becoming more and more agitated. I didn't sleep again that night because of the ringing and sought emergency advice with a the teacher at 2AM on day 9. I wanted to leave to see a doctor, and he said it was my choice but encouraged me to stay for the morning sessions and that I was so close to finishing. I was so exhausted but did the morning meditation. By noon, I knew I couldn't do it any more and left. It was bizarre to be in a car and listening to the radio after nearly 10 days of silence. My ears continued to ring and even got louder. After driving home for 6 hours I went to the emergency room because I thought something was horribly wrong with my ears. After several vists to a doctor, and MRI and an audiologist they all confirmed that noting was wrong with me. I was prescribed sedatives and sleeping pills. I also took up drinking. The ringing is still there and has disturbed me enough to make me feel hopelessly depressed. I am seeing a therapist now, but the ringing will not stop.

I have no hard feelings at all about what I did and would probably do it again if I were ever in as strong as mental and physical shape as I was in just five or six short weeks ago. Since, the horrible and constant noise is driving me insane, I know I can't will it to stop but meditation does nothing or intensifies it. It is not a positive thing at all and while I have read similar stories of people having ringing, others report it as a positive thing or something that only happens during meditation. I don't know what I did or how I could have hurt myself by doing something that was intended to make me more aware and open.

I recounted my experience for the benefit of everyone. I can't say I would recommend or not recommend a vipassina retreat. It should have been a positive experience, but it did cause a debilitating handicap which I do not have the tools or knowledge to cope with.

Peace,

Brian

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/7/10 3:43 AM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
Hi Brian

A very good friend of mine over at Dhamma Wheel alerted me to your situation and suggested that I might be able to help. A bit of background about me: I've been practicing under the guidance of SN Goenka since 1985 and have sat and served on many 10-day courses and have done some long courses. Having said that, I am not an assistant teacher, so one of the best things I can do to help you is to refer you on to people who may have more knowledge and experience, in this tradition, than I do.
I've never had a persistant issue like the one you describe and I rarely encounter instances of anything like this. The only other time ws some years ago when after a friend attended his first 10-day course he experienced over-stimulation of the pinneal gland and found it incredibly hard to sleep.
The first thing I recommend you do is to make contact with the assistant teacher/s who were conducting the course or the area teacher for N/W USA to report the ongoing nature of the problem. It may require a bit of back-and-forth and questioning with regards to your experiences during the course and what you were actually doing. A couple of things in your posts above allude to the possibility that you may not have been practicing as directed. When we practice vipassana in this tradition, we are not attempting to control sensations but to merely observe their changing characteristic.
It was good that at the end of your course you did go and get the persistent ear-ringing checked out by qualified medical professionals. If the doctors had cleared you of a physical problem then it is likely that the effect of the meditation has triggered a heightened audio sensitivity,perhaps tinnitis, or sankharas that are manifesting as a psycho-somatic audio disturbance (distressing, no less). If it is at all possible to continue practicing vipassana, you may need to dig deep, very deep, and try and maintain equanimity and awareness. Try and focus, not on the effects of aversion of the audio disturbance, but on co-arising vedana (sensation) that is occuring on and throughout the body. After coming home from a course, it is quite natural for many course participants to report that they have difficulty in perceiving sensation, but its worth giving a go. The solution to your problem may indeed be to actively engage with the meditation subject as it was given to you. If the audio disturbance is so intense as to make vipassana meditation impossible, revert to anapana. Within this tradition we practice the samatha variant of anapana. So, maintain awareness of the incoming breath and outgoing breath for longer and longer periods. Also, don't forget Metta whether you can do vipassana or anapana. And in practicing metta, make yourself the first target for metta. Buddhaghosa says that we should never forget ourselves in practicing metta.
And by all means, contact the assistant teacher who either conducted the course or the area teacher responsible for the North Fork meditation centre.
May you be happy! May you be at peace! May you be liberated!

Ben

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/7/10 4:16 AM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
Brian Wolf:
Over a month ago I attended a 10-day vipassana meditation course that is taught in the tradition of Goneka. On the night of the 5th day I developed a horrible and loud ringing or shrieking in my ear that has been with me 24/7 ever since. At first I thought this was a medical problem that developed coincidently, but 4 doctors, an emergency room visit and an MRI confirm that I am healthy and there is no medical cause to this. I even have "better than perfect hearing." This apparently meditation induced condition has caused me a great deal of distress and anxiety. It is so loud I have to be medicated to sleep. I've lost concentration of my work and meditation is almost impossible. I'm trying my best to be objective about this, but as I said, it is beginning to make me insane. I am a novice to Dharma and meditation but I am very open to any and all perspectives on to why this happened and how I might resolve it. I am desperate at this point.

peace and silence to all

Brian


hi brian,

a good friend of mine - also a meditator - has this condition as well. if you'd like, i can put you in touch with him so you have someone who understands firsthand to talk to about it, perhaps bounce ideas off of, and maybe hear from about what things he has tried and what has helped him cope.

anyway, i'd like to ask you some questions about the ringing in your ear:

first, how loud is it? does it interfere with your ability to hear other things going on (like people speaking to you, or objects in your environment, etc)?

second, can you pinpoint the location of the sound? does it happen right at the ear, or slightly inside? is it more your left ear, or right ear, or both? if you put your fingers inside your ear canals, does this change the sound - does it become louder, or softer, or does the quality or pitch or tone change any? does the quality or pitch or tone of the sound ever fluctuate or modulate on its own throughout the day, or does it remain entirely costant?

third, is there a sound or frequency you are familiar with (one which you've heard before) which this sound is like, or at least very similar to?

tarin

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/7/10 10:34 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
A few things only somewhat related to the ringing:

the bliss and nice stuff you felt was the A&P, and the Dark Night follow this like thunder follows lightening

the sound likely is not driving you crazy: it is just tinnitus.

More likely it is the Dark Night and Re-Oberservartion that are causing the emotional instabilities, though I can't actually hear what you are hearing, obviously, so this is just speculation based on what usually happens.

As to the ringing: I would either stop practicing entirely, in which case it will likely fade, or go on another retreat with really good technique and really following the instructions.

I think that Tarin's questions are really good ones, and I would definitely talk to his friend.

Meditation can cause some really weird side effects, but just knowing that is what they are can help.

If you haven't read my book, Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, I would recommend it. You can find it in various places, including the wiki here, or, if you want paper, Amazon, etc.

Let us know how it goes,

Daniel

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/11/10 12:12 PM as a reply to tarin greco.

anyway, i'd like to ask you some questions about the ringing in your ear:

first, how loud is it? does it interfere with your ability to hear other things going on (like people speaking to you, or objects in your environment, etc)?

second, can you pinpoint the location of the sound? does it happen right at the ear, or slightly inside? is it more your left ear, or right ear, or both? if you put your fingers inside your ear canals, does this change the sound - does it become louder, or softer, or does the quality or pitch or tone change any? does the quality or pitch or tone of the sound ever fluctuate or modulate on its own throughout the day, or does it remain entirely costant?

third, is there a sound or frequency you are familiar with (one which you've heard before) which this sound is like, or at least very similar to?

tarin


Tarin,

Excellent questions. First: It is subjective, but it seems very loud especially in a quiet room or when trying to sleep, it is similar in intensity to a tea kettle whistle although I am able to hear everything else around me, no hearing trouble to my knowledge.

Second, the sound is mainly in my right ear, although it sounds like it may be located more in my head at times, but mostly just the right ear. So I would say it is somewhat inside, but mostly perceived by my right ear.

Third: Although I describe it as a tea kettle whistle, I have never heard this sound before, but I imagine it could be matched by someone with a sound mixer/sythesizer.

I would like to be put in touch with your friend if possible. I am very annoyed and anxious because of this meditation induced problem. It has been going on for six weeks now.

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/11/10 1:34 PM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
hi brian,

a few further questions (as well as a few which were previously unanswered):

Brian Wolf:

Second, the sound is mainly in my right ear, although it sounds like it may be located more in my head at times, but mostly just the right ear. So I would say it is somewhat inside, but mostly perceived by my right ear.


if you put your fingers inside your ear canals, does this change the sound - does it become louder, or softer, or does the quality or pitch or tone change any? does the quality or pitch or tone of the sound ever fluctuate or modulate on its own throughout the day, or does it remain entirely costant?

when you tilt your head forward or back, or to the left or right side, does the quality of the sound change? does it change in pitch, or volume, or timbre?


Brian Wolf:

Third: Although I describe it as a tea kettle whistle, I have never heard this sound before, but I imagine it could be matched by someone with a sound mixer/sythesizer.


is it a steady, constant sound? have you ever heard it strobe?


Brian Wolf:

I would like to be put in touch with your friend if possible. I am very annoyed and anxious because of this meditation induced problem. It has been going on for six weeks now.


i have sent him an email telling him as much, and as soon as he replies that it is all right, i will send you his email address via private message.

tarin

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
8/11/10 7:06 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
if you put your fingers inside your ear canals, does this change the sound - does it become louder, or softer, or does the quality or pitch or tone change any? does the quality or pitch or tone of the sound ever fluctuate or modulate on its own throughout the day, or does it remain entirely costant?


If I put in ear plugs my perception of it changes, background noise sometimes helps like classical music, other noises irritate it such as riding in a car.


when you tilt your head forward or back, or to the left or right side, does the quality of the sound change? does it change in pitch, or volume, or timbre?


The sound does not really change with head movements, but I notice I can modulate it my moving my jaw around and pushing on my forehead, this makes me think there may be a physical basis to it and it developing with meditation was coincidental.


is it a steady, constant sound? have you ever heard it strobe?


It is basically a steady constant sound that sometimes migrates into my other ear. Sometimes I hear another sound that is similar to the squeal of a loose belt on a car.

i have sent him an email telling him as much, and as soon as he replies that it is all right, i will send you his email address via private message.


Thank you so much for your help on this. I am looking forward to hearing from you or your friend on anything that might help this dreadful problem.

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
1/18/15 8:20 AM as a reply to Brian Wolf.
Brian,I ve just returned from my 2nd 10 days Vipassana,
I started experiencing the same problem, I am dealing with, since a week ago,
It started the day after I returned,
I am noticing when I touch my head left side it stops, but then continue
tell me if you consulted with a vipassana professor?
tell me if you are still dealing with it?

I am experiencing a lack of drive, reaction to deal with my day day activities, ..as mental slow

thanks,
It ll be of help, I am a bit worry trying to keep ecquanimity
mauricio

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
1/21/15 10:12 AM as a reply to martin martin.
I developed tinnitus during a month-long retreat a year ago along with at least one other attendee. I had no idea what was causing it at the time and it was difficult to keep practicing. I was eventually diagnosed with TMJ, but you might just have tight muscles from sitting in one position for 6+ hours a day. Even if your posture is perfect, sitting still for a long time will tighten the chest, neck, and jaw muscles. The sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck run up alongside the ears. If these get tight enough, you can experience ear-related symptoms like tinnitus and dizziness. If physical repositioning (like jaw movement) affects the sound, it might be worth finding a good chiropractor who does deep tissue work to loosen things up. Check Yelp reviews for chiropractors near you. Avoid practitioners who only spend 10-15 minutes with each patient.

Echoing others in the thread, it's also possible the problem is "energetic", in which case it's a good idea to stop practicing so that your nervous system can calm down.

RE: Persistent and Loud Ringing in Ears Since Vipassana Course
Answer
1/21/15 7:41 PM as a reply to Matthew.
Matthew Horn:
I developed tinnitus during a month-long retreat a year ago along with at least one other attendee. I had no idea what was causing it at the time and it was difficult to keep practicing. I was eventually diagnosed with TMJ, but you might just have tight muscles from sitting in one position for 6+ hours a day. Even if your posture is perfect, sitting still for a long time will tighten the chest, neck, and jaw muscles. The sternocleidomastoid muscles in the neck run up alongside the ears. If these get tight enough, you can experience ear-related symptoms like tinnitus and dizziness. If physical repositioning (like jaw movement) affects the sound, it might be worth finding a good chiropractor who does deep tissue work to loosen things up. Check Yelp reviews for chiropractors near you. Avoid practitioners who only spend 10-15 minutes with each patient.

Echoing others in the thread, it's also possible the problem is "energetic", in which case it's a good idea to stop practicing so that your nervous system can calm down.

Holy christ... I just opened my mouth very wide and wiggled my jaw around and it affects the ringing in my ears. My upper back and traps also feel very very tight and have felt this way for a long time. I guess it's time to find a chiropractor.