Jhāna Jenny

I’ve been feeling rather “stuck” and confused about my meditation practice since stream entry. I’ve ceaselessly sensed the double-track mind and experienced indecisiveness about what kind of meditation to do and how I should approach doing it.

Wicked Deep Unspecified Jhānas

I spent 20 minutes in concentration meditation tonight. It feels wicked deep now and seems effortless, even though I occasionally realize that I’m not in the moment but instead remembering, thinking, or fantasizing. It is very odd to be thinking yet feeling somehow deep in mediation at the same time. I guess I should ask someone about this if it keeps occurring. It is so strange. By feeling that I’m “in meditation,” I mean that I feel enmeshed with my surroundings, spacious, flowing, and concentrated on the object despite arising thoughts and this sense of breadth. I feel that way in daily life now, except perhaps for “concentrated.” I still tend to be quite ADD in daily life, so I wouldn’t say that I’m always concentrated. I am always much less in my body now than before, though. Sensations are like a bodily aura instead of bodily core. It is like “inner” and “outer” have flipped to some extent: I’ve turned inside-out, and I walk through life this way now, existing in all directions beyond my body boundaries. It is distinctive, constant, and heady.

I tend to have poor discernment of which jhana I’m in, but I think the reason for this may be that I hang out in j3 and maybe j4 most of the time that I practice concentration (even before stream entry this was the case).  I seem to go straight from access concentration to third jhana, maybe fourth. And that is no different now, except that whichever one happens is much more intensely itself now, “harder,” as they say. 


Oddly, I’m not seeing the nimitta anymore, though, just solid blackness. I’m not seeing even the usual patterns behind my eyelids. Anyway, I seem to skip over the intense bliss and even pleasure (j1 and j2) to something more spacious and peaceful, even though I never set out intending to “skip” any of the jhanas. 

Tonight my sense of a body disappeared rather quickly. I couldn’t even feel my hands’ contact with my thighs and vice-versa when I deliberately checked for the sensation. I had been like this for a few minutes, but when I recognized that I couldn’t feel my body, that recognition jolted me out of the concentration. This jolt reminded me of the insight stage of Fear. 

Pull from Jhāna, Push to Insight

Oh, yeah! I’m supposedly in Review stage. This means that I should be reviewing and mastering, right? So I opened my eyes at around the 20-minute mark, to try to discern an insight stage. I was receiving mixed signals, so I decided to try actively intending to experience certain stages. After all, if I’m in Review, then I should probably feel free to experiment. 

So I called A&P and did feel some bliss and see sparkles in the carpet. I went for EQ, and started seeing what I call formations again and investigating sensations of panoramic peace. Investigating peace was a little strange because it was paradoxically a bit stressful to do so; the floor kept seeming to spin a quarter spin, like I was getting some vertigo. So then I called up Fear, and my heart started palpitating, which scared me in earnest. Soon after this, I stopped my sit. It was far past bedtime, and this sit, though short, sapped my energy.

When I could feel my body, though, it was still and comfortable, as though I could sit all night. Effortlessly, I sat straight up the whole time, with open-hearted posture. My crossed legs fell asleep, though, which is always annoying when I unfold them and experience the pins and needles. Still, it is nice to have the body at peace throughout a sit. I actually had quite a bit of restlessness and body pain back when I was in Low EQ. 

(36 Minutes)

Postscript Two Years Later    

Looking back on this and other entries, I most want to tell others not to believe or fixate on everything they read, even if it is their favorite parts of their favorite dharma book. I fixated far too much on MCTB and on Daniel Ingram’s particular way of experiencing path, which was much more about insight fruitions (by which he often seems to mean just cessation) per se than mine has been. To be fair, he warned me against such fixations. Eventually, I learned to trust my intuition and the path itself, for after stream entry the path will begin doing itself; all you have to do is not argue.

Specifically, instead of forcing myself to do some kind of “pure” vipassana practice, I should have just gone in the direction that the jhanas were pulling me. MCTB2, on which I worked with Daniel, actually subsumes the insight stages into the jhanas, making an ingenious package that bests MCTB1′s separation of vipassana and samatha. Daniel merged them in Part II, Mastery, and I’ve prompted him to comment explicity in the part introduction on how the separateness of the Trainings in Part I changes after stream entry. 

He stated to me personally, and mentions in Part II, that for stream enterers there is never again such a thing as “pure” vipassana or “pure” samatha. They are always mixed. When I tried to separate them even before stream entry, I ran into trouble. That is why I first gravitated to the Thai Forest methods, which use the jhanas as level platforms from which to explore insight. Now that I’m transitioning back into an Indo-Tibetan practice, I’m seeing how those masters also use visual metaphors to impressionistically and fluidly blend concentration and vipassana.

A Two-Track Mind

This sit was rocky, or alternately rocky and smooth, perhaps mainly because of poor planning. I didn’t decide ahead of time what kind of meditation to do (concentration or insight), so I kept changing my mind. I’m also just very weird currently, in the kind of way that A&P makes me weird and a little crazy. The oddness of the new perceptual baseline is probably contributing to this sense of being just weird.

Early in the evening I ate some supper at Whole Foods. I sat still and paid attention, and it did seem some Fear was cycling around. I do suspect that the micro-level of insight-stage cycles is probably happening inside the larger A&P stage that I’m clearly now in, but I’m just not good at noticing the fractal yet. The cycles also seem to be speeding up – by the book, the book being MCTB.

My sit alternated between calm, deep concentration states that were wide (I’m really not positive I know how to mark the boundaries between all the specific jhanas yet), and impulses to notice. I really don’t know what I should be doing in this Review/A&P stage. Daniel told me to keep a journal and pay attention, which was the idea I started acting on the night before the stream entry event, coincidentally.

Perhaps the foremost oddity that I’m noticing now is that there is simultaneous peace (post-SE) and overexcitement (A&P stage).
It is as though meditation is continuing on one track all the time, whether I’m trying to meditate or trying just to do my daily activities, while discursive thought is on overdrive on a separate but simultaneous mental track even when I’m formally meditating. I have never experienced this double-tracked mind before August 8. I seem to be able to meditate and think at the same time without either activity’s interfering with the other. 

Intuitively, I feel like I want to nail down some jhanas, but MCTB suggests waiting till after mastery of calling up the insight stages. 

Weird and Turbulent at Rest

Oddly, after experiencing several nights of unprecedented impenetrably solid concentration, last night’s sit was just very difficult for almost the whole hour. It started with extremely fast fine vibrations. 

Soon Fear arose–free-floating fear not clearly connected with any object of fear. So it seemed that at least I was going to clearly see and be able to investigate the cycling that is supposed to occur after Path. Interestingly, earlier in the day I drove on the Interstate with no fear, and do so is normally a phobia for me, so to have free-floating fear arise so clearly during a formal sit, connected with no apparent object, does strike me as a call up of the Stages of Insight (Review, cycling). Also, since the event of August 8, I’ve totally lost the sense of contraction around the heart that is associated with all strong emotions. This was the first time I felt this in more than a week, which is interesting.

Misery stage is harder for me to pinpoint, but after Fear there was not emotional Misery but physical Misery – uncomfortable, with sevel jolts of migraine-like ice pick pain through my head, crawling scalp, hyper-awareness of this body and its failings.

Disgust stage arises as physical nausea for me lately, and it did again at this point into the sit.

Desire for Deliverance arose, I guess, as desire for fruition. And then, interestingly, this evolved into
desire to stop desiring fruition.

Reobservation stage I did not see.

Equanimity stage – maybe I had a few moments of Low Equanimity during the final minutes of the sit.

I’m not experiencing post-SE fruitions that I can tell, but I don’t think it is helpful for me to continue to hyperfocus on this fact. I feel so different from the way that I did before the event, both perceptually and emotionally by the way, that I don’t care what anyone calls it or whether it is vetted as stream entry. If it wasn’t stream entry, and I still think it was, then it was nonetheless what I have most needed. So I think that I now should bring more nonresistence to my sits and tweak the way I’m “looking for ” fruitions.

I feel floaty, with smeared-out boundaries; gone is the contraction in chest or heart that I formerly identified with as myself.

[Postscript – Actually, many months later I figured out that I had been experiencing “fruitions” (cessations), many in a row during a certain phase (Review phase is the norm), only to have them cease again until another Review phase. The reason I missed that these blips were fruitions is that they lacked the staggeringly profound aftermath that the stream entry one had. The takeaway I want for others is not to chase after Review fruitions as proof of a path. What matters about any experience is the wisdom you gain from it, the insight into reality. I will go down to the mat in maintaining that cessations in themselves are to be completely disregarded.]

The Wake of Stream Entry

Effects So Far

Here is what I am noticing:

I’m feeling “different” from the way I felt before stream entry – this is constant, so far “permanent”; specifically, my former “boundaries” seem diffused and extended into the environment, with none of the former frequent sensations of chest/heart contraction around
emotional responses formerly identified with as myself.

About 99% of the time I no longer feel the need to convince others of my views, but when I do feel the need to discuss, then suddenly the right words flow out of me as if I’m channeling a prepackaged perfected message. I’m no longer ruminating and worrying continually–and I’m normally a very anxious worrywart. I completely stopped posting on Facebook, which formerly was an addiction. I have no draw whatsoever to idle chatter. I’m hyperaware of an acute sense of hearing – this is weird,

especially considering that I’m a bit hard of hearing normally. I think that maybe this is just the auditory dimension of boundary diffusion. In any crowd–restaurant, cafe at lunch–I can hear each voice of other people distinctly, such that it seems I’m more located in the surround-sound than I am in my body. This is not subtle.

At a macro level of cycling, I’m definitely back in the A&P, which is what, according to MCTB, happens after a path attainment; I’m exuberant in that almost hypomanic way that A&P was last year, with intense faith in the dharma, need for very little sleep (3 or 4 hours!), feeling like I can sit meditating all night, and seeing/hearing/feeling fine fast vibrations with a few lights. My A&P last year was characterized in part by frequent lucid dreaming that stopped after the A&P Event. Last night – lucid dreaming involving flying through space. Also trembling and twitching during sits–top of my neck feels so weak and trembling that my head feels like it is going to pop off and float away.

As of last night’s sit, incredible concentration states – like nothing I’ve ever experienced. No discursive thoughts arise at all. The clarity is amazing. Normally I find it difficult or impossible to really stabilize these states because I have a tendency to see the Three Characteristics and am drawn to them. But last night, when I tried to do insight practice, it was as if I was pulled into these jhana states instead, regardless of what I intended. 

But no repeat cessions/fruitions. MCTB says subsequent fruitions must show up within a week after a suspected stream entry.

Do you think Daniel will give me an extension?

Postscript 2 Years Later

[Postscript – MCTB2 concedes that not all stream enterers get repeat fruitions, or cessations of being, in the Review stage of first path. Except for the stream entry fruition, none of my few fruitions have been all that remarkable, and I really shouldn’t have worried at al, that I wasn’t getting them. Ingram obsesses about them; I cannot tell that they have much, or anything at all, to do with awakening. Now into higher Dzogchen practices, I don’t have cessations at all, ever. They are not a reliable indicator of anything, and I even suspect that most people’s “blip” fruitions without astounding reboot experiences are really just dissociation episodes. My advice? Don’t read any significance whatsoever into cessation of consciousness. Now if you experience being layered back into back into being via the 12 links of dependent origination after a cessation, then that is a fruition indeed, a positive gain, an opportunity for insight and wisdom. Awaking is not oblivion. No, it’s not, which is why I object to the no-self language even though in a sense, at very high levels of attainment, there is a truth to that perspective as well as its ostensible opposite.  So if you are through practice seeking to escape your relative self, life, problems, being – that lust for nonbeing is anathema to awakening to your true nature, It is also poor meditative method.]

Stream Entry

Night before Stream Entry

Thursday night, the night before the event I’ll try to describe, stream entry, I logged my sit with just the following words to show the sequence of what I noticed:

  1. Fast vibrations (seeing, feeling)
  2. Intense multilayered hearing of “silence” as particles
  3. Flows in the carpet arise, flows in the walls, flows wherever I look (formations)
  4. Trying to locate sense of self watching, failing
  5. Several feelings of rapid, momentary dislocation
  6. Intimacy with the flowing arises
  7. Fear arises
  8. Remembering to investigate fear
  9. Fear alternates with strange rapture
  10. Thought arises that I want and expect stream entry but am afraid of cessation
  11. Mild nausea arises (physical)
  12. Expansive feeling of love arises, nausea vanishes
  13. Surprise, wonder blooms
  14. Resolve formally to reach stream entry as soon as possible [this was the first and only time I’ve resolved this.
  15. Bell and stop

Friday, August 8, 2014, at a Lunchtime Group Sit 

The event happened unexpectedly, right after the moment that an intensely clear realization arose about the now slowed-down, almost rhythmic formations [nimittas] I was watching arise and pass away clearly, from beginning to gone. What I call formations are like 3D “blooms.” And their passing away is like a concave, inverted bloom that is blank at center – even black, to tell the truth. They are big and constantly fluxing and flowing. Normally they are moving so constantly that I cannot catch the instant of arising, nor the instant of “gone.” Moreover, they overlap one another, so this fact makes seeing specific beginnings and endings hard (impossible till this day).

The realization was pre-verbal, but the way I would put it now is that the “gone” I could suddenly watch is actually still a kind of arising, and the reason that it is so is that there is, or was, the frame of reference that was the “real” arising, the contrasted background. 

As far as I can tell, this crystal clear realization ushered me into a kind of collapse of duality. As soon as I realized that “gone” of a formation wasn’t actually gone gone – absolute discontinuity of the entire universe in a snap! So I remember up to that moment, and then I remember back to what it was like when reality was coming back online. And that was really the most earth-shattering moment – the rebooting of the world: During those few moments, “I” was dislocated into everything around me, in every particle, with nothing on “my” side, no center, no sense of within-body or location-grounding. “I” was gone!

I knew something transformative was happening, or had happened. I remembered to try to see clearly. There was this hard-to-describe quality that was visual, I think (but I’m not absolutely sure I was physically seeing), and the closest I can come to describing it is to point to what happens in planetarium shows or movies when they are trying to convey warp speed through the stars, and the stars turn into whiteness blurred out into bright white lines. The difference in this case was that there was no contrasting darkness or outer space background, so I’m not even positive it was visual apprehension of white lines at all. If so, my sense was of white-on-white/clear. I guess sometimes experiences are so unusual that all we can do is grab onto metaphors for them. At any rate, there was a quality of zoom and radical dislocation, or diffusion, of center and ground – no “this” side. 

There was a sense that the whole field was turning to find me not there in my chair where I had been meditating. This was far more radical than an out-of-body experience. As soon as “I” was found to be not there, I started being layered back into being Jenny, located, embodied. I distinctly remember the instant when form and name resolved.

I now understand “In the seeing, only the seen.”

Immediately, and to my confusion, the meditation bell rang. And the oddest thing then was that I was almost paralyzed. I couldn’t stop meditating, even when I finally rose, stunned, and we walked upstairs to the cafe and ate! 

The “door” to fruition was emptiness. I think this because, right before cessation, I was fixed on the passing-away moments of formations and seeing that the “nothing you can see” is not the “nothing you cannot see.” And I realized that positive formations and their apparent absence were not a duality at all. So it was the nonduality aspect that presented several clear times in a row and then cessation. 

The other reason that I think the door was emptiness/no-self is, well, look at what happened during reboot–my self was completely gone. Although – it seems in MCTB that all three doors involve some radical dislocation of self. 

By the way, now that I have had this experience, I find the Three Doors chapter in MCTB just opening on questions, not answers, for me. I don’t recall anything like the descriptions Daniel gives of the three doors, except that there was a POW-POW-POW—cessation, the “POWs” being three distinct frame – like apprehensions of the endings of three successive formations.

Also, what the hell was that thing that happened afterward and why is it not on any map?


Thereafter, I felt different – and not subtly different, but very different. Specifically, I feel noticeably less concentrated/localized within the boundaries of my body and immediate reach. I flow out further into the far off. Saturday I experienced cycling sensations of being diffused into all that surrounds me, feeling intense gratitude and weepy love for everyone (and telling them), and feeling a little bit scared/queasy at the sheer intensity of whatever has happened. At the restaurant I ate in Saturday, I could distinctly hear all the voices and conversations at once, individually, hearing each so acutely that “I” was there in the sound, not where I usually am, in me. It is hard to describe, but something is very, very different now.

I had a migraine headache all Saturday and most of Sunday. I sat only about 25 minutes Sunday night and again Monday night – but was itching, restless, aching, and unable to see even vibrations that I always do, both times. So I started to feel doubt. I guess I assumed one stayed in EQ for a bit after SE. Whatever the event was, after 2 days of afterglow, it kicked me out of EQ. However, the diffused sense of “me” remains. If this was not SE, it was a stunningly convincing imitation–especially given that my “progress” through the stages to that point was “by the book” and I have zero doubt that I was in the insight stage High Equanimity


[Stream entry happened within a couple of days of my first talking with Daniel Ingram about structurally revising and substantively editing MCTB2. I learned a few months later that the layering back into being I experienced after stream entry cessation had been experienced by him many times, including stream entry; in fact, I found a new section he had written for the new edition. What he didn’t say there but that I dragged out of him was that the layering sequence was that of the 12 links of Dependent Origination, just as I suspected. This confirmed for me that I had indeed attained to stream entry.]

Lead-Up to Stream Entry

Brief Past-Year History 

I’ve been meditating for 3 years, never been on retreat, and rarely sit more than 30 minutes a day and only a few times a week. I experienced A&P phenomena during the second or third time I ever sat. Beginner’s luck, I guess, or karma.

From April through July 2013 I was in a clear A&P phase, with lucid dreaming many nights, culminating in the A&P Event during one of these dreams, in which I meditated. I had all the zealot post-A&P clarity that is classic, and from that point on had intense faith in my eventual awakening. Exactly a week later, and almost a year to the day before this stream entry I’ll describe, I entered the Dark Night (DN) and cycled around in that twice at the macro level until the second week of June 2014, when it broke and low Equanimity (EQ) stage began. 

By the way, I’ve always been much better able to see the cycling at the macro level than at any micro level–I don’t really notice cycling within a single sit – I’m just wherever I am at the macro level throughout the sit, so far as I’ve been able to tell. Now, during the DN macro cycle from February to June, I did for the first time start clearly noticing a diurnal cycle, with the worst DN around 6 or 7 p.m. each evening. This past DN was so horrible that I entered into severe agitated depression for the first time in 15 years and went on SNRI antidepressants, which helped a ton once they finally kicked in. 

From the second week in June, when antidepressants began working, I steadily climbed to High EQ, all the while seeing/hearing/feeling (but mainly seeing) MCTB type “formations,” although without being
able to clearly see the beginnings and endings … until August 8, when things changed and I could suddenly discern the beginnings and endings clearly. I saw formations at every single sit for 2 months straight and experienced all the other characteristics of EQ, but assumed that I would fall back down the
through the earlier stages again because, honestly, I’ve put very little total time into my formal practice (yeah, I’m a lazy Buddhist).

Meditation Practice Techniques 

I’m not precise or purist about technique. I’m not a “noter” at all: I find labeling sensations in “noting” to be a frustrating slog. What I try to do is “notice,” meaning that I observe the 3Cs, especially impermanence,
without labeling. I pick skin sensation, or hearing, or seeing and just tune completely in. Impermanence will show itself right off the bat–at least it did for me – as flickers, vibrations, nonsolidity. As I’ve discussed with Eric, I did experience Mind & Body, Cause & Effect, and 3C when I first started insight practices, but, oddly, my experiences started with A&P (second or third sit ever). So it was like this: 

A&P –> DN –> LowEQ –> M&B–> C&E –> 3Cs –> A&P –> DN –> DN–> LowEQ –> HiEQ –> Path

I never experienced M&B, C&E, or 3Cs again, only one cycle. Furthermore, After the second A&P above, I never ever experienced any of those early insight stages for even a minute during any sit. My sits always began with A&P, always. The fact that my second or third meditation ever started right up with bright, dramatic lights and intense bliss, and the fact that apparently SE happened with less than 100 meditation hours in from practice, start to finish, makes me really wonder how much of my prior nonpractice life I’ve spent cycling and not known it. Can one be accruing insights and not be conscious of that fact? Or maybe there are past lives in some energetics sense, and I’m picking up where the last host left off? 

During a sit, before I ever start “noticing,” I enter calm concentration by following the meditation guidance of Thanissaro Bhikkhu. He translated one of his teacher’s brief meditation manuals, called Keeping the Breath in Mind. That’s basically my technique: TB with “noticing” embedded within TB’s framework, which involves moving in and out of concentration states, alternating with insight practice by pulling “out, up, and over” the concentration state a bit. Another good guide by him is With Each and Every Breath. TB emphasizes that a key component of the practice is to assemble one’s own practice methods and interpretations of results. I can dig that and do. So the main aids in my practice have been TB’s meditation guides and Daniel’s MCTB, especially the progress-of-insight maps.