Inside Out : The Stream Entry Shift of Interoception to Surrounding Space

The Interoception Shift at Stream Entry

DreamWalker and I have talked here and there over the past few weeks, perhaps over many weeks, about the new spaciousness I felt after Stream Entry, which has been constant. While meditating formally, I would often seem to be in Boundless Space (j5) almost immediately. I could close my eyes at my desk at work and fall right into it. Even just walking around—I felt I was this surrounding bubble of space with nothing of my former “core” self at center.

DW has suggested that I’m identifying with the space bubble and should dissolve that identification. Why this thought never occurred to me, I am not sure. The space bubble is much more pleasant than the old sensations of contraction constituting self, or selves. I guess that is why.

In some of Daniel’s DhO posts, he enjoins the practitioner to play on the boundary between self and and what seems like  space. Because I have been like this doughnut, I’ve not really dissolved any former illusion of boundary. Inside and outside have just exchanged places, yielding a doughnut-hole empty center, so to speak. Last sit, I went to vipassanize that identification-boundary of space-me, but, lo, it was already gone. 

Boundless Consciousness as New Cutting Edge

Boundless Consciousness (j6) is the cutting edge, now. And I just ran across this piece by Nikolai. Since harder and higher jhana is such a strong consequence of my Stream Entry, I think riding the jhanic arc is a fruitful substitution for “applying” the 3Cs. This is where I am naturally, and with the automaticity to do this practice, so I may as well experiment with riding this arc and record what happens:

Love and Gratitude

It is 2:34 a.m. I napped long early in the evening and woke to the sense that I’m finally healing from a weeklong intense virus (which Daniel was able to name right off the top of his head accurately, based on a few of my symptoms, when he and I Skyped). I’m going to sit, though I need sleep. I’m currently seated, propped up by pillows, in organic cotton, in my rice-carved king-sized cherrywood bed. I just felt this moment of pervasive love for all you, deep gratitude for the connections forming here, for the miracle of community, support, growth, and friendship.

So it is written.

Postscript 2.5 Years Later: Spaciousness as Crucial

DreamWalker was and is incorrect that there is a “boundary” that survives what I today call the interoception-exteroception reversal that is the most important result of stream entry. DW posits three shifts or mechanisms:

  • Something is done to create a “space bubble,”
  • Something else is done to attenuate a sense of interiority.
  • Something else yet again dissolves the boundary that is at the skin or, per DW, an inch above it.  

I disagree.

My Experience of the Body From Stream Entry to Fourth Path

At stream entry there occurred only a single permanent change that happened for me that had to do with felt sense of the body. That change, which was immediate upon my layering back into my being-Jenny after cessation, was a feeling that I, or rather Awareness, permeated surrounding space. Along with that came a dramatic lessening of identity-contraction felt as interiority—I couldn’t feel that interiority even when I tried to. In other words, with the shift of awareness to the surround-space comes major damage to the sense of a center. This attainment is not the same as the fourth path dropping away of the central processor of objects; that shift depends on this one, however, and is related to it.

This shift is permanent and is the most important result of stream entry. It is more important than a spaciousness of sound (which I also got at stream entry) or a spaciousness of vision (which I did not get). Why is it more important? Because sound and vision are naturally more event-perspective (“out there”), whereas the body is what most feels like the self, is what is most intimate among sense spheres (“right here”). Therefore, the body is closest to the mind-perspective that is Mahamudra View. Think about it: In Buddhist theory, a sense sphere comprises a sense door (the sensing organ-consciousness) and a sense field. Only with the body are the door and the field already so proximate to each other, so obviously interpenetrating, interdependent. And before insight, the body is the most obvious locus of delusional identity-view. 

Descriptively with regard to my framework of awakening, each path presents a dominant theme. The theme of the first path is no-self, or in Tibetan Buddhist parlance, emptiness of self and phenomena. The body is the best emphasis with which to start the first path of insight (after impermanence has been seen at the A&P). Moreover, after fourth path, it is also the best resource with which to begin integration, which, interestingly, involves integration back in of a felt interority and plain humanness in the form of the subtle and very subtle body (central channel, chakras, etc.).

There was no boundary for me to vipassanize at the time that I wrote this post, because back when I first began meditating, I never could find a closed boundary when I looked for one (because it is not there). If DW were right, and there were three body shifts, one of which he thinks I still don’t have, then what are the three separate results? Hmm? One cannot say, because in fact there are not three results. There is only one result: The sense of self-identity as felt core moves out there and leaves little behind to identify with as center, except during intense negative emotional reactivity. For that inversion to happen, one already has to know and feel that there is no boundary between interior space and exterior space. Work with that boundary again and again, and the inversion will happen, preferably at stream entry.

Styles of Model-Building

My understanding from DW is that he still has not gotten this result. So although he can hypothesize, and anyone can—until one actually has the result, one cannot offer phenomenologically based description and therefore theory.

DW is my close friend, and we have traveled the path together, with nearly daily dharma conversation for 3 years. He remains, in my view, hyper-analytical in his model-building, chopping shifts into parts unnecessarily. I think early on, it is fine to be that analytical off the cushion; later, clinging to that mental activity is poison for one’s own practice. My point here is not to disparage analysis and model-building, as I am totally keen on model-building myself, although not for my own on-cushion or off-cushion life at this point.

What I take issue with in DW’s approach is that he usually posits mechanisms that are not felt experience but are instead imputed onto a “Black Box,” to borrow the Skinnerian term for anything supposed to underlie behavior. DW often speaks of what is happening in the brain or sense organs from a quasi-scientific or technological perspective. For example, he defines rigpa as “increasing the sampling rate,” but I have rigpa and don’t experience a speeding-up of any directly known process. I think he prefers his own metaphors and with them is referring to the result that, in vision, objects seem sharper, more high-definition, more saturated with color. However, knowing those results and then imputing a “speeding up of sampling rate” as the mechanism, as if we were digital processors, is to construct a Black Box explanation,

A Black Box explanation meaningfully informs neither results nor method. With the rigpa example, perhaps some kind of change to signal processing happens in the physical brain that supports the mind, but that is unverifiable by experience alone, and dharma is a business of experience. To paraphrase Ingram, no one has ever experienced a brain. Moreover, in the case of rigpa, in cosmological-scale narratives, speed itself is surpassed categorically, as is the brain—and that narrative is actually a better fit with the felt experience. 

In my view poetic metaphors work better than mechanistic Black Box imputations. For at least flowery metaphors call attention to their own metaphoricity, like a water-moon.

How This Topic Will Be Treated Prescriptively in My Book

In my book, this shift will be Priority 1 for practitioners to nail—after impermanence is seen in the A&P. Path 1 is about insight into no-self, and that insight happens at the level of three senses: vision, hearing, and felt sense of the body. Having wide-angled vision at stream entry is nice. Having the canopy forest of sound and nada sounds is nice. But having the interoception shift is absolutely crucial.

Among those who I am confident have MCTB fourth path, 100% got this spaciousness at stream entry.  Daniel, I think, is a notable exception in that he mentions in his writings and interviews that stream entry didn’t do much to change walking-around experience. But then, remember, Daniel was stuck and frustrated on Path 4 for 7 years. This is the point. My hypothesis is that if one doesn’t open dramatic spaciousness permanently at stream entry, then one will become “stuck” on Path 4 and have to do much remedial work then until it happens.

Descriptively, I think Path 1 is naturally begging for specifically this sense door to open out to the great beyond. It is for this reason that, prescriptively, my book will emphasize body-based vipassana work on Path 1 that Daniel normally prescribes at Path 3. DW then asks me if I’m positing a Stream Entry Stout and a Stream Entry Lite. I think I am. But I do not think people who feel sure of having attained stream entry should worry if they didn’t get this result. (In general, I am anti-worry.) What I would enjoin, however, is that after second path, which is often short and in my framework well-defined, one focus like a laser on vipassana of the felt sense of the body, space, and boundary, and not focus on “luminosity” or other shifts until this work is done and stabilized as the new default setting.

1 thought on “

  1. I had a conversation with DW subsequent to my writing this post. I still don’t think that core, boundary, and “space” represent three different shifts, with three separate effects. However, in talking with DW and thinking things through with with him and listening to his experiences, I do think that there are possible three different practice emphases that are profitable to include when one is aiming for the inside-out result:

    1. Classic vipassana stressing impermanence will do damage to the delusion that the skin is boundary.
    2. Other somatic practices I learned from my current teacher, from Reggie Ray’s work, and from Daniel Ingram can address what seems to be space.
    3. Work emphasizing the central channel and opening the subtle body (chakras) can address what seems to be core identity.

    The total permanent inside-out shift happens when it happens. I recommend beginning with No. 1 and then progressively working toward including Nos. 2 and 3 for a balanced practice. For me, the shift was done at stream entry, and I still think there is path-overall efficiency gained by getting this major change as early as possible. However, I want to stress nonworry: Get it when you can.

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