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.