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.

Run through the Heart with an Icicle

I did finally meditate since I wouldn’t be inclined to sleep. It is as though I were run through the heart with an icicle. And now I’ll have to call in again to work because I’ve not slept and am getting sick headache.

Anyway, enough of that. The sit was samatha jhana-esque the whole time, interrupted sometimes by great sadness and emotions surrounding betrayal. I felt this emotion as intense radiating warmth from the heart area out, as though thawing that frozen inflexible point of his.

But soon the jhana would take over, body would disappear. Everything was head-oriented then. I seemed to be in my eyes, even though they were closed. Oddly, this time it wasn’t really just blank blackness behind my eyelids, but all these crazy kaleidoscopic colors and movement, together with the proprioception that I was floating and soaring. I saw a glimpse of a steeple in predawn fog, a leaf, random things, all zooming.

I remembered in the midst to look for awareness. Really wild when that happens!

I’m sitting in PJs in my comfy bed, warm with duvet, just letting it be. It is oddly productive to go into jhana states while sleep-deprived and cried out. Try it sometime. Highly recommended, although the prep part sucks. 

This second migraine is responding to medicine, and I will sleep it off as soon as I finish typing this post. I look forward to going for a walk afterward in the chilly November air. A new batch of emails arrived this morning from Daniel. We will make up and continue.

Back to Jhāna Practice

I just had a wonderful, if brief, sit. I’m sitting here with the most intense and expansive sensations of peace flowing outward. I seem to exist more as aura than at core. Very nice!

Setting Intention

I began by setting intention, which was to concentrate on an oil lamp flame (fire kasina) in order to deepen and stabilize my concentration. I also resolved to be flexible and go where the jhanas, or even emotional stuff, wanted to take me, no matter what. One of the reasons that this was such a satisfying sit was that I intuitively knew what to do by just opening up to the process as it found me, where it found me. I began this sit filled with almost overwhelming emotions of free-floating gratitude and love, which I focused and extended to those in my life, near and far, past and present. Then I observed the sensations that made up these feelings, emotions. There was a kind of glow at the solar plexus that radiates outward, like a pulsar.

Keeping the Breath in Mind

Next, with eyes closed, I started breathing in through my left shoulder blade and down my body and out my left foot. Then the right side. Then I inhaled through both shoulders and down the arms and out the fingers. Then I inhaled from throat into solar plexus. Then it was from the chest to the groin. And so on, till I arrived at my favorite, which is “breathing” through all pores, with the energy coalescing at a distance a few inches beyond my skin, like an aura.

Feeling Shift from Bliss to Joy

During all this breath-energy work, intense bliss states arose. They were so intense that they were seen as almost painful, and this was one point where I thought “I” can’t control this. After a few minutes, I seemed to move to 3rd and 4th, and the bliss changed to pleasure and then equanimity, whereupon I started gazing at the flame with mantra going. I focused on the bright orange color at the tip of the flame.

Reporting on Fire Kasina Cycles

After about 4 cycles of opening and closing my eyes, I left them closed longer. I noticed that it takes a good while for the after image of the candle to take form and expand, so I need to leave my eyes closed longer when I next do this meditation. The purple never became really intensely so, but during one of these cycles, everything behind my closed eyelids became rather bright pale orange, like an actual flame, although this time this phenomenon was not as shockingly bright as the last time. Still, I was plenty surprised. Somewhere in this field of pale dull orange-golden was a tiny red dot. Odd.

Finishing with Boundless Space

I left my eyes closed and went into the formless realms to finish this sit. However, I’m trying to tell the difference between Boundless Space and Boundless Consciousness and cannot quite. With Boundless Space, I start feeling so expansive that I feel like I’m zooming, and it can be a little scary and halting. Boundless Consciousness feels like a bit of a strain, so I don’t think I have it yet.

Often, during the past few sits, when I’m deep in, I feel this odd half-turning sensation, sort of like a slowed down vertigo.

Enjoying a Healing Afterglow

Anyway, this felt like a good, clear, healing sit, with direction for once, and an extremely pleasant afterglow. I didn’t want to stop, but not enough hours in the day, you know.

I’ll write more tomorrow about my trip to the mountains this past weekend, particularly disturbing dreams I had. I wonder how long all this mood swinging is going to go on!

Flood Dark

Tonight I sat on my cushion in the wee hours, while a bit sleepy, which for some unknown reason is my favorite time and prior state for meditation. At first, I had that same sense of the two-track mind that I’ve had for weeks: I was intensely calm, buzzy, flowy; however, my mind was thinking all over the place on a whole other plane –about work, about my dharma buddies, and so on.

That I Stop Fighting This Flood

This went on for a good 5 minutes. I thought that maybe I should stop fighting this flood and just let my mind go on and on, while observing it go on and on. Oddly, this seemed, after a few moments, to stop the discursive thinking. Isn’t it funny that when you think you don’t know what to do you find that, actually, you do know what to do. It is almost perspicuity by body knowledge.

Wild Gorgeous Succession

I then set my intention to set aside discursive thinking and to practice jhana for the benefit of all beings. Usually when I do this intention-setting, I see in my mind’s eye, my friends, the fish, the beasts, the bugs, my darling son, my husband, my mother, my sisters, people who’ve wronged me – all flashing in fairly wild gorgeous succession. Oddly, I was suddenly drawn to repeating the Four Immeasurable Thoughts (metta). This felt extremely powerful, like I didn’t know metta could feel so intense. 

Cause from Effect

Then something like the sense of my father came up. (My father was an extreme alcoholic and drank himself to death by age 45, when I was only 12.) There is a huge knot of primal suffering connecting me to him still. Much of my conventional and psychological life organized itself around him and the hole he left. He is dead, so he usually does not come flashing up in my intention-setting or metta. But this time he did. For a few moments, it crossed my mind that it made no sense to extend metta to my dead father. But then it made perfect sense. It is an energy thing, after all. “He” still exists back in on me. I can heal him back into my general love. Effects influence causes.


After this strange detour, I was sucked down in jhana so quickly and deeply, as I have tended to be since that first fruition I had on August 8, that I don’t get a proper Jhana 1, 2, and 3. Now I’m speeding through even 4 and quickly going to some formless realm. It is super freaky. My body disappears, and I see nothing behind my closed eyelids where I usually see light or patterns. This state feels 

  • vast 
  • cool 
  • black 
  • serene 

But it is so unfamiliar to me that if I pull up out of it just a little and evaluate, I feel somewhat stressed by it. But I can sink back into it, too, and do. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do or experience when I “arrive” at this new formless weirdness. Tonight, toward the end, there was almost the sense that something was emerging out of that vastness, a point, a spark, something. But I’m not sure. Maybe not. Maybe mirage.

Compulsive Jhana

What I’m feeling more sure of is that I need to stop fixating on whether I’m cycling during a sit. In fact, I’m going to set aside vipassana for a while. I’m being pulled really hard now into samatha exploration, including metta, and it just feels like this is what I’m “supposed” to do during this Review phase. I wonder if others have had the same experience.

Integration by Articulation

Two people have mentioned to me that I might already be on the way to second path. That’s disconcerting because I don’t feel like I “reviewed” anything. However, I’m now all over the place, “explaining” the dharma as understood through my recent direct experiences and suddenly realizing cognitively what I’ve realized experientially. Maybe that counts somehow as Review, as intellectual as it seems. I think Richard is correct that thinking these realizations through into articulation is helpful and maybe even necessary for integration. Reading the dharma is suddenly more illuminating than it has ever been before, too. I get it!

I read a post by Tarin about an alternative way of “doing” second path. It involved no noting (which I don’t really do, anyway) but instead simply a letting things unfold organically. Mainly he wrote about “practicing” in daily life as if just already in Equanimity all the time. This makes sense to me. So I’m going to try not looking so hard for new fruitions and cycling during sits. My cycles seem to be lasting weeks to days now, which is much faster than my usual stages, which tend to last 6 to 8 weeks. So I’m going to chill, explore these formless states, ramp up the love practice (which I’ve not done so much of before), and have some fun seeing whether I can cultivate glimmerings of powers. 

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.