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:

http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com/2011/01/yogi-toolbox-riding-jhanic-arc-via.html

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.

Equanimity Advice to a Querent

Sorry for the delay—I’m finally circling back around to this question of High Equanimity stage before stream entry. First, I’m not sure that I spent 2 months in High EQ. I think it would be more accurate for me to say that I spent 2 months in various levels of EQ. Low EQ felt just like Three Characteristics stage, with body aches, tingling, itching, just
pretty miserable, oddly, but still a relief from the Dark Night. 

Once I got to about Mid-EQ, if that makes sense, the Great Teeming Faith arose. All the stages that had gone before were so, so clearly “by the book,” that I just had no doubt that awakening was real, that I was on the ride toward it, and that now I was in EQ and all I had to do was have the grace not to pay either too much or too little attention to it.

I did not note during EQ. In fact, I was advised all around not to, though I don’t do proper noting practice anyway because I find that labeling sensations is too slow and distracting.

Equanimity is tricky, like a ever-retreating mirage. You keep feeling like you are practicing badly because you keep slipping into almost daydreams of sorts, and you feel like you should be doing something very effortful instead, like noting. That isn’t the case. It is more about being receptive, showing up and letting the thing unfold and present. So less effort, more just being there over and over again, every night, not pushing it, not striving to reach stream entry or anything else. Just observe and be curious. Let it happen.

About mindfulness in daily life, I wish I could say something about that! Mindfulness is a good thing, but I’m usually absorbed during the day in my editing work, which actually is a kind of mindfulness, I think, but heavy on the hyperfocus side. For reaching stream entry, I think mainly the thing is formal sits. I even shortened my sits during that time to about 20 minutes because High EQ sits can take out a lot of energy, even though you aren’t so much exerting effort as having the energy just siphoned off by the atmosphere. 

Consistency is key: Show up every day. Believe that it will come, because it will. But it will sneak up when you are looking at X, not when you are gunning for stream entry. If you feel doubt; fine, feel doubt. Sit with doubt. Just sit.

Response to Querent about Attaining Stream Entry

Stream Entry | Photo by Sarah Cervantes
Okay. The major aha for me was this, which happened a few nights before stream entry (SE). 

The Overlapping Multitudes of Blooming Nimittas 

I had been in mid-Equanimity for about 2 months. My practice at that time generally consisted of observing (with open eyes) these nimittas against the ground of my bedroom carpet. These would look kind of like blooms of color – bright violet. When they would pass away, they would look blank–black, really, like inverted blooms.

So I would just chill out and watch them form and dissolve. There would be multiple ones that overlapped, and the overlapping prevented me from getting a good look at the instant of arising and the instant of passing away (until the SE event, immediately before which they synced up perfectly for the first time). 

The Arising of Great Faith

The nights before SE, several things happened that I believe set me up for the event. One was simply intense arising of faith. I think this was spontaneous, mostly, but I do remember that I had been reflecting a lot on the A&P experience of July 2013 and remembering how powerful that was, how neatly it and the subsequent stages matched MCTB descriptions, and I just really felt that there was no way it was not going to happen. This said, I also felt distinctly no rush for it to happen. 

In fact, you might almost say that the main fruit of the faith was that I stopped looking for stream entry. I just enjoyed Equanimity, and that is, from one perspective, all I set out to do.

The MCTB “Equanimity” Chapter

The next condition was that I reread the MCTB chapter on Equanimity for some clues, a few nights beforehand, I think, and I fastened on this one statement, “Ask yourself what you still aren’t seeing clearly.” 

It was clear to me that I had not investigated my self. So, as tedious as I knew it would be, I started conducting a systematic interior search for those sensations that told me I was or had a self. Very frustrating! I was using an old Tibetan survey way of doing this type of meditation but quickly decided to give up because I couldn’t find “me” and the search was causing, well, suffering. This type of analytical meditation is sometimes called affirming the negative. It is a way to realize emptiness of self, which is to say the interdependent co-arising of all phenomena, transient instant by transient instant. 

The Object Field as My Perpetual Creator

Well, as soon as I tired of looking for my essence in my body-mind, I returned my gaze to the pleasant teal-colored walls of my bedroom (exterior object) – BAM! There was my sense of self! I suddenly felt very solidly and calmly “Jenny” as soon as I stopped looking for Jenny and just identified with something over there that I was in the habit of finding attractive.

This was the major insight that set SE up. Even with this experience, I didn’t quite know what I had until X_X said to me (via the DhO), “Yes, subjects and objects actually create each other.” These were the words for what I had just seen, and they locked in the realization. After that, when I sat, I noticed very clearly the continually shifting definition of “self,” dependent always on whatever I happened to be identifying with, which, by the way, could be a state of aversion, too.

Formal Resolution

Okay, here is another cause and condition. I was following a thread on DhO wherein DreamWalker told someone else trying to attain stream entry to make a formal resolution. I hadn’t done that, but I thought, “Can’t hurt.” So, the night before SE, at the end of the sit, when my faith was very strong yet not urgent, I made the formal resolution to attain stream entry.

Fruition

My next sit was at noon the next day at work. We have a meditation club of sorts at the corporation where I work – mostly Buddhist, but a few from other traditions. There are people in this group who have been serious meditators for decades, and the energy in that room we use is palpable. It was with them that I had my first-ever nimitta arise nearly a year beforehand. It is completely appropriate and right that stream entry would occur amid them, and that is what happened.

Does this answer?

Advice

So advice might be as follows:

♦ Make the only pressure you put on yourself be to show up at the cushion daily and enjoy. Your goal is not stream entry. Your goal is to keep Equanimity going.

♦ Know that however crappy your meditation “technique” may be, that is what it is supposed to be right now. It is doing you. Sit with it “as is.”

♦ Do not “note.” Simply feel into the surrounding space / vision / sounds / tactile / temperature aura with the gentlest curiosity.

♦ If something especially curious arises, don’t stop yourself from diving into the fascination of it, even if it feels like a daydream.

♦ Do not focus on vibrations. Allow grander swaths of movement to show themselves by relaxing and just being there when they decide to show up.

♦ Off cushion, ask yourself what you are avoiding looking at. It may be yourself. Or it may be some other big abstract background mode like “expectation” or “urgency.” Whatever it is, it is likely to be big/abstract and hard or impossible to localize. I suspect it is likely to involve some paradox that you aren’t directly seeing as such yet. It is likely to be a debilitating belief you have. On cushion move closer and closer to it. See it as empty, as part of the energy field that is noncausally manifesting as a whole instant by instant.

♦ Feel how pleasant it is just to sit in equanimity. There is ease of uprightness and openness, without pain. Enjoy this ease of upright perfect openness. Be completely it.

Advice for Stream Entry

Tom,

My advice for stream entry is this: Once Equanimity arises, keep showing up for those sits, no matter what, even if it feels like you no longer know how to meditate, which is what happened to me. Show up and be gently curious.

My final Dark Night was so dark that during Desire for Deliverance I promised myself that I would never be lazy again, that I would not forget how intense this desire for liberation was, so when Equanimity arose, I did not make the mistake of becoming complacent, although I did have to learn, at the same time, how to widen my focus and let up on the kind of striving that seeks to screw things down with its regard.

I also had very intense faith that it would happen “to” me.

Surety about Stream Entry

Yes, I know I’m supposed to not be so sure I got stream entry, but I’m sure! The reasons I’m sure are as follows:

  • My progression of insight stages was so clear,
  • I had been in Equanimity for 2 months when it happened, 
  • The three moments that happened before cessation were distinct sync-ups of formerly overlapping formations, 
  • I had sudden access to harder jhanas, and 
  • I had new access to the formless jhanas.

And I just feel different all the time: There is a warm, flowy, pulsing outward, like waves – very pleasant and peaceful, like the shore-lapping ocean. I’ve received a huge reduction in anxiety, although I’ve been more irritable than usual, which is odd.