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Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry

Starting a practice log as I prepare for a week-long solo retreat at Heartwood Refuge at the end of August. Please feel free to add suggestions/comments.


50 min sit this morning...

10 min breath counting for concentration: A light concentration arose within a few rounds of counting the breath at the nostrils and I then became aware of an even lighter pleasantness that I tried to encourage as I slowly expanded the focus to include more of the whole process of breathing. The pleasantness and concentration continued to develop slowly until it felt like I had gone as far as I could without pushing. It felt wide, light and fragile.

15 min noting See, Hear, Feel (SHF)/8 States: As soon as I began noting the concentration almost completely fell away and the practice felt flat and rote, and not at all meditative. The noting was continuous and steady, but there was something in the background that felt like it was somewhat discouraged because the concentration had been lost. 

25 min Mahasi noting: [I've never really practiced formal Mahasi-style noting (rising/falling abdomen and noting when the attention is pulled to other sensations) but I'm giving it a try because I think that technique might be more helpful for 'off the cushion' practice on retreat.]  I moved the attention to the rise and fall of the abdomen. At first, I think the contrast from the more open style SHF technique caused a bit of uncertainty in the mind because the attention kept jumping to each little sensation that came up in awareness. Eventually, the noting at the abdomen did seem to improve the concentration a bit, but I was still having trouble jumping back and forth to other sensations. It's like the mind is so wide that it tries to catch everything, but that eventually starts to feel like I'm not catching anything at all. This leads to selfing, overthinking and frustration and then I just return to the sensations of breathing and the cycle repeats.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
6/29/19 5:00 PM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Regarding "Striving for Stream Entry"

I am below Stream Entry, and I don't think that I've been in Equanimity so far, and sometimes I have a skeptical doubt that probably I haven't crossed the A&P (which I think is not true), but whenever I get the similar feelings/thoughts about striving for higher stages, I say to myself:

"You haven't experienced post Stream Entry or a Fruition, so you don't know what that is, and you can't know it unless you experience it, so it's not reasonable to crave for something that you don't know what it is."

It helps a lot, and often removes the craving and striving.

Best wishes for you and your practice.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
6/29/19 9:30 PM as a reply to Siavash.
I really like that! That's a very logical way to look at it.

My problem with striving came after I had a some experiences where the dimmer-switch of the self was turned down so low that I could viscerally feel how much less suffering there was in that place, and then to come out of that state (which lasted moments to hours) and eventually find myself floundering in the pits of the DN began a viscious cycle of really unhealthy attitudes toward practice. Having sampled a taste of some freedom and assuming (as you suggest) that what I'm searching for is that and even more, sent me into a very unproductive period of craving and unhealthy desire...where I first thought of my practice, or at least my attitude towards it, as 'striving for stream entry'. The irony was not at all lost on me, and actually kinda snapped me out of it.

Luckily, at least for this moment, I'm currently holding my practice much lighter and it definitely feels more mature than ever before. That's why I'm really trying to plan well for this next retreat and hold it and my expectations in a more realistic container.

Thanks for your input!

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
6/30/19 6:05 PM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
50 min morning sit...

20 min breath counting: I started by focusing on the sensations of the breath at the nostrils but they were very faint and after a few rounds I realized that I was actually focusing on the idea of the breath rather than the actual sensations of breathing. I moved the focus back to inside the nose/throat where the sensations were more obvious. Eventually, a very light feeling of piti and sukkha arose in the body. They seemed very fragile so I took care to try and develop them gently. The sukkha finally developed into a pleasantness that produced a half-smile across the face. The attention widened to hold much of the front of the body, but it was unstable and then the mind began throwing up a rapid cacophony of random thoughts and images that pulled the attention away just enough that the jhanic factors completely vanished. I spent the rest of the time increasing the frequency of the counting to help build the concentration again, but the mind was just too much of a distraction.

30 min Mahasi noting: The movements of the abdomen were also not clear. There was an aspect that seemed like a phantom sensation. In the beginning there were enough random physical sensations that I was able to move away from the breath and note them on a steady basis, but soon the random chatter of the mind would suck up the attention and I could watch the rapid flow of thoughts from a distance. Eventually, I would get pulled into some thought and lose mindfulness and then go back to the breath and start again. This was the pattern for most of the session.

The randomness of the thought-stream was so obvious that I made an intention to watch them from the perscpective of no-self. Although I could see that these thoughts were just bubbling up to the surface without any urging from me, I was somehow unable to 'pull back' enough to completely detach so there was some sticky sense of ownership that I couldn't shake. At one point there was a clear visual memory of myself as a child acting out in a painful way and I was hit with a deep sadness that I tried to drop into, but the mind quickly moved on to more random thoughts/images and I was pulled along with it. 

The speed of the mind today was something I usually don't see. The clarity of internal visual images was also something that caught my attention, because that is very uncommon as well.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/4/19 9:41 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
30 min morning sit...

10 min breath counting: The breath was light and pleasant to watch for the first few rounds of counting, but then the sensations of breathing suddenly vanished and the mind filled with very rapid and random inner talk and inner visual imagery. I moved the attention away from the nostrils and toward to sensations of breathing in the chest, and switched from counting to in/out along the length of the breath. The concentration returned somewhat with a light, dreamy quality.

20 min SHF/Vedena: The insight practice began slow and steady, noting obvious sensations and the subsequent feeling tone associated with them. At first, I was having trouble teasing apart unpleasant feeling tones from painful mind-states but as more obvious feeling tones arose I was able to have more clarity about the process. At one point a rather neutral thought arose in the mind and was immediately followed by the generation of a self. I was able to clearly see the suffering caused by attaching ownership to the random thought.

Also, I've been experiencing these random drops/blips in daily life where the awareness is at first clearly in the head looking out at the world in a very standard dualistic way, and suddenly with no effort or warning there is a subtle feeling like falling slightly or a very light dizziness and for a split second the dualistic perspective seems to almost vanish. It's always a bit startling and immediately returns to the standard mode as soon as the watcher tries to catch a glimpse of it. (I would love to hear thoughts on this)

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/10/19 11:00 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
30 min morning sit...

10 min breath counting: The sensations of breathing were difficult to find at the nostrils, but I kept the attention there hoping that the calrity would improve. I was able to catch a strong sensation or two with each in and out breath. It felt like there was a loose wire that was shorting out, causing the signal to flip on and off. At first there was the normal hesitation and doubt about where I should place the attention or if I should push harder, but eventually I just watched the sensations as they were with the thought of impermanence in the back of the mind. This switch to a more vipassanized approach seemed to have me lost in thought more, and so I stopped trying to develop concentration and went to noting all sensations.

20 min SHF/Vedena/Reactivity: I began a basic SHF meditation, adding vedena and reactivity (wanting, not-wanting, equanimity, unconsciousness). The insight practice seemed to flow well from one object to the next without being too fast or too slow. The initial reactive response was mostly 'not-wanting' but if I stayed with the sensation long enough I could see the painful contraction of 'not-wanting' and equanimity would arise. I continued this for a while until the clarity of the mind seemed to fade and the sensations drifted into the background and became like some light murmur or shadow that I knew was still there but could not really differentiate from the background itself. At this point the awareness shifted from the murmuring sensations to the calm, spaciousness of the mind. Periodically a strong physical sensation would arise, be noted, and pass and then the calm spaciousness would return. The mind felt bright and alert, but very peaceful and calm even still being aware of the background murmuring of thoughts/images. I continued watching from this space for the rest of the session.

Since the end of the formal meditation, I have periodically dropped into that calm, spacious awareness without warning throught my day.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/15/19 6:31 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
My formal sits all seem to have the same flavor or texture to them...

I begin with concentration on the breath, usually at the nostrils...notice some very subtle pleasantness arise and try to support it lightly in the background while maintaining the focus on the breath...this continues relatively unchanged for a while and then, sometimes the inner landscape of the mind seems to open into a wide, spaciousness...I try to hold awareness of the spaciousness as well as strengthen or at least not lose the concentration....All of this seems very fragile and almost any strong sensation or thought can cause the whole thing to collapse, and when it does....

I start some form of noting practice...this will typically flow steady enough, not too fast or too slow, until I get pulled away into some random train of thought that I never saw coming....I come back to noting sensations....this process repeats until the sensations seem to drop away and I'm left with this kind of quiet mind that's looking for an object....maybe I pick up on the sensations of the breath and go back to noting or a random thought pulls me into thinking and I'm gone until I come back and start the process again.

The whole session has some light spaciness to it that seems to lend to the being pulled away into thought so easily and so strongly, especially when the mind seems to open up wider.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be appreciated, particularly concerning what to do with the spaciousness that seems to lack an object and the getting lost in thoughts in that space.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/15/19 7:09 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Also, I've been experiencing these random drops/blips in daily life where the awareness is at first clearly in the head looking out at the world in a very standard dualistic way, and suddenly with no effort or warning there is a subtle feeling like falling slightly or a very light dizziness and for a split second the dualistic perspective seems to almost vanish. It's always a bit startling and immediately returns to the standard mode as soon as the watcher tries to catch a glimpse of it. (I would love to hear thoughts on this)”

I get this this as well. I imagine (if you’re in equanimity) this is a good thing. Daniel talks about these occurrences happening in both Dissolution and Equanimity. 

The idea idea is to catch when the mind is moving from object to that sense of an observer. With each sensation, the mind “blips” out to give some space and create an illusion of “me” and this object. 

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/15/19 8:49 AM as a reply to Travis McKinstry.
Thanks! The other day I had an experience of what felt like a ping-pong game in my head between an 'object' and an observer, but that has only happened once. Lately, the drops are coming in conjunction with the arising of some contraction/craving/aversion/selfing/etc and as soon as the tension is noticed, the mind drops it and the awareness falls into the body and the mind goes quiet for a bit. I can clearly see the suffering brought on by the 'selfing' and also the immediate relief when it all falls away. This is all happening in daily life, so it's great for a bad day because nothing sticks!

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/15/19 9:57 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Sounds like your working hard and getting somewhere! Keep striving (or not haha)! I hope your practice helps you arrive at SE!

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/17/19 6:16 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Update...

...I should be up to doing 45-60min sits in preparation for my retreat, but the mind is getting sucked into this very dreamy, hypnagogic state that seems so thick and sticky that I can’t shake it. Nothing I try (concentration, noting, eyes-open, eyes-closed, etc) seems to help keep me from almost immediately being pulled under into this place. The only aspect that stands out to me is that it lacks the heavy, contractive, and down-right uncomfortableness that standard drowsiness usually has. Even still, it makes it difficult to sit for more than 30 minutes or so.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/17/19 10:32 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Walter_Sobchakheit:
Update...

...I should be up to doing 45-60min sits in preparation for my retreat, but the mind is getting sucked into this very dreamy, hypnagogic state that seems so thick and sticky that I can’t shake it. Nothing I try (concentration, noting, eyes-open, eyes-closed, etc) seems to help keep me from almost immediately being pulled under into this place. The only aspect that stands out to me is that it lacks the heavy, contractive, and down-right uncomfortableness that standard drowsiness usually has. Even still, it makes it difficult to sit for more than 30 minutes or so.

Any thoughts/suggestions?
I’d be interested to see what more experienced meditators on here have to say... but my suggestion would be maybe try doing some walk mediation...? I’m experiencing that a little bit myself

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/17/19 11:07 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Try to stay on top of your noting and try not to miss any of the sensate inputs that arise.

and maybe some caffeine to perk things up? emoticon

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/17/19 2:03 PM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Shinzen has a great blog post about sleepiness/dreaminess that I go back to often. 

https://www.shinzen.org/from-fuzz-to-buzz-suggestions-for-breaking-through-sleepiness-during-meditation-practice/

My go-to tactics, in order, if one fails, I'll usually try the next: 

- sit up straight
- some deep breaths
- eyes open 
- try to note the sensations that make up the sleepiness/dreaminess/drowsiness
- interrogate it (how do I know I'm sleepy? Where? How big? Fast or slow? Shape? Vedana?), and then note those things
- spoken labels with the noting
- standing or walking 
- if all else fails, just letting the sleepiness go. If I start falling asleep or day dreaming heavily, I'll let that run it's pace for a while. Sometimes it'll do whatever it needed to do and I'll snap back, or slowly come back, to a more alert state. Sometimes it won't and I'll totally fall asleep, and then I'll usually call it quits. 



RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/18/19 9:19 AM as a reply to Ostaron.
Thanks! That is very helpful.

This morning's sit was very similar to the previous description except I could see mental objects slightly more clearly, but the 'spaciness' of the mind was still a strong component that seemed to significantly impact attention and clarity. It's like dullness and poor concentration combined with the most random thoughts/internal imagery to equal a good waste of 30-45 minutes. 

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/23/19 11:22 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
I decided to give this technique a shot after reading it in the Soft Jhana Thread:
Try this hack and see what happens. Breath less, surf the edge where you almost want to gasp but then take a longer breath, then go back to short breaths then long ones again as needed. Know the short and long breaths as they happen-all the way thru the breath, investigate every moment of this intensity of surfing that fine edge of breathing as short and shallow. Don't overdo it to where you actually gasp or start doing all long breaths, but if you do, just fine tune it to fix it. Try 10-20 minutes.
I don't know if it was because it was new to me or what, but I got concentrated very quickly and was solidly in access concentration after 10 minutes. It was pretty amazing considering that I've had trouble developing stable concentration since passing the A&P.

I switched over to noting practice and the concentration deepened and stabilized. Normally, when I make the switch over to insight practice what concentration that was there quickly fades away, but this time it was like the 'good ol days' when the concentration was made stronger by the noting and the mind was placed in a 'real' meditative state.

I began with a simple SHF practice, but that easily expanded into seeing the sensation plus the vedena and the reaction to the sensation...clearly seeing the suffering that is added to the experience by the mind. Next, I began to play around with the subject/object duality and the sense of an awareness as being located in certain spot (usually in the head). I slowly tried to expand the awareness to hold the entire experience instead of having the knowing bouce around from object to object, but there was something that felt like it didn't or wouldn't do that. I backed off trying to expand the awareness and just continued noting with a light touch, trying to lessen the sense of a watcher as much as possible. Towards the end of the sit there was a slight little 'dip' that surprised me a bit and automatically coagulated a self/watcher back into the head.

Afterwards, there was a post-meditation afterglow that seemed to last for about 30 minutes.

Many thanks to Dream Walker for this very helpful concentration technique!

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/25/19 10:55 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
50 minute morning sit...

20min breath counting: Continuing to experiment with 'riding the edges of breathing' by elongating the breath as feels needed and counting at the end of the out-breath. This is producing a pleasant, calm focus that builds gradually to a stable access concentration within about 10mins or so. The concentration practice was so good that when my timer went off I was surprised that the 20mins had already passed so quickly. I have to admit that it feels pretty good to finally have some level of stable concentration after what has felt like years without it. Unfortunately, I had to learn firsthand why they are called the ten corruptions of insight, and now I can see how much they hindered my practice. Now I hold the concentration lightly and cautiously, and it's like I just know when it's sufficient and time to move onto insight.

30min noting practice: With a very stable access concentration, I shifted the focus from the breath to a basic SHF noting practice. The labeling began to get in the way, so I dropped it and just let the awareness gently 'point' at each sensation. Next the mind began to naturally see each sensation and the corresponding reactivity and/or vedena as well. Then the mind began to pick up some speed and the awareness shifted to vibrations throughout the body. At first it was in specific places but eventually included the whole body and I just noted 'Feel Flow' at the end of the out-breath. The mind then began to notice external sound as a flow state and I included that as the mind would bounce back and forth from the body to the sounds. At some point the mind quieted down and I was left with the vibrations throughout the body. The vibrations were still rather rapid but the strength had died down a good bit. It was like the mind could now watch them from a more calm, objective perspective. At this point, the mind seemed a bit too 'soft?' and wide, and the focus seemed to begin to dissolve. I moved the attention to the tips of the index fingers to see if I could bring more alertness back but even the narrower object had a feeling of width to it. I watched this for a while until my timer went off again and I ended the session.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/25/19 12:00 PM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
Your descriptions of your meditation sessions are wonderfully clear and precise. Either you have a knack for being able to communicate your experiences, or your experiences are just super clear. Or both. Either way, I enjoy reading them

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
7/25/19 12:33 PM as a reply to Travis McKinstry.
Thanks! Maybe they will be helpful for us all.

I think the specificity is most due to the fact that my teacher uses very specific language since he is a student of Shinzen Young, who is also very specific. Over time you develop the vocabulary to describe these experiences and then I feel like the journal entries just kinda flow out of you without much effort. Also, much like dream journaling, it seems to be self-reinforcing.

RE: Walter's Practice Log: Striving for Stream Entry
Answer
8/8/19 10:43 AM as a reply to Walter_Sobchakheit.
50 minute morning sit...

15 minutes breath counting: I began by tweaking the posture until it felt sturdy but relaxed at the same time. I brought the attention to the breath and quickly noticed lots of random background thinking. I intentionally emphasized and elongated the out-breath to try to settle the mind and improve attention. This quickly produced a pleasant feeling in the body and steadied the concentration. Over time the concentration began to wane, so I switched to counting on the in and out-breaths. By the end of the 15 minutes I had achieved a very fragile access concentration.

35 minutes noting: The transition to noting was very smooth and I was able to stay with the breath for a while, while noting stronger bodily sensations intermittently. This continued at a steady pace for a while until the attention shifted from the breath/'solid' bodily sensations to more disperse, vibratory energy throughout the body. I was able to sit with the vibrations for a while, but the energy seemed to stir up the thinking mind and eventually it was hard to tell exactly where the focus was. The trouble seemed to be with finding the balance between a wide view that just 'holds' the sensations without spacing out and the zooming in/being pulled into other thoughts/sensations and getting caught up. 

I watched these cycles play out for a while (kinda white-knuckling it most of the way), and then out of nowhere the mind would fall completely silent and I would be left with the very fast, subtle vibratory energy along the surface of the body.....then the whole process would repeat....including the mind falling silent. Afterward, there was a slight meditative afterglow but it diminished quickly.

Overall, I think I was trying too hard to direct the mind in a certain way (not even sure what that way was), too afraid to just let the experience be what it was. Also, I know I was trying too hard to analyze what was happening...trying to 'force' insight. 

Later, I had a thought hit me about Mahasi's description of the bird leaving the ship to look for land, but it's like I have the bird on a leash that's tied to the boat because I'm afraid the boat may drift off somewhere and miss the bird when it comes back.