Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Abble Dok, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 12:08 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 12:07 PM

Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 7/10/20 Recent Posts
I am 19 and think I have crossed the A&P (back when I was 16 doing body scanning to reduce stress and I didn't know what it was, also I remember having a few childhood dreams where I got shot and then woke up but felt body buzzing super hard like being shot like a water gun, and think I reached the vipassana jhana a few weeks ago). I find this interesting and wish to attain stream entry however have been thinking whether it is wiser to wait until I'm like 25 when the brain is supposedly done with growing/developing? I wonder if that is a better choice for less risk of vipassana-induced psychosis or other bad experiences. I've had kriyas before and found them scary since I didn't know what it was, but now when I get them and hard face grimaces/clenches I just find them super annoying. I understand that kriyas and dark night is par for the course, just I've had periods of OCD (which I cured without medication and instead using mindfulness/ERP) and wonder about the mental health risks of doing more intense meditation at this age.

Yeah anyway to summarise, is it better (risk-wise) to start meditating hard for stream entry at a later age?
Bailey , modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 3:10 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 1:09 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 267 Join Date: 7/14/11 Recent Posts
Lol no, full speed ahead, you're in your prime!  You can always pull back and use Apanasati if need.  Anapasati has a calming effect and is also a mindfulness meditation which moves you a long the path.
Ben Sulsky, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 1:47 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 1:47 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 148 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
Hi Mani,

The canonical take is to go for it.  There are good reasons to go for it which I think many will articulate persuasively.

I'll give a contrarian take because I think it's underarticulated by the community.  I think the progress of insight is destabilizing.  Many of the payoffs come during equanimity and the big payoffs seem to come after stream entry.  Stream entry is hard -- 1000 or so hours on the cushion seems to be pretty typical in the massively biased sample of people who have actually attained it.  The post A&P, pre equanimity territory is particularly dicey and it's common on this forum to read about people whose internal life, job, and relationships are seriously jeopardized by their progress of insight-- my heart goes out to these people because I wonder if they've been sold a bill of goods by dogmatists who systematically minimize the risks of vipassana.  I've had some dark nights with some very destabilizing phenomenology and I don't see any particular reason looking back (other than the luck of my peculiar neurotype which I didn't know going in) why they had to be worked out in a fairly short period of time, or why they had to be not quite intense enough to be seriously destructive.  So my two cents is that messing with your brain in this way is very dangerous and I think it's an excellent idea to be very careful about it!

That being said, the canonical advice of "once started, better to finish," is important.  Like you, I had non meditation induced versions of the A&P as young as around 12 years old but only got around to meditating a bunch using good technique in my 30s.  The standard advice is that if you're post A&P you're going to be dealing with some expression of dark night phenomenology anyways in daily life, so better grab the bull by the horns and do some vipassana.  This feels overly dogmatic to me.  Perhaps it's better to deal with a more diffuse sort of extended dark night in your 20s while you mature into an adult.

Looking back, I don't have any particular hunch about whether it'd have been better to go hard starting in my early 20s instead of waiting.  No doubt it has been incredibly helpful to be more emotionally mature when doing the progress of insight.  On the other hand, I wonder how much needless suffering to myself and others could have been avoided by starting earlier.  Perhaps most importantly, the mind and body are so strong in the 20s and one's life so much more free (typically) that there's often the time and space to apply full dedication to meditation.  More concretely, if I want to go on retreat for a month my job and family suffer.  If I was 20 that would be much less of a thing.  

Ultimately it's up to you.  Good luck!

Ps: This is kind of another contrarian take but I think developing a sold foundation in the samatha jhanas can be very helpful.  I believe the canonical danger of samatha practice is that the meditator becomes overly attached to the jhanas; in other words becomes a jhana junkie.  But, in my opinion, in 21st century life our default is being sensation junkies and we spend all our time clicking, scrolling, eating, watching, and obsessing anyways, and in comparison being a bit of jhana junkie is a vast improvement.  Jhanas also have the happy side effect of temporarily quieting the mind and calming the nervous system which tends to do a nice job counteracting our overstimulation and building stability of mind for vipassana practice.  
Oatmilk, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 2:51 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 2:51 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 113 Join Date: 7/30/20 Recent Posts
Hey Ben, 

thank you for your thoughtful reply to Mani! With some of the things that you mentioned I couldn't agree more, but here's my take from the perspective of a 22 year old, who's been dealing with Dark Night stuff since quite a while.  
If I would be in Mani's position I would take it really, really slow, since this is something which can seriously damage one for life. I don't know much about Mani but with 19 one hasn't usually yet developed enough maturity to deal with this (sorry Mani, this is nothing personal and I think you are a great guy) - I sometimes feel like nor do I have & I've spend most of my time with psychology and personal development in my late years of adolescences and am still on that train. 
Since ones personality traits do develop until the mid thirties, I think a good start (if one really wants it) would be in the mid twenties, given that one is mature enough to go through this at this stage of development. 
One aspect which had to be beaten into me the hard way was learning that meditation should be approached without any expectations and that a goal orientated mindset is an almost guaranteed ticket into psychosis. I don't think that our goal oriented, materialistic growing up youth can easily let go of those things, mainly because one isn't mature enough around this age (I'm sorry if I am projecting a lot). 
Another aspect would be ego development and I think that part is cruicial for one's spiritual pursuit and here again, ego development happens over time and with experience & most of those experiences come along during the mid/late twenties, when one finsihed a university degree for example. 

I'm sorry for my English - it's not my first language (: 

Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 3:19 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 3:19 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 6674 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
My personal belief is that the safest way for a young person who has already crossed the A&P is propably to have a daily but moderate practice combined with stabilizing factors outside the practice. I know from personal experience that avoiding meditation under those circumstances is not safe at all. At least it definitely wasn't for me. Crossing the A&P early might indicate that one has a calling. In my case, the universe got tired of waiting, so it screamed at me in various ways. That caused a turbulent life and over time also serious health issues.

Why not just start with 20 minutes per day and see how that feels? That's what I did eventually, at a later point in life (40+ years old), and after a while I set the minimum to 30 minutes per day. It took me 6 months to get to stream entry from the point where I started my daily practice. I know that's probably not very common, and I realize that I had probably done lots of insight work without thinking of it as meditation. Still, you may not actually need 1000 hours. And if you do, it's probably less nerve wrecking to spread them over more time than wait to the last minute and then run a marathon. 

Crossing the A&P is usually the greatest risk. 
Brandon Dayton, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 3:29 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 3:29 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
I think about this a lot as it might apply to my own children. I would say go slow, and focus on stabilizing activities as Linda has suggested. A focus on concentration, a good network of support and some talk therapy can be helpful in smoothing things out as well.
Abble Dok, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 5:52 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 5:52 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 4 Join Date: 7/10/20 Recent Posts
Thank you everyone for your advice. Yes, I think going slow and steady is probably the best route. I'm not completely sure if I have crossed the A&P since its self-diagnosing but if I have then I should have spent some time in dark night territory? I think I got to dissolution a few weeks ago where the center of the back of my eyelids was black and outer peripheral was purple and then I had a dream about maggots in my bed that night which seems like disgust? I felt a bit dizzy / seasick / disoriented so changed my daily practice to shamatha breath meditation for a bit. I have been doing 1 - 2 hours a day of insight practice and I'll think I'll continue this daily and see where it goes. 
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 6:06 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 9/14/20 6:03 PM

RE: Does age matter for the risks of aiming for stream entry?

Posts: 2535 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I'm with Linda, go slow but don't ignore it. I had early awakening type experiences and then ignored them for 20 years, during which time I messed myself up good and proper. Spiritual ambition can mess you up as much as any other kind of ambition, but as long as you're aware of it and have some guidance you should be ok. Don't obsess about stream entry, it's better to let it happen in its own time as a result of your practice than a focus of your practice, otherwise it can be destabilizing. Having some basic mindfulness and relaxation practices  while you are maturing into an adult and making life choices in this stressful world should be very beneficial I would imagine. You can play with the intensity pedal a bit and figure out where your limits are. It's better to establish your baseline first rather than starting with your foot pressed down. All advice I failed to follow because I wanted fast results and now I'm going backtracking and taking a slower broader approach.