RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Scott S, modified 2 Months ago at 6/7/22 11:54 AM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/4/22 4:30 PM

Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 3 Join Date: 5/23/22 Recent Posts
Hi everyone, I'm new to this community and have been overwhelmed by the amount of wonderful and helpful information and insight that is present on this site.  Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed!  I wanted to share my recent experiences leading up to my attaining stream entry three weeks ago.  I would love and appreciate anyone's thoughts about my experiences as well as any suggestions folks who are further along have for how to best continue along the path.

I first became interested in meditation when a friend recommended I read Search Inside Yourself back in 2015, which is about Google's mindfulness program.  I attended my first Goenka retreat in fall 2018, which was incredible.  I had had a bad injury from 10 years earlier that had knocked my body out of alignment and caused me pain for the entire ensuing decade.  But when I sat down on day 4 of the Goenka retreat and received instruction in Vipassana, I suddenly realized that as I scanned my body and looked at the points of tension with equanimity, the tension would dissolve and my pain would go away.  From there I became increasingly involved with the Goenka community, although while pretty-much pain free, I didn't make much progress on the Path until the end of last year, when I chanced upon MTCTB in December 2021 and started reading it sporadically.  

I crossed the A&P in January 2022 during a mushroom trip, when I had the realization that when I "looked" at a spot of tension with equanimity and it dissolved, the point at which I thought it had fully dissolved wasn't actually the end.  My mind was instead throwing up a thin barrier of discomfort that was being interpreted as a solid wall.  I sort of reached around and through that barrier and discovered an entire new layer of sensations below that, and so on and so on.  Inevitably, my mind would kind of "glitch" at a certain point, and I would find my attention had shifted away and I'd lost hold of the original object of attention.  From that point on, I experienced a sense of acceleration towards something -- I knew I was on the Path, and I knew I was moving down it increasingly quickly, but I didn't know what that actually meant.  I had always been a pretty regular user of marijuana, but during this time, marijuana began to feel like a tool that was helping me to accelerate down the Path, and I started using it much more heavily.

On March 15th, I had an A&P Event, when I woke up and suddenly felt awakened, as though all of the semi-conscious modules in my brain that float around the periphery and impact my behavior had integrated.  For three weeks, I had the most incredible experience.  There were tons of dhamma insights every time I sat to meditate, and so long as I was stoned, I had the most incredible intuition -- I could look at someone or even just think about them and felt myself make a connection with them in some spiritual sense.  I would immediately know what was their biggest source of pain, and I also knew exactly what to say to help them begin to move past it.  There were a lot of tear-filled conversations during that period!  I also found myself getting incredibly energized by these moments of connection, to the point that I became somewhat hypo-manic (although I was always fully aware of my state).

After three weeks, the A&P started fading, and I also started to feel as though marijuana had become a bit of a crutch.  I decided to stop using it, which I was able to do successfully, but I immediately plunged deeply into the Dark Night.  For about three weeks, I went through all of the phases of the Dark Night and almost managed to blow up my marriage in the process.  My wife was pretty patient through it all, but the process uncovered some issues that both she and I hadn't addressed in ourselves and our marriage.  She didn't initially react very skillfully when I raised them with her, and the resulting chaos was painful all around.  Thankfully, we made it through and are stronger for it.

After I moved into Equanimity, I started reading MTCTB much more, but at the same time, I felt that my practice had stalled out.  I decided to try marijuana again to see if it could be a useful tool.  During the Dark Night, I had used it for very specific conversations I wanted to have, and I found that it once again facilitated that incredible intuition, although not as strongly as when I was in the A&P.  This time, my practice still stalled when I used it (and I started again using it more heavily) and the intuitive powers were gone, so I decided to try something more and trip on mushrooms again.  

I took a huge dose of truffles and also a lot of marijuana, and it was initially one of the hardest trips of my life.  I castigated myself for all of my recent failings, all of the places where my actual morality hadn't aligned with my desired morality, and came to terms with it all, building equanimity.  I then went into a reverie about my home and (relative) wealth, coming to understand that while it was wonderful to have these things now, life would continue without them, and that would be fine.  I then started thinking about myself again as a collection of modules, all of them jostling for control, with consciousness emerging from their collective action -- that there was no "I" there, just the story I was telling myself to create a sense of continuity.  At the same time, I made a few ethical resolutions, and I felt my morality snap into place, like the completion of a foundation for a house.

Without any directed effort, I started to investigate the thought patterns in my head with equanimity, and I felt myself pushing past those rails of discomfort, refusing to "forget" with that mental glitch that happens whenever I previously pushed towards fruition.  I think the previous loss of attention at those moments was the mind not being willing or ready to face the three characteristics head on.  I felt myself reach towards fruition several times, bounce against a ceiling and fall back.  There was no frustration -- in the moment, it was almost like the feeling you get when you are about to fall asleep -- not dreamlike, and not a reverie, but with a similar lack of outside reflection; there was no moment of "I'm reaching for fruition, oh my god!".  It was just happening, and I was 100% absorbed with that happening in that moment.

And then, suddenly, it all came together.  There was an instant when my mind locked onto suffering and no-self, like tuning a radio, for just a fraction of a second, and everything changed.  My entire field of experience, the entire experiential universe, transformed into a sphere-like shape hanging above my frame of reference, and that sphere contained absolutely perfect connection with everything else.  There was a clarity of understanding that there is at a certain fundamental level absolutely no separation between me and everything else.  Total and complete connection.  And then it imploded, like my mind simply couldn't handle this experientially for more than a fraction of a second.  It felt as though my brain had rebooted, and when it came back online, everything was different.  It was like circuitry that I had been building in my brain for the past months without even realizing it suddenly activated, and my brain fundamentally saw reality in a different way.  It was like a software upgrade.

In the immediate aftermath of Fruition, I was initially simply overwhelmed with having attained it, although also absolutely clear that I had in fact attained it.  I was too caught up in the moment to catch all of the sensations, but within minutes, I started reading MTCTB, hunting quickly for the section on the buildup to fruition and the immediate aftermath, so that I could make better sense of what was happening.  It was all there.  Everything I had just experienced, laid out in perfect detail.  I felt an upwelling of gratitude to Daniel Ingram for providing me with these astonishingly detailed and clear maps.  (Thank you so much Daniel!!)  Everything I read suddenly made sense in a way it hadn't before. 

A few days later, I took a lot of marijuana (but no mushrooms this time), and attempted to attain Fruition again.  As I moved through the cycle, I started yearning for fruition again, but wasn’t getting close enough.  Consistently, I would feel formations growing and merging, and would realize I was heading towards Fruition.  But by inclining towards Fruition with force, I was creating a concentration object, and moving myself away from insight.  As a result, I was weirdly too mindful in the moment -- too aware of what was happening to get swept away in it, which is what has to happen to attain Fruition.  So I took Daniel's advice.  Instead of inclining towards Fruition and holding onto it with all my might, while in low Equanimity I resolved to attain Fruition, and I tried to believe it.  When I didn't entirely believe it, I felt the sensations encompassing skepticism and doubt, and all the ripples from that, fears about what not attaining Fruition again meant for me on the path, what it meant for my experiential world and capacity for continued growth.  I loved being in Stream Entry, but I knew there was more.  I took all of that and felt it and more all at once, moving past individually noting these mergers but rather just seeing them happening, like strings plucked in my brain, as it merged with the rest of myself as a single formation.  I also felt the complete formation of everything "outside" of me.  And then I realized that they were all the same sensations, and I let down the barrier between "my" sensations and the "outside" sensations, and felt everything merge into a single whole.  Then I saw a face begin to flash up before me, looking back at me, and I recognized it as the description of the no-self door from MTCTB.  Of course, upon recognizing that, I immediately fell back.  There was a lingering feeling of shock and surprise.  I knew I had seen a door -- I just wasn't sure if I had attained a Fruition.  Was that falling back the moment when my brain reset?  It felt like something, but not nearly as powerful as when I attained Stream Entry.  But this wasn't attaining a Path, so maybe it was just weaker now.  I wasn't sure, so I resolved to try again.  

Weirdly, I felt like I had fallen back much farther than before -- all the way to Mind and Body, or if not that far, at least down to 1st Jhana territory.  Sensations were much less distinct, and there wasn't a sensation of peripheral attention at all.  I wondered whether I was starting a new complete path of insight.  I ultimately decided it didn't matter and went back to practicing.  I moved into A&P, and from there sailed gently through the Dark Night and into high Equanimity, where I quickly built formations.  Without really considering it, I dissolved the barrier between my sensations and outside sensations again, and without any warning, a huge face suddenly stared back at me, initially coming towards me from some strange non-Euclidean angle but stabilizing right in front of me.  It lasted only for a fraction of a second.  Although it weirdly felt like a mirror, it was a face I didn't recognize, with light brown hair and a beard.    And then that "fwoomp" feeling happened and my brain rebooted.  I was left sitting in the most incredible afterglow -- chill and clear without any hint of self-consciousness.  I used the feeling of malleability and flexibility in my brain and resolved to attain further fruitions for the benefit of all beings.  I felt it writing itself into my brain.  When I got up, bathed in love and calm contentment, I realized that I had been sitting for 2.5 hours without noticing.

It's been almost three weeks since then, and it's clear to me that I'm now working on Second Path.  I've found it impossible to attain another Fruition, and every time I hit high Equanimity in my meditation and formations begin, my mind falls back to Mind & Body.  About a two weeks ago, I stopped using marijuana again, and felt myself dropping into the Dark Night once again.  This time, I was able to navigate it much more skillfully and pretty quickly moved into Equanimity.  I've been perched in Equanimity for the past week and have been finding that I am starting to be able to get a handle on meditation without marijuana, although I feel as though much of that is simply the ease of detecting sensations that comes from Equanimity.  I'm headed to another Goenka retreat next week, so I'm hopeful the focused time will allow me to attain Second Path.  I was hoping that some folks might have suggestions for how to best build and strengthen these circuits without marijuana, and how to increase the likelihood that I attain Second Path in the near future.  I'm very worried that Fruition is impossible for me without marijuana, and I realize that the worry is itself a problem.  Thanks to whomever managed to make it through this very long post!
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Chris M, modified 2 Months ago at 6/4/22 4:33 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/4/22 4:33 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 4475 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Welcome to DhO, Scott.
B B, modified 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 1:16 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 1:16 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 30 Join Date: 9/3/16 Recent Posts
Awesome stuff! Great write-up!

I was hoping that some folks might have suggestions for how to best build and strengthen these circuits without marijuana

I suggest focusing on shamatha for the following reasons:
  1.  There is a close correspondence between the jhanas and vipassana nanas. Developing a facility to access jhanas should help you access the corresponding nanas. Daniel writes about this correspondence in MCTB.  It’s possible to enter one of the first 4 jhanas and then “vipassanize” it, i.e. emerge from it slightly and begin to practice vipassana. This will help you perceive clearly, as the 5 hindrances will have been suppressed, thus enabling deeper more liberating insight. 
  2. The mental circuitry is shared. I can perceive this clearly. For me there is an energy/pressure that first gathers in the prefrontal cortex and then expands around to the sides (temporal lobes) before jumping back after a fruition. This same expansion of energy is felt while moving from the 1st to 4th jhanas. The width of attention is another shared characteristic of the jhanas/nanas. Thus shamatha practice should strengthen the same neural pathways used by the vipassana nanas (I suspect more so).
  3. It is possible to enter at least “light” jhanas while practising in daily life. If you are capable of this, it would be a strong indication that you have indeed achieved Stream Entry, as this facility is known to dramatically increase among many Stream Enterers.
  4. Though I’ve never tried marijuana, jhana practice should have a similar calming effect, while also increasing mental clarity and suppressing the hindrances. There are many other benefits of jhana practice.
  5. In alignment with Bill Hamilton’s vipassana jhana model described in MCTB2, I suspect that developing skill in entering the formless jhanas should make achieving fruitions easier. The total letting go, even forgetting, of experience that precedes fruition (aka the state of “non-fashioning” described by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) is similar to the progression from 5th to 8th jhana. This also aligns with my experience pre-Stream Entry, described here, where the 8 jhanas were suddenly unlocked, and then shortly after (within about 3 months), with little further practice, fruitions began occurring very regularly.

[...] how to increase the likelihood that I attain Second Path in the near future.  I'm very worried that Fruition is impossible for me without marijuana, and I realize that the worry is itself a problem.

Here’s a really key and relevant point I think you’re missing which has remained true for me at all stages of practice throughout the years:

The true path is never about getting from A to B, e.g. getting from “First Path” to “Second Path”. It’s about going beyond the path-forming tendency of mind itself, so that all theoretical paths are instantly seen through. One must recognize the fundamental equality of A and B, thus going beyond clinging to their superficial differences, until one is totally at peace with the prospect of never attaining B. Only then can the mind permanently adjust to a less deluded mode of perception. This is because anything less than complete equality will subtly and unconsciously reinforce delusion in some way and unbalance the mind, narrowing attention, preventing the all-encompassing awareness which is necessary to achieve a fruition and new path. One must see through and dismantle a whole array of false assumptions that underlie one’s ordinary perception of reality—there’s never a point at which one must somehow add to perception.

So I recommend just carrying on with practice and not worrying about what path (if any) you’ve achieved. What difference would it make knowing you’ve achieved second path anyway, except to boost your ego or sense of identity as a special awakened person?

Elaboration: 
While undergoing an Awakening process, one always finds oneself on a path where there appears to be some desirable way of being or living up ahead, which is reachable if only one could apply oneself with enough diligence and effort. The really difficult point to understand or come to terms with is that the Apparent Path is an illusion which loops back on itself. The way to truly make progress is by essentially recognizing that one is dreaming and shattering the bonds of the dream. It’s as if one is walking a literal path towards some mirage-like desirable destination. One walks and walks until eventually falling to one’s knees in exhaustion. Then finally one makes the crucial breakthrough and ceases to fixate on the destination ahead, instead looking down at the ground on which one is apparently kneeling and recognizing that it’s not so solid: it’s the ground of a dream which fades or disappears on close examination. So then one can break through and go beyond this path. There can be an unsettling feeling to this, like having the rug pulled from beneath one’s feet. One may feel as if they are in free-fall. But this is a sign of effective practice. In time one may find oneself walking a new path, with a new set of unquestioned assumptions supporting it and one goes through the same process.
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 2:20 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 2:20 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 24 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
A really great post, for us in the peanut gallery too! Thanks for this.
Scott S, modified 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 3:45 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 3:45 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 3 Join Date: 5/23/22 Recent Posts
Chris M, thank you so much for the warm welcome!

Eric, I'm delighted you found it helpful!

BB, I really appreciate you taking the time to make such a helpful post!  I was able to attain the first 4 jhanas around the time I entered Equanimity pre-Stream Entry.  There was actually another mushroom trip in between the two I mentioned, and I decided to try for the jhanas the next day while still in the afterglow.  It only took me about 10 minutes to move through all 4 of them, and it was immediately apparent to me the differences in attention and perception in each of them.  Your point about energy/pressure is spot on with my experience -- the gathering of attention in the different jhanas felt like a distinct set of sensations, with a subtle pressure in my forehead for the first jhana, a much stronger pressure in the same place for the second jhana, a pressure around the temporal/parietal junction in the third jhana, and a pressure in both front and sides for fourth jhana.  I immediately found myself able to slip into light versions of the jhanas at will, even with eyes open, and doing so became even easier post-Stream Entry.  However, I haven't yet devoted the time to develop stronger versions of the jhanas -- it's felt like a constant race towards progress in insight, and concentration practice has been very much an afterthought.  Every time so far when I've sat down to work on the Shamatha jhanas, I find myself noticing vibrations within minutes and the jhanas quickly "vipassanize," after which I usually lose interest in Shamatha and switch to Vipassana.

As you pointed out, understanding the jhanas was incredibly helpful in terms of Vipassana for me, since I found that post-Stream Entry I could gain an easy sense of where I was on the map just by focusing in on my default mode of perception in the moment.  I also started to see fractals post-Stream Entry, in that I could tell when I was meditating and moving through the cycle of insight that the cycle I was moving through was being impacted by the larger cycles above it, and I could get a sense for where I "was" from the cycle I was moving through up to two cycles above me (which I think is the "main" cycle that is my progression on a Path, although I could be wrong) by the "tinge" that each cycle put on the vipassana jhana I was in.  I actually find myself more and more leaning towards the jhanas as my sense of where I am, as opposed to the nanas, since I have a hard time differentiating some of the nanas within a particular jhana (i.e., the nanas in first jhana and the nanas in third jhana, except for Re-observation, which always hits me harder than the others, even when just sitting on the cushion going through a "small" cycle).

For my upcoming retreat, I had planned on focusing on the Shamatha jhanas during the first 3.5 days of the retreat when Goenka is instructing on Anapana, and your post has hugely strengthened my resolution in that regard.  Very much appreciated!!  I will particularly work towards attaining jhanas 5-8.

Regarding your suggestions about mapping and thinking about Paths generally, I will do my very best to internalize your wise words.  My life has always been very goal oriented, and getting to Stream Entry felt that way too, ever since I crossed the A&P.  However, I am definitely starting to understand that post-Stream Entry, things aren't quite so simple.  I have this growing sense that the key to it all is truly understanding that reality perceives itself.  As of now, that is still a mostly theoretical concept to me, but I am starting to see glimmers of that truth experientially.  Thanks again.
George S, modified 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 9:02 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/5/22 9:02 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 2529 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
I have this growing sense that the key to it all is truly understanding that reality perceives itself.


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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Months ago at 6/6/22 10:04 AM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/6/22 10:04 AM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 6652 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Welcome! I hope you will like it here!

If you continue to give thorough descriptions like this in a practice log here, I think you'll receive lots of helpful input here (along with some input that is less helpful, as always). 

It sounds to me like you have a good approach to challenges in your practice and that you deal with them skillfully. Nice! 
Scott S, modified 2 Months ago at 6/6/22 8:28 PM
Created 2 Months ago at 6/6/22 8:28 PM

RE: Attained Stream Entry and Approaching Second Path

Posts: 3 Join Date: 5/23/22 Recent Posts
Thanks Linda!

And George, thanks for the confirmation!

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