Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Hello,

Note: this is a pretty long story, so if you aren’t interested in the dark night part and want to skip to what I think was my stream entry, skip down to the asterisks (***).

I’ve recently discovered Daniel Ingram’s amazing book and this website. Wow, what a difference it makes finally knowing the stages of insight map!

Here’s my story. Four years ago, I had what I can now clearly identify as my A&P event. It felt like my head was exploding with waves of incredible energy. I was doing concentration meditation on the breath at the time, but I moved my awareness just a tiny bit off my object to “something else” closer to my forehead and then it busted me open.

After that I started doing the concentration practice about an hour a day and it felt great. I didn’t do much mindfulness practice though. Once in a while, I’d hit a sudden and intense fear, but I didn’t know this was expected so I usually just stopped meditating at that point and let it pass.

About 6 months after that experience, I went on my first silent meditation retreat. On the retreat we did breath concentration practice for the first two days, which was easy for me by this point, I hadn’t hit first Jhana, but was definitely in access concentration. Then we switched to an insight technique of noticing the most prominent sensation body and aversion/attraction to these sensations. I hadn’t done this type of practice before. After a full day of doing the practice, I was struggling with lots of body pain (stage 3). At night, I was lying in bed unable to sleep because of my soreness, and my awareness was moving around my body in a very concentrated beam, like a narrow flashlight. It went to the tense spot in the back of my neck which felt like a dark opaque ball and I just sort of kept shining the attention there until it pushed inside the ball and dissolved it. Then my whole spine felt like it was getting wider, I felt very peaceful and the pain totally went away. I imagine this was A&P again, but this time with a different object. Then I stood up and took a breath that seemed to go on and on endlessly. I felt extremely relaxed and lazy as this took place (dissolution). After I exhaled that super-breath I felt a sharp drop in my diaphragm and I became very afraid. It was fear unlike any I’d ever known and there was no escape from it. I thought I was dying, and immediately bought into the story that I’d done something to rupture my diaphragm or my lungs. I quickly began to panic and eventually went and woke up one of the instructors. She tried to reassure me, but she didn’t explain the maps or anything, I don’t think she had a clue about them. Then I broke through to misery and started sobbing in her arms.

The next day, I felt very strange uncomfortable sensations all through my body, but at the same time, I had moments where my body felt totally in flow, like I’d suddenly become a master martial artist. During sitting practice, that day, I felt my body dissolve down to my thighs. Nothing above the knees was there, even when I tried to feel it. This freaked me out but also felt pretty cool. I suppose this is associated with dissolution. Then I hit fear and stopped practicing for the day. I took some long walks, but even without consciously trying to practice, I couldn’t help but be very aware of everything. The night, a knot in my lower abdomen dissolved while I was going to bed, and I hit a massive wave of misery. This time the misery was much, much worse than the previous night. I’d never felt so emotionally shattered in my life, and I must have sobbed for half an hour. I must reinforce the fact that as this was all happening, I had no fucking clue about the stages, and none of the teachers seemed to either. They tried to be reassuring, but they gave me no framework for understanding what was happening to me. I only just learned about these maps in the last week after dealing with the dark night stuff on my own for three and half years. The next day, I left the retreat. However, things continued to go down hill.

For the next 2.5 years, I struggled with panic attacks, crying spells, and extremely strange sensations I couldn’t even adequately describe. I developed terrible insomnia, and tried every kind of healing and spiritual practice I could think of (other than more vipassana). I’d been so scared by my experience on the retreat and so disappointed with the teachers and how they handled it that I simply thought vipassana was crappy and dangerous. Also, I have issues with a lot of the philosophical/dogmatic side of Buddhism so I just steered clear.

However, I didn’t stop spiritual practice. I did all kinds of things like shamanic journeying, devotional practices, ecstatic shaking, lots of New Age stuff, body work, tai chi. The list of what I tried goes on and on. One of the most helpful things for the fear stage was doing exposure therapy with a trained psychologist, it essentially forces you to practice facing fear until it doesn’t bother you any more. I sort of hit upon similar strategies for the misery, using a lot of love oriented practices as well as therapy and and non-verbal grief expression in a supportive group.

The disgust stage may have showed up for me in various shamanic journey’s as gruesome dismemberments. In the shamanic tradition seeing a vision of your body being torn apart or other wise demolished in horrible ways is supposed to be a gateway to power and great gift. With this mindset I was able to embrace the complete destruction of my spirit body.

***
In May of this year, I did a three day self-organized meditation retreat at a lovely Anglican Convent (I’m Jewish by the way). I was mostly focusing concentration meditation on the Divine Beloved. I sort of made a practice that combined the teachings of Hafiz, Ramakrishna, Hasidism, and put these together with my own irreverent sexual politics. Anyway, I can say that samadhi on the divine beloved is fucking awesome, a lot better than metta in my books.

At that retreat I had a particularly vivid shamanic journey, which certainly took me to equanimity, and I think may have involved stream entry. You might be skeptical about my memory of this event, but I wrote a very detailed account of it in my journal the following day. I was not aware of the stages of insight map at this time, so it’s pretty remarkable how well the stages of the journey I describe in my journal match up with the stages of insight map.

After a day and half of meditating on my Divine Beloved, I entered into a visionary space. I did not consciously direct the images that arose after I entered into the visionary space other than to focus on knowing my Divine Beloved so I’d say it was closer to an insight practice than a concentration practice. I started out with a spirit body, travelling to a temple with 5 statues of God-forms I’d seen previously. Then, I travelled through a portal at the base of the throne of the King God, and entered onto a vast infinite plane. I saw my body dead with a spear through it, and saw a beautiful person who was my Divine Beloved. He told me to leave my body behind and come with him so I did. We walked along the flat empty plane until the ground dematerialized, and the body of the Beloved together with my consciousness was the whole of my field of awareness. The Beloved told me to enter inside his body so I did. My awareness passed into his body like another doorway.

After entering into the Beloved, the images ceased and I became very aware of the inner voice with which I was thinking. I saw how I identified with it, but that it was not essential to do so. I set it aside, and as I did so there was a great surge of energy through my body (A&P?). Then I heard the voice speak, but now it wasn’t my voice, just a voice speaking, although I somehow knew it was the same voice, I had just cast aside. Then I was in silence for quite a while just noticing, and there arose a great awareness of suffering, images of floating corpses and so on. Yet, I felt I had boundless compassion available to face the suffering, as if I was seeing the suffering of the world the way God sees it. I focused on the awareness of this suffering until I penetrated inside the awareness of this suffering, and then I ended up somewhere else. There was a distinct feeling of lightness and peace, like the calm ocean waters that lie out beyond the crashing waves (Equanimity). In that formless peace, saturated with compassion, without awareness of any object specific object, there suddenly arose a very beautiful and poignant feeling in the area of my heart. I sensed that this was the very essence of the Beloved (my meditation object), but now it was beyond all specific form, just an unspeakably beautiful field of raw feeling. A profound joy and contentment settled over me as I contemplated it. I gained the insight that I was experiencing the primordial dualism of Lover and Beloved. I resolved to travel inside this pure feeling in my heart, to bring these two together and then I did so. I felt myself pass through it to the other side, but then I can’t remember anything of what happened on the other side (nibbana?). Some time after, I emerged back in a glorious new God-body and my Beloved once again was in human form. He led me back through the stages of the vision and I re-grounded and returned to my physical awareness. I felt amazing after this. I was joyful, laughing, just so up that nothing could bring me down for quite some time. My life definitely improved considerable after this point. The dark night stages still occurred spontaneously but it was as if their negative aspects were attenuated. I was able to be more effective in terms of pursuing my practical goals and keeping a busy schedule than I had been since the first retreat.

Now that I know about the stages of insight map, everything makes a lot more sense to me than it did. I’m starting to observer the cycling that happens several times a day in the midst of my daily life. Anytime, I get bored and there isn’t a lot of external stimulation, I start cycling. I’m not always sure what the object is, but I think my default object in ordinary life situations is probably body sensations. I’m pretty fast at getting through the fear and misery now, and neither one really bothers significantly any more, although they are still clearly present. In daily life, when I’m not trying to meditate, I usually stop cycling after I reach disgust. I suppose the disgust just kicks my attention off the object unless I try to keep it there. It’s not as easy for my to get to equanimity with body sensations as it is with the Beloved, but I can do it. I’m pretty certain I’ve never passed Equanimity with body sensations.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, etc. In particular, I’d love to hear from experienced folks about whether the vision I describe was likely a stream entry.

Second, I’ve read that once you have stream entry, then you automatically start at A&P, however, is that only for the object upon which you got stream entry or for all objects? Whenever I put my mind on the Divine Beloved, I’m immediately filled with blissful spiritual energy, but with body sensations or the breath I still have the body pains initially (although I can get passed them pretty fast).

Third, I’m going on another three day retreat this weekend. Would it be best to use my time to try to get stream entry with a wider range of objects (body sensations, breath, et al), or would it be better to try to get additional fruitions using the Divine Beloved, or should I split my time between both. Any advice would be great!
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katy steger, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 1741 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Avi,

Welcome to the forum.

Second, I’ve read that once you have stream entry, then you automatically start at A&P, however, is that only for the object upon which you got stream entry or for all objects? Whenever I put my mind on the Divine Beloved, I’m immediately filled with blissful spiritual energy, but with body sensations or the breath I still have the body pains initially (although I can get passed them pretty fast).

Third, I’m going on another three day retreat this weekend. Would it be best to use my time to try to get stream entry with a wider range of objects (body sensations, breath, et al), or would it be better to try to get additional fruitions using the Divine Beloved, or should I split my time between both. Any advice would be great!


Okay, I hope Daniel might also weigh in. These sort of experiences are right up his alley and he articulates them really well.

Here are my thoughts
1) These are clearly experiences which influence you. To balance the influence from becoming de-stabilizing, know that these things can and do happen to anyone's mind; a person is not more special than another being as a result of these experiences nor their personal devotion. I think you know this based on some of the humbled sentences you had in your text.

2) Try not to follow, grasp or demand more of these experiences. Did you make this happen? No. It came from out of the blue.

3) Reiteration of humility: no tradition is superior no matter what any tradition will say; to spend any time on superiority will distract greatly and adversely to what is a self-study/inquiry practice (that can result in, yes, devotional heart-mind such as you seem to report).

4) What to do now? Are you going on vipassana retreat? Try to listen to and follow the teacher's instructions, the rules (I have often been a contrarian often times, so it is sort of funny I now advocate for following the protocols of a retreat and closely as possible). Presumably, you picked a retreat and teacher you can trust. If no one abuses you on that week, follow instructions.

5) And as Phillip the Second is said to have repeated long after after losing his armada in 1588 (?), "Never pretend to know the will of God." Not that you would, but sometimes this seemingly intimate experience can really trigger strong feelings and beliefs from which there is often a fall (great doubt, feeling of loss, etc)

6) sitting with own-mind is worthwhile even when it's immensely boring for stretches. Just watch attentively like one watches ice under foot when standing on a frozen lake. Use the retreat time attentively. I give myself this advice right now, too; it is natural that sometimes we just lose focus and fall asleep, figuratively or actually.

Best wishes.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Katy,

Thanks for your suggestions. They didn't answer my questions, but I appreciate your perspective. The retreat is a self-retreat, which is why I asked for feedback about what to focus on. I'll try my best to follow Daniel's instructions from his book and videos.
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katy steger, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 1741 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Okay: #2 and #6 relate to SE. Everything is dropped, all expectation. Just attending. Good luck, good effort.
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 1635 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
It's hard to say. The fact that there's so much content in your experience doesn't sound like stream entry. It definitely sounds like good concentration (metta) and probably a powerful A & P which can make you giddy and feel happy to be alive. In my experience the A & P is like my head is about to explode with joy like the brain can't handle it.

Stream-entry in particular is about fading of perception and consciousness and seeing how clinging is connected with perception and how perception is connected with consciousness. When you let go enough (usually involving very consistent concentration) so that consciousness has no objects to cling to and the consciousness goes within itself and you lose experience briefly and come back, then that is more likely stream entry.

Here's a good description:

Dependent Cessation and the Unconditioned - Rob Burbea
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Thanks for the reply Richard. I may not have been clear enough about the visionary meditation I described. With each stage of entering inside of an image or feeling, there was a strong feeling of relinquishment, the image or feeling seemed to de-materialize and I sort of passed through it to a less formed space. There was less and less of a sense of content at each successive level. At the last stage when I sensed the pure beloved, it was really a very subtle feeling and by that point there wasn't much left of my sense of "me" except the sense of being the "other" to that pure beloved feeling. When I went inside the Beloved, there was a strong sense of relinquishing my last hold on a separate sense of self, however momentarily. There were no brain explosions when I entered into the Beloved, no experience at all that I can remember (energy surges happened earlier in the journey). Like I said, the next thing I remember, I had reappeared quite far down the chain of images in a new body. That said, it's possible that is was a kind of near miss, I may have still had some subtle shreds of clinging to separateness, but I don't know how to tell. The other thing that sounds sort of diagnostic about stream entry is that the dark night stages get considerably easier to deal with. This definitely happened after that retreat. However, it could also be that the increase in self-love and compassion just made them easier to cope with.
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Richard Zen, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 1635 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
I'm still working on it myself but basically if there's consciousness of any kind there is still just a little clinging. emoticon
Clearly the experience was meaningful for you, but it sounds like a dream.

To me Stream Entry or any fruition is marked by just a little blip where everything blinks out for a moment. "What was that?" Maybe a body wave afterwards.

From the MCTB, Was That Emptiness? A nice checklist:

If there was any sense of an experience, even of nothingness or something that seemed incomprehensible, particularly anything involving the vaguest hint of the passage of time during it, write it off as something other than emptiness. This is an absolute rule.

Similarly, if there was any sense of a this observing a that, or a self of any sort that was actually present for whatever happened, write it off as something other than emptiness. If you were there, that wasn’t it.

If there was not a complete sense of discontinuity and if it makes any sense to think of time, space, perspective or memory continuing across the gap, write it off immediately as something other than emptiness. On the other hand, if the only way to remember what happed involves remembering just forward to the end of the particular door that presented and then remembering back to when reality reappeared, well, keep reading.

If on continued repetition of the unknowing event over days or weeks it fails the above tests, write it off as something other than emptiness.

If continued repetition of that particular kind of unknowing event over days or weeks fails to give any clear experiences of the Three Doors or to reveal something very paradoxical and profound about the nature of subject and object, be skeptical.

If there was a double-dip into unknowing events with a few profound moments of clarity and altered experience between them, as is characteristic of the A&P Event, with one shift happening half-way down the out-breath and a second shift at the end of that out-breath, write it off immediately as more likely having been that or maybe the early stages of Equanimity.

If the event cannot be repeated, write it off. Those who have attained a path will attain more Fruitions naturally, maybe one to many per day, as they basically can't help but cycle.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Thanks Eric,

The article you sent me was very helpful in clarifying the diagnostic criteria of SE. It strikes me that it's far more diagnostic to look at what happens post-stream entry than to try and evaluate whether a momentary non-experience was stream entry. As far as that goes, I don't seem to be experiencing the constant automatic cycling described in the article, so I conclude it wasn't SE. Probably, it was equanimity, and perhaps the emergence of one of the formless realms. Thanks everyone for all your help figuring this out!

By the way, do you know what book that article is from? There is a reference to it being a chapter from a book, but I can't find the author or title in the article.
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. Jake ., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Hi Avi and welcome!
First off, I think it's worth pointing out that your style and approach differ greatly from the mainstream here. So it might take a lot of back and forth for folks to be able to adequately assess your experiences in the way you seem to be asking for.

That said, as for stream entry, although I like Daniel's list partially excerpted above, I think it is dubious to suggest that only experiences which fit that mold count as stream entry. A broader definition that I employ, having interacted with folks who I judge to be partially awake at least (i.e., stream enterers) some of whose experience does not fit this mold and some whose experience does fit it, I think we can zoom out and identify more crucial factors which are definitive for a partial or initial awakening (stream entry). In this model, the EQ-blip-bliss wave model is not identical to stream entry but merely the para-stream-entry events which accompany stream entry for folks who practice in a particular way.

The essential things, in my opinion, are more like this: is there a basic shift in the experiencing of experience? Is the natural and always-already lack of a solid separate self more evident than it was? Is it now impossible to believe in a solid separate self in the way that you used to? As a consequence is there a natural and lasting increase in factors like sensory clarity and a lessening of resistence to experience?

There is an important difference between an A&P type experience and Stream entry, to me. While both can be 'transformative' broadly understood, in the A&P it is more likely that one's solid separate identity is transformed from one kind of identity to another (usually more 'spiritual') kind. In SE, the transformation is more subtractive, in that to some degree (which seems to differ for everyone) one is simply creating less of a solid, separate identity.

However, during various pre-SE stages one can experience prolonged periods of less rigid selfing and more direct insight into empty impermanence of the subject, so it is important to give it some time to judge, especially if one's experiences are very different from those typically had by the ones whom you are asking to assess your progress. With SE and other paths the lessening of the illusion of solidity/continuity/separateness of self is lasting and stable, although often subtle.
Jake made some great points. Also wanted to mention that the Awake Network has several people with a God type belief approach.
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Dear Jake,

Thank you for your kind post. I agree that my experience seems to be quite foreign to this board. However, the shamanic stuff fits into what Daniel calls the realm of the "psychic" powers. You'll notice in his book that he mentions that the images in this realm are just as valid as a basis for insight as any other meditation object. I call it the spirit world rather than the powers realm, because this fits better with what most other traditions call it. In the spirit world, everything in awareness is filtered through the lens of mythological imagery. These can be dissolved and experienced as vibratory fields just like regular physical sensation. It's a great place to do the work for people like me who always loved Dungeons and Dragons as a kid! Working in these realms of experience really gives one a sense for interconnection between meditation practice, traditional religion, and folk mythology.

I get the sense that on a purely sociological level, many Westerners who are drawn to Buddhism are not big mythology fans. They tend to be the types who like their religion served up in a science-like packaging. Asian Buddhism has lots of interesting mythology, but this tends to get ignored and dismissed by Western practitioners as "inessential". Maybe it isn't strictly necessary, but to my mind it's really a matter of finding the right tool to crack open the unique shell of each individual. Mythology, God, and devotional practice can really be powerful agents of awakening for the right individual. They certainly are in my case. After I slammed into the brick wall of the dark night of the soul, and I simply could not persist in using body sensation as my object, the spirit world imagery really saved me, letting me move through the difficult stages. I also like the spirit world because it provides lots of interesting visual content for the stages. This might not be strictly necessary for insight, but it sure is cool, and very informative in other ways.

By the way, my spiritual direction website is:
www.avicraimer.com or www.torontospiritualdirection.com

Love the conversation on here!
Rist Ei, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 500 Join Date: 7/14/13 Recent Posts
there is worlds of form, when you give them up then its stream entry.
there is worlds of formless, when you give them up its arahat.

its done by getting insight into their empty nature or realizing these are illusions.
Insight can be attained by momentary concentration or full concentration.

Pick an object(any) and observe it. Get insight into how to do objectless concentration. Attain onepointed objectless consentration(insight of emptiness of formless realms sits there) = anagami, and let it go = arahat.

when you leave the object then you will sense that everything is one, it can be felt- its stream entry. That feeling of wholeness, oneness is empty too- anagami. You let go of it, everything is still the same as before, nothing changed(but now you have wisdom)- arahant.
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. Jake ., modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
Hey Avi,

I think your sociological observations are pretty accurate. It's interesting how folks can be so wrapped up in their assumptions that they miss obvious stuff. For example, even though your account of visionary passage through the progress of insight is indeed very different from many folks' experience of that process while focusing on body sensations (or generally, focusing on sensations in the bodily waking state), there are also parrallels that are pretty clear. Even things like this:

Avi:
I felt myself pass through it to the other side, but then I can’t remember anything of what happened on the other side (nibbana?). Some time after, I emerged back in a glorious new God-body and my Beloved once again was in human form.


This sounds like a possible contender for cessation (aka nibanna in mahasi's system). I'm surprised some of the mahasi folks who read your account didn't ask more questions about this to clarify whether or not it may have been!

I say, if you have good access to visionary realms, why the heck wouldn't you practice in them? ;) Sounds good to me!
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Avi Craimer, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Introducing myself, my dark night story, and my possible stream entry

Posts: 114 Join Date: 10/29/13 Recent Posts
Jake,

Yeah, thanks. I'm starting to think it was cessation based on some further experiences I've had since my retreat last weekend. I posted a question over here to try to get some clarity about the automatic cycling issue. I'd love to hear if you have any thoughts on this.

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