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Attaining stream entry off retreat?

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Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/19/14 8:09 PM
I'm looking for input from anyone who has had attained to stream entry without the benefit of retreats. I know you're out there... Any tips for a practitioner who can't make time for retreats right now?

I have three kids, my wife has a medical condition, and I'm the only one who works in my family. This isn't all bad, I can still make time to meditate, but it's usually "junk time" at the end of the day where my focus is poor.

However, I do have some degree of confidence in myself, since I crossed the A&P and made it all the way up to Equanimity without having any idea what the hell was going on, with very little formal meditation at all. It took about a year and it was a very difficult and complex time, but it worked, one way or the other. Now I'm just kind of stuck. I'm not on the ride, exactly, but I've crossed the point of no return, and I feel that this process will continue to be quite painful until resolved.

Some more detail about my journey, if it helps--

- Crossed A&P Janurary or February of 2012.
- Banged around the Dark Night and thought I was going insane for a few months
- "Touched" EQ around April or May of 2013
- Resolved to try and live my life to the best of my ability, even though I was confused and a little lost spiritually speaking

AFTER all that... re-read MCTB, sent Daniel an email, and figured out what was going on. I'm sure my kids would appreciate having a normal dad someday, so I'd like to really go for stream entry.

My primary practice has been choiceless awareness noting for a few weeks now, but I switched to simple anapanasati because the lack of concentration skills was making me ungrounded and extremely irritable. I recently attained to first jhana this way (yay!) but I'm not always able to find my way back to this very nice state.

My "biggest" attainment recently is, I believe, immature A&P. For a very brief moment, perhaps a fraction of a second, the blackness behind my eyes will strobe at a rate of 20hz. FLASHFLASHFLASHFLASH! It always startles me. I do have some of the classic neck pain of 3rd nana as well. I haven't gotten any farther than this lately, since practice conditions are not so great.

I do have reservations about these strobes. They are very similar to what I used to experience in the vibrational state, back when I was fascinated with OBEs. Didn't Robert Monroe talk about this a little in his first book? I can't seem to remember. At any rate, I was wide awake and it occurred in the context of vipassana, so I guess I have that going for me.

I have no meditation teacher, other than the occasional panicky email to Dr. Ingram, who has graciously responded to all my questions, concerns, and angsty rants.

I've located a few people online who claim to have attained SE (and freakin' arahatship, for that matter) without being on retreat, but I can't seem to track any of them down.

Thanks in advance!
E

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/19/14 10:49 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Yes, I achieved stream entry without doing retreat.

Tips:
I would say the biggest thing is keeping your attention on your practice constant throughout the day. It sounds like you have a busy life, but as much as you can keep up whatever technique you are employing for mindfulness, the better.

My view of getting attainments is that you are largely building up your attention to a new level. This takes a lot of effort, but as long as you are relatively single-minded in your approach to practice you should succeed. You really just need to keep at it, all the time to the greatest extent you can (IMO), though go easy on yourself if you start to experience negative side effects. Push to the limit, but not beyond..

As well, balancing concentration and insight, as you seem to be doing, is a good idea. It is helpful to develop them in tandem rather than really going all out on one or the other. That said I never entered the Jhanas prior to stream entry, so don't think you need intense concentration to progress. In my view concentration's key usefulness is in keeping your attention stable enough that you can effectively practice insight meditation.

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 6:57 AM as a reply to T DC.
Hi TDC,

Thank you for your response.

Yes, I have read that making mindfulness ones #1 priority at every moment is powerful practice. This can be tricky during work or other busy times, but it's do-able if I use big, general notes like "talking" or "working"

Concentration practice definitely keeps my feet on the ground. I completely ignored jhanas for quite some time and i now realize this was an error. I was quite irritable before getting first jhana.

Can I know more about your stream entry experience? How much time did you spend on the cushion?

Thanks
E

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 10:53 AM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric,

I am not claiming SE but I wanted to empathize and generally say 'I'm in the same boat' with trying to meditate around work/family life. Here are a few different thoughts, and I'd be interested in your view:

1. I'd suggest looking up talks by Leigh Brasington online and listening to how he describes attaining jhanas, if you haven't already. That was crucial to my practice in this regard.

2. I have also considered this issue of noting throughout the day, off retreat. In my view, you can note well only in more limited situations, like washing dishes etc., and that is if you are fairly concentrated already. You can note walking even down a busy street, if you are concentrated and you control where your eyes are going. (i.e. look at the sidewalk mostly)

3. You refer to being tired. It is easier for me to stay awake and concentrated focusing on the breath at the nostrils instead of the belly. I also meditate on the bus, and that works well for me.

4. When family life is tiring/demanding, I think of a line from one of the IMS teachers (Jack Kornfield?) who said something like not only monks in a monestary do renunciation, but family life also has renunciation.

Best of luck in your practice!!

Mike

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 12:33 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:
I'm looking for input from anyone who has had attained to stream entry without the benefit of retreats. I know you're out there... Any tips for a practitioner who can't make time for retreats right now?


It can be done, I know because I did it.

Keep up the mindfulness as much as you can. There are lots of ways to remind oneself, such as "whenever I walk through a door", or "whenever I get up from my office chair", or setting up a "typing break" software, mentally repeating a meditation word (or the being mindful of the breath, but that tends to be hard for many people) when doing repetitive jobs.

If you commute, and are not yourself driving, use that time for practice.

Family life is full of opportunities for practice. Family members know all your buttons and they will push them. Free noting practice - "button, button" or whatever! Also, free brahmavihara workout.

I have three kids, my wife has a medical condition, and I'm the only one who works in my family. This isn't all bad, I can still make time to meditate, but it's usually "junk time" at the end of the day where my focus is poor.


There is no junk time. If you notice that your focus is poor, then note that! Duncan's essay The Secret of Crap Meditation is spot on.

Stop relying too much on advice. Find out what works for you! Finding out what works for you is pretty hardcore practice. I like the Buddha's simile of the raft: it's a single-purpose throwaway thing cobbled together from whatever buoyant stuff you can find. Junk time, bad focus, frustration, the smile of your wife, a ray of the full moon, having all your buttons pushed, eating a nice meal, playing with your kids... whatever floats your practice, use it! This isn't an exercise in raft-building, it's an exercise in getting across, and it has to work only once, and it is a single-seater. There are people on both shores cheering you on, but you are on your own, so any advice must come from a distance, and what we are yelling through the noise of the rushing current may not be very helpful, but that floating plastic bottle just under the surface which only you can see will add buoyancy.

Whoops, got carried away there. I hope you got the gist of what I meant emoticon

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 12:44 PM as a reply to Florian.
Dang dude....thats beautiful....

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 12:50 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Hi Eric,
I think I hit SE early this month (self diagnosed; time will tell), and I haven't done any residential retreats. I do have access to a lot of local resources and so go to sitting groups and day long retreats, but the bulk of my meditative work is done at home. The whole process took me about two years. I have little doubt that a residential retreat would have shaved off some time off, but in the end, it's not a race emoticon. I long ago learned to love the path and not so much the goal, and I think that has served me well.

As I reflect back on the work to get to wherever I am today, the most important things I learned recently:
- Relax. Over efforting actually hinders. Try not to burn yourself out (I think I might have just done that, actually)
- Trust in the path and what got you here (wherever you may be)
- Get your house in order (Sila: look closely at the five precepts and how they help clear the path for you to walk)
- Metta: softening and opening one's heart is so important. Continue to offer love and compassion to yourself, your loved ones and those around you.
- It goes without saying, a good teacher and/or friends to discuss things with can only help.

All this said, I am planning to go on a week long retreat soon. I'm really looking forward to it, as I have no idea what to expect. What an adventure! emoticon

I hope this is helpful or encouraging in some small way.

With respect.

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/20/14 9:02 PM as a reply to Florian.
Thanks to EVERYONE for your responses! They are very encouraging.

Let me explain how I got to where I am. About two years ago, I had an interest in meditation, just because it seemed like an interesting thing to do. I meditated about twenty minutes a day, just by focusing on the breath with no real goal in mind. Otherwise I was busy working, having a family, and just living my life like any average joe would. I couldn't quite shake the nagging feeling that there was more to existence, though.

I stumbled upon MCTB when reading an Erowid experience report about insight meditation that mentioned the book. I came to this site, read Part 1, and was fascinated. Yes, the three characteristics are manifesting in everything! I had never even thought of that before. I was a little turned off by the descriptions of the dark night, but surely one would have to be a mighty meditator to make it that far, so it was safe to do a little noting just to see what it was like. So that's what I did.

I felt unusually energized the rest of the day and went to bed late, at which point I had a most interesting dream. I dreamt I was the Buddha. I was in this bright, colorful landscape wearing a red robe. I happened to be standing on top of a hill, under a tree. Directly across from me was another hill of equal height. On that hill there was what I can only describe as an army of darkness, demons or something like them. They noticed me and charged. My first instinct was to turn and run, but instead, I decided to sit and note them. This decision felt very natural. They surrounded me, stabbing at me with swords, but as long as I noted, I could not be touched.

Then, I realized-- the army of darkness represented reality. As long as I noted the sensations that made up my reality, I would not suffer.

The moment I had this realization, there was a sound like rushing water, and reality exploded. It was as if I had conquered or vanquished it somehow. I immediately woke up. What a strange dream! I meditated automatically in my sleep, how bizarre! I had this weird headache, like the kind you get after you study really hard for a test. It's like something weird happened to my brain while I was sleeping.

Obviously, this was A&P. I had no idea what the stages of insight were, what the Armies of Mara were, or anything like that. I never went on to reading the rest of mctb because I had mysteriously lost interest in meditation at this point.

We all know what happens after A&P. It was a long year. I thought about walking out on my family and living in the wilderness, but I didn't want to leave my children. I purchased tons of spiritual books, looking for anything that would give meaning to my life. It was very hard!

Fortunately, I managed to "touch" EQ last year, which put an end to the worst of it. I was still in a confusing and complex place spiritually, though, so I decided to read back over my books. I remembered mctb, decided to finish it, and realized what had been happening all this time.

So, here I am! Bruised and bloody but ready to work, and happy to have attained to the first jhana, which has been my first real relief in two years of the spiritual roller coaster.

Florian Weps:

Stop relying too much on advice. Find out what works for you! Finding out what works for you is pretty hardcore practice. I like the Buddha's simile of the raft: it's a single-purpose throwaway thing cobbled together from whatever buoyant stuff you can find. Junk time, bad focus, frustration, the smile of your wife, a ray of the full moon, having all your buttons pushed, eating a nice meal, playing with your kids... whatever floats your practice, use it! This isn't an exercise in raft-building, it's an exercise in getting across, and it has to work only once, and it is a single-seater. There are people on both shores cheering you on, but you are on your own, so any advice must come from a distance, and what we are yelling through the noise of the rushing current may not be very helpful, but that floating plastic bottle just under the surface which only you can see will add buoyancy.

Whoops, got carried away there. I hope you got the gist of what I meant emoticon


That *was* beautiful, thank you for these encouraging words. The three characteristics are in all things, I just have to remember that, and to note it all of course.

E

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/21/14 11:00 AM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:
I was a little turned off by the descriptions of the dark night, but surely one would have to be a mighty meditator to make it that far, so it was safe to do a little noting just to see what it was like. So that's what I did.


I remember thinking the same thing . . .

This has been a great thread and it just reaffirms to me the importance of DhO/MCTB, Mahasi Sayadaw's 'Progress of Insight', etc.

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/21/14 4:40 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Completely doable. I did only a few 4 hour retreats. Practice quality needs to be good (duh), and I would put a big emphasis on practicing every single day, even if only a little bit.

I wonder a little about moving towards concentration practice at this point. I mean, if that's what you need to do ... but for stream entry we need to be letting go rather than the grasping of one-pointed concentration. Maybe just for the first 5-10 minutes or something? Just a suggestion.

Strobing is pretty common while passing thru the 4th nana.

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/21/14 4:59 PM as a reply to Eric G.
Eric G:
Completely doable. I did only a few 4 hour retreats. Practice quality needs to be good (duh), and I would put a big emphasis on practicing every single day, even if only a little bit.

I wonder a little about moving towards concentration practice at this point. I mean, if that's what you need to do ... but for stream entry we need to be letting go rather than the grasping of one-pointed concentration. Maybe just for the first 5-10 minutes or something? Just a suggestion.

Strobing is pretty common while passing thru the 4th nana.

Good point about grasping at concentration states, I now know how easy it is for these states to become golden chains. I currently take about ten minutes to get into a comfortable soft jhana, after which I break out the noting. It doesn't take long for a hard rock of pain to emerge in my third eye area, which I'm assuming is 3rd nana stuff. Unfortunately I haven't made it much farther than this. emoticon

I've wondered about marathon all-night sits before, but I don't see what they would accomplish other than rob me of a good night's sleep.

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/22/14 12:44 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:
The three characteristics are in all things, I just have to remember that, and to note it all of course.


Remembering it is mindfulness.

Noticing it is wisdom. (Noting is a highly valuable technical help, but no replacement for noticing).

Jhana is concentration.

There are two more "spiritual faculties".

Balance them all, or the least developed one may well become a limiting factor, a bit like Liebig's Minimum applies in an agricultural context. Not a 1-1 correspondence, just food for thought.

Cheers,
Florian

RE: Attaining stream entry off retreat?
Answer
3/22/14 6:13 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Eric M W:
Eric G:
Completely doable. I did only a few 4 hour retreats. Practice quality needs to be good (duh), and I would put a big emphasis on practicing every single day, even if only a little bit.

I wonder a little about moving towards concentration practice at this point. I mean, if that's what you need to do ... but for stream entry we need to be letting go rather than the grasping of one-pointed concentration. Maybe just for the first 5-10 minutes or something? Just a suggestion.

Strobing is pretty common while passing thru the 4th nana.

Good point about grasping at concentration states, I now know how easy it is for these states to become golden chains. I currently take about ten minutes to get into a comfortable soft jhana, after which I break out the noting. It doesn't take long for a hard rock of pain to emerge in my third eye area, which I'm assuming is 3rd nana stuff. Unfortunately I haven't made it much farther than this. emoticon

I've wondered about marathon all-night sits before, but I don't see what they would accomplish other than rob me of a good night's sleep.


I get tension in my third eye too. Here are some things to try

Breathe rhythmically during all of these
1) On the inhale wrinkle your forehead as hard as you can, on the exhale relax the forehead completely. It's possible to do this without opening your eyes wider; make this a goal
2) On the inhale scrunch up your nose like you just smelled something bad, on the exhale relax your nose completely
3) On the inhale open your eyes as wide as possible, on the exhale close them as tightly as possible

One or all of these usually does the trick for me

Cheers