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stream entry mechanics
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4/1/18 3:40 AM
Hello there,

I have spent the last year doing regular insight practice at home and have now made a resolution to further my progress on this front. I have made it my goal to attain stream entry as soon as possible. As a result of that the last two months were filled with about two hours of daily formal vipassana practice and an increasing mindfulness throughout my daily activities, as well as two 10-day Satipatthana Vipassana retreats of the Mahasi Sayadaw noting style. I can say that I have made relative progress in understanding and applying the technique but have made no ultimate insights that would change my moment to moment experience. I talk about this to explain where my questions are coming from, so here we go.
I would love to hear about anybody's experience and process of attaining stream entry, particularly whether you were consciously making an effort to attain it or whether you let it happen on its own. With that I want to say did you care about in which stage of insight you were or did you just open up to the process of deconstructing sensate reality? I feel like having a strong desire and putting in a lot of effort raised my expectations for what should happen in my practice. Obviously, these expectations were not met, which caused significant frustration in me that I was unable to skillfully channel into my practice. Thus, I am looking for a way to overcome this hurdle. Any other input and info on the mechanics of how you attained to stream entry is of course highly welcome as my main aim with this post is to understand how to attain to it and to understand whether my (strong) desire to do so is blocking my way. 

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 5:12 PM as a reply to lukas lohr.
Hi Lukas,

Your history and approach matches mine (a couple 10 day retreats, a couple hours per day of formal practice and a resolution to practice something all the time). My experience of the world changed delightlfully and dramatically over the course of my first two years of that practice in a way that my 'pragmatic' friends say was reasonable to call 'stream entry'.  That said, my 'traditional' aquaintances might think it's pretentious and uninformed to say that someone with my background and experience is a sotapana, so it's a jumbled space to figure out how to label the results of practice.  But I'll stipulate that you want what I have and go from there.  Much of what I say here is rephrasing of what others have told to me, mixed in with the way I feel like describing things based on my unique nature and nurture.

My approach was to not worry about where I was at on the path, rather to worry about how I was practicing.  But 'right practice' (what to notice, how to recognise that something new has been seen, how/when to leave that recognition behind and return to just noticing) changes depending on where you are, so for that I depend on frequent 'check-in' with other experienced meditators, my teachers, fine tuning things as my location on the maps changed was crucial for me.

In a sense though, the practice never changes, it's always just to see things as they are without preservating over what to do.  But since the conditions changes over time, so will our awareness of changing conditions change, because our job is wire our brain to be comfortable with current expeience as opposed to thinking about how it was 5 seconds ago or how it might be in 5 seconds.  It's perfetly natural to be curious about how what just happend fits into a map, so we just have to have those experiences enough times that we get board with those experiences to the point that we loose the habbit of noticing that we are on a new point of the map, but deepen the habbit of noticing what is happening.  Familiarity breeds acceptance, and that takes time and repetitive experience to happen.

I recognise that I'm sort of chasing my tail in this descprition, but I'm just gonna let it flow! emoticon

A word about insight.  Our practice of equanimous awareness of present moment sense events rewires the brain to be comfortable with awareness of events instead of evaluating events.  That is simply rewiring, rewiring, rewiring.  As that goes along, we notice moments of the brain starting to go down an evaluating loop, but vearing off that cycle of thought back into awareness of present moment events.  In that moment of droping the loop might be an 'ah ha!' experience where we conciously think, oh yeah, that's what that pithly phrase or instruction meant.  It's impossible not to enjoy that moment a bit.  But that moment is an evaluating loop in itself, it can feel like that itself is the rewiring, but really it's just recognising and labeling the rewireing that's already happenend over the course of hours/days/weeks of practice.  When those moments can be described simply with words, I call them moments of 'realization', because we realize/*know* that something we have heard before is true in a way that is completely different than beliveing that something we have heard is true.

I think a 'game like' approach is helpful.  The game is to, at any point of our day, see how we are thinking about things as opposed to noticing things.  Actions follow thoughts, so that game is to notice our how our actions are based on old data as opposed to fresh-off-the-nerve response to events.  I accidentally did a lot of sports-like practice, literally ball-in-the-air and catch it, as a way to force myself to keep seeing the ball as opposed to thinking about the ball.  When I got good at moment to moment attention to the flying ball, it was easier to feel/translate that practice to other venues like dishes, cooking, walking, thinking, talking, meditating etc.  

Re-reading your post.... the frustration you experience is a natural byproduct of the way your brain works, you read, imagine, try, notice, 'fail', notice, read, imagine, try, notice, 'fail', arg this is frustrating.  That shift from doing a thing to negatively obsessing over what is happening (being frustrated) is a thing to notice in itself, the frustration comes from expectations not being met, noticing they are not being met.  What is the personal assumption that leads to thinking things are not working right?  Maybe turning that moment into a learning moment is too advanced, maybe not.  If the practice just leads to a lot of thinking and doubt and writing and asking, maybe it's not a helpful practice to pursue at that moment.

The thing to do is follow practices that are simple enough (at that time) that success and failure etc don't spin off in to excessive rumination of results, rather you want to believe that getting back on the horse in the next second is the right thing to do, that you don't need to wait and find someone to talk to about the situation.  Sports was my way of stumbling into hundreds of hours of noticing I was thinking about sh*t and then turning away from the thinking and back towards "where is the dang ball, what does it look like now?".  In real life, I walked on a lot of hand railings and raised curbs as way to turn a minute of preoccupied locomotion into a minute of beneficial practice (not because I knew about and was pursuing enlightenment, just be cause I didn't want to be bored at that moment). Finding ways to do that off the cushinon, for me means, "what sense door am I hanging on at this moment?".  When the elevator door is about to open, it's sight.  When walking around, it's sight.  When sitting it's the very narrow sight, or sound, or feeling of a point on the body.

At every possible moment it's might be good to notice "oh, I'm not aware of what I'm dong right now, I'm actually doing something different than I intended to do". (sort of 'noting' on a macro scale) Usually it's that some sense event triggered monkey-mind rumination. It might be helpful to pause in that moment and notice what sense event triggered the rumination? It might be impossible to think back that far, in that case just noticing the rumination is perfectly adequate for that situation. For me, 20 years ago it might have been an event on Monday that has me still ruminating on Friday. After all my growth and practice, I feel like triggering events are recognized in half a second as opposed to 5 days. In a sense, I feel that's a good score card to know where you are on the map: how long does it take to recognize the sense event that bumped you off of your intended practice? It literally starts out as days and can end up being milliseconds.

Desire to attain is very usefull when it impels us to find out better ways to practice.  I'm reminded of a fictional characters line, something like "skepticism is a helpful watchdog, you just have to know when to let it off the leash".  I have no idea how that line helps, but it came to me so I'm dishing it out. emoticon

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 9:57 AM as a reply to matthew sexton.
Matthew’s post contains lots of great advice, so I am more reinforcing that than adding much.

His point about practicing noticing this moment again and again and again is the key. Regardless of any attainments, this is still the advice. Six sense doors. Three characteristics. Ground your practice in those and it will stay on track. This body, this mind, these sensations now, coming and going, doing whatever they do.

It is very common to hit stages where we get frustrated, we push, we try to escape, we try to force, we bristle against this moment, this body, this mind, this life, these sensations. Work with that, and settle into those feelings of manipulation, of striving, of planning, of mapping, of evalaluating, of practicing: settle into those as they occur and get used to them. This, done well enough for long enough, leads to Equanimity, and Equanimity leads to stream entry, so, it is not by forcing Equanimity that we get to Equanimity, but by paying attention to and getting used to lots of things that are very far from Equanimity that Equanimity arises.

Best wishes for your practice.

Daniel

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 12:19 PM as a reply to lukas lohr.
Testimonies of POI thru SE:

http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com/p/yogi-testimonies.html?m=1

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 10:20 PM as a reply to matthew sexton.
Hi Matthew,

thank you for your extensive answer and advise! I can especially relate to the shift from doing something to negatively obsessing about it. Having had some days to reflect on my most recent retreat I can see now how I got caught in rumination and comparing my experience to my expectations. Having seen this process with some clarity now and more importantly having recognized that it happens altogether, puts me in the position not to be caught by it again, a valuable lesson for me. Lets see how I can put it into practice in my next retreat situation where it shows up. 

I have a question concerning your awareness during daily activities; if you pay attention to which sense door you are hanging on to at the moment, do you investigate the nature of the sensations that present themselves or do you keep a general awareness along the lines 'yep, I notice there is seeing/hearing/smelling/etc'?

I want to thank you for your advise as this helps me further my practice greatly and is oddly hard to come by in conventional ways!

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 10:25 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hi Daniel,

Thank you for your advice and encouragement, it helps me put things into perspective and understand the mechanics further.

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/1/18 10:32 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Thank you Noah!

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/2/18 9:07 AM as a reply to lukas lohr.
lukas lohr:

I would love to hear about anybody's experience and process of attaining stream entry, particularly whether you were consciously making an effort to attain it or whether you let it happen on its own.  

Hello, lukas,

This was my experience: https://archive.org/details/slackers-guide-to-stream-entry 

RE: stream entry mechanics
Answer
4/2/18 9:32 PM as a reply to lukas lohr.
lukas lohr:
I have a question concerning your awareness during daily activities; if you pay attention to which sense door you are hanging on to at the moment, do you investigate the nature of the sensations that present themselves or do you keep a general awareness along the lines 'yep, I notice there is seeing/hearing/smelling/etc'?

You're welcome Lukas.  I feel I have lots of debt to all the other writers etc in this world.

I see I was not quite clear about what I was saying.

I use the phrase "which sense door you're hanging on" in the context of having selected a specific sense object for example sight or sound or subtle or gross touch/feeling thing.  So, that is a context of *concentration*, not insight or investigation per say. So I'd describe the bulk of the practice as noticing distraction and shifting the attention back to the intended object. The clearer the sense door/object selection is, the easier it is to notice when my mind is actually on to something else.

That said, I find tremendous value in setting an intention to 'investigate', for me that means setting a clear two-step intention of the process of first knowing where the attention is supposed to be and keeping it there, but second giving attention license to notice circumstances/events surrounding the object or the intervening distractions. So I'm on "what is my optic nerve sending into my brain right now", then I notice I'm thinking about Y, I subtly shift to the question "how did I get to Y?" and I realize that just before Y came X.

For example, I'm sitting in the local sangha with attention on sensations of breath, I notice I've shifted to generally critical thoughts about the nearby motorcycle riders, in a flash I recognize a familiar yucky feeling in my gut, then I recognize that there had been a flash of a 30 year old (ambulance days) memory/image of a mangled foot that had been shredded by the spokes of a moving motorcycle. Then I think "Oooooooh, these judgmental thoughts, thinking all motorcycle riders are inconsiderate and stupid, those memories that make for a good story, those yucky gut feelings, I've been carrying those booby traps around for decades, I've been suffering 5 times a week because of those old experiences and *click* that pile of junk seems to release like a rubber band shifting from taught to relaxed. The phrase "oh, this is suffering" comes up and I wonder if what might have seemed like good old maturity and experience and helpful wiring is actually just *suffering* or just being grumpy, or what is the difference? That feels like a good moment, that it was worth it to have wandered, but then I'm back on the breath. As that or similar process repeat then the process gets shorter and shorter, I progress to more continuous and subtle awareness that can go deeper and deeper. Now reading this, it sounds like I'm just doing psychology on myself. Oh well, maybe.

Another example: focusing on the sensations of the face/eyes eventually it occurs to me in a synthasetic way that those sensations give rise to an impression of *me*, *self*. I think Oh, I found *me*, is that really me, focus on that *me'ness*, what is that like, is it real, what is it. It never exploded or dissolved like the bodily pain did, but it eventually lost it's novelty and I was then able to notice more subtle, less constructed things in that area of my body.

I think this approach comes from what I took from Goenka training, where it's all about (my take) focus on continuous, subtle equanimous awareness of present moment events, let the insight just soak into your system from that process.

Caveat: I feel that my approach (not super 3C-centric) might be too vague for best results, or might somehow throw a bit of the baby out with the bath water. Comments from the illuminati on this speculation are highly encouraged!

Addition: oh gee, I spaced out on your question: daily life practice! For me, daily life practice is all about the concentration aspect, specifically choosing my activity, a thing to do that requires specific sense-door awareness and noticing when my mind has wandered off task. If it's a high speed thing, then maybe the first evidence of wandering is that I drop the ball, so to speak.  It's the same as on the cushion, as the concentration develops, the abilty to make finer distinctions on the type of distractions that happen and that leads to insight about the way the mind works.