The same and yet so different
I have written this text during the period the events in this text happened. Looking back on it now, I would certainly describe all that happened in a different, much less personal way. However, I think it is helpful to keep it like this as this was how I described it when that specific perspective was my reality.
Reality came back and boy was it different.. In what sense you might ask? Well, let me pick a few topics to clarify the changes in each aspect of life.
There definitely still was an emotional reaction when my buttons got pushed, but it was different than before. Whereas before I felt the suffering mostly through the negative mind content associated with the emotion, now emotions seemed to be located in the body. Focusing on the arising & passing away of the bodily sensations was enough to let emotions dissolve. However, the content of the mind was still strong and easily took control when things got too tense. But it never took too long before I became mindful of what was happening. Therefore, the duration of emotions seemed to be less long and intensity caused by them reduced because resistance to present-moment experience decreased, even if it is for just a bit.
This is where I noticed the most significant changes. Since the first cessation, compassion towards the planet, friends, family and all living creatures greatly increased. Insight into suffering already showed me that everyone, including animals, are driven by craving and seeing that in other people (which is natural after insight into suffering) induced enormous compassion. I became more patient, more socially interested, but my ego also felt very special sometimes. I only told 2 of my friends about this “attainment” and never told anybody else about it, but somehow people seemed to respond differently to me than before. And I mean this in a good way.
Being awakened of course means that you’re in a permanent state of happiness, or doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. Bad days are still bad days, and although there is deep knowledge that everything will pass it’s still not pleasant. But I do think happiness is a more natural and therefore common state, simply because there are no problems when being in the present moment.
Did not really change all that much. What did however change was resistance towards the present moment. Whereas before stream-entry a headache would be accompanied with lots of mental chatter like “I will always feel this way”, there was just this deep knowing of impermanence and not-self which greatly help to accept the present moment, however bad it may be.
As I said before, the power of accepting the present increased and resilience therefore as well. Not with a giant leap, but stressful event felt more like: It is what it is and it will change, which felt kind of nice since the consequences of the break-up were met with some resistance from my ex-girlfriend.
Sense of self/agency
Although the cessation event showed “me” that there is no permanent “me”, this feeling of no-self happened only in moments of deep rest and while being in nature. I could somehow call up the emptiness aspect of reality, but it still felt a little uncanny. Regarding control, it still seemed like I was in control of all my actions and therefore responsible for all the consequences of these actions, so that didn’t change all that much.
The best way to greatly improve your meditation skills in a short period of time? Just attain stream-entry (sorry, not funny). But really, since stream-entry my sits became so much more easy. Improved concentration, improved sense of control over the mind, more mindfulness and much easier access to the Jhanas.
The fetter model
So, does my story align with the Buddhist 10-fetter model? According to the 10-fetter model the following three should be uprooted with the attainment of 1st path:
Belief in a self
Attachment to rites and rituals
My personal experience conclusion would be that stream-entry definitely aligns with this model. The cessation cut the belief in a self with one blow, skeptical doubt in the teaching of the Buddha just dissapeared like snow in the sun and attachment to rites and rituals have never been quite strong in me, but I do notice that the worshipping of a teacher in any way just fell away. What I also noticed is that doubt as a hindrance greatly reduced troughout all aspects of my life. For example, I was quite uncertain about my appearance and that diminished after this first awakening.
So, what happened then?
Well, quite a lot actually. The honeymoon afterglow took approximately a week, but then my mind started to become a little depressed. Questions about life purpose arose out of nowhere. But as ever, being mindful of it and knowing that it would pass was the key. After a few days of deep existential crisis, waves of pleasant tranquillity began to rise and waves of tranquillity and existential depression alternated for the next weeks. By then, I began to truly look for the craving aspect of the mind. I would note every sensation/thought or feeling I had as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and began to see the tanha (craving) that would follow. So, only 6 weeks after the 1st shift a new cycle began. Intense, but shorter and not as devastating as the first one. The progression throughout all stages of insight took only 2 weeks and was finished with an even more mind-blowing cessation event in which I realized that “I” never had and never will have any control of what will happen.