You want to cultivate the crackling intensity of the ninja,” Daniel Ingram told me. Ingram made a living as an emergency doctor, but his real passion was teaching advanced meditation. It was day one of a 30-day solitary retreat, and this was my first meditation instruction. We were sitting in Ingram’s straw bale guesthouse, a squat round building next to the main house at the end of a long country road in rural Alabama. Behind the house a thick forest buzzed with insect life.
¶Ingram stood and began to walk, arms outstretched and eyes shock-widened, as though his entire body was communing with the humid air, which it probably was. “Feel the weirdness and wonder of everything.” He took a step in slow motion. “Notice the moving, the physicality, the contact with the ground, the air on your skin, your joints balancing, the planning of the next step, the room shifting around you.” He made strange guttural clicks as he moved, like the bionic man. “It’s the same when you sit — notice every detail of the sensation of breathing in the abdomen, as fast as you can, as many frames a second as possible. If you notice everything from the moment you wake to the moment you sleep, there will come a time when everything congeals into a single 360-degree fluxing field of awareness.”
He opened his hands and clapped them together so forcefully that I started in my seat. “At this point you’ll get stream entry. That’s how it works.”
Stream entry,” is a Buddhist term for initial enlightenment — a shift in perspective where the practitioners’ mind flips inside-out and for a split-second recognizes its own inseparability from the rest of the natural world. Everything is different after this; there has been, in Ingram’s language, a “breach in continuity.” Meditators reported dramatic reductions in personal suffering, although more mature commentators also discussed a commensurate increase in heartbreak and vulnerability. For better or for worse, they have now entered the undulating stream of true spiritual practice.