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Concentration

Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile

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Hello everybody.
This is my first post in this very interesting forum and probably be long. I will try to write properly... it is not easy to do it in english (I am spanish and will deal with mental states, etc), and I hope to be understood.

I decided to write about some practical reflections after reading and studying thoroughly the JHANA THREAD of Ian: a real masterpiece.Thank you very very much to Ian, who can't imagine how useful has been this for me.

I think in my practice I distinguish the jhanas like a very comfortable body sensation, very light body, no discomfort or pain for long time sitting (even though for instance sometimes can feel (in the background) a sleeping leg, what is a very heavy sensation). Nevertheless sometimes there is still mental activity (in the background of such pleasant state), like small waves of thoughts that don't disturb me. So after this sittings (like Ian says in the thread) I feel the pleasant state of mind (very peaceful, sometimes pseudoorgasmic) for some time or even some hours: I call this "inner contentment" (because it is an unconditional and deep happiness). I suppose what I am describing are jhana states , but I had (and still have some) doubts for reading in the past about total mind stillness and things like that (this is very well dealt for Ian in the thread).

I was a "dry insight practicioner". I have had 6 vipassana retreats: 2 Goenka and after 4 Mahasi, between 10 and 20 days aproximately. In these retreats and in many years of discontinuous practice sometimes without wanting I entered these pleasant territories and they were experiences very important and stimulant (for more practice) in my life: I always told people: "nobody knows that in the most miserable and boring life (like apparently is a meditation retreat) one can get the most refined pleasures in the world". In a certain way they keep my in the "spiritual quest".
After reading MCTB (I will write another post about how my life changed for this book... thank you Mr. Ingram too), the Vimalaramsi meditation approach (more later) and this thread I have no doubt about the importance for cultivating these states (they are also in the core of Eightfold Path, in the Factor of Enlightenment, etc..) and I am doing it.

In this post I wanted to talk about relaxation and smile, and in a practical approach.
- Some time ago (and 18 years after my first course) I did my 2nd Silva Method course (Silva method is about quick and deep relaxation to induce alpha brain states for certain purposes) and I learnt some very interesting things. The main one: RELAXATION is very very important for life. Now for certain people I recomend first to learn how to practice properly relaxation before learning meditation. It is so wonderful experience... to feel lie down the body completely relaxed but the mind active and clear. The told us that relaxations from 15 minutes long gives body a cellular regeneration very healing.
- About smile it was very important for my practice the teachings and way to meditate of Bhante Vimalaramsi... It is really astonishing the power of a smile in the meditation practice. I recommend ardently to hear this dhamma talk http://www.dhammasukha.org/espanol/Videos/JOY-HUNA-JUL06-F.htm and also his book http://www.dhammasukha.org/Study/Books/Pdf/The%20Anapanasati%20Sutta%202.pdf because teaches a very intelligent and fruitful way to practice meditation. It is well worth it to experience with the smile.

So, in my sitting practice now I spend 5-10 minutes relaxing the body from head to toes. For me it is a very good idea because it is no so long and have many advantages (as well as healing power!):
- the body "acquires consciousness", starts to be completely present... it is very similar to the Goenka's practice but slightly different because I "try" (gently, with a smile - I recommend also to read the Mantak Chia's books about inner smile) to relax every part. So the "sensation of life" tends to leave the head to (and through) the complete body (and actually our life is being lived in our cells more than in our synaptic or eyes movements). Before doing this, in my insight practice I felt weight and tensions in the forehead and abdomen... now I feel the body very comfortable and the head "light"... so prone to jhana. Ian says in the jhana thread "body filled with a bright sense of awareness", beautiful description.
- I have noted that (and I recommend to meditators to try if one doesn't want to spend time relaxing the whole body part by part) it is very important to relax eyes and forehead / shoulders / hands (even fingers). I have realized that in these parts resides the "ego" or better say "the will". When some thinking process distracts the meditation these parts suffer slight tensions (we defend ourselves from the enviroment with the arms and controlling visually the situation). So when we SURRENDER and relax these parts (once after another like Vimalaramsi says about tensions in head) it is very interesting what happens, very subtle thing that I recomend to try EVEN in insight practices of course, because acceptance and surrender are very important things in meditation, aren't they? Lately I want to recommend for the very least to pay attention to relaxation of the eyes: it is very easy to relax the whole body only relaxing the eyes (you can look for this in the taoist practices and science has also demonstrated this relation). You can try to relax them completely: eyelids, muscles around eyes, eyes, optical nerves...pay attention to the bosy after this. I do it and it is very useful.

So I realize that the practice is much more prone to jhana doing a total relaxation some minutes. When the body is comfortable and my ego is surrendered to the "gravitational force" (that is, weight) the mental movement is much less and much less annoying, but sometimes there are many thoughts... but I continue with the practice like Vimalaramsi to check relaxation and small smile (we can smile with brain, eyes, mouth and heart, also in daily life). I use some approachs to deepen in jhana after this relaxation, what after reading the Jhana Thread is much easier.
For mental stillness Ian recommends the interesting practice to say NOT to new thoughts. I use a practice I invented and after I read something similar in the wonderful chapter of the 3 characteristics of MCTB. I think it could be considered a insight practice (I think I didn't say that I practice insight after my body and mind feel at ease or in jhana, I don't know if it is - I have tried to explain what I feel in my english): this is the practice I like very much and tends to still the mind: I relax the brain (inside! it is possible, I can feel it or imagine it, that for the results is the same thing) and pay careful attention to the thoughts: not to their content, but to their "physical" influence like subtle tension waves inside the brain. These waves are so fast that the content seems irrelevant to the consciousness and pass away very quickly. This is difficult to describe, but I tried to do it and I can feel very quick sensations.

So thank you for your attention and I would appreciate If someone gives me advice and feedback about all these questions.

METTA

RE: Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile
Answer
2/6/11 9:06 AM as a reply to Jose Moral.
Sound advice, thanks for sharing these tips and reminders (though I didn't have the time to go through the pdf book, and it looked as if the video was not english).

If you want to read something from someone who went beyond fourth path "your way" (Thai forest style), check out the energy practices portal of the wiki, or check this thread on the difference between Mahasi and Chah, as he calls the two practice styles (there are two more threads on the same topic started by CheleK, esp. his conclusion in Finding Balance is worth it.

RE: Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile
Answer
2/12/11 6:45 AM as a reply to Julius P0pp.
Julius! Thank you very much for your links, they have been very important for me... why?
In the very good website of KFD I found about Actual Freedom (I didn´t know before). Now I am studying carefully that web (and practising) and mainly the excellent discussion about it in this forum (even there is a subcategory!). So I think it is something VERY VERY interesting because it is something similar to Tolle´s or R.Maharsi´s teachings but its approach is different and lately my own quest was intuitively going to a similar insights that Richard teaches (and indirectly relates to jhana and bliss experiences). So I am starting to see very interesting synchronicities in all of this in my life...
But this is the concentration category and I end here... but thank you again!

RE: Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile
Answer
2/17/11 3:39 PM as a reply to Jose Moral.
Well, since this IS the concentration category, I've just run across something I found very interesting that has to do with the mental relaxation.

The way I prepare for samatha is to first do progressive muscle relaxation, then I do mindfulness of breathing. During mindfulness of breathing, I find Bhante Vimalaramsi's 6R technique very helpful. But when I move on to the main samatha practice itself, the first jhana seems much more stable if I stop trying to relax the mind.

Specifically, it's very difficult to sustain the necessary degree of effort if I'm trying to keep the mind relaxed. Given the nature of effortful attention (which works differently from effortless forms of attention), this makes sense -- it would be really hard to lift weights if you were focused on relaxing the very muscles you were trying to use! The difference between "work" and "tension" is that when you're working, you're accomplishing something. When you're tense, it's just a wasteful and unpleasant expenditure of energy. So if the mind is working (and succeeding) in the first jhana, that can't even really be called tension.

Once the piti and sukha in the first jhana have become stable, guess what happens if I relax the mind once again, like I had practiced in the mindfulness of breathing "mental warmup." Second jhana! Relaxing the mind automatically triggers the abandoning of effortful applied and sustained attention. With the abandoning of effortful attention, the second jhana can show itself as the adrenaline-like qualities of the first jhana recede.

On a side note, you have no idea how much I want to launch into a neuropsychological explanation of how this seems to work. Just be glad I have the self control to realize that nobody here wants to read it =P

What has been your experience with relaxation in the first jhana? Would you consider giving this technique a try so I could know if it's useful to you? I'd like to know if it helps other people, instead of just me.

In particular, I suspect it would be most useful for people with ADHD. The strong effort to focus on pitisukha keeps the mind engaged enough to sustain concentration in the first jhana. In my experience, there are only two ways to get to the first jhana, and they both start with "engage the mind fully in _____." One is "effort to nourish pitisukha" and the other is "noting phenomena with enough speed (or detail) to get to Mind and Body." Thus, there's a samatha technique, and a vipassana technique.

But that's all me, and I'd like to know more about how it's working for you.

RE: Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile
Answer
2/17/11 5:13 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
On a side note, you have no idea how much I want to launch into a neuropsychological explanation of how this seems to work. Just be glad I have the self control to realize that nobody here wants to read it =P


I'd love to hear it! Though perhaps another thread / a PM would be better than de-railing this thread.

RE: Reflections about Jhanas, relaxation and smile
Answer
2/18/11 11:12 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:
Well, since this IS the concentration category, I've just run across something I found very interesting that has to do with the mental relaxation.

The way I prepare for samatha is to first do progressive muscle relaxation, then I do mindfulness of breathing. During mindfulness of breathing, I find Bhante Vimalaramsi's 6R technique very helpful. But when I move on to the main samatha practice itself, the first jhana seems much more stable if I stop trying to relax the mind.

Specifically, it's very difficult to sustain the necessary degree of effort if I'm trying to keep the mind relaxed. Given the nature of effortful attention (which works differently from effortless forms of attention), this makes sense -- it would be really hard to lift weights if you were focused on relaxing the very muscles you were trying to use! The difference between "work" and "tension" is that when you're working, you're accomplishing something. When you're tense, it's just a wasteful and unpleasant expenditure of energy. So if the mind is working (and succeeding) in the first jhana, that can't even really be called tension.

Once the piti and sukha in the first jhana have become stable, guess what happens if I relax the mind once again, like I had practiced in the mindfulness of breathing "mental warmup." Second jhana! Relaxing the mind automatically triggers the abandoning of effortful applied and sustained attention. With the abandoning of effortful attention, the second jhana can show itself as the adrenaline-like qualities of the first jhana recede.

On a side note, you have no idea how much I want to launch into a neuropsychological explanation of how this seems to work. Just be glad I have the self control to realize that nobody here wants to read it =P

What has been your experience with relaxation in the first jhana? Would you consider giving this technique a try so I could know if it's useful to you? I'd like to know if it helps other people, instead of just me.

In particular, I suspect it would be most useful for people with ADHD. The strong effort to focus on pitisukha keeps the mind engaged enough to sustain concentration in the first jhana. In my experience, there are only two ways to get to the first jhana, and they both start with "engage the mind fully in _____." One is "effort to nourish pitisukha" and the other is "noting phenomena with enough speed (or detail) to get to Mind and Body." Thus, there's a samatha technique, and a vipassana technique.

But that's all me, and I'd like to know more about how it's working for you.


Since you talk about adrenaline like quality maybe if you tried to become aware of and relax the adrenals it would have the same effect? You already have a nice technique and this might just be more complicated but as an experiment in order to figure out the underlying mechanisms I think it would be highly valuable to experiement with.

Gyah, so much for trying not to derail the thread. But it was dead anyway.
Answer
2/22/11 5:42 PM as a reply to Crazy Wisdom.
Hi Crazy Wisdom,
Thank you for the suggestion. I actually do relax the adrenals by doing progressive muscle relaxation before samatha practice. Though I doubt that the first jhana is really associated with adrenaline -- I'm just making a comparison. (Actually, if I have a lot of adrenaline going because of, say, anxiety or low blood sugar, I can't do jhana, thus the progressive muscle relaxation.) What the first jhana has in common with an adrenaline rush is the strong, laserlike focus, and the exhilaration. The explanation below might make it more clear.

I'll give the brief overview of my guess at the neuropsychology here, but please feel free to reply or PM me if you want me to go into more details.

First off, you gotta gladden the mind. How do you do that? Well, it's easy once you get away from the hindrances (or as Gotama put it, "when secluded from unwholesome mind states"). Progressive muscle relaxation before meditation and an easy, gentle smile or half-smile during meditation can deal with most of them. For drowsiness or sloth, a 20-30 minute nap usually works better than increasing effort. I suppose that's because most Westerners today who are trying to practice the jhanas are more likely to feel drowsy due to sleep deprivation or directed attention fatigue than old-fashioned laziness. After all, if you were lazy, you'd probably just go watch TV or do drugs in order to feel tranquil and happy.

Anyway, now the hindrances are sufficiently chilled out. The mind already feels more content, and it's easy to turn that into gladness. You do that by applying and sustaining attention to wholesome, pleasant sensations and/or thoughts. You stick with this, staying vigilant with the Right Effort to develop wholesome states (like contentment and delight in simply being alive) and abandon unwholesome ones (such as craving or dissatisfaction). This process, called directed attention, is effortful and voluntary. It works so much better when the mind is first calmed and gladdened! A happy, content mind occurs when the reward system in the brain has a stable, high level of activation, and the anxiety circuitry has low activation.

The reward system and the directed attention systems are tightly linked, and in fact they have some of the exact same parts. Reward (pleasantness) releases dopamine in the basal ganglia. Since the directed attention circuitry relies on a steady supply of dopamine, being in a positive mind state is extremely helpful when you're trying to pay attention to something.

Anxiety, on the other hand, is the enemy of directed attention. It's associated with high activity in the amygdala. Basically, an active amygdala tries to turn off the directed attention circuitry and self-control circuitry so it can make you act according to animal instincts. Obviously, you don't want the directed attention system turned off if you want to practice concentration, and you don't want to activate animal instincts if you're trying to stay away from the hindrances.

Anyway, the gladness grows, and the smile becomes bigger and bigger. The intensity of the rewarding stimulus gets greater and greater, and the rate of dopamine release increases too. Thus, concentration gets even stronger, and effort feels natural and easy. The intense stimulus causes an increase in another neurotransmitter, called norepinephrine. You could call it the "alertness chemical." Like dopamine, it helps you pay attention to things, and it also wakes the mind up. The combination of dopamine and norepinephrine release leads you from gladness into exhilarating joy! Congratulations, you're at the first jhana! You now have 4 factors operating together and reinforcing each other, producing a steady state of mind: applied and sustained attention, joy, and blissful contentment.

BTW, there's another way to release dopamine and norepinephrine. It's commonly used to help people who have a hard time paying attention, especially if they're spacey and have low motivation and activity levels. It's amphetamine, which is a "dopamine and norepinephrine releasing agent," and it's usually the most helpful medication for people with classic purely-inattentive ADHD. So you could say that the first jhana is like natural Adderall, or Vyvanse, or Dexedrine. Anyone here who has taken Vyvanse or instant release Dexedrine can notice the similarities between it and the first jhana, especially if you're focusing on the exhilaration aspect of the first jhana.

Now, you can move to the second jhana if you relax more. Let go of the exhilarating effort, and just chill out with the rewarding joy. Norepinephrine release goes down as you let go of the effort and become more tranquil. Dopamine release can stay the same, but it's likely to increase unless it's already at near-max capacity. Thus, the second jhana is usually more concentrated than the first, and the dominant aspect is joy. Without the laserlike focus provided by norepinephrine release, attention is now a bit broader.

The second jhana feels more like Ritalin than Adderall. Ritalin is a type of drug called a DRI, which means that it keeps a steady supply of dopamine in the synapses. Unlike Adderall, Ritalin does not actually release dopamine, but any dopamine that is already active will stay active longer. Ritalin doesn't increase norepinephrine. It's is usually more helpful for the classic combined hyperactive-inattentive ADHD patient, because it does a better job of reducing hyperactivity while also enhancing concentration. The second jhana is likewise more tranquil than the first jhana, but still plenty concentrated.

That's about as much as I can say for now. I have a lot of ideas about how the third and fourth jhanas could work, but it would be very very easy for me to get them totally wrong. On the other hand, this explanation of the first 2 jhanas is probably more on-track. There's been a lot more study of the neuropsychology of focused attention and reward than of panoramic attention or blissful contentment.

practising "giving up the will" - more about relaxation
Answer
2/23/11 7:28 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
Dear J Adam G, you post is very interesting, and I can you understand well, because I think we are practising a similar approach, like you say here: The way I prepare for samatha is to first do progressive muscle relaxation, then I do mindfulness of breathing. During mindfulness of breathing, I find Bhante Vimalaramsi's 6R technique very helpful. But when I move on to the main samatha practice itself, the first jhana seems much more stable if I stop trying to relax the mind. I agree, and I normally don´t try to relax the thinking process (altough sometimes I do like I say in my other post)

I also agree with this (but by the way what is ADHD?) In particular, I suspect it would be most useful for people with ADHD. The strong effort to focus on pitisukha keeps the mind engaged enough to sustain concentration in the first jhana. In my experience, there are only two ways to get to the first jhana, and they both start with "engage the mind fully in _____." One is "effort to nourish pitisukha" and the other is "noting phenomena with enough speed (or detail) to get to Mind and Body." Thus, there's a samatha technique, and a vipassana technique.


Talking about the subtle experiences and mind states that I feel when (in sitting position) my body is completely relaxed is very very difficult (you agree, sure). For instance, I mean the mind activity when the body is "almost" absent. Although the thinking process seems to continue, is in the deep background and "doesnt matter" in this blissful experience: after relaxing body (maybe 10 minutes) meditation (jhana or vipassana) is much more grateful and easy, and much more interesting, that is the reason of this thread, to share this approach, while I don´t know if people are using it. If I relax my body lying down normally I enter in dreaming-hyphagogic-sleeping experiences, so it is completely different the total relaxation sitting, because there is always a subtle effort, never is effortless in a certain sense.

About the name of this post I would like to share a very interesting practice that I use a lot (and even I don´t know if belongs to samatha or vipassana, it is ok!)... I think that is very related to the Vimalaramsi idea about tanha-effort-body tensions:

when the body is very relaxed my normal practice is to focus in the smoothing and pleasant sensation of breathing in and out (sometimes I use little smile, sometimes I feel heady in the very low sound of the in-out of the air or other methods I use, all is very subtle). But sometimes I pay attention to the link between thinking process-will-emergence of tensions in body...the dukkha arising from the subtle small desire of changing something (maybe a sound, body position, desire of having more pleasure, etc etc for example even planning something to do after meditation arises tensions in hands and fingers - this is very interesting because our willpower manifests itself often through this very important organ)... this is very powerful and similar to some practices I read in the great pages 16-33 of the Ingram´s book. Doing it seems to "show to our soul the continue process of suffering that our thinking process causes us and its futility (like in AF approach)" and giving up it calming more and more the mind... bufff it is very complicated to explain, and one needs to be completely relaxed (similar to body-absent, but never effortless like I said before) to experience with this... I think that this kind of subtle tensions in body (normally located in head, eyes or hands) is what Vimalaramsi identify with tanha and bring comprehension about dependent origination.
Keeping mindfull of this process and relaxing these tensions through the smoothing breathing sensation (felt in the whole body) is a very interesting practice that I recommend ardently.


I wish you can understand what I explain in these previous paragraph.
METTA



VERY interesting J Adam G.

I think you would find the secret smile interesting:

http://www.thetaobums.com/index.php?/topic/9719-dr-morriss-secret-smile-breathing-basic-kap-1-giri-for-the-tao-bumbs/

Once you get some mastery over it most people consider it to be more powerfull than the inner smile. In the kundalini awakening process system they keep it running almost all day in teh background and intermingle it with a bunch of otehr practices. What you write I think sheds some light upon why they emphasize it so much and why people find it so helpfull. I think because it adds in orgasmic energy it might help even more with Jhana. Orgasmic energy goes in the direction of bliss and amplifies things making everything much stronger.

Because of your interest in the science of things like dopamine I think you will find this site interesting: reuniting.info

It is a site dedicated to Karezza and theories about it from a scientific point of view. Karezza is sort of a very easy form of western tantra. They mostly talk about not having orgasms but actually refer to peak orgasms when they say that. Teh tantric valley orgasm occurs during karezza as well. I think you will find the theory of an orgasmic dopamine hangover and cycle very interesting.

This thread sums up the kind of results people get from Karezza:

http://www.reuniting.info/node/5404