retreat experience

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Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 10 Years ago.

retreat experience

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
I seem to have made some sort of breakthrough on a recent daylong retreat. I've been doing samatha practice exclusively for a couple of months without much success, focusing on the anapana spot. Lately I'd been going into a twilight state where bits of dream imagery come and go; I thought I was sleepy, but then I'd lie down and not go to sleep, so I wasn't sure. Then what happened on the retreat as I was sitting in this dreamy state is I suddenly felt a sense of clarity snap into place in the breath going in and out over the anapana spot, and all the dream stuff ceased. I maintained the focus through the rest of the sitting meditation and into the walking meditation that followed. What had been difficult to do before suddenly became, not easy, but something that seemed to maintain itself without any real effort on my part. I felt my mind running on like a radio in the background that was turned down to very low volume.

I haven't been able to get this back since returning to daily life; am hoping to get it back in a long weekend retreat coming up. But I am wondering what it was that I experienced. It definitely felt different from anything I've had happen before.

Thanks to anyone who cares to reply!
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Sounds like you've moved through access concentration, into 1st jhana and then on into 2nd. The clarity and lack of effort are almost certainly 2nd jhana related so you now have something to remember these states by, a sort of sensory key to being able to access them quicker than before.

Why not try doing your practice while going about "menial" chores such as doing dishes, perhaps while you're in the bath or have a spare ten minutes to sit with the breath? Extending your practice into daily life is a wonderful and fun way to make progress.

Congratulations and I hope all's going well for you.
- Tommy
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Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
Thanks, and I really appreciate the response. I should add that at the same time my concentration snapped into place I felt a peculiar wave of little tingly, itchy sensations across my face, which lasted only a moment. But I thought I was going to jump out of my skin or something!
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Mike James Brown, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 36 Join Date: 4/12/11 Recent Posts
Although I've been practicing Zen for 10 years, I'm a complete newbie at attaining the jhanas, so please remember that what I say could quite easily be contradicted by a more experienced practioner.

It sounds to me like you've attained access concentration, which means the 1st jhana is 'just around the corner' for you. I remember lots of strange experiences the first time I did a 10-day retreat (Goenkaji), but had no context to understand what they were- you have a diistinct advantage as you are part of this community that has a wealth of knowledge to assist you.

The most important thing I've learnt to attain the jhanas is to drop any desire to enter them (difficult, I know). Stay with the breath and just keep coming back to it if/when your mind wanders. After sometime you'll start experiencing a pleasant feeling of being 'locked into' the breath and any distractions will become weaker. Your breath will also start to become shallower and you may begin to experience really pleasant sensations rising in your mind/body. NOW is the time NOT to start thinking, "This it! I can feel the jhanas coming on. C'mon. PLeeeease let me experience it!!". As soon as you start desiring them they disappear. Stay with the breath as long as you can and then just as the pleasant feelings arise (for me it's in the eyes) switch over to just experiencing the pleasant sensations only. Notice where they're happening. Is the pleasant sensation moving? Is it the mind or the body experiencing the sensation? Just stay with the sensations and.. WHAM! You're into the 1st jhana and you'll know it!

I think once you've gotten there just one time you'll have the confidence and the technique to get there everytime you sit (in fact, it gets to become a bit of a pain!). Good luck and don't quit - it'll happen sooner or later. M
Aaron J, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 10 Join Date: 11/20/09 Recent Posts
To throw out a different possible interpretation, bits of dream imagery coming and going might indicate the hindrance of sloth and torpor, which doesn't have to be about being sleepy (as in have to take a nap sleepy). By 'clarity snap into place,' it sounds like there was definite, moment-to-moment composure or steadiness on the object. That kind of state maintaining itself without any real effort on your part sounds like access concentration to me. As for jhana, I don't read that in your report. There's no mention of joy, rapture, happiness, bliss or of significant changes in perception of posture or spontaneous adjustment of posture, etc. Of course, I'm just going off my own experience, but when I first started hitting samatha jhana territory, the rapture and posture fireworks were an undeniable, mega-wow!

Regardless of what it is, it sounds like a nice breakthrough: Hindrance overcome, concentration strengthened. Useful skills to develop.
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Without being able to question you personally in order to gain more clarification about the description provided, and going only on the description given, I'm inclined to agree with Tommy.
Jane Laurel Carrington:
I seem to have made some sort of breakthrough on a recent daylong retreat. I've been doing samatha practice exclusively for a couple of months without much success, focusing on the anapana spot.

What is the "anapana spot"? In your estimation, that is. I've never heard this term used before.

Jane Laurel Carrington:

Lately I'd been going into a twilight state where bits of dream imagery come and go; I thought I was sleepy, but then I'd lie down and not go to sleep, so I wasn't sure.

This sounds very much like a dull minded kind of state that is very common with beginners attempting to achieve jhana (and even those who may not be attempting to achieve anything at all, but who are just going with the flow of events during meditation). When I say "dull minded" I'm referring to it being "without sati" or mindfulness. This state could very well be described as "dreamy" in texture as it reminds practitioners of that dream-like, very pleasant state of consciousness that occurs just prior to sleep when the mind relaxes and is about to become enveloped in sleep. This can be a very suggestible state to maintain, which is not good, meaning the mind can become open to the power of suggestion as in an hypnotic state. This semi-hypnotic state is not a state that you want to cultivate. The reason for the lack of alertness and sharpness in the experience stems from the lack of mindfulness when entering it. In order to avoid this semi-hypnotic state, maintain your mindfulness when attempting to return to this relaxed, at ease state which might be described as being jhana.

Jane Laurel Carrington:

Then what happened on the retreat as I was sitting in this dreamy state is I suddenly felt a sense of clarity snap into place in the breath going in and out over the anapana spot, and all the dream stuff ceased.

Now, this sounds like your mindfulness kicked in. And that's a good thing. Because it presents the sharpness, alertness, and clarity that you want to cultivate in the effort to strengthen overall concentration. It is from this state that insight contemplation can take place and can have its greatest impact on your awareness and conscious realization.

Jane Laurel Carrington:

I haven't been able to get this back since returning to daily life; am hoping to get it back in a long weekend retreat coming up. But I am wondering what it was that I experienced. It definitely felt different from anything I've had happen before.

That's a very common experience, that is, feeling as though you have difficulty reconstituting the experience. You just have to relax (somewhat) and let it occur for it to re-occur. Once you figure out how to do this at will (so to speak), you will have figured out how to enter it whenever you wish without much effort in doing so. And once you are able to do that, you should be able to also maintain mindfulness at will (although this might take a while to fully develop). And that is a good thing to cultivate. Because it allows you to "see things as they are" rather than how the conditioned mind might erroneously perceive them to be.
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Jane Laurel Carrington, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 196 Join Date: 12/29/10 Recent Posts
Thanks everyone. I am thinking that what I experienced was probably access concentration. I don't think it was absorption because I had this little voice going on in the background commenting on it, along the lines of "this is so cool, I wonder what this is, wow this is great" and as I said earlier it was like a radio that was at low volume. For the most part I was able to notice that the voice was there without getting carried away by it. Plus there weren't any joy or bliss factors, just a nice sense that things were easy all of a sudden. For example, in walking meditation, up until then I would be thinking, "that person in front of me is too slow, I'm going to collide if I don't slow down; that woman over there has an interesting shawl on; oh no, I am going to lose my balance; I wish the person in front of me would maintain a steady pace, dammit!" But with the new sense of concentration it was just effortless. I didn't really worry about what anyone else was doing.

Ian And:

What is the "anapana spot"? In your estimation, that is. I've never heard this term used before.


I've been working with Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder's _Practicing the Jhanas_ book; they are students of Pa Auk Sayadaw. That's where I got the term and the technique: it involves focusing on the point between your nostrils and your upper lip where the air goes in and out, without following it into the lungs or diaphragm. It's a samatha technique.

Ian And:
Jane Laurel Carrington:

Lately I'd been going into a twilight state where bits of dream imagery come and go; I thought I was sleepy, but then I'd lie down and not go to sleep, so I wasn't sure.

This sounds very much like a dull minded kind of state that is very common with beginners attempting to achieve jhana (and even those who may not be attempting to achieve anything at all, but who are just going with the flow of events during meditation). When I say "dull minded" I'm referring to it being "without sati" or mindfulness. . . This semi-hypnotic state is not a state that you want to cultivate.


I totally agree. I kept trying to return to the anapana spot, the focus of my concentration practice. I believe the dream state is in fact a form of torpor, which another poster suggested as well. Torpor: my favorite hindrance!

Thanks again, everyone. It's not as if I can just chat with people at work or among my friends about this kind of stuff. This forum is the best!
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Mike James Brown, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: retreat experience

Posts: 36 Join Date: 4/12/11 Recent Posts
Yes, this forum and Daniel's book are an amazing find, eh! I'm also a member of a Zen chat forum and no-one has a clue about the jhanas and the more systematic path of Therevada. Have you read Ian And's thread 'A General, All Purpose Jhana Thread' yet? Also, over on KDF, Tommy's practice thread is quite helpful from an experiential perspective and answered some questions I was wondering about. Keep breathing! M

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