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Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)

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Hi all,

this being my first post, let me at first express how grateful I am to have found this community and Daniel's book.
I have been interested in Buddhism, particularly Zen, for a couple of years now. I have read tons of books and been doing daily meditation practices trying to achieve samadhi to later be able to have a kensho/satori experience. (Zen lingo)

As much as I like Zen for its simple beauty and mysteriousness, practical descriptions oftentimes seem too vague for me, so I have not been able to make any real (conscious) progress yet. I was very glad therefore, to find the descriptions and models that are used in this forum (mainly seperating beginners' training in concentration and insight practice), and to see some more refined maps with manageable in-between goals. Me being a westerner, I think this is just better suited for me, since I consider myself more of an analytical and pragmatic person, who can greatly benefit by more exact advice and small steps to keep up motivation for a longer time.

Anyways, to get to the point: I have been doing some reading on the jhanas and found it to be the most natural progress for me to first try to achieve the first jhana, then deepening into other jhanas while taking up insight practice to balance my overall progress. Unfortunately, I haven't really got a taste of jhana in the last maybe 4 weeks I have been trying to. My practice is the following: I use the good 'ole breath as object of meditation, I sit twice a day most days (45 mins in the morning, 30 mins in the evening). I also had a more intense day of practice yesterday, where I alternated 40 minutes of meditation with 50 minutes of pausing, for 8 or 9 hours.
My practice is always with closed eyes, and I just try to stay with the feeling of the breath on the rims of my nostrils (easier when breath flows in or out, hard in between). When I recognize thoughts coming up (which admittedly still happens a lot), I try to calmly get back to the nostrils. I also try to relax as much as I can doing this, especially on the outbreath.

However, lately I have been noticing that my closed eyes are still twitching alot (every couple of seconds), or just going randomly in certain directions, mostly accompanied with tensing of muscles in the forehead. I have come to recognize that there is a strong correlation between the latter effect and wandering thoughts. Still, even when I manage to stay on my object, I can't stop the eyes from twitching every now and then.

Now, my question to the more experienced meditators would be this: Can you please describe a little more in detail what happens to your (facial) physiology when your are entering or already have entered first jhana (or even access concentration)? Is there a clear shift in the muscle tension on your forehead and eye region? Do your eyes feel "locked-in" and immovable after the transition into that state. Or is is just the same as before, with twitching here and there and changes in muscle tension on the face? Or are you even just not able in those states anymore to clearly define these bodily sensations?

I am asking this because I feel that this could be an important piece of the puzzle for me and other beggining meditators. Flora Courtois in her short book "An enlightenment experienced", seemed to put quite some importance on this, she called it something like "the effect of stopping the eye micro-movements on our perception", but I haven't really found a lot of other descriptions on this topic.

Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

Cheers, Christian

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/23/11 6:16 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Christian Vlad:
Now, my question to the more experienced meditators would be this: Can you please describe a little more in detail what happens to your (facial) physiology when your are entering or already have entered first jhana (or even access concentration)? Is there a clear shift in the muscle tension on your forehead and eye region? Do your eyes feel "locked-in" and immovable after the transition into that state. Or is is just the same as before, with twitching here and there and changes in muscle tension on the face? Or are you even just not able in those states anymore to clearly define these bodily sensations?



My eyes are focused at a spot roughly about 30 cm from my nose in front of my face. There is a feeling of effort associated with maintaing awareness of that spot continuously. (For me it is just a sense of effort. For a beginner it may well be because of the effort needed to keep the mind laser beamed on the chosen object of meditation (eg. breath, kasina, abdomen) The sense of effort seems to relate to the locked in feeling of the eyes pinpointing that spot in front of the nose. Yeh, the eyes are locked in a specific focus for me.

Maybe this thread at KFD will help.
http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/4219379/Accessing+Jhanas+1-4+via+Eye+Focus

Nick

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/22/11 4:58 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Eye movement and facial/eye area tension is really common in the early stages: I wouldn't worry about it at all, just follow instructions, stay with chosen objects/techniques, and realize that at some point the correlation with attention direction and eye movement/forehead&eye-tension will dissociate generally, (though may return at points), and regardless of which is occurring, just do whatever useful and time-tested technique you are doing and see how it goes, realizing that the sensations of eye movement and forehead tensions are more valid objects for investigation: see them arise and vanish if doing vipassana, and just be present to them and return to primary object if doing concentration practice.

Daniel

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/23/11 1:37 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks alot for your answers. Before replying to your posts, I would like to describe an experience I had this morning in my meditation session.

I was still driven by the idea of the importance of eye positioning, and therefore I tried to split my attention in a way that it would cover the sensations at my nostrils with 2/3 of my awareness, and with 1/3 of my concentration I tried to keep my eyes as fixed as possible looking at a spot in front of me (eyes closed).
It certainly isn't easy to do this in a very relaxed manner, but at some point I had something interesting happening - I suddenly had a feeling of the two objects of attention merging together, if that makes any sense. It felt as if the concentration of the breath on the nostrils got kind of projected forward from the point between my eyes towards where my (other) attention was aiming at. It's kind of hard to describe and only lasted a few seconds, but the concentration felt pretty well fixed (and somewhat out of place, kind of below my eye-line and in front of it at the same time).
After that, nothing else happened for the rest of the session, besides the fact that it kept getting harder and harder to keep the eyes from moving and jumping.

@Nick
Thanks for sharing, I find it interesting that you also seem to experience some fixed positioning of eyes. Also, the link you posted was very interesting, I had never thought of the idea of mapping different eye focuses to all the different jhanas, certainly something to keep in mind. Right now I am only concerned with reaching the first jhana, though.

@Daniel
Thank you too, I think I know where you are getting at. I already recognized in today's sitting that the concentration on my actual object (breath) gets a lot harder to maintain while trying to keep eyes unmoving at the same time. It gets even harder when trying to do it in a relaxed manner, i.e. muscles of the forehead not strained. I can also imagine that at some point the correlation gets weaker and one can keep up very strong concentration regardless of eye positioning, I will certainly keep that in mind for the future.
I guess I am just looking for that little extra 'trick' or twist that will allow me to at least get a (physical) feel or taste for strong concentration, so I at least know roughly what to shoot for in my sittings. I would actually like to try and go a little further with this. If you think that I am totally off the right path and should REALLY stop experimenting in that direction, please let me know. Your opinion is certainly highly appreciated.

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/26/11 5:30 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Whoa, that's so weird! I was actually going to post a question about this exact same topic. Whenever I enter any of the jhanas, my eyes feel like they're rolling up (even if they're not), which is accompanied by painful strain in the eyes and forehead--especially right where the "third eye" is, perhaps not coincidentally enough. I've tried to make that area relax, but whenever I do, it lessens the intensity of the jhana. >:-(

Has this happened to anyone else? If I just keep working at relaxing, will it go away?

Thanks. emoticon

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/27/11 12:11 AM as a reply to Morgan Taylor.
The higher jhanas involve more of a them showing themselves to you quality, as well as a wider, more naturally open feel, as well as being progressively more refined and finally more incorporeal, and each of these reduces the entanglement between attantion and ones physical eyes and facial muscles, so the trick is better concentration, meaning at once stronger but with less effort, which just takes practice and paying attention to what the higher stages of concentrations descriptions tell you about how to tune the mind to get into them.

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/27/11 3:02 AM as a reply to Morgan Taylor.
Morgan Taylor:

Whenever I enter any of the jhanas, my eyes feel like they're rolling up (even if they're not), which is accompanied by painful strain in the eyes and forehead--especially right where the "third eye" is, perhaps not coincidentally enough. I've tried to make that area relax, but whenever I do, it lessens the intensity of the jhana. >:-(

This is a very normal occurrence once one's practice reaches a certain stage, and many yogis have experienced this same sensation/experience. emoticon It generally signals (as in nimitta=sign) a higher level of mental concentration. Relax and don't get your knickers in a bunch. Just use it as a sensation that lets you know that concentration is peaking. And then use that peaking concentration to examine an insight object (or subject as the case may be).

Morgan Taylor:

Has this happened to anyone else? If I just keep working at relaxing, will it go away?

Happens to me all the time. I wouldn't be too concerned about it. Just treat it as a sign (nimitta) of greater concentration. If you will incline the mind toward an object for insight, you may be amazed at what happens with regard to the clarity of insight that develops. But just remember: you have to put the mind in the examination/evaluation mode for the insight to arise. If you're just sitting there with nothing on your mind, nothing is going to happen in terms of insight.

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/27/11 11:39 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Morgan Taylor:

Whenever I enter any of the jhanas, my eyes feel like they're rolling up (even if they're not), which is accompanied by painful strain in the eyes and forehead--especially right where the "third eye" is, perhaps not coincidentally enough. I've tried to make that area relax, but whenever I do, it lessens the intensity of the jhana. >:-(

This is a very normal occurrence once one's practice reaches a certain stage, and many yogis have experienced this same sensation/experience. emoticon It generally signals (as in nimitta=sign) a higher level of mental concentration. Relax and don't get your knickers in a bunch. Just use it as a sensation that lets you know that concentration is peaking. And then use that peaking concentration to examine an insight object (or subject as the case may be).


Thanks, good to know. emoticon I haven't done too much with combining jhana with insight, so I guess I'll work on that next.

Daniel: I'm pretty sure I've gotten up to the 4th formless jhana, and you're right, the feeling does vanish at some point. emoticon

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
5/30/11 3:45 PM as a reply to Morgan Taylor.
Hi folks,

Has anybody noted the similarity between these phenomena and the 'eye-roll test' which is used in clinical hypnosis as both 1) a test for hypnotizability and 2) a means of inducing hypnosis:

http://www.marciagreenleaf.com/HS/_html/pdfs/EyeRollTestForHypnotizability.pdf

This essentially involves staring at your eyebrow region (eyes open) and then gradually rolling the eyes closed. For me, the feeling is very similar to the pre-jhana third-eye tensions described here and elsewhere.

Just a stray thought,

Paul

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
6/14/11 4:12 PM as a reply to Paul Anthony.
Hypnosis generally involves some degree of shamatha-like concentration. The eye-roll test appears to measure how far a person will follow the hypnotist's instructions, even in the presence of discomfort. Thus it tests how cooperative the person will be even if asked to do something they don't like or that they feel unsure about. This trait makes a person more hypnotizable, since hypnosis is based not only on concentration ("even to the point of dissociation," to quote the report) but also on social influence.

I'm so glad this thread is here; I was about to post this very question! It still bothers me that this tension sometimes leaves me with a headache after practicing concentration, but I suppose if it has to be dealt with, then it has to be dealt with. At least I won't be worrying about it during the meditation anymore, and the distraction of worry probably causes more problems than the pain itself.

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
6/14/11 5:55 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
J Adam G:

I'm so glad this thread is here; I was about to post this very question! It still bothers me that this tension sometimes leaves me with a headache after practicing concentration, but I suppose if it has to be dealt with, then it has to be dealt with. At least I won't be worrying about it during the meditation anymore, and the distraction of worry probably causes more problems than the pain itself.


In my experience, and please Ian or others correct me if I'm wrong, if you're getting to the point of a headache that's a sign of too much effort. Try to find a way to maintain the same level of concentration but without so much straining and efforting.

When we think about concentration practice we tend to fall into the idea of straining to keep the mind from moving away from the object. This is not what concentration practice is about, rather it's about stillness of mind. You _allow_ the mind to calm down and settle on the object. When the mind wanders, you gently bring it back. If there's a sense of tension in the mind or the body, try placing your attention there with the intention of relaxing this tension. Once it mellows out or is completely gone, you can lead the mind back to your main object and let it rest there again.

Eran.

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
6/15/11 12:15 PM as a reply to Eran G.
HI Eran,

I hear what you're saying about painful concentration. Personally, I get a kind of tension in that forehead area that is usually pleasant more than painful.

I find Leigh Brasington's idea of the positive feedback loop useful and convincing . By attending to blissful feelings or vivid, pleasnt objects, attention is drawn in like a moth to the flame. By attending to pain or worry, the loop is weakened. This makes sense and (for me) describes that acceleration into concentration that occurs sometimes. For me, the analogous negative sensation is a panic attack - in that case the feedback loop is based on negative feelings.

However, this line of thinking leads to more parallels between samatha and hypnosis, because I think hypnotherapists employ very similar positive-loop techniques. The interesting thing for me is that lot (not all) of the research on hypnosis suggests that it's a social construction rather than a 'state of consciousness' - i.e. that people's experiences in hypnosis are governed by context. On the other hand, it seems that the predominant view in DhO circles is that the experience of samatha is based on innate 'strata of mind' that should not really vary with context, as long as the practice is reasonably consistent. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out as hypnotherapy people talk to meditators.

Here's a paper that talks some more about this:
Holroyd J. The science of meditation and the state of hypnosis. The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis 46 (2): 109-128, Oct 2003.

Paul

RE: Questions about First Jhana (eye movement)
Answer
6/15/11 11:20 PM as a reply to Paul Anthony.
Yeah, I did my attention span in today, straining as hard as possible to concentrate. I don't know why that seemed like a good idea, since I've known for months that shamatha requires a light touch and an emphasis on tranquility over effort. Perhaps I was frustrated at how hard it is to concentrate in Dissolution.

Anyway. it worked for 10 minutes, and it was good willpower practice... then I had to take a nap. No headache, but good god was I sleepy! Oddly enough, I woke up feeling completely fine a half hour later. I've never understood why the old texts say that effort is the antidote to sloth & torpor, because my experience is always that effort makes it worse by tiring me out. Gladdening the mind is what really works against sloth & torpor. And half the other hindrances too.

I think the headaches were due to something other than the meditation technique, since I did the same thing today and didn't get even a little headache. Maybe stress.
EDIT: Duh, caffeine withdrawal! Somehow, I always forget that happens.

Hopefully, the science of meditation will soon advance to the point where we can describe exactly what's happening in various meditations. Social construction definitely plays a role in many states of consciousness, both normal and abnormal. Even more important than social construction is the good ole self-fulfilling prophecy. But my experience of hypnosis is that there's some element of shamatha present, since the mind becomes so calm and shuts out all other stimuli except the sound and meaning of the hypnotist's words. Social influence probably can cause a person to enter light access concentration, perhaps a version too light to be detected by current neuropsychology tools.