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3rd Jhana Confusion

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3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/17/20 1:25 PM
When Daniel talks about the third jhana experience he describes attention as wide, difuse, and out of phase. I'm trying to wrap my brain around this as I think that have experienced this in the past. For quite a long period my attention to any object during meditation was single-pointed and fairly effortless. That abilitily has since ceased and I suspect that I am skipping past the first two jhanas and directly to the third. 

Can someone please help me to understand "out of phase, and wide?" How can one focus on something that is wide and diffuse? Doesn't that allow distractions such as thoughts to easily capture attention? Also, how can I tell the difference between the third jhana and parts of the path? Don't some parts of the path have wide, diffuse and out of phase attention as well?


Thank you!

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/17/20 2:42 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
I think the easiest difference is that jhanas are typically possible to access anytime (given some reasonable practice conditions like a somewhat quiet room and not being massively stressed out) and they tend to go in order and seem to be under your control.  

Maybe it'd be interesting to do the experiment of trying to get into the single pointed and effortless state and then the wide and diffuse state, while cataloguing all the territory before, after, and in between?

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/18/20 10:47 AM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
That's good to know. I'll try that experiment today. I feel like I've been lost in the jhanas for months not really knowing where I am. Recently my attention supposedly shifts on it's own and I can follow it fairly easy. It may be that it's becoming wider from 3rd jhana. It's been difficult for me to maintain single-pointed attention for more than a few minutes on the breath as an object, which was the first way I learned to reach access and jhana. Now, other objects such as sensations, visuals, or thoughts tend to much stronger and easy to maintain. It's like the harder I focus on the breath, the more my attention is drawn away to other objects.  

I'm fine with using other objects for attention but I feel like there is some degree of skill needed to use different objects as they seem to behave differently. To complicate further, the attention in each jhana is different so when using sensations as an object they may appear differently in 1st or 3rd jhana. It may seem like attention is weakening or there are more distractions when in fact it's that attention is becoming more diffuse and wider. Thoughts as the object may be easier to detect in 1st jhana since they are arising, but in 3rd jhana one sees the end of the thought, which may be mistaking for a distraction or even dullness.

This territory is very intriguing for me. 

Thanks for your help. 

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/18/20 12:04 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Ah Ha! I figured it out. I was able to do the first three jhanas, perhaps the fourth too (still unclear), in order and note their qualities. I used the breath as the object and here's what I noticed.

The first jhana is weak and unstable. I think that I went in and out of it a couple times before transitioning to second jhana. 

The second jhana was more intense and visuals were strong. I saw lots of light waves moving in an outward vortex like direction. It only lasted but a couple minutes.

The third jhana was confusing at first because I was over efforting it. The more that I tried to focus on the breath the harder it was. I finally realized that I didn't have to do anything at all. Attention shifted on its own and the jhana remained stable regardless of thoughts/sensations.

One other take away is that thought processes are always happening. For some reason I believed that thought would be quieted or absent during jhana. This doesn't seem to be the case and I was able to "think" or perceive thoughts the entire way.

Thanks for your help. Now I just have to figure out how to switch between them. As of now I don't have any sort of control over which jhana happens.

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/19/20 12:27 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Hi again,

I'm glad it's going well!

I also use the breath as object very often when doing concentration practice, so I can relate to your descriptions.  Having done in the high hundreds of hours with breath as object I've been through this territory a lot of times.  

"The first jhana is weak and unstable. I think that I went in and out of it a couple times before transitioning to second jhana."  I've definitely felt this way.  I often feel like I'm going a bit crosseyed when I'm really committed to the first jhana.  It feels good, but it's a lot of effort to maintain.  Sometimes it's fun to maintain the effort and sometimes it feels like work.  Daniel Ingram talks a lot about 3 phases of jhana, the "fresh but unsteady" phase, the "mature" phase, and the "looking for what's next phase" (I'm paraphrasing).  The idea is that when you first get into a state and the mind recognizes it as jhana, you might not be really sure you're in it, but you begin to feel the characteristic phenomenology and qualities of the state.  Then as you concentrate on the state and time passes, it matures and intensifies and you enjoy the full expression of the state.  At some point your concentration slackens and you start to feel a little over it for whatever reason, or possibly a new state begins to be attractive and presents itself.  You can then move concentration to the new state and explore the next jhana.  With practice all of this gets a lot more under your control, is more repeatable, and you can intensify or slacken the states with more skill, move through them more quickly or slowly, jump between them, access them in trickier emotional or physical states, and so on.  

"The second jhana was more intense and visuals were strong. I saw lots of light waves moving in an outward vortex like direction. It only lasted but a couple minutes."  I can relate to this also.  Some people really like the intensity of the second jhana.  I like that it's not effortful to maintain, and I like to feel the energy of it roaring through my body; it feels kind of cleansing and like it's doing something useful for my nervous system.  I tend to get tired of it pretty quick though because it's uncomfortably intense, and I also happen to really like the 3rd and 4th jhanas so I tend to just go into them in short order.  

"The third jhana was confusing at first because I was over efforting it. The more that I tried to focus on the breath the harder it was. I finally realized that I didn't have to do anything at all. Attention shifted on its own and the jhana remained stable regardless of thoughts/sensations."  I have some maybe idiosyncratic phenomenology for the 3rd jhana, where it feels like my breath slows way down and becomes slightly raspy or low in the throat.  The attention tends to widen out to the outside of the skin, and the movement of the breath tends to feel like cool waves going through the body and a lot of attention tends to focus on it going out of the hands or feet.  I think a more traditional and less personal description of this would be that it has the quality of calm or bliss as opposed to the rapture of the 2nd jhana.  I tend to get a lot of wavy visuals in the 3rd.  Thoughts and emotions also tend to come up and wash through in a way that feels useful.  I find it's a very useful state for relaxing.  Water or tidal metaphors seem right when talking about it.

"One other take away is that thought processes are always happening. For some reason I believed that thought would be quieted or absent during jhana. This doesn't seem to be the case and I was able to "think" or perceive thoughts the entire way."  This matches my experience, though too much thinking seems to lessen the intensity of the jhanas.  My teacher Kenneth Folk has a nice analogy here, he likens a jhana to strawberry flavoring in water.  Each jhana has a particular flavor, or character to it, and once you get some experience you can identify the particular flavor with the name of the jhana.  Some people can get very intense jhanas, that's like concentrated strawberry flavor in a strong jam or something.  For some it's barely perceptible and that's ok too.  For most it's in between.  That being said, stronger jhanas are a useful tool for improving concentration.  I believe it's also canon (and matches my experience) that in all jhanas save the 8th there's a perception of a separate self, and so to some degree there's metacognition or conscious thought happening, memories are being made, etc.  That seems to match my experience, though the sorts of thoughts that happen change a lot based on the jhana, how hard I'm concentrating, and particularly in 4th+ too much thinking tends to really get in the way for me of experiencing the jhana because those are pretty hard for me to get into and explore skillfully.  

Anyways, that's my 2c, lots of people have different takes!

Best,
Ben

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/19/20 5:27 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Thank you for taking the time to respond thoughtfully! I appreciate that. I don't have a teacher, so everything that I'm learning is through practice, reading, and help from kind people on the internet. If you have time to answer, I have two other questions that I've been curious about for quite some time. If not, that's okay too.

Early on in my practice, I had lots of visuals. Vortices, waves, lights, and sharp objects. I also had lots of energy currents. I attributed the visuals to the first path, and since I believe that I have completed it, I only experience those visuals in jhana. The waves are now fleeting. Are they specific to 2nd or 3rd jhana?

How can I tell when I have switched jhanas? Sometimes I'll feel a surge of energy, and it's clear that I'm in a different state. 

Alas, today I tried jhana practice, but I lacked the clarity to know where I was. Possibly unrelated, I had two collapses/dips today when I laid down to try and take a nap. It was intense!

Thanks for your input. I'm slowly sorting this out. =)

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/21/20 7:56 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
I've made a lot of progress over the week in my jhana practice. I'm able to track first through third jhana, but I'm getting lost at a certain point. I use the breath as the object and this works remarkably well. After I reach third jhana things seem to destablize. I'm able to return my attention to the breath, although it feels like it drops lower. My attention shifts between objects as I try to relax into it.  After some time I become lost and I'm unsure where I'm "going." I'm not sure if my mind is bored and looking for something else or if I need more practice to gain clarity as to what is occurring. 

I had a couple moments of amazing presence in which it felt alike every object was very close and intimate. That state didn't last long. I'm not sure if that's 4th jhana or if it's one of the other 4 jhanas, of yet I know little about.

Thanks to anyone that finds this and can provide wisdom!

-Kelly

RE: 3rd Jhana Confusion
Answer
8/23/20 2:18 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Glad to try and help out emoticon

"Early on in my practice, I had lots of visuals. Vortices, waves, lights, and sharp objects. I also had lots of energy currents. I attributed the visuals to the first path, and since I believe that I have completed it, I only experience those visuals in jhana. The waves are now fleeting. Are they specific to 2nd or 3rd jhana?"
I don't know how to answer this question helpfully.  I think the safe answer is to proceed with skepticism when diagnosing attainments (completing paths, being in jhanas) because you'll often end up changing your mind later and in meditation communities attainments are pretty connected to hierarchy which causes all kinds of problems.  I don't know from experience though because I mostly read and practice at home.  
As for whether some attainment in insight practice changes the phenomenology of the jhanas; seems like yes, sometimes/often it does.  My experience with jhanas has been remarkably stable regardless of the progress of insight.  At least in terms of the particular flavor of each jhana-- they're all still clearly recognizable for what they are.

"How can I tell when I have switched jhanas? Sometimes I'll feel a surge of energy, and it's clear that I'm in a different state. "
Experience.  Imagine some other state everyone is familiar with, like being hungry, being tired, being bored, being angry, being empathetic etc.  If you haven't been in that state many many times it's actually kind of hard to know if you're in the state-- children are confused all the time about how they're feeling (adults too IME).  Often doing insight practice it's interesting to see what being in some state is like at a microphenomenological level-- like how does my face feel when I'm angry? Being in jhanas 10s, hundreds or thousands of times and matching them up to various descriptions will eventually make diagnosing them a lot easier.