Shaking and trembling

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David Holmes Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
This morning I had a very interesting one-hour sit which I need a little bit of help interpreting.

Sat down, observed respiration for a minute or two. Started scanning and noting sensations. Got beyond the gross physical sensations stage (is this the dukka nana?). Started investigating where is "I" located? Felt as though it was located in the head, somewhere right behind and perhaps slightly above the eyeballs.

My body started trembling. The tremors seemed to emanate from somewhere around the base of the spine and manifested in a physical shaking, from the hips and up towards the shoulders. Breath became a bit more uneven and jerky, kind of in line with the tremors. The tremors subsided after maybe 5-8 minutes and I went back to investigating the "I". Tremors started again after maybe 5-10 minutes, but a bit more pronounced. This cycle repeated itself three times. At the end of the third series of tremors, which were the most pronounced, they ended rather abruptly and then a sense of calm, quiet and concentration dropped over me. My breath felt as though it had stopped completely for a few seconds. I felt expansive and allowed myself to be absorbed into the state rather than investigating individual sensations. There was what felt like a ball of energy and tightness in the back of my head, slightly to the right side.

Before I came out of this expansive phase, my chime went off, signaling the hour was up. Felt kind of silly to end the sit just because the hour was up, so I continued, maintaining absorption in the expansive presence. Then the tremors returned, only this time they were so pronounced that it literally felt like someone was grabbing my shoulders and shaking them back and forth. I tried opening my eyes for a few seconds a couple of times to see if that would have any effect and it didn't appear to. If I hadn't read or heard about some of the physical things that have happened to others, I would have gotten pretty freaked out - it was kind of like being possessed. I also remembered Goenka's story of the nuclear physicist who was studying under U Ba Khin and who was shaking violently in his cell because of his negative sankaras. As it was, there was a tiny sensation of fear that arose for a couple of seconds but it passed and I was able to remain largely equanimous and observant.

I would guess that this violent shaking probably lasted about 5 minutes. It ended rather abruptly, as the other tremors had. But then my eyeballs started feeling as though they were being mushed back in my head and kind of spread sideways. When I tried opening my eyes, it felt as though the eyelids were stretched and I was looking through slits. Closed my eyes and soon the skin on my entire face felt like it was being pulled back from either side of my head, really stretched taut. The ligaments in one side of my neck were also taut and contracted. It was very pronounced and I really wondered what the hell was happening... but I was not fearful.

After probably 3-5 minutes of this, my facial muscles began relaxing back to normal and I figured I might as well end the sit. It's now several hours later and my body feels pretty normal - although "normal" now for the last few weeks means I'm aware of energy pathways in the body that either weren't there before or I'm just more sensitive to.

I'm not alarmed about this, just curious what experienced practitioners might think of this. I'm reminded of Ajaan Chah's comment to Jack Kornfield after hearing a description of some amazing meditation experiences: "Ah good, one more thing to let go of"...!
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Nice descriptions.

That's A&P territory, classic.

Check out MCTB, such as at the wiki here. There is much advice of relevance there about that stage and what comes next.

Welcome to the world of raptures and also to the DhO.

Daniel
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Thanks, Daniel, for the welcome and for the advice - it's appreciated.

Since my last posting, I have had 3 more one-hour sits. The shaking, followed by stillness of breath, etc. have continued in pretty much the same patterns in each of the sits, as per my previous description, so I won't repeat that aspect of them. However, in the last one, a couple of hours ago, after about 40 minutes my neck started to feel as though it was being gripped by tongs. Then the ligaments started getting stretched very tight, as though the throat region was trying to open as wide as possible, and the breath was sounding as though it was coming through a tunnel.

After about 10 minutes, the tension then worked its way up to my jaw region. My mouth turned to a grimace and then the jaws started stretching apart as wide as they could - my mouth was wide open. Very strange; I was grateful not to be in a group sitting where somebody might glance at me - it probably would have looked as though I was possessed!

After about 5-8 minutes of that, the mouth relaxed a bit and the tension rose to the eye region. Eyes didn't feel mushed quite like they did the first time, but were tightly clenched in a grimace. This lasted about 5 minutes.

As before, when the chime signaling the end of the 60 minutes sounded, I was not ready to get up off the cushion, as the weird muscular tension was still manifesting and I wasn't sure whether something else might need to happen. It was very clear that the body was really operating according to its own program.

Having read the relevant section on A&P in MCTB, much of what I'm going through seems to be documented there, which is reassuring because otherwise it would be too weird. I'm remaining equanimous to this stuff, but it's hard not to wonder how long it's going to go on. As I write this, I can feel residual tension still in my neck and back, and there is clearly a level of energy in the body which is greater than usual...
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
How long, in terms of weeks-months-years, have you been a meditator? The reason I ask is that when I first took up the practice of meditation, it was under the guidance of a person experienced in meditation (although not a Buddhist style of meditation), and some of the instruction he gave me at the time worked to produce some interesting after-effects (although nothing similar to the kinds of wrenching experiences you've described here). It took a couple of months before these effects began to wear off. In looking back on that experience, I'm convinced that these effects were the result of subconscious suggestions that the mind took in as a result of the instruction I was given.

Ideally, as Daniel has suggested, the arising and passing of these phenomena should merely be noted and observed without fanfare as you are endeavoring to do. What you describe, though, would tend to be quite a distraction to your meditation, especially so if it should continue for very much longer without subsiding.

You might want to give some attention to the possibility of subconscious suggestion as possibly contributing to this phenomenon, and just cover that ground in order to eliminate that possibility. Otherwise, you may want to put a little more effort into maintaining focus on whatever meditation object you are using (such as the breath), bringing the mind back to the object each time it attempts to leave the object. In due time, all of this extracurricular activity should pass.
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Ian And:
How long, in terms of weeks-months-years, have you been a meditator?

You might want to give some attention to the possibility of subconscious suggestion as possibly contributing to this phenomenon, and just cover that ground in order to eliminate that possibility.


I've been meditating for around 8 years. There are Goenka 10-day courses held here several times a year and I've been fairly regular about doing one per year.

I have also wondered whether there could be an element of auto-suggestion behind this. I'm aware that there are descriptions in MCTB and some postings which are very similar to what I've been describing. I would like to eliminate this possibility but am not sure how to go about doing it?
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
David H. Adriance:

I've been meditating for around 8 years. There are Goenka 10-day courses held here several times a year and I've been fairly regular about doing one per year.

And so this phenomenon is just a recent development of your meditation? In other words, it hasn't been going on for 8 years?

David H. Adriance:

I have also wondered whether there could be an element of auto-suggestion behind this. I'm aware that there are descriptions in MCTB and some postings which are very similar to what I've been describing. I would like to eliminate this possibility but am not sure how to go about doing it?

As I read back over your experience, it now strikes me as being similar to the kind of kundalini experiences that certain hindu meditators have experienced, in terms of painful experiences while meditating. If this is true, it might eliminate the possibility of this being brought on via auto-suggestion.

You made an interesting remark in your last post. "...but I get the impression that the shaking, trembling and tension either commences or becomes more pronounced when I turn my attention towards identifying the 'I'... could they be connected?" Most assuredly, they could. It may be the conventional mind's way of fighting back in order to maintain its control over your thought processes. Try averting your attention to the meditation object (rather than identifying the "I") and see how that works for you. See if it doesn't smooth out the meditation. Either way, it should teach you something more about this phenomenon.
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the advice.

I've never had this sort of experience before; I assumed that it may have been related to the fact that I recently started doing what I understand to be Mahasi-style noting and labeling, whereas previously I had only been body scanning (and kind of plateaued out for quite a few years).

I should also add that while the shaking is distracting, it is not painful, aside from the few moments when the neck or face ligaments are stretched tightly.

When I'm not sitting, I definitely perceive a sort of nervous energy in my body that wasn't there before, particularly a fairly continual tingling around the scalp and face. I suppose it's possible that this could also be due to auto-suggestion, but I'm doubtful. I'll continue to observe and report any changes.
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
This morning, more of the same: ligaments in the neck and face stretching to their limit (actually became rather painful - cheeks and stomach feel the way they do after a laughing fit). The nostrils expanding to their limit and then the mouth open wide in a grimace and the eyes squeezed tightly shut. When the face finally relaxed, a feeling of heat throughout the front of the head.

I sat around 10 minutes past the one-hour chime, mostly because under these circumstances it's hard to know when the sitting has come to a conclusion - is the body done doing its thing yet?

One final observation: it may just be my imagination, but I get the impression that the shaking, trembling and tension either commences or becomes more pronounced when I turn my attention towards identifying the "I"... could they be connected?
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
You mentioned above that you have attended Goenka 10-day courses. I'm not sure how deeply associated you have become with that group or how you might take what I'm about to say, so just keep an open mind.

From my understanding of that group, they don't really teach or encourage a deepening of the samatha practice much beyond being able to note different phenomena as they arise, is that correct? If this is so, you might want to experiment by attempting to get a handle on calming the mind even more thoroughly through a deepening of your samatha practice by making an effort to enter absorption. This kind of pre-vipassana practice of mental calming has a great tendency to help quiet and tranquilize the mind and body before attempting to initiate insight practice. While I don't know for certain, it may help with these shakes and contortions you are experiencing in your neck and jaw.

There are any number of sources you can refer to if you have never attempted to access absorption states. It's really not that difficult to learn about. We do it all the time whenever, for instance, we become absorbed in reading an interesting book wherein we can tend to become oblivious to the outer world at the expense of what we are reading. Kind of like going into a reverie. Once you know what you are attempting to induce through a calming of the mental atmosphere, and you've experienced it once or twice enough to know the effect that you are pursuing, it becomes easier to access.

One of the best canonical descriptions of this process that I have come across is one given by Thanissaro Bhikkhu in his online book Mind Like Fire Unbound. It is described in the section of material between Practices & precepts and Doctrines of the self. If you read that section with your intuition on full-open, you should be able to figure out what he is referring to in terms of calming the mind and body and ultimately entering absorption. You might want to put extra focus on the "calming the body" portion of the instruction. This might help alleviate the shaking and neck and jaw contortions.

Absorption helps one begin to gain more and more control of the mental atmosphere through an increase in one's ability of concentration. You are able to maintain the mind on one object or subject more easily despite any distractions that might present themselves. But also, as in your case, it would help to calm any agitating thoughts or subconscious thinking that might be the cause of the disturbances you have reported. At any rate, it's at least worth a try to see what develops.

A side benefit that develops through a successful practice in absorption is that it sets up the correct mental atmosphere for successful insight contemplation/meditation to take place.

In peace,
Ian
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Dear Ian, thank you for your thoughtful advice. You are right about the lack of emphasis on samadhi in the Goenka program. It is a deficiency I have often speculated about. During my last course in December, thanks to Daniel's advice on following instructions, I was able to go deeper in the concentration phase of the course than I ever had before and it whetted my appetite, but I realize that it is still a weakness in my daily practice.

I have downloaded Mind Like Fire Unbound and look forward to reading and hopefully applying it, particularly the section you have referred to.

Metta,

D.
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Nikolai S Halay, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
I second Ian's suggestion of strengthening your concentration. It will make it easier to accept and deal with everything going on in your meditation. You might also want to try kasina meditation to do this. In my own experience it has pushed my concentration up substantially.

Check out this thread for some ideas:

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/102060
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi David,

You're welcome.

Just in case you need some extra information about absorption states and how to recognize them and induce them, I've posted a thread in another forum entitled The General, All Purpose Jhana Thread. In it you will find a kind of primer that I put together for jhana beginners to learn from. But before clicking on that link, you will have to go to the forum and log in first as it is a private forum at the moment.

When you get there you will need to use the following log-in instructions to enter the forum. Once you are logged in, if you copy the link above into your clip board and paste it into the browser destination bar once you are in the forum and click on it, it will take you directly to the thread. Otherwise, you can click on the "Theravadan Talk" forum and look for the thread in the sticky posts at the top of the forum:

Third Jewel Forum:

http://thirdjewel.myfreeforum.org
Login name: thirdwheel
Password: thirdwheel

They ask that you not post anything while using this login to check things out. When you are ready to join, there is a "Join (free!)" link at the top of the forum index page in the link above.


The following is a brief paragraph in the opening post just to give you a better idea of what the thread is about.

And once a person begins to get an accurate idea of what jhana is, how it feels, and what to look for, it is almost impossible to stop them from achieving it. Correct knowledge is self empowering. Of course, it is often best learnt and practiced with someone face to face; that is, with a teacher or guide from whom one can receive guidance and instruction as well as with which to be able to discuss their progress. There is no substitute for hands on, in-person instruction when it comes to the slippery subject of endeavoring to communicate information about subtle mental states. Yet, even if one does not have an in-person personal guide or teacher, it is still possible to learn about and practice absorption, as long as one has access to proper instruction and feedback. So, barring a lack of either of these two stipulations, there is no excuse for a person not to take up the study of meditative absorption and to eventually succeed at its practice, all the negative press about it notwithstanding.


If you take advantage of this, let me know if you have any questions.

In peace,
Ian
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Ian, thank you so much for your advice concerning the jhanas. I am keen to develop this capacity over the long-term and will explore the resources you have availed.

In the meantime, have done three one-hour sits since the last entry. Each session seems to commence with about 10-15 minutes of very pleasurable "champagne bubbles" tingling all over the head and shoulder region. This pleasant tingling appears on other parts of the body at different times. Otherwise, I am noting (not so much labeling, I still find that challenging) various sensations appearing and passing away fairly rapidly, sensations associated with each of the sense doors.

The rigorous shaking and trembling which characterized the previous three days is pretty much gone. There is an occasional tremor originating from the base of the spine, but it is very mild and usually short-lived. Same with tightening of the neck ligaments and grimacing of facial muscles - there is the occasional tightness but nothing more.

I continue to explore sensations associated with the illusion of "I" and continue to sense a certain energy flow connected with this inquiry. Meanwhile, when not on the cushion, I continue to feel a heightened flow of energy, particularly a tingling on the scalp and the front of the head, although it is not as pronounced as it was in the previous several days. A knot of energy and pressure that has resided in the back center of the head is still there, although occasionally feeling like a dull ache.
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
David H. Adriance:

In the meantime, have done three one-hour sits since the last entry. Each session seems to commence with about 10-15 minutes of very pleasurable "champagne bubbles" tingling all over the head and shoulder region. This pleasant tingling appears on other parts of the body at different times. Otherwise, I am noting (not so much labeling, I still find that challenging) various sensations appearing and passing away fairly rapidly, sensations associated with each of the sense doors.

Those "champagne bubbles" are indicative of the alpha mind state and can lead to the arising of piti (rapture/elation), one of the factors of jhana. If you focus on the pleasantness of that sensation, it will take you into absorption, the first level at least. Once the "positive reinforcement feedback loop" begins wherein you won't have to induce the experience, it just carries on of its own volition, you'll be in the second level of absorption. From this level, one can either begin contemplation (insight) exercises or continue to deepen the tranquility toward the fourth level of absorption.

David H. Adriance:

The rigorous shaking and trembling which characterized the previous three days is pretty much gone.... Same with tightening of the neck ligaments and grimacing of facial muscles - there is the occasional tightness but nothing more.

Glad to hear you are experiencing some progress in this, and that your meditation is beginning to smooth out.

David H. Adriance:

Meanwhile, when not on the cushion, I continue to feel a heightened flow of energy, particularly a tingling on the scalp and the front of the head, although it is not as pronounced as it was in the previous several days. A knot of energy and pressure that has resided in the back center of the head is still there, although occasionally feeling like a dull ache.

That's not an unusual experience. I have the same experience. It's fairly common for meditators. It can be taken as a bit of a harbinger for the development of concentration, especially if its arising was connected with samadhi experiences. The phenomenon of continued "energy flow" after the sitting can be connected with the experience of passaddhi (a calm or "feeling of profound inner peace") that is typically experienced by meditators who are developing their sati (mindfulness). As one's practice matures, this experience of mindfulness begins to pervade one's awareness at all times.
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Ian And:

Those "champagne bubbles" are indicative of the alpha mind state and can lead to the arising of piti (rapture/elation), one of the factors of jhana. If you focus on the pleasantness of that sensation, it will take you into absorption, the first level at least.


I think I get it and it sounds very doable. But I think the main reason I haven't gone that route already is that the Goenka tradition drills into practitioners the dangers of developing sankaras of craving towards pleasant sensations.

Any advice for how to focus on pleasantness - to the point of absorption - without developing craving for it?
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Florian Weps, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
David H. Adriance:
Any advice for how to focus on pleasantness - to the point of absorption - without developing craving for it?

Hey - a few champagne bubbles won't instantly corrupt your mind. Have some confidence in yourself there.

Taking a sober emoticon look at this: An entire 1/3 of the noble eightfold Path is devoted to concentration skills. Then, there are literally hundreds of suttas in which the Buddha recommended to investigate all kinds of stuff, including mental states, along the lines of "understand the origin (i.e. how to enter the state), understand the cessation (i.e. how to exit the state), and the suffering/dissatisfaction (i.e. the downside, the slight blandness setting in with familiarity, the desire for more of the original goodness, the craving). That's a nice mix of concentration and investigation/insight.

But in order to investigate the state, you first have to get good at entering it and staying in it (by focussing on the bubbles, or by imagining how they foam up to fill your entire body, or by "letting go" of whatever tension is preventing you from settling back into them as if they were a bubble bath, or by simply smiling slightly, taking a cue from the buddha statues - pick some pleasant association, and softly, lightly focus on the bubbles)

I guess the all these stern warnings against craving for pleasant mind-states are meant to remind people that the goal is not bliss-bunnydom. Here in the West, we are fed this strange cultural guilt thing against pleasure from early on, so I think we can ease up a bit on that front.

Still, observing the craving, the little motion for more of that, is good insight practice. Notice it when it happens, where it comes from, in which ways it's a drag, and how it vanishes. The same applies to bad conscience regarding pleasurable mind states, of course. Both the attraction and the repulsion are woth investiating.

Cheers,
Florian
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
David H. Adriance:
Ian And:

Those "champagne bubbles" are indicative of the alpha mind state and can lead to the arising of piti (rapture/elation), one of the factors of jhana. If you focus on the pleasantness of that sensation, it will take you into absorption, the first level at least.


I think I get it and it sounds very doable. But I think the main reason I haven't gone that route already is that the Goenka tradition drills into practitioners the dangers of developing sankaras of craving towards pleasant sensations.

Any advice for how to focus on pleasantness - to the point of absorption - without developing craving for it?

The response that Florian gave is very applicable.

But, also, the Buddha spoke about this in one of his discourses which should also give you pause to consider your own ability in this endeavor. While I don't have time at the moment to track down this quote, I'll return later to edit this post and comment more fully.
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Ok... just finished my one hour sit. Which turned out to be about 1 hour and 15 minutes, because at the 50 minute mark or so I finally achieved absorption with the tingling sensations. Felt like a blanket of little bubbles descending over my head and part way down my chest. Very nice and I could have sat for quite a long time like that... now I really understand why they call it rapture!

When the chime went off, just the sound of it kind of made the bubbles reverberate in little waves over my head and body. After the chime had gone off a few times (it repeats every 60 seconds) I was actually able to slowly and mindfully reach over, turn it off and remain mentally in this state of rapture for about 10 more minutes. I experimented a little bit with investigating the sensations of my breath and then the bubbles themselves. I have tinnitus, which usually doesn't get in the way, but I noticed that the bubbles and the tinnitus were kind of throbbing at the same rate, maybe 3-5 times per second.

The first 50 minutes of the sit were actually a bit of a struggle with sloth and torpor. I'm not sure what actually tipped the balance from that into absorption, I will have to investigate further next time. But even as I sit here, the entire head region is quite pleasantly tingling. I don't think it will be too hard to induce my mind to return to this state... but I suppose I shouldn't speak too soon!

Thanks very much Ian and Florian for the support on this, I appreciate it... now I have to get around to reading the materials which Ian has steered me towards so that I'm not asking so many questions!
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi David,
I'm going to comment on your last post, and some of the things I'm going to go over you may not yet be able to verify from your present experience. But not to be troubled by this. Over time, and with diligent practice, you will become able to confirm what I'm describing. I'm letting you know ahead of time so that you can understand what is taking place, whether or not you're able to see and verify it at the moment.

David H. Adriance:
Ok... just finished my one hour sit. Which turned out to be about 1 hour and 15 minutes, because at the 50 minute mark or so I finally achieved absorption with the tingling sensations. Felt like a blanket of little bubbles descending over my head and part way down my chest. Very nice and I could have sat for quite a long time like that... now I really understand why they call it rapture!

That's not quite what occurred, but close. Once you are able to get your discernment more dialed in (which will occur gradually over time), you will be able to verify what I'm about to describe. It also took me several years to figure this out, so don't be too disappointed by this.

The absorption factor of rapture (piti) usually only occurs for a few seconds until sukkha (pleasure or joy) kicks in and takes over. That's why I like to translate piti as "elation" as it may only last for three to ten seconds before it begins to fade, if you notice it at all. After that, sukkha takes over as the automatic feedback mechanism which kicks in. So, you can go from the first, to the second, to the third jhana relatively quickly. But when you're just starting out, you're just trying to figure out, "Well, what does piti feel like? And what does sukkha feel like? And how can I tell the difference?" It just takes time, once you're able to understand the subtle differences, before your discernment is sharp enough to be able to notice and confirm those differences.

In the beginning of absorption practice, it is best not to concern yourself overly much with these subtleties. What's important in the beginning is to figure out how you got there so that you can induce the experience once again at will. A regular practice involving entering absorption will help to recondition the mind's ability at strengthening concentration. It is this strengthening of concentration that leads to the ability of the mind to remain mindful long after the meditation session itself has ended.

David H. Adriance:

The first 50 minutes of the sit were actually a bit of a struggle with sloth and torpor. I'm not sure what actually tipped the balance from that into absorption, I will have to investigate further next time.

Sloth and torpor were my main enemies also. So, I know what you're up against, endeavoring to fight them off. My moment of victory came when I read more closely the Mahasatipatthana Sutta wherein the Buddha encourages the meditator to establish mindfulness before entering a meditation sit. "Here a monk, having gone into the forest, or to the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down cross-legged, holding his body erect, having established mindfulness before him." That's when I realized that I hadn't been fully preparing myself beforehand.

There are several ways you can accomplish this establishment of mindfulness. You can establish mindfulness by dedicating the first five minutes of the meditation to intensely watching the breath (if the breath is your main object of meditation; otherwise, use whatever object you use, but do it intensely). Always make sure that you are wide awake and energetic before inclining to sit for meditation. If you are not wide awake, then do something to rouse yourself out of the stupor before attempting to meditate. Otherwise you may spend 50 minutes struggling during your meditation to rouse enough alertness for actual meditation to take place.

If you're like me and you like to meditate in the morning just after rising, you can make a mental resolution the night before to "arise refreshed, alert and focused." I usually repeat this three times to myself before nodding off to sleep. If you try this, you will find out that it actually does work. You should also notice that mindfulness should automatically be established as you arise from slumber.

David H. Adriance:
But even as I sit here, the entire head region is quite pleasantly tingling. I don't think it will be too hard to induce my mind to return to this state... but I suppose I shouldn't speak too soon!

Next time it happens, endeavor to pay close attention to the process as it is unfolding. Once you understand how you got there, it'll be a snap to achieve the next time. For me, I can use one of several entry points that I have identified from my experience in order to enter absorption. The one that I tout with others who like to use the breath as their meditation object is to just notice the "pleasantness of the breath" as you are entering meditation. Allow that pleasantness to grow inside your head. (In your case, it would be the "bubbly" sensation.) If you are anything like the rest of us, the simple act of the incoming and outgoing breath will automatically take over and associate itself with the sensation, and simultaneously you will be aware of both the breath and the pleasant sensation at the same time. This is the automatic feedback mechanism kicking in, allowing you to remain in absorption effortlessly. It is also why I encourage others to use the breath as their meditation object if at all possible, because the breath is always within one's attentive reach. In other words, it is easy to avert the mind to the breath once concentration wanes in order to reestablish concentration.

From there, you can either intend to deepen the tranquility (samatha practice) and head for the fourth jhana and possibly beyond. Or you can avert the mind toward some Dhamma theme and examine it for insight.

As far as not becoming addicted to the pleasant sensation of absorption, consider this passage from the Mahasaccaka Sutta (MN 36) spoken at a moment when Gotama first realized that he was able to identify the experience of absorption (take note of the footnote to Bhikkhu Nanamoli's translation):

31. "I considered: 'I recall that when my father the Sakyan was occupied, while I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, I entered upon and abided in the first jhana, which is accompanied by directed thought and examination, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. Could that be the path to enlightenement?' Then, following on that memory, came the realization: 'That is the path to enlightenment.'
32. "I thought: 'Why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states?' I thought: 'I am not afraid of that pleasure since it has nothing to do with sensual pleasures and unwholesome states.' "

Footnote
390. This passage marks a change in the Bodhisatta's evaluation of pleasure; now it is no longer regarded as something to be feared and banished by the practice of austerities, but, when born of seclusion and detachment, is seen as a valuable accompaniment of the higher stages along the path to enlightenment. See MN 139.9 on the twofold division of pleasure.

With the application of equanimity, you should not fear falling into the trap of becoming overly entranced by the pleasure of the absorption experience. Also, after a while (meaning after having spent many times entering absorption), that pleasure can eventually even out and be experienced as a deepening of the mind's concentration ability. At least, that's pretty much how I experience it today (although I can still access the pleasure factor if I wish to).
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Dear Ian,

It is difficult for me to express the depth of my gratitude for the advice and teachings you have offered me. They are practical, concise yet thorough, and speak directly to the experiences I am going through at this point in my practice. I have read them and re-read them several times, usually before my twice-daily sittings and when I retire to bed at night. I feel as though I understand them and am able to apply them, with good results seeming to manifest themselves already. I wish you could post them to other threads on this site because I have no doubt that many others would benefit as well.

I believe that I am beginning to discern the difference between piti and sukkha. I seem to be able to summon piti with certain thoughts or dispositions (including my gratitude for the teachings you have shared with me - I kid you not); it is subtle and fleeting but immediately precedes the pleasurable sensations that characterize sukkha. These are a bit coarser and can be sustained for a longer period of time. I know you advised against concerning myself with this level of analysis, but I seem to have been able to induce these states with increasing success and so started to turn my attention to this, in particular during my last sitting a couple of hours ago.

It is clear to me that absorption concentration can give my practice "legs"... it is not difficult to sit for extended periods of time without movement. I assume that with time I will begin to be able to discern the levels of jhana that the concentration arrives at, but for now I am not really trying.

The sutta which you shared regarding pleasure as a valuable accompaniment to practice really resonated with me. Whether it is a reflection of Western culture or my own hangup, I think that I was subconsciously associating pleasure with a lack of "serious" meditation practice. It is a relief to be absolved of that particular trip.

One question: what criteria should one use for deciding whether to deepen the tranquility or to shift to Vipassana? I realize that there may not be a definite rule of thumb, but would be interested to know how you and others arrive at this decision. Should one decide this before meditation or on the fly?
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boeuf f, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 60 Join Date: 2/4/10 Recent Posts
Just a note to say how helpful this thread is! It's the perspective I've been looking seeking for the last week. The "shaking and trembling" seemed not to apply and so I didn't read it until today--after I had a paroxysm on the cushion which was much like David describes.

I am very curious about this and hope other more experienced meditators will offer their views:

One question: what criteria should one use for deciding whether to deepen the tranquility or to shift to Vipassana? I realize that there may not be a definite rule of thumb, but would be interested to know how you and others arrive at this decision. Should one decide this before meditation or on the fly?


One reads about making this decision (extending into further jhanas or applying insight) but not a lot about how to decide that one. I realize it's a "big debate" sort of issue among various schools.

bf
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hello David,

Thank you for the extended feedback. It really helps me to know whether I'm communicating effectively when people "get" what I'm saying, as opposed to not getting it.

The reason I can be so precise is because I've probably been through the same or similar experiences that most other meditators are (or have been) going through, so I know just where you are at, as long as you (meaning whomever is asking the question) can describe it in terms that I can understand. This business of awakening, as Daniel's book endeavors to point out, is really not so mysterious or accessible only to those who have taken the time to specialize in it (meaning mostly the monastic community). It is accessible to anyone who becomes diligent enough to engage in serious practice.

When I mentioned not to be too concerned with attempting to discern the difference between piti and sukha I meant not to become too worried about trying to be able to identify all this stuff right off the bat. But with someone like yourself, having practiced for more than eight years, you have a good enough foundation in the practice to be able to make great strides in your practice in relatively short amounts of time if given the right instruction to work with. It was more a "suggestion" than an advisement. If you're able to make such discernments sooner rather than later, then so much the better. I just didn't want you to be dismayed at not being able to do so right off the bat if they didn't present themselves in a manner in which you could recognize them.

You mentioned: "I assume that with time I will begin to be able to discern the levels of jhana that the concentration arrives at, but for now I am not really trying." That's perfectly okay. It took me a few years before I became confident in my ability to do this also. It's a gradual practice, so day by day things should improve in measured amounts. As long as you can tell the difference between first entering absorption (meaning the 1st jhana) and the fourth level of absorption (that is, once you've experienced the fourth jhana) you'll be okay. From the fourth jhana you can explore the immaterial absorptions, so it is just good to know when you have arrived there in order to be able to extend your practice beyond the material absorptions.

I don't know if you read any of the suttas in translation (we haven't inquired about that in this thread), but there is a gold mine of information and teaching to be found if you can acquire the Wisdom Publication editions of these translations. The Majjhima, Digha, and Samyutta Nikayas can be found published by Wisdom. But the only viable translation of the Anguttara Nikaya only has about 10% of the suttas translated as it is an anthology of that tome. But it is still worth getting and reading/contemplating. You will find much knowledge and wisdom, as well as answers to questions you may have about a variety of Dhamma topics, just through reading the discourses in translation. I know that it seems like an insurmountable task to read through these huge volumes, but it is well worth the effort for those who want to better understand the original teachings. I took it one sutta at a time one day at a time. Over the course of a year you can finish a book like the 2,000 page Samyutta Nikaya. Of course, the other three won't take that long.

David H. Adriance:

One question: what criteria should one use for deciding whether to deepen the tranquility or to shift to Vipassana? I realize that there may not be a definite rule of thumb, but would be interested to know how you and others arrive at this decision. Should one decide this before meditation or on the fly?

You are correct, in that there really is no rule of thumb regarding this. Yet, you will know within yourself when the time is right.

As for myself, I needed to to cultivate and develop calm and tranquility before moving on to contemplating other more engaging subjects. Oddly enough, most of my understanding of teachings such as Dependent Co-Arising and the five aggregates occurred while reading and contemplating several academic books by scholarly types, both from ordained and academic writers. I didn't really progress through the nanas using meditation as my main vehicle, although I did experience several key realizations while using meditation/contemplation/insight practice. And many of the insights that I am aware of today had their beginning during a contemplative meditation.

As far as deciding whether to approach insight contemplation before meditation or on the fly, this too can vary. When you realize just how pliable the mind is, you realize that insight can take place just about any time you wish to avert the mind toward that endeavor. I would recommend the practice that you seem to have stumbled upon by reading about the subject matter beforehand and then using that as a spring board for your meditation/contemplation. I've used this approach myself for years, as it primes the mind for more exploration of the subject.

It is gratifying to hear how well you are doing. Keep up the good work.

In peace,
Ian
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David H. Adriance, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 12 Join Date: 12/9/09 Recent Posts
Beginning with an evening sit yesterday, and continuing in both sittings today, my concentration has gone out the window, replaced for the most part by sloth and torpor. I find it difficult to follow more than 3-4 breaths without getting lost and having to find my way back. Individual sensations can be detected after they arise but investigation is muddled. Hence, neither samatha nor vipassana feels viable. The mind feels like it is swaddled in thick cotton; I can plow through a one-hour sitting, but it feels like I’m in a rather numbing haze.

I have a tendency to go through periods during meditation where I’m yawning frequently, although it doesn’t feel as though the yawning is due to fatigue or boredom as much as an involuntary release of tension of some sort.

I don’t feel very sharp when I’m off the cushion either – I seem to be frequently searching for a particular word or phrase, but can't quite remember it – but otherwise not too bad. I suppose this isn’t a Dark Night period… but I haven’t yet figured out really how to classify where I am on the maps. I’m not discouraged but treating this as a case of “two steps forward and one step back”…
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Ian And, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
David H. Adriance:
Beginning with an evening sit yesterday, and continuing in both sittings today, my concentration has gone out the window, replaced for the most part by sloth and torpor. I find it difficult to follow more than 3-4 breaths without getting lost and having to find my way back. Individual sensations can be detected after they arise but investigation is muddled. Hence, neither samatha nor vipassana feels viable. The mind feels like it is swaddled in thick cotton; I can plow through a one-hour sitting, but it feels like I’m in a rather numbing haze.

This is nothing that any of the rest of us haven't experienced from time to time. It's a matter of the development of sati (mindfulness). Keep working at it, and it will come. You may have some mental distraction. If there are problems that come up in life that need to be dealt with, I always found it beneficial to use my meditation session to contemplate them. Spent many an hour doing that, working my way up to better concentration.

All in all, loss of concentration is an indicator of a deficiency in sati. Another way to approach this is to work on developing samatha (calmness, tranquility) meditation for a while, focusing on entering absorption. Once you are able to enter absorption, concentrate on getting to the fourth level and rest there for the duration of the meditation session. This will help to develop stronger levels of concentration. Although it may take a few weeks or months. It all depends upon the number of distractions you are working against. Once you are able to get the mind to settle down and become still, concentration will begin to develop in earnest. It takes time and diligent practice (as well as a certain honesty with yourself with regard to the distractions).

David H. Adriance:

I don’t feel very sharp when I’m off the cushion either – I seem to be frequently searching for a particular word or phrase, but can't quite remember it – but otherwise not too bad. I suppose this isn’t a Dark Night period… but I haven’t yet figured out really how to classify where I am on the maps. I’m not discouraged but treating this as a case of “two steps forward and one step back”…

Try not to become too enthralled/entangled by Daniel's maps. Unnecessary conceptualization can throw you off. You may be creating a problem where no problem exists. Only your ability to be brutally honest with yourself (about what is actually going on affecting your life) will tell the tale. What I'm endeavoring to point out is, don't allow yourself to buy into playing mind games with yourself, trying to out guess yourself. It can only create self-doubt. Be present with yourself all the time (which is another way of saying "be mindful"). I know, easier said than done sometimes. But once you begin to gain control of the mind, you'll understand what I'm talking about, and lack of mindfulness won't arise to become a hindrance.

It took me a long time to accomplish this myself. I spent 20 years or more languishing in periods of mental dullness. Things began to change once I realized how essential it was to actually be able to still the mind, to bring it to quiescence so that it wasn't able to be moved by unexpected or unanticipated phenomena. Once you are able to command the mind to "be silent" and it actually obeys, you will understand what I'm talking about. It is at this moment that you will be able to begin developing concentration and mindfulness. So, to reiterate: work on samatha practice for a while. Calm the mind first. Clear seeing will eventually take care of itself.
ratanajothi -, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 17 Join Date: 9/30/09 Recent Posts
Thank you IanAnd. That's a monster of a resource. Looking forward to further postings.
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S. Pro, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 86 Join Date: 2/7/10 Recent Posts
Hi David,

my humble take on your experience is that this is clearly kundalini.
I am not an expert in anything but I had similar symptoms - though in a less extreme fashion -
when I purposely arose the kundalini by myself.
I started to shake (rock back and forth, energy pulsing up my body) so strongly that I had to get off the cushion.
I don´t know how your experience fits into other conceptional frameworks (Theravada, Christian...), from a Zen perspective
it would be "just" makyo (hallucinations... relative reality) and thus meaningless.

I assume you would be well off to read about kundalini (books, forums...)

I also hope you´ll be well since there are serious dangers in an uncontrolled kundalini awakening process.

Sven
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Donald Adams, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Shaking and trembling

Posts: 3 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey guys,

This thread is exactly what I’ve been searching for! I didn’t know if I was experiencing raptures or 3rd nana. Like David I regularly hit a place where I shake, quiver, twitch, experience heat and energy flying through me, concentration is shaky but there. I’ve even lain down on the floor and let it all fly! Interesting experiences and rather humorous to watch. I try to relax, allow and observe and that seems to increase the intensity. I had been thinking it was nana 3, Knowledge of the Three Characteristics, but recently at a 16 day retreat at IMS the teacher said it was rapture and was not fruitful. So now I see Daniel says it is A&P territory and Ian says look toward the meditation object. I have been working on concentration with a kasina object and anapanasati. Helpful!!

In case this is helpful, I’m pretty sure I’ve crossed the A&P on my first Goenka retreat two years ago. Intense concentration and on day 5 or 6 I was everywhere in the body at the same time, I was glowing, waves of rainbow particles where flying through me, and there was no space or time. I think I made it to Equanimity and Boundless Space a few months ago, but the raptures were happening before that and continue now.

Thanks to all for your insight and advice! Thanks David for starting this thread. Gotta love this place and MCTB! Help I don’t get anywhere else!

Don