Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Conor O'Higgins, modified 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 10:42 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 1/31/13 10:42 PM

Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

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Hi guys,

My concentration abilities have reached a point where I can get into jhana any time I really generate the effort. The problem is I'm no sooner in jhana than thoughts start to arise (mostly along the lines of, "Hey I'm in jhana!"). These thoughts rock the boat enough to get me out of jhana. They're not like thoughts of the involuntary monkey mind; they seem to come from a higher, clearer, less noisy place. Most of my jhana last around 3-4 breaths; the better ones last 20-30 breaths.

A Tibetan teacher once described concentration practise to me as devoting nearly all of the attention to mindfulness, with just a little sliver of the mind reserved for introspective alertness. Maybe my problem is that I am giving slightly too much attention to introspective alertness.

I think the solution is to put a lot of relaxed passive mindfulness on the object, hold it loosely and let experience come rather than trying to force it. I'm not sure though and any advice would be appreciated. I'd especially love to hear from anyone who has been through this problem and solved it.

Thanks brothers
Rod C, modified 10 Years ago at 2/1/13 3:58 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/1/13 3:55 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 88 Join Date: 11/19/12 Recent Posts
Hi Connor,

I am no expert but have found that setting up the access concentration and then tilting attention slightly to the area where a good sensation is developing (for me its the solar plexus) and then letting go, you get 'pulled in' to the Jhana. As you say, it is really hard initially to not think about how great that is and marvel at the process happening but with more experiences of it, your wonderment will 'normalise' and it will be easier to 'care less'. So try to be the watcher, unphased and not caring. I found one time, I was tired and lay down to meditate and was tired of trying and so just let go naturally and slipped into first Jhana like it was a warm bath. Staying in Jhana's for a while takes practice but I found developing skill at continually relaxing and letting go amidst the Jhana experience helps sustain it - takes a bit of practice but am sure you will get it if you are getting to Jhana already. So it does work in my experience. Hope that helps - as I said, am no expert but have overcome this hurdle myself and glad to pass it on if it helps. Best wishes for your practice emoticon
Dan Cooney, modified 10 Years ago at 2/1/13 6:46 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/1/13 6:46 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

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The only truly reliable way I've found to get here is first to streamline and harmonize the breath mechanics, then by rote repetition execute the perfect breath for months of mindful rote practice, keeping the bodily processes relatively calm (stress is bad, alcohol consumes a ton of qi to process, etc) and once the habit-energy is very strong, air passages unused in breathing to limit olfactory nerve stimulation....awareness affixed at its seat at the niwan...energetics of breath decently net energy positive...

...that's really the only way I've been able to get these states to sustain. Otherwise they are fleeting because you do not have sufficient habit-energy (and requisite correlative phenomena) to sustain them. Very long breaths require a qi reserve - I can tell how deep my reserves are by how long my breaths are. (For an extreme example, many years ago I was in excellent practice with 1:10+ breaths and there were a couple parties I attended on a certain weekend, I got well intoxicated 3 days in a row, then on the 4th day when I sat down to meditate I was shocked that I felt like I was struggling for 30 seconds! It took me weeks to reestablish my prior level of practice.)

Of course "once you get there" it is easier to return there - but I never would have gotten stable states to begin with had I not ground my body to dust through rote repetition, awareness watching awareness, awareness watching breath, but there is no duality when done simultaneously emoticon
hong ng, modified 10 Years ago at 2/2/13 7:39 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/2/13 7:39 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

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Dan Cooney:
awareness affixed at its seat at the niwan

Very long breaths require a qi reserve

Hi Dan, what do you mean by the above two lines? Can you elaborate as to where niwan is and how you affix your awareness to it, and why long breaths require a qi reserve (does not mean without qi reserve you cannot take long breaths?)
Dan Cooney, modified 10 Years ago at 2/2/13 11:13 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/2/13 11:13 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 60 Join Date: 10/22/12 Recent Posts
I'm sure a more buddhist oriented answer can be generated, but I'm not very well versed emoticon

One of the important concepts I've come across is this fixing the spirit at the seat of awareness. Dr Yang described it in a way as "condensing the shen at the upper dantien." You basically bring your awareness in and set it there, as if bringing a lamp into a room, lighting it, and setting it on a pedestal. The attention does not wander from there. So when you pay good attention to the breath mechanics and ingrain a solid habit-energy, the subconscious is literally reprogrammed with the protocol of breath mechanics one has mindfully cultivated. Less "mental capital" becomes necessary to execute harmonious breath mechanics, more awareness-potential available to watch the awareness or simply bask in the luminescence that eventually occurs. My wife said she can tell when I am in good practice because it flows through in my breath mechanics when I am sleeping - more proof that focused awareness literally programs the subconscious process; the brain builds neural networks based upon habit and experience - *that* is why mindful action is as potent as it is.

Very long breaths, in my experience, require more qi reserves, that's simply how it goes. Its like having money, you're able to make more money when you have more to begin with. So practice every day becomes like earning interest on your investment. That's partially how you are able to reach states of the breath stopping yet no hypoxia is felt - because at root it is the energy extracted from reactions that fuel our bodies. Ergo, when in good practice, one may substitute a measure of the electrochemical energy we derive from foodstuffz by the electromagnetic energy derived from having cultivated a good qi reserve, a good lower dantien breath, the ability to enter deep stillness so that the energy is integrated well. When streamlined well, things become more efficient, and it is exactly these efficiency gains that allow for the possibilities of very long extended breaths, I'm talking at least a minute. In my years of training I've never gone much deeper than 1:15, 1:30, due to my not being able to sufficiently smooth out and situate the rest of my life in line with what very deep practice requires - it seems at some point society perturbs one too much, which is why many a cultivator has retreated to the woods to further practice. As such I've gone in and out of quasi deep levels of practice over the years and its allowed me to gather data and note some certain phenomena that seem to always manifest as certain thresholds are crossed, i.e. whenever my breaths are consistently reaching 45, 50 seconds I have this accompanying metabolic boost, as if some coefficient of friction has been crossed. I'm sure there's plenty more, deeper ;)
hong ng, modified 10 Years ago at 2/3/13 7:32 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/3/13 7:32 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/12 Recent Posts
Hi Dan. you still didnt say where the niwan is, but i understand chinese and did some search on the upper dantian - it's the spot in between the eyebrow right? so do u maintain awareness of this even as you keep your mindfulness on your breath? or do u use the sensation of this spot as a means to observe your breath?

by 1:15, you meant 1 breath in 15 mins right?
Dan Cooney, modified 10 Years ago at 2/3/13 9:57 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/3/13 9:57 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

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Sorry for not being more explicit emoticon No, I'm actually referring to the midbrain, the pineal/pituitary dynamic, in the center of the head. A teacher of mine referenced that location as the "wisdom eye." It is where the control center for the endocrine function is, it is where the logical root of the Cranial Nerves are - so by fixing the awareness there, you are not engaging the cranial nerves to reach out and express their nature of sense discovery, that in and of itself saves a bunch of energy (research has shown brain cells consume 10x the oxygen on avg of most other cell types.)

The yintang third eye point is merely a conduit in my experience, it does not have the "elixir field" properties of an energy center like the niwan, lower dantien, solar plexus (see the celiac plexus for a nerve-plexus oriented view on that one) or the heart center. So really, the third eye point opening up correlates to the semiconductor nature of bone crossing an energetic threshold. Once a semiconductor breaches that threshold and switches from being an insulator to a conductor, it doesnt change back, at least for bone, so that's why its said once the third eye truly opens it remains open. But that's just a downstream side effect and not really some goal to shoot for, because there are far more important things to pay attention to. That's where the mixup with "opening the third eye" and "enlightenment experiences coming and going" arises from, because the ni wan is really the important structure there and not the third eye. You can open that and not have the wisdom cultivated, and if I recall correctly the wisdom eye opening correlates to prajnaparamita in some capacity. I'm certainly not transcendentally wise emoticon

The Buddha dharma does not depart from meditative concentration, so that is a fundamental point along the path of realization and it extends beyond the physical. Master Nan recommended the Surangama sutra for helping understand cultivating realization. Once objects have been cast aside, that which is left, the true illumination - is the signal we wish to pick out of the sea of noise. My efforts at calming the breath and attenuating the cranial nerves are merely a part of "casting objects aside" by rote analysis, from the resultant coherence the object no longer exists, the signal identified and attenuated, almost like high energy physics GUT theories where at higher levels of vibration, even forces become indistinguishable from one another, e.g. the "electroweak" scale where the vibration of energy is high enough that electromagnetism and the weak force are indistinguishable in their resonance. This is how "the body is changed and no longer physically the same" after say the yangshen stage of cultivation.

So yes, maintain awareness at the midbrain, niwan, simultaneously executing the breath mechanics. (I dont quite understand what it would mean to use the sensation as a means to observe the breath. Both are done simultaneously, as one, no differentiation that these are different "locations" really.)

hahaha...were I able to do 15 minute breaths I would probably be amongst those in the woods. A minute and fifteen is still a pretty decent accomplishment, but 15 is orders of magnitude further in accomplishment! emoticon From BK Frantzis' energy gates he gave a general milestone layout of 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes. I dont think I've ever heard of 15 minutes, outside of the sort of levels of cultivation where one spends an entire month in cultivation and is able to stop all the bodily processes.
hong ng, modified 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 7:38 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 7:38 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

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Hi Dan, thanks for the explanation.

Based on your description of the niwan as the pituitary, I've found this image:

Now the question is: how do you know you have located the correct location of the pituitary in your head? I did a sensory scan of my own head - I can feel quite a lot of things in there. actually i have the same questions regarding the lower dantian - how do you know you have the right spot?

AS for the maintaining of awareness ... it's a bit difficult to explain. For example, when I meditate I try to maintain observation of the breath through the sensation below the nose and above the lip. it seems quite contradictory to me if someone tells me to place my awareness at the niwan (if I can identify its location), as well as the breath under the nose.

I see now what you meant by 1:15. I remember I once asked an elder (who I think as reached at least the 4th jhana and has seen nibanna) what to do with the pulse that gets for loud in my head. he said that his heart beats once every few minutes. i guess that's somewhat related.
Dan Cooney, modified 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 1:08 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 1:08 PM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 60 Join Date: 10/22/12 Recent Posts
That image seems to indicate that its not the pituitary.

Pineal gland, more like it:

At any rate its in a certain context that "pineal pituitary dynamic" is referenced, think amrita and the sphenoid sinus but that's by no means doing it justice. The thing is, if you're looking for a "location" then you're doin' it wrong emoticon Its...an energy dynamic. Same with the lower dantien, you are given the rough trailmap, but you have to really go walk it to experience it. 2 inches under the navel, front:back 3:7 only tells you a location, but what you're doing isnt traveling somewhere to see a sight, its expressing an energy dynamic, for lack of a better term. Niwan is under baihui, so draw straight lines from baihui and yintang and that is the location.

Breathing with the nostrils is a waste of time for meditation. (imho emoticon ) If you think of a hose, what happens to the walls of the hose when pressure is added? They firm up. It is the same with your air passageways - that's what led me to come up with an air passage identification exercise. Spending a little time seeing how and where you may effect the local air pressure with all of the various parts where air physically goes to. Then, from a standpoint of action, derive inaction - let go of them completely and do not use the sinuses or any of it to buffer the incoming air pressure. It takes emphasis off of the diaphragm (and by extension, the "fundamental 3" structures of breath mechanics, diaphragm-psoas-perineum.) Also, the vagus nerve passes along portions of it, providing feedback. What do you want that feedback to be? ;)

That actually helps the breath disappear, so like a car engine's piston you have one surface performing the chamber's volume adjustment (compression; in the car it reaches criticality and sparked, in human air simply moves in and out.) Reduces the 40cps excitatory firing of the olfactory cranial nerve.

So really it becomes managing the interplay of the diaphragm-psoas-perineum dymanic while holding the awareness at the niwan. (I like saying niwan because it is not referring to the specific physical structure. We're talking energy dynamics here emoticon ) Anything not necessary, eliminate it. Work until you cant hear yourself breathe. Then put in earplugs and repeat. Dunk your head in the bath if you need to, heh. On the way figure out how to let the heart sit comfortably and shine happily and the breath will be even finer.

Set program, repeat ad infinitum. That provides inertia and leverage. That sets the stage for 'real work' realizing the nature of awareness and such emoticon

Regarding a pulse that gets loud in your head, eliminate the tension. You're not forcing anything. If anything it is more like upgrading bandwith...or "relaxing to increase flux density." Correlating ohm's law, tension restricts. Make sure your brow is not furrowed, a slight smile helps open baihui, relax all of the muscles of the face and eyes. So if you are trying to locate the niwan and do it too forcefully and get a headache or such a pulse whereas it is a distraction or uncomfortable, bring the energy down. You dont want to leave energy to get stuck in the head, that is why it is important to relax. When you've had enough, dont keep going in a session. Where exactly you bring it down to isnt as important, you can bring it to the heart if that works, or the solar plexus, or the lower dantien. The yongquan on the feet, even. There's also a good exercise called pulling down the heavens that would help for that also. But I want to stress that it is important to proceed gently with the niwan - that's why I've tried to give analogies like setting a lamp on a pedestal in the middle of a room - because the lamp doesnt struggle to put out the light, it simply shines from its location. That is all the awareness is doing, so this should not be an intense thing at all. Light and comfy emoticon

When done, use an open palm to rub the baihui, rub along the ub & gb meridians and out the shoulders, also go across the forehead and down the face, and settle to the lower dantien before entering stillness a la hexagram 2.

Whenever you do energy practices, anything working with an energy center, always enter deep stillness afterward. Plan that as part of your meditation time, it is every bit as important as the active portion of the energy work. There's no point in doing an hour of some energy center work if you're not going to let that resonance settle deeply into your being after having done the work. Far better to do 10, 20, 30 minutes of the active stuff and 30, 60 minutes of utter stillness afterward. This is where the active portion of ingraining an aware breath protocol manifests a great, efficient breath when you've let go of everything to go into deep stillness - it makes it that much deeper. But not having that, no problem, correct the thought and habit and establish the habit-energy. And make the times something reasonable for whatever your "current state" is, dont expect too much of progress, let go of any outcomes anyway. That's not to say one cant push himself, but more that one will have to know himself and be wise to pitfalls that may inhibit or divert practice.

Now, once one is familiar and comfortable with "fixing the spirit at the seat of awareness" that can be done any and even all times, I think that is one of the vinayana precepts for monks, "not letting awareness leak away"...but I wanted to reiterate some of the fundamentals of these processes so they are done safely and wisely.

The tao reflects upon itself, smiling emoticon
hong ng, modified 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 8:50 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/4/13 8:50 PM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 11 Join Date: 12/30/12 Recent Posts
Thanks Dan, for the long reply, and apologies to Conor for hijacking the thread.

I think the next question i must ask now is: what does energy feels like? is there an experiment i can do that will acquaint me with what energy feels like?

Also, is there a book that you can recommend that I can understand this better for myself? When I was younger, in university, I used to read books by Nan Huai Jin but the chinese language can be a bit cryptic to fully understand. English books would be better.

My feel is that I have been trying to rush things in my pursuit of the jhanas, without taking care of some mechanical details. certainly, by incorporating deep breathing in my meditation recently (after getting reassurance from reading instructions by Thanissaro Bhikkhu and Buddhadasa Bhikkhu that this is ok in Buddhism), my breathing has improved a lot.
Dan Cooney, modified 10 Years ago at 2/5/13 7:20 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 2/5/13 7:20 AM

RE: Jhana is very fleeting/unstable

Posts: 60 Join Date: 10/22/12 Recent Posts
What something feels like depends on what its manifestation is. So doing coherent abdominal breathing it generates the fire in the belly, but what exactly that feels like you have to do the practices and walk the path to really have the experience. It is like that with any practice or energy center, they have their own qualitative peculiarities like an apple or peach has certain fruity taste. The experiment you can do...heh...I almost feel like being funny and ask why I am typing!

Focus on the breath mechanics I have spoken about, and breathing helps meditation just as meditation helps breathing emoticon A book, there's plenty out there. I'd recommend the YMAA embryonic breathing book - with a few hundred pages of ancient translation in there, it is a book that imho should be on the shelf of any meditator. It contains the chinese also, but I'd be just as adept at deciphering chicken footprints if I had to rely on that emoticon Ive had a few people tell me I should write, and I have begun a bit, but it is quite an arduous task. Speaking spontaneously like this is much easier, but to write a book one must make it coherent for both the beginner and expert - otherwise, do you really understand the subject you are talking about? emoticon