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Concentration

Was that jhana?

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Was that jhana?
Answer
8/28/13 8:20 PM
Hi all,

First time poster. Skip to the end if you don't want the backstory.

About five years ago, I spent a year in a Zen Buddhist monastery, but I haven't really been meditating with any frequency since then. Even while there, I was mostly wallowing in psycho-drama ("content"). I kind of hated meditation, to be honest. I just thought it was beneficial. But I did at times attain some degree of concentration.

Well, this past week, I made the right google search, and ended up discovering the concepts of access concentration and the jhanas. The following description of access concentration sounded so attainable that I thought I'd try it: (http://downtoearthdharmablog.blogspot.com/2011/10/access-concentration-pragmatic-approach.html)

Usually my meditation is painful. I feel I am making no progress, and have never had much impetus to continue: I've had no insights to speak of (other than, perhaps: everyone is neurotic and 99% of thoughts are worthless). But the thought of access concentration being a slightly different state got me excited, and bamn, on the first try, I felt a qualitative difference in my meditation experience.

Actually, it was different enough that it didn't feel like a struggle. I was still being effortful, but I no longer felt pummeled by my thoughts. Intrigued, I asked, "what's next?" and stumbled here. I thought I'd make the first jhana my goal. That was about two days ago. Since then, I've done about six hours of meditation, maybe a little more. It usually went like this:

1) Attain access concentration by focusing on the breath.
2) Notice pleasant bodily sensations.
3) Attend to pleasant sensations.
4) Sensations rise and then fall away
5) Return to breath, repeat.

Until tonight, I'd just stop eventually. There would be no cascade of pleasantness or obviously altered state. Sometimes the pleasure would get fairly intense, but not overwhelming.

Tonight, though, in a little 25 minute sit, it totally cascaded. Here's how it felt:

1) My eyes were closed, and I was focusing on my breath
2) I attended to the pleasant sensations, and they rose and fell as usual
3) I tried relaxing a little more, feeling subtle pleasure in my whole body as I breathed
4) And then, it began to multiply: I felt expansive and, I don't know, static-y with "pleasure", though it was a kind of rough, hard-to-handle pleasure.
5) My eyes started quivering uncontrollably and my head felt like it was tilting back, though I can't be sure.
6) I saw a very bright light in my mind, but it didn't last long; kind of a burst.
7) It all got a little overwhelming, and I wanted the eye-quivering to stop, so I consciously tried to relax.
8) This helped, but the pleasure quickly subsided and left only this huge expansive "dark" feeling.
9) Then I didn't quite know what to do, so I opened my eyes, calmed down, and wrote this emoticon

What that the first jhana? If so: What should I do next? I assume the more I do it, the more stable it gets? Is it appropriate to enter jhana every time I meditate?

I feel like I've made more progress in two days than I made in a year of intensive practice at the monastery. What the hell :-P

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
8/28/13 8:49 PM as a reply to Seamus O.
I think you're on the right track but ultimately your mind should absorb on it's own from consistent practice. It'll feel like a muscle brain shift where you don't need to put as much effort in "staying there". Bright retina behaviour is typical of access concentration and jhanas but jhanas can happen even if the retina fades in brightness. Those things are momentary. It should feel like a place where the mind can stay a long while until you let go of the meditation. Typical sensations of the first jhana include body skin warmth and tingling rapture. Be careful in over analysis during the practice. You want to feel like "oh I don't have to ruminate about my negative big issues. All I have to do is pay attention to the breath. What a relief!". Now you wouldn't say this but instead feel the restfulness of not having to ruminate over negative content. "Oh this is all I have to do." Your resting in simplicity of just the breath. Complexity is your enemy. emoticon As soon as the mind wanders off just come back to the breath right away without analysis and keep doing it without a mental reward. The ego wants an instantaneous reward but it won't get it if it keeps "checking in" to see if there is a jhana happening. You'll know when you see warmth and tingling rapture and steady concentration that seems to happen on it's own momentum. One of the tricks is to relax your facial muscles and body muscles. When the body is relaxed it's easier for the mind to relax.

Leigh Brasington is great at this stuff:

Instruction for entering jhana

Keep practicing!

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
9/10/13 4:34 PM as a reply to Seamus O.
This sounds similar, though perhaps less intense than what happened to me at an 8 day retreat back in May:

1) Awareness of pleasant subtle vibrations throughout the body.
2) Vibrations started to cascade/multiply.
3) Feeling of expansive-ness.
4) Heart started to beat VERY hard.
5) Breathing became extremely exaggerated.
6) Eyelids fluttering uncontrollably.
7) Physically perceived light at or just above the crown.

My heart was beating so hard that it felt dangerous, to the point that my concentration was compromised and the whole thing broke down.

Interestingly, I dreamt about this a week prior to the retreat.

Initially I was excited but this soon turned to anxiety then fear over the next few hours.

I believe it's got something to do with the kundalini phenomenon. Here's a quote from Gopi Krishna:

"The illumination grew brighter and brighter, the roaring louder, I experienced a rocking sensation and then felt myself slipping out of my body, entirely enveloped in a halo of light…I felt the point of consciousness that was myself growing wider, surrounded by waves of light…I was now all consciousness, without any outline, without any idea of a corporeal appendage, without any feeling or sensation coming from the senses, immersed in a sea of light simultaneously conscious and aware of every point, spread out, as it were, in all directions without any barrier or material obstruction…bathed in light and in a state of exaltation and happiness impossible to describe."

source:

[url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gopi_Krishna_(yogi)]Gopi Krishna Wiki

I don't think it's first Jhana. I'm sure I've only stabilised it once so I'm no expert but it was a bit like being in a nice quiet room/space with a bright (in terms of mental clarity) and calm quality to it. The fluttering eyelids is suggestive of some kind of seizure, which is in line with the concept of the kundalini energy causing neuronal firing.

Have you had any kundalini symptoms since this experience?

eg. Disturbed sleep, cranial pressures/headaches, inexplicable tingling sensations around the body?

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
11/1/13 9:29 AM as a reply to Professional Idiot.
Where do you focus on exactly? In my experience, a lot of this 'kundalini' stuff can be prevented by observing the breath throughout the entire body. I used to focus on either just the belly or just the nostrils, and every single meditation session I would experience involuntary movement of my body. Usually my eyes, but quite often my upper body would rock back and forth, or my head would shake from left to right. I recently switched to whole-body breathing meditation, observing the breath sensation in the entire body, and letting go of tension in the body. It made a really big difference. No more distracting body movements, and a few days ago I was able to briefly enter jhana. I felt I had total body awareness for a while, and at the same time experienced pleasure/rapture.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
11/1/13 5:56 PM as a reply to Professional Idiot.
Professional Idiot:
This sounds similar, though perhaps less intense than what happened to me at an 8 day retreat back in May:

1) Awareness of pleasant subtle vibrations throughout the body.
2) Vibrations started to cascade/multiply.
3) Feeling of expansive-ness.
4) Heart started to beat VERY hard.
5) Breathing became extremely exaggerated.
6) Eyelids fluttering uncontrollably.
7) Physically perceived light at or just above the crown.

My heart was beating so hard that it felt dangerous, to the point that my concentration was compromised and the whole thing broke down.

Initially I was excited but this soon turned to anxiety then fear over the next few hours.

I believe it's got something to do with the kundalini phenomenon....
The fluttering eyelids is suggestive of some kind of seizure, which is in line with the concept of the kundalini energy causing neuronal firing.


Two points, one theoretical and one more practical (and more important).

1. We have a pretty good understanding of the biochemistry underlying neuronal firing, and there isn't any evidence that non-physical spirtual energy can influence those processes.

Instead, the opposite causal direction seems to make more sense - that our experience of "kundalini energy" is caused by neuronal firing.

2. These symptoms sound very much like hyperventilation, a panic attack, a seizure, or some combination thereof.

The point to highlight is that on the quest to experience altered states of mind like 1st Jhana or the A&P one can get led astray looking for weird stuff (like tingling, twitching & body movements, fluttering eyelids etc) and you can end getting into states you probably would want to avoid. They can sometimes seem like fun but can easily lead to strong fear and anxiety (as noted above).

If you do find yourself getting into these extreme states, really trying to calm down and control your breathing (i.e. avoiding hyperventilation) can help - slowing down and/or holding your breath for 10 seconds is good for this.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
12/5/13 3:23 PM as a reply to sawfoot _.
sawfoot _:
Professional Idiot:
This sounds similar, though perhaps less intense than what happened to me at an 8 day retreat back in May:

1) Awareness of pleasant subtle vibrations throughout the body.
2) Vibrations started to cascade/multiply.
3) Feeling of expansive-ness.
4) Heart started to beat VERY hard.
5) Breathing became extremely exaggerated.
6) Eyelids fluttering uncontrollably.
7) Physically perceived light at or just above the crown.

My heart was beating so hard that it felt dangerous, to the point that my concentration was compromised and the whole thing broke down.

Initially I was excited but this soon turned to anxiety then fear over the next few hours.

I believe it's got something to do with the kundalini phenomenon....
The fluttering eyelids is suggestive of some kind of seizure, which is in line with the concept of the kundalini energy causing neuronal firing.


Two points, one theoretical and one more practical (and more important).

1. We have a pretty good understanding of the biochemistry underlying neuronal firing, and there isn't any evidence that non-physical spirtual energy can influence those processes.

Instead, the opposite causal direction seems to make more sense - that our experience of "kundalini energy" is caused by neuronal firing.

2. These symptoms sound very much like hyperventilation, a panic attack, a seizure, or some combination thereof.

The point to highlight is that on the quest to experience altered states of mind like 1st Jhana or the A&P one can get led astray looking for weird stuff (like tingling, twitching & body movements, fluttering eyelids etc) and you can end getting into states you probably would want to avoid. They can sometimes seem like fun but can easily lead to strong fear and anxiety (as noted above).

If you do find yourself getting into these extreme states, really trying to calm down and control your breathing (i.e. avoiding hyperventilation) can help - slowing down and/or holding your breath for 10 seconds is good for this.


This point is well taken, but I'm wondering if we might get a general consensus on this. Because I have also felt this, without the fear (I think) or anxiety that someone mentioned earlier. Is this the mind afraid to enter jhana? Is this just a strange experience that shouldn't be given importance?

All help and advice is very much appreciated.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
12/5/13 4:39 PM as a reply to Travis Gene McKinstry.
I think people are describing a mix of phenomenon. Some of this sounds like psychological anticipation, a building up of expectations and fears probably based on putting all of this stuff up on some kind of pedestal. That part has nothing to do with jhana. The brain, IMO, is designed to go into jhana, it is not afraid of it, it is completely natural. But be with whatever comes up.

There are areas that are more unstable and there can be a sense of tension sometimes, then you slide into jhana and that tension is gone.

For me these days the easiest approach to jhana is kasina practice, just staring at something small-ish. With this narrow attention, a stability arises, there is a big application of sustained attention on the object and there is a bit of pleasure, that is 1st jhana. For me, that's about as non-relaxed as it gets, that sustained attention with 1st, which frankly I find to be a slight negative. When I realize I am in 1st I generally prefer to let go of that sustained attention and let it coast into 2nd, the narrow focus opens up slightly. And so on to 3rd and 4th.

At any rate, if you keep staring at stuff, eventually you will stumble into some stable, almost trance-like states. Those would typically be jhanas. Most people will find this stuff much easier after 1 or 2 MCTB paths.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
12/5/13 6:59 PM as a reply to Eric G.
Thank you for clearing that up.

I realize that many people report jhana access being a lot easier after stream entry. I guess I'm just wondering if it's highly likely to get into stream entry without having the ability to cultivate enough concentration to have jhana arise.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
12/6/13 3:05 PM as a reply to Travis Gene McKinstry.
Well, you do need a modicum of concentration, enough to just kind of stay present and stay with that, really. For stream entry, to my way of thinking (once you're at high equanimity by the maps) you just have to be present, aware, relaxed, and let go of everything. So I would say you don't have to be able to formally get a jhana, whatever that means. My sense is that (growing up on KFD) most Mahasi style yogis didn't really "get" jhanas until after a path or 2. Maybe others have a different recollection, but that's my sample.

Everyone is different, but my opinion is that most yogis would be better off spending the majority of their time doing dry vipassana maybe until they've nailed 2nd path. For me, and I think many others, the jhanas showed up while doing noting, from that dynamic or momentary concentration, khanika samadhi.

RE: Was that jhana?
Answer
12/6/13 4:22 PM as a reply to Eric G.
Thank you so much. That makes a lot of sense.

I'm probably just not putting enough man hours into practice yet.

Thanks Eric emoticon