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First Jhana
Answer
8/1/14 9:33 PM
Hi DhO,

This is my first real post on the forums!
I have an experience I'd like diagnosed. 
But first, a little background:

I've been practicing vipassana for a few months (since April), and have read just a couple dharma books (satipatthana sutta and MTCB ). I suspect I discovered it because I was floundering around in some semblance of the dark night. I'm planning on attending my first retreat in October 2014.

The experience (which I believe might be the first samatha jhana):

A few weeks in, and after some encouraging progress doing basic insight practices, I made the resolution to attain jhana. I didn't really know what I was looking for except that it involved focusing intently on something and basically amplifying any good feelings that arise. 

So I chose the breath as my object, sat down and committed myself to discovery with the firm resolution of not getting trapped in any feelings. After a few minutes of setting up mindfulness, I started to focus on the breath and soon discovered a very pleasant sensation similar to butterflies in the stomach. With every breath it became more pleasant and its scope inched outwards from my stomach. After a while (10 to 20 minutes) I felt a strong tingling centered in the middle of my forehead that felt connected to the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Once this hit, any distractions in my mind collapsed and it became really easy to focus. But still I kept being aware of the breath and these pleasant feelings. Sometime afterwards, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, at the end of an out breath came this intense feeling of strobing warmth pulsating out from my centre and it felt like my whole body was subtly but strongly vibrating. I thought 'holy shit!' and lost my focus. I have the impression that this feeling lasted 6 seconds, but I wasn't counting.

After I settled back to a more 'normal' state I got up and padded around getting ready for bed and I was hyper aware of the details of the physical sensations streaming in such as my feet on the ground and the air in my lungs etc... when slowly this other feeling of dread creeped in, accompanied by visual thoughts of great physical suffering, though I felt very 'un-attached' to these feelings and when they faded I slept well.

All in all it was a great experience. Am I right in considering this some kind of jhana?
Sadly I haven't been able to reproduce the state. I can get close but everytime that eruption of vibration gets close, I think "This is it!" and I lose my concentration. 

Thoughts?

RE: First Jhana
Answer
8/2/14 12:14 AM as a reply to Newt.
Hello Newt,

Welcome to the DhO and your first post.
Newt :

So I chose the breath as my object, sat down and committed myself to discovery with the firm resolution of not getting trapped in any feelings. After a few minutes of setting up mindfulness, I started to focus on the breath and soon discovered a very pleasant sensation similar to butterflies in the stomach. With every breath it became more pleasant and its scope inched outwards from my stomach.

After a while (10 to 20 minutes) I felt a strong tingling centered in the middle of my forehead that felt connected to the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Once this hit, any distractions in my mind collapsed and it became really easy to focus. But still I kept being aware of the breath and these pleasant feelings.


You say this was a "strong tingling centered in the middle [of the] forehead." Are you certain it was a tingling sensation and not a sense of pressure, similar to a headache? I say this because the sensation of pressure (I like to describe it as a balloon expanding in the center of the forehead) is a strong indicator of the establishment of concentration or samadhi.

Anything that actually does feel like a tingling sensation can be an indicator of the kind of sensation that one can use to concentrate upon to draw one deeper into the absorption of the first dhyana.

Newt:

Sometime afterwards, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, at the end of an out breath came this intense feeling of strobing warmth pulsating out from my centre and it felt like my whole body was subtly but strongly vibrating. I thought 'holy shit!' and lost my focus. I have the impression that this feeling lasted 6 seconds, but I wasn't counting.

People new to meditation will experience any number of strange or unfamiliar sensations while getting some experience in meditation. This sounds like one of those episodes. Nothing special here to hang onto. Move on.

Newt:
Sadly I haven't been able to reproduce the state. I can get close but everytime that eruption of vibration gets close, I think "This is it!" and I lose my concentration.

Don't be concerned about not being able to reproduce it. If it is meant to arise again, it will. It if does, do not cling to it. Just let it go. It is ultimately of little importance.

What I mean by that is the sensation is relatively unimportant in the bigger picture of things. In order to maintain such an "eruption of vibration" you have to practice equanimity, having neither a liking nor disliking for the sensation. Even mindedness, in other words. That takes extraordinary mental control, which is an ability you should be focusing on developing, as it is useful in the practice of heedfulness and mindfulness, both of which are key to the attainment of awakening. For the time being, use such experiences to develop equanimity toward the object of meditation.

In peace,
Ian

RE: First Jhana
Answer
8/1/14 11:57 PM as a reply to Newt.
The description seems vague but if you're interested in jhanas I would try this website:

http://www.leighb.com/jhana3.htm

For me the 1st jhana came when I could let go of analysis and just stay with the breath and count it to 10 and then backwards down to 1.  If I missed count or counted too much I would go back to the breath and start the count again (without any self-judgment).  It's the movement of going back to the breath without mental talk that conditions the practice much better.  

Another trick is to do a metta practice "may ______ be happy, safe and secure" to get in a happy mood which makes it easier to enter jhana.  It's important to have fun and pleasure with the practice.  Aversion and the "inner critic" will screw it up.  Negative mental habits will comeback because they are habits.  Just ignore that it came back and return to the breath with no analysis and criticism.

It's all about conditioning the brain with practice so that it starts absorbing with the breath on its own.

Good luck!

RE: First Jhana
Answer
8/2/14 3:06 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks guys, back to the drawing board.


You say this was a "strong tingling centered in the middle [of the] forehead." Are you certain it was a tingling sensation and not a sense of pressure, similar to a headache? I say this because the sensation of pressure (I like to describe it as a balloon expanding in the center of the forehead) is a strong indicator of the establishment of concentration or
samadhi

Anything that actually does feel like a tingling sensation can be an indicator of the kind of sensation that one can use to concentrate upon to draw one deeper into the absorption of the first dhyana

A balloon expanding inside my head sounds exactly like it. Definitely some tingling going on too though and really easy to concentrate afterwards. I'll try cultivating that. Also thanks Richard for the jhana link. I haven't read through yet but I'm looking forward to it.

Back to practicing!

RE: First Jhana
Answer
8/2/14 3:17 PM as a reply to Newt.
Newt,

I feel that your diagnosis is pretty straightforward based on what you have described.

After a few minutes of setting up mindfulness, I started to focus on the breath and soon discovered a very pleasant sensation similar to butterflies in the stomach. With every breath it became more pleasant and its scope inched outwards from my stomach. After a while (10 to 20 minutes) I felt a strong tingling centered in the middle of my forehead that felt connected to the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. Once this hit, any distractions in my mind collapsed and it became really easy to focus. But still I kept being aware of the breath and these pleasant feelings.

This does sound very jhanic, either first or second. But what happens next...

Sometime afterwards, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, at the end of an out breath came this intense feeling of strobing warmth pulsating out from my centre and it felt like my whole body was subtly but strongly vibrating. I thought 'holy shit!' and lost my focus. I have the impression that this feeling lasted 6 seconds, but I wasn't counting. 

...sounds like the 4th nana, the Arising and Passing Away. This seems confirmed by the feelings of physical and emotional suffering occurring right afterwards, correspending to the Dark Night. Sounds like you have strong concentration skills which make for fast progress.

Keep up the good work.

RE: First Jhana
Answer
8/7/14 10:02 PM as a reply to Eric M W.
Thanks Eric,

I never considered that it could be something related to the stages of insight. That opens up a whole new world.
I'll report back in a few weeks!