How I Discovered Access Concentration and Jhana

In a recent comment, Kautilya asked for my thoughts on Culadasa’s “whole body breath” method (from The Mind Illuminated) which, I assume, is designed as a kind of bridge for beginners to increase their awareness in order to then proceed to full jhanas (which I would tend to call “actual jhanas”).

Well, I can’t comment on that I’m afraid, as I never used “whole body breath” to attain jhana (though I have no problem with it as a concept if it helps people attain the states they seek).

I only ever used one method to attain hard jhanas: the concentration muscle.

This is the core, unmovable central pillar to attaining jhana. It forms the “active ingredient” in my main methods, including:

  • Breath at the bridge of nose (my personal “spot” which I still like better than the columella)
  • Dark stuff behind the eyelids
  • Kasina

I have talked about the concentration muscle in some posts, and in many comments. However, I have not really attempted to teach it directly because I’m not sure it can be taught directly. So, rather than try to teach this as a method, in this post I will just talk about how I use the concentration muscle and how I discovered it.

My method for jhana is always fundamentally the same. It involves sectioning off a small space in awareness then forcing attention to remain there. This part is done the same regardless of the object.

  • For breath meditation, I will mentally draw a small circle around the bridge of my nose, and begin drawing breath in somewhat sharply so I can feel sensations there. (I suspect it is actually nerve current flow rather than sensations of actual air I am feeling there, since I’m not sure air even flows up that high – but that is irrelevant in the context of this post.) I force awareness to stay on the sensations within that small circle, and make sure I breathe in such a way that there are always sensations there. At the beginning this resembles something more like kapalbhati when seen from the outside, but that tells you nothing about what my attention is doing, which is entirely under my control and is very rigorously being maintained in that small circle at the bridge of the nose.
  • For the “dark stuff behind my eyelids” meditation (which actually made up the bulk of my early meditation experience), I will draw a small circle in the middle of that dark stuff, and only look there. This circle actually falls over the same “bridge of the nose” area from the previous meditation, which is no coincidence. Also, breathing will regulate my attention and help keep it in this spot, and my attention in turn will regulate my breathing. The mind is, functionally, an expression of breathing, with the two being so linked that they basically function as one. This means that this meditation merges with the previous one in many respects, except that awareness being maintained visually (rather than on breath sensations) tends to create visual objects within the jhana (visions and so forth).
  • For kasina meditation, e.g. looking at the afterimage of my iPhone’s flashlight, again I will section off a small circle in awareness and place the afterimage within that circle, and keep it there. This has the perceptual effect that I am creating a 3D “space” in which the object sits, then holding it there using concentration. The object then takes on 3D characteristics and can turn into mind-blowing visuals and, eventually, Formless Realms (though it has been a while since I have actually attained such states with kasina, as it takes a lot of dedication and I am rather out of practice).

In all of the above meditations, the central and absolutely key element is the small space sectioned off in awareness where attention is forced to stay. Attention is kept on this area using the concentration muscle.

The concentration muscle is an intuitive function of the mind which uses the breath to help it retain attention on a small area. So, thoughts are coming in from all sides, and distractions like body discomfort and emotions are arising at the periphery of the sectioned-off area of awareness. None of that matters because the concentration muscle just forms this rigid boundary around that sectioned-off area, and repels thoughts away at the edges. It is like the concentration muscle “knows” what is arising at the edges of the sectioned-off area and also knows exactly how to push those things away.

The concentration muscle automatically modulates the breath in order to help repel the distractions. So, if it detects that a major “thoughtform” is arising – which, looking back, is almost certainly an unmanifested formation – it may draw in a breath sharply which disperses the formation before it can manifest as a full thought. The thoughtform may have some verbal or image content manifesting during the early stages of the meditation but the concentration muscle, often using a sharp breath in, just destroys the content and keeps attention in the small circle.

This is why, when discussing concentration meditation, I have never endorsed “letting thoughts be” or “acknowledging the thought and returning to the breath” as a method of developing concentration. Considering that maintaining clear, stable attention is so critical to developing concentration, allowing such things to arise is simply madness. It literally angers me and stirs up my passions when I read someone on the internet talking about concentration meditation and “noticing and acknowledging thoughts and letting them go” in the same sentence – it is a signal to me that they basically have no idea what they’re talking about and have probably never attained genuine concentration or jhana in their life.

Now, here is the story of how I discovered the concentration muscle. I actually learned this skill while learning to drive, when I found that my eyes would automatically section off the windscreen as the “awareness area” which attention must be confined to, and the frame of the windscreen was the boundary of that area. I noticed thoughts attempting to manifest at the sides of awareness and that these thoughts would create eye movement access patterns which would attempt to draw my eyes strongly to the sides, away from the windscreen. These eye movements are strong and compelling “micro-movements” which are completely involuntary and last only for a microsecond. These movements correspond directly to the brain either accessing memories or creating new content, better known as thoughts. To understand this further, look into NLP – these movement patterns have all been mapped and are called eye access cues:

By maintaining my eyes looking forward however, and resisting the eye access cues, I found that my attention could be centred on the section of awareness framed by the windscreen. This started to feel really good, and I knew I was onto something. I had just started rookie meditation at the time using Shinzen Young’s The Science of Enlightenment and was learning a lot, but knew nothing of the jhanas or that concentration meditation was a “thing”. However, from this practice of suppressing the eye access cues and holding awareness on the centre of the visual field that I was doing on my driving lessons, I began to notice that attention could be strictly controlled, with striking effects on the clarity of perception and the sense of mental space, and I therefore kept up this practice during my lessons.

One driving lesson – on perhaps my third attempt at maintaining this style of awareness – suddenly the eye access cues stopped, and so did all thoughts that were attempting to arise peripherally. This felt totally amazing and was the first time I had ever had zero thoughts and a clear feeling of space in my mind. Additionally, my visual acuity improved noticeably, and both the visual and mental clarity was astonishing. I was – both literally and figuratively – seeing clearly the road ahead.

Looking back, I now recognize this state as being access concentration. Once the initial hump had been climbed over, of maintaining attention on a small visual area until thoughts stopped, I found that this state was far easier to maintain, and I stayed in it for five or ten minutes, only consciously turning away from it when my driving instructor asked us to stop for a cigarette. We both climbed out of the car, and I noticed that the clarity of the state persisted without requiring any specific effort. We were parked a few miles away from an airport, and saw a small passenger jet taking off. We both stopped and watched it. I found that I could literally feel the weight of the plane as its engines hauled it into the sky. My driving instructor turned to me and said, “Remarkable, isn’t it? That something so heavy can fly.” I knew he had had the exact same thought as me when he saw that plane.

Interestingly, that driving instructor was a Hindu from India whose father, a master yogi, had taught him pranayama, hatha yoga and raja yoga from an early age. He used to practise pranayama literally all the time while I was driving, and it was hearing him make the strange grunts of kapalbhati that first got me asking about the practice. He taught me the basic technique, and I began practising it all the time, too. At the same time, I was working with another Hindu, a younger guy who was tall, slim, yet powerfully built. One lunchbreak I saw him practising alternate nostril breathing at his desk in the office. I asked him if it was pranayama, and his eyes lit up. He had also learned the pranayama–hatha yoga–raja yoga package as a child in India, and practised hatha yoga every morning, thus explaining his awesome physique and imposing stature. He told me that as a child his school had taken him on regular yoga retreats. During one stay at a monastery, he claims he witnessed a female yogini (who had been in deep meditation for several days) begin to levitate. Upon request, he taught me the alternate nostril breathing method, and I added that to my daily practice, too. I was very lucky to have had two genuine Hindus to teach me yoga when I was just starting my own meditation practice.

After the driving lesson in which I had attained access concentration, I went home and immediately meditated, sectioning off a small area of the dark stuff behind my eyelids, just like I had done with the windscreen frame in the car. I exercised the concentration muscle, resisting the eye access cues just like I had done before. After several minutes, thoughts spontaneously ceased. At this point, the section of consciousness I was focusing upon developed depth, as though there was a volume of physical, three-dimensional space within that circle, turning it into a sphere. I stayed with this volume of space with the same vigorous attention I had applied thus far, and it was not long before the dull black stuff that formed the boundary of this sphere suddenly erupted into swirling, luminescent waves – and my emotions exploded into ecstasy.

I stayed with this state for anywhere between five and thirty minutes – time had little meaning there, and it was only the emotional intensity that eventually brought me out of it. Walking around, I noticed that the centre of my field of vision retained the same thought-free awareness and clarity I had experienced in the meditation, as though I was looking through a hole in reality. It was not long after that moment that I attained the Arising & Passing Away. By practising this jhana each morning, the “hole in reality” persisted, through which I could perceive objects like I had never done before. One day while walking home from work, I placed attention on my central field of vision and excluded distractions from its periphery using the concentration muscle I had been training for the last several days. Suddenly, that hole opened up again, and it was like I could see the air. I stopped to look at a nearby hedge, as its green colour had drawn me in. Suddenly, the leaves exploded into energy. It was like matter itself was suspended within an infinitely fine mist, and I felt as though I could move my hand right through it.

And that is the story of how I passed through the first four Theravadan stages of insight, and gained what appears to be six jhanas (!), in just a matter of weeks, and without knowing what any of those things were. While I did write about these experiences a fair bit on the old PPM forum, the focus there was almost entirely on the two subjects of taking drugs and picking up girls. I therefore took a massive detour into those areas for the next several years, during which time I managed to completely derail my life. Had I realized the importance of the meditative experiences I had had at the time, and pursued them vigorously to the exclusion of such distractions, not only would I most likely be fully enlightened by now, I would probably also be able to fly.

While I have not taught you directly “how to concentrate” in this post (although maybe I have?), I have hopefully given you some ideas of the intuitive processes that can come online once strong intent and dedication is turned towards the suppression of thought, and the clear-seeing of objects (and therefore reality), through concentration. By discovering the concentration muscle and therefore developing jhanaic states so early on, this is the reason why I have never been a strong proponent of “watching the breath” or other roundabout, passive, and apparently luck-based methods of developing concentration and jhana. They have just never landed on my radar, and seem rather idiotic given that concentration can be shot for directly.

You do not even need to sit to develop strong concentration. While out and about, just turn your mind towards the centre of your vision. Create a circle that takes up roughly the inner third of your field of vision. Resolve to push away thoughts at its edges, and to bring the objects you see in the middle into a sharp clarity. Breathe while doing this. In time, a clear visual centre will “drop in” to the middle, and sounds and other ambience such as the air on your skin will suddenly become clearer. Then, by holding this clear visual centre, it will rapidly expand to encompass the entire scene – at which point time will cease, thoughts will cease, and your meditation “object” will become the entire present moment.

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60 Responses

  1. Arpan says:

    “I only ever used one method to attain hard jhanas: the concentration muscle.”

    Just to clear it up: Haven’t you attained a hard jhana via Ajahn Brahm’s method ?
    You mention in a comment that you use it about once a month, method is gentle/non controlling/allowing, like Ajahn Brahm himself. Produces extremely bright nimittas and has a “healing” effect.
    Also, the jhanas that you initially got from Fo Nothing, were they hard or soft ?

    PS: Thanks a lot for the ideas, I have started hitting hard jhanas.

    • Arpan says:

      Do* Nothing

    • Illuminatus says:

      “Just to clear it up: Haven’t you attained a hard jhana via Ajahn Brahm’s method ?”

      Yes, with a lot of effort — at least an hour’s attention, probably more. I don’t do them any more because of the time required (then again I haven’t been practising much at all lately as I have been working on other things).

      “Also, the jhanas that you initially got from Do Nothing, were they hard or soft ?”

      Never reached full jhana — got a taste of first but on that occasion didn’t have time to develop it further as my alarm went and I had to go to work.

      On successive attempts I didn’t even get that, so I scrapped it.

      I see little reason personally to develop these “broad awareness” things when I can get so much effect from my method (which then expands to the widefield anyway).

      • Arpan says:

        Yes I understand, I have got a taste of both perspectives in my own practice over the last month.

  2. Kautilya says:

    Thanks Illuminatus,

    Great post! I think sometimes posts like these work on a sub-conscious level, reinforcing aspects that are most important and bringing limiting factors into awareness.

    The present moment as the object is something I hope, I think essentially that in access concentration is pure Flow.

    I am actually trying to do body awareness as often as possible during the day as that’s when my thoughts start erupting. Because even the best known Jhana teachers all as mindfullness is important to ward of the thoughts. So I’m thinking to keep attention at tip of nose and alternate with body awareness – during the day, non practicing time.

    I’ve actually noticed that I don’t actually get 30-40 mins proper 95% concentrated time. It’s like after 20 mins some kind of arrogance/ satisfaction/ complacency comes in so I don’t feel bad about a good juicy 10 min fantasy.

    Damn, that 10 mins could be what’s preventing me from winning a medal!?

    • Illuminatus says:

      “The present moment as the object is something I hope, I think essentially that in access concentration is pure Flow.”

      It is indeed pure flow. And there is no “centre” to the experience — there is just the scene playing out, and events “move through” you, including emotions which come to feel more like liquids flowing around. There is no “self” to be found in the whole lot. I used to attain this state regularly on presence walks. What would snap me out of it, just about always, was FEAR. So, some part of me realizes that there has been no “self” for several seconds, and that things are going just fine without it. Then this fear wave makes me feel VULNERABLE without that self, like bad things will happen immediately if the self is not around to guard against them.

      The state of awareness before that self re-emerges however is one of INNOCENCE. On the times I could hold that flow slate for several minutes, exploring the world felt like the first time, every moment. There is no time, so everything feels infinite. It reminds me of the Garden of Eden myth. What stopped them being innocent was self-awareness.

      I should really go back to those presence walks. The method is just the final paragraphs of my post above. I don’t know why I stopped doing them. I KNEW it would work fully if I just kept going. I have had many of these incidences where I deep down knew they would be the end of “me” if I kept going.

      “I’ve actually noticed that I don’t actually get 30-40 mins proper 95% concentrated time. It’s like after 20 mins some kind of arrogance/ satisfaction/ complacency comes in so I don’t feel bad about a good juicy 10 min fantasy.”

      See, these are the meditations I’ve always warned about, and why I say if you are not concentrated after 30 minutes you should just give up. I see very little value sitting there in what is basically an everyday mind-state, just kind of wandering through thoughts or whatever.

      Yet, I also know that, most likely, most meditators are in fact doing just this, probably every day.

      Real concentration, as a state, is UNMISTAKABLE. It is also intentionally induced in my experience, as per the whole point of the above post.
      And if you are truly concentrated, sitting for hours is not a problem.
      There is no room for “juicy fantasies” — or even thoughts identifiable as the kinds of thoughts you have in ordinary life.

      I really hope people read and re-read my above post and really strive for genuine concentration using its principles. Because nothing else in meditation can really be understood or attained without it.

      I think the one thing that gets missed by lay meditators is the MENTAL EFFORT that needs to be exerted to attain genuine concentration. When I say “the concentration muscle”, it REALLY IS LIKE A MUSCLE, in that you SQUEEZE it — HARD — on your object to keep attention there. It requires a lot of effort, and FORCING attention to stay on one spot. You cannot relinquish that effort for a moment. And learning to really, really stay with an object, shows you just how much your awareness is being distracted CONSTANTLY by other things. So, staying with an object with a total dedication may reveal that your attention is pulled away (as indicated by the EYE ACCESS CUES which can be felt each time) maybe dozens of times a second. You must get to know your mind to the extent that you are perceiving those attempted distractions at the exact moment they begin to arise and to pull awareness back to the object forcefully and ruthlessly. Again, this will likely have to happen dozens of times per second, and your training must be so intense that you master each one as it attempts to happen.

      THEN, something amazing happens. By doing the above very intensely and consistently in a short space of time, access concentration happens which IMMEDIATELY makes things feel easier. It is as though attention has been “lubricated” in some way and distractions are sliding off the edges as soon as they arise. Then, jhana arises, at which point the amount of effort required drops again, massively, and awareness expands, pleasant emotions rush in, but concentration still holds on the centre. Then, in second jhana, effort required to hold concentration vanishes, and concentration appears to run itself. Third jhana, awareness expands to be far more inclusive of the widefield. Fourth, the widefield and the centre have equal, seamless awareness.

      There is just no substitute for genuine concentration, and once it is attained most of the nonsense meditators talk about before that naturally and immediately ends. So, you would not wonder about distracting thoughts and other nonsense once you had had a taste of genuine concentration — you would know that it is just a matter of consolidating concentration through serious MENTAL EFFORT for a couple of minutes (or less, with skill) to “get over the hump” and into genuine stable concentration.

      • James says:

        “everything feels infinite.”

        That is how everything seems to me currently, a permanent side effect of my owl experience last year, which i just see as a purification.

        everything has a shine to it and everything looks infinite. Often times I feel like I’m on the brink of dissolving.

        • Illuminatus says:

          Have you ever actually dissolved while conscious (=cessation)?

          Would be interested to know if psychedelics can cause ongoing, peaceful cessations.

          • James says:

            No, not in the way you’re meaning I don’t think.

            And it isn’t peaceful for me, the experience has a good deal of angst… Not like, a strong angst… more like, all the other emotions have subsided and angst is kind of the last one “keeping me here” if that makes sense.

            I have an intuitive understanding that I am on the verge of something, its just crossing over that boundary feels like insanity is on the other side – but from all my experiences so far, I understand it is merely the perception of insanity, and once dealt with that “formation” will dissolve.

            It is very similiar to the constant death/rebriths I have experienced while on psychoactives, where the solution is always embracing and then you do indeed receive peace.

            It’s just that this time my eyes aren’t closed, I’m not drugs… I’m looking out at the world and it feels like the whole thing is going rip open.

          • Kautilya says:

            I have had an experience like this in the Amazon – was terrified even though for the whole time this is what I wanted in a way.
            Yeah it was a bit more than angst. Why don’t we have it when we go to sleep?? For most people that is cessation…it’s simply because of the assumption that we will wake up eventually and sleep is a necessary part of what we need to do.

            Couldn’t we cultivate that quality to deal with the meditative cessations?

            It was cessation of all, except All That Is

            That’s honestly the best way to put it.

            Seems interesting for all the leanings towards the Yogic aspects despite the respect for Buddhist techniques in terms of mapping out there’s one part that is still kinda missing.

            Spirit. Essentially, here we talk Yogic, Buddhist, Scientific, Magic etc. but Atman or Spirit is what’s separates Yoga from Buddhist teachings massively. I think because of the predominantly western community here it’s negated.

            Especially in light of your recent post on the Christian afterlife. Which seems to turn many people away from even considering the Divine because that automatically links to that. The concepts of the Divine are different and predates Judeo-Christian frameworks.

            So the only thing left is the non-self. The Buddhist speciality is end of suffering and there’s just theory as to why Spirit is irrelevant despite the reincarnation, cosmology and Nibbana.

            Perhaps that experience of cessation is part of the process to the true reality of everything.

            “Yoga Citta Vriti Nirodha”

            Yoga is Cessation of modifications of Consciousness”

            • James says:

              “Why don’t we have it when we go to sleep??”

              I do.

              • Illuminatus says:

                James, it sounds like you are in full-blown Dark Night. All Dark Night is is a fear of impermanence and no-self. That’s all it ever was, and people’s different experiences with it are just different manifestations of that fear.

                Do you have any plan to get out of this cycle?

                I would recommend something like the following:

                1) Recognize you have had thousands of dissolutions into no-self already in your life and have always returned.

                2) Make a formal resolution to have a flowing, blissful and organic cessation sometime in the near future. You could word it similar to:

                “I formally resolve to experience a flowing, blissful cessation, arising in its own time and for the greatest good of all, sometime soon.” Then let it fly away to be taken care of with total trust.

                It will probably happen one night when you’re falling asleep in a good mood.

                In my experience you only need to have one pleasant cessation to end these cycles.

            • Illuminatus says:

              I don’t really know how Buddhism squares the circle of No-Self yet reincarnation philosophies. I think the latter are hangovers from Buddhism’s origin in Hinduism.

              My understanding (via inferences from personal experience) is that past lives are not your literal soul travelling into another body, but rather this mind in this body developing a “resonance” with previous similar minds. In this universe, things which are similar tend to behave as one (think of birds flying together, or humans at a football game all supporting the same side tending towards thinking the same thoughts or feeling the same energy). In this way even the informational content of the mind you are “tuning into” becomes available, but that does not mean you have the same “soul”. However I am completely open to being wrong on that.

              So, I am not particularly sold on “Atman”. One thing I am convinced of however is True Self or Paramatman, the true witness, true experiencer, the universe experiencing itself through your vantage point, etc. In Buddhism this would be something like the “sea” of experience in which yours is just some waves (though I still dislike that kind of writing-off of personal experience as somehow meaningless, which is what No-Self is often interpreted as).

              In my experience a True Self awakening is much gentler and satisfactory than a No-Self one. In a No-Self awakening you have to dissolve and re-emerge from the Source, probably many times before you get really comfortable with it. In a True Self awakening however you become the mirror in which experience is reflected. They are equivalent in terms of revealing your personality to be nothing more than conditioned events. However the True Self awakening does not involve dissolving to nothing but rather expanding to everything. It is therefore completely inclusive. It also tends to flow and is therefore blissful (but not always).

              Unfortunately I don’t think we’re ever going to get the Buddha’s genuine views on all this as I suspect what Buddhism presents as a solution is a heavily corrupted version of whatever he was driving at. To get an idea of this, consider Buddhist teachers versus yogic ones. Who seems more blissful? One comparison I tend to make at this point is Shinzen Young (Buddhist) vs. Sadhguru (yogic). Shinzen Young still has to use myriad mental techniques just to traverse everyday situations. Sadhguru on the other hand seems completely at home in any aspect of experience. Shinzen’s focus appears to be on cultivating ongoing No-Self cessations (which is what Ingram also ends up doing in MCTB). However Sadhguru’s experience is inclusive and he perceives all as being himself all the time (and therefore has no need to dissolve himself constantly to remind himself of basic principles).

              I think looking at the results each teacher has gained for himself is the best way to decide whose method works in the way you want.

              • Arpan says:

                ” this mind in this body developing a “resonance” with previous similar minds”

                Gita says the exact same thing: Your Self carries the tendencies of your mind to crrate another mind body complex like “the wond carries the frangrance from one place to another”

                Btw True Self is the Atman and not Paramatman referred to in Non Dualistic Hinduism and is considered to be the reflection of the Universal Self(Paramatman) as “the Sun may get reflected in a thousand ponds”. Individual Atman is an ever free point/whirpool /wave in the Sea of Brahman/paramatman thus having no essential limitation or difference from the Ocean itself. The atman has a “chit” or the evolving principle in nature(which is what the essential thing struggling in the Universe is). Thus, in devotional terms: God appears in multiple forms( eko aham bahusyam: I who is One , shall become Many) exhibiting a variety of attributes and creates a Play( Leela) of accepting the struggle to grow towards Omniscience and Omnipotence.

              • Arpan says:

                Also, Buddhism(apart from Mahayan which is practically Hinduism) squares reincarnation as follows:
                Reincarnation is not hindu rebirth i.e. an enternal permanent entity taking birth again. Life is like stream or candle flame. One candle flame lights another while dying out Or one stream flows from one point to another. But no permanent entity is transfered, it is the everchanging flux of light/water that is tranferred.
                Good karma makes for a purer stream, Nirvana makes for extinction of the stream.

                • Illuminatus says:

                  Thanks Arpan, your knowledge of philosophy is very helpful. What you just described as Atman vs. Paramatman fits well with my experience so I will study it some more and integrate it with my model.

                  • Arpan says:

                    You are welcome 🙂
                    I view PPM as a public utility website like wikipedia. So contributing here means contributing to fellow seekers worldwide.

      • Rigz says:

        Can you clear something up for me. Should we be using this hardcore laser focus in body meditation, too? The old meditation type you used to recommend of “putting awareness to the feelings in the body”, is that a more passive focus or do we need this really hard, exerting focus that you recommend?

        I got into all this stuff to get rid of anxiety but in ways it has made it worse. Not the anxiety so much, but just now being aware of the pressure of it, instead of totally immersed in thoughts. Being lost in a daydream is a kind of protection in a way, because you aren’t in a state of conscious suffering the same way you are when you can feel the pain in your body.

        Basically I am not sure which way to proceed. I want to be able to walk around in these relaxed, PNS states that you speak of where you can just go around and talk to people with no pain or worry. What is going to get me there the quickest, body work or concentration, or both?

        • Illuminatus says:

          “Can you clear something up for me. Should we be using this hardcore laser focus in body meditation, too?”

          Absolutely not.

          Body scanning meditation should be done lightly and gently in very slow sweeps over the body. The goal is to notice sensations in every body part (and therefore get to know your body, which has far-reaching benefits for every area of practice and general awareness).

          One way is to start at the feet and move slowly up through the body, paying special attention to “black spots” where you notice you don’t have much awareness, and staying there until you feel sensations in the whole area (and thus “put them back on the map”). When you feel sensations in a body part, it should come through as a very mild form of “pins and needles” (the sensation you get when blood flow is returning to a foot you have sat on). So, in pins and needles, you have a large spread of many sensations “popping” very very rapidly. If there was a visual equivalent, it would be white noise on a TV screen. If pins and needles are a 10 in sensation strength, then the strength of sensations perceivable in body scanning are more like a 1. However, the “spread” of sensations is the same as in pins and needles, they are just far weaker in strength.

          Now, once you are able to perceive patches of sensations in this way (e.g. in your foot), you can do some insight meditation if you wish. In order to do this, you need to notice that the patches of sensations are not actually occurring simultaneously, but do in fact arrive sequentially in awareness (just very fast). Yes, this takes some real mental acuity which can take some time to develop. It also builds “concentration” in terms of what is generally meant by concentration in the English language, e.g. “paying attention”. Your mind will tend to spend long periods on a patch of sensations in order to notice the “blip blip blip” of individual sensations occurring sequentially. This isn’t the same concentration as jhana though, since jhanas work by gathering up sensations into FLOW and thus creating a stable image (rather than “blip blip blip”). However, insight meditation in this way will make your mind very powerful, and you might find you are able to perceive high detail in other objects, too, after this.

          I actually learned to notice the “blip blip blip” of sensations by eating very hot curries. By stepping outside my normal awareness and becoming an outside observer I could notice that extreme spiciness manifested as rapid sequential sensations occurring across the whole tongue. I also noticed that, by stepping outside my normal reactive animal awareness in this way, the pain reduced measurably to the point where it was bearable. Insight meditation will bring strong “concentration” in this way, but it is not “concentration meditation” and is therefore not jhana.

          By the way, true insight occurs when you notice that your whole experience is made up of patches of sensations in this way, including the things you see, hear, feel etc. This is one method of breaking down the sense of self in order to get a No-Self experience.

          “I got into all this stuff to get rid of anxiety but in ways it has made it worse. Not the anxiety so much, but just now being aware of the pressure of it, instead of totally immersed in thoughts.”

          Okay, there are only a handful of things I recommend now for anxiety, but you should make these “systems-based” not “goal-based” (I’ve been watching Scott Adams). So, set a time period of 3 months on each method, do it every day, and see what has changed at the end of it. I am mentioning this due to:

          “Basically I am not sure which way to proceed. I want to be able to walk around in these relaxed, PNS states that you speak of where you can just go around and talk to people with no pain or worry. What is going to get me there the quickest, body work or concentration, or both?”

          If you evaluate a method by whether you are going around talking to random strangers comfortably after, say, a week of it, then no method will work like that. Also, by getting rid of anxiety, you don’t know whether you would naturally be inclined towards such behaviours or not. You may just become comfortable while out and about and that may be the end of it. Typically, though, you will absorb more social contact the more comfortable you are. My point is, don’t pressure the method into specific results, especially in the first several weeks.

          So, having said that, I would say there are only a few ways you might go forwards. The most unlikely one, yet which gives the quickest fix, is to enter a luminous breath jhana which releases opioids stronger than heroin and leaves you only feeling emotions such as gratitude for several hours afterwards. But, if you could do that regularly, we wouldn’t be talking. It’s doubtful even I could summon that at will since I’m out of practice.

          The next most unlikely one but quickest fix is to do the concentration practice I mentioned in the last paragraph of the post. This is a presence walk. You can spontaneously enter no-self states with no anxiety that way. I have stretched them into nights out before, too, many times, and they always give the best nights out, with total spontaneous behaviour (no drugs required). (Those nights out weirdly show you who you are; e.g. I’m not much into promiscuous behaviours even when it’s right in front of me. But I DO however love getting to know people, and that trait became very pronounced while in no-self.) To achieve this on a night out, the easiest way is to go on a presence walk on the way to the night out (and it helps if you have done one earlier in the day too) then just maintain the more expansive awareness you attained on the walk. There are also ways to trigger presence while on a night out and this involves keep awareness fixed on the present moment, and most importantly maintain an outwards-facing mindset (so, if you catch yourself looking in, immediately turn your senses out to something in the environment). This takes some practice but reaches a kind of critical mass after a while where it becomes autopilot.

          The method I would recommend to the lay meditator, and which is still very powerful, is to use whatever mindfulness you have to notice the sensory patterns that fire when anxiety is triggered. It will usually be a visual flash image, and some sensation somewhere in your body. Try to catch the image when it comes up and hold it in mind. Just look at it. It will usually be quite out of focus and some sort of weak pattern match to some dangerous person or thing. It’s important to notice how fuzzy the image is. At the same time, you should try to note the location of the body feeling and say, “feeling there” (without labelling it “fear” or whatever since the purpose is to notice raw sensations rather than conceptualizing them). So, this is a form of noting. But it’s done in this specific way where you notice the sense data — how fuzzy and shitty quality the flash image is, how general the body feeling is and where it is etc.) You should spend 10 seconds on this analysis after each anxiety trigger. You will probably find that, by doing this analysis, the anxiety caused in that moment is now totally gone anyway.

          Finally, I had some interesting results with metta meditation, and that’s something I intend to get back into at some point. Basically you just cultivate love for humans generally so the pattern-match of “human” in your environment ends up getting anchored to strong positive emotions. This can have unpredictable yet generally amazing results, such as grudges you had spontaneously no longer manifesting.

          Let me know which one you choose and how it goes. I recommend you pick one and dedicate yourself to it for at least a few weeks.

          • Kautilya says:

            Also Illuminatus did a post on setting an intention about a man or woman (they are different) before talking to them which will put you in that vibe – can’t find the link!

            * I got a question Illuminatus concerning wha you just said.

            Culdasa had a great following method (notice start middle, ends etc. of breath) that made a game of paying attention to the Breath hence more focus.

            Recently I’ve been good for small amount of time focusing rather narrowly on the edges of my nostrils where Breath hits. I try it to follow to far out although the ‘saw’ analogy would make it easier.

            Anyway I’ve also noticed a few little ‘bubbles popping’, slight pause, and ‘gentle strokes’ – all at that very small area on edges of my nostril. So this intense focus at that area which is orthodox Samantha has got me in a situation where I’m noticing that tiny area receiving several sensations in each breath.

            So what am I doing Concentration or Insight?

            Am I doing it wrong?

            How do I fix it or make it more effective?

            Thanks Man!

            • Illuminatus says:

              Here is the link for Intentional Socializing:
              And, yes, this will significantly reduce or completely eliminate many kinds of social anxiety, especially if the anxiety is based around performance.

              “So what am I doing Concentration or Insight?”

              So what you’re talking about is standard anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing with particular focus on the end of the nose.

              My simple guideline for whether something is concentration or insight is: DOES IT FLOW?

              The hallmark of concentration is the perception of FLOW in the object.

              Flow can begin with perceiving individual sensations, like you are doing. However, those sensations must begin to FLOW into a larger experience. So, luminous breath jhanas will start out this way.

              My first question would be, when you perceive the sensation, does it POP and create a little emotional release or high? If not, do you think you could MAKE it do that? So, if you can cause each sensation experienced to pop into a little wave of pleasure, then you are totally on your way to jhana. All you have to do in that case is cause many such sensations to pop and release their wave of pleasure (to create an ongoing STREAM or FLOW of pleasure connected to the breath) for several minutes and you will certainly get jhana, since jhana is just this flow crossing a threshold whereby it becomes self-sustaining (possibly by overloading the reward circuit and having it feedback into itself).

              The quickest way to jhana is to actually be able to channel sensations into pleasure in that way and, eventually, those sensations can come from other places besides the breath (such as a kundalini stream, or many other sources, but we won’t go into that now).

              Now, if you sit for a long period with just mindfulness of the breath, it may start to flow pleasurably at some point and create a jhana, or you may just sit there with not a lot happening. That is why I consider such advice to be luck-based.

              But if you can, usually some self-command or perceptual trick, begin perceiving sensations pleasurably, and have them flow into one another to create a pleasurable “whole experience of flow”, then you will get jhana. One reason I liked the smile meditation is that sensations on those nerves are already linked into the reward circuit. You can also smile while doing your breath concentration how it stands to introduce some of this effect.

              This introduction of pleasure is where techniques such as “imagine the breath as sweet flowing waves” comes from. The introduction of a simple mental/perceptual technique like this will increase your chance of a blissful jhana hugely.

              I will mention briefly the link between concentration and insight. If you don’t attempt to flow the sensations together into pleasure, but instead aim to just be mindful of the sensations exactly how they are, then that is insight. Now, how concentration aids insight is as follows. By creating a flow state, subtle sensations you would otherwise not notice now become visible as disturbances in that flow. So, concentration works as a kind of magnifying glass in that respect. It also provides a very stable emotional basis through which to perceive sensations which would otherwise disturb you. It is by creating a very stable flow state (via concentration) that formations (ultrafine vibrations) can be perceived with the most clarity.

              The concentration muscle causes sensations perceived within the sectioned-off area to be sucked into flow to create a flow state. It does this by blocking outside processes that would disturb that situation.

              To tie this all together, I recommend you keep doing what you’re doing but:
              1) Try to notice that you can have sensations “pop” pleasurably.
              2) Decrease attentional drift away from the target area. Suppress thoughts and other pulls away from that area at a rate of many per second. Be ruthless with how tightly you stay with the nostril edge.

              For jhana, whatever the object, you want to think, “Make it FLOW!”

  3. engadget99 says:

    Thanks for this article. This is a very clear post on how to develop concentration skills.

    There is so much of mysticism around Jhanas & access concentration and happy to see the clarity of the technique here

  4. Andrew says:

    I totally agree. Many people on the meditation reddit call themselves advanced meditators and say that all techniques are the same. Fucking idiots. For a foggy minded beginner each technique is like living in another country.

    ONE QUESTION from reading this: Can you achieve jhana with trataka/kasina by maintaining the gaze throughout the whole session/the whole time? Some people say to gaze 2-3 min then close eyes and focus on the internal image. Others say to do it like I do, focus on the actual object all the time. I seem to get way better concentration muscle gains in this way, focusing on the actual object the whole time. But maybe that’s my biased view.

    Thanks man and you rock! By the way, you mention openly and friendly levitation achievement, are you going to make any mention of it when you’re going to achieve it? And ACTUALLY this brings up a good question. Even here you mention the 5th jhana but aren’t you comfortable with the 3rd and 4th jhanas? Thats where powers begin to spring according to this guy I know that has trained for almost a decade hardcore, including full brahmacharya practice and he’s achieved a couple powers with 3rd and 4th jhana (which I assume is the equivalent of samayama in hinduism, if you’re familiar with that). Been following you for a couple months and I thought you already have lots of powers ha 🙂 Good luck in your practice anyway and if you can reply really thanks.

    • Illuminatus says:

      “I totally agree. Many people on the meditation reddit call themselves advanced meditators and say that all techniques are the same. Fucking idiots. For a foggy minded beginner each technique is like living in another country.”

      I often post on when I have nothing to do at work (look up user Illuminatus_PPM if you need a fix of my writing — I’m often told it is addictive!)

      I don’t post that much any more for a couple of reasons. The first is that the moderators delete my stuff if I post links to my own blog. “Self-promotion” is banned, even though there are rules covering exceptions which would qualify me doing it (e.g. I hang around and answer questions). I pointed this out to a moderator who deleted my stuff, pasting their own rules back to him, and he didn’t reply — another 95 IQ authoritarian who can’t see genuine talent and needed wisdom for his board when it’s under his nose. So often it was easier for me to reply to a question with a blog link where I’d covered the question extensively already, but those would often be deleted, so I stopped bothering.

      The second reason is, like you say, people don’t know what they’re doing. I would answer some question about concentration meditation then someone would come on and say, “Aren’t you supposed to allow thoughts to arise, acknowledge them and let them go?” and “You aren’t supposed to suppress thoughts and feelings!” and other societally-conditioned claptrap. Answering the same questions every time gets a little tedious.

      Also, they should have a link to a resource that explains the different meditation types, so people can specify exactly what technique they are using (and hopefully what they are trying to achieve). I offered my post for this purpose but, of course, it got deleted. Most people there are practising general awareness of breath, and call it “meditation” as if it’s the only kind, and ask and answer questions through that single frame of reference. People also don’t seem to know what the goals of meditation are (and I will be adding a post about this to Start Here at some point in the near future). Finally, people there also talk a lot about everyday thoughts they have while meditating as though they are real insights. In reality though meditation produces hundreds such thoughts each week and they can largely be ignored.


      Now, before I answer your other questions…

      Concentration ability rises and falls in phases and these phases are combinations of:

      1) How often and how well you practise.
      2) How motivated and intentful you are. This is probably the most important element.
      3) Certain stages of insight. E.g. the Arising & Passing Away can manifest extremely strong concentration, like you wouldn’t believe. Stages within kundalini awakening (which is considered to be the same as the A&P by some people, e.g. Daniel Ingram) can also manifest insanely strong concentration.

      My concentration was always highest when I was highly motivated towards attaining something. E.g. in the story above I was very eager to explore concentration further to see where it went since it was already having tangible effects on my daily life. Also, I wanted to use it to cure anxiety and other emotional problems, as I noticed it had huge benefits there. I wrote The End of Social Anxiety shortly after those experiences and the walking meditations in that were based on what I was talking about in the final paragraph of my post above (who knows if that book is any good though; I haven’t read it since I wrote it).

      My concentration was next highest when I found MCTB and started going hardcore for enlightenment. At this point sometimes I did 8-hour meditation sits at home.

      The next highest peak was during kundalini awakening a couple of years after the bulk of the MCTB phase.

      I have barely practised concentration or in fact any meditation for the last several months because I have had my mind on other things, e.g. my posture programme. The awareness acquired through the body scanning etc. within that has actually screwed up my concentration by giving me a very tight face during it (for reasons I understand and can relieve, but I won’t go into that now). Once I write up that model I will go back to concentration.

      Anyway, the point of all this is, I will answer your questions based on the points in my “meditation career” where concentration was the highest.

      “ONE QUESTION from reading this: Can you achieve jhana with trataka/kasina by maintaining the gaze throughout the whole session/the whole time?”

      Well the “car windscreen” one was basically that. The object was the road ahead, combined with the flow of driving.

      But, yes, I can do what you ask with any object. It is said that, after Stream Entry, a meditator can achieve access concentration just by setting his eyes or mind upon an object for a few seconds. I can confirm that is true. But even before Stream Entry I could gain access concentration on any object relatively quickly. I did many, many things to improve concentration as part of daily life. E.g. I would watch birds in the garden till the point of absorption (until I could “feel” the bird’s experience). I would absorb into the present moment while walking. Any opportunity I had where I had some minutes to myself I would absorb into any suitable object in the vicinity. Waiting for a train? Absorb into the time board. It became almost compulsive because it felt so good. Once while eating ice cream with golden syrup on top I sat and absorbed into it until I literally had the perception I was INSIDE one of the tiny air bubbles within the syrup. I would do the same with the bubbles in my drink if I was bored in a bar. It was very escapist.
      However, my favourite places to do this were in nature.

      “Some people say to gaze 2-3 min then close eyes and focus on the internal image. Others say to do it like I do, focus on the actual object all the time. I seem to get way better concentration muscle gains in this way, focusing on the actual object the whole time. But maybe that’s my biased view.”

      My advice is to train on the objects you find easiest until your concentration is very, very strong. The more pleasing an object is to you personally, the easier absorption is. However, then you should switch to more difficult objects to test the new gains. Ultimately you should be able to absorb into anything with equal skill. You should make a point of testing your concentration on the afterimage BECAUSE you find it harder, and to make sure you’re not bullshitting yourself that you are making gains with the other type. Also, it only tends to be with eyes closed that you get the signs of very deep absorption, such as the “trippy” imagery of the afterimage.

      “Thanks man and you rock! By the way, you mention openly and friendly levitation achievement, are you going to make any mention of it when you’re going to achieve it?”

      I have no problem telling people about it, IF I achieve it. I have had a recurring dream every week for the last 25 YEARS where I levitate in front of a crowd. It is in fact one of the main reasons I began studying meditation.

      “And ACTUALLY this brings up a good question. Even here you mention the 5th jhana but aren’t you comfortable with the 3rd and 4th jhanas?”

      At the height of my concentration skills I would regularly enter 3rd and 4th. 3rd is probably my favourite. 4th is said to be the start of siddhis/magick, but in reality you can do magick (intention-manifestation) with a good first jhana (and sometimes even less than that) as magick is simply a consolidation of INTENT. If you really understand the mechanics of it, you don’t need to go as high as 4th (though higher absorption will certainly help as it temporarily suspends more of the “sense of self” that usually blocks such intentions manifesting — and it is this near-vanishing of “self-hood” attained via the 4th jhana that makes it so powerful).

      “Thats where powers begin to spring according to this guy I know that has trained for almost a decade hardcore, including full brahmacharya practice and he’s achieved a couple powers with 3rd and 4th jhana (which I assume is the equivalent of samayama in hinduism, if you’re familiar with that). Been following you for a couple months and I thought you already have lots of powers ha”

      I have manifested many powers in the course of my practice and always saw it as a natural and causal part of increasing concentration and insight.

      I had future visions semi-regularly with the “dark stuff behind my eyelids” meditation, as reported here:
      I eventually had to switch to breath meditation as visions became so common and distracting with that meditation.

      I have talked about using magick for gambling here:

      I have talked about many other powers in various comments (maybe search for “siddhi” and see what comes up).

      I don’t practise powers at all currently. They are highly distracting in terms of progressing to enlightenment. They can get you caught in cycles which often last for months. I have come across many types of power/siddhi in my practice and found that they all work in the same fundamental way. True insight can be gained from this recognition, but once that has been gained there is not much left to do with powers, practice-wise. While they can be ridiculously fun and compelling, they have such a dark side that they should only be used for reasons deemed very necessary in one’s practice or in the larger world (e.g. convincing people to practise meditation, as one reason I would consider demonstrating them in the future).

      • Andrew says:

        I see. Seems like a long post to me but it must be a breeze in the wind for you :D.

        I used to be like those new age meditators on reddit until I found this non educated serious concentration practicioner, T Lavon dynamicmentalfitness on youtube, and then Absolutu’s AMAs. – I would say there’s isn’t much you can. I suspect that these people who run the meditation reddit are NSA agents or something. Just pumping crap into the public domain. It’s the same on other ‘strong’ topics such as the More_Pie_Guy’s gang and agenda with MoPai.

        Maybe I’m closed minded and what do I know anyway! But I would say careful with wanting to display powers. Mike from NaturalNews often posts about alternative health medics dying strangly and in the masses-getting killed basically. I don’t bother to investigate actual cases, but that says a lot 🙂 Maybe wait until you’re enlightement and your siddhis can wipe out battalions of soldiers with tanks before you come out in the open, lol my imagination here….ps: not putting this at the end of the comment, evoke sumerian kings or people from lemuria if you do evocation., you should have the skills. Some of them should be able to teach you gold about siddhis and such. Or at least help boost x times.

        Anyway, you and Absolutus rock man. You aren’t just able to write a looot and make sense out of it. But I can only imagine how much stress free and how much natural discipline you must have as a result of your practice. I will be like that one day too! Thank you!

  5. Joe says:

    Great post. Thank you. You have taught me more these last few months than during over ten frustrating previous years. Hope you one day put these posts into a cohesive structure and publish a book. Your followers would thank you for it.

  6. Ram says:

    Two questions:

    1. You sort of hinted at this, but I’d like some clarification. What would you say is the best practice off the cushion to improve concentration on it? Based on the advice of Mayath a few months ago and TMI, I’ve been trying to work on 24/7 mindfulness – just having a little watcher in the background of everything always noting what attention is doing at any moment. That seems to have built up my ability to catch distractions quickly, almost instantly, while I’m trying to concentrate during a real meditation session. But here you’re suggesting that you can actually practice concentration directly while going about your daily life. Could you elaborate a bit more on how that works?

    2. What’s the balance of effort and relaxation involved in hitting jhana this quickly? The way that we’re trained to use our attention in modern society, the kind of focused effort that it takes to really zero in on the breath (or whatever) generates a lot of tension. This is something you’ve addressed before, but now that we’re talking purely about the “concentration muscle,” how does tension affect it? Is this something that’s worth thinking about during a session, or is it better to just throw all the energy into locking onto the object and let relaxation take care of itself?

    Thanks again. I know I’ve said this before (and so have a lot of other people!) but after years of stagnation, my practice really kicked into high gear when I discovered your website. I’m sure I’d still be floundering around uselessly if I’d just kept trying to meditate with the information I had.

    • Illuminatus says:

      “But here you’re suggesting that you can actually practice concentration directly while going about your daily life. Could you elaborate a bit more on how that works?”

      Not while “going about your daily life” per se. More like, creating windows when you are on your own to practise concentration strongly. Presence walks are my #1 way for this.

      “What’s the balance of effort and relaxation involved in hitting jhana this quickly?”

      Good question! My answer will not use conventional terms. I.e. “relaxation” conventionally means loose muscles, low heart-rate etc. This is irrelevant when generating states of high concentration at will, i.e. what is achieved with the concentration muscle.

      HOWEVER, there is relaxation WITHIN ATTENTION while concentrating, which must be balanced with effort. This is very hard to explain but here goes. When you RELAX ATTENTION, the object tends to expand. When you TIGHTEN ATTENTION, the object tends to contract.

      So let’s say you are using a circle of “dark stuff behind the eyelids” in the centre of the field of vision with eyes closed as your object. If you stare at a single point your attention will contract around that point, your eyes will begin to hurt, your breathing will stop, and your concentration which was thrown like a spear will run out of power almost immediately. Now, imagine just before that happens, you RELAX your attention. Your attention will FALL BACK from the single point in the centre, towards the edges of the circle you have delimited in your mind. (The breath will also tend to release during this fall back.) Now, if you let the falling-back continue past the edges of the little circle, you will lose concentration, in a similar but opposite way to the contractive phase of throwing it at the centre of the object. The trick here is to catch attention before it falls back outside the little circle and dissolves, and instead point attention again towards the centre.

      So, you are using the concentration muscle to grab, release, grab, release the object in a flowing cyclical wave. At first this cycle of relax-contract will be very rapid until your mind gets into gear and gets on board with what you are doing. At some point however it “drops into rhythm” and the cycle becomes slower. This is access concentration.

      By the way, the breath will tend to modulate with each relax/contract. This is the mind-breath link, and is the main reason breath itself is used as the object, since the phase of the breath will directly affect attention. Also note that each successful phase of the relax/contract wave that occurred smoothly will tend to be VERY PLEASURABLE (because it is creating flow, which is always pleasurable).

      In kasina meditation, the effect of relax-contract gives the perception that you are grabbing hold of the object with your attention then releasing it before it becomes strangled, then grabbing it again before the release loses it entirely. The object (e.g. a flame afterimage) therefore seems to be cradled by your attention, like it is being held in the space between relax/contract. The object therefore begins to exist in a space formed entirely by a trick of your attention.

      And if this process seems ridiculously complex and difficult, always remember that it is only so difficult right at the start — once some rhythm is attained (and the mind likes rhythms, so it WILL find it) effort required drops right down.

      If you begin to think of your attention itself as a muscle which can grip or release an object then you will probably begin developing your own methods naturally.

      • Arpan says:

        @ Illuminatus: This is the explaination to concentration that I was actually looking for and discovered quite recently in my practice. What you call “relaxation within attention” is the same as what I call “letting go into the object” something I carried over from Do Nothing into Concentration Practice, easing the stress that used to sabotage my attempts earlier, sometimes giving me mild headaches.
        Metaphors that work for me are:
        1. letting go into the object
        2. relaxing around the object(when any tension naturally comes into awareness, like in Do an angry person would realize that he has curled a tight fist and release it)
        3. Holding the object like a butterfly, gentle enough to not strangle it but not carelessly enough to let it escape

        Also, I tend to let the object waver/wander/morph a little(I use either an imaginary black point Or mental image of a deity I like) BUT keep a sustained gentle a attention on it throughout(my mind rarely wanders totally off the object ever since years). I apply attention to keep tht object in focus just below the point where it would start feeling stressful or forceful. As a result, the object stops moving/varying on its own after about 5 minutes or less and concentration deepens on its own.

        I learned this partly from TM kind of mantra meditation. I found tht I could reach a jhana almost always with the mantra and wondered why. I found that it was because mantra took my attention away from the mental visual field in which the disturbances compete much more strongly for attention than in mental auditory field(atleast for me). I tended to repeat the Mantra mentally with a sense that it is being heard in the right side of my head(taking the attention away from the front/visual field). Also, i was much less stressed about maintaining the Exact intonation/pronunciation(comparable to stressing over the details of a visual object or shallowness/frequency of breath) and just tended to coast over it in whatever sense it presented itself and in whichever area of head as the meditation progressed. This is used by many non directive practioners.

        I decided to bring in the same concept to visual objects and lo! it worked. I have been successful with breath too with this method, but with lesser frequency and longer sittings(i suspect that i hv developed some resistance to anapanasati over the years). This method combined with enhanced mindfulness(due to all day awareness) resulted in hard jhana.

        Do you have suggestions for further optimization of this method ? Or do you suggest another one altogether ?

        Btw, you had a concentration guide in Start Here section with links to some movies like Bagger Vance. Have you deleted it ?

        • Illuminatus says:

          It sounds like your concentration practice is on the right track. You are learning all the things people learn when they start getting their heads around the actual PROCESS of concentration. You’ve started to notice that the process is the same regardless of object. And, also, that technique learned on one object or in one meditation type can be transposed directly onto another! Your mind is networking together all the bits. You should expect some mind-blowing experiences to happen soon.

          By the way, this “mind networking” thing, for me, began to occur between different fields of interest, not just within meditation. So all my hobbies started linking with concentration, and things like playing piano transferred principles back into concentration and was also helped by meditation, so these two-way networks began to form with everything just feeding knowledge and skill into everything else. That’s basically where this blog came from. The idea to just try something from meditation on something unrelated is the sign of the kind of mind that can eventually figure out anything. Maybe it would be called “curiosity”. I know some people just NEVER transpose ideas like that. It renders most humans as programmable machines unable to recognize and break their own programming.

          “Btw, you had a concentration guide in Start Here section with links to some movies like Bagger Vance. Have you deleted it ?”

          I’ve taken it down. It is saved, though. It wasn’t very good. The film references weren’t helpful. Also, it relied too much on people having my intuitive skill-set, like the concentration muscle. Instead I have just explained all the various elements of concentration in posts like this one.

          • Arpan says:

            “By the way, this “mind networking” thing, for me, began to occur between different fields of interest, not just within meditation….”

            I am of exactly the same mindset.Yhis attrscts ke to abstractions and Unifying theories like Non Dualism too. I love identifying my strong points abd using them to develop skills in seemingly unrelated areas. Eg. As a child I loved creating entire fictional universes in my mind and was pretty good at visualization too. This led me to discover the concept of Mind Palace all on my own. Infact I have got back to working on it. I tend to organize chapters of college books I read as galleries in a museum(within the mind palace) with pictures and things/models representing important concepts of that chapter.

            I think until you develop a more right brained/flow based framework of thinking by meditation or otherwise it is good to view the Universe VERY mechanistically. This mode of thinking has created a strong belief in me that ANY problem is just created by certain clogs in my mind not working the way I want. Meditation helps me identify those clogs and correct them. This is called Shuddhi in yoga i.e. each part of your being should function separately in their domain yet harmoniously: thus hormones should not interfere with love(domain of heart) and love should not interfere with intellect/judgement. Similarly Reason should chart out the path to a goal but not adjudge its possibility or impossibility. It is also good to dissect a “problem” into atoms. Eg. Logic has always been my strong point and I have a very good understanding of mathematics but could not score well in it during early school years. People dismiss all such cases as “poor at math, practice more”. But I found that it was general Test Anxiety and poor concentration that led me to make mistakes and score poor, further shaking confidence. So the clog that needed to be set straight in atomic terms is: ability to hold the numbers in my mind gently and playfully irrrespective of outer environment. Similarly, for dance(not a dancer still) core problem was shame and lack of joy. Thus solution is not to take classes or copy others, but to first learn to let go into cathartic wild physical momentum as if i am in my bathroom, this would create the necessary factors, while technique will obly be the dressing. Similarly, could not understand how to have “faith” with a questioning mind. But then saw tjat essential ekement of Faith is the ability to hold an idea in mind irrespective of “external suggestions to the contrary”. Thus, enemy of faith is not Doubt but Mental Wavering. Mental firmness mixed with emotion is Faith. I need not be emotional..just mentally firm to gain all fruits of Faith.
            This lack of precision defining mechanics of everyday things like concentration is why I could not learn concentratiom from my father, though he is a supernormal ability at it and he introduced me to it. Thus, lurking here 😛

            Ah I digress.

            “I’ve taken it down. It is saved, though. It wasn’t very good. The film references weren’t helpful. Also, it relied too much on people having my intuitive skill-set, like the concentration muscle. Instead I have just explained all the various elements of concentration in posts like this one”
            It did lack in technique, but man, it inspired many people to work on concentration. I shared that link with many. Please consider putting up the ideas in these posts in another Start Here guide.

            You state in a comment below:

            ” Secondary to this point, I always had the best concentration after work, even a day job not particularly enjoyable but where I had a lot on and my mind fell into natural rhythms of focus. Driving itself was another source of such flow”
            I have found that this momentum of concentration in everyday life has different flavours according to the type of meditation practiced. Eg Open awareness techs like Do Nothing create a Hyper Receptive mind which eg while a reading a text will feel the words rushing in chunks to fill the vaccuum of the mind and getting imprinted deeply.
            While a narrow focus meditation results in an outgoing spear like mijd which penetrates the text and rushes fast through it without losing comprehension.

        • Ram says:

          Both these comments are helpful. Thank you.

          I realized after posting that I had one other question, which you addressed a bit in other comment above, but I’m wondering how it relates to this. How does the pleasure fit in to this focus-relax-focus-relax pattern? Do you think it’s better to be putting some effort and intention into getting pleasure, or will the pleasure just develop naturally from the tighten-relax rhythm? A long time ago, you had a post about tricks to generate piti on the breath, but it seems like if total absorption is everything, then the effort of creating pleasure would actually reduce the focus on the object.

          I find that I feel a kind of pleasurable sensation quite quickly, even without perfect concentration. It manifests as a kind of sensation in the chest or the legs, almost like being startled, the kind of happiness that you suddenly feel when you get completely unexpected good news. Noticing it seems like a distraction, so I bring my attention immediately back to the object, but then the good feeling tends to fade away. Does this sound like proper piti, or is it more likely just a sort of wishful thinking, or some kind of mundane good feeling that has nothing to do with concentration?

          • Illuminatus says:

            The pleasure/piti aspect is interesting and has some depth and facets. What I am about to say is a “dry run” in that I haven’t formulated many ideas about it until now.

            First off, concentration itself — the act of focus-relax — creates pleasure. This might be just because it creates flow within awareness which is always pleasurable (and which manifests naturally in any enjoyable activity, and even in activities not usually identified as enjoyable such as hard work wherein focus/flow has been attained). Secondary to this point, I always had the best concentration after work, even a day job not particularly enjoyable but where I had a lot on and my mind fell into natural rhythms of focus. Driving itself was another source of such flow. So, these principles are already known in some form or other to most people. There is a kind of inertia within focus whereby if it is exercised for some period of time it wants to stay focused. When you dive right into this principle with an object of meditation, then you can get results quite fast.

            I have however also been thinking these last few months about the pleasure within meditation as being as aspect of two circuits (which you might call “go” and “stop”) working against each other or at least operating in turn in a rhythm. If the “go” is stimulatory then the “stop” is a kind of natural damper which kicks in to attenuate the stimulation. The “go” might be dopamine; the “stop” might be opioids. These are the two major pleasure neurotransmitters shown in some neuroscience study to be released during jhana. If these two signals are forced to operate against each other at the same time for a long period then you can get an ongoing release of both neurotransmitters, so far more opioids than your body would ever dish out ordinarily. Runner’s high can be thought of in the same vein. Running makes you want to stop immediately, but there is an art in pushing through that psychologically to create the high.

            So, I am suggesting that the act of modulating concentration intentionally might create pleasure. This is barely noticeable at first because people are unable to maintain concentration beyond the initial thrust toward some sensation (which lasts a microsecond in order to start a causality chain of cognition, and then stops immediately). However if you can keep going to the object with your attention, you will notice this pleasure more firmly. Then, a biofeedback loop can begin wherein you notice that by flexing your mind towards your object you attain pleasure, and by flexing it harder and more regularly you can create more pleasure.

            I don’t think it is right to claim the object (e.g. the breath) and the pleasure as two separate objects. Going towards the object with attention creates pleasure. So they are cultivated at the same time. The trick lies in noticing that the concentration caused the pleasure. Pleasure therefore becomes a kind of marker that you are doing it right. That is different however from saying, “Focus on the pleasure”. If you switch from your object to the pleasure feelings themselves, they will quickly disperse. However, when concentrating on the object, you are MINDFUL of the pleasure because it is a marker that you are concentrating correctly. So it is also not right to say you should ignore it.

            Finally, I will talk about pleasure as a SPARK for concentration. Because pleasure indicates activity in the dopamine/opioid complex, pleasure (from some other source, e.g. a song you like, or just feeling good that day) can be co-opted and driven into concentration. This is the basic premise of tantric sex (which is incredibly useful for developing those systems, might I add). Pleasure basically means you have already “primed the pump” of concentration. A useful outcome of this understanding is that if you use objects that are inherently pleasurable then you can stay with them with your attention far easier. To “hack” the breath in this way, one thing I often use is to imagine I am smelling something incredibly sweet and pleasant on the in-breath, for example the smell of cut grass. This method can be ridiculously effective to get an initial dopamine/opioid spark to build off of.

            Metta meditation also has inherently enjoyable emotions (loving-kindness) as an object and many people have easy success with that as a result.

            Ultimately, I prefer using ASSUMPTION of pleasure via mental suggestion (e.g. cut grass smell, or simply the INTENTION that you are about to find concentration pleasurable) OR an actual pleasurable mental object (e.g. my slot machine symbol kasinas) to kick-start the pleasure cycle and ride it all the way to jhana — rather than sitting around waiting for pleasure to happen (luck-based approaches).

            Because if you understand that pleasure is not only one of the goals of jhana, but is in fact an indicator of it (being two of the jhana factors), why would you wait around for a miracle when you could just do half of it yourself?

      • engadget99 says:

        “So, you are using the concentration muscle to grab, release, grab, release the object in a flowing cyclical wave. At first this cycle of relax-contract will be very rapid until your mind gets into gear and gets on board with what you are doing.”

        This is a great insight and helped me improve my concentration muscle.

        • engadget99 says:

          Do you recommend synchronizing the breathe in-out with the concentratio muscle focus-relax? Does the duration/timing on both these cycles match up?

          • Illuminatus says:

            The unfortunate result of what you are suggesting is that you will end up trying to do too many things at once.

            My goal when starting the meditation is to become concentrated as soon as possible using the concentration muscle on a small area of awareness. This has to take all the focus to start with.

            This process will automatically modulate the breath, as it will have you draw in sharply at times (which focuses concentration on the spot) and also breathe out at time to relax concentration when it is going too hard in the direction of contraction. The result is that you get a “feel” for when to breathe. The systems start to work as one. But the focus should be on the concentration itself.

            The timing of the concentration and breathing cycles does not always match up. There is a strange thing that happens whereby a “mental breath” comes in and out (which always matches the concentration cycles) but the physical breath might operate at a ratio of 1:4, breathing:concentration cycles.

            It’s the sort of thing that you shouldn’t burden yourself with worrying about. Concentration causes changes in the breath, period. Good concentration co-opts the breath and makes it its slave.

            This is just the way I do it. I know that LuminousBliss here on the comments sections uses a set breathing ratio of 1:1 and bases his concentration rhythms on that. So, he does it the other way around. His blog is here:

            His methods may differ slightly to mine but one thing we are agreed on is the important of CONCENTRATION itself. To this, everything else becomes secondary.

  7. ElectricElephant says:

    Long-time lurker here:

    Thank you so much Illuminatus. Your blog posts and the discussions they spawn are pure gold.

    It took me a while to connect the dots and integrate your techs into my practice. Haven’t been using all of them that long, so using them together is overwhelming at times. But it’s become easier, and they gave my practice a huge leap forward.

    This morning, I used the grab-relax method of manipulating attention you wrote about. I had this weird experience where the blackness in front of my eyes enveloped my whole body. As if my body was shrinking, and I was only this blackness and the breath. I couldn’t keep up suppressing thoughts for much longer and got kicked out of the state.

    But, my concentration was deeper than ever before, and it gives me hope that jhana might not be too far off. All because of one simple switch in meditation technique.

    Thanks again for all the information you’re putting out there.

    • Illuminatus says:

      You’re welcome!

      “This morning, I used the grab-relax method of manipulating attention you wrote about. I had this weird experience where the blackness in front of my eyes enveloped my whole body. As if my body was shrinking, and I was only this blackness and the breath. I couldn’t keep up suppressing thoughts for much longer and got kicked out of the state.”

      The trick here is to LET YOUR MIND RELAX INTO THE NEW SPACE.

      So, the blackness is like mental real estate that is now vacant (a space carved out by the concentration). Now, you can let your awareness EXPAND INTO THAT SPACE.

      In practical terms this means you can release control during the out-breath a little more and notice how this causes your mind to relax and expand into the new space.

      When you get the hang of this, you can let more of your mind expand out into the space with each out-breath, until it feels like your consciousness is wholly inhabiting it (and your impression of your body will likely be very indistinct at this point, which is good). Now, you would want to notice how breathing helps you fill up the expanded mental space with your awareness. So breath and consciousness become one, and you can let more of yourself expand and become free of the barriers of everyday life that were keeping you so CONTRACTED before this. It is like those barriers are now gone, and it can feel a lot like you are just sort of venturing your consciousness into the new space a piece at a time, to make sure it’s still safe. But this is how, through concentration meditation, innocence is restored for a while — it lets down all the guards and barriers put in place by the world, our toxic society, etc.

      The more of yourself you allow to expand into the new space, carried by the breath, the more you will notice (hopefully) that the blackness now becomes energized and brighter with each breath until it is brilliant white (nimitta). When the light is everywhere, it sucks you in, and that is jhana.

      So, I suggest you do what you’re already doing, but become aware that awareness can expand at some point and that the energy that was once required for suppression of thoughts can now be let go into this expansion.

      • Arpan says:

        “The trick here is to LET YOUR MIND RELAX INTO THE NEW SPACE.”

        I have found that specially when I focus on a physical point(eg the point of contact between soles and floor as done by US special forces) or anapana spot, i tend to lose sense of spatial orientation and it is just me as a witness and that point in an infinite void. Here, i sometimes feel myself rotating and revolving or gravity pulling at me from odd angles.

        Does your above instruction hold in the condition I described above ?

  8. Kautilya says:

    Yeah this all began as a child fascinated by the stories of Rishi’s and Yogi’s of Ancient India; like one has a fascination for space

    Peak Performance Personal Development like wanting to gain top marks in science at school

    Absolutus, can’t lie had a huge impact, like going to a series of talks by a brilliant scientist who showed how much could be achieved in this field

    Meditation retreats and the like were like visiting space ships and in some cases outer space itself

    So I completed basic studies and finally Actually Doing a PhD so I can make my mark – personally gain and give in this field……No doubt Professor lluminatus is my fuckin Thesis Supervisor!

  9. Edenist Whackjob says:

    Illuminatus, is it doable to combine consciousness work with having a nice life? Or should one just go full-blast until Enlightenment, no matter the cost?

    Meditated a lot over the past week… Forgive the n00b question…

    • Edenist Whackjob says:

      Nevermind, I found the answer in the text! About flying and pick-up and such.

      So let me rephrase: if taking the all-in approach, is there a way to minimize chaotic karma effects? I assume that the harder you go in, the more wild / extreme the reaction is going to be from the universe.

      Or is it more like “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” in this case? That taking it easier will actually make your karma trip even worse?

      Genuinely want to know…

      • Kautilya says:

        This is quite a question……..and to also expect one indisputable answer….hmmm

        Should I plan first or just get to making money? Should I go out and pull or focus on inner game? Should I eat whatever and bulk or cut first….even these have so many ways so imagine Enlightenment!

        But there should be some direction so I’ll try especially since I know exactly what you mean (during a slump a while ago I got admonished by Illuminatus for asking straight up pick-up problems here and not in the forum 😂).

        Go “full blast” towards enlightenment? Forgive me if I’m wrong but from what I know even Jhana is obtained by focusing on concentration, you can’t actually focus on or crave it – it happens and you make the conditions right. A lot can happen going full blast but Union (meaning of Yoga). The concept in eastern faiths is that things that like happen through Grace. SURRENDER.

        The other point is that “consciousness work” is what you are doing right now. Even when I woke up at 6 am and thought………oh I know I’ll crack that bottle of wine open just because it’s there – that’s consciousness work needed to be done at that time (doesn’t need to be repeated though!!)

        You know who does ‘full blast’ enlightenment?? The ‘Vipassana Crew’. You really can understand their logic. Concentration may be the way towards a supremely powerful, blissful, creative, inspired, liberated mind. No doubt that has its benefits and the logic of just ‘being aware’ and everything is a distraction, maybe they’re missing out on certain benefits but that level of detachments … sounds sure like a path dedicated to Enlightenment…or is it?

        Inevitably they think they are going full blast so they are better than others, they judge, they become close minded (shocking considering how they need to notice everything) and lose true humility.

        Most enlightened beings have stated surrender to the divine as the way. So have a ‘nice life’ – EVEN when it’s not so nice! The work we discuss here is a beautiful way. So being grateful and taking joy in life IS a way to Enlightenment.

        The ‘harder’, even though I don’t think it should always be hard, but the stronger your intention, commitment, mentality and sense of being then the less karmic repercussions you will have but you will probably have a nicer life as well. I’m at the moment trying to work out how I can get about 3 hours work of meditation in.

        That’s not totally what you mean though is it? If you mean making money, banging chicks etc. of course overattachment will hold you back – personal development even tells you that. So worldly desire does have its place but put Spirital Progress or knowing Atman first.

        It may even need to begin with worldly desires. I believe that Jhana/ Samadhi is better than pure heroin, crack, coke, weed, booze put together x100…. so it motivates me to attain that and continue meditation and NOT do that shit.

        Inner spirit will help me with girls. Mind becomes more creative and focused – I’m more likely to make money. Peace of mind and inner power though meditation will make me more charismatic and relaxed. You think I ain’t thought about getting ripped by shamishing it at the gym – entering Jhana then Yoga Nidra at night…BOOM!! Ripped in no time lol!!

        I would say this: just make it 51% …. give ownership of your life to Spiritual Progress then apply that – energy if you will – to the other aspects of your life.

        Your own power of consciousness will guide you in your journey.

        • Edenist Whackjob says:

          One’s mind seems to have an uncanny ability to “work things out” and “process karma” on its own, given enough consciousness to do so. Maybe it’s always doing so, just that we don’t pay attention?

          “So worldly desire does have its place but put Spirital Progress or knowing Atman first.”

          First drop attachments, then reintroduce the activities you genuinely like? Is that about right?

      • Illuminatus says:

        “Having a nice life” of course depends on what you mean by that.

        But ultimately it depends on the choices you make and the paths you choose.

        If “having a nice life” to you means getting girls or having a good social life, nice nights out etc. then the main thing to realize is that your social interactions will be more or less a perfect mirror of how you feel about other people. There is no “self”, nor the meaningless concept of “self-esteem”. There is how you feel about others which is directly reflected back at you within relationships. So if I could go back to my 18-year-old self just starting university (which is where this really all began) I would have practised metta meditation to cultivate ongoing good feelings towards others. Generally people feed back to you how you feel about them. It takes the hardest psychopath to resist a genuine warm smile. The difference between those who are good at socializing is that they ENJOY OTHER PEOPLE.

        Regarding career choices I would have made these based on internal emotional drives toward fulfilling activities, thus would have gone straight into creative fields rather than studying computer science (which I never finished anyway). It takes self-knowledge to find what “turns you on” so even a basic mindfulness meditation with the intention to see things how they really are would have illuminated those drives early on (rather than being influenced by careers advice based on money and societal “usefulness”).

        You can do a lot for happiness without being “enlightened”. The quest for enlightenment usually comes from being unhappy.

        Regarding meditative paths, I would have chosen ones which increase energy and happiness (such as kriya yoga and concentration meditation) and avoided overly technical approaches such as MCTB which appear to increase Dark Night happenings rather than mitigate them.

        Knowing that reality is all about relationships (to other people, activities, objects, and concepts) is the most key thing to realize early on since that then allows you to cultivate the relationships that bring you the most happiness.

        To add to all this, I would have sought out successful male mentors at the earliest opportunity and given them my full faith until I reached the limit of their teachings.

        The pickup community is essentially a bunch of males all roughly on your level yet pretending they are higher due to essentially random success based on their prior conditioning. They are mostly unhappy and unsuccessful and should be avoided as mentors.

        The women you get are more or less a very clear reflection of the chaos or peace you feel towards them. If you have chaotic emotions toward women you will end up with chaotic women. Metta screens for this because by cultivating love you screen out those women incapable of receiving love (which is a lot of them). Relationships with women are perhaps the most clear mirror a man has for viewing himself. The woman you end up with will tend to be a very clear manifestation of your karma (both its good and bad aspects). Men should sort out their “relationship trip” before pursuing women else they just end up with reflections of the worst aspects of themselves.

        • Illuminatus says:

          More on the nonentity of “self-esteem”:

          Everything you think about yourself has come directly from OTHER PEOPLE. In fact, your entire idea of selfhood is a socially-manufactured facade.

          Consider for a moment if all your negative relationships were swapped out for positive ones. You would begin to feel happy ALL THE TIME. A psychologist observing you would stroke his beard and say, “Hmmm, this individual appears to have very high SELF-ESTEEM. He must be studied further.” No, douchebag — he’s just happy because people aren’t being a jerk to him.

          And, as I just said, it is very difficult for people to be a jerk to someone who is genuinely happy.

          • Edenist Whackjob says:

            Thanks, I agree. That’s why I was seeking validation from HBs for so long – because I wanted to be in a certain state of mind (“alpha” or whatever). It even got to the point where I was conscious of this dynamic, then I just stopped caring altogether 🙂 There does seem to be such a thing as a “natural personality” which just “comes out” and is not dependent on any external stimulus. So far I’ve only had it while on Phenibut or (rarely) while drunk and meditating.

            • Edenist Whackjob says:

              “because I wanted to be in a certain state of mind (“alpha” or whatever)”

              and to clarify, I wanted to be in this alpha state because it would shape my cognition and allow me to solve problems better – then I realized those “problems” aren’t problems in the first place, so don’t need to solve them 🙂

              • Arpan says:

                The 83rd problem:

                Man came to the Buddha ranting about myriad of problems in his life.
                Buddha: At any instance of your life, you are bound to have 83 problems. If you solve the 83rd, rest would be solved by themselves.
                Man: what is the 83rd problem ?
                Buddha: That you want to get rid of the first 82.

            • Arpan says:

              Zen and the art of pickup:
              Men who had the maximum girls and gold chasing them are the ones who let these things be the byproduct of their effort, not the product of it 😀
              I guess, same holds even more for meditative states.

        • Edenist Whackjob says:

          Thanks for the advice, I honestly appreciate it.

  10. Edenist Whackjob says:

    Btw, Illuminatus, I wrote a post on how I think Christianity “works”:

    A bit sloppy and using left / right brain paradigm, which is not 100% correct, but bear with me…

    • Edenist Whackjob says:

      About Edenism, I’m not a believer (unless you count phrenology, in which case I am)… the nickname stuck around, that’s all.

  11. engadget99 says:

    I wrote a small cliffs notes based on the post + comments. Is this accurate?

    1. Modulate breath, maybe kapalbhathi. Start with this
    2. Strong intent to concentrate
    3. Small mental circle around bridge
    4. Can do open or closed eyes
    5. Flex the concentration muscle which pushes off all thoughts
    6. Eye patterns, body and tongue are steady when thoughts are lacking
    7. After some time, circle develops depth and flow of reality happens
    8. Feel the sensations; Expect pleasure
    9. Look at reality as an object and try to grab it
    10. Push and pull ; Push/relax to expand into space and pull to a single point. Moving muscle itself causes pleasure

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