Mailbag: Generating Piti and Sukha on the Breath
Today’s question asks how to generate piti (rapture) and sukha (bliss) with the breath as the object in concentration meditation.
Okay, so you gave me this advice a week ago, and I’ve been practicing it for a week. I have a few questions, if you (or anyone else with real experience) has time for them:
1. I’ve been trying to generate pīti and sukha on the breath. I find that I have varying degrees of success. Some of it, I’m sure, comes down to things like you’ve said elsewhere, having toxins the day before, general state of mind going in, etc. But I think that maybe I could refine my technique for generating that joy a bit more. What I usually do is just start my meditation with a kind of expectation that I’m going to feel joy. I tend to be very fixated on the third circuit, so I start by affirming to myself verbally that every breath is going to bring more and more pleasure, and then just kind of try to feel it. Usually it works for a little while and then I kind of run out of steam. Does anyone have any other methods for autosuggestion that might be more effective? I’m at the point where I am rarely distracted from the breath and even that is never for very long, and I think that if I could start generating a lot more pleasure when I’m sitting I could reach first jhana in minutes.
Here is a brief introduction to the physics of jhana:
- Your experience of reality is made up of sensations: “blip blip blip”.
- The mind can string these sensations together to create the appearance of a flowing, continuous experience. You know this as “reality”, and you do this every time you open your eyes and look around at “objects” — the mind is taking sensations and stringing them together into a flowing experience you call an object or an event. I see it as putting beads onto a string: raw sensations can be strung together to create any kind of “necklace” (experience) you like.
- The breath provides lots and lots of sensations, as breathing triggers nerve flow across the whole body in a wave pattern (in-out, or up-down depending how you look at it). These sensations can be strung together into an experience of pleasure (jhana).
- This works better when sensations are used from certain nerves. The nerve in the bridge of the nose is very easy to grab its sensations from and connect them together to create a “pleasure string”. Other common points are:
- The spot between the nose and the top lip.
- The third eye (although this is somewhat advanced as it is such a strange location to maintain awareness on).
- There is also one in the abdomen, near the base of the spine, which can be felt when doing deep relaxing breathing.
- There is another at the heart — probably the vagus nerve — but I stay away from advising beginners to use the heart for awareness as it can too easily lead to panic attacks.
- Another point is the crown chakra, but this is also advanced to hold awareness on, and will tend to bring an ecstatic religious-type jhana beyond perhaps what a beginner should be aiming for at this stage.
- Each nerve spot will give its own “flavour” of jhana (e.g. it will emphasize different jhana factors in different ratios).
- The bridge of the nose is ideal for beginners, in my experience, as it tends towards quick intense rapture, finally giving way to bliss in the later stages of the jhana. “Rapture” as a feeling is more easily identified (and grabbed hold of) by beginners, in my opinion, as it is something more relatable to everyday experience (e.g. the rush of addictions, victory, a sudden sense of elation).
- One-pointedness of mind — i.e. keeping a very tight grip with your attention — on a single nerve point, e.g. the bridge of the nose, is the most rapid way to “mine” the sensations in that nerve and have them connect into a pleasure string. One-pointedness creates a rapid flow of strong sensations in a single location. This “rush” allows you to cross a “threshold point” and begin experiencing those sensations as a flowing, continuous, pleasurable experience. Using one-pointedness, the sensations are prevented from flowing elsewhere and becoming thoughts, and instead all flow into the desired experience of pleasure.
- The “auto-suggestion” you make to yourself is very simple: that when you experience sensations coming in from anywhere in the body (also including the face, head, nose etc.) — but particularly at your chosen one-pointedness location — you will experience those sensations as pleasure. To do this, when you feel sensations from anywhere, you “let yourself go” into them. It is like they are hitting a surface and each time they hit, they give you a wave of pleasure. This is difficult to describe and you must have a lot of faith that your mind can take you there. In much of jhana the mind works on autopilot to increase your pleasure once that program is activated.
- Your mind is making “objects” out of sensations all the time: the jhana is a very specific object of pleasure formed from the sensations being strung rapidly onto a string you might call the “will to pleasure”. You have to really let go, and let your mind take you into that pleasure — and this will involve things like the eyes rolling back and flickering, and breathing becoming rapid at various points, and so forth. Jhana is its own “pleasure experience”, much like the sensations that flow and eventually become an orgasm.
So, let’s put this all together:
- In your mind you draw a very small boundary inside the bridge of your nose where you will choose to keep your attention. This is one-pointedness.
- You then breathe into that boundary. So, when you breathe in with your nose, you imagine the air flowing into and around that boundary within the bridge of your nose. You are filling that boundary with the sensations of the breath. Each breath wave is like it is filling up the bridge of the nose with delicious sweet-smelling air, which then circulates through the face.
- You try to mentally “grab hold” of those sensations as they are happening in the bridge of your nose.
- You intentionally perceive this experience as pleasurable.
- You must let your mind “show you” how to breathe into this gap to maintain this pleasure experience. Your mind will literally adjust your breathing for you to show you how to maintain those circulating sensations of pleasure. At this point you are on the feedback loop that will very quickly cause you to reach a threshold point whereby the experience begins to maintain itself (jhana).
- Your attention may even go onto some of the other points along your body’s central axis that I mentioned earlier, e.g. the deep point in the abdomen, the heart etc. and might begin “joining them up”. This is part of the mind’s natural program for joining sensations into pleasure, and begins to happen once you reach that threshold point.
- In general, if it feels good, keep letting it happen!
2. James had that advice about finding the “concentration muscle” by looking at something and trying to change its color. I also have been trying to see what part of me is working to focus when I meditate, or to restore focus when I get distracted. Does Illuminatus or anyone else have any other ideas of really good direct ways of locating and improving that concentration muscle? I can sort of feel that it’s the key to everything I’m missing right now.
I would not use the “colour change” advice personally — this is a different kind of mental action.
The “concentration muscle” is the mental muscle you use to pull your attention back towards the one-pointedness location (the bridge of the nose in this case) each time your mind wanders. So there is a “pull” you do with your mind to bring it back to the bridge of the nose. Well, by practising, you can learn to constantly be engaging that muscle so your attention is always pulling back towards the bridge of the nose. Once you have figured that out, instead of just keeping it engaged, what you do instead is let it fall away then come back many times a second, which generates the perception of many sensations. So, it is similar to how you can create an electrical current in a metal rod by moving a magnet along its length: the current is only created when the magnet is moving! The constant “towards and back, towards and back” of the concentration muscle upon the one-pointed location is what creates the “current” of the flowing experience. Eventually this becomes automated and feels like it is happening by itself (second jhana).
3. I did some experiments in magick this week, buying scratch cards. Every card I have bought has at least paid for itself, and I made €5 a few times (which isn’t a lot, but I’m more interested in the magick than the money). One thing that really worked for me yesterday was to return to childhood: I prayed, only instead of praying to win the money, I thanked God for already giving it to me and felt real gratitude and excitement about the prize I’d already won. I figured that would help me get around the “no” feeling, and it worked. In the interest of refining that, I’ve been going around in my daily life trying to always feel the intention before I take any action, hoping that I can really get to the heart of that “yes” feeling and use it magickally. Are there any other ways of getting better at recognizing those basic feelings Illuminatus was talking about and using them to power your intentions? Obviously getting up to fourth jhana would be the best thing, but assuming that I’m already trying to do that, any other suggestions for improving that facet of siddhis?
Just learning concentration in the way I have described today will cause you to find and strengthen all kinds of facets of mind that were previously unconscious. At this stage you are better off strengthening concentration and it will give you plenty of skills to play with.
Increasing siddhi power is a long subject and one I won’t be going into today, save to say one thing: In my experience, increasing power of intention always results in you needing to go through some kind of Path of Insight eventually, usually including a nasty Dark Night, in order to integrate the new ability. The reason for this is that magick and the powers are so challenging to your existing beliefs about reality that even something as seemingly silly as regularly winning €5 on scratch cards can have serious repercussions on how you come to view the world. It throws up all kinds of questions about the nature of reality in your mind which your mind will demand answers for. The only way through this is insight meditation. Once a Path of Insight is completed for each “level-up”, the level-up becomes permanent. This is rather advanced, though.
The short version of this is: There is no such thing as a free lunch, and be careful what you wish for.
One more thing — thank you, Illuminatus, for this site. I know I mentioned this before, but I’ve been meditating for decades without getting anywhere, and I’m now making faster progress than ever before because I finally found someone who can talk to me in my language. This combination of science and mysticism is exactly what I need to understand what jhana actually is and how to get there.
Thanks. I really enjoy replying to you all, so it’s no problem. I have noticed recently that we have acquired many new readers who are mainly interested in meditation tech and other things I prefer to write about such as the occult, the nature of reality, and the Eight-Circuit Model. The comments sections are now bustling!