Concentration Meditation: Absorption
These are some notes that will be added to the next issue of the Basic Concentration Meditation guide.
Samatha jhana (“the jhanas”; concentration meditation) is known more often as absorption meditation in traditional Buddhism. I urge you to begin thinking of it along those lines. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that, by calling it concentration meditation (a translation used in MCTB, and which I therefore began using as I was following that book at the time) has, I feel, led many people to believe that they are supposed to just be staring at their object if it’s a visual object, or, if it’s the breath or a sound, just paying it some sort of unwavering attention. I also think this might be the reason many of you have reported feeling “pressure” in the forehead — that’s probably just eye strain from staring at something.
While there certainly is a strong element of being able to pay your object your undivided attention, there is a lot more to the jhanas than that. To get all the whacky effects such as wonder and awe, rapture and pleasure, you actually have to feel the object in your body. This is why the term “absorption meditation” is more useful and might give you the push you need to get you into those states.
I won’t give you too much information here because I feel that too many steps will overload you. Just have a little faith in yourself and assume that you will figure it out via a little trial and error. The path is there — just walk it.
If you are using a visual object, on the in-breath imagine you are taking the object into yourself. That’s all it is — just imagine you’re pulling on the object, taking it into your body, drawing it in using your breath. This is “absorption”. You can release it a little on the out-breath, then take the object into you again on the next in-breath. This kind of rhythmic pattern of “sensation, partial release, sensation, partial release” is how you establish a sine wave of attention — or an attention wave, as discussed here. A sense of rapture, awe, and pleasure is easy to begin to feel just by doing this. Simply maintain this rhythm of kind of “taking the object into you” — eventually you will “become” the object, as the separation between the object and yourself is broken down progressively.
If you are using the breath as your object, simply assume you can “be” the breath. Imagine you are absorbing “the breath” into you on each in-breath, then allow a partial release on the out-breath as just described. Again, this is how you set up that sine wave which gives the “illusion of solidity” as described in MCTB. If you are using a sound as your object, imagine that the sound permeates your whole being during the in-breath — so, feel the sound throughout your body. In fact, all concentration meditation (in my experience) uses the breath as an object in some way, as it is the breath that allows you to “merge” with your object by giving yourself body sensations while paying attention to the object.
Absorption therefore really just means feeling the object in your whole body. It is completely artificial! It is established by your purposefully linking your attention on your object to your breath. So you start to “feel” your object, even when that is physically impossible. You become “absorbed” in the object because you begin to feel it as though it’s part of you. With a little time you will be able to perceive nothing but the object, because the absorption will be so deep. If you are doing an advanced visual meditation such as iPhone Flashlight Afterimage Kasina, all the whacky black hole visuals occur at that deep level of absorption.
So, in short, concentration meditation is not just about “staring at the object”. It is about feeling the object and becoming absorbed in it, and I just told you one powerful way to achieve that. If renaming concentration meditation to “absorption meditation” helps you to remember that, I recommend you do it.
The Quickest Way to First Jhana
I was asked a couple of times during Skype coaching sessions the simple question: “What is the quickest way to achieve first jhana?” Instead of waffling on about objects and how it’s different for every person, I just gave my honest answer (for me).
The quickest way I get first jhana is as follows:
- Use the breath as the object.
- Use the absorption principle outlined above to “become the breath”.
- This very quickly (for me) begins to generate light in the visual field (so, the dark stuff behind my eyes will suddenly begin to get brighter). This light is known as the “nimitta”.
- Begin paying attention to both the nimitta (the light) and the breath simultaneously, while doing the absorption principle above. So I am becoming the light and the breath simultaneously, getting more absorbed with each breath. The result is that the the light begins to become brighter with each breath, until it is a brilliant white light. I now stay with it, simply doing more of the same, for as long as I choose.
At this point I am giddy with euphoria (I believe the white light is neurotransmitter release — likely opioids, dopamine and GABA). The breath feels extremely spacious at this point, as though there is infinite space within the breath and the edges of the body are difficult to find if the eyes are closed.
And that is the quickest and easiest way I personally get those awe-inspiring, rapturous states of sheer wonder from concentration (absorption) meditation.
I needed to write this up today because in a day or two I’m going to write a short guide on the easiest way to get the “fairytale” state — the state of pure presence described by Eckhart Tolle, also known as a “pure consciousness experience” in Actualism. Understanding absorption first-hand is a prerequisite for that state, so you should practise absorption in between, ready for the article.
The absorption principle outlined above can also be used for smiling during the Simple Reimprinting tech. Simply absorb the smile and let it melt away the other emotional responses going on, e.g. anxiety. “Become” your smile.