Mailbag: Dark Stuff Behind the Eyelids as Object

Charles wrote:

Hey man,

First of all I hope you’re doing well, and thanks a lot for sharing so much valuable info!

I have a couple of questions:

  1. Do you still use the dark stuff behind the eyelids as a method to access the jhanas? Is the technique basically to stare at the darkness as if it were a kasina?

I’ve been meditating for many years using the breath, and it’s only with great effort that I’m able to get into soft jhanas (and mostly only up to the 3rd usually). 90% of the time I get very, very relaxed watching the breath and this leads to dullness after an hour or so.

  1. How easy is it to master the hard jhanas using the dark stuff behind the eyelids as a meditation object vs the breath?

I’m starting to believe the breath might not be the best object of meditation for me. I’m normally very relaxed when I meditate and the breath just fails to get my concentration going. It puts me to sleep because it’s very soothing and hypnotic. I have no trouble staying with any object of meditation. No trouble at all relaxing naturally. No trouble with wandering mind, my mind is very calm. However my main difficulties are generating energy and not falling into dullness after 1-2 hrs. Anyway, I’m interested in what your thoughts are.

All the best,


Firstly, I believe all concentration meditation is a hybrid breath meditation. So, whatever your object is, in order to stabilize it you have to stabilize the breath into coherent patterns. Attention and the breath are firmly interlinked and interdependent. When using visual objects, the breath must be stabilized into a coherent rhythm which is then linked mentally to the image (your object). If you do kasina meditation, you will find that at certain stages the object moves in phase with the breath, basically proving what I’ve just said to be true.

In order to use the dark stuff behind your eyelids as a genuine object, you cannot just stare at it diffusely. This will lead directly into the kind of pseudo-sleep patterns you are experiencing (and I will talk about the problems with relaxation and hypnagogia in meditation shortly). Instead, you have to choose a circular surface area within the dark stuff behind your eyelids and draw a mental boundary around it. You then use your concentration muscle to force awareness to remain only within that circle (and this is a lot harder than it sounds, which is the whole point of concentration meditation — it is something out of the ordinary you are doing, which is difficult to achieve).

The breath will begin to be controlled in phase with the attention you bring to that circle. So, you might find that attention remains within that circle if you make the in- and out-breath flow into one another continuously and rhythmically (and this same pattern will show itself in any successful concentration meditation).

The concentration muscle in an action of the forebrain against the back brains. You will find thoughts trying to enter that circle as energy patterns (which is what thoughts are before they become differentiated into verbal chatter and imagery). The concentration muscle is that part of your awareness you use to repel those energy patterns back as soon as you detect them incoming, thus driving them away before they become thoughts. That’s right — you must intercept thoughts before they become thoughts, and this is achieved via mindfulness of energy patterns attempting to arise at the periphery of the object which are attempting to enter awareness. You will find that your breath automatically modulates during this “push back”, and that the more coherent your breath flow, the fewer thoughts will actually arise.

All these systems must be trained together. This is why concentration is so difficult. It is never a case of, “Just do this.” It is a completely active process requiring total dedication. Mindfulness must be maintained simultaneously of:

  1. The breath and the breathing pattern that best creates concentration, and endeavouring to create these smooth and coherent in-/out-flows.
  2. The object itself (in this case the patch within the dark stuff behind your eyelids you have chosen as your object).
  3. The energy patterns arising at the edge of the object (from elsewhere in the brain) that attempt to penetrate your awareness field and become thoughts. These must be actively pushed back against using the concentration muscle (which gets stronger and stronger each time you are able to push something away).

If you manage to maintain all these factors consistently for several seconds, the first jhana can arise literally within those few seconds. (I am not saying I can do this every time — preceding mental and physical state are huge factors. However, I’m now pretty good at it.) However, in reality, as a beginner, you are more likely going to end up running through the system in clumps as you practise. So, you might look at the object for a bit, then lose focus. Then you might remember that the breath is important, so you work on making the breath more flowing and consistent for a bit, and notice that the object stabilizes as a result of that. Then you might get excited about the object suddenly stabilizing, and get all sorts of distracting thoughts about it (maybe along the lines of, “That feels good. Does that mean jhana is coming?!”). Then you might remember that you have to push those thoughts away using the concentration muscle, and start doing a bit of that, which helps the other two processes you have running.

Now, there is a reason why, in other posts, I have advised against doing 1-hour sits for concentration practice for beginners who cannot yet attain the first jhana reliably. This reason is that the above process is very mentally taxing and can typically only be maintained for 20 minutes or so. (Things become a lot simpler once you can get the first jhana, since the meditation tends to “run itself” after that and actually requires less mental effort.) So, I believe you are better off throwing everything you’ve got at the object — utilizing all the factors of mental control I just described — for 20 minutes. If you don’t get at least some of the jhanic factors (rapture, bliss, one-pointedness or equanimity) during that time, you probably aren’t going to get much further after that, since much of your mental reserve has already been spent.

I will say again, however, that if you DO manage to get all the processes (breath control, concentration muscle, and attention on the object) working together in a stable way, then this is called access concentration, and first jhana could arise at any moment. Like I said, if you can maintain access concentration in a very stable way, first jhana can arise after just a few seconds. I think the people who say, “You need a few minutes in access concentration for the first jhana to arise”, are perhaps only maintaining access concentration with a 50-75% stability. That’s okay — there is a momentum built within access concentration that stays even if you lose it for a few moments. But this is the reason why they need that extra time. If you can really get the three processes I described working strongly in sync with each other, then you can hit first jhana very rapidly.

And then you have things like kundalini, hatha yoga, and pranayama you can use to generate the focused energy required for very fast jhanas, and I will talk a bit about that in a moment.

But to close off your question about using the dark stuff behind your eyes as an object, I will say a couple of things. No, it is no easier than a standard breath meditation, since breath control must be very high whatever the object of concentration. Also, the dark stuff behind your eyes is quite a strange object to use in terms of outcome. If you use a flame afterimage, you already know that the vision will progress through predictable stages — such as it collapsing to form a red dot, then a white star, then the white star pulsing in phase with the breath, then noticing the fractals in the edge of the star, and then eventually experiencing geometric patterns and total jaw-dropping universal imagery if your concentration is high enough.

With the dark stuff behind your eyelids, however, there is very little set pattern. It is basically pure potential energy. It is similar to white noise. If you listen to white noise long enough, you may start to hear voices in that noise. That is your mind projecting itself onto essentially a random field of potential. The dark stuff behind your eyes is very similar. If you do manage to stabilize it to a flat circular “screen” that you then hold in awareness, all sorts of things can then be projected onto that screen. I have had precognitive visions suddenly appear, and even a demon one time. Sometimes I have had faces of people I know suddenly appear, in what seems to be telepathic clairvoyance of their activities (though I have not been able to confirm any of these visions up to this point). Sometimes the visions are just garbage, such as scenes or objects that appear to just be the mind making sense of what’s going on, similar to a dream. When these visions “filter in” they tend to do so very spontaneously, like a shimmering clear image suddenly appearing in the surface of a lake. I have found this to be consistently jarring (and therefore difficult to maintain concentration upon), though simultaneously it can be very interesting.

I believe the “dark stuff behind your eyelids” object is very hard to use and even more difficult to master. However, I did use this meditation object almost exclusively for the first year I did jhana — which was before I knew what jhana even was. So it is certainly possible.

I’m starting to believe the breath might not be the best object of meditation for me. I’m normally very relaxed when I meditate and the breath just fails to get my concentration going. It puts me to sleep because it’s very soothing and hypnotic. I have no trouble staying with any object of meditation. No trouble at all relaxing naturally. No trouble with wandering mind, my mind is very calm. However my main difficulties are generating energy and not falling into dullness after 1-2 hrs. Anyway, I’m interested in what your thoughts are.

I think the problem goes something like this: Here in the West, we have this idea propagated through TV, magazines, book and films, that meditation is “sitting down with your eyes closed relaxing and trying not to think.” It is the impression that meditation is basically zoning out in a largely passive process. I would say about half of all the emails I receive from beginners are based on this fundamental misrepresentation they have that meditation is somehow about “relaxing”.

It is total crap.

Now let’s compare this impression to actual Eastern yogic meditation. First they do hatha yoga to create coherent energy patterns within their body — streams which can then be directed into their minds for meditation. Then they do pranayama breathing to further coordinate these energy currents into highly refined streams, while simultaneously training the breath for concentration. Then they do kriya (kundalini) yoga to cleanse their chakras and further prepare all aspects of body and mind for meditation. Then, they practise raja yoga (concentration meditation), channelling all that super-refined, highly potent energy through their object (e.g. the third eye) in a totally active, totally conscious, and totally intentional way, to create a state of samadhi (jhana).

Is there anything “relaxing” in that process? 😛

I have caricatured that somewhat to make a point (but not much). There are Eastern meditations, such as Buddhist anapanasati, which are more aligned with the Western idea of “relaxing meditation” — but it is still highly active in terms of how attention is directed, and I do not want this point to be lost. Samadhi/jhana is also somewhat physically relaxing but is highly mentally energizing. Any kind of true concentration meditation practice is totally mentally active and is nothing to do with “tuning out”.

In my post Mailbag: Generating Piti and Sukha on the Breath, if you saw me do that you would not think it is relaxing at all. It requires forceful circulation of breath and intense focus within the bridge of the nose, and I can attain jhana sometimes within seconds using that method (after which I do appear to “relax” physically, but mentally I am very active).

I think for people struggling with what is basically falling asleep during meditation, you could do well to go in the opposite direction: Instead of relaxing yourself, stimulate yourself. Pranayama breathing, especially kapalbhati, is an extremely useful way to generate stimulating energy streams, I have found. Practise kapalbhati for a couple of minutes, then throw that generated energy at the object in the form of attention. It is far easier to generate the rapture and bliss feelings through stimulated energies in this way (as opposed to sedated energies, i.e. relaxation), and these feelings can be “run with” all the way to jhana by tuning into them while maintaining attention on the object.

Hope that helps! 🙂

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25 Responses

  1. Charles says:

    Thanks Edd!

    You’re right about many things.

    The solution for me is not to pick another object of meditation (such as the dark stuff behind the eyelids) but to actually put more effort and energy into mastering the breath. I already knew this in fact, but my lazy side thought there was an easier method…

    So I will keep working with the breath following the advice you posted here and in the article about generating piti+sukha.

    By the way when you mention the bridge of the nose in that other guide do you mean the middle or closer to the point between the eyes?

  2. Ram says:

    What do you think of a longer sit that’s not all concentration — for example, half an hour of mindfulness followed by half an hour of pure concentration? Do you think that would lead to progress, or just end up wasting time in the same way that you’re talking about above?

    • Illuminatus says:

      I think using extra time for mindfulness is never a bad idea. What you suggest above would probably be a good warm-up for concentration, and I’ve recommended that system elsewhere on this blog. The benefit of the mindfulness session is that it calms the mind and deals with most of the “thoughts” problem before going for the jhana attempt.

      Also, if someone just went straight for jhana when first sitting, and burned out after 20 minutes, they could spend the rest of the hour just practising mindfulness. It doesn’t hurt, and there are other types of awareness that are trained by such practice, e.g. body awareness. I think time spent meditating is generally good provided you decide what it is you’re doing with the time and aren’t just spinning your wheels.

  3. James says:

    I always enjoy the mailbags, you seem to get better at explaining things simply each time, and hearing things told with the same meaning just slightly different ways helps in understanding and clarity.

  4. Edenist Whackjob says:

    Illumi, as you know, I inhabit a more Christian reality-tunnel.

    Whenever* I say the Lord’s Prayer, I get these crazy shivers of some kind of subtle joy throughout my body. I guess the technical term is frissoning.

    Is that something that could be used for jhana? I think I’ve been in access concentration a few times, but I’ve never gotten those pleasure waves that are supposed to come. Except when doing Christian prayer, as I said.


    * It’s close to 100% these days.

    • Edenist Whackjob says:

      Oh, and another thing: I see blue energy in the air from time to time. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can see a blue dot, and sometimes there’s even some movie going on inside the dot.

      Third eye?

      One more thing: I can kind of will the blue energy to appear by concentrating.

      • Illuminatus says:

        Blue is usually associated with the throat chakra:

        If you can generate the blue energy at will then that should be a relatively straightforward path to jhana: just generate and hold the blue dot/energy as a continuous, coherent phenomenon (object). You don’t even need to do much else, if you can do that. Just will and hold the object. The nice feelings should start to arise fairly soon, and that is access concentration. Then there is a noticeable “drop” to jhana.

        Just focus on maintaining the blue dot, and the rest tends to sort itself out. When the blue dot then appears to generate ITSELF — i.e. it’s just “there” — then that is second jhana. That’s pretty freaky, and awesome, when it happens.

        I do this exact meditation every day but using a vertical upward stream of kundalini. So, when the vertical upward stream appears to just run completely of its own accord, I know I am in second jhana. Then I just absorb more into that illusion for third and fourth. On a good day I can reach fourth jhana in under a minute. These visual/energy jhanas are really useful and straightforward, if you can generate them.

        • Edenist Whackjob says:

          I also notice that reality gets a bit crazy when that blue dot is active. Same for you? Seems to give a +5 bonus to synchronicities.

        • Edenist Whackjob says:

          To be honest, it’s more indigo-blue than blue.

          • Ram says:

            Edenist, when you see the blue, what is it like? Is it similar to the colored phosphenes you see when you close your eyes? Or is it a totally different experience?

            Sometimes, when I’m meditating, I’ll notice that one of those patches of color behind my eyes is a purple circle, which I sometimes think is just a mundane phenomenon and sometimes think as to do with my ajña chakra. I’m wondering now if that’s similar to the “blue energy” that you’re talking about here.

            • Illuminatus says:

              Here are videos of commonly seen phenomenon while meditating and simply relaxing with eyes closed:

              If the blue dot or anything else resembles something from those videos, it’s basically mundane and nothing to do with jhana. I get a lot of emails asking whether those sorts of closed-eye visuals are jhana and they’re not.

            • Edenist Whackjob says:

              It’s like energy in the air. A small cloud of electricity. Sometimes more like a LED light. It looks half-real, half like some visual artifact. Once saw it a a tunnel of blue smoke going from my forehead and forward.

              When behind the eyelids, it’s more focused.

    • Illuminatus says:

      You could only use those shivers for a jhana if you were able to generate them in continuous flowing waves.

      Those shivers could be considered kundalini events. In Christian meditation kundalini is known as “Christ consciousness” so maybe you could look that up and play around with that if it’s more in line with your existing reality tunnel.

      • Edenist Whackjob says:

        “You could only use those shivers for a jhana if you were able to generate them in continuous flowing waves.”

        It does happen like that, when I am praying. The trick is to keep them going, I guess!

      • Edenist Whackjob says:

        Thanks re the tip! I’ll look into that.

  5. Ram says:

    You mentioned in the past that when you started doing the Shinzen Young mindfulness meditation, you were also applying it all the time. Were you going around noting all day long, then, whatever else you were doing? And did that help you develop mindfulness and insight? And one more question — were you noting and labeling every sensation you had, physical, mental, or emotional?

    My goal is to reach the deepest possible concentration states and develop siddhis, and any insight I achieve, including stream entry, I basically want to turn toward that goal. I’ve been noting as continuously as I could manage for weeks now, and I can’t tell if it’s really helping me develop mindfulness or improving my concentration at all. Do you have any tips on mindfulness in daily life that will help with detecting and blocking that thought energy during jhana practice?

    Thanks again for doing these posts. They’ve really helped me to get the bullshit out of my practice and figure out what really works.

    • Illuminatus says:

      I only ever use noting on complex emotional patterns of sensation. For example, during Fear I noticed that sensations run rapidly up my abdomen like dozens of silverfish. Also, in the visual perception, there is a regular rapid pounding disturbance which resembles the wave that can be seen if you watch a slowed-down video of a drum being hit. I noted those sensations in order to bring clarity to them, and so I could recognize and navigate the state better next time. I have similar notations for Misery, Disgust, etc.

      But walking around saying to yourself, “Sound. Smell. Warm. Fear.” etc.? Absolutely not. I think noting as a practice is totally overrated and irrelevant. You should be looking to get past the need to put sensations into words as soon as is humanly possible.

      Like I say, I only ever use noting to get deeper into complex sensation sets. And, after that, I no longer use the actual words. So, when I recognize the sensations of Fear now, I do not need to say the words in my head like “silverfish running up my abdomen” — I recognize the sensations in that way from the previous noting. This is the same way that if you walk outside and see a car, you do not need to say “car” in your head to recognize that it is a car. (At least, I hope you don’t!)

      Noting is good for the initial recognition of phenomena, but after that it is a waste of brain cycles. You should be able to “see-feel” events at finer and finer levels as you practise more and more. So, I have now refined those “silverfish” sensation packages down to even finer vibrations. At that level you cannot possibly “note” each sensation.

      Noting is real beginner stuff, in my opinion, working at the grossest level of reality. You can put a name on something like “car”, but you could not possibly put a name on each photon of light emitted from the object you are calling car. Even saying “blip blip blip” (which Daniel Ingram bizarrely recommends for noting at the level of individual sensations) is impossible when there are a thousand such sensations entering awareness each second — instead you can just FEEL those sensations hitting awareness! Visual and feeling modalities are far higher “bandwidth” than auditory-conceptual (i.e. saying words in your head to package phenomena). The whole idea of packaging reality into words in meditation shows how left-brain we have become. I consider it a step backwards for the most part. And during deep jhana you should basically have zero verbal thought. Phenomena are see-felt. So, vibration level.

  6. Ram says:

    Yeah, I figured that kind of verbal activity wouldn’t really be your style. 🙂

    So, earlier, when you first introduced the Shinzen Young style of mindfulness (I don’t remember which post it was) you said something like, “the instruction was to greet every sensation with mindfulness and equanimity, and I understood that to mean ‘all the time.'” What did you mean by that? Are you referring to just always having a little witness in the back of your mind, seeing everything that’s going on? Or just having the idea of mindfulness in the back of your head at all times? I get a strong feeling when I’m meditating that it would be a lot easier if I can maintain a certain kind of awareness all day long, but the closest I can find to a tech that will accomplish that is the weird and artificial DhO verbal noting practice, but I’m sure there’s something better I can use.

    • Illuminatus says:

      It was a pretty interesting path I took into all of this.

      I already had moment-to-moment mindfulness established for about a year at that point, after seeing a David DeAngelo presentation with a guy called Dr Paul who recommended a mental process called “observing ego”. So this was thoughts watching thoughts. After a couple of days practising this, I couldn’t turn it off. It massively broke the flow of everyday life, but started bringing millions of streams of consciousness into awareness.

      I got into meditation out of necessity after that, since the mindfulness was revealing more and more ways I was sabotaging myself constantly. I bought a book recommended by people in the PUA community called The Presence Process by Michael Brown, which introduced me to sitting practice. I don’t think much about his recommended practice in retrospect since it involves investigating negative emotions (good) but doesn’t provide a system for turning on the reward circuit to start negating them (bad). However, after I started extending his recommended sitting times of 15 minutes (bad) to 30 minutes (good) I found I would get a very calm mind and start experiencing mild pleasure which is basically a soft jhana state.

      I then switched to Shinzen Young’s Science of Enlightenment audio books, which was a recommendation from Ross Jeffries. He did not talk about jhana specifically and instead recommended greeting every experience with mindfulness and equanimity. I already had the mindfulness; the equanimity became the challenge. I found that I could tweak my mind for many experiences to negate the bad sensations, but that this took a lot of concentration. One day in sitting practice I concentrated so hard on the process of trying to maintain that equanimous state that I fell into a hard first jhana which lasted, I recall, about 15 minutes that first time. At this point I had started to put together the processes that I described in the above blog post, namely that there was a “concentration muscle” which could be used to negate negative thought and perception energies. I could still only get the jhana state about once a month though, even with regular practice. I had no idea it was jhana.

      At this point however I discovered MDMA which I found did everything I wanted at that time, and got sidetracked into a life of drugs which ended up taking about 5 years of my life to play out. I continued meditating as well but my attention was split between practice and taking drug shortcuts to the states I wanted.

      Finally I discovered Daniel Ingram’s MCTB and was able to put my various meditative — and drug — experiences into the context of The Path. What I had been doing with the Shinzen Young approach (well, my own interpretation of it, whether that’s “right” or “wrong”) was a combined concentration and insight practice. I do not believe the two approaches are inherently split. Concentration provides the reward circuit activation required to negate the dysphoria caused by recognizing suffering. Concentration also allows a finer resolution of the sensations that make up reality (and suffering). You CAN split up concentration and insight if you want (like Daniel Ingram does) but this would only be for special purposes, e.g. attaining higher jhanas or better understanding the Stages of Insight. However, the separation is illusory in my opinion, since both types of work are being done all the time in practice.

      My model of meditation and how it works is as follows. For meditation to work, you need two things: 1) A way of noticing suffering, and 2) A way to negate that suffering. I believe meditation works by wiring negative affect to the reward circuit. Pain plus pleasure equals EQUANIMITY.
      So, in Shinzen Young’s method, mindfulness achieves #1 and “equanimity” achieves #2.

      So, to answer your question, I was walking around being constantly mindful of how objects and events, people and situations, made me feel (suffering). Simultaneously, I was looking for ways to negate that suffering internally. Most of PPM and my PUA community writings can be summed up as me cooking up methods to negate suffering. Most of them were junk. However the one that’s been with me from almost the start was concentration methods, and front-back brain suppression. This can be abbreviated “jhana”. Some drugs can be wonderful for this, too, but they cause so many of their own problems (tolerance being a main one) that you HAVE to figure out how to do it yourself, with your own mind.

  7. Edenist Whackjob says:

    Illumi, is manifestation getting easier for you since Trump won?

    If so, any theories as to why?

    • Illuminatus says:

      I have not been manifesting anything since Trump won. I’ve been looking at apartments to move into using my winnings, and now I’m planning the next phase of my life. When I have set course, then I will manifest everything I want and let it unfold over time. 🙂

  8. Moviestar says:

    Edd, I’d love it if you took DMT and made a report about it and how you would connect the experience to jhanas. (I would then know what you’re writing about exactly haha)
    For someone that has meditated for years without results, DMT could be a great aid. It shows you the goal instead of trying to figure it out from written descriptions.

    • Illuminatus says:

      Haha, I’m not sure DMT is “the goal” of meditation. But it probably plays a role in the hard, hard “off world” jhanas.

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