Mailbag: Jhana as Nerve Current Flow
Iv hit intense levels of bliss before when approaching jhana, There were times when it was so intense i would burst into laughter and i would be up all night because of the amount of energy i had felt, i also noticed a large increase in cognition afterwards. I find it quite hard to get there these days, I believe my lack of sleep makes it harder for me to hit Jhana. But anyway, Im just wondering, how much effort do i put into concentrating on the breath? Do i put alot of effort into concentrating on the breath trying to hold it there? or do i simply just relax and put very light gentle focus on the breath?
It’s tough to answer because I now consider the breath to be a kind of crutch. That’s because I recently figured out that jhana is just a constant activation of certain nerves. I can turn on and “cycle” current through those nerves now without using an object. To do this I just picture the nerve in my body I wish to activate then imagine it is on. I can at this point “feel” current in that nerve, and can leave that current flowing through it at will.
Using the breath gets you there with enough practice because the breath turns on all nerves throughout the body in sequence as it moves through the cycle of in-out; during that cycle you will spot which parts of the breath make you feel good — the pleasure aspect of jhana — and be able to isolate your awareness to just that part of the sequence. It has never been described like that before, probably because they didn’t know about nerves etc. when the language was made.
Anyway, I can now just choose nerves and cycle current through them perpetually. I’m currently trying to map which nerves do what. There is one in the abdomen area which gives equanimity; I believe it is also connected to digestion and is impacted by events in the stomach and bowel. The nerves either side of the eyes (in the temple area), which cause the face to smile, create rapture. The ones in the bridge of the nose seem to create pleasure, and link into the chest — probably the vagus nerve. So, a few sets of nerves create all the glory of jhana.
The breath is the most-used object because it turns on all nerves at some point in its sequence. So I recommend you do breathing but notice at which points in the breath a sense of pleasure or something else desirable is experienced, then try and create a breathing cycle which turns on those nerves the most. With practice you can reach a point where those certain nerves have current flowing through them constantly — and at that point you tend to “breathe around” those nerves, meaning you use other nerves to control the in-out, while keeping on those desired nerves (which are, in my experience, mostly “in” nerves). At this point the breathing tends to be shallow because the nerves used for a regular breath are being co-opted for pleasure etc.
I think you were doing this when you experienced the sudden bursting into laughter. I have certainly had “too much pleasure to take” in the past. In my experience this is because the body needs to open up, but is blocked. In real terms this is due to fascia (connective tissue) which has organized the body into a contracted pose due to people sitting all day. You can get up, breathe deeply and lift your head up and pull it back gently and feel things move around to accommodate the expansion. This is also one of the main purposes of yoga, which you might also want to look into. When the body is opened up in this fashion you can accommodate more “energy” in the jhana without losing composure and then you can let yourself go into the more trippy LSD-style aspects of jhana, e.g. infinite consciousness and the other formless realms, which are spectacular.
When a nerve has a constant current flowing through it, there is a definite sense of “flow” in the whole conscious experience — hence why this flow aspect is emphasized in texts about jhana. For me this nerve input creates visual effects too, e.g. jewel tones, lights etc.
In summary, I believe jhana works via the meditator learning to preferentially activate and maintain activation of certain nerves. This is achieved via a biofeedback mechanism — which is simply looking out for the elements one wants to experience (bliss, rapture, equanimity etc. — the jhana elements) and noticing what mental activity or style of breathing activated those factors, then learning to activate them consistently. I believe the high-energy bliss and rapture elements are achieved via activation of networks in the sympathetic nervous system favouring pleasure (e.g. dopamine neurons) whereas the equanimity and other pacifying elements can be found in the parasympathetic opioid networks of the bowel and vagus nerve.
Happy New Year everyone!