Rebuilding the Jhanas

I spent most of Saturday and Sunday rebuilding my jhanas, after losing them in a kundalini accident around a month and a half ago. This has put me in the fortunate and quite unusual position of having to learn a method again from scratch whilst already knowing what the destinations look like. This has allowed me to document very specific dos and don’ts and has resulted in the start of a new comprehensive guide.

On Saturday I reached hard first jhana, and up to soft fourth jhana. On Sunday I got hard second and third jhanas, and began to get elements of hard fourth jhana but could not stabilize it due to excitement (as hard fourth jhana is in fact the only jhana I care about, and is the main purpose of this exercise). After Sunday’s practice I also began to get elements of the formless realms, for example interesting space in my perceptions (fifth jhana) and the sense impression of consciousness extending on forever (sixth jhana) like the luminescent heavenly horizon in the picture above. However, these elements arose only in the periphery of my visuo-conscious field, and I became aware of them after my formal sitting meditation practice was over. I was downstairs watching James Bond, Live and Let Die on the television. I was completely engrossed in the film, seemingly picking up on the tiniest detail without even trying (such is the mind-sharpening tendency of jhana), and loving every minute of it. Surrounding the television set was some space (fifth), and around the very edges of my visual field was the sensation of things extending on forever (sixth) to an imaginary horizon with “lights from heaven”. I believe paintings and other depictions of heaven are largely based on the infinite consciousness experience of sixth jhana. Every breath tasted sweet, and I loved the film despite remembering it being ridiculously shit from past viewings. I was reminded of the Buddha’s words: “Jhana is a little taste of nibbana.”

When I have attained all the jhanas (one through eight) I will write the new guide. For now, here are my early observations, which should amount to an effective beginner’s guide for jhana. These points are numbered so you can easily reference them when asking questions in the comments.

1) Urgency has been dropped. My only goal with jhana practice now is to add some enhancement to life — in particular to attain the restful, healing, and extremely useful fourth jhana. I am not doing it to go after enlightenment or to fill some escapist need. That marks a strong change in orientation from my practice prior to losing the jhanas, which was largely based in trying to escape life or to get to a “better life”. I do not think this point can particularly be taught. I had to have a very humbling experience in order to accept life as it is. I also do not know how a sense of urgency will impact others’ practice (though I imagine it would be negative, since urgency in one’s thoughts are another obstacle to absorption). All I can say is that the jhanas are now far more straightforward and flow more easily from one to the next since I let go of all the need of “getting them”. It is one of these paradoxes of “the less you try, the more successful you are.” To help you clear this obstacle, I would simply advise: keep attention on the process, not on the results, needs or expectations. So, keep returning attention to the sense of flow within the breath.

2) Get out of bed, have breakfast, and shower first. There is no point doing jhana first thing upon waking. It just encourages a return to the sleep state. The lungs need to be filled up properly via moving around and being active. Having breakfast provides some neurotransmitters to work with during the jhana. Showering is also energizing. You want to have invoked quite a clear state-change from sleep before practising jhana. Additionally, caffeine appears to be an excellent inducer of jhana.

3) Prepare the lungs prior to practice. James’s tip here is very useful and should be done about three times before sitting down to practise:

when I want to relax, I take a deeeeeeep breath and fill my entire body, expaning my rib cage thinking of filling every inch of my body. You’ll feel muscle knots and all kinds of discomfort when you breath in this deep.

Then release slowly, relaxing your whole body on the out breath, you can feel the energy of “relaxation” happen, its a tingly pleasant sensation. Tune into it and make it deeper each time.

I find you don’t have to really “target” anywhere doing this – as long as you keep tuning into the relaxation response, you will go through tension layer by layer.

You really want to open up the lungs before practice. The reason for this is that the more blocks and knots removed before practice, the fewer distractions you will have during practice. When focusing on the breath the tendency is for the body to want to make the breath “clean” and it starts trying to clear these knots during practice which I find distracting. By the way, during practice, those knots and things are to be ignored completely, with attention being returned to the object always despite temporary physical discomforts.

4) Sit upright. Worrying about posture is counterproductive. “Upright” here does not imply tension, but rather the spine being somewhat vertical. This is more energizing and conducive to jhana than lying back too much. Sitting on a standard couch or armchair is a workable pose. Relax, then be still for the duration of the practice.

Now we get into the nuts and bolts of the practice. This is my specific practice. This is exactly how I got to fourth jhana this weekend. I will be very detailed.

5) Close your eyes. Eyes remain closed lightly for the whole practice. “Lightly” means they are able to move, to enter REM, to roll back in the head if they desire, and so forth.

6) The object is the breath. Quality of breath (depth and/or regularity of breath) has some importance, and this was the purpose of the lung opening exercise (point 3). What is more important than this however is: opening and maintaining a clear channel in the breath, from belly up through chest and throat up to crown of head. This was one of my main failings prior to this relearning of jhana: I was allowing things like jaw-clenching to close the channel. Moving around the “origin of breath” (i.e. the imaginary point on the spine where the breath is drawn in) from belly to chest etc. was also ruining the practice. Finally, worrying about the quality of the breath — whether it “felt right” — was another major source of distraction and inconsistent practice.

Therefore, the following four points are dedicated to teaching you how to open and maintain a clear channel in the breath.

7) Drop the jaw. Never have the jaw clenched during practice. If you have a tendency to clench the jaw you should spend as long as it takes removing this habit from your life anyway. I talk about that here.

8) Place only the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. This will mean your mouth is slightly open. This, combined with the above point, keeps the throat open.

You are to stay in this facial configuration for the whole practice. You are allowed to smile if the practice is pleasing. You can also swallow if saliva is a problem or lick your mouth if it gets dry.

9) The “origin” of breathing is the belly. So I breathe in from the belly/diaphragm area. It is a gentle “draw”. I feel like a pump is drawing breath in via that area very naturally. I do not suck hard or make a big deal of it. Just draw breath in through the nose, and let it filter out through the mouth (which is slightly open as per the above point). It is a soft, consistent, flowing draw of breath.

10) However, my awareness of the breath is in the head — always. Jhana is a “head” exercise. This means that, once the drawing breath is established via the belly, awareness is to sit squarely in the head, behind the eyes.

Now, the following is probably my most important point in this whole guide:

11) Let each breath fill my mind with delight. I draw in breath using the belly (diaphragm). The breath draws up easily through the clear channel we have created and passes behind my eyes, filling my mind with delight.

Let the breath pass up into your head, behind your eyes, filling your mind with delight each time. This, right here, is your “process”. This is what you are to return to every damn time you get distracted.

12) I personally get visual disturbances at this point. The most obvious is light, coinciding with when the breath pass behind the eyes. With a little more time there is also the visual impression of water flowing — kind of like a “film of water” flowing over the stuff behind my closed eyelids.

13) Now, CORRELATE. Mentally link the action of breathing with the perception of flow of the stuff behind your eyelids. You can make the (otherwise random) electrical impulses of the stuff you see with your eyes closed begin to flow with the breath just by imagining it flowing. It is really easy. The mind is very keen to link things together into causality. It also very much enjoys doing this. Jhana is all about linking a concept (the breath) to sensory impressions which are taking place anyway. It is in this exact way that the breath becomes a flowing, visible mental object (or a flowing audio object if you are listening to the sound instead). This is also how dreams occur.

Now, just continue to do this. Let the breath continue to flow in tune with the visuals. Keep the two linked. Attention is now hybridized between breathing and visual effects, which such unusual combinations being normal in jhana. The sense impressions combine into one flowing, continuous experience. Absolutus, in his guides, uses the audio of the breath rather than the visual. Although I have made this work (giving rise to the sense impression of a continuous flowing sound) I have always been a more visual person so find myself naturally inclined towards using the visual system for jhana. Another system you can correlate is kinaesthetic (the feeling sense). So you can link the act of breathing to a flowing sensation in the feeling body. This will begin to feel like you are being carried away by a tide, or the experience is “taking you”. Use the system you find easiest. Don’t make this harder than it is.

In truly hard jhana, I have at times found all the above senses (visual, audio, feeling) linked with the breath into a single flowing experience.

14) Continue the process. This point could also be called: “Do not worry about which jhana you are at!!” So, in order to progress into deeper states of absorption, and climb into higher jhanas, rather than looking to make a logical switch (“Hmmm, now let’s move into second jhana!”) — which can only be done when great skill is attained — instead simply continue the process you have started. To go deeper, or to climb higher, you do not “do” anything different. Just continue doing point 11 above. The jhana levels climb themselves. The mind has inclinations towards greater depth, or new jhana levels, and the vehicle for it doing this is your continuing the process you have already started.

It is this formal resolution — to continue the process you have started, of creating a flowing experience of the breath — that will have you returning to the breath when, say, you have an itch, or when “something happens” (a jhana event), or when some other distraction occurs. When a jhana event happens, like a sudden change in emotional state due to the jhana deepening or changing, it can be very easy to pull out of the state slightly and begin making verbal discourse about it, thinking things like, “Oh, I just crossed into second!” or “That feels like rapture!” I will not begrudge anyone for doing this, as the jhanas are very interesting, especially when you first start encountering these factors. However, if you want to go deeper or progress through the levels (which is going to become your choice as you get better) then you just have to return to the process. That is really all there is to it.

Now will follow some general notes.

15) Using metaphors such as, “The breath fills the mind with delight” is important. A jhana is nothing more than a bunch of sensory events strung together into a chain of causality. For example, if your visual field fills with light, you could interpret that as a “neurotransmitter dump”. You could write it off as something else entirely. You could not even notice it at all. However, Buddhist texts are filled with metaphors for jhana, such as “the mind filling with delight”, “the light of a million stars”, “clear and shining like a coin”, and so forth. These are not there by accident and are not senseless poetry. You can choose to interpret mental/sensory events however you choose. In jhana, you are an artist, and the mental/sensory events (such as the random pulses of light that occur behind the eyelids of every human) are your palette. My point here is that you must be creative in interpreting mental/sensory events as being connected with your object (e.g. the breath). You must link the two, and then take that linking as being a sign that things are working in your favour. Are you sitting around waiting for a sense of flow to happen connected to the breath to suddenly plunge you into jhana? Why not create that flow yourself? Pick some swirl of stuff behind your eyelids and have it move at the same rate as the breath. It will begin to link by itself before long and you then have the breath as a visual object. By simply staying with that object, you will begin naturally to rise through the jhanas. Like everything in life, jhana is 50% circumstance, 50% creative interpretation.

EXERCISE: Google some metaphors for samatha jhana now and choose pleasing ones to notice during your practice. “The mind filling with delight with each breath” is a personal favourite of mine. To get the watery sense of flow which creates really hard first jhana, I also purposefully imagine that the breath is fluid and that breathing in causes the stuff in my visual field to begin to flow in coordination with that breath.

16) The jhanas are indeed fractally stacked. They are nested within each other like Russian dolls. That means that all the jhana levels are within each jhana. For example, a hard first jhana contains soft versions of jhanas 2–8. However, at this level, jhanas 5–8 can barely be seen (as they are very tiny Russian dolls), hence why I only detected subtle elements of fifth and sixth jhana during my Sunday practice.

This also explains why jhanas cannot be “skipped” — they are always a continuum. However, with practice, earlier stages can certainly be raced through to reach a desired state. For example I find it easy currently to race through soft first and second jhanas to reach soft third jhana.

Back in the days of my more disorganized practice however, and particularly during the kundalini experience, I found that I often appeared to “skip” straight to fifth jhana — or  perhaps I simply raced through the first four very quickly. I will need to investigate diligently what happened here. I currently do not have the answers. My current structured practice is producing the standard (unskippable) jhana continuum reported in the texts.

17) To qualify as jhana, the jhana factors must be present. The table here clearly shows the jhana factors of jhanas 1–4:

Jhana is not just about “having a clear mind” (although the mental state will almost certainly appear more clear than you ever believe possible prior to jhana). The rapture and bliss must be present before you can qualify the state as jhana — and, luckily, the presence of these factors also makes it somewhat obvious that you are indeed in jhana. The jhana factors of “rapture” and “bliss” are not easily correlatable with everyday emotions, and are rough translations at best. In short, if during your meditation you suddenly feeling extremely “interested” in what is going on, and that this interest also feels really good, then there is a good chance you are in jhana. (Equanimity as a sensation is even harder to describe by comparing it to everyday experience, and I will return to this shortly.)

The arising of the jhana factors also means that if you feel bad emotionally before the meditation, when you hit jhana that emotion will quickly be replaced by bliss and rapture (and finally equanimity) which will totally replace the previous emotional state during the meditation, and which will continue to provide an improved mood afterwards, too. I found that during soft fourth jhana (equanimity) for example that I was able to think about any subject which would ordinarily bother me and have it not bother me, and in fact be open to investigation during the meditation. It was quite striking that a subject that had seriously pissed me off a few minutes beforehand would now elicit no emotional response at all. Exiting the meditation however would largely bring back the previous responses to that subject. I believe it is possible that, the longer a subject is held in mind during fourth jhana, the more the emotional response to that subject will diminish post-meditation — but this is something I will have to test considerably before making any verdicts on it.

Note that the ability to enter jhana is affected by the existing mental, emotional and physical state at the time (hence my section on preparation, earlier) — and one’s own skill/ habituation of jhana practice. My point here is that one should not be eyeing jhana as an “escape mechanism” (despite its ability to achieve this, once cultivated), as jhana is conditional on those states I just mentioned. This brings me to the following…

18) No more jhanas “in the field”. The good mood impressed upon the mind which persists after jhana is one thing, as is the “jhana hangover” whereby elements such as infinite space and infinite consciousness continue persist on the periphery of awareness in the hours after the meditation. In fact, these things have a life-affirming quality to them. However, prior to this more diligent, systematic approach to the jhanas I am now cultivating, over the last few years I had taken to using jhana to escape reality whenever any small thing I didn’t like appeared in awareness. This is much the same way an alcoholic would just have another drink. It amounts to non-engagement with life. Jhanas are for designated times of formal practice only, now, and the new guide will strip out mentions of purposeful engagement of jhana in the field. 

19) Entry into fourth jhana correlates with a sudden, noticeable drop-off of bliss and rapture and a sudden profound sense of equanimity. To me, fourth jhana feels like suddenly being plunged underwater. There is now a muffled tone audible. The breath itself sounds very muffled and bassy, like someone just turned all the treble off on a stereo using the equalizer knob. There is a sense of total immersion in the breath. I feel like an animal who has been chased suddenly finding shelter and getting down to the business of deep recovery.

The fourth jhana state is so profoundly different from anything in normal life (and even drug life) that it is, in my experience, the most unmistakable jhana state. This however is most likely due to my being someone who has greatly lacked equanimity in his life (existing largely in a nightmarish survival mode), which makes the contrast between this state and “normality” extremely profound, for me. This state is incredibly healing, and is in fact the primary reason I have begun recultivating the jhanas. I can take or leave the other states (as interesting as they are). When I was more interested in hedonics however (which accounts for most of the last 10 years), jhanas 1–3 were far more alluring. I see this change in perspective and aspiration as a natural life progression.

An important observation I wish to make here is that training fourth-jhana equanimity in formal practice has, for me, reconnected that response back into my life outside of meditation. So, following moments of stress, I will now find equanimity suddenly arising at times, along with that now familiar “muffled breath” tone in my nose. This response had been absent from my life prior to meditation training. It is interesting to think that this is probably a normal animal response and one I had been previously conditioned to suppress; and that there are people who handle stress easily as a result of having the equanimity response still intact. I had a conversation with Bliss during our New York trip and he explained that he has an equanimity response which occurs often during times of stress which spontaneously terminates the stress response and which then allows him to make a correct decisios. I think the absence or the presence of the equanimity response is probably the defining factor of whether someone is stuck in survival mode or not, respectively.

20) I believe jhana should be accompanied by visual phenomena to qualify. These visual phenomena are specifically as follows:

  • There is a “thin watery film” over the visual field accompanying, say, the conceptualization of the breath as an object. This is hard to describe but is fairly unmistakeable. LSD users will recognize it as the “fluid appearance” which starts to wash through consciousness and literally give a liquid look to physical objects with eyes open. Users of other drugs (e.g. phenibut, but many others) might recognize this slightly as “that glass look” physical objects begin to take on, as though they are becoming impossibly clear.
  • There is a sense impression of being able to “see through your own eyelids”. Again, LSD users may recognize this description.

The harder the jhana, the more profoundly this latter phenomenon manifests. For example, in very hard fifth jhana (which I remember primarily from my kundalini experience), I was literally in outer space. There was a starfield in the distance, with stars spaced evenly. In between “me” and the starfield was infinite space, with infinite clarity. How can you “see” space? Jhanas are paradoxical. This is one reason they are so impressive. I could “see” all of this through closed eyelids, as though I did not have eyelids at all and was actually in space, looking out through my own eyes.

In first jhana it is more like looking through closed eyelids at something akin to fireworks or jewel tones or a flowing river of “stuff” — first jhana, it seems, is less specific than the higher jhanas, as the mind finds it easy to organize the visual phenomena into a variety of forms. However, the point remains that, whatever you “see”, there is still a sense impression that one is looking “through” closed eyelids.

On entry to second jhana, which is a more refined state, 50% of the time I will “see” objects near to me. E.g. I will have the mental impressions of objects in my bedroom, if I am in there, such as my bedside table, the borders of the bed, my legs in front of me, and so forth. If practising outside I will suddenly be able to see the landscape as though my eyes are open. Second jhana correlates with the Arising & Passing Away ñana so this is not surprising, as seeing nearby objects with eyes closed is common in that stage also. The other 45% of the time my object will simply become better defined, e.g. the breath will appear more as a flowing river. 5% of the time I will spontaneously have some kind of vision. I have had future prediction visions in the past, such as the one documented in the Silver Bracelets post. I find these distracting more than fascinating now, as I have been meditating a long time and am no longer interested in such things. If such visions occur nowadays, I will immediately pull my attention back to my object in an effort to bypass the vision. I am not sure how common visions are, and if you have one I would not blame you for wanting to explore it a little since they are interesting. Personally, however, I am finished with them.

On entry to third jhana the “seeing through closed eyelids” phenomenon lessens considerably as attention pulls to the far sides of the visual field and the centre becomes extremely dark and murky. In this state my head will sway a little as I experience a “giddy high”. The normal sense of what it means to be a conscious entity or animal falls away at this point, for me. It is a sense of being carried away by bliss. There is a kind of “drunk high” bliss to it like I am not in control of it any more. It feels distant in a way.

On entry to fourth jhana I personally have little of the visual phenomenon, instead with the sense impression of being deep underwater in darkness, and with the breath itself as my sole and total point of absorption.

The visual phenomenon returns with entry to fifth jhana. However, I need to corroborate this with a lot more experience using the method set out in this post, as I am now bringing in reference points of fifth jhana from my kundalini experience which was done with a strikingly different method (and which I will be sharing in my book).

21) A steady, consistent method brings steady, consistent progress. I found I had a natural talent for concentration meditation early on in my meditation practice, before I even knew what jhana was. This led to flights of fancy — mixing in energy work, for example. Often this would lead to “turbo-charged” jhanas I had little control over, and “trips” at the level of LSD or beyond which took on a life of their own, often for hours, including things like out-of-body experiences, visits to other realms which I did not plan, and so forth. These trips would also leave me feeling very “high” and ungrounded often for more than a day afterwards.

By instead diligently following a set method — the one described in this post — I have made steady progress I have been able to both repeat consistently and document, and the after-effects have been entirely pleasurable and no more ungrounding than, say, elation at some success one might achieve in “normal life”.

I am looking forward to pushing into the higher jhanas and documenting them in the same way I have done so here.

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29 Responses

  1. Swedish fan says:

    Maybe this is a douchebag question: got any tips for increasing conventional intelligence? Ie getting faster at understanding algorithms, pointing out errors in people’s arguments, seeing connections that can be harnessed into a falsifiable theory, that sort of thing. Ie what people refer to when they talk about “smart” people.

    I’m on a Limitless bender recently, hence my question 😀

    • Swedish fan says:

      I’ll answer my own question. These have done wonders for my mental acuity lately:

      -No booze
      -No porno
      -Adopting a more “Randian” philosophy

      • Illuminatus says:

        Hi there,

        You are basically asking how to become a better left brain. I’m not the person to ask because I’ve spent years trying to see through the left brain.

        In the Eight-Circuit Model, the circuit you are looking to enhance is Circuit III – Symbolic/ Neurosemantic-Dexterity. Angel Tech by Antero Alli might have some tech for enhancing it, as might Prometheus Rising by Robert Anton Wilson. I haven’t read them in a while so cannot remember.

        Remember though, one thing about Limitless is that he learns to see the bigger picture. He doesn’t go around pointing out errors in people’s arguments because it’s a complete waste of time. All his actions are instead part of a bigger plan.

        Correcting people and having blinkered views of the world are just two ways left-brain people invariably end up becoming a huge pain in the ass.

        • Swedish fan says:

          I just want to get smarter and better at life all-round. It’s not my wish to become good at math but suck at everything else. Although, I DO wish to become better at math.

          Can you lay out your thoughts on how the protagonist in Limitless sees the bigger picture?

          • Illuminatus says:

            When he jumps in the sea is the moment he comes up with his plan; every action after that (e.g. all his plans to make money) are steps in that plan (except where he has to deal with contingencies like the loan shark).

            • Swedish fan says:

              So you’re saying that balanced intelligence leads to a top-down approach? Whereas some stuck in the left brain would try to cobble together smaller goals, tactics, plans, etc?

              Maybe you could say the word “goal” in itself implies left-brain, as it’s talking about going from one state to another. A right-brain understanding of achievement might be more of a gestalt, a snapshot of reality with its own kind of “personality”.

              Or maybe this is just verbal diarrhea…

    • James says:

      Do you want to be smart, or be perceived as smart?

      • Swedish fan says:

        1) Definitely winning > over appearances.

        2) At some point, they do have to converge. Otherwise, what you’re doing to win does not entail generating demonstrable proof of winning in the material word. Ie if I’m smart I should be getting more of what I want in life, and people will notice. Unless the victory node in the graph is “sit in a cave somewhere and feel bliss”.

        • James says:

          If you’re smart and get burned as a witch you aren’t winning at anything 😀

          I know plenty of very smart people whose lives are total wrecks. You could argue they aren’t smart people but then you get into definitions and blah blah blah.

          Here is something to try – next time you want an answer to something just bring your awareness to it. Pay attention without grasping – if you have a full mind you can’t get any answers, to much junk and no room.

          Empty the mind and ask for an answer.

          • Swedish fan says:

            Aye, good tip!

            I call this “load the full model”. As in, try to get the full picture into your head. After that, argue from first principles, not just learned patterns.

            Don’t know if it’s exactly the same as awareness?

            • James says:

              nope, no arguing or any of that.

              Just, empty your mind and have confidence the answer will come. Put your awarness in the empty space.

            • Illuminatus says:

              The inclination towards argument is more Circuit III stuff. You can just hang out on to learn more about rationality etc. 😛

              What James is talking about is higher circuits, Circuit V-VI (I believe? RAW swapped around VI and VII in Prometheus Rising and I can’t remember which one the supercomputer stuff is meant to be on).

              Anyway the rules of rationality you seem to be inclined towards break down when we start using jhanas and things since they let you get in touch with nonduality (which has been conceptualized in almost infinite ways over time — God, the Universe, the Overmind, blah blah blah). Essentially “you” are willing the answer into existence. Leaving the jhana restarts the simulation with the answer now programmed in to make itself available to you over the coming days or weeks — via intuition, synchronicity, or just plain popping into your head. This is also basically what magick is. These are completely normal things in a nondual reality (which is what ours is at its most fundamental level).

              You could even cast a spell to make yourself into a rational genius. Then you’d come back into the world seeing everything ultra-clearly as parts.

              “2) At some point, they do have to converge. Otherwise, what you’re doing to win does not entail generating demonstrable proof of winning in the material word. Ie if I’m smart I should be getting more of what I want in life, and people will notice. Unless the victory node in the graph is “sit in a cave somewhere and feel bliss”.”

              Based on this, I think being recognized as smart, successful etc. is one of your goals, and probably quite important to you currently. To that, I say don’t even try to hide it. Don’t beat around the bush. Just come out and say, “Yes, I want people to love and worship me.” If that is the experience you want, you have to be clear about it in your mind to have it come true. Ultimately that sort of thing gets old fast but it’s a valid experience to want to have, as is virtually any other experience you can imagine.

  2. Rigz says:

    Your focus is very heavy on jhanas and fascia/posture these days, whereas it used to be more on the concept of equanimity, working through emotions, “detagging”.. I’m not being critical, I’m just curious about what you think of the latter approach now and if you think it has merit. It makes sense, and is indeed true that there are seas of forgotten emotions/movements in the body that lie dormant because we are constantly in our heads. These make up and contribute to the backdrop of our emotional experience, and through focus on the body we can restore a fuller emotional experience, feel emotions in the moment, and thus be free of them. This frees up the body and the musculature in very real terms.

    You then moved onto a more postural approach, and then your focus on fascia. What do you think now of the old idea of moving to a full body sensory experience, going into situations, then fully feeling emotions in order to get rid of old responses and have a lighter experience of life. If one wants to have an experience of life with either NO or very low fear, and be able to enjoy situations and have a full emotional experience, what is it best to focus on? I can hit first jhana reliably but I don’t particularly care much about reaching concentrative states unless they are necessary in order to reach a level where I can process emotions and thus enjoy life more, so maybe I don’t need to focus on fourth jhana etc and should just put my awareness in my body as much as possible?

    I’m just wondering what you think is the best option if you just want to go from a low level of constant pain/fear/suffering to one of enjoyment, and pleasure, and an ability to feel emotions fully and connect with others better. Are Jhanas the way, or better to just constantly stay in the body and detag as many situations as possible through full body emotional experience? Or is it better to focus on fascia and “unwind” as much as possible? Or possibly a combination of all three?


    • Illuminatus says:

      Hi Rigz,

      First, some history.

      The integration/detagging/”feel the emotion fully” idea was developed under an incorrect assumption which, looking back, is kind of nuts. The assumption was that full experience of emotion, e.g. fear in a situation, would somehow delete that response to that situation going forward. The idea then became to experience all the negative emotions in order to “get them out the way”. Obviously we now know this is not how it works. There are situations where experiencing negative emotions and living through them does reduce their appearance next time. However, it is not as simple as that — there are higher functions, goals, expectations, stories, logic and other things which all impact emotional responses. I was completely ignoring the higher function side of things (e.g. feeling fear but still getting on with the goal). My attention was turned entirely onto the emotional side.

      This, it turned out, was a kind of “gross insight meditation”. That kind of mindfulness development set me up quite well to do insight meditation. However, the goal of insight meditation is not to “detag” emotions, but to learn their territories so they can be navigated. So the goal of insight also had nothing to do with the false goal of “detagging” I set up. Although my concept of detagging is not completely invalid, the simplified model of how to go about it was.

      I fell into myofascial unwinding by accident when trying to fix posture and trapped nerves from computer work. At the time, I also linked in the psychology aspects of emotion being connected to form, since I was linking everything to psychology and escaping bad emotions at the time. So there were two goals with the posture/fascia stuff: 1) Eliminate physical pain caused by computer work/ bad habits. 2) Achieve “perfect form” at all times in the hope this would internally reflect a perfect emotional form. This (obvious to me now) is also a gross oversimplification. However, there was, again, some value in making that connection.

      As an aside for a moment: It turns out that “myofascial unwinding” as a concept isn’t quite correct (and it’s not my concept). My solution has been to learn to feed nerves back through to their correct location using will. Nerves can move themselves (like all cells they have contraction capability). I have the acuity from mindfulness meditation to be able to “see” where problem nerves are and slide them back up. Yawning achieves this en masse but is not specific enough to deal with the quite unique nerve displacement caused by computer work. Myofascial unwinding itself as a practice also achieves some of this en masse but is too large and clumsy to do what I wanted. So I have a solution now, and have to think about whether it can be taught or not. I am begrudgingly okay with not being able to teach it since at least I have solved it for myself and it’s an invaluable skill. I have solved the pain side of the equation. Due to my OCD tendencies however I effectively threw away most of the last five years on this single area. I have traced back many of the problems I have developed over those years (e.g. the recurrent addictions to painkillers; the obvious not moving on with my life) to this obsession. It has been a big part of my Dark Night which I’m only recently leaving behind.

      Overall I hugely overestimated the connection between posture and mental/emotional state (while at the same time learning a few useful hacks, some of which are in the Basic Anxiety guide). Detagging was a flawed project from the start as its goals weren’t in alignment with the larger, integrated picture.

      So I am now investigating more integrated approaches.

      “I’m just wondering what you think is the best option if you just want to go from a low level of constant pain/fear/suffering to one of enjoyment, and pleasure, and an ability to feel emotions fully and connect with others better.”

      I believe practising Actualism will do that for you. It is a highly integrated approach based on simple principles. Read Daniel’s report:
      Then check out the Actualism home page and get the “official tech”. You will probably end up making a hybrid with your existing tech (that’s what I did — and mindfulness and even the jhanas have played a part in letting me “slip into” Actualism quite easily). I do not practise Actualism all the time as it is something currently on the edge of my radar; I dip my toe in occasionally. It will start becoming my default approach soon enough though, I believe.

      The jhanas, for me, are useful to have. They are essentially a lesson in customization of your experience. They can also be wondrous and add a life-affirming feel to things. Fourth jhana is very healing and probably sorely needed by those stuck in survival mode often.

      • Swedish fan says:

        Any chance you’ll wrap up all your tech in a book? Illuminatus Method: how to get bliss, babes and go bananas with outlandish mental techniques from the sixth dimension.

        I can totally see you creating something in the vein of RAW’s works.

  3. AJM says:

    Great Post! I have to say I mostly follow “flow in sensations of the breath” approach. I do sometimes get visuals in minds eye and have been briefly transported “to another realm” ehich feels entirely real to the senses. Sometimes its just spinning buddhas or something else.

    I got into a hard 2nd Jhana on the weekend, but I seemingly don’t have much control over it. It just seems to happen sometimes.

    I’ve been studying anapanasati sutta and basing my recent sessions on that. I still have trouble figuring out what “mind” and “mental qualities” mean in that context.

    I’ve been figuring now that mind is the canvas where different mental qualities show themselves (like tiredness, feeling of being energized or other mind states) and mental qualities are those states themselves.

    • Swedish fan says:

      I myself am very interested in how the right-brain projects meaning onto things at a non-verbal level. If I am horny and looking at a girl, I don’t merely “she’s gorgeous”, I also SEE her that way. Whereas my brain could make me see men, or goats, or whatever, the same way. It’s like a “gestalt” is being overlaid onto the raw sense impressions.

      The study of subjective right-brain gestalts is a subject I’d be very interested to read up on.

      • Swedish fan says:

        What would it be like to go around having gestalts of sexiness overlaid on goats, cars, trees, etc? It’d be bizarre indeed! But probably the right brain has a submodule that could do just that.

        Or is sexiness somehow inherent in the female form?

        Anyone get what I’m blabbering about?

      • Illuminatus says:

        Those gestalts are more likely to come from the primitive brains e.g. amygdala. Changing those is next to impossible and is pointless anyway; they make up the rules of the game you’re playing.

  4. Ichigo says:

    It’s a shame the only way to get to jhana is with the breath, and not with other objects such as the titinus sound like (nada sound) you hear when you are at a quite place…

    I can tune into that sound without a single distraction forever and not even the slighest effect I get from it… I know many other people who meditate on nada sound and they don’t get jhanic like experiences.

    And when I use the breath sensations as objects, even when my mind is a mess with many distractions, I can still get to blissful states….

    So I feel the jhanic experiences are only possible through the breath and not any other objects…

    • Illuminatus says:

      “It’s a shame the only way to get to jhana is with the breath, and not with other objects”

      That’s not true at all. Many other types of object can achieve jhana.

      – I used a kasina here:
      – I used kundalini here: (beginners should not use kundalini; it requires a strong concentration skill set to keep the energy under control — I had what would qualify as a mental break after my last attempt)
      – I used the sense of smell (!!) here:
      – I used the sensation of pleasure itself here:
      – I have also used stable external audio tones, such as the sound of a computer fan, to reach jhana. HOWEVER, jhana is WAY easier if you actually “like” the object. A computer fan isn’t a very nice sound and it takes a lot of effort to keep attention on that object. Something pure like the tone from a tuning fork might be a lot easier, but I haven’t tried it.

      “such as the titinus sound like (nada sound) you hear when you are at a quite place… I can tune into that sound without a single distraction forever and not even the slighest effect I get from it… I know many other people who meditate on nada sound and they don’t get jhanic like experiences.”

      I have also never had a jhana from the ringing-in-the-ears sound, although I also find it easy to keep attention on. I believe that this might be because the ringing sound is actually a by-product of different mental states. For example, during different jhanas, that ringing sound will change tone (and I have started mapping these tones as a side-project 🙂 ).

      • Illuminatus says:

        My new guide is going to emphasize using what works best for the individual, and abandoning dead-ends like the tone-in-ears thing (if it doesn’t work for you) after some allotted time of experimentation. Different people respond differently to the various representational systems in the mind — e.g. I respond powerfully to the visual sense, and also the kinaesthetic (feeling) sense.

        Using mind-made visual objects to create jhana is jaw-dropping. It is a stable, persistent hallucination right in front of your eyes. Any visual kasina (like the afterimage of a flame) can be morphed into hallucinations.

  5. Theo says:

    Hi Illuminatus,

    I was wondering about the up-down wave you spoke of in an earlier concentration-breathing post which I assumed to start in the feet and end up behind the eyes going from in to out-breath respectively. However, more recently you seem to say just to focus on the air passing through the bridge of the nose. Since im a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to researching things on the internet, I was wondering if you culd clarify whether the latter more recent method you have prescribed is better for jhanaic pleasure or is simply better at getting one to do concentrated focus in general and if the up/down wave is mainly for early jhana states but not going much beyond that. Excuse my ignorance about these states as I have only been practicing meditation for a year and have only recently ramped up my sessions to 50 mins of half-mindfulness half-concentration meditations after a long string of attempting different methods.

    Also what is your opinion on chanting as a focus as i have found that chanting ‘om mani padme hung’ at a reasonably high pitch is very energising (possibly from sympathetic nervous system activation). I mention this as it was the last method i tried before moving on to concentration meditation. Thanks!!!

    • Illuminatus says:

      “I was wondering about the up-down wave you spoke of in an earlier concentration-breathing post which I assumed to start in the feet and end up behind the eyes going from in to out-breath respectively. However, more recently you seem to say just to focus on the air passing through the bridge of the nose. Since im a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to researching things on the internet, I was wondering if you culd clarify whether the latter more recent method you have prescribed is better for jhanaic pleasure or is simply better at getting one to do concentrated focus in general and if the up/down wave is mainly for early jhana states but not going much beyond that.”

      After shifting up the way I breathe entirely, I now think that getting breathing right in itself is the most important focus for a beginner, and quality of breath can affect ability to focus AND all the various emotional states that will arise. My new guide would advise just several weeks of getting breathing right generally in all of life not just practice. Here is the video I learned from and recommend, which is the Alexander Technique:

      “Also what is your opinion on chanting as a focus as i have found that chanting ‘om mani padme hung’ at a reasonably high pitch is very energising (possibly from sympathetic nervous system activation). I mention this as it was the last method i tried before moving on to concentration meditation. Thanks!!!”

      Anything that can form a consistent pattern can become an object. Mantra meditation can be classed as concentration meditation. I already know from experience that singing/chanting itself, and particularly at different pitches, can have dramatic emotional effects. I have a post about it here:

      My view is that, for attaining rapid progress in concentration meditation, the most pleasant object is the easiest to maintain a focus upon (since you will want to look at it anyway) and is most conducive to high pleasure states (since it’s already pleasurable). A sweet breath is very easy to stay with. One can cultivate the Alexander Technique breathing pattern in the video above then transfer it to one’s practice, and breathe like that while placing and retaining awareness on the bridge of the nose. That is a very powerful way to get jhana quickly as you have aligned all the pleasure factors and have them working for you. The tip of the nose is also good, and gives a softer more growing pleasure.

      I think working with waves in the body directly is a bit advanced and requires high concentration and mindfulness already in place to fire those waves in coherent patterns. This also can lead to kundalini and all sorts of unexpected events as you are effectively turning on nerves in the body using your mind, and you can fire all sorts of nerves and create instant hallucinations and all sorts of emotional states both good and very, very bad. There is a reason meditation schools structure their practice in certain consistent ways, and it is really to bring students into new territories slowly. Something like Alexander Technique breathing + Buddhist anapanasati concentration meditation (object is breath at tip of nose) would probably be an excellent way for a beginner to quickly get stable, pleasurable jhanas working the way they should.

      • Theo says:

        Thanks very much for the reply. Out of interest, what’s so special about the bridge if the nose apart from the fact that a lot of buddhist texts seem to recommend it – is it a centrepoint for the pleasure you feel? Also by the same reasoning could you focus in your abdomen moving in and out for instance? Thanks for the advice

        • Illuminatus says:

          “Thanks very much for the reply. Out of interest, what’s so special about the bridge if the nose apart from the fact that a lot of buddhist texts seem to recommend it – is it a centrepoint for the pleasure you feel?”

          You will instinctively place awareness on the bridge of your nose when smelling something you like. Maybe it is connected to the reward circuit and our method just hacks this for our purposes.

          “Also by the same reasoning could you focus in your abdomen moving in and out for instance? Thanks for the advice”

          The same rules as the bridge of the nose apply in that placing awareness in certain locations brings about certain emotional states. The abdomen is a big place, and there are many of these keys locations in there which will turn on different circuits if awareness is kept there. The chakra model includes some of these locations.

          For me, having awareness on the belly used to make me sleepy because this is where you look when going to sleep.

          Generally, the higher on the vertical axis you place your awareness, the higher the energy state generated. The crown of the head for example can produce an ecstatic spiritual experience.

  6. Spir0k says:

    hey illuminatus, out of interest how long did you have to meditate for before you began to notice you were in jhana.

  7. Jackie Chan says:

    I just have to say, “Live and Let Die”, remembered as “ridiculously shit”?….Sacrilege…..That’s Roger Moore at his finest!

  8. hagbard says:

    Excellent article!

    I was just looking for information on how to “recover the jhanas”, since the first weeks I started practicing Samatha I can so easily to get at least the second hard jhana.

    But suddenly the concentration began to cost me much more at the same time. At first I blamed that I stopped taking Gaba and stress, but I have been in the same conditions for weeks as at the beginning of the practice and I still find hard time stabilizing the jhanas.

    I think the change was approximately after the experience narrated in:

    I will now try to do the practice with the instructions in this article.

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