The Experience of Meditation
"The bird has its nest, and the dog has its den,
But the son of man has no place to rest."
July 23, 2004
By the contemplative recluse monk Sotapanna Jhanananda (Jeffrey S, Brooks)
(copyright 2004, 2005 all rights reserved)
Now that 30 years has past, my daily meditation practice has become three one-to-two hour sessions per day. For the practice of meditation I do not follow a devotional practice of any kind. I do not look at a picture of a religious hero, such as Jesus or the Buddha. I do not repeat a sacred word or phrase, such as "Our Lady full of grace" or "Om Mane Padme Hum." I do not kneel or place myself in an uncomfortable position. I do not move the body about in any ritualized form, such as prostrations or asanas. I simply sit as comfortably as possible, which in my case happens to be a simple cross-legged position on a thin pillow on the floor. I close my eyes and I bring my mind to a calm place. I also endeavor to relax the body as much as possible, while maintaining alertness, then I simply observe the rising phenomena that occurs in meditation. For the most part I have meditated in this style for the last three decades.
While engaged in this simple practice the decades of daily meditation have produced a series of symptoms, or charisms as they are called in Christian mysticism, or jhana-nimitta as it is known in Buddhism. The symptoms that I am experiencing in my daily meditations are as follows: Within a few minutes of engaging myself in the observation of the breath, the mind begins to settle to stillness. When this stillness is stable and unmoved by sensory phenomena I bring my awareness to the senses. It is the senses that become the next object of my contemplative observation without however leaving the breath.
I begin observing the senses with the tactile sense, which begins with a full-body awareness of the surface of the body, which then expands to the internal organ functions, muscles, circulatory system and connective tissue. I have found, when the mind is still and calm I can observe the tactile field as a totality, because my awareness expands, and my concentration becomes more focused. Once I'm observing the whole of the tactile field, then a whole-body vibratory sensation soon emerges.
This whole-body vibratory sensation is often concentrated in the hands, feet, chest, throat, forehead and top of the head. Most often these vibratory sensations become the most dominant tactile sensation, and they soon overwhelm the physical awareness domain. I have found when the whole-body vibratory sensations arise that there is often a very gentle bobbing of my head and a gentle swaying of the torso.
I have found the bobbing and swaying is not some mysterious phenomena, but simply a purely autonomic activity that emerges due to the body being very relaxed. I have found this bobbing and swaying appears to be an elastic response in the frame of the body caused by blood pulsing in the legs, torso and neck without the counter balancing effect of muscles, which have become relaxed due to meditation, and therefore don't hold the neck and torso in check as they would if I was not in meditation.
Once I am established in a calm and still mind through observing the tactile field, and the tactile field becomes resonant with the above sensations, and the whole-body awareness is in place, then I can begin to observe the other sense fields simultaneously. However, I usually add the sense fields one at a time moving to the auditory sense next.
My auditory sense typically has a light omnidirectional ringing in it at all times as an apparent consequence of this daily regimen of meditation practice. When I am in meditation, and I bring my awareness to the ringing, it becomes very loud. This ringing is often sufficiently intense as to be nearly deafening. For more on charismatic ringing please see this article:
The sound often goes through a series of frequency changes from a cicada-like chirping, to ringing, to a roaring, like a downpour of rain, or a waterfall, or perhaps the roar of the ocean at a distance. I believe this ringing in the ears is a charismatic manifestation in the auditory sense, in the same way as the vibrations are a charismatic manifestation in the tactile sense.
I believe these charismatic manifestations are what is often referred to as jhana-nimitta in the early Buddhist literature. The jhana-nimitta are the signs or characteristics of absorption. And, it is the above charismatic manifestation that I believe are thus the characteristics of absorption (jhana-nimitta) For more on jhana-nimitta, please see this article:
During these deep absorption states I have found the other senses have their own manifestations of unique expression, or charisms, as well. Thus I have found the charisms, or jhana-nimitta, appear to manifest in their own unique ways in each sense field.
In the progression of my daily sit I eventually observe all of the senses at once. Simultaneously observing the manifestations of charisms in all of the sense fields becomes something like witnessing a symphony of pleasant sensations in all 6 senses. For more on the experience of meditation and the practices that lead to these experiences, please see this article:
The Personal Experience of Ecstasy (Jhana) (October 2, 2004)
Once all six senses become resonant with their manifestations of energy, or ecstasy, then, as the meditation deepens, a kind of energy builds gently along my spine. During the deepening of my meditation I notice a progression of increasing concentration and corresponding expanding awareness, which often causes a bit of a shift in my focus and my breathing at discrete moments. I have found if I flow spontaneously with these shifts, then various absorption states unfold. For more on the absorption states (jhanas) please see this article:
Often after the gentle building of energy, shock waves like a deep shiver jolt up my spine at intermittent intervals, at which time my fingers and lips may twitch and my torso becomes very erect. This sudden increase in energy often causes the period of the oscillations of my torso and head to become more rapid in the same way a guitar string oscillates more rapidly if drawn taught. In company with the shock waves is usually a sensation of intense ecstasy, which culminates in a sense of luminosity. Often these "energy" jolts last only fifteen minutes to a half hour, however some times they can be sustained for up to 3 hours for a single "jolt."
The shifts in focus and breathing seem to precede the surges up the spine, which can be of sufficient force as to give me the sensation as though I'm going to be lifted off the pillow. At times this energy rising up my spine can be so intense that is feels as if my brain would pop out of the top of my head. This experience can be a bit disconcerting at times, but that is when I have found it is best to practice non-grasping to even the body. This energy is often described in the Yoga Sutras as kundalini.
As this energy surges up my spine I undergo another series of shifts in focus, which eventually concludes in a wall of light that impinges on my psyche to the point of overwhelming my identity. At that moment it seems even identity must be relinquished as well. It seems that the trajectory is to get to a place where one doesn't cling to anything, not even to identity. It is this experience that seems to be what the historic Buddha called cessation (nibbana), because at that point there is no self, nor any observable phenomena, just simply awareness.
I have been meditating thus 3 to 4 hours a day for several years now. Every time I sit I enjoy some part or all of the above sensations. I have found that when I begin and end each day with these pleasant sensations my days and nights are filled with charisms (jhana-nimitta), as well as pleasant thoughts and feelings.
I have also found that there seems to be a saturation effect, in which the sensations of these ecstasies remain with me even after the meditation is over. It is through a daily meditation practice in which I revisit these ecstasies that I fill each moment with mindful observation of these pleasant sensations. Consequently bliss and equanimity pervade or permeate my waking and sleep state. In fact from the moment I first become aware of this body, until the moment that sleep overcomes this body, I am filled with more happiness and contentment than I can recall ever having. And I am always filled with the sweetest sensation of love, as though I have a new romance, but there is no object to my love. For more on becoming saturated with the pleasure and joy of meditation, please see this article:
A Pleasure that is not of the Senses (Jhana)
This practice and these sensations have even pervaded my sleep state to the point that I no longer lose conscious when the body rests at night. As I rest the body at night I observe mindfully the progression of my repose, which is a succession of deepening relaxation, and lengthening or slowing breath, until there is a flash of blackness and a timelessness in which I lose awareness of the body. Eventually lucid experiences arise and move one from the next throughout the night. These lucid experiences or "dreams" by the way are as lucid as the waking reality. Eventually around 4 AM each morning I become aware of the body again. I rise and sit in meditation for an hour or two before I begin my day. For more on a lucid sleep state please see this article:
The pervasion of my awareness into my sleep domain has also produced a kind of shattering of my sense of reality, as well as producing a lack of dependence upon a linear time/space domain. My lucid sleep domain experiences are often so lucid as to be indistinguishable from what we call "waking reality." Consequently, even though I "awake" every morning to this "reality, I frequently "awaken" to other seamlessly real and equally engaging realities when the body sleeps. But these "realities" are not in this space/time domain. The consequence is that I cannot with conviction state that this reality is any more real than the other realities that I encounter. For more on my personal non-material sleep domain please see this article:
It is a bit disconcerting not knowing to which reality I can "rely" upon, or to which I will find myself in the next moment. This lack of reliance on a time/space domain has produced a lack of dependence on external references. Thus a great ambivalence or equanimity toward the objects of the senses has arisen in me. As a consequence I seem to have no ambition for anything in life. I have no interest in a career. I do not care for a relationship. I have no interest in acquiring anything, such as land or a home. I have no thought toward acquiring wealth, or a retirement. I do not even care if I get sick, or how long I live. Death could come in the next moment, and it would mean nothing to me. And, interestingly enough, I have no fear of the dark.
Another interesting property of my life, is I can't seem to gain my balance. I often feel ever so slightly off balance. I believe this "vertigo" is related to the heightened awareness I have developed in my senses. One of the most over looked senses is our sense of balance, which comes from sensors in the inner ear. It is this sense of balance though that is critical to our species method of bipedal locomotion. I believe the sense of euphoria one experiences during the ecstasies is a charism characteristic of a heightened awareness the sense of balance. It is this, perhaps overly acute, awareness of the sense of balance that keeps me feeling slightly off balance, almost as though I am drunk, or in euphoria.
I am 50 years old and a single parent of two children. My spiritual practice has been something that I have arranged in the quiet times after the children and spouse went off to sleep. The spouse left long ago. My oldest has already graduated from college, and my youngest has now just left home for college. Now that my responsibilities of parenting are over I have now dedicated the whole of my energies to my spiritual practice, the teaching of meditation, the support of those who have found these above experiences (jhana) and the emergence of a Western vehicle of Buddhism.
I now want to spend all of my time in meditation, so I seek retreat opportunities wherever I can find them. In the last few years I spent all of my vacation time at meditation retreats, which amounted to about 60 days of retreat time each year. My only interest in life is maintaining these subjective experiences, and directing others toward them as well.
I originally asked every meditation teacher I sat a retreat with about these experiences. Most of them said, "Oh, just ignore that." After I was asked to leave a 10-day meditation retreat on the 7th day because of some very slight outward manifestations of my ecstasy I decided to reach out to the meditation world at large. I sent a description of my subjective experiences in a letter to every meditation teacher, bhikkhu and lama I could find an address for. However I only received a few replies back. Most of the replies were of no help at all, and the rest were only marginally helpful, which has revealed how little the community of lay and monastic meditation teachers within the four vehicles of Buddhism and other contemplative traditions understand these states.
The descriptions of spiritual ecstasy and enlightenment in the Pali canon says the absorption states are altered states of consciousness (jhanas) through which we must pass to arrive at enlightenment (nibbana). Nibbana (nirvana in Sanskrit) is an annihilation, or cessation, of the self in the infinite. I have found when I just go with the surges of energy (kundalini) and other manifestations (jhana nimitta), then I pass through the various unification and cessation stages, which occur to me at random intervals, but many times each year.
To go deeper into equanimity I have found relinquishing grasping is essential. I have found that grasping clearly hinders the progression of the absorption states so relinquishing grasping is central to my practice at this time.
In fact I have found that a grasping "event" immediately precedes a mind event, or ripple of disturbance on the otherwise quiet flow of my awareness (equanimity). Consequently, my mindfulness practice for many years now has been primarily focused on observing the rising and falling of grasping and aversion in response to the senses. In this way I have endeavored to relinquish any hold or obstruction on the senses.
If you are interested in a dialog support group on the subject of jhana then please try the Jhana Support Groups
If you have personal experience of absorption please do post a reply and tell us about your experiences.
May you become enlightened in this very lifetime,
Jhanananda (Jeffrey S. Brooks)
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