Our Minds Can Really Do This? — The Jhana States Of Meditation

Since I’m taking on spiritual mentees and forcing them to meditate (or else!), I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I didn’t have a serious practice myself. And so, I’ve gradually got myself up to 30 minute sessions.

And a strange thing is happening — I’m quite adept at paying attention to the Ins and Outs of the breath, to the point where gaining “access concentration”, or pure absorption in the object of attention, is getting easy. And this is where the fun starts!

First off, my body becomes so relaxed that involuntary movements become quite common. I start to shake my head back and forth, and the energy in my body gets transferred all around, from my head, to my torso, to my legs. While this is all happening, I’m still paying attention to the breath, which might sound nearly impossible since a spasming body that you have no control of is a…bit out of the ordinary.

So, the weirdo movements slow down, and this is where the first stage of Jhana happens. You’re probably lost at this point, so let’s back up a second. The Jhanas are included as part of the Buddhist “path to enlightenment.” They are incredible states of being outside the norm, and there are four of them.

Ok, so, first Jhana happens and my body explodes with bursts of energy, like the rapture exploded out of a cannon. The energy typically subsides, but keeps coming back in waves. It’s a bit exhausting to be honest, so it’s a good thing one can move into the second Jhana.

Which, when described by Leigh Brasington, a Jhana master, is the feeling of getting well wishes on your birthday. It’s that satisfied feeling of happiness, which feels like a relief after the intensity of all of that rapture and ecstasy.

Eventually, second Jhana makes way for third, where even the sensation of happiness goes away and straight up equanimity occurs. I get here and I’m like…ok, what a journey. Happy to arrive at my destination! It’s like looking at a clear lake with no waves, except you’re the lake. Yeah, I know, I can’t describe third Jhana very well, but all sensations kinda dissipate and you’re left with nothing but pure old awareness.

You’d think that’s the end, but nope! One more! Fourth Jhana comes and essentially “takes you to the bottom of the well.” Consciousness fades into a sense that your sinking to the bottom, but instead of their being s bottom to land on there’s…nothing.

Fourth Jhana is kind of messing with my head, because I don’t think humans are meant to stare at nothing. It’s a state of pure being, so far outside of normal human consciousness that y’all probably think I’m making this shit up. But I’ve landed there two days in a row and I think I’ll spend some time trying to figure out what this nothingness is all about.

So yeah. Meditation can do this to you. And no, I’m not taking drugs. Just staring at the breath for a little while. If any of y’all have experienced states like this, let me know. I’d love to chat with you because to be frank it feels quite lonely to go on this journey and have basically no one know what the hell you’re talking about.

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Jon Tesser

I use data to understand people. I also help early career professionals find career happiness.