Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Consciousness Beyond the Hypnogogic State

If you watch the activity of your mind as you drift off to sleep, you might notice going into a state where you experience vivid imagery and the mind wanders wildly from one thing to another. This is the hypnogogic state. I have a page on my web site that discusses how to recognize this state, how to enter it using relaxation exercises, and how to use it to experience psychic phenomena.

If you learn to recognize the hypnogogic state and practice being in it, you many find that it leads to another deeper state. I call this deeper state the "beyond-the-hypnogogic" state. The vivid imagery stops and one feels more alert but it is not normal consciousness. The body is deeply relaxed as in sleep and the mind does not wander wildly. One may feel like he is floating and/or in a vast expanse of space with little or no sense of having a body. Any emotional turbulence or upset that might have existed previously is absent, and this tends to carry forward even after you return to normal consciousness. It is also easy to enter the joyful meditative state from the beyond-the-hypnogogic state.

There is a simple method you can use while in the hypnogogic state to help bring on this deeper state. First enter the hypnogogic state. An easy way to do this is to meditate as you are lying in bed when you go to sleep for the night. Meditate by noticing your breathing. Say to yourself, "in" as you inhale and "out" as you exhale. Most likely you will become drowsy in a few minutes and experience vivid mental imagery and your mind will wander wildly. This is the hypnogogic state. Each time you become distracted from observing your breathing, when you experience mental imagery or your mind wanders, try to describe as best you can in a few words what you experienced. For example, if you experienced imagery of a grocery store you could describe it as "seeing a grocery store", or just "grocery store". Sometimes you might not be able to remember what you experienced. In that case just describe it as "imagery" or "distraction". Then continue meditating. The mental activity in the hypnogogic state arises from the unconscious. By describing that mental activity as best you can, you practice bringing the conscious awareness into the level of the unconscious. As you do this, it becomes easier to move consciousness beyond the hypnogogic state. This practice is similar to the practice of "noting" in Buddhist insight meditation and to the practice of "witnessing" in Himalayan yoga.

If you have trouble entering the hypnogogic state, the article Why is it so hard to concentrate? Sources of distraction and obstacles to concentration during meditation. might help you identify and deal with the problem.

The beyond-the-hypnogogic state is similar to other states you may have read about. Robert Monroe wrote about a state he called "mind awake, body asleep" that is favorable to inducing out-of-body experiences. In the Buddhist tradition, there is a state called "boundless space" or The Base of Infinite Space. In Himalayan Yoga, there is a recognized state between dreaming and sleep called Aladani, that also seems similar to this state. If you are interested in out-of-body experiences, Buddhist meditation, or Himalayan Yoga, you might find that practicing being in the hypnogogic state is a short cut to attaining these states. Since the hypnogogic state is something most people enter naturally as they fall asleep, it is relatively easy to learn to enter. The page on my web site that discusses this state explains how to recognize it and how to learn to enter it by doing relaxation exercises.

Copyright © 2015 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Joy During Meditation

Update: the article on Serenity Meditation on my website has been updated with information from this article and expanded with additional information so you should read that article before continuing here. This article has information about what the experience is like which is not included in that article.

It is possible to experience a deeply joyful state during meditation. Reaching this state and integrating it into daily life can help one to live a more spiritual life because it is easier to live according to spiritual values such as love, forgiveness, and tolerance when one is happy. Additionally, if you learn to enter this state, you can use it as use it as a stable starting point from which to reach even deeper meditative states.

To experience this state...

  1. The mind has to be still. Serenity meditation is one way to still the mind The article Why is it so hard to concentrate? Sources of distraction and obstacles to concentration during meditation should help you maintain good concentration during meditation. Another way to still the mind is by entering the beyond-the-hypnogogic state.

  2. When you feel your mind is still, you can try to enter the joyful state. Try forming a half-smile, and at the same time do something with your mind that does not involve thinking. One way to do this is to gaze at an object and pay close attention to your perception of it. Notice that when you first look at something to see what it is, your mind is totally focused and not thinking about anything else. Something else you can try is to close your eyes and focus your attention on the pleasant feeling of relaxation you get from breathing smoothly in and out from your diaphragm. It can also help to hold your hands with the palms upward as if you are receiving a gift from above. Notice if you detect a little feeling of joy, keep your mind focused, and wait for the feeling to build. Continue meditating this way if the feeling does not build immediately, it may form over a short time period.

  3. At this point you may enter the joyful state. If you do so, you will feel a joyful, blissful feeling and you may break out into a broad grin and feel like laughing. The joyful feeling should continue as long as your mind is still. The feeling is not something that you force yourself into, it is something that comes over you. A good analogy is drowsiness. You don't make yourself drowsy by an act of will, it just happens. The half-smile is not to force yourself to feel happy, it merely acts as a trigger to put you into a state where you are open to allowing the emotion to flow. The half-smile helps you to lower your resistance to the feeling of joy or showing emotion.

  4. If you notice the feeling fades, try step 2. If step 2 doesn't work go back to step 1.

  5. Once you have learned to enter the joyful state, you may find this meditation works very well when done lying down.

    One of the interesting things about experiencing this joyful state during meditation is that you may find it hard to do because there are so many things in life you would rather do than be happy. It sounds crazy, but experiencing this state in meditation can show you that you are making choices all the time that separate you from happiness. There are things we want to do in life even though they cause us stress: trying to do to too many things (even fun things) in too little time, or we insist on arguing with people etc. etc. And we would rather do those things than sit calmly and cultivate tranquility and happiness. The ego wants this, the ego wants that, because we think those things will make us happy. But you may see that all those things we do because we think they will make us happy are the cause of our unhappiness. If you can learn to experience this joyful state during meditation and then face decisions on whether to meditate this way and experience happiness or do something else, you may see that this is true.

  6. Without forcing it, by using steps 1 and 2, you may be able to maintain the joyful state continuously during your meditation sessions and also during ordinary daily activities. (But don't do this while you are doing anything dangerous like driving or operating power tools.) If you live a quiet sedate life, entering and maintaining the state will be much easier than if you live a normal busy life. But with practice, when your mind is calm (step 1), you will be able to bring on this state (step 2) simply by looking intently at an object, or focusing your attention on your breathing. Everything you see, every breath, will bring you joy. Occasionally you might find yourself slipping back into the old way of thinking. But you can take a brief moment to still your mind, smile, and focus on the feeling of joy and you may see that you have a choice. You can choose happiness instead of the old way of thinking, and you may realize that all along the old way of thinking was also a choice. You will still have other emotions and they can influence your views and your actions. But, they are like little pictures hanging on a wall of happiness. You can look at them, understand them, feel them, use the information they provide, but the wall is still happiness.

When I first learned how to induce this state by stilling the mind with meditation and then smiling, it felt to me as if the process had broken through social conditioning to not show emotions. It was as if stilling the mind with meditation had weakened mechanisms of suppressing emotions and smiling triggered a natural ability to be happy that was now free to express itself. It seemed that while growing up, I had learned not to show emotions and in time that caused me to forget how to be happy. I remembered one particular incident from my childhood when I had learned that showing happiness over success was inappropriate because it was like gloating or boasting. I was in school and the teacher was announcing grades on a test. I noticed some of my classmates who did well maintained serious and sober expressions even though they got high marks. They were trying not to gloat, and also to show that they were confident and doing well was a small matter to them. Over a lifetime this attitude seemed to have an unfortunate influence. But many years later, smiling during meditation reminded me how natural and easy it is to be happy.

Someone on reddit.com asked about this type of experience, this is approximately how I replied:

When you strive to experience it, it can be come source of stress. Or if you are attached to it, it can produce a sense of loss in its absence. This can mess up your meditation practice. But if you just let it come as it will, and remain unattached, it is pleasant. It is not unlike other feelings you experience in life except it can be very intense for as long as you care to remain undistracted.

When you first experience that you can produce it, and experience the intensity, it is astonishing. But, too much of anything and it can lose its mystique, especially if you have to work for it. The feeling doesn't diminish but the value you place on it can diminish as it becomes something you experience frequently. You discover that happiness is not all it's cracked up to be. If you have things you like to do you might prefer to be doing them than sitting making yourself happy. This is a fundamental characteristic of the human condition, we want to do things rather than be happy.

Because it is pleasant you will like to meditate so it helps you meditate more. And I don't agree that it will prevent you from reaching deeper states. Just don't strive to produce it or be attached to it. It makes the path more pleasant on the road to nirvana. This is how Buddha taught meditation in the anapanasatti suta.

My experience is that you can learn to do this during daily activities making your life happier. I have wonderful experiences out walking feeling love for and connectedness to the birds and trees and people and other living things and all things. It's even nicer experiencing the world through it, than it is sitting alone with it doing nothing.

I tried to explain to someone on an internet discussion forum that with this type of meditation you don't need recreational drugs:

But this type of serenity meditation creates a feedback loop causing the brain to release endorphins, serotonin and dopamine.

It really is like a drug trip, maybe not a psychedelic trip but it's not normal meditation. Every breath you take is like a hit from a bong, but there's no bong. And it is hugely spiritual. It doesn't require super intense concentration so I think most people could learn to do it. I had to stop the other day because it was so intense I was getting nervous. How many people do you know who were feeling so happy, and connected to all things and feeling such intense metta that they were worried they might never get back to normal? And I felt the presence of non-physical entities too.

It also creates a kind of synesthesia where everything I see and hear I also feel in my body as if they are part of me. There is an effect like the brain is a virtual reality machine and what I see is really a movie inside my head projected on the unchanging screen of pure awareness, like my mind contains the whole universe including me walking around inside it. Other times I feel like my self and its boundaries are dissolving and I am expanding to merge into infinite space. It's not scary, it's like coming home.

This meditation changes the "energy" of your surroundings too. You could go to the filthiest shack in the poorest slum in the most miserable godforsaken corner of nowhere and meditating this way would make it a place of beauty and joy. These effects are not gross like a psychedelic trip they are subtle like a change in understanding. And these experiences are not restricted to sitting meditation, you can have them walking around town or out in nature. When you do this, you see it transforms reality because when you walk around smiling, people smile back. In that way, it doesn't just change you, it changes the people around you. It doesn't just make you happy, it makes the world friendly.

It also produces a state of mind where nothing can upset you because you find something within you which you can relax, and when you do, any unpleasant emotions flow away as soon as they arise. It's as if relaxing opens a door and unpleasant emotions go out through the door as soon as they appear. They just appear and go. Not just during meditation but during daily life.

When your mind is calm from meditation and there are very few thoughts arising, if you observe your mind waiting for the next thought to arise and you see there is very little activity, you may notice a feeling like something (the mental activity) is missing, it feels like an emptiness, like no one is home. Like if another person would say something unpleasant, there wouldn't be anyone to be offended.

It's not nirvana, I still experience some worries, annoyances, and emotional ups and downs, but this type of meditation showed me that happiness is a choice.

The best thing about this type of meditation is not the intense experiences, the best thing is that between meditation sessions I'm happier and I worry less.

And it doesn't cause vomiting or diarrhea like Ayahuasca does. It's 100% free. And as far as I know it's legal everywhere.

Leigh Brasington described a more advanced state on a youtube video. At 42:47 he says, "It was my birthday. ... That was about the best birthday present I ever had. ... I never saw anything this good on acid. ... It was just like wow! This was amazing."

Some people may question whether this form of meditation produces genuine spiritual experiences or if it is just inducing certain brain states. One must understand that the correlation between brain states and mental states does not prove the brain produces mental states. It is much more likely that the brain is a filter of non-physical consciousness. Experiences such as happiness, unconditional love, connectedness to all things, and an awareness of God, are experiences of aspects of our true nature.

Author and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh suggests smiling when meditating. It may sound odd but it has a profound effect. I had been re-reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh and tried smiling and experienced this state. That led me to search the internet for an explanation of what happened which is how I found the links above. I'd experienced this state many times previously without knowing what it was and I've been in deeper states without going through it first ... but I think understanding and recognizing this state can be helpful as it is a good way of identifying when your mind is calm, and it can provide a stable base from which to go into deeper states.

I have enjoyed the following books by Thich Nhat Hanh:

  • Breathe You are Alive
  • The Miracle of Mindfulness
  • Transformation & Healing

Next Steps

If you are able to enter this joyful state during meditation, you might wonder what you should try next. Here are a couple of suggestions:

You can find more information on traditional practices to enter similar states and deeper states at these links by Leigh Brasington:

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Why is it so hard to concentrate? Sources of distraction and obstacles to concentration during meditation.

Many people have a hard time meditating because they have difficulty concentrating. This can prevent a person from developing a regular daily meditation practice and it can make it hard for a regular meditator to get the most out of his practice. Often a person doesn't understand what is causing him difficulty concentrating, but if a meditator recognizes that there are different sources of distractions and different ways to handle each source, it may allow him to have better concentration during meditation.

If you are serious about meditation and want to practice for hours at a time, you can't afford to waste hours trying to meditate when your mind is not in the right condition. Or, if you have a more typical practice and meditate for 30 to 60 minutes per day, you need to get the most out of that time. The obstacles to concentration described in this article also explain why you may meditate deeply one day and the next day be unable to reach the same state. Understanding this makes meditation a much more predictable exercise and will help you to get consistent results.

Meditating regularly at the same time every day is important for developing the habit of meditation so that you will continue to practice it even if events make your life turbulent or various changes occur in your life situation. It is better if you can use the information in this article to schedule your daily meditation sessions to avoid difficulties rather than having to postpone a meditation session until you are better able to concentrate.

Obstacles to Concentration

There are several common obstacles to concentration:

  • Drowsiness
    Try not to schedule a meditation session when you are likely to feel drowsy, such as just before bed time or immediately after waking up. If you feel drowsy after meals, then that would also not be a good time to schedule meditation. It is not usually a good idea to try meditating lying down because that may induce drowsiness. If you are drowsy while meditating, one solution is to go to sleep. Then try meditating again when you are rested.

    You can also try this method. If you normally meditate with your eyes closed and are drowsy, try meditating with your eyes open. Or if you normally meditate with your eyes open, try meditating with your eyes closed if you need to relax (see below).

    You can also try to meditate while drowsy.

  • Mental Fatigue
    Have you ever been so tired that you couldn't sleep? Inhibitor neurons fatigue more easily than activator neurons. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, when some workers worked 16 hour days doing the same exact thing over and over, they would keep making the same motions with their hands as they left the factory. For the same reason, if you've had a busy day and your mind is racing, it can be hard to concentrate. In that situation, you might try meditating at a different time of day, or try taking a walk, doing hatha yoga, tai chi, qi-gong or relaxation exercises to help calm the mind before you meditate.

    When you are experiencing mental fatigue it might also help to try meditating in a deeply relaxed state.

  • Sexual Arousal
    There are two approaches to dealing with sexual arousal. Some people prefer to try to meditate in spite of it, others believe that it is better to seek release in order to be able to concentrate better during meditation.

    If you try to meditate in spite of it, do make an effort to concentrate on the focus of your meditation. Fantasizing is not meditating. It can help to notice how you get drawn into fantasizing because you like it. You willingly neglect the meditation technique to engage in the fantasy. Then notice that if you go back to meditating as soon as you become aware of the distraction arising, if you resist the desire to fantasize and don't indulge in it, it has much less hold over you.

    It is possible to turn off the libido by not letting sexual thoughts take over, not through forceful suppression, but through the quiet mind produced by meditation. (Men should be aware that having sex more often correlates with a lower risk of prostate cancer.)

  • Artificial Stimulants and Intoxicants
    If you are under the influence of an artificial stimulant or intoxicant such as nicotine, caffeine, a binge on chocolate or sugary junk food, alcohol, or drugs that affect the mind, it can be hard to meditate. Obviously, it might be better to wait for the effects of intoxicants to wear off before meditating. The effects of stimulants can be more subtle. One way to identify the effects of stimulants is to check you heart rate. If it is high (no pun intended), it might be better to wait until your heart rate has slowed to a more relaxed rate and try meditating them. In addition to your heart rate, also notice your rate of breathing. If you are breathing short rapid breaths it might help to intentionally slow down your breathing to a more relaxed rate while you meditate.

  • Stress and Anxiety
    High levels of stress hormones caused by stress or anxiety can cause mental fixation and make it difficult to focus the mind during meditation. For example, if you have an argument with someone at work, it keeps playing back over and over in your mind when you get home. Once you get upset, it is really hard to let it go and concentrate during meditation. It's not your fault. The brain is designed to focus on danger and other problems. The idea that you should be able to sit down after a stressful day and have a good meditation session for 30 minutes is wishful thinking. The experts know better. At some monasteries and on some meditation retreats, they don't just sit down to mediate, they do bowing practice, then chanting, then sitting meditation. These other practices prepare the mind for meditation.

    If you can't avoid stress, and if you have trouble concentrating because of stress or anxiety, you could try meditating later after you calm down, or you could try to do something relaxing like going for a walk, relaxation exercises, taking a nap, exercising, or doing hatha yoga, tai chi, or qi-gong before meditating. You can also try meditating in a deeply relaxed state.

    You can also try to split your meditation session into two parts. In the first part, try to get deeply relaxed almost to the point of falling asleep. Then meditate normally. Did you ever notice waking up from sleep and feeling great ... and then a few seconds later you remember what you are supposed to be worrying about and you feel stressed again? Even though you feel stressed, it is probably much lessened and without accompanying fixation. This shows that when you get into a deeply relaxed state, it can help relieve a stress reaction. As you relax during the first part of your meditation session, you might even be able to notice the precise instant the stress reaction ends and you feel relief. If you can get into a deeply relaxed state that helps to ease the stress and fixation you should be able to concentrate better during meditation.

  • Distractions It is best to meditate in an isolated location where you will not be distracted. This means you should not try to meditate sitting at your desk near your computer! It is best if you can find a place to meditate without anything that could be a distraction. I don't like to suggest that people meditate sitting on the floor because it can cause knee and spine injuries ... however just as a point of information, you are less likely to get distracted sitting on the floor because it takes effort to unfold your legs and stand up.

  • Lack of Will By "Lack of Will" I mean there are so many things you would rather do that you always find something else to do besides meditate. Or you stop your meditation session sooner than you intended in order to do something else. Joining a meditation group can help with this. It can also help to try to see your desire to do other things as a form of craving. How to let go of craving is discussed in the article on Not-self.

    It can also help if you avoid getting involved in things that might become distractions. This would include reading novels, watching TV, using the internet etc. The idea is to become so bored that meditation becomes something interesting to do. Of course each person has to use his own judgment about what is an appropriate way to live his life. I am not saying you should live like a monk, I am just pointing out, for your information, that there is a reason monks live the way they do, because it is conducive to meditation.

    If you find you lack the will power to meditate for more than a few minutes at a time, it might help to try meditating while watching Slow TV.

    One of the causes of fidgeting and wanting to cut short a meditation session or skip a session is that unconscious, unpleasant thoughts or emotions are rising to the surface. In this case, the only solution is to persevere until they become conscious. I discuss how to deal with unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation in Dangers of Meditation.

  • Internet Compulsion If you find it hard to meditate because you constantly want to check the internet, it is probably because internet applications are designed to produce compulsive behavior. Most applications stimulate the pleasure centers in your brain with alert notifications which is why you enjoy them so much. When you understand that you are being manipulated, you might naturally want to cut back. It can help to turn off alert notifications for events that happen frequently enough that you would check for them without notifications. For example, likes, e-mail, replies to comments. Don't set up the technology to tell you what to do (with alert notifications). Use the technology to do what you choose to do. Check for mail when you want to, check for replies when you want to, check for likes when you want to. You might drift away slightly from your internet friends but you can always enable the alerts again if you want to.

In some schools of meditation, the practitioner is advised to persist in meditating even if he encounters difficulties. If you are studying meditation with a teacher, you should consider his advice on the subject. In any case, it is inevitable that at different times and for various reasons you may not be able to ensure your mind is in the best condition when you start a meditate session and you will just have to continue to try to meditate through the difficulties.

These articles may also be helpful because they suggest ways to prepare for meditation that will help avoid sources of distraction:

Copyright © 2015, 2016, 2019 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.