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Are there sensations of meditation?

Discussion in 'Mind, Body & Spirit' started by Michael David, Jun 9, 2011.

  1. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    As a factor of the first jhana, sukha signifies pleasant feeling. The word is explicitly defined in the sense by the Vibhanga in its analysis of the first jhana: "Therein, what is happiness? Mental pleasure and happiness born of mind-contact, the felt pleasure and happiness born of mind-contact, pleasurable and happy feeling born of mind contact —
    http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/gunaratana/wheel351.htmlthis is called 'happiness'

    My question is about the sensations of the “pleasant feeling” and “felt pleasure” noted above. What sensations are associated with meditation? As I have been practicing meditation I have the sense of varying depth. The ultimate level of non-dual union, nirvana, Self, God, enlightenment or whatever the name is not what I am asking about. I am not there but merely on the path.

    As the settling, stillness and quiet of meditation progresses there seems to be an accompanying shift of awareness of the sensations within the body. At some point these are let go of and disappear. However, they seem to be a resting place, a way station along the way somewhere between routine waking consciousness and “deep” meditation.

    What do they feel like? Do you associate any particular sensation with meditation? Sometimes the sensation starts on my forearms like a soft warm humming vibration. At times it shifts to almost a whole body sense like a bowl of jello where when you touch it the whole mass of jello jiggles as one. It feels soft and warm like wearing a well washed thin pair of cotton jeans.

    Are the sensations associated with meditation like an airport hub that you can go through to get to a city not on a direct route? I know that we would all like a Star Trek transporter that drops us into nirvana at will but short of that it is like stepping stones across a stream.

  2. Hazelkay

    Hazelkay Member

    meditating with sensations

    Hi Michael.

    Mostly, I meditate using the Vipassana technique as taught by SN Goenka. This involves awareness of the sensations on the body. In the beginning one was aware of any physical sensation - aches and pains, numbness, tickling, throbbing etc etc. We were first taught to scan the body slowly a few inches at a time, as we became more experienced and had different experiences we scanned as a flow over the whole body and held the awareness of the body as a whole. The sensations change all the time, but the ones you describe are very like the sensations I experience when dropping into 'Bhanga' the body seems not to be there, and I am aware only of sensations - a bit like champagne bubbles. I can also feel the touch of the mind as I scan.

    We are warned that although this is pleasurable - seeking it is counter productive and it is not enlightenment. The main focus of the technique is to maintain equanimity no matter what is happening in the body and understand this manifestation of 'anicca' - the constant change, the non-permanence of our bodies, minds, and all created forms. As the study of physics has shown the world to be only composed of energy, this is experienced in the body in 'Bhanga' as we experience this constant change. It is hard to put into words - the word is not the thing!

    From time to time I am also aware of this constant movement in objects outside myself.

    It does have its drawbacks! I seem develop awareness and sensitivity much faster than equanimity, so I find some situations are very challenging.

    I do notice sensations associated with anger or fear very quickly and often before the stimuli appear - this is great as forewarned is forearmed and it is rare to lose equanimity when I am gifted with this space not to react in.

    hope this was informative
    peace and joy:)
  3. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Hazelkay

    Thanks your experience is very helpful.

    You wrote that sensations come up before the stimuli appear. Do they also go in the other direction? You wrote about sensations like champagne bubbles. Can you think the champagne bubble sensation then experience the sensation and then the associated mind state with that? Like an immediate shift into a meditative mind flow.

  4. Hazelkay

    Hazelkay Member

    Most of the time, there is aware of sensations on the body, so when there is a change, in that I am aware the sensations have become similar to those I have experienced in different emotion-laden circumstances, the question occurs to the mind - 'oh there is anger - what is there to be angry about?'. Then something happens - and I can see that was it.

    If I have not maintained awareness and the mind got involved with something that has arisen, I am only aware of the sensation after I have reacted, either overtly or with a thought. I have no doubt that the sequence remained the same, however. The difference was in my level of awareness.

    If I was to try and 'think the champagne bubble sensation' in order to make a certain experience happen, I think that would be running in the opposite direction. This only happens when there is a true 'letting go'. It happens both during formal sitting periods and at other times when awareness is an integral part of whatever activity is going on.

    I can, however, drop into a calm and comfortable state that I recognise as a meditative state by taking a deep breath and consciously 'letting go'. It is difficult to put the 'letting go' into words. it's not just relaxing - though that is part of it, not just stopping the flow of thought - though it often stops. It is always accompanied by heightened awareness of the sensations on all parts of the body, though I am not thinking about sensation or about becoming more aware of it. The 'champagne bubble' state - which is not always the same - sometimes just an awareness of immense space, sometimes a throbbing resonance - it is difficult to describe with words - can happen as soon as the meditative state appears, after some time, or not at all. When it first happened, I got excited and it immediately changed, When I am aware that I am somehow 'wallowing' in the sensations, it disappears. It stays as a continuing state only as long as I don't react with craving for it.

    I hope these words convey something to you - when I read it back, they seem totally inadequate.
    peace and joy:)
  5. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Hazelkay

    I got it, your experience translated into words was very clear. I have a very similar experience with sensation and it does disappear when too much attention is placed on it.

    Along the same line of thought/sensation. You may have already done this but if not I am curious as to your experience.

    Some years ago I had noticed that when I felt I was happy or in a good mood I could feel a relaxation of the small muscles just under my eyes. Also I noticed that when I was angry on in an uncomfortable mood the same area of my face felt tight and tensed. I started experiementing and found that over time I was able to shift my "mood" by focusing attention to that area of my face. I was able to think "relax and open" to the muscles under my eyes and along with the relaxation a sense of mood shift to feeling good and happy would arise.

    This felt like the same bodily sensation of the happiness that comes from something good happening from the outside. Like getting a birdie in golf or seeing a beautiful sunset. Happiness flowing from the inside without any reason for it.

    This seems to be similar to the calm comfortable state that you can wrote about above. I wonder if you can associate any particular sensation as a "trigger" that you can touch to shift into that calm state?

  6. Hazelkay

    Hazelkay Member


    hi Michael,

    I don't know if you have read a book called 'Zen and the art of Archery'

    In a zippy summing up;) - an archer is being taught the Zen way of archery. The aim is to be bang on bull's eye every time.

    He struggles along, sometimes succeeding and sometimes not.

    He then finds a particular stance, a particular way of using the bow and a particular release that puts him on target every time.

    He rushes off to find his teacher and demonstrate his new-found skill.

    His teacher is not impressed - he has missed the whole point - there is no Zen, just technical skill.

    He has to start again.

    Do I need to elaborate?

    peace and joy:)
  7. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Hazelkay

    I did read that book many years ago. I will look for it at home. I am not sure but I do not remember fully grasping an understanding of the book.

    Perhaps more elaboration would be helpful.

    What I sense so far in relation to this thread is that the movement or shift of body sensation or mood with awareness (technical skill?) is the ??? and that is where I get lost (or maybe even before that).

  8. chrissponias

    chrissponias Member

    Mind, body and spirit are connected. Thus, everything that affects my spirit, affects my body, the same way that everything that affects my mind affects my spirit, and so on.

    Sensations are part of every process.
  9. Hazelkay

    Hazelkay Member

    being not doing

    Hi Michael,

    This is just my view and you are welcome not to see things from my angle.

    I think the point of the story was that shortcuts may lead to a perceived goal, but the mistake was in seeing the goal as the aim.

    I have also found that the muscles in my face tighten when I am thinking and as I become aware of it, I can relax them and feel lighter and more in the meditative state. It doesn't always last, however, and sometimes it is distracting - noticing and then doing something to change 'what is'

    Instead of treading the path of being so in tune with his bow, the arrow, the target - that missing was not a possibility, the archer was 'trying' and in the trying found a technical skill that seemed to deliver what he was after.

    For me it's a bit like one-pointed meditation methods that lead to deep samadhi, but not to enlightenment. We are told that the Buddha's samadhi was profound - to 8 jhanas - but he knew there was still something missing. All the austerity, renunciation and effort had not led to the end of suffering. For that he returned to the simple meditation he had found for himself under the rose apple tree as a small child.

    I don't see awareness as the technical skill, the technical skill (that is off the path and diddling around in the bushes on the side of the path) is finding some 'trigger' to shortcut oneself into awareness.

    I spent many years 'trying'. I achieved good levels of samadhi and I think all I did was strengthen the 'I'.

    My meditation now is not about deep samadhi or getting into certain states, but just being aware of the good the bad and the ugly inside.

    I am still just taking steps on the path, sometimes finding myself diddling about in the bushes and getting back on the path as soon as I am aware I have detoured.

    peace and joy:)
  10. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Hazelkay

    Thanks again for your clear and hepful reply. You truly seem to see into the center of my questions.

    I agree the detours of the bushes are not enlightenment and as you wrote may even be a distraction. However, if I am going to be in a detour I would prefer (at times) for it to be something I enjoy. Sort of a resting waystation for the times when being on the path (of exploring and being as fully as I can with what is) becomes too tiring.

    A lot of my writing and thoughts are about uncovering and dividing up the big steps of the path into smaller steps that are easier to try on. I imagine that we are all at differing levels along the path and that at every level what may be a detour or distraction for one of us may be a helpful step for another.

    If not for many of these smaller steps I do not think I would have been as aware of the hindrances to meditation or the jhanas or to ways to lessen them.

    It just occurred to me that developing the expertise of the technical skill (its focus, intention and concentration) while not being on the path and not being awareness may lay the groudwork for being able to focus more clearly and fully when back on the path. Sort of like all the subjects we studied in school that we do not use but which taught and trained us in differing ways of how to think. The thinking can then be applied wherever we direct it.

    I sense that there is much more in your post that will surface for me. I will let you know and thanks again for your speedy replies.

    I am off to the golf course. I will be practicing my technical skill -- the ball--the club--the swing-- the hole-- missing is not a possiblilty.

    Who knows the path may be right under my feet where ever they are touching the ground.

    Michael :D
  11. Karmoh

    Karmoh Member

    Thanks Hazelkay & Michael, I have enjoyed this post :)
  12. olmate

    olmate Member

    Hi Michael,

    I am not sure if this is a little off the topic of your post, but I was wondering about the "sensation of meditation" within the context of what is it we bring and are perhaps "joined with" in the meditative state that results in how we sense that experience?

    With the daily practice of the path I have chosen - with the benefit of reflecting on the excellent posts in this thread - I wonder if it could also be the melding of my express intention to bring my heart, my mind and my life at that moment which is integrated, concentrated and aligned with ... well pick a word ... God, the universe, collective consciousness, ...

    As these elements align and come into harmony, the meditative state emerges or perhaps more correctly, I merge into the meditative state.

    My sensory response to that state is difficult to verbalise but on this path anyway is probably best captured by the word "gift". So in that sense the harmony and integration and alignment is the receiving of a gift - each and every time.

    Hmmm, very difficult to describe. I feel like I am typing with my elbows...

    Nothing but the best...

  13. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Olmate

    Thanks for such a wonderful post right on topic. Your sense of your experience of meditation and its merging is centainly part of the sensations that are part of the meditative experience.

    We shift from the willful portion of preparing for meditation, selecting a place to sit, taking our position and possibly choosing a guideline to follow to whatever comes along and as you described it so well as a "gift." Something that comes into awareness freely from wherever without our taking it willfully.

    You might experiment if it is not a distraction to your meditation noticing whatever physical sensations you are aware of either before during or just afetr the "gift." Not looking for anything special or exotic but just whatever sensation is there. You may be deep in a meditative state and there may be no sense of bodily awareness. If so then notice whatever you body sensations are just before or just after.

    We live in a body and often lose mindfulness of the sensations that are continually there. I am curious to explore this foundational level of awareness and see how it may relate to meditation.

  14. olmate

    olmate Member

    Hi Michael,

    It is an interesting topic. I was thinking about four contexts, primarily post meditation:

    1. My internal experience - encompassing my thoughts, my emotions, my memories, my somatic sensations and my consciousness. It is really just taking a few minutes at the end of each meditation session to reflect internally.

    2. My outward manifestion - my actions that follow, my level of alertness and mental attitude and my physical response like my energy levels and feeling of vitality.

    In addition to this I have been experimenting with two additional perspectives. My relationships and interactions with others. Am I noticing anything with these interactions and what if any impact is my mindfullness having? It is a little hard to describe but also goes to things like how meaning manifests in my conversations and the nature of relationships and I guess possibly even into evolving culture.

    And finally, as I walk, run and ride through my day, noticing the natural world (makes me cry at the snap of the fingures), but also noticing systems i interact with like technology, government, Boards, this forum, my neighborhood, etc.

    I don't want you to think I am arrogant in terms of ME influencing - but more just a process of looking near and far as part of being present.

    Hope this makes some sort of sense...

  15. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Chrissponias
    Yes it is all interconnected.
    How does meditation affect your sensations?

    Hi Olmate what if we combine what Chrissponias wrote with your post.

    The primary focus of this thread is the portion of mindfulness that we notice as sensations. As Chrissponias wrote "sensations are part of every process." Two questions what are the somatic sensations you notice as part of your internal experience? And relating to the interactions and mindfulness are there any somatic sensations that you are aware of that come up that you can relate to the meditation?

  16. olmate

    olmate Member

    Hi Michael,

    This is difficult to answer. As I sit and start to release, there are many bodily sensations - mostly dependent on what I have been doing either that day for evening meditation or the day before for the morning meditation. If there has been stress associated with work that has attached itself to me with fish hooks or physical soreness from pushing the exercise boundary a little too far, the early release phase is crowded with bodily sensations. But there comes a point where they evaporate and the meditative state envelops.

    That point is what I would describe as a focus on faithful humility and humble fidelity. By this I mean the "sensation" if you can call it that, is humbly leaving everything behind and making "myself" (although at this point identity disolves but at the same time doesn't) as fully available as I can to opening to the silence and stillness in my heart. There are words common to my path or faith that are more meaningful to me and important in communicating with my teachers, but I hesitate to use them in this forum. In fact it is a useful discipline to try to use other words so I can engage widely and openly in the community.

    But boiled down, the sensations of meditation is the way of being, being in God and being in Love - while sitting and while I wash my dishes, clean my bathroom, take the garbage out and when I stand before people in my work.

    Nothing but the best...

  17. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    More from Zen and the Art of Archery

    Hi Hazelkay

    Perfection did not happen on the golf course. Missing did. That leaves plenty of room for more practice and the manifestation of "It." :p

    Thanks Hazelkay for the reminder of Zen and the Art of Archery. a truly wonderful and inspiring book. Although the pages of the book had turned yellow from my first reading years ago this time around I received a clearer view of "It." (just a note to the current thread on Self this short book relates beautifully)

    Okay back to Archery or swordsmanship or flower arrangment, tea ceremony, golf, diddling around in the bushes, feeling the senations of meditation or any other technical feat. This book relates (only in my current understanding and wording) to four main parts.

    1. "It" or Self or God is non-dual, Subject and object, formlessness and form.
    2. Using awareness and intention of the breath as the continual foundation to abandom the thoughts of self as the doer.
    3. Using the development of technical skill such as archery and to hone it under the guide of a Master until the outward manifestation of the skill becomes perfection and matches its Spiritual core.
    4. Noticing the physical reality or manifestation of the technique (archery) shows the level of the Spiritual core that has been obtained.

    The perfection of the technique when performed is as a ceremonial ritual where the doer and the doing are one. There is just Spirit moving without any sense of self (small s).

    An example given in the book of the Spirit or "It" is a tale of a "spider that dances its web without knowing that there are flies who will be caught in it. While the fly dancing nonchalantly on the sum beam, gets caught in the web without knowing what lies in store. But through both of them "It" dances and outside and inside are united in this dance. So too the archer hits the target wihout having aimed".

    So back to my question on the sensations of meditation. Yes they are diddling in the bushes but at the same time they are the development in the direction of the perfection of the technical skill of sitting in meditation (at least for me).

    What can been seen on the outside (manifestation) shows the level of perfection on the inside (Spiritual).

    Summary from the base up , levels of foundation

    Image of perfection, belief, non doubting, "It", God
    Breath developed as a means of attention so that everything else is relaxed
    Technique - developing skill
    Observing - skill vs relaxation vs perfection
    Spirit joining doing without a doer

    Hazelkay this seemed much clearer as I perceived it in meditation this morning. At that time it was closer to the sensation of non conceptual awareness which most of us report gets lost in its translation to words.

    Last edited: Jun 12, 2011
  18. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Olmate

    Yes, they evaporate and the meditative state envelops. In his book Aligned, Relaxed and Resilient Will Johnson describes the posture of meditation as sitting as tall as you can and being as relaxed as you can. Sitting tall requires some effort as well as allowing a relaxation to occur in all other muscle tone. The mind in meditation has also been described as being not too tight and not too loose.

    Once the initial bodily sensations have evaporated you wrote that "identity disolves but at the same time doesn't" so I assume you still have a sense of the body. I understand your mind is opening to the stillness in your heart as you so beautifully described. If any bodily sensation comes to awareness at that level just notice it. Possibly a softenlng of surface of the forearms or face or a noticing of the abdomen or chest rising and falling. As Chrissponias wrote "sensations are part of every process."

    I am not pressing but trying to explore for myself and others a thought from Richard Miller who writes that we can re-enter the lingering perfume of the Mystery by opening ourselves to all of the experience, all of the parts of our life, that we are having and not choosing which parts to push away or ignore. (that sounds a lot like non-dual).

  19. olmate

    olmate Member

    Hi Michael,

    Perhaps if I point to a couple of analogies to try to describe what I think you are asking...

    In one sense it is like me being a glass of water. As I enter the meditative state, it is like pouring that glass of water into the ocean. As I emerge from the meditative state the glass fills again with water - different but also the same.

    As the glass sits patiently and attentively waiting for its fill of water from the ocean ... there are sensations:

    The gentle and loving caress of the vessel with an "energy" - disengaging the fish hooks laden with the dross of the day, harmonizing the cells for health and vitality, healing, releasing blockages, nourishing, resting...

    These sensations are more of "knowing" although the results are evident after the meditation if I care to pause and notice.

    Is that what you mean?

  20. Michael David

    Michael David Member

    Hi Olmate

    I really enjoy your imagery especially being poured into and out of the ocean.

    Try this -- Make a fist and hold it closed. Add more strength and make it tighter keep holding. What is the sensation you feel? It could be described as strength, power, force however these are words that are cognitive in the mind sense. From a bodily sense the sensation you might feel is pressure, tight, hot, throbbing.

    Now open your hand and allow it to just be. Describe the sensations from a bodily feeling viewpoint as you did with the closed fist. Now scan your body what sensations are there?

    Try this with your meditation. What do you notice?


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