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10 Common Problems in Entering Jhana (and help)

Entering Jhana during your meditation session may be elusive for many of you. Maybe all of you. It’s something that occurs naturally, but sometimes we fight it, we fear it, we question what we’re supposed to be doing and Jhana remains just out of reach.

It’s very common for someone to write me or tell me during a meditation coaching call that they are getting good concentration and yet entering Jhana never happens for them.

Often times they have a different definition of good concentration than is necessary, so we can clear that up first. Next, how can we navigate through the 8 Jhanas?

10 Problems Stopping You from Entering the Jhanas and Suggestions to Help

1. Concentration and One-Pointedness

Reaching a high level of concentration and one-pointedness of mind involves training the mind to stay focused on a single object without wavering. In the beginning, meditators often find their minds wandering frequently, distracted by thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations. This is normal and part of the process. The practice involves gently bringing the focus back to the chosen object each time the mind wanders. Over time, these distractions lessen, and the mind becomes more stable. This stability is known as samadhi, and it’s one of the first steps to preparing to enter the Jhanas.

Developing strong concentration is like building a muscle. It requires regular practice and perseverance to get through the trying times. It can bore people. That’s the most common complaint I hear. There’s nothing to say about it, yes, it’s boring if you look at it that way. I’d suggest cutting your sessions down to 20 minutes. Spend 10 minutes relaxing body and mind, and the next 10 focusing diligently on the breath at the nose.

You may find it helpful to set a specific time for daily practice, gradually increasing the duration of your session as your concentration improves. Techniques such as counting breaths, or focusing on a visual object can assist in strengthening concentration. The key is consistency and patience, as these qualities help the mind to settle and become deeply absorbed in the meditation object.

So, keep it interesting by shortening your sessions to 20 minutes. Micro focus on the feeling of the breath at the nose. Focus on a lit incense stick in the dark if you cannot focus well on the breath at first. Gradually switch over to the breath as your ability to concentrate develops.

2. Letting Go of Sensory Input

As you advance in Jhana meditation, letting go of sensory input becomes crucial. In the early stages, you might still be aware of sounds, smells, and physical sensations. However, as concentration deepens, these external stimuli fade into the background. This withdrawal from the senses is a hallmark of entering the first Jhana, where the mind becomes fully absorbed in the meditation object, and the sense of the external world diminishes.

This process can be challenging to get used to because your senses are always active and pulling your attention outward. It requires a deliberate effort to detach from these inputs and let them go.

One effective approach is to focus intently on the pleasant sensations that arise in the body as concentration deepens. These sensations can become so absorbing that they naturally overshadow external sensory inputs. This is also a great way to usher in Jhana.

Over time, with practice, the ability to let go of sensory input becomes more natural, allowing for deeper states of absorption.

3. Navigating the Mental Factors

Each Jhana is characterized by specific mental factors that need to be understood and cultivated. In the first Jhana, rapture (piti) and joy (sukha) are predominant, creating a sense of intense pleasure and happiness. Recognizing and distinguishing these factors is essential for advancing to higher Jhanas. It certainly isn’t too difficult, as the sensations are overwhelming. They are easy to find.

As you move into the second Jhana, rapture fades, and joy becomes more prominent, accompanied by a deepening tranquility and one-pointedness. This one too, is not too difficult to see.

As you go further into the levels of Jhana the factors diminish until you have just 2 factors for the higher Arupa (immaterial) Jhanas.

Understanding these mental factors requires experiential knowledge rather than intellectual understanding. Meditators need to spend time in each Jhana, observing and becoming familiar with these states. This familiarity allows for smoother transitions between Jhanas. Teachers and meditation guides often emphasize the importance of staying in a particular Jhana until you are thoroughly acquainted with its characteristics before attempting to move to the next.

I’m not of that belief necessarily. I think if you are moving through them, keep going. Keep letting go of each experience after it happens and you’ll move to the next. One massive problem meditators have is that they fear the next Jhana or that they cannot reach the next one. So, if they’re coming easily, just allow that! Go as far as possible as soon as possible.

This will eliminate fear or anxiety about what happens in the upper Jhanas because you’ve already experienced them briefly.

In later sessions you can stay in each Jhana for an extended time. There’s always time later.

4. Balancing Effort and Relaxation

Finding the right balance between effort and relaxation is a delicate process. Too much effort can create tension and hinder the mind’s ability to settle, while too little effort can lead to dullness and a lack of clarity.

This balance is dynamic and changes as your practice evolves. Initially, you might need to apply more effort to stabilize the mind, but as concentration improves, a more relaxed approach becomes beneficial.

A helpful strategy is to start your meditation with a firm intention and focus, gradually easing into a more relaxed and open state as your concentration deepens. This approach allows for a smoother transition into deeper states of absorption (Jhana).

5. Subtlety of Transitions

You can move through the Jhanas in one of two ways.

The first way is to study the Buddhist take on Jhana. They teach how you can pay attention to some subtle factors in the mind to transition into further Jhanas.

They would suggest that to navigate these transitions, meditators need to cultivate a keen sense of mindfulness and an ability to observe subtle changes in their mental landscape. It can be helpful to spend time in each Jhana, becoming thoroughly familiar with its unique qualities before attempting to move to the next. This familiarity provides a stable foundation, making the subtle transitions more noticeable and manageable.

The second way is the natural way. You can go through each Jhana just be letting go of the factors that are there. Another way of looking at it is that you can experience what is in the Jhana and then pay little attention to it. Just sit and watch and your focus will naturally change and move to other factors/experiences that are indicative of the next Jhana level.

It can be a very natural progression that doesn’t require manipulation, thought, intention, or anything else.

Either way works!

6. Letting Go of the Self

As you progress in Jhana meditation, your sense of self begins to dissolve.

This can be scary for some, because we identify with our thoughts, perceptions, and the ego is deeply ingrained from the time we are little.

Letting go of the self involves a profound level of surrender and trust in the meditation process. This dissolution of the ego is essential for entering deeper Jhanas, where the sense of “I” becomes increasingly hard to identify with.

At times you may not feel the body at all as you sit in meditation. This happens naturally and is part of the process. It’s fine. It’s good even!

In fact, there are many different experiences that you can have on the way to Jhana and once inside. I even wrote a book about 101 Curious and Bizarre experiences you can have while meditating. I wanted to let meditators know that all of the crazy things that are possible are normal and shouldn’t be scary.

This aspect of Jhana meditation is challenging because it confronts the core of our identity. Meditators often experience moments of fear or resistance as they approach deeper states of selflessness.

It’s important to approach these experiences with an attitude of curiosity and openness, allowing the process to unfold naturally. Guidance from experienced teachers can help you get through these big shifts.

7. Understanding the Non-Conceptual Nature

Jhana states are often described as being beyond ordinary conceptual thinking. This non-conceptual awareness is difficult to grasp because our minds are typically conditioned to think in terms of concepts and narratives.

In Jhana, the mind enters a state of pure awareness, free from the constant stream of thoughts and mental chatter. This shift from conceptual to non-conceptual awareness can be disorienting at first.

Developing comfort with non-conceptual awareness requires practice and a willingness to let go of the need to understand or analyze experiences intellectually. Instead, you’ll need to learn to rest in the direct experience of awareness itself.

This involves trusting the process and allowing the mind to settle into a state of pure presence. Over time, this non-conceptual awareness becomes more familiar and easier to accept.

8. Consistency and Patience

Achieving Jhanic states is a gradual process that requires consistent practice and patience.

You don’t need to meditate 2 hours a day to reach Jhana.

My average meditation session was around 20 minutes. Sometimes 15. Sometimes an hour. It varied according to my motivation to do it that day. But, I consistently meditated every day for about a year.

Many meditators struggle with maintaining a regular practice, especially when progress seems slow or imperceptible. Consistency is really key to developing the deep concentration needed for Jhana meditation. Even short, daily sessions can build the necessary foundation over time.

Short sessions also keep it interesting!

Patience is equally important, because your journey to achieving Jhana is not linear. There will be periods of progress and setbacks. It’s a good idea to look at it as a long-term journey. Know that each meditation session contributes to the overall development of concentration and insight. Celebrating small milestones and staying motivated through challenges can help you keep going.

It’s essential that you keep going, the gains are fantastic and will change your life.

9. Dealing with Doubt and Expectations

Doubt about one’s progress and unrealistic expectations can be significant obstacles in Jhana meditation. You’ll question whether you are practicing correctly or if you’re making progress at all.

These doubts can undermine confidence and motivation. Additionally, having unrealistic expectations, such as expecting rapid or dramatic results, can lead to disappointment, frustration, and quitting your practice altogether.

10. Integration with Daily Life

Integrating the calm and clarity of Jhana states into daily life is a crucial aspect of meditation practice. The transition from deep meditation to the busy, often chaotic, everyday world that is your life can be challenging.

Find ways to maintain mindfulness and the benefits of meditation throughout the day.

Many people add short mindfulness practices, such as mindful breathing or walking, into their routine.

Think often about how meditation influences your daily life in a positive way.

When you’re stressed, take 3 breaths in mindful attention and feel the stress and anxiety dissolve.

When you are arguing with someone over something, take a brief second to watch as your thoughts develop, how your emotions are triggered by certain words or behaviors of the other person.

Use meditation as a tool in daily life. Essentially that is what it is. At first it’s a tool that you consciously apply in the right situations. Later, it becomes an integrated part of who you are.

See our Introduction to Jhana, covering all aspects >

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