Stage 3: Mindfully Experiencing the Continuity of the Breathing

In the third stage of this meditation practice we let go of the counting and simply follow the breath as it flows in and out. This is the Mindfulness of Breathing proper, and if I were forced to introduce the Mindfulness of Breathing practice in two minutes then this is what I’d teach — simply paying attention to the sensations of the breath.

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However, by saying that I don’t want to devalue the earlier two stages, which are important aids in helping us to practice effectively in this stage of the practice and important practices in their own right.

Here’s an outline of the practice so far:

Stage Zero

Set up your posture, as described in the posture guidelines, developing awareness of the body and relaxing as best you can.

Stage One

Then, becoming aware of the breath as the central experience within the body, begin counting after each out-breath, counting in cycles of ten breaths. When you notice the mind wandering, gently bringing it back to the breath. Notice the gently relaxing quality of the out-breath.

Stage Two

Moving into the second stage of the practice, begin counting just before each in-breath, again counting ten breaths before starting over again at one. Notice the gently stimulating quality of the in-breath.

When you feel ready, move onto the third stage.

Stage Three

In the third stage of the practice, drop the counting, and just follow the breathing coming in and out. Pay particular attention to the transitions from an in-breath to an out-breath, since those are the places where you’re most likely to become distracted.

See if you can notice the breathing as a continuous process — not as a series of in-breaths and out-breaths, but as a never-ending stream of sensation connected with the movements of the body, and the sensations of the air flowing into and out of the body.

You can listen to an MP3 guided meditation that will lead you through the first three stages of the practice by clicking on the player below:

The “Gaining Idea” in Meditation

If you’ve been working methodically through this practice you know the score by now. Try doing all three stages for a few days. Practice them every day, if possible, and get to know them well.

Watch out for any tendency to want to skip over one stage (maybe because you don’t like it as much as the others). Each stage has its own special function, so remember to do them in the correct order.

You might want to make your meditation a little longer now, perhaps five minutes per stage, making fifteen minutes.

Shunryu Suzuki, the famous Zen teacher who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and who was a major influence on Western Buddhism, talked about “the gaining idea.” This rather awkward but incredibly useful phrase points to the problem that arises in our practice when we’re hungering for results. We want be enlightened right here and right now. Or we simply want to rush on to learn the whole practice so that we can check that off our list of things to do. The gaining idea is a major hindrance to developing skill in meditation.

As Suzuki Roshi said, “When a gaining idea arises in our practice, it is a sign that our practice is in trouble.” The reason for this is that we’ve actually incorporated our restless, grasping mind into our meditation practice. Our practice has been taken over by the mind that craves, yearns, and tries to appropriate results without following the path that leads to those results.

These attitudes of grasping, craving, and greedy hunger are the very things that cause us suffering in the first place. Because we suffer we want to meditate, because meditation is the antidote to craving and suffering. And then what happens? Our craving takes control of the meditation! It’s as if the antidote to the poison itself accidentally becomes contaminated with poison!

It’s useful if you learn to recognize this gaining idea, this notion that somehow your best interests will be served if you rush through the practice. That notion is false. Meditation is about letting go of grasping so that we can experience freedom. So start doing that now by deciding that you’ll pause where you are right now, and that you’ll explore the stages of the meditation practice and really get to know them before you move on to the next stage.

As part of that exploration come back to this section and read a bit more about the issues that can arise in this stage of the practice.

Remember to Check in With Your Body

Perhaps this is a good time to remind you of your body. I’ve emphasized that it’s important to set up your posture at the start of a period of practice. Doing this provides you with better conditions for meditating.

It’s like making sure, when you’re building a fire, that your kindling is stacked just right and that your matches are dry, so that you’ll end up with a good blaze instead of a pile of smoldering wood and a bad temper.

But when you take your attention away from your posture in order to be more aware of your breath, you’ll often find that your posture starts to drift. You might find that some parts of your body start to sag, while others become tense. And these changes lead to mental and emotional changes.

The tension in your shoulders might be related to some anger you’ve started to experience. The sagging in your spine might be related to a feeling of despair that’s crept in. If you relax your shoulders, the anger will start to disappear again. If you straighten your spine, you’ll start to feel more confident again.

As you become more proficient at meditation, you’ll learn that you can periodically take your attention away from your breath for a split second in order to check your posture and make minor corrections. You’ll get so good at doing this that you’ll be able to effectively keep a continuous awareness of your breath.

Remember learning to drive? You probably found that at first you’d take your attention off the road to change gears and when you took your attention back to the road (several long seconds later) you’d find that you’d drifted off towards one side or that a red traffic light had mysteriously appeared from nowhere. Later, you’ll have found that you were able to change gears without significantly taking your awareness from what was going on around you.

The same thing happens in meditation – we learn to deal with the seeming complexity of managing our posture and what we’re doing with the focus of our attention – elegantly and even effortlessly. A good way to start practicing this skill of monitoring your posture without disrupting your practice is to check and correct your posture in between stages.

You might want to do this every time you move from one stage to another. Later, you’ll find that you can integrate monitoring your posture into your practice in the way that I’ve described.

Balancing Alertness and Relaxation

While stage one of this meditation practice helps to develop more calm (by emphasizing the qualities of the out breath), and stage two helps to develop more energy and awareness (by emphasizing the qualities of the in breath), the third stage emphasizes both the in breath and the out breath equally. This helps us to blend the calm relaxation of the first stage with the energized awareness of the second stage.

In our meditation practice we are ideally developing a sense of energetic calm awareness, or a calmly energized awareness. While doing stage three you can be aware of the constant oscillation between the calming out breath and the energizing in breath, and allow the qualities of the out breath and of the in breath to permeate each other.

Modifying an analogy the Buddha himself used, you can think about making dough. When you’re making dough, what you’re doing is taking two contrasting substances – a wet one and a dry one – and combining them together in a perfectly balanced blend.

If you have too much water, then you’ll have a sticky mess, while if you have too much flour, you’ll have a dry, cracked ball.

Get the proportions just right, and you’ll have dough that is perfectly pliable and workable. (The Buddha’s analogy involved a “bathman or bathman’s apprentice) blending soap powder and water — presumably the Buddha was more familiar from his earlier life with bathing in luxury spas than he was with baking).

Just as the right balance of flour and water (or soap-powder and water) produces a pliable mixture that can be used appropriately, this stage of the mindfulness of breathing meditation practice helps us to develop pliability of mind; to get our minds into a calm and energetic state where we can work to develop a much greater degree of concentration.

Using Anchors in Stage Three

If the first two stages have gone really well, letting go of the numbers can allow us to develop a deeper and more balanced concentration. However, if we haven’t managed to develop enough calmness in the first two stages, then it’s easy to get lost in the third stage.

This often happens because the counting has been acting as an anchor for our awareness: it stops us from drifting too far away from the breath. So if we let go of the counting we can often float off into distraction.

One way to retain an anchor while letting go of the numbers is to use a physical sensation in the body as an anchor. I sometimes use the physical sensations in my hands in the same way as I use the numbers.

Sometimes at the end of every out-breath I take my awareness to my hands in order to keep me grounded. I use the sensations in my hands much as I’d use the numbers.

The physical anchor is a more refined anchor than the counting because it’s non-verbal — it cuts down on the amount of thinking, so that your mind can develop a deeper level of stillness.

Other times I maintain awareness of my hands throughout the cycle of each in-breath and out-breath. When I breathe in there’s a sensation of rising in the body and so I have a general sense of the gap between the hands and the breath widening. In each out-breath there’s a feeling that the body is sinking, and so I get a sense of the connection between the hands and the breath narrowing. So I notice the connection between the hands and the breath, and this helps keep the mind from wandering off.

Partly I think this works because it makes the practice more interesting. But partly I think it’s something to do with introducing a “stretch” into the practice. What I mean is that I’ve noticed that when my mind stretches to accommodate two separate sensations it seems to calm down very quickly. I can’t explain this, but I offer it as a tool that might be useful.

Other “stretches” involve being aware of the space outside my body while focusing on some inner sensation (like the breath), and being aware of sounds outside of myself while following some inner sensation.

You might want to play around with this idea of creating a stretch in your awareness and see what happens. Just notice two very different and geographically separate sensations, and pay attention to both simultaneously. And notice what the result is.

Thought Trains

We talk about “trains of thought.” You can think of these as being like real locomotive trains that pull into a busy station and then go rattling off. Most of them don’t go anywhere that we particularly want to go (most of them are to do with worrying, getting angry, running ourselves down, etc). But our mind is like a little kid that’s very restless and curious, and keeps going through the open doors into the carriages.

Before we know it we’re miles away from where we wanted to be (in dangerous territory, often!), and it takes us forever to get home.

By learning meditation you can learn just to watch the trains pulling up and pulling away, being aware of them and choosing not to get into them.

Are there any trains we want to get into? Yes. Some thoughts can be useful, if they are thoughts that guide us toward our immediate experience. For example, we can say to ourselves things like “Staying in the moment … there’s just this moment.” Thoughts like that take us deeper into our meditation.

One difference between useful thought trains and those that take us into distractions, is that when we’re reflecting (as opposed to being distracted), we know what we’re thinking and why, and what effect those thoughts are having). By contrast distracted thoughts are like dreams — we don’t know we’re in them until we “wake up.”

But it can take a while to recognize which thoughts are useful and at first it’s not a bad idea simply to treat all thoughts as distractions and to let them all depart from the station of the mind while you “just sit” on the platform.

Breathing, not breaths

There’s another way that the third stage of the mindfulness of breathing meditation, in which we drop the counting of the first two stages and simply follow the breath flowing in and out, is a progression from those two stages.

The progression consists in sensing the continuity of the breathing process, through having an unbroken awareness of the breathing rather than in having an awareness of individual breaths.

When we’re counting out-breaths (as in the first stage of the meditation practice) or counting in-breaths (as in the second stage) there’s an inevitable tendency to experience the process of the breathing as being chopped into bits. There’s an in-breath. Then an out-breath. Then another in-breath. Then another out-breath. We may acknowledge pauses between the in and out phases, so that we mentally chop the breathing into four parts: in / pause / out / pause.

Now actually the breathing process isn’t quite like that. It’s not really divided into discrete parts. When you watch the breathing closely in meditation you’ll see that the in-breath shades into a feeling of fullness, which then shades into the release of the out-breath. Then the increasing sense of emptiness at the end of the exhalation shades into the beginning of the next in-breath. There are no distinct beginnings or ends. There’s just one continuous process that changes its character over time. It’s much like looking at a rainbow. There are different colors, but when you look at where one color shades into another you’ll see there are no distinct transitions.

We’re practicing mindfulness of breathing, not mindfulness of breaths.

When we experience the breath as chopped up then there’s a tendency for our awareness itself to become discontinuous. We actively experience the in-breath, then the mind goes a bit floppy for a moment, then we pay attention to the out-breath, then the mind goes a bit squidgy again. Somewhere during the times when the mind is taking a little vacation from vividly noticing the breath it decides instead to get absorbed in some thought or fantasy, and we don’t have the mental sharpness to stop it from going on a little (or perhaps a long) wander.

When we get to the end of the second stage and stop counting we have the opportunity to experience the wholeness of the breathing rather than the chopped-up-ness of in-out-in-out. And so our awareness itself becomes more continuous. We’re less likely to get distracted. The mind becomes more attuned to the subtler sensations where the breath is changing from an inhalation to an exhalation, and vice versa. And we develop a very pleasant sense that we have a continuous thread of awareness running through our experience.

So practically, what this means is that we follow the sensations of the breath as it flows in, noticing the sensations of movement becoming subtler as the sensations of fullness are becoming stronger, noticing the “cresting” of the inhaling as it releases from fullness into the emptying of exhaling, noticing the sensations of exhaling becoming stronger as the body moves faster and as the exhaling happens more slowly, bottoming out into an increasing sense of emptiness, until the emptiness gives way to a sense of filling. And so on, and so on. It’s actually hard to put this in writing because for the sake of clarity in writing I have to use commas and periods, which suggests a succession of discrete experiences rather than an ever-evolving transition within one single experience, which is the process of breathing.

Another approach would be, next time you’re following the breathing (and maybe that’s right now) seeing if you can notice any absolute boundaries and discontinuities within the process of the breathing. I think you’ll find there are none, and that as your sense of the breathing becomes more continuous, so too does your sense of the continuity of your mindfulness.

Guiding, Not Controlling

The great hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson, told a story about how one day, when he was a boy, a riderless horse wandered into the farmyard outside his home. Milton had never seen this horse before, and had no idea where it lived, but very soon he had the horse back where it belonged. How did he do this?

Well, he sat on the horse’s back, got it to start walking, and then every time they came to a turn in the road, he paid attention to the almost imperceptible movements of the horse’s body that told him where it wanted to go. And once young Milton had sensed in which direction the horse wanted to head in, he encouraged it to do so. It turned out that the horse knew its own way home, and all Milton had to do was give it a little gentle guidance — or encouragement to trust its own instincts.

It’s similar with our breathing. I’ve said that in the mindfulness of breathing practice we’re not controlling our breath. On the other hand I’ve also suggested that you can use deep breathing, or breathing into the belly, or breathing into the upper chest, etc., as ways of altering your state of mind. This might sound contradictory, but it’s not really. When we change the pattern of our breathing, we don’t have to exert any control. We can gently guide the breath without controlling it, as Milton did.

Had Milton tried to tell the horse where to go, he’d never have got it home. Horses, after all, are trained to follow orders. Instead he used a more subtle technique of being aware of where the horse wanted to go, and then reinforced that desire with some gentle guidance. The horse soon got the idea.

We all are riders of horses, in a way. Our breathing is generally under the control of subconscious processes, and it has to be said that our subconscious, by and large, does a pretty good job of keeping breathing. The subconscious rarely fails to carry out its tasks, which is more than can be said for our conscious minds (how often do we go upstairs to get something and then forget by the time we get there what it was we wanted?). So let your subconscious do what it’s good at.

When you want to change your breathing, say by breathing into your belly more deeply, then all you really have to do is to take your awareness into your belly to give your subconscious a gentle hint, and then let it do the work. In this way, we gently guide our breath rather than control it.

What’s Next?

The fourth stage of this meditation practice helps us to have greater focused attention. You can learn about that here.

You can also learn more about this meditation practice in my book, Wildmind: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation.

18 Comments. Leave new

  • I like// I needed the article. I actually need a Buddha buddy. I an new and struggling, but I am hanging in.

    Thank You much.

  • I have started meditation few days back with the OM sound and i am observing an increased number of dreams. what does it signifies? Does it signify we are on right track and we should continue?

    • I don’t know exactly what it signifies, but it’s certainly common to have more vivid and memorable dreams after starting meditation or when we’re doing more meditation than usual. I take it to be a sign that something beneficial is happening. Keep on going!

  • How do i know if i have the “gaining idea” mentality.

    well i know i need realizations and clarity so i meditate a lot although i really try not to have any expectations when i meditate but even trying not to expect something is an expectation in itself…right? or is that too philosophical..

    I am currently on winter break from college and i really want to learn how to meditate as fast as i can because i want to go to college fresh, calm and focused. Therefore, i actually meditate as much as i can per sitting and then sit down again when i feel like sitting again which is quite often…. usually my meditations last 20 minutes or so?
    Do you suggest that its too much meditation and should be balanced with other activities?

    During meditation i had this thought which i disregarded then that just like how to much medication is not good, too much meditation cannot be good..the saying too much of anything is never good..does that apply here?

    • You may recognize you have a “gaining idea” in meditation when you find you’re disappointed in your progress, or experience doubts about your abilities as a meditator, or when you find yourself being irritable when you can’t do what you want to do, or when you find yourself to be physically tense, or there’s a lack of pleasure and happiness in your experience when you meditate — to give a few examples.

      “Trying” not to expect something is probably not a good way to think about what we’re aiming to do. Expecting something is a kind of grasping, akin to grasping something in your hand. Letting go of expectations is a form of, well, letting go, akin to relaxing your hand and thus releasing your grip. You don’t “try” to relax your hand. You just stop grasping.

      The saying “too much of anything is never good” is rather tautological! Can we ever say that too much of something is good? The question is, how much meditation can you usefully do? At what point does your meditation practice start to have diminishing returns (which it always does, at some point)? And at what point does forcing yourself to meditate actually become counter-productive if you’re forcing yourself to do something that’s no longer benefiting you? Then again, on intensive retreats the crisis brought on by sitting to the point where meditation has become counterproductive (for example the mind is screaming at us to stop meditating) can actually push us to go deeper, by letting go of expectations that we never even knew existed.

  • bodhipaksa,

    so basically you mean just sit and meditate and the more effort you apply to meditation the deeper one can go.


    • Hi, Vrajesh.

      That’s not at all what I said, and it’s not something I think is at all true. I think you may be seeing in my words what you want to see there, which suggests again that you have a “gaining idea.”

      All the best,

  • Hi Bodhipaska,

    I just started meditation, and today while I was meditating, I felt like I was being pulled to the left, and felt like I was stuck leaning significantly that way, even though when I opened my eyes I was sitting perfectly straight. Do you have any thoughts on what that might be about?


    • These kinds of sensations are not uncommon when people are starting to learn meditation, and sometimes when they’re doing more meditation than usual. In the form of Buddhism I practice they’re called samapattis, and the advice is that they’re distracting but otherwise harmless, and we should just ignore them and continue with the practice. They disappear in time. It may be that your body was fractionally out of alignment, and the sensation was being exaggerated in your perceptions.

  • I’m happy that I’m seeing/feeling these signs (and in a very positive way). I’m not that reactive anymore, before I was so moody and get angry in an instant. I’m more calm and friendly.

    And the dreams — yes, the dreams. They’re more vivid and I remember them even to the slightest detail. Maybe that’s because I’m practicing lucid dreaming or something. But maybe meditation really had to do with it.


  • During meditation sometimes it feels like energy is flooding throughout my body. I’ll be in full rem, my eustation tubes are opening and closing and my lips are quivering uncontrollably. Sometimes in my limbs its like little valves are opening and closing. Its not what I would call a relaxed state, but when I hold on to that for awhile and release back to a relaxed state, it’s deeper. Are those symptoms normal? Thank you.

  • Hello,
    I’m relatively new to meditation and have no teacher besides reading books and internet articles, which are not necessarly following the technical aspect of meditation. I use breathing as an anchor to control my mind and progressively, during the past few weeks, I have started to feel changes. Occasionaly I see light patterns, but more often is the feeling of being in a crystal like sourounding, very clear but no forms around. Then energy starts flowing through my body which feels like shiwers up and down my spine. But in my last sesion I left like I was entering a ‘realm’ I was forbiden to and the shiwers were cold, I was sweting and to be onest, I was scarred, although I kept on meditating and concentrating on compassion at that time. During my meditation sessions I pay more attention to the feeling than to an immage. Is it possible that without a formal guidance, one can access forbiden areas and my feeling scared was just a warning, or this is normal and one’s mind plays tricks ?Feeling scared is what concerns me.
    Is this normal ? Am I on the right path ? Can you please help.

  • Hi, Radu.

    It sounds like you’re experiencing a number of things connected with an experience of jhana, or meditative absorption. These are all quite normal. The light patterns sound like what we call a samāpatti, which is a slightly hallucinatory experience, which I see as resulting from the mild sense deprivation that can arise when the mind is becoming still but you haven’t yet got used to that stillness. This occurs on the way to jhāna, but isn’t actually very helpful.

    The crystal shell sounds more like a nimitta, which is a more constructive experience. Nimittas emerge when the mind is becoming more still and when we are able to enjoy that stillness. Nimittas often seem to be slightly synesthetic. They’re a very good sign that jhāna is beginning to happen

    The energy flowing in your body is called pīti or prīti, and is a very familiar experience to meditators. It’s one of the experiences that characterizes jhāna, although it often arises before jhāna begins.

    I wouldn’t worry about the fear. It’s probably just that you don’t have guidance and so there’s some fear about whether what you’re experiencing is normal and healthy (which it is). There may also be fear of change, which is something that can be stirred up by deeper meditation experiences. I’d suggest that you just keep going. When the fear arises, meet it with lovingkindness. And if you don’t do lovingkindness practice, then I’d suggest you start :)

    The links I’ve put in here should give you more of a sense of what you’re experiencing. You might also want to join Wildmind’s Google+ Community, where you can get support and encouragement from other meditators.

    And if you appreciate the fact that a meditation teacher is spending several hours of his day corresponding with people about their practice (I’ve literally spent six hours responding to comments and emails today), then please feel free to make a donation to our Sit : Love : Give project. Monthly donations are ideal, even small ones, but a one-time donation would also be welcome.

  • Hello,

    I’ve been meditating for two weeks now. And by then, I feel relaxed, not getting affected by my thoughts that much.

    But for the past couple of days, my mind is racing again. I can’t seem to concentrate. I feel like I’m getting impatient. Is this normal?

    Your thoughts and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


  • I think I found my answer —

    “There are always ups and downs. One day you’re sitting there and you unexpectedly find that you’re blissfully happy and almost totally without distraction. The next day your mind is all over the place. This is normal, and it’s good to relax, and not be obsessed about “getting somewhere.” Yes, it’s good to have the aspiration to move in the direction of greater calm and happiness, but the expectation that this is going to happen will bring us nothing but pain. Bearing in mind the aspiration to move in the direction of greater calm and happiness, we simply work with whatever arises, not worrying about whether it’s a “good” meditation or a “bad” meditation.”

    I’ll just keep on meditating and, yes, work with whatever arises.

    Salamat :)

  • […] read this post, about Progress in Meditation, that exemplified that. The more you meditate, the more clearly you see everything around you. The […]

  • Hi,I have been trying to meditate for almost a month now.I have tried focusing on my breath but always get distracted by my thoughts.I start getting bored then I just stop.I really want to learn how to meditate but I don’t have a treacher, what should I do.

    • Hi, Kelvin.

      Well, you will always get distracted by your thoughts. That’s what happens to everyone, no matter how long you’ve been meditating. But the other side of the coin is that you always notice you’ve been distracted and you return your attention to the breathing. That’s the important bit. That’s the bit where you’re shaping your mind by letting go of unhelpful thinking. That’s the bit where you’re developing mindfulness.

      You don’t say whether you’re using any guided meditations, but they can be very helpful in the absence of a teacher. You also might want to join the Google+ group I set up, which is over 200 people sharing what’s going on in their practice (some are complete beginners, some have been meditating for years) and giving each other support and encouragement.

  • bodhipaksa,

    ok so i can kind of understand what you mean now. The reason why i felt to meditate so much even when its not pleasurable is because of impatience, wanting to have ‘blissful’ states, wanting to raise awareness very quickly without understanding that it takes time and patience.

    i have been reading ‘mindfulness in plain english’ and he says that sitting through times you feel restless and frustrated are more beneficial and stepping stones or something to that sort.

    Another reason why i want to meditate more is to “Just concentrate on developing more and more awareness” often i end up feeling i am not meditating enough or not doing it right and feel frustrated and discontent.

    it sounds like a gaining idea to me, i think.

    what do you think and suggest?

    thank you.

  • Ah, good.

    The thing is that blissful states come from a very deep letting go of grasping, so the harder you try, the more elusive true bliss becomes. You can sometimes generate a kind of excitement that may fool you into thinking it’s bliss, but it’s not the real thing.

    Really it’s best not to be too concerned about whether your meditations are “good” of “bad.” I say that any sit you do is a good sit. Just patiently and persistently coming back to the practice is the main thing. Keep doing that, and everything gradually starts falling into place.

    And Bhante G. is right — working patiently and kindly with difficult experiences can be very beneficial.

    I’d suggest that you balance any mindfulness practice you’re doing with lovingkindness practice. This will help you be a bit gentler with yourself.

  • Dear bodhipaksa,
    I m frm india..I hv started meditating frm the past 6 months. Initially everything was perfect. But now when I meditate, I see a light ball passing between my eyes to my forehead and it moves above my forehead to I dnt know where…but as soon as I follow eyes start to open automatically and I come out of it…I cant help to not focuse on that light moving upwards…sometimes that light source is straight ..sometimes drifting towards right…… just before all this happens I feel immense push of energy on my eyes (it is not fact it actually feels goood)…..I sit straight and join my thumb to the ring fingure……someone said that my agya chakra ie the top most chakra is misalligned… m afraid this will lead to negative results…kindly help

    • Hello, Harsh.

      I’m not really sure about this. In the Buddhism of the Pali canon, and even in the later Mahayana Sutras (or at least those I’m familiar with), there is no reference to chakras. So I can’t comment on the advice you were given. So I treat this as just one of the two types of visual appearance that I’m familiar with. One type is a distraction — it’s just your brain trying to make sense of random activity in the brain, much like you will see mandala-like patterns if you press the palms of your hands on your closed eyes. And those should simply be ignored. The other type is the nimitta, which is a more helpful experience. Nimittas aren’t always visual, but when they are they’re connected in some way with the meditation practice in such a way that when we pay attention to them we can become more deeply calm, alert, joyful, and focused.

      Your experience sounds more like the second kind — a nimitta — and yet paying attention to it is not helpful. So I’m wondering whether it’s the way you’re paying attention that’s the problem. Is there a quality of grasping, or excitement involved when you see this light? If so, that grasping or excitement would be disturbing the mind and making you drop out of a concentrated state. My advice would be to just relax, as best you can, and accept that the light is a normal phenomenon. It’s not that significant in itself — it’s more just a sign that good things are starting to happen in your meditation practice. So just accept the light, and pay more attention to other aspects of your experience. What’s the light connected with? Joy? Pleasure? Energy? Calmness? Notice those things instead of the light, but also simply accept those without grasping after them, or trying to make them more intense, or trying to make them last longer. If there’s a tendency to get excited, then appreciate any mental calmness or stillness that’s present. That calmness balances with the alertness and energy of meditation and prevents excitement.

  • Hi
    I love the article and the site. I live in West Africa and I quietly practice Mindfulness Meditation – an 8 week course on a CD. I’ve been practicing once or twice per day and I’m currently on Week 6. I find it relaxing and I’m noticing that straight into the meditation my breathing becomes shallow and it is the only thing I ‘feel’ ie, I do not feel any part of my body when I’m in this state. The thing that I worry about is I still have a tendency to be annoyed or irritated by situations and people. I worry that if I continue to feel this way that I will compromise the practice, and I would not achieve my goals and that is to be peaceful and a good creative writer. Please help?

    • Hi, Maggie.

      It’s great to hear of the progress you’re making.

      I’d tend to look at it the other way around, actually, that we practice (in part) in order not to be annoyed and irritated by things and people rather than we try not to be annoyed and irritated by things and people so that we can practice. After all, it’s very unpleasant for other people when we’re annoyed or irritated with them.

      The practice I would suggest is lovingkindness meditation. This will help you to actively cultivate more patience, kindness, and compassion.

      All the best,

  • Dear bodhipaksa,
    I thank you for replying . The impact of enery on my eyes feels good…but rather than excitement I would say its curiosity…..feels excellent….and the thing about my eyes has reduced..I met a very learned yogi yesterday…even he said that the chakra is not alligned and also gave me an excercise..where in I have to tap with my middle and left fingure (with my left hand) between my eyebrows for 15 times (lightly)…and immediiately my prob reduced…not completely over..but reduced…

    • I’d imagine that tapping yourself between the eyebrows would at least to some extent reduce the image of light, since you’re shifting your awareness from your inner visual sense to your external sense of touch. But this is a technique of distraction, and I’m not convinced that it’s the best thing to do. I think that learning to relax with the light is more important than trying to get it to go away (is that’s what the intention was).

      As I said before, “Just accept the light, and pay more attention to other aspects of your experience. What’s the light connected with? Joy? Pleasure? Energy? Calmness?” I ‘d said previously to pay attention to those things instead, but what I meant is to notice what else is going on in the body and mind as well as and connected to the light. Become more aware of your experience as a whole, and that allows the light to be just one part of your experience.

  • I just started meditating. I always thought I’d never be able to do it because I always felt I was too hyper and wouldn’t be able to concentrate long enough. To my surprise, the very first time I tried it I felt extremely relaxed. My breathing almost went away it seemed and I had a strange sensation between my eyes. I noticed that the few times I’ve done this, I start with my head level or downward but it always slowly rises and my neck seems to stretch as well. Is this common or am I doing something wrong?

    • Life is full of surprises, and sometimes we have capacities we didn’t imagine were present.

      Of course the fact that you tend to be hyper has no bearing on whether you can meditate or not. That would be like saying “I can’t do exercise because I’m not fit.” The thing with exercise (and meditation) is that you do it for the benefits it brings, not because it’s easy. If it’s difficult, that just means it’s working.

      Your posture changing is not unusual. Our posture changes with our emotional states. No one has to make you slump when you feel depressed, for example. Conversely, your body straightens itself out as you feel happier, more energized, more confident, etc. Over-excitement in meditation can in fact cause the chin to come up a bit too far. The chin should be very slightly tucked in…

  • Thanks for you quick response. You just took away my excuse for exercise though. :)

    What causes Over-excitement in meditation and is that a bad thing or a good thing.


    • What causes excitement in meditation is a huge topic. What causes excitement, period? Sometimes we get overstimulated, or we have the habit of thinking a lot, or we’re eager for “results.” Throw in some posture-related and breathing-induced feedback, and you can have a lot factors affecting our excitement levels.

      Excitement in meditation is not a good thing :) In Buddhist meditation we try to let the mind slow down and become calmer…

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,
    I have been meditating on and off for quite a few years now, tried different forms of meditation, guided meditations and Transcendental Meditation. Now, when I meditate, my chest, rib cage feels very heavy, I feel my heart beat very loudly and there is a slight tingling sensation in the right side at the back, below the shoulder blade. Ther is a slight movement of my body like a pendulum going sideways and sometimes back and forth and counterclockwise. I try not to pay attention to it. Please advise, if following different meditation techniques hinders the meditation process in any way.

    • Hi, Ashima.

      Whatever you experience, try just noticing it without aversion (a desire to make it stop or go away), or craving (a desire to prolong, or intensify it). Small movements of the body are quite common, and may simply show that the body is balanced, and relaxed enough to move with the breathing and heartbeat.

      Following different meditation techniques can be enlightening or confusing. The thing is, do you find them helpful?

  • Thank you. Article is very welcomed and appreciated. Initially, it seems, it may be a challange to know one’s progress. Really do appreciate the items you mentioned. Thanks again.

  • Hi bodhipaska, I just really need assistance in my meditation and what I should do. I have ALOT to ask but I realize I can’t ask them all in text. I for some reason I have taken the interest in meditation and have been doing it for about a week. When ever I meditate and go into a deep state of mind. My eyes twitch uncontrollably and almost force them selves open and I feel like I am completely numb. I can’t continue to far from there though because. Of my eyes. And I also could not continue my meditation one day because I kept hearing the sound of mumbles and a girl trying to talk to me, and also when ever I’m about to fall asleep, I hear drums and sirens and people talking and it scares me like nothing els, am I ready for meditation? What should I do about all of this and my eyes? Thanks so much

    • Hi, Izimar.

      I don’t know what you’re doing in your meditation practice, so I can’t really comment. What kind of meditation practice are you doing? And how are you trying to do it?

  • I just typed meditation in YouTube and watched the first one, I’m pretty sure it was the breathing meditation because it says to focus on that. I have also been really studying on meditation which is how I got here. I read that (and I don’t know if this is true) that stuff like this can happen when you begin to open your third eye or kundalini energy. I’m not to sure if this is it or not because I also read I normally takes months to years for this to happen

  • Sorry, forgot to answer the rest. I just close my eyes and just kind of space out. Ile start geting thoughts of things but it seems to get me deeper into meditation. All of the crazy stuff starts to happen thought when I start to think about the amazement of the world and universe and I start to ask myself, how does the universe work, where does everything come from, why do I exist, and then I feel completely numb and I can’t even feel my physical self. Then my eyes start to Spaz and it messes it up

  • Hi Bodhipaksa, thank you for answering my questions. I agree that following different practices can be both confusing and /or enlightening. I do find it liberating sometimes and usually go with the flow, start meditating the way I feel like doing, there is not much difference though. One more question, I have, how do I know that I am making any real progress. I do feel happy and energised when I meditate regularly.

  • Hi, Izimar.

    Well, what you’re doing isn’t meditation — or at least it doesn’t bear any resemblance to Buddhist meditation. So this is outside of my area of expertise I’m afraid I can’t be of much help. It sounds like you’re getting rather over-excited…

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,

    These are all meditation techniques, different from Buddhist meditation, as you rightly pointed out. One is a guided meditation, where you just watch your thoughts being a silent observer, non doer entity and other, TM , Transcendental Meditation is a natural effortless meditation technique, you can look it up on the Internet. It is a mantra meditation, bringing the focus back on the mantra or the present. I am excited about meditation cause it brings the focus on the Important things in life, makes me more loving, accepting, patient. I can see the difference in my quality of life. So anyways, thankyou… I appreciate your time.

    • Well, when you say “I start to think about the amazement of the world and universe and I start to ask myself, how does the universe work, where does everything come from, why do I exist…” — that’s not meditation, or at least it has nothing to do with Buddhist meditation, and it’s not TM either. If you notice thoughts like these arising, I’d suggest just letting go of them, rather than becoming intoxicated with them.

  • Dear Bodhipaksa,

    That wasn’t my comment, please see the trail above. :) it was someone called Izimar… :)

    I think you confused me with this person.

  • No problem…. Please read my comments above and say something… :)

    • Well, you said ” One more question, I have, how do I know that I am making any real progress. I do feel happy and energised when I meditate regularly.” And that in itself is a sign that you’re moving in the right direction. However the concept of “progress” in meditation is not straightforward. Sometime’s it’ll seem that things are going backward, and we feel more confused, there’s pain and distress, or we feel less focused. But those are just short-term ups and downs. These days I say that any meditation you do is a good meditation. Any meditation brings progress. So just keep meditating, and have confidence that the process will lead you further from suffering in the long term.

  • Thankyou, and I agree that sometimes it seems that things are going backwards, I have experienced it too.. The pain I get is both physical and emotional but the clarity of thoughts and the ability to view situations from a distance keeps getting sharper.. I thank God for sending guidance at each step. Thank you once again. Will come back with more questions/ doubts…

  • Yea I stoped doing all that, I tried just focusing on my breathing and now I feel as if I’m switching states of contiousness and then when I get to my last state, I feel completely numb and as if im floating still and my eyes still twitch to the point where It forces my eyes open. Is there any ways I can stop my eyes or suggestions?

  • Hi, Izimar.

    I don’t want to sound unhelpful, but I don’t know what instructions you’re following, or what you’re actually doing when you’re focusing on the breath, or exactly what you mean by “switching states of consciousness,” or even quite what you mean when you say you feel numb.

    A fuller description of all this might give me more of a clue to what’s going on. I appreciate that these things are hard to describe!

    All the best,

  • Haha yea I’m sorry, it is really hard to explain and again I don’t have a teacher telling me what to focus on or how to do it, I kinda just go off online teachings but maybe I can just start over and you can teach me some things? You seem trustable… Alot more trustable than YouTube or Internet haha, and again sorry for the trouble I’m causing, I’m really new to this

    • Hey, no problem, Izimar.

      I’d suggest starting on this site. Go to the “meditation guides” link above and then to the Mindfulness of Breathing practice. There’s a structured guide to the practice, along with recordings of guided meditations. If you do that I’ll know better what you’re doing and should be able to offer you more help.

      All he best,

  • Hi Bodhipaksa
    My question is, While meditating I all of a sudden was in the back of a movie theatre..older vintage type setting, dark and everyone was looking at the screen. THen all of a sudden a man turns around and looks right at me.. He Can See me or at least this is how it apprears. I’ve seen beautiful angelic spirits but also I see men.. they look a little stern but not harmful? Do you have any meaning to this and is it natural to see people in your meditations??
    Thank you so much in advance for your help

    • Oh, the mind plays all kinds of tricks. Sometimes we can enter a kind of dreamlike state, even when we’re very wide awake, in which we have these kinds of images unfolding. I’m sure there’s some meaning behind the images. It’s interesting that in meditation you are watching a kind of movie unfolding. And it’s a complex process because the mind is observing the mind, which is what the man looking back suggests to me.

      I wouldn’t see too much significance in all this, though. Just treat these like any other thoughts, and let go of them, coming back to the object of the meditation practice.

  • Pauls meditation techniques
    March 4, 2013 8:57 am

    Definitely is amazing the amount of tricks the mind plays! I think the key is to just stay focussed on the one thing you are meditating on.

  • Hi,
    I m practising yoga for last 3 month and meditation for last 10 days . I experience that all that various lights in circle while meditating but I feel or hear my heart beats even when I was normal sitting is it ok?
    Eagerly waiting for reply

    • Hi.

      It’s not usual to see lights when meditating. It’s a sign that your mind is beginning to quiet down, but that you’ve not yet learned to be fully attentive to the experience of the body. When you see these lights, don’t focus on them but instead try to pay more attention to the breathing.

      It’s also normal to notice your heartbeat. Don’t regard this as a distraction, but as simply something else to be mindful of.

      All the best,

  • Hello.

    I thoroughly enjoy this website and find myself continually ending up here when I’m looking for answers to my questions about my meditation practice on the internet.

    I have been practicing regularly for the past 4 or 5 months now, and there are a few things I am noticing about my progress that I was wondering if you could comment on.
    Firstly, for over two months now, I have been getting random flashbacks of very distant memories from either real events in childhood or certain dreams that I have had years ago. I can usually remember quite vividly the moment that I had this experience and that it was years and years ago. Sometimes it was an important moment, sometimes it wasn’t but the memory is so precise and congruent. Is this a sign of progress? What does this mean? It’s different than having vivid dreams…which I see you have already discussed…I am having vivid flashbacks in the waking state. I know meditation is supposed to help memory but I am a little surprised at the frequency with which these flashbacks are occuring and am especially surprised because I have not even been practicing meditation for that long. Would it be unwise to assume that I am actually quite further along in my practice than the average person would be after 4 months of practice? Or in other words, is this a good sign? (The flashbacks are very brief, and they don’t necessarily happen right after meditation.) Sometimes if I go a day without meditating, I will still have some vivid memory of some ancient moment in my life (even though I’m not that old, only 19) at some random time during the day.

    To give a tiny bit of insight, I used to be a heavy drug user as a teenager and about a year ago had the most profound experience of my life through the use of a psychadellic drug called DMT which completely got rid of my addictions and led me to the spiritual path where I have developed an intense interest in Buddhism and other Eastern religions, and of course meditation. It has actually not only instilled in me a deep interest in religion and meditation but completely changed my personality alltogether. I used to be a very extroverted person and now I tend to isolate myself from people and live for the most part in solitude. I believe this out of body drug experience that I had in some way brought about a spiritual awakening. I am still struggling to grasp what that means, and how to handle all these stages of confusion and strange experiences.
    The reason I give this background information is because I wonder about the stage in life or the context in which someone finds an inner spiritual calling, and how much that influences one’s progression on that path. In other words, in my case, if someone has a deep experience of transcendence that leads them to radically and abruptly change everything about their lives to begin practicing meditation and following the spiritual path, is that person perhaps in some way at an advantage in terms of being able to advance more quickly along the path and benefit more from the sense of fulfillment and wonder gained from it?

    I apologize if that did not make sense or if I am getting too personal or being too assumptive. As this is all fairly new for me, and as you know many experiences in meditation and spirituality in general totally transcend language and therefore make them incredibly difficult to articulate, I am only beginning to be able to express my thoughts around this matter in a coherent manner.

    The last thing I wanted to briefly share is another common experience I have in meditation, the significance of which I am also wondering about. This experience is less awe-inspiring for me than the flashbacks, but I would still appreciate feedback.

    Usually my meditations never last longer than half hour. Nonetheless, recently I have been able to go pretty deep into concentration. I meditate with my eyes closed (opening them now and then to make sure I don’t get too sluggish), and what I have noticed is that when I am in a deeper state of meditation, whenever there is the slightest sound I will often feel a sudden burst of energy, (for lack of a better way to explain it), that radiates through my body but particularly in my head, like behind my eyes or something. I think it feels good. Blissful. I am not sure because it is so subtle and so quick that it is gone as soon as I recognize it. But it happens so often and I really enjoy it. I have been thinking and I don’t know if this is also a good sign of progress in concentration or calmness or what have you, or on the other hand it could be a sign that I am getting sleepy or less attentive and therefore am slightly startled by even the quietest noise.

    So, I know this was a particularly long collection of questions, I apologize for not being able to keep it short and simple. If you have the time to provide your thoughts on these matters it would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you, and have a wonderful day.

  • Hi

    I am going through a very tensed phase in my relationship. Every morning i wake up feeling uneasy and feel like vomiting. So i tried to calm down by practising meditation. But when i close my eyes its either streaks of blue light floating through or its simply pitch dark. I lose contact with my body and can’t feel any part of my body. I can just outline my body but can’t feel it. I don’t know what’s happening and i am quite scared. Please help. Can u also suggest me some different form of meditation which would help me to be happy and be aware of myself even during the worst situation. Any help would be highly appreciated.
    Have a nice day… :)

  • Hi there

    I am a very spiritual person and i meditate everynight, i have had many numerous experinces of high magnitude, i can feel spirits and sense them around me. I have alot of hunches and gut feelings.
    When i meditate often the mood in the room becomes so relaxed it feels as if im high,the calendar on my wall would often move as if wind was blown over it even tho my window and door is closed. I use alot of incense sticks and candles in my meditation, like i said my experinces are vast and i cant exactly sit and explain each one of them.

    Am i on the right track to developing my physich ability?

    kind regards


    • Hi, Dieter.

      I’m the wrong person to ask about psychic abilities, I’m afraid. These kinds of abilities are considered irrelevant to the main project in my life, which is experiencing enlightenment. And so I have no interest in developing them!

      All the best,

  • Hello, Bodhipaksa,
    Could I get some feedback on my comment above?

    • Hi, Paley.

      Your question/comment above is coming on for 1000 words long. Right now I don’t have time to read it, I’m afraid, never mind reply. I’m truly sorry for this, but my time is very constrained at the moment.

      If you can come up with a more concise version, I’ll hopefully have time to read and respond to it.

      All the best,

  • Thank you ~ Bodhipaksa

  • Hi

    I’m hoping you might be able to help me on this one….
    I’ve been meditating for just over 2 years now and in that time had experienced the highs and lows that often go with genuine commited practice.

    Some time ago…I was, or I thought I was making real progress and on a couple of occasions reached a state on a profound peace and intense clarity and presence with the essence of the moment. These experiences have to no significant degree changed my life not to put to small a point on it…all for the good….which is great.

    However. a few months ago, I found my practice suddenly much harder than it had been for many many months -almost like going back to the begining-and I struggled to let go of the thoughts that only a few weeks earlier I would have had no problem with letting pass from recognition to evaporation.

    I am still struggling with this change and and trying to act constructively with it…but tbh am finding it really difficult.

    Also maybe of relevance is that I feel a sense of tension …bodily tension in my practice and demonstrated in feeling that I need to take a sigh of relief more often and more awkwardly than experienced before….

    Any advice you might be able to give me would be very…very much appreciated Bodhipaksa

    genuine appreciation for your time and consideration :-)


    • Hi, Simon.

      What you’re experiencing is quite common. Think of the famous story of the Buddha being assaulted by the forces of Mara as he sat under the Bodhi tree. He was much more advanced than you or I, and his “distractions” weren’t, as you might expect (and let’s take this story as symbolic of a real episode of spiritual doubt), less vivid or powerful. In fact the opposite was the case. [By the way, despite everything you’ve probably heard about this encounter, the Pali canon has this episode happening seven years after the Buddha’s awakening, rather than on its eve.]

      It may be that you need to take your current experience as a call to go deeper. Perhaps you need to find a complete acceptance of the fact that things don’t feel good. It’s OK not to feel good. If you completely accept not feeling good, then something amazing happens.

      The way I look at meditation, both samatha and vipassana, is that it’s all about “unselfing.” “Selfing” is my rendering of the Buddha’s term, “ahamkara,” which means “I-making.” All craving and aversion is “I-making,” or “selfing.” Now in samatha practice we’re letting go of the hindrances, which themselves are manifestations of selfing, and so we’re unselfing. We may experience jhana, which is a flow state where our selfing is almost absent.

      Vipassana is just another approach to unselfing. We notice the impermanence of our experiences in order to remind ourselves that there’s no basis for a self to “self” (taking self as a verb. We remind ourselves that our experiences are “not me, not mine, (that) I am not this” (Taṃ netaṃ mama, nesohamasmi, na meso attā). And this reduces clinging, and thus helps along the unselfing process. And we can recognize that no experience is worth grasping after because they are all dukkha (incapable of giving us happiness) — but neither are they worth having aversion toward, because they are also not the “source” of our unhappiness. In fact the source of our unhappiness is a subtle level of craving or aversion.

      So all practice is “unselfing.”

      You’re probably needing to make a more conscious shift from samatha unselfing to vipassana unselfing. It’s not enough to have deep and enjoyable meditations. We need to conduct the three kinds of vipassana investigations of our experience that I mentioned above — each one corresponding to a different “mark.”

      Now I may have missed the target by a mile, because you haven’t really said anything about what you do in your practice, but I had a need to write the above, and I suspect that it may be applicable to you — especially the lakkhana of dukkha, where you need to learn to rest deeply in your experience even when it’s unpleasant and chaotic.

      Let me know what you think, and how you get on.

  • For a while now, I have been getting random flashbacks of very distant memories from early childhood or certain dreams that I have had years ago. I can usually remember quite vividly the moment that I had this experience and that it was years and years ago. Usually I find that the actual experiences I am remembering were not in the least bit significant at the time, but they come back so vividly, even though they are just fractions of distant memories, like moments that are stored in my brain somewhere. Is this a sign of progress? I know meditation is supposed to help memory but I am a little surprised at the frequency with which these flashbacks are occuring and am especially surprised because I have not even been practicing meditation consistently for more than 6 months.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this.

    • One of the things that happens naturally through meditation is that the mind becomes less “noisy.” And when the mind is less noisy, then we can hear “whispers” more easily. So there are connections between your current experience and past experiences present all the time, but in a noisy mental environment you can’t pick up on those connections — which I’ve called whispers. When the mental environment is quieter, however, the whispers can be detected. This is a very common experience, although often what people find happening is that they have lots of “creative” ideas in meditation. It’s the same principle, that these subtle connections between different areas of experience are noticed when the mind is quieter, although for some reason the connections your mind is making are seemingly more random. So this is quite normal, and it often happens after just a few weeks of meditation. It sounds like there’s little or no significance to these memories, so I’d suggest just ignoring them and keeping going with the practice.

  • I am fairly new to meditation, but have found that I can get into a deep state pretty easily, seeing white and purple light on a regular basis. However, when I am meditating I feel a war inside of myself. There’s a part of me that “put the brakes on” out of fear that I will not be able to wake up or bring myself out of the meditation. This anxiety manifests as a tightening in my chest. I know that my fear is rooted in my thoughts. Any suggestions?

    • Hi, Toni.

      Thanks for writing. It would be good to know more about what you consider to be a “deep state” and also to hear more about what form this white and purple light is taking, and also the relationship between these deep states and the anxiety you’re experiencing. Presumably you’re not experiencing anxiety when you’re actually in a deep state, for example.

      All the best,

  • Thank you for your reply. Since I am a novice, I can’t accurately guage what a deep state exactly is. However, I meditated again and this time, I didn’t feel the same anxiety. I did it on my own (not in a group setting) and so didn’t have the pressure of being on someone else’s timeline.

    The white and purple light looks like a ribbon of heat. The purple is pale but does turn to a darker purple at times. The white light sometimes becomes a burst of white light that then subsides.

    Something else that happened this time around that has never happened before was that, at the end of my meditation, before I opened my eyes and as I was trying to pull myself back out of the deep well, I had the feeling like there was a cloud of energy enveloping my whole body. When I went to raise my hands, my hands suspended themselves (I didn’t feel as if I was doing this voluntarily) about four inches from my body. When I moved my hands up and down along my torso, the “cloud” of energy was consistent along my body. When I “woke up” I had the desire to embrace something and so I hugged my dog.

    This is all very exciting to me. I feel connected but my mind wants to know if this makes sense…whatever sense means.

    Thank you for any input you have to offer :)

    • It sounds like you’re experiencing what we call a samapatti, which are experiences that beginners often experience as the mind is starting to quiet down, but when we haven’t yet learned to be more fully attentive to the body. They’re not of any significance in themselves, and they’re best ignored. Basically you can regard them as mildly hallucinatory experiences where the mind is taking random neuronal firings and seeing patterns in them. Some people are more prone to these than others.

      You haven’t actually said anything about what you do in meditation, but if you’re doing mindfulness of breathing you should make a bit more effort to be aware of the actually physical sensations of the breathing rather than getting absorbed in these images, which are really just distractions.

  • That is very interesting, but also confusing to me. I didn’t know that my focus should be solely on my breathing and not the images. I thought that the breathing was a way to plug into everything else and once I started seeing things or experiencing the lights, I should go towards the images. Again, excuse my naivete as well as my Type A thinking, but I always thought that by quieting myself through meditation I would gain insight and so I thought the images were tools to gain that insight. I’m probably overthinking this, huh? Regardless, this is very fascinating and I am grateful for your help :)

    • No, these images have nothing to do with insight. These are other kinds of experiences called nimittas that can be more helpful. Sometimes nimittas are visual, but they can appear in any sensory modality. When they are visual they’re more stable and connected with the object of the meditation, and they can help take you deeper into meditation. Not everyone experiences nimittas, although people who are prone to samapattis are more likely to experience them.

  • hey bodhipaksa…thanks for your considered answer to my call for help ;)

    My practice has consisted 99.99% of the time of midfulness of breathing…the 4 part method upheld by tmembers of the triratna order.

    I have tried the metta bhavana with some really positive results but for some reason stuck dogedly with the Mof B, probably mistakenly thinking that this was the main key to real progress.

    lols…I suspect that you might now feel that your feelings as to precisely what lies at the heart of the problem Im experiencing with my practice, as indicated in your message to me offers a definite sense of vindication. ;-)

    I think that you are most probably right about my needing to go deeper and thus on to vipassana meditation.

    I guess my next question is therefore…how do I best proceed from here?

    can you please reccommend a good book for me to work with?

    with thanks from my heart


    • I’d highly recommend doing as much lovingkindness practice as mindfulness of breathing. It’s a powerful practice,and I’d say it’s well-nigh essential to “real progress.” In fact it’s an important component of being able to trust ourselves, and trust our experience as we shift from trying to “fix” our experience to simply sitting with our experience, noting how it arises and falls. It’s also handy from the point of view of changing how we relate to people in our lives.

  • Usually my meditations never last longer than half hour. Nonetheless, recently I have been able to go pretty deep into concentration. I meditate with my eyes closed (opening them now and then to make sure I don’t get too sluggish), and what I have noticed is that when I am in a deeper state of meditation (or when I think I am), whenever there is the slightest sound I will often feel a sudden burst of energy, (for lack of a better way to explain it), that radiates through my body but particularly in my head, like behind my eyes or something. I think it feels good I am not sure because it is so subtle and so quick that it is gone as soon as I recognize it. I have been thinking and I don’t know if this is also a good sign of progress in concentration or calmness or what have you, or on the other hand it could be a sign that I am getting sleepy or less attentive and therefore am slightly startled by even the quietest noise. If you think it is the latter, what are some suggestions for not getting sleepy or less attentive in sitting meditation? (I usually sit in a chair with back support because I have back problems)


    • It’s very hard to comment on someone else’s experience. So I can’t know whether you’re startled by these sounds, of whether it’s something else. But generally an increased sensitivity to inner sensations like this is a good sign.

      But it’s best not to get too caught up in whether or not we’re making progress. Yes, some reassurance is good, but that reassurance needs to come from trusting the practice, rather than reaching some kind of benchmark. Because you can hit periods where for months it seems like your meditation practice is falling to pieces. And that doesn’t matter if you trust the practice; you just keep going. If your confidence is based on “achievements” then you’ll be thrown off balance by those challenging times.

      So what’s a good sit? It’s a sit that you do. Any sit that you do.

  • Hello,

    I am 21 years old boy.

    I am having major depression and many phobias and I started Mindfulness meditation (I am native Buddhist)..Today is 28 hours of meditation.

    When I start meditation I feel very tight, pulling like feeling inside my head and it happen even not meditating now. But not painful..and nice feeling.

    Specially on top of the head and forehead area, feeling like pulling, tightness like that. and heart beating very much,

    Is that normal ?
    Am I correct way to resolve my phobias ??

    Please tell me

    Thank you.


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