A standard view of the Jhana states (what happens when we meditate)

Here is a diagram of the Jhana states as they are generally explained. The first row consists of the Jhanic factors (I have compressed the first two, applied and sustained thought, into one called "Settled mind" to make the diagram more consistent). The second row are the first four Jhanas, and the bottom row are the formless states of mind. (If you click the image, it gets bigger).



So then, how do we use this kind of information as we meditate. Well, I spent many years wondering about various experiences that occurred during meditation and only when I discovered this information was I able to get a sense of the whole map. This was helpful.

Generally, I like to use these states not as a list of achievable things but as a conceptual map of what is possible with the mind. As you meditate, it can be useful to incline the mind towards contentment and wide open space rather than simply counting 10 breaths. Even though the depth of the actualized Jhana states is tremendously profound, we can have an appreciation of pleasantness, stillness and deep contentment. Perhaps we can even imagine these states pervading our entire body and mind.

The main hazard with these things is wanting them to happen - wanting is a use of the mind that actually precludes them from appearing. The only really active thing we can do is the "settle the mind" (the first step). The rest of them arise from the bodymind as a kind of invitation that we guide ourselves into with mindfulness - in effect, they happen by themselves.

If you're wondering why I'm writing about this, then I explained it here: Exploring samadhi and jhana states

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