Agitating piti and confusion of the object

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Maaike 2 years, 3 months ago.

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    B Arnold

    I have been having a problem for a while now of very agitating sensations – trembling, jerking, quaking, shuddering, along with painful muscle contractions. It all occasionally -and perhaps more frequently now – gives way to a smoother quality that includes a more expansive feeling of happiness and serenity, but this may also be accompanied by smoother physical movements – swaying, rocking or twisting of the torso – sometimes head movements.

    I’ve been reflecting though if there is perhaps something I am actively doing that is causing the increase in agitation, perhaps something in the way of how I am relating to my experience. And lo & behold, I was listening to a talk by Shaila Catherine this morning on piti that suggested exactly that. She states that (and I’m paraphrasing) that physical effects from piti such as trembling/quaking/jerking – all this agitating stuff, is not so much borne from piti but from a confusion of the object. That instead of attending to the breath as a *mental object*, one is focusing too keenly on the wind element of the breath – vibration, pressure, tinging, etc, and by doing so one is not allowing the breath to become “subtle”.

    While I find this interesting – and I may try practicing with this notion more in mind, I can’t help but wonder how one notices the breath if not for it’s physical properties? She stresses that one should instead focus on “the basic occurrence of the breath” rather than seeking to perceive vivid physical characteristics of the wind element. I suppose it’s worth pointing out that Catherine was speaking of piti in the context of cultivating piti as a jhana factor rather than seeking to promote insight, but it does seem somewhat counter to what TMI suggests in terms of what aspects of breathing to notice or be aware of.

    I’m curious what the experience of seasoned practitioners in this community have with piti in this context. Does the focusing on “the wind element” or vividness of sensations promote agitating piti? Is there a correlation? Do any of you suggest doing anything in particular to calm piti, or does one just “wait it out” and allow all of this to just magically balance out?

    Thanks in advance for reading and for your thoughts!



    Judith Ring

    Hi Bobby,
    I don’t have experience with Shaila Catherine’s work so it’s difficult for me to reply to that aspect of your post.

    Interestingly, Culadasa shared an audio on Sound Cloud about the topic of piti (joy). Here’s the link:

    Generally speaking, it’s quite common for people to experience physical sensations in meditation. These experiences can occur in a wide range from twitching to seeing light. I experienced physical sensations in meditation shortly after I began practicing – these were tingling sensations in the face that sometimes occurred in different shapes like a diamond that connected forehead, chin and cheeks or, later, forehead, cheeks and heart. I was not studying with Culadasa then – but the teacher whose class I was in did suggest not to focus on the sensations – to note them and stay with the breath, which is what I did at the time.

    Culadasa seems to concur with this. He notes that when piti first arises, continue focusing on the breath. He actually says to keep doing what you were doing to cause meditative joy to arise.

    Culadasa is very clear in noting that meditative joy can be accompanied by different physical sensations that are similar to what you describe and suggests that these are sensations of energy moving in the body. The primary experience of piti is meditative joy but body sensations of energy, as well as experiences of bright light or sometimes sounds, are aspects of piti.

    When I experience sensations related to this they can be quite intense. Actually, the first time I experienced the arising of piti I was not prepared for it in any way – I had not heard teachings about it – I was so unprepared I began to cry uncontrollably – crying lasted just a minute or so but I was disrupted emotionally for a little while.

    Arisings of piti now are more frequent – physical sensations of energy often no longer accompany this experience – interestingly, there are on rare occasion mental arisings of attachment: a sense that I miss the sensations of energy moving in the body – this attachment lasts for seconds but it’s always good for me to see remnants as they arise.

    Culadasa notes that when piti first arises, continue to develop it by:

    1. doing what caused piti to arise in the first place and allow it to strengthen
    2. don’t ignore piti – the experience of meditative joy will further enhance your focus and ability to stay clear – joy keeps you alert. Culadasa’s instruction is not to leave sensations of the breath and, at the start, not to take piti as the focus. That is, at the start, keep focusing on the breath with piti in the periphery.
    3. as mental clarity and focus becomes more acute when piti arises, Culadasa suggests practicing a light form of jhanas. You can abandon the breath temporarily and take pleasantness or happiness as the focus of meditation during that sitting. This can be by focusing on a pleasant sensation located somewhere in the body or it can be by taking a general sense of joy as your meditation object. Be prepared in case piti intensifies. If this happens, Culadasa says to surrender into it.

    As physical sensations abate, an experience of profound tranquility and equanimity begin. I have had this experience in brief spurts.

    The audio file goes into further depth. I hope this helps.

    Blessings your way,
    Dharma Treasure Teacher-in-Training

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by  Judith Ring.

    Judith Ring

    Sorry for the extra post – something else came to mind.

    I had some intense experiences with piti last winter and spring. Working with those experiences… really, it became like playing with those experiences. In the past, I had a tendency in meditation to go too fast. A lot of ego was involved – I attached to what seemed like unusual experiences, as if the experiences made me some kind of special meditator. At the time, quite a long time ago now, I didn’t know anyone – not even teachers – who could help me make sense of the experiences. Because of the attachment to them and probably more because of the ego-trip, I skipped steps and went too fast. My practice was all over the place. The result was that I didn’t make much real progress in meditation, not for years.

    All of this is to say that until last winter I had a tendency to be really cautious in how quickly I moved from one stage to the next. With the strong and daily occurrences of piti I didn’t abandon that caution but I decided to let the experiences sort of show me what to do during that sitting. Each sit became an interplay with energies in the body and how they showed up. Granted, by the time I was in this phase of experience, focus was quite strong, so it felt like the right time to move away from the breath and focus more on piti-related experiences. There was great fun in playing around inside the experiences – not in moment to moment play, but in seeing what showed up as physical sensations and then in seeing what showed up about what to focus on during that sit.

    This brings one last point to the fore – from personal experience I’d like to reply to one thing you noted about Shaila Catherine’s thoughts about piti. You note, “While I find this interesting – and I may try practicing with this notion more in mind, I can’t help but wonder how one notices the breath if not for it’s physical properties?” I agree with what’s implicit in this question. My experiences with the breath are physical sensations. Anything that takes me into the mind as a thought about the breath, rather than as an experience of the sensation of the breath – for me, that experience is typically at the tip of the nose or on the upper lip… well, I take that as a mental arising, a thought, that is a distraction from the meditation object.

    peace be with you….


    Hi Bobby

    Shaila’s comment is quite interesting and it might be a strategy you take up for dealing with Piti. However, she is talking about a practice for entering Jhana. In the tradition she’s coming out of it seems the constantly changing sensations of the breath aren’t a useful object for absorption. Instead, the breath is used only up to a point and then the sense of “fixity” (not sure that’s a word) is used as the object. Whether the breath itself is or isn’t a good object for absorption is an interesting conversation and I encourage my dharma brother Jeremy G to jump in here if he’d like to expand in greater detail.
    I want to focus on Piti

    I’ve had intense piti in various forms (from extreme bliss to super unpleasant convulsions) for years. I’ve used three strategies for dealing with this:
    1. Let it mature according to the directions of TMI that Judith outlined. For me, this worked sometimes and other times it hasn’t.
    2. Practice all four of the whole body/pleasure Jhanas. Or at least the first two. The pleasure Jhanas in TMI are drawn from the work of Leigh Braisington. I highly recommend a retreat with Leigh if possible. I did a month long with him and it helped immensely in dealing with disruptive forms of Piti. Leigh also has a book available.
    3. There may be some subtle grasping that you may need to look at. You seem to hint at this when you say, “I’ve been reflecting though if there is perhaps something I am actively doing that is causing the increase in agitation, perhaps something in the way of how I am relating to my experience.” What I’d suggest doing is whenever the piti is just beginning or if you’re in the midst of it, just notice if you can detect some grasping at the experience… grasping for the experience to arise, to change, to mature, to stay, to break into bliss or, in some instances when it’s unpleasant to get away from it. This type of grasping can be very subtle. If you detect it, then do your best to let go and simply allow whatever is happening to happen.

    Hope this helps


    B Arnold

    Thank you Judith & Matthew for your thoughtful replies.

    I am familiar with Leigh Brasington’s book, “Right Concentration”. In fact, I *think* I’ve had some success with the first two jhanas – at least, they seem accessible. I will continue to work with these practices – it hadn’t occurred to me that they might in fact help calm piti. There is a kind of emotional feeling of gladness that arises, and if I attend to that rather than the more physical sensations, it seems to help increase the feeling of “gladness” and minimize the more vibratory, energetic and agitating aspect. I’ve also noticed that the agitating piti doesn’t arise nearly so much with metta practice.

    Also, Matthew, I will keep an eye out for grasping. That very well may be what is happening. Certain forms of piti that I experience feel very good, and I wonder if indulging in the pleasure of those feelings causes some aggravation. It certainly seems likely that where there is sensual enjoyment, there is also grasping…and so I will look for that!

    Also, Judith thanks for the soundcloud link, I will listen closely to this today!

    Best wishes to you both,



    B Arnold

    Oh, one last thought: Judith, I have also experienced very sudden bursts of crying in my sits for the past month or two.

    The first time it occurred it was completely by surprise, I had no emotional build-up or forewarning at all. At other times, it has felt like an energetic sensation that moves up the abdomen, and by the time it reaches my head it is recognized as a kind of sadness that sometimes is overwhelming enough to become crying. Sometimes it just bubbles up to become a knot in my throat that eventually dissolves.

    Afterwards, there tends to be a greater sense of ease and relaxation, even happiness. I have been viewing these events as “purifications” but maybe they are also piti related?


    Judith Ring

    Bobby, one important distinction comes to mind. The experience of bursting into tears came after experiencing unfathomable joy – it was unfathomable before the experience. It was the power, the overwhelming-ness and suddenness of something never experienced before and experiencing it in such a strong way – it was from this experience that tears arose. I experience energy moving in the body all the time. And I’ve experienced tears in meditation accompanied by energy moving in the body. Many of these times were related to purification. But the experience I was referring to before was most assuredly related to the sudden arising of joy as I’d never experienced before. I think that joy is an essential distinction between piti and purification – and a whole host of other experiences that include awareness of energy moving in the body.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 4 months ago by  Judith Ring.

    B Arnold

    Thank you Judith – thanks makes a lot of sense.


    Adam M

    Hi bobby,

    I’m going through precisely the same experiences as you currently. Very much agree with above. I too read about the idea of focusing on the breath as a mental object from Catherine and also Ajahn Brahm. I don’t really get that. But I’ve found that doing the still point and witness exercise from stage 8 in TMI really helpful. Focusing on the still point rather than the breath raises the feeling of joy quite significantly for me. When the joy does start to appear continuously, I then tend to get drawn to the breath. Interestingly also, when I ask questions about the witness and get insight, this also has an effect on the level of joy I experience. It’s a very clear indication to me of how self clinging is a major obstacle to developing concentration at this point. I’ve also been trying the mindfulness review and been adjusting my lifestyle to some degree. I’m coming more to the conclusion that progress at this stage goes well beyond technique now.

    Its great to hear from someone going through the same stuff as me though. Progress seems slow and arduous but we both seem close to a major milestone in our practice. Sometimes I think the biggest challenge is just remaining patient and not becoming frustrated. Good luck Bobby.



    B Arnold

    Hey Adam,

    Thanks for the response. I experimented with the witness practice a little bit but I’m not entirely sure I am grasping it. I’m not terribly confident I’m finding the still point.

    I have a very vivid and clear sense of various objects arising and passing in awareness, and occasionally I’ll consider – “what here is not changing?”. And there is this sense, in contrast, of an observer, or a quality of “observing”, that is watching this dynamic field of changing objects that is unaffected by them, the activity of pure knowing in and of itself – I assume this is the still point?

    I believe the task then is to let attention rest on this still point, and inquire as to the nature of it. When I do this, a sense of expectation arises, as if I’m waiting for something to happen. I would assume that is a hindrance of sorts (craving maybe?). Does one then assert more emphasis on keeping attention at the still point or does one put more energy in the sense of inquiry?



    Adam M

    That’s basically it. It is quite a difficult one to learn. I found it quite a subtle experience when I first got to the still point but was able to tell I was there when I got knocked off it when my attention went elsewhere and I noticed the difference. With practice it got deeper and I became more confident with it. I’ve found the best thing to do once you have got there is to ask the question with a feeling of gentle curiosity but to not think about it or at least ignore anything conclusions you come to from consciously thinking about it. You just need to wait a second or so and see if any realisation pops into awareness. And then keep doing it even if you think you found the answer. It can be sporadic. Sometimes realisations come and sometimes they don’t. And yes best to see if you can let go of any expectations. I’ve practised now and can get into it quite quickly even when I’m out walking in the street. Sometimes I can only get partially into it and sometimes further. I’ve found that even if I’m only partially there, the questioning can still work.

    When I first did it I found it much easier using the guided meditation below. It took about 4 or 5 times doing this until I found I could generate it without the preamble and practice getting it as deep as I could.

    I may have become a bit too evangelical about it as its worked so well for me and because its quite a tricky one to get right. But never mind. Give it a go and see how you get on.




    I want to jump in and thank you all for this thread, I have been referring back to it quite a number of times. It’s very reassuring that other have the same kind of stuff coming up and it keeps me motivated.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by  Maaike.
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