New to Meditation, looking for advice

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 6 voices, and was last updated by  Blake Barton 6 years, 7 months ago.

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    I’ve only been practicing meditation for about two weeks, so I’m very much a beginner. I recently picked up The Mind Illuminated and have been making my way through the book. If anyone more experienced can help with some questions I have, it would be most appreciated.


    I’m not sure what stage I’m at in the book. Currently, I’m having two problems with my meditation sessions, and they seem to alternate. The most common problem is inescapable drowsiness. The book recommends following and connecting as techniques to help, but I’m not sure if I’m doing them correctly because drowsiness still is a major hurdle even when I’m trying to do those techniques. Eventually I’ll sleep into what I think is some kind of lucid dreaming state where I hear nonsensical background chatter, voices and imagery. If I open my eyes I have a hard time focusing them and they want to close and sometimes I see dreamlike hallucinations… such as bunny rabbits hopping on the floor in front of me. That probably sounds ridiculous but it is true.

    My other problem, and this is usually not when I’m feeling drowsy, is that I am experiencing very strange sensations that are distracting. The most usual sensation, which I get every time I meditate is a tightness or tingling around my eyes and forehead. It feels like my head is a bicycle tire and it’s being pumped with air as far as it will go. The sensation is so strong that it’s hard to feel the breath at my nose.

    Other sensations I’ve had I haven’t had recur because I’ve only been doing this for a couple of weeks. The most notable though are:

    1. What felt like a sudden rush of circulation to my eyes and nose, and I could feel a very heightened sense of touch at my nose. It was like all of my nerves were fully awake. It lasted about 5 minutes before going back to normal.

    2. Waves of light with my eyes open that pulsated with each breath, kind of in an electrical pattern like lightning. This was easier to ignore since I couldn’t actually feel it and I wasn’t really focusing my attention on my vision anyway.

    3. Intense visual stimulation with lots of things at once. This time I was using a focus object in the room to keep my eyes from unfocusing, I figured I could stay awake better if I didn’t let my eyes unfocus. What ended up happening is that they stayed focused, but the floor started rapidly changing patterns. The light in the room started changing hue between yellow and orange and back, and my peripheral vision had a weird thing going on where it looked like my body was under a blacklight. This was incredibly distracting… and kind of frightening honestly.

    I initially thought I was in stage 3, but I can’t find anywhere in stage 3 or 4 where any of this other stuff I’m experiencing is explained. But the big problem I face aside from the distractions is the drowsiness, which is explained fairly thoroughly in those stages.

    Any advice or explanations would be greatly appreciated, I am very new to all of this so I really don’t know what to make of it.



    Well it’s been a couple of days since I first started this thread and I have even more questions now. I think I’m meditating in my sleep which I don’t fully understand.

    Before I get into that, let me just kind of give some background information very briefly.

    When I started meditating a few weeks ago it was to find some sort of calmness in a time of intense stress and anxiety in my life. Since I’ve started I’ve realized that I’m on a personal spiritual journey. This is a journey that began at a young age and ended in feelings of overwhelming despair and abandonment about 10 years ago. It ultimately resulted in my turning away from spirituality altogether. Over the last 10 years I’ve focused only on material and egocentric goals, and all of that recently came crashing down. Hence finding meditation, and ultimately a rekindling of the journey I started on many years ago. I don’t think its necessary to get into the finer details, except to say I have a very strong and pure intention deep within me to seek truth. That intention was pointed outwards for many years, and now it is pointing inwards.

    So to the meditating in my sleep business that I don’t fully understand.

    I’ve been meditating 1-2 hours a day every day for the last few weeks, it’s the time of my day I look forward to the most. Despite being new and unskilled at meditation, I feel moved to continue on this path as if something inside of me desperately wants out and somehow meditation will let it out. That’s the best way I can describe it.

    Two days ago I awoke from my sleep very suddenly in the early hours of the morning. I heard my own voice in my head say “You don’t know what enlightenment is.” In that very moment I felt something inside of me break, not physically, but an inner sensation like snapping a twig in half. Right at that instant I felt a sudden and overwhelming feeling of exhilaration in the center of my chest. It was like something in my chest was moving at the speed of light and dragging me with it. I was fully awake and the feeling intensified for about 10 seconds until it was all I could do not to panic. I was very confused, the feeling was very physical and I had no insight into it whatsoever. Just that something very visceral was happening to me. When my thoughts wandered the feeling diminished leaving me with only a tingling in that area of my chest for some time.

    I didn’t think about it much for the rest of the day, but again last night I awoke from my sleep this time with a very different feeling. This time when I awoke, I had been dreaming. All I can recall is that there was some sort of symbolic image that I had created in my dream. I don’t want to get into dissecting dreams, just to say that there was an intention in my dream that whatever I had created was a plea to someone or something, for what I’m not sure. This time when I awoke I had an incredibly powerful feeling of vibration coming over every inch of my body. It was overwhelming and intense, the vibrations were very fine like I was humming with energy. I could feel contact with the vibrations everywhere, but the most sensitive place was the point where my spine connects with my head, I guess at or near my brainstem. I still feel it there now 5 hours later, tingling and buzzing.

    Whatever I’m experiencing in my sleep I haven’t experienced in my meditation sessions yet. I’m not sure if this is normal, and I’m not sure what to make of all of this. I’ve been practicing for such a short period of time I feel a bit lost.


    Ivan Ganza

    Hi Kurt,

    I’m glad that you are giving this a try. From what you describe I think you are making good progress! Don’t get discouraged and keep at it! For some people, this process can be like kicking over the ant hill at the beginning.

    Drowsiness at first is fairly common. We are habituated to basically falling asleep when the mind quiets down and there is not so much input to process. Usually this is an indicator that it’s time to sleep, so your mind is just following the habit.

    One task right now is basically re-training the mind to not follow that old habit. In order to do that, there are great instructions in the book, which I am sure you have already read. It is just a matter of time and patience until eventually you will be free of that. All you need to do is follow the instructions (as you are) and keep working at it.

    There is one aspect I would like to mention about sleepiness/drowsiness while meditating though. Be very careful that you don’t fall into the habit of sitting in a sleepy/dull/pleasant state for long periods of time. This is an aspect of dullness and definitely needs to be avoided as much as possible. You don’t necessarily need to sit a long time right now.

    There is a fine line here, and you will need to find it. For example, if you can sit for five or ten minutes fairly clear, that is much more beneficial than sitting for forty minutes in a dull state. You might look to split up your sessions into three or four within your allocated time if that helps you stay clear again for a longer period of time.

    In terms of the events you reported, both while in meditation, sleeping and such — these are good signs — but try not to read into them too much. They are just events occurring. Much strange stuff can occur as you follow this process. Whatever occurs is just a natural result of the process you have started here.

    The main thing is to follow the instructions, focus on the practice, and retrain your mind. Keep the instructions in mind always, even when seemingly odd or wonderful things are occurring.

    They will all pass eventually.

    Please keep us updated as you go along!

    Hope this helps.


    • This reply was modified 6 years, 7 months ago by  Ivan Ganza.
    • This reply was modified 6 years, 7 months ago by  Ivan Ganza.


    Thanks for the reply, Ivan. The advice about having shorter sessions and not to sit in drowsiness seems really helpful I’ll give it a try. All of the rest of the weird things I’m experiencing, physical and emotional, I was not expecting. I’m glad to hear that it’s fairly normal.


    Hi Kurt,

    I oddly did a psychology PhD on the topic of sleep and meditation. The word “Buddha” means someone who is awake, and the neuroscience on the topic seems to show that this is not a metaphor. Meditation literally makes the brain (and the mind) more awake 24 hours a day, meaning meditative experiences in sleep and lucid dreaming both become more likely. Additionally, it sounds like you’ve hit something of a stream in meditation, and as Ivan says, it’s not uncommon to have dramatic spiritual experiences like you’re describing given the pace at which your practice is going.

    Since that you’re having these unusual and potentially scary experiences, I’m wondering if you have a teacher who you are able to meet with?

    I’m one of the teachers who trained with Culadasa, and I teach 2 classes via Google Hangout on Tuesdays (7:30 – 9 PM Eastern and 6:30 – 8 PM Pacific) that you’d be welcome to attend if you’d like (whichever time works better for you). There may also be other ways to meet up with a Dharma Treasure teacher online or, depending on where you live, in person.

    Tucker Peck




    Thank you for the thoughtful response. I don’t currently have a teacher. There is a Chinese Zen Monastery not far from where I live, and I felt moved to go and talk with one of the Masters there today regarding my experiences. I was hoping to talk to the Abbot, but I arrived unscheduled and he was occupied with other things. I go there from time to time but it is a deeply religious place and I feel like I’m interrupting their duties by making personal visits. They are very kind, generous and respectful about it though.

    I’d be interested in attending one of your hangouts at 9pm. This has been a remarkable few weeks, but also a confusing few weeks. There is a part of me somewhere deep down that has needed all of this, and I think the rest of me is along for the ride.



    I realize now that I misunderstood the time. I think I should be able to make the second session tonight. I may be a bit late due to work, but I’ll try to be on time.


    A User

    Hi Kurt,

    I’m new on this board, and, I must start with saying I have not read Culadasas book “The Mind Illuminated” yet. So I hope my big emouth does not leave anyone feeling I’ve stepped on any toes.

    I do have considerable experience with Shamatha practice and great good fortune with other teachers and experiences prior to instruction in Shamatha that prepared me benefit from the practice in a short period of time.

    Regarding your comments:
    “I’m not sure what stage I’m at in the book. Currently, I’m having two problems with my meditation sessions, and they seem to alternate. The most common problem is inescapable drowsiness.”

    Forget what stage you are at. Focus 100% on leaning to know your mind , directly from experience, without the head trip of nailing down what stage you are at. Preoccupation with that is a a big obstacle.

    For drowsiness: get better sleep. I had to rearrange my life in a wholesale way and get the best quality most restful sleep of my life before I was capable to reaping the fruits of Shamatha practice in a way that transformed my life. If you cannot or will not find that kind of commitment / dedication then settle for getting little from what you are doing.

    another of your comments:
    “My other problem, and this is usually not when I’m feeling drowsy, is that I am experiencing very strange sensations that are distracting.”

    I am neither qualified nor authorized to teach but I can share my experiences based on 35 years or so of preparation for practice, then actual practice.

    It is almost impossible to get anywhere in Shamatha practice without placing all the other parts of life into secondary priority for periods of time, as in a retreat. We westerners are plagued with wildly agitated and unstable minds. We are programmed that way from the first breath we take in industrialized culture. People born in Mongolia, Tibet or rural India do not have those problems. Most of us here in the west need “psychotherapy” first to get our mental agitation and instability down to a dull roar. Then we are prepared for retreat and then we can benefit from great instruction, if we are so lucky to find it. In my view great instruction is pretty rare. Even Tibetan born folks do not understand the kinds of obstacles we face as kookoo westerners, they never had to deal with those things themselves.

    There will be a wide diversity of experiences from innocuous sensory and emotional phenomenom like you describe to things so bone rattling and terrifying you are convinced you are going insane. That type on intensity is from the fact Shamatha practice dredges up the rotting corpses from the mud of your psyche and you will have a close encounter with these things. That is how those things are purged from your consciousness when the practice is working …. so you can begin experience the exquisite quiescence and stability of samadhi.



    Ivan Ganza

    Hi John,

    Interesting discussion and points.

    I am not sure I would completely agree with your comment that Shamatha is impossible without placing all the other parts of life into secondary priority for periods of time. My fear is that we might give new comers the idea that the practice of Shamatha while not in retreat is basically pointless.

    Practicing correctly with a steady 1-2 hours per day dedicated sit, combined with a diligent practice <I>off the cushion</I>, should yield a steady progress in one’s abilities. What occurs off the cushion, between the dedicated sits, seems to be very key here. Following the instructions in the book, I think one should be able to make great progress, without needing dedicated retreat. When one is ready, retreat can be a nice icing on the cake.

    In terms of dark night of the soul, terrifying experiences and such. While it is true that these can occur and many people do seem to face them — if one does not practice just ‘dry’, but cultivates joy, tranquility and equanimity, the intensity and frequency of these experiences should be greatly reduced. The fear and terror come up mostly due to the fact of having to confront deep, long held, assumptions about the world that are found simply to be in error, and were never true. Confronting these, while at the same time having the lubrication of joy, tranquility and equanimity, should hopefully provide for a much softer landing.

    With respect,


    A User

    Hi Ivan, thanks for your thoughtfull response.

    I do not mean to steamroll over anyone elses ideas or experiences. No sincere practice is pointless.

    However the profound transformation that is possible does, usually, require taking time away from the normal incessant hubub we are so completely embedded in daily since birth, for decades on end. Its a huge change and almost impossible without removing ourselves and bringing some sincere dedication along. Even folks born into cultures that do not bestow the obstacles ours does consider retreat as routine necessity to progress into deeper practice.

    Some folks are not expecting or even capable of conceptualizing the kind of transformation that is possible. That is normal too.

    I never practiced more than 2 hours a day even in retreat. Retreats I attended (7 or so, 1 week long each) were routine periods of practice intespersed with dharma talks, Q and A. From that plus sincere daily home practice, up to, never more than, 2 hours a day …. my life was transformed beyone anything I was capable of imagining or hoping for. I did do serious mental emotional house cleaning before meeting a great teacher. For sure, that is why I progressed with relative ease.

    Those bone rattling experiences are pretty much manditory as I understand it from the teacher I learned shamatha under. He was hand picked and taught directly by the Dalai Lama.

    Those experiences are like the gargoyls flanking the gates to a temple … which are symbolic of this process of what one will encounter. That sequence is strongly present in the work of C.G. Jung also , in fact it is central. My experience was that they are immediate precusors to sustained deepening of more profound experiences.

    Thanks again

    Best regards



    Interesting discussion. I appreciate that those of you with much more experience than myself are taking the time to share your thoughts and advice. It definitely means a lot.

    The last week has been a roller coaster ride in terms of the impact meditation has had on my life. The positives are that I am much more aware of my thoughts and emotions. I’m not immune to negative thoughts or emotions, but I notice them now when they are there and I’m much better able to separate from them rather than directly identify with them. In general as well, my thoughts are far less negative than they were before I started.

    I have been experiencing extraordinary things physically and emotionally. Somehow, I feel energy in my body now. It particularly fills my head and pulsates there, sometimes it gets trapped and it is terribly painful. At night I still release a lot of that energy and experience strange physical sensations in my sleep that wake me up. Overall the sensations are positive and feel good, but definitely not what I consider normal.

    On Thursday this energy was very strong throughout the day and I felt the need to meditate at lunch so I went onto a bench and meditated for 20 minutes. I felt overcome with positive feelings it even felt amazing just to move my body when I stood up. Pure pleasure moving my arms and hands, everything felt meaningful and interesting for hours afterwords. Whatever blissful state I was in made it hard to focus on my work because I just wanted to sink back into my body. It was amazing and inconvenient at the same time.

    The rest of my week has been filled with the opposite… fear and detachment from things I normally care about. I’m honestly surprised I’m having these emotions because they aren’t rational and everything else from meditation has been going so well. Thankfully I’ve found a couple of mentors to help guide me through this and I’ve got Culadasa’s book… and the fine folks on this forum 🙂



    It seems that this forum thread lost some replies a few days ago. I think we were talking about the idea of premature piti?

    I’ll take this opportunity to provide an update on my practice. It’s going very well, I think. My concentration and focus is becoming solid and I’ve been working on maintaining awareness.

    For about a week I thought the physical manifestations of energy were getting better, but I hit a very physical place in my meditation last night where the intensity of the vibrations and energy were so great that my body was rocking back and forth it felt like turbulence. The strange thing is I felt like I could go deeper into it but I held back as I was feeling a bit sick from it.

    Then after not waking up from my sleep with energy for over a week, I woke up last night with an electrical shock on my face and felt it all happening again. So I just let it keep going and my body was feeling very electric, it wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t overwhelmingly painful. Again though I felt the desire to hold back and eventually I got it to stop.

    The desire to hold back is because I’m worried that if I just fully surrender to how deep this energy can go, that I’m going to hurt myself.

    Aside from that, I’ve been entering what I think is Jhana fairly regularly. If I keep sole focus on my breathing the pleasure is pretty intense and I feel myself losing awareness of my senses. However because the pleasure / joy is so strong when it starts overcoming me my mind starts thinking and I’m pulled out of it. The other times I’ve experienced what I think is Jhana it’s been with more of a full body awareness where I don’t lose my senses. The pleasure / joy is kind of more throughout the whole body but not nearly as intense. It was in one of these states that I started having some interesting insights into the nature of things. I wrote down the realizations in a journal, but I’m not not really going to believe or not believe them for now. Just kind of be aware that they happened.

    Last night though was just pure crazy energy, it was like plunging into darkness and I was afraid I’d hurt myself or pass out and stop breathing.


    Blake Barton

    Hi Kurt,

    It does appear that we lost some forum messages. I am trying to do some research to see what happened. Did you see my post about ways to slow down the energy and get grounded? If you did, did you try any of the techniques. If not, I will repeat it below.

    In my experience the energy movements have never caused harm, although they do produce some rather violent muscle contractions at times. They can be uncomfortable.

    I am not sure you are actually entering Jhanas, since you are bouncing out so quickly, but getting absorbed in the piti can lead to the pleasure Jhanas.

    Hope this Helps,

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training.

    Original message
    Hi Kurt,

    I totally understand the types of energy sensations that you are experiencing. This happens to some people earlier than would be predicted in Culadasa’s book. For example, you may have stability of attention at Stage 3, but you are getting piti and energy sensations that don’t typically occur until Stage 7 or 8. It might help to read these chapters in the book. Culadasa feels that this occurs when the mind is partially unified, but not completely.

    I have been working with premature piti throughout most of my meditation practice.

    It sounds like you may be experiencing more energy than is comfortable at this time. I would recommend backing off of your practice a bit to stabilize the energy flow. Some people are just more sensitive to meditation than others and may need to build up their time much more slowly. I also recommend engaging in activities that are more grounding like walking in nature, and physical exercise. Yoga and Thai Chi can also help.

    Hope this helps,
    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training


    Blake Barton

    Dear Kurt,

    At our teacher training class today, we discussed some of your questions with Culadasa and the entire group. There were some good ideas for things that you might want to try. We wanted to reiterate slowing down on your meditation to stabilize your energy and proceeding at a pace that is more comfortable to you. On page 272,311, and 315 in Culadasa’s book he has a discussion on “Distraction Due to Strange Sensations” and “Unusual Sensations”. This may help you understand what is going on.

    There is also a good discussion on page 324 called “Getting Stuck” that may help. Related to this you might try some Loving-Kindness meditations discussed in the appendix.

    Culadasa said that some of his students have had good luck with Qigong practices that move the energy around the body in a circle. If you can find a qualified Qigong teacher it may help.

    On the following site a yoga teacher has much good information about Kundalini and energy movements including advice and practices for dealing with it.

    One thing that has helped me is when I start to get the movements is to step back and feel the entire body, and have the intention to notice any sensations that are prior to the movements. I tend to notice subtle energy currents, and this tends to calm the jerky involuntary movements.

    Another teacher mentioned being gentle towards yourself, and self love and self compassion. It really helps to accept these strange sensations as best your able. If you fight them it only tends to make them stronger.

    A technique called Somatic Experiencing could also be worthwhile if you can find a teacher to work with.

    Please let us know how things are going.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher in Training


    Kurt S

    Hi Blake!

    First of all, let me say a sincere THANKS for taking the time to discuss my questions with Culadasa and the rest of the group. I really appreciate you taking the time you’ve taken to help me.

    Thank you for the recommended pages, I’ll definitely read them all ASAP. I also appreciate the advice on being aware of the entire body, and this has also been helping me a great deal.

    About the time I picked up this book I started attending a group meditation each week with a Taoist meditation teacher who also teaches Qi Gong. I’ll be taking a Qi Gong class with him starting next month to try and learn to control all of this energy I’m experiencing.

    Specifically regarding the advice to be more aware of the full body with the breath, I’ve found that this definitely makes the energy less intense. It’s also very pleasant to feel the sensations in my body expand and contract with the breath. I get to this very warm, radiant place when I do it and the energy is more spread out and subtle. When I focus intently on the breath at the nose, that’s when the energy starts getting really crazy almost instantly sometimes. However, I feel like I’m stuck as to what to do next. Moving my focus away from the nose and onto the energy sensations throughout my entire body gets me to a nice place of relaxation, pleasure, and upliftedness. I can kind of move that awareness of energy around, in front of me, to the top of my head, to the sides, and behind or I can just let it fill my body. But, I’m not sure where to go from there, and I end up in that state for the entirety of my sit.

    Hopefully that makes sense. Thanks again!

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