Manufacturing Bliss

Nadia Asparouhova

A growing community centered on the Bay Area is rediscovering the jhanas, a meditation technique that practitioners claim could upend how we think about the brain — and transform our lives in the process.

If the mind is like a car, we are still learning how to tune its gears. Psychedelic substances such as MDMA, psilocybin, and LSD offer one promising path, having reemerged from the shadows of prohibition to find new roles in therapeutic treatment. It turns out that inducing altered states of consciousness, in the right setting, can help people work through depression, anxiety, and addiction, as well as navigate major life transitions such as loss or terminal illness.

But what if we could engineer these altered states without any external substances or stimuli? Enter the jhanas, a growing meditation trend that’s made its way into some corners of tech. Practitioners claim they can induce extremely blissful mental states that rival life’s peak experiences, available at any time with enough concentration.

Jhanas, if they are as accessible and transformative as they seem, create new inroads to understanding, and improving, how our brains work. By revealing the mind’s potential to transform our subjective experience, they point toward a radically expanded notion of what happiness can be — and where it comes from.

Fatchurofi Muhammad

The jhanas, which derive from Buddhism, are eight states of consciousness that allegedly produce strong feelings in the body and mind. They can be accessed through a meditation technique that involves concentrating the mind on an object, then gradually deepening the sensation that arises.

Modern practitioners tend to focus their practice on the first four jhanas, or the "form jhanas," which roughly progress from euphoria (first jhana, or J1) to joy (J2) to contentment (J3) to peacefulness or equanimity (J4). While the higher jhanas (J5 through J8), sometimes called the "deep" or "formless" jhanas, are more dissociative, the first four (J1 through J4) bring about palpably positive sensations, which have a clearer instrumental purpose.

Stephen Zerfas, cofounder of Jhourney, a company that aims to help more people experience jhanas, describes them as "the opposite of a panic attack." Instead of an escalating anxiety loop, jhanas are an escalating pleasure loop, the intensity of which is comparable — depending on whom you ask — to an orgasm, an MDMA-induced cuddle puddle, or the thrill of new love.

Jhanas were first described centuries ago, but they’ve only recently experienced a modern revival. According to the suttas, the Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha entered the first jhana spontaneously as a child, and later encouraged the pursuit of the jhanas as a "path to awakening." But as Buddhism spread and became more formalized, jhanas were cordoned off as a rare feat, attainable only by monks after years of advanced practice. The Visuddhimagga, a fifth-century Buddhist text, written more than 800 years after the Buddha’s death, describes the difficulty of entering into the jhanas: "only one in a hundred or a thousand" can successfully perform each step.

By the 10th century, jhanas had fallen almost entirely out of practice. Theravada, the oldest school of Buddhism, had chosen to deemphasize the role of meditation and self-discovery, and instead focus on the moral aspects of the Buddha’s teachings. It was only in 18th-century Myanmar that Buddhist leaders began to reintroduce meditation as a way to strengthen and preserve culture in the face of British colonialism. This renewed interest in meditation grew into what is termed the Vipassana movement in the 1950s, a lineage that persists in the Western mindfulness movement today.

But while they embraced meditation, Vipassana practitioners discouraged the pursuit of jhanas as a path to insight. Many teachers viewed them as a hedonistic distraction from "liberation," a state where pleasure is believed to be irrelevant. Even today, jhanas occupy something of a dissident place in most meditation circles, which emphasize transcending beyond the self, instead of doing things for the self.

Ayya Khema, a Buddhist nun and German Holocaust survivor who discovered meditation while traveling through Asia, saw them differently. In the 1980s, she began teaching the jhanas as a "lost art" that could help practitioners attain the wisdom they sought. But Khema’s interpretation of the jhanas — using the suttas as a reference — differed from the doctrine taught in the Visuddhimagga. Instead of expecting Buddhists to progress through all eight jhanas, Khema thought that even experiencing the first jhana would be beneficial to one’s practice.

Khema set in motion a wave of "sutta-inspired" jhana teachers in the decades that followed, including Leigh Brasington, author of Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jhanas; Bhante Vimalaramsi, who founded the Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation (TWIM) movement; and Rob Burbea, author of Seeing That Frees: Meditations on Emptiness and Dependent Arising. Each teacher has their own philosophy, but all emphasize focusing on the more attainable first four "light jhanas," instead of progressing through the more advanced "deep jhanas."

Among meditation communities, there is still debate as to whether today’s version is a watery imitation of the original practice that was reserved for advanced meditators. But it is impossible to oversee a practice that no one can be prevented from trying on their own. Western-style yoga, for example, doesn’t look very much like how it was practiced in 10th-century India, but it improves the mental and physical health of millions of people every day. These benefits, along with yoga’s accessibility, helped it spread far beyond its original context.

In spreading awareness of the jhanas, modern teachers also attracted a community of those who — like the Buddha — had organically discovered these states, but either didn’t know what they were, or were discouraged by their teachers from exploring them. This "amateurization" of the jhanas, when it collided with the internet, is how it found purchase among a growing group of technologists.


Nick Cammarata, an artificial intelligence researcher with a gentle disposition, is an experienced meditator who describes himself as having an unusually high baseline mood. As a child, he was bullied for his positivity until he learned to assume an outwardly depressed affect — what he describes as "hiding [my] rapture under a hoodie."

Cammarata first heard about the jhanas through the Qualia Research Institute, a network of researchers that studies consciousness. Its cofounder, Andrés Gómez Emilsson, classifies the jhanas as an "exotic state," by which he means an unusual or extreme subjective experience whose properties might help us to reverse engineer consciousness. Just as black holes and plasma help us understand how matter works, jhanas or psychedelics could do the same for consciousness.

Intrigued, Cammarata tried, and failed, to experience the jhanas for several years, before taking time to — as he describes it — unblock himself spiritually through therapy and other forms of meditation, which quieted his internal voice ("monkey mind too loud"). In the summer of 2021, he returned to his practice and found himself in first jhana. Surprised to find that no one he knew had written about the jhanas already, Cammarata decided to share his experience publicly. In a series of tweets, he described the jhanas as "clean joy," a "sensory overload of pleasure and serenity," and the "freest of free lunches" in terms of their accessibility and benefit.

Some scoffed at Cammarata’s claims, comparing the jhanas to telekinesis or clairvoyance. A few people asked for biometric data as evidence. "When nerdy types start talking about ‘amazing sex,’ I can't help but roll my eyes," wrote one commenter on a blog post. "Sorry, but I don't really value your opinion on this." Others, intrigued by the promise of self-induced euphoria, eagerly wanted to learn how to do it.

Cammarata’s tweets sparked wider interest among the This Part of Twitter (tpot) community and its associated touchpoints. Tpot — sometimes used interchangeably with "postrationalism" — is a loose subculture, notorious for its love of introspection, that grew out of the tech-adjacent rationalist movement. Where rationalists emphasize the use of logic to govern their decision-making, tpot believes that "vibes" and feelings are unaccounted for by pure logic and advocate taking them more seriously.

In October 2022, psychiatrist and rationalist writer Scott Alexander featured Cammarata’s experience on his blog, Astral Codex Ten. Last year, Bayeslord, a pseudonymous cofounder of the techno-optimist movement effective accelerationism, uploaded a series of Rob Burbea’s talks to YouTube, where they now have more than 80,000 views. Lady Red Beacham, a pseudonymous Twitter user, started a Discord community for the jhana-curious, which grew to over 400 members. Many who joined had been meditating without formal instruction, and only realized they had experienced the jhanas after reading Cammarata’s tweets.

Zerfas, the Jhourney cofounder, is one such person who discovered the jhanas by accident. He began meditating five years ago as a way to cope during a difficult time. Ten months into his practice, while on a retreat, Zerfas stumbled into a euphoric "peak experience." After many more hours of practice, he realized he could replicate the experience at will. He continued to meditate this way daily for two years, not knowing what the jhanas were, until he read Cammarata’s tweets, turned to his then-girlfriend (now wife), and remarked, "Oh, that’s what that is!"

Instead of spreading jhanas through teaching, as Brasington or Burbea did, Zerfas — ​​a former software engineer and management consultant — took the tech-minded approach. Jhourney’s physical product is currently in development, but they plan to use neurofeedback — signals that tell users how they are progressing, based on evaluation of their neural activity — to help people experience jhanas more deterministically.

As part of their research and development process, Zerfas and his colleagues began hosting weeklong retreats to teach jhanas to beginners. Their retreats offer a secular approach, focusing on practical technique — closer to something that pop-sci neuroscientist Andrew Huberman might evangelize rather than one described by a Buddhist monk. Attendees do high-intensity workouts and cold plunges to enhance their relaxation and focus. They also provide optional self-assessments, which help Jhourney’s team understand how one’s personality and prior experiences might influence their jhana practice.

Zerfas had initially hoped that something like 30% of attendees would find success in accessing jhanas. He was stunned to find that their retreats yielded 70% success rates with fewer than 40 hours of practice — without using technology at all. Jhourney’s early success suggests that, as modern practitioners have claimed, self-inducing blissful states may be much easier than previously thought.

So far, scientific research has been slow to catch up. There is some limited evidence to support the idea that the jhanas engender a distinct neurological experience. An early study, from 2013, used fMRI and EEG data to show that its subject had stimulated his own dopamine/opioid reward system while in jhana — without the use of any external stimuli, such as rhythmic movement or mental imagery. A 2019 study of 29 meditators found that its subjects displayed brain activity during jhanas similar to that during nonrapid eye movement (nREM) sleep, despite being conscious.

Most recently, Matthew Sacchet, who oversees the Meditation Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, coauthored an fMRI case study in 2023 that showed that its subject experienced "distinctive patterns of brain activity" during jhanas that mapped to an altered state of consciousness, such as being comatose or under the influence of psychedelics. "Our study presents the most rigorous evidence yet," the authors wrote, "that jhana practice deconstructs consciousness, offering unique insights into consciousness and significant implications for mental health and well-being."

But study recruitment remains a challenge to researchers. Two of the three jhana studies described above only had one subject, due to the difficulty of recruiting practitioners who can reliably enter and sustain a jhanic state, as well as varying definitions of what constitutes the jhanas. Authors of the 2013 paper lamented that they had found "the only person in the [United States] who had the requisite training in jhana who was willing to submit to the experimental protocol."

Seen from this perspective, Jhourney looks as much like an applied research organization as a tech company. Their growing body of retreat attendees might help us substantiate and further investigate jhana practitioners’ claims. And Jhourney’s own data, both qualitative (from retreat attendee reports) and quantitative (they’ve collected a large EEG dataset from an early pilot, and plan to do more) could provide clues about what happens inside a person’s brain during jhanas — and how to help more people experience them.


The San Francisco Bay Area has a long history as the playground of consciousness. For decades, many of its resident technologists have been both habitually curious about — and determined to master — the inside of their brains. This sort of cerebral hedonism is hardly visible to outsiders, in the way that visitors to Miami might be dazzled by the splash of colorful cars and clothing, or one to New York City might marvel at the richness of experience in a single block. Instead, tech’s otherworldly adventures take place inside its members’ minds, scattered throughout the hills and forests and Victorian homes that make up San Francisco.

It was here that I found myself driving a rental car through the Napa Valley to a private retreat center to try to experience the jhanas for myself, under Jhourney’s guidance. After parking beneath the redwoods, I was shown to my cabin, a sparse but clean room with two beds, a nightstand, and a naked light bulb.

As I unpacked my things and walked to the dining hall, I felt a bit silly, wondering if my love of adventure had tugged me too far. Zerfas had invited me to a retreat after I’d interviewed him for this piece, which I politely declined twice. A week was too long to be away from my obligations at home, and I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think the jhanas were real, as so many other skeptics seemed to. I believed that the experience had been transformative for everyone I’d spoken to — for them. But I didn’t have much personal interest in meditation. I was focused and happy in my day-to-day; I had never felt the pull of Netflix binges and phone notifications; there was no looming crisis in my life that I needed to solve for.

After Zerfas persisted a third time, however, my curiosity got the best of me, and I relented. Like those I’d interviewed, I enjoyed thinking of my brain as a machine I could tinker with, and this was an experience I hadn’t tried yet. My goal was simple: I wanted to see what my brain could do.

Other than a five-day trip to a Zen monastery I’d taken with a friend nearly a decade ago, I had no prior meditation experience. There, the morning bell sounded before sunrise. We ate porridge with nutritional yeast. We were taught to bow to each other, to place our meditation cushions just so, to step into the Zendo with the left foot, not the right. My legs went numb as I sat cross-legged for hours. Meditation was expected to be uncomfortable; that was what we were there for. One teacher coached us, during a particularly long sit, to use our physical pain as fodder for spiritual inquiry.

My Jhourney retreat had none of this austerity. Zerfas and his cofounder, Alex Gruver, who facilitated the retreat together, feel that exploring the jhanas should be fun. Meditation was expected to be comfortable; lying down with blankets was encouraged. The first day and a half was social, with group activities like a sound bath and cacao ceremony. Only after did we settle into "noble silence" — a mutual agreement not to speak to or acknowledge other attendees, except during group Q&A — for the rest of the week.

Each morning, I joined a group of 10 other attendees for a group "sit," or meditation — followed by light instruction and Q&A, where we’d help one another debug our solo sessions. Then we’d go off to meditate on our own for the day, before reconvening for another, similarly structured evening session.

Zerfas and Gruver offered general guidance on the methods that were likely to facilitate success with the jhanas. The basic technique was finding a "meditation object" — something or someone that sparked a pleasant sensation — then trying to intensify and heighten that sensation. But we were told to experiment, because certain techniques were likely to work better for some than others. This, too, was a marked departure from the typical dogma of meditation retreats.

I felt like a scientist, traipsing off to my cabin each morning to lie on my spare bed for 45-60-minute "sits," walk around the grounds, then record my observations in a notebook, until it was time for dinner. In the evenings, we logged our experiences using presupplied Chromebooks. I had a daily "interview," a one-on-one conversation with a Jhourney facilitator to discuss what I’d learned, get feedback, and figure out what to try the next day. The dynamic felt closer to that of a researcher and principal investigator — which I vastly preferred — than a meditation student seeking the wisdom of a guru.

I’ll cut to the chase: In my first hour of practice, I found myself in first jhana — the most euphoric of the jhanas. The experience felt like an MDMA roll hitting at the exact moment of a bass drop. My hands and chest tingled; my head snapped back; I felt a distinct "pushing" up through the center of my spine. Eventually, the sensations dissipated, and I opened my eyes, feeling peaceful, as I watched the rain patter against the windows.

Despite the intensity of my experience, I wasn’t sure that I had really experienced the jhanas, mostly because — after all the buildup of expectations — it seemed crazy to have entered them so quickly. In my first interview with Zerfas and Gruver, I explained what I’d observed, including what I could only describe as a "calm state" that followed the euphoric bliss. Zerfas perked up and asked a few questions that reminded me of being at an eye doctor. Was it "joy" I’d experienced, or "euphoria"? Was it "calm," or "contentedness"? Then he nodded, like a doctor who’d finished assessing his patient’s symptoms.

Zerfas asked if I wanted to continue tinkering on my own or whether I wanted his "thought dump." I hesitated. Delving deep into my brain felt like exploring a personal terra incognita; I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone else’s map. I had intentionally avoided reading others’ instructions or descriptions of the jhanic states. It was the not-knowing that made these expeditions so exciting. After wavering a bit, I asked Zerfas for his thoughts, but he seemed to sense my desire to explore without narrativization and wisely kept his feedback vague, telling me to keep experimenting and having fun.

The next day, I replicated the progression of sensations during each sit. I was now certain that what I’d experienced was the first and second jhana, which Zerfas confirmed in my next interview. I had also begun to discern a new, third, "post-calm" sensation, which I was struggling to locate in my body. Zerfas and Gruver helped me find the nuance and gradient of each state — noticing how the sensations changed, until I found myself in a subjectively different experience — until I realized I’d discovered the next two jhanic states, J3 and J4.

Once I got comfortable with running up and down states J1 through J4 — I called this "practicing my scales," as with music — I unexpectedly tipped myself into J5, floating out of my body to gaze at an infinite space. After an initial fear that I had somehow died, I learned to expand J5 into J6, then J7, each of which was more disembodied than the next. Halfway into the retreat, after a particularly memorable session — my mind exploding into indescribable beauty, followed by nothingness, that exceeded the intensity of some psychedelic experiences — I laid in my spare bed, half-curled in my blanket and blinking in the sunlight, and decided it was time to go home and process what I’d learned.


When I first arrived at Jhourney’s retreat, I had a clear objective in mind: to experience the first jhana. J1 produces overwhelmingly strong bliss effects and is the main conversation piece with regards to the jhanas’ purported benefits. I thought that if I could accomplish this goal, I would be done with my practice.

I later realized that was a mistake. The power of the jhanas was not that they offered a temporary escape from our otherwise pallid lives — as we typically think of pleasurable vices — but that, with repeated practice, they somehow elevated my everyday life to be more jhana-like.

Within two days, my relationship with J1 progressed from the gleeful euphoria of an MDMA roll to being overwhelmed by its saccharine quality. I began to feel a bit run down — not dissimilar to how one might feel if they were rolling three times a day. "Help!" I tapped into the Chromebook during my evening reflection. I didn’t want to experience J1 anymore. It was too much. I had developed an intuitive muscle memory that was now causing me to pop into J1 involuntarily, grinning like a fool as my thirsty brain guzzled pleasure with abandon, which was, I wrote at the time, "creeping me out." But in order to access the higher jhanas, which I still wanted to explore, I had to pass through J1. I felt trapped.

That evening, at Zerfas’s encouragement, I went on a walk with one of Jhourney’s alumni, who were at the retreat to provide peer support. She assured me that what I was experiencing was normal, and that my central nervous system would quickly acclimate. She was right. By the next day, J1 had mellowed out to a state that was enjoyable, but no longer stifling.

I had thought that attaining J1 would be the height of my experience. Within a few days, that "peak experience" had ceased to be all that interesting. At first I thought it was because my ability to access J1 had diminished, but then I noticed something strange. Even when I wasn’t in the jhanic states, my world had become noticeably … boosted, somehow. Colors were brighter, visuals sharper, sounds sweeter. When I retreated to my cabin in the evenings, I smiled, warmed by the cozy light. I listened to the chorus of frogs croaking in the rain at night and felt happy that they were happy. On my drive to the airport, I radiated piti — the Pali word for euphoric energy — as I cruised Northern California’s winding roads, watching a rainbow beam onto the soft, verdant hills below.

Waltzing through San Francisco International Airport to catch a red-eye, I was sure now that something was different. I had worried that leaving the retreat would be a depressing return to reality. Instead, I felt like I was in a commercial from the 1950s, donning an apron and pouring orange juice for my husband with a twirl. I wasn’t outwardly doing anything differently, but everyone I interacted with laughed and smiled and wished me the best. Several strangers complimented my energy. The TSA officer grinned at me as he took my Florida driver’s license. "Well" — he checked my name — "Nadia," "there’s something in the water in Florida, isn’t there!"

I messaged Beacham, who had once tweeted about how her jhanic practice had made a trip to Macy’s feel "as intense as sex." "Now I completely understand your Macy’s tweet," I wrote. "Never has a walk through SFO been so luminously radiant!" I felt ridiculous typing those words. She called me, laughing. "Now you’re one of us!" But, she added more soberly that in her view, the best part of jhanas wasn’t just the good feelings they brought to one’s life. It’s that they were a tool for clearing away the cobwebs, making it possible to examine one’s life more impassively.

Many practitioners believe there is a natural path from experiencing the jhanas to "insight," or meaningful learnings that improve one’s life. According to Brasington, the jhanas teacher, jhanas work by "quiet[ing] down the normal ego-making processes" so that you can see the world as it is, instead of "in terms of your advantages and disadvantages." 1 Another theory is that by giving people a taste of how happiness feels, they will find ways to bring themselves closer to this ideal state. Mechanistically, this is not unlike finding role models or surrounding oneself with like-minded peers — being around greatness makes us want to be great. Or, as Zerfas put it: "You come for the bliss and stay for the personality change."

I wasn’t sure what sort of insights I wanted to explore. I had attended the Jhourney retreat primarily to satisfy my intellectual curiosity about a strange phenomenon. Still, I couldn’t help but notice … things. Why, for example, had I been so quick to pick up the jhanas? I had thought of myself as a sort of lovably grumpy person, not particularly prone to cheerfulness. But maybe this aspect of myself wasn’t as immutable as I’d thought, and my quickness to annoyance made it just as easy for me to find joy — I just had to flip the switch in the other direction.

Beacham offered another prompt. "So … so what is it that led you to stand here at this moment, talking on the phone to me from SFO after leaving early from a jhanas retreat?" I stopped, suddenly unsure how to answer, feeling the fluorescence of the lights and hearing the twang of the loudspeaker for the first time since I’d arrived.


If the jhanas are so good, and they’ve been around for centuries, why haven’t they spread more widely? I kept asking myself this question as I drove back to the airport.

One reason might be that jhanas have a natural half-life. Beacham had once mused to me that jhanas had a sort of anti-mimetic effect, where instead of evangelizing, practitioners tend to lose interest once they’ve had their fill of pleasure. Cammarata — who says he rarely practices the jhanas anymore — compares this experience to drinking water while thirsty. While dehydrated, it’s hard to think about anything but water. The first few gulps, when one finds it, are ravenously satisfying. But once you’ve drunk enough, your mind moves on to other things. This had been my experience with J1.

Another possibility is that the jhanas have simply been hiding in plain sight. For most of their existence, they were practiced only by monks under stringent conditions. Modern teachers made the jhanas more accessible, but they are still cloaked in spiritual language and Buddhist tradition, which makes them easily dismissable as yet another wellness trend. Jhourney and the Qualia Research Institute are taking a secular approach, but even their interpretation of the jhanas is informed by Buddhism.

The fact that jhanas have persisted for this long undetected, however, shouldn’t discredit their transformative power. Yoga and psychedelics, too, had a "Westernization" moment that came centuries after people had begun using them. Perhaps this is now that moment for the jhanas.

This last sentence will likely make many practitioners cringe. It’s nice to have well-kept secrets — it keeps the crowds away, deters misunderstanding and exploitation. But as a nonmeditator, my experience with the jhanas felt closer to behavioral therapy than a spiritual practice. (Jhanas are sometimes compared to MDMA or psychedelics in terms of their therapeutic potential, with the added benefit of being legal and freely available, and with fewer side effects.)

I didn’t need hundreds of hours of training to access a mental state that had an unmistakably positive impact on my affect; I just needed a new way of thinking about how to think. If panic attacks are real, and people can be coached to not experience them, why is it so controversial to assert that people can learn to induce the opposite of a panic attack? Furthermore, why isn’t there a secular word for such a concept?

Throughout the retreat, Zerfas repeated a maxim he’d borrowed from other jhana teachers: One should take the effort they’d expect to need and halve it, then halve it again. This advice might apply not only to attaining the jhanas, but also to grasping their impact. Jhanas are a technique for invoking altered states of consciousness through sustained concentration, which can then relax our brains to perceive the world more clearly — it could really be that simple. These claims should pique curiosity, rather than just skepticism.

For some reason, the notion of others being happy seems to trigger a "tall poppy" syndrome among the unhappy, as if there were only so much happiness to go around. Even Zerfas, when he tried to explain his early experiences to friends, found that they were "either skeptical or concerned," which made him not want to talk about it. I, too, avoided telling my friends — whom I think of as quite open to unconventional ideas — what I was experiencing during the retreat, fearing they might think me crazy, or worse, painfully naive.

Peer pressure can work in positive directions, but so too is there downward pressure to not be happy, to not seek the insights, to continue mimicking the pleasure-chasing activities so as not to disturb the (lack of) peace. Just as not everyone eats well and exercises, despite knowing they ought to, not everyone wants to reflect on their life and risk destabilization, no matter how straightforward the solution might be.

Jhanas are not a panacea; no behavioral intervention could ever be. Some people might benefit more from cognitive behavioral therapy, psychiatric treatment, or simply spending more time with loved ones than they would from the jhanas. But jhanas surely deserve to reach more people than they are now.

I entered first jhana in less time than it would’ve taken for an MDMA pill to kick in. A popular YouTube video from meditation teacher Michael Taft, titled "How to Jhana," is just over 24 minutes long. "Don't try too hard!" Taft counsels in the video’s description. "Jhanas are meant to be enjoyable." My experience might be atypical, but it’s wise to remember that we’ve barely scratched the surface in understanding the jhanas.

We don’t know much about what makes jhanas easier or harder to experience among a general, nonmeditator population. Relying on advanced meditators to assess their difficulty seems premature. I personally found that the relaxation techniques I’d been taught to use in mindfulness meditation didn’t help me with the jhanas, which required invoking what more closely resembled flow state — something I had a lot of practice with, thanks to the nature of my daily work.

Jhanas, if they continue to spread, could bring a taste of happiness — or what Khema called "biting into the mango" — to millions of people today who bury their bliss in addictive habits like doomscrolling, binge drinking, or nicotine. At this stage, it’s just a hypothesis, but it seems like one worth testing. Until we overcome our reflexive resistance to such an idea, however, we will stand, like Tantalus, in a pool of water, with the power to quench our thirst just out of reach.

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  1. Leigh Brasington, Right Concentration: A Practical Guide to the Jahnas (Boulder: Shambhala, 2015), 70.

Nadia Asparouhova (@nayafia) is a writer and researcher. She is the author of Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software (Stripe Press).

Published April 2024

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