On days like today, I gain succor from the Phala Nikaya (i.e., the Buddha’s discourses on meditative attainment).
Here’s a section of the Mahaasaccaka Sutta (MN 36), known as The Major Discourse to Saccaka (On the pleasure of meditation (jhana) the fruits (phala) of the contemplative life, and the Dark Night of the Soul). This section deals with the attainment of jhana, or meditative absorption:
Aggivessana, then it occurred to me, whoever recluse or Brahmin experienced sharp, rough, unpleasant feelings, in the past, he did not experience anything more than this. Whoever recluse or Brahmin, would experience sharp rough unpleasant feelings in the future, would not experience anything more than this. Whoever recluse or Brahmin experiences sharp, rough, unpleasant feelings, at present, he does not experience anything more than this. It occurred to me: Doing these difficult exertions, I will not attain, any noble distinctive knowledge and vision above human. There should be some other method for the realization of enlightenment. Then Aggivessana, I recalled the experience under the shade of the rose apple tree near my father’s field: Secluded from sensual thoughts and secluded from thoughts of demerit, with applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára) and with joy (sukha) and pleasure (piiti) born of seclusion, I attained to the first jhana. Then the awareness arose this is the path to enlightenment. I thought, why should I fear this pleasantness, which is other than sensual pleasure and away from thoughts of demerit.
Aggivessana, then it occurred to me, it is not easy to attain that pleasantness with this emaciated body, what if I take some coarse food some cooked rice and bread. At that time the fivefold bhikkhus attended on me, thinking whatever noble thing the recluse Gotama attains he will inform us. When I partook of coarse food such as cooked rice and bread, they went away thinking the recluse Gotama has given up exerting and has returned to abundance.
Partaking coarse food and gaining strength, secluded from sensual thoughts and thoughts of demerit with applied and sustained attention (vitakka and vicára) and with joy (sukha) and pleasure (piti) born of seclusion I attained to the first absorption (jhana)…
Aggivessana, even those arisen pleasant feelings did not take hold of my mind and settle. Overcoming thoughts and discursive thoughts, with the mind internally appeased, and brought to a single point, without thoughts and discursive thoughts and with joy (sukha) and pleasantness (piiti) born of absorption I attained to the second absorption (jhana). Aggivessana, even those arisen pleasant feelings did not take hold of my mind and settle. With equanimity to joy and detachment abode mindful and aware, and with the body experienced pleasantness and attained to the third absorption (jhana). To this abiding the noble ones said, abiding mindfully in pleasantness. Aggivessana, even those pleasant feelings did not take hold of my mind and settle. Dispelling pleasantness and unpleasantness (sukha & dukhha), and earlier having dispelled pleasure and displeasure, without unpleasantness and pleasantness and mindfulness purified with equanimity, I attained to the fourth absorption (jhana). Aggivessana, even those pleasant feelings, did not take hold of my mind and settle.
To those who insist that meditation is a waste of time, or that it increases attachment to ego-identity, or that it actually leads away from ultimate realization… I’m sorry, but they don’t know the first thing about a skillful and rigorous meditation practice. This is why instructions like these are such a boon.
Speaking from direct experience, I can say that it delivers what it promises.