@Radius, not a “most ignorant jhana questions ever,” but a good question, and one that always bears repeating as it seems to me that the jhanas (samma samadhi) were one of the most important practices that the Buddha emphasized, and one that is largely forgotten by “the Buddhisms” today.
My guess is that the jhanas are altered states of consciousness similar (but certainly not the same as) to what some athletes have described as “flow states.” These athletes have years of training and experience with their sport, and on rare occasions, are able to let go of goals, to let go of what is going on around them to let go of expectations, and they enter a state where they cannot miss a shot, or of some golfers that made all of their putts, they felt completely integrated with the green, the cup, the grass such that they could almost magically read and feel every putt as it went into the hole. “Some hallmarks of the flow state include: losing track of time and external concerns or stimuli, feeling connected to something greater than oneself, and feeling challenged but not overwhelmed in terms of the ability and attention needed to complete a task.”
As Bhante pointed out, the steps toward the jhanas are living and practicing wholesome states, which can include the first seven steps of the Noble Eightfold Path. Ajahn Brahmali has rightly pointed out in some of his talks that it can be difficult to practice toward jhanas if your life is unskillful or chaotic. Once established in a good life, and a mindful state, it seems to me that with practice, one can start to truly let go, such that the mind slips into states of absorption, altered states of consciousness. This can be like the “flow states” described above, that comes to athletes after some years of practice and mastery of their sport, and the ability to let go of attachments to allow the mind to enter a “zone” whereby this altered state can flourish. It is within these altered states that we have the opportunity, then, to cultivate the vipassana (insight, or clear seeing) part of the meditative practices.