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An Introduction to Vipassana (Insight) Meditation
This practice brings us directly in touch with our experience. It helps us live more fully in the present instead of being lost in thoughts, images, regrets, and fears about the past and future. As our minds become less distracted, we begin to see things more clearly.
We begin to see that the bare experience of sight, sound, sensation, and thought is one thing, and what we make out of that bare experience is another.
We begin to see that our happiness and suffering do not lie "out there" in the experience but are found instead within our own minds, in how we relate to experience.
We begin to see the truth that "all things are changing" in a much deeper way, so that we are not trying to hold on to things.
We see we are not who we thought we were. Our sense of separateness begins to dissolve. Loving kindness meditation, practiced alongside vipassana, develops this new sense of connection into a powerful force for healing and well-being.
As it becomes easier to let go, to let life "live itself," we gain abiding happiness and peace. Our wisdom leads to spontaneous compassion for the relief of all suffering beings, including ourselves.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment observation, with calm attention, of whatever is happening within the body and the mind. We all have the ability to be aware in this way. This non-judgmental and non-interfering observation is one of the keys to unlock patterns of suffering.
Practice strengthens our mindfulness into a powerful tool that can cut through deeply ingrained habits that cause suffering.
Mindfulness helps us learn how to relate to things differently, without reacting in habitual ways to what is pleasant or unpleasant.
This practice helps purify the mind from the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion, which the Buddha identified as the causes of all our suffering. As the practice deepens, calmness and clarity lead to liberating insight into the facts of existence and greater freedom from suffering.
Techniques for developing mindfulness derive from one of the most famous discourses of the Buddha called The Foundations of Mindfulness (the Satipatthana Sutta). The many methods of practice are rooted in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition of Southeast Asia. Within this larger tradition, diverse styles of practice have developed over the centuries, such as the mental noting technique made popular in the 1940's by the Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma.
Mindfulness meditation is concerned with only one thing: the liberation of the heart and mind from suffering. The wisdom and compassion that come through this practice are of benefit not just to ourselves but to everyone.
Insight meditation begins with developing calmness of mind by practicing presence or mindfulness. We focus the mind on specific aspects of normal experience, known as primary objects of attention. Virtually anything can be a primary object. In practice, it has been found that some objects are more helpful than others.
In sitting meditation, we start by focusing the attention on the actual physical sensations of the breath coming in and out of the body.
During walking meditation, we keep the attention on the movement and touch sensations of the legs and feet.
We can make eating another meditation, with the primary object being the taste sensations. Since we often eat while doing other things such as reading or talking to other people, retreat gives us a chance to eat with less distraction.
Developing continuity of attention is very important.
True mindfulness practice is not limited to formal periods of sitting and walking but can be extended into more and more of our activities during the day. Physically slowing down helps keep us more grounded in our bodies, and lessens the distracting effect of fast-moving thoughts.
All of these practices are discussed in detail in the pages that follow. They aim to develop the calmness that unveils our capacity to experience things as they really are. This direct experience leads to genuine happiness, to freedom from suffering.