Meditation can bring meaning to our lives. By learning to watch our thoughts and emotions we can gradually create a distance between them and our innermost self. This leads to an increasing ability to be less affected by these thoughts and emotions and a consequent freedom to live more in the present and less in the troubling past or the anxious future. Our lives can then grow in joy, spontaneity and fulfilment.
Vipassana meditation is a rational method for clearing the mind of the mental factors that cause distress and pain. This simple technique does not invoke the help of a god, spirit or any other external power but relies on our own efforts, thus making it open to people of any faith or those who ascribe to none. It is a way of self-transformation through self-observation.
The Pali word vipassana has two parts. Passana means seeing or perceiving, while the prefix vi has several meanings, one of which is through. Vipassana literally cuts through the mind’s curtains of delusion. Vi can also mean intense, in which case vipassana means intense, deep or powerful seeing. It can result in immediate insight which has nothing to do with reasoning, logic or thinking.
How to practise Vipassana meditation
- Sit comfortably with your spine straight
- Allow yourself to settle and take a few deep breaths in and out
- Bring your attention either to your nostrils or your belly and witness the rise and fall of your breath. If your mind starts wandering, you feel pain or discomfort, or there’s some emotional turmoil, just keep coming back to the awareness of the breath – rising and falling, rising and falling.
Do this for 40 minutes.
After the sitting phase, you may want to take this meditation into a slow, walking meditation, called a Vipassana walk. Walk very consciously and about three times slower than your usual walk. Bring your attention to the feeling of your feet touching the ground.
Do this for 20 minutes. This is a very beautiful way to complete the Vipassana meditation. This is how Buddha practised it – 40 minutes sitting, 20 minutes walking, until he became enlightened.
Misunderstandings about meditation
One of the most common misunderstandings about meditation is that it should calm the mind and, if practised correctly, it will eventually lead us to stop thinking. This is wrong! As long as blood is flowing through our brains, thoughts will occur. We have therefore not failed if our mind is not a still, silent pool at the end of our meditation session. The nature of the mind is to generate thoughts; the mind is, in fact, likened in the East to a ceaselessly active monkey.
Meditation is about observing the mind, observing our thoughts, not changing them. And this process of observation is enough: just noticing our wild animal of a mind jumping about, doing its usual thing is meditation. What happens next is a mystery to be discovered – if our mind becomes calmer and quieter, all the better. If our creativity bursts forth – let’s enjoy it! Let’s live this mystery that is called our life!
“This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”