Much of the material here is from the awesome book, Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. It is one of the best and easiest reads on the subject of meditation. The book can be found freely in PDF form (from specific sources that were allowed to distribute it freely online) I would recommend purchasing.
You can purchase this from Amazon via this link:
Mindfulness in Plain English: 20th Anniversary Edition
What Is Vipassana
Vipassana is a form of mental training that will teach you to experience the world in an entirely new way. You will learn for the first time what is truly happening to you, around you, and within you.
-Mindfulness in Plain English
Gunaratana’s says in his book, that one should practice meditation from the vantage point of forgetting what you know, or think you know. Drop your preconceptions of what meditation is. Have a desire to experience what is meant by being alive.
Mindfulness is called Sati, and Insight is Vipassana. What we’re talking about here is a practice of mental cultivation that leads to truth and inner awareness.
Normally, people see life through a set of perceptions or veil of mental noise. Our ego has labeled experiences as “good” or “bad.” Our minds a clutter of noise, distracting us at every opportunity. In Vipassana our goal is to reach the perfection of the greatest qualities that lay dormant in our mind.
Attitudes of Vipassana
- Don’t expect anything
- Don’t strain
- Don’t rush
- Don’t cling or reject anything
- Let go
- Accept everything that comes up
- Be gentle with yourself
- Investigate your self (question everything)
- View problems as challenges
- Don’t ponder
- Don’t dwell on contrasts
There’s a few things to cover in the practice of Vipassana meditation.
Sitting & Posture
Once you find a posture to sit in, don’t move. Keep that posture until the end of the meditation time limit.
As for postures, well there are the traditional ones from the East: Half-Lotus, Full-Lotus, Burmese Style… but you could also use a chair. I’ve seen many people use the chair these days. They sit with their feet flat on the floor, and place their hands (palms up) on their thighs.
Always have a straight spine.
Once you take your posture, close the eyes.
Breathing gets us into the present moment, and that is a goal here. If we drift into the mental past or the imaginary future, we will loose our peace of mind. We need to stay rooted in the present moment. As my Buddhist lama used to say:
Breathing only happens in the present
How you observe your breath, is to put your attention at the rim of your nostrils. Keep your attention there. Notice the inhalation. The pause of breath. The exhalation. The pause.
Ignore all other stimulus – just focus on the breath entering and exiting the nostrils.
If your mind drifts and you find yourself thinking about something else, just gently bring it back to the attention on the breath.
A technique that can help us stay focused on the breath is to count it. This is common among many meditation styles. Gunaratana has several ways in which to count the breath. The one I like the most is this:
As you inhale, mentally count ONE.
As you exhale, mentally count TWO.
You can also try this with the touching of breath. This would be similar but it would be a full cycle of breathing… For example:
Inhale… Exhale… and mentally count ONE.
and so forth.
Remember though, mentally counting the breath is not the exercise here. It is only tool to get the attention back on the breath as it enters and exits through the nostrils.
Once the breath is back on the nostrils, drop the counting and just focus on breathing.
Gunaratana describes this as having one continuous breath.
After inhaling do not wait to notice the brief pause before exhaling but connect inhaling and exhaling, so you can notice both inhaling and exhaling as one continuous breath.
After joining the breath, fix your mind on the point you feel the inhaling and exhaling breath touches. Make this one single breath move in and out, as though rubbing the rims of your nostrils.
As previously mentioned, we used the inhale and the exhale as the objects of meditation. At some deep point in the cultivation of meditation, a sign will form. Bunaratana gives the common occurrences of this sign from historical reference: a star, a peg made of heartwood, a long string, a wreath of flowers, a puff of smoke, a cob-web, a cloud, a lotus flower or a disc of the moon/sun.
When the sign naturally appears, you would then put your attention upon it. This is the third object of meditation.
Realize that the sign is ever present at the nostrils. Unite the mind to it.
That’s it. There’s not a lot of set up with this style. It serves as a way to get in touch with the deep inner aspects of our nature. We are quieting the mind, and letting us find Us.
Another way of finding mindfulness is to listen. I came across this technique on my own… but later read about it in some books on mindfulness.
One day I was driving home from work. I had a rough day. I was driving on a street that was packed with traffic. I rolled the window down and started listening. I heard the tires of cars in opposing traffic whoosh by. I heard the birds in the trees. The sounds of muffled conversations from people on the street. As I tuned my mind to each of these, my surface mind dropped off. My thoughts were nil. What was left was Mindfulness.
It’s a rather simple practice… you just listen and notice you are listening.
I use this technique if I’m having difficulties getting into a state of meditation (whether doing Vipassana or some other meditation style.) If I’m struggling to focus my mind, I just start this active listening. I note I hear something and just follow the sound. The crackling of a fire in the fireplace… the sound of a airplane taking off at the airport. Cars moving on the street.