Vipassana is a traditional Buddhist practice that dates back to the 6th Century BC and is still practiced today (sometimes as the adapted Western form of Mindfulness Meditation). Vipassana means “insight” or “clear seeing”, and this gives you an indication of the aim and what to expect. It is called insight meditation because through this practice you will learn to see things as they really are.
In the traditional Buddhist practice, Vipassana tends to emphasize the awareness of breath and requires that you tune in to the air passing in and out through your nose. Besides this, the practices teach you how to label thoughts and experiences as they arise, so that you are able to take note and identify what thoughts and objects actually grab your attention. Once you identify and label these distracting thoughts, you are able to set it aside and bring your awareness back to your original goal of being with your breath.
This technique may seem intimidating or a little complex, however, it is an excellent style for beginners. It can be practiced in a secular context, Buddhist context or any other religion or belief system and is suitable for all. This practice will allow you to ground yourself in your body and better understand how the processes of your mind work.
Steps to Practice Vipassana Meditation
Step 1: Choose an environment conducive to mediation that is quiet, cool and where you feel relaxed and comfortable.
Step 2: Sit on a cushion, the floor, or a chair, with your hands on your knees facing up or down. Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears. The back should not be supported in this practice.
Step 3: Close your eyes and focus all your attention on the movement of your breath. Notice the sensations and movement of your body as your abdomen rises and falls.
Step 4: While you focus on your breath, you will realize that other perceptions and sensations still appear such as, sounds, feelings in your body, thoughts, and emotions. Notice these as they arise, accept them and then return to focusing on your breath.
Step 5: You have two objects of focus in this practice. The primary objective is a focus on your breath or the movement of your abdomen. The secondary object is anything else that arises in your perception, either through your five senses or your mind. If a secondary object catches your attention, focus on it (only for a moment or two), label and note it.
Step 6: Making a mental note allows you to identify the object in general without going into details or overthinking it. Noting it allows you to set it aside and return your awareness to the primary meditation object.
Step 7: You have reached “access concentration” and can start to observe the objects that come to your awareness without attachment. Being objective lets these thoughts and sensations arise without you reacting to them making it much easier to let them go.
Guidelines to Help You Practice Vipassana Meditation
- Always start this type of meditation with first being mindful of your breath before moving on to the next steps, as this will allow you to stabilize your mind to reach “access concentration”.
- This first aspect is called a Samatha practice and allows you to increase your concentration through awareness of your breath.
- Attempt to keep your focus on the primary object (breathing) and allow the others thoughts and sensations to enter, but simply be “background noise”.
- Make sure not to add too much detail to your mental notes and remember they should just be labels.
- Examples of this are just to identify something at its most basic; label a sound as “hearing” instead of “talking” or “traffic”. Do the same with sensations; label a feeling as “pain” instead of “back pain” or “headache”.
- By gaining “access concentration” you develop a clear view of reality and the ability to accept things as they are.
- You will come to realize that many of the observed phenomena and thoughts tend to revolve around three “marks of existence”, namely; impermanence, being unsatisfied, and the emptiness of self.
- By being aware of the truth and accepting this you can develop equanimity, peace and inner freedom instead, through regular practice.