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Vipassana (Mindfulness or Insight) Meditation
Meditation Techniques

Vipassana, which means to see things as they really are, is one of India's most ancient techniques of meditation. It was rediscovered by Gotama Buddha more than 2500 years ago and was taught by him as a universal remedy for universal ills.
This guide is to help getting started on the path to meditation. This article talks about the basics.

 

Mindfulness in Plain English
By Ven. Henepola Gunaratana


There are many forms of meditation. Most major religions practice some form of meditation, whether it be prayer or some kind of procedure. Vipassana meditation is one type. This style of meditation is one of Asia's most ancient techniques of meditation. Teachers with the vipassana movement teach forms of samantha and vipassana meditation consistent with Buddhist meditation as taught by the Buddha. One need not convert to Buddhism to practice these styles of meditation.
Vipassana can be best described as “a clear awareness of what is happening as it happens.” By using the tool of concentration, you use your awareness to chip away at illusions and find the living light of reality.
There are two main sects within Buddhist meditation, Mahayana and Theravada. One of the most widely known Mahayana types is Zen meditation, which is well known in the United States. I will be discussing Vipassana which is the Theravada practice.
Anyone who thinks they will sit down, meditate , and begin to benefit from it immediately will be sadly disappointed. To get the benefits of meditating will take time and energy, along with discipline and determination. What do you expect to get out of meditating? I can explain it in two words.....

Happiness and Peace

Instead of material things like a new car or a lot of money in the bank which are nice to have, happiness and peace are something you cannot buy. Instead of superficial objects, we begin to realize the deeper and spiritual aspects of life.
By meditating you will see yourself exactly as you are now. By meditating you will purify your mind. To arrive at this point is a difficult task. You will know when you have reached that point. It is rewarding and worth the effort. [1]
What is meditation?
Meditation is a mental practice which can be varied depending on the culture. In Vipassana concentration is highly valued, but what is stressed even more is awareness. The aim is to develop awareness using concentration as a tool. This type of meditation will take a long time to master. By gradually developing mindfulness or awareness we will turn our attention to aspects of our own existence. As the awareness is developed what is learned is how to listen to our thoughts without getting caught up in them. [1]
Attitude
The proper attitude is needed to become successful in meditation.

1. Don’t expect anything - Do not expect results to happen quickly. As more time is spent at this you will begin to grasp reality as it really exists.
2. Don’t strain – A calm and steady effort will do much more than trying to go about this aggressively.
3. Don’t rush - Sit like time doesn’t matter. It takes patience and time to learn things of value.
4. Don’t cling and don’t reject – Observe everything mindfully whether they are good or bad images. Stay comfortable with whatever comes to your mind.
5. Let go – Go with the flow of your thoughts.
6. Accept everything that arises – Accept all feelings as they come and go, the good and the bad.
7. Be gentle with yourself – Once you accept who you are, you can begin the process of who you will become.
8. Investigate yourself – Let your experience become the guide to the truth.
9. View all problems as challenges – if you see a problem use it as an opportunity to grow.
10. Don’t ponder – Mindfulness will purify the mind naturally by concentrating on awareness.
11. Don’t dwell on contrasts – dwelling on the differences in people is not a good practice. Do not compare yourself to others, we are all different. Instead of comparing differences notice the similarities. [2]

The Practice

To begin practicing mindfulness you will need to give undivided attention to your breathing. Your goal should be reach all of the noble and wholesome qualities in your subconscious mind.
For a person just beginning meditation twenty minutes is a reasonable time to start with. As time goes on your sitting time can increase. Once you do sit stay in the same position for the length of time that you have determined. Your position may become uncomfortable after a while but do not switch positions. What will happen is the new position will become uncomfortable and then it will be shifting and moving to another position. You will never reach a deep level of concentration this way. So the best thing to do is, stay in the same position no matter how uncomfortable you become.

Once the sitting position to be used is in place it is time to close your eyes and sit motionless. As you sit quietly, body motionless and your undivided attention is focused on the object of your meditation, you will begin to experience the joy of meditation. Our mind is like a turbulent sea. With all of the silt and other matter floating around in the turbulence it is difficult to see through. As the water settles into calmness the silt will drop to the bottom and your mind will become clear. By sitting quietly and focusing your mind you can think much clearer.

The mind must be kept focused on the present moment. Our mind is like a giant television with things passing through every moment. We need to slow our mind from wandering from moment to moment. To keep the mind from wandering we must think of an object that is always around at the present moment. What easier thing to focus on than our breath. Every moment of the day we breath. It is very easy to focus on the breath. Try breathing slowly and deeply, letting the breath flow in and out freely. Notice the feeling of the breath, going in, and back out, in and out. Do you notice the brief pause before inhaling and exhaling? It may never have been noticeable before, but when you are mindful you become aware of the pause between the inhale and the exhale.
Most people inhale and exhale very short when the mind is not calm. Try to make your breaths long with a pause at the inhalation and exhalation.
As you are concentrating on your breathing in and out slowly, you will find your mind wandering. You may be thinking of experiences from the past, or what movie you want to watch tonight. When you notice this happening, and you are no longer concentrating on your breathing, bring your mind back to the breath. This is normal and happens to everyone. Just notice in passing that your mind is wandering and bring it back to your breath. As you become more experienced this will happen less and less. It happens to everyone. Below are some methods for the practice of mindfulness.
For a person just starting out a good way to focus on the breath is by counting.

1. As you are slowly filling your lungs with air count “one, one one….until the lungs are full. Notice the pause before you exhale. On the exhale count “two, two, two until your lungs are empty. Notice the pause before you inhale again. Keep your mind focused on the breath.
2. The second way is to count from one to ten rapidly while inhaling and the same while exhaling. Again keep your mind focused on the breath.
3. The third method is to take a long deep breath and count “one”, exhale slowly and count “two”. Breath in again and count “three”, exhale slowly and count “four”. Count up to ten this way. Then count backward from “ten” to “one”.
4. The last way is to inhale and exhale and count “one”. Do the same up to “ten”.
Through my personal experience when beginning I had the best results using the fourth method described here. Try them all and see what works best for you.
As soon as you find that your minded is locked at a certain point in your breathing, where the inhaling breath and exhaling breath touch, (I use the tip of the nostril), concentrate on that point. Once your breathing becomes so natural that you don’t notice your inhaling and exhaling it is time you could stop counting. The counting is a big help in training the mind on concentration. After some practice the inhaling, pause, exhaling, pause will seem like one continuous breath. I focus on where my breath leaves my nostrils.

As your practice continues and you are not aware of your in and out breathing and your body and mind may become very light and you may get the sensation of floating. At this point you may not even realize you are breathing. At this point become mindful and bring yourself back to concentrating on your nostrils. As this practice is continued notice a sensation of sign which is the third object of your meditation. It could be almost anything, from a star, to a mountain top, a cloud or even the moon or the sun. Most times my sign object is the ocean. As I breath in the waves are coming in. As my breath goes goes out the waves are receding, just like my breath is going in and out.
In Insight or Mindfulness meditation you must realize that everything in your experience happens for one moment and passes on. Just as you notice how the feeling of your breath is the physical part and the mental part would be the consciousness of feeling and consciousness of sign. While noticing them, you will see how they are changing all of the time. You will have different types of sensations in your body. Notice them and then let the thought pass. Notice the changing moments, but notice that you can only concentrate on the present moment. Momentary concentration is the mind uniting with the present moment. As these moments appear and disappear, let your mind keep pace with these thoughts. It is important not to cling to them, just allow them to disappear. Do not try to stop your mind at a certain moment, the mind will not be held, and you become frustrated. With progression all moments awake can become a concentrated moment.

As you move deeper into meditation, the dislike of unpleasant thoughts and the wants of pleasant thoughts will be replaced by insight into impermanence and selflessness. With this knowledge you will be on your way to become a more peaceful and calm person. As your mind and breath become united with the expansion and contraction of our lungs and abdomen we are in universal rhythm.
The mind will not always stay with the breath. We will experience different states with memories and emotions and mental formations. When those states rise, focus on them one at a time, and then let them fade away. After they have faded away it is time to focus on the breath again. Think of your breath as home base, and your memories and emotions as a small trip from home, and then returning back home. All of your trips will be taken in the mind itself.
Every time you take a journey and return to the breath you will become more mindful of the occurrences that went on and gain deeper insight into impermanence and selflessness. You will come to a realization of the complexities of the mind and body. [3]


Posture and Clothing

The practice of meditation is very refined because it has been practiced for several thousand years. There are several practices to help master the skill of Mindfulness meditation. There are several reasons for using various postures. By providing a stable feeling for your body you won’t need to concern yourself with fatigue and balance. This will allow you to better concentrate on meditation. By remaining immobile your mind will be able to concentrate on being tranquil. You also want to be able to sit for an extended period of time without having to endure pain of muscular tension and falling asleep. The best position is with your back straight and your head in line with the rest of your body. Sit straight, but in a relaxed manor with the rest of the body in a loose and relaxed manor.
You need to be comfortable enough to sit without moving for your entire meditation period. Sitting with a straight back will take practice but is very important. This type of stance will give you mental alertness, while slouching can cause drowsiness. It is important to use a chair or pillow when sitting. Too much pain will keep you from concentrating.
Your clothes that are worn for meditation should be something loose and soft. Pants that are made for anybody should be loose and thin or made with an elastic material. For women a long loose skirt would work fine. Robes are a good choice. Don’t wear shoes and if you are wearing tight socks or stockings take them off too.

There are several different ways to fold your legs when sitting.
American Style is done by tucking the right foot under the left knee and the left foot under the right knee.
The Burmese style is done by putting both legs parallel to each other with your legs flat on the floor.
The half lotus is done by having both knees touch the floor with one leg and foot lying flat along the calf of the other leg.
The full lotus is both knees touching the floor and the legs are crossed at the calf. The left foot is on the right thigh and the right foot is on the left thigh.
With the postures mentioned here, your hands will rest on your lap cupped together with the palms of your hands pointed upwards. Relax your whole body and keep your chin up. I close my eyes but they can be left open.
If sitting on the floor will not work because of physical limitations a chair will work. I use a chair because of knee surgery in the past and I am unable to sit on the floor. Do whatever works for you. It is best to use a chair that has a straight back with no arms. Sit with your feet flat on the floor.
While in one of these sitting positions you want to remain still and relaxed, but stay alert. [4]

How to use your mind while meditating.

There are many different things to focus on while meditating. I have found that by focusing on the breath first and then note other phenomena such as your body against the cushion, or the feeling of one leg against the other as they arise while meditating.
The main reason we focus on a specific thing is to become aware. As the mind wanders we go back to the breath, and become aware of our breathing. If we let the mind wander without going back to our breathing, which I call home base, one thought will lead to another. Fifteen minutes later you realize that the time was spent in a fantasy daydream or thoughts about work. There is a big difference of being aware of the thought, and thinking the thought. When you are aware of the thought you let it pass and go back to the breath. When you are thinking the thought it is easy to become engulfed in it and a lot of time will pass before you are aware of it. As you are in deep concentration the thought process will slow down but awareness will speed up.
Think of your mind as a wild animal. Go in the woods and capture a wild animal. Then take the animal and tie him to a post. The animal will howl and pull at the rope. This may go on for some time. After the animal decides it is no use to fight against the rope. Eventually he will calm down. Once he settles down you can begin to give him water and something to eat. Eventually he mind will be trained. The mind is like the animal. It must be tamed. By taming your mind your concentration will improve and in the process you will become more mindful.

So why do we try using something as mundane as breathing? The breath is common to every living creature. It is cheap and available. It is always there for us. If you think about it for a moment breath is like life itself. It is in a constant state of change. It moves in cycles, just like life: breath in, breath out. Breath is not even noticed unless you look for and tune into it. That is why it works so well for meditating.
The way to use the breath for meditating is to find it. As you breath in and out try to notice where the sensation of - the breath is in your nose. I notice it just inside the tip of my nose. Once you have found out where that point is, fix your attention on it as you breathe. Stay focused as you are breathing. It is similar to a person sawing wood. As the saw move up and down you stay focused on the point of contact with the wood. If you were to watch the saw move up and down it would be very hard to concentrate. It is the same with the breath, focus on the point of contact.
Breathing can seem uncomplicated until you start to actually think about it. There are long breaths, short breaths, deep and shallow breath, smooth breath and ragged breath. As you study your breath you will notice how it is constantly moving but repeating itself. As I reach deeper states of meditation I notice my breath slows down. In the beginning you will notice how you will become easily distracted. Just return to focusing on the breath and after awhile you will find you are distracted less. Try to avoid the thinking mind. But also avoid the sinking mind. That is when your mind is not aware, you are floating in a kind of dreamless sleep.
After a well-done session you will feel refreshed and full of energy. I meditate in the morning so I am in a good mood, full of energy and ready for the day ahead. I think of my meditation as a little vacation I take to prepare for my daily living. [5]

Set a time for Meditation

It is a good idea to get into a habit of meditating at a certain time every day. I am a creature of habit. I get up early in the morning and start the day out with a nice relaxing shower. That way I have a clean and refreshed feeling when I meditate. Then I will do a couple of light stretching exercises. I sit in the same chair and usually start at the same time each day. It is usually still dark outside, and if I would start later I make sure I am sitting in a darkened room. You will become very relaxed sitting in the same spot every day. I have tried a different spot and chair, but because I associate my normal spot with tranquility I realized it is best to sit in the same spot if possible, because I reach deeper states of meditation faster. I have a bell set with a timer so I will know when my session is up. When I hear the bells ring I get off the chair and feel ready for the day ahead of me. It is a good feeling. I normally meditate 45 minutes every morning. If I have a particularly stressful day I will meditate at night, but as a rule I meditate once a day.
For a beginner 20 minutes is a good starting point. Sit as long as you can, but don’t overdo it. It is no good to keep meditating if you are sitting in pain. It is alright to peek at your watch to time your session. But if that is happening every two minutes you are not doing yourself any good. You will find that every time you look at the time you will lose your concentration, and you may never reach a deep stage of meditation. That is why bells or a chime set to the time you want to sit is a good idea. I never need to look at a clock because I will know my time is up when the bell rings. It is a very soft bell so I do not get jolted out of a deep meditation.
I sit in a chair because I am physical unable to sit in a lotus position so I don’t have a problem with my legs going to sleep. According to what I read, numbness of the legs is nothing to get concerned about. It is just a nerve pinch. Just observe it and stay calm. After practice your body will become used to it. If you are considering not meditating anymore because of this issue I would sit in a chair. Just remember to keep your legs flat on the ground and sit upright.

You will find that drowsiness can be a problem while meditating. When meditating it is quite normal for your body to become relaxed and very calm. When this does happen become aware and concentrate on the drowsiness. If this does not work because you were working hard all day or just had a large meal this is something to try. Take a deep breath and hold for as long as you can. Then slowly breath out. Repeat until the drowsiness retreats, and you can return to your breath.

You may also run into the inability to concentrate. It may be conflicts that arose during the day. Or it may have been a great movie that you just saw. Try to get any thoughts that keep running through your head well thought out before meditating. Try to empty your mind first.


Beginners may also try too hard. When I started meditating I didn’t know what to expect. I thought there would be big results very soon. I was wrong. I started to get discouraged but I know that many of the books I read that it takes more time than most beginners realized so I kept at it. I also noticed that I would be watching the clock a lot, waiting for the time to be up. I was counting my breathes at the time and I would look at the clock to see my breathings was staying the same every two minutes or so. I finally got to the point of not counting the breathes I took. I found I did not look at the clock nearly as much. I felt I was making progress. Once I set a soft bell to a timer and I stop clock watching my quality of meditation increased greatly. I noticed that I was starting to feel refreshed and happy after a session. I was ready to take on the rigors of the day. I think I was practicing about six months and I reached a point where I could truthfully say my meditating had reached a point that I envisioned when I started. Iwas still advancing after that but not at as quick of a pace, and I am still advancing, even after over two years of daily meditation. So what I would like to say to all beginners reading this. Don’t give up, keep trying and one day you will come to the realization that it was worth the hard effort you put into it. Any person who has been meditating a long time, will say the road is hard and it will take time and practice. [6]

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is when you become aware of the moment. It is the awareness that is experienced just as you focus your mind or see something. It is the moment when you look at a cloud or a tree, before your mind says to you “it is a tree, or it is a cloud”. Mindfulness is so fleeting it is almost unobservable. Meditating trains us to prolong the moment of awareness. Once this point is reached it will change your whole outlook on life and daily living.
Think of mindfulness as present time awareness. Memory is when you are remembering a good movie you saw recently. When you are aware of remembering the movie, that is mindfulness. When you say to yourself, “I am remembering,” that is thinking. It is actually difficult to define mindfulness in words because it is so basic and simple. Sometimes the simple things in life are the hardest to explain.


I have a fairly long drive to my workplace every day. Before I started meditating I would be thinking about, things that needed to be taken care of at work, what move I watched last night or other things going on in my life. I would never notice the moment. My mind was a flurry of passing thoughts. As my meditations progressed I slowly became mindful on my drive. I would see the clouds, the trees, other cars. I would just become aware of them and move on to the next object. I would still let other thoughts flow into my head though. As I progressed with my meditation my periods of awareness increased. I still have other thoughts floating through my head on my drive but my awareness keeps increasing. After my morning meditation and my peaceful drive in the morning I am ready for my tasks of the day. It seems like on my ride home at the end of the day I am not as mindful as my morning ride, because I have a lot of thoughts about the events of the day. I am working on improving mindfulness on my ride home. [7]



If you are interested in ordering a book meditation book, this is what I consider my Top 5. Here are the links to Amazon Books. My favorite would have to be Midfulness In Plain English. it is written for the average person to read and get a good understanding into the basics of meditation.



1. Mindfulness in Plain English
I have been meditating for several years now and have built up a small library of books on the subject. When friends ask me about meditation I dig around in all the books with great covers and reach for "Mindfulness In Plain English" every time.


2. Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English

If you advance into deeper meditation, this is essential reading.
The focus here is on the Jhanas, those meditative states of profound stillness and concentration in which the mind becomes fully immersed and absorbed in the chosen object of attention. Using the Jhanas to guide readers along the path to joy, happiness, equanimity, and one-pointedness, the author provides all of the instruction necessary to utilize meditation as a tool for building a more fulfilling life.



3. Breath By Breath
This is another good book. Rosenberg's approach to meditation and Buddhism comes without the baggage of superstition and folklore that attach themselves to some books on these topics. Rosenberg offers not only basic instruction, but a path for advancing one's practice through the various contemplative steps.



4. Insight Meditation - A Step by Step Course
This is a good book that also comes with 2 CD's. While you use these CD's to really get in touch with the truth of your life, the workbook is a nice way to affirm what you are finding in your meditation.



5. Meditation for Beginners
Jack Kornfield is a perfect teacher of meditation, especially for Westerners because he approaches it in a non-sectarian way. The program starts with the most basic form of meditation on the breath, and leads through ever slightly more subtle forms of Vipassana Meditation.

References


1.Mindfulness in Plain English
Meditation, Why Bother?


2.Mindfulness in Plain English
Attitude


3.Mindfulness in Plain English
The Practice


4.Mindfulness in Plain English
What To Do With Your Body


5.Mindfulness in Plain English
What To Do With Your Mind


6.Mindfulness in Plain English
Setting A Time For Meditation


7.Mindfulness in Plain English
Meditation

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