Vipassana (insight) meditation explained

Vipassana (or insight) meditation is another form of meditation that you might come across - it's a kind of "what next" after you've been meditating for a while. Initially I was confused by vipassana because people seem to interchange between using the term "mindfulness" and "vipassana", and there seemed to be no specific intructions on what it was. I'm going to attempt to explain it here so I can get it straight in my own head.

In general, we start meditating by using tranquility or mindfulness to bring some steadiness to our minds - a form of samadhi/concentration. In this state, the mind is settled and we no longer get drawn away from our calm abiding by compulsive thinking - our mind isn't racing about here, there and everywhere. This in itself is a pleasant place to hang out in, but we might notice that although we are calm in meditation, we are not so brilliant when we resume our everyday lives.

So, there must be something more to explore about ourselves - this is where vipassana meditation comes in. We use our calm, concentrated mind to pay attention to our moment by moment experience - mindfulness of existance, if you like. As we focus on our inner mental landscape, insights arise - we notice that thoughts just happen, there are physical objects and our mental experience of those objects, things arise in our mind and leave our mind, and so on. Insights are different from statements of fact because they are experienced and realised in awareness - it's the difference between seeing a photograph of a beach and actually sitting on the beach. As vipassana meditation deepens, the insights become more and more profound and the fundamental nature of our reality as human beings becomes unravelled. That's not something to get into now, suffice to say that no stone is left unturned.

So, how do you do vipassana? Different teachers have different approaches. One way is to use the breath. Once the mind is still, we focus our attention on where the breathing can be felt and really delve into that experience. How do we know that we are breathing? How do we experience the breath? Is the experience constant? What sensations are there? Is the beginning the same as the end? How do we know each moment of the breath? What is the finest resolution of these moments? Gradually, as we look deeper, the concept of the breath dismantles and there are just sensations in the body and experiences in the mind. Seeing these mental experiences coming and going is the beginning of the insight journey.


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