Monday, January 11, 2010

The Simple Elegance of Vipassana

One of the aspects of vipassana (mindfulness) meditation that I find most useful and interesting is how, in this style of meditation, everything is included and nothing is wasted. In addition, everything that we need to make it work is included in the practice itself, making it simple, elegant, and effective. This is the genius of vipassana.

Here's what I mean... First of all, we establish the breath as the primary object of attention. The breath is a present-moment sensory experience - we can feel the breath coming in and going out through the nose through the sense of touch. By paying attention to this experience, the mind begins to gather around this experience, much like a magnet attracts iron filings.

For a while, we are able to stay with this present moment sensory experience, but pretty soon the mind begins to wander off into one thought or another. At first we may not notice this has happened, but then we awaken, and make the choice to return the attention back to the feeling of the breath. 

Many practitioners mistakenly think that the wandering mind is the enemy and must be avoided at all costs. First of all, avoiding the wandering mind would be impossible because minds tend to wander. Secondly, the wandering mind is an important component of vipassana meditation because it provides the process of awakening, and the process of returning back to the present moment sensory reality of the breath. Because of this, the wandering mind is just as much a part of vipassana as is the breath. Furthermore, without the wandering mind experience, there would be no awakening and returning.

Additionally, this loop - from breath, to wandering mind, to awakening, and then return to the breath - offers the reference template for dealing with suffering in our daily life. When we catch ourselves caught up in a pattern of ruminating over some upsetting thing, or the mind will not let go of some unpleasant thought, we can disengage from these thoughts and return to a present moment sensory reality such as the breath. This will help us see the reality of our situation more clearly than when we are trapped in the thoughts and stories that the mind tells us.


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