Meditation is not easy. It requires much patience and determination. It may leave us dissatisfied and frustrated. It’s much harder than getting in front of the TV or the computer. So why meditate at all? Why make time and spend energy on something that may not be pleasant or entertaining? The answer is because we are spiritual beings.
And as spiritual beings, we find ourselves quite often questioning our purpose and even our very existance. We can distract ourselves with fleeting moments of pleasure and fun. We can shop for yet another gadget or another pair of shoes. All fine and well, but extremely impermanent! The same nagging question of “what is this life all about” returns over and over again.
So you and I set on this journey of self discovery. We feel that underneath the facade lay the answers to our questions. Yes, there is more to our life than whats on the news or on the Internet. So let’s get right into it shall we?
What Mindfulness Meditation is Not
Before examining what meditation is, let’s take a look at what it’s not. Meditation is not a religion, although it is a spiritual path. Meditation is not dangerous, and it’s not a cult and you are not getting brainwashed. It’s not just a way to relax but relaxation is a part of it.
Meditation is not about hypnotising yourself or turning off your emotions. But meditation does help with placing those emotions in perspective. You are not going to transform yourself into a superman, simply being a human is enough.
In meditation, you are not trying to escape reality. We do that in our everyday life already. Meditation is actually just the opposite. It addresses that which is real. Finally, meditation is not a quick fix for our worldly problems. Meditation takes much effort and discipline. So is it worth it? Let’s see what meditation is.
What is Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation, in this case Vipassana meditation technique, falls into the insight or mindfulness meditation techniques. It is because in this practice, the object of meditation is the present moment. I am talking about full awareness here. In fact, Vipassana students are meticulously observing the feelings and thoughts arising in their mind.
In our daily lives, we generally focus very little on what is really going on. We simply don’t pay enough attention. Through the process of mindful meditation, we gradually wake up to the reality of our existence. During this process we also learn to observe the characteristics of our ego.
Vipassana is a form of training that will teaches us to see life in a new way. You will see what’s going on with you, what’s going on around you and inside of you. You will become both, the observer of your experiences, and the one who is being observed.
Vipassana practice is a practice of being completely honest with ourselves. When we are observing our mind and body, we come across many unpleasant things. We come across unpleasant thoughts and emotions, too painful to recognize right away.
In our mindfulness meditation exercises, we will come across painful sensations in our bodies that we don’t like and try to push away. We do not like getting old, getting sick and the idea of dying. We do not like being judged, laughed at and ridiculed. These are just a few examples of our dislikes. With Vipassana, we learn to face and to deal with these and other issues.
Once you have assumed the sitting position, do not alter it for the duration of your session. Refer to various sitting positions here. If you are new to meditation, begin with as little as 10 minutes. The time can be gradually increased with experience. There are no schedules or deadlines in Vipassana, as we are simply working toward the goal of full awareness. We get there when we get there, that is all.
Now close your eyes. We want to keep still as long as possible to allow the restlessness in the mind to subside. We must now provide a mental object for the mind to focus on. Our breath is such an object. Notice the abdomen raising and falling as you are breathing normally. Do not verbalize anything, just notice your breathing. Notice the breath becoming longer or shorter, deeper or shallower. Notices the pauses between inhalation and exhalation. Watch the breath.
Your mind is going to wander around. It may remember events from earlier today or in the past, it may see images. It will remember faces and places and it will fantasize about something in the future, such as a scheduled meeting, or other events. As soon as you notice that your mind is not on your object, gently return it to watching the breath again.
To assist yourself with maintaining your focus, you may count your inhalations and exhalations as one. Mentally count “one” with the exhale, take a new breath and count “two” with the next exhale, etc. Count up to five and then count back from five to one. Once you become centered, stop counting and return to observing.
Vipassana meditation employs several different postures of sitting. The most important aspect is not to focus extensively on the external factors of meditation, but to rather focus on the practice itself. When deciding on the sitting postures, pick one that feels stable and does not cause excessive pain or discomfort during the practice.
The mind is a tricky thing. It has been compared to a wild monkey or an untamed horse. Deep concentration is necessary in order to slow down the mind and allow yourself to peacefully observe. Mindful breathing results in calmness and eventually leads to acute awareness of the present moment. We are not concerned with the last breath and we are not concerned with the next one. Only the breath that we’re on.
We are training the mind. Training it to be aware of things exactly as they are. Exactly as they occur, at the exact time of the occurrence. This is not something achieved quickly. We must practice until this process becomes natural. We begin small by observing the breath. We continue until our very lives are transformed.
Dealing with Problems and Distractions
Pain – You will most likely feel some pain. This may be caused by uncomfortable clothing, the sitting posture itself, an injury, headache or illness. The experience of pain is a normal part of life. If there is a known source of pain, treat it before sitting down to meditate. Check your clothing to make sure they are comfortable and loose enough. Adjust your sitting position to avoid slouching, etc. But, keep in mind that some pain may be unavoidable.
According with Vipassana meditation instructions, we deal with the pain by using it as the object of our concentration. Allow your self to fully go into the pain. Don’t push it away or try to ignore it. Do just the opposite. We have a lot of mental resistance to pain, which causes discomfort and irritation. Try to stop resisting and you will feel the pain subside.
Distraction – Everyone experiences lack of attention and restlessness at times. There are several ways to address this. Structure your schedule so that your meditation sessions take place at the time that your mind is at its quietest. For instance, first thing in the morning after you awake or after a yoga session or a leisure walk in the park.
Avoid meditation right after an emotional encounter. Or while being heavily preoccupied by an urgent matter. Find the right time in your schedule for a more productive and deep meditation. If you can’t help the restlessness, just accept and observe it. You can choose to make the restlessness the object of your awareness for that particular session.
Sleepiness – One of the goals of meditation is to put you in a relaxed state. Unfortunately, we associate this feeling with falling asleep. So it is natural to experience some drowsiness during meditation. You should take some precautions such as making sure that you’ve had enough sleep the night before. Don’t meditate shortly after a big meal, or after you got physically exhausted.
Don’t succumb to falling asleep. If you are experiencing sleepiness, take several deep, deliberate breaths with slow exhalation. This should awaken you enough, so that you can return back to normal breathing.
Everyone will have some type of problems while meditating. Don’t allow them to discourage you from your practice. Use these problems as opportunities to learn about yourself. This will allow you to grow personally and spiritually, and to continue with your practice.
The purpose of walking meditation is to establish a bond between seated meditation and your everyday life. Walking meditation is a deliberate, mindful exercise of meditation in motion. It is practiced by maintaining your focus on each aspect of walking as it occurs.
Find a secluded area. Walk naturally at the slowest comfortable pace. Don’t worry about how you look to others. Keep your awareness on the sensations in your legs and feet. Notice how each step is divided into many separate parts. Feel the pressure of each step on your joints. Feel the weight on each foot. Sense your muscles working to move you forward.
Keep your body relaxed and your head up. Don’t focus your eyes on anything in particular. In the beginning, mentally acknowledge each part of the walking process. Say, lifting, swinging, coming down, placing, stepping” etc. This is to help you concentrate. After a while, this will not be necessary as you will be naturally submersed in the process.
Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
The goal of mindfulness meditation training is to transform your life by teaching you to become completely present in all that you do. Everyday activities such as brushing your teeth and washing the dishes are an experience in awareness. Time slows down, and true life experiences reveal themselves.
There are a number of quality Vipassana meditation courses available today that address every aspect of how to do mindfulness meditation correctly. They come in popular formats such as MP3’s, CD’s and the Internet. Mindfulness meditation benefits virtually every aspect of your life, which makes the cost of a professional instruction well worth it.
A long time ago, I was present at a guided Vipassana meditation retreat at the Spirit Rock Vipassana Meditation Center in Northern California. The retreat was held by Jack Kornfield, an authority on Vipassana meditation and the main founder of Spirit Rock.
At the end of the retreat, after the last session, Jack Kornfield handed each one of us a single raisin. He then guided us through the process of mindfully eating that raisin. From observing the raisin in the hand, to smelling and feeling it’s texture in our mouth, sensing the changes in the body to deliberately chewing and swallowing it.
The whole process took almost 30 minutes. To this day, it has been the best meal I’ve ever had! It is my wish that you experience the same kind of mindfulness and fulfillment in everything that you do, and everything you love as I did with my raisin.
Be well. Vlad