purpose of Vipassana meditation is nothing less than the
radical and permanent transformation of your entire sensory
and cognitive experience. It is meant to revolutionize
the whole of your life experience. Those periods of seated
practice are times set aside for instilling new mental
habits. You learn new ways to receive and understand sensation.
You develop new methods of dealing with conscious thought,
and new modes of attending to the incessant rush of your
own emotions. These new mental behaviors must be made
to carry over into the rest of your life.
meditation remains dry and fruitless, a theoretical
segment of your existence that is unconnected to all
the rest. Some effort to connect these two segments
is essential. A certain amount of carry-over will take
place spontaneously, but the process will be slow and
unreliable. You are very likely to be left with the
feeling that you are getting nowhere and to drop the
process as unrewarding.
of the most memorable events in your meditation career
is the moment when you first realize that you are meditation
in the midst of some perfectly ordinary activity. You
are driving down the freeway or carrying out the trash
and it just turns on by itself. This unplanned outpouring
of the skills you have been so carefully fostering is
a genuine joy. It gives you a tiny window on the future.
You catch a spontaneous glimpse of what the practice
really means. The possibility strikes you that this
transformation of consciousness could actually become
a permanent feature of your experience. You realize
that you could actually spend the rest of your days
standing aside from the debilitating clamoring of your
own obsessions, no longer frantically hounded by your
own needs and greed. You get a tiny taste of what it
is like to just stand aside and watch it all flow past.
It's a magic moment.
vision is liable to remain unfulfilled, however, unless
you actively seek to promote the carry-over process.
The most important moment in meditation is the instant
you leave the cushion. When your practice session is
over, you can jump up and drop the whole thing, or you
can bring those skills with you into the rest of your
is crucial for you to understand what meditation is.
It is not some special posture, and it's not just a
set of mental exercises. Meditation is a cultivation
of mindfulness and the application of that mindfulness
once cultivated. You do not have to sit to meditate.
You can meditate while washing the dishes. You can meditate
in the shower, or roller skating, or typing letters.
Meditation is awareness, and it must be applied to each
and every activity of one's life. This isn't easy.
specifically cultivate awareness through the seated
posture in a quiet place because that's the easiest
situation in which to do so. Meditation in motion is
harder. Meditation in the midst of fast-paced noisy
activity is harder still. And meditation in the midst
of intensely egoistic activities like romance or arguments
is the ultimate challenge. The beginner will have his
hands full with less stressful activities.
the ultimate goal of practice remains: to build one's
concentration and awareness to a level of strength that
will remain unwavering even in the midst of the pressures
of life in contemporary society. Life offers many challenges
and the serious meditator is very seldom bored.
your meditation into the events of your daily life is
not a simple process. Try it and you will see. That
transition point between the end of your meditation
session and the beginning of 'real life' is a long jump.
It's too long for most of us. We find our calm and concentration
evaporating within minutes, leaving us apparently no
better off than before. In order to bridge this gulf,
Buddhists over the centuries have devised an array of
exercises aimed at smoothing the transition. They take
that jump and break it down into little steps. Each
step can be practiced by itself.
everyday existence is full of motion and activity. Sitting
utterly motionless for hours on end is nearly the opposite
of normal experience. Those states of clarity and tranquility
we foster in the midst of absolute stillness tend to
dissolve as soon as we move. We need some transitional
exercise that will teach us the skill of remaining calm
and aware in the midst of motion. Walking meditation
helps us make that transition from static repose to
everyday life. It's meditation in motion, and it is
often used as an alternative to sitting. Walking is
especially good for those times when you are extremely
restless. An hour of walking meditation will often get
you through that restless energy and still yield considerable
quantities of clarity. You can then go on to the seated
meditation with greater profit.
Buddhist practice advocates frequent retreats to complement
your daily sitting practice. A retreat is a relatively
long period of time devoted exclusively to meditation.
One or two day retreats are common for lay people. Seasoned
meditators in a monastic situation may spend months
at a time doing nothing else. Such practice is rigorous,
and it makes sizable demands on both mind and body.
Unless you have been at it for several years, there
is a limit to how long you can sit and profit. Ten solid
hours of the seated posture will produce in most beginners
a state of agony that far exceeds their concentration
powers. A profitable retreat must therefore be conducted
with some change of posture and some movement. The usual
pattern is to intersperse blocks of sitting with blocks
of walking meditation. An hour of each with short breaks
between is common.
do the walking meditation, you need a private place
with enough space for at least five to ten paces in
a straight line. You are going to be walking back and
forth very slowly, and to the eyes of most Westerners,
you'll look curious and disconnected from everyday life.
This is not the sort of exercise you want to perform
on the front lawn where you'll attract unnecessary attention.
Choose a private place.
physical directions are simple. Select an unobstructed
area and start at one end. Stand for a minute in an
attentive position. Your arms can be held in any way
that is comfortable, in front, in back, or at your sides.
Then while breathing in, lift the heel of one foot.
While breathing out, rest that foot on its toes. Again
while breathing in, lift that foot, carry it forward
and while breathing out, bring the foot down and touch
the floor. Repeat this for the other foot. Walk very
slowly to the opposite end, stand for one minute, then
turn around very slowly, and stand there for another
minute before you walk back. Then repeat the process.
Keep you head up and you neck relaxed. Keep your eyes
open to maintain balance, but don't look at anything
in particular. Walk naturally. Maintain the slowest
pace that is comfortable, and pay no attention to your
surroundings. Watch out for tensions building up in
the body, and release them as soon as you spot them.
Don't make any particular attempt to be graceful. Don't
try to look pretty. This is not an athletic exercise,
or a dance. It is an exercise in awareness. Your objective
is to attain total alertness, heightened sensitivity
and a full, unblocked experience of the motion of walking.
Put all of your attention on the sensations coming from
the feet and legs. Try to register as much information
as possible about each foot as it moves. Dive into the
pure sensation of walking, and notice every subtle nuance
of the movement. Feel each individual muscle as it moves.
Experience every tiny change in tactile sensation as
the feet press against the floor and then lift again.
the way these apparently smooth motions are composed
of complex series of tiny jerks. Try to miss nothing.
In order to heighten your sensitivity, you can break
the movement down into distinct components. Each foot
goes through a lift, a swing; and then a down tread.
Each of these components has a beginning, middle, and
end. In order to tune yourself in to this series of
motions, you can start by making explicit mental notes
of each stage.
a mental note of "lifting, swinging, coming down, touching
floor, pressing" and so on. This is a training procedure
to familiarize you with the sequence of motions and
to make sure that you don't miss any. As you become
more aware of the myriad subtle events going on, you
won't have time for words. You will find yourself immersed
in a fluid, unbroken awareness of motion. The feet will
become your whole universe. If your mind wanders, note
the distraction in the usual way, then return your attention
to walking. Don't look at your feet while you are doing
all of this, and don't walk back and forth watching
a mental picture of your feet and legs. Don't think,
just feel. You don't need the concept of feet and you
don't need pictures. Just register the sensations as
they flow. In the beginning, you will probably have
some difficulties with balance. You are using the leg
muscles in a new way, and a learning period is natural.
If frustration arises, just note that and let it go.
Vipassana walking technique is designed to flood your
consciousness with simple sensations, and to do it so
thoroughly that all else is pushed aside. There is no
room for thought and no room for emotion. There is no
time for grasping, and none for freezing the activity
into a series of concepts. There is no need for a sense
of self. There is only the sweep of tactile and kinesthetic
sensation, an endless and ever-changing flood of raw
experience. We are learning here to escape into reality,
rather than from it. Whatever insights we gain are directly
applicable to the rest of our notion-filled lives.
goal of our practice is to become fully aware of all
facets of our experience in an unbroken, moment-to-moment
flow. Much of what we do and experience is completely
unconscious in the sense that we do it with little or
no attention. Our minds are on something else entirely.
We spend most of our time running on automatic pilot,
lost in the fog of day-dreams and preoccupations.
of the most frequently ignored aspects of our existence
is our body. The technicolor cartoon show inside our
head is so alluring that we tend to remove all of our
attention from the kinesthetic and tactile senses. That
information is pouring up the nerves and into the brain
every second, but we have largely sealed it off from
consciousness. It pours into the lower levels of the
mind and it gets no further. Buddhists have developed
an exercise to open the floodgates and let this material
through to consciousness. It's another way of making
the unconscious conscious.
body goes through all kinds of contortions in the course
of a single day. You sit and you stand. You walk and
lie down. You bend, run, crawl, and sprawl. Meditation
teachers urge you to become aware of this constantly
ongoing dance. As you go through your day, spend a few
seconds every few minutes to check your posture. Don't
do it in a judgmental way. This is not an exercise to
correct your posture, or to improve you appearance.
Sweep your attention down through the body and feel
how you are holding it. Make a silent mental note of
'Walking' or 'Sitting' or 'Lying down' or 'Standing'.
It all sounds absurdly simple, but don't slight this
procedure. This is a powerful exercise. If you do it
thoroughly, if you really instil this mental habit deeply,
it can revolutionize your experience. It taps you into
a whole new dimension of sensation, and you feel like
a blind man whose sight has been restored.
action you perform is made up of separate components.
The simple action of tying your shoelaces is made up
of a complex series of subtle motions. Most of these
details go unobserved. In order to promote the overall
habit of mindfulness, you can perform simple activities
at very low speed--making an effort to pay full attention
to every nuance of the act.
at a table and drinking a cup of tea is one example.
There is much here to be experienced. View your posture
as you are sitting and feel the handle of the cup between
your fingers. Smell the aroma of the tea, notice the
placement of the cup, the tea, your arm, and the table.
Watch the intention to raise the arm arise within your
mind, feel the arm as it raises, feel the cup against
your lips and the liquid pouring into your mouth. Taste
the tea, then watch the arising of the intention to
lower your arm. The entire process is fascinating and
beautiful, if you attend to it fully, paying detached
attention to every sensation and to the flow of thought
same tactic can be applied to many of your daily activities.
Intentionally slowing down your thoughts, words and
movements allows you to penetrate far more deeply into
them than you otherwise could. What you find there is
utterly astonishing. In the beginning, it is very difficult
to keep this deliberately slow pace during most regular
activities, but skill grows with time. Profound realizations
occur during sitting meditation, but even more profound
revelations can take place when we really examine our
own inner workings in the midst of day-to-day activities.
This is the laboratory where we really start to see
the mechanisms of our own emotions and the operations
of our passions. Here is where we can truly gauge the
reliability of our reasoning, and glimpse the difference
between our true motives and the armor of pretense that
we wear to fool ourselves and others.
will find a great deal of this information surprising,
much of it disturbing, but all of it useful. Bare attention
brings order into the clutter that collects in those
untidy little hidden corners of the mind. As you achieve
clear comprehension in the midst of life's ordinary
activities, you gain the ability to remain rational
and peaceful while you throw the penetrating light of
mindfulness into those irrational mental nooks and crannies.
You start to see the extent to which you are responsible
for your own mental suffering. You see your own miseries,
fears, and tensions as self-generated. You see the way
you cause your own suffering, weakness, and limitations.
And the more deeply you understand these mental processes,
the less hold they have on you.
seated meditation, our primary focus is the breath.
Total concentration on the ever-changing breath brings
us squarely into the present moment. The same principle
can be used in the midst of movement. You can coordinate
the activity in which you are involved with your breathing.
This lends a flowing rhythm to your movement, and it
smooths out many of the abrupt transitions. Activity
becomes easier to focus on, and mindfulness is increased.
Your awareness thus stays more easily in the present.
Ideally, meditation should be a 24 hour-a-day practice.
This is a highly practical suggestion.
state of mindfulness is a state of mental readiness.
The mind is not burdened with preoccupations or bound
in worries. Whatever comes up can be dealt with instantly.
When you are truly mindful, your nervous system has
a freshness and resiliency which fosters insight. A
problem arises and you simply deal with it, quickly,
efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss. You don't stand
there in a dither, and you don't run off to a quiet
corner so you can sit down and meditate about it. You
simply deal with it. And in those rare circumstances
when no solution seems possible, you don't worry about
that. You just go on to the next thing that needs your
attention. Your intuition becomes a very practical faculty.
concept of wasted time does not exist for a serious
meditator. Little dead spaces during your day can be
turned to profit. Every spare moment can be used for
meditation. Sitting anxiously in the dentist's office,
meditate on your anxiety. Feeling irritated while standing
in a line at the bank, meditate on irritation. Bored,
twiddling you thumbs at the bus stop, meditate on boredom.
Try to stay alert and aware throughout the day. Be mindful
of exactly what is taking place right now, even if it
is tedious drudgery. Take advantage of moments when
you are alone. Take advantage of activities that are
largely mechanical. Use every spare second to be mindful.
Use all the moments you can.
Concentration On All Activities
should try to maintain mindfulness of every activity
and perception through the day, starting with the first
perception when you awake, and ending with the last
thought before you fall asleep. This is an incredibly
tall goal to shoot for. Don't expect to be able to achieve
this work soon. Just take it slowly and let you abilities
grow over time. The most feasible way to go about the
task is to divide your day up into chunks. Dedicate
a certain interval to mindfulness of posture, then extend
this mindfulness to other simple activities: eating,
washing, dressing, and so forth. Some time during the
day, you can set aside 15 minutes or so to practice
the observation of specific types of mental states:
pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings, for instance;
or the hindrances, or thoughts. The specific routine
is up to you. The idea is to get practice at spotting
the various items, and to preserve your state of mindfulness
as fully as you can throughout the day.
to achieve a daily routine in which there is as little
difference as possible between seated meditation and
the rest of your experience. Let the one slide naturally
into the other. Your body is almost never still. There
is always motion to observe. At the very least, there
is breathing. Your mind never stops chattering, except
in the very deepest states of concentration. There is
always something coming up to observe. If you seriously
apply your meditation, you will never be at a loss for
something worthy of your attention.
practice must be made to apply to your everyday living
situation. That is your laboratory. It provides the
trials and challenges you need to make your practice
deep and genuine. It's the fire that purifies your practice
of deception and error, the acid test that shows you
when you are getting somewhere and when you are fooling
yourself. If your meditation isn't helping you to cope
with everyday conflicts and struggles, then it is shallow.
If your day-to-day emotional reactions are not becoming
clearer and easier to manage, then you are wasting your
time. And you never know how you are doing until you
actually make that test.
practice of mindfulness is supposed to be a universal
practice. You don't do it sometimes and drop it the
rest of the time. You do it all the time. Meditation
that is successful only when you are withdrawn in some
soundproof ivory tower is still undeveloped. Insight
meditation is the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness.
The meditator learns to pay bare attention to the birth,
growth, and decay of all the phenomena of the mind.
He turns from none of it, and he lets none of it escape.
Thoughts and emotions, activities and desires, the whole
show. He watches it all and he watches it continuously.
It matters not whether it is lovely or horrid, beautiful
or shameful. He sees the way it is and the way it changes.
No aspect of experience is excluded or avoided. It is
a very thoroughgoing procedure.
you are moving through your daily activities and you
find yourself in a state of boredom, then meditate on
your boredom. Find out how it feels, how it works, and
what it is composed of. If you are angry, meditate on
the anger. Explore the mechanics of anger. Don't run
from it. If you find yourself sitting in the grip of
a dark depression, meditate on the depression. Investigate
depression in a detached and inquiring way. Don't flee
from it blindly. Explore the maze and chart its pathways.
That way you will be better able to cope with the next
depression that comes along.
your way through the ups and downs of daily life is
the whole point of Vipassana. This kind of practice
is extremely rigorous and demanding, but it engenders
a state of mental flexibility that is beyond comparison.
A meditator keeps his mind open every second. He is
constantly investigating life, inspecting his own experience,
viewing existence in a detached and inquisitive way.
Thus he is constantly open to truth in any form, from
any source, and at any time. This is the state of mind
you need for Liberation.
is said that one may attain enlightenment at any moment
if the mind is kept in a state of meditative readiness.
The tiniest, most ordinary perception can be the stimulus:
a view of the moon, the cry of a bird, the sound of
the wind in the trees. it's not so important what is
perceived as the way in which you attend to that perception.
The state of open readiness is essential. It could happen
to you right now if you are ready. The tactile sensation
of this book in your fingers could be the cue. The sound
of these words in your head might be enough. You could
attain enlightenment right now, if you are ready.