Vipassana Meditation

Recently I attended a 10 day retreat of Vipassana Meditation. My interest in meditation has developed over past 3 years. Last year I started practicing Mindfulness Meditation and found it ver helpful. This year I decided to take next step and explore the Meditation technique deeper by committing to a 10-day course.

The experience was intense, mentally. A retreat like this is a brief taste of what a prison life could be. But I did come out of it with better understanding of my mind and the excercise of Meditation. I have since had lot of thoughts on the matter, but here I’m going to only list the steps in the technique.

These are the essential steps of the Vipassana meditation

  1. Start with focusing your mind on the breath. Find a comfortable posture and keep your eyes closed. Observe the breath coming in and going out of your nostrils. Keep your mind clear of any other thoughts. Do not control the breath. Only observe it. If you find that your mind is wandering too much, take few hard breaths so that your focus comes back to the breath. Then gradually return to normal breathing. One can do this as long as they want. At certain point you may feel a deep calmness. It may take few days of practicing this to reach that point, depending upon how occupied your mind is. The feeling of calm is very comforting, how do not set it as a goal. Keep your mind focused on the breath all along, even when you feel calm. This step is also called Anapana meditation.

  2. Once you have learnt to calm your mind by focusing on the breath. Focus on the small triangular area around your nostrils. Try to feel any sensations that you can detect on the area just below the nostrils and above your upper lip. The idea is to teach you to observe a specific part of your body for sensations. Initially you will only detect gross sensations, but gradually you will find subtle ones in the same area. This is the first step of Vipassana meditation.The sensation you may feel can be anything - warmth, cold, itch, etc. Focus your mind on that part of the body (here the area around nostrils) and observe if you can sense any of these sensations. If you do not sense anything, do NOT get frustrated (This is important). Keep looking for them, without losing your focus.

  3. The next step is to scan your entire body from head-to-tow and back from tow-to-head continuously, observing small area on your body one after another, looking for any sensations you may feel on them. Again, these might be obvious gross sensations like sweat, cold, feeling of touch from your clothes, breeze, pain, etc. After a while you may observe very fine sensations too. It will take long time and lot of practice and patience to feel such sensations throughout your body. (In a first time 10-day course one is not supposed to reach that stage) But the goal of the excercise is to keep your mind focused on observing those sensations and not get frustrated if you don’t find them. Note that, while you are observing sensations on one part of your body, say your right shoulder; you should not switch your focus if your right foot starts hurting at the same time. Your mind should not react to the sensations in your body, but should only observe what it has chosen to observe at a given moment. Once you feel all the sensations on your body, you can then also start focusing on the inside of your body. Years of practice of this technique leads to the practitioner feeling all the sensations throughout their body as a continuous flow. This ultimate feeling is - purportedly - a knowledge of Bhanga - The dissolution of ego.

There is healthy amount of theory built on top of this practice. It’s the basic teaching of Buddhism and guides the practitioner of the technique into living a life free of misery.

The Vipassana meditation, as I found out, is slightly different from Mindfulness meditation. The former is developed in Buddhism centuries ago and has been passed along through generations. The later is a more accessible, light-weight, suited-for-modern-life version of the former. Both start with focusing your mind on the breath. In mindfulness meditation, there is also a step on focusing what’s going on in your body. However it’s not as strict. But the most important difference in two techniques is the observation of thoughts. In mindfulness meditation, once you have calmed your mind, you are instructed to bring some thoughts in your mind one by one. And observe them as they continue to unroll in your mind. This is a very essential and useful technique. Eventually it allows you to observe your mind even in everyday life when you are in distress.




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