Vipassana Meditation and Introduction
Vipassana meditation, as taught by S. N. Goenka, has been practiced in India, Europe, the United States and in many other parts of the world. There are various claims for effectiveness when used as a form of meditative treatment with various populations (often correctional and substance using populations); however, there is generally a dearth of research with strong empirical controls and designs. Since Vipassana is a very old form of meditation, there must be something helpful about practicing it. A key principle in Vipassana is that as people learn to refine perception of awareness – in this case usually of bodily sensations – they also begin to realize a key tenet of meditative theory. That tenet is: all experiences and phenomena of the human mind and body are impermanent. Awareness and the experience itself simply arise and fall away. Mindful attention and refined concentration on personal experiences (including joy and suffering) augment understandings that all human experience (including human life) is impermanent. Readers are advised to read Goenka on your own. In that way you will obtain a well-informed cognitive explanation of the process. Here I will provide a few Vipassana guidelines and training suggestions. I hope you will try them.
Reported Outcomes of Vipassana Meditation
- There may be greater insight into the reality of experienced phenomena via impermanence.
- There may be enhanced awareness of immediate experience.
- There may be a calm or nervous experiential process.
- There may be non-judgmental observation of WHAT you are experiencing NOW.
- Over time, you may learn how to become liberated from negative emotions and cravings.
- If you experience personal liberation, you may reduce attachment and aversion.
- You may develop wise-mind skills to radically accept whatever you are experiencing now without evaluation or reactions.
- Ultimately, you may become personally aware of your own transformation.
Some Basic Rules in Vipassana
- Quietly maintain a prolonged, non-evaluative focus on the feeling of your breath.
- Be open and let go – expect nothing specific.
- Do your best to stay in the middle way – not attaching or avoiding whatever comes into your awareness.
- Expand pure awareness, attention and concentration on what you are experiencing now – especially sensations.
- Do not problem-solve, that is do not analyze, associate, chase/avoid your thoughts and emotions – simply continue to refocus your non-evaluative attention on your sensations.
- Stay out of your past and future; just be here now with a focus on sensation.
- If you become distracted, simply return a strong focus on your immediate experience and the sensation of it.
- Although various postures have been used in Vipassana, a basic sitting meditation posture may be best for you.
A Sample of Vipassana Mind Training
In sitting position simply notice your breath as you are now breathing. Do not control your breathing, just notice it. With your eyes opened or closed, relax your jaw, bodily muscles, and move into a slower, deeper breathing pattern. Refine your attention so you can become aware bio-perceptually of the feeling of your breath in your body. Many thoughts will come into awareness; simply allow them to pass and return stronger attention to the feeling of your breath as you breathe in and out. As you sit quietly paying strong attention to the feeling of your breath, notice gently what you are seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling. Just pay close attention without judging, associating, following, expanding, or responding to whatever arises in awareness. Starting at the very top of your head, pay close attention to any sensation that arises. You may even notice that the attention by itself may cause some form of feeling. Slowly move to the tip of your nose, then to the center front of your throat. Just noticing sensations in a more concentrative manner. Move onto another part of your body and just pay attention to the sensations as they arise and fall away. Practice pure awareness without evaluation, seeking, dreading, etc. As you also notice thoughts and emotions arising, simply label them “thought” and “emotions.” Do nothing with them; simply continue to pay strong attention to the sensations you notice in various parts of your body. To extend this practice, select one part of your body to pay strong attention to it for 15 minutes or more.
Refer to Hart. W. (1987). The Art of Living: Vipassana as Taught by S. N. Goenka. SanFranscisco, CA: Harper Collins. Gunaratana, B. H. (2002). Mindfulness in Plain English. Boston: Wisdom Publications, pp 39-67. Marlatat, G. A. et al. (2004). Vipassana meditation as a treatment for alcohol and drug use disorders. In S. C. Hayes, V. M. Follett, and M. M. Lineman (Eds.). Mindfulness and Acceptance: Expanding the Cognitive-Behavioral Tradition. New York: Guilford Press, pp. 261-287.
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness