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Friday, 21 November 2014

Meditating For Insight

Meditating For Insight
A lot of people come to New Life to pause and gain some perspective on their lives. Whether resident, volunteer, or staff member, many of us here are searching for insight, and finding it in many aspects of the foundation: the incredibly supportive community, the close connection with nature, and not least, the meditation and mindfulness exercises that we practice daily.

However, the idea is not to use meditation as a spiritual bypass. This can sometimes happen with over-emphasis on 'concentration' (also known as Shamatha or 'calm-abiding') meditation, which focuses on a single object - for example, the breath, or a mantra, or a visualisation. With this type of meditation, we might feel quite peaceful after a while sitting on our cushion, but the danger is always that there are layers of sadness, depression, anger, and feelings of shame and unworthiness that we are not attending to whilst staying with the object of our meditation.

Therefore, we try to include 3 components to our meditation here at the foundation: concentration practice to calm our 'monkey mind', Vipassana or 'insight' meditation to gain wisdom, and heart-opening practices like Metta or 'loving-kindness' meditation to bring warmth, kindness, joy and compassion into our practice.

This week the focus of our morning community meditation is Vipassana. Vipassana is called 'insight meditation' because it provides us with deep insights into such things as how suffering arises, how even pleasure can lead to suffering, and how a sense of personality or 'self' arises.

So how do we go about practicing Vipassana? To begin with, we allow things to come up into our field of awareness. We observe these things without interfering, letting everything pass in a wave. We observe and do nothing. For instance, if we feel painful sensations in our back from sitting on the cushion, we let them be. We let the sensations do whatever they want to do. Maybe we feel lonely, or there's some unfinished grief from our past that manifests as an intensely hollow feeling in the chest. We let the feeling spread through the body if it wants to. We give ourselves complete permission to feel whatever is present. We make a gentle 'mental note' of it, if you will.

Soon, we realise that it is not these sensations that cause affliction but our resistance to them. Our suffering is caused by trying to fix things that cannot necessarily be fixed, taking it all personally, and adding layer upon layer of shame and unworthiness. Essentially, with regular Vipassana practice, we can learn to be with the very sensations that we normally spend a lot of time and energy avoiding. We learn to observe whatever arises with full attention and acceptance.

This is not only the case with negative emotions. We approach pleasurable sensations - joy, relaxation, a nice fresh breeze - in the exact same way. In other words, in Vipassana meditation, all sensations are treated equally. Not only this, we greet whatever is present with a spirit of kindness.

Eventually, we start exploring the question: does pleasure really make us truly happier? Or rather, does it cause us to be stuck in cycle of pleasure, grasping, clinging, neediness, compulsion, craving, and so on?

Here too, we can begin to drop the grasping and attain a deeper, more lasting satisfaction, the kind of happiness that's not "somewhere else" - the kind of satisfaction, freedom, and joy that is not dependent on any outside circumstances.

-" SV"