Download in PDF: Guided Meditation: The Practice of Vipassana (Mindfulness)
The Buddhist practice for developing mindfulness is called vipassana, which means “clear insight” or “seeing clearly” in Pali, the language of the Buddha. What follows is a simple introduction to this practice.
Find a sitting position that
allows you to be alert—spine erect but not rigid—and also relaxed. Close your
eyes and rest your hands in an easy, effortless way.
Allow your awareness to scan
through your body and, wherever possible, soften and release obvious areas of
physical tension. You might very consciously relax in the shoulders. Soften the
hands. Relax the belly.
Because we so easily get lost
in thoughts, vipassana begins with attention to the breath. Using the breath as
a primary anchor of mindfulness helps quiet the mind so that you can be awake
to the changing stream of life that moves through you.
As you practice, you might
find a different anchor, other than the breath, might be most useful for you.
Perhaps sounds or maybe the whole field of bodily sensations – or perhaps both
listening to and feeling your moment-to-moment experience.
What’s important is that your
senses are awake and attention with the breath as a home base, or sounds, or
sensations, can help you to know that you’re here.
Take a few very full breaths,
aware of the inhale filling the lungs, slowly and gently exhaling.
And then allowing your breath
to be natural, notice where you most easily detect the breath. You might feel
it as it flows in and out of your nose; you might feel the touch of the breath
around your nostrils or on your upper lip; or perhaps you feel the movement of
your chest or the rising and falling of your abdomen.
Bring your attention to the
sensations of breathing in one of these areas, perhaps wherever you feel most
distinctly or you might feel a sense of the whole body breathing.
There is no need to control
the breath, to grasp or fixate on it. There is no “right” way of breathing.
With a relaxed, interested attention, discover what the breath is really like,
as a changing experience of sensations.
You will find that the mind
naturally drifts off into thoughts. Thoughts are not the enemy, and you do not
need to clear your mind of thoughts. Rather, you are developing the capacity to
recognize when thoughts are happening without getting lost in the story line.
When you become aware of
thinking, you might use a soft and friendly mental note: “Thinking, thinking.” Or
simply recognize, “This is a thought.” Then, without any judgment, pause and
reawaken to the moment – this moment – listening to sounds, feeling the
sensations that are here… gently returning to the immediacy of the breath. Let
the breath be home base, a place of full presence.
While you might notice other
experiences – the sounds of passing cars, feelings of being warm or cool, an
image of a future event, sensations of hunger – they can be in the background
without drawing you away from hereness – from this moment. Be aware of the
difference between being inside a thought, and being awake, senses open,
If any particular sensations
become strong and call your attention, allow those sensations, instead of the
breath, to become the primary subject of mindfulness. You might feel heat or
chills, tingling, aching, twisting, stabbing, vibrating. With a soft, open
awareness just feel the sensations as they are. Are they pleasant or
As you fully attend to them,
do they become more intense or dissipate? Notice how they change. When the sensations
are no longer a strong experience, return to mindfulness of breathing or
perhaps to listening to and feeling your moment-to-moment experience.
If you find it difficult to
stay with persistent, strong sensations – unpleasant sensations – you might
breathe with them, let the breath help you find some balance and openness in
the midst. Or if the sensations are so unpleasant that you can’t be present
with any balance or equanimity, feel free to return to your home base – to your
primary place of resting attention – the breath, perhaps listening to sounds.
In a similar way, when strong
emotions arise – fear, sadness, happiness, excitement, grief – you can practice
meeting each experience with a kind and clear presence, not pushing anything
away, not judging, not resisting what is happening. Rather simply notice and
allow the experience – just as it is.
Notice how this fear or hurt
or difficult emotion feels like as sensations in your body? Where do you feel
it most strongly? Is it static or moving? How big is it? Is there judgment in
your mind about what’s happening about the fear or restlessness or irritation? Does
your mind feel contracted or open? As you pay attention, just notice what’s
happening and let it be just as it is.
In this present, allowing
awareness, notice how the emotion changes. Does it become more intense or
weaken? Does it change into a different state?
Perhaps anger to grief? Or happiness
If the emotion is strong – is
difficult to be with it, you might breathe with it, and if it feels
overwhelming, come back to your breath, to the home base that allows you to
relax with the present moment.
If you are confused about
where to pay attention or if the emotion is no longer compelling, again relax
wakefully with the breath or perhaps listening to or feeling the moment to
The particular sensations,
emotions or thoughts that arise when we practice mindfulness are not so
important. Like the outer weather, there is no inherent goodness or badness to these
inner states. What matters is our willingness to be awake, regardless of the weather.
It is this unconditional presence that reveals the nature of reality.
Continue to be here… and
especially if the mind is not so distracted, you might let go of any anchors
for attention and explore not controlling anything – not directing the mind –
not managing or manipulating your attention in any way.
Let your senses be wide open
– listening to and feeling the entire moment.
When any experience calls your
attention – perhaps strong sensations or emotions – notice and allow this
experience of aliveness to be as it is.
Allow what is happening to
unfold in an awake, open awareness.
Adapted from Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance, page 46 to 48.
Listen to audio recording below…