Vipassana in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. It is associated with a Theravada Buddhist meditation practice that involves focusing on the body or its sensations and the insight that this provides.
But I am here to tell you that it is a practice that goes much deeper than that.
On my journey, I’ve learned that my understanding of meditation was slightly off the mark. Like many people I thought that meditation was about stopping myself from thinking. Though my attempts to do this have definitely helped to create a still, peaceful space in my life, provide relief from stress and anxieties, re-energize me, allow for better sleep, improve self awareness and much more. I always felt frustrated, like I was a failure at the meditation thing. But then something shifted I learned some remarkable things about meditation that have provided me with great insights that have changed my entire understanding of meditation and its impact on my life and spiritual practice.
After reading Eckhart Tolle’s collection of work I began to realize that my effort to stop thinking was missing the point. The entire point of meditation is not to stop thoughts in order to be completely present. The focus of meditation is to shift from the doing mind to the awakened presence that is being. To completely identify with the observer not the thinker.
We can no sooner stop our mind from thinking then we can stop our heart from beating. The brain is designed to think and we do not have much more control over that than we do if we try to hold our breath to stop breathing. Sooner or later (hopefully sooner when it comes to breathing) something kicks in and we will breathe or think again despite our efforts. Though through spiritual practice our mind activity will slow down and we will have pockets on time when we do not think, this is not the result of will power but rather a byproduct of the practice of entering the state of being.
The goal of meditation was never to stop thinking but rather to detach ourselves from identification with thought and completely identify with the observer who is watching the thoughts. The thoughts still happen but we are not fully entrenched in them, we realize we are not the thoughts but the observer of them. This is the most powerful spiritual realization and the true goal of meditation. Stopping our thoughts was never the end goal of meditation because actually there is no end goal at all. Only to enter the state of being, to recognize the true nature of who we are; the alert observer.
We are told by many spiritual teachers these days that we need to be in the moment, be in the Now, be completely present. But few teachers actually show us the complete process in entering the full state of presence.
The meditation process I discussed above is only one of three practices necessary to achieve full presence. This process is Mental Vipassana which involves being at one and completely accepting the internal mental or egoic reality. It involves sitting in present awareness with the thinking mind and observing the thoughts that arise NOT to stop thinking. This is traditionally done through mental meditation practice often using mantras, visualization techniques, gazing at images or even counting. It can also be accessed through learned mental concepts from spiritual teachings or other sources of wisdom. Mental Vipassana is an important spiritual practice but it is not the only aspect involved in full present awareness.
Another process is Material Vipassana which is the experience of being at one and completely accepting your external environment. We enter Material Vipassana when we become fully present and aware of the external material world around us. We use our physical senses to practice Material Vipassana. A common approach is to listen to external sounds. People often practice Material Vipassana when they are totally present while driving a car or doing a sport (usually dangerous ones like mountain climbing are more likely to elicit total present awareness since the cost of unawareness during dangerous activity is injury or death). Physical touch is another way to enter Material Vipassana through massage or other intimate relations.
The final process required to achieve full presence is Emotional Vipassana which is being at one and fully accepting our emotional (inner body) reality. Breathing (though a powerful tool that can be used for all three types of Vipassana at once*) is the most common access point to Emotional Vipassana. We can also access it through physical touch or through energy work. Emotional Vipassana requires complete presence and focus on our inner body and feeling the internal manifestation on our emotions within our inner bodies. Physical practices like Yoga and Tai Chi can add in developing the state of Emotional Vipassana, as well as guiding meditation that focus on inner body. When we fully accept our emotional state without trying to change it or avoid our feelings we are practicing Emotional Vipassana. We are fully accepting an aspect of ourselves that our modern world has taught us to abandon and ignore.
Teal Swan shares in her video Spirituality 2.0 that if we focus only on physical or mental Vipassana and neglect Emotional Vipassana we will never be able to fully achieve presence in our lives. I will be writing another blog shortly on Emotional Vipassana as I would like to speak more about the critical importance of this practice in egoically dysfunctional world we live in.
The practice of all three Vipassana approaches is critical in our spiritual evolution. To introduce the awakened conscious state in all arenas of our experience in this human incarnation is the only way that we can fully shift our conscious state from one of doing to one of being. The act of entering the state of the alert observer in all facets of our existence is the reason we are here in this world and it is our path to true happiness and love which is the true nature of reality.
* Any act of pure creativity engages us in all three Vipassana processes at once, creating art, music, dancing, etc. are wonderful avenues to practice all three of these techniques at once.