Vipassana meditation for peace of mind in quarantine
“The mind is an untrained child you have to teach what to do.”
— Daniel Beaty
Vipassana, or insight meditation, is the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of existence.
Without going into any religious or spiritual background of meditation, I want to discuss it in regards to improving our mental health as we find ourselves isolated, separated from loved ones and alone to our thoughts and the media in these difficult times.
I am writing this in the middle of a pandemic, especially for the USA who is just now getting a direct impact as we have been watching it from across the world for months while it all felt surreal.
Vipassana meditation, as I practice it, serves to quiet the mind and ask something strange of you that appears incredibly easy for our modern, racing minds but can actually prove to be extraordinarily difficult.
This practice makes you more aware of the world around you, is centering, and lets you look at your stress and struggles objectively as you train your brain to observe and not react (or overreact).
So now I'v gotten your attention. You say; "Yes, what do I do to get started?"
Well to start, turn off netflix or the playstation, turn the lights down, maybe turn on a lamp or a faint light. Incense or scented candles are nice to stimulate the senses and usher in calm feelings, but not necessary. I like to put on some soft background music. Something calming and peaceful like nature sounds or Japanese zen music works well for me. I take my shoes off, empty my pockets, turn off or silence my phone and remove uncomfortable jewelry and distractions.
Where & How to Sit
1. Which place is best for meditation?
Anywhere comfortable where you can have good posture. If you are meditating long, somewhere you could sit for a duration. Nature, maybe next to flowing water is my personal fav! Wind is also a very peaceful sound, some sort of white noise like a fountain or fan does wonders.
2. How should the meditator sit?
The meditation practitioner should sit quietly and peacefully with legs crossed, but I'v done it sitting in a chair. (I like to put my feet on top of something soft like a pillow) You want to remove any pressure to pressure points and areas that could bring discomfort.
3. How should those with back troubles sit?
If sitting with crossed legs is too difficult, other sitting positions may be used. For those with back trouble, a chair is fine. No matter what, sit with your back erect, at a right angle to the ground, but not too stiff.
4. Why should you sit straight?
An arched or crooked back will soon bring pain. Furthermore, the physical effort to remain upright without additional support energizes the meditation practice.
5. Why is it important to choose a position?
If your body is uncomfortable, your mind will not be able to focus. It's important to choose a position that will be comfortable for a long period of time.
“To observe and watch ones own mind is something really interesting. The untrained mind will run and follow its old habit patterns. Because it has not been trained and taught, it will get lost in all kinds of stories and issues. Therefore we have to train our mind. The meditation practice in Buddhism is all about training ones own mind.”
— Ajahn Chah —
The Breath During Meditation
6. After sitting down, what should you do?
Close your eyes. Then place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally—not forcing your breathing—neither slowing it down or speeding it up. Just take a natural breath in and let it out.
7. What will you become aware of as you breathe in and breathe out?
You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, and as you breathe out and the abdomen falls.
“There is nothing which an untrained mind shows itself more hopelessly incapable, than in drawing the proper general conclusions from its own experience. And even trained minds, when all their training is on a special subject, and does not extend to the general principles of induction, are only kept right when there are ready opportunities of verifying their inferences by facts.”
— John Stuart Mill
“It is the mark of the mind untrained to take its own processes as valid for all men, and its own judgments for absolute truth.”
— Aleister Crowley
8. How do you maintain your focus?
Maintain your focus by making sure that your mind is attentive in that it is not drifting but is focused on the breath. Observe all sensations in this act only. As your mind drifts, rein it back in over and over again, as often as you have to. Be mindful that you brains drifting is a natural part of the process. You most likely can't go to the gym without prior workouts and lift extraordinary amounts of weight without injury. The same with the mind. Practice is needed to train the mind to retain focus, even on NOTHING or something as simple as a breath. Start with smaller increments of time, and work your way up.
9. When the mind wanders off, what should you do?
Watch the mind! Be aware that you are thinking. The act of being aware that your mind has drifted off is progress unto itself. Direct it back forcefully and press on!
12. How can you clarify your awareness of thinking?
Take note of the thought silently with the verbal label “thinking,” and turn back to the act of breathing and focusing your mind on the rising and falling of the abdomen, the feeling of air going in and out and the quiet sound of the breath.
13. Is it possible to remain perfectly focused on the rising and falling of the abdomen all the time?
Despite making an effort to do so, no one can remain perfectly focused on one thing at all times. Other objects inevitably arise and become predominant in the mind. I always seem to get an insatiable itch at some point during my practice, this sort of thing is just going to happen. Acknowledge, maybe even scratch, and press on! There is no failure in that you acknowledge distractions for what they are and do not allow them to further drag you away from your practice. Meditation encompasses all of our experiences: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations in the body, and mental objects such as a conjuring of the imagination or emotions. When any of these objects arises you should focus direct awareness on it, observe it and silently assign a verbal label to address it by to assist you in recognition and mental archiving.
I hope this was helpful in bizarre times. We need calm and peace of mind more than ever in these distressing periods of life. You cannot affect change in many of the things going on, but you can effect your 'mental climate' and that can be even more contagious than COVID-19!!!!
Go forth, grow peace and tranquility in your body and make that go viral and we can all weather this pandemic. Attitude and perspective is the biggest part of the battle!!!
More to come on more topics....
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