Among travelers in South-East Asia Vipassana is probably mostly known as the ten-day meditation retreat at Buddhist monasteries. But Vipassana meditation does not necessarily need to last ten days. At the Mindfulness Project, we often practice Vipassana meditation during our daily meditation session. In the mornings we meditate for about 45 minutes. So Vipassana meditation is actually accessible to anybody, not only to the very dedicated advanced meditators among us. Vipassana can absolutely be a lot of fun (and very confronting), teach you a lot about yourself (actually your ego) and make a difference to your day (and life)!

What is Vipassana meditation?

Vipassana is known to be the oldest Buddhist meditation practice. The word Vipassana can be roughly translated as insight meditation. The aim of this meditation to become the observer of your inner world. Your feelings, but mostly your thoughts. Accordingly, Vipassana is actually a journey of self-exploration. Such a journey must trigger all travelers among us, right?!

Vipassana is a very gentle practice, but at the same time quite thorough. It is about a deep interconnection between mind and body, which comes through disciplinary attention to physical sensations. The training of Vipassana meditation is about observing your inner world without judging. It will help you to understand what life and being alive means to you. Looking at what the true and deepest qualities of life are to you. Instead of following somebody else’s explanation that you have been taught.

Observing our traumatized brains

To me, Vipassana meditation at the Mindfulness Project is super powerful. It allows me to go deeper. By practicing Vipassana meditation I learned to recognize that thoughts are unconsciously produced by my ego in my brain. And that they are not necessarily true. In fact, thoughts are almost always false beliefs based on past experiences that have traumatized people to a greater or lesser extent. And it’s actually nice not to identify yourself with these thoughts. But to realize that thoughts are produced by your brain, like bile by your liver. The big difference is that most of us have a healthy liver, which produces bile in a way that it works as it should. Yet our brains are traumatized, therefore not producing thoughts in a healthy manner… And once you understand this, Vipassana meditation can become big fun. You are not your thoughts: you are the observer!

How to practice Vipassana meditation?

  1. Ideally, meditate at a quiet place where you feel comfortable and won’t be disturbed.
  2. Sit in a comfortable sitting position, preferably with your legs crossed. If this is not comfortable to you, you are welcome to sit on your knees, or even on a chair. Make sure you sit straight while meditating without back support. Since back support will bring you in a state of relaxation, instead of concentration. Use cushions underneath your knees and sitting bones to feel comfortable and sit up straight.
  3. Relax your muscles: soften your face, don’t bring your shoulders up towards your ears, and make sure your inner thighs feel relaxed.
  4. Then focus your breath. Try to stay with your breath. You can use the same method as Buddhist monks at Wat Pho, the monastery the Mindfulness Project is connected to. Then you’ll say the word ‘bud’ inside your head during your whole inhale, and ‘dho’ during the exhale. Buddho means to wake up and will help you to stay awake, to be focused on your breath.
  5. Of course, your thoughts will naturally drift away. It is really hard to stay with your breath all the time. You might be hearing sounds or feeling a breeze on your skin. Your back might start to hurt. Emotions and frustrations might come up. And certainly, your brain will start to produce thoughts about the most random things. Notice that your thoughts are drifting away and start to observe them.
  6. You can label the sensations and thoughts that come up with words like ‘hearing’, ‘feeling’, ‘smelling’, ‘thinking’, ‘remembering’, ‘imagining’, ‘planning’. Labeling helps us to perceive the actual qualities of our experience, without getting immersed in the content. It develops mental power and focus.
  7. It might be helpful to focus on a certain theme during your Vipassana practice. For instance ‘desires’, ‘frustrations’ or ‘judgments’. Set your mind free on your theme and observe what thoughts come up. When you focus on your desires, tell yourself you don’t need it. When frustrations is your topic, tell yourself it doesn’t make any difference to feel hate or anger. And when you’re observing your judgments, tell yourself it’s all bullshit!
  8. Constantly observe and explore. Let the meditation follow its course. Whenever you notice you’re not observing anymore and started dreaming, return to the simple, physical sensation of the breath. Over and over again.

Vipassana throughout the day

So as I said before, I think Vipassana meditation can be big fun. Of course, it is very confronting. Because when you use this meditation technique more often you will recognize thought patterns that you do not like to identify with. But once you see you don’t have to identify yourself with these thoughts and treat them as something produced by an organ you can observe, the fun part starts. How funny is it that a huge part of my thoughts are about how good the food I just had was? And how I’m already looking forward to the next meal? And that I always dream away to the future? Trying to plan the rest of my life while I have no control over what is going to happen anyway… Vipassana meditation makes me present at the only moment I have: now.

And ‘now’ is actually always: meditation does not come to an end after 45 minutes of sitting. It can be carried out continuously throughout the day. I try to catch my thoughts during the day. And then I’ll tell myself that I don’t actually need a deliciously creamy chocolate powerball when I’m craving for it. That it doesn’t make it any better when I’m hating the work I’m doing at that moment. And that it’s bullshit when I think that I am not good enough. Believe me, the catching and noting of thoughts really change your day. And day by day, it will change your life.

Christian about Vipassana meditation:

Interested in a ten-day Vipassana retreat?

The Mindulness Project hosts a ten-day Vipassana meditation retreat in December 2020/January 2021. This ten-day event takes place in Wat Pho Ban Nontan Monastery in Khon Kaen, which is one of the most famous monasteries in Thailand, renowned for its active meditation program. Are you interested in joining? Check out our event!