The first time I tried vipassana meditation I thought, “Oh goodness, this can’t be it!” I had signed up for a ten-day retreat, held in silence, with seven to eight hours of meditation each day. I should have known by the name of the retreat – vipassana – what would be happening.
Vipassana means seeing in various ways, but it is loosely translated to intense concentration when applied to a type of meditation.1 The good news: the days when this meditation clicks for me are the days I have my deepest and most profound sits. Many people feel a sincere sense of surrender and connectedness with this technique.
- At this point during our eight-week meditation challenge, you should know the drill. We always start by finding an appropriate meditative posture with a tall spine. For this meditation, I strongly recommend a seated posture, as it will keep you aware and alert.
- Take a few moments to become aware of the fact you are sitting for meditation. Adjust anything that needs adjusting, and focus on the inner space.
- Find one point of awareness. Traditionally, this point is a tiny atom at the tip of the nose from which you can feel the breath enter and exit the body. Not the whole nose, not the throat or lungs, just one point at the tip. If you choose another point of focus, fine, but make sure it is just as compact.
- Sit and focus on that point. When the thoughts wander, bring them back to that one point. Just keep sitting.
- Stay this way for five minutes to begin, but you may work up to thirty minutes or – in more regular sitters – an hour or more.
Sounds simple, right? It is. That’s part of the beauty of vipassana meditation. However, the practice of drawing the mind to such a minuscule existence is intensely challenging. You will notice some days you cannot go more than two breaths without losing your focus. Some days you may go whole minutes. Don’t be concerned about it. Many people feel they are not “good” at this meditation if their minds wander. These are the people who can benefit most from training the mind in this way. Stay with it.
The benefit of this practice is profound and far-reaching. It cannot be summed up in one article alone, because the benefits range from increasing attention span to developing a greater sense of contentment in life. Some benefits are proven by science, some are more esoteric and only proven by your individual experience with the practice.
One benefit we all receive from meditation, though, is learning to control the mind to focus on one thing for a longer period of time. Our minds, in part thanks to a life dedicated to multitasking, have a tendency to jump from one thing to the next.
We may think we are doing two things at once, but all research shows the brain is not capable of this. It takes several seconds for the brain to switch from one activity to the next.2 So, if you simply do one task to completion then switch to the next task, you will be making better use of your time and brain power.
My challenge to you is to try sitting each day for a few minutes in intense concentration on one small thing. Just watch what happens, and share some of your experience in the comments below.
You will be amazed by how many people have a hard time with this (hint: everyone), but you will also recognize an area of your personal development where there is much room for growth. Namely, you will test your ability to sit in stillness and peace without filling the mind with thoughts.
1. Silananda, U. “Questions and Answers about Vipassana,” Theravida Buddhist Society of America.
2. Hamilton, John. “Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again,” NPR.org, October 2, 2008.
In case you missed it:
Just Sit: 8-Week Meditation Challenge #1
Loving Kindness: 8-Week Meditation Challenge #2
Overcoming Insomnia: 8-Week Meditation Challenge #3
Inner Silence: 8-Week Meditation Challenge #4
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