Insight Meditation is a simple technique which has been adapted from the Vipassana tradition that has been practiced in Asia for more than 2,600 years. Beginning with the focusing of attention on the breath, the practice concentrates and calms the mind. It allows us to see through the mind's conditioning and thereby to be more fully present in the moment.
To begin, select a quiet time and place. Be seated on a cushion or chair, taking an erect yet relaxed posture. Let yourself sit upright with the quiet dignity of a king or a queen. Close your eyes gently and begin by bringing a full, present attention to whatever you feel within you and around you. Let your mind be spacious and your heart be kind and soft.
As you sit, feel the sensations of your body. Then notice what sounds and feelings, thoughts and expectations are present. Allow them all to come and go, to rise and fall like the waves of the ocean. Be aware of the waves and rest seated in the midst of them. Allow yourself to become more and more still.
In the center of all these waves, feel your breathing, your life-breath. Let your attention feel the in-and-out breathing wherever you notice it, as coolness or tingling in the nose or throat, as a rising and falling of your chest or abdomen. Relax and softly rest your attention on each breath, feeling the movement in a steady, easy way. Let the breath breathe itself in any rhythm, long or short, soft or deep. As you feel each breath, concentrate and settle into its movement. Let all other sounds and sensations, thoughts and feelings continue to come and go like waves in the background.
After a few breaths, your attention may be carried away by one of the waves of thoughts or memories, by body sensations or sounds. Whenever you notice you have been carried away for a time, acknowledge the wave that has done so by softly giving it a name such as “planning,” “remembering,” “itching,” “restlessness.” Then let it pass and gently return to the breath. Some waves will take a long time to pass, others will be short. Certain thoughts or feelings will be painful, others will be pleasurable. Whatever they are, let them be.
At some sittings, you will be able to return to your breath easily. At times in your meditation, you will mostly be aware of body sensations or of plans or thoughts. Either way is fine. No matter what you experience, be aware of it, let it come and go, and rest at ease in the midst of it all. After you have sat for 20 or 30 minutes in this way, open your eyes and look around you before you get up. Then as you move try to allow the same spirit of awareness to go with you into the activities of your day.
The art of meditation is simple but not always easy. It thrives on practice and a kind and spacious heart. If you do this simple practice of sitting and awareness every day, you will gradually grow in centeredness and understanding.
Introduction to Loving-kindness (Metta) Meditation
The Buddha also taught the practice of metta, or loving-kindness. Mindfulness is often taught together with loving-kindness. Most simply, metta is the heartfelt wish for the well-being of oneself and others; it is the innate friendliness of an open heart. Metta practice is the cultivation and strengthening of that capacity. It is closely related to the softening of the heart that allows us to feel empathy with the happiness and sorrow of the world.
The practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness support one another. Loving-kindness complements mindfulness by encouraging an attitude of friendliness toward our experience, regardless of how difficult it may be. Mindfulness complements loving-kindness by guarding it from becoming partial or sentimental. Loving-kindness can guide us in our relationships with others; mindfulness helps keep us balanced in those relationships.
Loving-kindness Meditation Instructions
Sit in a comfortable and relaxed manner, letting go of any concerns or preoccupations. For a few minutes, feel or imagine the breath moving through the center of your chest in the area of your heart.
Metta is first practiced toward ourself, since we often find it difficult to love others without first loving ourselves. So sitting quietly, repeat the following (or similar) phrases slowly and steadily:
May I be happy May I be well May I be safe May I be peaceful and at ease
While you say these phrases, allow yourself to sink into the intentions they express. Loving-kindness meditation consists primarily of connecting to the intention of wishing ourselves or others happiness. However, if feelings of warmth, friendliness or love arise in the body or mind, connect to them, allowing them to grow as you repeat the phrases.
After a short period of directing loving-kindness toward yourself, bring to mind a friend or someone in your life who has deeply cared for you. Then repeat phrases of loving-kindness toward them:
May you be happy May you be well May you be safe May you be peaceful and at ease
As you say these phrases, again sink into their intention or heartfelt meaning. And if any feelings of loving-kindness arise, connect the feelings with the phrases so that the feelings may become stronger as you repeat the words.
As you continue the meditation, bring to mind other friends, neighbors, acquaintances, strangers, animals and even people with whom you have difficulty.
Sometimes during loving-kindness meditation, seemingly opposite feelings such as anger, grief or sadness may arise. Take these to be signs that your heart is softening, revealing what is held there. You can either shift to Insight Meditation practice, or you can with whatever patience, acceptance and kindness you can have for such feelings, direct loving-kindness towards them. Above all, remember it is not necessary to judge yourself for having these feelings.
As you become familiar with loving-kindness practice during meditation, you can also begin to use it in your daily life. While in your car, at work or in public, privately practice metta toward those around you. It can be a great delight to establish a heartfelt connection to all those we encounter, friends and strangers alike. (Adapted from Voices from Spirit Rock, edited by Gil Fronsdal with Nancy Van House.)