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Ginger with her meditation teacher,
Jack Kornfield, at Spirit Rock
Meditation Center in California

Vipassana Meditation

History and Definition.
Over twenty-five hundred years ago, the Buddha taught his followers in India a practical method for enhancing awareness through self-observation. This technique was first explained in the Buddha’s Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness that has been preserved as the Satipatthana Sutta.

In the 1960s, Westerners who had studied with Vipassana, Zen, or Sufi teachers in the East began to adapt forms of these and other traditional practices for the needs of their own hemisphere. Although some of those who practice Asian meditation techniques have converted to Buddhism or Hinduism, others have incorporated those techniques into their own Christian or Jewish traditions. Many Westerners, even those with no religious affiliation, feel an increasing need to balance the noise and rapidity of modern life with periods of quiet reflection.

Pragmatically, meditation is known to enhance physical and mental health and to support psychotherapy. Aside from fostering equanimity, meditative practice can develop compassion as well as insight into mental processes. Ginger’s mentor, Jack Kornfield, who is both a psychotherapist and a meditation teacher, suggests that a skillful blend of psychotherapy and meditation may be more effective than either alone. In his book A Path With Heart (1993), he asserts that, “the best therapy…uses awareness to heal the heart”.

Meditation practice is divided into two main types: concentration and awareness, which is also known as Vipassana or insight meditation. During concentration meditation, practitioners focus their attention fixedly on a single object such as the breath, a mantra, or a candle flame.

During Vipassana practice, meditators attempt to sit still, with eyes fully closed, or half-closed with a downward gaze, and notice whatever body sensations, thoughts, perceptions, and emotions arise from moment to moment. Vipassana practice involves fluid attention to what is actually occurring, both internally and externally, without trying to change, judge, or analyze it. A practitioner aims to observe consciously whatever happens, neither grasping nor rejecting any particular stimulus or experience. By not identifying with stimuli, meditators can free themselves from habitual responses and become open to fresh ways of perceiving their experiences. Practitioners learn to trust their own inner sense of truth. The dedicated meditator learns to accept increasingly fluid and paradoxical ways of self-definition, with less need to be defensive in daily interactions.

To support their practice, meditators take refuge in three so-called “treasures,” known in the Sanskrit language of ancient India as the Buddha, the dharma and the sangha. The Buddha refers not only to the enlightened historical figure, but also to the divine Buddha-nature within everyone, which gives us all the possibility of awakening to a higher level of consciousness. Dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha and other spiritual masters throughout history, as well as the truth that guides us when we tune into our deepest intuitive level of knowing. Sangha refers to the community of fellow practitioners, who mutually inspire one another with their dedication to practice.

© 2018 Ginger Clarkson

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