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Vipassana: Mindfulness Meditation

Sometimes I hear people say "I can't meditate, I can't empty my mind." I believe there are forms of meditation which aim to empty the mind. Mindfulness, however, is markedly different.

Here is Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are, Hyperion, NY, 1994, p.4):

Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

And in the words of Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield (Seeking the Heart of Wisdom; The Path of Insight Meditation, Shambhala, Boston, 1987, p.130):

What captures the sense and meaning of this mind state is the understanding of mindfulness as 'fullness of mind.' In this fullness of attention there are no barriers, no exclusions; it includes and encompasses every aspect of experience. Nothing lies outside the field of awareness. Whatever we are doing and wherever we are, it is possible to arouse this quality of awareness.

and (p. 132):

The characteristic of mindfulness is one of nonsuperficiality; it is penetrative and profound. If we throw a cork into a stream, it will just bob up and down on the surface, while a stone thrown into the water will immediately sink. If we are mindful of an object, our awareness will sink deeply into it. As long as mindfulness is present, the object of observation is kept in view; we are not forgetful or half-heated in our attentiveness. The mind comes face to face with the object, with directness, focus, depth and sensitivity.

and (p.53):

For the opening of the heart and mind we need a delicate and fearless observation. This does not mean standing back. It is a full presence with our experience while we learn the truth it has to teach us. To observe and open to deeper levels in the mind, we must be able to work skillfully with the content that arises and also see the whole level of the process of the mind.

So instead of trying not to think, you watch your thinking happen. There are moments of no thinking; then you focus attention on your breath. In fact, you use the breath as a home base, coming back to it again and again as a way of remembering that you are not your thoughts. It's restful, coming back to the breath; freeing, to realize what your mind was doing is not who you are.

And then you're off again, thinking. So you just notice: Ah, I'm thinking. Or, I'm feeling irritated (or happy or...). And you remember to pay attention to your breathing, again, and then Ah, I'm doing my worrying number. Just watching.

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last updated 9 March 2002