Posture: You may sit on a floor or on a chair. The principle is to find a posture in which you can sit comfortably for as long a time as possible.
If sitting on the floor you may use two cushions – a rectangular soft base (a folded blanket or sitting on a soft carpet may also be possible) for the buttocks and legs and an additional well-padded cushion to elevate the buttocks. Raising the buttocks helps the legs and knees to slide comfortably down to the base cushion. It also helps to support the back and maintain a firm and comfortable posture. The legs may be folded and placed one on top of each other in a way you find most comfortable. The legs can also be put not one on top of each other but just crossed in such a way as you find comfortable. The legs can also be folded and put one in front of the other, meaning that both legs are resting on the cushion base and not placed one on top of the other. You can experiment and find out what suits you best.
As regards the suitable height/elevation for the buttocks cushion, this will depend on the sitting bones of each individual. The elevation should not be too high or too low but just right to give the best balance to both the upright body and the buttocks, legs and knees below. The height of the buttocks cushion should be such that it helps the legs and knees to slide down and rest as comfortably on the sitting base as possible. Also remember when sitting on the buttocks cushion you sit not too far back but more towards the edge so as to help the legs to slide comfortably down on the base cushion.
Some people prefer to sit flat on a cushion or soft padding without elevating the buttocks. They may do so if they find this more comfortable for them.
The hands are normally placed in front, one palm on top of the other and resting easily on the lap. Some meditators prefer to rest their hands apart, one on each thigh and this is acceptable, too. Again, the principle is to do what you find comfortable.
As for the back you keep it straight but not too taut or tense. Thus you can relax and allow the back to find a comfortable settlement. You should keep the head and neck straight and not hunched as this may lead to sleepiness.
Alternatives to sitting cross-legged on the floor are sitting in a kneeling position on a low bench or sitting on a chair. Sitting on a low bench (about six to seven inches high) you knee and tuck the legs under the bench. You can still place the bench on a rectangular cushion so your knees and legs rest on the cushion.
Sitting on a chair: You can sit in a comfortable position on a straight back chair with the soles resting on the floor. If necessary or desirable, you can place a cushion under the soles. It is all right to lean against the straight back rest so as to give the back some support. The important thing is you are comfortable, awake and mindful of the meditation objects. Some people prefer to sit on a chair without a back rest or to sit a little forward so their back does not touch the back rest. It is fine if this is their preference.
Mindfulness – simply to be aware of the body and mind.
Purpose: to gain calm and insight.
The mind needs an object. So in sitting meditation we use the body a lot as an object. Here we can use one or a combination of these three main body objects:
1. You can notice the in-breath and out-breath at
(a) the nostrils or upper lip area or
(b) as a whole, feeling it moving through the body, meaning there is no fixed point of focus;
2. You can focus on the rising and falling movement of the abdomen that occurs as you inhale and exhale.
3. You can observe what is called the “sitting” and “touching.” Sitting – you know the body as a whole seated here. You can feel the uprightness of the body. Touching – you know the areas of touch or contact between the buttocks and the seat; the legs and the seat; the leg touching the leg; the hand on the hand; and the hand on the leIn ‘touching’ you can know sensations of pressure, hardness, softness, temperature (warmth, cold), tingling, etc, i.e., whatever is felt or known.
Labeling is optional. You can label ‘in’, ‘out’, for the breath; and ‘rising’, ‘falling’, for the abdomen; and ‘stting’, ‘touching’, for the mindfulness of the sitting posture.
You can stay with one main object, say the breath, if you find that is workable. Or you can use a combination of objects – like as you know the breath you can also know the body as a whole, especially when there are pauses in between breaths or when the breath is very shallow or subtle that it is hardly discernible.
In vipassana there is no fixed object. Basically we are noticing change – the arising and passing away of one breath after another, one sensation after another. Even the mind that is observing is changing, is arising and passing away from moment to moment.
Physical discomfort – pain, ache, itch, numbness. All these can also be observed with interest and with as much equanimity as you can muster. See how they change, how they increase and decrease in intensity, how they arise and pass away. When the mind finds it too difficult to observe or tolerate anymore, then you can mindfully change the body posture, move the legs, scratch, etc. Remember, the idea is not to become tense towards the pain but to keep the mind as soft, relaxed, accepting and tolerant as possible.
When hearing a sound – you can acknowledge as ‘hearing, hearing,’ and then go back to the main body objects. If you are irritated by the sound or noise you can note ‘irritated, irritated.’ If judgmental thoughts or mental commentary arise, you can notice them accordingly. Then remembering your objective is to stay calm, you can let go of the annoyance and come back to calmness and the main body objects. [Say if someone closes the door loudly or comes up the stairs noisily and you are irritated, you can note your irritation, then wish for this person ‘may he be more considerate’, ‘may he be happy,’ and then come back to the main body meditation objects].
As you try to keep the mind on the body objects you notice the tendency of the mind to wander away. Thus, a good part of our practice is also about watching the mind. Whenever you notice a thought or a train of thoughts has arisen, just note that as ‘thinking’, ‘thinking’. Then you can drop the thought and come back to the body objects. Sometimes you can drop the thought immediately or sometimes you can also notice what type of thoughts they are – thinking, planning, imagining, fantasizing, thinking about the past (memories and notice the types of feelings that arise connected to those thoughts – happy, sad, neutral, anxious, etc.).
Notice states of mind – calm, peaceful, equanimous, relaxed, content, tranquil, serene; or not calm, agitated, restless, tense, frustrated, disturbed, emotional, angry, anxious, worried, feeling insecure, etc; clear, awake, alert, fresh mind as opposed to drowsy, sleepy, dull, heavy, lethargic mind; diligent, making effort, having interest and curiosity; lazy, lack of interest, boredom; concentrated, mind staying with vipassana objects; not concentrated or focused, mind scattered and distracted; presence and absence of mindfulness; happy; sad; understanding, wisdom; craving, desire or its absence, contentment; doubts, uncertainty; patience, tolerance; impatience, intolerance; having lovingkindness, goodwill, generosity, confidence, courage, faith, trust; notice intention to do something; notice certain tendencies, habitual patterns. The range, states, and types of mind are endless. There is a lot to notice, pay attention to, learn and discover here.
In this practice we have an agenda. The Buddha said his whole teaching has only one purpose, i.e., to promote happiness and decrease suffering. Therefore the purpose of mindfulness is to make us realize what promotes happiness and what causes suffering. And thereby, we begin to strengthen wholesome mental states, tendencies, patterns, attitudes, such as mindfulness, awareness, lovingkindness, understanding, wisdom, generosity, courage, confidence, faith, trust, diligence, balance, etc, that promote happiness; and weaken unwholesome mental states, tendencies, patterns, attitudes, such as hatred, anger, impatience, delusion, greed, craving, attachment, addiction, worry, anxiety, agitation, envy, jealousy, miserliness, etc, that cause suffering.
How long should you sit? This is up to you. You can sit for as long as you can or like. You can start with 15 minutes, progressing to 20, 30, 40 minutes and an hour or even more when you find the practice is going well.
It is also important to exercise mindfulness in our everyday life. We try to be mindful in all our daily activities, notice, for e.g., simple intentions followed by the actions of getting up, sitting down, walking, standing, stretching, bending, switching on and off a light, slipping the foot into the shoe; changing clothes; waking up in the morning (try waking up with a smile and be determined to take on the world with a smile); brushing teeth (applying toothpaste to toothbrush, etc.), washing up, showering; eating, chewing, tasting, swallowing; stirring your coffee or tea; doing chores, etc. There is no end to the list of activities. There is always something to observe anytime, every time, every moment – be it a bodily activity, an intention, thoughts, or states of mind. We can also send a thought of goodwill now and then, wishing ‘May all beings be happy’.
I would like to encourage you to start Vipassana practice. Please feel free to email me at email@example.com if you have any questions regarding the practice. I would be happy to give you further advice and guidance.
There are three speeds you can adopt in walking: (1) brisk or a normal pace, (2) slow and (3) slower.
When walking at a brisk or normal pace, you can choose a suitable stretch of pathway and walk up and down or around, mindful of your steps and of the body and mind. You try to be present with the steps and body and not be lost in thoughts. When thoughts arise, you notice them, let them go, and bring your awareness back to the walking.
Initially you may be distracted by sights. Say you are looking at some flowers. You can observe this seeing, the pleasure that arises from seeing the flowers or something pleasant and the thoughts that may arise. You can notice the seeing as a mere ‘seeing process’ – meaning you realize it is the coming together or contact of (1) the eye, (2) the object to be seen (a shape, a form, a colour) and (3) the consciousness that is aware of it. [So, too, for the hearing (ear, sound, consciousness); smelling (nose, smell, consciousness); tasting (tongue, food/drink, consciousness), body sensations (body, something that can be physically felt, and consciousness) and thinking (mind, idea, consciousness)].
Coming back to the seeing, you know as ‘seeing, seeing’, ‘thinking, thinking’ (as thoughts arise), and you bring back your mind to the walking. As time goes on, your mind may go out less to the seeing and be more focused on the walking, the steps, and the body.
Lifting, lowering: You can slow down and notice the lifting and lowering movements of the foot. As you lift the foot you can know it as ‘lifting’ and as you lower the foot as ‘lowering.’ You do it slowly, so you can notice the whole series of lifting movements followed by a whole series of lowering movements. You also know as you place the foot of the ground. If you are walking barefoot, you can notice the sensations on the sole of your foot. Only after putting one foot down, do you lift the other foot. While your attention is on your moving foot, you can also sometimes know the leg, how it bends, the thigh and the upper part of the body. By ‘knowing’ is meant that you feel the sensations in the foot, leg, and body as you move. Just as in sitting, thoughts tend to arise as you walk. Notice the thoughts, let them go and bring the attention back to the walking, the foot, the leg, and the body. Just as in sitting, you can also notice states of mind – calm, not so calm, feelings, emotions, sad, happy, neutral feeling, etc.
When you reach the end of the walk, notice the stopping at the last step. Then note “standing, standing,” being aware of the standing posture and the sensations involved (for e.g. knowing the body from head to toe, knowing whatever sensations that are felt or discernible, feeling the sole of the foot that is pressed on the ground). Then note the ‘intention to turn’ and as you turn, note ‘turning, turning,’ being aware of the whole turning movement. After you have turned around, note ‘standing, standing’ again. Then knowing the intention to resume walking and then again ‘lifting,’ ‘lowering.’
Lifting, pushing, lowering: If you wish to walk even slower, then you can divide the steps into three parts, i.e., lifting, pushing (forward of the foot) and lowering. Earlier in the two parts of the step, in the lowering is included the slight going forward movement. But now in this three-part movement, you make the ‘pushing’ movement more pronounced, separating it from the ‘lowering’, so the three movements of lifting, pushing, and lowering become more distinguishable. The rest (what you observe) is the same as described in the two-part movement above.
When you walk do not bend your neck to look at your feet as this will only give you a neck ache. Try to maintain an upright but relaxed posture. Your neck and head can be held straight or slightly inclined with your eyes cast downwards somewhere in front of you. As for your hands you can put them behind, at the side, or in front, as you like.
"Wisdom arises from meditation. Without meditation wisdom wanes. Knowing this twofold path of increase and decline, let one so establish oneself that wisdom may increase."
"By sustained effort, heedfulness,
discipline, and self-control,
let the wise man make for himself an island,
which no flood can overwhelm."
"Oneself is refuge of oneself.
What other refuge can there be?
With oneself well-tamed,
One gains a refuge hard to gain." - Dhammapada 160