Introduction to Mediation

Week 5 - Insight meditation, or 'clear seeing'. Cultivating a mind that penetrates its own depths. Working with personal material.

Insight Meditation

The non-expectation meditation we have been practicing so far - for which we have looked at a number of tools for support and focus - has been primarily an approach to resting the mind and cultivating tranquil "abiding". You have been asked not to engage thoughts, but just to notice them, to accept them without judgement, and to return to the focus of the meditation.

Now we address the question of how to work skillfully with the 'stuff' that naturally comes up. "Letting go" does not mean ignoring, discounting or forgetting. Letting go implies loosening our grip on our expectations and our demands in both ourselves and in others. Part of this meditative practice, therefore, involves methods for cultivating understanding and  insight -- methods for working skillfully and courageously with our own natures. Many people have attempted this by analysis - by chewing at problems or issues in our lives like a dog at a bone. Such an approach tends to reinforce the habitual patterns we already feel stuck in  It is like continually picking at a scab or pulling up a plant by the roots to see how it's growing. A gentler and more powerful method is that of contemplative reflection, cultivating deep and truthful insight without judgement.

The Reflection Process.

  1. Have a pencil and paper handy. Sit comfortably -- preferably in your self-supporting posture for meditation.
  2. Bring your mind to tranquility.
  3. Drop your reflective question into your mind as though a pebble into a tranquil pool of water.
  4. Allow thoughts to "bubble up" in response to having "dropped the question" and write down whatever comes to you -- without censoring. Complete sentences are not necessary.
  5. Let go of any tendency to anaylyze, problem solve, evaluate, or search for answers. This is not linear thinking. Nor is it delving or probing. Reflecting is a spacious willingness to bring to consciousness whatever is willing to reveal itself at the time. There is a slightly playful (but not trivial) aspect to this method which is very helpful.
  6. At the point you notice any agitation or distress or even ordinary effort in this process, stop and return to the basic non-expectation, or mindful, state until your mind is tranquil once more, and then continue. It does not matter how many times this remedy is required. Do not attempt to reflect in a state of grasping or under any sort of tension.
  7. After you have written down what seems to want to come up in an given time (Twenty minutes does not seem to tax most people at once) then you may want to be open to patterns in what you have written, or in the general mood of the words and phrases you have used. These are the trees to the forest of your answer.
Reflection questions can be devised using any material from one's personal life, or they can be more general. We have already been introduced to the classic 'four reflections' of precious human birth, cause and effect, impermanence, and unsatisfactoriness of 'this world' as motivational tools perseverance in spiritual practice. Other excellent beginning question to work with are: If you reflect regularly on Scriptural or other spiritual and/or philosophical writings as part of your practice, reflection questions can be derived from the content of your reading.

See also Reflective Reading