October 11, 2017

Episode 7: Vipassana

We've talked about the "+" in "Mindfulness+", but what about the "Mindfulness" in "Mindfulness+"? Listen in for a fascinating description of what the word vipassana, the original word for mindfulness, actually means. In Mindfulness+ fashion, Thomas then guides the listener into a rich experience of what this practice points us to–greater clarity, deeper fulfillment, and profound freedom.

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Hello. Welcome to Mindfulness+, I'm your host Thomas McConkie, thanks for downloading us today. The topic I want to cover today is the word "mindfulness". I talked in a previous show about what the "+" in Mindfulness+ means but today I want to say a little bit about what the "Mindfulness" in Mindfulness+ is. To do that I want to just talk a little bit about the history of the word Mindfulness, or rather the origin. Many listeners already know this, if you do it's good review. Originally, what we call mindfulness today in the modern english language was referred to in the Poly language and early Buddhist language related to Sanskrit. This practice was called "vipassanā". 

This is a two part word: there's the prefix "v" and there's the suffix "passana". The "v" has different meanings and we're going to focus on one of the meanings today which means "apart". The "passana" in the word literally means "to see". So the compound word means "to see apart" or "to see separately". So what does seeing separately have to do with our mindfulness practice? How can understanding this word "vipassanā" give us insight in to how we can practice and how we can reap all of the considerable benefits of the practice. Well, let me give you an example: when you taste a piece of chocolate with a connoisseur and they have a very discerning and mature pallet and as they're tasting it they can actually guide you through the experience of tasting it. Moments ago, this was a piece of chocolate and it was delicious and you were perfectly happy to be eating a piece of chocolate but this connoisseur points out these beans are from Madagascar and in Madagascar over hundreds of years of farming these juices from citrus fruits have leached in to the soil so these bright notes of fruit actually show up in the flavor of the bean. And the moment you hear this, you actually start to taste the fruit. You become aware and more clear about the complexity of the taste you're experiencing. So this is a simple example of seeing separately. 

When we don't have a high degree of clarity in our experience, it all just kind of lumps together as chocolate. But then when we bring clarity to it, we start to pick up on the different strands, the different notes, the different nuances of experience. So that might show up in a fruity or smokey, or salty piece of chocolate, or you might notice it in other parts of your day, which we're going to get to momentarily. We're going to do a little practice here where you can be your own connoisseur of life and bring a higher degree of clarity to your moment to moment experience. 

Just as another example of how it can be really beneficial in  our lives to vipassanā, to practice mindfulness, to see things separately by bringing a greater degree of clarity and precision to our moment to moment experience, I'd like to ask you guys to think about a time when you noticed you were kind of cranky. Maybe you were in a little bit of a conflict with somebody. Your spouse, partner, a friend, a colleague at work, and at some point in to the conflict you noticed: "hey wait a minute, I think I'm just hungry". Or maybe if not hungry, then maybe you just didn't sleep very well and so you're irritable. But you have this moment of clarity and in this case it's clarity of physical sensation you realize “I'm not actually bothered with this person so much as my body just needs some rest or I just need a sandwich”. 

Again, It's this example of when we don't bring clarity and precision to our experience, it all just ends up lumping together. In a given moment we're grumpy and irritated: this person bothers me or life bothers me. But then when we bring this microscope of awareness to our experience we start to get clear on the different elements that are coalescing to produce this experience we start to see "ok, I'm a little bit hungry and that's causing me to be cranky. My colleague just asked for this project a few days earlier than it was originally intended and that set me off but really I get clear on the different components of experience that are challenging me so what was a situation that caused considerable suffering a moment ago, now that I'm seeing clearly, I can deal with it piece by piece. Let me take an early lunch break and lets talk about the best way to solve this situation after lunch". It's as simple as that.

And as I describe with the example of eating a delicious food, it's not just decreasing suffering that vipassanā and mindfulness helps us with but it actually elevates our fulfillment. Experiences that are already intrinsically rewarding when we bring greater clarity to them we actually enjoy them more. Our sensory experience becomes more rich and rewarding. So thats the direction we're going in today. The word is "vipassanā" and the practice is mindfulness. 

After break, we are going to do a little bit of practice seeing things separately. Breaking experience down in to its component parts and noticing what we notice. I will look forward to doing some practice with you guys after the break.


Welcome back from break, everybody. You're listening to Mindfulness+ , I'm your host Thomas McConkie, and today we are going to vipassanā, learn to see things separately, and bring greater clarity and precision to our moment to moment experience and see what that practice yields for us. 

In some meditations it's desirable to find a quiet place and sit still where you won't be interrupted, a place where you can really settle in, what's really advantageous about mindfulness practice is that we can do it anywhere, everywhere, and any time. I'm going to invite you to continue doing exactly what you're doing, whatever that is. You might be sitting still in a quiet room which is perfectly fine, you might be driving, you might be walking, you might be lying down, whatever you're doing, this practice is perfectly suited for it.



I want you to start by just noticing the way you feel in the body. Noticing physical sensation. Often times when we notice physical sensation we spontaneously move in to a posture that allows for more alertness and freedom, pleasure. So if you're moved to adjust your posture, go ahead and do that but just notice how the body's feeling in the moment. Physical sensation. Where is sensation the brightest? Where is it the most obvious? And can you just allow this sensation to flow and be as it is, to be felt. Notice where sensation is more dim and quiet. The parts of your body that you can't contact as readily and just bring more awareness to these places. Not trying to change anything or create sensation but just breathing and noticing. 

Notice the quality of your emotions in this moment: your mood, how you feel. Not at a physical level but at a more subtle level of emotion. If you're aware of emotion in the body where do you feel it? What's the quality of it? Is it intense emotion or is it more subdue, subtle. Notice what space the emotional energy takes up in the body. Notice its shape: is it changing? Is it wanting to spread? Is it wanting to get smaller? Does the emotion extend beyond the boarders of the physical body? Does it radiate out in to space? Or is it more inward? Just notice. 

Go ahead and let that go and bring your awareness to hearing and just marvel for a moment that you can hear at all. What are these ears, this human experience of hearing sound.

Notice what you can detect in front of you, behind you, to your left and right, below and above you. And notice that it's not just sound that you hear but also silence. As sounds come and go, they arise from silence and back to silence. And so you can appreciate not just the sound around you, whatever it is, relaxing, letting the sound just happen, but you can also appreciate the silence to which all sound returns. 

Letting that go, you can notice what you see. Opening your eyes and looking out in to the world around you. Again, you can marvel that you have eyes to see at all. This world of objects, a spectrum of colors, play of light and shadow. Notice that the eyes just automatically discern shape and color.  And as you shift your head 1 degree or turn your eyes 1 degree this way or that, the whole visual world shifts in to a new scene, a new sight, a new moment. Notice how the world changes moment to moment even if it's only your perspective changing. Your eyes shifting slightly. And you can put them all together now. The feeling body. Ears that hear. Eyes that see. And see if you're able to track these different components clearly in this moment. In this moment an experience coalesces. The feeling body.. how do you feel? The sounds around you, how do they impact how you feel and what you see? and the eyes that see, how does that touch on the feeling body or Impact the feeling body or your sense of hearing? Whatever your experience in this moment, let it be that. Practicing vipassanā we are not trying to produce a special experience but rather become more clear and more open to this very moment and this very experience that is given to us.


Thank you so much for joining today. My name is Thomas McConkie, and you've been listening to Mindfulness+