Practicing Vipassana Meditation

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 2, Part 10 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

11 of 15

This is best done, using the instructions in the previous posting, rather than just read]

CTT: We’ll assume that you already learned in concentrative meditation that you’ll be able to bring a little bit of concentration to this. But, as with concentrative meditation, if you find you’ve drifted off into thinking about your grocery list and various other things, when you realize you’ve drifted away, just gently come back. What’s the most prominent body sensation? Okay? You can close your eyes if you’re not too sleepy, or park them on something out in front of you in the middle of the floor or whatever.

(Rings bell)

I’ll give you little reminders occasionally to guide this vipassana practice……..

[pause for practice]

If you find you’re sort of internally agitated, you might just focus on the breathing sensations for a half a minute or a minute to begin with, to calm yourself down. Gently.….

[pause for practice]

Now, if you’re not already doing it, just open your mind with curiosity to whatever the most prominent sensation in your body is at this moment.….

[pause for practice]

If something else becomes more prominent, then shift your attention to that with openness and curiosity.,,,,

[pause for practice]

Your mind may go on thinking in the background, but insofar as you can control your attention, just gently rest it on openness to the most prominent sensation…..

[pause for practice]

Don’t try to fight the thinking or drifting. Just come back to the most prominent sensation……

[pause for practice]

There are no “good” or “bad” sensations here. There isn’t any sensation you’re supposed to experience or any sensation you’re supposed not to experience. It’s whatever is prominent at the moment. Just open to it…..

[pause for practice]

If your mind has drifted just gently bring it back to our task. What’s the prominent sensation right now? What’s it like?

[pause for practice]

You don’t have to make it be like anything in particular, just be sensitive to whatever it is…..

[pause for practice]

Remember you don’t need to fight thoughts or images or feelings but just bring your attention back to sensing the actual, most prominent bodily sensation. Let that be the foreground…..

[pause for practice]

And of course, since you’re not deaf, you hear sounds at various times just like you have background thoughts and images, but keep bringing your attention back to sensing whatever is most prominent in your body…..

[pause for practice]

Now, I’m going to ring the bell in half a minute, but you might take these last few moments to try dedicating the merit of your practice and aspirations to whatever you see as the highest good…..

[pause for practice]

(Rings bell)

You can bring your attention back to the room in a more ordinary way. Although you can certainly continue to practice openness and equanimity if you’re so inclined.

How did that go for people?

Student: I found that my breathing gets very shallow and I almost stop breathing, but I don’t feel like I’m panicking. It would just be there, like I know there’s plenty of oxygen around me and I can breathe at any time. But I was keeping track with one part of my mind. I was down to like two or three breaths a minute, and I don’t know if you had a response to that.

CTT: It sounds like you were awfully relaxed.

Student: Sure.

CTT: I don’t think its life threatening. No. That’s interesting.

Student: I noticed a similar kind of effect to what you’re talking about.

CTT: Yeah. That’s actually fairly common, for people doing various forms of meditation to talk about their breathing apparently slowing down a lot. I don’t know how essential it is to the process, or whether it necessarily happens with all people, but when it does happen it certainly seems like a sign of physical relaxation and it’s a sensation. If that was the prominent sensation that attracted you at times, then you were doing the right thing. How else did that go with people? Yes?

Student: It was a lot different for me than the concentrative one we did last week. Sometimes the most prominent sensation was my breath, but it was a lot less than… I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain. It felt pretty good. Sometimes my mind was on. I was getting pretty hot, like temperature, so…. But it felt a lot different than last week’s meditation. To me it was…..

CTT: Don’t get attached to it feeling good, okay? Remember the primary purpose of Vipassana is to learn the truth about yourself; to have more clear, more open, more understanding contact with all of the processes that are you. If you turn that into, “I’m doing this to feel good” or “I did it this way and now I have a good feeling and I’m going to make that happen all the time,” you’re actually back to normal mind functioning of always seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. And you’re not advancing that goal of really trying to understand yourself more and more clearly.

So sometimes a very good meditation might be one in which you felt really uncomfortable and you were very clearly, precisely aware of just exactly how that discomfort or pain felt. But that doesn’t mean, you know, that you have to be ascetic and it’s bad to feel good. It’s fine to feel good. 😉


I think that’s something I have to warn people about occasionally, you know? Our Western culture has a lot of heritage and spirituality that makes you feel bad. After all, we are all miserable sinners, aren’t we? 😉


  1. “Don’t get attached to it feeling good, okay?”

    This is a good point but there are a couple of pitfalls that are easier to deal with if one is are aware of them.

    1) Operant conditioning is a fact of biology. If someone is experiencing a lot of psychological discomfort during meditation, there is an increased probability that they will give up meditation.

    Sometimes, in order to benefit from a long term practice of meditation, a person needs to recognize when they should look outside meditation for a solution to their discomfort.

    2) If you over do it and focus too much on negative feelings it can have the effect of reinforcing negative attitudes. In effect, you practice feeling bad.

    This may not be strictly vipassana, but in my opinion, meditation should be a balance between letting out (becoming aware of thoughts and emotions) and letting go (of thoughts and emotions by concentration, ie returning to the focus of meditation after a distraction). Too much letting out and you reinforce negativity, too much letting go and you have suppression. Neither is desirable. Each person has to find the right balance for themselves.


  2. @anonymous:
    Sometimes, in order to benefit from a long term practice of meditation, a person needs to recognize when they should look outside meditation for a solution to their discomfort.
    Yes. It seems unnecessary in some ways to need to remind people of this, but we all have a strong tendency to get stuck in single ways. Meditation may be particularly problematic in this sense as there’s a tendency for it to be over-hyped as THE ONLY AND SACRED WAY TO GET ANYWHERE WORTHWHILE.
    If you hired a carpenter to do some repair work and they brought only one tool to the job, you wouldn’t expect much of them…

  3. I guess that discussion in the other thread about the fear of psi was more helpful than I thought it would be. I was finally able to just sit down and feel quiet inside. I tried this exercise and enjoyed it. I really like watching my colors change in intensity as the most prominent sensation moves around.

    It is interesting that parapsychologists don’t want to discuss the fear of psi. My counselor, who believes in psi, tended to change the subject whenever I wanted to talk about such fears. I don’t think he meant to, because most of the time he did try to encourage me to take charge of where our discussions went. But whenever I wanted to talk about my fear of psi, he tended to derail that line of thought. I asked him if he would like to be the way I am, but he never really answered that question.

    Anyway, that discussion was very helpful. I haven’t tried the more complicated exercise where you pay attention to specific parts of yourself in a certain order again yet. Right now I’m just happy to be able to do this one and watch the lights move around my body with the sensations.

  4. LOL, I guess I forgot that the point isn’t to enjoy myself, it is to learn stuff and become more insightful. I’m a bad student. But I was sort of insightful with the fear of psi discussion, wasn’t I? So would it be OK if I just enjoyed the meditation thing today? 🙂

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