In Everyday Life
musician plays scales. When you begin to study the piano, that's
the first thing you learn, and you never stop playing scales.
The finest concert pianists in the world still play scales.
It's a basic skill that can't be allowed to get rusty.
Every baseball player practices batting. It's the first thing
you learn in Little League, and you never stop practicing. Every
World Series game begins with batting practice. Basic skills
must always remain sharp.
Seated meditation is the arena in which the meditator practices
his own fundamental skills. The game the meditator is playing
is the experience of his own life, and the instrument upon which
he plays is his own sensory apparatus. Even the most seasoned
meditator continues to practice seated meditation, because it
tunes and sharpens the basic mental skills he needs for his
particular game. We must never forget, however, that seated
meditation itself is not the game. It's the practice. The game
in which those basic skills are to be applied is the rest of
one's experiential existence. Meditation that is not applied
to daily living is sterile and limited.
The purpose of Vipassana meditation is nothing less than the
radical and permanent transformation of your entire sensory
and cognitive experience. It is meant to revolutionize the whole
of your life experience. Those periods of seated practice are
times set aside for instilling new mental habits. You learn
new ways to receive and understand sensation. You develop new
methods of dealing with conscious thought, and new modes of
attending to the incessant rush of your own emotions. These
new mental behaviors must be made to carry over into the rest
of your life.
Otherwise, meditation remains dry and fruitless, a theoretical
segment of your existence that is unconnected to all the rest.
Some effort to connect these two segments is essential. A certain
amount of carry-over will take place spontaneously, but the
process will be slow and unreliable. You are very likely to
be left with the feeling that you are getting nowhere and to
drop the process as unrewarding.
One of the most memorable events in your meditation career is
the moment when you first realize that you are meditation in
the midst of some perfectly ordinary activity. You are driving
down the freeway or carrying out the trash and it just turns
on by itself. This unplanned outpouring of the skills you have
been so carefully fostering is a genuine joy. It gives you a
tiny window on the future. You catch a spontaneous glimpse of
what the practice really means. The possibility strikes you
that this transformation of consciousness could actually become
a permanent feature of your experience. You realize that you
could actually spend the rest of your days standing aside from
the debilitating clamoring of your own obsessions, no longer
frantically hounded by your own needs and greed. You get a tiny
taste of what it is like to just stand aside and watch it all
flow past. It's a magic moment.
That vision is liable to remain unfulfilled, however, unless
you actively seek to promote the carry-over process. The most
important moment in meditation is the instant you leave the
cushion. When your practice session is over, you can jump up
and drop the whole thing, or you can bring those skills with
you into the rest of your activities.
It is crucial for you to understand what meditation is. It is
not some special posture, and it's not just a set of mental
exercises. Meditation is a cultivation of mindfulness and the
application of that mindfulness once cultivated. You do not
have to sit to meditate. You can meditate while washing the
dishes. You can meditate in the shower, or roller skating, or
typing letters. Meditation is awareness, and it must be applied
to each and every activity of one's life. This isn't easy.
We specifically cultivate awareness through the seated posture
in a quiet place because that's the easiest situation in which
to do so. Meditation in motion is harder. Meditation in the
midst of fast-paced noisy activity is harder still. And meditation
in the midst of intensely egoistic activities like romance or
arguments is the ultimate challenge. The beginner will have
his hands full with less stressful activities.
Yet the ultimate goal of practice remains: to build one's concentration
and awareness to a level of strength that will remain unwavering
even in the midst of the pressures of life in contemporary society.
Life offers many challenges and the serious meditator is very
Carrying your meditation into the events of your daily life
is not a simple process. Try it and you will see. That transition
point between the end of your meditation session and the beginning
of 'real life' is a long jump. It's too long for most of us.
We find our calm and concentration evaporating within minutes,
leaving us apparently no better off than before. In order to
bridge this gulf, Buddhists over the centuries have devised
an array of exercises aimed at smoothing the transition. They
take that jump and break it down into little steps. Each step
can be practiced by itself.
1. Walking Meditation
Our everyday existence is full of motion and activity. Sitting
utterly motionless for hours on end is nearly the opposite of
normal experience. Those states of clarity and tranquility we
foster in the midst of absolute stillness tend to dissolve as
soon as we move. We need some transitional exercise that will
teach us the skill of remaining calm and aware in the midst
of motion. Walking meditation helps us make that transition
from static repose to everyday life. It's meditation in motion,
and it is often used as an alternative to sitting. Walking is
especially good for those times when you are extremely restless.
An hour of walking meditation will often get you through that
restless energy and still yield considerable quantities of clarity.
You can then go on to the seated meditation with greater profit.
Standard Buddhist practice advocates frequent retreats to complement
your daily sitting practice. A retreat is a relatively long
period of time devoted exclusively to meditation. One or two
day retreats are common for lay people. Seasoned meditators
in a monastic situation may spend months at a time doing nothing
else. Such practice is rigorous, and it makes sizable demands
on both mind and body. Unless you have been at it for several
years, there is a limit to how long you can sit and profit.
Ten solid hours of the seated posture will produce in most beginners
a state of agony that far exceeds their concentration powers.
A profitable retreat must therefore be conducted with some change
of posture and some movement. The usual pattern is to intersperse
blocks of sitting with blocks of walking meditation. An hour
of each with short breaks between is common.
To do the walking meditation, you need a private place with
enough space for at least five to ten paces in a straight line.
You are going to be walking back and forth very slowly, and
to the eyes of most Westerners, you'll look curious and disconnected
from everyday life. This is not the sort of exercise you want
to perform on the front lawn where you'll attract unnecessary
attention. Choose a private place.
The physical directions are simple. Select an unobstructed area
and start at one end. Stand for a minute in an attentive position.
Your arms can be held in any way that is comfortable, in front,
in back, or at your sides. Then while breathing in, lift the
heel of one foot. While breathing out, rest that foot on its
toes. Again while breathing in, lift that foot, carry it forward
and while breathing out, bring the foot down and touch the floor.
Repeat this for the other foot. Walk very slowly to the opposite
end, stand for one minute, then turn around very slowly, and
stand there for another minute before you walk back. Then repeat
the process. Keep you head up and you neck relaxed. Keep your
eyes open to maintain balance, but don't look at anything in
particular. Walk naturally. Maintain the slowest pace that is
comfortable, and pay no attention to your surroundings. Watch
out for tensions building up in the body, and release them as
soon as you spot them. Don't make any particular attempt to
be graceful. Don't try to look pretty. This is not an athletic
exercise, or a dance. It is an exercise in awareness. Your objective
is to attain total alertness, heightened sensitivity and a full,
unblocked experience of the motion of walking. Put all of your
attention on the sensations coming from the feet and legs. Try
to register as much information as possible about each foot
as it moves. Dive into the pure sensation of walking, and notice
every subtle nuance of the movement. Feel each individual muscle
as it moves. Experience every tiny change in tactile sensation
as the feet press against the floor and then lift again.
Notice the way these apparently smooth motions are composed
of complex series of tiny jerks. Try to miss nothing. In order
to heighten your sensitivity, you can break the movement down
into distinct components. Each foot goes through a lift, a swing;
and then a down tread. Each of these components has a beginning,
middle, and end. In order to tune yourself in to this series
of motions, you can start by making explicit mental notes of
Make a mental note of "lifting, swinging, coming down, touching
floor, pressing" and so on. This is a training procedure to
familiarize you with the sequence of motions and to make sure
that you don't miss any. As you become more aware of the myriad
subtle events going on, you won't have time for words. You will
find yourself immersed in a fluid, unbroken awareness of motion.
The feet will become your whole universe. If your mind wanders,
note the distraction in the usual way, then return your attention
to walking. Don't look at your feet while you are doing all
of this, and don't walk back and forth watching a mental picture
of your feet and legs. Don't think, just feel. You don't need
the concept of feet and you don't need pictures. Just register
the sensations as they flow. In the beginning, you will probably
have some difficulties with balance. You are using the leg muscles
in a new way, and a learning period is natural. If frustration
arises, just note that and let it go.
The Vipassana walking technique is designed to flood your consciousness
with simple sensations, and to do it so thoroughly that all
else is pushed aside. There is no room for thought and no room
for emotion. There is no time for grasping, and none for freezing
the activity into a series of concepts. There is no need for
a sense of self. There is only the sweep of tactile and kinesthetic
sensation, an endless and ever-changing flood of raw experience.
We are learning here to escape into reality, rather than from
it. Whatever insights we gain are directly applicable to the
rest of our notion-filled lives.
The goal of our practice is to become fully aware of all facets
of our experience in an unbroken, moment-to-moment flow. Much
of what we do and experience is completely unconscious in the
sense that we do it with little or no attention. Our minds are
on something else entirely. We spend most of our time running
on automatic pilot, lost in the fog of day-dreams and preoccupations.
One of the most frequently ignored aspects of our existence
is our body. The technicolor cartoon show inside our head is
so alluring that we tend to remove all of our attention from
the kinesthetic and tactile senses. That information is pouring
up the nerves and into the brain every second, but we have largely
sealed it off from consciousness. It pours into the lower levels
of the mind and it gets no further. Buddhists have developed
an exercise to open the floodgates and let this material through
to consciousness. It's another way of making the unconscious
Your body goes through all kinds of contortions in the course
of a single day. You sit and you stand. You walk and lie down.
You bend, run, crawl, and sprawl. Meditation teachers urge you
to become aware of this constantly ongoing dance. As you go
through your day, spend a few seconds every few minutes to check
your posture. Don't do it in a judgmental way. This is not an
exercise to correct your posture, or to improve you appearance.
Sweep your attention down through the body and feel how you
are holding it. Make a silent mental note of 'Walking' or 'Sitting'
or 'Lying down' or 'Standing'. It all sounds absurdly simple,
but don't slight this procedure. This is a powerful exercise.
If you do it thoroughly, if you really instil this mental habit
deeply, it can revolutionize your experience. It taps you into
a whole new dimension of sensation, and you feel like a blind
man whose sight has been restored.
3. Slow-Motion Activity
Every action you perform is made up of separate components.
The simple action of tying your shoelaces is made up of a complex
series of subtle motions. Most of these details go unobserved.
In order to promote the overall habit of mindfulness, you can
perform simple activities at very low speed--making an effort
to pay full attention to every nuance of the act.
Sitting at a table and drinking a cup of tea is one example.
There is much here to be experienced. View your posture as you
are sitting and feel the handle of the cup between your fingers.
Smell the aroma of the tea, notice the placement of the cup,
the tea, your arm, and the table. Watch the intention to raise
the arm arise within your mind, feel the arm as it raises, feel
the cup against your lips and the liquid pouring into your mouth.
Taste the tea, then watch the arising of the intention to lower
your arm. The entire process is fascinating and beautiful, if
you attend to it fully, paying detached attention to every sensation
and to the flow of thought and emotion.
This same tactic can be applied to many of your daily activities.
Intentionally slowing down your thoughts, words and movements
allows you to penetrate far more deeply into them than you otherwise
could. What you find there is utterly astonishing. In the beginning,
it is very difficult to keep this deliberately slow pace during
most regular activities, but skill grows with time. Profound
realizations occur during sitting meditation, but even more
profound revelations can take place when we really examine our
own inner workings in the midst of day-to-day activities. This
is the laboratory where we really start to see the mechanisms
of our own emotions and the operations of our passions. Here
is where we can truly gauge the reliability of our reasoning,
and glimpse the difference between our true motives and the
armor of pretense that we wear to fool ourselves and others.
We will find a great deal of this information surprising, much
of it disturbing, but all of it useful. Bare attention brings
order into the clutter that collects in those untidy little
hidden corners of the mind. As you achieve clear comprehension
in the midst of life's ordinary activities, you gain the ability
to remain rational and peaceful while you throw the penetrating
light of mindfulness into those irrational mental nooks and
crannies. You start to see the extent to which you are responsible
for your own mental suffering. You see your own miseries, fears,
and tensions as self-generated. You see the way you cause your
own suffering, weakness, and limitations. And the more deeply
you understand these mental processes, the less hold they have
4. Breath Coordination
In seated meditation, our primary focus is the breath. Total
concentration on the ever-changing breath brings us squarely
into the present moment. The same principle can be used in the
midst of movement. You can coordinate the activity in which
you are involved with your breathing. This lends a flowing rhythm
to your movement, and it smooths out many of the abrupt transitions.
Activity becomes easier to focus on, and mindfulness is increased.
Your awareness thus stays more easily in the present. Ideally,
meditation should be a 24 hour-a-day practice. This is a highly
A state of mindfulness is a state of mental readiness. The mind
is not burdened with preoccupations or bound in worries. Whatever
comes up can be dealt with instantly. When you are truly mindful,
your nervous system has a freshness and resiliency which fosters
insight. A problem arises and you simply deal with it, quickly,
efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss. You don't stand there
in a dither, and you don't run off to a quiet corner so you
can sit down and meditate about it. You simply deal with it.
And in those rare circumstances when no solution seems possible,
you don't worry about that. You just go on to the next thing
that needs your attention. Your intuition becomes a very practical
5. Stolen Moments
The concept of wasted time does not exist for a serious meditator.
Little dead spaces during your day can be turned to profit.
Every spare moment can be used for meditation. Sitting anxiously
in the dentist's office, meditate on your anxiety. Feeling irritated
while standing in a line at the bank, meditate on irritation.
Bored, twiddling you thumbs at the bus stop, meditate on boredom.
Try to stay alert and aware throughout the day. Be mindful of
exactly what is taking place right now, even if it is tedious
drudgery. Take advantage of moments when you are alone. Take
advantage of activities that are largely mechanical. Use every
spare second to be mindful. Use all the moments you can.
6. Concentration On All Activities
You should try to maintain mindfulness of every activity and
perception through the day, starting with the first perception
when you awake, and ending with the last thought before you
fall asleep. This is an incredibly tall goal to shoot for. Don't
expect to be able to achieve this work soon. Just take it slowly
and let you abilities grow over time. The most feasible way
to go about the task is to divide your day up into chunks. Dedicate
a certain interval to mindfulness of posture, then extend this
mindfulness to other simple activities: eating, washing, dressing,
and so forth. Some time during the day, you can set aside 15
minutes or so to practice the observation of specific types
of mental states: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings,
for instance; or the hindrances, or thoughts. The specific routine
is up to you. The idea is to get practice at spotting the various
items, and to preserve your state of mindfulness as fully as
you can throughout the day.
Try to achieve a daily routine in which there is as little difference
as possible between seated meditation and the rest of your experience.
Let the one slide naturally into the other. Your body is almost
never still. There is always motion to observe. At the very
least, there is breathing. Your mind never stops chattering,
except in the very deepest states of concentration. There is
always something coming up to observe. If you seriously apply
your meditation, you will never be at a loss for something worthy
of your attention.
Your practice must be made to apply to your everyday living
situation. That is your laboratory. It provides the trials and
challenges you need to make your practice deep and genuine.
It's the fire that purifies your practice of deception and error,
the acid test that shows you when you are getting somewhere
and when you are fooling yourself. If your meditation isn't
helping you to cope with everyday conflicts and struggles, then
it is shallow. If your day-to-day emotional reactions are not
becoming clearer and easier to manage, then you are wasting
your time. And you never know how you are doing until you actually
make that test.
The practice of mindfulness is supposed to be a universal practice.
You don't do it sometimes and drop it the rest of the time.
You do it all the time. Meditation that is successful only when
you are withdrawn in some soundproof ivory tower is still undeveloped.
Insight meditation is the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness.
The meditator learns to pay bare attention to the birth, growth,
and decay of all the phenomena of the mind. He turns from none
of it, and he lets none of it escape. Thoughts and emotions,
activities and desires, the whole show. He watches it all and
he watches it continuously. It matters not whether it is lovely
or horrid, beautiful or shameful. He sees the way it is and
the way it changes. No aspect of experience is excluded or avoided.
It is a very thoroughgoing procedure.
If you are moving through your daily activities and you find
yourself in a state of boredom, then meditate on your boredom.
Find out how it feels, how it works, and what it is composed
of. If you are angry, meditate on the anger. Explore the mechanics
of anger. Don't run from it. If you find yourself sitting in
the grip of a dark depression, meditate on the depression. Investigate
depression in a detached and inquiring way. Don't flee from
it blindly. Explore the maze and chart its pathways. That way
you will be better able to cope with the next depression that
Meditating your way through the ups and downs of daily life
is the whole point of Vipassana. This kind of practice is extremely
rigorous and demanding, but it engenders a state of mental flexibility
that is beyond comparison. A meditator keeps his mind open every
second. He is constantly investigating life, inspecting his
own experience, viewing existence in a detached and inquisitive
way. Thus he is constantly open to truth in any form, from any
source, and at any time. This is the state of mind you need
It is said that one may attain enlightenment at any moment if
the mind is kept in a state of meditative readiness. The tiniest,
most ordinary perception can be the stimulus: a view of the
moon, the cry of a bird, the sound of the wind in the trees.
it's not so important what is perceived as the way in which
you attend to that perception. The state of open readiness is
essential. It could happen to you right now if you are ready.
The tactile sensation of this book in your fingers could be
the cue. The sound of these words in your head might be enough.
You could attain enlightenment right now, if you are ready.