"In order to be relieved of our misery, we have to know the basic reason for it, the cause of the suffering."
I write this page not to provide ultimate expertise but to demystify misunderstandings and misperceptions about this thing with the weird sounding name. I have since written an updated page and recommendation (Vipassana Revisited), plus provided some annotations and comments within the piece that will inform you of the details of life understanding (presented in the evening of each day of the retreat): The Vipassana Discourses - Day 1 Thru 11 - Annotated With Added Comments/Links.
Vipassana = Seeing things as they really are
Purpose: To live in peace and harmony
Means: See what creates suffering, face it, see it for what it is (and isn't), let go
Indicators: Breathing and body sensation
Since "defilement" (unhealthy) thoughts are subtle, look for the indicators that the thoughts cause: abnormal breathing and body sensations.
Scientific facts: The Law Of The Body/Thought Reactions
Healthy thought --> Breath normally, good body sensations
Unhealthy thought --> Breathe abnormally, negative body sensations/tension
Practice: Noticing breath and body sensations, face the thoughts as thoughts only,
normalize breathing and let go of tension
Results of practice: The skill of letting go of tension (= peace of mind)
Correction of thoughts, accepting only healthy thoughts
Living powerfully and effectively, being happy
What it creates:
"When one reaches this stage, the entire pattern of one's life changes. It is no longer possible to do anything vocally or physically which will disturb the peace and happiness of others. Instead, a balanced mind not only becomes peaceful, but the surrounding atmosphere also becomes permeated with peace and harmony, and this will start affecting others, helping others too." Dhamma.org. The Art Of Living
How to integrate it with "psychology"
Since psychology is strictly about getting the individual to think in an ordered and rational manner, which aligns with reality, Vipassana Meditation is to be coupled with discovery and modification methods that further and/or quicken the benefits of meditation. The meditation is the "practice" and the psychological methods are the "tying down what is reality" exercises. The latter are simply mostly writing down the process of thinking and then correcting it.
These are complementary. Without the practice, the skill does not occur. Without the analytic thinking process, the meditation takes longer to work or may not adequately "complete" the full realization that it takes to move from the unhealthy to the healthy.
Pieces of the meditation:
1. One must abstain from any action, physical or vocal, which disturbs the peace and harmony of others. (i.e stop it!) Otherwise, the disturbing actions to others will disturb your mind.
2. Master the brain by training it to focus on a single object (usually the breath). This wires the brain to observe and manage it better, plus it sends "safety" signals to the often otherwise hyperreactive alarm system. The mind becomes sharp and penetrating, capable of being directed, for the next piece.
3. Developing insights into reality and one's own nature. With the above skill, one becomes a dispassionate observer, able to think in a directed and detached way - which is necessary for seeing what is "not in reality" (not workable) and then rethinking it to reality (to what works).
See what I add below under The Complementary And Supplementary Add-On.
Vipassana simply means seeing things as they really are. If you'll notice all great philosophical disciplines, and also this website, say it is necessary to eliminate/lessen the illusions that have us reacting to what is not real in life. When we learn what reality is and what it isn't, we can then differentiate and then align with reality.
A simple example of aligning with reality is what happens when one doesn't believe in gravity and then tries to fly. Soon gravity "hurts us" and it will continue to hurt us until we decide to obey that reality.
However, in the non-physical world the effects of not aligning with reality might not be as clear. But make no mistake, the effects are real and very meaningful. The effects are summed up in the term 'suffering'. There is no suffering when one totally aligns with reality. And, as in the Law of Cause and Effect, we can deduce that the effect always indicates that cause was there, as the source. The cause of "bad" feelings and any abnormal breathing is always unhealthy thoughts [called "defilements"].
The area of thoughts is very subtle. We experience, actually misperceive, them as real, especially since we often feel an emotion that is real. An emotion is a chemical combination that we evaluate as good or bad. But it is a thought (consciously seen or not) that creates the emotion - emotions don't just come from nowhere and have no purpose.
Thoughts are simply a combination of neurons firing off, frequently because they are associated by the brain with something it thinks is similar. But thoughts are just thoughts, not "things". They are made up, put together in a sense, by our brains and then built into the wiring. They are there to be brought up when needed, to help us survive better. But they are often erroneous and/or primitive. And, though they may have some similarity or connection to something that occurs, they are not meaningful or useful unless our higher brain decides so (or if we believe they are). Believing thoughts are real is our "default option" - unless we choose a better option, this is the one that will be operational - leaving us operating on a basis the primitive brain set up.
If you leave this default option in place, you are not using your higher brain - also called "not using your head".
The Vipassana Meditation is, in my opinion, simply "practicing", just as one would do in a sport, so that it becomes easier and easier to
1. See that a thought is just a thought,
2. See that there is no existential threat, and
3. Quickly correct to normal breathing and center oneself to a position of strength.
It is about being able to see the reality in life and being able to function at your highest as a result of having been liberated from "mental reactions" based on sensations.
THE COMPLEMENTARY AND SUPPLEMENTARY ADD-ON
I consider it absolutely essential for an individual to understand what a thought is and isn't and to understand that the thought is the creator of the emotions (not the other person nor the circumstances). If the emotion is a suffering emotion, then that tells us the thought is untrue and out of touch with reality. A simple idea, but you must understand it fully - as it provides the basis for living your life at a very powerful level. I have many articles related to these, with some being duplicative - but you should spend the time to read them all - at least enough so that you feel you understand and are convinced of the effect of thoughts and also of their controllability and changeability.
The knowledge and understanding above facilitates the rest of the process being more effective.
The add-on is simply to focus on and specify (put into words) what the thought is and how you are experiencing the effects of it, note whether it is workable in terms of creating a positive result/effect, and, if it isn't, to create a true, workable thought. As you do these, one by one, a mountain of powerful thoughts is being formed to replace the big hole created by disempowering, untrue thoughts.
The simplest format would be to note down a thought or a reminder of that thought while you are in meditation and see it or immediately after the meditation. Putting anything into writing, per scientific studies (including brain scans), immediately diminishes the power of negative emotions AND improves one's decision-making skills! It also permits one to look,
Also learn the meditation of loving kindness or goodwill towards all, link to it from the Meditation, Contents, Links page.
"Never resist reality. It always wins."