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What Is Insight Meditation?

A human being is part of a whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in it's beauty. - Albert Einstein

Insight meditation, or Vipassana, has been practiced since the time of the Buddha, 2500 years ago. It originates in one of the three great streams of Buddhism, called the Theravada tradition. Theravada is practiced primarily in Thailand, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, and other parts of Southeast Asia. The other two streams are Mahayana, practiced mainly in China, Japan and Korea, and Vajrayana, practiced mainly in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a generation of young Americans discovered insight meditation and brought it home. As taught and practiced at PIMC, insight meditation has little cultural overlay and is accessible to people of all religions.

Insight meditation is a way to develop wisdom and compassion. The core of the practice is the cultivation of mindfulness. Mindfulness is like a mirror that reflects the mind and body from moment to moment, without judgments, projections or distortions. As we learn to live in the present moment, and see things as they are, the hold of negativity is weakened, and we begin to cultivate a peacefulness in the mind and an openness of heart.

From this perspective, our relationship to the stresses of contemporary life can shift. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the many physical and emotional benefits that derive from meditation practice.

The foundations of the practice include sitting meditation, in which we learn to acquire steadiness of the mind and the ability to see deeply into the truth of our experience; walking meditation, in which we develop a greater awareness of our bodies in the present moment; and mindfulness in daily life, the art of conscious living. Lovingkindness (Metta) meditation is a component of the practice that enables us to open our heart to others, and ourselves and to recognize our connection to all of life.

Ultimately the distinction between formal meditation practice and everyday life blurs and every moment and action of life become part of a conscious spiritual journey.

(This text is cited with gratitude from New York Insight's website