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Insight Meditation: Present, Open & Aware (Your Guide to Buddhist Meditation/July 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | July 2014


Insight Meditation: Present, Open & Aware

EMILY HORN on how to discover the peace and awakening in every moment

We all long for deeper connection with ourselves and others, less stress, and a better understanding of what is really happening in our lives. Through the practice of Vipassana, or Insight Meditation, we find that peace and awakening are found right here in the present.

Insight Meditation is a way to hack the mind and heart, to reboot how we interface with the world. We see our old programs and habits and, through kindness and dedication, they unwind. We open to what is happening in each moment and discover how we prevent life from being fluid and flexible.

We sit and we notice where our attention lands. What catches it? Where does it cling? Is there grasping? We learn to direct our attention, moving it toward and away from objects. This kind of focus brings insight into how we shut down the flow of experience and cause ourselves suffering. We learn to open to greater freedom.

For me, questioning started at a young age. I grew up in the South, where people packed churches and listened to Bible stories. As I watched the news and saw the wars of the world, I began to question the distance between people’s values and their actions. These painful human divisions didn’t make sense to me.

This kicked off a journey to find freedom beyond the conditioned walls of ignorance. What I have found is that peace and awakening are not found in some other place, or an imaginary better world. They are found only in the present.

Mindfulness became my gateway to an unending process of discovery. What is this mind and heart? How can I live a life worth living? My life became a fertile ground for investigation, acceptance, and discovery.

Becoming open to experience isn’t always easy. Sometimes we face unpleasant aspects of our body and mind. But this too is insight, and when we approach our difficulties with kind attention, they lose their power over us. It all comes down to the simple act of returning to the breath and the body, and then using our embodied presence to notice what is happening right now. Certainly it can be difficult, but reminding ourselves that we are on a path that has been trusted and traveled for more than 2,600 years can help.

We all struggle: with sickness, raising children, aging parents, death of loved ones, and violent boundary violations. But in each moment we can call on our ability as human beings to open, even when it doesn’t feel pleasant.

I remember crying while listening to Insight teacher Trudy Goodman explain to a woman who had just lost her husband that we sit again and again in the crucible of meditation. We sit for ourselves, for those we love, and for the next time we venture into the depths. She told the students, “Don’t worry that you will miss out. If you aren’t in the crucible now, you will be. Let’s practice now so that we can open even amidst the storms.”

I remember being on a meditation retreat and falling into a pit of despair and frustration. Memories flashed from my past, my body burned, and I just wanted to get out of, fix, and change my experience.

I asked my teacher, Jack Kornfield, if the bombardment of unpleasantness ever stopped. He smiled big with love and care. “Relax and you will know,” he said.

It can be counterintuitive to relax when there is chaos. Yet learning to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our experience—think of the mnemonic device “RAIN”—helps free us from the false realities our thoughts, emotions, and body sensations create. We usually feel that our experience is solid and will never change, but with insight it all breaks down into a million different aspects. We open so that all experience is a flowing stream, and when debris floats by, it is held with loving, non-judgmental, mindful awareness.

The Buddha taught that we free ourselves from our stormy struggles by noticing their causes and by understanding the patterns of our mind, or programming. We are able to recognize which parts are useful and which are hindering us from freely experiencing the ebb and flow of life. Let’s call this “mind hacking,” because mindfulness gives us the ability to reprogram the inner operating system and become more fluid in our identity.

As you practice Insight Meditation, you’ll become more comfortable with this continual shifting of identity, and you’ll come to trust the unfolding of life itself. It provides the soil for a deep joy and connection in both solitude and in relationship. With mindfulness you can extend your inward learning and begin to deeply love the whole network of humanity. Here’s how to get started.


How to Practice Insight Meditation

You can practice Insight Meditation in a number of situations. You can practice in a quiet place in your home, in your car, or even during a break at work. You may want to surround yourself with objects that remind you of the sacred quality of life, perhaps a flower or candles. Allow the space to be uniquely yours.

Begin by taking a meditation posture either in a chair or on a meditation cushion. Allowing your posture to be upright and stable, take a few deep breaths in and out, exhaling fully and inhaling fully.

As your breath becomes simple and natural, allow your sitting bones to fall toward the earth and your spine to straighten toward the sky. Feel the weight of your body and the space it takes up. Soften your attention by relaxing into the posture and allowing a simple smile to appear on your face.

Now direct your attention to the natural rhythm of your breath, noticing the sensations as you breathe in and out. Notice the space between your inhalations and exhalations. You may make a gentle mental note: in with the in-breath and out with the out-breath. Allow the multitude of sensations to arise and pass around the breath.

When you notice your attention wandering, gently bring it back to the breath. It takes time to be able to stay with the breath for very long. It is like going to the gym: with practice, your “attention muscles” will become stronger and you will be able to see more and more clearly what is happening in your experience.

To deepen attention, notice if the breath is warm, cool, hot, slow, or fast. Is it tingling, stuffy, gentle? Investigate what is happening. Usually we take this mysterious process of breathing for granted. Use it to become present.

When thoughts come, acknowledge them gently and return to the breath. Stepping outside the story, we can begin to non-identify and simply be with what’s happening. One moment at a time, gradually open to the whole range of sensations and the flow of life.

As you become more present using the breath, ask yourself, what else is happening right now? Allow the experience to be as it is without pushing it away, grasping toward it, or numbing out. Become gracious, accepting, fully present, and wise. This is the art of mindfulness.

Focusing on the movement of the breath softens our identification with the stories we tell ourselves so we can simply be with what’s happening. With gentleness and insight, your sense of freedom grows and you open to the flow of life.

From the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

The View: Why We Meditate (Your Guide to Buddhist Meditation/July 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | July 2014



The View: Why We Meditate

We don’t meditate to become better people or have special experiences, says CHÖGYAM TRUNGPA RINPOCHE. Meditation is simply the way we relate to our already existing enlightened state.

The actual experience, techniques, and disciplines of meditation are still unfamiliar to many people. So I would like to give you a basic idea of how meditation practice works, how it operates in our everyday life, and how it functions scientifically, so to speak.

The practice of meditation is not so much based on becoming a better person, or for that matter becoming an enlightened person. It is seeing how we can relate to our already existing enlightened state. To do that is a matter of trust, as well as a matter of openness.

Trust plays an extremely important part in the practice of meditation. The trust we are discussing is trust in yourself. This trust has to be recovered rather than developed. We have all kinds of conceptualizations and attitudes that prevent us from uncovering that basic trust. These are known as the veil of conceptualization.

Sometimes we think of trust as trusting someone else to provide us with security, or trusting someone else as an example or an inspiration. These kinds of trust are generally based on forgetting yourself and trying to secure something trustworthy from the outside. But when our approach is highly externalized, the real meaning of trust is lost.

Real trust is not outward facing, as if you were completely poverty-stricken. When you have that mentality, you feel that you have nothing valuable within you, so you try to copy somebody else’s success or style or use somebody else’s resources. However, Buddhism is known as a nontheistic tradition, which means that help doesn’t come from outside.

The Sanskrit term for meditation, dhyana, is common to many Buddhist traditions. In Chinese it is chan, and in Japanese it is zen. We may use the word “meditation” in the English language, but how can we actually express its meaning or what this approach actually is?

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (1939–1987) was the author of such classics as  Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. He was the founder of this magazine.

Read the rest of this article inside the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Inside the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: "Your Guide to Buddhist Meditation," featuring guidance from 11 of today's finest teachers; a celebration of New York hotspot and Himalayan art refuge, the Rubin Museum; meditation teacher Allan Lokos's incredible airplane-crash survival story; plus, book reviews, Karen Maezen Miller, Brad Warner, "About a Poem," and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

Just Like That

Rod Meade Sperry on why it's never too soon to get started with meditation.

special feature section: your guide to buddhist meditation

Learn a wealth of meditation techniques to develop calm, awareness, wisdom & love. Click titles to read samples and complete articles.

 The View: Why We Meditate, by Chögyam Trungpa

Insight Meditation: Present, Open & Aware, by Emily Horn

Walking: Meditation in Motion, by Brother Phap Hai

Loving-Kindness: It Starts with You, by Josh Korda

Zazen: Just Ordinary Mind, by Susan Murphy

Koans: One with the Question, by Melissa Myozen Blacker

Tonglen: In with the Bad, Out with the Good, by Ethan Nichtern

The Middle Way: Investigating Reality, by Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel

Mahamudra: Look Directly at the Knower, by Andy Karr

Visualization: Developing Pure Perception, by Anyen Rinpoche & Allison Choying Zangmo

Dzogchen: The Sky of Wisdom, by Tsoknyi Rinpoche

more features

The Buddhas of West 17th

The art, spirituality, and ideas of the Himalayas meet the best of the modern world at New York's Rubin Museum. Celebrating its tenth anniversary, we showcase art from the collection and dialogues featuring Laurie Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Sharon Salzberg, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and many more.

Prepare Now

Death can come at any time, so the Buddha warned us to get ready now. Knowing that helped Buddhist teacher Allan Lokos after a terrible airplane crash. Rod Meade Sperry has his story.

The Biggest Party Ever

As a child, Howard Axelrod dreamed of a festival that everyone in the world attended. Now he realizes that it's been happening all along.

other voices

A Punk Looks at Fifty

Crummy cars, a wall of guitars, and a whole bunch of meditation: not exactly the American Dream, but Zen teacher Brad Warner is good with that.

Let Your Confidence Shine

Through the practice of meditation, says Sakyong Mipham, we discover an unconditional confidence that transforms our lives and benefits others.


The Heart of a Garden

The pond in her garden isn't like those decorating fancy homes and magazine covers. In time, however, Karen Maezen Miller discovered the right view of her muddy waters.

reviews & more

 Books in Brief

This issue, Andrea Miller's roundup features books on yoga, parenting, and our connections to animals, plus the new novel by Silver Linings Playbook author Matthew Quick


About a Poem

Sarah Messer on Nick Flynn's "Hive"

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 6.

On the cover: Seated Buddha in meditation with right hand in the "touching the earth" mudra; alabaster, Burmese School, Amarapura, Burma / Photo (c) Luca Tettoni / The Bridgeman Art Library.

To order a trial subscription to the Shambhala Sun, click here.

Books in Brief (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

Books in Brief


Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal

By Ava Chin
Simon & Schuster 2014; 256 pp., $25 (cloth)

Don’t read Eating Wildly when you’re hungry. Ava Chin has such a luscious knack for describing anything steamed, sautéed, or deep-fried that you’ll be left with your mouth watering and your stomach grumbling. She recreates the dishes of her Chinese-American childhood, such as lobster Cantonese with lacy egg whites and soy sauce chicken wings dripping in brown-sugar glaze, but foraging in New York and other urban jungles is her specialty. She takes us on her hunts for savory lambsquarters, mellow-sweet mulberries, and morels infused with the taste of earth and springtime. For Chin, foraging is a moving meditation that has a healing quality. Bit by bit, bite by bite, she comes to terms with her romantic failures, her grandmother’s death, and the long-lingering pain of her father’s abandonment. This story of self-discovery is complete with recipes.


How Buddhism’s Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness

By Shamar Rinpoche, edited and translated by Lara Braitstein
Delphinium Books 2014; 178 pp., $14.95 (paper)

While the Tibetan term lojong translates into English as “mind training,” the practice transforms the heart as well. It was established in Tibet by the celebrated yogi-scholar Atisha (c. 982–1054) and for years was only taught orally. Then Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) wrote The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, in which he summarized lojong into fifty-nine pithy aphorisms or slogans and divided them into seven sections. One way that lojong can be practiced is to memorize these slogans so they will pop into your mind when you need them. “Train uninterruptedly” and “Do not hold on to anger” are two that seem fairly straightforward. Others are quite obscure, such as “Guard the two even at the cost of your life” and “Make the three inseparable.” Generation after generation of teachers have commented on The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, and The Path to Awakening is the Kagyu figure Shamar Rinpoche’s contribution.


Five Essential Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2014; 208 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Do not kill, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take intoxicants. Thich Nhat Hanh recognized the timeless wisdom of these traditional Buddhist precepts but wanted to make them more accessible for people today. So he rewrote them using fresh, contemporary language, taking into account the realities of this modern world, including the Internet, video games, television, and climate change. In his version, Thich Nhat Hanh calls the five precepts “the five mindfulness trainings,” and he lists them as: reverence for life, true happiness, true love, deep listening and loving speech, and nourishment and healing. In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, he delves deeply into the trainings and offers concrete practices for each. He emphasizes that the trainings are free of dogma, religion, and sectarianism, and they can be adopted by anyone, not just Buddhists.


Beyond the Boundaries of Self and Other

By Ellen Birx
Wisdom Publications 2014; 248 pp., $15.95 (paper)

“Our lives are constrained,” says Zen teacher Ellen Birx, “because we have a limited view of who we are and who God is.” For Birx, the word “God” refers to the unknowable, the ineffable. In short, God is a synonym for ultimate reality. Selfless Love begins with two chapters on why and how to meditate, and Birx, who has a Ph.D. in psychiatric nursing, informs this material with her solid knowledge of cognitive science. But she is clear about her personal motivation, which is spiritual. Meditation, as she sees it, is a kind of prayer, and its purpose is to let go of all concepts and experience unbounded awareness. When we have this direct experience of no-self, we can express our own unique gifts without being self-centered. As Birx puts it, “You and God are not two separate realities. God loves. You love. God’s love and your love are one reality.”


A Year of Buddhist Inspiration

Edited by Josh Bartok
Wisdom Publications 2013; 438 pp., $16.95 (paper)

From the editor of Daily Wisdom comes Daily Doses of Wisdom, a new collection of 365 contemplative quotes, plus nine longer selections. Contributors include the poet Jane Hirshfield, the psychoanalyst and Zen teacher Barry Magid, and the Buddhist ecologist Stephanie Kaza, as well as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Dogen, and the Buddha. From kindness to koans, fairness to freedom, a broad range of topics are explored. “Use your own problems to remember that others have problems too,” said by Kathleen McDonald, is one of the pithier quotes that I enjoyed. Another is Issa’s classic haiku: “The world of dew/Is the world of dew./And yet, and yet…” Bartok, who is head teacher at the Greater Boston Zen Center, suggests reading one quote each day upon waking up or before going to sleep or meditating. But he also points out that there is no wrong time for the dharma, which is, as the Buddha put it, “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.”


By Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani
Tuttle 2013; 320 pp., $17.99 (cloth)

Growing up in New Mexico, Jet has a secret. Unlike the other kids in her class who watch TV in the evenings, she is always training with her mother—learning things like how to fight, how to hide, how to move without being heard. But Jet doesn’t understand why she needs these skills. Then, when she’s seventeen years old, her mother dies, leaving her with the instruction to go to Japan—her mother’s native land—and find her grandfather. Suddenly Jet is thrust into a dangerous world, but slowly she unravels its mystery. Jet Black and the Ninja Wind is a young adult novel that will entertain readers with action and romance while also exposing them to Japanese culture and history, focusing particularly on the Emishi tribes and their struggle to save their land. The Buddhist thread that runs through the story makes it a natural choice for budding practitioners.


Written by Fa Ze, illustrated by Du Lu
Buddha’s Light Publishing 2013; 28 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Little Panka Sweeps the Mind is a colorful treat of a picture book for children ages three to eight. It tells the story of Culapanthaka—Little Panka—and his remarkable achievement in the face of challenges. Big Panka, his elder brother, was a quick study. But Little Panka could never remember anything, so eventually his teacher gave up on him and Big Panka drove him from the temple. All alone, Little Panka sobbed. Then suddenly the Buddha was at his side, offering to be his teacher and instructing him to sweep while repeating the verse: “I sweep the dust, I remove the waste.” Little Panka struggled to remember the words, yet he kept sweeping and repeating, and after a long time he began to ask himself what it meant to sweep. More time passed, and he realized that in his mind there was dust and waste that couldn’t be removed with a broom. Clearing his mind of dust and waste such as anger and pride, Little Panka opened his heart to kindness, gratitude, and modesty. The Buddha recognized Little Panka as an awakened one.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Judy Lief, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, and John Tarrant on The Real Problem with Distraction; George Saunders on kindness; the way of freerunning; plus: Sakyong Mipham on why believing in basic goodness is our hope for the future; Andrea Miller on America’s Next Top Model winner (and Buddhist) Naima Mora; Twin Peak‘s Dale Cooper is recalled as a “dharma friend” as the series returns to the public consciousness; plus book reviews, About a Poem, and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

The Practicality of the Profound

Melvin McLeod on distraction, enlightenment, and what Buddhism offers us as we try to cut through to the very root of our suffering.

special feature section: the real problem with distraction

Buddhism’s deeper take on a modern obsession

The Dharma of Distraction

What is it we’re working so hard to distract ourselves from? It’s enlightenment, says Buddhist teacher Judy Lief. She explains why letting go of all our distractions and entertainments is the path to awakening.

The World Catches Us Every Time

It can be hard to tell what’s distraction and what could have real meaning for our life. But either way, says Zen teacher John Tarrant, there’s no going back.

The Doors of Liberation

No self, no form, no goal—the worst possible news from ego’s point of view. Thich Nhat Hanh on the deep truths we’re distracting ourselves from.


The Myth of Multitasking

We have the illusion that multitasking makes us more efficient, but that’s not true. Sharon Salzberg offers tips for getting work done well without getting worked up.

more features

George Saunders on Kindness

The famed writer talks about a little girl named Ellen, a failure of kindness, and a convocation speech that went viral. An interview by the Shambhala Sun’s Melvin McLeod.

Run for Freedom

Freerunning, or parkour, isn’t merely a daredevil’s game. It’s a way of being. Vincent Thibault on how running, jumping, and climbing can beautify our cities—and our lives.With a photo essay by Andy Day.

I Did Not Lose My Mind

It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a breakthrough.

other voices

Who Are We, Really?

Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong Mipham, is our hope for the future.


Going Full Superman

We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.


Model Buddhist

For Naima Mora, being a model goes beyond striking a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about making the world a better place.


It's for You

Sometimes after a phone call, nothing is ever the same. But if you let it, says Douglas Penick, the bad news can come to feel a little like falling in love.

Tree of Wisdom 

Oak and maple, palm and pine—trees are our closest neighbors and most patient teachers. Henry Shukman on the common roots of people and trees.

reviews & more

Into the Light with Dale Cooper

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, Blu-ray set reviewed by Rod Meade Sperry

Books in Brief

This issue, Andrea Miller's roundup features books by Shamar Rinpoche, Ava Chin, Leza Lowitz, and more.


About a Poem

Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an anonymous poem by a Sung Dynasty nun

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 5.

On the cover: Taken at the Nam June Paik Art Center, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Ana Nance/Redux.

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