Mindfulness in Plain English

by Omar Von Gimbel


Vipassana Meditation Series

If you are pursuing a life of adventure as a digital nomad, you may be starting to discover that there are some issues of groundlessness to deal with. I may be new to the “digital” version of nomadic life, but I’m no stranger to wandering.

The problem is there sometimes seems to be no stability. The truth is there is no stability to any lifestyle, however the digital nomadic life really throws that fact in your face.

I think living with complete acceptance of the truth is a far better approach than delusion, and vipassana meditation is a great way to get that insight while finding a center to ground yourself from.

I’ve been reading the book¬†Mindfulness In Plain English by Ven. H Gunaratana Mathera, and have been learning so much from it that I wanted to share with you my “book report” on it. It turned out to be too long to share the value I got from it in just one post, so I’ve broken it into four separate articles.

I hope you find the practice of vipassana meditation helps you ground yourself on the road, and gain insight into life as it really is.


Understanding Meditation

Many people have a misunderstanding of what meditation is, specifically here in the west. I am no expert, however I would like to explain the basics. First of all, I will say that it is very easy to learn. It requires a certain level of discipline to get anywhere with it, but just about anyone can start a meditation practice.

There are two types of meditation mentioned in the suttas (the discourses of the Buddha); Samatha and Vipassana.

Samatha is a state in which the mind is brought to rest, focused only on one item and not allowed to wander. When this is done, a deep calm pervades body and mind, a state of tranquility that must be experienced to be understood. Most styles of meditation emphasize the samatha component.

Typically a practitioner will place their focus on one object such as your breath, a prayer, a crystal, a chant, a candle flame, a religious image, or something like that excluding all other thoughts and perceptions. The result, or goal is a state of rapture that persist until the end of the session.

This state of rapture is called jhana in Buddhist text.There are different levels of jhana, but I won’t get into them here. The key to remember is that ultimate goal is not to stop their but to press through to a greater state of awareness.


Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana is a clear awareness of exactly what is happening as it happens. Vipassana is insight. It uses concentration as a tool where awareness can chip away at the wall of illusion which cuts him off from reality. This is a gradual process, and can take years until one day transformation is complete and liberation is complete.

There are 40 different objects of concentration mentioned in the Pali canon, but the most often used is the breath. Interestingly enough, some people use their thoughts as the object of concentration. Most think that the primary goal of meditation is to empty their minds of thoughts. We are human though, and the human mind without thoughts is like the sky without clouds.

The key is not to get taken away by your thoughts, but rather to recognize them for what they are. They are simply thoughts. Acknowledge them, accept them, and return to your breath.


Why Meditate?

As humans there is an inherent unsatisfactoriness in life that won’t go away. This is what the Buddha called dhukka. Most often dhukka is translated to “suffering”, but this is not an easily translated word. The unsatisfactory nature of life leads to suffering, but I will leave these details for the scholars to break down.

This lack of satisfaction can be suppressed for a time. We can even distract ourselves from it for a while, but it always comes back. This is because the essence of our experience is change. No two moments are ever the same.

Culture teaches us to box these experiences into one of three groups; good, bad, and neutral. When an experience is good, we try to freeze time holding onto it forever. When we cannot hang onto that moment, we try to recreate that moment over and over. When an experience is bad, we try to push it away. When an experience is neutral we typically think of it as boring and ignore it.

The result is a perpetual treadmill race to nowhere. This is what is known as samsara. In Buddhist philosophy, samsara is the endless wheel of birth, craving, suffering, and death. The solution to this continuous cycle is peace and happiness. To obtain true peace we must bring an end to our yearning or thirst.

You can learn to train the mind. You can learn to step outside the endless cycle of desire and aversion. This is not necessarily eliminating desires, but learning to recognize them for what they are. By recognizing them, their control over you is gone. You may want something, but don’t need to chase after it. You may fear something. but don’t need to stand there quaking in your boots.

It is difficult to control the mind, however it is impossible to control everything. Equanimity is spending your energy on what you can change. The great part is you don’t have to make radical changes in your life. Simply by seeing yourself exactly as you truly are right now, change happens as a natural byproduct.

You don’t have to force or struggle change by obeying strict rules dictated to you by some authority. By gaining insight into your true nature, you just change – it’s automatic.


True Insight

Insight is seeing who you are and how you are without illusion, judgment, or resistance of any kind. It is seeing your own place in society and your function as a social being. Insight is seeing your duties and obligations to your fellow human beings, and above all seeing yourself as an individual living with other individuals.

Seeing all that clearly and as a unit is what it is to understand our interrelationship. This is where the “self” begins to dissolve. Meditation is the process that gives us this insight. Like it or not, but western society is a society intertwined with Christian concepts. Since that is the case, I will give a biblical perspective to this by quoting Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” Compare this also to Exodus 14:13: “Stand still, and see the salvation of God.”

Meditation is not emptying your mind of thoughts, but allowing them to settle. Meditation purifies the mind, cleansing it of greed, hatred, and jealousy. It cultivates faith, morality, mindfulness, and wisdom by bringing the mind to a state of tranquility and awareness.

Faith is not blind. Rather it is more of a confidence. It is knowing something is true because you have seen it work. Morality is not a ritualistic obedience to some exterior, imposed code of behavior. Instead it is a healthy habit pattern which you have consciously and voluntarily chosen to impose upon yourself because you recognize its superiority to your present behavior.

Meditation changes your character by a process of sensitization by making you deeply aware of your own thoughts, words, and deeds. Your arrogance evaporates, antagonism dries up, your mind becomes still, and your life smooths out. Life becomes a glide instead of a struggle.


The Dhamma Brothers

I recently watched a documentary about the transforming power of vipassana meditation called The Dhamma Brothers. A group of prisoners at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Ala., one of the most violent prisons in North America, were allowed to participate in a ten day vipassana retreat.

Ten day vipassana retreats are not easy. Were talking ten days of silence and sitting all day. I still find one hour to be challenging, but to sit for ten days is a huge commitment. Then to remain in complete silence when eating, taking breaks, or during the evening is to make it even more introspective.

What I noticed most about the inmates who participated in the retreat was how they began to take responsibility for the actions that placed them in prison in the first place. Not only did they own up to their crimes, but began to realize the effect their actions had on the families and friends that were separated from them as a result of their incarceration for their crimes.

I will talk more about what meditation is not next time, but for now I think you will enjoy this documentary. The film might make it seem like vipassana is a quick-fix when it really takes a lot of time, but it will give you an idea of the potential benefits of meditation in your life.


Have You Seen The Benefits Of Meditation In Your Life?

Do you practice mindfulness? Have you been on a meditation retreat? Would you be willing to share some of the insights you have gained?

Leave a comment below and share your experiences with meditation.



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