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  • Writer's pictureJason Capp

Mindfulness and Insight Meditation Can Truly Pull You Out of a Rut

Both mindfulness and insight meditation, two separate meditative practices, can truly be techniques for those suffering from panic attacks, depression, and high anxiety. Learning to become both mindful and aware of ourselves, including the difficult stuff, is key to taking the right steps towards healing.

To the untrained individual, mindfulness meditation and insight meditation can seem like the same thing, but there are differences and both can help you in many ways.

Mindfulness Meditation

Let's start off with mindfulness meditation, also known as śamatha meditation: what it means and how it can benefit you. To begin, we need to define "mindfulness", because this is important. Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not become overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.

The good news is that mindfulness is a quality that every human being is already equipped with; it is not something you have to conjure up; you just have to learn how to access it.

Now that we have defined mindfulness, what is mindfulness meditation? Mindfulness meditation is a mental training practice that teaches you how to slow down racing thoughts, let go of negativity, and calm both your mind and body. It combines meditation with the practice of mindfulness, which can be defined as a mental state that involves being fully focused on "the now" so you can acknowledge and accept your thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment.

Learning to be in "the now" is an incredible skill. According to Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” This is precisely why the practice of mindfulness meditation is important, because it helps us to pull away from thinking about the past or future and focusing on the present. There is wisdom in living one day at a time, and that is the core of mindfulness meditation.

Insight Meditation

Insight meditation, also referred to as awareness meditation and Vipassana meditation, is a practice about self-observation, but before we get into the details, let's define insight and what this means for this meditation style. Insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing, and in this case, it refers to the self.

The goal of insight meditation is to give us insight into the true nature of our experiences. Our happiness, for example, does not rely on ever-changing external circumstances. By looking inwards, we can discover that fulfillment and joy are our true nature, and insight meditation is the method we use to look inwards.

Insight meditation is the predominant Buddhist meditation practice in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was an important revival of this early form of meditation practice led by the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma. Following Mahasi Sayadaw’s death in 1982, Sayadaw U Pandita was chosen as his principle preceptor. U Pandita was one of the world’s leading teachers of insight meditation and was an important influence on many teachers in the West. He was the founder and abbot of Panditarama Meditation Centre in Yangon, Myanmar.

Insight meditation can best be summarized by Socrates' maxim, "To know oneself is the beginning of wisdom." In order for us to be more at peace with who we are, we need to see ourselves truly and wholly.

How to Tap into Your Awareness

Spiritual leader Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche did a TEDtalk about awareness meditation, and he was able to share on the topic so elegantly and in such a way that first-time hearers were able to understand immediately. His lightheartedness and vulnerability have helped many people around the world to try meditation for the first time and move forwards mindfulness and insight.

Health Benefits

It goes without saying that becoming more present and seeing ourselves more accurately has its benefits, but psychological and neurological studies have shown time and time again just how healthy and beneficial meditation can be. Here are some peer-reviewed benefits to meditation:

  • Improved concentration - One study found that people’s focus and memory improved after just a few weeks of meditation practice.

  • Physical changes to the brain - According to a 2012 study, adults who were long-term meditators had more folds in the outer layer of their brains. The process that produces these folds is called gyrification, and it may improve the brain’s processing ability.

  • Preservation of the brain - Research suggests that meditating could slow or even partially reverse changes in the brain related to aging. This has possible future implications in the treatment or prevention of certain age-related issues.

  • Stress reduction - Research into meditation’s potential impact on the treatment and management of stress and other mental disorders and illnesses, such as depression and addiction, suggest that patients may benefit from regular meditation.

  • Pain reduction - Research suggests that meditating can activate certain areas of the brain that deal with the body’s response to pain, even if it only allows the subject to focus on something outside the pain for a period of time.

  • Increased empathy - Studies at the University of Wisconsin show that a certain form of Buddhist meditation called compassion meditation, may increase people’s empathic instincts according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

It is important to recognize that any type of meditation is not an end-all be-all means of healing. Meditation is a complimentary practice that must be coupled by other healthy practices, like dieting, exercise, rest, boundary-setting, and more.

But one thing is for certain, and that is that mindfulness and insight meditation will help you to focus more on the now and see yourself for who you truly are. It is an important discipline that will only improve oneself the more they practice and apply it to their lives.

Namaste - May all beings everywhere be happy.

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