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Further Information about the Dharma

Introduction to Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana is a Pali word meaning "insight". Vipassana meditation is a simple and direct practice, the moment-to-moment investigation of the mind/body process through calm and focused awareness. The practice originated in the Theravada tradition of the teachings of the Buddha. Learning to observe experience from a place of stillness enables one to relate to life with less fear and clinging. Seeing life as a constantly changing process, one begins to accept pleasure, pain, fear, joy and all aspects of life with increasing equanimity and balance. As insight deepens, wisdom and compassion arise.

The vipassana group meets every Tuesday evening to meditate together for 45 minutes, followed by time for study, questions and/or a program. We sponsor half day meditations (9:30 am-Noon) the second Sunday of the month in the Hall. We hold potlucks about once a season which gives us a chance to socialize with each other in our homes. We offer formal instruction classes and can offer informal instruction as requested. For more information call or e-mail John at 360.296.6386 john@treefrogfarm.com.

Welcome to Bellingham Insight

Bellingham Insight Meditation Society (BIMS) is a meditation group supported by its pledge members and other donations and is open anyone interested in Buddhist meditation practices. We share a space with the Red Cedar Zen Community at the Red Cedar Dharma Hall (RCDH) on 1021 N. Forest St. in Bellingham. The RCDH has an extensive library, open to all, a lovely meditation space and a kitchen downstairs. It is wheel chair accessible and parking in the area is generally not a problem. BIMS has a list serve where announcements appear for upcoming events and programs and a "retreats only" list serve that announces upcoming BIMS-sponsored residential and non-residential retreats. Our non-residential retreats are held at the RCDH on weekends with various teachers. A typical retreat might be Saturday and Sunday, 9 am to 4 pm. All BIMS residential retreats are held at Camp Samish, a beautiful venue in Skagit County, 40 minutes from Bellingham, and are usually held twice a year - once in the spring and once in the fall.

Establishing a meditation practice

it is useful to designate a certain spot in your house as your meditation area. It doesn't have to be particularly special. It does need to be large enough to sit comfortably and private enough that you won't be disturbed during your sitting period. Choosing a meditation spot supports the intention to be present with the practice.

The Time: In the best of all worlds you would meditate every day. The length of time is not as important as the regularity. When should you meditate? There is no "right" time to meditate. Some people are morning people, some are evening people. It is important to pick a time and meditate at that time every day. "Fitting it in" at a different time each day rarely works as it is too easy to run out of time. How long should you meditate? You might start with 10 minutes in the morning or evening and then try 10 minutes in both the morning and the evening. A traditional length is 45 minutes per day. Whatever time and time length you choose, try to meditate regularly. How will you know when the time is up? You can use a kitchen timer, an alarm clock or you can record a blank tape, ringing a bell at the interval you wish to time.

The Posture: It is important to find a posture that is erect, yet relaxed. Your back should be straight and balanced, with the head above the back as if someone is very gently pulling a string attached to the crown of the head. When the hands are on the thighs, with elbows bent the back is supported to stay relaxed and upright. You can sit on a cushion or on a sitting bench. It is fine to sit on a chair, but choose a chair that supports you to sit upright, and keep the feet on the floor. Wherever you choose to sit, the goal is to be able to sit quietly and in relaxed dignity.

The Practice: In the beginning it is helpful to choose one focal point as your object of concentration. The breath is good, as it is always there, but if for some reason the breath doesn't work for you, any focal point will work. A touch point, such as where the feet touch the floor or the hands touch the legs is a neutral suggestion. Find a point to focus, one which naturally presents itself to the mind in a neutral way. Pay close attention to your experience. It can be helpful to use a soft mental note, such as in-out (if the focus is the breath at the tip of the nostril) or rising-falling (if the focus is on the abdomen). This noting can help the mind stay with what is happening. When you notice that the mind has wandered, gently and kindly bring your attention back. There is no need to judge or become frustrated. Meditation practice is simply being aware of what is actually happening and letting what is happening be okay. If we are too harsh with ourselves, we become frustrated and give up. If we are too lax, we lose concentration. As you expand the practice, you will notice the mind will naturally be drawn to other objects of attention (e.g. body sensations, thoughts, sounds, other sense perceptions or emotions). This is perfectly natural. The object of meditation practice is to know what we are doing and where our attention is. There are specific instructions on how to deal with these other objects of attention. These instructions are covered in meditation classes and are also available in many books.

We welcome you and wish you and all beings lasting happiness.

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