Meditation & insights into the true nature of reality

Apr 04, 2021 — Gareth Yorke
Meditation & insights into the true nature of reality

Meditation has been used for thousands of years to gain a better understanding of the mind and the nature of human experience - the earliest record of meditation is from around 1500 BCE.

One of the most ancient meditation techniques is the Buddhist method of Vipassana, which involves the cultivation of mindfulness and awareness through continued close attention to a particular sensation, such as the sensation of breathing. It is thought that this practice can lead to insights into the true nature of reality. In fact, Vipassana is often referred to as 'insight meditation', and translates roughly as 'clear seeing'.

The types of insights that can be reached through meditation, mindfulness and contemplative practices can transform our understanding of ourselves and of the world. It’s possible to come to profound realizations about reality, such as the nature of suffering, the illusion of the self and the interdependence of all things.

It’s important to realize that there is a difference between understanding these insights on a conceptual level, and directly experiencing the reality of them. The practice of meditation can lead us to direct, visceral, and sublime encounters with the true nature of our minds. Meditation teacher, Amit Ray, said “Vipassana meditation is not an intellectual journey but an experiential awakening.” It can take months or years to reach a full and deep understanding of these insights, and it can be a gradual development or a sudden realization.

Impermanence

One of the insights we can reach through meditation is the realization of impermanence. We all know at some level that change is constant and that everything has an end, but meditation can lead to a deep sense of peace and acceptance of the impermanent nature of all things.

When we observe the character of our experience very closely during meditation, we can start to feel the transience of our experience. In everyday life, we normally feel that there is enduring permanence to our experience, but when we break this down into its constituent parts, we can see their impermanence - every thought, feeling, sight, smell, and sensation - arises and passes away.

This becomes particularly pronounced during meditation, and then the concept can become clearer in our day-to-day lives. When we reach a deep understanding of impermanence, it takes power away from the causes of suffering - our craving for things we desire, our clinging to things that we have, and our attachment to our thoughts, feelings, and personal identity.

“Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don't struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.”
Pema Chodron


Medito’s Meditative Insights pack of meditations are coming soon, to help you to investigate some of these contemplative concepts in more detail. Medito is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.


The Nature of Suffering

Through meditation, we can reach important insights into the nature of suffering that can profoundly change the way we experience our lives. In Buddhist and Hindu contemplative teachings, suffering or "Dukkha" is the inherent unsatisfactoriness and pain that we experience in life - the stress, anger, guilt, frustration, and general unhappiness that is part of the human condition.

When we meditate, we become more familiar with the underlying thought patterns that lead to this suffering. We can start to see that our craving for pleasure and our avoidance of suffering are actually contributing to our negative states of mind.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we can start to observe our thoughts and feelings, without letting them take control of us - we can notice cravings and aversion, and simply let them be. We can come to the realization that true happiness doesn't come from obtaining some desired state or material possession - it can be found in the stillness of the present moment.

“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Emptiness & Interdependence

The concept of inherent emptiness is a tricky one to grasp, but through meditation, we can start to appreciate its meaning, and this can significantly change the way we perceive the world around us. By 'emptiness', we're not implying some of the negative connotations that you might expect, like futility or desolation. Rather, we're referring to a lack of an independent existence, with inherent, standalone meaning.

When we become more mindful of the world around us, we can begin to realize that every 'thing' is the result of a complex culmination of interdependent causes and conditions - each is empty of an independent existence.

No person or thing exists separately from its environment. We are made of atoms that were forged in stars, as is the oxygen we breathe and the ground we walk on. We could not exist without the sun, the earth, and the earth's atmosphere - so can we say in any real way that we are distinct from our environment? The same logic can be applied to emotions, thoughts, sensations, and conscious awareness - they are the climax of all of the preconditions of existence that came before them, and they have meaning only in the context of the full environment in which they arise - they are empty of an independent selfhood.

We can start to feel this in a visceral way through the practice of meditation and mindfulness.

“Action has meaning only in relationship, and without understanding relationship, action on any level will only breed conflict. The understanding of relationship is infinitely more important than the search for any plan of action.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti

Equanimity

Equanimity is defined as a sense of calmness and composure in the face of difficult circumstances. Through meditation and mindfulness, we can reach the stark realization that at the core of our nature is an equanimous state of being - we just need to cultivate the right frame of mind to see it.

In modern life, we tend to be constantly dissatisfied with our current situation - we always crave the newest technologies and the latest trends. We have a constant fear of missing out, and a need to live up to the expectations set by mass media and social media. Mindfulness helps us to cultivate a state of equanimity, so we can start to find peace and contentment in our everyday lives, instead of experiencing the nagging desire for things to be different.

When we start to get a glimpse of this meditative insight, it leads us to a more balanced, stable way of being, and we become less attached to our thoughts and feelings - this is one of the main benefits of mindfulness. We can notice our wandering thoughts and negative emotions, and instead of getting caught up in them, we can observe them, and let them go. This can have a huge impact on our lives, leading to improved wellbeing, better relationships, and a more optimistic outlook on life.

“A modern definition of equanimity: cool. This refers to one whose mind remains stable & calm in all situations.”
Allan Lokos

The Illusion of Self

One of the most commonly discussed meditative insights is the realization that the sense of self, or the ego, is illusory. It is also one of the most difficult to comprehend. Our sense of self is ingrained in us from childhood, so the realization that it is an illusion can be one of the most profound shifts of perspective we can experience.

We tend to have the instinctual feeling that we are a distinct and permanent personality residing in our heads, but the science of the brain tells us that this isn't the case - the brain is constantly changing, and there is no place within it for an enduring self to reside. There are no cells in our body or brain that existed when we were 5 years old. So in what sense can we truly say that we are the same self?

Our experience of being an ongoing personality is based on our memories, interpretations and our expectations, reconstructed in each moment. Meditation helps us to recognize this first hand, by making us more mindful of our conscious experience in the present moment. When we observe the character of our experience very closely, we can see that it is a flowing and ever-changing process. A permanent self is nowhere to be seen, and so the illusion starts to break down.

The illusory nature of self is a tricky concept to grasp, so don't feel disheartened if you struggle with the idea at first - it can be difficult to turn attention upon attention itself. But the more you meditate, the more this insight will become apparent, and it can have a profound impact on our lives - allowing us to realize that we don't have to be defined by our memories of the past, or our anxieties about the future - these are generated by the ego. We can let go of worries and fears more easily, and more readily find peace in the present moment.

“You only exist as a pattern made up of all the others things in your life that shape you. If you take each away, 'you' would eventually cease to exist. This does not mean that you do not exist at all, but rather that you exist as a combination of all the others who complete your sense of self.”
Bruce Hood

Non-Duality

The term non-duality comes from the Sanskrit word meaning "not two", and it is used to describe the essential unity or oneness of all life. This concept becomes clearer when we meditate - meditation is about bringing our attention fully to the present moment, and when we do this we can start to experience the unfolding of life, before the appearance of the labels and concepts that have become ingrained in our instinctual way of seeing the world.

The boundaries between different things, and between 'self' and 'other', come from the labels we use to demarcate the world around us - these labels are human constructs that we apply based on our sensory experience, but they are not inherent in us, or the things around us.

When we observe the character of our experience very closely, we can see that an experiencer is nowhere to be seen - there can be a shift in our perspective from the experiencer, to being identical with the experience itself.

This links back to our earlier discussion of interdependence. Things don't exist in isolation, but in relation to their environment, and the rest of the world. So in what sense can they be said to exist separately and independently? We've talked about the theoretical concept of non-duality, but when we develop the skill of mindfulness through the practice of meditation, we can directly experience non-duality as a state of being.

Through continued practice of meditation, we can gain a deeper understanding of non-duality. In time, we can start to experience it on a deep level, rather than just understand it conceptually. This can have a truly life-changing impact, making us feel more connected to the people and the world around us.

“Boundary lines, of any type, are never found in the real world itself, but only in the imagination of the mapmakers.”
Ken Wilber

Reaching Meditative Insights

Becoming adept at mindfulness meditation is key to reaching profound meditative insights. Through contemplation of the changing, impermanent nature of our moment-to-moment experience, we can shift our perspective of the world around us, and open ourselves up to new ways of thinking and seeing.

The lure of these meditative insights is what draws many of us to meditation - we are curious beings after all. But it is important not to make achieving certain insights the end-goal - craving these profound mental states can actually be counterproductive, creating yet another thing to grasp for.

We should approach meditation with a gentle and inquisitive frame of mind, with the aim of becoming fully aware of the character of our experience in the present moment - rather than grasping for some future goal.

If you can maintain a regular, consistent practice, your life will become imbued with a sense of clarity, awareness and mindfulness - naturally bringing you closer to deep realizations about the nature of the world, and your own mind.

Medito’s Meditative Insights pack of meditations are coming soon, to help you to investigate some of these contemplative concepts in more detail. Medito is available for free on the App Store and Google Play.

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