Going With Your Gut: How Mindfulness Meditation Develops Insight

May 18th, 2016 by

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Call it a hunch, gut feeling, intuition – that immediate sense of truth, without words or reasoning, is one of your most important faculties. It can tell you where you want to move in life, what you need to let go of, and how to best relate to challenges. But how can you develop your intuition?

Seeing Clearly

Meditation is one way to tap into your “gut” feelings. Mindfulness meditation is sometimes known as “Vipassana” – an ancient word from the language of the Buddha which means “insight” or “seeing clearly”. Vipassana or mindfulness meditation is the foundation of most Western meditation practices. It’s also the most studied by Western scientists.

“The insights of meditation are intuitive, not conceptual,” writes Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation (1993) and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. “Intuitive in this sense does not mean some kind of vague feeling about something; rather, it means clearly, directly seeing and experiencing how things really are.”

Rather than trying to solve problems with the thinking machine in the head, we practice mindful awareness, training our attention to “just be” in the present moment by focusing on an anchor like the breath, footsteps, sounds, or body sensations. As we become more skilled in being “present”, we can begin to see creative solutions to sometimes very big problems in our lives. These solutions arise spontaneously from within, through feelings and an “inner knowing,” and not through thoughts or concepts. We simply know.

Knowing What You Really Want

Often, we don’t really know what drives us. We are moved to do something, because it’s the expected thing to do in life or because it seems like a reasonable choice. But if we understand our true motivations, maybe we would do things differently. Before she began her meditation practice, a friend of mine bought a lovely house. It seemed like the logical and “right” thing to do. However, she soon noticed that she really didn’t even like having a house! She wasn’t handy and felt like she was rattling around in the extra space. Once she began meditating, however, she gradually had the insight that want she really wanted was not a house, but a home. She realized that had she continued to rent, and work on developing more close personal relationships, her life would have been moving more in the direction of her true needs and desires. Meditation created the conditions for her to see and feel her true feelings. When she sold her home, she felt immense relief.

Compassion for Your Own Experience

Meditation is the practice of staying present in the moment without judgment, even those moments we’d like to escape or avoid. It’s a skill that grows with patient practice, and it enables us to have insights in how we work with difficulty, including pain. In my mid-forties, I developed chronic pain in my hip, and I became quite angry about it. As my pain increased, so did my anger and attempts to get rid of the pain, which included physical therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and giving serious consideration to a hip replacement. One night, as I lay awake with the throbbing pain, I had the insight that anger and resistance were not relieving my suffering. I tried a different approach: instead of resisting the pain, I tried to get to know it. I brought my attention right into it and discovered a part of my body that was holding a tremendous amount of suffering and yet was trying to do the best it could to keep functioning.

When I came up close to my pain without judging it, as I had learned to do from my meditation practice, I felt spontaneous compassion for this part of my body that was suffering. As I continued to work compassionately with my pain, the change was dramatic. Although I still have some pain, it’s manageable now and I know it’s a signal to take care of myself (think yoga). Having compassion toward pain in my body (and heart) is an insight I credit to my meditation practice.

The skill of mindfulness, developed through meditation, allows us to experience things they really are, without the distracting and often intensifying effect of our judgments, beliefs, and thoughts. Sometimes what we discover has been long hidden by the activity of the chattering mind. It’s only when we train the mind to become quiet that these realities become known, whether it’s our desire for a home or compassion for our own pain. Learning how to sit quietly and just “be with” our own unfiltered experience allows us to receive insights that can transform our lives.

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