2016 graduates of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock four-year teacher training programme
About insight meditation:
What is it?
Insight meditation is a particular form of meditation that aims to cultivate wisdom and compassion, so that we can live our lives with less stress and distress, and more happiness, ease, and freedom.
This type of meditation comes from the Buddhist tradition, though it’s not necessary to be Buddhist to benefit from the practice. The basic forms of insight meditation are very compatible with Western psychology, so these days, variations of insight practice are taught in many different settings, including schools, hospitals, prisons, businesses and government departments.
Methods of practising it
Insight meditation uses a combination of different techniques to develop mindfulness in every aspect of daily life, and also to cultivate specific positive mind-states as a support for freeing ourselves from unhelpful emotions. Mindfulness can be defined as “… the cultivation of clear, stable and non-judgmental awareness” [Gil Fronsdal]
In insight practice, the techniques that we use to develop this kind of awareness start with mindfulness of the breath and the body, then progress to include mindfulness of the mind: of thoughts, emotions, moods, and mind-states.
As the practice develops, we’re able to bring mindfulness to more and more aspects of our daily lives, so that nothing is left out. However, this takes training, so we learn how to develop this continuity of mindfulness through regular periods of sitting and walking meditation, in daily life, in workshops, and on residential retreats.
Also included within insight practice are meditation techniques that more directly cultivate positive mind-states such as kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. With these practices, we silently recite phrases of well-wishing towards ourselves and others, so that over time, these positive states become more the default setting of our hearts and minds.
Some of its benefits
There are many benefits to practising insight meditation, which are becoming increasingly well-documented by neuroscientists and other researchers. These include:
- reduced levels of physical and psychological stress
- better understanding of the mind-body relationship
- an enhanced ability to navigate through life’s inevitable challenges
- increased kindness and compassion towards ourselves and others
- greater mental clarity and capacity to access intuitive wisdom 1
Jill Shepherd began practicing insight meditation in Thailand in 1999, and since that time has lived and worked at several meditation centres and monasteries in the US, Australia, England, and Thailand.
She recently spent seven years on staff at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, where she participated in several long retreats and Buddhist study programmes, as well as offering weekly meditation classes at a nearby men’s prison.
She is a graduate of the IMS / Spirit Rock teacher training program in the US, under the guidance of Joseph Goldstein and Gil Fronsdal.
Currently, she divides her time mostly between the USA, Australia and New Zealand, teaching vipassana and brahma vihara retreats and offering ongoing study and practice groups focused on bringing the dharma into daily life. She also leads courses and non-residential workshops exploring the relational practice of Insight Dialogue, as developed by Gregory Kramer and colleagues.
Jill is an independent meditation teacher and is not financially supported by any meditation centre or Buddhist organisation. She relies entirely on dana for her livelihood.