When we sit in meditation, generally we’re instructed to just be mindful of the flow of different experiences: the breath coming in and out of the body, physical sensations coming and going, sounds arising and passing away, thoughts and emotions coming up in the mind and then disappearing. We don’t need to do anything with this flow of experience, other than stay mindful of it.

However, at different times there may be repetitive thoughts or emotions or somewhat more intense physical sensations that call our attention more strongly, or undermine our capacity to simply be mindful of them.

With these kinds of experiences, changing to a more active inquiry can be helpful. So for example, if you recognize some kind of anger and you’re able to note “anger, anger,” but it seems to get more intense, then you might gently inquire, “what is this experience that I’m calling anger?” Pay particular attention to the physical sensations in the body. So for example, you might notice burning in the face, rapid beating heart, thighs tensing, shallow breath, etc. Try to bring an attitude of kind curiosity to whatever the physical experience of anger might be, rather than focusing on the story associated with the anger, which often only prolongs or intensifies it.

Over time, this process of inquiry helps us to become more intimate with whatever our experience may be, and it can also reveal the habitual reactions we tend to get caught in. When we can see the triggers for these habitual reactions and respond to them with kindness and clarity rather than blind reactivity, then we’re moving in the direction of greater freedom, which is the overall goal of insight practice.

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