Mary Webster Vipassana Meditation Teacher Interview

This is a summary of the interview with Vipassana teacher and practitioner Mary Webster

Mary Webster talks about growing up as an introspective and day dreaming child. Later in life she picked a career in mental health nursing. She noticed her mind was in an either/or right/wrong mind set. And this black/white thinking bothered her, and h ow it affected her and raising kids. This is how she got into meditation, went into her first 3 day meditation retreat in 1995.

She joined a Vipassana tradition, called re-collective awareness, which is a form of Vipassana meditation.   It is based on the 4 foundations of mindfulness. She talks about how it is an unstructured tradition, so a lot of thoughts come in. But then they look at it afterwards to examine conditioning. They look at the way the mind works in terms of habitual thinking, making assumptions, like “this or that” thinking.

She’s learned to be more open and nuanced in her thinking, and is better able to examine her thinking habit patterns.

She learned that it was a beautiful how not being so sure of one’s position allows you to open up and hear other people’s thinking. Which helps tremendously when communicating and dialog with others, such as your kids. It allows for a different relationship to develop.

It’s really an exploration what is going on in our minds.

Mary talks about some of the personal benefits of her meditation. For example being a lot less self-critical. Letting go of perfectionism, she could see how this is just a construction, this illusory goal of perfection. She could see through the delusion, that there is no such thing or state of perfection.

Her meditation practice opened her up to her humanness and her own suffering, which is part of being human. We each have our own, and meditation practice helps us deal and incorporate. She felt OK and learned compassion for herself to be a human being. Which in turn allowed her to be more compassion for those around her, to be more friendly, and more open to ideas.

She then talks about her role as teacher, and what she sees her students struggle. But she also sees how we all suffer in a similar way.

Holding on to something so tightly, a sense of our-self, a sense of how things are supposed to be.  That we somehow solidify our experience, and don’t allow for an exploration of the movement that is around that solidity. We tend to hold fast in a certain way.” (11 min)

The work with students is around what is held solid?  So then they explore what the mind was doing with the student. What was exactly happening? A lot of this work is breaking down words. Like breaking down the word “perfect”. How does this example of a word show up in one’s life, how does it “hook” you. Breaking down the experience in less defined way, and more full of the experience, not to shortcut our life so much.

She talks about the stories, the narratives, we have made up about our lives (or life-sentences we give ourselves).

She says Buddhism is one huge investigation, a way of examining our lives. It calls into question everything. Meditation allows you to examine life at a gentler pace.

She talks about how our set ways we have, set us apart. This sense of separateness is setting up ourselves into a position, so everything becomes positional. In the flowing river of life, that would be the log that gets stuck in the middle, and then everything has to adjust around it. She talks about shifting that, working with the knowledge of conditionality, so we can take up and promote more wholesome conditions.

She also asks what conditions help us, what conditions do we put in our lives? What conditions help us continue our practice? Watching what we put into our minds and then noticing how this influences and affects us afterwards.

She talks about the importance of taking some time out every day for self-reflection and meditation. Retreats are even better.

What is production, is it only “work put out”? Or is it more than that? We get caught in thinking, “if I’m not producing something that shows, then it’s not worthwhile.” She uses the example of Einstein taking naps and end up more productive.

Mary Webster’s tips for starting a home meditation practice.

  • Being gentle with yourself
  • Trying various times to practice
  • Try to meditate like when most upset.
  • Read a little bit of Dharma (wisdom) every day if possible, just let the words enter in even if you don’t necessarily understand.
  • “Conditions are the companions you have along the way”
  • She talks about how it helps to discuss with fellow practitioners, to have a supportive group if possible.
  • If you can’t find companions, “be your own companion”, do journaling after your meditation, write down what you can remember, which also helps your memory. So we can be our own friend. The journals can also be shared with a teacher through phone, skype or other means online these days.