It is often asked is how to practise insight meditation in daily life — outside of the intensive and very supportive retreat environment. In response to a private message, I will answer the questions here for the benefit of all.
Vipassanā means insight, while Satipaṭṭhāna means to set up and establish mindfulness. Since insight won't arise until one successfully establishes mindfulness and deep concentration, it is more accurate to talk about practising mindfulness meditation (Satipaṭṭhāna) than practising insight meditation (Vipassanā).
The essential feature of insight meditation is that it relies on gaining knowledge of ultimate realities. Much of what we do in daily life relies on skill in handling concepts, not on understanding ultimate realities. There is a conflict of interests — to do a job of work, much of your time will be spent dealing with concepts. Even writing a post on a Dhamma forum is all about dealing with concepts (i.e. words and ideas), not realities. Unless your job of work involves some repetitive practical skill, it may be difficult to practise the kind of mindfulness that can understand and penetrate realities.
Nevertheless, there are many things that we must do every day that do lend themselves to practising mindfulness of the right kind — the bare awareness that can lead to knowledge of phenomena as mental and physical processes. Those daily chores, and commuting to and from work, can often be a good opportunity to cultivate mindfulness of realities.
A lay meditator especially, must learn to make the mind very flexible, very adaptable, and quickly switch attention between handling concepts and knowing realities.
Other meditation techniques, such as the divine abidings, will make social interaction much less abrasive, and keep the mind soft and pliable, yet also tough and resilient. When interacting with other beings, whether humans or animals, bare awareness may not be the appropriate method.
• • • • (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)