This week's morsel comes from The Meditator's Atlas by Matthew Flickstein. Flickstein guides you, explaining what meditation is, how to do it, and how to make the skills and benefits that it engenders your own. Flickstein uses two classic Buddhist texts—the Path of Purification, and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness—to help readers make clear sense out of the new, fascinating, and sometimes even frightening states that one may encounter on the long journey to enlightenment. In the selection below, Flickstein discusses how to recognize and practice mindfulness of feelings.
Mindfulness of Feelings
When we practice mindfulness of feelings, we shift our focus from noticing the impermanent, conditioned, and selfless nature of the body to identifying these same three characteristics as attributes of the mind and mental objects. As we begin to investigate feelings, the interdependence of the mind and body becomes evident.
In the same way that we isolated the body from all other objects of consciousness when we began the body contemplations, it is essential to remain mindful of “the feelings in the feelings.” We need to avoid dwelling on any judgments, decisions, or internal commentary that may arise based upon the feelings we are observing. We must be careful not to identify with the feelings and consider them “ours.”We simply maintain a mindful awareness of each feeling as it presents itself to consciousness from moment to moment.
We began exploring the aggregate of feelings in the chapter concerned with purification of virtue.We described how a feeling automatically arises whenever a sensory experience occurs. A feeling in this context is not an emotion, but rather the direct experience of a sense object as being pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant nor unpleasant.
The Buddha further describes feelings by dividing them into three pairs. The first pair contains pleasant worldly feelings and pleasant spiritual feelings. A pleasant worldly feeling arises when we have contact with a pleasant sense object, or when we think about an aspect of worldly life that brings us pleasure (thoughts of family, friends, personal interests, and so on). A pleasant spiritual feeling arises in connection with meditation practice, such as when we experience the joy associated with deep concentration, when we have a spiritual insight, and so forth.
The second pair includes unpleasant worldly feelings and unpleasant spiritual feelings. An unpleasant worldly feeling arises when we have contact with an unpleasant sense object or when we think about an aspect of worldly life that brings us psychological pain (thoughts of losing a family member, failing at some task, losing a job, and so forth). An unpleasant spiritual feeling arises in connection with meditation practice. We may experience disappointment, for example, when our spiritual progress is slower than we thought it would be, or we may experience fear when we realize just how impermanent everything really is.
The final pair of feelings consists of neutral worldly feelings and neutral spiritual feelings. A neutral worldly feeling is a feeling of indifference. It arises when we have contact with a worldly sense object that neither brings us pleasure nor pain, or when we give consideration to an aspect of worldly life that holds no interest for us. This feeling may arise, for example, when we see the same billboard on the way to work each day, or when we hear a weather report for a place we have no plans on visiting. A neutral spiritual feeling, however, is experienced as equanimity and is the result of spiritual maturity. A mind possessing the quality of equanimity experiences every object of consciousness without attachment or aversion. It develops naturally as we proceed with our practice of meditation and continue to observe things as they are.
Although feelings automatically arise whenever there is sense contact, the type of feeling that we experience can be influenced by our perception of the sense object being experienced. For example, hearing someone sing while we are listening to the radio may result in a pleasant feeling, but hearing someone sing when we are trying to meditate may result in an unpleasant feeling. Recognizing that we cannot control everyone or everything in our life may create an unpleasant feeling, but realizing that there is no self to be in control can result in a feeling of equanimity.
If we are not aware of the feelings as they rise and fall from moment to moment—if we are not guarding the sense doors—we may either react to the feelings we experience or to the objects upon which the feelings are based. The tendency is to grasp at pleasant feelings or objects, to resist unpleasant feelings or objects, and to become bored with or indifferent toward feelings and objects that are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. This reactivity is part of a conditioned chain of events that occurs without the necessity of a self driving the process.
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© Matthew Flickstein, The Meditator's Atlas (Wisdom Publications, 2007)
The Meditator's Atlas by Matthew Flickstein is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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