SnowFlower Sun September 2019

Vedana: Mindfulness of Feeling

From a talk by Lisa Glueck

 

As you know, the Four Foundations are deeply interconnected and flow inseparably into one another. When we feel an unpleasant feeling, our body tightens in response, while our mind labels and reacts to the feeling. “Oh, no, not fear again!” The mind then sends a message to the amygdala to alert the adrenal glands to pump cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenalin into the body. Before we know it, we’re deep into the fourth Foundation, mindfulness of dharmas, churning up hindrances left and right.

Not getting overwhelmed would be hard with such a complex situation. Yet the genius of the analysis in the Four Foundations is that we can focus on one thing at a time, in this case, the feeling tone of experience, giving us a foothold for our practice.

When we’re not mindful, pleasant feelings condition desire and clinging, unpleasant feelings condition dislike and aversion, and neutral feelings condition not really knowing what’s going on, delusion. When we are mindful, these very same feelings become the path to freedom.

The Buddha talks about two kinds of people: the uninstructed worldling and the instructed noble disciple. But don’t let this seduce you into Buddhist snobbery. It’s one thing to be instructed, another to wholeheartedly follow the instructions. When the uninstructed worldling has a painful feeling, there is aversion and feelings of sorrow, grief, and perhaps becoming distraught. The Buddha uses the classic image of the two arrows – the first arrow is the painful feeling and the second arrow is our unpleasant mental reaction to it.

In contrast, when we’re mindful, if we feel a pleasant feeling, we feel it detached. If we feel a painful feeling, we feel it detached. If we feel a neutral feeling, we feel it detached. We train ourselves to look at the play of feelings arising and passing away like the changing winds in the sky. There’s nothing wrong with the winds—they’re just there. There’s nothing wrong with our feelings – they’re just there. Just don’t cling!

The question remains: can we do it? Can we break deeply ingrained habits of mind? And anyway, isn’t it just natural to cling to the pleasant and move away from the unpleasant? True, if things were permanent, these habitual reactions might be recommended. Once and for all we’d maneuver ourselves into a comfortable place and settle down. But the truth of impermanence throws a wrench in that plan doesn’t it! By clinging to the pleasant, we assure our suffering when it’s over. By pushing away the unpleasant, we guarantee that it will return over and over until we examine its roots. If we want to be happy and at peace, we must transform our habit energies at the base.

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