In Part 8 of this series on “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” I make the transition from practicing mindful awareness of the body, to practicing mindful awareness of feelings. Mindful awareness of the body is the first of the meditation practices of the “Four Foundations of Mindfulness.” Mindful awareness of feelings is the second.
As noted in earlier parts of this series, one need not be a Buddhist to study this Buddhist approach to meditation. The “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” is the English translation of the name of a Buddhist Sutta, the “Satipatthana Sutta.” These basic practices can easily be adapted to your current beliefs whether you are one who believes in God, one who does not, or one who is not sure what to believe.
Please read the earlier posts of this series, at least the previous one or two posts, to be aware of the principal themes and practices offered so far.
Before discussing the practice of mindful awareness of feelings, I need to emphasize the Theravada Buddhists use the word feelings differently than we do in modern times. When these teachers discuss feelings they are referring to three very basic feelings, or emotional states: satisfied, dissatisfied, or neutral.
Practicing the mindful awareness of the sensations of the body while eating food is a very good way to segue to the mindful awareness of whichever of the three basic feelings you are having.
For example: You walk into a friend’s house and they are baking something that gives off a strong, enticing aroma. You notice your sense of smell has been triggered as the aroma makes contact with your nose. The experience of this aroma is a sensation of the body. Usually, without fully realizing what is happening, or how quickly it is happening, your mind makes a basic determination whether the experience of this sensation of aroma is either satisfying, unsatisfying, or neutral. A preliminary practice of being mindful of feelings is to be aware the mind has formed an interpretation of the sensations as either satisfying, unsatisfying, or neutral. The second part is to observe the feeling of satisfaction, unsatisfaction, or neutrality as the operative feeling arises, spreads, begins to fade and then passes away.
OK, let’s keep going with this example.
Your friend tells you they are baking some apple turnovers and they give you one right out of the oven with some vanilla ice cream and a dash of whip cream. You notice the sensation of taste has been triggered when you take the first and then the second bite into the delicious treat. You may quickly decide, “This is great.” You find this taste treat is satisfying. There is no need to go to extremes in this process. You begin with a simple observation of what is happening to whichever of the sensory impressions you happen to notice. Perhaps it is the taste of the food when you bite into the hot apple pie. Perhaps it is also the sense of smell continuing to be triggered as you smell the cinnamon and other fragrances of the turnover-ice cream treat. Perhaps it is the sensations of sight as you look around the kitchen you are sitting in. Perhaps it is the sense of touch as the teeth, tongue, mouth, and jaw engage to chew the food. Perhaps you focus on one, perhaps on any two, or all of these sensations. Maybe the cook is talking to you as you eat and so you notice the sound of their voice as the sense of hearing is triggered.
Keep it simple. Be aware in the moment as the sensors of the eye, ear, nose, taste, and sense of touch are triggered. A simple, natural curiosity of what is happening moment by moment is all that is needed.
You can then proceed to the second practice of “The Four Foundations of Mindfulness” by noticing the arising of the general feeling-state as to whether the experience you are now having is satisfying, unsatisfying, or neutral.
Do not be too discouraged if you begin to notice that most of your experiences are either moderately or significantly unsatisfying. It takes courage to examine one’s inner state in detail. It takes courage to realize how there may be a general undercurrrent of dis-satisfaction in your life to one degree or another. All of this information can be put to very good use.
It also takes courage to realize that satisfying experiences tend to be fleeting and do not last as long as we often want them to.
If you notice that a large portion of your experiences are satisfying that is great. That means you have favorable conditions in your life. Hopefully you will be able to make the best use of these favorable conditions for meditation practice and other forms of study and work, art, play, or charitable activities.
Please remember it is enough to engage these practices with a simple, natural awareness and open observation.
Observe the sensations of the body caused by sensory input as the sensations arise, spread, have impact, begin to fade, and then pass completely from view.
Observe the mind forming a basic evaluation as to whether a specific experience is satisfying, unsatisfying, or neutral. Observe the experience of the new feeling of satisfaction, unsatisfaction, or neutrality as one of these feelings arises, spreads, has impact, begins to fade, and then passes completely from view.
Begin to see how lightning-quick these sensations, evaluations, and feelings arise.
No need to strain to attain some breakthrough of insight or experience. A steady engagement of these practices with natural sincerity is all that is needed.
What I can tell you is the basic stages of progress are something like this:
First you notice the window in your room is not that clear.
Then you clean the window of dirt and smudges.
Then you open the window to see the countryside directly.
More next Sunday,