2020-09-07 Mindfulness of Emotions (1 of 5) Introduction
2:59PM Sep 7, 2020
So being the beginning of the week, there's a new theme for this week and that is mindfulness of emotions. And for many people, I think many English speaking people, would say that emotions are a central aspect of life. And a very important aspect of life. That emotions are for some people is how they navigate the world, understand the world, understand themselves. It's what they oriented around. Some people are not so centrally focused on emotions, but they're still playing a very important part of life. And without what we call emotions, life wouldn't be as interesting. The stories we tell, books we read, movies we watch would be phenomenally dull. If the characters in these stories were emotionally flat, there probably would be very little drama and very little, you know, excitement in these stories if that was the case. Emotions kind of for some people make life worth living and really infuses them with inspiration and purpose.
So in some ways that's true. But it turns out, oddly enough, that no one really knows what an emotion is. I don't think so. I mean, I tried to study this thing. And there's many theories actually about what an emotion is. We often assume we know what the emotions are. And we often very quickly will identify, of course I know I know what anger is, I know what sadness is. I know what happiness is. Joy. And of course I know.
But as a category emotions, which some people have very strong opinions about, it's actually hard to pin down exactly what it is and define it. Where to sit a line between what is an emotion and not an emotion? Is peace an emotion? Is calm an emotion? Some people would say yes. But is it the same kind of emotion as there's something like anger or joy or delight. And as someone who wrote his book on the history of emotions made this amazing statement that the English speaking world prior to 1830 no one experienced emotions. And so that's, you know, kind of like a stunning statement. It seems that the word emotion entered the English language in the early 1800s. So we've been English speaking people have been using this word for about 200 years. And before that there were other words that used, but rather than they used equivalent words to the word emotions, you needed a variety of different words to encompass what sometimes now we call emotions. If you go back to the ancient world of the Buddha and try to find an equivalent in his language for the English word emotion, you have hard to find an equivalent I know of no Pali word that can be translated by the English word emotion. Now did the Buddha not experience emotions? Did the people before 1800 not experience any of the things we call emotions? Of course they did. They felt anger and sadness and joy and happiness. We find in the ancient texts, that there are words that translates that way pretty easily. But are they a perfect fit? There's words in the Pali for things like that can be sadness, maybe. We're not quite sure how to translate some of these words even you know are we supposed to translate it into words that we that are used in our English language. Emotions are culturally, a cultural phenomena just like everything else, but their cultural phenomena which are also deeply connected to evolutionary instinct, reactions and responses we also have to the world. So the line between culture and conditioning and the physiology and the psychology of emotions, being free independent of culture is a very loose, ambiguous line.
So we don't find it Ancient Buddhism and much any you know the word emotion. And if you go through the Buddha's instructions for mindfulness practice, you have very clear instructions for it in a text called the, usually translated these days as the, the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness. He doesn't just talk about emotions in a very obvious and clear way, the way that we would expect it there.
And so, this is one way of understanding this is that human experience, if human experience is a pie, you know, like, and you slice the Pie to offer your friend's pie. That human pie of experience can be, it can be divided up many different ways. And different cultures divide it up different ways. And so the Buddha, seemingly when he just instructions for mindfulness was taking and dividing up human experiences in different ways then we wouldn't necessarily do it here in the in the English West, English speaking world. And it's very interesting then, to practice his instructions in relationship to emotions, what we call emotions, because it challenges us a little bit, not to get too hung up. But what we think is our experiences. Just as the notion of self, the ideas, the identification to self, is something that Buddhists tend not to want to do, they don't see our experience through the lens of self identity. So they don't see it through the lens of this particular idea of emotion that we have in English. And just as in the modern psychology, and to clinical studies of the human emotions, human psychology, there's very little difficult to pinpoint what the self is. It's hard to pinpoint what an emotion is in modern researchers. So if you go back to ancient Buddhism, it doesn't really support our usual ideas of who we are and how we are. This is not to disorient us. But rather, it can help us free us from the fixed categories and ideas that we sometimes struggle under and limit ourselves by.
So these four foundations of mindfulness is an alternative way of organizing the human pie of experience. But if we take emotions, whatever we think whatever you want to include in the category of emotions, it's possible to use these four different slices of the pie that Buddha talked about, to get a new perspective on emotions, for the purpose of becoming free, not free of them, but free with them, free of from them while still having them. And one of the great gifts we can give our emotions is their freedom, but not freedom to run havoc if you're angry or full of lust or something, but rather the given the permission to be there free like a cloud in the sky, to allow it to morph and change and unfold in whatever way at once.
And so these four slices of the human pie that the Buddha uses is to experience things through the vantage point of our physical embodied experience. To experience it from the vantage point of the subjective experience, subjective feeling of whether things are pleasant, unpleasant, or neither pleasant or unpleasant. So, that would be called feelings in Buddhism. And then the third pie piece is the state of the mind, both the motivational state of the mind, what drives us to be involved in the world or the orientation we have towards the world and activity, but also more deeply the overall state, quality, characteristics of the awareness itself, the mind. And then the fourth basket is how the reactivities of the mind, the activities of the mind, in in relationship to having an emotion.
So, if we go through these four different categories, areas, and we're looking at them emotions, we see the emotions not as a singular thing. But we start seeing it as a composite. Which is exactly what modern researchers are coming up in the different theories of emotions. That emotions are never a singular thing, but are a composite of a variety of your things seems to come together to create the particular emotion that we're talking about. And mindfulness can be a process by which we begin seeing clearly what these different elements are. Not to the purpose to validate emotions or to repress emotions or deny emotions or have aversity to emotions. But in the end, not even to give emotions their freedom, which is a little bit can be confusing, this idea of giving emotions freedom, but really this from a Buddhist point of view, the real thing we're doing, we're not clinging to emotions, learning how radical non clinging, non attachment. And that is a phenomenal thing to grant our inner life, for inner life to not to exist there without any clinging to any of it is allows some of the best creative, intelligent, compassionate loving parts of our life to come through.
So in these days this week, I'll go through these four foundations of mindfulness as a way of looking at emotions for different areas of emotions for different perspectives or aspects of it. And in doing so, I hope that you find it instructive and interesting, useful to look at emotions in new ways and understand it in different ways and maybe we usually do. And maybe it supports you how to discover this phenomenal capacity for freedom, which in Buddhist language means non clinging to our emotions.
So that's the plan for these next four days and look forward to our time together. Thank you