2020-09-09 Mindfulness of Emotions (3 of 5) Emotions and Feelings
2:53PM Sep 9, 2020
So what we're doing this week is looking at mindfulness of emotions. And doing so, by looking at our emotional life through the four perspectives that the Buddha gave for the practice of mindfulness. Some people have called it the four frames of reference upon which to look at our experience. And for this week, the experience is emotions.
And the first of these frames of references is the body, breathing in the body, and to be centered in the bodily, embodied experience, somatic experience of emotions. To have that as a skill, as a capacity, as a habit, gives us tremendous amount of information about how we're feeling that's not really so readily available for just thinking about it or in the stories, the ideas of what's happening. It's also a way of helping the whole psychosomatic system we have to process emotions and to let them be free within us. And this great beauty. This great power of allowing our emotions to live freely within us. And let them unfold and move without giving into them and also maybe without expressing them, which means a kind of involvement with them, but let them express themselves.
And one of the great places to do that is in meditation. You know, it's kind of you don't you know, you're sitting still, you're not going to move and, but you allow it to move, course through you freely. To do this, it helps if we can do it with some equanimity, meaning that we don't get pulled into our preferences, our likes and dislikes. How we take pleasure and invoke take pleasure in and our wants and not once because that kind of complicated situation. But to just give it the emotion freedom, and then to feel it more fully.
To find that equanimity or find that freedom, one of the most significant teachings the Buddha gave about mindfulness and the path to freedom is to bring mindfulness awareness to feelings. Now in English, it's very, I think that if we can't if it's difficult to really define what an emotion is in English, I think it's even more difficult feelings. Some people see them as synonymous. Feelings are more the subjective experience of how an experience is perceived or taken in or processed or something. When the Buddha focused on mindfulness, he focused our attention on particular aspects of feeling, the subjective experience, and that is the feelings that are either pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant. Now this can be quite boring and even off putting to hear a teacher just go through that list. But it turns out that a tremendous amount of human activity, human motivation, what we do and respond and react to the world is based on whether based on some way or other with whether things are pleasant, unpleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant. Whether we perceive them or hope that they'll be pleasant, or are we afraid they're going to be unpleasant. And this movement for and against pleasant and unpleasant is part of, is to see that and understand that then become free of it allows the emotional life to have a freedom that it can't have, if we're for and against things.
And now, some emotions arise because we're for and against things. So that makes it very interesting as well. But a lot of the afflictive emotions in Buddhism, some people, Buddhists will make distinctions when afflictive emotions and beneficial emotions and afflictive ones are hurt, they ouch. I kind of think of the kind of the same distinction is between surface emotions and emotions that well up from deep inside. And the afflictive ones for me are more surface, they're more reactive to things. And the deeper ones are not reactive, but are a wellspring of kind of the goodness within us that has a chance to arise.
But, and so the Buddha talks about, pay attention to what he calls vedanā, v.e.d.a.n.a. And it's usually translated as feeling and which is probably accurate enough, provided that in the instructions for mindfulness, we understand it's a particular aspects of feelings he's emphasizing, pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant or unpleasant because it's subjective experience. It's not exactly inherent only in the experience that is pleasant or unpleasant. But it's also has to do with the how we are in relationship to it, how we evaluate it. The same physical experience can be evaluated as pleasant or unpleasant, depending on the judgments we have, the associations we have, the memories we have. And I've had I saw this very clearly when I lived in Davis, California. When the wintertime there was a very cold tule fog. I used to bike to school without any gloves. And by the time I came to class, I couldn't hold a pencil or pen to take notes. My hands were so frozen. And so it was bitingly cold. And one day I was biking feeling that cold and I remember that as a kid. I used to go skiing a few times and I had exactly the same feeling in my fingers, but it was exhilarating. Biking in to college was was you know kind of felt pity for myself and feel Oh poor me. And I could see how much the same sensation was evaluated differently. It was experienced as pleasant and unpleasant depending on that evaluation.
So this idea of pleasant and unpleasant being purely in the experience is not quite right, so this word vedanā being subjective. Also little bit has association of, some people actually translate it this way as liking and not liking. And that, to me seems a little bit too far, but away from pleasant and unpleasant, but something that maybe is between those two is the idea of taking pleasure or taking displeasure. And the taking means we're doing something. We're not completely innocent with experiencing even physical pain or what physical what we take as being [leasure. We have some involvement with it and engagement and and savoring it or resisting it or doing something.
But regardless of how it is, many times our behavior is motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and displeasure. And it's a little bit humbling, maybe sometimes a little embarrassing, to realize that very, very sophisticated people with sophisticated philosophies of politics or life or whatever. It turns out, if you trace back, the origin of their whole reason why they do anything, is because there's something or other they took pleasure in or took displeasure in. Some pleasant or unpleasantness. It's a little bit humbling how that's really at the root or at the fulcrum of so much that can be seem quite sophisticated or not.
And so to look at where, so when we have emotions, there's a number of things to do with One is the emotions themselves can be pleasant or unpleasant. And if you want to let the emotions be free when we're meditating, the great laboratory for this exploration, you want to just allow the pleasant, unpleasant of it, just to be there, no problem with it, but no leaning forward or leaning away. We're not really free as I like to say, if we're only free when we're comfortable. We're really free when we learn how to be free when things are uncomfortable. And we learned how to be free when things are pleasant and nice. real freedom, not the freedom of kind of just oh boy, I get to just kind of ride the ride and enjoy this. And so to really begin studying the emotion, is it pleasant or unpleasant and how can I be free and balanced with it? Does the emotion arise because I'm relating to something as pleasant and unpleasant. I like it. I don't like it. And it's very fascinating to do this because when you start tracing it back to where we're taking pleasure and displeasure, we find out that might be different than what we thought.
So just to make up a silly example, maybe I take pleasure in spinach, smoothies, and, but actually, it doesn't actually taste that good. And but I say I really enjoyed my spinach smoothies. But then if I look and see where's the pleasure in the spinach smoothies, it turns out that it's the pleasure is I have this idea that if I eat spinach smoothies, I'll be healthier. And if I'm healthier, I'll be able to lose weight. And this idea of losing weight, that's where the pleasure is. And I take pleasure in the idea that I might someday lose weight.
So where's the pleasure and displeasure? It could be that you have to go on a long trip, and you really don't want to go on the trip. But you ask, where's the pleasure and displeasure? And it turns out that the long drive, what you find really unpleasant about it is the problem of where to stop to go pee. And the driving seems okay, it's whatever. But to identify where's the pleasure, what specifically is the pleasant and unpleasant around the emotion?
Finally, the Buddha made a distinction between two general forms of this subjective experience of pleasant and unpleasant. And one is what I call the surface and the other is what I call what wells up within. He called it of the flesh and that of not of the flesh. So that which has to do with our reaction to things, the world does things, and we react to it. It gets cold and we react with displeasure around it being cold, it's unpleasant. We react. It's nice and comfortable temperature and we react positively, we want more warmth, or enjoy it. And that would be of the flesh, that's more of the surface. Someone calls us an ugly name. And that's very unpleasant, and don't deny it. But it's a little bit of some of the reactions can be more on the surface. What's in the wellsprings deep inside? The pleasantness that wells up from inside of compassion, of peace, of calm, of joy. Emotions and feelings that are not in response and reactivity to what goes on in the world, but are really coming from being settled and calm and open and free. And we discover that it's possible to have peace within, calm within, joy within. While the circumstances around us are unpleasant. And when we see that difference, it's freeing. Because many people, they don't see that difference. And so when things are unpleasant in the world, it's almost like they are unpleasant. Personally they are. But the everything's defined, everything is seen and understood, and we identify so closely with it. When we realize it's more just surface of circumstances. And inside there's wellsprings of peace and joy and love, compassion, that is there. Then we can experience the unpleasant situation and not be identified with it. We don't become the displeasure.
So this is a very important teachings around emotions is to really start looking at the pleasant, the unpleasantness, the pleasure of taking pleasure and not taking pleasure, where's that working. And as we get more settled and less pulled into that world of reactivity, to also notice as a different kind of pleasantness, the pleasantness of the inner wellspring of our goodness.
So thank you, and I look forward to continuing this tomorrow.