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Right mindfulness (part two)

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Mindfulness of feelings

The second foundation in the four foundations of mindfulness is about sense impressions and the mental feeling of pleasure or displeasure that accompanies them. Sense impressions generate feelings, and feelings generate craving. 

There are two ways to look at feelings. The first is to look at there being just two kinds of feelings: pleasant or unpleasant. The second way is to look at there being three kinds of feelings: pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. The Buddha said both ways of looking at feelings is correct. And he also said there is in fact a total of 108 feelings, but one doesn't need to know about them to get liberated, and working with just a set of two or three is enough.

An important thing to grasp here is that a neutral feeling after a painful feeling feels pleasant; and a neutral feeling after a pleasant feeling feels unpleasant. Which makes one wonder if there really is a neutral feeling? Imagine there's a scale with pleasure at the top and pain at the bottom. Feelings get more pleasurable as they go up the scale and more unpleasant as they go down it. So when a hit of pleasure wears off, if the feeling that comes after that is below it in the scale it will feel unpleasant, even if it is a feeling one would normally class as pleasant. This also works vice versa, when one is in pain, any feeling above that in the scale will feel pleasant in comparison, even if it is something that would normally be called unpleasant. 

One notices feelings that come from the five senses: eye, ear, smell, taste, touch. As well as feelings that come from the sixth sense: the mind, which is the psychological world of thoughts and ideas. Noting which ones are pleasant and which ones are unpleasant, or which ones are neither pleasant nor unpleasant (neutral). 

One also notices what are called worldly feelings.The eight worldly winds can be a helpful tool to simplify this.The eight worldly winds are: pain and pleasure, gain and loss, success and failure, praise and blame. They can blow in either direction and can change at any moment, so one cannot experience one wind without also experiencing it's opposite. For example, perhaps one day you are being praised by a friend for something you did, this feels very pleasant and you feel encouraged and happy. Then a week later you might do something daft and are then belng blamed by that same friend, which feels unpleasant and you feel discouraged and dejected. Blame is particularly unpleasant when it comes after an experience of praise, and vice versa, praise feels very pleasant after an experience of blame. There may also be dry neutral moments when the winds are quiet and you are not getting much praise or blame, but those neutral moments will feel pleasant if they come after being blamed and unpleasant and disatisfying after praise.   

There are also pleasant and unpleasant unworldly (spiritual) feelings. The pleasant feelings are the fruits of the path, such as the relief from letting go of the attachment to worldly things, the pleasure of samhadi (deep states of meditation), friendship. Unpleasant spirtual feelings are those that come from still having to live with an unliberated mind still afflicted by the three poisons of: greed, hatred and delusion. This pain can be used in a positive way to spur one forward in the practise of developing the higher mind. There is also the unpleasant feelings that happen when one's meditation practise feels dry. 

One notices feelings as they arise, flow and fade away. Noting if they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. And one notes whether they come from the five senses, the mind sense, or if they are worldly, or unworldly feelings. 

Feelings change a lot and so do our moods in response to them. But they are not actually who you are, there is no substantial self behind feelings. It is just streams of sensory data and your mental response to it of like or dislike, which creates craving for more pleasant feelings and aversion towards the unpleasant ones. But feelings are 'not me, not mine.' They arise because of the six senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, mind and the world of ideas. 

The Buddha coined a great simile called 'the second arrow.' Where he talks about a man who has been shot with an arrow, and immediately takes out his bow and shoots himself with a second arrow. This simile is about how there are things that happen in life which are painful and unpleasant, and outside our control. This on its own is bad enough, but then we go and create more pain and misery for ourselves by getting angry and depressed about it. 'Why me? Why does the universe hate me so? I hate my life... and so on'  We've all done it! But this part is optional. Something that helped me understand this, is seeing that anger and hate never feels good, anger is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling, which is why a neutral feeling after anger feels pleasant. Anger is unpleasant and causes suffering. When you see this you realise that anger is unnecessary and doesn't solve anything, it just makes things worse, just adds more suffering. If one is not angry it reduces suffering hugely. It is a life-changing revelation to see that one does not have to be angry about anything, one can choose non-anger instead and feel better and more serene in spite of it all.  

 There is something interesting to note here. When one is watching feelings arise and pass away. You can be detached from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, but the mind cannot be detached from anger. Anger and non-anger are mutually exclusive, only one or the other can exist in the mind at any time. For example, joy cannot be present in the mind if there is anger, loving-kindness cannot be present if there is anger, serenity cannot be present if there is anger. It is either one or the other. This is an important thing to remember, and something that is often misunderstood. 

Another thing that is often misunderstood is that one should be detached from pleasant spiritual feelings when they arise. This is incorrect, pleasant spiritual feelings come from the fruits of the path and are the rewards of the spiritual life and are to be cultivated and enjoyed, even when one becomes a fully enlightened being. The Buddha would often ask not to be disturbed, so he could sit in his hut and enjoy the bliss of meditation. He also said that the only time he didn't have backache was when he was practising samhadi.

Mindfulness of feelings is a huge topic and I haven't covered everything. There's more to feelings, such as how feelings of love can act as pain-relief, there's even been scientific research to explore this effect of love on the mind.

There's also other beings feelings to consider. Knowing that other beings also dislike pain and enjoy pleasure just as much as you do, this can help with the development of empathy and compassion. How feelings all have one thing in common in that they are impermanent and change. How this impermanence causes craving and suffering. How it leads to addictions and dissatisfaction when the senses start to become jaded. For example when you listen to a piece of good music over and over, and after a time you start feeling bored of it and long to have that sensory hit again, but can't get the same effect from it, so one searches for another song to fill the void. How a good book or movie can feel very pleasurable, but when you get to the end there's a sadness that it is over and a feeling of dissatisfaction. These are all things to explore in the practise of mindfulness of feelings. But I will stop here as I am trying really hard to make this succinct. 

In the next part of right mindfulness, I will write about the next foundation: mindfulness of the mind, which covers moods, emotions, state of mind. But I am tired now and going to bed. Nighty night. Peace and love everyone (-:

To be continued...

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