Feelings: Seasonings for the heart
In Buddhist psychology, if there is such a thing, we talk about sensations or feelings (Skt. vedana; Tib. tshor ba) that seasoned and flavoured each moment of consciousness making it pleasant, unpleasant or just plain neutral. Moreover, it is the first item on a list of 51 mental factors, which details different aspects of the functioning of our mind/heart. This serves to indicate just how important this factor of feeling is in our life.
It is the feeling accompanying our various experiences that has the power to make us develop a longing for more, an aversion to run away, or a desperate search for something more interesting or exciting than this bland moment. Therefore, feelings serve as a condition for craving to arise. Just expose our mind/heart to a particular type of feeling long enough and we may find our heart becomes as depicted–a prickly one–one form of defense against the onslaught of unwanted feelings.
So long as we remain unaware and unmindful of this relationship between feeling and craving, we allow ourselves to be controlled by our many reactive habits of thoughts and emotions. Bring forth a feeling and we find ourselves reacting in a very predictable fashion, usually in a manner detrimental to our long-term happiness. The remedy is to bring attention to feelings and our reactions in the practice of mindfulness of feelings. Here, with a calm and steady awareness we observe this interplay between feeling (pain, pleasure or neutral) and reactions (in the form of thoughts, emotions, physical tension or relaxation, etc.). By patiently gathering up numerous observations, we cultivate a personal understanding of what makes us tick, and in which direction.
In fact, just the power of simple observation itself may be sufficiently to drive a wedge between feeling and craving, which is our reaction to it, for some of the times. Once that connection is temporarily broken, we find that while we are experiencing even intense feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, we do not automatically react in our habitual way. A space has opened up and within it there are many choices and possibilities. A freedom which has been absent is already here–you can decide how best to respond to it. When this happens, a prickly heart can start to lose its thorns and regain its soft, warm glow.
Published on January 27, 2011.
Sign up to get updates