Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
It’s been said that we have three main emotions: happy, sad and mad, which is nicely illustrated in this 2 minute video. Buddhist psychology teaches that, when we are visited by these emotions, the first step is to pause and notice: “This is how my body feels; it’s unpleasant; I’m in a bad mood; it’s natural; it’s not about me.”
I hope to explore this process in the coming weeks.
SN Goenka, a pioneer of Vipassana meditation, after 14 years of study, brought it back to India. He said that Buddha was the greatest spiritual super-scientist the world has ever known. The Buddha taught the science of how the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. And that because we are not aware of what is happening within ourselves, impurities start, multiply and overpower us. The Buddha taught us to observe this.
When a sound comes, then a part of the mind recognizes there is sound. Another part of the mind evaluates it as good or bad. A third part of the mind feels the sensation generated by the sound coming in contact with the body. Then the fourth part of the mind starts reacting. This all happens very quickly.
With two adolescent children in my life, I am often caught up in difficult emotions. My training in meditation and my practice has equipped me with tools to feel the feelings through felt-sense, as well as ways to cope with those feelings. This is a direct knowing, a present–moment touching of my emotions. Remembering is the challenge. Based on the Buddha’s Satipatthana Sutta (the Four Foundations of Mindfulness), I found the Mindfulness of Body (the sense realm) the fundamental tool for the practice.
When a difficult emotion arises, the sensations give a clear, direct path to connecting with what’s happening in the present moment. My tendency is to start judging, followed by commentaries such as: this person is making me feel like this, I shouldn’t feel like this and so on. Or analyzing – why do I feel like this? Or solving – how can I get rid of this feeling and get on with a better feeling, like happiness? When I think about my feelings, the thoughts themselves trigger more feelings, because I’m in conflict with myself and I go deeper into a painful mood. By focusing on the body, I take myself out of the thought realm—there are no words in my body—and I can break this negative cycle.
Yogic breathing eases this process. Instead of trying to dive right into the middle of the feelings, I start by feeling the breath, then gently moving my attention toward the emotion. By following the breath, as if breathing into the tender spots in the body where the emotion – anger, sadness or hopelessness – rests, often in the chest and belly. I notice that the sensations are always moving.
In this delicate process, mindfulness of the breath followed by some soothing words: such as “I’ll be okay”, “I can be with the feelings without being overwhelmed”. I found placing my hand on my heart very helpful too. If I trust in the power of the practice, then I know that I don’t have to get rid of the emotion. I also need acceptance and forgiveness of myself, so that I’m not judging my own feelings.
Clearing – Martha Postlewaite
not try to save
the whole world
or do anything grandiose.
in the dense forest
of your life
and wait there
until the song
that is your life
falls into your own cupped hands
and you recognize and greet it.
Only then will you know
how to give yourself
to this world
so worthy of rescue.