I’ve been working though “Mindfullness – A Practical Guide to Awakening” by Joseph Goldstein while I prepare to start hosting a meditation service at the Shin Buddhist temple I attend regularly. Since Shin Buddhism doesn’t have any specific meditation practices, I’ve been reading and comparing Shin fundamental principles to other texts on meditation and mindfulness.
In my reading, I came across a concept I wanted to explore in more detail. This concept really resonated with me and gave me some insight into something I definitely struggle with. My hope is that it might resonate with others as well.
Feelings are not Self
In a Buddhist sense, there are three types of feelings – Pleasant, Unpleasant, and Neutral. Pretty much every feeling we have can be divided into these categories. Eating candy, that’s pleasant. Seeing roadkill, that’s unpleasant. Walking down the hallway of your home, that’s most likely neutral.
These types of feelings can lead to attachment, aversion, or delusion. And these states cause our suffering in the world. Attachment to pleasant things creates suffering when what caused the pleasant feelings goes away. Aversion to unpleasant things create suffering as we try to avoid the negative feelings. Sometimes we don’t even notice the neutral things and we go through much of our day not actually present. Did you walk down a hallway today? Were you actually present for that experience? How much of your life have you missed by being distracted from the world?
All these feelings arise in us based on things in the world around us. But these feelings are not us. Getting carried away by them is what causes suffering. Being able to recognize that something triggered a feeling in yourself, is a step in mindfulness. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a piece of candy, but don’t cling to the pleasant feeling you feel when you eat said candy. Clinging creates greed or lust. And be totally present when you eat that candy, actually enjoy it. Don’t just shovel that bag of M&Ms into your mouth. Did you taste them? Did you actually get to enjoy that experience of eating that chocolate?
When something triggers a feeling in you, pleasant or unpleasant, are you recognizing that that feeling has been triggered? When you don’t mindfully watch your reaction to a feeling, that produces a cycle. Something happens that produces an unpleasant feeling, your mind reacts negatively to this unpleasant feeling and it produces anger or sadness. And you don’t want to feel angry or sad, so you act to try to remove the thing that triggered the unpleasant feeling. You lash out or do something you regret. Then you judge yourself for reacting that way, and you feel worse. Its a cycle of suffering.
It’s not easy to do, but if you can catch yourself at the beginning. If you recognize that you were triggered by an unpleasant feeling and you are mindful of how your brain is trying to react, you can detach those feelings from yourself. They may arise in you, but you get to decide how to react to them. They are not you. Feelings are not Self.