Health

Mindfulness of the feelings

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Mindfulness of the feelings
‘Feeling is present at every moment of experience.’ Bikkhu Bodhi
What does it mean to feel? We often take feeling for granted, never really taking the time to investigate what is really going on when we say we feel this or that. We often fail to appreciate the richness, complexity, and also potential simplicity of the process of feeling, and yet, feeling marks each and every experience we have, have ever had, and will ever have. Our beliefs, ideas, self-image, are all infused with particular ranges of feelings and we use our feelings to judge whatever takes place both within and without as good, bad, or unimportant. For many, feelings are the gateway to truth, to authentic understanding and self-expression, whilst for others, especially my grandparents’ generation, feelings are unimportant, a form of self-indulgence, perhaps even weakness. 
 Feeling leads to the formation of emotions, but feelings are not emotions. Feelings are the sensations we experience, and for mindfulness practice, they are the quality of sensation in the body and can be labelled simply as positive, negative, or neutral. This threefold category is traditionally applied to practising mindfulness of the feelings. That is we use our attention, our awareness, to observe how we have an impulsive tendency to react to feeling by labelling it as positive, negative, or neutral causing us to act accordingly. Feeling is rarely allowed to be as it is; instead it is subjectively made important, or unimportant. We charge feelings with meaning. Taking interpretation of what is felt as a determining factor in how we choose to go forward and act. Feelings actually function as an elaborate code through which we forge the direction our lives take.
Ultimately, separation between body, feelings, emotions, states and phenomena doesn’t exist. One flows into the other. They are profoundly interrelated. These categories though act as convenient method for defining experience and working with its more recognisable dimensions. The body feels for example, or rather we feel through the body, and emotions are felt within the body, and are accompanied by feeling. Emotions and other mental states are within the body, infused with feeling and directly related to phenomena. Our feelings are stimulated by the physical in the form of our body and the ‘external’ world. So, an important understanding to make clear here is that these four realms of experience are really not separate.

Mindfulness of the Body

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In contemporary society we generally have a very dysfunctional relationship with our bodies. We treat our bodies badly, we often eat wrongly, push our bodies excessively, or fail to give our body the degree of care and attention it needs. Addiction is incredibly widespread and nail biting, skin picking, excessive gum chewing, and other nervous habits, are all signs of a dysfunctional connection to the physical environment in which we partake. 
Then, added on to this, we have all of the distorted images of the body given to us by advertising and consumerist culture, by celebrities, comics, and pornography; a mass of illusions of how we are supposed to appear and present ourselves to the world. We often look at our bodies in a very distorted manner, or even refuse to look at our naked form out of fear, or shame. The commodification of the body and the falsification of body images have the function of collectively disassociating people from the simplicity and immediacy of how their bodies really are and how wonderful they are in their diversity. The general obsession with external image often causes us to seek to present our bodies in specific postures, poses and shapes. How often do you either strike a model’s pose when you look at yourself in the mirror, or refuse to look honestly and deeply at your naked body without tightening up or judging it? These are all aspects of the collective baggage that we carry around and filter our perception of our body through.
Because the body is the starting place for mindfulness and because of the complexity of the issues I have just laid out, it is important to realise that mindfulness is a very rich and profound pursuit of re-engaging with experience based on very new rules. Mindfulness is not just being present, but it is also looking deeply at things to see how they really are and how we are relating to them. In this sense it is truly a path of freedom, because if we are brave enough to go all the way with it, it can free us from the mess we are in collectively and individually with regard to our bodies. 
What follows are the seven factors of mindfulness. They immediately illustrate a more complete and holistic picture of deep mindfulness practice. They also show us that mindfulness is not just something you do on a cushion in a safe, quiet space, but is rather an adventure that is embarked on that can result in the radical change and gaining of freedom that I have pointed to in several previous posts. Below is my own non-traditional wording of the seven factors.
Seven factors of Mindfulness
1.      Being present and deeply engaged with what we are doing
2.      Bridging the gap to experience: non-judgement & intimacy
3.      Appreciation for experience: acknowledging & honouring your life as an unfolding process
4.      Relieving of unsatisfactoriness & reducing separation: feeling connected & part of it all
5.      Looking deeply: penetrating experience to see clearly what is real and important, releasing our natural intuitiveness 
6.      Gaining insight & direct understanding through being grounded in experience & fully open
7.      Transformation: growth, healing, opening, freedom