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Working with Feelings and Emotions

Working with Feelings and Emotions

It is difficult for the practitioner to make progress until he or she has come to terms with feelings and emotions, as the practice itself, at least in the early stages, can bring up intense and persistent feelings and their associated emotions. So we will consider feelings and emotions together, as while they are two distinct contemplations in the framework of the practice, they tend to merge and overlap. 

An emotion is an agitated mind state or disturbance caused by strong feelings about somebody or something. There need be no preference as to whether they are positive or negative as they are related to as just mind states: as ordinary or higher states of mind, that is, just mental events to be noted without seeing them as significant in any way. 

Without judging or evaluating them, emotions are monitored throughout the day by labelling or mentally noting them. This helps to develop a more non-reactive awareness toward the emotion, without the tendency to identify with them or play back into the associated story. This practice helps one to relate to emotions more dispassionately while at the same time revealing the transitory nature of mental events. 

The clarity now that one has in relating to the emotion can then be taken a step further by tuning into the underlying feeling tone that is associated with an emotion, such as unpleasant feeling. In this way the feeling quality itself is highlighted, thus allowing for the primary feeling to be investigated as it has become distinct from the emotional content.

In the context of the Contemplation of Feelings we need to understand what precisely is meant by feelings. While the term 'feeling' (vedana) refers to physical sensation (kayika vedana), it also includes mental feeling (cetasika vedana) as well. The practice of attentiveness to mental feelings - not just sensations or physical feelings - needs to be stressed, because by differentiating feelings from their associated emotions, you can defuse the emotional charge once you have developed the ability to catch the underlying feeling tone.

Working with Feelings and Emotions
The Vipassana Retreat

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