Sunday, August 30, 2015

Why I Keep Going Back to Vedana

We are sensing beings. We sense, i.e. experience our environment through our five immediate senses, and also our mind. The quality of that sensing experience is called 'vedana' in Pali language, and it affects our life from the time we are born until our last breath. Vedana falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral, and we usually react to each type in a predictable manner. We want more of the pleasant, and we push away the unpleasant. The neutral is usually too bland to be noticed by our ordinary consciousness.  Now, why does it matter, you may ask? A great deal, it turns out. In my experience, vedana, and our awareness of it or lack thereof, can be the difference between a life liberated from the tyranny of conditionality, and a life at the mercy of circumstances.

Looking back, I see that my original motivation for taking up mindfulness practice came from a misguided view. I was suffering and wanted a way out, and had this understanding that mindfulness would be the way to one day start feeling peace, happiness, and bliss. While it is true that practice can bring some of those wonderful states, the paradox lies in the fact that wishing for those can actually be an impediment to freedom and joy. Only within the past few years, have I come to let go of such foolish wish, and instead reconcile with the truth that each moment is to be experienced for what it is. This has enabled me to more fully relax into each moment, no longer having to dread or wish away the inevitable, all the 's...' that always comes sooner or later. In relationships, it helps not personalize annoying encounters. This person was a pain, he or she caused me grief, and in the end, it does not matter so much. What does count is the recognition of yet another unpleasant moment, and my automatic reaction to it, the familiar internal clenching, the tightening against the experience. Mindfulness can help catch it before it gets too entrenched, and before the mind seals it with its share of stories about this thing, this person, this event. The mind becomes trained to tell itself, 'unpleasant, this is unpleasant', and to not make too big of a deal of it.

Now, the best way to loosen vedana's hold is not so much in the unhappy moments, but rather during times when all is well and we find ourselves really liking 'this'. Next time such a moment arise, pause and notice your body and mind's inclination to want to hang on. It feels so good, we want more, and we don't want the feeling to stop. We start grasping, and when the time comes and the goodness slips away,  as it is bound to, we experience suffering. The trick is in not hanging on so much to the pleasantness. That way we are less likely to experience vedana burn as I call it, the same way we won't get rope burn if we don't hang on to the rope when it gets pulled away. Every time, I find myself transported with euphoric feelings, the bell goes on in my head, warning me to not get so carried away. That moment that feels sooooo wonderful right now, that too shall pass. Which is not to say, that feelings get dulled, to the contrary. One can feel great joy, yet be loose around it. The mind knows and becomes more impartial regarding the happenstance of pleasantness or unpleasantness. The mind trains itself to cultivate the beautiful quality of equanimity.

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