Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Feelings noted

I like to try to stay aware of what my friends are reading.   One friend mentioned Cynthia Bourgeault.  I started reading her book The Wisdom Way of Knowing.  The text quickly got my attention when she started talking about an ancient view of one's emotions as dangers.  The image is one of a person being captured by strong feelings and at least temporarily under their control.

It happens that "Thoughts Without a Thinker" by Mark Epstein also touches on very similar material.  Many Americans take Asians and Buddhist to be people who are emotionally constricted and maybe emotionally tight.  Our society tends to feel that a person who expresses her emotions fully and easily is healthy and alive.  Epstein does treat patients who are wrestling with feelings they don't want to feel, much less, express.  He goes to some lengths to discuss the ideal of knowing and observing or noting one's emotions without reacting to them or falling into their grip.

One-point meditation is usually the first tool that people try in any meditative practice.  The point of such an activity is to keep the attention on one's breath or some other anchor and to return one's attention to that anchor over and over, whenever it has been found to wander off into some subject or worry.  However, most of the sources I have looked at emphasize that much of the worth of meditating comes from moving from simple one-point practice to the quiet, steady observation of one's emotions, noting and observing them without getting hooked into them.

With the usual American conviction that each emotion is precious and justified and to be accommodated fully, it can feel odd to begin to note feelings of fear or disgust without making plans to take some action related to 'solving the problem'.  However, many traditions advise learning to do just such things.  Since the emotions tend to be transitory, it can make sense to note and just see for a while or several whiles.

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