We further deepen our practice on noticing feeling tone (“vedana” in Pali) and what precedes and accompanies it. Do you notice unpleasant feeling tones arising around certain thoughts like “this meditation is taking forever”, accompanied by the restless need to quit? Or maybe there were beliefs such as “my mind keeps wandering, I suck at meditation.” What experiences accompanied those beliefs eg feelings of defeat? The purpose of this practice is to take a step back and watch for the whole chain of reactions surrounding feeling tones, recognizing that they are natural outcomes of the mind and body, and simply acknowledging them without needing to get caught up.
The practice ends with a reading of Wendell Berry’s poem The Peace of Wild Things.
When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Feeling tone or feeling sense is a sense of awareness that we typically interpret as unpleasant, pleasant or neutral. It is what puts us in a foul mood or a good one. The Pali translation in Buddhist text is “vedana”.
It is natural to desire pleasant experiences, to avoid unpleasant ones, and to zone out or feel bored, restless and even empty when there are neutral feelings (the mind constantly need stimulation). It is those underlying desires that cause us to be unhappy or stressed when things are not going according to our wishes.
The antidote is to become conscious of and to tune in to any feeling tones so that we are aware what is causing us to “suffer” in the first place. And then, we let these feelings come and go without needing to get caught up in them. We weaken the grip of reactivity, and find peace.
The practice ends with the poem On Pain by Khalil Gibran:
And a woman spoke, saying, Tell us of Pain.
And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.