Feeling Vedana

This Sunday, Payton guided the Sangha discussion. We continued the theme of noticing the space between our experience and our reaction, by trying to become more aware of Vedana, or the Feeling Tone (pleasant, unpleasant, or neither) that happens just as our senses make contact with the world. More specifically, we discussed trying to feel the sensation of being pulled toward or pushed away from those experiences as they occur, and how reacting with that movement can define our whole life.

Payton played a talk by Christina Feldman from a recent retreat at IMS. The talk is not publicly available, but here is a link to the other talks from that retreat:

Here’s Payton’s notes from the discussion.

Vedana” – Feeling tone or Hedonic tone, not emotion, exquisitely simple.

Vedana is mostly not implicitly pleasant or unpleasant, but is generally neutral and is then colored by our context.

Often what we react to is not the experiences that we have, but the thoughts that follow those experiences.

What we feel, we move toward, away from, or we stand confused.

If we are mindful, automatic patterns of behavior become optional.

Vedana begins with contact; generally they arise together; just notice pleasant as pleasant, unpleasant as unpleasant; this is a practice for our daily life.

Neutral Vedana can be invisible; it causes us to go looking for something pleasant, or looking for something unpleasant to fix; “when we don’t pay attention to the neutral, it becomes unpleasant”.

Vedana in this context is the Second Foundation of Mindfulness. The first is the body, and it is essential to notice these experiences happening in the body. The third is our Mind State (“Citta“), which we could describe as our mood. Often the Mind State colors our experience of the Vedana, because pleasant Vedana can become neutral in the environment of unpleasant Citta. Similarly, unpleasant Vedana can be ignored or softened when perceived during pleasant Citta.

Mind states are also created by repeated exposure to Vedana, so lots of unpleasant Feeling tone experiences can lead to unpleasant Mind states, which in turn color our subsequent Feeling tones. This cycle can repeat endlessly.

We hear buzzing around our head and we’re swatting at the mosquito before we even know that we’ve moved our hand. Then when someone asks why we’re swatting the air, we say, “I was annoyed by the mosquito”, but in fact we’ve just made up that story to explain our actions.