Weekly Practice (5 Aggregates: Feeling & Body)

| February 8, 2012 | 17 Comments

By now, in meditation, you may be seeing that focusing on the breath increases concentration, and noticing  whatever arises to interrupt your concentration increases your mindfulness. In other words, meditation is a win-win situation. Either you are practicing and experiencing concentration or you are increasing mindfulness. There is no bad meditation!

We are continuing on that path, as well as noticing impermanence, as we explore what Buddha called the Five Aggregates:

  • Form/Body
  • Feelings/Sensations
  • Perception & Memory
  • Mental Formations
  • Consciousness

Explorations of these aggregates are profound, so we are going to spend a couple of weeks on them. I found  that while you can explore each of these individually, there is logical overlap. So, this week we are going to take the first two, feeling and body.  My previous investigations were startling, fascinating, and absolutely eye-opening. I’m looking forward to exploring these again with you.

What Buddha Said

(The Five Aggregates Study Guide)

“And what is feeling? These six are classes of feeling: feeling born from eye-contact, feeling born from ear-contact, feeling born from nose-contact, feeling born from tongue-contact, feeling born from body-contact, feeling born from intellect-contact. This is called feeling.”

“Now, a feeling of pleasure is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. A feeling of pain is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. A feeling of neither pleasure nor pain is inconstant, fabricated, dependent on conditions, subject to passing away, dissolution, fading, and cessation. Having sensed a feeling of pleasure as ‘my self,’ then with the cessation of one’s very own feeling of pleasure, ‘my self’ has perished. Having sensed a feeling of pain as ‘my self,’ then with the cessation of one’s very own feeling of pain, ‘my self’ has perished. Having sensed a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain as ‘my self,’ then with the cessation of one’s very own feeling of neither pleasure nor pain, ‘my self’ has perished.”

Question What Buddha Said

Feelings arise through our senses as we come in contact with the world. We’ll concentrate this week on the body and feelings. In the paragraphs above, the Buddha is referring to feeling tone. When we experience a feeling, or sensation, its from something in the world coming in contact with one of our senses and is accompanied by a quality of pleasure, displeasure, or neutrality, neither pleasure or pain. In our busy, everyday lives, we tend to react to the feeling tone and take that to be some kind of truth. We either cling to pleasure by wanting it to last longer, or we try to push it away, essentially clinging to it through aversion. Neutral reactions are often ignored, or give rise to boredom, and a search for pleasure.

Let’s explore the nature of feeling tone by concentrating in meditation on the body. Questions to consider while doing so are: Is this sensation or feeling permanent? If the sensation is pleasant, can you detect clinging, a wish for the pleasant feeling to continue? If the feeling is displeasure, is there a feeling of wanting it to go away, an aversion? Can you notice feeling that are without pleasure or pain? What is your reaction? Is there a feeling of “self” of me or mine in your reactions, in the feeling tones of the body? What is the feeling tone of the senses, such as taste, smell, or sound?

Sitting meditation:

  • Once seated and comfortable, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe in and out naturally. Follow the breath in and out. Allow your attention to notice the body as you breath in and out.
  • This week instead of keeping your concentration on your breath, move your attention to the top of your head, slowing moving it down your body, noticing as you go what the feeling tone for each body part is. Don’t forget the feeling tone in your mouth, nose, throat, etc!
  • Is the feeling tone at the top of your head pleasant, unpleasant, neutral? Is there a feeling of me or mine? Is your head YOU?
  • Pay special attention to feeling tones of pleasure or pain, displeasure. Let your concentration to settle there? Do you find you want to move your attention away from displeasure or pain? If you keep your attention on that area, what changes occur? What is the feeling of me, or my displeasure? Is this permanent?
  • Continue moving your attention up and down the body, noticing how feeling tone may change over time, asking is this body part ME? Is this feeling tone impermanent?
  • What happens to any feelings of clinging or aversion when you simply keep your attention on it? Does pleasure turn to one of neutrality? Or do you continue to linger on the pleasure?
  • Are feeling tones you? Does emotion arise with sharp pain, discomfort, or physical pleasure?
  • Notice feelings of me, or mine concerning the body. What body parts are permanent? What parts of your body define who you are? Can any of them be said to be YOU? If you lost an arm or a leg would you still be you?
  • If sounds arise, notice if they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? If sounds persists, does the feeling tone change?
  • How has your body feeling tone changed from the beginning of the meditation to the end?
  • Whenever your attention veers off the above, simply notice what distracted you and return to your body examination, the feeling tones that you can notice.
  • When you come across neutral feeling tones, how long can you keep your attention there? What do you notice about neutrality?

Moving Meditation

  • Moving meditation can be done through walking, yoga, tai chi, or simply moving your body in a designated, safe area.
  • Bring your awareness to the top of your head and bring it slowly down to your neck, shoulders, arms, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Notice any sensations, lack of sensations, etc. Take your time doing this.
  • Begin your movements in your preferred form. Pay attention to how each  muscle feels as you move. Notice your breath, in and out. Keep your movements small and deliberate, your attention on your body, as you move your arms or legs. Notice how muscles contract and release. Is there tension in your body anywhere? Can you relax the muscles you are not using?
  • Now, keeping your attention on your body, notice the feeling tone in your feet. Is there pleasure, discomfort, or do they feel neutral?
  • What are the feeling tones in your mouth, throat, sounds you may hear?
  • Move your attention up your legs, to your torso, checking every part’s feeling tone. Are these body parts yours? Is there a feeling of mine, or me?
  • Do you have complete control over every body part, every movement? Does your body define who you are?
  • How does the feeling tone of each body change as you go through your movements? Do you feel aversion to discomfort? Is there frustration?
  • When movements are sure and fluid, do you have a feeling of, I’m doing this well? Is there a feeling of me and of success?
  • If your movements are unsure or unbalanced, is there a feeling of I’m not doing this right? Feelings of me?
  • Which of your body parts are permanent and unchanging? Is your body who you you are? If it changes, will you still be you?
  • Do feeling of aversion or clinging arise with certain movements or body positions?
  • If your mind wanders off of feeling tones, simply note what took your observations away, then return to a body part with strong feeling tone, and repeat the above.
  • If sounds or aroma’s arise, what is the feeling tone of those?

Bringing Meditation into Daily Living

Throughout the day be mindful of when you feel pleasure, displeasure, or neutrality in the body. Stop every now and then, and do a body scan, noticing the feeling tone in various body parts. Are there also feelings of me or mine? Are any of these feeling tones permanent? Do you cling to feelings of pleasure? Do they ever become neutral? Do you tend to ignore feelings of neutrality? How mindful are you of your body as you go through your day? Can you put your full concentration on your body as you walk from one place to another, noticing your movements? When you pay attention to your body, do you notice feeling tones? Do you have emotional reactions to new aches and pains?

What are the feelings tones for what you see? What are the feeling tones for what you taste, what you smell? How do feeling tones change simply by paying attention to them?

Notice throughout the day when feelings of aversion or the desire to cling to pleasure arise. What happens when you feel aversion? What happens when you cling to pleasure? Can you see the impermanence of both of these? If you can, what do you notice?

Are any feeling tones that come from sight, smell, touch, the body itself permanent? Which of these do you tend to want to make last, to feel aversion to? How does seeing them for what they are change your perceptions of them?

Meditate daily and then explore your daily experience with the questions above. I’ll be interested in reading about your explorations, and what you discover!
See All Weekly Practice Exercises

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Category: Weekly Practice

Dana Nourie

About the Author ()

Dana is Technical Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. She learned Buddhism through a DVD course on Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, followed by a two-year course in person. She then studied Theravada Buddhism through the Insight Meditation South Bay with teacher Shaila Catherine. She has been a practitioner now for over a decade. Dana has been working in the internet industry since 1992, has held the positions of web developer, technical writer, and online community manager. She is a geek girl with a passion for science and computing.

Comments (17)

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  1. Staying in the Body and Out of the Mind » Secular Buddhist Association | August 5, 2012
  1. Jenni T. says:

    Hello Dana and Virtual Sangha. I’m a newbie here to the group and the site, although I have been listening to the podcasts for a few months now. I recently took a 5-day silent meditation retreat, and it has really sparked my enthusiasm for daily practice. So I was very excited to find your weekly practice here, and have even made it my homepage to help me stay on track!

    I have read back to the recent weeks practices and find that impermanence is something I have been focusing on since my retreat. I will continue with the focus on body and feeling sensations. Looking forward to sharing and learning together.

  2. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Welcome, Jenni! So glad we could be of help. I’m enjoying exploring these various areas again myself, and enjoy reading everyone’s experiences as they post them.

    You’re welcome, Ica473!

  3. PopeEggsBenedict says:

    I’ve found this week quite challenging. The things I have noticed are that it is far easier to maintain concentration on feelings of pleasure/comfort and displeasure/discomfort than on areas that feel neutral i.e. it appears that my understanding of the world is defined in these terms, into categories of things that I want more of and want less of.

    The challenging aspect of this is that I often find I get a sore back when meditating (a frequent ‘hindrance’), and I find it quite hard to rest my attention on this whilst overcoming the instinct to adjust my posture i.e. my aversion appears quite powerful!

    Thanks as always for this week!

  4. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Excellent observations, PopeEggsBenedict. LOL, that name is so funny.

    Anyway, yes, we tend to veer towards pleasure and aversion. In your daily experience, see if you can be more mindful of neutrality. Notice it more, observe it. Also, observe if aversion can change to one of neutrality and if pleasure ever changes to aversion or neutrality?

    A good one to dig into as well is where does this feeling tone come from? Is it a mental or emotional reaction? Is it a judgement? Can we be mindful without attaching a feeling tone?

    • PopeEggsBenedict says:

      I think I remember John Peacock describing ‘neutrality’ in this context, although I can’t remember exactly what he said now… Are we talking about simply the absence of attachment and aversion, or is there more to it?

  5. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Neutrality is rarely an area where we have attachment, so it’s important to take notice of it and how that feels.

    With areas where we experience pleasure, we often have attachment. We judge it as good, something to hold on to. But is this really true? If you look deeply at pleasure, you of course notice the enjoyment, but underlying can be feelings of fear that it’s going to end, can be clinging for more, can be craving, etc., can be a powerful feeling of self. So pleasure can actually mask underlying suffering.

    The same is true for unpleasant feelings. It’s easier to see the suffering here, but without realizing it, if you look closely, we may be holding onto the suffering through aversion, a mental attitude of “This is terrible. I hate this! Why me?” In our mental attitude towards the unpleasant, we actually cling through aversion, and thereby create more suffering.

    So, when you come across something neutral, it’s likely that there isn’t aversion or desire, so it’s easy to move away from it. We tend to chase after pleasure or pain!

    This is why its so important to keep exploring feeling tone in your meditation and your daily experience. At first, you just notice whether something is pleasant or unpleasant, and now and then something that is neutral. But over time, on closer examination, you’ll see what lies underneath, how we cling or push away, and how we ignore the best example of non-attachment, neutrality!

    Keep digging!

  6. PopeEggsBenedict says:

    I guess by ‘feeling tone’ we’re talking about our physical response to our experience, right? Something that occured to me this morning is that our old pal The Breath can be a good route to ‘tuning in’ to this, in that I can detect subtle shifts in my response to different stages of the breath. On breathing out there is a subtle relief and a feeling of release; on reaching the end of the breath there is a subtle alarm (maybe that is too strong a word, it is very subtle) at no longer having oxygen in my lungs; on breathing in there is a subtle feeling of exertion; and then on breathing out there is a sense of release again.

  7. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Yes, yes, excellent observations! Feeling tone is our response, and it can change. While at first a sound may be unpleasant, when you see that is simply your reaction, it can become neutral.

  8. lca473 says:

    I love reading your observations PopeEggsBenedict. They are very insightful. I keep reading your comments and thinking “yes, yes, that’s exactly what I felt”

  9. yaohong says:

    Thank you very much for posing the observation of ‘feeling’ under the 5 aggregates as I have been lost track on the ‘feeling’ in meditation for years.

  10. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Feeling is traditionally a simple reference: positive, neutral, or negative. We often conflate feeling with emotion, but it’s really just intended as a reminder to dig deeper, before that level of proliferation, to the very first sense one has at its most basic level.

  11. yaohong says:

    True, feeling can be mixed up with emotion. I have come across my seniors who have mistakened the neutral feeling as ‘buddha nature’.

  12. Derl Derl says:

    Hello everyone and thank you Dana for developing these weekly practices. I’m a late comer. Thought I would leave some observations regarding this meditation. In observing “feeling tone” I’m really appreciating meditation. A normal routine for me in the morning is an hour run, a few minutes on the climbing wall, yoga, then meditation. With a focus on contemplating impermanence and mindfulness (arising, persisting, subsiding) I’m able to experience and “see truth” to the ideas in all the activities and while meditating. Observing feeling tone and how a focus on something perceived positive/negative may change it is more difficult and elusive. My mind wants to jump….”Hey, something negative, I mean neutral, I mean….focus….” I have to slow things way down, including the breath, to begin to observe, and not judge the process. I have noticed, when I do this, the small fidgeting (slight contractions in the back muscles, moving the eyes, etc.) seem to stop. Seeing the impermanence in, for example, the pain in my big toe, seems to shift the perception from negative to neutral. Then, comes the small realization that neutrality releases the aversion to it. A positive, without being a positive. Tricky!

  13. Dana Nourie Dana Nourie says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Derl. It’s always helpful to others to read or hear how we each move through these experiences. It’s wonderful to discover neutrality.

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