As I sit to write this I can feel the cool touch of the keyboard on my palms, the morning sun is playing patterns outside the window and across the floor, one of the neighbour’s chickens is clucking, a cell phone begins chirping like a cricket, my daughter’s foot taps the coffee table while she looks at a book on the couch, I feel the pulse of a little kink in my back, a subtle achy feeling in my shoulder, warmth in my belly, a thought about teaching tomorrow awakens a little flutter of anticipation in my chest.
As human beings we can not rely on feeling anything in particular, but we can rely on feeling. Attending to whatever is occurring in our experience, feeling our humanity, is the second aspect of practice.
Feeling is being with ourselves fully, allowing our present experience to blossom or fade as it will. The texture of life in this moment is a gateway to our human goodness. It is a way home from the mindless wandering of habitual distraction and fantasy.
In every moment of our lives we have experience arising, including pleasure and pain, sweet and sour, happy and sad, ease and irritation. Within each ordinary experience and perception, like the kernel within the chaff of discursiveness, is the open, perceptive aspect of our being. It is our ability to be touched by the world. It is slightly soft, tender and romantic–like a lonesome flute. It has a quality of natural trust and fearlessness– it is open to reality as it is.
Feeling our experience is a natural practice of mindfulness, which is sometimes described as bare attention. Feeling is coming into the present moment. Again and again, in the midst of any activity, we bring our attention to our feelings and perceptions. However, as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche writes, mindfulness “is more than just paying attention; it is a feeling of deeply caring about our mind, and therefore who we are–not with self-centeredness, but with kindness and love. In Shambhala one meditates like a mother or father watching a child.”
This approach to mindfulness may differ from some of those in practice today. Feeling involves becoming more intimate with our experience. Often mindfulness is associated with distance, observation, silencing, and detachment. For example,
Contemplative practice is also commonly described as enabling a type of detachment from the contents of our consciousness, the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that flow though our minds. Several approaches instruct the practitioner to avoid reactive attachment by just being mindful of whatever thoughts or feelings emerge. This allows us to observe the contents of our consciousness rather than simply being absorbed by them. Such arms-length distance allows us to recognize and therefore potentially interrupt usual patterns of thinking and impulsivity, freeing the mind to notice unexpected insights. For example, instead of just seething with anger, the contemplative mind may allow a little more space between the anger and us. (from Opening the Contemplative Mind in the Classroom, by Tobin Hart)
The difference here may be primarily semantic. On the other hand, there may be an important difference in practice. For many, mindfulness definitely involves creating distance from mind’s activity. This is natural, as most people are drawn to meditation based on feeling aggravated by their mind’s speed, and tired of the drama of their habitual reactions. Recognizing patterns and learning how to unhook ourselves from thoughts, fantasies and emotions is essential. But if we set up a division in our being between our quiet, contemplative selves and our discursive, emotional selves, we end up with a deeper struggle. This dichotomy can also extrapolate into our experience of daily life.
The Shambhala approach presents a subtle shift based on greater trust and care. Trust means that each element of our experience is basically good. Care is guarding from mindlessness and fragmentation. When we feel what is arising we are immersed in it. Rather than being lost in our mental commentary, we go to a deeper aspect of our experience. And we may discover that even anger, in its essence, is seething with goodness, moving and transforming like clouds, playing around the sun of worthiness.