Take a moment to notice how you feel, the effects of your day so far: what you thought, what you felt, what you’ve heard and seen, the feelings of the body.
Take a moment to simply attend, to look at them, to feel and notice them.
Are you excited? Bored? Warm? Cool? Depressed? Inspired? Full of mixed feelings? Whatever it might be, notice that right now it’s like this. The body feels like this. The mind feels like this. Then let the body settle and the spine straighten. Invite the body to sit in an energized, upright way. Allow the spine to grow to its full natural extension.
Let the body settle and then centre the attention once more upon the breathing. Allow the attention to settle on the feeling of the breath. Use that rhythm, that pattern of feeling, as a centre point, a focal point for attention. When the mind wanders, follow it back; come back to the central point, the simplicity of this moment.
When you feel the mind is settled and there’s a quality of poise and some ease, deliberately bring to mind a memory of some encounter, some occasion when you were blamed, threatened, misunderstood. You can choose your own least favourite encounter if you wish. Bring to mind the memory of an occasion that has that type of emotional charge to it. Try not to go into a big story, but just bring the attention back to that event, that exchange, that engagement. Bring it to mind. Let that emotion be triggered, fully born into your consciousness.
As the memory of that emotion, when you were attacked, threatened or criticized is triggered, see if you can find it in the body. What’s the physical counterpart to that emotion? Where do you feel that?
If you’re able to find such a feeling, in the belly, the throat, the shoulders, wherever it might be, bring the attention to that feeling. Let the attention settle there, hold that feeling as fully as you can in awareness. Don’t try to get rid of it, change it, buy into it or push it away. Know the feeling – that it’s like this.
As you let the feeling be fully known, bringing awareness to it, then with the rhythm of the breath let yourself relax your attitude toward that feeling, let go of it, particularly using the out-breath to help carry it away. So the feeling is naturally eroding, it’s washing through you, not by trying to ‘get rid of’ it, but just like the waves of the sea slowly washing away a sandcastle, lapping in with each breath, washing around that feeling and slowly carrying it away, back to the ocean.
Let the attention rest with that feeling in the body. If the mind gets lost in stories, replaying dialogues, getting verbal about all the ‘this and thats’, again let the out-breath carry that away and come back to that feeling: the tightness in the belly, the tension in the shoulder, wherever you might feel it. Very consciously leave the words aside. Keep the attention with the simplicity, the directness of the physical feeling; stay with that, being open, patient, relaxed with it, letting it slowly, gently fade away, however long it takes. Stay with it.
Keep letting the out-breath have its effects, gently, steadily supporting the quality of release, relinquishment, relaxation. Stay with this until the body is fully relaxed, until you’ve completely let go of that sensation, that emotion, its effects washed utterly away. Once it’s gone, sustain the attention on that absence. How does it feel with that tension gone, the body in a state of ease, relaxation?
We’ve watched that mood, that emotion born from nothing, born from the arousal of a memory, burst into being, rise up, flower and fade away; the flowers bloom and fade, the fruits fall, the leaves drop, sink back into the earth, and then it’s all gone. It comes out of nothing and returns to nothing.
We’ve watched that whole cycle of experience come into being, do its thing and fade away. And, throughout the whole process there’s been this quality of knowing, caring, careful attention, and noticing, feeling this quality of spaciousness.
In the open space of the mind we can once again invite that same cycle of feeling, bring up another occasion or the same one, the same memory of when we were threatened or hurt. Again, keep it as non-conceptual, as non-verbal as possible. Just remember: ‘That day, that letter, that conversation’; you don’t need any more of a trigger than that. You know all the details already. And then let the whole process run again, bringing that to mind and immediately going to the feeling in the body: fear, self-defensiveness, insecurity, whatever it might be. Notice where you feel it. Train the mind to stay with it in its simplicity. Feel it, know it and be with it throughout its cycle.
Sometimes the cycle of feeling can go through its turnings very swiftly. A thought gets triggered and there’s a rush of emotion: ‘They all hate me!’ And then there’s recognition: ‘Stop! Look! Feel that one!’
And in a couple of breaths it’s gone. Completely finished.
See how this pattern works, become familiar with it and learn the skill of non-entanglement, not clinging, letting go, releasing.
This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is from ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’, page 27.