This month we will be exploring the 7th link in the cycle of dependent origination – Feeling Tones. Feeling tones are not emotions. They are mental evaluations or tags applied by the mind to experience. They can be random and not necessarily related to the experience. They are of the mind but are experienced in the body as pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant (more commonly referred to as neutral).
Most of us are used to practicing with feeling tones as the 2nd foundation of mindfulness. Within dependent origination, I think of them as what glues consciousness, name/form, six senses, and contact together. This is what bolsters our identification with experience.
I’ve come to a weird relationship with feeling tones. I believe feeling tones are what allow human life to be engaging and seem real. We don’t want to just go through the motions of living. We want to feel alive. We want our life to be inspiring and even complex. We want this from a mind that basically exists in habit. Can you see the problem?
Dependent origination shows us that what we actually get from a mind designed for habit is simply experiences of the memory of a previous feeling. We then replay these memories over and over again every time we experience anything the mind can associate with the feeling no matter how remote. The more glued we are to the feeling tone, the more habitually we act.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The trick is to not get identified with or caught up in the feeling tone itself. When we can see the tone as just an aspect of experience which may or may not be an accurate expression, we can experience the genuine mystery and aliveness of life. I believe this is why we have profound experiences on retreat, even with something as simple as walking to the dinning hall, drinking tea, watching a row of ants walk across the path.
This month we want to watch how tied we are to our feeling tones. Do we automatically push away or avoid anything unpleasant. Do we grab or hold on to the pleasant and ignorance anything neutral. Can you even consider feeling tones as mental judgments? What would it take to begin to question what it would take to allow a feeling tone to exist with needing to respond to it or change the circumstances? We’ll talk about all this and more, as we attempt to unstick ourselves from yet another link on this cycle of samara.