Mind Training Over Our Impulses
Mindful awareness of our impulses is a very important pathway to improved emotion regulation and, perhaps, more happiness in life. It can be unusually helpful to people suffering from anxiety, depression, and substance misuse. Vedana refers to the feeling tone in our body. It is one of the foundations of mindfulness in Buddhist Psychology and traditional practice. Through sense-door experiences, the mind evaluates personal experience in the body as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant; virtually all human experiences fit into these categories. When we evaluate personal experiences as unpleasant, we tend to act more impulsively to escape from the painful feeling tone or to quickly improve it. We tell ourselves stories about “how bad it is” as we immediately work to reduce the psychic suffering. This is where so many common human problems are born; this is where we may begin habitual behaviors around eating, consuming, angering, isolating, acting out, acting in, using mind-altering substances, and greediness, etc. There are ways to reduce this kind of mindbody stuckness and misery.
With strong application of mindfulness, we can train ourselves to simply label the experience as a short-term pain or suffering. We can practice radical acceptance and wait it out without emotional and behavioral impulsive actions. Simply practice labeling negative feeling tones with words like “temporary unpleasantness.” External and internal stimuli can be calmed by labeling without storylines and escapist behaviors. You do need to conserve a bit of tolerance for the unpleasantness; as you cope better and wait out the feeling tones, you will become more skilled in coping with them. From maintaining a quality of relaxed awareness – even in the chaos of chaos – simply ask: “What is this feeling?” What is this that I am feeling? Without strong conscious evaluation, just note it as a temporary experience of living. Pain and suffering cannot beat out the reality of impermanence. Stop your storyline; stop going into the past and future; stop judging as good or bad. Simply BE fully with your feeling tone, pause, and know it will pass without you having to avoid or self-medicare it. As Rolo May and B. F. Skinner have suggested – we increase personal freedom with the skill of pausing between stimulus and reaction. Become more liberated by practicing your PAUSE, then label in a neutral manner – just wait it out. No need to avoid or to self-medicate the unpleasant feeling. This is our best HOPE to master choiceless awareness, especially when it leads to unpleasant feeling tones. Simply pause and label: “I am feeling unpleasantness in my body.” This too will pass. Try NOT to be more specific, since doing so may lead to stories and avoidance behaviors (negative reinforcement). Negative reinforcement by way of quick relief from suffering WILL cause unhealthy habits to form. The more you avoid or self-medicate painful feelings, the stronger the habit will become. This is a path to powerlessness NOT liberation. Just pause and label “I am feeling unpleasantness.” WAIT! Get stronger is your tolerance. Become a more satisfied and happier person. Just keep labeling without actions.
If you become overwhelmed with your unpleasant feeling tone, you may also want to practice loving kindness meditation as part of your training. In this case you might say the following: “May I pause. May I be free from suffering. May I be well. May I become stronger. May I liberate my mind from fear and reaction. May I be happy.” Good luck on your personal path toward liberation.
For more information refer to King, R. (March 17, 2017). Notes on – Ungripping Heart and Mind – Intimacy with Impulses. Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org on March 27, 2017.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness