Vedana – feeling fully. A term used in Buddhism with a different connotation for feeling than our usual ones. When most of us talk about feeling we’re talking about a full blown emotion or an evolved intuitive outburst. Feeling has everything to do with the story, the happening with which our emotion thus emerged, but vedana is far more primal notion. Very basically, vedana is an initial response to a stimulus. Think of an amoeba in a pertri dish, add a sugar and the organism will move toward it while an acidic stimuli will repel it. I say the word “chocolate” and some of us notice a pleasant feeling that arises. I mention the name of a recent politician who held considerable sway in this country, and some notice a gut like reaction that one associates as unpleasant. This is vedana. Let’s say someone enters a room and immediately there is a negative feeling/vedana. The mind with its associative prowess begins to recount, to associate, and suddenly we are steeped in stories about this person and how he/she reminds you of someone else you don’t like, and you don’t want to interact with them, and off we go – a whole chain of events, in mind and body, from this initial nudge towards aversion. Vedana is being mindful of feeling as feeling. It’s the initial recognition and acknowledgment of what’s occuring. A noticing state. In this state of seeing clearly, this moment of noticing, we may be able to let go of identification or conclusion, and thus interrupt our traverse on the path to full blown desire or aversion. Vedana can allow us a subtle warning before we override our more instinctual natures. So many of us don’t really know what we want or what we feel. How many times have I personally said yes to something I know later on I didn’t want to commit to? How often do we hear people convincing themselves of a reality which we know not to be true? Vedana can be a helpful way of determining what is happening for us on a more primal level, one different from our usual everyday conversation and realities. As we begin to observe this vedana happening, we begin to see that we’re not always just going toward something pleasant and away from something adversive. We see that there is a lot more that is neutral than we may have suspected in the beginning. We tend to miss the neutral feeling because we like extremes, and the neutral sensation, or upekha = equanimity, arises frequently. In this exploration we cultivate a more Teflon type mind. Normally our minds are like that sticky paper we use for a fly trap grasping onto anything that flies by. By working with feeling as feeling we can let things be as they are, and not get stuck.
In asana practice, observe vedana, the places that have pleasant sensation, unpleasant, or neutral. Notice the feeling tone throughout the practice. When you move beyond the initial recognition the sensation and notice you are spinning off on a story line around your pain, your past, your conclusions, with great tenderness and loving-kindness, guide your thoughts back to breath, back to basic sensations, back to the noticing state of presence/sati and see how it is to simple be with what is, rather than your stories or conclusions about what is.
(Thanks to Mary Paffard for excerpts)