Should we focus on an unpleasant feeling or on that which experiences it? Francis Answers - 85

Francis Lucille

Dear Francis, In meditation often a strong uncomfortable feeling such as fear, sorrow, anguish, etc. arises. When this occurs, if the feeling can be approached without thought, the result usually is bodily shaking and spasms for a couple of minutes, after which arises comfortable feelings of oneness and peace. Sometimes rather than “diving” into the uncomfortable feeling, the question is asked, “Who is it that is experiencing this feeling?” Focusing awareness on “that which experiences” rather than the uncomfortable feeling may also sometimes be followed by feelings of oneness and peace, (though this happens less often and any feelings of oneness and peace feel less “direct”). Is either approach better? The former seems more “effective” and the latter sometimes feels tinged with suppression. While I certainly appreciate the dissipation of “uncomfortable” feelings and the experience of “comfortable” feelings, my motivation is cultivation of wisdom and facility for opening into the truth. Any suggestions? Much thanks, George

Dear George,

The fact that you have two different options indicates that in both cases you are doing something. What is the goal of those practices? Is it not to get rid of the discomfort the feeling generates? and if so, could we call such a practice “welcoming”? in the former case you focus onto the feeling in order not to feel it anymore and in the latter you focus onto something else in order perhaps to escape the feeling.

True welcoming, which I recommend in your case, simply welcomes the feeling with benevolent indifference, and everything else that arises in the field of awareness. Awareness itself is this nonjudgmental, unfocused, goal-less welcoming. You simply revert to the natural functioning of awareness, without focusing on the unpleasant feeling, nor on the “I am” concept or feeling. It allows for the feeling to tell the rest of its story, providing the time and space it requires to do so. In this contemplation, you really take your stand as impersonal presence.

If my suggestion seems difficult to follow, I would recommend as a second choice the former of the two approaches you described, provided your investigation into the nature of self is not confined to the realm of thoughts or to the realm of body sensations but has an unlimited scope instead and is conducted with the intention to truly find out the living answer to the question “what am I?”, not to eliminate the unpleasant feeling. This approach will eventually lead to the one I recommend.