When you develop a “gentle attitude” toward your sensory experiences, you eliminate suffering.Let me give you an example:
Let’s say you are running a long race and at some point a deep part of you is ready to give up. Your original intention was to finish, maybe even win, and objectively speaking, your body is still at least some what capable of running, but subjectively, you want to quit. In this case, what were the specific sensory components responsible for the perception “I give up”? Well, for one thing, there are physical sensations in your body that will go away if you stop.
How many distinct “flavors” of physical-type sensations would there be? For this example, let’s say there are three.
- Sharp muscle pain due to lactic acid build-up
(This sensation is centered in your legs);
- Being winded when your body needs more oxygen
(This sensation is in your chest);
- 3. Weakness, exhaustion, discomfort due to tiredness
(This sensation is uniformly distributed over your whole body).
Furthermore, the physical discomfort and the mental talk may each trigger emotional-type sensations in your body that are also uncomfortable. You might feel some fear or impatience, “poor me,” self-pity. There might be some flavor of pleasant feeling when you imagine your self resting and drinking lemonade.
So, in this example, the sensory components that create the perception “I have to quit now” are at least nine in number. If you are practicing meditation you will be able to separate each sensory component. You will be able to note:
1-3. the 3 different sensations in the body;These sensory components can accumulate on top of each other to a level that becomes unbearable and cause you to quit the race.
4-6. the 3 distinct emotional discomforts in your body;
7. the subtle emotional pleasure in your body;
8. your Visual thoughts;
9. and your Auditory thoughts.
With practice, meditation gives you the skill to experience each sensation separately without fixation or suppression like little waves that you can ride out instead of a giant Tsunami that crushes you.This is the “gentle attitude” you develop toward your sensory experience.
The practice of meditation trains you to track the components of your sensory experience as they arise moment-by-moment and not allow them to overwhelm you. You develop the skill to go “through” the experience and stay true to your intention, not be pulled “into” the sensations, lose your focus or act on the new sensations.
The physical discomforts in your body, the emotional discomforts in your body and the images and conversations in your brain are less disturbing. They bother you less the more skilled you become; you will suffer less going through them.
Can you imagine the benefit of that skill? How many times did you “lose it” and do something you regret later because you were angry or fearful? How often do you shout at your kids or get emotional with a colleague? Think how much more fulfilled you will feel if you stick to your intentions and are able to complete any thing you choose without being pulled away from it. By practicing meditation, you will deeply understand your inner world and by extension your outer world.
The more aware you are, the more you can let go of old negative behaviors and acquire new, positive behaviors. At any given moment, the force that drives us to do negative behaviors and prevents us from using (or engaging) positive behaviors can only come up as: Physical discomfort, Emotional discomfort, Physical pleasure, Emotional pleasure, Mental images and Internal talk that distract us from the task at hand. By becoming aware of those sensory components you are able to go though the experience with more ease. You can observe things as they are, without adding your own interpretation – good or bad.
The more you practice and master this meditation skill, the more you can dramatically reduce or completely eliminate suffering due to physical or emotional discomfort, even when the discomfort itself cannot be eliminated.