The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Mindfulness of Feeling (2/4)

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Our second foundation is mindfulness of feeling and is closely related to our first foundation, mindfulness of body. It can be helpful to incorporate the body into each foundation as a means of stabilizing ourselves in present moment awareness. For mindfulness of feeling we bring our attention to how feelings arise as sensations in the body; noticing the emotional energetic texture of what is arising.

Where as in mindfulness of body we distinguished between the direct experience of body sensation and the concept of the sensation, in mindfulness of feeling we distinguish between the sensation of emotional texture in the body (feeling) and the story line we have about our experience.

Say we explore the feeling of loving care toward someone. We can bring to mind anyone for whom love easily arises, such as a family member, our significant other or our child. It could be our pet if that brings warm affection. You can imagine this person in a memory or imagining them in front of you, noticing your love for them and perhaps their love for you. What arises in the body? Perhaps warmth in the heart area, a sense of openness or ease, tenderness. Maybe no strong sensation arises and that is ok too. We can bring our mind to how the body feels as it is without preconceptions of how we “should feel”.

We can also explore a difficult situation in which anger or frustration arises. Bringing to mind someone whom you find difficult or have had a disagreement with in the past. This doesn’t need to be someone who brings an immense reaction, it could be someone who just brings up some frustration. What comes up in the body for you? Is there a part of the body that feels particularly alive right now? Does the feeling have a color? Texture? Shape? As we practice (of facilitate) it’s important that each individual decides for themselves whether to “lean in” to a given practice or take a break when things feel too difficult to work with. This choice is always available. When facilitating in a professional development for music teachers one participant described her anger saying “my chest is tight and my stomach feels like tumbling molten rocks.” Talk about emotional texture!

This practice can be a familiar experience while also being different than how we ordinarily relate to emotions – particularly difficult ones. Someone may make an offhanded comment about us and we’re off! We’re caught spinning in our mental web. We’ve taken the bait and now we’re hooked. We create all sorts of justified ideas about that person; we create a negative label and force their entire complex personality into this one small box. We could even ruminate on blaming them for the rest of the day! The moment is gone but our stories keep spinning. And the next time we see them we’ve built up so much toxic ammunition ready we don’t really experience the moment we’re in – just our personal projections and desire to defeat the enemy outside. But there is no end to outside enemies if we don’t defeat our inner enemy – these unprocessed, afflicted emotions. We don’t need to be hooked so often. When we stabilize our ability to feel our feelings, we build emotional resilience. A space emerges in feeling the pain the other person has caused with the comment. You learn. You process. You may begin a sane dialogue with that person, or at the very least know more how to work with the difficult situations that come up with them.

In this way of relating to our feelings we see them as they are: strong sensations that come, stay for some time, and dissipate into another experience. In this way there are no feelings that are unwelcome. We can learn to ride the wave of emotions as they arrive. In this way we can better process difficult experiences, we can live in deep connection with how we feel and the vividness of our world, and we can experience our world with genuine, natural wakefulness.

How do we apply this in our music classroom?

Please feel encouraged to comment on how we can apply this foundation into the classroom settings. An example: This is particularly suited to SEL practices in expanding student’s emotional vocabulary.

First it can be good to begin with mindfulness of body – feeling the sensation of our feet against the ground, a gentle reminder to notice the room we’re in and acknowledge the present moment we’re in.

Putting on a recording whether a piece the group is working on or a piece you feel would be most appropriate to explore. A song from a children’s movie can be good for this as well to elicit feelings readily (for little ones, and in many cases high schoolers too!) The directions are to, while listening, name 1-3 emotions that came up during the piece. Which part of the piece was is it? Does this feeling have a sensation in the body? A color? A texture? A shape? Is there a different word now that can better describe this feeling? Has the feeling changed after exploring it in this way? These questions are things we could incorporate into the flow of a conversation or a written sheet depending on what is most suitable for the class.