The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Contemplation of Feeling

The Discourse on the Establishing of Mindfulness includes four elements of practice focused on the body, feeling states, consciousness, and mental objects.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Contemplation of the Body – Being mindful of the breath in the body
  2. Contemplation of Feeling – Being mindful of feelings arising
  3.  Contemplation of Consciousness – Being mindful of thoughts arising
  4. Contemplation of Mental Objects – Being mindful of the present quality of mind

Contemplation of Feeling

This week we will focus on Contemplation of Feeling. The foremost task with Contemplation of Feeling is to ask, “How do I feel?”  

Practice becoming mindful of the nature of your feelings. You may ask if the feeling you are experiencing is pleasant, painful, or neutral as you notice where you fall on a spectrum of feeling. When our feeling state is pleasant, there is often a desire to grasp or hold onto this state. Likewise, when our feeling state is painful, it is common for us to push it away or react with irritation. As you practice mindfulness of feeling, notice your reactions, and cultivate a stance of acceptance and investigation. Become aware of the impermanence of your feeling states and observe as they rise and fall.

In contrast to pleasant or painful feelings, neutral feeling states often go unrecognized, leaving us in a place of not knowing or recognizing much feeling at all. Skipping over a neutral feeling state can leave an open space for thoughts or ideas about how we should or should not be feeling, what we should or should not be doing, or other worries. When faced with a neutral feeling or somewhat unexciting experience, there is often a tendency to shift toward something else in search of distraction. Struggling to simply be present with neutral feelings may also lead to a dramatization of whatever is happening as we become judgmental or critical. The tendency to escape or possibly seek more excitement to reduce boredom can result in a vast array of biased perceptions and unbalanced reactions.  

Practice remaining mindful and being present with neutral feeling states. Taking note of a neutral feeling helps us to connect with our true feeling state in the present moment and can be helpful in reducing a dualistic or a black-and-white approach to our feelings.  

Mindfulness of feeling may also allow us to catch what is happening in our mind before it spirals out of control or leads to other unhelpful reactions. In a similar way, we can recognize cravings and gain distance from impulsive reactions by learning to pause and be mindful of the potential impact of our actions.  

Notice your feeling states as they rise and fall or come and go, shifting along the spectrum of feeling. Likewise, notice any type of feeling that arises as you navigate various sights and sounds throughout the day. One useful practice is to notice and label the feeling tone in various situations or environments. What is the feeling tone on a sunny or rainy day, during a presentation or meeting, when handling a conflict, when waiting in a line, or when sitting in your living room?  

In all these ways, we can bring mindfulness to feeling and practice recognizing the affective tone of our present-moment experience. Tuning into our feeling states in this way can provide an effective means for staying grounded in whatever circumstance are before us. As we practice mindfulness of feeling we can begin to replace automatic reactions with the knowledge of clear recognition.

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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