• nigelwellings

I Can’t Work This Out

Here's the thing. In an earlier blog I tried to work out the relationship of a felt-sense (by which I mean the simpler definition of emotions felt within the body) to the Buddhist concept of the process of the five aggregates, the skandhas.

Being able to be in touch with our felt sense has become progressively more important as both psychotherapists and Buddhist teachers recognise that it is the means to be present with what we are feeling in a way that is neither too distant and cut off nor too identified, effectively swallowed up by our emotions. ‘Experience near’ as the psychologist John Welwood says. Since the coining of the term ‘felt sense’ by Eugene Gendlen in the 1970’s it has been repackaged many times and different words found for it such as interoception and proprioception - my own teacher, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, calls being present with the felt-sense the ‘hand shake practice’. Holding warmly and non-judgementally within awareness the emotions we find arising within us.

On the other side we have the five aggregates, the psycho-physical process that receives and processes sense stimuli. A process that the historical Buddha recognised via the insight of his own meditation. The five are:

1. rupa - the physical body (including the senses)

2. vedana - sensation (of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral)

3. samjna - discrimination (identifying what is sensed)

4. samskara - mental formations (reactions to sensations)

5. vijnana - consciousness (that which knows each sensation)

The Buddha’s view on these five was that they constitute the sum of who we are - and here comes the rub - beyond these there is nothing else. No real or true self lurking in the background.

In my earlier blog, Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta 3. Feeling - which I have just re-read - I get myself into a lot of knots trying to workout where the felt-sense fits in with all this. Is it the same as feeling, vedana? Well, no because it is more complex. Is it then a combination of the first four with the fifth, consciousness, as the observer? Well, perhaps because the process of sensing something, identifying what it is and then reacting to this identification is as much emotional as it is cognitive - in fact undoubtedly more so - and all this can be and is felt within the body - the felt-sense.

Could it be then that the problem is that I am trying to reconcile two different systems and as is often the case, the terms they use are not strict equivalents… and does any of this hold water?

NW. 31.12.21

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