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Feeling Tone (Vedanā)


With a quiet acknowledgment of the November morning unfolding outside my window, the crisp air carries the essence of autumn. I find myself sitting in stillness, embracing the practice of mindfulness of Vedanā. As I settle on my meditation cushion, I turn my attention inward, tuning into the subtle feeling tones that accompany the early moments of wakefulness. The cool touch of the cushion against my legs, the warmth of the tea in my hands—these sensations unfold as a canvas of pleasant and neutral feelings. The gentle rustle of leaves outside creates a backdrop for my practice, and with each breath, I observe the ever-changing interplay of sensations.

The Satipatthana Sutta articulates the Buddha’s guidance on mindfulness…

“And how does a monk remain focused on feelings in & of themselves? There is the case where a monk, when feeling a painful feeling, discerns, ‘I am feeling a painful feeling.’ When feeling a pleasant feeling, he discerns, ‘I am feeling a pleasant feeling.’ When feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he discerns, ‘I am feeling a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling.’”

(Majjhima Nikaya 10.10)

This sutta illustrates the precision with which practitioners are encouraged to observe and discern the nature of feeling tones. The deliberate awareness of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral feelings is not a passive engagement but a profound act of understanding one’s experiential landscape.

Mindfulness of feeling tones, when integrated into daily practice, becomes a vehicle for liberating insight. Through sustained attention to the ever-changing currents of feelings, practitioners develop a profound understanding of impermanence and the nature of craving and aversion. Daily contemplation allows individuals to witness the arising and passing of feelings, cultivating an awareness that transcends habitual reactivity.

Liberating insight unfolds as practitioners recognize the inherently transient and unsatisfactory nature of feelings. The liberative potential lies in the realization that the pleasure or pain associated with feelings is not inherent in the sensations themselves but is a product of the mind’s interpretation. This insight, born of meticulous mindfulness, disrupts the habitual tendency to grasp onto pleasurable feelings and resist or recoil from painful ones.

The Satipatthana Sutta guides practitioners to observe feeling tones with precision and discernment, laying the foundation for liberating insight. Through dedicated daily practice, individuals cultivate an awareness that transcends the conditioned responses to pleasure and pain, paving the way for a profound understanding of the impermanence of feelings and the cessation of craving and aversion.

November, to me, embodies the spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude because in some ways we can see more clearly the impermanence all around us. Mindfulness is not about grand gestures but, rather, about finding gratitude in the ordinary cadence of life and recognizing the messengers of change—vedanā.

Johnathan Woodside blog
Johnathan Woodside

Johnathan is an Insight Meditation teacher offering Dharma instruction rooted in the Theravada tradition of ethics, concentration and wisdom.

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