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One of the more common questions I get from my clients and students is how to deal with unpleasant emotions and mind states as they arise in meditation and throughout the day. It’s a big question with many right answers. And the answers differ, depending on the context and the client’s meditation skills. So let’s break it down, using doubt as an example of an unpleasant mind state.
Reflexive abdominal breathing provides a great deal of benefits in the treatment of many clinical and non-clinical mental health issues. Firstly, learning to reflexively engage in abdominal breathing provides training in non-judgmental awareness. Practicing giving up control to the breath in the moment allows for a more flexible relationship to whatever is present. One learns to settle one’s mind by sustaining attention on and awareness of the sensations of the rising and falling of the abdomen. This sustained attention facilitates an efficient use of one’s attentional resources, thus settling the mind. When one’s mind is settled, the self-management of the distressing posttraumatic or anxiety symptoms can more easily be regulated.
The topic of human suffering has always fascinated me. It wasn’t until about five years ago that I realized that we spend so much of our life’s energy on futile attempts to avoid suffering. We use drugs and alcohol, denial, dishonesty, and dissociation. Sometimes it seems like we spend our entire lives trying to avoid suffering and increase pleasure. What I have come to realize, through different spiritual texts, spiritual practice, and simply my own experience, is that suffering is an inevitable part of human existence. This we cannot change. No amount of running or hiding, and certainly no substance can change that fact. What we can change, through meditation, is our relationship to that suffering. Maybe the fact that painful events exist in life is not by itself a cause for true suffering. It is our constant aversive relationship to that pain that creates true suffering.
Practicing with the Four Foundations of Buddhist Mindfulness is the “direct path to realization.” Well, that is according to the ancient Buddhist discourse, the Satipatthana Sutta. This discourse explains the theory and practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness; Body, feeling, mind, and dharmas (the nature of things). Each object is rich with its own explorations, practices, and goals to be attained. According to the Satipatthana Sutta, the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness is the direct path to realization.