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Feeling Tones Unveiled: A Mindful Approach to Emotional Well-being

Updated: Apr 7

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Almost any emotional difficulty that many of us experience can be traced back to the mind's reactions to our feeling tones. These feeling tones are the flavor that accompany each moment of experience whether these experiences come from our five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch) or from our mind. We unconsciously assign a feeling tone to everything, even without realizing it. These feeling tones can be viewed as our reactivity pulse. The issue lies not in the pulse itself but in our lack of awareness of its presence and underlying nature.  All we notice are the subsequent thoughts, feelings, and emotions that follow in its aftermath. This is why we may not always remember every detail of what happened or of what was stated; however, we always remember how different experiences made us feel.

Everything in our human experience can be described in one of three ways: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. The trouble for us with this begins when we neglect to acknowledge our sensations and immediately react instead. By doing this, we cause ourselves and others unnecessary pain and suffering. How can we use mindfulness to avoid this? Is it even possible? This article will explore how using mindfulness to pay attention to feeling tones can aid in our developing an awareness to create room for thoughtful responses instead of knee-jerk reactions to a variety of money, relationship, life problems.

Pleasant Experiences

"This just shouldn't be happening!"

"Parents always love their children unconditionally."

"Partners never cheat on each other."

"Children shouldn't die."

Each of the above statements reveal a moment of clinging and that you, my dear friend, have been struck by the pleasant feeling tone chord. You are only human if you try to cling to experiences that you label as pleasant. The paradox of this is that when we try grasping or clinging to it, we actually diminish the pleasure of the experience. We want to hold on to pleasant sensations, feelings and experiences, and we suffer because we can’t. Pleasant experiences cannot be made permanent. Mindfully bringing awareness to the pleasant feeling tone can aid us in diminishing the unconscious tendency to cling by revealing the ever-changing nature of all experiences (good, bad, and indifferent). Additionally, bringing awareness to pleasant feeling tones can also reveal subtler and more reliable sources of happiness. In times of emotional distress, it becomes crucial to grasp what brings happiness and what brings unhappiness. The cycles of emotional turmoil often worsen when we seek solace in sensory pleasures, ultimately leaving us feeling increasingly dissatisfied and unfulfilled. The truth is, moments of true happiness often share elements of connectedness (with self, others, or nature), lack of expectation or demand, and appreciation of self or others.

Unpleasant Experiences

  • Hard day at work, I guess I'll go out drinking to numb myself. Or maybe I'll get in a little retail therapy.

  • Senseless comment by your partner left you feeling uneasy so you rummage the fridge and pantry, not even conscious of the thought to eat.

Just like there is the tendency to cling to the positive there is an opposite tendency that we as humans have to push away from things we label as unpleasant. We want it to go away. We avoid, suppress, or ignore unpleasant thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Our unpleasant experiences often have important lessons to teach us or communicate things from the body about our health that needs our attention.

Trying to distract our minds or bury the unpleasant often results in the opposite desired effect; we tend to intensify them or make them manifest in other forms such as physical or mental health symptoms. This next sentiment is going to sound bananas. I know it did to me when I first began studying mindfulness. I rejected it. I railed against it. I tried desperately to make it untrue. It can be a more effective approach to welcome unpleasant experiences as part of life. No matter how well any of us leads our lives, no matter the good we do for others, no matter how well we may think we have our ducks lined in a row, there will still be unpleasant experiences and unpleasant feelings.

Neutral Experiences

Most things in our lives are neutral, evoking neither a strong pleasant nor unpleasant feeling, and so we tend not to notice them at all. There are many people we encounter on a regular basis. We neither like nor dislike them. Often times, we don't even give them a second notice, glance, or thought. Do you really notice the janitor at your child's school or at the local hospital? Do you really pay close attention to the cashier checking you out? The interesting thing about neutral experiences is that they can be a springboard of sorts to savoring and reclaiming the simple things in life. How often do you pay attention to how you walk? How you're breathing? How often do you sit and watch the leaves fall from trees? How often do you slow down and savor the flavors of your cup of tea?

Relating Mindfully To Our Feelings

One of the biggest obstacles to true happiness is to treat unpleasant emotions as obstacles and to succumb to the belief that people have to be happy all the time. When we cannot live up to those expectations we feel as if something is "wrong" or that we are somehow inadequate or defective in comparison to others. Pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral experiences are always present in our lives. Just as surely as we live we are going to be subjected to not getting what we want, getting what we don't want, being separated from those we love, and being forced to deal with those we don't like. Everything has a shelf life. Everything we appreciate will eventually change and pass away and none of us have a clue when this is going to happen. Life is full of moments of pain interspersed with pleasant and neutral moments. Mindfulness helps us bring awareness to the experiences of different events and how temporary these experiences are.

Each moment of our experience has a flavor or feeling tone that falls into one of three categories: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. The intensity of these feeling tones range from very subtle pleasant feeling to intense anger or fear. Attaching our well-being to these fleeting phenomena is not logical. A deep awareness of the nature of feelings teaches us that we are not our feelings. We are not defined by our feelings. Feelings arise, last for a while, and eventually fade away. As we learn to sit with discomfort, our confidence grows in our ability to tolerate unpleasant emotions-knowing they too shall pass. We'd love to hear from you in the comment section. Were you aware of the concept of feeling tones? How has your knowledge about them shaped your personal and professional life? And please remember, wherever you are on this wellness journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going. Until next time. Happy reading.

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"Anything that is created must sooner or later die. Enlightenment is permanent becuase we have not produced it; we have merely discovered it." ~Chogyam Trungpa


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