This is Post 25 in the ‘Meditation Guidance’ series. Summaries of the other articles in this series can be found by clicking here.
While there is much more that could be said about the brahmavihāra of Sympathetic Joy and the Southern Quadrant of the mandala, we need now to move clockwise round the mandala to the Western Quadrant, to the function of Feeling (the samjñā skandha of Buddhist tradition), and to the brahmavihāra of Loving Kindness, or mettā (Pali), or maitrī (Sanskrit). Although in general I like to use Sanskrit, the classical language of Indian spiritual discourse, and the language of the magnificent but no longer existing tradition of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, I prefer, out of habit, to use the more familiar Pali word mettā, for Loving Kindness, rather than equivalent Sanskrit word maitrī (pronounced ‘my-tree’).
Even those who are unfamiliar with the four brahmavihāras as a mandala map of Consciousness, such as I have been presenting, may well have heard of mettā, which is the most well-known of the four. And some will perhaps be familiar with a form of the popular Buddhist meditation practice called the mettā bhāvanā, or ‘Cultivation of the Loving Kindness’. Because of this, I have already written one post about mettā (here) in my introduction to the brahmavihāras at the beginning of this ‘Meditation Guidance’ series.
In that previous post, I explained that mettā is most frequently presented in a way that does not clearly distinguish it from karuṇā (Compassion), muditā (Sympathetic Joy), and fails to acknowledge the important connection between mettā and upekṣā (Equanimity). Because I believe so strongly that a deeper understanding the whole mandala of the brahmavihāras constitutes such a powerful framework for self-enquiry and meditation, I would like now to return to the themes of that previous post.
Distinguishing Feeling from Sensation
In order to fully understand and distinguish the nature of mettā, we need first to understand that function of psychological cognition that we call Feeling, and in order to understand Feeling, it is extremely important for us to make a clear distinction between Feeling and Sensation – something that not all psychological models achieve. Indeed these two words are unfortunately often used interchangeably in English and other languages – and this causes much confusion. The distinction I make between the perceptual sensing function of Sensation and evaluative and discriminative function of Feeling follows both Carl Jung and the Buddhist tradition. I also draw on Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model and various others who have also recognised and described this universal four-fold pattern, which I have some sometimes called the Mandala of Love, or more simply, ‘the mandala’.
We also need to recognise the limitations of psychological models that do not include either Consciousness, or the possibility of a somatic, or energetic, dimension of experiencing. Such Newtonian-Cartesian psychological models are usually forced to see Feeling merely as a form of Sensation – as a pattern of neurological and hormonal excitation in the abdomen and chest of an entirely physical body that has no connection to the Quantum field.
This assumption that there is no functional interaction between the Quantum Mechanical level and the Classical level within the nervous system is just that – an assumption, and one that is contrary to our experience. The spiritual gift of a century of rigorous experimentation in Quantum Physics has been the understanding that all of the phenomena of the Classical world that we call matter (including the human body down to the molecular level) rest inseparably in a perplexing but undoubtedly unitary field of energy and Quantum information that completely interpenetrates all experience. While the mental habits of scientific materialism have been slow to erode, it is clear to all those in the field of Quantum Physics, who have given deep thought to the implications of this new science, that the participation of Quantum Mechanical mechanisms in the brain and nervous system is necessary for there to be any actual experiencing, or knowing, or Consciousness in any perceptual process. This is the only explanation we have for the data of human experience.
The quantitative psychological methods of non-phenomenological models have tended to simply exclude a deep investigation of the nature of Feeling, because it is dismissed as inherently too subjective – and because it is subject to the limited vocabulary of most people in the general population in regard to feeling. We rarely describe feelings specifically, and the extreme variability in the usage of the standard ‘feeling words’ – the commonly used categories and sub-categories used to describe feeling – unfortunately makes them unsuitable for use in most types of psychological research.
The Feeling Function – Our Emotional Guidance System
Phenomenological approaches like that of the psychotherapist-philosopher Carl Jung, or the philosopher-psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin, have however recognised that Feeling is an enormously rich territory for psychological exploration, and for personality change. In my view the contributions of both Jung and Gendlin have been incalculable – and their legacies has been insufficiently acknowledged. I shall be drawing on both these perspectives in my next few articles, as well as once again drawing on the mandala-wisdom of various traditions (especially Buddhism), and on the seven bodies / seven chakras somatic model that is well known to meditators and healers. As I explained in my previous post on mettā (here), when we experientially recognise the way in which Feeling is associated with the Emotional Body in that model, we are given a valuable way of grasping the energetic dimension of the somewhat intangible psychological function of Feeling.
Marshall Rosenberg and the global community that created the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model have also given us a useful way into our process of enquiry into Feeling – by suggesting that positive feelings arise when Needs are met, and negative feelings arise when Needs are unmet. Putting aside, for now, any attempt to define a ‘Need’, and also putting aside the fact that Feeling appears to be very much subject to Thinking, and clearly also related to physiological processes in our nervous systems and endocrine systems, this does nevertheless gives us a very good starting point.
The Feeling function, which Indian tradition calls the samjñā skandha, is clearly a form of cognitive discernment, or evaluative discrimination, and functions as a sort of ‘guidance system’. Whereas Sensation may be regarded as a neutral way of knowing our reality though the act of sensing, Feeling can perhaps best be thought of as the function by which we subjectively evaluate our experience via the subtle movements, patterns, and processes of felt-knowing in the field of body. Feeling, like Thinking, is a discriminative, or judging function – a function by which we make decisions – but is clearly a non-logical and subjective mode of discernment. Feeling, it would seem, draws on our accumulation of life experience, via a difficult-to-define subjective knowing, to make decisions that require an evaluative mode of discrimination – not a logical one.
The East-West Axis of the Mandala – Thinking and Feeling
In several earlier posts (here, here, here, here, and here) I spoke about the Eastern Quadrant of the mandala, and talked about the way resting ‘as’ Consciousness allows us to step back out of identification with the beliefs and points of view, which are the Thinking aspect of the egoic patterns – allows us to draw back into Consciousness, and into a place of objectivity and Being. We also saw that this place of objectivity and Being was relational and creative – capable of rational creativity, solution-focused collaboration, and mental stability in the face of challenges.
As we now address the Western Quadrant and cognitive function of Feeling, I hope to show how resting as Consciousness can allow us, in a similar way, to step back out of identification with our emotions, moods, and subjective reactions, which are the Feeling aspects of the egoic patterns – can allow us to draw back into a place of rational subjective discernment or felt knowing.
As we saw with the Thinking function, the ability to rest as Consciousness changes everything. Just as Thinking only becomes capable of objectivity when it is truly a ‘function of Consciousness’ rather that a function of the egoic illusion, so Feeling only becomes capable of providing accurate evaluation, discernment, and guidance when, through resting as Consciousness, we have learnt to dis-identify from the vast accumulation of egoic conditioning that is patterned into both our somatic anatomy and our neuro-endocrine system.
The Feeling function is sometimes characterised as having an orientation to the past (whereas the Thinking function may be thought of as an orientation to the future). Only by allowing the Emotional Body to rest as Consciousness in the present moment, can we start to free Feeling from past conditioning – conditioning which usually entirely shapes our felt experience and our emotional lives into the future. In reality, all forms of conditioning are an orientation to the past. Without Consciousness, which gives us an orientation to the eternal present moment of felt experience, everything that we are as conditioned egoic beings marches relentlessly from the past into the future – always reacting from past conditioning, endlessly repeating old patterns of relationship, and always tending to bring the same old emotional tone in our new experiences.
Conscious Thinking and Feeling – Differentiation and Reconciliation
The East-West axis of the mandala reminds us that Consciousness allows us to differentiate Thinking (East) from Feeling (West) and to reconcile these two principles at a higher level. As we learn to rest as Consciousness we recognise that truly objective Thinking arises in the context of a shared experience of existence, or Being – so truly conscious Thinking is always relational, and always serves connection, communication, and creativity. A capacity for conscious non-reactive Thinking is as foundational for our relationships and collaborations as is our capacity to be consciously ‘loving’. Indeed the two are inseparable, and each without the other is incomplete, unbalanced, and hides the unconscious shadow of its opposite – and is therefore not achievable.
Similarly, Consciousness allows us to experience and communicate Feeling objectively, so that it profoundly supports connection with ourselves and connection with others. This objectivity allows us to experience Feeling as much more than a form of subjective emotional response. Instead it becomes a capacity for objective discrimination – a subtle mode of discernment and evaluation in the context of our communication, our relationships, and in areas of life where aesthetic and ethical judgement is required. Similarly in communication, the ability to accurately and objectively observe and describe our feelings opens up vast new self-empathetic and empathetic possibilities, which lead to a deepening of relationships and to psychological and social healing.
Consciousness – Our only Protection against Shadow Projection
The way in which the axes of the mandala give us a visual image of the way the functions of Consciousness (Feeling and Thinking – at west and east; and Intuition/Volition and Sensation – at north and south) are experienced as oppositions on the egoic level, but are reconciled and complementary on the level of Consciousness, is a key feature of the mandala wisdom, which is of enormous importance for the meditator – or for anyone who wishes to become more conscious, especially in their relationships.
This wise mandala-psychology, which I have been calling the Mandala of Love alerts us to the ever present danger of the unconscious opposites in ordinary egoic functioning. I have talked previously (here) about how egoic Thinking, instead of functioning as a capacity for relational objectivity, inevitably tends to express shadow Feeling qualities – frequently becoming emotional, judgemental and punishing, when Consciousness and the balancing quality of fully conscious Feeling are absent.
Similarly, until the ability to rest as Consciousness is established, egoic Feeling will, instead of functioning as objective discernment through felt knowing, can always tend to show the complementary opposite, or ‘shadow’ qualities of moodiness, compulsiveness, and depression – experiences and behaviours that relate directly to an inability to reflect and relate objectively and affirmatively to felt-experience. It is only with the help of these Thinking-related functions of reflection, objectivity, affirmation, thoughtful communication and relatedness, that Feeling can function in a fully differentiated way – as a function of Consciousness.
The Mandala Map of Consciousness – Our Shield against the Shadow
Without Consciousness, the polar oppositions between Thinking and Feeling (at East and West), or between Intuition/Volition and Sensation (at North and South) collapse into an unconscious egoic fusion, that is reflected in unconscious patterns of thinking, language and action. Only Consciousness can provide the spaciousness in which we can hold the tension between the opposites. Consciousness supports the necessary processes of differentiation and reconciliation, protecting us, and freeing us from our unconscious tendencies and from the inevitability of shadow projection – psychological dynamics which make us ineffective, which keep us stuck, and which cause us much harm by undermining our judgement and damaging our relationships.
Readers interested in this built-in egoic tendency towards internal fusion, division, and shadow projection, in the egoic patterns, may be interested in my previous post on this (here). An awareness of the psychodynamics of the personal and collective Shadow are essential for anyone who would wish to be become conscious or to function harmoniously and ethically in their relationships and in society. One of the greatest gifts of the mandala archetype that these Mandala of Love posts are exploring, is its ability to highlight the unconscious Shadow and bring it into consciousness – knowledge of the mandala dynamics is our shield against the Shadow.
These articles are best read in sequence. To go to the next article in the series just click the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the page. For an overview of the whole sequence of articles, with short summaries of each one, click here.