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Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating

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I've only just begun meditating within the past few months. So far I am please with my progress overall, but there is one thing that seems to be elementary or even natural for most beginners but eludes me entirely.

I do not seem to have any awareness of the emotional aspect of my experience while meditating. I don't have this problem at all in daily life. I think I have a fairly rich emotional life generally, although I am especially guarded and a dispassionate INTP sort of person. But it isn't like I don't notice different emotions taking hold and changing one from another throughout daily life. Yet while sitting everything just seems even keel. Is this okay or normal?

On one hand, it seems to me it should obviously be the case that this is how it happens. Essentially, while sitting, I am limiting exposure to external causes and conditions which could give rise to strong emotions. But I've read plenty of accounts of other beginners who seem to develop mindfulness around emotions more quickly than around bodily sensations and thoughts. Whereas, my experience has been the opposite.

I surely notice valence attached to some experiences while meditating. I notice aversion to itching, aching, pain, etc. But there doesn't seem to be any affective depth beyond that. No annoyance or anger, both of which seem to be my main players in daily life.

Should I try to trigger an emotion while sitting to observe it?  Or just continue developing concentration and mindfulness of sensations?

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/21/19 1:21 PM as a reply to aponysus.
I think this is not too abnormal or worrying. I'd make a few points.

(1) Don't Worry About What's Missing

From a Vipassana point-of-view it matters just that you notice what you're noticing. It doesn't matter if something seems to be missing from your experience, you just take that experience as it is. You'll notice that different sense modalities might be tuned down in intensity or not observed at all at points, like being in deep in thought. Most of the time we don't even notice most of our bodies. This shifting consciousness is normal and not bad.

If you can't sense it then it doesn't matter (you can't note it at that moment).

If you are very deep into a practice concentrating on one type of phenomenon (breath and body in concentration, or visual glows and afterimages in kasina practice) you might tune so far into that realm of experience that you hardly notice the others at all.

(2) What Are Emotions

I am not going to say that emotions don't exist, but I almost always find emotions to be aggregates of other sensory phenomena (including imagined ones in the imagination/thought realms are also made of the senses). They are like waves and vibrations rippling through the senses, especially the body. You identify here that some experiences exist like desires or aversions, and that there is a valence. What makes you specifically think deep affective states are missing? I think that is fine if they are not there at the time.

(3) What To Do Next

I do not think there is any harm in triggering them, or not! Press on with concentration and insight practice.

I suspect you are fine and not doing anything wrong.
 

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/21/19 2:02 PM as a reply to S..
S, thanks so much for the thoughtful reply. This is very helpful. Points 1 and 3 are very well taken, and I'll have to reflect on point 2 quite a bit, which is great! On the topic of point 1, I definitely take your point to heart, and this seems related to an experience I had just yesterday. My attention was pulled to two different sensations in the body: 1) heat from direct sunlight on my left hand and 2) cool air from a fan hitting my right arm. 

As has been my practice recently, I've been sliding into a state of choiceless awareness, but before hitting that state (which usually becomes like a rapid fire free-for-all of changing "noticings") I allow my attention to move to wherever it is pulled most strongly in the moment (which I guess also characterizes that rapid fire stage, but that stage seems a lot different to me qualitatively than this preliminary stage where i sort of dwell in a sensation for a bit). Anyway, for some reason I tried to let my consciousness sort of surround both sensations at once, and I found that I just couldn't. It was like an alternating switch. Warm hand/cold arm/warm hand/cold arm/etc over and over. I just never could hold both sensations in my experience simultaneously.  I don't know if this is an actual impossibility or just a limitation of my mind at this point... just seems tangentially related to your point. If something that IS there cannot even be accessed simultaneously with something else that is currently the object of focus, then of course I shouldn't fret over not having awareness of something that just isn't there at all!

Thanks again for the reply... very helpful and, equally important, encouraging! Being deep in a red state, I don't have much of a dharma crowd I'm aware of nearby, so this journey has felt much like developing on an island. So this community seems super promising!

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/22/19 10:56 AM as a reply to aponysus.
Your comment that "I just never could hold both sensations in my experience simultaneously" reminded me of how you can use this observation for insight practice. From MCTB2 [https://www.mctb.org/mctb2/table-of-contents/part-i-the-fundamentals/5-the-three-characteristics/]:
In one of these exercises, I sit quietly in a quiet place, close my eyes, put my right hand on my right knee, my left hand on my left knee, and concentrate just on my two index fingers. Basic dharma theory tells me that it is not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously; so, with this knowledge, I try to see in each instant which one of the two fingers’ physical sensations are being perceived at any given moment. Once the mind has sped up a bit and become more stable, I try to perceive the arising and passing of each of these sensations. I may do this for half an hour or an hour, just staying with the sensations in my two fingers and perceiving when each sensation is and is not there.

That section might be worth a read if you haven't before, or maybe a re-read if you have. And take heart fellow red-stater, there are dozens of us. Dozens!! 

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/22/19 4:18 PM as a reply to Ryan.
Thanks for that, Ryan.  I just started reading that book yesterday, and that link is the very next section. He looks to be describing a very similar experience. It is neat to see that "basic dharma theory tells me that it is not possible to perceive both fingers simultaneously." This was my intuition about consciousness as well.  I really look forward to reading this section.

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/23/19 4:37 PM as a reply to aponysus.
I’ll throw in another observation about emotions: for me, certain emotions such as anxiety or fear tend to manifest in the belly, and they even take me by surprise when I’m sitting because I hadn’t realized I was carrying them. Sadness will often grab me in the throat, and love in the heart center. You can try generating this last by thinking about a small child or a pet, and observing the warmth through that area. My dog will sometimes whine a bit while I’m sitting, and I’ll smile and feel warmth from the reminder of him. When you’re experiencing emotions off cushion, you could take a moment and observe where in the body they’re showing up. The practice in general tends to increase overall body awareness.  

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 8:43 AM as a reply to Laurel Carrington.
Laurel Carrington:
When you’re experiencing emotions off cushion, you could take a moment and observe where in the body they’re showing up. The practice in general tends to increase overall body awareness.


Thanks, Laurel. Definitely agree here. Even though I don't have these experiences while sitting, I am developing a much keener awareness of emotions, their transience, and their "embodiment" in daily life.

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 8:49 AM as a reply to aponysus.
I surely notice valence attached to some experiences while meditating. I notice aversion to itching, aching, pain, etc. But there doesn't seem to be any affective depth beyond that. No annoyance or anger, both of which seem to be my main players in daily life. 

So if you're sitting in meditation and a situation plays out in your mind that would normally make you angry or fearful, what happens?

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 10:22 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:

So if you're sitting in meditation and a situation plays out in your mind that would normally make you angry or fearful, what happens?


Pretty much the same thing as if I were just considering some hypothetical... there's a dispassionate, analytical posture toward it.  I don't have much of an "emotional DVR", if that makes any sense. In daily life, I only get angry, fearful, etc while I'm in the moment... replaying events in memory doesn't elicit the same responses, in terms of feelings. I can have a memory of the feelings, but I don't "feel" the feelings. I'd say, the same thing applies to me while meditating.

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 11:37 AM as a reply to aponysus.
I'm curious -- why do you see this as a problem?

EDIT: from your original comment:

Should I try to trigger an emotion while sitting to observe it?  Or just continue developing concentration and mindfulness of sensations?

If your objective is purely to do vipassana mediation then you can just observe what you can experience while you sit. For me the easiest and most obvious sensations where touching and hearing. I didn't focus on emotions for a long time, and once I did it was quickly obvious that emotions were the same, in their essence, as all other objects I could perceive.

If on the other hand you are bound and determined to meditate on emotions it seems to me you have to find something that will trigger emotional responses for you to observe in detail.




RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 1:25 PM as a reply to aponysus.
That does all sound pretty good to me. 

And no worries, I am glad you are finding some Dharma online. At its best DhO is fantastic. A few notes from deep practitioners can be very helpful on here. I still don't really know who some of the people are who shaped my practice. 

Good luck!

RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/24/19 1:26 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
"why do you see this as a problem?"

Well, after reading the responses from S and Ryan above and after getting a bit farther into MCTB, I don't really see it as a problem. I had been reading Goldstein's Mindfulness and listening to a lot of his talks, and he seems to focus a ton on emotions, and this was just baffling to me and was making me wonder if something was missing. But MCTB is clarifying a ton for me, as are many of the threads here.

"If your objective is purely to do vipassana mediation then you can just observe what you can experience while you sit."  <--- This is where I'm at now, and I consider the original question well-handled because it was inherently misguided... can't observe something that isn't there, and observing what IS there is the whole point.

"For me the easiest and most obvious sensations were touching and hearing."  These are the ones that are clearest for me, as well. And I've also found it fairly simple to observe thoughts arising and passing away in an identical fashion to the other sensate experiences. The one I think I find most troublesome is sight. I find it hard to imagine myself reaching a state where I would be able to maintain focus and awareness while being open to a visual field.


RE: Unable to access or notice emotions while meditating
Answer
6/26/19 12:49 PM as a reply to aponysus.
Hi and welcome! I hope you will like it here. I find that the forum is a great resource for my practice. I have most of my support online.