Here's a little more about mindfulness of feeling, which is the second of the four foundations of mindfulness.
Mindfulness of feelings begins by being honest with ourselves about what we feel. In the realm of emotions, this means being mindful of our deepest emotions without separating from them or avoiding them.
I wrote in the last post that very often the first emotions that arise in response to something are buried by "secondary" emotions. Let's look at how that happens. We can use responses to the Newtown, Connecticut shooting as examples.
Usually after a tragedy there is a big (and understandable) rush toward judging and blaming. If you watch closely, you see that much of the judging and blaming behavior is about separating from the "perpetrator" or causes of the tragedy. The "perp" often is labeled "a monster" or "evil." This is a way of saying "whoever did this is not a normal person, as I am. He is a freak, an aberration who does not deserve to be treated as a human being."
Such thought usually are accompanied by an indulgent wallow in self-righteousness, which is a much more pleasant feeling than grief.
Of course, human civilization requires laws and some sort of criminal justice system to determine guilt and enforce penalties. We're talking only about our emotional responses to tragedy here. But separating humanity into those who deserve consideration and those who don't is a dangerous thing. Such thinking often leads to the next violent tragedy.
It's also common for people to numb themselves by intellectualizing the tragedy somehow. Often this is done by using the tragedy as "proof" of the truthfulness of one's ideological views. In the past few days the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been blamed on the prohibition of sectarian religious observances in public schools; a "culture of narcissism"; and women. Seriously.
Certainly there are many tangible issues touching on society and public policy that need discussing, and reasonable people will disagree about these issues, sometimes with great emotion. But some of the more off-the-wall responses to Sandy Hook strike me as a way to avoid thinking and feeling about the terrible reality of the deaths of 20 little children. It's much more fun to ride our favorite ideological hobby horse (and see above about self-righteousness).
We humans are social animals, and often our initial emotional responses to public tragedy are conditioned by others. While one person alone might quietly grieve, 20 people together might incite themselves into a mob.
In the age of mass media, our emotional responses to a public tragedy are likely to be conditioned by how the tragedy is presented to us on television. And television coverage generally is calibrated to excite our emotions as much as possible, so that we'll keep watching. Brad Warner writes that the news coverage "presents to us a consensus of what we supposedly ought to be feeling."
(On a personal note, I was in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, and so watched the World Trade Center towers collapse with my own eyes and not on television. It took most of the day to get out of Manhattan, so I didn't see much television at all that day. As time went on it often struck me that most of the country had a very different emotional reaction to the terrorist attacks than most of those who were close enough to witness it. It's hard to explain what that difference was. But some of the difference was, I think, that for many eyewitnesses the usual emotion-avoidance strategies simply did not work. The experience was too intense.)
What usually crowds in after the first flush of fear, sorrow, or joy, are our conditioned and self-clinging feelings. This reminds of the dharma seals, one of which is often translated "all stained emotions are painful." These self-clinging, secondary feelings are good examples of "stained emotions."