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MIDL 23/52: Deconditioning Emotional Charge

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In MIDL Mindfulness Training 23/52 you develop the higher MIDL skill of deconditioning the emotional charge attached to thoughts and memories. Our mind has a simple survival sorting mechanism in which it uses feeling tone (Vedana), to sort memories as dangerous or safe. It attaches pleasant feeling to signify safe memories or unpleasant feeling if the memory is perceived as being dangerous. Through using the MIDL Softening skill you can experience and soften your relationship of attraction or aversion towards the feeling, deconditioning the strength of the feeling tone attached to the memory. Submit Your Question

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Removing Painful Memories

Your Question: This seems like a wonderful way to become free from the past through meditation. I have many painful memories that I would like to remove the emotions from. How do I do this, especially in regards to painful memories?

Stephen Procter: (**A note to others who may want to try this MIDL deconditioning technique, do so at your own discretion. If you have not done the earlier training and developed your mindfulness, concentration and softening skills then you are likely to become lost within the emotional charge and resist the unpleasantness. In this case you either need to commit to the MIDL systematic training or have someone skilled in this technique to guide you to develop this skill.)

How to Decondition Emotional Charge
Before doing this meditation, select the memory that you are going to work with during the session. Memories are linked so your mind may swap from one to another while using this deconditioning technique. Whenever you notice that the memory has swapped, gently bring your attention back to the one you are working with. Always stay with the emotional charge within your body rather than the story contained within the memory. You could even write it down before starting to direct your attention.

Begin by sitting comfortably and bringing your awareness to the experience of just sitting in a chair or on the floor, this will be your grounding point to reality. Bring one difficult memory to mind and gently hold it within your awareness, Starting with a memory towards which the emotional charge is not too strong. Notice the experience of emotion as it arises within your body, particularly around the centre of your chest.

Know that this is just a reflection of the past, it is not the reality of what is happening ‘now’, and cannot hurt you. Break the experience of the emotion within your body into sensations such as 'hard', 'tight', 'heavy', 'warm' etc. Notice the underlying feeling of unpleasantness that fills the experience of the emotion like a flavour / taste, and soften / relax deeply into your relationship towards the unpleasant feeling using slow diaphragmatic breaths.

In-breath: Belly button - ribs - chest.
Out-breath: Slowly out through your nose, mentally and physically relaxing.

Do not try to make the unpleasant feeling go away but rather deeply relax into it, holding it gently in mind and accepting it. Abandoning all participation, abandoning all effort. Do this for five softening breaths, allow your breathing to return to normal after the fifth softening and then gently open your eyes. Give your body a shake to release the residue of any physical tension held within your body. Then without bringing the memory to mind again, check the strength of the emotional charge within your body.

Is the emotional charge within your body stronger, the same or weaker than when you began?

a) If the emotional charge is stronger than before then this means that you had a desire for the emotion you were experiencing and its unpleasant quality to go away. In this case the pain attached to your memory is too great for you to be with and you should not try to decondition the emotional charge attached to the memory without professional guidance.

b) If the emotional charge within your body is the same as before after softening into it, then you were resisting its unpleasantness and need to develop your softening skill in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3-5/52.

c) If the emotional charge within your body is weaker than before then repeat this process of bringing the memory to mind and softening into your relationship towards it five times or until there is no emotional charge left on the memory.


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Feeling Tone Swapped

Your Question: Sadly, the feeling tone of the negative memory bled into re-remembering the pleasant memory and the pleasant memory became less pleasant the second time. I'll have to revisit this. In any case, I still love your meditations!

Stephen Procter: What you have experienced is not bad but rather a deep insight into how your mind functions. The purpose of MIDL mindfulness meditation training is to become sensitive to how our mind sorts and perceives the sensory world and how our interaction with it influences the creation of our reality; what is actually happening below the surface of our normal level of our awareness.

What you have experienced is correct, this is how it works. The mind sorts the world into 'dangerous' and 'safe' based on past perception. It does this by attaching a 'pleasant' feeling if perceived as 'safe' and 'unpleasant' feeling if perceived as 'dangerous' to all memories. When a memory is triggered by a sensory experience it brings up the associated attached 'pleasant' or 'unpleasant' feeling to drive us to 'towards or away from' an experience.

You observing the 'feeling tone' bleeding from the 'unpleasant' memory to the 'pleasant' memory provides deep insight and shows you the path towards freedom from this. This is what happens; your 'aversion / dislike / desire for the 'unpleasantness' to 'go away' triggered a 'danger' response which gave rise to your mind overlaying the presently perceived 'pleasant' 'safe' experience with the 'unpleasant' 'danger' feeling' This then created within your mind of longing for 'pleasantness' to increase and desire for the 'unpleasantness' to end - this is the cycle of mental pain and suffering.

You have seen the very cycle that is happening within every moment of our lives and the very heart from which all likes and dislikes, fears and desires, violence and greed arise from. The key to breaking this cycle is to go back to learning the 'Softening Into' skill starting with MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 - 5/52 independent of a guided meditation playing and apply this refined skill by Softening Into your relationship to all experience whether in seated meditation or daily life - softening Into your relationship to the experience of 'pleasantness and unpleasantness'.


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Unpleasantness Won't Go

Your Question: So wanted this to work. Unpleasantness felt far too overwhelming to dissipate. Marred any feelings of pleasantness. Really gruelling! Guess it needs a little more practice and acceptance, maybe. Will try again, in time ...

Stephen Procter: This guided meditation is MIDL Mindfulness Training 23/52 and is dependent on you first developing the skills covered in the earlier trainings. To decondition emotional charge from a memory by yourself, it is necessary to strengthen the mental factors of Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration to a level that you can be with unpleasant experience without falling into habitual identification and resistance. If these mental factors are not developed in you than you can still decondition the emotional charge but under the guidance of someone in whom these factors are strong. The ability to decondtion emotional charge is also based on the development of the MIDL Softening Skill in MIDL Mindfulness Trainings 3 - 5/52 through which you will learn how to abandon all resistance.

When doing this practice one thing to be careful of is to never do it to remove the unpleasant feeling. This is very important in understanding how the mind works. I will repeat, "we must never do this method with the desire to remove or get rid of the unpleasant feeling of the memory". Your mind is producing this feeling of unpleasantness to protect you, any attempt to escape from it just tells the survival part of your mind that the situation is indeed dangerous, it will then just produce a stronger unpleasant feeling to make you fight or run. Trying to get rid of the unpleasantness means that you will strengthen it. This is what it wants you to do, it wants you to try to get away from it. If you resist the unpleasant feeling then it will create more resistance and embed the anxious cycle.

The way through is not to try to remove the unpleasantness but to accept it, embrace it, allow it to be, using slow gentle breathing soften into it, like you may 'soften into' cold water. Non-resistance / acceptance dissolves resistance. When you no longer want to get rid of unpleasantness, when you fully accept it, then the miracle happens - it dissolves. But to do this you need to retrain the habit of resisting / running away. In this way the emotional charge attached to any painful memory can be deconditioned.


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