In the same way that consciousness and sense impressions are two aspects of one experience, consciousness receives stimulus, from which arises what the Buddha named as the second of the five aggregates—feeling (not emotions, but in the meditative context, the quality or tone of pleasantness, unpleasantness, or neutrality arising in every moment of experience). Feelings habitually condition our reactions—to grasp pleasant feeling; to condemn or dislike unpleasant; to become forgetful or wandering mind because the organism feels no “charge” in neutrality. Cultivating awareness of this second aggregate, we begin to develop balance and equanimity in receiving experience.
Awareness of feeling also provides a key for unhooking the mind once it is caught in a reactive state. Suppose the mind is lost in a lustful state, with strong and delightful images enticing the attention. In addition to noting bodily sensations and images, we can clearly and precisely observe the pleasantness of these sensations or images. We see that it is the feeling of pleasantness that captures the mind and conditions grasping. By meticulously noticing and noting, the mind unhooks from the object, lets go of the grasping and is aware of the pleasant feeling simply as an object of observation rather than as something to cling or hold on to. When we understand how desire is conditioned by feeling, we see that underneath the wanting mind is choice. This aggregate is a powerful tool of investigation. It is essential in the journey of understanding that which we call self and its leading onward to freedom.