Good, Bad or Neutral

The essence of our experience is change. Moment by moment life flows by, never the same moment. A thought comes to your mind and a second later it is gone. In comes another one and then that too is gone. People come and go in your life. Your fortunes go up and they go down. It is incessant: change, change, and change. No two moments ever the same. This is the way things are. There is nothing wrong with this. Yet, most of us don’t like change and we have come up with ways for dealing with this endless flowing. We categorize experience. Trying to stick each perception into one of three mental pigeonholes: is it good, bad or neutral. Then according to which box we have placed the experience in we react with a set of fixed habitual mental responses.

If we have labeled a particular perception as “good” then we try to freeze time right there. Grab hold of the particular thought, fondle it, hold it, and we try to keep it from escaping. When this does not work, we go on an all-out effort to repeat the experience that caused the thought. This mental habit is referred to as “grasping”

When we perceive something as “bad”, we try to push it away. We try to deny it, reject it, and get rid of it any way we can. We fight against our own experience. We run from pieces of ourselves. This mental habit is referred to as “rejecting”

Between the two lies the “neutral” box. Here we place all the experiences that are neither good nor bad. We pack experiences away in the neutral box so that we can ignore it and return our attention to where the action is, namely our endless round of desire and aversion. So, this neutral box gets robbed of its fair share of attention. This mental habit is referred to as “ignoring”.

The direct result of all this is a perpetual treadmill race to nowhere, endlessly pounding after pleasure, endlessly fleeing from pain, and endlessly ignoring 90 percent of our experiences. No matter how hard you pursue pleasure and success, there are times when you fail. No matter how fast you flee, there are times when pain catches up with you. And in between these times life may seem so boring you could scream. In the final analysis this system does not work.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (2002) Mindfulness in plain English. Boston. Wisdom Publications