Ayya Santacitta hosted a retreat in Canmore in June 2019 on this topic.
She gave a preview of the Seven Factors of Awakening at our Tuesday meditation group. The Buddha was asked by a wanderer, "What is the benefit you live for? The Buddha answered that he lives for the benefit and fruit of true knowledge and liberation. He went on to say that the Seven Factors of Awakening, when developed and cultivated, fulfil true knowledge and liberation. And the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the Seven Factors of Awakening. SN 46:6
The four foundations are:
body eg. breath, body sensations, body parts, the elements
feeling tones: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings that accompany every sensory experience
mood of the mind eg. contentment, joy, anger
awareness of how everything is conditioned eg. the presence and absence of the hindrances and the Factors of Awakening.
Ayya told us that we all have the Factors of Awakening in us, at least in seed form. The purpose of our meditation practice is to cultivate these factors, using the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. We use whatever has arisen in our mind as our launching pad. If anger has arisen, our awareness of the anger is the first Factor of Awakening: mindfulness. Then if we show an interest in this arisen anger, get curious about it, then factor two is engaged: investigation of dhammas. It's not an intellectual process. It's just being with the anger and knowing it, making space for it. To do this we need the third factor: energy. Just staying with the experience of the anger, not being distracted, naturally leads to the fourth factor: joy or contentment. The first three factors take some effort. The others unfold effortlessly. Once the mind has been satisfied with some joy then tranquility arises. From this arises stability of the mind: samadhi. Finally, equanimity arises giving us a perspective on the anger.
The presence of these factors "wake us up" to the laws of nature. We see reality clearly. Our unrealistic expectations naturally drop away. We see impermanence. We see how meaningless it is to attach to that which is impermanent. This realistic view of life results in happiness and contentment.
In the recording of the talk, Ayya gives excellent, practical suggestions on dealing with difficult emotions. She reassures us that we don't have to change the emotion or know why it has arisen. What is liberating is increasing our capacity to just stay with the emotion, make space for it while having compassion for ourself and for the situation that brought up the emotion. Feel the resistence to the emotion but don't go with it. When the emotion has settled down, we can decide if any action needs to be taken.
We have to be able to stay with experience, as it is, in order to develop wisdom and compassion.