When we get upset what do we do with it? Our normal reaction is to deny or run away from it. We build walls to protect ourselves from our pain. Experiential avoidance does not solve the problem. If anything, it may aggravate and prolong the issue as we never address what is happening. Mindfulness asks us to paradoxically approach our suffering. We need to become intimate with what we are experiencing with interest and curiosity. There can be no resistance but only openness. The only issue with engaging with our present moment experience is that we typically identify with our sense of self and own the pain and suffering of our identity. It is not that we create a sense of self that suffers, but we attach to it! We need to know what is happening but from the perspective of non-attachment with our sense of self. We need to rest in the awareness of mindfulness. It is a paradoxical relationship as we feel our experience but don’t own it. The essence of mindfulness is engaged non-attachment with self.
I send several email invitations and call a friend with no response. What is going on? Is my friend deliberately ignoring me? I am getting angry about what is happening. I finally reach them and blurt out my anger without any control or care. I find out that I was using the wrong email and my friend had been going through some recent trauma and didn’t respond. I felt upset that I had acted that way. Does this happen to you? Are you saying or doing something before you really think about it? Our minds are for most of the time not under our control. We autonomously, subconsciously and spontaneously reference every moment against the belief system of who we believe we are. We are constantly judging whether we are acting in a way that agrees or disagrees with our fixed beliefs. We often become aware after we have acted, often not in the most appropriate way. We are left with reviewing what we have done and trying to repair our unskillful behavior. Mindfulness is asking us to create a mindful pause and hopefully bring awareness to the intentionality of our action before we act. Can we make a wise choice at the point of being able to preview what we intend to do, rather than reviewing how we have already acted?
How do we normally talk about ourselves? It is from the first person perspective. We use the pronouns “I, me, we and us.” This clearly delineates one as being in charge of what is happening. What would it be like to shift the perspective from first to third person? The pronouns we use for third person perspective are: “He, she, it, they, them or one’s proper name.” What is happening is not being told from a personal perspective. It is as if someone else is describing what is happening. If we were to use a third person perspective to describe what our actions are it tends to externalize our sense of self. It places us in the perspective of a witness observing what we believe our sense of self to be doing. It is a trick of language that supports non-attachment with the sense of self. For example, I lose my keys and I am angry, upset and self-critical. I can frame the experience from the third person perspective by saying: “Philip is angry for losing the keys.” Try this out when labeling your experience as a way to help support dis-identification.
How can we help support bringing awareness, meta-awareness and some distancing from our sense of self in our present experience as we practice mindfulness? Labelling is a very simple, practical and effective technique to do this. Language can be very helpful to direct our focus. Normally we are so caught up with what is happening that we are not aware of what we are aware of. In labeling one pauses and then identifies what dominant thought, emotion or physical sensation is present. One can state it as a generality such as: “Thinking, Feeling an emotion or Feeling a physical sensation.” One can be more specific by identifying the actual thought or feeling such as: “Judging, Sadness, Cramping etc.” It is helpful not to use the word “I” such as I am sad, I am planning or I am feeling pain. This is a way to move away from the belief in an enduring sense of self that is owning the experience. Mindfulness is a process. Labelling can help support this by saying: “KNOWING sadness, Knowing pain, Knowing planning.” In finding the right label for the experience there needs to be a stepping back from ownership of the experience to be able to have the perspective to know what is happening. Name it to frame it by labeling creates a brake from the automatic and autonomous reactive self-referential judgment.
I know what is happening, The problem is I just don’t know that I know what I know
Do you ever feel angry, sad, happy or guilty? And when you feel this way are you just angry, sad, happy or guilty but don’t know that you are feeling the way you are feeling. Normally we are just caught up with what we are experiencing and are totally engaged and identified with the thought or emotion. There is no possibility of a discerning perspective. Mindfulness is how one is in relationship with the present moment. There needs to be some distancing from ownership of the experience in order to be able to dis-identify, embody and investigate what is happening. Meta-awareness is the initial entry into mindfulness.