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.
Awareness of the experience that contains the story of self
Not the sense of self that believes it is having the experience
How do you face the possibility of death? Avoid thinking about it? With fear? Acceptance? When we think about our death we are often frightened and angry about the possibility of the loss of living. We will not be able to savor all those wonderful experiences of being human. It will be taken away from us. Is every moment taking us closer to death and a loss of the time we have to live? This fails to acknowledge that the inevitability of existence is death. Death is the expected outcome of birth. We are in a constant debt to death. We are only heading in one direction. We don’t normally control when we are going to die. It could happen in the next instant. I believe that we need to appreciate each moment as a gift of time that potentially we may not have had, rather than see it as a loss as something that is being taken away from us.
By Phil Blustein
It is often said mindfulness is about: “Just being and not doing.” In being, one is with the present moment just as it is without having a need to change it. It is a direct experience of what is happening with equanimity. There is no preference making. You may have spontaneously experienced this when you have engaged in the flow of doing something that you are completely engrossed with. Listening to music, photography, art, singing etc. When we are DOING there is a conscious effort to achieve something. One is actively thinking and acting for a certain goal. The big question is what to do in order to be. It is not so simple as saying “just be.” This requires a lot of effort. The first problem is that we are just not aware of what is happening. We may be angry, sad or happy but we just don’t know that we are angry, sad or happy. Furthermore, our normal instinctive response is to judge all our experience against our personal arbitrary belief system. We are constantly identifying with our sense of self. In being, we are asked to suspend judgment and respond in a way that runs contrary to our normal reactive way. It initially requires a lot of doing to develop intentional and sustained awareness and continual reflective inquiry into the true nature of self in order to be in a mindful relationship with non-attachment with the sense of self. There is a lot to do in order to just be.
By Dr. Philip Blustein