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.
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.