Simply put, your state of mind reflects your inner experience. It represents the “what’s” of our mind and body. What am I thinking, feeling, and sensing? What action urges am I experiencing/what do I feel compelled to do?
Diagram 1: Reality as it exists with all its pain and pleasures, ups and downs, is fused with our experience of reality. What we think, feel, and want to do are consistent with what is really happening. For example: “I think this person did x-y-z because they are intentionally trying to hurt me”. “I feel anxious and suspicious as he/she wishes me harm”. As a result of thinking and feeling this way, I act in a hypervigilant manner, looking for evidence that confirms my truth. I distance myself from or avoid interacting with this person, or perhaps take an offensive approach and “attack them before they can do anything to harm me”.
Diagram 2: As we begin meditating we observe and describe our thoughts, feelings, sensations and urges to act, in addition to the context or situation that surrounds them. For example: “I notice this person just did or said x-y-z.” “I notice a thought of x-y-z.” “I notice a feeling of x-y-z.” “I notice a sensation of x-y-z.” “I notice I want to x-y-z in response.” By taking time to reflect on what is going on in our mind and body, we slow down the process between stimulus/cue and response/reaction, thus creating a wedge between reality and our experience of reality. Our perception of reality and associated emotion experience may accurately represent what is happening, but perhaps does not.
Thoughts: You can notice a particular thought like “I notice a thought of that was stupid of me”. Or you can notice and label the type or style of your thinking.
Noticing a type of thought involves putting it into a category e.g. “I notice a self- or other-judgmental thought”, “I notice a thought about the past or future”, “I notice a catastrophizing thought”.
Noticing a style of thinking involves labeling the manner of your thinking e.g. “I notice ruminating thinking”, “I notice obsessive thinking”, “I notice *monkey mind thinking” (*thoughts jumping all over the place), “I notice *runaway horse thinking” (*thoughts that go from 0-60, out of your control - like a horse galloping back to the barn the rider has no control over).
Feelings: You can notice a particular feeling like “I notice a feeling of embarrassment arising within me”, “I notice a feeling of anger”, “I notice a feeling of anxiety/fear” or you can notice sensations associated with a feeling e.g. “I notice a sensation of heat in my face”, “I notice a sensation of tightness in my chest”, “I notice a sensation of nausea/rumbling in my stomach and bowels”, “I notice tension in my body”.
Actions: Like thinking, we can notice a particular action urge like “I notice I want to leave this place immediately” or “I notice an urge to tell this person my point of view/explain my side of things”, or you can categorize and label the type of action urge you are experiencing e.g. “I notice an urge to avoid, escape, hide, defend, fight back, retaliate, approach, connect, etc.”.
Diagram 3: As we progress in our meditation practice, our experience of reality more closely resembles reality as it exists. In other words, the lens through which we view ourselves transacting within context becomes clearer. That being said, seeing reality “as it exists” does not eliminate the occurrence of negative life events and experiences, as well as the painful emotions that accompany them. However, like exercising regularly leads to improved physical health, engaging in some form of contemplative practice on a regular basis improves our mental and emotional wellbeing, thereby enabling us to more effectively deal with whatever life presents – albeit good, bad, pleasant, unpleasant, painful or pleasurable in nature.
Living effectively involves many qualities, for example living with:
Intention and purpose: The mind is focused on effectiveness with regard to our long term goals (for ourselves, our relationships and the world as a whole); we are mindfulness to the consequences of our behavior - both short-term and over time (even the smallest of behavior or routine/habitual reactions).
Heightened awareness: The mind is attentive, curious and open to the present moment; we are able to take a “bird’s eye” vs. “worm’s eye” view of the situation at hand.
Non-judgmental acceptance: We acknowledge “what was and is” - neither holding on or pushing away (the concept of detachment); we do what the moment calls for (willingness) versus sitting on our hands when action is needed – perhaps stuck in self-righteous indignation or resisting/fighting reality “in-the-moment” (willfulness); we do not judge “what is” as “good and right“ or “bad and wrong”; we are able to see and understand the big picture in terms of cause and effect (everything is as it should be due to everything that has come before it).
Compassion: We adopt a compassionate view toward ourselves, others and all that is living (the practice of loving kindness); we acknowledge and forgive actions that have caused harm to ourselves and others.
Balance and flexibility: The mind is able to adapt to change as the situation calls for it; we practice balancing the yin and yang of living on a day-to-day basis (work/responsibility, relaxation/play, focus on self/focus on other, etc.)
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