Labelling feelings in the Discovery Series

June 24, 2014

Labelling feelings in the Discovery Series

Each week we feature Andy's answer to one of the questions he has been sent by a member of the Headspace community about their meditation practice.

Here he answers a question from a Headspacer currently on the Discovery Series....



I am currently on day 15 of the Discovery Series and benefiting enormously so thanks! However, it is obvious to me now that I am living permanently in my head and this is reflected in my meditation.

During this series you have encouraged us to label our feelings - I don't have any - literally none. What I have is thinking and specifically planning, constantly. I don't know how to deal with it, I do go back to the breath but it comes back again and again, working out the day, the week, food, people I need to talk to etc etc.

Any ideas????


Andy's Answer:

Thanks for your message. Great to hear you’re enjoying the journey and well done for making such good progress through the Discovery Series.

An apparent absence of feeling is actually surprisingly common. The truth is, we all feel, but we are not always conscious of these feelings and not always aware of their impact on our thinking and the way that we feel physically. There are many reasons for this, but the one you mention, specifically ‘thinking and planning constantly’, is one of the most common. It’s like the pond analogy, at the beginning of Take10, where there are so many ripples on the surface of the pond that we can’t really see what’s under the surface.

At first it can be quite frustrating and instead of simply noticing what’s arising, we instead start to search for feelings, which is not really all that helpful. Either that or we become scared, perhaps worried that we have no emotion whatsoever! In all the commotion we forget that our desire to find emotion is the emotion of desire. Likewise, our anxiety in not having any emotion is in fact the manifestation of anxiety itself. The mind is tricky like this, so we have to be quite attentive to notice these things.

As for the second part of your question, or rather the observation you have made that the thoughts keep coming back (even after you’ve become aware of them) that is nothing but the practice of meditation and the process of training the mind. It is not unlike training a puppy dog to sit. To begin with it will not sit down at all. After a while it will sit down, but as soon as we look away it is off again. After a bit more time, it will maybe sit there for a bit longer, but it may then get tired and wander off to find a distraction or something more interesting. Eventually, after considerable training, the dog will stay seated, in fact it may get so comfortable that it lies down and stretches out!

But this process takes time and, until the mind is comfortable just resting in one place, we treat every new distraction in just the same way. It doesn’t matter if we realise the mind has wandered off after just one second or many minutes, we simply acknowledge it, let it go and bring the attention back to the object of the exercise.

In short, it sounds as though you are doing all the right things. Do remember these points though, as they’re easy to forget, and as much as possible look at this as a journey of a lifetime, with small incremental changes over time.

Warm wishes, Andy


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5 Comments on this article:

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Ward Tongen

July 3, 2014

Thank you. This is exactly what I am going through as well. I must "allow" myself to sit quietly.



July 4, 2014

Great question & answer...I'm having exactly the same experience of Discovery. Such a novel concept but I can certainly see how this practice would be beneficial.

Thanks Andy & co...for everything!



July 7, 2014

I have the same situation, with frequent flashes of 'planning'... is it adequate to label it as 'planning'? Or should we be trying to peek a little beneath? I tend to try to push the planning thoughts away as quickly as possible! But perhaps that's a disservice to the process?



July 12, 2014

One thing I like to remember is that every emotion has some physiological correlate. Look for emotions as physical feelings in the body. For example, you might feel stress as a tension in the head or brow. Anxiety might come with a swirling sort of energy in the stomach. It's usually much easier to find emotions this way.

Check out this study, which gives a helpful illustration to get you thinking about where in the body people typically feel their emotions:



July 15, 2014

When I consider my feelings I always describe them as feeling happy = good, feeling depressed = bad. I know that this is probably the wrong way to regard the feelings but I just cant seem to do anything else. What should I be doing?