The Temptation to Identify Feelings

August 24, 2014

The Temptation to Identify Feelings

Each week here on the Headspace blog we feature some of Andy's responses to questions he has been sent by members of the Headspace community about their practice (see the Andy's Answers section of our community forum for more details).

In this post, Andy gives advice to a Headspacer about naturally letting go of the temptation to identify feelings.

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Question:

I started my Headspace Journey back in November 2013 and have loved it. I have been going through gastrointestinal health issues and I have found that meditation/mindfulness has helped.

My question to you today is people often asking me how am I feeling or say "You must be tired," "You look tired," or "You feel tired."

I know that learning to meditate I am looking to separate the mind from feelings. I don't want to attach a feeling with me, my, or I. How should I respond to these questions without attaching myself to these feelings?

Thank you for your time and thank you to the Headspace team for this program.

Answer:

Thanks for your message. It’s great to know you’ve been enjoying the journey over the past 6 months or so and reassuring to know that it has helped in some small way with the illness. Your question is really interesting and strikes right at the heart of meditation.

As you say, it is not helpful to identify too strongly with a feeling of ‘me, myself or I’. When we do, it tends to intensify our experience of stress and difficulty and we become more unhappy as a result. We also tend to feel more isolated and lonely, more separate from others and the world around us. That’s why meditation encourages us to step back and ‘witness’ thoughts and feelings as nothing but passing phenomena. In some of the eastern traditions this is known as ‘Big Mind’, where we simply experience mind ‘as it is’, in a very selfless, non-judgemental way.

At the same time, we cannot pretend we do not exist. We live in a world which relies upon a healthy sense of self, where we need to be able to identify with both self and others. And this is not just fantasy. After all, ‘I’ need to get up and go to work and ‘I’ need to eat lunch. In this way we most definitely exist! This way of thinking is sometimes referred to as ‘Small Mind’, not in a derogatory sense, but simply to differentiate from Big Mind.

So there is a certain paradox. On the one hand we have the aspect of mind which is pure awareness, able to witness thoughts and feelings as something separate from self. At the same time, we have the rational, intellectual aspect of mind, which is the thinking mind itself, vital for everyday life. At first this paradox feels very wide, and we may feel Big Mind more when we meditate and Small Mind more in everyday life. But one affects the other and, with practice, the two aspects merge and our experience is not really so separate.

But I digress...

With regards to others asking about your health, this provides an excellent opportunity to train both aspects of mind. Recognise that people will be asking out of concern, be grateful that they are interested and, as much as possible, respond with genuine appreciation. At the same time, notice when you reply how involved you become with the answer. For example, one person might respond with ‘oh, not too bad thanks, I’m in a little pain, but nothing too serious’. Whereas another person might turn the answer into a 5 minute monologue.

Don’t worry too much about using conventional language to describe how you feel (it will sound strange if you don’t), but at the same time always know you are simply reporting an experience, rather than an ‘I’ which is something solid and unchanging. Taking ourselves less seriously can also really help. When we do, we naturally let go of the temptation to identify and instead, smile within.

Hope that’s helpful, warm wishes, Andy

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Do you have a question you'd like to ask Andy about any aspect of your meditation practice? Simply visit the Andy's Answers section of our community forum where you'll find instructions on sending your question in, as well as all the questions he has answered to date.

We also recommend you check out our FAQ section, which is full of helpful tips and insights to ease you along your Headspace Journey.

More information…

The Headspace Meditation App is completely free and allows you to try our Take 10 series. It’s perfect for those looking for some time out from their hectic schedule to regain focus. Try for yourself today.

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