Most of the time, when people talk about why mindfulness can be challenging, it’s about quieting the chatter in their minds. We know our minds are busy, and sometimes that noise gets a little overwhelming. So, we focus on the potential for mindfulness to slow that rush, or more precisely, to give us space to observe it without getting too caught up in it.
As we talked about before, there’s a whole other layer to that internal framework, though, and it often suffers from neglect – and sometimes even denial. From other people — not you, of course. Thoughts have these friends called emotions that tend to hang with them, but get a lot less attention because we don’t think they’re as “smart” or important. It’s just mean, you know? Really, though, the joke’s on us. We can ignore them all we want, but the thing about emotions is that doing so just encourages them to stick around. Sometimes they’ll hide out well enough that you think they’re gone, but they’re always somewhere. They’re not high maintenance, though. Give them a quick wink and a wave – just enough to say “I see you,” and they’ll eventually show themselves out. It may be a quick departure, or it may take a while, but they will slowly fade.
The “no-fail” mindfulness challenge ahead of you this weekend is to notice those feelings just as you would a thought, and then let them be. One way to practice this is a pretty simple practice of labeling them, or essentially, calling them as you see them and then leaving it at that.
Here’s how it goes:
- Set a timer. Commit to a certain amount of time – whether one minute or ten or an hour. Whatever works for you, but commit to sticking to it and seeing it through.
- Find your meditation or mindfulness activity of choice. Connect with your breath, or your point of focus, and settle in. (Want some guidance on this? Check out these guided meditations, or the ones at the bottom of this page.)
- When thoughts enter your mind, place an internal label on them that simply says “That’s a thought,” and come back to your point of focus.
- Using this labeling technique as needed, begin to notice when you may be experiencing not so much a thought as a feeling, that may or may not be connected to a thought. When you do, reach for that internal label and give it a “That’s a feeling,” and come back to your focus.
- Don’t think (or feel) too much about this. That would be beside the point, right? The idea is that you are using these labels to help you identify, recognize and then set aside distractions that pull you away from your focus during the exercise.
- Keep it up. Continue labeling your thoughts and feelings and returning to your point of focus until your timer tells you it’s time to wrap it up for now.
- Come back. Gently bring the rest of the space around you back in your awareness, and shake off anything that you might feel you’re holding onto as you prepare to head back into your day.
Labeling your feelings can be challenging, but don’t forget, the way we do them around here is always “no-fail.” It’s worth the effort to check it out, though, because being able to identify and observe your feelings is kinda critical to being able to move past them. This is different than pushing them away in frustration or anger, because that’s the same as engaging with them.
Floating away on a happy daydream and chastising yourself for feeling sad about something have exactly the same result – they grab your attention and wrap you up in a story that usually drives you deeper into the emotion. Mindfulness is about developing the ability to choose whether you want to do that (and maybe you do! If so, have at it…) because it helps you notice that you’re doing it in the first place.
That’s all it’s really about, to be honest. Inhale, exhale, observe, choose. Repeat. Try it for a minute, and you might be surprised where it shows up again in your everyday life – and it’ll be a preeeeetty cool feeling when it does.
Photo credit: Brad Neathery
This post originally appeared on MindfulMBA on June 9, 2017.