Mindfulness and Feelings
When you think of mindfulness what do you think of? It’s a trendy word these days and I find there are a lot of misconceptions regarding how it actually looks in real life. Most people misunderstand the concept of mindfulness and how to do it. Most think to be mindful is to dwell on, wallow in, and be absorbed by how you feel in a particular moment.
But it doesn’t and that’s where you may be going wrong.
The purpose of being mindful is to touch on the moment you’re experiencing, in the here and now, and do so as a neutral observer, without wallowing in feelings of good or bad.
This means you recognize what’s going on, you acknowledge what you’re feeling about it and then you disengage from judging it good or bad.
Easier said than done? Definitely. But mindful people do it all the time! And you can too.
Would some examples on what it does and doesn’t look like help? Let me elaborate with some situations you may (or may not) think make your life stink. If they don’t particularly fit, and I’m not saying the examples I’ve chosen automatically equate to a stinky life btw, then just insert your own example.
Awareness vs Dwelling
-If you’re overweight, mindfulness isn’t using every reflection you walk by to remind you that you’re fat in order for you to feel gross, ashamed and bad. But it is being aware that you are doing that and feeling that way when you do that.
-If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, mindfulness isn’t holding your dwindling bank statement in your hands as you allow the defining words, “You suck!” to circulate over and over again in your head. But it is recognizing when you are doing this and saying this to yourself.
-If you’re single, mindfulness isn’t slouching on your couch allowing the fact that you are still single to wrap you up in feelings of being unlovable. But it is knowing you are slouching and feeling unlovable in this moment.
-If you’re swamped at work, mindfulness isn’t focusing on the enormous amount of work you need to do in an unreasonably short period of time, all the while feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. But it is realizing that you’re swamped at work and feeling overwhelmed.
Dwelling on or being totally absorbed by how you feel in these moments, in addition to NOT being mindful, is a total set up and based on shaky ground.
Let me explain the two major reasons for this because maybe our feelings can’t even be trusted.
Reason #1 is, hmmm how do I say this? I’ll just go for it. There is a good chance that your feelings aren’t even real. Okay, that wasn’t so bad was it? What I mean by your feelings aren’t even real is that, like everything else about us, we are more creatures of habit than we give credit to, feelings included.
Our feelings are actually deeply constructed habits of association that get programmed into us from an early age. The programming comes from those people closest to us but we also pick up and take on social and cultural emotion norms too.
I know, this is a totally radical notion. We grow up, at least in the U.S., assigning sooooo much importance and validity to our feelings, as something to be counted on. We are encouraged to identify and “feel” our feelings. Which don’t get me wrong, all of this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
But we also need to learn that it is okay to question our feelings. That our feelings are subject to error too and not beyond reproach.
All of this gives us good reason for pause when reflecting on our feelings when we are being mindful.
We need to remind ourselves that we are actually being aware of how we have habitually interpreted and felt about this certain collection of data points in the past. We then remind ourselves that it may not still be the same with our current experience.
So for example, if you’re being mindful and recognize that you are feeling lonely, it’s important to realize that you’ve been socially and culturally trained to associate your current state with a non-pleasant feeling of lack or loneliness. This most likely has it’s roots in the past whenever a similar state was present, you associated it with this particular feeling. Now you still call it loneliness. And it still sucks.
But the mindful point is, you need to check in and see if it’s accurate. There’s a chance that you feel differently or could feel differently if you allow yourself to question your feelings as old habits.
Reason #2. We lack specificity so we often don’t even know what we’re feeling. We tend to cluster things so broadly, like either I feel good or I feel bad. It’s as if as children we stopped seeing the value in emotional details, so we kept it simple.
There are hundreds of words differentiating and fine-tuning an enormous range of feelings, yet most of us stick to just a few. And this isn’t just a Scrabble underdog issue here, this affects how we view our day to day experiences and even how we actually feel!
For example if we don’t get a job we want and feel bad, it would be easy to fall into a lengthy “woe is me” mode because our feeling “bad” is so broad. However, if we have more discerning feelings at our emotional disposal and recognize that what we feel is frustrated because we haven’t cracked the code of getting that job, we will fare differently. And better I’d argue. When we’re specific we can target a better plan than trying to target this broad, vague “bad”.
Here’s another example. Let’s take when we’re feeling sad. That’s actually quite a broad brush stroke of a feeling. We can get more specific by narrowing it down with any of these more particular words: depressed, dejected, despair, despondent, disappointed. discouraged, disheartened, forlorn, gloomy, heavy hearted, hopeless, melancholy, unhappy, or wretched.
Each of these words helps us identify more accurately what we are feeling. Labeling our feelings with broad adjectives is not helpful as it could be. Additionally, it keeps us stuck because it robs us from being able to attend to a specific feeling that we could actually do something about.
So if you think your life stinks and you are trying to cultivate mindfulness, this should really come to your rescue! You might be going at the whole mindfulness thing based on bad intel. Try questioning those feelings of yours the next time the bad ones come up. For now, I’d leave the good ones alone…we need all help we can get sometimes :-)