Mindful Self

Have you ever noticed when someone else seems to have little awareness of him or herself? What gives you the sense of that… what indicates that the other is unmindful?

Isn’t it that they rattle on and yet what they say seems to be disconnected with their behaviour, with their history, or  with their situation, with their body language, actions or explanations of them?

For instance, a person might be talking about what she finds relaxing, yet her voice is hgh and rushed and her body looks tight. Or they might describe an argument they’ve had as a “healthy exchange”, when you know that they are refusing to recognise that they poison their relationships but run from every opportunity to find out.

Part of it is that a mindless person doesn’t catch on to what is happening in other people either. He mistakes convenience for love, or she simply doesn’t have the empathy to know when someone else is feeling hurt, or bored, or tired.

But the curious thing is, a mindless person could just as easily be in a state that seems happy and glad. Too bad that it is just as disconnected as the less agreeable expressions of mindlessness. It all comes from unawareness of what underlies emotions.

What are emotions?

Emotions are a reaction to perceptions. You see something that you don’t like and you react. What you don’t like could be someone, or something, or some situation, or it could even be yourself that you don’t like, or some perspective of yourself that you have suddenly glimpsed. Those reactions are very predictable. There are some that are predictable in most people, eg if someone is insulted or betrayed they feel angry.When they are praised or feel part of something good, they feel happy. And then there are some reactionary patterns that are predictable only to you, as they are part of your own personal history. Both have something in common.

What both have in common is thought-bundling. Much earlier than any specific reaction, you have bundled thoughts and ideas together in your mind to form a world-view, and you have built a construct of what it means to be you. And for some strange reason, most people, including you, protect both these bundles fiercely, despite all evidence that they are not terribly realistic. They form the patterns of your life, and to be unmindful is to be run by them, instead of being so aware of them from moment to moment that you are free to be openhearted and responsive rather than reactive.

Anger and Pain, Gladness and Pleasure

Anger and pain present a great opportunity for revealing what you have bundled together for your world-view and your idea of who you are. So are gladness and pleasure. All of them point directly to the constructs, or thought-bundles, which bring about the predictable patterns of your behaviour. Anger and pain feel like contracted states, while gladness and pleasure have a nice expanded feel about them.

There is a mistaken notion that an expanded state is necessarily a spiritual state. Not so. Without mindful awareness, both the expanded pleasant state and the more contracted unpleasant state are equally limiting, ignorant and delusory. They are just like the positions of a see-saw, always unstable, ready to be knocked about by whatever falls upon them. Pushing away anger and pain instead of getting to the bottom of them just maintains the constructed view of the world and yourself. So does the attempt to move always into a pleasant state. Refusing the opportunity to explore your patterns is nonsensical in daily life and antithetical to spiritual life. And as they are only thoughts, anyway, why be afraid of them?

Difference between “Emotion” and “Feeling”

Mindfulness makes us more sensitive to the difference between emotions and feelings. As you become more self-aware, you begin to recognise that “emotion” does start with some thought, or with an interpretation of how you see a person or situation – again, a thought. Emotions are reactions to thoughts. You can notice your thinking… sometimes your head feels like it will burst with thinking.

Feelings, on the other hand, are pervasive and have a softness about them. “I feel hungry”, for instance. It doesn’t happen in the head space, does it? “I feel peaceful” doesn’t either. And empathy is a feeling/sensory state – we feel what the other person is feeling. That’s recognisably different from being on the receiving end of their emotions!

Well, you might not agree with this verbal distinction between inner states. But that is what mindfulness is all about, actually being able to tell the difference between one state and another, and what triggers them.. And when emotional volatility is replaced with “I feel peaceful”, or when “I’m angry, I’m frustrated” gives way to “I feel empathy with you”, our highest human state of relating might become possible.

Feeling Hurt, Confused, Angry

Sometimes feelings and emotions are so tangled together that it is hard to sort out which is which. And when a person is traumatised emotionally, often the friendliest offering is to listen, and listen, and listen, with love and empathy.  As the person begins to feel more settled, then it is time to sort out the difference.  Emotion is reaction, refusal to allow that reality is indeed real. Feeling is much more about self-experience. It is a doorway to self-validation, self-contentment, and peace.

Don’t be fooled, though

Even then, if you can see a difference between emotions and feelings, you can be fooled – by the somatising avoider! This is when someone avoids responsibility for their actions by histrionic behaviour that suggests they are in great pain  – when an aggressive or manipulative action of their own has become obvious. So the person might have a migraine and can’t be talked to; or might say something like “I feel so hurt !” or “Don’t judge me!” when they are asked to sort out some actual behaviour. They might create a smoke screen with over-dramatic statements like “it just feels like death”, so that it is difficult for you to describe the manipulation that is  happening. Or they might develop psychosomatic symptoms of illness. The ploy is a “poor me” routine that plays the group for the dysfunctional member’s own purposes – mainly to manage anxiety and fear of blame by pointing blame away from him or her self.  The fear and anxiety itself is never explored, nor the possibility that the very concept of blame has to be examined if one is to discover a way of relating that does not rest on notions of blame and culpability.

In a group where feelings are accepted as the individual’s truthful statement, the group might not know what to do with the histrionic, somatising, avoider, who is practised in the art of “feeling” and expressing pain and misery to engage others in sympathy, rather than to investigate their own processes. What are presented as “feelings” are thought-based emotional reactions blown out to theatrical role play, and the reality that the person has been the instigator of aggression in the first place gets lost in the smoke and mirrors.

Mystifying as it is, perhaps the somatiser is unaware. But that’s the problem of avoidance. The brain/mind somehow chooses unawareness, and seems unable to take responsibility for its choice.

Human Self, Spiritual Self

It is almost inevitable that when we arrive at some peace and clarity about Self, if we give up our manipulations and avoidance, we begin to feel that there is more to the world both inner and outer than our quarrelsome or injured minds have allowed . Our fiercely defended self-view begins to soften at the edges, and there seems to be a merging with a bigger Self. Or sometimes that is experienced as a feeling of not being alone. And it is sweet, and it is loving. Whatever label different groups put on that doesn’t make very much difference – the spiritual or divine is itself, and not amenable to brand labelling.


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