week 3 theme
Mindfulness practice isn’t meant to eliminate thinking but rather to help us know what we’re thinking when we’re thinking it, just as we want to know what we’re feeling when we’re feeling it. It allows us to watch our thoughts, see how one thought leads to the next, decide if we’re heading down an unhealthy path, and, if so, let go and change directions. We can rest in the awareness of the thought, in the compassion we extend to ourselves if the thought makes us uncomfortable, and in the balance and good sense we summon as we decide whether and how to act on the thought.
Working with emotions during our meditation sessions sharpens our ability to recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later. We can then go on to develop a more balanced relationship with it—neither letting it overwhelm us so we lash out rashly, nor ignoring it because we’re afraid or ashamed of it. In this way, the practice of mindfulness allows us to see our lives more clearly and honestly. And the clearer our vision—the more firsthand information we have about ourselves and the world— the better able we are to make good decisions, and the less fragmented we feel.
Take a few moments this week to look back over your week of practice with two guided reflections from Sharon.
Recommended reading for Week Three of the Challenge is pages 112 – 122 and pages 137 – 144 in the second edition of the book, “Real Happiness”.
This week we are going to focus on mindfulness of the mind: thoughts and emotions that come and go. These objects of mindfulness can be subtle and fleeting, as is especially the case with thoughts. Whether thoughts or emotions, we tend to identify with them a lot. As much as we identify our true selves with our bodies, we tend to do that a lot more with our minds. We might hit an elbow and say, “My elbow hurts,” but we are unlikely to say, “I am a sore elbow.” But if we experience sadness, guilt, anger, we are much more likely to build a whole self-image around that, “I am such an angry person, and I always will be.”
Our goal is not at all to wipe out thoughts and emotions, not even very negative or painful ones. We couldn’t succeed at that even if we tried hard. Our goal is to establish a more spacious relationship to thoughts and emotions, so that we are empowered. We have a choice in that space: for example, “Do I really want to send this exact email?” if we have no space, we have pressed send even before we recognize we are feeling angry.
The work is to not fall into and be dominated by every thought and emotion that arises, and also to not push against them and dislike or fear what we are feeling or thinking. Mindfulness avoids both of these extremes. Instead, we can have a balanced and interested relationship towards all that comes up. We can have more compassion for ourselves with more negative or painful states, and notice and enjoy more pleasant states, instead of being so distracted, we hardly take them in to appreciate them.
In Burma, there is a teaching story that is told about a hunter who goes into the forest to try to capture a bird. He may wander for a long time in the forest and, in the end, may not capture the bird. But that is all right because, in all that wandering, he has learned the ways of the forest.
It is just like that for us in meditation. We may have the idea that there is something we would like to capture, perhaps something we can show off to all our friends. But any meditation experience we can show off doesn’t matter. What matters is that we are open to learning the ways of the forest, the ways of the body, and the mind. What matters is that we learn how to wander, how to explore, how to make this journey of discovery. To learn how to have wonder at the changing array of our own experiences. That means there is no particular experience that is “good,” while the rest are considered inferior. It’s all “good,” in that we can learn from everything.
If at any time it feels too ephemeral or ungrounded, it’s perfectly fine to go back to mindfulness of the body. It’s not regressive to do so. We’re just trying to cover the scope of where mindfulness can touch and improve our lives.
MINDING THE GAP
Becoming mindful of our emotions and habitual responses helps us not be overwhelmed by the uncertainties of daily life. Let’s explore this relationship in action for a day. As you eat, work, run errands, and care for yourself and loved ones, try to identify waves of strong emotions. What does the monologue in your head begin to say about—or add on to—the actual experience in response? Can you pause and create some space around the emotion, allowing it to arise and pass away? As the day continues, are there patterns you witness? Which need further exploration? When the day closes, note observations in your meditation journal.
THE RE-BALANCING ACT
This point in our program is a good time to ponder your values. Maybe cultivating relationships is of great value to you, but distractions habitually pull you toward technology or keep you at your desk. Maybe you value a deep connection to your spiritual practice, work, health, or education, but self- judgments have hindered you from taking steps towards satisfying growth. Ponder the values that make you feel strong, joyful, and inspired. Consider these as you continue your meditation practice. You are cultivating the attention we all need to best nurture what we really care about.
Journal prompt Transcript
MAKING IT RAIN
Let’s apply the RAIN technique to one strong emotion you felt today. First, RECOGNIZE the emotion by pinpointing it as fear, sadness, frustration, joy, excitement, and so on, and write it down. Next, look at the emotion you’ve chosen and ACCEPT it as one of the many temporary, complex emotions felt by all humans. Now, INVESTIGATE it: Are there other emotions embedded within it? Lastly, can you attempt NON-IDENTIFICATION of that original emotion? The emotion is a temporary, conditioned experience. It does not ultimately define you.
- Day 15 • Mental Notation Meditation 8 Minutes
- Day 16 • Meditation on Positive Emotions 9 Minutes
- Day 17 • Meditation on Difficult Emotions 9 Minutes
- Day 18 • Meditation on Working with Thoughts 6 Minutes
- Day 19 • Meditation on Working with Challenges 11 Minutes
- Day 20 • Meditation on Changing Emotions 6 Minutes
- Day 21 • Landscape of Experience Meditation 7 Minutes