Most of us accept the reality given to us. That includes our thoughts and feelings. After all, if we think or feel it, it must be true on some level, we suppose. Our thoughts and feelings are communications to what is going on in the recesses of our soul, whether it’s love, fear, sadness, or tiredness. And as a therapist, the last thing I want to do is discount or invalidate a person’s thoughts or feelings. But…
There is another perspective. Our thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. They are information but are not the whole picture. We do have some power over them, especially through mindfulness of them. The present is always available to us. For example, this week I have paid extra attention to my anxiety because it has been swirling in my body because of various life events going on right now. And my anxiety is valid as an emotion. I have felt real fear for the future. And my body feels this in my chest. And my thoughts reflect this as well. What is going to happen? How will I deal with it? Fear dances through me, and it knocks me down a peg with stress.
But there is another way. The constant stream of thoughts need not be engaged but can be watched the way a writer steps back from the piece they are working on so they can look at it objectively and edit it. Our thoughts and feelings can be treated similarly. They can be examined objectively. One can even use a form of Socratic questioning to examine the validity of our thoughts and feelings. Questions like “how old is this thought?”, “where is this thought coming from?”, or “is this feeling based in any reality?” are immensely helpful in dealing with emotions like anxiety.
Additionally, our anxieties can be nurtured and given love and self-compassion. There are hundreds of loving-kindness meditations out there. Self-compassion is also having a moment right now as well. All of these tools are helpful in dealing with everyday pains and stresses of existence. They can provide us with the love and support we need especially when that is not readily available.
Lastly, instead of accepting our emotions as 100% true, we can practice mindfulness with them. When the stream of anxious thoughts enters my head, I can practice self-awareness and notice the stream of thoughts for what they are. Just thoughts. Watching the stream in my head, the anxiety starts to dissipate and I am connected to the moment. I am connected to my body. It is here I can actually experience reality just as it is. And here is the true gift of mindfulness. When the stream of thoughts starts to die down, you can find beauty in anything. One can look at a tree and be fascinated for long periods of time because for once, you aren’t focused on yourself and one’s emotions. It is the difference between being and doing that is so important to a spiritual life.