Just as there is room in the sky for a thunderstorm, so there is room in the vast space of our mind for a few painful feelings; and just as a storm has no power to destroy the sky, so unpleasant feelings have no power to destroy our mind.
-Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, shared by Patty in New Jersey
If I can’t stop thinking, maybe I can just let my thoughts go by without getting all caught up in them. Feel the breeze on your face or your neck? See how it’s going by? You’re not all hung up with it. You don’t have to see where each breeze goes. You don’t have to look quickly to see if it hit those trees over there. It’s breezes, and they’re just going by. Make your thoughts like those breezes, those little breezes…just going by.
-Ram Dass, shared by Joan in Albany, NY
A few weeks ago I spent an enormously fun day helping the student affairs staff at Southern Methodist University wrap up their academic year, and just last week I was back with some P&Gers (shoutout to the Data & Analytics Women’s Network). Both visits were opportunities to explore how self-care is an essential component of professional and personal growth, and how self-awareness helps pave the way for self-care.
A relatively simple self-awareness habit is to regularly notice and identify our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up with them. Counselors use the term affect labeling to help clients recognize what feelings are present in a given moment, and there is consistent research suggesting it can help neutralize feelings like anger and sadness that don’t want to linger too long, while intensifying those emotions like happiness and contentment that we find pleasurable.
The same is true of cognitive defusion, the skill of managing our thinking so it doesn’t over-manage us. The trick is to recognize intrusive, repetitive, unhelpful thoughts and label them without getting too caught up in them. We’re not trying to gain complete control over our thoughts, or vanquish every single unpleasant though…these attempts usually end up giving additional power to them anyway. Instead, we adopt a curious mindset so it is more like a game we’re playing or a puzzle to solve.
Sometimes we need help in sorting all of this out, (three cheers for therapy!) and I want to avoid any appearance of attempting to oversimplify some of the bigger and more complex challenges around emotional well-being that some people grapple with. This definitely isn’t one of those, “Here let me tell you how easy it is to instantly eliminate all of your unehlpful thoughts and feels in one simple step.”
Just for now, and just for today, maybe you can invite yourself to simply pause and feel the little breezes.
P.S. If you need another reason to avoid clinging too tightly to feelings, here’s a great article entitled, Worry is an Unhelpful friend and a Shoddy Fortune Teller. Let me know if you find this useful, pretty please. It’s hard to know if the extra effort it takes to tag articles like this is worth it.