When discussing meditation, people often express the desire to become a “watcher” of one’s thoughts in a way that allows oneself to separate his/her identity from the mind. As I began my own meditation practice, I found this concept fascinating and noticed that with increasing frequency, I would find myself able to “watch” over my thoughts.
It was not until several years later (aka now) that I realized managing my thoughts is just playing little league. At the pro-level, we audit our emotions. The reason it took me so long to even realize that the possibility of watching our emotions even existed is because they are so freaking powerful. Emotions suck you in almost instantaneously and from there it’s hard to separate yourself out. Where does the emotion start and where do you end? We often thoughtlessly become our emotions. I would argue that this is the default reaction.
So what other option do we have? To practice awareness. I don’t want to give anything away, but over the past 365 days I have learned a lot of valuable lessons and I’m pretty sure the single most valuable thing I learned was the importance of awareness. A little bit of awareness can really go a long way.
Because we don’t want to deny emotions and pretend they don’t exist, nor do we want to change them completely. It’s not as simple as “thinking happy thoughts”, in fact I think we should do nearly the opposite and actually embrace the negativity of the moment, with the awareness that this is only the dip of the wave. Just enough awareness to keep everything in perspective, to know that life goes on, and to trust that this too shall pass. I experienced this for the first time several weeks ago, and knew the next day I just had to write about this experience.
I had a really good day at work, went for a run, ate dinner, went through all of my usual routines and decided to take a minute to scroll on my (for the adventurer) instagram account. The previous day I had posted a story about a book that I was reading and I noticed that the 24h lifetime of the story was almost up. I also noticed that someone really important to me had not viewed the story… and like that I was hit with a monsoon of anxiety and sadness. You’re probably thinking an Instagram story? Really Grace? But yes. An Instagram story.
I’m sharing this anecdote because the important thing isn’t what the trigger is or even why the trigger triggered you. The important thing is how you feel. And I was hit very hard by all of the negative emotions I have long feared. For a split second, I was disappointed in myself. How could I let something so trivial like an Instagram story affect my mood? But the reality was, I was already sad. I was already anxious. Those emotions became my reality and there was no purpose trying to deny them.
And then I remembered. Everything is going to be ok. The six magic words that I can say to myself whenever and wherever. And just like that I had awareness. A tiny fraction of an inch, but more than enough to distance myself from the all-encumbering nature of the emotions and to understand that I would go to sleep and wake up feeling better. However, I didn’t try to rush the emotions either. I curled up on my bed, hugged my knees tightly into my chest and let myself cry. I let myself be sad and lonely and hurt and anxious and stressed and anything else that wanted to come out. I went to the bathroom and got in the shower and sat on the floor for a few moments as the hot water poured down on me, a physical ritual I always find endlessly comforting. I knew that I would be ok.
I can’t entirely put into words how shocking and amazing this mindset shift was, but I think the gist is that I didn’t need to be afraid anymore. I don’t have to be afraid to be sad. I don’t have to fear losing moments of joy, in fact I know they will be lost, and sadness will follow, and that is ok. Without fear of sadness or negativity, there is no defensiveness. There is no flustered flight to protect what one has. There’s no reason to be afraid of loss. There’s no reason not to embrace each and every moment we live in for what it is.
I know I talk about these types of concepts all the time, but every realization I have just adds depth to my understanding and represents another step of my journey. Auditing my emotions allows me to better live in day-tight compartments as fear no longer prevents me from trying my very best.
So when things feel overwhelming, I need only remind myself to take one tiny step back. To gain distance, to gain perspective, and to remember that no matter what, everything is going to be ok.