Part of a mindfulness practice is noticing our thoughts and feelings as they occur. We train our mind to be more ‘on the point’ of the present moment so to speak, so that whatever thoughts we have we notice them, and if we are feeling something we notice that too. This developed quality of noticing is what builds into knowing ourselves deeply. We begin to recognize when we are distracted, reactive or repeating a life long script as if on autopilot. We can begin to distinguish between what is – and what we wish or want or don’t want. We begin to see things m ore clearly.
This clarity leads to a portal of more – more understanding of the layers of a thought. There’s the initial thought, or emotion and then there’s the generally unnoticed layer that includes how we think and feel about our thoughts and feelings. This extra layer that we place onto everything is more subtle and taken for granted. But it’s this extra layer that is crucial to uncovering how we see the world – internally and externally. Called the second arrow in Buddhist philosophy, this subtle layer, or second arrow, is the one that causes so much discomfort and pain.
An example of this can be found in how critical we are of our own thoughts and feelings. We might hear an internal voice say “I shouldn’t be having this thought” or “I hate it when I feel this way”. The critical thought or feeling that comes after a regular old thought and feeling can be the devastating endnote that lingers for a while. This critical voice can chastise us at every turn, and eventually knock our self-confidence; self-care and self-compassion right out the door. We feel unworthy, undeserving, alone and isolated in this lonely tunnel of not good enough. Knowing that this inner critical voice can be retired forever is a freeing thought isn’t it? Actually changing the pattern is very liberating and totally possible.
Isn’t the reason we practice to be freer? More at ease? More able to bend with the winds of change and impermanence?
We might also become aware of the internal voice of praise after something we have just thought of or emotionally felt. “Great job!” it might comments, or “You go!” it might say. Typically these aren’t the loudest voices that we have, but we can have them and more importantly they are excellent friends to invite to speak up. Again, this can be cultivated with mindfulness and meditation practice. What can ensue is verifiable self-compassion – this compassion supports us through and into any difficult circumstance. We learn to become our own best ally and friend. And, naturally we become better friends and care takers to each other and the world we live on.
Begin to notice the thoughts about thoughts, how you feel about emotions, and which of the second arrows – thoughts on thoughts, feelings about feelings, cause discomfort and pain or stress. Notice long enough to see patterns and identify inner voices and then begin to say no thank you to the unhealthy ones and yes please to the skillful ones and soon the patterns will change for the better. This takes mindfulness, and patience and is within our range of possibilities.
Life isn’t easy but it can certainly be rich with interesting pursuits. See if the pursuit of knowing your own heart/mind – your thoughts and emotions about your own thoughts and emotions facilitate choice for you. It’s possible to be free of suffering; we just need to practice the steps along the way.