Embrace not feeling great!
Sometimes we just wake up in a low mood, the world feels grey and perhaps, even heavy. When it happens, I often try to determine what is contributing to this feeling. I scan the previous day to determine if there are lingering negative feelings that may have resulted from unpleasant experiences. I also consider if the approach of the day is filled with some sort of dread or anticipation of an unpleasant experience.
Sometimes, I simply cannot determine what is making me feel the way I feel. My mind then insists on a second round of scanning, searching a bit deeper. Perhaps I could find something related to my childhood that could explain the feeling, or I could sense that a huge injustice was about to befall me and that would be the reason!
One day, I realised that perhaps there is not always a specific ‘reason’ for feeling grey. It could simply be a mix of the weather, the air, hormonal changes, biorhythms, or perhaps what we ate for dinner. Irrespective, negative moods are inevitable. Our challenge is to not seek a cognitive ‘reason’ for every feeling, because when we do, we often make matters worse.
Instead, I have learnt to become aware of the ‘feeling tone’, the context in which emotions take place. When our feeling tone is negative or unpleasant then whatever stimuli we encounter will be experienced in a negative context. We can also choose to work with our mood and try to move it to a more positive place.
Rick Hansen, author of Buddha’s Brain, suggests that we can cultivate a positive focus through, for instance, recalling a recent pleasant experience and reliving the experience. Try and imagine that the experience runs into every cell of your body, like honey or syrup. We can also practice mindfulness and simply notice and examine the sensation in our body. We can identifying where it sits, what color it is, what texture it is, what density it is, etc. Often, by simply observing and investigating our mood in this manner will somehow minimise the emotion and its effect.
Martine Batchelor, a former Buddhist nun and the author of several books, quoted a Buddhist nun and said; ‘If you understand neutral feeling tone, it is pleasant, if you don’t, it is unpleasant.’ A neutral feeling tone is often the most common feeling state for many of us. However, if we think that we should be feeling positive all of the time we are likely to interpret a neutral feeling tone as not good enough. Our expectations may simply be too high or unrealistic. Of course, a neutral feeling tone can be experienced as good, because it is not inherently bad. We could welcome the neutral feeling tone!
In essence, when we stop experiencing a pleasant feeling tone we tend to move towards an unpleasant feeling tone. When we stop experiencing an unpleasant feeling tone we tend to move toward a pleasant feeling tone. We know this from being aware that when the emotional pain goes away we feel relief and even delight that we are pain free, but this feeling often doesn’t last.
We also know the feeling of having celebrated, or anticipated experiencing, a great occasion, only to experience the let down once it is over. However, if there is not much going on either way, we may just feel neutral. Naturally we can cultivate a more positive focus through mindfully paying attention to, or recalling, a positive experience, or by simply being grateful.
This month, before you get out of bed, check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “What is today’s feeling tone?” If it is pleasant be glad! If it is neutral, enjoy the contented sensation of neutral. If it is unpleasant, then first acknowledge it, allow it and investigate it, see what happens. Pay careful attention to how you are managing yourself during the day (or while the unpleasant sensation is present).
Don’t take what you think too seriously. Remember how much our thoughts are colored by our mood! Don’t trust a thought you think!
“The self is not a thing but a process” – Genpo Roshi