When was the last time you chose to digest? That you apologized for doing it? That you beat yourself up for digesting?
Of course you wouldn’t.
Because digestion isn’t something you control. It isn’t something you are choosing to do or not do. You aren’t responsible for how your body digests or that it does it at all.
According to my trusted Psychologist we should be considering thinking and feeling in the same way.
Our thoughts and feelings just happen. They are reactions that happen to external or internal stimuli, that we are not in control of. They are natural. They aren’t bad or good, they just are.
We don’t need to apologize or feel badly that we had a particular thought or feeling, just as we wouldn’t apologize for breathing or digesting. Thinking and feeling are just other types of body functions.
Sure, we can influence our thoughts and feelings. Likewise, we can influence how deep our breaths are or how well our digestion goes. But the fact that some thoughts and feelings just show up is not something we have to own. In fact, it’s silly to think we could (then again, it’s just a thought, so I don’t have to feel silly for thinking it 😛 )
How would your view of your own feelings and thoughts change if you could let go of the criticism and judgment that come along with them? If you can view them as the same process as breathing or digestion, how would you approach them differently? How would you respond differently?
When my psychologist brought this up, I was skeptical and figured he was just giving me an out because he’s nice. It was really hard to relinquish ownership. I was so used to feeling guilty or upset about the thoughts and feelings that I had. Deriving meaning (sometimes as proof that I’m a bad person) and judgment (sharing often that “I know I shouldn’t feel that way”) from my emotional reactions and thought processes. Once I was able to internalize what he was saying, that all emotions are just emotions, that thoughts and feelings come up without us “doing it”, I was able to feel some freedom and space there. It’s a lot easier to practice leaning into your emotions when you don’t have to own their presence.
It’s easier to find compassion for yourself when dealing with intrusive thoughts and emotions that are hard and upsetting when you don’t add on top of it the guilt for having them, and the judgment on yourself for struggling.
Letting it be and noticing. Like you would watch your breath in a meditation. Not judging the inhale and exhale. Not feeling badly for how fast or slow you’re breathing. Just letting it all be there, as the natural process it is, and being present to whatever shows up.
It’s difficult to release our hold on feelings and thoughts as most of us closely tie them with who we are (much more so than our digestion or breathing patterns). When we look deeper we can see that we aren’t our thoughts and feelings. We are deeper than that. We are the ones noticing and observing ourselves having those thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Take a moment to notice what thoughts are coming to your mind. See how you are the one watching the thought, a whole other level from where that thought is. Pretty meta, huh?
So if these thoughts and feelings are not us, then what are they?
As the observer you notice and experience body sensations, breath, thoughts, feelings, etc.
If this whole idea is new to you, or if you want to take your “observer” practice further to let go of the ownership over thoughts/feeling – the practice of labelling is a great way to start.
The idea of labelling is to label (surprise, surprise) thoughts and feelings as separate from you. To gain some distance so you can see that you and the thought are not the same.
Say the thought “I’m not good enough” comes to mind. Labelling would sound like this; “I’m having the thought that I’m not good enough”. And to take it even further here, we can specify how this whole “thinking” thing is really just an experience, not something we are actively doing. This might sound like; “I’m experiencing the thought that I’m not good enough”, or if you prefer, “I’m noticing the thought that I’m not good enough”.
Another way to practice to start seeing thoughts and feelings as the same as breathing and digestion would be to incorporate them into a body scan. If you scan through your body and notice all the different sensations, make sure to add in there what thoughts or feelings you are observing as well. The more we pair them, the easier it will be to incorporate this new learning and apply how we approach our body to how we approach our thoughts and feelings.
Try it out for a day, or a minute, and just see how this mindset changes your experience of your experiencing.