ACT Mindfully

A New Relationship to Thoughts and Feelings

This new relationship to thoughts and feelings is one of recognizing thoughts and feelings for what they are. Sometimes this is easy, you instantly see the falseness, uselessness, or ridiculousness of a thought. At other times, it isn’t so easy. Some thoughts have a number of feelings attached to them, which makes those thoughts especially “sticky” and difficult to not believe.

Thoughts and feelings that are very convincing have to be investigated carefully and often repeatedly before they lose their hold on us. For instance, those who grew up with abuse or without the proper nurturing often strongly feel and believe that they are unlovable. Thoughts and feelings such as these need careful and deep examination, usually with the help of a professional, before they are no longer believed. This can be difficult work, but it is important work, because such thoughts and feelings shape and limit us, often much more than we realise.

The new relationship to thoughts and feelings that is possible is one of recognizing and accepting them as part of the human condition but realising that they don’t define us or say anything at all about who we really are. Isn’t it great that the petty, angry, judgmental, unkind, and discontent individual that our thoughts often make us out to be isn’t who we really are and that we can move beyond feeling and behaving in these destructive ways? Our true self is inherently good, kind, and in love with life.

Isn’t that what we all really want, to be our best self instead of our worst self? Well, the good news is that we really are our best self and not our worst self, since the worst self is created and maintained solely by believing our negative thoughts and acting out the negative feelings that come from those thoughts.

Thoughts and feelings arise within all human beings, and they are very similar from one human being to the next. The stressful thoughts and feelings that you have are nearly the same as the ones I and everyone else has. We are all in the same boat as human beings, and no-one escapes this fate. And yet, it’s also possible to become free of the domination of such thoughts and feelings.

Even enlightened or spiritually awakened people have stressful thoughts, but they’ve realised the truth about their thoughts and so are free to have something else define them and determine their experience of life. They’ve learned to live as their true self within this human life. And so can you. The secret that these individuals know and have known throughout history is now available to all who are ready to receive it.

The skills, or steps, for becoming established in a new relationship to thoughts and feelings are:

1.    Noticing stressful thoughts and feelings;
2.    Allowing and accepting stressful thoughts and feelings;
3.    Investigating stressful thoughts and feelings;
4.    Reframing stressful thoughts; and
5.    Being with stressful feelings.

Obviously, to become free of our stressful thoughts and feelings, we first have to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling. Sometimes awareness alone is enough to disidentify from a thought or feeling and be free of the stress it’s causing. Awareness gives us a little distance from a thought or feeling, a little objectivity. For example, I might be hurrying around and feeling stressed-out, but as soon as I become aware of the “hurry up” voice and the tension in my body, that awareness may interrupt my behavior enough to allow me to see that I need to slow down. Then if I choose to slow down, that would put an end to feeling stressed-out.

With some stressful thoughts and feelings, however, more than just becoming aware of them may be needed to disidentify from them. Sometimes we have to spend a little time with a stressful thought or feeling, acknowledging it, letting it be there, and experiencing it fully, without resisting it or pushing it away, before we can come out from under its spell, because it may be that we need to discover more about it. In the previous example, if I hadn’t been able to stop hurrying because unconsciously I was afraid that something bad would happen if I did, then taking a little more time and noticing that fear was also there along with the sense of hurry might be enough to calm the fear and allow me to continue more peacefully. If not, staying with that fear a little longer and investigating it further might be called for.

Allowing and accepting a stressful thought or feeling gives it space and time to be there and opens the door to experiencing it fully and discovering something more about it. Without first allowing a stressful thought or feeling to be there, how can we investigate it? And if we don’t accept it, why would we be willing to investigate it? Allowing and accepting a stressful thought or feeling makes it possible to have a new relationship to it, one that is neither identified with the thought or feeling nor pushing it away, but curious about it and open to it and to finding out more about it.

When we stop being identified with a stressful thought or feeling, it stops feeling like my thought or my feeling, and it becomes just a thought or feeling. It’s more like humanity’s thought or feeling rather than ours personally. Paradoxically, disidentification makes it possible to relate to our stressful thoughts and feelings more intimately than when we were identified with them, because if they aren’t ours, then we don’t need to resist them or push them away.

When we no longer think a thought or feeling is bad or that it means something bad about us, then we won’t feel the need to run from or reject it. This is why accepting our thoughts and feelings is so important. Acceptance counteracts our natural inclination to reject a stressful thought or feeling and allows for the possibility of disidentification and investigation, which leads to freedom from that piece of conditioning.

From From Stress to Stillness: Finding Inner Peace in a Not So Peaceful World by Gina Lake, which will be released in December.

Love & Laughter ~ John

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