Today’s post continues on the topic of learning how to objectively witness thoughts and feelings. This skill is a crucial component in the stress reduction equation. Since chronic, maladaptive stress contributes to sickness, and doesn’t not contribute to sickness, the serious student of health would invest due resources in resolving the root causes of it.
The other side of the coin with regard to objective witnessing is subjective involvement. As discussed in stress reducer 677a, attempts at stress reduction from a place heavily skewed toward subjective involvement carry a high risk of failure. The mind operating from a thesis of subjective involvement is prone to unhealthy self-interest and thus risks falling into the lifestyle of the professional complainer.
Objective witnessing is like a compassionate, impartial judge; subjective involvement is like the plaintiff and defendant. Both are necessary for justice to be served.
Operating from subjective involvement is a habit. Operating from objective witnessing is also a habit. Operating from non-discerning autopilot is a habit. Operating from discerning awareness is also a habit. It is beneficial to reflect on these distinctions as well as on the right use of each, on the possible benefits of each, on the potential harm of each.
We facilitate a pivot from a non-discerning-autopilot-subjective-involvement lifestyle to a discerning-awareness-objective-witnessing lifestyle when we are internally able to create a healthy distance between the experiencing mind–with its thoughts and feelings–and the object (whether concrete or abstract) being experienced. Practicing the habit of shifting the perception from “I am this experience” to “there is this experience” is an effective way to do this.
Let’s take the example of hunger arising in the mind and body, a co-occurrence of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. Ordinarily, on experiencing hunger I think I am hungry and I engage in those activities that bring about a satisfaction of hunger: I get up and walk to the kitchen, I find a suitable food, I process (cut/warm/fry/boil/etc.) that food as need be, I plate the food, I sit, I eat the food, I feel full, I stop eating.
Our habitual, non-discerning, autopilot mind tends to operate in this way. It’s neither good nor bad in and of itself. If hunger is a state of discomfort, then we lean toward those behaviors which reduce discomfort and increase comfort. But without examining the true source of the hunger urge we risk doing an ostensibly right thing for the wrong reason, we risk indulging pleasure to the point of recklessness. The result will be suffering at some point.
The other option is, on the arising of the hunger experience, to stand in the position of there is this hunger arising…and here I am looking at it. From this different vantage point, we are in a better position to ask some questions about that hunger–to “be curious about it”, as one commentator has put it.
We can ask questions like: “why am I hungry? Is it because deep within I really have a stress feeling? What might I be stressed about? Is this hunger secondary to me just having consumed cannabis? Does it serve the highest good to eat right now? Or is it better that I wait a few minutes? Is this a situation of emotional urgency? What would happen if I didn’t eat? This food I’m about to eat: is this beneficial to me? Do I want to eat out of love? Or do I want to stuff my feasthole out of fear? Do I, in my heart of hearts, really want to act on this urge, or not?”
We can observe the experience of hunger–with its attendant thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations–without slavishly giving in. We proceed in the direction of self-mastery. We become able (with practice, of course–and all the attendant wins and failures) to discern what comes from our higher mind and what comes from the lower mind. We learn the all-important skill of delaying our gratification, a valuable lesson for our un-evolved, immature, bratty self-levels. We are in a position to answer the question where does this urge really–really–come from? Getting clear on the source of our urges, we can make smarter decisions about allowing and restraining actions.
Shifting from I-am to there-is has applicability in arguably all departments of life. A few more examples:
Uckh, I’m so annoyed.
Hm. There is the emotional energy of annoyance arising…and here I am looking at it. Why am I annoyed? With whom am I annoyed?
* * *
I’m bored. Let me check out what’s on TV.
Here are thoughts and feelings of boredom within me, and there is an idea to watch TV. Is this a good idea right now, or might there a better use of time?
* * *
Yo, I’m so excited to go on this trip!!
There is excitement within me arising about going on this trip. What am I looking forward to? These experiences I’m looking forward to, do they help me be a better person? Or am I really just trying to get my freak on? Is it possible that I’m looking to escape my problems? How do I really feel about these people I’m about to spend the next week with?
When acting from knee-jerk reaction mode, we rarely, if ever, take the time to question our motivations, our beliefs, our assumptions. Sure, there’s no denying that lots of our good habits display themselves automatically. But without investing the time and energy to rigorously examine ourselves–a task made possible only when we stand in the vantage point of objective witnessing–the angel and the asshole within us coexist in some nebulous mess that inevitably leads to confusion, suffering, and stress. On the other hand, the smarter decisions that follow from the clarity gained through practice of objective witnessing can–provided other conditions are present–lead to drastic reduction in stress levels and to lasting happiness and contentment through disentangling the mind from automatic/habitual/ingrained/entrenched thoughts and feelings.
The trick is to not go too hard nor too lean with this habit. As we know, it is entirely possible to overanalyze. Sometimes we want some spontaneity. Perhaps one indicator to check for is how the experience of practice registers with our internal sensing apparatus–does it lead to constructive insight? does it interfere with interpersonal effectiveness? does this feel like I’m neglecting other activities needing attention? Take care to discern between the higher and lower natures.
As mentioned in stress reducer 677a, the solution to chronic, maladaptive stress has many component parts. In that post, we put forth the thesis that it is necessary to face the stress, and distinguished between the two broad ways of doing so. Here, we went into one method of cultivating the habit of objective witnessing by practicing the substitution of “there is” for “I am”. Standing in the objective witness position, the question immediately following is OK, now what do we do? This topic will be covered in a future post.
Hope this helps you in your work!
Points to ponder:
“I am” is identifying with an object/attitude/etc. “There is” is identifying an object/attitude/etc. With practice, we can identify an object/attitude/etc. without necessarily identifying with it.
It’s a long road, knowing oneself.
Like a set of matryoshka dolls that change appearance at different levels of opening-up, what appears to be copacetic non-stress on the surface may in truth be super-agitated stress at the core. What can appear as super-agitated stress on the surface may in truth be copacetic non-stress at the core. Don’t judge the book by its cover.
Copyright (c) 2020 Justin Jaucian