The email communicating the impending organisational changes popped into Henry’s inbox. His body tense, his chest heavy, and breath shallow, he opened the email and his mind went into overdrive: “If I lose my job, it’ll cause conflict with my wife; we’ll get divorced, sell the house; I’ll be unemployable and eventually chucked out of my sad little bedsit and onto the street…” And this is even before Henry reads what the email has to say.
The 1995 Radiohead song called, “Just” has an amusing yet troubling video. The song includes the chorus: “You do it to yourself, you do; and that’s what really hurts; is that you do it to yourself; just you and no one else; you do it to yourself”.
We rarely experience reality directly. Instead, we tend to construct our own as we perceive whatever comes through our senses through filters, biases and interpretations, using our thoughts and beliefs, moods, emotions and habitual behaviour. As individuals, these ideas, beliefs, and behaviours are powerfully reinforced through social agreement within our social groups, wider society, institutions and the media.
We can easily get tangled up in a semi-conscious mind-state of intermingled thoughts, emotions and reactiveness that takes us on a downward spiral. The negative self-talk and mental chatter amplify the frustration, anxiety and low-mood that then reduce our self-worth and limit our cognitive capacity. It’s not as if some external agent has done this to us; we do it to ourselves.
As a whole human being our mind, emotions, body and senses are all interconnected and influence and feed each other. We tend to see these aspects as separate, which helps us make sense of what’s going on, but in reality, they’re all a connected part of the whole. A useful way of looking at how these areas are interconnected is to imagine a five-pointed star, with senses, mind, emotion, body, and response on the points and experience as a circle in the centre:
Senses are the main input to our experience from the outside world, from sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell as well as the sense of where our body is. Coming to our senses also connects us to the present moment.
Mind refers to the thoughts, beliefs, ideas, judgements, comparisons, anticipations, etc. that we have about our situation and environment, which shape our reality.
Emotions alert us that something we’ve perceived through our senses or thoughts needs attention and prepares our body for action. Emotions also play a communication role in social interactions and drive thoughts.
Body is the biological organism that supports our life and experience, that provides physical sensations and feelings, and connects us to the present.
Response refers to how we respond, which can be a skilful choice of the most appropriate and relevant response, or by reacting automatically without any freedom.
Experience is whatever we’re experiencing in the present moment. At its most complete, this can include all thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and everything that we can experience through our senses. At its most limited this could be that we’re lost and limited in automatic thoughts, where we almost forget that we have a body and senses at all.
Imagine that Henry was working with his experience mindfully. When he saw the email he would have noticed anxiety arise, as well as the worrying thoughts. He acknowledges and is self-compassionate about the anxiety as well as the worrying thoughts, responding by saying to himself, “Wow, I hadn’t realised how vulnerable I feel about this organisational change. That chain of thoughts was a bit ridiculous. I’ll take a few intentional and aware breaths and open the email to read through what it says properly.”
Although life can sometimes be difficult, we often add to the challenge by tripping ourselves up in several ways, as if we were our own worst enemy. When we lose connection with the full richness and vitality of what it means to be human, we limit and diminish ourselves. We can reverse these powerful mechanisms and start untangling the knot of what we have done to ourselves, by building awareness of all of these areas of mind, emotion, body, and senses, together with a kinder and more compassionate relationship with ourselves.
Suggested weekly practice
- Investigate how you construct your perception of reality – through moods, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs.
- Watch your thoughts to see if they are open, fresh, and relevant, or really playing out old habit patterns that no longer serve you or others.
- Remember to connect into wholeness, by bringing all modes of mind, emotions, body, and senses into awareness and how you respond to your experience.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
- Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
- Then play the second practice to explore the different dimensions of our experience, from the mind, emotions, body, and senses, and how we respond and connect with a kinder and more compassionate relationship with ourselves.