When someone asks "How are you feeling?" that familiar question contains within it a lot of profundity. Because how we answer it reveals quite a bit about ourselves.
Mostly I take a few moments to think about what I've been doing recently. You know, how well or poorly my day is going. Or week for a longer time span. I'd remember what's been bothering me and what's been pleasing me, then try to describe the net effect of my joys and sorrows.
There's nothing wrong with this. But reading "The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness" has led me to see that, like most people, I tend to look upon feelings in a mental fashion, not a bodily fashion.
Here's an excerpt from the chapter, "A Different Way of Knowing: Sidestepping the Ruminative Mind."
As we have seen, in doing mode we see the world only indirectly, through the veil of our thinking and labeling. If we think about our bodies in the usual way (from the perspective of our heads), then as soon as we feel listless on awaking, our mind fills with ideas about the body, what is going on in our lives, everything.
This way of paying attention will just make things worse. If, instead, we begin to focus on the body from the perspective of being mode, we open to a direct sensation of the body itself.
Moment by moment, we can become aware of body sensations but now in a new way, a way that does not keep us so stuck obsessing in our thoughts about how we are feeling in the body. This can help our feelings of sluggishness to dissipate or dissolve, like a fog lifting. We don't have to make them go away.
Sooner or later, they will inevitably fade on their own because we are no longer feeding them with incessant negative thinking, without even realizing it. In the process we shift from feeling powerless in their presence to having viable ways to be in relationship to them or anything else that arises.
The idea here is sound: we don't possess a body; we are our body.
When we look upon our body from on high, considering that we're an observer perched inside our head, we distance ourselves from the natural wisdom of the body as the varied experiences of life come and go. So if we want to know how we're feeling, being acutely aware of bodily sensations often, or usually, is the best approach.
As we've said, doing mode and its thinking patterns tend to obscure the experiential quality of being mode. For this reason, mindfulness training involves extensive practice in getting in touch, moment by moment, with the direct experience of life unfolding.
The body is a great place to start cultivating this new way of being. The very physicality of raw bodily sensations provides an ideal base from which to develop a new, more direct, experiential, sensory way of knowing.
Anger. Joy. Sadness. Excitement. Calm. Love. Revulsion. Virtually every emotion and feeling manifests in bodily sensation. We say, "I had a sinking feeling," "My heart soared," "There were butterflies in my stomach when I got up to speak," "I was tingling with anticipation."
So instead of thinking about how we're feeling, or remembering how we've been feeling, becoming aware of bodily sensations is a more direct approach. Sure, after listening to what the body tells us, we may then want to put that knowledge into language that can be shared with others, since feelings are mostly private -- albeit often obvious to others, maybe more so than to ourself.
"You look upset," my wife may say to me. At times I deny this, but almost always my wife is right. I might be so used to that feeling of being upset that I don't recognize it in me. Dogs also are sensitive to human emotions. They don't need words to be aware of how we're feeling.
Neither do we.
If, paradoxically, we can turn and face whatever it is that we are finding scary, difficult, or depressing rathe than perpetually distracting ourselves to no avail, we are actually still doing what the brain wants us to do: giving high-priority attention to the matter at hand.
It's just that we are no longer giving it attention in the old "doing" way. We are approaching the moment -- whatever it is, however it is -- not by reacting but rather by responding, by bringing an open, spacious, and affectionate attention to the feeling in the moment as it expresses itself in the body.
Now we are in relationship to the alarm in a new way, one that provides us with a viable alternative to endlessly thinking about it.