“Your thoughts and feelings influence everything you do,” said the instructor, “it simply isn’t possible to be 100% neutral and objective. You can’t turn your feelings off and turn yourself into a robot; your feelings will always play a role.”
“Most people go through life simply reacting to their thoughts and feelings, without ever being aware of them. They haven’t the slightest idea why they do the things they do. They are like a little boat that is pushed this way and that by an unseen wind.”
“You can’t turn off your emotions, but with practice you can become aware of them. You can learn to manage them and make space for them, you can work with your emotions instead of either fighting them or being ruled by them.”
“You must learn to be aware of your thoughts and feelings at all times,” the instructor went on, “it’s hard, but it will get easier with practice.”
“In the beginning you should practise in your room or in some quiet place, either lying down or sitting comfortably. First pay attention to how you are feeling in your body, focusing on one part of your body and then another: your hand, your stomach, your back. Take as long as you need to really get a sense of how every part of you is feeling. People are often surprised at how many little aches and niggles there are, or how much tightness is in the shoulders or chest or back.”
“Once you’re done focusing on your body, ask yourself some questions. How do I feel right now? Am I hot or cold? Am I tired? Am I full of energy? Am I in a good mood, or a bad one? Ask yourself these questions, and wait for the answers to come. Don’t judge how you feel as good or bad, don’t think about why you feel that way, simply pay attention to yourself. Strive to observe your feelings patiently, compassionately, and without judgement.”
“Next, pay attention to your thoughts. You probably have all sorts of thoughts whizzing through your mind. Some important, and some utterly trivial. You might realise that you have thoughts you hadn’t even noticed you were thinking, just chattering away in the background. Listen to your thoughts. Pay attention. Don’t judge the things you notice yourself thinking – whether important or trivial, interesting or mundane, wise or foolish – don’t judge your thoughts, simply watch them as they go by. This sounds like a simple thing, but it will take lots of patient practice before you can do it. Don’t be discouraged if you find it impossible to stop yourself from judging your thoughts, reacting to them, feeling proud or ashamed of them or justifying them to yourself. Just keep reminding yourself to step back and listen to yourself impassively. Keep practising and in time it will get easier.”
“As I said before, at first you should practise in a quiet, private place, but eventually you want to be able to carry this awareness around with you everywhere. Start off in your room, or in some other peaceful place, but once you’ve begun to get the hang of it, practise while walking outdoors, or while sitting on the bus, or while waiting in line. When you can do that, you can practise carrying this awareness even while concentrating on a task, or participating in a conversation.”
“Is that all clear?” the instructor asked.
The student did not answer immediately, but stood gazing at her shoes.
“Is there a problem?” the instructor asked icily.
The student replied timidly, without lifting her gaze. “It’s just – all of that paying attention to yourself, it just seems like a strange thing to do.”
“Does your life matter?” the instructor asked.
The student looked up, confused.
“I asked you a question,” the instructor barked. “Does your life matter?”
“Yes,” the student said, in a small voice.
“Do your actions matter?” the instructor asked.
“Yes,” the student replied, “I suppose.”
“Your actions either matter or they don’t,” the instructor barked, “your life either matters or it doesn’t.”
“My life matters,” the student said.
“Your life matters,” the instructor agreed, “and if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
“But if I do this, practising awareness every day, it’ll set me apart from everyone I know. It would feel like it was some weird secret I was keeping from everyone else.”
“Ah, here we come to a real problem,” the instructor said gravely. “Relationships are very important. Connections to others, friends, family, co-workers or fellow students, are very important.”
“I suppose I could just tell my friends what I’m doing, and why I’m doing it,” mused the student, “then it wouldn’t seem so weird.”
The instructor nodded. “That is wise,” she said.