“Take care of your mind, your body will thank you. Take care of your body, your mind will thank you.” – Debbie Hampton
Meditation teaches us to observe our thoughts and feelings
When you meditate you begin to connect with a part of your mind often referred to as the observer or the witness. This is less a place in the mind and more a perspective or a viewpoint. From this viewpoint, we notice our thoughts – the way that they rise up and float away, the way they can feel like a hailstorm or a rainstorm depending on the day.
The observer or the witness also notices feelings. We become keenly aware of the physical aches and pains that come from sitting still as well as the little itches and twitches that distract us from the stillness we seek. We also notice emotions (feelings) such as sadness, anxiety, peacefulness, stress, anger, happiness, and so on. We witness both types of feelings, like thoughts, rising up and passing through us.
With practice, the connection between these two types of feelings – physical and emotional – becomes clearer. You might notice that when you’re sad your shoulders round forward. That your stomach is turbulent when you feel anxious. That happiness gives you a loose sensation in your arms and legs, while worry causes a clenched jaw. You might notice that surprise and anger both come with shallow breaths and a rapid heartbeat. Body and mind are one.
With even more practice, you will notice that you can sometimes slip into “witness mode” when you’re living your life. Each time you “catch” yourself observing your thoughts and feelings is a step closer to being able to shift into this mindset at will. Being able to do this is a bit of a superpower. It frees us from habitual reactivity to a more mindful, serene way of living.
A vacation allows me to witness myself relaxing
On a recent vacation, I played around with this type of self-observation for a week. For the first two or three days I was waking up at my regular, “I’ve got a busy day ahead of me” hour. I was truly stunned on Tuesday to wake up and realize it was after 7:00 – an hour when I’m usually shifting from self-care (a walk and meditation) into work mode. For the remainder of the trip, I watched myself relax into this new rhythm and felt the extra rest soak through me.
I also noticed that as I became more rested, I became more still. For the first few days, my pace was quick, and I shifted gears frequently. I watched myself hop up from reading to straightening the kitchen and back to reading in a slightly hyper way. I was interrupting my own peace and quiet. I noticed that I wasn’t settling on the beach either – catching myself reaching for my phone rather than enjoying the view.
As the week went on my capacity for quiet increased. I was more settled in and out of the house. I wandered on the beach looking for shells for hours. I also sat for hours reading happily or just watching the sun sparkle on the water. This slower, stiller way of being seemed to cause physical shifts –my typically cranky shoulders and jaws eased up. My stride was looser and springier. My breath- and heart- rates slowed. A happy, relaxed mind led to a happy, relaxed body.
Catching myself tensing up is an opportunity to relax again
My ability to witness myself relaxing – inside and out – inverted itself in the airport on the way home when I noticed myself becoming stressed as I navigated the airport with my carry-on. I tuned in more closely and noticed something strange. I was carrying my bag with my arm bent – essentially working as hard as I could. I thought, “That’s silly,” extended my arm and, immediately felt myself relax.
I felt my body say to my harried mind, “Thank you!” as my arms began to swing naturally. Even my stride relaxed. Within moments, my mind softened as well, whispering a “Thank you“ of its own to my body. I boarded the flight in this gentle state of being, settled into my seat, and finished another book.
Meditation makes it possible to choose to be calm – at any time
Self-awareness like this can seem incidental. After all, we all relax on vacation, right? And does it really matter how efficiently or inefficiently we carry a bag? But think about it for a second. What if you could choose your pace each day? What if you could choose to be calm? What if you could pause and allow hectic thoughts and chaotic feelings to settle? What if you could do all these things and more WHENEVER you felt out of kilter?
If that sounds as good to you as it does to me, we’ve got a very good reason to add a few (more) minutes of meditation to our days so we stay well-acquainted with our observer or witness.
Looking for help establishing a meditation practice? Drop me a line and we can set up a time to talk.