Once we can separate the emotional reaction from the label, and the label from what is actually happening, the next step is to identify the mind-stories; the specific storylines that conditioned mind uses to distort the simple actuality of circumstances.
Now, we’re going to do an exercise. You can either read it and then close your eyes and go through it, or ask someone to read it to you while you follow this exercise. Alternately, you can record it while reading it out loud, and then listen to the recording, in order to do the exercise.
Close your eyes.
Now think about something that you enjoy doing … like eating your favorite food, watching a sunrise/sunset, enjoy a warm day in the middle of winter, a day at the beach or sitting by a river enjoying nature.
Apply the separation technique we talked about in the previous section.
See the emotions arising.
Watch the labels the mind attaches.
There may be a smile on your face.
Feel your muscles relax.
Enjoy the peace for a few minutes; the silence.
Now think of something you are not looking forward to:
A family reunion, a job interview, asking permission from (someone you think of as) an authority figure (for something you think they may give a negative response to); imagine a trip to the doctor or dentist, a visit from a friend or relative who is judgmental or annoying.
Watch the emotions arising.
Watch how your body reacts. The discomfort you feel.
Identify the emotions: scared, intimidated, nervous, restless.
Be with it for a few minutes.
Now think of something that makes you angry or scared… your relatives, a bully, the economy, the government, injustice, an accident, a fire.
Now notice the emotions arising.
Apply the technique of separation and realize the actual emotions that are arising, and the mental labels connected with them.
Feel how the body is reacting.
Your muscles and jaws tighten, heart rate goes up.
Be with it for a few minutes.
Now think of something that makes you sad…a death in the family, the loss of a loved one, or some objects you really treasured.
Try and identify the emotions.
Watch how the body reacts … the tears, the heavy heart, the pain.
Now bring yourself back to the room.
Be aware of your presence in the room.
Do you realize you were not here as you lived through the above experiences?
Do you see how your mind controls so much of you?
Right now, right here, are any of those things happening?
Yet, the mind can completely change your physical and emotional state, just by bringing up some thoughts from the past (going forward we will refer to this as memory), or by projecting how you will feel in the future (this we will call imagination).
We have all experienced being terrified of doing something, or seeing someone who intimidates or scares us (mind story), and yet … when the moment itself actually happens, it does not seem as bad as the mind imagined it to be.
Or, we’ve also experienced letting the mind create the wonderful stories about what something in the future (vacation, date, dinner, movie) is going to be like and are disappointed because the actual moments don’t go like the ones we imagined.
If we had no expectations, then perhaps we would actually enjoy the given moment. However our mind does not give us a chance to enjoy something fully, because it has pre-judged the current moment and even though this moment could be a lot of fun, our mind won’t let us enjoy it completely.
So based on memories and imagination, “mind stories” are created. As a part of this exercise, we will try to identify mind stories and write them down. Separate the emotions, from the reality and identify the mind story that is labeling the situation.
The difference between a “mind story” and a “label” is that a “mind story” is story based on memory or imagination and a label is what we attach to the current situation from that mind story.
So as we go about our day, any time we suddenly feel disappointed or sad or happy… any time there is a sudden change in our emotional state, we will try to identify the emotion, the reality, the “mind story” and the label that is causing the reaction.
You are happy, and suddenly you feel your heart sink. Look at what just happened: did you read something or hear something or see something that made you feel threatened? Have an unhappy memory? Identify the emotion, and the label the mind is attaching to the situation. Identify the story the mind is making and see if the memory that brings you down fits into one of the situations we talked about in the exercise above?
Again, develop the habit of writing this down; the mind has a way of twisting things, so writing things down as they arise will help you see the emotion, the situation and the “mind story” clearly.
The mind is like a child making up stories. We don’t invest too much in way of upset and emotions in the child’s stories … similarly once we identifying the mind’s stories, many times that is enough to get us free from the suffering created by that story.