There's a fun thing you could do that would teach you a lot about yourself — a perspective to adopt for an entire day. Fun is the operative word. Because normally this kind of inquiry invites deadly seriousness.
Take on this project with a lightness of heart, with the bemused eye of the curious scientist bent on discovery. After all, the whole point of the spiritual life is to end up where you no longer take yourself seriously. If you go about this self-observation with grim determination and guilty recognition of your imperfections, you're only feeding the already ravenous maw of self-importance.
So lighten up. Be willing to look at yourself, but turn off the judging function. This is not about psychoanalyzing yourself, or justifying your foibles. It's not meant to be preparatory to improving yourself. If doing this exercise brings about change, that will happen quite naturally, all on its own.
Even if you think you know yourself well, this exploration may be revelatory. You may have lived for decades, done a lot of spiritual inquiry, worked on yourself in multiple ways. Still, you may be in for a surprise.
What's Making Me Feel Good?
For one whole day, notice whenever something gives you a good feeling. Pay attention to even the subtle good-feeling things (including those that strike you as embarrassingly trivial). See if you can sustain the awareness throughout the entire day.
You might reflect ahead of time on the types of things that could stir a good feeling in the course of a typical day. Doing this ahead-of-time reflection can help you recognize the pleasant sensation when it comes.
Things go the way you hoped they would. Somebody says something nice about you. The light turns green just before you get to it. You weigh yourself and see you've lost a pound. Something you worked hard on turns out well. You get through your whole list. You finish a project you've been working on. The doctor calls and says you don't, after all, have a staph infection. You're finally able to get the lawn mower working. Your partner looks you adoringly in the eye and tells you how wonderful you are.
Your lost cat comes home. You get an email saying your story has been accepted for publication. Your car repair ends up being less expensive than you'd feared. On the radio, you hear that your guy won the election. You narrowly miss getting rear-ended. You've come to the end of your work week and can now relax. You look outside and see it's finally stopped raining. Your therapist says you've made a breakthrough. Your boss gives you a raise. You make a sarcastic remark at a business meeting that elicits laughter.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
Your own list is probably already generating itself.
Making Your List As You Go Through the Day
Pick a day that hasn't started yet (how about tomorrow?) and watch yourself move through the day's developments, noticing every time something "makes" you feel even slightly good. The point of doing this isn't to be hard on yourself. It's simply to see what a source of sustenance it all is, in the experience of how-life-is-going.
You're likely to also observe, as you move through the day, those things (small and large) that "make" you feel bad. You could take a separate day for that project. Or, if you can stand the repeated whiplash, do them both on the same day.
You'll see yourself mostly do one of two things with anything significant. If you like it, you'll put your arms around it, taking it along with you in your travels, so you can revisit it later as something you can feel good about. If you don't like it, you'll complain about it, make up dismissive stories about it, justify why things went badly.
The goal isn't to make yourself stop feeling good when good things happen. It's just to see how your underlying sense of well-being is susceptible to how things go.
Don't bother judging yourself for the trivial nature of some of what you discover. The point is to stop taking yourself seriously. But while self-castigation about the particulars is a waste of time, the larger phenomenon is very much worth paying attention to. Remember, it's human nature you're learning about here, not your individual neuroses.
Observing How Your Mood is Altered by Externals
Observe how readily your mood is altered by something "out there." See if you can watch it happening without completely buying into the mood (lousy, euphoric, frustrated, gratified). Observe the phenomenon without losing track of its being a phenomenon.
In a vivid moment of noticing, ask What is here that's capable of noticing this? In a way, that's the entire point of this exercise: not to try to change what you feel, but simply to feel what it's like to get outside of it. To experience the presence of the you that's not caught up in liking and not-liking. What's valuable is the ability to adopt a perspective different from the usual one.
Perspective, in this business, is everything.
If embarrassment or self-chastisement starts up, you can be sure it's a sign you aren't outside of the phenomenon. It's the ego taking you to task. If that happens, take a step to the side and observe the squirmy feeling that's begun to flood you. You're no longer in it.
It's a necessary shock to become acquainted, maybe for the first time, with what's actually driving your sense of how life feels a lot of the time. You're discovering how uphill it is to see through all the reactivity to the moment itself. But the discomfort doesn't last, not if you stay with this process. Little by little, you begin to take your thoughts less seriously. They become features of the landscape, like furniture or trees. Life continues, one event after another, but something in the middle of all the action is beginning to recognize itself. It feels, occasionally, more real than the contents of your head. More real than the you that's having all these opinions.
©2012 by Jan Frazier. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Weiser Books,
an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. www.redwheelweiser.com
The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is
by Jan Frazier.
Popular spiritual writer and teacher Jan Frazier shows how to move from emotional and mental turmoil to quiet joy and happiness in The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is. Whether you feel stuck in your life, or simply want to suffer less and live more consciously, this book offers a blueprint to make the shift into the present.
About the Author
Jan Frazier is a writer, spiritual teacher and the author of several books including When Fear Falls Away: The Story of a Sudden Awakening. Her poetry and prose have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies, and she has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Visit her at www.JanFrazierTeachings.com.