When we step back and think about the experience in our minds, we can pay attention to what we are thinking or feeling or we can pay attention what we think or feel about what we are thinking or feeling. In other words, we can pay attention to the content of our feelings and thoughts or how it feels to have those feelings and thoughts. When we are experiencing our mind’s creations as they are, we have a subjective experience of ourselves. “I feel this way.” or “I think this….” The content of our minds feels like it is who we are. “To me, it feels like this….” At these times we are inhabiting our experience in an unself-conscious way. We are living in that moment.
At other times we become aware of the content of our mind as something to observe. “Gee, I’m awfully sad about that. And it doesn’t seem that important. I wonder why I get so sad about that type of thing?” When we are in this experience, the content that our mind generates is an object we observe. We are standing outside of it and noticing how it looks from a larger perspective. When this happens, we can have a reflective response to what our mind generates. We need not take it wholesale as some kind of hyper-authentic expression of who we are.
It is true that our minds generate feelings and thoughts for good reasons. At the same time, there are patterns and habits of thought and feeling that arise for good reasons from our history but are not necessarily helpful to us now. Being able to take a reflective stance on ourselves frees us from un-noticed patterns that have become obsolete. “I guess I’m sad about that because it resonates with something that happened to me a long time ago. But it is not the same.” Even when we cannot change the feeling-state, we can distinguish when it is a genuine response to current experience and when it is a habitual response to old patterns.
This moment of deciding what is real in my experience and what is a reflex, or automatic, habit of thought or feeling is where true freedom of mind begins. We cannot always change how we feel; and we cannot always change the thoughts that float up into our minds. What we can do is distinguish between those thoughts and feelings that are accurate representations of our experience and our authentic response to that experience and those thoughts and feelings that happen but do not reflect a “real me.” We can take care of ourselves by respecting the distinction between an ingrained habit of being and the truer, deeper expression of who we are.