It is quite an experience being at Newlife. I am not used to sharing breakfast with fifty other people. The obligatory silence in the morning helps. We all have space to find our way into ourselves, and into our day before we begin to socially interact. It is an interesting thought, ‘finding our way into ourselves’, but somehow it rings true.
I wake up to myself each morning. There is a coherence to this. I know I am me, and yet I do not know what mood I will be in when I awake. In a very real way I am finding our what, and who, I am dealing with day by day. Having to deal with fifty people talking first thing in the morning would be a significant challenge for me. Overwhelming in fact. I see this in others too, reading their body language and facial expressions. It is clear, that people just want to be left to themselves first thing in the morning. I notice what moods people are in, but try not to look for to long. I don’t want to invade their space.
In the Oxford English dictionary, mood is defined as ‘ a temporary state of mind or feeling’. A mood is a complex of thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. Synonyms for the word mood include, atmosphere, feeling, spirit, ambience, aura, character, tenor, flavour, quality, climate, feel, tone and key. We are highly impacted by our moods, and are mostly able to read the moods of others. Moods are embodied, they animate us, determine our facial expression, tone of voice and body language.
Given that a mood is defined as temporary, it is remarkable how often we take our moods to be who we are. We experience them as permanent and fixed. We experience anxious feelings and say, ‘ I am an anxious person.’ We experience angry feelings and say, ‘ I am an angry person’, and so on. We freeze, fix and label ourselves. The reality, however, is that we are ‘host’ to a wide range of shifting and changing moods. The Sufi poet Rumi puts it this way:
‘This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness.
Some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visit.’
In Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction we practice a meditation called Choiceless Awareness. The term Choiceless awareness was coined by Jiddu Krishnamurti, a 20th Century philosopher, to describe the experience of resting in awareness of experience without preference for one experience over another. A metaphor often used to describe this state of being, is that of an open sky, limitless in capacity, the bodily/emotional sensations, thoughts and sounds like clouds moving through.
This meditation practice, as with all practices, is a way of training our body-mind-heart how to orientate to our wider lives. Practising choiceless awareness, we experience for ourselves the transitory nature of experience. We recognise the impermanent nature of things, of life. We recognise, as the Persian adage says, ‘This too shall pass’.’This is important both in terms of the pleasant and unpleasant events and situations that arise in our lives, and with our moods.
When good fortune arises and we experience pleasant life situations, knowing that they will change can support us in releasing the painful habit of trying to hang on to them. Holding on is akin to grasping a moving rope, as it moves, our hands get burnt. When difficulties arise, ill health, financial or relational difficulties, knowing that they will change can support us in trusting and being patient with the way things are. After all fighting what is, is totally exhausting, and only adds to our problems.
Recognising that our moods are impermanent can be crucial, particularly if we are prone to depression, rage or anxiety. If I take the mood to be who I am, fixed and permanent, I prolong its presence in my life. I become locked into that state. I become a depressed or anxious person. I harm myself and others through explosions of anger.
I find the metaphor of life as a river helpful. There is this constant stream of experience ‘moving’ through this body-heart-mind. When I hold on, I freeze it, causing all kinds of tension and contractions psychologically, emotionally and physically. When I recognise it’s transient nature, and allow it to move through me, feeling the emotional/bodily sensations and thoughts, then life can flow through. It doesn’t get stuck.
we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve our rivers.
Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.’