I started my Headspace Journey back in November 2013 and have loved it. I’ve been going through gastrointestinal health issues and I have found that meditation/mindfulness has helped.

My question to you today is about people often asking me how am I feeling or saying “You must be tired,” or “You look tired,” or “You feel tired.”

I know that in learning to meditate I am looking to separate the mind from feelings. I don’t want to attach a feeling with me, my or I. How should I respond to these questions without attaching myself to these feelings?

Thank you for your time and thank you to the Headspace team for this program.

Andy’s answer:

Thanks for your message. It’s great to know you’ve been enjoying the journey and reassuring to know that it has helped in some small way with the illness. Your question is really interesting and strikes right at the heart of meditation.

As you say, it is not helpful to identify too strongly with a feeling of me, myself or I. When we do, it tends to intensify our experience of stress and difficulty and we become more unhappy as a result. We also tend to feel more isolated and lonely, more separate from others and the world around us. That’s why meditation encourages us to step back and ‘witness’ thoughts and feelings as nothing but passing phenomena. In some of the eastern traditions this is known as ‘Big Mind’, where we simply experience the mind as it is, in a very selfless, nonjudgemental way.

At the same time, we cannot pretend we do not exist. We live in a world which relies upon a healthy sense of self, where we need to be able to identify with both self and others. And this is not just fantasy. After all, ‘I’ need to get up and go to work and ‘I’ need to eat lunch. In this way we most definitely exist! This way of thinking is sometimes referred to as ‘Small Mind,’ not in a derogatory sense, but simply to differentiate from Big Mind.

So there is a certain paradox. On the one hand we have the aspect of mind which is pure awareness, able to witness thoughts and feelings as something separate from self. At the same time, we have the rational, intellectual aspect of mind, which is the thinking mind itself, vital for everyday life. At first this paradox feels very wide, and we may feel Big Mind more when we meditate and Small Mind more in everyday life. But one affects the other and, with practice, the two aspects merge and our experience is not really so separate.

But I digress…

With regards to others asking about your health, this provides an excellent opportunity to train both aspects of mind. Recognize that people will be asking out of concern, be grateful that they are interested and, as much as possible, respond with genuine appreciation. At the same time, notice when you reply how involved you become with the answer. For example, one person might respond with ‘oh, not too bad thanks, I’m in a little pain, but nothing too serious’. Whereas another person might turn the answer into a 5 minute monologue.

Don’t worry too much about using conventional language to describe how you feel (it will sound strange if you don’t), but at the same time always know you are simply reporting an experience, rather than an ‘I’ which is something solid and unchanging. Taking ourselves less seriously can also really help. When we do, we naturally let go of the temptation to identify and instead, smile within.

Hope that’s helpful.

Warm wishes,