To illustrate how humans tend to blow out of proportion many of our problems, the authors “The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself From Chronic Unhappiness” by William, Teasdale, Segal, & Kabat-Zin, retold the following story.
A young farmhand was working on a dairy farm when he accidentally spilled a pail of milk as he was carrying it to the churn. To cover his tracks, he tried hosing down the milk with water. But to his chagrin, the water only made the problem worse. At that moment, the farmer came around the corner and watched the young farmhand staring perplexed at the huge white puddle he had created. The wise farmer chuckled (knowing there is no use crying over spilled milk), and explained to the farmhand, “See, when you add water to the milk, it all looks the same. Now you’ve got twice the problem you had to begin with.”
We do the same thing with our negative emotions. When we’re feeling depressed or humiliated, angry, disappointed, rejected, taken advantage of, and on and on, we have this terribly ineffective habit of ruminating over the problem. Why do I feel this way? What if I had done this or that? What’s wrong with me? And repeat. This rumination is our mind’s way of attempting to solve the problem, but unfortunately, it only adds to the problem and makes it worse. The white puddle just keeps getting bigger and bigger and it’s hard to distinguish between the original problem and the additional misery we’ve added to it in attempts to make it go away.
We are human “beings”, not human “doings”. Rumination is the result of a “doing” mode of mind. When we feel a negative emotion, like sadness, we don’t like it, and we want to try to escape it by employing this doing mode or examining the mismatch between what “is” and what “should be.”
In mindfulness, we learn to move from the doing mode into the being mode. The being mode is about being with “what is.” The feeling itself is just information; it’s the messenger. “Because we can’t accept the discomfort of the message, we try to shoot the messenger and end up shooting ourselves in the foot.”
So the being mode is entirely separate from intellect or thinking. We don’t just think about things. We can also directly experience things through our senses.
Mindfulness is about developing this direct awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, circumstances, and events. It’s an entirely different way of relating to things without becoming those things or getting too caught up in them. And it’s a solution to the problems the doing mode creates.
We can directly experience feelings in our bodies. Where is this feeling in our bodies? What is the feeling like? Describe it using qualitative and tangible language: pressure, heat, pulsating, expanding, rising, moving, squeezing, spasm(y), sharp, fuzzy, dense, liquidy, etc. You get the picture. Just be with those sensations. Turn towards them instead of away. Approach them with curiosity and openness. And in a while, guess what? Just like everything else, feelings are temporary; they change. You will save a lot of time you would normally have been busy ruminating over the problem (making it worse and worse), and now the feeling has passed and you can carry on.