Do you ever feel trapped and stuck in a cycle of things that on the surface appear to be providing happiness and contentment, but that all the while, deep down, there is an unmet need that is just aching to be satisfied? I suspect everybody has something that they feel would make them happy and content.
Now before I go any further like to make the following claims. “I am happy.” I am happy with my family, I am happy with my life, I am happy with my place in the world. That is not to say however that I am 100% content with everything. Happiness for me is a descriptor, a word that describes a general overall emotional feeling. To be happy is to be joyous about certain elements or experiences of life. You can be happy about the most profound things in life, however you can also be happy about very superficial things. Happiness is descriptive, but it is like stone skimming across the surface of the water, it doesn’t quite describe the depths of your being. Contentment however is a much more insightful concept and describes, in a deep way, what you are experiencing.
Contentment for me delves deeper under the skin, it gets right down to the core of who you are and what satisfies your inner hunger. Contentment implies that, on balance, you are on the positive side of what you are experiencing. It infers, due to there being a ‘better than’ aspect that there is a positive and the negative side to what you are feeling (there may be 1/3 element – neutrality but that is for a later discussion).
There has been times when I have had a sense of discontent about things in my life, I suspect we all have. A feeling that can’t be satisfied. A feeling that underpins my fleeting and ever changing behaviour pattern. There is grasping. What I found, in more recent times however, is that I have been able to sit with my experience of contentment and more over discontent and work out what that unsettled hunger may point to.
Contentment can, over time, become a thought process rather than a gut feeling. Can cease to be an emotional response to experience and become a cognitive reaction to a certain set of stimuli. Contentment flips from the positive side of what is being experienced to sterile thoughts of feelings and not the direct feelings them self.
What I have realised is that in order for us to become whole and as a result more content with life there needs to be re-connection of our thought processes (the Head) and the emotionally intelligent part of our being (the Heart). What we are always in danger of is painting an emotional landscape with only a few colours, a bit like painting a Rembrandt with hues of black and white. Being partly content serves a purpose but was not all it could be.
I realise that in order for anyone to be whole and content, awareness of fear and opening up the ‘narrative’ underneath that, using the relevant emotional skills can develop contentment, and indeed happiness.
It is through mindfulness, moreover meditation and insight reflection, that we can start to become aware of the gap between our head responses and our heart responses. In seeing the distance between the two and the disconnectedness, we can be able to start to recognise what we are feeling about the situation and what we are thinking about it. The technique of labelling (Mental Noting) has formed a backbone to my own personal meditation practice.
In brief, labelling is the technique of placing upon an emotion or sensation a word that defines what it means to you in that moment. The idea is that you sit in quiet meditation and whatever emotion or feeling crops up you give it a descriptor. It is not a definition or a judgement, it is a brief, one word, description of the feeling. There is no analysis involved you simply and quite quickly give it a name e.g. sadness, frustration, joy. After you have given it a name you let it go and repeat the process of sitting in the moment. What may happen is the feeling etc. may come up again, you simply repeat the process of labelling and let it go, coming back to your anchor (often the breath). The idea is to capture the moment of the experience, see it and then set it aside and move on. Behind the concept of labelling is the idea that there is forward motion of experience and that any experience is impermanent and indeed may change at any stage. It arises, enters awareness and then passes.
By labelling, in this case the experience of contentment, I was able to sit with the physical feeling that was being felt but I was also able to see how I was linked to it and what I thought I was experiencing. What I noticed was that there was often a divide between the head and the heart and in seeing this I was given the chance to change my perspective of both aspects of my experience. In doing this I was in a position to try and draw them closer together. To wiggle the two opposing, and often stubborn elements nearer to the centre and a state of equilibrium.
Can the process of labelling completely eradicate any gap between thought and physical emotion? No. However, t can start to slowly resolve some underlying issues of discontent, and as a result, balance can be found. What has been noted is that what I think and what is “really” real has shifted and I have started to see the world with open and honest eyes. Contentment is no longer an illusory state, it is a factual, physical and real state of being and one I know can be honestly felt in my mind and body and in a unified way.
The phrase, “what you see is what you get “, is often bandied around and for a long time I was misguided in that view of reality. However, I can honestly say that through noting, journaling and mindful awareness I now know that I am content than I have ever been. Warts and all.