Not a Saint–Just an Average Person
Tackling the trivialities of everyday life with Recovery International

Tell me where it hurts: How the body warns us about moods

A therapist once told me that he asked a Buddhist monk why the monk never seemed to have “moods” or bad feelings. The monk replied, “I do have moods and bad feelings, but I can see them coming so I have time to prepare and control my reactions.”

In Recovery terms, the monk had trained himself not to be startled by sudden feelings, sensations or thoughts. When he experienced them, he didn’t display an external reaction to them though he may have had a brief, internal flare of temper. In Recovery, we learn that we’re not responsible for the initial startle, but we are responsible for what we do afterwards.

How can we learn to see bad feelings and moods on the horizon? The four-part Recovery example gives us an opportunity to practice on the annoying trivialities that we all experience many times each day. Let me quote Step 2:

Report the symptoms you experienced — both physical and mental. (For instance, angry and fearful thoughts, confusion, palpitations, disturbing impulses, tightness in your chest, lowered feelings, sweaty palms, and so on.)

As noted in Step 2, for many people the body sends signals through physical symptoms that a temperamental reaction is pending. In this case, palpitations, racing heart, tightness in the chest, wobbly legs, stomach pains, blurry vision and so on are not symptoms of physical illness–presumably you’ve already made the circuit of doctors and had many lab tests and been told nothing physical is wrong with you, but that doesn’t make the symptoms any more comfortable. However, noticing these symptoms and developing a “body sense” is one way we can enhance our mental health as they’re the body’s way of telling us something’s up–kind of an early warning system.

When I have lowered feelings (AKA sadness or “depression”–a loaded term we like to avoid), it feels like my face and head are sagging, I feel tired all over, my chest feels tight. Noticing a symptom like this doesn’t make it worse. In fact, it’s a way of being objective and “cool and chilly”, and not taking our symptoms so seriously, especially since we’ve learned there is no danger. In other words, we don’t have to fear the symptom. It’s just something that happens to us. And we can observe feelings and sensations rise and fall and take their course; we just have to be patient and wait it out. Easy to say, hard to do!

I’ve got a very long way to go before I can see my moods coming, like the monk. And that’s OK, I’m average, not a saint or monk.

What’s your “tell”? What types of physical symptoms do you have?  Where do you notice them in your body? Have you started noticing them more since you started Recovery training?

7 Responses to “Tell me where it hurts: How the body warns us about moods”

  1. I like your Post….Since I have been in Recovery I have noticed more symtems…my eyes go blurring,confusion&numbness in my little finger…..At least now I know what they r and they r not dangress…….I really enjoy your Blog…So Blog away

    • hi there, Jaylene, thanks for commenting! The more I notice my symptoms, the more I notice how sneaky they are–seem to change just when I think I’ve got a handle on them. Sneaky little things! Endorse.

  2. Yes, it can be very difficult to be patient and wait out symptoms, and not attach danger, and move muscles to cause other muscles (i.e. temper muscles) not to react.

    However, the practice is worth it in the long run. Healing isn’t an epiphany, yet having control over my reactions to situations in life brings engagement with life.

    I hope to one day achieve the manner of the monk, yet so far anticipating brings anxiety with it!

    Thank you for this blog.

    • Hi, Julie. Thank you for your comment! We don’t have to be angels, saints, martyrs…or monks. I like your idea that it’s about engagement with life. I think our mistakes add to that engagement. Endorse.

  3. Just a quick answer to the anticipating bringing anxiety with it question.

    Actually, anticipation of future states is not employed in the awareness of the present state of mind and the word anticipation is used only in the sense that one becomes aware of the arising of the disturbing thought or emotion while it is still very weak and easily dealt with through calmly observing its present state, tolerating it with calm awareness and observing its disappearance by means of maintaining calm awareness, neither clinging to it nor rejecting it, not judging it as good or bad, not judging oneself for this thought or emotion, remaining neutral and simply observing it moment by moment, maintaining awareness in the present moment (as opposed to having to deal with it in full force if not dealt with at this beginning, more subtle, very mild level of its development/manifestion in mind).

    Basically, disturbing thoughts and emotions can be dealt with when they are baby size or when they are so massive you simply can’t ignore them anymore, and it’s a lot easier and pleasant to deal with them when they are tiny. It frees up your intelligence, too, because the mind is less distracted by the chains of thoughts and the resultant emotions. You can learn to cut this chain of thoughts by not pursuing it or pushing it away i.e. by not developing the line of thought because you like it or rejecting it because you dislike it. Through training in awareness and applying the antidotes such as spots correctly, you learn to recognise your current mental/emotional state and gradually learn to recognize when a thought is arising, or if you don’t notice the thought in time you recognise the resultant feeling, learn to label it accurately, bring it into awareness and allow it to disappear naturally, which is its nature anyway.

    Once it has disappeared naturally, you then recognise the sense of peace and wellbeing that arises as a result of the absence of disturbing thoughts and emotions, don’t cling to it and maintain this neutral, nonclinging awareness when the next thought arises, again watching it from its arising to its subtle manifestation moment by moment to its cessation and then peace. Keep repeating this process. Gradually peace prevails more and more.

    Every thing that arises in the mind arises and dissolves naturally, no need to cling, reject or become angry with any of them, they all completely dissolve, naturally, once they have arisen, and you can just relax. Key point: Relax, Don’t React. Remove the thought of danger.

    If you find your mind overwhelmed by panic and fearful thoughts, sit down quietly, focus on your breath, relaxing slowly and then spend some time thinking on a spot such as, “All you have to do to dispose of fear is to refuse to believe that there is danger” or a thought such as “Everything is completely safe right now” or “Everything is fine now” and keep seeing that this is true.

    Once your mind is calm, you can deal with the distressing symptoms with a calm state of mind, using the method described above employing awareness, not clinging to or rejecting the thought or feeling that is arising right now, calmly observing its arising, momentary change, disappearance and then the peace that remains in the absence of a disturbing thought or emotion, and the repetition of this cycle with the arising of each new thought or feeling.

    Don’t put any pressure on yourself to achieve progress, proceed at your own pace, endorse yourself extremely generously for every tiny thing you do well, each spot you apply, each fear reduced, each kind thought and generous action of body, speech or mind towards yourself and towards others, each time you deliberately say to yourself, “I’m now going to calmly observe this thought/emotion with coolness and calm acceptance”, each time you work things down instead of working things up, each time you notice your angry temper or fearful temper in time before it becomes so strong it is really painful or it results in angry words/unskilful ways of dealing with situations, each time you find creative ways of dealing with the mind, each new insight you gain into how mind is and how it works … fill your mind with positive self-endorsement, it really does wonders for how you feel about yourself, and you become less neurotic about seeking approval and praise from others and less disappointed if it doesn’t come, because you endorse yourself. You’re basically content with yourself. It’s really powerful. Your mind should be full of thoughts like, “Well done, I did a good job, excellent, really good, keep on going, great …” Endorse for everything!

    I hope this is helpful. Best wishes to everyone in their practice. You’re doing a great job, keep on going!

  4. Wow thank u so much that was great to read and now I have been in RI for a while it makes sence . LOL
    I’m truly enjoying reading your good stuff Endorse for all your hard work and for being so group minded …Jay

  5. Reminds me of the spot: anticipate frustrations every 5 minutes and you won’t be disappointed.

    The method is simple but not easy.

    We can control our thoughts but feeling must run their course.


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