Idea 1: Witnessing
Our thoughts and our feelings are interwoven things, making up the same cloth. When you think thoughts, you see them and you do not attach yourself to them. They pass through you, you register them in your mind’s eye, but they do not take over you.
More importantly, when you feel feelings, like you saw your thoughts, you listen to what you’re feeling. Anger, confusion, love, depression, boredom, hate, aggression, shame. You are mindful of what happens within you. You register your feelings and you acknowledge them: “I am now angry.” Then, you may proceed to ask yourself why this emotion came, and then you learn much about yourself.
Zen is not about stopping thinking or feeling; nor is it about thinking only good thoughts and feeling only happiness. Zen is about witnessing what you’re feeling. Noticing the anger. Perceiving the excitement. Experiencing the depression. Hearing the shame. Witnessing.
Idea 2: Happiness
The first idea is the more important one; it is the basic notion, the point of departure. You simply notice how you feel, and you stay in that noticing mode.
However, there is another thing that happens sometimes, and it is happiness. Even when witnessing the most intense emotional pain, the most dire life circumstances, the most terrible loss, it is possible to feel happy still.
For happiness is not a thing produced by your life situation or by external circumstances. Happiness is a mindset. You start happy and then life happens, not the other way around. You broke up with your girlfriend and you’re lying on the bed, crying, experiencing very intense emotional pain. Witness it. Do you still have both your arms and legs? Is the bed not soft and warm? Do you not have a blanket? Do you not feel your body twitching and crunching in agony?
It is hard to accept this possibility, but many have experienced terrible things, and yet remained happy people. For the truth is that the very act of witnessing, if done often and much, is a thing that produces happiness. Something happens. A thing clicks. You detach yourself. A part still writhes in agony, but a part is happy just to be able to witness.