DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN “FEEL” AND “AM” - WOODMAM

Josh’s suffering was a result of being “stuck on the rim” of the wheel of awareness. Rather than perceiving his world from his hub and integrating his many rim points, he directed all of his attention toward just a few particular rim points that created an anxious and critical state of mind. As a result, he lost touch with many of the other parts of the rim that could help him experience a more peaceful and accepting state of mind. This is what happens when kids aren’t working from an integrated wheel of awareness. Just like adults, they can become stuck on certain rim points, on one or a few particular aspects of their being, which often leads to experiencing rigidity or chaos.

This leaves them confusing the difference between “feel” and “am.” When children experience a particular state of mind, such as feeling frustrated or lonely, they may be tempted to define themselves based on that temporary experience, as opposed to understanding that that’s simply how they feel at the moment. Instead of saying, “I feel lonely” or “I feel sad right now,” they say, “I am lonely” or “I am sad.” The danger is that the temporary state of mind can be perceived as a permanent part of their self. The state comes to be seen as a trait that defines who they are.

Imagine, for instance, a nine-year-old who is struggling with her homework, even though school usually comes fairly easily to her. Unless she integrates her feelings of frustration and inadequacy with the other parts of herself—realizing that one emotion is just a part of a larger whole of who she is—she might begin to look at this momentary state as a more permanent trait or characteristic of her personality. She might say something like, “I’m so stupid. Homework is too hard for me. I’ll never get it right.”

But if her parents can help her integrate the many parts of herself, recognizing the various rim points on her wheel, she can avoid identifying solely with this one particular feeling in this one particular moment. She can develop the mindsight to realize that she’s frustrated about struggling in this moment, but it doesn’t mean that she’s dumb or that she’ll always have trouble. From the hub of her mind, she can notice various rim points and realize that even though she’s struggling at the moment, she has demonstrated in the past that she can usually handle homework without this much trouble. She might even use some healthy self-talk, saying to herself, “I hate this homework! It’s driving me crazy! But I know I’m smart. It’s just that this assignment is really hard.” The simple act of acknowledging different points along the rim can take her a long way toward gaining control and shifting her negative feelings. She may still feel dumb, but with her parents’ help and with some practice, she’ll be able to avoid seeing that temporary state as a permanent, self-defining trait.

This is one of the best things the wheel of awareness does: it teaches kids that they have choices about what they focus on and where they place their attention. It gives them a tool that lets them integrate the different parts of themselves, so they aren’t held hostage by one negative constellation of feelings or thoughts clamoring for their attention. When children (and adults, for that matter) can develop this type of mindsight, they become empowered to make choices that allow them to manage their experiences as well as how they respond to their world. Over time, with practice, they learn to direct their attention in ways that are most helpful to themselves and to those around them, even during difficult moments.
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