You can use this objective awareness when you practice mindful meditation and any time that unwanted thoughts and feelings come up:

Notice your thoughts and feelings and label them ("I am having the thought that I will never find love" or "I'm having the feeling of sadness over my breakup").

Try not to get caught up in thinking about how much you hate having a difficult thought or worrying that the discomfort associated with this thought will last forever.

Just notice the thought, feeling or sensation and then gently redirect your attention back to the present moment.

- What is Mindfulness?

How did we get from observing and labeling to “objective awareness”? “Objective” usually means that we see things as they “really” are. Why should going into a cognitive distancing mode (observe/separate/label) confer privileged access to truth?  Sure, emotional regulation (e.g., self-calming, distancing, positive self-talk and various types of re-appraisal) can help us see things in a different light and quieting the turbulence may allows us to grasp a truth we missed in all the internal hubbub, but there’s no guarantees. Negative mood can also help us see things more clearly (e.g., check out the literature on “depressive realism”)

Probably we got to “objective awareness” because of the assumption that observing creates an unbiased awareness, a portal to the truth.  There also seems to be an assumption that labeling is a way of capturing the essential truth of the thing so reduced and objectified.  That bothersome thought is truly just a thought.

I do like that the author qualified “thoughts and feelings” with “unwanted”. At least at this point they are not saying that thoughts or feelings per se are a problem. However, since thoughts and feelings are sources of information and insight, the fact that they’re unpleasant or that they take us away from the current somatosensory world (otherwise known and romanticized as “the present”) shouldn’t be the main factor in deeming them “unwanted”. 

Sometimes uncomfortable thoughts and feelings take us down a path to nowhere and sometimes they lead to new insights or solutions to vexing problems. We might want to follow their lead for awhile and see where they are taking us.  If we cut them off (“gently redirect” – same dif) the moment we notice them, we might miss out on a valuable learning experience. 

None of my comments here are meant to imply that distancing maneuvers aren’t sometimes a good idea. If we are prone to unproductive rumination, practicing being “a detached spectator of your mind” can help us get out of our rut (Rottenberg 2014, Kindle p. 1334).


Rottenberg, Jonathan The Depths: The Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic (2014) basic Books: New York, NY