Mindfulness: Focusing & awareness
Mindfulness incorporates both focusing and awareness. Focusing is an excellent place to start training your mind. In order to change, though, you will want to shift from focusing to becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. At any time you may go back to focusing.
Inward: “eyes on the road”
Anchor on an object (e.g. breath) to keep the mind centred
Outward: seeing thoughts and feelings from the outside. You see yourself and your mental dynamics in more detail from this perspective. You notice things you‘ve never seen before.
“Seeing the scenery”: watching the mental traffic as if it belongs to someone else.
Imagine the mind as a stream of consciousness. When there is a deluge of thoughts and sensations and you are at risk of being drowned in the stream, that‘s when focusing comes in.
Shifting Emphasis: Focusing to awareness
- watch the stream of consciousness, dispassionately
- pluck something from the stream and deliberately focus on it (e.g. a dream imagine, a memory, a pain)
Start by taking your mind inwards for a moment by focusing on the breath. Take a few gentle deep breaths, from the belly. In and out. Relax… Continue to breathe for as long as you wish.
Now take your mind outwards. See your thoughts, feelings, moods, and sensations as objects floating down a stream, coming into view and vanishing from sight. Simply watch without judgment or analysis. Just watch them pass by.
Now pluck one of these objects from the stream and take a moment to focus on it. Let the other sensations and thoughts go by in the background. Note any new thoughts or feelings that arise from observing this object. Sit with these thoughts/feelings for a moment.
Whenever you are ready to leave this object behind, simply deposit it on a leaf and let it float downstream.
- Body Scan: Lie down with your eyes closed. Slowly scan up and down your body for tightness/ soreness. If you find a tight spot, stop and breathe into it until it relaxes. You might also imagine healing, white light radiating into the spot.
- Object Meditation: Choose a favourite or interesting object e.g. a stone, a flower. Spend some time observing the object: its shape, hues, textures, smells, tastes. Go for detail.
- Mindful Eating: eating slowly, mindfully. Be aware of all the sensations of the food: taste, texture, sounds, weight.
- Walking Meditation: While you walk, focus on sensations of the body moving. Soften the eyes and look at the ground a few paces ahead of you. Pay attention to how you walk. Aim to walk with no tension: relax into it, letting your hips and shoulders swing easily. Breathe with your footsteps. It can help to scan your body as you walk allowing the movement to free up tensions. You may also consider saying a mantra or affirmation in time with the steps.
- Mindful stretchingg. slow, gentle Hatha yoga
1. Simply watching
This is a particularly useful activity when your mind is very busy and you are finding focusing difficult. Watch the passing thoughts without judging them. Just watch them like the clouds passing by. Identify (or say out loud) each thought, feeling, and sensation that comes up: e.g. sore neck, pizza, best friend, anger, tingling, empty stomach, pizza again, grandma, I miss her…
2. Practice new thought statements to detach:
Thought are not facts. I am not my thoughts.
3. “Urge Surfing” for cravings and urges.
Be aware of the warning signs, i.e. the urge or craving is approaching. Imagine the wave as an urge, i.e. the urge crests then falls. Ride the wave without giving into the urge. Let the urge pass. Celebrate your effort to ride through the urge. Accept that new urges will appear.
Riding out your emotions: Worry surfing
Imagine for a moment an ocean wave as it approaches the shore. It’s steep and tall and hasn’t crested yet into a breaker. Now imagine the wave nearing a group of gulls floating on the water. The birds don’t fly away. They simply ride up the facing slope, round the top, and drift down the long back of the wave.
That’s what you can learn to do with your worries, anxieties, and fears (WAFs). All emotions are wave-like and time limited. They ebb and flow. Life’s a wave: emotions build up, eventually reach a peak, and drift away. WAFs come and go in a similar way. They don’t last forever, even if it feels like they will.
In this exercise we will invite you to ride the wave of one of your WAFs.
Now think of a recent event where you felt afraid, panicky, nervous, worried, or upset. Visualize the scene and remember how you felt. Notice the worrying and disconcerting thoughts. Perhaps you’ll notice images of disaster, too. Keep focusing on the upsetting scene as well as on the judgments you make about it and what is happening inside you.
Let you anxiety rise till it’s at least a 4 or 5 on a scale of 10.
Observe what your body might be doing. Notice the sensations and how your mind evaluates them. Simply label them all with “I am noticing…”. Notice the sensations of warmth and tightness. If there‘s a thought that it‘s dangerous, that you‘re losing control, just let your body and mind do their thing.
As you do this, notice the emotional wave in the room with you. At this point, the wave is tall and scary. You may feel that it will go on forever; that you may drown. Just allow the wave to run its course without controlling or blocking it. If you refuse to ride out the wave and try to fight it, you‘ll never get over the top. You‘ll stay stuck on the wave‘s leading edge.
Notice the emotional wave with you. Be aware of the point where it stops climbing. Feel it leveling off and starting to diminish. Experience the slow ride down the back of the wave. Accept wherever you are on the wave. Don‘t hasten to get past it. It moves at its own speed—all you can do is let go and let it carry you.
Keep watching this until it completely passes.
Source: Forsyth, J.P. & Eifert, G.H. (2007). The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Meditation is about being present. It is all about slowing up, about being fully present to your life, as it is right now, without trying to change it in any way. You‘ll be glad to know that mindfulness is not all about closing your eyes and focusing on your breath all day long.
Just remember… there are no expectations. This exercise is mindful and that means that you remain detached and non-judgmental of whatever comes to mind. If you find this hard, be mindful of your (perceived lack of) mindfulness. Doing a mindfulness exercise means you‘re doing it right – so you can’t go wrong.
Some people use walking meditation instead of breathing meditation. All you do in walking meditation is walk and focus on the sensation of walking. That is your focus as opposed to your breath. In walking meditation, you are not trying to get anywhere. To reinforce this, you walk in circles around a room or up and down a hall. This gives your mind the message that there‘s no use hurrying since you are not going anywhere anyway. Walking is generally a relaxing experience for both mind and body, and an excellent way to release stress or restless energy.
You can begin by focusing on your legs, feet or your whole body. It isn‘t the walking speed that matters so much as focusing fully on the activity. Some people find it helpful to slow their walking and pay attention to each part of each step while others wobble when slow and need to speed things up. Just go with whatever feels right to you.
If your mind wanders from the focus, notice where it has gone, then respectfully escort it back to the walking. People who are agitated may find walking meditation a good meditation to do (there‘s a reason we pace when we‘re agitated). Preferably do your mindfulness activities in a private spot, either in your home or in your yard.
Now let’s start…
Stand straight, head up, feet about shoulder width. You’re forming a solid stance, firm base.
Feel your balance, how you’re shifting slightly back and forth, from side to side. Normally this happens automatically. Become aware of these minor movements.
Feel the soles of your feet, roll gently back and forth to emphasize the sensation of your feet against the ground.
Focus on a point in front of you. It’s time for your first step…
Rolling forwards, push off with your right foot and s-l-o-w-l-y take a step.
For a couple of seconds, feel how your leg moves through the air. The sensation of impact as your heel touches the ground.
Slow, fluid movements…
Now push off with your left leg. Feel how your right leg muscles are balancing your body as your left leg travels through the air and touches the ground.
Take five slow, fluid steps like this. Then halt and turn around. Now walk back to your starting point, close to normal speed this time. Did you feel the difference? This time you relied more on sight and less on feeling your balance and your senses didn’t you?
Slowing down the pace, we tend to become aware of other, lesser used senses. Now repeat the slow walk and return.
Let’s have some fun.
Pretend to be running in slow-motion. You’re now the hero of a movie chasing down the bad guy. OR pretend you are a model walking in slow-motion down the catwalk. Walk, look… and turn!
After you‘re done stand still for a minute and feel your mind and body.
Simply observe any sensations or feelings. Whenever you become aware of any thoughts or sensations, remain mindful and detached and let the sensations go. When a new thought or sensation comes, let that one go.
Become aware of the gentle, fluid movements within your mind.
Thoughts and sensations are replaced by other thoughts and sensations – a perpetual, impermanent cycle. This is natural, just as the moving, changing sensations in your body, coming and going as you walk.
Hopefully your mind enjoyed the break from habitual patterns and thinking about what-to-do- next. You didn’t walk, you were just moving. Mindfulness is more about living than exercising. If you can learn to establish awareness during walking meditation—when you are physically moving with your eyes open—then it won’t be difficult to arouse that same wakeful quality during other activities, such as eating, washing dishes or driving. It will be easier for you to arouse mindfulness when you walk to your car or during any other time. Your mindfulness will become a habit that will begin to permeate your entire life.
Mindful eating: A craisin
- Hold the craisin in the palm of your hand. Feel the weight of it.
- Look at this craisin. Notice any unique features of your craisin. Let your eyes explore every part examine the highlights where light shines, its crevasses, its folds and ridges.
- Hold the craisin between your fingers and turn it. Notice its texture.
- Hold the craisin to your ear. Squish it a bit. Does it make a sound? Take note of any sensations that you feel.
- Hold the craisin beneath your nose, and with each inhalation drink in every smell, noticing as you do this if there is anything happening in your mouth or stomach.
- Notice your thoughts (for instance, like or dislike) without trying to push them away.
- With awareness, slowly bring the craisin to your lips, noticing how your hand and arm know where to be, perhaps noticing saliva as you bring the craisin to your mouth.
- Gently place the craisin in your mouth, without chewing noticing how it gets into the mouth in the first place. Spend a few moments exploring the sensations of having it in your mouth, exploring it with your tongue.
- Notice to which side your tongue pushes the craisin.
- When you are ready prepare to chew the craisin.
- Then very consciously, take one or two bites into the craisin and notice what happens in the aftermath, experiencing any waves of taste as you continue chewing.
- Resist the urge to swallow. Notice the sensation of taste-the juice and texture of the craisin and how these change over time, as well as any changes in the craisin itself.
- See if you can first detect the intention to swallow as it comes up, so that you experience this sensation consciously before you actually swallow the craisin.
- Finally, swallow the craisin – see if you can feel it going down towards your stomach and even entering your stomach. Perhaps noticing what it feels like to be one raisin heavier.
- Sense how the body as a whole feels after completing this exercise.
What did you notice, what did you like/dislike about the activity?
What might you do to notice the food you eat? How could you invite intimacy in the moment while eating? How would this change mealtimes? How about at other times of the day?
There is nothing magical about mindfulness. Often when we do one task, we are already thinking of the next task. Most of us do different things while we eat – talk or watch television.
Notice how slowing down and tasting your food helps bring you into the present moment and can change the nature of your experience.
Though it sounds simple, mindfulness takes practice, and the longer you practice the easier the process becomes.