1st week: mindfulness and depression

What is mindfulness?

At its simplest, mindfulness (i.e. conscious presence) means focusing your attention consciously on something. The video below provides more detailed information on what mindfulness actually is. 

What is mindfulness?

The three areas of practising mindfulness are:  

  • refocusing your attention,  
  • maintaining your attention, and  
  • shifting your attention.  

Refocusing your attention means being able to focus on what you want to focus on. It sounds easy, but our attention has a tendency to automatically focus on either familiar things or things that clearly stand out from the environment.  

Maintaining your attention refers to the skill that is commonly called concentration. It is about being able to keep your attention on what you want it to stay on. However, it is perfectly normal for our mind to act on its own and our attention to shift onto other things as if by itself. This calls for the ability to shift your wandering attention back to where you want it to be. 

Another key aspect of mindfulness is how we look at things or what our attention is like. Examining something with a critical eye is entirely different from being curious about it. Correspondingly, the aim of practising mindfulness is to have a friendly and accepting attitude towards essentially everything. 

In principle, conscious presence is simple, but many people find it difficult. Today, the hectic nature of our environment and the enormous amount of stimuli in it cause many to live in a constant state of hyper-arousal in which the body and the mind are on overdrive and it can be very difficult to be present. Therefore, it is good to bear in mind that practising mindfulness does not require having a calm mental state. You can try to have a friendly and curious attitude towards hecticness, stress and other unpleasant experiences as well. 

As with learning almost any skill, what is key in learning mindfulness is active engagement. Mindfulness cannot be learned by merely reading and listening – doing exercises is the best way to learn. 

Exercises for the week

This week, try refocusing, maintaining and shifting your attention. You can do this anytime and anywhere, but do it consciously. Focus your attention on your senses, interaction, activity – whatever you want. Try to keep your attention on these things for a while and then shift it consciously onto something else. Try to observe how this goes and what thoughts these trials arouse in you.

Do the conscious eating exercise every day as well. Write down your observations regarding the exercise: what kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations you notice during the exercise.