6th week: openness to the moment

Thinking vs. noticing

Our ability to think about the past and the future, imagine things that do not exist, tell stories and understand the world and other people at an abstract level is one of the human mind’s greatest assets.  

Unfortunately, this ability can also turn on us, as we often accept our automatic thoughts – negative ones included – as the truth. According to some estimates, the human mind produces up to 70,000 thoughts a day. Some of them are true and others are untrue, some useful and others useless. Wisdom is not just thinking about facts – it is about being able to examine which thoughts are actually true and which are not. This is particularly wise when we are depressed, because depression has an impact on what kinds of thoughts our mind produces. The next video looks into this in more detail. 

Mindfulness and thoughts

Contemplate: can you recall a situation, person or other thing that you have had very negative thoughts about when your mood has been at its lowest? What do you think of the same situation, person or thing when you are in a brighter state of mind?

By practising mindfulness, we can learn to examine our own thoughts from a distance. We can examine our own thoughts as if they were clouds in the sky, paintings on a wall or even posts on Twitter. If we notice them, we can stop to observe them, whereby we become able to notice what kinds of things they arouse in us.

Exercises for the week

This week, you will practise examining familiar things through the mind of a beginner. As often as you can, stop at a familiar item, view or activity and examine it slowly, focusing on its details. For example, you can choose one of the following: 

  • the familiar view from your window 
  • any item on your desk 
  • clothes
  • tableware 
  • your walking route from home to your car / the bus stop / to work / to school 
  • rocks
  • flowers and other plants 
  • drawings/paintings/sculptures. 

A slightly more challenging exercise is to try to examine difficult and unpleasant experiences with this method. Try to be aware of an unpleasant experience at the moment of its occurrence every day. The experience does not have to be extreme; it can be temporary irritation, a slightly uncomfortable position or tiredness, for example. The aim is to examine these unpleasant experiences in more detail than usual. The goal of the exercise is to learn to distinguish experiences and reactions from one another. When examining such experiences, write down the following: 

  • What was your experience? 
  • What did you feel in your body during the experience? Describe the different sensations as accurately as you can. 
  • What emotions did you notice? 
  • What kinds of thoughts were going on in your mind? 
  • What are your thoughts now as you are writing about your experience?