Before moving on to the next theme, take a moment to look back at last week’s theme and your experiences with the exercises.
How did it feel to practise conscious movement? What kinds of physical feelings did you notice during the exercises? What kinds of sensations, thoughts and emotions did you notice?
How did walking meditation and conscious walking in everyday life feel? How could you remember to focus your awareness on taking steps as often as possible? Write down your thoughts.
Next, you can move on to this week’s themes. But before that, do the familiar three-minute meditation exercise.
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.
Our life experiences, emotions and interpretations are constantly influencing how we see and experience different situations. However, we may not realise that we are interpreting things and accept what our mind tells us automatically as the truth.
One of the objectives of practising mindfulness is to learn to pay attention to things as they really are – not as our mind tells us they are. You could say that we are learning to look at things like a beginner: as if we were looking at the world without any preconceived notions. The next video provides more information about the mind of a beginner.
Contemplate: what kinds of things or situations could be good for you to approach with the mind of a beginner?
When we adopt the mind of a beginner, we can find any matter or situation interesting instead of our preconceived notions determining how we look at it. This can be useful when dealing with difficult experiences as well: our upbringing and the culture around us may have taught us to think that it is absolutely terrible if we feel bad. Such an attitude can cause our mind to go on autopilot and do everything it can to get rid of this terrible experience.
What if we were able to approach even a difficult mental state, unpleasant experiences, troubles and worries with the mind of a beginner? What could that look like? What would we be able to learn then?
Having the attitude of a beginner does not eliminate pain, sadness or other difficult experiences. These things will feel bad no matter how much we try to examine them with curiosity. But the mind of a beginner can help us approach these experiences instead of our mind trying to get rid of them without us even realising it. Such an attitude can help us hear what our emotional state has to tell us, what needs our bodily sensations are communicating, and what kind of comfort or safety we need.
At its simplest, you can start adopting a beginner’s mind by learning to stop to examine small things and wonder about things. When was the last time you examined something interesting to you earnestly and in great depth?
Next, try examining something very familiar with the mind of a beginner.
Notice your hand
Contemplate: how did it feel to do the exercise? Was there something different than usual in how you noticed your hand? What was different?
Exercise: In the first phase, set a timer to three minutes. For three minutes, write down all thoughts that you notice in your mind. Do the first phase now. In the second phase, read the thoughts you wrote down and assess how truthful you think they are. You can grade them on a scale of 1–5 (1= completely untrue, 5 = completely true).
It may be that you did not have any thoughts with a low truth value at this moment. In any case, that often happens when we are in an intensely emotional state. Emotions prevent our mind from thinking rationally, tinting our thoughts. For example, when we are sad, we may think “I’m always alone”, even if we have meaningful relationships in our life. When we feel disappointed, the thought “I always fail” can feel absolutely true even if we have actually had many successes in our life.
As such, it is important to know and remember that thoughts are not facts. Each and every person has both true and untrue thoughts, and it is a very useful skill to examine how depression tints our thoughts and distance ourselves from our thoughts.
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
- your walking route from home to your car / the bus stop / to work / to school
- flowers and other plants
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?