Before moving on to this week’s theme, take a moment to look back at last week’s themes and assignments.
Think about the exercise involving pleasant experiences. How was it to examine pleasant experiences consciously? Did you notice anything new about yourself or your experiences? How could this exercise be related to your mood?
What kinds of small deeds towards your own wellbeing did you manage to do? How did it feel to do these deeds? Could you integrate them into your everyday routines?
Finally, do the familiar three-minute meditation exercise to settle yourself in the present moment.
This programme is just the beginning
It may be that you have yet to notice how going through this programme and doing the exercises has affected you. However, you have spent a lot of time and resources on the programme, so this week we will turn our attention to your experience over the past seven weeks; what you have felt, learned and found important.
Let us go all the way back to the first exercise of the programme, the conscious eating exercise. Do the exercise again now.
How was it to do the exercise again today? What kinds of thoughts, emotions, sensations and bodily experiences did you notice during the exercise?
Look back at how it felt to do the exercise for the first time. If you wrote something down about your experience, you can go through your notes. Was today’s experience with the exercise similar to or different from your experience at the beginning of the programme? Write down your observations.
Depression sensitivity often develops over a long period of time. This programme lasted eight weeks, which is a relative short time compared to how long depression has potentially been present in your life. The aim of this programme and mindfulness is to change your lifestyle choices – i.e. how you act every day for the rest of your life. In this context, how you act refers to how you approach difficulties, how you use your mind consciously and what kinds of deeds you do every day. Eight weeks is a good start for making such a change, but the true practice period is only beginning at this point.
The front page of this programme listed its goals for you: to learn to examine the functioning of your mind, to look into mindfulness and to begin to notice how your thoughts contribute to your mood. Take a moment to think about how well you think you have reached these goals.
Contemplate: now that we are at the end of the programme, do you think that you understand what mindfulness is? What is it to you? Have you learned to examine the functioning of your own mind? In other words, do you notice how your mind reacts to situations, thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations? Have you begun to notice things about how automatic thoughts produced by your mind affect your mood? Write down your thoughts.
What happens to many is that once they start feeling better, they stop practising. As such, the important question is how you could maintain conscious presence as part of your life – possibly for the rest of your life, regardless of how you are doing. In the next video, experts by experience talk about what has helped them commit to practising on a regular basis.
Forming a habit
You can make conscious presence a way of life, e.g. by doing an instructed mindfulness exercise or carrying out an everyday task consciously every day. You can continue practising the familiar three-minute meditation exercise or choose another exercise from the programme that felt suitable to you. You do not need to practise a whole lot every day – in fact, just choosing to spend ten seconds every day on practising conscious presence can be enough.
Contemplate: why should you continue practising mindfulness in some form? What could this practice be? Write down your thoughts.
Every person’s practice motivation fluctuates over time, regardless of what exercise or conscious deed we are talking about. At times, we can be highly enthusiastic, while at other times we may feel completely disinterested. Accordingly, you should seek other reasons to practise to accompany enthusiasm and motivation. Reasons that prompt you to act even if the idea of practising does not feel good in that particular moment.
Contemplate: what do you care about deeply? What are the most important things to you? How could practising mindfulness help you adhere to these things, bring them back into your life or enjoy them even more wholeheartedly?
For example, if familial relations and spending time with your family are important to you, one good reason to continue practising mindfulness could be that it enables you to be more present with your family. Or if health is important to you, practising mindfulness could help you make choices that improve your health instead of ending up making unhealthy lifestyle choices on autopilot.
It is not always easy to make choices that take us towards important things. As we established last week, gratification is a powerful motivator, and as such, it sometimes tempts us to choose a path different from what we really find important. Another powerful motivator is the avoidance of unpleasant experiences. Mindfulness can help us choose a path towards important things instead of seeking instant gratification or avoiding an unpleasant experience.
For example, if honesty is important to you, you may sometimes have to give negative feedback to a friend, a colleague or your partner, for example. Mindfulness can help you notice the experiences caused by the situation and choose to give your feedback, even if you do not feel good about it. In turn, this can increase your sense of capability and self-esteem.
You may find it difficult to identify and name what is the most important to you. When depressed, you may feel like nothing is important. In such a case, you should dedicate some time to clarifying your own values and identifying other important things.
Assignment: set a timer to 20 minutes and write a free-form text about what is important to you in life. You can think about important people, memories, places, things you have learned, your experiences, dreams and goals. There is no need for you to write a lot or answer any specific questions – just write whatever comes to mind.
Assignment: write your answers to the following questions:
– What things inspire you? Or what things inspired you before your depression?
– Who do you prefer to spend time with? Or who did you prefer to spend time with before your depression?
– What could conceivably prompt you to attend a demonstration or write an opinion piece?
– If you won ten million euros in the lottery, what would you do?
– When were you at your happiest?
– Who do you admire? Who inspires you? Why?
What could your answers tell you about what is important to you?
Usually, people and relationships – including our relationship with ourselves – are important to us. When we are depressed, it can be difficult for us to think that we are important to ourselves or that we deserve care. In such cases, it is good for us to remind ourselves that our self-relationship is also something that we can consciously develop, cherish and strengthen through practice. As such, we do not need to have certain emotions towards ourselves yet.
For many, interactions with loved ones are of the utmost importance, but they are also among the most difficult things. Depression often has to do with disappointments and failures in interaction. Depressed people can have difficulties with expressing their own needs, with communicating in a way that enables others to really understand and hear them, and these experiences can reinforce automatic thoughts that are black-and-white and overly generalising (we briefly examined these thoughts last week).
Conscious presence in relationships means noticing how our own thoughts and actions affect our relationships. We listen to others consciously, are consciously aware of our own experience, needs and wishes, and make conscious choices. Instead of just passively waiting to see what happens in our relationships, we turn off our autopilot.
One key relationship skill is the ability to listen consciously. Try conscious listening by following the next recording.
The factors that contribute to depression sensitivity will not disappear with practising mindfulness. However, practising mindfulness can give us new tools for living an enjoyable and meaningful life with this sensitivity. On the video, two experts by experience reflect on what has it been like for them to live with depression.
Living with depression
Contemplate: what has your journey with depression been like? What would you like your journey to be like going forward? In particular, think about how you yourself could affect this journey. Remember small deeds, the significance of practising and what your experience has taught you about what kinds of things could be helpful to you.
Having a clear intent helps us continue practising even if we do not always feel like it. This does not mean forcing ourselves, but making a conscious choice; that we decide to practise because we want to, because practising contributes to something important to us and helps us accomplish things that are important to us.
It is natural for your practice motivation to fluctuate, and it is also normal to have periods in which practising is left on the backburner. There is no need to reprimand yourself if this happens. When your practising is on hiatus, you can aim to remind yourself of how you practised before and how you benefitted from it. And once you have chosen this path, there is never a need to start from scratch – you can always pick up from where you left off.
You can return to this programme at any time and recap the themes and exercises therein – and this is very much recommended. The internet and mobile apps are also full of various videos, audio recordings and other materials that you can use to support maintaining your practice routine and learning new things.
Exercises for the week
This week, practise conscious listening in different moments. You can listen to music, the sounds of your home or nature and conversations in particular consciously.
In addition to conscious eating, return to other exercises of the programme as well and do exercises that you like on as many days as possible.
Keep thinking about and clarifying what is important to you. You can do the writing exercise on several days or have a session longer than 20 minutes. If you identify things that are important to you, return to the small step principle: what small deeds towards things important to you could you do this week? Write down such deeds and aim to do them every day.
Practising mindfulness can create a whole new path in life. And if we choose to go down this path, we may find a whole new way to live our life. We may realise that it is possible to be kind towards ourselves instead of trying to be someone else, something else or somewhere else. We may realise that when we acknowledge the existence of our inner critic, we can also hear a different voice: a quieter, wiser and more considerate voice that tells us in a clearer and friendlier way what we should do even in the most difficult of situations.
Practising mindfulness is not about distancing ourselves from life and emotions. It is about living our life authentically and with participation, profound emotions and compassion. We can become estranged from ourselves so easily. Mindfulness can bring us back to ourselves.