“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.” – Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
This is a mindfulness exercise that you can use between counselling or therapy sessions if you need it, or you can use this as a way of trying out mindfulness by yourself. This exercise can help you with being calm and focused on the present moment. So that you can best judge afterwards if this has helped or not, you might just want to pause right now to consider how calm you feel right now. A zero would be a complete lack of calm, you’re feeling extremely anxious, stressed, or agitated. At the other end of the scale is a 10, which would mean you’re as calm as you are capable of feeling, no anxiety, stress, or agitation. If you need to take a moment, pause here until you’ve picked a number from 0 to 10 that reflects how calm you are right now. Write this down or remember it, because we’ll do a comparison at the end.
To start this guided mindfulness, I’d like you to sit up reasonably straight in your chair and put your feet flat on the ground. Pick an everyday object that’s around you, preferably something that you feel fairly neutral about. It could be the carpet or floor, a chair, something on your wall, anything at all that you can see at the moment. We’ll start by really noticing and paying attention to this thing as carefully as possible. Notice the texture. Notice the different colors and shades. Notice the shape of the outline of this object. See how much detail you can observe if you pay attention as if you’ve never seen this object before in your life.Notice the space around this object. Soak up all the information that is coming into your eyes about this object. If it helps you to focus you could even say out loud some words to describe this very everyday object that you’re observing. Let go of any distractions as they come up, any worrying thoughts or pre-occupations, and when you notice you’ve been distracted, return to paying attention to this object that you’re focusing on.
Next we’re going to switch our focus from this object outside of you, to focusing inside your body, on the sensation of your breath. Notice the quality of the sensation of the breath as it enters your nostrils, flows through your mouth, down your throat, and in to your chest and torso. Notice the quality of the sensation as the breath flows out again, up the throat, through the mouth, and out through the nostrils. Follow the breath with your attention, as it flows in and out of your body. You don’t have to do anything to change the breath or control it, just pay attention to the sensations. Notice as many of the subtleties of the sensation of breathing as you can. When distractions come up, thoughts, feelings, worries, other sensations in your body, notice that, then gently let them go, and return to the simple sensation of the breath. To the best of your ability, let everything that you’ve been hanging on to drop away, let it go, and let the sensation of your breath fill your attention completely. In a moment we’ll finish with this exercise, but before we do, see if you can fully appreciate and notice a few more breaths, as if this were the first time you’d ever had the experience of taking a breath. And now, we’ll finish.
If you’ve closed your eyes whilst doing this mindfulness, that’s ok. You can open them now. Notice what your body feels like, how you feel emotionally, how busy or not your head is with thoughts. Like we did at the start, pick a number from 0-10 that reflects how calm you feel right now. If your score has gone up since we started, you’ve been able to get some benefit out of mindfulness. Appreciate yourself for this! If your number hasn’t gone up, or has gone down, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done the practice wrong, or that you can’t benefit from mindfulness. It may mean that at the start you weren’t fully aware of home much stress or anxiety or agitation you’ve been carrying, or it may mean that you could benefit from some guidance in practicing mindfulness. Use this exercise as much or as little as you feel you need it. In general, the more you practice, the better you’ll get at concentrating and stilling your mind. If you found this useful you may wish to try the second mindfulness exercise in the series: Mindfulness for Transforming Anxiety (coming soon.)