Conversation 4: Mindfulness & Being Present

Exercise 2: Thought

Exercise 2Thought – a recording of Julian McNally (7:29 min) 

(Exercise 2: Thought by RMIT Counselling and Psychological Services, Six ACT* Conversations, RMIT University is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

The second exercise is called mindfulness of thoughts, and is useful when you feel your mind won’t “sit still”, or when you have a sequence of thoughts that keeps recurring in your mind.

Exercise 2: Mindfulness of Thoughts

First of all, find yourself a comfortable position where you can sit with your back straight and your shoulders loose and relaxed. Take a moment to take a deep breath. Close your eyes and let yourself breathe out. If you prefer to have your eyes open, just find a spot on the wall that you can concentrate on.

And again, take another deep breath, and let go of any tension in your body. For the next few minutes, there is nothing else you have to do, nowhere else you have to be, and no one you have to please. There is no way to do this that’s wrong. This time is for you to purely and simply be present – here and now, and to notice what is happening.

And so – as much as you can – allow yourself to have an attitude of openness and curiosity.

Now pay attention to your breathing. Follow the air going in and out of your lungs.

Notice the rise and fall of your rib cage. Notice your abdomen as it rises and falls. Feel the air moving in and out of your nostrils.

And now choose one of these areas – the rib cage, the abdomen, or the nose – to pay particular attention to. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. And just notice and follow the rise and fall of the breath in that one area, just attending to that rhythm.

And as you do that, you can have thoughts and feelings that come and go. And when they do, just acknowledge their presence, and bring your attention back to your breath. And if you find you’re evaluating your performance, just recognise “that’s a thought”, and let that thought go as well. And bring your attention back to your breath.

And before we move on, just remember that if you want to spend a little bit more time paying attention to any one aspect of your awareness during this exercise, you can always pause this recording, and press play again when you’re ready to continue.

So now take your attention away from your breath and bring it to your thoughts. Just take a few moments to watch your thoughts coming and going, like clouds drifting across the sky. Some are fast and some are slow. Some might be light and fleeting. Some might be heavy.

Just let thoughts come and go in their own time, without any need to be hooked into them.

And just notice how they change, and when they don’t change. Notice how they stay the same until they do change.

So just continue to observe them, and let them come and go.

You might notice that some thoughts are interesting and some are boring. Some are challenging, some are positive, some are negative, some are emotional, some are neutral. And they’re all just thoughts.

You might notice that some want to hook you in – to drag you along with them. If this happens, just acknowledge that it’s happened, notice what the thought was about, and then step back and keep watching.

Just like someone standing on the side of a freeway watching the traffic go past, or watching boats go past on a river. They come into view one way and they disappear another way, and then another comes into view and disappears. Maybe some of them reappear.

And remember that the aim is not to stop the thoughts or to change them, or avoid them. Simply to notice them.

So if at any time you get hooked into changing them or avoiding them, just unhook yourself, and go back to observing them.

And whenever you’re ready, bring yourself back into the room and open your eyes.


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