'This Way Up' Programme materials and resources
Session 3: The B of the ABC - Being with experience
Part one: Thoughts
Thoughts can become the master of you
The ‘autopilot’ mode that evolved in our prehistoric past to help us avert danger has left a legacy in the human mind: a strong tendency to make sense of things and to build up an accurate picture of what’s going on. How your mind interprets a situation then has an effect on how you feel:
Situation + Interpretation → Emotion
The same situation can give rise to a whole range of different emotions depending on what your mind makes of it. For many people the automatic interpretation that the mind most frequently selects can lead to unpleasant emotions. If this happens repeatedly those emotions become habitual, just like the thoughts that led there in the first place. A habitual emotion then itself reinforces the original mental pattern, leading to more difficult emotions. As human beings with a common heritage we tend to have similar kinds of patterns and rules in our mind. But as we are also unique individuals, each of us will have our particular ‘brand’ of habitual patterns and thoughts.
Loosening the grip of thoughts
We have become so accustomed to our thoughts and interpretations over many years of them being there that they can often feel like the absolute truth. But the actual truth is that thoughts are not facts. They are merely events happening in our minds: they come and go. This doesn’t mean that everything you think is wrong, or has no truth in it all. Rather, it’s a cue to help you start to relate to your thoughts in different ways.
Confronting unhelpful thoughts with cool logic often doesn’t work – it doesn’t get rid of them, but just puts them off for a while. The mindful way to loosen the grip of thoughts is to step outside them, and simply watch them come and go in their own natural way. This is far more effective.
This approach also allows you to develop naturally a different kind of thinking altogether: what we can call ‘reflection’. This is when you allow yourself to turn things over in your mind in a paced and timely way – not rushing to instant action, but taking as long as you need to come to a considered view or decision.
The ‘working with your thoughts’ meditation
In this meditation, you start with grounding and settling down through awareness of your body and breath. Then you notice sounds, which like thoughts are simply passing events. This helps prepare you for the final stage of noticing thoughts coming and going, like clouds passing across the sky. You notice the most frequent kind of thoughts you tend to have, and how one thought tends to lead to another. You also notice how different thoughts lead to different emotions and sensations in the body.
Working with your thoughts outside meditation
Ask yourself where this thought takes you.
Remind yourself that your mind is like a good story teller
Imagine your thoughts as leaves floating down a stream.
Repeat the thought using a silly voice
Sense the thought’s form, location, sound and speed.
Simply notice that you are having the thought.
The ‘mini meditation’ – three step breathing space
You can use this meditation at any time to help you come back into the present moment.
1. Awareness: Overall sense of your experience right now. What am I thinking? What mood am I in? What can I feel in my body?
2. Gathering: Bring the focus of your awareness onto your breathing
3. Expanding: Broadening out your awareness to include your whole body and facial expression, especially to any sense of discomfort, tension or resistance. Breathe into these, and let them soften and open on the outbreath.
Three step breathing space in action: mindful planning
When you train in mindfulness, you are training your mind to pay attention to your experience in the here and now. But this doesn’t mean that mindfulness is only about being aware of the present, in some kind of vacuum. You can turn the same skills of paying attention – in a clear, calm and focused way – towards the future, whether that’s today, this week, this month, or this year.
At the beginning of each day you can spend a few quiet moments consciously planning the day ahead. You can also set aside brief moments for relaxed reflection throughout your day – giving your mind a chance to process what’s already happened, and checking in with yourself how you feel. Based on that, you can amend your day’s plan (where possible) - responding flexibly to your experience and energy levels. This is an absolutely invaluable tool for carers who often have to balance so many different responsibilities in any given day.
Home practice after session 3
1. Alternate each day between these two practices:
‘Working with your thoughts’ meditation – follow the instructions on the audio meditation
‘Movement meditation’ – follow the video / audio instructions.
2. Working with your thoughts away from meditation – try using some of the techniques detailed above to help you work with unhelpful thoughts that you notice.
3. Mini meditations: three step breathing space and/or the mindful minute – practice this whenever you have a spare few moments: either on your own, or listening to the audio.
4. Do something different: instead of watching your favourite TV show, choose something different to do instead (don’t worry, you can record it and watch it another time!)
5. Jot down some notes about how you are relating to your thoughts. If you feel stuck, these pointers might help:
Am I taking my thoughts to be facts?
How do my thoughts affect my behaviour?
Are there common threads through many of my thoughts?
Mindful movement video