Mindfulness Exercise: Unhooking From Thoughts
Excerpt from Practicing Mindfulness by Matthew Socklov
Thoughts are a part of everyone’s human experience. However, you do not need to push them away to practice mindfulness. Rather, learning to bring your mind back from thoughts is the practice. This exercise offers a way to “unhook” yourself from those thoughts and simply be with them. Without pushing the thoughts away or denying their presence, you can be aware of the thinking mind while remaining unattached.
- Settle into a seated posture and close the eyes. Notice the energy in the mind and body. As you come into a period of mindfulness practice, you may notice the energy of your day resting in the mind and body. The mind may be active, the body may feel worked up, or you right notice a bit of lingering anxiety.
- Think of a shaken snow globe, with all that energy swirling around. As you rest, the little snowflakes fall gently to the ground. Think of yourself as a snow globe, and every snowflake as a thought. In this way, watch as each and every snowflake falls to the ground. Do not force yourself to calm down; let it happen slowly and organically.
- After a minute or so, bring your attention to the breath in the body. Choose one sport where the breath is felt easily. It may be the center of the chest, the abdomen, the shoulders, or the nostrils. Observe the physical sensation of the body breathing. You may use a counting practice (counting the breaths) if you find it helpful.
- Observing the breath for a few minutes, bring the mind back when it wanders. Stick with the snow globe visualization, and as thoughts begin to rise up, observe as they slowly settle back down.
Unhooking From Thoughts
- After a couple of minutes focusing on the breath, open your awareness to include your thoughts and your general mental state. Instead of returning to the breath when the mind wanders, notice what the mind is doing. You may notice yourself planning, fantasizing, “figuring out,” or replaying past experiences. Whatever you observe the mind doing, let it be.
- When you recognize a thought, what happens? Try not to encourage the thought, but don’t push it away, either. Allow it to be, and allow it to go on its own. See if you can watch the passing of the thought as it follows its natural trajectory and leaves the mind.
- Return to the breath and patiently wat until another thought arises. Notice it, watch the thought, and come back to the breath again, Continue with mindfulness of the breath and the thoughts.
- Notice when you’re lost in thought or when the mind wanders for some time. If self-judgment arises, notice that just as you would any other thought. You can always return to the breath for a few moments to ground yourself back into the practice.
- Write a 5-10 sentence reflection on your experience with the Mindfulness Exercise: Finding your breath.
- Questions to consider:
- How did you prepare for this exercise?
- What went well? Did any aspect(s) feel natural or feel easy to you?
- What did you find challenging?
- Were you able to recognize and observe your thoughts? What did you find yourself doing…planning, judging, fantasizing…? Were you able to return to the breath?