I went along to the next session with some apprehension. I had found it hard to make space to do the body scan each day. I found it really hard to stop my thoughts from wandering off. Despite what we were told last week, I definitely felt as though I was doing it ‘wrong’.
I wasn’t the only one. In the session, after an initial body scan meditation, we discussed how we felt about the homework. Lots of different feedback came out. One person had a really positive experience – she had chosen to have mindful baths. Another, like me, had struggled to find the time; another had family and builders who were distracting. Someone else said they couldn’t help falling asleep, another person said they couldn’t help finding the voice on the guiding tape irritating.
Alice & Liam explained that distractions and bad conditions are common in life and that it’s not a ‘mistake’ when our minds wander. What is important is how we relate to it – not switching thoughts off but seeing them as what they are, streams of thinking, events in the mind that we can become aware of before we are swept away by them. It’s the process of doing the exercise that makes it right, not any aspect of how we experience it.
Our reactions to the body scan and the discussion about it seemed to help make a wider point about automatic judgements. Something that can really stop us being fully aware in the moment is a tendency to judge our experience as not being quite right in some way – thinking that this is not quite what should be happening, or not what we should be feeling.
These thoughts can lead into thoughts about blame and what could or should be different – ‘I shouldn’t be feeling like this, I’m always getting things wrong, things are always going to be like this…’ In this way we lose awareness of the actual moment. We get sucked into ruminating and away from choosing what actions we could take.
The body scan is a good first step in practicing what we will end up trying to do more and more – accepting and acknowledging the actuality of a situation without trying to judge or fix things.
Thoughts and Feelings
In the next part of the session we explored how thoughts and feelings are related. We were initially asked to close our eyes and consider a situation described to us. Alice asked us to imagine a scenario where we are walking down the street and see someone we know on the other side. We smile and wave but the person doesn’t seem to notice and just walks by. We then discussed any feelings, thoughts and images that went through our minds. There were loads of different responses:
- ‘They were probably ignoring me on purpose.’
- ‘What have I done?’
- ‘They probably just didn’t see me’
- ‘No one likes me – I feel lonely’
- ‘I’m not worth saying hi too’
- ‘They’re probably having a hard time’
Have a go at identifying which of these are thoughts and which are feelings.
It’s obvious that our feelings are not a direct consequence of a situation, but come about because of our interpretation of the situation. We are often aware of the situation (a friend does not respond to your greeting) and the feeling (feeling lonely) but not so much of the thought (‘she’s ignoring me, like everyone does in the end’) that links them. These ongoing thoughts are often under the surface. They are not very obvious but can influence how we feel about situations.
This is what found the body scan was helping with. Because I was focussing on being aware of my body I was better able to notice when my mind did wander. I was then more able to identify how and why it had got to where it was – how I was carried along on streams of thought.
Thoughts are Not Facts
We discussed how someone who is or has been depressed is more likely to have negative thoughts and therefore negative feelings about an event. Someone without depression might think about the same event in a much more positive way and so feel more positive as a result.
Interpretations of events can vary over time and with moods – which shows us that thoughts are not facts. We often treat them as if they are – very seriously! Although it sounds simple, this felt like a really powerful thing to keep in mind – and it was something we would come back to.
By being more mindful of our thoughts and reactions, instead of immediately heading off down a process of negative thoughts and negative feelings we can notice what we are doing more, ‘check in’ with ourselves and choose to respond differently.
For our homework this week, as well as continuing with the body scan and mindful activities everyday, we were asked to keep a record of pleasant events. We had to try and be aware of at least one pleasant event that happens each day (preferably while it is happening) and write down the thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in detail:
- What was the experience?
- Were you aware of the pleasant event while it was happening?
- How did your body feel, in detail, during this experience?
- What moods, feelings and thoughts accompanied this event?
- What are your thoughts now as you write this down?
Our minds often make early (often unconscious and automatic) decisions about whether something is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral – and these can be important trigger points for starting on a path of rumination and over thinking. This exercise helps us become aware of when and how we make these decisions.