The parking ticket runs out in five minutes. Rob’s seen a traffic warden down the road but needs to quickly buy some groceries. He dashes into the supermarket, grabs what he needs and joins the shortest queue, only to find that the others are moving faster and the person in front looks like they’ve got a problem with their payment card. He’s already off in thought; imagining the clock ticking on the parking ticket and rehearsing what he’s going to say to the traffic warden. His levels of impatience, frustration and anxiety rise as symptoms of stress start to emerge in his body. We’ve all been there at some point, in situations like this at work as well as in our home lives.
Was it the actual circumstances that dictated how Rob felt, or was it how he was reacting? The answer is a bit of both, but how Rob reacted made an unfortunate experience worse. By noticing the thoughts and feelings, but not getting caught up in them, he could have possibly avoided all the tension, frustration and anxiety that loaded on top of the situation.
When we drift off in thought we tend to either run through past memories, or anticipate the future. As soon as we enter thoughts we’ve abstracted away from the here-and-now reality of direct experience. We’re both here and not here; we may be physically present, but our attention and mind are somewhere else. As stressful and worrying thoughts build in our mind, our emotions and body sensations can become driven by this separate, interpreted reality.
When we bring a more mindful approach to life’s experience, difficult situations can provide an opportunity to use our skills and learn. A bit like going to the gym. The challenges of life become the weights that help build our muscles of attention and awareness.
By bringing greater awareness into our lives:
- We’re better placed to observe our habitual thoughts, feelings and behaviours and notice when they no longer serve us. For instance, noticing how impatience, frustration and anxiety emerge from how we interpret the world
- We can find the space to see options and choose an appropriate response, rather than reacting automatically
- We can bring kindness and compassion to others and ourselves. For instance, empathising with the human being in from of us in the queue, and being kinder to ourselves when we notice that we’re becoming stressed
One of the key steps in developing a more mindful approach is to begin noticing the difference between the indirect world of our thoughts and the reality of direct experience.
These modes can be described as:
- Indirectly drifting off into the past or future in our minds. This is more like virtual reality, where we lose touch with the here and now.
- Indirectly engaging in the present where thoughts provide an interpretive overlay, which is similar to augmented reality (Click on link to find out more).
- Directly connecting with the present flow of experience through our body and senses
On the whole we don’t make this distinction, but experience everything together in a vague sense of who we are that includes indirect, mind-made “realities”, as well as the actual raw, connected and embodied reality of direct experience in the present moment.
Although the mind is an amazing and powerful resource, it can also limit who we are and what we experience. By being more mindful we can make sure our mind serves us well and experience the full potential of what it means to be human.
Find somewhere undisturbed and sit in a comfortable, dignified and upright posture, where you can remain alert and aware.
There are two guided practices for this session. You can close your eyes, or lower your gaze while the meditations play.
Play the first settling practice, then read through the session content, which you can print off if that helps.
Then play the second practice to explore direct and indirect experience.
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