The following is an excerpt from Shannon Duncan's Present Moment Awareness.



Detaching from Our Thoughts

In learning to observe our thoughts without becoming absorbed in them, we have the opportunity to learn the triggers behind much of our mental static and emotional reactions. This is how we can begin the process of quieting our noisy minds and increasing our enjoyment of life.

Imagine yourself walking along a beautiful beach. The sun is shining down, warming the pristine white sand as the water laps gently against the shore. For as far as you can see in either direction, there is nobody in sight. It is just you and nature.

Now imagine that as you walk you are carrying a laptop computer. It's not that you have any important work to do. It is just a deeply ingrained habit you have to write letters that you'll never send, or create programs that will never be used, or make databases of information that don't really matter.

Instead of enjoying the beauty all around, you ignore it for the pointless processing of information at your fingertips. You might say that you'd never do such a ridiculous thing. But ask yourself this question: Isn't this exactly what we do when we are absorbed in our own thoughts, daydreams, and fantasies?

Many of us have never noticed that we can mentally take a step back and watch our own thoughts as they happen. The problem is that we become so utterly absorbed in our thoughts, as if we were watching a TV show or a movie, that we miss out on the real life happening all around us.


TRY THIS
Be Aware of Your Thoughts

As in the prior exercises, start by being aware of yourself while sitting quietly. As you sit anchored to your breath in the present moment, noticing your bodily sensations and tension, also notice any thoughts that come to mind. When you pay close attention, you will notice that thoughts seem to bubble up and will then float by if only you don't become absorbed in them. It is a fascinating phenomenon.
Take ten or fifteen minutes to sit in a quiet and comfortable place and practice staying present. It might be useful to try it with the Focus Tool set to intense mode. As it alerts or as you become aware of yourself having been lost in thought, take a deep breath and repeat the exercise.

The steps in this exercise are:

  • Anchor yourself in the moment on your breath.

  • Do a body scan for sensations and tension.

  • Relax any tension you find, to the best of your ability.

  • Be open with all of your senses to the life going on around you.

  • Observe your thoughts as they float by.

  • Fully accept, don't resist, whatever you sense.

  • Be patient and gentle with yourself. When you feel comfortable with this exercise, please continue.


 

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I can remember the first time I fully became aware of my thoughts as happening separately and on their own from "me." I was a teenager in high school, sitting on a hard bench waiting for my turn to see the principal. Assuming that I was yet again in trouble for one thing or another, I was tense and nervous and completely absorbed in scenario after scenario in my mind of how this visit was going to play out. As I watched each scene in my mind, my emotions were triggered as if these things I was daydreaming about were actually taking place. I was sweating and my stomach was in knots when the school bell rang and shook me out of my fantasies. In that moment I realized what I had been doing. I saw very clearly in that instant how I was creating my own suffering by worrying about a situation that I had no knowledge of or control over.

It turned out that the principal only had questions about a sick day I had taken and needed confirmation from my mother. None of the daydreams that had so shaken me had any basis in reality and yet they had taken control of my life just the same. I was fascinated by the idea that something as insubstantial as my daydreams could have the same effect on me as something solid and real. This simple realization changed my life from that point on because my mental static began to have less control over my moment-to-moment emotional state.

We should remember to practice being aware of our thoughts whenever possible. In doing so, we can begin to get a sense of what it feels like to separate ourselves from our thoughts. We begin to see that we don't have to become absorbed in them in order to think. We can plan our day or do our work while still being fully aware of this moment. This is a particularly valuable change we can make, especially in instances when our emotions try to control our actions, such as in situations where we feel anxious, fearful, or angry. We do not need to feel swept away and lose sight of everything else that is happening around us.


HOMEWORK
Staying Present Throughout the Day

In this exercise you will use your Focus Tool to bring yourself back into the moment throughout your day, every day. Through being more aware of yourself, you will find that you can be sharply aware of everything around you. In noticing what you are thinking and how you are carrying your tension, you have the option to lake a deep breath and relax. This can make any of your daily activities much more enjoyable.

Rely on your Focus Tool throughout the day. Do a quick body scan every time it alerts you or whenever you become aware of yourself again. Notice where your body is tense and where it is relaxed. Observe your thoughts and any emotions that might be evoked. The steps in this exercise are:

  • Anchor yourself in the moment with your breath.
  • Do a body scan for sensations and tension.
  • Relax any tension you find to the best of your ability.
  • Be open with all of your senses to the life going on around you.
  • Observe your thoughts as they arise.
  • Fully accept, don't resist, whatever you sense.
  • Be patient and gentle with yourself.

With practice, this exercise will only take a few seconds. Use this exercise frequently to bring yourself back into the moment. After completing the exercise, try to stay aware of yourself by staying anchored to your breath as you go about your day. Notice how much more in tune you can be to the life that is happening all around you when you are in tune with yourself.

 

This homework exercise is also an excellent tool for helping us keep a calm perspective under tough circumstances. Most of us have found that taking a deep breath to collect our thoughts before responding to a difficult situation can help us to keep things in perspective. This expands on that familiar phenomenon.

 

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE?

I had an interesting experience several years ago. 1 noticed how 1 would become frustrated when my daughter would become noisy and distract me from my observation of the present moment in meditation. I believed myself to be peaceful and centered and then she would come noisily into the room and my peaceful bubble would pop. I believed that this "disruption" made it very difficult to relax into the present moment.

A dear friend pointed out the obvious to me. My daughter was a part of the present moment. Being present is not about living in a perfectly peaceful and quiet bubble. This would only further isolate us and is actually the exact opposite of true awareness.

Accepting the true reality of any situation is the first step toward gaining the sense of peace that enables us to more fully enjoy our lives.

 

What Have We Learned?

Hopefully you have by now reached a certain level of comfort and understanding with the simple ideas and exercises in this section. You should now understand the importance of reconnecting with your body and your senses and may have gained some experience with this in the exercises. From there, you may have been able to observe your thoughts with a level of detachment you might not have experienced previously. This is very important because it lays the foundation needed to more deeply observe the behaviors and unconscious limitations that can severely limit your potential for happiness.

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