Here’s an example of what this exercise might be like in practice…
I’m sitting typing these words at my computer right now, of course. I’m going to pause right now to do the exercise. I’ll keep an eye on the clock on my desk and aim to do it for about 3-4 minutes but I’m not going to worry too much about the time…
Well, how did I get on? I actually got interrupted by someone – which I didn’t expect – but after they’d left I just started again. I got a little distracted thinking about what I would write but once I noticed that I just brought my attention back to my experiences in the present moment. I said things like “Right now I’m aware of the ticking of the clock… Now I’m aware of the rise and fall of my breath… Now I’m aware of the sunlight on the desk… Now I’m aware of a twinge in my lower back… Now I’m aware of the sound of traffic outside…”, etc. It took some effort, some self-discipline, to let go of thoughts that threatened to take my attention away from the present moment but one way to do that is to say “Right now I notice that I’m starting to think about work…”, to step back from the train of thought, and look on it as just another activity happening in the present moment…
Afterwards, I’m left noticing more of what’s going on around me for a while, although that’s not the main goal of the exercise. The key thing is that I’ve practiced taking a step back from my experiences and observing them, as they happen “here and now”, in a more detached way.
[q_question title =”Questions for Reflection” text=”After doing the exercise, please take a few minutes to carefully think over the following questions:”]
- How else could you help yourself to become more mindful of your own judgements and actions throughout the day?
- To what extent do your thoughts and actions change just by being observed more carefully?
- What are the pros and cons of being more tuned into the “here and now”?
- What might be the long-term consequences of training yourself in this way each day?
- What’s genuinely under your control during these exercises, and what isn’t
Marcus Aurelius explains, for example, that for Stoics everything is, in a sense, “indifferent” except our own mental activity, because this is ultimately our locus of control in life. He goes on to spell out that because our own past and future actions are not within our immediate control, they are also classed as “indifferent” (Meditations, 6.32). According to the Stoics, from moment to moment, only our own current thoughts and actions can be said to be intrinsically important – everything else lies outside our direct control in the “here and now”.
If you like, with this in mind, pause for a few minutes longer, and repeat the same exercise again, before continuing…
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