My dear friends,

I hope you’ve been keeping well, and have included some Mindfulness and Mindful Journaling practices in your daily life. It will help you stay focused and navigate these uncertain times with hope. With regular practice you’ll emerge more lively and calm! Keep an open mind, have fun, and see how it works for you. I will be very happy to have a chat with you if you have any questions. I would also love to read some of your journals if you so feel inclined to share it with me.

We have come to the last part of the series on Mindful Journaling (Phase 1). Phase 1 is presented with lively graphics in a fun way at https://uk.collinsdebden.com/blog/Category/mindfulness. Please do check the site out. I am currently working with CollinsDebden on Phase 2 which will take us to Mindfulness and Mindful Journaling activities outdoors as countries ease on lockdowns. The series will be launched in mid-July. Till then, use these tools to stay tuned in! Have fun…

5.1 Purpose of Sitting with Thoughts and Feelings

By now you may have experienced many intrusions while you sit in a quiet space with the intention to meditate. Instead of paying attention to your breath for instance your mind gets hijacked by a thought or a stream of never-ending thoughts. And before long you get embroiled in your thought and the feelings associated with it. Instead of experiencing calmness and peace that comes with watching your breath you may feel agitation and anxiety.   

In this meditation you will practice paying attention to your thoughts just as you did paying attention to your breath or bodily sensations. Like a hospitable host you will treat all your thoughts like your guests. You will treat ALL your thoughts equally and invite them into your guesthouse. Thoughts that are negative or positive…those that evoke joy or sadness…anger or frustration…guilt or frustration. You will allow ALL your thoughts into your guesthouse and intentionally engage them like you would your guests in a calm, friendly and detached manner. With regular practice you will come to realise that your thoughts are not you. YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS. They are like your guests. You will engage them and they will leave no matter how pleasant or unpleasant their company has been. Trying to suppress or reject your thoughts will only cause more anxiety, frustration and problems. It will not result in calmness, insight, clarity and peace.

According to Jon Kabat Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living, treating all your thoughts equally and observing them as such during any sitting meditation:

sets the stage for a profound learning experience that many claim is the most valuable thing they get out of their mindfulness training: the realization that they are not their thoughts. This discovery means that they can consciously choose to relate (or not) to their thoughts in a variety of ways that were not available to them when they were unaware of this simple fact.

The realization helps us to let go of each thought that attracts our attention without getting caught up in the content of the thoughts and whatever feelings they evoke during meditation. We are able to let go of the thought and get back to our mindfulness practice to experience and “develop some degree of calmness, equanimity, flexibility of mind, qualities that will prove useful in facing many different challenges and stressful situations…” Jon Kabat Zinn

Sitting Meditation…Sitting with Thoughts and Feelings

By now you should be familiar with the routine to begin meditating: sit comfortably for this meditation and relax. Be aware of discomfort or tightness in any part of your body due to clothing pinching your skin. Feel free to adjust till you are ready. When you are ready, drop your gaze and close your eyes gently.

1. Tune in to your breath and meditate

Bring your awareness to your breath. Watch your breath. Follow the rhythm of your breath as you inhale and exhale. Notice the passage of your breath as you inhale…… Continue to watch your breath as you exhale. Do about 6 inhalations and exhalations. When your attention is relatively stable on the breath, shift your focus to your thinking. 

2. Observe your thoughts

Watch your thoughts arise and pass like clouds. Simply reflect and register whatever thoughts come your way. Acknowledge those thoughts…notice how some may linger and some may pass away.

3. Note the content of your thoughts

Take note of the contents of your thought(s) and see if there are any rising emotions attached to the thought(s). Watch the thought(s) and emotions without getting drawn into its narrative. Note thoughts about love, joy, anger, guilt, shame, hatred or rejection. Note thoughts about the past and thoughts about the future. Note thoughts about greed, lust, desiring or clinging.  Just observe the process of the thought and the moods and feelings they raise.

4. Notice the impermanence of thought

Notice how each thought or a stream of thoughts does not last long. A thought will come and it will go. Be aware of this observation and stay a little longer in this realisation that thoughts never stay. Be aware that even if they linger, they do so only for a while before they leave. 

5. Notice how some thoughts keep coming back

As you continue to watch your thinking process, notice how some thoughts keep coming back. What are these thoughts that keep coming back? Are you at the centre stage of these thoughts, driven by “I”, “me” and “mine”? Observe how self-centred the contents of these thoughts may be.

6. Observe the thoughts objectively

Observe your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. Just look at them as thoughts in your field of awareness. Try not to take the thoughts personally. Try not to get involved. Observe how you feel when you look at your thoughts in a non-judgmental way. Bringing your attention back to your breath ask yourself what you have learnt?

5.2 Mindful Journaling about your thought process 

Journaling about your thought process will help you understand that “You are not your thoughts”. It means that often your thoughts tend to weave their own narrative that may not reflect the truth or reality. If you don’t realise this you may get caught in its web and find it difficult to free yourself. 

Purpose of journaling about your thoughts

Writing freely about your thoughts without fear and judgment will allow you to discover more about the nature of thoughts, the content of your thoughts and how your thoughts come and go even if some tend to linger. The awareness of the impermanence of thoughts will be liberating as you see thoughts as just thoughts and nothing more. Your thoughts are not you and they do not in any way reflect “reality”.

1. Read the poem “The Guest House”

Read the poem out aloud to yourself and let the sounds and meanings of the words come to you. 

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

2. Reflect on the poem

The poet describes thoughts to be like guests. 

What does it mean to you to treat your thoughts like a guest? What does it mean to you to invite all your thoughts…pleasant and unpleasant into your Guest House and “meet them at the door laughing?” 

3. Observe and write all the thoughts that come to you 

Watch all the thoughts that come to you after reading the poem. The thoughts may be connected to the poem but they may not. It may have triggered other thoughts. Just watch your thoughts without getting involved. Write down all that you observe about your thoughts. 

4. Write freely about the contents of the thoughts

Write freely about the nature and content of your thoughts. How did your thoughts make you feel? Did it put you in a good mood? When did you notice a change in the moods and emotions associated with the thought(s). Did they come and go? Write about lingering or recurring thoughts? Where do you think they come from? What makes them linger do you think? Do you see a pattern emerging…are you the main character in these thoughts? Is it a “I, me, mine” thought?

5. Look at the thought(s) as a guest 

You invited those thoughts into your “Guest House”. Your thoughts are but guests. Just as guests come and go, your thoughts come and go. They pass away…they never stay…sit with this realisation a little longer. 

6. Write about how it makes you feel?

As a hospitable host of your “Guest House” you have welcomed ALL your thoughts. You realise ALL of them come and go even those that linger or those that keep coming back. Your thoughts are not you. You can let go of your thoughts after entertaining them as a host. Write about how this realisation makes you feel.

Wrap up the journaling by reflecting on your thought process.

What emotions did you feel while writing? What surprised you? What did you discover about your relationship with your thought process? What did you discover about your writing? How did it make you feel overall? You may write your responses to these questions in your journal or blog about it.

You may share this piece of writing on your blog or social media or just with your close family and friends. If sharing is not your thing, that is also fine.

Shalini Damodaran
Shalini Damodaran is passionate about writing and coaching others to write. She was a teacher educator, specialised in the teaching of writing at the English Language Institute of Singapore.
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Shalini Damodaran
Shalini Damodaran is passionate about writing and coaching others to write. She was a teacher educator, specialised in the teaching of writing at the English Language Institute of Singapore.
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