The Thought Procession
Our thoughts are like a strangely assorted procession constantly going by.
Close your eyes and take a minute to notice your thoughts. Name each thought by saying to yourself: “I am thinking about ………….”
e.g. “I’m thinking about George / what i’m going to have for dinner / the email I need to send to Jill
Practise this for a short time (no more than a minute) 3 or 4 times during the day. Notice whether you repeat similar thoughts and if there are associations between one thought and the next.
Do you see images when you are thinking or feel physical sensations? Are you aware of how your thoughts affect your emotions? Do you have any new thoughts?
Most of us know which is our dominant hand but do you know if you have a dominant eye?
Hold your index finger in line with something vertical e.g. a window or door frame. Close one eye – what happens to your finger? Try closing the other eye.
If your finger stays more or less still when you close one eye and jumps sideways when you close the other eye, you have a dominant eye. The eye that is open when the finger doesn’t move (or moves less) is your dominant eye i.e. that eye has a preference for visual input.
Experiment with looking at the world with one eye and then the other eye (keeping both eyes open). Does your perception change? Does your peripheral vision expand or contract when you focus with one eye? Can you take in both the right and left sides of your visual field more easily with one eye?
Can you be with yourself when you pay attention to what’s outside of you?
Bring the palms of your hands together and pay attention to the sensation of touch, the temperature and texture of your skin. Now look at something beyond your hands – can you continue to notice these sensations when you bring your awareness to something else or does your attention move between the two points of focus?
When you’re next in a conversation, practise being with yourself as well as with the other person. Can you notice your breath, the contact of your feet on the floor, feelings of pleasure or discomfort, and also engage in listening and talking?
Focused Attention Open Attention
Focus on something that you see close to you and pay attention to the details of it – the shape, colour, light and shade. Then open your attention as wide as possible to the edges of your awareness so that you’re taking in a broader image comprising of many individual things.
Try switching between the two – changing your focus from a detailed, precise vision to an open, receptive awareness.
Now see if you can focus on both at once – seeing an individual object, not in isolation but in the context of the bigger picture.
Our brains are divided into the left and right hemisphere: the left perceives detail and things in isolation and the right sees the whole including the relationship between individual parts . Do you have a preference for how you attend to the world?
Catching Sleep in the Act
This is a tricky one!
Pay attention to what happens in the period between when your head hits the pillow and you fall asleep.
The state leading into sleep is a particular form of consciousness called ‘hypnagognia’. What do you notice in this window before sleep sets in? Pay attention to thoughts and visual images that come and go, sounds you hear and physical sensations that you are aware of. Do you experience feelings of falling, drifting or floating?
The Small Dance
When you’re standing still – at a bus stop, in a queue, waiting for the kettle to boil – notice the micro movements that are taking place.
Bring your attention to your feet and to the small shifts in weight you are making in order to keep yourself in balance: from your heels to the front of your feet and from the inside to the outside of your feet. Notice the movement of your ribcage, your chest and your beily as you breathe in and out and can you perceive the constant beating of your heart? Steve Paxton, founder of Contact Improvisation, called these tiny movements “the small dance”.
Picking Up Patterns
Notice repeating designs which occur in the natural and man-made world: a flock of birds flying overhead, a cluster of trees, a line of railings, a row of chimneys, configurations of people in a train station.
When you listen to people talk can you hear repeated rhythms of speech? Can you pick out sound patterns when you hear birds singing?
Try catching your thoughts at random times during the day. When are you focused on a particular task and when is your mind engaged in random day dreams? What is the content of these day dreams – are you planning what to do in the future, wishing you’d done something different in the past, are they fantastical, dominated by worry, sexual? Are they image based or do you think in words? How long do they last?
Try using your non-dominant hand to do easy tasks like brushing your teeth. So if you’re right-handed use your left hand and vice-versa. It will probably seem awkward at first but notice how it gets easier the more you practise. When we do familiar activities in a different ways we have to pay attention to what we do. Notice the sensation of the brush on your gums and how much of the rest of your body is involved in this task. What makes it more difficult than using your usual hand, do you tighten in other parts of your body, is your dominant hand and arm relaxed or does it want to join in too?
You can build your way up to more complex tasks like eating and drinking or using your computer mouse. Different neurons in your brain will be firing as you learn this new skill which means a healthier brain.