A key aspect of mindfulness is stepping outside of doing mode and entering into being mode.
When we’re caught up in thought and feeling cycles that lead to depression and anxiety, we usually feel that we should be doing something to fix it. The problem with this is that sometimes there is nothing you can do to fix a problem. Mindfulness is a way to escape this cycle of trying to fix things by simply focusing on our moment-to-moment experience. When we are doing this, we are in being mode. In being mode, we are not trying to fix anything. We are not trying to go anywhere. We are not trying to do anything. We are not trying, period. Trying is doing, and being mode isn’t about doing.
In being mode we are free to enjoy our experiences from moment to moment by focusing on what our senses are telling us rather than focusing on trying to find a way out of a problem. When downstairs brain is engaged, and upstairs brain is temporarily disconnected, moving into being mode allows us a little breathing room.
The way to move from doing mode to being mode is to shift our mental energy from thinking mode to sensing mode. Our brains only have a finite of energy to spend on any given task at any given time. If we have a stressful or depressing thought cycle going on, we can shift energy from what our thoughts are telling us by engaging our internal observer to start focusing on what our senses are telling us. As you read this paragraph, can you feel your breath going in and out of your lungs? Were you even aware you were breathing before you read the previous sentence? When caught up in thinking cycles, we’re focusing on the boomerang. But by shifting our attention to our direct experiences and focusing on what our senses are telling us, we’re able to move into sensing mode.
When in sensing mode we are no longer giving energy to ruminating cycles that are leading us to states that we do not want to experience. We are able to move to sensing mode by focusing first on our breathing, then on our direct experiences of the current situation. We do this by using all of our senses, in the moment, to explore the environment around us. What do we hear? What do we see? What do we smell? What do we taste? What do we feel? By asking ourselves these questions, we are able to move into sensing mode.
The more energy we spend on sensing, the less energy we have to spend on thinking. Based on the tale of two wolves, we could see the two wolves as “thinking wolf” and “sensing wolf.” The more energy you give to sensing wolf, the less energy you give to thinking wolf. The less energy thinking wolf receives, the weaker thinking wolf becomes. Conversely, the more energy sensing wolf receives, the stronger sensing wolf becomes. By shifting from thinking to sensing, you’re not trying to ‘kill’ the thinking wolf. You’re not engaging in doing by trying to make the thinking wolf go away. You’re simply depriving it of energy so that it may eventually go away on its own. Even if it doesn’t go away on its own, you’re not focusing your attention on it. Since your attention isn’t on it, thinking wolf can’t grab you by the throat, refusing to let go.
It could be said that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking as well, and that is partially true; however, the difference is that focusing on what your senses are telling you is a type of thinking devoid of emotional content. If you’re in a thinking cycle that is causing you anxiety or depression, then anxiety and depression are emotions. But unless you hate trees for some reason, simply sitting quietly in a forest and observing a tree as if you are an artist about to draw that tree, is an exercise devoid of emotional content. By focusing on the emotionally neutral stimuli found in nature, we give ourselves the opportunity to feed the sensing wolf.