Session 5 Living in the Now Facilitator Instructions

Living in the Now means leaving Doing Mode and entering Being Mode. In Being Mode we learn that there is no past, there is no future. There is only this present moment. Living in the Now means allowing yourself to be in the moment in which you find yourself…here and now.

Facilitator Notes for Session 5: Living in the Now

PREPARATION

Read the Session 5 Course Materials, review the exercises listed in the chapter and try them at least once yourself prior to facilitating the group.

Practice presenting the materials in this session alone before facilitating the session so you will have a good idea of how long it will take you, given your own speaking and presentation style, to go over critical materials. Adjust by adding or leaving out materials as needed, but do not cut key concepts or Priority 1 exercises and activities if at all possible.

KEY CONCEPTS

 (Key concepts are those concepts that are foundational principles of Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy, and must be covered in the session): Doing Mode; Being Mode; Thinking Mode; Sensing Mode; you are not your mind/thoughts; True Self; Crystal Ball Thinking; Sacred Space, and Experiential Avoidance

SECONDARY CONCEPTS

(Secondary concepts are those concepts that are not foundational, but that are important if the facilitator can work them into the session – otherwise students will read about them on their own in the reading assignments): Upstream and downstream thoughts;  the River analogy; “musturbating;” Coyote Walk, and befriending the bad wolf

INTRODUCTION

As an icebreaker exercise, ask participants to discuss their experiences with Living in the Now, after defining the concept for the class. If they have had any experiences where they have had difficulty dwelling in the past or ruminating over the future, they are living in their heads, and not in the “now” of existence. Ask fellow students to offer suggestions on how to live in the present moment. Keep the focus on Mindfulness-Based Ecotherapy and try to link the discussion to various “living in the now” skills from the Session 5 materials if possible.

If homework was assigned (e.g. exercises from the workbook that there wasn’t time for at the previous session), ask if there were any questions about the materials and have students share their experiences in completing the activities. Try not to spend more than ten minutes or so on this portion of the session.

SESSION 5 OUTLINE

5.0 You are not Your Mind

A common error made by beginning students in mindfulness is that it requires you to “stop thinking.” Mindful meditation and mindfulness are not about stopping the thinking process. As this section points out, if you’re telling yourself to “stop thinking,” then you’re thinking about not thinking. The goal of a mindful meditation isn’t to stop thinking. Instead, the goal is to observe and describe thoughts and feelings while recognizing that we don’t have to believe them to be true or to identify with them. Thoughts and feelings are not facts. They are simply processes of the brain.

5.1 Thought Streams: The River

If you have access to a river or other body of water in your workshop space, having students actually stand in the river while describing this concept can be a very powerful experience. If you choose to do this, and have access to such a river, remember “safety first.” Don’t use a rapidly flowing river. Make sure to have someone trained in first aid in case of emergencies, and don’t let anyone who can’t swim into the river.

Also, if you’re planning to do this, make sure to prepare your participants ahead of time by reminding them to bring towels, swim suits, and other accessories if needed.

5.2 Upstream and Downstream Thoughts

If you are using an actual river, you can transition from the “river” analogy in the previous section directly into the concept of upstream and downstream thoughts in this section. If you don’t have access to an actual river, you can just have your students visualize a river instead. The key concept in this activity is the idea that the present moment is the only thing that’s real: Once the present moment is over, it only exists in memory. And if it exists in memory only, we can choose how to interact with those memories.

5.3 Time is an Illusion

Crystal ball thinking involves “catastrophizing” or “musturbating” about the future. It means placing judgments on future events based on our past experiences.  But if we judge the future by the past, we cut off any possibility of change in the future Here’s why: Suppose I say to myself, “It’s always been this way.” Let’s further assume that this statement is accurate and it really has “always been this way.” Such a statement must be made in the present moment, looking back on past events. That’s fine. But if I then say, “And it always will be this way in the future,” I’ve just cut off any possibility of change, because I’m using crystal ball thinking to refuse to accept the possibility of change in the future.

One of the concepts of living in the now is letting go of the past so that change can begin in the present and carry forth into the future. Note that this is not meant to minimize the anxiety or depression a person may feel about the past. If a person is telling themselves not to experience these feelings, they are engaging in Experiential Avoidance (see section 5.8). Instead, living in the now means taking control of the present moment to choose how to experience thoughts and feelings about the past and the future.

5.4 Reality and the Now

By living in the now we can choose, in this moment, what to believe about the future, or the past. The idea that you can re-create your past is a novel one, but not an impossible goal. Most memory is constructive, so we can change our perceptions about the past by choosing to look at it in a different way than we have before. If the way we choose to remember the past is causing us stress, we can change what parts of the past we focus on, in the present moment, so that it does not have as great an impact on us in the future. You might illustrate this with your students by asking them to discuss instances in which they’ve changed their minds about past events so that they no longer have such an emotional impact.

5.5 Creating Sacred Space

Sacred, or “set apart” spaces, are spaces and places that exist outside of time. This is because sacred spaces are designed to help us leave doing mode and enter into being mode. In being mode, time is irrelevant, because we’re not “doing” anything. Sacred spaces should be designed to stimulate the senses. You might emphasize this to your students by lighting incense or a smudge stick, or by pointing out a scenic view in your workshop space, or by offering a pleasant snack or libation, or by playing soothing music, or by engaging in any other activity that might create sacred space by engaging the senses.

5.6 Being in the Now: Coyote Walk

The idea behind the Coyote Walk activity is that with practice we may engage in any activity in a mindful way. The Coyote Walk allows your students to practice walking mindfully, as a precursor to being able to do other activities mindfully.

Sometimes when I suggest meditation to my patients, they picture it as having to take time out of their busy days to sit cross-legged on the floor. But the idea behind the Coyote Walk is that you can engage in mindful meditation while doing other things.

EXERCISE: Coyote Walk PRIORITY 1

If you don’t have time for any other activity in this week’s session, make sure you do the Coyote Walk. It is an activity that can be done either indoors or outdoors. The importance of this activity is that you can engage in mindful meditation in many aspects of your life, and not just in sitting quietly in your sacred space.

The accompanying worksheet also allows students to be self-reflective by asking them if there are any ways they may have been deceiving themselves, or deceiving others. This exercise can sometimes be used to help people get past the denial phase if there are problems that they are refusing to acknowledge.

The accompanying worksheet also allows students to be self-reflective by asking them if there are any ways they may have been deceiving themselves, or deceiving others. This exercise can sometimes be used to help people get past the denial phase if there are problems that they are refusing to acknowledge.

5.7 Wherever You Go, There You Are

Part of the acknowledgement of the True Self is the acknowledgement of what Carl Jung called the Shadow. The Shadow is where our darker impulses life. If we try to pretend our darker desires and needs don’t exist, then that denial gives them power over us. But if we acknowledge their existence, that opens the gateway to expressing them in positive, rather than harmful, ways. It’s perfectly okay, for example, to be angry. It is not, however, okay to abuse others in our anger. The feeling isn’t the problem; it’s the behavior that’s the problem.

By acknowledging our anger, we are able to act on it in positive ways, perhaps by working out a compromise with the person we’re angry with. Ultimately, we cannot run from ourselves, so by “befriending the bad wolf” we take away its power to harm us.

You might illustrate this concept to students by having them list appropriate ways to express darker and more negative emotions.

5.8 Experiential Avoidance

Trying not to have thoughts is having thoughts. Experiential avoidance means trying to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings or emotions by telling yourself to “get over it” or “stop thinking about it.” I sometimes illustrate this using a beach ball if I’m conducting a group near a body of water. I have students try to push the beach ball underwater. The harder they push, the harder the beach ball “pushes” back. Trying to avoid negative experiences is exactly like pushing a beach ball underwater. The harder we try to avoid them, the more energy we give them, making them stronger. If, for example, I’m depressed and I tell myself to stop feeling depressed, then not being able to stop being depressed is depressing, so I wind up even more depressed than I was in the first place.

There’s a reason this beach ball of experience pushes back so hard. That’s because the reason we get depressed or anxious about things is because we care about things. If we didn’t care about anything, we wouldn’t have anything to be stressed or depressed about. So if we try to push that beach ball of anxiety or depression underwater, we’re also trying to drown everything we care about.

If you have access to a body of water and a beach ball, you might illustrate the concept of experiential avoidance as illustrated above by having students try to push the beach ball underwater.

EXERCISE: Experiential Avoidance PRIORITY 1

This activity is designed for students to do in their own sacred space, but you can have them answer the questions in the first part of the worksheet before doing the second part in their own sacred space. If you have them answer the questions during the workshop, also have them select one thing from the list they’d like to get rid of. Now tell them to go and meditate on that one thing in their own sacred space between now and the next session, per the instructions at the bottom of the worksheet.

At the beginning of Session 6 next week facilitate a discussion about what it was like to simply sit in being mode with the thing they said they’d like to get rid of. There are more instructions for this activity in the INTRODUCTION section for Session 6.

5.9 Befriending the Bad Wolf

During the “befriending the Bad Wolf” section of this session, I often have students list one or two things that the “bad wolf” is trying to warn them about. I then have them thank the bad wolf for doing its job, and then give it permission to leave now before dismissing it. After the person speaking dismissed their own “bad wolf,” have the group say in unison, “Go now in peace.”

When done in a group setting this can be a powerful rite.

One word of caution: Due to the extremely intimate nature of this exercise, if you choose to use it, only do so on a volunteer basis. Don’t force anyone to participate if they’re not willing to do so.

5.10 True Self and the Now

The “mind trap” occurs when our thought and feeling cycles trap us inside our own heads, causing us to dwell on depressing thoughts and feelings about the past or anxiety about the future. From the perspective of the True Self, however, we may see this mind trap for what it is. It is just a process of the mind, and not fact or reality unless we choose to make it so.

At this point in the session check to see if students have integrated the materials by asking them to reflect on their own True Selves, and how living in the now might help them to more fully connect to their own True Selves.

HOMEWORK

Have students read the Session 6 materials prior to the next session; have them complete any exercises from Session 5 that weren’t covered in the session itself; ask them to bring any questions about the materials or the exercises to the next session.

DISCUSSION PERIOD

At the one-hour mark, invite group participants to stay for the discussion period. Point out that the thirty-minute post-session discussion period is optional. Note who stays for the discussion, and who leaves. Work at the next session to more actively engage those who leave.