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Healthy Minds in Practice: Invisible Forces

It sometimes seems like our inner thoughts and emotions. define us, but we can learn a great deal from observing our thoughts and emotions with a fresh perspective. When we do, we uncover how implicit biases - attitudes, stereotypes and other hidden biases - have altered our perception, judgement or action. This 10-minute practice uses self-inquiry to help us see all the forces that shape our thoughts and emotions.

Daniela Labra Cardero

Guided Practice: Invisible Forces

Led by Daniela Labra Cardero

Hi, thanks for taking some time to practice. Today we’re going to explore all the factors that shape what we think and feel. It often seems like our thoughts and emotions are who we are, but in reality, they’re influenced by many different things.

There are obvious influences, like major life events, but also other factors, like our cultural background, our family history, and even what’s happening in our body at any given moment.

We’ll explore this terrain together. You can start by finding a comfortable posture that allows you to be relaxed and alert. And feel free to close your eyes if you like, or keep them open.

Now let’s take a moment to reflect on our motivation. Form an inspiring motivation for doing this, something that includes the well-being of others, like “May this practice bring more wisdom and insight into the world.”

Is there an image or memory that helps you to feel deeply at ease? If so, think of that as you take a few deep breaths, and let go and relax each time you exhale.

Now let’s begin the exploration. Pause for a moment and notice whatever thoughts are moving through your mind. It doesn’t matter what they are, but see if you can notice and choose one specific line of thought to investigate.

Did you find one? If not, feel free to keep observing. If you did, step back and reflect on it. Did something happen in your life that got you thinking? Or are you anticipating something that hasn’t happened yet? Where did this thought come from?

So many of our prior experiences shape what we think and feel in every moment. Has anything about your family or culture shaped this line of thinking? What beliefs and memories is it linked to? Explore all this with openness and curiosity.

When we see all these influences on our thoughts and emotions, we start to see that they don’t have to define us. Whatever you’re experiencing isn’t the real “you.” It’s just a passing thought, shaped by many different factors. Keep exploring.

Now drop the reflection for a bit and just be as you are in this moment. Don’t focus too hard on anything. Just let your body and mind relax into whatever’s happening in this moment. 

Okay, let’s try that again. Again, notice whatever thoughts appear in your mind. See if you can watch each thought arise and identify it in the moment. When it passes, stay ready for the next one. 

As each thought comes and goes, some are sure to sweep you away. That’s fine. As soon as you notice, come back to the practice, trying to track new thoughts as they appear.

Are the thoughts similar to what you experienced before, or different? In either case, explore them. What is the content of these thoughts? What led to them? 

Remember, these thoughts are not really “you” - they’re just thoughts. And these particular thoughts have been shaped by many different factors. Keep exploring all that. 

I know what it feels like. Just when you’re tracking a thought, it vanishes, and next thing you know, it’s two minutes later and you forgot what you were doing. Totally normal. When you notice this happen, try not to get hung up on it, just celebrate that you noticed it and come back to the practice.

OK great work. Now slowly open your eyes if they’ve been closed, and take a few moments to rest in open awareness. Just be present and aware.

We can learn a great deal from observing our thoughts and emotions. I myself have learned so much from this one. It helped me let go of this idea that my feelings and reactions are who I am. Now I see that they’re really just habits. They were learned, and they can be unlearned. 

To apply this in your daily life, pause from time to time and inquire into what you’re thinking about. Where did that thought come from? What’s influencing what you’re thinking, and how you’re feeling, in the moment? Create a new habit of exploring the rich inner world of thoughts.

Awareness. Connection. Insight. Purpose. We consider these to be four ingredients of a healthy mind. You can train yourself to improve these skills, just like you can develop any habit. This audio practice is provided by Healthy Minds Innovations (HMI), an external, affiliated nonprofit dedicated to supporting the mission of the Center for Healthy Minds. Want more practices? Try the Healthy Minds Program App.

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