The human brain can have some wonderful intentions that end up getting in our way and blocking our ability to settle into any given moment calmly and peacefully. The brain is designed to look for problems and then grab onto them, ruminating about them ad infinitum. While this is intended to keep us safe from any sort of harm (by fixating on problems we can prevent or solve them–in theory), in reality it contributes to stress, anxiety, depression, and heaviness. Happily, the brain is also designed to change and grow, and with intention, it’s possible to become more present in what is happening now, open to the experience, and feel light and free.
What is Openness?
Openness is a dimension of the Big Five personality traits that relates to how willing someone is to accept new ideas. It’s also an important mindfulness concept that helps us unhook ourselves from problems–and our thoughts and feelings about them–so we can choose how we want to be in each moment of our lives.
Openness has a great deal to do with awareness and acceptance. Actively notice, on purpose and with intention, your situation, thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations (our bodies are great communicators when we’re willing to listen). When you are willing to cultivate open awareness of yourself and your world, you position yourself to respond to it thoughtfully, and you can let go of leftover notions from the past or worries about the future that interfere in your present.
Tips for Cultivating Open Awareness
Openness takes patience and practice to develop. It doesn’t have to be a heavy process, though. In fact, it can be enjoyable to teach your mind to pay attention to what you want to pay attention to rather than just sticking to every memory, thought, feeling or other trigger that happens show up.
Try these tips to get started:
- Let your senses wander. Pause every once in awhile throughout your day (you might set a gentle alarm to remind you to do it) to let your senses guide your mind. Wherever you are, actively notice little details about what you see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. Be curious about your present moment, and continually ask yourself, “What else?” How many sensory details can you take in within a few minutes? When you catch your mind running away on a tangent or sticking to one particular thought, just notice it and return to your sense safari.
- Notice your thoughts and let them pass. The human mind thinks thousands of thoughts every hour. Thousands. In 60 minutes. Most are negative and irrelevant to the present moment. We don’t have to let the mind run unchecked, however. Tune into your thoughts, notice what’s on your mind, and then, rather than struggling against it or avoiding it, accept it as just another random thought.
- Choose what you pay attention to. Let those random negative thoughts pass in and out while you purposefully choose to be open to what is happening right this very moment. Shift your attention to something in the moment you want to focus on.
An Exercise from The Mindfulness Journal for Depression
The Mindfulness Journal for Depression is a guided journal that I wrote to help people reclaim their lives from depression and low mood to heal, grow, and thrive. It’s based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, a well-researched and respected therapeutic program originally designed to help people overcome recurring depression. The journal is full of prompts, practices, and exercises to help you explore yourself and break free from what depression tries to tell you about yourself.
This exercise is taken directly from the pages of the journal. I’m excited to offer it to you here as a way of developing openness, lightheartedness, and freedom.
Open awareness allows us to experience life fully, without judgements or expectations. It’s a willingness to move forward thoughtfully and freely, through doors you open because you want them to be open. Open awareness is simply being in the moment, lighthearted and free of the hooks of the inevitable negative thoughts and emotions that drift into our consciousness.
Learn more about the Mindfulness Journal for Depression and grab your copy today to start healing!