We all go through difficult times in our lives. Struggling is simply part of being human, but sometimes these difficult times get in the way of us living in the present moment. We either dwell on the past or worry about the future, and that prevents us from experiencing the richness and vitality of living in the present moment.
According to Pat Ogden, researcher and founder of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, mindfulness can be defined as being “aware of the five ‘building blocks’ of present experience that occur spontaneously during each waking moment.”
Cognitions have to do with “our thoughts, interpretations, meanings and beliefs.” For example, if we negatively interpret events in our lives or develop beliefs such as “I’m bad, other people don’t like me,” we can end up blaming ourselves with our thinking. On the other hand, if we learn to talk to ourselves in a positive manner, complimenting ourselves, that can lead to a more positive attitude (e.g. “I did an awesome job at work. Everyone around me is friendly.”) We’re not always aware of our thoughts, but at the end of the day they impact our emotions and the way we view others and ourselves.
Emotions are a huge part of who we are. If we experienced positive emotions in the past, then we have a better chance of experiencing those feelings again in the present. If we experience painful emotions in our childhood, then it might be harder for us to experience feelings like happiness in the present moment. At times, we might try to avoid our emotions, especially if we anticipate feelings of distress in our future.
Five-sense perception has to do with the perceptions of smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing. Sometimes when we go through a traumatic experience, we might relive the experience by remembering the sensory experiences of the past. It can be painful to relive these sensations in the present moment.
Movement has to do with the physical actions of our bodies. They include motor movements like picking up objects, and making facial expressions, postures and gestures. Movement affects our present-day experiences. For example, if we experienced a childhood filled with criticism, we may make ourselves smaller by looking down instead of standing tall.
Body sensation encompasses the physical feelings constantly generated internally from changes in electrical, chemical and muscular activity. Examples include butterflies in our stomach, racing of our heart and feelings of hunger. If we’ve gone through a traumatic experience, we may end up feeling numb and flat, disconnecting from the sensations associated with the trauma.
Mindfulness can help us be aware of these blocks so our difficult past doesn’t end up affecting our present-day experience. When we are aware of our internal experience, we can use our skills to ground ourselves and remind ourselves that we are safe. To practice this, try thinking of a good moment and writing it down, including all the details of the event. Then, take a moment to immerse yourself in that memory and describe what you notice in each of the five building blocks. Finally, notice which building blocks best helped you reconnect with the positive feelings of this good moment.
The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, the Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.