DBT Mindfulness What Skill: Observe

Why Observe?

1. We Observe to See What Is

Observing is like walking across a room full of furniture with your eyes open instead of closed. You can walk across the room either way. However, you will be more effective with your eyes open. If you don’t like the furniture in the room, you might want to close your eyes, but ultimately it’s not very effective. You keep running into the furniture.

We all walk through life with our eyes closed sometimes, but opening our eyes and actually observing what’s there can be very helpful. The good thing about observing is that it brings us into contact with the real, factual, present moment. That’s where we all actually live—in the here and now. We can’t experience the past; we can’t experience the future; and if we’re living in the past or the future, we’re not really living. Observing is all about learning to feel fully alive in the here and now.

Observing is the opposite of multitasking. As an example, driving a car takes keen awareness, multitasking might interfere with seeing and responding to what is right in front of you — including other cars on the road, and people. If you are driving the car, tuning the music, talking to a passenger, thinking about your destination, looking at a notification on your phone, and trying to find your turn for the destination, you might not see the pedestrian, the bicyclist, or the other driver who is trying to beat the red light.

Reflecting Question: Are there other examples of observing versus multitasking you can think of?

2. We Observe to get Information in our Brains so that we can Change

Research shows that information coming into our senses will help us change in desired ways.

  • Weighing ourselves consistently and seeing our weight regularly will often make our weight go down (if we feel too fat) or up (if we feel too thin).
  • Filling out diary cards is known to be reactive; that is, it can change the very behavior it is measuring.

Reflect on some of your own tendencies to avoid reality, particularly tendencies to avoid even noticing reality as it is. Reflect on the consequences of such avoidance. Reflect on some of the problems you have with paying attention or distractibility.

How to Observe

  1. Notice What You Are Experiencing through Your Senses
  2. Pay Attention on Purpose to Right Now as it Happens
  3. Observe by Controlling Attention
  4. Practice Wordless Watching: Observe without Describing what is being Observed
  5. Observe with a “Teflon (or Nonstick) Mind”
  6. Observe with a “Beginner’s Mind”
  7. Practice, Practice, Practice to Train the Mind to Pay Attention
  8. Keep Bringing the Mind Back to Observing
  9. Observing Requires Controlling Action
  10. Observing Is Very Simple, but It Can Also Be Surprisingly Hard
  11. Observing Can Be Very Painful at Times
  12. Practice Exercises for Observing That Require Preparation
  13. Practice Exercises for Awareness

Important: After each exercise, as soon as possible, please dicuss and process the experience of doing the exercise with your therapist or coach. Take the time after each exercise to open the reflection journal and make an entry, or write something in an external journal.

Notice What You Are Experiencing through Your Senses

Notice what you are experiencing through your eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue. You observe the world outside yourself through your five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. You also observe the world inside yourself through sensing your thoughts, emotions, and internal bodily sensations.

Sense Objects or Events Outside or Inside Your Body

What you sense depends on where you focus your attention. Ultimately, you will want to be able to observe events occurring within your mind and body (i.e., thoughts, sensations, emotions, images) and events occurring outside your body. 

When you are beginning a mindfulness practice, it is important to start with something somewhat difficult but also doable. When you are first learning a skill, it is important for you to get reinforcement for it. Practice is important here as it is in learning any other new skill.

Observing Practice Exercises

We all walk through life with our eyes closed. Opening our eyes and observing what’s there can be very helpful—and practice in doing this is necessary.

Brief Introductory Exercises

The following are very brief exercises that can be done as you first start learning the observing skill.

You can do one exercise and then share the experience, or you can do several of these sequentially and then share.

  • Attend to your hand on a cool surface (such as a table or chair) or a warm surface (such as your other hand).
  • Attend to your thigh on the chair.
  • Attend to and try to sense your stomach, your shoulders.
  • Listen for sounds.
  • Follow your breath in and out; notice the sensation of your belly rising and falling.
  • Watch in your mind to see the first thought that comes in. ELEPHANT!
  • Stroke just above your upper lip; then stop stroking and notice how long it takes before you can’t sense your upper lip any longer.
  • Stand, arms relaxed at your sides, feet about a foot apart. Focus your attention on how your feet feel connecting with the floor. . . . Without moving your feet, find the spot where you feel most balanced over your feet.

Sense Your Mind

Observing your thoughts can sometimes be very difficult. This is because your thoughts about events may often seem to you like facts instead of thoughts. Many people have never really tried to just sit back and watch their thoughts. When you observe your own mind, you will see that your thoughts (and also your emotions and bodily sensations) never stop following one another. From morning till night, there is an uninterrupted flow of events inside your mind; you might notice thoughts, emotions, and other bodily sensations. As you watch, these will come and go like clouds in the sky. This is what thoughts and feelings do inside the mind when just observed—they come and go.

Practice Exercise:

Sit with their eyes closed and listen as you say out loud a string of words (e.g., “up,” “round,” “salt,” “tall”). Observe what word comes into your mind following each word you say. Discuss the words that entered your mind.

  • Some people are terrified to look at their own minds. They’ve avoided it for years. For these individuals, it may be more effective to start observing things outside their bodies first—for example, sitting on a park bench and watching people walk by; or holding something in one hand, such as a leaf or a flower, and noticing the weight of the object, the texture, the smell, the shape.
  • Some people can’t stop analyzing their minds. They’re paying attention to their own experience all the time. For these individuals, it might be harder to start by observing their own minds, particularly if they are very used to analyzing themselves. In contrast, here it is important in observing the mind to adopt a curious attitude and simply watch what goes through the mind. That is, it is important not to try to understand the mind, figure out the mind, or analyze the mind. These are activities of “doing” mind. They are goal-directed. Observing is not goal-directed, other than toward noticing. Having a “Teflon mind” — a concept to which I return later—is essential here.

Pay Attention on Purpose to Right Now—As It Happens

Mindful observing can be thought of as paying attention to present experiences on purpose. Instruct clients: “To observe, you simply step back, be alert, and notice. When you observe, it is the only thing you are doing, nothing else. Don’t react, don’t label, don’t describe; just notice the experience. When you observe, you pay attention to direct physical sensation.

Observe by Controlling Attention

When you can control your attention, you can control your mind. There are two types of attending: focusing the mind and opening the mind.

Focusing the Mind

“Focusing the mind” is the practice of concentrating attention on specific activities, objects, or events. Many things can be used for focusing the mind.


  • The most common mindfulness practice is observing your breath. Your breath is the only thing that you can be certain you will always have for as long as you live. You can lose your arm; you can lose your leg; you can lose many things. But as long as you are alive, you have breath. Focusing attention on your breath is a central part of all mindfulness meditation and contemplative prayer practices.
  • Some schools of meditation give mantras or specific words to say with each breath.
  • Guided mindfulness exercises given by therapists, or meditation recordings, give intermittent instructions on where and how to focus the mind.
  • Counting breaths in and breaths out up to 10 and then starting over is a typical instruction in Zen (Buddhism).
  • Saying the word ‘wise’ when breathing in and the word ‘mind’ when breathing out is a way to focus your mind. Some people practice using a word such as ‘calm.’

Mindfulness of current emotions, mindfulness of current thoughts, and mindfulness of others are other examples of focusing the mind, as are the exercises described in the “Focusing the Mind” lesson.

Opening the Mind

In “opening the mind,” instead of focusing on specific activities, objects, or events, we focus our attention on observing or watching whatever comes into awareness as it comes in and as it goes out of awareness. It is noticing thoughts, emotions, and sensations that enter awareness, without holding onto or pursuing the topics coming into mind. When opening the mind, at each moment, we attempt to expand our awareness to moment-to-moment experiencing.

Thus the object in opening the mind is to observe the flow of moment-to-moment experience. This is like sitting and watching an operating conveyor belt, noticing the objects that go by on the belt, but without shutting down the belt to look at the objects more closely. Another metaphor for this is sitting on the shore of a stream in autumn and watching the leaves go by on the water without following any of the leaves to pay closer attention. In Zen this practice is called shikentaza, which is mindfulness practice without the support of focusing on the breath or other techniques for concentrating the mind. This is also called “choiceless awareness” to indicate that an individual notices anything that comes into awareness, not choosing one thing to pay attention to.


For those of us who have attention difficulties (or sometimes even high anxiety), the practice of opening the mind can be very difficult, because we tend to keep getting caught up in thoughts, emotions, or sensations that come into awareness. Focusing the mind is recommended for this problem.

Practice Wordless Watching:

Observe without Describing what is being Observed

Observing without describing can be very hard, and for many people this takes a lot of practice. Our minds may be in the habit of immediately adding labels to anything we observe. We hear “chirp, chirp” and think “bird”; we hear “vroom, vroom” and say “car”; we sense our breath and say “breath”; we see a picture of a bird on the wall and say “bird.”

We often trade observations for concepts, such as hearing “chirp, chirp” and thinking, “I know what that is: a bird.” But when hearing “chirp, chirp,” we aren’t actually seeing any birds. For all we know, somebody out there could be practicing bird calls. It could in fact be a bird, but we didn’t observe a bird. It was only an observed sound. All we can know for sure is the sound we hear.

Observing is noticing the sound “chirp, chirp.” That’s it. That’s all. In fact, jumping to label the sound as “bird” gets in the way of paying attention to the sound. This is like trying to text and drive, or talk on a cell phone and engage in an in-person conversation at the same time: No one can observe well while describing (the second “what” skill) at the same time.

Grasping this idea may be difficult for many. They might even think it is not possible actually to observe something without the mind’s saying anything. For many people, the mind is a constantly chattering set of thoughts.

Observe with a “Teflon (or Nonstick) Mind”

Allowing emotions, thoughts, images, and sensations to come and go is central to mindful observing. A “Teflon/nonstick mind” is important in practicing opening the mind, and also in practicing focusing the mind. In both practices, thoughts, emotions, and images will come up in the mind. The idea is to let all experiences—feelings, thoughts, and images—flow out of the mind, rather than either grabbing experiences or holding onto them, or pushing experiences away.

Observing inside your mind can be like sitting on a hill looking down on a train that’s going by. Some of the train cars are thoughts, strung together. They come into view. They go out of view. Some of the train cars are emotions, feelings. Each thought and feeling arises, comes closer, then passes, and goes away down the tracks and around the hill out of sight. The trick is not to get caught in the content of the thought or feeling. Watch, observe, but do not get on the train.

Avoid Pushing Away Experiences

“Experiential avoidance” is trying to suppress or avoid experiencing what is happening in the present, in the moment. Some individuals may be afraid to observe their thoughts. Some thoughts are scary, and others may be thoughts a person would like to not have. If worried about any particular thought, a person may try to get rid of it, to shut it out of the mind. 

However, there is scientific evidence, that trying to shut out thoughts is the best way to keep having them. The harder a person tries to shut them out, the more they will pop back into the mind. The best way to get rid of unwanted thoughts is to step back and simply observe them. They will go away by themselves. The attempt to avoid or suppress our own experiences is associated with higher, not lower, emotion dysregulation.

Avoid Holding on to Experiences

“Experiential hunger” is trying to hold on to positive experiences. We try to create positive experiences at the expense of noticing what is currently in our lives. People often overindulge in drugs, alcohol, sex, fast driving, and other exciting activities, seeking an emotional high or a thrill. Everyday life seems boring.

We may try to hold on to a sense of security or a sense of being loved. Holding on to damaging relationships, or being overly demanding of those we love, are often efforts to hold on to a false sense of safety and security. Life is too scary otherwise. It is even possible to become overly “addicted” to spiritual experiences. Mindfulness meditation and/or prayer can become efforts to have “spiritual highs.” Individuals constantly seeking reassurance or frequently demanding proof of unwavering love fall into the same category. When this happens, the individuals can become like ocean fish swimming around and around, constantly searching for the water.


It is essential that your therapist helps you learn to observe in a nonattached way. Thus whatever happens in your mind is “grist for the mill,” so to speak. No matter what you do, you can just “step back” and observe. Get feedback. Work with your therapist until you get the idea of observing. Check how long you can observe. It is common to have to start and restart many times in the course of 1 or 2 minutes.

Observe with a “Beginner’s Mind”

Each moment in the universe is completely new. This one moment, right now, has never occurred before. In “beginner’s mind,” we focus our minds on noticing the experience of each moment, noticing that each moment is new and unique. It is easy to forget this. We forget to observe and notice the moment. A new moment may be very much like a previous moment.

We may find ourselves saying “same old, same old,” but actually everything is changing, is constantly new. In reality, we are always in “beginner’s mind”; that is, every moment is indeed new and unique. In observing, we take the stance of an impartial observer, investigating whatever appears in our conscious minds or strikes our attention.

Nothing has ever been in your mind that has not gone away. If you just watch your mind, thoughts, images, emotions, and sensations all eventually go away. It is a fascinating thing. If you just sit there and look at them, they go away. When you try to get rid of thoughts they keep coming back.

Practice, Practice, Practice to Train the Mind to Pay Attention

Learning to observe your own mind takes patience and practice. It means training your mind to pay attention. It may seem impossible to ever get your attention under control, but it is possible. It just takes practice, practice, and more practice. 


An untrained mind is like a TV that gets 100,000 different channels, but the person watching the TV doesn’t have a remote control. The mind keeps turning to the same stations over and over and over again—most of which are painful for participants.


A Zen metaphor compares an untrained mind to a puppy. The untrained mind causes problems just like a puppy that pees where it’s not supposed to, chews up its owner’s favorite shoes, eats garbage, and throws up. Likewise, the untrained mind wanders all over, gets itself (and the person) in trouble, and ruminates about things that make the person feel worse.

Keep Bringing the Mind Back to Observing

Observe by bringing your mind back to observing over and over, each time that you notice being distracted. Most people, when they practice observing, find that their minds frequently and sometimes very quickly start thinking about something—and before they know it, they become lost in their thoughts, unaware of the present moment, no longer observing. 

Whenever your attention is drawn away from observing and awareness, gently but resolutely push distractions to the side as if you are dividing the clouds in the sky, and return, single-mindedly, to the object of attention. The idea here is to observe being distracted—that is, to observe yourself as you become aware that you were distracted. Notice, if you can, when you start to become distracted. Practice noticing distractions.

Observing Requires Controlling Action

The first rule of observing is to notice the urge to quit observing. One of the first things that happens when people start practicing observing is that they want to quit. They get bored; they get tired; they experience painful emotions; their bodies start hurting; they remember something else important they need to do; something else catches their interest; and on and on and on. You don’t have to act on whatever comes into your mind. When you’re observing, you might notice you feel sleepy. Notice it, but don’t fall asleep. Instead, bring your attention back to whatever you are observing. You might notice you’re hungry. But don’t get something to eat right now. Instead, notice that you’re hungry; notice that your attention has been pulled into thinking about food. Notice that, and then bring your attention back to whatever you were observing.

Reflect on your ability to maintain focus on observing and rate your attention on a 5 point Likert scale.

  1. I can only maintain focus on observing for around 30 seconds.
  2. I can maintain focus on observing for longer than 1 minute
  3. I can maintain focus on observing for longer than 2 minutes
  4. I can maintain focus on observing for about 5 minutes
  5. I can maintain focus on observing for longer than 5 minutes


A common problem for many of us is that we forget why we are observing in the first place. We have lost sight of the benefits. You may feel worse — certainly not better or calmer. You may want to give up on this process. At these times it can be helpful to do a quick review of the pros and cons. Reflect on the Pros and Cons of Practicing Mindfulness, to remind yourself that very little can be accomplished in this life without the ability to observe.

Ultimately, this ability will depend somewhat on the ability to tolerate distress and to inhibit impulsive urges. This is quite a task for some many of us, requiring much practice before we can comfortably stay quiet and stay still long enough to fully observe something within or without.

Observing Is Very Simple, but It Can Also Be Surprisingly Hard

To prove my point about the surprising difficulty of observing, try one of the following exercises; the first focuses on not seeing what is there, and the second on seeing what is not there.

Practice Exercise:

What Do You See?

The yellow bird flew through

through orange curtains

into blue sky

People ordinarily do not notice that the word “through” is repeated. (It’s at the end of the first line and the beginning of the second line.) Look at the image of the words again, do you see the word “through” two times? Discuss your experience with your therapist.

Because people know how to read and write, they have expectations about words and sentences. If people saw the extra word the first time they read the sentence, they probably ignored it; they knew from past experience that it probably wasn’t supposed to be there. If they weren’t giving it their full attention, they may not have noticed the extra word. Their minds automatically “saw” the words as they should be. It’s good to practice observing, because it’s very easy not to see things that are there like the extra word above.

Practice Exercise:

What shapes do you see?

It’s clear that there are three black circles and that each has a notch, like a missing pie piece. In addition, many people see a triangle when they look at the shapes in Figure 7.2. But in fact, there is no triangle in the box. The notches in the three circles happen to line up with each other. If there were lines that connected the three notches, then there would be a triangle. But there are no connecting lines, and so there is no triangle shape. Our minds, however, can provide these “missing” lines, so we “see” a triangle even though it isn’t really there.

Discuss your experience while completing this exercise. The mind has the ability to fill in blanks, so we “see” something we expect even when it’s missing. When the mind isn’t fully paying attention, it can also erase something unexpected, even though it’s there. In fact, most people stop paying attention when they think they know what something is. This can be useful and save us a lot of time. But it can cause many problems when what we think we see doesn’t line up with what’s really out there. Has this phenomenon happened in other situations?

Observing Can Be Very Painful at Times

The trouble with observing is that people may wind up seeing things they do not want to see. This can be hard. In particular, those with histories of trauma may find observing very scary. They are afraid to watch what goes through their minds. Some are worried that thoughts and images that ordinarily cause enormous anxiety will race through their minds. Others are afraid of thoughts and images of the past, particularly when these set off intense emotions of sadness or anger. However, there is research showing that control of attention can reduce rumination.


Remember to step back within yourself, not outside of yourself, to observe. Observing is not dissociating. As described earlier in the lesson, if some individuals have difficulty staying inside instead of going outside themselves, I suggest you try imagining that the place you go outside yourself is a flower.

Practice Exercises for Observing That Require Preparation

The following exercises need supplies and require some advance preparation. They are fairly active, most people find them fun, and they are very good for younger groups or people who are somewhat resistant to practice. They are also very good for people who have difficulty sitting still or focusing without much to do, thereby opening the door to traumatic images or thoughts. They are primarily used in group therapy settings, but have been adapted for individual use.

Finding Your Lemon

From a batch of lemons pick one out and hold it. Examine the lemon (by touching it, holding it, smelling it, etc.), but do not eat the lemon. After a period of time, put the lemon back in with the others. Mix up the lemons. Now, find your lemon. This can be done with other things (e.g., pennies), but be sure that the objects you choose look reasonably similar and will require examination to tell the difference.

Holding Chocolate on Your Tongue

Pick up some chocolate and hold it in your hands. Unwrap the chocolate. Put the piece of chocolate on your tongue. Hold it in your mouth, chew it gently, noticing the taste, the texture, the sensations in your mouth. Do not swallow the chocolate just wait for it to dissolve. Notice the urge to swallow. Set and start a timer for 3–5 minutes to keep from swallowing the chocolate.

Eating or Drinking with Awareness

Give yourself something to eat or to drink. Eat (or drink) what you have selected very slowly, focusing on the feel of the food (or drink) in your hands; the smell, the texture, the temperature, the sound, and the taste of the food (or liquid) in your mouth; the sensation of swallowing; and urge to eat or drink more slowly, faster, or not at all.

Some exercises in this section (and later in this chapter) are adapted from Miller, A. L., Rathus, J. H., & Linehan, M. M. (2007). Dialectical behavior therapy with suicidal adolescents. New York: Guilford Press. Copyright 2007 by The Guilford Press. Adapted by permission.

What’s Different about Me?

Practice this with someone you know and trust. First, you will mindfully observe each other face to face. Then you will turn your backs, change three things (e.g., glasses, watch, and hair), and turn back toward each other. Can you notice the changes?

Observation of Music

Play a piece of music, listen to it quietly and observe nonjudgmentally, while fully letting the experience surround you (your thoughts, emotions, physiological changes, urges). Variations include playing segments of two or three very different pieces (in terms of style, tempo, etc.) and observing changes in the music and your internal reactions.

Mindfully Unwrapping a Hershey’s Kiss

Sit in a comfortable position with a Hershey’s Kiss in front of you. After 3 minutes (set a timer with an alarm), observe and describe the outside of the Hershey’s Kiss to yourself. Feel the differences in the texture between the paper tag and the foil. As you begin to unwrap the chocolate, note how the shape and texture of the foil change in comparison to the paper tag, as well as the chocolate. Feel the chocolate and how it changes in your hand. If your mind wanders from the exercise, note the distraction without judgment, and then return your attention to the chocolate.

Repeating an Activity

Set a timer with an alarm. When the alarm bell rings, sit at the table with your arms resting on the table. Very slowly, reach several inches to pick up a pen. Raise it a few inches, and then set it down. Move your hand back to its original position of rest. While you repeat this action throughout the time period, experience each repetition with freshness, as though you have never done it before. You can allow your attention to wander toward different aspects of the movement: watching your hand or feeling the muscles contracting. You can even notice your sense of touch, being aware of the different textures and pressures. Let go of any distractions or judgments you may have. This activity will help you to become mindful of a simple activity that you perform often throughout the day.

Focusing on Scent

Purchase some scented candles if you don’t own any. Choose a candle. Set a timer with an alarm. When the alarm bell rings, sit back in your chair and find a comfortable and relaxed position. Close your eyes, and begin to focus on the smell of the candle. Let go of any distractions or judgments. Notice how the smell makes you feel and what images it evokes. Afterward, contemplate your observations, emotions, thoughts, feelings, and sensations: How did the scent make you feel? What images came to your mind? Did the smell remind you of anything in particular?

Mindfully Eating a Raisin

This exercise is also included in the MBSR module course lesson on mindful eating. Purchase some raisins if you don’t have any. Pick out one raisin. Hold the raisin; observe its appearance, texture, and scent; think about the life cycle of that raisin, where it came from, and how it got to be in front of you; think about how many people were involved in the planting, caring, harvesting, processing, distribution, and sale; quite an exciting journey. Then put it in your mouth and slowly, with awareness, with gratitude; begin eating — noticing the tastes, sensations, and even the sounds of eating. This can be done with nuts (as long as you don’t have allergies) and can also be done with candies (sweet tarts, caramels, fruit chews, fireballs, etc.). Eating a raisin (or other small food) is a very well-known exercise that is typically done in mindfulness-based treatments.

Observing Emotions

Notice any emotions you are experiencing right now in the moment, and try to note how you know you are having those emotions. That is, what labels do you have in mind? What thoughts, what body sensations, and so on give you information about the emotions? Refer to the Emotional Intelligence and Emotion Regulation course modules and lessons; utilizing the emotion wheel and list of emotions.

What’s My Experience?

Focus your mind on your experience in this very moment. Be mindful of any thoughts, feelings, body sensations, urges, or anything else you become aware of. Don’t judge your experience, or try to push it away or hold onto it. Just let experiences come and go like clouds moving across the sky.

Noticing Urges

Sit very straight in your chair. Throughout this exercise, notice any urges — whether o move, shift positions, scratch an itch, or do something else. Instead of acting on the urge, simply notice it. Then discuss the experience with your therapist. Was it possible to have an urge and not act on it?

Mindfulness of the Five Senses

The exercises for observing through the five senses are limited only by your imagination and creativity.

  1. Sight. Pick a picture on a wall or an object in the room to look at, or light a candle in the middle of the room, or go for a walk in an area with flowers or other sights to see. Contemplate or gaze at the sight.
  2. Touch. Pick up an object that is close to you. Close your eyes and hold and examine the object(s) with your hands, and/or rub the object(s) on their skin. Find a nearby grassy place to walk barefoot, and notice the feel of the ground on bare feet.
  3. Smell. Choose something aromatic to use for this exercise, such as spices, herbs, perfumes, perfumed soaps or candles, gourmet jelly beans, or other foods or aromatic oils. Close your eyes and focus with your sense of smell.
  4. Taste. Choose some small but tasty bites to eat. Try to make some tastes very different and some very similar. Sample each bite separately. Focus on the taste and, if you are a good cook, try to inhibit analyzing the taste for what elements make up the taste.
  5. Sound. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds in the room. Or bring a large mindfulness bell and ring the bell very slowly (but completely each time). Activate a singing bowl. Or put on a musical recording, listen, make an effort to keep your attention on the sound only.

Practice Exercises for Awareness

Practice the following exercises with your eyes open. Record yourself reciting the script. Or ask your therapist for a prerecorded audio file or video. You can do one exercise and then share the experience, or you can do several of these sequentially and then share. As described earlier with the scripts for wise mind exercises, set up the practice as follows, and then continue with one of the scripts below:

Sit in a comfortable but attentive position. Keeping your eyes open, find a good place to rest your eyes; looking down with only slightly open eyes; or keeping your eyes more open; You might want to clear the space in front of you so as to not be too distracted.

Expanding Awareness While Staying Aware of Your Center

See if you can let your attention settle into your center; at the bottom of your breath when you inhale; just near your gut; That very centered point is wise mind ; as you breathe in and out; keeping your attention there at your very center; in your gut; Now, as you keep your center of attention in your gut, expand your awareness outside; noticing in the periphery of your vision the colors of the walls or floor or table, objects in the room, people nearby; maintaining all the while awareness of your gut; your center point; your wise mind.

Awareness of Threes

Stay focused on your breathing; In and out, for three breaths; and, maintaining your awareness of your breath, expand your awareness to your hands; just holding both in your awareness for three breaths; Now, expand your awareness even further; maintaining awareness of your breath and of your hands, include in your awareness sounds; staying aware of all three for three breaths; letting go of perfection if you lose awareness of one; starting over again.

Note: The two exercises above are very good for working on the ability to focus attention. Many people who have problems with emotion regulation or impulse control have great difficulties in controlling attention. With much practice of these exercises, their control of attention will gradually improve.

Watching Train Cars

Imagine you are sitting on a hill near train tracks, watching train cars go by; Imagine that thoughts, images, sensations, and feelings are cars on the train; Just watch the train cars go by; Don’t jump on the train; Just watch the train cars go by; If you find yourself riding the train, jump off and start observing again; Just noticing that you got on the train; watching the train cars; watching your mind again.

Note: There are many variations on the “train cars” image. For the train cars, you can substitute boats on a lake, sheep walking by, and so forth.

Watching Clouds in the Sky

Imagine that your mind is the sky, and that your thoughts, sensations, and feelings are clouds. Gently notice each cloud as it drifts or scurries by.

Review of Between-Session Practice Exercises for Observing

It is important to go over some of these exercises with your therapist if you have not practiced them in a session. If time is short, review the lesson briefly, just so you see how many ways there are for practicing observing. If you have questions or concerns review some of the ideas and discuss the ones that would be useful with your therapist.