Workbench Exercise

Recognizing the impermanent nature of our thoughts

This is the third Workbench Exercise of our Mindfulness for Men Course. This is a space meant for you to reflect and write down your thoughts, then optionally save (to your device) or print them. Note that nothing you write below gets saved by our site. 

You don’t have to do a full debriefing like this after every mindfulness of sounds and thoughts practice, but it’s a good idea to do it once or twice to help slow down and develop your ability to step back from difficult thoughts.

Lesson 3. Stepping Back from Difficult Thoughts: Workbench Exercise

Reflecting on the Mindfulness Sounds and Thoughts Practice

Take a few minutes to fill out the form below with what you noticed during the practice.

Sounds (e.g., loud siren, soft hum, intermittent tapping):
Thoughts (e.g., planning thoughts, judging thoughts, supportive thoughts, ruminative thoughts, absence of thoughts):
Sensations in the Body (e.g., temperature, pressure, movement, stillness, heaviness, lightness):
Emotions or Attitudes (e.g., interest, annoyance, compassion, wonder):
Impulses or Behaviours (e.g., to write down thoughts, act on thoughts, get rid of sounds or thoughts):

With mindfulness of sounds, we might notice a rich field of different sounds. We may hear sounds that we usually ignore, or discover strange or delightful qualities in familiar sounds. In one moment, we may notice a sense of curiosity and interest in these sounds. In the next moment, we may notice ourselves recoiling from a sound, or pulled into thinking. This is all okay. The intent is to bring a kind curiosity to the sounds themselves, as well as our moment-by-moment experience with this practice.

When we first start practicing mindfulness of thoughts, it may feel strange to step back from thinking our thoughts to observing them. It may even feel impossible (at first). You may notice the strong pull of thoughts – how quickly we can become immersed in thinking!

When we are used to identifying with whatever thought we have, it can feel strange to step back into a wider field of awareness where we witness our thoughts coming and going. 

When thoughts are absent, it might feel peaceful or eerie; with the voice of “I” not there, we may start to wonder who we are. Although it’s natural to want to pin down an answer, the intent is to keep observing, seeing if it’s enough to recognize that we are not our thoughts. 

Beyond the sounds and thoughts we noticed, it is also important to note our reactions to them. This is part of bringing a sense of curiosity to our minds and bodies. 

Some sounds may trigger certain pleasant memories, while others may have more negative associations we want to pull away from. Whatever the reaction is, try to notice it without any judgement. 

Once you start paying attention, you may realize how quickly your thoughts and associated feelings can change – this is a key lesson to learn as it helps remind us of the impermanence of thoughts. With greater awareness, we can better appreciate pleasant thoughts, while they are present. We can also gain perspective on negative ones, as we know they too will pass. 

You may also notice patterns in your thoughts and your relationship to them. For example, do you give negative thoughts more weight or importance, while discounting or minimizing neutral or positive thoughts?

The next page in Lesson 3 will take us through two additional ways we can further develop our ability to step back from our thoughts.