Attention to Experience” Exercise


  • Ask God to help you to bring to mind a particular experience
  • Describe briefly the environment, who was there, and what happened
  • Describe your thoughts at the beginning, middle, and end of the experience
  • Name your feelings at the beginning, middle, and end of the experience
  • Ask God to help you to choose one of those feelings, to focus on, as follows
  • Ask yourself, if possible in a compassionate way, “What is that [feeling] like for you?” Some of your answers might be along the lines of:

Other feelings that are part of that feeling or that come with it

Bodily sensations and reactions that you have with that feeling

What does the feeling make you want to do?

What sort of belief or “message” is behind that feeling, or implicit in it?

Images or memories that spring to mind as you pay attention to the feeling

  • It is most important not to ignore details that seem bad or unpleasant orthat don’t make sense! Partial, not-yet-understood responses are very important, too.
  • If you notice a new emotional reaction, as you are becoming aware of any of these elements of the experience (bodily sensations, desired behaviours, beliefs, images, etc), you might like to pay attention to that emotion, asking these same questions again.
  • If a memory has come up, in the context of this exercise, which seems particularly significant, you might like to repeat the exercise, focussing on that experience (the one you have just remembered).
  • At the end of the exercise, ask yourself what it was like for you to do it. Can you say how it made feel?
  • If at any point in the process you’re stuck, and just can’t name or describe a particular feeling, it can be very helpful to stop and ask what are the feelings you’re experiencing now, in being stuck; what is it like for you, to find yourself unable to do this? If you can succeed in naming and describing the fear, frustration, anger, embarrassment, helplessness, apathy, or whatever it is that’s arising in you now—as you find that you can’t get in touch with the feelings of the original experience—that might be enough for today! It is likely that you needed to pay attention to this other thing (fear, frustration, anger, whatever), which was “getting in the way” as it were, before you can get “access” to the feelings that you were trying to look at.
  • The great, overriding question in all this is, “What is happening?” (or “what was happening?”, if you’re paying attention to a past event). Try not to be concerned with what should be happening, or with understanding what is happening; you will probably need to make a continual effort to put such questions out of your mind. The question “what is (happening)?” has the capacity to embody compassion, and to express a recognition that you are of great worth and value as you are.