A New Mindfulness Exercise: Finding and Connecting with Shells

I have been experimenting with a new mindfulness exercise with my patients on the beach, and I hope that you’ll offer yourself (or someone else) the opportunity to try it. If you’re not near a beach, maybe you can find some “sand” and shells at a craft store nearby and create your own beach in a bowl. Or you can use this as an inspiration to use other natural objects. Here’s how it goes:

1) Rub your hand over the sand and find shells. Do so mindfully, without labeling or judging, by bringing your awareness to the sensations in your hand and noticing textures, temperature, dampness, etc. Observe your thoughts and feelings and allow them to pass by you as you tune into your hand, the sand, and the shells. Notice other things you might find, such as sea weed or rocks. Dig your fingers in if you need to and pick out fragments of shells too. Set the shells aside.

2) Take a moment to arrange the shells next to each other, however you’d like, so that you’re able to see them. As you do so, notice their colors, sizes, and shapes. Think of each shell as a moment in your day. Take one shell in your hand and closely examine its colors. Pretend that each color represents a feeling. As you hold that shell, think of this very moment; can you identify the feelings you’re experiencing now? Can you think about the intensity of the feelings on a 1-10 scale? What is the most intense feeling? Assign it the color that’s most prominent on the shell and do this with at least 3 more feelings/colors, so that the less intense the feeling, the less of that color is visible on the shell. We may only focus on one or two feelings at any given moment, but there are usually more.

3) As you set the shell down with the others, notice how they look different in their physical characteristics yet they share many similarities. As you look at them, think of each shell representing a moment in your day and notice that feelings or their intensity may vary from one moment to the next. Some moments have more anger in them whereas others have more joy. The feelings might still be there, but their intensity changes. The shells also vary in their size, perhaps that’s the length of the moment or its impact. Some are fragments of shells and I think of them as moments interrupted by distractions, such as thoughts or electronic devices steering our attention away from the moment. When you think about your day, would you find more whole moments or interrupted ones?

4) Practicing mindfulness throughout the day would allow us to acknowledge when our feelings shift and to notice that our needs might shift as well. We might feel anxious one moment, then a comforting thought might help shift our anxiety more toward calm. This could change our physiology, our thoughts, and our behaviors, so what we might have needed in the first moment may not be relevant in the next.

5) What did you learn from this exercise? How can you apply what you learned in your day?