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  • Writer's pictureTamsin Hartley

Calming a busy mind

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Clean questions are a great way of helping someone to bring mindful awareness to their inner experience. By repeating back the other person's words and asking these questions in a specific order, you can create a Listening Space for them. People often experience a sense of greater calm when this happens.

One participant from a recent Listening Space course, Cheryl, explained how she had used these questions in her coaching work with surprising effect. She was working with Tom, a nineteen-year-old apprentice on a youth tranining scheme. He has attention deficit disorder and was complaining of finding it difficult to focus at times. He talked about being, ‘Very, very busy in my head. Like there’s all this noise going on.’

Cheryl decided to use the Listening Space questions to help Tom bring his attention to his breathing (the Clean questions have been highlighted in bold):

Cheryl OK, shall we just take a breath.

Tom Oh, a breath would be great.

Cheryl So, a breath would be great.

Tom Yeah. A breath would just be great.

Cheryl So when that breath would be great, what kind of breath is that?

Tom Hmm. I don’t know really.

Cheryl Is there anything else about that breath?

[He paused, went quiet and drew a deeper breath]

Tom That’s better!

Cheryl That’s better …

Tom Yeah, that’s much better, thank you.

Cheryl I’m just wondering, whereabouts is that breath?

Tom Do you want to know where it is now, or do you want to know where it was before?

Cheryl Either

Tom Before it was all in here. [gesturing around his head]

And now it’s here. [gesturing to his solar plexus]

Cheryl Is that breath on the inside or the outside?

Tom That’s really strange, because when I breathe in it’s on the inside.

And when I breathe out it’s on the outside.

And it’s quite nice to know that that’s going on.

This is really weird. This is really interesting.

Cheryl Ok. Are you ready for another question?

Does that breath have a size or a shape?

He started laughing:

Tom The minute you said that, this big circle appeared.

[making a sweeping gesture out and in with his hands]

Cheryl Is there anything else about that breath, when it used to be here ...

[gesturing to his head]

... and now it’s here.

[gesturing to his solar plexus]

And it’s on the inside and the outside.

And it’s a big circle.

Tom No. But I don’t half feel good.

Cheryl And what do you know now about your breath?

Tom How did you do that to me? What you’ve just done with me there.

Cheryl I didn’t do that to you. You did it to yourself.

Tom Could I do this on my own?

Tell me the questions you’ve just asked me.

So, she gave him the questions to take away with him.

In his next coaching session, Tom explained that he had used these questions when he played golf. Before each shot he’d think about how he wanted each stroke to go. He then paused and asked himself:

Whereabouts is my breath?

Does it have a size or a shape?

[these were the questions he found easiest to remember because they were so unusual].

He explained that:

My breathing just slowed right down. My golf improved massively.

Afterwards, the others were saying to me, ‘How were you doing that?

A few simple questions had helped him to settle his breathing down and calm his busy, noisy mind.

Together they explored how he could transfer some of this new-found calm to the workplace. He now uses the Listening Space questions when he is feeling tired or stressed.

Why don't you give it a try for yourself?

Take a few minutes to bring your attention to your breathing.

After each of the following questions, simply pause and notice where your attention goes.

You might find it helpful to close your eyes after each question as you notice what arises for you.:

What kind of breathing is that?

Whereabouts do you notice your breathing?

Do you notice your breathing on the inside or the outside?

Does that breathing have a size or a shape?

Is there anything else about that breathing?

Alternatively you might like to try some of the recorded meditations on the website.

I'd love to hear how you get on. What did you notice?

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