Safe Word: Hourglass

A friend is reading “The Mindful Way Through Depression” and sent me the following email regarding an exercise in the book:


“I read this in my book tonight and felt like this was potentially useful.  *Not verbatim*

The Three Minute ‘Time Out’

This is a mindfulness exercise that’s meant to be performed when you’re in the thick of it.  The point is to take the thoughts that are happening right now and steady the mind in order to prevent yourself from getting caught up.  The authors ask us to imagine the idea of an hourglass to describe the process:  we take unfocused thoughts in the first of three steps, focus the mind in step two and then allow it to expand in step 3.

Step 1:  Aware and acknowledge

Become aware of what’s happening and then change your stance.  Sit or stand straight up; close the eyes if you can.  Ask yourself:

What am I thinking?  What are the feelings?  What does my body feel like right now.  There’s no judgment – just statement of experience.

Step 2:  Focus on the breath

Redirect the focus of the mind from the bodily and mental sensations back to the breath.  And .. just experience that in its entirety.  This is where the mind is ‘stilling.’ 

Step 3:  Expansion

Allow the mental focus to move beyond just the breath and stay within the body.  Breath into those places that feel tense or uncomfortable.  This is where we transition back to the rest of the world, finishing our ‘time out.’ “


I read this email aloud to my husband and he liked the idea of utilizing the exercise. After we talked I kept having the image of an hourglass and how it could help us with reactivity and communication. I presented my idea to him and he was in fully. I pulled a small timer out of my Boggle box and we were set.

I put the hourglass on the bookshelf in the main room of the house. Any time we’re in the reaction or one of us is reacting to the other our safe word is hourglass. Our commitment is to stop immediately and turn over the hourglass and for that minute we do those three steps. And that no matter what we want to say in that moment – we don’t. We take the time out. And if after the minute we need another – one person will say hourglass again.


We’re both committed to living more authentically each day and to being able to communicate effectively, openly, and honestly. It’s difficult to be authentic, effective, open, or honest in the midst of reaction.

Give the Hourglass Challenge a go and see how it works for you. Feel free to let me know how it goes in the comments.

2 thoughts on “Safe Word: Hourglass

  1. I had just decided yesterday after a massive explosion that when I get reactive I would go meditate for 3 minutes. Now I have a way to focus those three minutes. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone


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