Texas Tech University

Leaves on a Stream



Welcome to the MINDSPA mindfulness series from the Texas Tech Student Counseling Center. Led by Elise McCay, LMFT

This is a guided mindfulness exercise called Leaves on a Stream from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), adapted from “ACT made simple” by Russ Harris. It is designed to help us diffuse from our thoughts by observing and accepting them without judgement. 

I invite you to sit in a comfortable yet upright position in a chair or on the floor. Let your eyes gently close, or fix them on a point in the room in front of you.   

Take a couple of gentle breaths in, and out. Notice the sound and feel of your own breath as you breathe in, and out.  

Now, I'd like you to imagine that you are looking at the bank of a gently flowing stream watching the water flow.   Imagine feeling the ground beneath you, the sounds of the water flowing past, how this place smells, and the way the stream looks as you watch it.   

Imagine that there are leaves from trees, of all different shapes, sizes, and colors, floating past on the stream and you are just watching these float on the stream. This is all you need to do for the time being.  

Start to become aware of your thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Each time you notice a thought, feeling, or sensation, imagine placing it on a leaf and letting it float down the stream.   

Do this regardless of whether the thoughts, feelings, or sensations are positive or negative, pleasurable, or painful.   Even if they are the most wonderful thoughts, place them on a leaf and let them float by.   

If your thoughts stop, just watch the stream. Sooner or later your thoughts should start up again.   

Allow the stream to flow at its own rate. Notice any urges to speed up or slow down the stream and let these be on leaves as well. Let the stream flow how it will.   

If you have thoughts, feelings, or sensations about doing this exercise, place these on leaves as well.   

If a leaf gets stuck or won't go away, let it hang around. For a little while, all you are doing is observing this experience; there is no need to force the leaf down the stream.  

If you find yourself getting caught up with a thought or feeling, such as boredom or impatience, simply acknowledge it. Say to yourself, “Here's a feeling of boredom,” or “Here's a feeling of impatience.” Then place those words on a leaf, and let them float on by.  

You are just observing each experience and placing it on a leaf on the stream. It is normal and natural to lose track of this exercise, and it will keep happening. When you notice yourself losing track, just bring yourself back to watching the leaves on the stream.

Notice the stream, and place any thoughts, feelings, or sensations on the leaves and let them gently float down the stream.  

Finally, allow the image of the stream to dissolve, and slowly bring your attention back to sitting, in this room.   

Gently open your eyes and notice what you can see.   Notice what you can hear.   Push your feet or lower body into the floor and stretch gently.  

Notice yourself stretching.   

Welcome back.


Student Counseling Center