Most of what I hear or read about mindfulness is enough to put me off. A friend told me recently that she had been out walking with a woman who announced “I am walking mindfully”, focusing intently as she put one foot in front of the other. My friend didn’t get it, and wasn’t about to join in. She just wanted to enjoy her walk.
I am not keen on anything that feels feigned, forced or contrived. It isn’t relaxing or pleasant! However, I am aware that it is so easy to habitually be somewhere else in our mind…….anywhere, in fact, rather than where we are at! And it is so easy to get caught up in the practice of thinking ahead, distracted by what we think we still need to do, in order for life to become the way we want it to be. I AM that person……so I know what I am talking about!
I have always been a fan of what actually works, in the ‘real’ world, for the average Joe……in other words, people like me! Over the years we have all seen fads come and go. We all know people who find themselves completely caught up in the latest spiritual/emotional ‘break – through’……..the newest, biggest and best thing for all human – kind……….until the next one comes along. But I don’t believe mindfulness falls into that category…….unless, that is, it falls into the wrong hands first! Being mindful is much easier and way more simple than is often portrayed. And here is the way I see it (for what it’s worth!):
The purpose of becoming more mindful is to get more out of the life we are living. It whizzes by so quickly, we want to savour of much of it as we possibly can. Nothing stays the same for too long, and it is easy to dismiss great, though ordinary, moments in our life. Let’s face it, most of the life we will live, from beginning to end, IS made up of what are deemed to be ordinary moments.
The problem is, we can either take those ordinary moments completely for granted, OR we believe that they are not good enough, and that life is still somehow yet to really begin.
If we do the first, we become inert, bogged – down, lazy – minded, uninspired, bored and stuck. We may be very busy living our routine, everyday life, but we are still doing all, or most, of the above. We look for snatches of pleasure and gratification to break up the monotony, to relieve the boredom (technology, social networking, new stuff etc)…..but we are generally dissatisfied with life. However, not quite dissatisfied enough to break through the membrane that is dimming the light that wants to shine on our life! “Happy enough, I suppose, and just taking each day as it comes”, we say. “After all, that’s just what you do, isn’t it, get on with things…..?” In this case, WAKING UP is what mindfulness is about. We don’t need to force ourselves to ‘meditate’, listening to our own breath for hours on end, letting our thoughts come and go, trying to ‘feel’ inner peace…….which is a good thing, because we probably wouldn’t be genuinely committed to the practice, anyway!
No, we just need to see things through fresh eyes. To be aware of all the stuff that is good, and funny, and beautiful, and interesting…….every single day! We can still have problems to sort out. We can still have hopes for the future that have not yet been fulfilled. But we need to become fascinated, to pick up on things…….to look around us, and SEE. Today, as I walked with the dog through the wood, and along the beach, I was absorbed by the warm wind, the green – blue waves with white, frilly edges. Buoys bobbing out at sea. The amazing cloud formations scurrying across a pale blue backdrop. The smiles of other walkers, and their happy dogs, sniffing other dogs’ bottoms and generally being excited! The snail halfway up a wall, the golden leaves dancing around in the wind, the red berries and pine cones, the scent of late summer. And yet I still had other things on my mind! I listened to my favourite songs, as I walked along, seeing, hearing, feeling and smelling……I was present, and it was natural, easy, hugely enjoyable and rewarding…….but I also had a few other things running through my mind, things that are important to me. And I was completely appreciative of the whole experience. And THAT is something else that is part of mindfulness…….genuine, honest gratitude! But in order for us to be grateful for something, it has to be of importance to us. And if we are in the habit of taking things for granted and living on auto – pilot (which often leads to flatness, hopelessness and low energy), we have a tendency to under – value an awful lot of things.
So…….if you really want to be more mindful, but are discouraged by what you believe will be required of you, here is the GOOD NEWS! Just make a conscious effort to be more involved in everyday life, and enjoy the little things with every ounce of your being! It isn’t demanding, or hard work….it is fun! And like I said, life moves on so quickly, we need to savour as much as we can, of the ordinary – but – actually – extra – ordinary stuff, whilst we have the chance.
But what about the tough times? Well, when we are facing challenges, it will serve us to continue to be aware of and value all of the good stuff, because that will prevent us from becoming overwhelmed by the not so good stuff…and that will help us to figure out the best way forward. And if you decide you want to allocate a couple of minutes, a couple of times a day, to sitting, relaxing your mind, listening to your breathing, great…..because, as the old lady said, as she wee’d in the sea: “Every little helps!”
If, however, our problem is that we feel we, and life, SHOULD be different, and are living from within an inner world of intensity, self – criticism, old anger/disappointment, defeat or bitterness……some of the emotions/beliefs that can lead to severe feelings of hopelessness and depression……do we really need more intensity? I agree that it isn’t easy to completely control our mind and the inner movies we consistently run, and the inner dialogue that we keep going…….infact it is probably impossible. And that is another reason I feel that mindfulness needs to be more about looking outwards, rather than inwards……about a change of focus, about positive distraction, about new experiences, new projects……about savouring, and re – discovering the simple wonders of the world outside of ourselves. Which in turn will nourish our inner world, over time. We can’t fight intensity with intensity. We have to change the subject in our own mind every now and then, and yes, we should BREATHE……deep and long and satisfying, but without paying too much attention to it! There is way more interesting stuff to focus on in this world than the diffusion of oxygen and carbon dioxide!
You know what? DON’T take NO for answer, where the world is concerned! If today you feel trapped by circumstance, or lack of opportunity (and I promise you, I am familiar with that old nutmeg!), be bloody – minded and shout “Listen world, I will NOT just give up and go away! I WILL cut through the deadwood you keep dropping in front of me, and I will NOT stop or quit. I don’t care how disinterested life seems to be in my hopes and dreams, in my needs and wants……I WILL NOT JUST PUT UP AND SHUT UP!”
If you aren’t making headway in your job, and you are beginning to feel invisible, don’t waste time and energy feeling weighed down and stuck……change something, anything, right now. Stop telling yourself that there is nothing else out there, that you don’t have any options. You are going to do what is right and best for you, and your future……you are going to turn over every stone, more than once if necessary, bang on every door with both fists….and with your shoulders back, your head up and a ‘beat – me – down – if – you – dare’ kind of smile on your face! Don’t go into a slump, and every time dejection causes you to say “Well I’ve tried, but nothing is happening”, shake yourself up and shout “NO…..I am not giving up……I HAVE got something the world needs, and by God is it going to have it!”
I promise you, I am not preaching from an ivory pulpit……I am sharing with you. I AM with you, because I know how your journey feels.
If you have hopes and dreams that seem to be impossible, whilst others appear to already be or have what you want, it can be incredibly disheartening. But at least you HAVE hopes and dreams…….a lot of human beings don’t! You have to be crazy, and you have to be stupidly optimistic, and you have to develop an unreasonable, unbreakable determination……even in the face of others’ disinterest or dismissiveness! A bit like a toddler who just won’t quit, no matter how much it hears the word “NO”! Do something, every single day, that keeps you awake and moving. Keep pushing through the gluey membrane of inertia and defeat, and let fear of being forever stuck in the old place, and in the old mindset, be your motivator. And seek out the stories of those who have done the same…..there are, thankfully, loads of them out there.
The world is awash with stories of people who were told no, and who then, because they refused to quit, went on to become incredibly successful……and the supposedly smart ‘we know it all’ nay – sayers lost out, big style! There are thousands of business people out there who will spend the rest of their lives kicking their own butts because they weren’t as clever or as savvy as they thought they were…..and lost out on huge potential commissions! Of course, we aren’t all aiming for global super – stardom, but the principles are still the same. Today, and tomorrow, and the next day…..and for however long it takes……DON’T quit until you genuinely feel you’ve gotten to where you really want to be. Or until you grow old and die, whichever one comes first! Go out with a jubilant smile on your face, not a frown of disappointment!
I felt full……infact, stuffed, like an old, over – plump mattress. I leaned on the wall, overlooking the beautiful, early evening beach – scene, and took in a huge breath, as if trying to make room inside myself……and then released it, almost forcefully, attempting to eject some of the stuff that was causing the incredibly uncomfortable, internal over – crowding.
But then I realised that I couldn’t. Everything I was aware of within me, that was stretching the sides, so to speak, was part of my inner world…..the echoes and ghosts of a million people, situations, experiences, and perceptions. Tears, laughs, words, songs, conversations……..hopes, needs, desires, fears and frustrations. And suddenly I didn’t want to get rid of any of it………it ALL mattered, in its own way.
And you know, we all have an inner world that is completely elastic. Like the universe, our inner world is expanding…….rapidly for some, slowly for others, dependent upon how they observe, think and respond……upon where their attention habitually goes. And I believe that although our outer world fades away when we die, our inner world remains intact for eternity. Nothing that resides within our inner world is ever gone. We may not consciously bring it all to mind (unless something stirs and reminds us), but once there, it never leaves. Some may say “Well, what you are referring to is your sub/un – conscious mind”, and I would say that that is the filing system of our inner world. Our inner world is real, alive and kicking, every single second of every single day we are alive on planet Earth…..and beyond.
There are old, beloved friends with whom I have parted company. There are old enemies with whom I still argue, and there are strangers with whom I shared a second or a moment in time. There are people I have never met, and will never do so…..the people who have inspired, encouraged and educated me. And there are the people whose stories scarred me. Like the young woman who has been so awfully brutalised by other human beings, she spends her time showering and cleaning her teeth, attempting to rid herself of the taste and feeling of horror and disgust. I re – visit her often, weeping with her, and holding her in my arms, wanting to soothe and heal her. I will never abandon her.
My inner world houses great joy and the celebration of victory. It houses shame and embarrassment, and regret. It is home to every day of my children’s lives, and all of the animals who honoured me with their presence. And in my inner world resides motorbike rallies and the scent of leather, hot metal and rubber, rock music and a hundred crazy conversations. And countless summer days and walks through the wood and along the beach. And every last one of my customers, their stories, their struggles, their resistances and their realisations…….still there, living alongside every other resident of my personal inner world. I may not bring each and every one to conscious mind, but I can still feel their echoes, every second of every day.
Is it possible that if we are to validate our existence, following our physical death, it is the depth and width and content of our inner world that will be offered as evidence? I don’t know. And why does our inner world periodically threaten to break through, the echoes becoming so loud they drown out our outer world? Maybe to remind us that nothing is lost, that everything counts, and that by being brave enough to allow ourselves to embrace and absorb every experience, by not demanding perfection and smooth edges, by not deliberately and consciously shutting the world out (to protect ourselves from hurting), that we are doing the very thing we were born for. Every now and then we need our inner world to turn the volume down a touch……on the occasions it is threatening to spill out, like two fighting cowboys tumbling through saloon doors, onto the dusty street. But we never want to shut it down, or become completely closed to it. We shouldn’t be afraid of those who reside in our inner world…….good, bad and indifferent, they are all a part of our personal story. And if we didn’t have villains lurking around in there, we wouldn’t have heroes, either. One cannot exist without the other, and what would life……existence…..be, without heroes?