I love a new pair of shoes as much as the next girl but today I was shoeless, sand between toes and surrounded by the sounds of the sea and children playing. None of us can take ourselves too seriously on a trip to the British seaside. There is no glamorous way of hobbling over the pebbles to paddle in the freezing English Channel, or of eating sandy sandwiches huddled behind a wind-break. I will never forget jumping waves as a kid with my Nan, she let out such a yelp of excitement with one leap she lost her false-teeth to the sea. They might still be out there somewhere chattering away on the cold sea bed.
It is the things we do, not the things we have that make this life. So well trained we are in our principle occupation as consumers, like little ants we work away eyes down and focused on those prizes. It is easy to forget the ‘being’ bit of human-being until we allow ourselves the opportunity to be and to feel human again. Our culture places so much emphasis on the accumulation of ‘stuff’, yet what is the stuff that really matters when we look back over our lives?
Some things cannot be bottled or bought, the re-discovered pleasure of digging in the sand, the triumph of creating our moated island decorated in shells. The satisfied sadness when it’s time to say goodbye as the sea arrives to claim our spoils and the night to take our day.
All of our castles are made of sand and the tide of life will come to wash them away. When we are not so weighed down by stuff it may be easier to ride the waves.
So there you are, body walking along the road but mind somewhere else altogether. Wandering in thought, worries, projections of the future; predictions for how things might or might not work out, catastrophising. All of these ruminations are just bad guesses, terrible guesses in this case because BOOM there you are gone. You didn’t even see it coming – the bus that hit you. And so it is with life, and death, however we might try to map it out, we can’t ever know for certain what’s just around the corner. What a waste of life worry is. If only we’d been present for the walk, if only we’d showed up and paid attention to what was actually going on around us rather than being lost in the ‘if only’ of the mind.
A family friend died this week, too young to die by the expectations we set for such things, but death has no regard for expectations. My news feed swells with photographs and memories shared, the pain and beauty of how precious life is. We are remembered when we die not for our inner world of thought but for our outer world, for the moments in which we touched people. The laughter we shared, a look, a smile, the way that we held them, for the moments that we were alive for them.
Life is short, be alive while you are alive, make the moments count.
Meditation has been shown to make us happier, healthier and less stressed, the only problem is that to feel those benefits we actually need to do it! Here are my top tips…
- Prioritise it. Take responsibility for your own happiness.
- Schedule an appointment with yourself (and stick to it).
- Ask for help. You being the best, less stressed version of yourself benefits everyone around you. Ask those close to you to help you make time to meditate.
- Do it first. We are very good at doing deals with our self like ‘when the house or my desk is tidy, then I will meditate’. We are far more likely to get the tidying done quicker, be less distracted and enjoy it more if we’ve meditated first. Meditate first, it doesn’t matter if there is mess because when you meditate you have your eyes closed!
- Bring the right attitude. If you approach meditation as ‘just another thing to tick off the list’ you make it into a chore, not a pleasure.
- Make it work for you. Most people find that meditating first thing in the morning sets them up for the day, however there are no hard and fast rules, making an appointment you can keep is the most important thing.
- Be flexible. It would be wonderful if we all had a little candle-lit meditation room in our house where knew we wouldn’t be disturbed. Realistically you might need to meditate on your train commute or in your bathroom with the loo seat down and the door locked. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions, there are no perfect conditions – dogs will bark, planes will fly overhead, the world will go on turning and this is all part of the practice.
- Start small. It is better to follow your breath for a minute than to not meditate at all. If all you can manage is a minute today then start there. Perhaps tomorrow you will manage five minutes, next week ten. If you honestly cannot find a single minute in which to follow your breath you probably really need to reassess your life.
- Just do it. Even if we are feeling ill or have had the manic day from hell (especially then) we can still lie down, close our eyes and breathe.
- Take it one day at a time. If anyone told us we’d have to do anything every day for the rest of our lives that would be too overwhelming to cope with. Life isn’t like that; we only ever have to deal with life one moment at a time, one day at a time. You cannot change what happened yesterday but how you choose to respond to where you find yourself today will shape your life.
Finding the time is usually the main concern of those first setting out on their voyage of meditation. For me, really taking a look at what else I was spending my time doing was a revealing exercise – how much time do we spend checking Facebook, watching TV or procrastinating about life? We have to decide whether we are prepared to use some of that time for meditating instead.
Meditating every day is not always easy, you might not always want to do it, but once you have made it a habit and felt the enormous benefits you won’t want to go without it either.
Ultimately the thing which is usually standing in your way of your practice is you. Meditation is the process of recognising resistance and letting go – this takes place not only in the bit where we sit there and close our eyes but on the way there too, and throughout our lives.
The hardest journey is often the one to our seat.
Many years ago I used to go out with an electrician, he was really hot. Despite the hotness there were many things which annoyed me about him, most of which it wouldn’t be appropriate to go into here. However one of those things was that everywhere we went he would notice the light switches. Sometimes we’d be sitting in someone’s house and he’d whisper to me about the state of their cables or the ill aligned position of a light fixture. ‘Sparky’s’ of the world take note – it is not attractive to be in a fancy restaurant and talk about the lighting scheme (the candle light reflecting in someone’s eyes yes – lighting scheme no). Lighting had become a dominant feature in his field of consciousness, when he walked into a room it was what he saw.
We see this in ourselves too. If we are feeling particularly poor we notice how expensive things are and when we are on a diet suddenly we notice those around us appear to be stuffing their face with chocolate biscuits! We all have an individual version of reality, we might all see the same thing and yet we see something different. There are a huge number of things which are influencing where we place our attention; our job, cultural background, events of our childhood, what we watched on TV last night or an Ad we just saw, the list goes on and on.
So why does this matter? Because the reality which we experience is hugely influenced by where we place our attention.
Mindfulness is the art of paying attention. When we are mindful we are paying attention to what we are doing. This works both in the immediate intimate sense ‘what am I doing right now?’ and also gives us insight in the wider ‘what am I doing and why?’ sense too.
Through our meditation practice we can harness the power of attention and when we do this we perceive reality more clearly. We genuinely can train ourselves to pay more attention to the present moment, when we do this we step out of the dream that we have created in our heads and into real life.
Enjoy waking up.
“Do you have a blog?” clients have been asking for some time and my answer has been a big fat “no“, until now.
Both trained journalist and meditation teacher, blogging would seem like an obvious thing to do. And yet I find myself uneasy to add to the barrage of distractions which might be stopping us from engaging fully with our direct experience of life.
I have an admission to make… I too check my phone and social media far more often than I would like. I am drawn in by those catchy titles promising hidden gems of knowledge to improve my life. Well let me share with you the little gem that’s right here, hiding in plain sight; Life is always the thing that is happening right now. So, I wont find what I am looking for on my phone on anyone’s Twitter feed or status update nor on the pages of any book because someone else’s words paint a second-hand picture of the world, a pale imitation of the vibrant truth we experience when we commit to being here now.
Life is now and it is going to happen whether you choose to pay attention to it or not. I hope you make the choice to be concious of the moments of your life as they arise – this moment is your life.
find out more at: http://www.mindfullyhappy.com