A welcome break, but it’s good to be back in the now
A Year of Living Mindfully: 36
When my eyes opened the first thing I saw was the clock radio with its illuminated digits. They read 4:28am.
The second thing I saw was a bright full moon staring right at me through the hotel window.
I was in Washington DC, on the seventh floor of some hotel. It was Sunday morning, and I had arrived late the night before to attend a conference.
I’d gone straight to sleep with the curtains wide open. Struggling with that twilight state we call jet lag, it was hard to know where I was or what to do.
The moon was telling me to get up, but my mind was saying “don’t be ridiculous, it’s too early”.
So I did what any other mature adult would do in the circumstances. I made coffee with the sachets that someone had kindly left me, sat up in bed, and turned on the shopping channel.
Exercising never looked easier. All I needed was that one stretchy thing. Never again would weeding, mending broken things, or screwing stuff to walls be a chore. Here was a strange-looking gismo that could do it all.
Pressing the remote, I found myself in the front row of some church listening to a preacher who was telling me that there was certainly something missing in my life. But it wasn’t some gismo. I needed to take the long view and set my eyes on the things of heaven.
For a small donation to the preacher’s ministry, he would send me a personalised copy of his book that would reveal exactly how I could find God.
On another channel there was a doctor who spoke about the foods I should be eating to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Apparently it’s all to do with avoiding unhealthy fatty acids – mostly the ones I like – and cultivating a taste for healthy ones. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what he said.
Listening to that doctor I realised something. While I never want to forget my past life, my greater concern is to remember the one I am now living.
I don’t just want to move from one thing to the next. I want to notice those in-between moments, those spaces between the notes, where nothing much is happening, but where I can taste the simple magic of being alive.
Mindfulness is my way of remembering where I am. It is a way of resting back into my body and opening my senses to what it feels like to be alive.
Whenever I stop and catch the moment, I feel a strong connection with what is happening in me and around me. I wake up. And when I do, I am often surprised at how much I have been missing.
These past two months I took a welcome break from writing about my practice. Summertime for me has been a space in the year filled with permissions. I slept in a lot, I skipped practice some days, and I allowed myself to go with the flow. To do what came naturally and not force myself to do whatever I felt I should be doing.
I took a chance to trust what my body felt it could manage and let go what felt too hard at any moment.
I was exhausted when I hit June and needed to ease up on trying to be good. When I look back on the summer I am surprised by how much actually got done, in spite of, and perhaps because of, taking my foot off the pedal.
I came home from America and this morning I woke at 6am, came down the stairs, and sat on my cushion. I was curious to see if there was a difference between going with the flow, as I had done all summer, and practising mindfulness in a formal way.
A thought struck me.
If remembering that I am alive is the most important thing I do with my life, then clearly I need to give time to waking up my senses, stretching my awareness and coming home to the present. It’s good to be back.
Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health.