My daily ritual of relaxation prepares me for the day ahead


A YEAR OF LIVING MINDFULLY: 4:My 6am alarm snatched me from the arms of Orpheus with a jolt. Another day. Time to “begin again”, as the poet wrote.

I come down to my study. It’s a small room at the back of the house lined with bookshelves, looking out on the garden. I am struck by how dark and how quiet everything is. The heating hasn’t clicked on yet and I feel the cold. This morning ritual is becoming part of my life. It is my way of waking up and opening myself to the day ahead.

I unfold my mat and cushion and I light a candle. I bought my cushion from an old Vietnamese monk. It’s called a Zafu and is about 13 inches in diameter and nine inches deep. He made it firm so that it doesn’t spread all over the place when I place the full weight of my body on it.

Wrapping myself in a cotton blanket to keep warm, I take my seat. I find a comfortable position to support me for however long I practice.

My cushion allows me to raise my bum and sit cross-legged, with my knees apart, touching the floor. I can’t manage the full lotus position. But what’s important is that I can sit erect, shoulders relaxed and my chin slightly dropped. I could do this sitting on a chair or even lying down, but I find that sitting on a cushion gives me the stability and the alertness I need for the 30 minutes that I practice.

I begin by becoming aware of my surroundings. The chill in the air, the dark shapes outside the window, the room wrapped in silence. I’m glad to have this time. Whatever happens or doesn’t happen, it won’t be wasted.

Bringing my attention to my body, I am aware of different sensations, some pleasant, some unpleasant. A family event last night kept me up till nearly midnight. I feel the tiredness in my limbs and a slight regret that I couldn’t stay longer under the duvet.

All of these sensations remind me I’m alive. I notice those places in my body where I’m holding tension and I try to soften and relax.

Time passes and suddenly I notice my mind has left my body. I’m become totally caught up in my thinking, with images and half-remembered fragments of conversation flowing in and out of each other in a stream of consciousness. I may be sitting here in the present moment but my mind is busily revisiting the past and rehearsing the future.

Thankfully, the solution to this conundrum is right under my nose. I notice where my mind has gone. Without getting fussed about my meanderings, I bring my attention back to my breath, every meditator’s most precious resource.

The rhythm of my in-breath and my out-breath brings my mind back to the present, and anchors it there. It deepens my connection to my body and steadies my mind.

And then my mind takes off again. My motor tax needs to be renewed; a promise to write something for a friend is overdue; an issue at work remains unresolved; someone is waiting for me to return a call. I acknowledge the importance of each one of these concerns, but I remind myself that this time is for something equally important. This is a time to allow my mind go quiet and to rest in silence.

I return to my breath. I gradually allow my attention to drop beneath the noise level of my ruminations. I find myself in a place where nothing seems to be happening, where I am conscious of being incredibly alone, but at the same time closer than ever to other people. Where connections are felt rather than conceptualized; where everything seems to be the way it should be.

As my time on this cushion draws to a close, I feel stronger to face the day ahead, whatever it will throw my way.

TONY BATESis founder director of Headstrong - the National Centre for Youth Mental Health

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