Stepping out of my frozen mindset in the company of darkness


A YEAR OF LIVING MINDFULLY: 6:My alarm sounded at 6am, as it does now every morning. Resisting a strong urge to switch it off and turn back into the warmth of my duvet, I rise to meet the day.

The house is quiet and dark as I tread my way downstairs, turn the handle of the door to my study and enter. Lighting a candle, I move among the shadows, set out my mat and cushion and take my seat.

Hello darkness my old friend. These words of Paul Simon pass across my mind. He too liked the dark; playing his guitar in the bathroom of his family home with the lights off and the taps running, late at night. He was only 17 when he wrote that opening line to the now iconic Sound of Silence.

Taking position

I settle my body into an alert, upright posture. With my legs crossed, hands on my knees, back straight, I open my eyes and take in the world around me. I allow the darkness and the sound of silence to sink in, so that my awareness opens and I feel part of what is around me.

I notice that even though it’s still winter, the sky outside seems brighter than it has been recently. Perhaps the full moon has something to do with this; perhaps the day is waking earlier as the season changes.

Change is the one reliable we can count on; it’s the only game in town.

I try to be present, unafraid and open. I let go of any expectations about what might happen, and just sit here. The trick is to keep my heart open and not become carried off to somewhere else by my thoughts. I ride the waves of consciousness and keep bringing my attention back to my breath.

I am also curious about my thoughts. I give them room to breathe and try to see them for what they are.

I am worried. I am thinking about the pressures of work and the things that have to be done by close of business this week.

I will need my wits about me in the days ahead and I will need to be creative about how I handle some key challenges.

I am aware there is fear in me. I am contracting my body in ways that create tension. Someone said to me once that the best way to prepare for any major challenge is to relax. It sounded simple, almost trite. But there is wisdom in that.

Begin afresh

Every moment that I sit here offers me the opportunity to step out of my frozen mindset and begin afresh. As I calm down, I allow my awareness to move into some larger perspective where new possibilities can emerge. I step out of my frozen self and I see the things that are beyond my control and the things that are within my control.

These morning practices have taught me to trust my mind to find solutions, if only I can learn to sit quietly, long enough to allow them to emerge. Generally what I find is that it is my mind that is creating the problem in the first place. I’m looking at life in a biased, narrow way. Seeing whatever is before me through the lens of fear.

I let go my fears and my worries, my rigidity and my pessimism, so that I can see things more clearly. I do this by neither pushing them away nor by inviting them in, but by simply watching them; seeing them as thoughts rather than truths. Imagining them as a series of buses passing before my mind. Reminding myself that I have the choice to either get on any one of these buses, or not.

My practice requires that I cultivate an attitude of tolerance and patience with the various ways that I can become enchanted by my thoughts and worries. Awareness is a blunt instrument without kindness.

Tony Bates is founding director of Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health

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