I hear myself asking “Are we there yet?” I am at Week 43 of this column. It’s October and I expected to be radiant by now. The truth is this year of living mindfully has been like climbing Carrantuohill.
I’m not sure what I’ll see when I get to the top of the mountain. There could be a dense fog ahead or a wonderful moment of clarity. It’s too soon to tell and a waste of time to speculate.
I’ve forgotten why I set out on this path. I’m still very happy doing it. But there’s the thing. The reasons that got me started are not what keep me going.
In fact, I can’t remember with any clarity what those original reasons were. I was drawn to this daily practice and I am delighted that I have persisted.
I actually enjoy it. It means something and yet I can't quite put my finger on why it matters as much as it does.
Mindfulness makes me feel more alive and more connected to other people. After practice, I can feel like I'm surfacing from cold sea-water with a fresh tingle of hopefulness.
Recently, I took a break and visited Warsaw. Unlike its sister city, Krakow, whose beauty casts a “love at first sight” spell on tourists, Warsaw is an acquired taste.
It invites us to see beyond appearances to the wealth of history it holds. That story is often hidden behind grey doors of weather-beaten buildings. A history that its proud people hold dear to their hearts.
I meandered from street to street as if for the first time.
The ordinary details of everyday life intrigued me. Shops with unpronounceable names; skyscrapers covered with head-to-toe colour ads.
Strangers speaking in a language I didn’t understand, but with body language that felt familiar.
An old city full of meticulously restored architecture following a war that left only rubble in its wake. Built by men and women who came from every corner of Poland to help.
The inscription on the side of one of these buildings read: The whole nation is building its capital.
Culture on this scale makes mindfulness easy. We are present to what we encounter. We look at everything without those associations and emotional overtones that drench the familiar places in our lives.
Our minds are open. We feast on novelty.
A week away can feel a lot longer than a week at home where we stick to our usual routines.
We give our attention more fully to people and places we don’t know. We savour experiences that might otherwise pass us by.
When we take care to be present and see the world with fresh eyes, time slows down.
My short spell abroad also gave me a chance to think about my commitment to being more mindful this year. Distance helps to give perspective.
While this practice we call mindfulness owes everything to the contemplative traditions where it originated, it has not been passed down from one generation to the next as something we should add to our list of Dos and Don’ts.
It is offered only to help us live the lives that we’ve been given.
Immunity from pain
Mindfulness doesn't offer immunity from pain and suffering, but it does support us in remaining engaged with our lives.
It literally gives us the space to breathe so that we can respond to events rather than react to them.
It buys me time when life throws me a curve ball. I get a chance to hold a larger perspective on my life rather than get blinded by details. I keep at it because it holds a truth about life that I believe we are all after.
Tony Bates is the founding director of Headstrong - the National Centre for Youth Mental Health