A Year of Living Mindfully: I’ve rounded the last lap but I find my tank is empty

I slept through my 6am alarm. I’d been awake all night tossing around big questions in my head.

Were there enough briquettes to make it through Christmas? Did I send that guy the charity donation I promised if he finished the Camino? Would we ever clear the national debt?

After hours of lying there listening to the howling wind, I surrendered to insomnia and decided to get up. But turning over to draw one last drop of comfort from my pillow, I fell into a deep sleep. And the next thing I knew I was late.

I moved quickly into the day without any time for mindfulness. After a rake of meetings, surges of adrenaline, good and bad news, I got home for dinner.

Last lap
I'm nearly there with my year of living mindfully. I've rounded the last lap. I really want a strong finish. But tonight my tank is empty. Like the winter garden outside, my soul is hibernating.

Like every writer before me I’ve hit a wall. The day was full but now my brain is empty. I have nothing to say. My creative juices have dried up. There isn’t a fresh idea in sight. My inner mystic is absent without leave.

Time is standing still and mocking me. It’s pitch black outside and the window to my right is like a mirror. It reflects back a man sitting at a desk, trying to write, but getting nowhere. I pull the curtains to spare my shame.

I’ve experienced moments like this in my dreams. Stepping out on some stage to speak, standing before an expectant crowd, I am dumbstruck and burn with panic.

For most of my life, I’ve doubted that I had anything important to say. Which probably made me a good listener. I was happy to hear other people’s ideas and marvelled at the depth of their insight.

Meditation has helped me to trust my voice, my own take on the world. I’m saying less but what’s coming out is closer to the bone. Through quieting down the noise inside, I can hear myself think.

Of course there are times when I feel flat and my whole being feels empty. But I have learned to sit with these moments, and to see that the flat energy is just as valid as the waves of passion and excitement.

There are experiences that inspire us and give us glimpses of the magic that lies hidden behind the veil of our everyday lives. But all the great artists I know have crafted their insights by paying close attention to the details of the ordinary.

Yeats, for one, ultimately found the truth he was searching for all his life in the “rag and bone shop of the heart”, and not by climbing on ladders into the world of art, politics and romance.

After years of looking to experiences that would take me out of myself, I’ve now become more interested in a practice that brings me back inside myself. One that allows me to live the only life I can – my own.

So I sit here in the silence of my back room, my fingers moving slowly across my keyboard, reminding myself that the truth I’m looking for is as present in this moment as it is in any other.

Old story
I remember a story I often told my children growing up. Two young boys were locked in separate stables. After some time a man opened the door of one of these stables and saw the first boy sitting on top of a mountain of horse pooh looking frustrated.

“This is so boring,” he said. “I’ve no toys to play with, no books and no TV. Get me out of here!”

Then the man went to the other stable and saw the second boy burrowing into a deep pile of manure. He was excited and intrigued: “Oh wow, look at all this pony pooh, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

In my tired and empty moments I remind myself that these fallow times are just as important a part of my life as any other.

The harder they are the more I’m sure that there is “a pony in here somewhere”.

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