Another Life: Mindfulness? I keep pace with nature, a stream one never steps in twice

I feel particular despair for all the young city women rushing through their lives, lost in a hectic flow of virtual conversations

There are gales you can just about walk in, leaning forward, eyelashes fluttering, cheeks hollowed as if in some rocketing ascent from Cape Canaveral. I used to find that sometimes, on the strand when I was younger, the dry sand airborne, flowing and hissing around my boots and leaving the few stones resting on little pedestals, like mushrooms.

Such memories stirred again in my “reflections” for the new book. But I take it easier now. “Exercise will be harder if it is hot, cold or windy,” the booklet says on living with heart failure (not nearly as bad as it sounds). The correct level of walking, it seems, “is that you are able to talk, but not able to sing”.

Setting out into a warmish force 7 the other morning, I had only myself to talk to – which, of course, I do – and I left the singing to Bryn Terfel in my earphones, majestically urging the wind to blow southerly, which it was, in gusts from Connemara.

Slowing down a bit (sometimes a lot) leaves more time, I suppose, for mindfulness, “being fully present in the moment”, as it’s put. Did it need the move away from the city to a wildish kind of landscape to open my heart to the here and now?


Did the thousand repetitions of an urban day inspire such indifference – the bus upstairs, backs of heads, shapes and signs, shadowy streetscapes, sweaty interiors, mantras of daily chat – that only my small worries walked with me down the street?

Watching the world go by on telly now, I feel particular despair, for some reason, for all the young city women rushing through their lives, eyes cast down, switched both on and off, lost in a hectic flow of virtual conversations, mobile and immobile, blind even to the cracks in the pavement.

They seem so possessed by borrowed novelty, the flood of new products, images, fashion and entertainment that twists and exploits the human appetite for change.

Soon after this column began the Irish Management Institute invited me to address its annual Killarney conference on the subject of change. (Although, from my own, very brief, service with the IMI, it may just have wanted an afternoon's diversion for "the wives".) With mud so fresh under my fingernails, I was happy to decline.

When Edmund Spenser wrote of "the ever-whirling wheel of Change" he was talking of natural processes and the march of human mortality, not the accelerating, man-made change – even in terms of employment – to which people are now pressed to adapt as if to some moral imperative.

As the change of camera shot on television gallops to ever tighter intervals, my ageing eye and mind refuse to keep pace. If I have adapted it is to the measured, seasonal kaleidoscope of nature that changes the shot quite often enough.

So, setting forth into a different wind, it was no hardship to be mindful, first of the sea and sky, both splendidly immense, the far horizon barely smudged with rain. The wind bounced off the stone walls, white with lichen, and billowed through sudden, spiky gaps in the hedge, tumbling a squad of linnets through the sky.

The ewes turned their rumps to it, heads down, or dozed away, chewing, in the hollows. A sharp bleat beyond the fence, almost a bellow, found a ram waiting on his share of November nooky, more annual chore than orgy. I bade him good day, as I do to many animals that deign to meet my eye.

I walk, most mornings, to the same rock where the boreen turns down to the sea. Its obdurate, bedrock bulk at the corner mocks the speed sign urging 50km/h. A geologist friend has reproached me for not saying what kind of rock it is, but it’s where the wild thyme flowers in summer and where I can hoist up my boot to tie a loose lace. (Glenummera green-grey slate might do.)

The same kilometre or so, there and back before breakfast, could get boring were it not like the stream one never steps in twice: a flowing change of light, weather, wildlife, wayside flowers and leaves (the bracken now faded to fawns and golds, the safe wallpaper of my childhood).

So that's all a bit of mindfulness, easier for me than the urban multitude. What should they do? Take to the parks? Go hillwalking (great, this time of year)? Or invest, perhaps, in that celebrated new stress-reliever for adults, The Mindfulness Colouring Book, by Emma Farrarons, in which, for a while, with crayons or coloured pencils, one shades in the shapes of her wildlife, flowers and leaves, relaxing in creative fantasies of change.

Perhaps I should leave those earphones off as well.

Michael Viney's Reflections on Another Life, a selection of columns from the past four decades, is available from