Shaking up routine to connect with life in a deeper way


A YEAR OF LIVING MINDFULLY:Our best efforts to change our lives inevitably meet with equal and opposite forces. Those forces can easily pull us back into our old ways. So it makes sense that we think carefully what it’s going to take to change before we start down any path of good intentions.

It became clear to me that my desire to live mindfully wasn’t so much an idea I had come up with as it was an invitation that was being offered to me. I was perfectly free to say no. But something inside me knew that I wanted to say yes. I wanted to connect with life in a deeper way.

I have always been drawn to places where I can rest and open myself to the wonder of being alive. But these experiences have often been in places where I was able to step out from my life. The real challenge was to see if meditation could be part of my everyday life. So that I could learn to open myself and to respond rather than react to whatever was happening.

Daily meditation practice in the real world is not easy. Sitting on a cushion in the early morning requires a combination of grace and grit. It also takes time and energy. There are periods where nothing happens, and periods when you open to experiences that you would normally do everything to avoid. There are times when you feel bored and your mind thinks of so many other things you could be doing: important things that produce tangible results. Projects that other people can relate to and that make you feel part of the mature adult world.


To persist with this practice, I knew that I had to be clear about my motivation. To undertake this on a whim wouldn’t work. I had to go deeper into myself and ask myself why. If I was to put my heart into this I needed to know that it was something my heart really wanted. If I was merely grasping at doing something that seemed fashionable or interesting, my shallowness would be quickly exposed and I would soon find myself beached on the painful shores of defeat.

I was tired of being half-hearted about this practice; I was tired of being distracted from taking it seriously by the frenetic pace at which I was living my life and by my natural inclination to do what was easy and what was comfortable.

I was also aware that time was running out, and that unless I decided to go for this now, I might forever regret never having given it a chance.

Every big change we make in our life requires a whole lot of small changes in our routine that make it possible. If I was to get out of bed and have time alone before work to sit, and read and write, then I had to get to bed earlier. I also had to build my energy by eating more nutritiously and exercising more regularly, so that I could wake up in the early morning rather than sleepwalk my way into the day.

These adjustments have taken several months and I’m still easing myself into some of them.

It has helped too to realise that I am not alone; that people in every corner of this country are trying to transform their lives. People are asking the David Bowie question “Where are we now?” and realising they are not happy with where they are. And they are doing something about it.

Meditation is about personal transformation at an emotional and spiritual level. This is achieved by creating the conditions where we can drop below the noise level of our inner lives and see ourselves for who we really are. It’s not so much a matter of trying to change who we are but about being faithful to a process that in time changes us.

It’s dead simple; that’s why it’s complicated.

TONY BATESis founder director of Headstrong, The National Centre for Youth Mental Health