As part of the process of weeding out my stress and anxiety, I have started a mindfulness programme. It is teaching me to live in the moment more, to fully experience whatever I am doing, rather than living on autopilot, which leaves the mind liable to stray into areas I am not yet ready to deal with. The cats are a little bemused – they have been trying to tell me for months that what matters is the here and now, and they don’t really understand why I need to practise. It’s even stranger when practice consists of me lying on the floor to focus on my breathing and on relaxing each area of my body in turn. There is an upside to this, of course – it makes me available for climbing over, sitting on and even occasionally settling on for a companionable sleep. I find the experience so relaxing, sometimes I join in with the nap myself.
Focusing on each experience is actually more challenging than it sounds. As a reader and a writer I tend to internalise everything I do, weaving sentences in my head, even as I am trying to give my attention to whatever I am up to. I listen to podcasts as part of the course, and the oh-so patient tutor reminds me in the recordings that my mind will wander – it’s what minds do. The trick is to bring it back to focus on whatever I need to and to do so without judging myself as having failed the exercise. I am learning to experience things in the moment with all my senses, enjoying the physical nature of a walk or eating a home-cooked meal. My thoughts and ideas, while still an important part of who I am, are being put into a wider perspective of the whole, rather than dominating my existence.
Getting out and about is a vital part of this learning. I recently walked the city walls in York. Every time I found myself thinking about work or how I could write up my trip into a blog post, I stopped, took a couple of breaths and refocused on the beauty around me. It was a cool day, with a threat of rain in the air and I could feel the breeze against my cheek. Somewhere, someone had been cutting grass and its scent mingled with the unique smell of impending rain. I could hear the traffic on the other side of the wall but it faded into the background as I was enveloped by the peaceful scenes of back gardens in the Minster Close. As I passed families and couples also walking the walls, probably on their holiday, I caught snatches of conversation in a variety of languages and smiled at them all, feeling briefly like we had all ventured back in time just a little. Oops – there I go again, disappearing into my imagination …
The walls around York are not complete, have never been complete as one side of the city was protected by a deep and treacherous pool of water. The pool is long gone, replaced by a retail park and my mind was definitely jolted back to the present and to the experience of the walk by walking down some steps and coming face to face with Carpet Right. I noticed the difference in the noise level and in the scents as I crossed the busy road to follow the River Foss around to the next section of wall. Even there, there was beauty to be found, as a family of black Canadian geese sailed up the river, avoiding the wide swathe of water lilies which spread across the water.
And yes, I know, I have taken my physical experience and turned it into a blog post anyway. But at least I waited until I got home, rather than writing it in my head as I went round. It’s a bit like taking lots of photos wherever you go – if you aren’t careful, you only see the photo, rather than the view.
And on that note, I am off for a mindful cup of tea. Try it – next time you brew up, put your book down, switch off the TV and don’t think about your to-do list. Instead, focus as you drink – feel the weight of the cup, the heat against your lips, the flavour and how the hot liquid slides down your throat towards your stomach. Savour every moment of your chosen beverage. I promise that, if you can do it (and it’s not easy!) your brain will feel as refreshed by the break as the rest of you.
I have something totally different for you next week. A fellow blogger, Lovely and Grateful, has nominated me for the Liebster award. Liebe is German for love and the award is a way for bloggers to share the love and other blogs that we enjoy. I am thrilled that Lovely and Grateful, whose blog I have been following for a while (she has the most beautiful cat called Mara – check out her site!), enjoys mine enough to want to share it with her readers and I am looking forward to doing the same for some others next week. I have to answer some questions about myself too so who knows, you might just learn something new about me as well as discovering some new blogs to follow!