What Lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Ok, this is not meant to be a fanfare moment far from it but the 31st October 2016, marks the one year point. A year ago, after completing the 31 day Mindfulness Summit online, I pledged to change my life around and start this journey into living a mindful life. I thought it would be interesting to just reflect on this past year.
In my previous blog Mindfulness-Making friends with anxiety and removing the mask, I talked about what brought me to mindfulness and meditation. Basically it was a sense of not getting the most out of life, feeling like the spark had gone out and battling with emotions such as anger and anxiety. I was constantly striving for something, lord only knows what. I would make up little targets and goals for myself, “if I only had this, or only had that, then it would all be just hunky dory”. Except it was never hunky dory, just as soon as I got what I thought would be the answer,the feeling of joy would disappear into thin air, like a thirst never quenched, I would be off looking for the next thing.
I know a lot of us experience this, over the last year I have talked to so many people with similar stories. If you have experienced it yourself, you will know it is an exhausting way to live. So what is different about practicing mindfulness and what has changed a year down the line?
Present moment Living
I know this phrase is banded around so much, “Live in the moment” you hear it said so much, but what does it really mean to live in the present moment. To live in the present moment is subtle but powerful. It can be a difficult concept to grasp because our minds don’t want to be in the present, they want to be way up ahead in the future, or dwelling on the past. We can say “oh yes, I’m living in the moment, look I’m doing this or doing that, but if we are honest we are probably thinking about what comes next, or what do I have to do, or what happened yesterday blah, blah.. it goes on.
To truly, live in the present moment is magical. I started to see glimpses of it early on, when I had just started the online summit and started to cultivate an awareness I didn’t have before. I remember listening to one of the first talks by Mark Williams, he talked about how we live a lot of the time on autopilot. A simple thing like making a cup of tea, is so often done on autopilot he said. How many times have you made a cup of tea, drank it, then after a moment gone back to the empty mug and wondered who has drunk your tea? If you actually added these little moments up, it’s a lot of life wasted on autopilot. Driving is often done on autopilot, which is a bit scary but I have been guilty of it, you get to your destination and wonder “how did I get here!”, not remembering anything about the journey.
Practicing mindfulness, cultivates this present moment living. I remembering making and drinking a “present moment” cup of tea after listening to Mark Williams. It sounds daft but it was the most joyful thing. Don’t take my word for it though, go try it, put all your attention to that cup of tea, listen to the boiling water, feel the tea bag, watch it brew, then sit and savour every mouthful.
Present moment living was also my gateway out of anxiety, when you are really in the present moment, anxiety starts to go away, I became aware that my anxiety was all related to the past and the future. How could I be anxious if I’m only making a cup of tea? or just driving the car, or just taking a bath or just carrying out my work duties, or just being present. It was because I wasn’t living in the present moment but thinking about the future or the past.
I still slip into autopilot mode sometimes, but the difference now is that I am quickly aware of it and can observe it happening to a greater degree, the past truly is loosing its grip on me, I become less interested in it and the future I am more seeing that it will take care of itself if I take care of the present more. Sure I still plan for the future but I am not living my life in the future.
I understand it isn’t good enough for me to just say “I am living in the moment”. I have to really practice it daily and cultivate the awareness through daily meditation, but for me this is the hub of living a mindful life, where it all begins and will never end.
Mindfulness over the year has helped me to just be myself, to know what I like, what I dislike, what makes me comfortable, what makes me uncomfortable. The difference is, I’m now not battling to change these things. I can observe them come and go, there may be some internal battle still but I can observe that too without reacting. Strangely enough, without reacting or being lost in thought, actually I have found that the answers come to you intuitively, without having to be lost in thought or lost in some internal battle of worry and anxiety.
I’ve always been a sensitive person, wearing my heart on my sleeve a lot of the time, but I have found there to be a big difference with compassion and kindness born out of a mindful life. For a start it is less about the “I” and more about the “us”. For example I used to remember listening to people’s problems, trying to be sympathetic but all along I would be thinking about how it compared to my life, usually my response to them would be more about my problems than the persons problem I was listening too!
The more I practice, the more compassionate I become, not in a gushing or false way, but from a place of sincerity and purity. There is a growing sense of oneness,a wholeness and as I wrote in the piece “cogs in a machine” , the practice is helping me to create a Soft heart but a Strong back. To be able to deal calmly with the storms of life ( because they will come), yet to remain with compassion for myself and others, this is the practice.
Drama and Awareness
For sure the drama is going. The internal drama that my mind so loved to create, those thoughts of “I’m not good enough” or “I can’t do this” or “he did that to me, how dare he” blah,blah… just all drama. This internal drama used to play itself out, I would get angry or anxious or would want to change something outwardly. Slowly this is calming down. So called dramas are not dramas anymore, just a set of events to observe.
Last week on the way home from work a car pulled out of a side street without looking, I had to emergency stop, they just carried on regardless. I could feel the anger rising, but it disappeared quickly. My first thought was, its ok, nobody hurt, there was nobody behind me and all is fine. I set off again, the moment was gone, no need to react.
Now if this had happened a year or so ago, my first reaction would have been to hit the horn, then I might have tried to catch up with the driver so he could see me in his mirror, flash my lights, wave my fist at him. It sounds absurd but I spend a lot of time driving and I see this happen so much. I would have been lost in the drama, but also I would be hurting myself, working myself up for nothing.
Mindfulness helps me to see where the drama actually is, in this case the drama was short, it was the moment he pulled out and then my reaction of hitting the brake, the drama was over right at that point, I don’t then start to add another drama to it like “we could have hit” or “how dare he, what an idiot” blah blah. It’s just a small moment in life, but these little insights are big reminders the practice is working.
Mindfulness is subtle, there is a subtle shift in awareness, but that slight shift has for sure changed my life. It has become part of my life as much as eating or breathing but to really truly embrace it, I think it has to. You can’t just read about it, or think about it, that helps, but the changes happen when you actually just do it. Out of the formal daily practice, these changes come.
I couldn’t grasp this at first, why does sitting in daily meditation change how you live your every day life. This very thought was why I had a mindfulness audio book sat unread on my kindle for months before I actually started my journey. You can’t grasp it, until you practice it.
A year really is nothing in the grand scheme of things, this is a journey that I know now will last a life time. Learning, practicing,doing, being one moment to the next moment, slowly I am starting to see the sheer joy in those very moments, it’s not big and brash, it is just life as it really is and a realization that happiness is already here in this very moment.
Now it is time for a mindful cup of tea.
With best wishes for now to you all.