“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” ~ Mother Theresa.
Growing up, we did a lot of walking. In both England and Jamaica, cars were for long journeys. We walked to school, walked to the shop, walked to see friends. One of the pleasures of living in England when I was a little older was to drive to a park, or some beautiful nature spot, to take a walk. My mother was a woman who did not believe in wasting time, so if we walked with her we walked at her pace. Which was equivalent to the average person’s jog! My mother always walked with a purpose. She was not good at the stroll, perhaps not until much later in her life when she finally had to slow down and could admire the wildflowers along the path.
When I was in my late thirties I had the privilege of climbing Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. The path we took was a hikers’ path, not the one taken by true mountaineers. It was manageable for the average, moderately healthy person. Unfortunately, at the time, the only serious exercise I had undertaken in years was childbirth! And so, I was seriously underprepared for the challenge of an uphill hike. Which meant that I was forced to take frequent pauses to catch my breath, to let my thighs recover, and hide behind my camera as I tried to capture the beauty of those amazing views. Snowdonia National Park is a place of breathtaking beauty: ridges and peaks, valleys and streams; quartz chips glinting on the hillside; sheep dotting the treacherous slopes. It was not a hardship to pause and gaze. And try to gather my strength for the next stretch. When we got to the top there was so much cloud cover it was impossible to see where we had come from. Moisture hung on our clothing (and in one case, on my guide’s beard) in huge drops. But it was magical, a huge achievement which could not be hidden in the fog.
I have read a lot about the concept of ‘mindfulness’ – that intentional act of truly appreciating the moment you are in. Most of us miss the present by overthinking the future, anticipating what might be coming down the path. Or else we are dwelling in the past, overanalyzing past actions or trying to relitigate past interactions. Mindfulness as a practice helps you to stay in the present moment by simply paying attention to where you are. You can do it by focusing on your breath or noticing the messages your body is sending you. As part of a meditation practice it is powerful, but it can be implemented at any moment in a busy day. There are times when we give ourselves the most horrendous headache, by holding our selves in tension. We bunch up our shoulders close to our neck, or sit with poor posture as we strain at the computer. Many of our back, shoulder and neck problems stem from misalignment. Paying attention, relaxing the shoulders, straightening the slouch, redistributing the weight from an overstuffed bag are all ways to reduce the wear and tear on an overworked body.
Yesterday at work we were introduced to a different term for mindfulness: ‘With-it-ness’. This is a term used for teachers in the classroom, a reminder that they need to be ‘with-it’; to pay attention to their students, to be more self-aware, to be present. In the US, (the only country I have lived in since being a working adult) there is a love of coining a phrase. Many dissertations are designed around a created word or phrase. And if the author does a good job, it becomes part of everyday language. I am not sure who came up with ‘with-it-ness’ but anything which makes you slow down and think about things which may have become too routine, too mundane, is not a bad thing.
Sometimes it takes a simple phrase or gesture to remind us to slow down, to stop and smell the coffee, or a rose, or listen to a bird, or notice a beautiful sunset. One of my co-workers will remind anxious and agitated students with the simple ‘woosah’ – an imitation of a meditative pose and deep breath. It is often more effective than that other method: “Calm down!” which usually only manages to agitate the person needing help!
For some people, it is the slap in the face of a serious illness that forces you to acknowledge the role your emotional state has on your physical health. It may be a near miss, or a serious health challenge that slows you down long enough for you to do some soul-searching about what is important in your life. Or it may be the death of a friend or co-worker that makes you reevaluate how you live your life. That may be the only way to make sense of the senseless, a message passed on from the recently deceased. Do you appreciate what you have? Have you checked in with your loved ones lately? Did you let someone know how important they are to you? What have you put off because you think your life is way too busy?
This beautiful Friday morning I wish for you the time to take a ‘woosah’ and appreciate this moment. Why not pause and notice your breath filling and expanding your lungs, bringing much needed oxygen to enter your bloodstream and travel to the farthest reaches of your body. Close your eyes and pay attention to where you are seated, to how your are sitting, and consciously let your shoulders relax, check on your spine: are you slouching? Let the breath out and with the exhalation give thanks for the wondrous workings of your body, those mysterious chemical and electrical reactions that send messages and nutrients chasing around your body. Those activities that breakdown and build up, that eliminate and detoxify, that keep you alive. Slow down, and see if you can start off the day with a totally different attitude.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!