This is an article I wrote a while back about how it felt to come to mindfulness. I hope it goes some way to explaining why I want to share these skills and techniques with you.
The Journey And The Destination
Back in 1988 I moved from the dull suburbs of London to the coastal city of Brighton and experienced the most wonderful feeling ever. Every day I would wander the streets of Brighton, bathed in glorious sunshine and pleasant astonishment that I’d moved somewhere so beautiful. I was truly living in the moment.
Previous to this, I’d been coping with a variety of minor and major traumas in life. particularly the suicide of the woman I loved, but also the darkness in my own mind. And when I say coping, I really mean drinking heavily, so blotting out might be a better description.
All that disappeared in those glorious first few weeks in Brighton. I even stopped drinking, without the slightest effort. But these things wear off, of course, as you get used to a place. So I spent the next couple of decades wondering how to get that feeling back. I couldn’t keep moving to Brighton for the first time again. For years I just chased shadows, chasing the finger that was pointing at the moon.
A couple of years ago, I was advised that there was bleeding at the back of my eyes. As a diabetic, you get fed all sorts of horror stories about things that can go wrong, and here was a very real possibility of that happening to me (unchecked, the bleeding can lead to blindness). So I turned first to meditation and then to mindfulness.
It would be almost an understatement to say mindfulness has changed my life. It has very possibly also saved my sight.
I didn’t arrive without an internal struggle though. Firstly, I’m an old punk rocker and was kind of hard-wired to reject a lot of hippie culture, which is definitely how I saw all this. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I was using the local gym in my battle against diabetes and the accompanying scary feelings it brings. My favourite place was the sauna – at least it was until the local yoga women came in after their class and started nattering away. This only served to reinforce my idea that things like yoga and meditation were the preserves of the ultra-irritating wing of the middle classes. I desperately wanted to see if there was anything in this lark, but not at the expense of mixing with those people.
I can look back and see how silly that sentence sounds now, but it was a big issue for me at the time and I wonder how many others are in the same boat? “If it’s for the likes of them, it can’t be for the likes of me”.
Finally, a builder friend of mine starting posting about meditation on Facebook and, buoyed by his involvement and enthusiasm, I tentatively took the plunge – first guided meditations on Youtube, then reading The Power Of Now & A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and then the 8 Week Mindfulness Course with a qualified teacher.
When I finally opened up to mindfulness and meditation, it blew my mind and I felt like a large weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Most of all, it felt like I wasn’t so much learning something as remembering it, which was a profoundly beautiful and beautifully profound thing.
I stopped letting thoughts, worries and bad feelings turn into a domino-effect where each thought was bigger and badder than the last. The realisation that “you are not your thoughts” has changed the way I feel about everything (not least my thoughts!) – I look at myself with loving kindness now, rather than anguished unacceptance and a feeling that I was constantly failing to realise my potential.
It occurred to me the other day that the feeling of being in the present was what I’d been chasing all those years. Walking along all those unfamiliar roads in Brighton, I had no worries about the past I’d left behind and no concerns about a future that could surely only be better in such beautiful surroundings. I was – albeit accidentally – simply in the present, mindful of my surroundings and the beauty of everyday life. I’ve never found a deeper contentment or joy than that feeling.
I wonder if this feeling of presence is what we chase via a myriad of new experiences – holidays in new places, extreme sports, watching football matches. Maybe the attraction of all of these activities is that they offer a simple experience of ‘the now’. A place where any worries of future or past can be put aside in favour of experiencing the moment. Where there is no destination, simply the feeling that you’ve arrived.
Mindfulness is a major part of my life now and informs pretty much every situation I find myself in. I meditate most days, usually to guided meditations, but sometimes during bus and train journeys. I recently did a body scan on a plane as it took off, which was an interesting one.
The real presence for me, however, is in everyday activity, where opportunities to practice mindful loving kindness present themselves daily and reward me disproportionately. The profound value often pops up in situations that would previously have been stressful, particularly social situations.
I look forward to meditating the way I used to look forward to Saturday nights in the pub – but without the hangover of the racing, panicked mind. I suspect I might even get on with sauna women now. I think I’d look at them differently, with compassion instead of irritation. Probably.
Wishing I could feel again that feeling of when I first moved to Brighton was – I can see now – the problem in itself. Wishing to be somewhere else, either geographically or metaphorically, is never as beautiful as realising that you are already in the perfect place, every second of every day. You just have to notice.