The last few months of the year is normally the time I tend to take some holiday from all things work- like. This year is no different and after a busy few months, the end of October saw myself and one of my very favourite people, take a drive up north to pick up a canal boat in readiness for a week of R&R, (if you’ve never tried it, it’s one to definitely add to your ‘bucket list’). This time we were heading for that well known popular holiday destination of….. Lancaster! (well, a particular and limited stretch of the Lancashire canal to be a little more precise). Fresh air, autumn sunshine, few mod cons, limited connectivity, all wrapped up in the fact we would be travelling no faster than a gentle walking pace means we would slow down, I mean, right down.
Standing up on deck on our first full day (does a canal boat even have a deck?) well if it does, there on deck I was watching the world go by. I realised that although I was looking at my surroundings, I wasn’t really seeing things properly (if that makes sense.) So a second realisation was that this was a perfect opportunity to engage in some mindfulness, to really connect myself to what I was in the middle of by focused looking, listening, smelling, and sensing.
If you’re not familiar with mindfulness it has certainly become one of the buzz words and add-ons to talking therapies over recent years. Regular practise has proven effective to reduce blood pressure, chronic pain, relieve stress and improve sleep amongst many other things. It is also widely recognised as being an excellent and effective part of treatment plans within the Health Service and private therapy practices for many mental health presentations such as depression and anxiety. People may think it’s a new happening trend, and yes it’s certainly has had a lot of press, but this new happening trend has actually been around for 2500 years, and comes from the early teachings of the Buddhist Vipassana tradition, which is an ‘insight meditation’ practice, the other form being ‘concentration meditation’ (insight means that you learn to observe events of the mind, thoughts, and feelings in a non-attached way, whereas concentration meditation asks you to concentrate on something in particular, usually the breath, physical sensations, a visual object, etc).
And so I started noticing things in a more mindful way.
Within minutes I became aware that my breathing had slowed right down and with that a feeling of deeper calmness and stillness was now more present inside me. My body felt more grounded as I noticed how solid my feet felt on the surface I was standing upon, and as I shifted my weight from foot to foot, I felt various little twangs of tensions within my leg muscles, hips and lower back.
Then, with much more awareness I was absorbing my surroundings.
Gritty, sandy silt swirling beneath light and dark abstract reflections on the water’s surface; a single curled up leaf (the only leaf left on that particular tree) still attached to its spindly, twiggy branch. Single rain drops regularly spaced on another gnarled, twiggy branch glistening like little teardrop diamonds in the fading afternoon sun; the (almost hidden) squirrel sitting excitedly nibbling something in a tree; the contrasting smooth and rough bark of three neighbouring trees. Then there was a leaf starting to fall down that had broken free in the breeze, only to be captured at right angles by a still attached leaf below it. The juxtaposition of a grass field next to the earthy ploughed one; then, as we passed further, the surprising depth of the ploughed furrows that had looked so shallow just a few minutes before; the short sharp, little noisy cracks as rain drops started hitting my jacket; kingfishers playing tag with us; the slow motion movements of herons taking off from their near frozen stance. On and on…..colours, textures, reflections, noises, aromas and the sense of touch…
It was a week of chilling, reading, dozing and at times colouring, mindfully of course. Even with the colouring I decided to go with the flow. I had specifically started choosing complimenting colours but that was a little bit like hard work, so I threw caution to the wind closed my eyes and just chose whichever coloured pencil my fingers came to land on. My thought reactions to the colour I had picked was interesting in itself, , ‘’aah.. I like that green, blue, purple… that will go nicely’’ to ’’urgh.. that will clash!’’. Like some things in life we can be unsure of, it actually turned out ok, and if it hadn’t? Well in those moments that would have been fine too.
So my invitation to you right at this moment is to take a minute to be mindful yourself. Become aware of the surface you’re sitting, lying or standing upon, how does your body feel? Do you feel any pressure anywhere? Perhaps it’s the chair under your thighs, or the carpet or flooring under your heels, or the balls of your feet? Are you warm or can you feel any cool air dusting any exposed skin? Next, start to become aware of your breath. Where can you feel it? In your nostrils as you breathe in or out? Or perhaps it’s at the back of your throat, your chest, or your abdomen? Are you breathing fast or slow? If fast, is your breath slowing down at all? What objects are around you? Pick one and really look at it, its surface, colours, and textures. Now, are you aware of anything you can smell, or can you hear any noise? How do you feel immersed in the moment, in your moments?
If you would like any more information on mindfulness and how it could possibly benefit you, I would love to hear from you, but for now, perhaps take a mindful few minutes just to be…