“The road to enlightenment is long and difficult, and you should try not to forget snacks and magazines.” – Anne Lamott
One of my goals for 2018 was to sit and eat breakfast, without distractions, and certainly not scoffing my food whilst simultaneously putting on a load of washing, and reading a book. I wanted to slow my life down, and breakfast seemed like a good place to start.
Dr Joe Dispenza says that the only way to change a habit is to change the way you do things, so to have a more mindful breakfast, I changed from eating in multiple places, to sitting on my very neglected front porch. As I re-familiarised myself with this lovely space, I took a moment to look around me. What caught my attention was the telegraph poles and their gently swaying wires that weave their way through my suburb. These tall, lanky poles and wires, instantly transported me to another time and place, to my younger years, travelling those long distances in the family car. It was a time when journeys to a new holiday destination took days to complete. The journey itself was a mini holiday as we ducked and weaved into cute little towns, each with its own unique architecture and personality. It was a time when we would have to stop and eat at a local fuel station diner, as there were no fast food outlets back then. Yes, those drives seemed to take forever, but then, it meant we had more time to just be, the pace of life, slower, gentler. We had time to stop and eat, time to visit the local botanic gardens, or buy some local produce or hand-made wares. Every town and every landscape was unique. These days, car trips are completed in a quarter of the time, thanks to super highways and byways, we skip the smaller towns and gulp our food while our cars gulp up the miles, on monotonous and continues streams of ashphalt.
While there were challenges back in the day, I still look back with fond memories because life was simpler. There weren’t the distractions of social media, 24 hour news cycles, endless stories of disasters. Road trips consisted of big old, spongy, roomy cars, with the voices of bored children drowned out by a static-filled radio station. When the game of ‘I Spy’ had exhausted itself, and our throats were hoarse from loudly belting out our favourite car tunes, there was little to do, but stare out the window. Kids these days might burst a blood vessel at the idea of not having an electronic device to entertain themselves, but I loved looking out the car window in a trance-like state, watching the road’s edges move in and out like a grey wave, melting into the asphalt under our car, and then there was the telegraph poles. I’d amused myself by trying to focus on each pole as it came closer and then zipped past blurring into the backdrop of the countryside. But it was the wires that I loved to watch the most. I loved the way they looked like they’d been delicately draped across each pole, how they seemed to move like gentle waves rising up to kiss the top of the telegraph poles and then slowly drooping back down like a jilted lover, only to rise again once more. It felt like a metaphor for life. Up, down, up, down. Continuous lines that went on, unbroken, no matter how many towns we passed. I was fascinated by how a simple wire could connect people, and before mobile phones, was often the difference between life and death. I would be mesmerised watching the sway of these simple strands of metal, interrupted occasionally by a flock of birds, happily surveing their domain.
I would often just stare, looking but not seeing, my mind viewing but simultaneously not thnking. I think this is what I miss the most. I was lucky, as a child, it was a time of greater freedom, few responsibilities, of not having to worry about anything, but mostly, it was having time to zone out. It wasn’t a deliberate time out, as we seek to do these days with a scheduled mediation or mindfulness practice, it just happened naturally as a part of everyday life, a time when we lived more slowly and in the moment.
In our ridicouls drive for economic growth, we have created lives filled with endless chatter, input, output, deadlines, manic drives for growth, that there is little time for gazing. When’s the last time you looked at the night sky, or sat quietly watching the sun rise, or simply sat in a park, without a book or device and just watched the trees sway, people walking, clouds emerging and disappearing? I know I can’t remember.
The other day, I was due to meet a friend for a coffee. She didn’t turn up because she had double-booked herself, so I sat there and wondered, “What do I do now?” I didn’t bring anything with me to occupy my time, because I knew I’d be busy catching up with my friend, and I’d gone to a little extra effort putting on a nice outfit. I thought, do I sit here alone and treat myself to a lovely cup of tea and just watch the café as it goes about its daily rituals, or go home? I didn’t really want to go home because I was in the mood for some social exposure, one of the downsides of working from home. I decided that I was going to test myself to see how I would manage sitting alone, with nothing to distract me. I’ll be honest and say I found it difficult to start with. The not-so-nice part of my mind was trying to tell me that if I stayed, I might look like a looser, sitting there alone, obviously I had no friends! But the wise part of me said, who said there’s anything wrong with enjoying some time on your own, enjoying your own company. Plus, the creativity I’d been trying to foster, I now know, flourishes when I allow myself time be still and empty, creating a space for inspiration to drop in.
It was such a freeing and inspiring experience, that I promised myself that I would take myself out on a date again. Whether it’s sitting alone in a park, a cafe, or staring at telegraph wires floating in mid air, I understood the great benefits of creating head space. I’m not so great at dedicated meditation practice, but I am able to just sit and stare into the distance, to just be still, with my eyes open, feeling, more than seeing all that is around me. I’ve decided to stop berating myself for not being a great “traditional” meditator and instead, I’ve found a method that allows me to be physically and mentally still. Sometimes I find stillness when I draw or sew, but the body is still active. To be able to be fully present in mind and body is a real gift. It slows down our nervous system, calms our breathing and just gives our neural circuits, a much needed rest.
So, as we watch as the machine slowly wind up after the holiday break, consider making time to if not stop, at least slow down long enough to notice life around you. It seems counterintuitive to take 10 minutes out of our crazy busy days to indulge in a little quiet time, but just like an over-tired toddler, a short nap or break, leaves us refreshed and able to tackle the noise and demands of the rest of our days and weeks.
By gifting yourself time to notice a telegraph pole, or opening your eyes to the magic of simple events in your neighbourhood, you may not only create a little peace inside yourself, but you may also notice how some of life’s simple sights and events, when put together, create that rich canvas that is the lived experience.
What helps you zone out and find a moment of inner calm? What have you noticed today? Why not write these in a journal. You might be surprised at how some of the simplest things can bring you some peace-filled pleasure.