Learning mindfulness enriches life. That is a fact. We cultivate the capacity to pay attention, and in doing so we learn to appreciate the everyday mundane experiences of life; a cup of tea, the familiar morning walk to the bus stop, the morning light as we move into a new day, the scuffed pair of shoes that have carried us for the past five years, and the breath, seemingly mundane but life itself moving within us moment- to- moment. The minutia of life, and yet the very fabric of life itself.
Guiding the Monday morning practice today, I found myself inviting participants to allow the breath to be enough, to notice the habit of the mind to seek entertainment in stories about the past or future and to simply come ‘home’, to the breath. The suggestion that the breath is enough invites the attitudinal foundations ‘trust’ and ‘acceptance’. If you are not aware of the attitudinal foundations, Jon Kabat Zinn described in chapter two of his groundbreaking book Full Catastrophe Living, seven attitudes that are fundamental to living mindfully; beginners mind, letting-go/letting-be, non- judgement, non-striving, acceptance, patience and trust. It’s a radical act of trust to come into the moment, and yet at a fundamental level it is all we really have. It’s an act of commitment, particularly first thing in the morning when the day is beginning, to keep coming back to the breath, even though the mind is planning and preparing for the day, and oh does this feel important. It is this commitment to the moment that affords us the capacity to access inner resources of well-being, an experience of groundedness, and from here greater choice, and even some quality of freedom.
If we can give ourselves fully to the moment, this in a wholly pragmatic way, not in abstraction, is a life well lived. I’m reminded of the film ‘Touching The Void’, a story about two young men who, being brave hearts, decided to climb a mountain in the Peruvian Andes. During the climb the two men were disastrously parted, Joe Simpson falling and breaking his leg. At one point finding himself at the bottom of a huge ice crevasse. Joe is lost in a desert of mountain and ice, a truly desperate and terrifying experience, panic attacks, anxiety…this is the territory, literally. Anyway, crawling on ice for three days, with a broken leg, Joe makes it miraculously back to base camp, how he does this, is both inspirational and instructive. He sets himself short, realisable tasks. He focuses on crawling to a section of land within eye shot, pauses and then repeats this, until he makes it back to camp. If Joe had focused on the vast distance he had to travel to make it to back to camp, the thought itself would have exhausted him.
There is much we can learn from this, particularly when things are difficult, and for Joe they couldn’t really have been more difficult, could they? When we sit in meditation we can practice ‘resting’ in just this moment, and then the next. In life, we can focus on just this task, washing up, making the bed, sending off a document requested by our boss, going to the post office, whatever it might be… Trusting. Trusting that this is enough, in this moment, and that the subsequent moments, informed by the quality of our presence in this one, will take care of themselves. This doesn’t mean that we won’t feel distracted, restless, anxious, worried etc, however our practice is to include the thoughts and sensations,with some quality of acceptance, receptivity, allowing, to let even this be enough, just the way it is, enough.
A poem for you, from the bard David Whyte:
Enough, these few words are enough
If not these words
This breath, if not this breath
This sitting here
Opening to the life, we have refused
Again, and again, until now.