This weekend I had a day trip to London on the train from Lockerbie to visit the Mind Body Soul experience at Alexandra Palace.
It was an interesting day, with the train filled with thoughtful, serious and at times jolly looking people on their way to London for the People’s Vote march. Many with children or parents in tow, a family day out, with matching blue tee-shirts with gold stars. A sense of ‘my people’ – I sympathised with them and easily wished them well.
I travelled through London on the tube and train from Euston to Ally Pally, sitting with people happily chatting or blankly absorbed in their phones. It was a glorious day and the walk up to Ally Pally provided a beautiful and sweeping view over London, filled with millions of people.
Then I arrived at the venue, walking though the milling crowds of people, searching for quite a while to find our stand. I passed many extraordinary sites, a woman laid on her back on a massage table with a Tibetan bowl sitting on her heart with someone gonging it loudly. I saw lots of people being massaged in various ways, in various postures, with various implements. I was clearly looking a bit perplexed as a man with leaflets commented that there was a crease in my brow, not doubt an opening gambit to draw me into whatever flavour of relaxation or wellbeing he was there to promote. ‘Rude!’ I thought, but switched my creased brow for a smile.
I had heard from the team the previous day that there was a stand offering psychic surgery – I thought that I might stop in for a tummy tuck. The stand opposite us, was offering pendulum healing. In the next room was the yoga show and I passed ‘experience’ areas, of lycra clad individuals, waiting for a yoga session to begin. The show was very busy – full of people seeking – less stress, more wellbeing, a relief from suffering. The atmosphere was kind and bustling, with many smiles and lots of conversation. Again, a sense of ‘my’ people.
We had a steady flow of people passing our stand, happy to take a leaflet, or engage in conversation about their mindfulness practice or lack of a practice, curious about the courses we had on offer. As always at these types of events, some expressions of surprise that Mindfulness can be studied at University, with several people interested in this pathway.
I was scheduled to lead a session on ‘From Mindfulness to Insight’ in one of the Lecture areas and had expected to be doing this in a quiet room. But no, on arriving I saw with dismay that the so called Lecture areas were cordoned off rows of chairs, with a lectern and screen on the edges of the main conference hall, with people chatting or banging drums, or dinging bells all around, and people wandering past.
I thought to myself ‘Really? This is what I have to do?’ Then I got on with it, open and curious about how it might be. Set up took a while as the MA background on the screen, from my laptop kept going blank. I am not sure whether we sorted this out – as my back was to the screen. Anyway, I gave a short talk about the pathway from Mindfulness, through Compassion to Insight, stressing the importance of insight in getting to the root of the habitual patterns that cause us to suffer in life. Then I guided the practice of dropping words into practice, to see how thoughts arise in response to the words and then, if the words evoke an emotional response, how we engage the thoughts and get caught up in thinking.
Two people left as the practice began and the person sat directly in front of me nodded off. Some people stopped for a while to watch the spectacle and a couple joined us half way through. I noticed beginning pangs of ‘This isn’t going well’, smiled inwardly reminding myself not to take it personally, and continued. I enjoyed the experience and I think some of the audience got some benefit. Two pairs of people smiled at me all the way through, which helped!
Then I spent the afternoon chatting at the stand, to Jacky and Duncan, and to some of those who were interested in practicing mindfulness. A worthwhile endeavour and hopefully we have encouraged some new participants to start one of our courses.
The journey home was challenging. Walking down the hill from Ally Pally some boys were throwing water from a bottle at passing cars. At Euston on the forecourt waiting for the train a group of several young men drinking lager were loudly remonstrating that if any of those people wanting to stop Brexit or any of those extinction people got on the train with them, they would throw them off. Then on the train there were several groups of drunk people, shouting and laughing raucously. The group on the opposite side of the isle to me were intimidating a couple of people, who wanted to move, but were prevented from doing so. It was pretty uncomfortable. I was glad when they got off.
The words from the Blur Song ‘Parklife’ came to mind ‘All the people, so many people, and they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their Parklife’. All these people in the capital city, with their lives and their beliefs, with their joys and their sorrows, each one the centre of their universe, just as I am the centre of my own universe. I have been noticing the people around me in a different way recently. I recognise that they are not just background extras or bit players in my movie, but leading actors in their own movie, which is just as important as mine. I find this recognition startling, but also a bit overwhelming – all that suffering – all these people having to deal with the difficulties of life – not many of them look happy.
Our compassion practice calls us to include all the people – so many people – in our wish to relieve suffering. Even the drunk ones, angrily wanting to throw ‘others’ off trains or intimidating ‘others’ for fun or for a sense of power. What helps me is the understanding that happy people aren’t angry or intimidating and that if the causes and conditions in my own life were different I would be unhappy, more angry, more afraid. There but for the grace of god! I can see clearly how my own path could have led me to anger and heavy drinking, although my own habits would have inclined to acted this in, fuelling a growing self-hatred and insecurity, rather than acting it out onto other people.
Thankfully, I had the good fortune to find my way to a yoga class and then via this to the teachings of Rob Nairn and Samye Ling. Thankfully, I had the inclination to practice and so began my journey of mindfulness, compassion and insight, inner healing and growing compassion and dare I say it some wisdom.
It is very easy in these time to ‘other’ those people who don’t have the same views as us. It’s easy to think we are better. This attitude puts up the barriers to communication and if there is one thing we need now it is communication and connection across all parts of our communities. This is one of the themes we will be exploring at our membership weekend and retreat in May next year. Why not come practice with us there. Maybe then more of us can walk ‘hand-in-hand’.