After quite a difficult time recently, including storm damage and various ailments, I was reminded of the magic of being in the moment once again by a child. This followed a period of acceptance of not being ok, and learning to be ok with not being ok.
I also had the complete pleasure and privilege of attending the 6 day Level 4 Wisdom Retreat, which brought me right back to basics; being in the moment. Not only being in the moment but really, truly, one hundred percent, being in the moment and experiencing that fully and completely. This reminded me that I feel like a beginner most of the time. There is always more to learn. Always. But compassion was present with this thought, that it’s all ok and at least I am dedicated to my practice and making progress, slowly, hopefully. However, it can sometimes feel like snakes and ladders. Up a ladder I go, feeling good about my mindfulness practice, then down I plunge as I land on a snake. Back to the beginning, again and again.
My greatest insight from the retreat was how so very easy it is to become distracted. Thoughts and feelings have a very strong energy to them. They are like magnets pulling my mind in. My mind wants to know what thoughts are about and they all definitely are accompanied by a feeling or body sensation. The great thing is that Mindfulness has allowed me to see this. I can see the mess very clearly.
I had to miss the first day of the retreat due to feeling unwell. I felt very disappointed, but just needed to sleep after my booster jab. So I had a mindful rest instead. My practice for the retreat began then as I was aware that I accepted how I was feeling – disappointment, tiredness, weariness and unwell, but it was all ok. The next morning I felt better so felt excitement at being well enough to join in. This replaced the feelings I had the previous day. I became more acutely aware of moment by moment experience. Everything changes; all the time. It then became very important to me to experience just that. Every precious moment of my precious life.
The day after the retreat I looked after my grandson for a few days and it couldn’t have been more timely in reinforcing the message of mindfulness and being in the moment.
To begin with we went to a local seaside town. It was very very cold, but we clambered up the 199 steps to an abbey. We counted the steps all the way up and all the way down. This became a very mindful practice as my grandson counted them and checked the roman numerals on each 20th step, to make sure he hadn’t missed one. If he had, he started again. There were no thoughts of the past, none of the future, nothing but here and now with the focus of counting steps, feeling cold, feeling breathless from the exertion. We occasionally paused to take in the view or watch the ever changing sky as orange began to bleed into blue with various intensities as the sun began to set. At the bottom of the steps I asked him if he wanted to go to the abbey which was at the top. He said no. He just wanted to walk up and down the steps and count them. But by the time we got to the top of the steps he changed his mind, so still being in nothing but the moment, we walked around the abbey, allowing each moment to unfold in its own way.
We could feel the cold wind, we could see the sun disappear over the horizon and darkness setting in. I asked my grandson how he felt. He said he felt happy. I reflected on how I was feeling. I had forgotten to check in with myself. I was feeling happy too and spent a few moments absorbing it as a very pleasant event. By pausing and taking in small moments of joy, we can gradually learn to train the mind to be more positive. It would have been easy to focus on feeling tired and feeling cold but the joy of the moment far outweighed anything else. It felt free. We waited until closing time and then headed back to the car – counting steps as we went. On the way back we noticed the sky, the sea and the Christmas lights everywhere and I can honestly say that I didn’t think of anything else that afternoon. My grandson held me in the moment because for him, only the moment was important.
The next day I had booked for him to see Father Christmas at a village about sixty miles away. I definitely became distracted during the drive and noticed my mind wondering to this and that. Once I noticed my mind I managed to ignore the thoughts and began to do the practice of resting in awareness. When I did this I noticed that the thoughts just dissolved away and I couldn’t even remember what thoughts had popped into my mind afterwards. I realised how my mind creates things. My mind is a creator. A thought will pop in and then it turns into something, because my mind is like a sorcerer. A thought will turn into sadness, worry, anxiety and fear in seconds. Physical sensations arrive too – often a squeezing in my solar plexus or heart or tightness in my head. The feelings then create something else – a reaction – and on it goes. All because I got sucked into the thought. I practiced with this – If I ignore the thought – It’s like I wave a wand and it just disperses like magic. And it is gone. Completely.
My grandson is sitting in the back of the car looking for birds and trees and changes in the landscape. When he is not doing that he is knitting. Totally in the moment, noticing, while I have been on a journey of distraction, often very much not present.
We arrive at the Christmas village and more moment by moment immersion happens. We are ushered into a barn where the scene is set for Santa to appear. His reindeer are dutifully watching from make believe stables. My grandson doesn’t even question that the reindeer aren’t real or moving. It is like a film set. Disbelief is suspended. The elves are ready and dancing. Santa appears. The children go wide eyed. I asked my grandson how he feels. ‘Excited’ he says.
I watched him respond to Santa in the moment as he sat there, face to face with this pagan fairy-tale figure. His face told me he was in awe of a magical experience. Meanwhile my mind went on a journey thinking how Santa’s beard made a good mask. He was totally buried beneath it. I then felt sad that my grandson was wearing a mask and what had happened to our society during this last couple of years as we have battled with the pandemic. He has grown up being restricted and taking precautions in a way I never did as a child. I notice I am lost in thought and bring myself back to the present as I join him on a mindfully magic journey as a tractor pulls us on a trailer through open fields to a large barn. In the barn there must be something like a hundred deer, running towards the fencing with the hope of food. They weren’t disappointed. The children were allowed to stroke them and feed them by hand. My grandson articulated how it felt to feed them. How the grain was on his hand, the feel of the deer’s tongue and how it had become wet. It seemed like one of the most exciting experiences in the world. He was immersed in it and I was immersed watching.
There was then the opportunity to visit many other very tame animals that liked to be stroked and fed by hand. There was mindful pig and mindful goat and I watched in wonderment at the joy being experienced of such a close encounter with the animals. The animals too were in the moment just being pigs and goats and deer. I asked him how he felt. ‘I love them’ he said. My grandson was in the moment in pure joy of the experience and me? Well, I was in the moment, bringing with me some of the practices and teachings from the Wisdom retreat to realise how it is to fully experience moments in my life. And how being distracted can diminish my precious experiences of knowing I am fully alive in the moment.
It took a 7-year-old, some wise ancient teachings and some traditional Christmas and animal magic to remind me.
How is it to pause and truly be in the moment? Notice everything and see how it feels for your moment by moment full experience to unfold. If thoughts come, how is it to let them be? Notice their pull and attraction, but become aware of how it is to resist. How is it to be with every moment of your life?
I’d be delighted to learn how you get on so please do email me at email@example.com.
Take good care
And whatever you are doing over the festive break, I wish it to be happy for you.
Jacky is guiding a practice day of Just Being on 29th December. She is also teaching the new Mindfulness in Movement Course on 8th March, 2022, and tutoring on the online Introduction to Mindfulness course which runs on a Wednesday evening, starting 12th January, 2022.
Jacky has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can watch an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.