Taking Down the Decorations after Christmas, I found to be a ritual. Perhaps Part 2 of the whole midwinter ritual of Christmas Decorations – Part one being Putting Up the decorations. We like marking occasions with decorations and elaboration, don’t we? And the action of placing carefully is a beautiful time for mindfulness practice. Where we place things and how we place them. We like it to be just right. We are proud of our efforts and we like it when people notice, and admire our placement choices. I’m leading up to something here…!
As I put them up and took them down I felt a sense of connecting with every previous year a sense of- in doing this I feel a certainty and reassurance that things somehow stay the same, but actually, as we handle the tiny ornaments we contemplate this time of year and the year that’s passed, and every year before handling these same ornaments…and as I took them down in the now quiet room I thought of the family gathering in this room and how heart-warming it had been, and whatever anxiety or stress I had felt passing though my body had now dissipated leaving me with a warm and tender feeling.
I watched my arms reach up to the paper chains the children had made and gently pulled them down. I watched the mind as it produced a drop-down menu of choices for these paper chains. I noticed the mind wanting to cling to these paper chains, a memento of the making, time spent with the children, their wee hands all over them, their smiles as they showed me look Nanan! how long! Environmentally I should keep them. It seems a shame and disrespectful to throw them out – and the waste – producing the paper just to be burned….
My mindfulness noticed how I had somehow imbued the paper chains with something which could feed into my urge to keep everything! Which is counter to my art training of working in the moment experientially with the process being the key part – not the end result. Mindfulness too is experiential process-based – not goal driven – and the result whether beautiful or ugly is not what it’s about. Hanging on to something that has passed, is past, has gone. The only alive moment is the present moment.
When I look at the paper chains with a dispassionate eye of ‘what is’ I decide that the moment has passed. The paper chains will never look good once they have been squashed in a box, left for a year, and then by next year I will have forgotten the joy of the moment, forgotten these thoughts and emotions (about paper!).
I take joy in crumpling them up, listening to the scrunchy sound and the texture of crinkly paper and shove them in the woodburner, ready to give me more pleasure, later when I light the fire and watch the magic that is the sun’s energy spring from the paper chains in the miracle that is fire. Watching fire I find is very soothing, and mindful. It makes me think of the Trataka meditation… watching a candle flame. My mind has wandered. As it does.
Writing a blog is a mindfulness exercise. I set my intention to write a blog about X. Bringing an awareness to my motivation, helps too, to remind me why I am writing this; simply to reveal how mindfulness manifests in my daily life, the trials and tribulations of being a human in a messy, frustrating, wonderful and nascent mindful life! So my mind will wander, and so will my blog at times. I come back to focus. My motivation? To connect with you is my wish, to share with you my own messy imperfect experience of being a mindfulness practitioner – sharing with you the permission to ‘fail epically’ – that mindfulness is not about a quick fix, getting it perfect, getting ‘good’ at meditation, it’s much much more about practising being in this moment – aware of what’s happening while it’s happening, without judgement.
In the Mindfulness Based Living Course Manual, I have found a wonderful quote from secular Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn, which thankfully fits in with the story I am about to tell you, about an insight, which was small in terms of the trigger but very powerful and that made me laugh at myself.
Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. This kind of awareness nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of present moment reality. It wakes us up to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments. If we are not fully present for many of these moments, we may not only miss what is most valuable in our lives but also fail to realise the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation. It is… a turning towards life… To live life as if each moment is important, as if each moment counted and could be worked with, even if it is a moment of pain, sadness, despair or fear.
Jon Kabat-Zinn ( Author of Full Catastrophe Living, and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – pioneer in the field of Mindfulness)
So once the decorations were all down I moved onto some deep cleaning, as you do, spring cleaning, and attending to some bits and pieces around the house that had been bugging me for a while but never getting round to doing which especially needed doing after the busy time around the winter holidaytime, with family visiting.
I can’t say I was particularly mindful while I was doing this as I was definitely in ‘doing mode’ and I was enjoying this other kind of focus, finally getting round to doing these things, so there was a relaxed feel in the body and sense of relief at having some time finally to do this.
With the tension gone – I realised how tense I had been.
We live like this. When tension is the normal everyday way of being – we can’t see it.
When we sit and allow the mind to settle– we can see it.
So even though I say I wasn’t being particularly mindful – what’s different in my life after practising mindfulness for some years is that the mindful awareness energy dial has noticeably turned up – it’s so subtle – I can’t feel it – but it’s kind of like getting the right prescription glasses and suddenly wow – clarity!
At the same time it’s like peering through a veil between me and my more subtle beliefs, drives and attitudes that have coloured my behaviour. I am now seeing that things aren’t so solid anymore – my sense of ‘me and my ideas and opinions’ is beginning to melt away and I’m finding that things aren’t quite so strong for me any more – my emotions don’t RULE me any more – things are much more fluid and my need to control everything vastly diminished.
But this is so subtle and the change is imperceptible, and comes from erratic (I’m fessing up here) but sustained formal Mindfulness practice. Some days as soon as I sit on my cushion I just cry. Some days I just think about work and give up. Or the favourite, how about ‘we’ (me and my mind) just sit here and think about meditating? that’s a great trick the mind likes to play. So, I’m not a perfect meditator and you don’t need to be – this stuff works from a powered connection to your intention and motivation. This, for me has been the fuel in the tank which has enabled the mindfulness dial to be turned up, tuned in, and now operates at an almost perceptible level, and it’s just wonderful.
This year I took the opportunity to go a little further once the decorations came down to clean a little more deeply and to move some things around that had been on my mind for a while. There was a sun-moon wall hanging that was my mums and it was hung up in a hurry a few years ago and the curtain was always half covering it up which irritated me every time I looked at it and so… now was the day – I could move it to a better place. It was a tricky manoeuvre involving beams and fishing line and big hanging fixtures in the beams as it was quite heavy so I moved it and was pleased with myself and sent my daughter a picture of it in its new position.
I continued my cleaning and sorting. The hours passed and I found myself walking back into the room later in the evening only to find the sun-moon had been replaced with a painting and was back in its original place – half obscured by the curtain.
This stopped me in my tracks – I literally jolted to a stop – my brain just bolted me to the floor, rooted I was in shock and confusion.
What the..? I stood there stunned by the sight before me questioning my own sanity, then I felt affronted! Offended? Cross? Angry? Confused?
Mindfulness kicked me up the bum and I actually burst out laughing.
Now BM (Before Mindfulness) I would have made a big deal out of this situation. A personal insult? Being overruled when ‘I’ am the designer of all things (haha), how dare he undermine me in this way! I might have managed a 3 day huff.
We (me and the gardener) have not even mentioned this funny turn of events of egocentric preferences. He obviously preferred things the way they had been. And well, me and mindfulness we rest in awareness of how funny we all are.
Notice if you are sticking the oar in this week.
Notice the urge to stick to your guns on something that really doesn’t matter that much.
Are you in fact making a mountain out of a molehill? I seem to be full of idioms this week!
It felt so good to let go of the need to get my own way. It felt so good to be in the moment where I saw myself wanting my own way and was present through the process of noticing, realizing what was happening and witnessing the release – and with that the beautiful moment of satori – insight with a burst of laughter – as I laughed at myself with a joyous and warm heart.
And in seeing that in myself, I was able to understand and allow the gardener his need. And I was freed from the urge to say anything. Now when I see the sun-moon obscured by the curtain it makes me chuckle to myself. And even funnier that we never spoke about it.
What ‘need’ will you find to let go of this week?
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Having passed the mindfulness teacher training last summer, after an enjoyable and enriching year of peer-group practising of leading sessions, and sharing with inquiry sessions, I can say that the teacher training was incredibly effective at deepening my practice, and thoroughly recommend it if you are that way inclined.
There’s a Level 1 Teacher Training course coming soon, starting on the 22 January…. If you are tempted to dip your toe in…and share the benefits of mindfulness with others, here’s your chance.
Warm wishes to you all this week, please do share with us any moments of laughter mindfulness has brought you, we’d love to hear!