Each time I share the precious gift of mindfulness and compassion to a group of people, usually as part of the Mindfulness Based Living Course, it’s a different experience. I’m aware that sharing also enriches my own practice. On two occasions recently whilst travelling I have found myself inadvertently sharing mindfulness and compassion with compete strangers. The first occasion was on a bus in Sweden. The second was on a train to Manchester. Here is how these random acts of mindfulness transpired.
I have found myself travelling a lot over this past few weeks. Some of my journeys have been challenging, in various ways. During these challenging times I have been very grateful for my mindfulness practice.
Interesting I have found that my practice has not only for my own wellbeing but, inadvertently, benefited others too. In our compassion practice we learn that even a small act of kindness to another, such as a smile, may make a difference to their lives. During this last few weeks I have learned that random acts of mindfulness can have a beneficial ripple effect, which begins with ourselves. All it needed was acceptance, patience and kindness.
In my last blog, I shared my experience of travel and weather challenges on my journey from Scotland to Sweden. My return journey also presented me with a different set of challenges. My train to the airport was cancelled due to the high volume of snow and freezing conditions, with the temperature dropping to -14 degrees. This immediately triggered my stories and fears about missing my flight. “Here we go again!” – I thought.
My friend acts quickly and takes me to the bus stop where I can catch a bus to the airport – but this will mean I will arrive only one hour before my flight so I am mindful of being thrown into anxiety once again. My mindfulness practice is certainly being used as part of my travelling life.
The ticket machine being frozen led to an encounter with a fellow passenger who overheard my concerns about not knowing where to get off the bus. He said he was going to the airport too, the same terminal as it turns out, and that he would show me the way. I was also very grateful when he lifted my extraordinarily heavy suitcase onto the bus for me. We sat together. The bus was silent. He explained that Swedish people are quite reserved and don’t really communicate on public transport. But it seems for the 45-minute journey that didn’t apply to us.
He asked me what I was doing in Sweden and I explained that I had been teaching mindfulness. He asked me to explain what mindfulness was. So there I am, on a bus in Sweden in the early hours of the dark, freezing morning, giving a taster of mindfulness to a complete stranger from Iceland.
We arrive at the airport, realise we are actually on the same flight and have breakfast together. He helps me with my luggage, and I share the teachings of mindfulness with him. It transpires that he has a brain tumour and has been severely injured in an accident. This makes him anxious and stressed and he also still has to manage high levels of pain. I explain to him how mindfulness practice help us reach a degree of acceptance. Acceptance can help us relax around our difficulties, either physical or psychological. How giving a problem space, allows us to soften around it. I share how the technique of coming to the breath can be helpful in calming us down during difficulties, such as the 3 minute breathing space.
When we arrive in England, he found me in the baggage hall to say goodbye and asked me for some information so that he could find out more about mindfulness. He had decided that mindfulness was a good thing for him to do.
The travelling has been getting to me a bit and as I travelled from Yorkshire to Manchester for a meeting with the MAHQ team this week, I was aware that I was in need of some rest and quiet time to ‘just be’. But it turned out that this was definitely not to be!
Minutes after settling into my seat and relaxing, I was joined by a young man who was mentally and physically disabled. He was on his way to Paris for the day to seek medication which may save his life. He had been told that his condition would inevitably shorten his life drastically. Despite his disabilities he was clearly a very articulate and intelligent young man, trapped in a body which restricted him, caused him fear and challenged every moment of his existence.
He was determined to speak to me for the entire 2-hour journey. Whilst having huge empathy for this man, I was aware of my need for stillness. Not talking to him would have appeared rude and dismissive. So, I used my mindfulness and compassion practice once more to accept this situation, drop in to my body and allow the journey to unfold, moment by moment.
It turned out that during the journey I became his listening board, a shoulder to cry on, his physical helper and… sharer of mindfulness. As he cried, I encouraged him to observe his breath. At the end of our journey a lady passed us as she left the train and hugged him. She then turned to hug me. Her eyes were full of compassion.
Embodying mindfulness enables us to be constantly aware of how we are feeling. Our practice helps us to manage most situations. And on those occasions when we struggle to manage, a mindfulness practice aids us to be aware of what’s going on, so that we can cope better in future.
During these challenging journeys, my insight has been that I can always depend on my practice to get me through. That acceptance of the situation and kindness is paramount. That dropping into my body and observing my breath gives space around an unexpected situation allowed me to act without resistance. But the deepest insight I had was how our embodied practice can benefit others too, in the most unexpected situations. Mindfulness is for life.
Are you aware of how your mindfulness practice has benefited you during a difficult situation with others? Have you noticed the benefit of your practice ripple through to others?
Warmest wishes for a mindfully unchallenging week ahead.