by Sarah Ingram
A few weeks ago I was waiting for a lift from a colleague who was still in a meeting. The receptionist noticed that I had been there for a while and asked me if I wanted something to read whilst I waited. I told her no, thanks, I was quite happy just to sit and be. ‘Ah, that’s nice,’ she said.
And it is, it really is!
I did the MiSP .begin course in October and November 2018 and it has opened up a whole new world for me. Over the past year, I have learned to find real joy in small things; open windows, knitted socks, mashed potato, old episodes of Cagney and Lacey, friends laughing. I have gained a child-like enthusiasm and excitement that I don’t even remember having as a youngster!
My school days were fairly uneventful, bar the odd migraine and tension headache, but I have been prone to depression since my early twenties. Mostly, I have remained fully functioning except for a couple of extended ‘episodes’ that have been managed by a fabulous husband, great family and friends, a few pills from an empathetic GP, and some counselling.
More recently, I have been trying to come to terms with middle age and all the physical delights that can bring. Simultaneously wondering what the actual Dickens is happening to my cheekbones; how anyone in the world goes anywhere without their own electric fan and why one (and quite possibly two) well-meaning friends have moved in to my skin and are fighting alongside me to fit into my jeans.
Still, I practice daily (sometimes sitting twice if it’s been a bit of a day) and I have been pleasantly surprised by my commitment to doing this. I don’t believe I have ever actually done anything day in, day out (other than eat and sleep) for a whole twelve months.
Lately though, and for a variety of reasons, I am feeling impatient. I find myself wondering why, after all this sitting, noticing and being, do I still sometimes lose my rag, feel really low, grind my teeth, drink too much, eat too much, think too much? Why, after all this ‘practice’ do I feel that I am not really getting any better at it?
Surely, if I am truly being mindful and really mustering all my calm, I shouldn’t feel the need to scream at the person in the coffee shop who asks for an expresso, rather than an espresso.
Surely, if I am being truly mindful, I shouldn’t still be moody and short-tempered, but float gracefully hither and thither, the embodiment of peace and serenity? Of course, it isn’t like that. I’m still me, I still feel bad sometimes, still feel sad sometimes. I still get anxious and depressed, I am still prone to be grumpy and alas, I still need bigger jeans.
I have to remember that I am not studying mindfulness. It isn’t something that I can master or become consummately proficient at. There is no end point, no final test, no certificate to say that I will be chilled for the rest of my days.
.begin hasn’t changed me or my life beyond all recognition. It won’t give me back my twenties, thirties or forties. The journey is much, much more subtle than that, but change is definitely afoot and it might make a real difference to my fifties.
I am now far more aware of the triggers to my low moods and can usually spot the signs that they are coming. They don’t seem to occur as often as they used to and the fallout certainly doesn’t last as long. I am mostly able to notice if I need to let go, to stop, to short-circuit all the tension somehow.
Now, if too involved in my thoughts, I know that I can stand up, sit down, take a walk, take a bath, phone a friend, open a window, breathe. I wish that I had been more aware of the power of these simple actions when I was younger and could have learned to weave them seamlessly in to my life.
However, despite a prevailing wistful feeling that mindfulness might have helped make my earlier life less emotionally chaotic somehow; I am really grateful to be noticing the beginnings of an internal ‘stillness’ now. It is a stillness that makes real chunks of my life bigger, deeper and richer. It is a stillness that means that sometimes, never always, but sometimes, I am perfectly happy just to sit and be.