"And yet...." Journeying into Mindfulness
I was never interested in this mindfulness lark. For most of my life, anything to do with meditation, spirituality or yoga was just weird “woo-woo” stuff. I was a practical, but fun-loving, atheist who had left the Catholic church of my upbringing for many years.
But in the words of Issa’s haku –
This dewdrop world
Is a dewdrop world.
And yet … and yet ….
And yet I am here today, teaching mindfulness.
And yet, there must have been conditions that led me to this path.
And yet – most of us at some point in our lives will ask some sort of existential questions about our lives such as “why are we here?”
Haiku master, Issa, wrote the above after the death of his daughter, one of three of his children who all passed away. Many of us seek answers when we lose loved ones. For me, it started after the deaths of both of my parents in 2014. In Leonard Cohen’s much quoted line from his song, “Anthem” he wrote “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” The deaths of my parents came within two weeks of each other and after a period of grieving, I felt cracks of light coming into the darkness, a light of curiosity. I was reading about meditation, but there was still a wariness about this stuff.
I remember reacting negatively when Christina, my wife, returned from a yoga retreat she had been on. Dismissing the stuff she had been learning. And yet….. I read one of the books she had brought back which piqued my curiosity further.
The light really burst through the cracks in 2015 when we celebrated the 50th birthday of my good friend, Simon, in India. We stayed at a beautiful retreat accommodation and, as part of our time there, one of the guests, Bristol, gave yoga lessons every day. The lessons during that week really opened my mind – more importantly it opened up how my body and mind were connected. So began my path towards today……
We all make choice in our lives – the choice is to continue as we are or to let ourselves open to whatever presents itself, the openness of curiosity and allowing.
Usually, our minds push us firmly in the direction of the safety and security of the things that we already know.
Our mind is good at making up stories in this regard. We have created a sense of “self” which is built around the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves. And we protect and hold onto this “self” that we have created, sometimes to our detriment.
The “voices” of our stories push us into staying where we are, in our comfort zones, the comfort zones that massage our egos and sense of self – the identities that we have created for ourselves.
It’s very hard for us to let go of these identities – to open ourselves up, like a blank page, in order to rewrite the stories of who we are.
Our mindfulness practice can help us create these blank pages where we can re-write the stories of our lives and let go of the conditions that created our “selves.”
Our practice can help us free ourselves from these conditions – our thought patterns, habitual reactions, our cultural contexts and histories, all of which can conspire to cause us stress and suffering in our lives.
“Freedom” lies in choosing to respond with wisdom to a situation, rather than to react with the same old patterns that we have always used.
The “voices” of our “self, which Mary Oliver describes here as, “the old tug at our ankles, ” will try to keep it the same way as it always was”.
With awareness, we can create a new voice, based on wisdom, discernment and our own true nature.
The Journey, Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognised as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.