‘My duffy lived a short distance from his body.’
I find myself rushing. When there is no need to rush. I wash up, cook and eat driven by a mild urgency, to get somewhere else. This was an unconscious habit. I find myself behaving in these ways. However, through an ongoing practice of mindful self- awareness, this has become conscious. This means I can do something about it. When I notice that I am hurrying, I slow down and immerse myself, through my senses, in what I am doing. The impact on my nervous system is palpable. The implications for my general and long-term health and well-being important.
But why am I rushing? Where am I rushing to? Aren’t we all heading in one direction? The great unknown. Death.
There are times when I do need to rush. When I am running late for a meeting, or for a work deadline. What I am interested in here, is the unnecessary rushing. Rushing as a chronic erosion of my quality of life.
Danny Penman and Mark Williams wrote a book entitled ‘Mindfulness In A Frantic World.’ I presume, the frantic world alluded to, is the western world, particularly in cities. Last year, I was in Northern Thailand for ten weeks, and it was anything but frantic. Mud covered water buffalo plodding languidly along the main road. The dramatic highlight of the day, chickens squawking and fluttering, because a dog is nearby. In fact the quality of spaciousness, and absence of urgency, I experienced was a little unsettling for this London born, city girl.
The experience of spaciousness, of nothing to do, bought me into contact with my franticness. The Oxford dictionary defines frantic as – distraught with fear, anxiety, or other emotion. I wonder if there are gradations of frantic. Frantic as an acute experience, and as a low level hum, below the threshold of awareness. Essayist and naturist, Henry David Thoreau described humankind as ‘living lives of quiet desperation.’ When I look within, and around, me, I see the truth in these words.
Everyone is busy. There are opportunities for slowing down; waiting for trains, sitting on buses, eating with family or friends, walking along the street. Instead I see heads bowed. Bowed, not in communion with the great mystery of life, but rather in worship of mobile phones. Rather than ‘time saving’ devices, these small, and often very useful machines, parasitically leech time from us. Erode our quality of life. And…we let them.
What is quality of life? When we speak of quality clothes, wine, cheese or food, we refer to products that have been prepared with care and attention. Nuanced goods, with subtle textures and tastes. So it is with life. Life offers great depth and richness, but only when we pay attention. In order to experience quality of life, we need to actively choose, reclaim, and create, the space to taste, feel, touch, smell, hear. As Zen master Dogen says, to ‘be intimate with all things. To experience our aliveness.
‘…do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough for the pleasure that fills you,
as the sun reaches out and warms you, as you stand there
empty handed, or have you too turned from this world-
or have you too gone crazy for power, for things?’
‘Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity’ says David Whyte, inviting us to pay attention to the everyday. When we do this, we slow down. We savour. Life is not a product to be achieved, but a process to be lived. Why do we want to rush this? This, oh so finite and very fragile life.
images courtesy of Michael Luenig