I took this photo, whilst strolling through the garden of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house, just prior to the final session of my Breathworks ‘Mindfulness for Health’ course, through Greater Manchester’s Living with Fatigue and Pain service. It was an apt reminder to pause; pay attention to the senses and notice the small, yet beautiful details of life, that we often overlook.
Life isn’t all roses; each of us suffers, we all encounter difficulty. We all have pain. Mindfulness does not eradicate these things. How could it? These qualities all contribute to the wide spectrum of human emotion. Frailty and vulnerability all part of the human condition. That wonderfully poignant story reimagined and retold through each of us. The beauty; the boring; the bleak.
So what does mindfulness give us? Well, let me ask you for a moment to pause. To notice your body. Your breath. The sensations rippling through you. To release (even if just a little). To realise that you are at home. That this body is your home. This life is your home. Can you get comfortable here because you belong here.
Each moment is transient yet completely yours, if you pay attention. You do not need to be anywhere else or be anyone else. This moment is all there is. Can you embrace it and let it pass with kindness and compassion, even when the moment is tough? Particularly when the moment is tough. Can you gently move towards facing what you once thought unbearable?
Impermanence is bittersweet. I won’t ask you to accept this but can you breathe with it. Can you allow this to just be? No further thought is required. The ‘problem’ isn’t asking to be solved. If this feels overwhelming you can move your attention away, again with kindness. Knowing that you can invite it back as a welcome guest whenever you like.
And when you next see a rose (or any flower, for that matter) can I ask you to take a moment to look at it. Examine it. The colour. The smell. Maybe the texture. How the light strikes it. To pay attention to how you are breathing and any physical sensations in your body. How are they responding to this stimulus? How does it feel to be around nature? Is anything pleasant going on? Can you get curious, enjoy that and then also let it pass with kindness?
And if you are not a fan of roses; how about using this technique of attention the next time you see your favourite person smile, taste something delicious or feel pride? How does it feel in your body? How is your breath? Can you focus on this and this alone, just for that moment and be kind but aware, when your attention wanders?
So, coming back to that question; what does mindfulness give us? For me, it is about not adding more layers to my suffering. To being accepting, kind and present. To feeling alive, whole and at home in my body and experience. Really feeling my emotions, even the not so nice ones I do not want to acknowledge and spent over three decades desperately trying to avoid. It is about inhaling the colour of life. The good, the bad and maybe releasing these labels a little.
Overall, I am happier, calmer and less overwhelmed when things get hard. I’m in my body. I’m in the world.
These are however words and mindfulness does not much care for words. It is about experience. It is individual. I cannot tell you how you will feel or what you will gain but I am confident that you will feel and you will gain. Even in sharing my experience I have picked words to do this. These may or may not stir resonance for you and can never fully replicate a sensation, feeling or experience. They are but a translation. Similar or completely different ones may be used when you summarise your own experience. You may also not feel the need to put this into words or share with others. Mindfulness is such a personal thing. It is yours and it is for you.
So, here is my invitation to try mindfulness. I offer techniques and tools. Try to demystify; facilitate and hold space. I guide you. Offer a gradual process, that aims to make this practice sustainable and nourishing. We work up to the ‘hard stuff’, softening the edges with kindness and compassion for ourselves, so when we do get there, they are less ‘hard’, more fluid and a little easier to become ‘unstuck’. And this won’t all be hard; sessions have a big focus on relaxation; connection with others and fun.
I hasten to say I teach you mindfulness because really you are your own teacher. It may take a while before you fully get what this means. Your viscera will guide you. Silence will show you what needs to be examined and kindness and compassion will help sustain you when this feels tough or boring. Savouring joy and love will fill you up, perhaps swelling your chest, when you tune into these experiences. And maybe some permeation of ‘wellness’ will come to you through this practice.