Just recently I have been hearing talk about something referred to as ‘mindfulness’. It seems to be in vogue. My wife mentioned it a week or two ago and a trainer on a work course that I am attending also brought it to everyone’s attention. I found this both rewarding and a little baffling. The reward comes from realising a notion that I have is being widely and, to me at least, suddenly accepted. I find it baffling because I thought that it was self-evident.
A few years ago, on another course, another trainer set up a big introduction for what they termed ‘a revolutionary new idea’. They talked about who there are always opposites, good-bad, high-low, hot-cold, peace-war; that sort of thing. The point of this revolutionary exercise was to make us realise that a characteristic in one person can be interpreted in two different ways. I did not like this person’s bombastic style and, perhaps a little irritated, I challenged the notion that what they were presenting was either new or revolutionary. It was just Aristotle’s dichotomies dressed up. This did not go down well with the trainer and we had something of a public falling out, but that is another story. The point is; I began to feel uneasy that this situation might be repeating itself.
Fortunately the trainer introducing the concept of ‘mindfulness’ lacked a bombastic style and made no unsubstantiated claims for it being either new or revolutionary. This put me at ease somewhat because for as long as I can remember I have been living a ‘mindful’ life.
My own particular brand of mindfulness does not come from studying Philosophy, in fact it
predates that. I believe that it comes from my situation of being disabled. When I started school I wore short trousers, which was the norm back then and not some weird predilection of my own. Actually, I was desperate for the day when I would graduate to the year where boys were allowed to wear long trousers. This was because I wore a calliper, or leg iron, or ‘ironmongery’ as my doctor referred to it, on my left leg. Such an orthopaedic device was blatantly obvious when worn with short trousers.
My disability presented itself at a very young age and despite my best intentions it stopped me from doing ‘normal’ school activities. Over the years my mobility became more and more impaired and I, as a result, became more of a spectator than a participant.
I do not remember ever feeling resentful about this happening to me. I was born disabled and my state of being was all I had ever known. If I had had a period of normality that had been snatched away by some progressive disease or serious accident then maybe I might have grown to hate my situation, I really do not know. As I lost my mobility through slow degrees I became more and more an observer of life.
Discussions with my wife, often held over a bottle of wine, have revealed that I am a very observant person. I see things that others never seem to. Sunrises and sunsets are obvious examples, but I expect lots of people see them. I see other things, some of which are beautiful, like wild animals, some of which are not, like a crime being committed or someone feeling lonely. As my life progressed I became acutely aware of the existence of the moment, this one right here, right now, and understood that in reality it is all we have.
The past is an imperfect memory, the future an aspiration at best. The only thing that actually exists is the moment.
I became aware of this truth at a relatively young age and, I think, it helped me cope with situations that others often express disbelief at, my numerous bouts of major surgery or my chronic pain for example. I use those because people often tell me that they are some of the things that they fear the most; suffering pain or going under the knife for a prolonged period of time. Been there, died on the table, got resuscitated, done that.
It seems to me that the reason why I loved events like Christmas so much is because I was living so much in the moment, attune to the festival season, valuing being with my family during a period of holiday, even when young.
Of course true mindfulness is not just about raucous events like Christmas; indeed, I think that it is more about the little events, things like just sitting still and being silent. Watching, listening, and developing an awareness for what is around you. Hearing your heart beat. Following a cloud as it drifts across the sky. Living in the moment that is all that we have.
I have done that for a long time as well.
To be honest being mindful has helped me deal with the trials and tribulations of being disabled as well. They do not, however, go hand in hand together. Mindfulness is not some esoteric wisdom given to the disabled as some form of compensation. Perhaps you need a certain kind of mind to form this kind of perception independently of any teacher? I may well have developed my own brand of mindfulness even if I had not been born with some physical disabilities? They are interesting but largely pointless questions.
For me mindfulness is seeing what is important in life and letting go of all the rest. That other people seem to have discovered, or maybe that should be ‘rediscovered’ because like Aristotle’s dichotomies this idea has been around for a long time, is a good thing. Anything that helps people deal with the pressures of life, to attain a healthier outlook, has to be a good thing. Be mindful, be happy.