Mindful Walking

Modern life is so incredibly hectic. Squeezing in time for ourselves between work, family, and social commitments has become an increasing narrow to invisible line. We are led to believe that being busy is good, where as idleness is bad. We must always be somewhere, doing something, and yet some still complain of being bored!

Last summer, my dad and a good friend passed away, and my mum had a hip replacement. I became overwhelmed with life to the extent that I couldn’t begin to process my losses, I knew I was not coping with life, and realised I had to go back to enjoying simple pleasures, which would allow me space to grieve alone, and help me to de-stress, such as a peaceful walk through the countryside.

I recently read that on average, we spend only three minutes out of every hour fully focused on the present moment. Who wants to go through life feeling trapped in a busy mind 95% of the time? Whilst it’s impossible to flick the brain’s off switch, perhaps we can at least press pause now and again.

You have probably heard and seen the word ‘Mindfulness’, as seems to be the latest buzz and trend, but is similar to many existing and older practises, including that of stoicism. Stoicism is at its root, a philosophy for minimising the negative emotions in our lives and maximising our gratitude and joy.

Marcus Aurelius was a stoic philosopher and Roman emperor said: “Every hour focus your mind attentively…on the performance of the task in hand, with dignity, human sympathy, benevolence and freedom, and leave aside all other thoughts. You will achieve this, if you perform each action as if it were your last…”

Within stoicism, the most important feature to maintain was noted by Epictetus is prosoche, which can be translated as ‘attention’ [Discourses 4.12]: ‘Do you not realize that when once you have let your mind go wandering, it is no longer in your power to recall it, to bring it back to what is right, to self-respect, to moderation?’ 

So what is Mindfulness? Essentially, mindfulness is about using some straightforward techniques to help let go of stress and live in the present moment, free of judgement, and ultimately find more peace and fulfilment. I try find myself enjoying the moment by taking in a scene with every sense such as paying closer attention to the texture, appearance and taste of the food that I eat, to simply closing my eyes and tuning into the sounds around me when around water, just to find a moment of calm. Then bringing my attention back to the deep inhale and slow exhale of my breath when my mind inevitably starts to wander.

Life is not an ‘one size fits all, so what works for me may not work for you. It’s about working out what feels right for you. For me I find it best when I am out walking, whether in a forest or walking down the street to work, concentrating on the world around me and try to let it hold my attention, while I gently push away any unwelcome thoughts. I equally listen to birds singing to sheep bleating, and imagining it was a conversation I was eavesdropping in on. What are they gossiping about? Has the baby lamb lost his mummy…AGAIN!?

Equally, we can write, draw, paint, and/or dance what it is we’re experiencing. I love sitting with a pot of tea writing that moment, looking up images on the internet or out my window and letting my senses paint the scene, to photographing a scene to remember the experiences I felt in that moment later, and even gardening imagining the lives the ladybirds live that I see as I weed around them.

So why not try it for yourself? Put on your shoes or boots and go exploring, there is no right or wrong way to experience the world around us, but by putting away our mobile phones or switching off our televisions to see what lies beyond the black mirror and box can be life changing. Making time for ourselves and wanting to take time out should not be seen as bad things, but good things to maintain good mental health and wellbeing.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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The strangest feeling

Last week I kept getting baby thoughts in my head, a miracle birth much like the one many were to celebrate later that week, which followed a day later by an old friend announcing the birth of her daughter after years of health issues. I was genuinely overjoyed as know how far she has come to get where she is now, achieving many things that to me still seem and are impossible for different reasons. The smile on my face however was not to last as I received a message on Facebook to tell me news of a girl I was at school with twenty years ago, she had overosed and taken her own life. Both people knew each other but one had been an off and on friend for over twenty five years and the other had been one of the bullies that reduced me to tears and suicidal thoughts throughout my teens. I felt numb. As someone that writes and campaigns for an end to the stigma on mental health as well as being naturally empathetic, I wondered what had happened to the girl I had known and had she secret torment that had no voice. It was not a sign of weakness or selfishness to take her own life,  as when the rocking chair at the edge of the cliff breaks, it takes a very strong person to fling on, I have been there and it is not a pretty view or one I ever wish to see again.

I scanned my year photographs from high school that I intended to burn years ago and sent them to the girl that told me the news. I saw people’s faces and names I had not seen in twenty years trickle down my Facebook news feed as comments came in on pictures she and others posted. I could not bring myself to ‘like’ anything as was like being back in the playground with her usual French taunt in my ringing in my ears. Was I being selfish? Feeling that my pain was important as they were my experiences and memories of this girl, but ultimately felt they should be secondary to her friends and family dealing with the aftermath of suicide. It all left me with the strangest of feelings; nothing in life can prepare you for it and know what is right or wrong to feel or say. It comes at a time when I am considering setting up an organisation to support, spread awareness and educate on invisible illness such as depression to fibromylagia and endometriosis as feel along with my writing I need to take it to the next level but uncertain what way just yet. Perhaps her death shows how much pain we carry with us; we may have nobody to share it with or know where to turn. Just remember dear reader someone does care and will listen without judgement, never ever give up and always rember my mantra, believe it again. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

The Glass Vase a.k.a Life

Life, in the words of one of my favourite authors (Neil Gaiman) is “a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal“. With the recent deaths of musicians and actors that we have all admired (maybe even idolised or fancied) for many years; from David Bowie to Lemmy, Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey, we feel we have lost part of ourselves as they wrote the soundtrack to our lives or a distant friend that never judged but was there in the background. As a result I have been thinking about the fragility of life, which to me is best thought of as like a glass vase held in a toddler’s hands, which could shatter in an instant.

No amount of preparation is able to prepare any of us for death only that that it will happen one day; nor can we protect ourselves or those we love from the impact of it. The shards of glass are like the bits of the person now gone; there are things we all may like or admire in a person, but equally there are bits only some people saw like the unique design that made them who they were or with the addition of flowers they became like an amazing support that many took for granted. At first we may try in vain to glue the shards back together before realising we cannot bring back what is gone, and the water on the floor increasing as the tears fall from our eyes like a river meeting the sea. Even when the shards are put in the bin, there is still part of them that will forever be part of us, as had a shared history (good and bad). Some may think getting a new vase will be the same, but it will not have the memories and identity that the one now gone had, and can never truly replace it.

However, it is important not to be scared of the vase shattering but remembering what the vase meaning is to us every day as can mean different things to different people, just as life can be different for us all. It can vary in the colours/shape/form because we all come in different ones, the only thing we share is being human and it is the diversity that is our true artistic self. It does not matter where the vase is, be it on a broken shelf in a run down house or a museum as created by some artisan of note, we all matter to someone. What that is can vary too; a vase may hold flowers that a loved one gave us to mark our birthday or Valentine’s Day, it also may have bought at an art gallery shop after enjoying an exhibition by a favourite artist or the colour fitted with the new décor of our living room. Finally, remember no vase is truly perfectly made, just as we all have flaws or hidden defects, perfection is a lie we tell each other as a way to convince ourselves as much as others. 

© Fi S. J. Brown

A poppy, a teardrop, a memory

On the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour each year we remember those who gave their lives in times of war with a two minute silence. The closest Sunday to this the UK traditionally marks to remember all those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom by wearing a red poppy. These are almost our blood stained teardrops as we think of innocent lives lost in the senselessness of war. However, we should also shed a tear for those that did return home but are forever scarred by the sights and sounds they witnessed.

This year is extra poignant as marks a 100 years since the start of what is known as World War One, which those that fought would be the biggest war of all time but sadly it was not to be. Even as we pause in remembrance, many globally have their every day marked by seeing seas of red and hearing the battle drum get louder and louder, as the songs of war continue to be heard louder than ever as the words of peace and understanding become almost footnotes of history themselves.

Will we ever learn that the rivers are not meant to be red, but to run clear, free from the red, let it flow with love and understanding?

© Fi S. J. Brown

poppy

Book, movie, or song on humanity

Upon reading blogging prompts I came across the following: “The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about.” So I decided to pick one from each medium, as for me life is full of so many multisensory experiences that one medium alone cannot bring out or showcase truly the individuality, creativity, empathy, hope and love that makes us human.

If I was to recommend a book it would be the Epic of Gilgamesh as it for me, despite its age, still shows the nature of humanity in a nutshell. The power of friendship, as someone we let close in life leaves a mark so great upon us that we feel their presence even when they are not physically there; the inevitability of death, no matter what happens during our journey it will end one day but what we do during our lifetime is what is important; wisdom has to come through experience in life, it is not just through hearing about it but feeling and seeing it too; and finally, we may think we can control nature or to change it, but nature will come back again, as it will continue even if we are not.

If I was to choose a song, which as a self-confessed music nut is extremely difficult to pick but one, it would be a song called “Hard Sun” by Gordon Peterson. It is best known for the version by Eddie Vedder from the soundtrack to the movie of the book “Into the wild”, a book worthy of my choice of book or movie on it’s own. For me this song says much about our relationship with nature, which is written like a relationship between a man and a woman (who in this case is Mother Nature), and how we are letting this relationship get estranged as we feel we no longer need her in our lives. What would this world be like if we had not rivers, forests or mountains? The reality is we need her in our lives, as the song says it makes him a better person with her there, and acts to remind us there are some relationships in life worth holding on to.

If I was to recommend a movie I would find it difficult to choose one as rarely go to the cinema, however I have chosen “12 Monkeys” with Bruce Willis. The main character finds himself in a world he does not know, he is confronted by the confusion that is the world we live in, yet the majority of us accept it as normal. The movie makes us question who are the truly mad ones: him, for seeing the world differently to us; or us, as we accept what goes on in the world, for the most part without question. It also features the inevitability of life, that even if we know something is going to go wrong, there is often little or indeed nothing we can really do to stop what is going to happen in the end, as we are merely players acting on life’s stage.

© Fi S. J. Brown