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

The Room

When my depression was at its worst it felt like I lived in a room with no light, be they electric or natural. I could not escape the room as I was a prisoner, but equally I held the key if I only knew where to find it. I knew there was something large covered in cardboard, that I would only notice when I finally discovered there were curtains. My knowledge of the world outside the room was from stories others had told in whispers to songs and books. Despite the darkness I had always found ways to hear and see them. Was I frightened to remove the cardboard? Yes and No. Initially I would say no as did not know any different, and yes when I found the cardboard I was frightened as uncertain of what lay behind them. It was almost better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

One day while daydreaming and pondering curiosity challenged me to try remove part of the cardboard to see what would happen. I accepted, despite my initial fear. It led to a glint of light shining into my darkened world; creating something new that I never realised I needed so badly. Gradually I decided that I would remove the cardboard to see what lay beyond as the light I was seeing from the small gap intrigued me. Bit by bit I slowly removed it until I saw what appeared to be a large window that looked on to a large garden and rolling hills. The view made me cry as felt more a prisoner than I had ever done before, perhaps the curtains and cardboard had sheltered me from the truth. Equally I saw the room properly for the first time. It held – a music player with vinyl records, bookshelves of fiction and non-fictions, a chair, table and bed with cushions. Simple in some ways but I guess held all I really needed for living, if you could really call it that.

As days past I found myself looking more and more to the view beyond. I had not looked to try find a key to the door, which took me a while to notice even after the cardboard had come down. How was I to make the journey to the view I kept wondering, for the only openings appeared to be firmly sealed shut. Was I destined to forever dream of this world that I could see and not use any other sense? I looked at my collection of items and thought…what would happen if I smashed one of the windows, could I not climb out and escape to the world beyond? I mean, I already had scars (physical and mental) what would a few more make in the name of freedom?! I took an old jumper and tied it round my left arm hitting one pane of the window, partly in hope and partly in wishful thinking I could finally be free.

The air that came through the crack was hypnotic filling the room. Gassing me not in toxins but fresh air’s taste and tickle; it even allowed me to hear the sounds from outside like birds in song. The window then became an itch that I had to scratch, knowing I had to make a larger hole and remove myself from my prison. It was only as I had removed the largest pane that I saw a mirror in the room and saw my reflection. In it I saw the face of someone I did not know but knew she deserved my love and respect like any other. As the tears fell on my cheeks I saw what lay round my neck, the key as a necklace. I shook my head, it had been with me the whole time but it took going through all to realise it. Much like life, what we need is something inside ourselves and do not realise that until the last moment.

This left me with a predicament, did I take the door or the window? As I knew not of where the room was and what lay beyond it, but instincts said best to help myself first before trying to help others (if there were any in this place). I took my step outside the window to a ledge and took a deep breath…I was free but where to now? I saw a drainpipe so rather than jump into the garden of the unknown I would slide down slowly into it. The garden at first glance was even more beautiful than I could have imagined from the window, was this like the biblical Eden? I looked back up at my window I saw all the others were covered in cardboard too, hundreds of them. In that moment I knew my life did not belong there and to head for the hills for the garden may hold hidden dangers if I stayed too long…or even worse returned to my cell.

It was in the foot of the hills I found a cottage and where I now live; listening at dawn to the birds that bring me news of the world to enjoying the other gifts that the natural world brings. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings they bring with hope. Day by day I walk further and further up the hills, knowing one day I will reach the peak and climb over the other side. I will see how far I have come from my darkened room and know I am finally free. For now I look back with the shadow of the room, house and garden within a few miles, so still hanging over me. I am determined to reach that peak and the follow my path in the light, far away from the darkness the held me prisoner for so long, accompanied by bird song that keeps me going through day and night.

© Fi S. J. Brown

Earthly Ponders (for Earth Day 2014)

These days it feels like humanity lives in an artificial world of our own creation. We take comfort in a world of concrete and clay, rather than with rivers and mountains. We have become drunk with our own superiority, toasting our successes with egos the size of forests, rather than content to be a bird in the tree. 

Equally, we are living, or should that be sleepwalking, in a virtual world to escape the realities and responsibilities of the world we can touch and feel. We are hooked on technology and gadgets like drugs to pacify and sedate us from seeing the true impact our greed and actions are having on the real world around us.

Furthermore, we want more and more, put a price on everything from hummus to hippos, hills and humans; will we ever learn to say stop before it is to late? Sadly there is no way to go back, as we are already stationary in our progress. We fill our lives material and disposable goods, losing originality, creativity and love.

So, what can we do. Focus on what matters, the people we love do not need to be showered with gifts for our love comes from our daily thoughts and actions. Stop the hate of others who are different to ourselves, respect and empathise. Finally, extend that to all other living species seen and unseen on Planet Earth.

© Fi S. J. Brown

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What is this world we created?

Just take a look at the world around us,
Take a look at the forests, rivers and mountains.
Sights and sounds for all our senses,
That we now find ourselves blind and deaf to.
Giving us all that we could ever need,
But we continue to take and take till all runs dry.

What is this world we created?
Thinking we can replace bird song with car horns.
Why do we think we own it?
Selling it’s contents one by one for a pound or two.
Have we made ourselves royalty?
Creating towering palaces of concrete and clay.

You know every day a species is lost,
We would rather buy a phone than protect a Saola.
Animals for food and entertainment,
Their homes destroyed to make way for another mall.
Somewhere Mother Nature cries,
For each day we break another piece of her heart.

What is this world we created?
Thinking we can replace bird song with car horns.
Why did we never learn to stop?
Perhaps we never saw the green light to start with.
What must our ancestors think?
To their legacy that we now pass on to our children.

© Fi S. J. Brown