I am at Hayes Conference Centre for the @RetreatsUK retreat. The centre has a beautiful pond where you can watch little fish swimming, being still, moving, suddenly startled…
I’ve recorded one minute of this on video. If you are stuck indoors somewhere it is good for your soul just to be able to step back into nature and your senses even for a minute. Watch the fish and notice their movements and their stillness, hear the sound of the birds and perhaps the indistinct sound of people’s voices occasionally in the background. Notice how the light changes and there are ripples on the water from the breeze. Sometimes we see the fish more clearly, sometimes they are more fuzzy and out of awareness.
If you think of the pond as your mind, a pool of awareness, and the fish as thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations that come into your mind. The fish mirror some of the ways your thoughts have patterns and ways of reacting. Notice how the fish are suddenly startled. That happens in our minds many times a day, but unlike the fish we find it harder to be still again. The stress response sends in fear, anxiety, anger in bigger shoals, more often, creating stress ripples that can stay with us.
Sometimes we see the fish thoughts clearly, sometimes they are out of awareness, sometimes we are the fish caught up by the thoughts, held by the experience and dragged down into a negative automatic reacton.
We live in a society and culture that is triggering that stress response many times a day.
In mindfulness and contemplation instead of being held by the experience we can learn to hold the experience, notice it, intimately feel it, and then let it go – coming back to whatever it is we want to focus our attention on. In this way we learn to calm the mind in an ongoing dynamic pattern.
Consider the lilies…
I was leading a retreat at the very rural, English, and beautiful Penhurst Retreat Centre in East Sussex. In the afternoon space I went for a walk and stopped to look at some cows close to the woodland edge I was walking through.
It seems they were curious (see the video below) and came to look at me! Being curious, open to exploring and approaching new things is an important part of being mindful. Interestingly some educators believe a dangerous spark of inquisitiveness should be cultivated in children’s lives.
Here is a short extract from ‘A Book of Sparks – a study in Christian MindFullness’ where I interview Professor Guy Claxton about this.
‘One of those I have learnt much from in conversation is Professor Guy Claxton, who, as we discussed earlier, is out of the line of educational prophets who ask why we count qualifications but not the cost of acquiring them. He wishes to restore the spark of dangerous inquisitiveness into the person of the child as well as the practice of education. He believes this dangerous inquisitiveness should exist not only in education but also in what he calls ‘proximal spirituality’.
For the professor, education is not just about skills and technical proficiency but also about the cultivation of qualities like inquisitiveness.’ (p.118)
If you are working in a concrete jungle, take a minute out of clock time and just enjoy these cows being inquisitive. Perhaps resolve mindfully to be curious, open and inquisitive to new things for the rest of the day.