…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
I’ve written quite often about Mindfulness. It was back in the first half of 2013 that I read a book with that very title (by Martha Langley), but before that I had read others – I even found the sense of Mindfulness in the Charles Dickens character Esther Summerson, in the novel Bleak House, and a year before that in a book about being mindful of the words we use in Every Word Has Power by Yvonne Oswald.
Often when I’ve written about this topic it has been about things like: thinking about how much electricity I use, or how much plastic stuff I buy and throw away. Therefore, generally the mindfulness has been focussed on how I, and we, treat this planet. In a sense this is also about thinking of the others we share this planet with, both fellow humans and other creatures too, both present and future generations.
Mindfulness for me is about taking a step back, slowing down somewhat, taking time, and observing – it’s a wakefulness I think. But it’s not only about thinking, it’s about action, mindful action.
Sometimes though, our Mindfulness is more specifically focussed on how we treat others, the individuals we share our lives with, from our closest family and friends to complete strangers on our journey through life – it’s about being considerate. It can also be about their Mindfulness regarding us. Indeed, sometimes I feel like my mindfulness towards others, or an individual, is clouded by a desire or expectation to be treated a certain way: mindfully, thoughtfully, considerately, lovingly. It can be a strong internal struggle in some situations to just be mindful, rather than focus on being treated mindfully. However, I feel that as I grow, in such cases as these, I feel less and less hurt by how I feel I’m treated, and just more concerned or at least observant (and mindful) that the individual doesn’t see for themselves this behaviour of mindfulness. The challenge is then to lead (gently) by example, but not overly so (because they may still fail to see).
As for my own lessons in mindfulness I’m aware that often I’ve passed through a situation, emerged on the other side, and thought “I could have opened my eyes more,” or something to that effect. What I mean by this is I feel like I seem to pass through a situation and then feel like I could have behaved differently, or better, or I see some improvement I can incorporate into a future situation of similar bent. I could have been more mindful, or I wasn’t mindful at all.
This is because no matter how well we organise ourselves, we will always encounter other people (and random things) that will mix things up a bit – it keeps life exciting, but I don’t want to let slip the opportunity to be mindful – I want to see, I want to observe, and I want to observer, and then I want to put something positive back, whether it be a smiling glance, or a thoughtful comment, some thanks and expression of appreciation.
This week it was my birthday and the day was a good exercise in and example of mindfulness throughout. I had it planned that my family would all come round my house for tea (evening meal). It was only recently that my house finally gained a sofa and a suitable dining room table, so this was kind of new territory for me, and my house. I’m not used to having so many people round my house, it’s usually only me here, or occasionally I have a brother that pops round to drink my tea – it was only last year at this time that we all gathered round at this time for a sort of house-warming-come-birthday-party, and we all sat round on random chairs in my living room for a while in front of my wood burning stove: I can’t really remember much more of it than this (and no there wasn’t any alcohol consumption as an explanation for this). A week or so ago my sofa got a dry run when I invited my visiting aunty and uncle round for coffee, but they didn’t even want proper coffee, so I was a little lost in my efforts to be hospitable!
Anyway, back to this week’s day.
I opened some birthday cards (an example of their mindfulness towards me) and then the day began like any other week day could have, and that was with some work. I visited some clients and the first one is a good example of mindfulness since he made me some food! This was the second time this has happened with this particular client (although there have been others over the years) – I work on his computer and time rolls on to the point in the day at which he elects to make himself something to eat, and because I am in his house he does the polite thing and offers me something too. I have grown to, more often than not, accept such acts of generosity graciously rather than awkwardly – it’s not uncommon to be offered a cup of tea or coffee of course, but some people really do go out of their way to be very accommodating – something that I suppose has taken a little getting used to; my initial reaction in the past would have been to politely decline rather than feel like I’m taking advantage of someone’s generosity or misreading a polite offer that isn’t really meant to be accepted, or just feeling awkward eating their food. This client makes a place for me at his dinner table and fetches in condiments and cakes too – I bow gracefully like a quiet old Japanese man (I do this too, I realise, when I am being paid!), and then jokingly remark that he is spoiling me, he makes me a cup of tea and hands me a newspaper. We have a polite little chat about various things of mutual interest; of people we both know, and how his adopted cat shows off for us in the tree outside the window. I’m mindful of the time as it ticks on but I am too polite at this point to rush away amidst his thoughtfulness, even though I am actually already late for my next client.
After I finished my work for the day I ventured off to the shops where many other examples of mindfulness are to be found and where I have the opportunity to practice my efforts of mindfulness with strangers. I go with an idea about what I need to get, and the process I need to go through before returning home. It’s a routine ordeal that I’ve been undertaking for over a year. However, I might encounter a familiar face and find myself stopping to chat, or something might occur at the checkout that is out of the ordinary – the cashier might make some remark, or an issue might arise with a particular item or the bill. Such things catch me off guard and I find myself in ‘random territory’ and it would seem that my subconscious turns my internal dial to “Find the nearest exit.” Ok, so that sounds a little extreme – I really don’t bolt quite like that, but I have often felt like I emerged feeling like I did indeed hurry my way through that situation, speaking the first things that come into my mind (perhaps in a blunt manner and without thinking to smile) and then getting away as swiftly as possible to continue on with my day as I had planned it. I’m ever mindful of these things after the event, I’m just working to be mindful, and slow down during it.
Back at home I did a last-minute rush round to get things ship-shape and dressed myself in my party clothes. I then had to collect my brother (not the tea-
stealing-drinking one) and his partner (in my car, not on my bike for this exercise), since they don’t drive, and when we came inside I did the whole offering of drinks thing and made them coffee – again no proper coffee, but that was me being mindful of my brother because I didn’t want him bouncing off the walls. Then my mum arrived with the food and I helped her and made her a cup of tea. Then my sister and my nieces arrived and I offered them drinks – I had even made lemonade. We’re actually used to gathering round my sister’s house and there we would always help ourselves to teas and coffees – mainly since she drinks neither.
Then time rolled on at my house and my other brother and his partner rolled up half and hour late by which time I had been distracted by nieces and the duty of putting logs in my stove – I had taken the front door off its catch ready from my brother’s entry and when they knocked on the door I called out that it was open, and then welcomed them in. But by this time it was either that my brain was overloaded with all the people and goings on already present or I’m just used to this particular brother being here and drinking my tea (which he often now takes upon making himself because he drinks it quicker than I offer it) that I didn’t offer them drinks – but I feel like I let my mindfulness laps here.
As the evening rolled on though I helped my mum with the food, and then joined the others in my dining room. In hindsight there were some oddities, which might seem like criticisms towards others for how mindful they were of me on my birthday, but they weren’t – I mentioned them as observations, and ones to the fact that some other people really do object to not being waited on hand-and-foot on such a day. The oddities were these: that it was left to myself and my mum to be handing the food out to everyone else, and we were therefore the last to be seated, and I ended up sat next to my brother’s partners of whom I know less well than anyone else in the room (I only met one once before) rather than sitting next to ‘my own family’ – again, I didn’t overly notice this at the time, it was just something I pondered after and I’m sure that in formal dining etiquette there is some stipulation regarding these matters; I’m pretty sure my mum should have been sat nearest to me, and then perhaps my oldest sibling.
Next year I will be mindful of the issues of seating beforehand… and plan place settings with name cards 😉
In hindsight I should have offered more drinks with the meal too, and at least after the meal. If we were all to be wine drinkers and there was no driving to be done then this could have rectified the matter – or indeed if everyone had been equally thrilled at the point that I had made lemonade for them, as I had been, then we could have all partaken in a glass of that. But these are the random things that arise to test ones mindfulness I suppose!