“Peace is always beautiful” – Walt Whitman
The past few weeks have been crazy. It’s the time of year when I’m rushed off my feet with work and so is everyone else around me. It’s stress central.
Last week I witnessed two colleagues (on separate occasions) go to the coffee bar at work, order their coffee, pay the barrista, and leave without picking up their drink. It wasn’t that they were fed up with waiting and left in protest (bless his cotton socks, the coffee guy is pretty swift). They simply forgot. I could see it in their stressed out faces – in their heads they had a “to do” list. On it was “get coffee”. They’d ticked that task off the list as soon as the money was handed over and that was that. Job done. Coffee purchased. Next!
It made me think (albeit briefly, given that most of my brain was occupied with my very busy day) how the amount of stress and pressure we live with disconnects us from our selves. We are perpetually carried along on an increasing tide of tasks, like a merri-go-round that never stops. Our working lives are more and more pressured. We live in an increasingly connected world, where instant messaging and continuous Internet connections mean that we are permanently contactable, hooked to a screen of some sort, engaged in heaven knows how many micro-conversations at once, every waking hour of the day, to the point that we are becoming completely disconnected from our own spirit (and thirst, apparently).
Let’s take my life by way of example: I do not have a high-powered job with huge responsibility. I do not respond to emergency situations, nor do I hold others’ lives in my hands. Yet, like many people on the planet these days I can be contacted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I frequently receive work-related e-mails in the middle of the night, and I wonder what’s worse: that people send them, or that I actually read them? And what’s the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning? Grab my phone, check my messages and see who has commented on my Facebook.
Why do I feel at such a loss if I forget to put my mobile phone in my handbag and therefore can’t check my e-mails, Facebook, or Instagram, when I’m sitting on the bus, on a train or in the park, or walking down the street? It’s ridiculous. Hopefully I’m not as far gone as the man who sat across the aisle from me on the plane the other week. It’s hard to describe the look of horror on his face when his enquiry as to whether there was wifi onboard was met with a negative response. I have to admit I wondered what dreadful ill would befall him if he didn’t have Internet access for a full 90 minutes.
One of the things on my list of 50 things I want to do in life is “learn to meditate”. A few weeks ago I was in the happy situation of being at home without any work-related travel for a grand total of six weeks. It just so happened that during five of them, a meditation course for beginners was being held at the local Kadampa Buddhist Centre.
The course was about being a good friend to yourself and others. We began by considering “what constitutes a good friend?” Someone who’s happy, positive, considerate, attentive, reliable, trustworthy…. the list of positive attributes went on. Next question – how can we be those things to ourselves? The answer, of course, being that the peace, grounding and loving kindness we cultivate through meditation will lead us to this state naturally.
Sounds simple enough.
We went on to consider how our busy, interconnected lives have led us away from “being” and towards “doing”. We are all constantly on the go, in front of a screen, being overwhelmed with all manner of stressful stuff: from unrealistic images of lifestyle, body and beauty, to unrealistic demands of work and study. We are already designed to be our own harshest critic, but now – with increasing images of “perfection” being rammed down our throats – our criticisms are becoming ever harsher. And not only that, but we set ourselves up to be judged by others with metronomic regularity: every social media post is an invitation for people we know – and in some cases those we don’t – to pass judgement on our day to day. How many times do we return to those posts, hoping to find a few more “likes”?
So how do we give ourselves a break, when we’re sucked into this whirlwind of activity and judgement? How do we leave the vicious cycle of seeking external validation but finding yet more reasons to think we’re not good enough? When are we going to learn to stop, wake up and smell the coffee? Or, better still, remember to collect it, drink it and savour it?! Where the hell is the “pause” button?
The answer: “you just do”. You just stop. Stop judging. Give yourself a break. Sit still and breathe and find a moment of calm among the madness. Once you’ve found it, you know it exists. And you can cultivate it. Nurture it. Grow it into a greater sense of being. A greater awareness of self.
Wonderful news. But easier said than done.
Maybe it was because we’d not only discussed these things in detail but also because we’d experienced moments of calm during the meditation course that the stress and manic rhythm of the past few weeks at work has felt even worse than usual and seemed, in many ways, more ludicrous than ever.
Things have calmed down a little now. So perhaps it’s a good time to have a go at pressing pause. To do this, I’m ready to do a little experiment. I suspect it’s going to be difficult…
Here are the rules:
1) No Facebook or Instagram for two weeks.
2) No e-mail before 8 am or after 8pm for two weeks.
3) Do 10 minutes’ meditation every morning on waking up, for two weeks.
I’ll be back in two weeks to let you know how I got on. If you’d like to join me, even if just for a couple of days, it would be amazing. I’d love to hear about your experiences!