Have you seen the Lego Movie? It’s on in the background as I write this on a lazy Sunday morning while my beautiful daughter Beatrice watches it intently. The message is clear in the opening scenes: follow the instructions, follow the rules of society and report anything that doesn’t appear to ‘fit’ to the relevant authorities immediately. Shortly afterwards the lead character, Emit, finds himself in a situation without his instructions, at which point his world as he knew it crumbles around his ears. Sound familiar? I won’t spoil the end for those who haven’t seen it yet, but Emit is forced to break his mould.
A particular quote from one of our lead character Emit’s rule-following and questionable ‘friends’ resonated with me: “All he does is say yes to what everybody else is doing…” Isn’t that what we do? Society dictates and along we trot, faithfully following the instructions as provided to us by the latest media moguls spouting marketing campaigns and government initiatives.
We work damn hard at fitting in.
A beloved old friend recently sent me a message in response to my blog, part of which read as follows: “Inner happiness is bizarrely overlooked in society and I don’t really know why. I guess it’s capitalism and advertising constantly telling people that they need something to be happier”. (Thank you, Tania Jackson, I couldn’t agree more!) And does that thing succeed in making us happier? Of course not, but we have fun in the meantime, don’t we? So what’s missing? Maybe it is all simply down to not having enough time to do everything!
One thing is certain, no matter how hard we try, how much we study, how much money we acquire from our varying levels of perfect or imperfect jobs, time is one thing that we can’t produce or buy more of. We can’t acquire another second of it, no matter what we do.
So we can’t have more seconds, but can we use the ones we have more effectively, be more aware of each of them, make them actually last longer? By being more aware of now, by being more aware of each and every moment that we encounter, can it have the effect of enriching life and preventing it from speeding past us?
I’ll hazard a guess from my recent experiences that it can.
I vividly remember the school holidays when I was young, they are one part of my childhood that sticks to my failing adult memory like ‘Quagga’ mussels stick to ship’s hulls (ref. BBC news this week). They were only around 6 weeks long, in the UK state system at least, and they seemed to last forever! Literally, those six weeks were so hotly anticipated and exciting, yet they lasted, lasted and lasted some more. Nowadays if something we have eagerly awaited comes along time really flies, hence the overused phrase.
So what changed? Why did my school holidays last for an apparent eternity yet now times sprints before my eyes and disappears, year after year, whizzing away and spiriting us ever more quickly towards the only certainty in every single life, which is its inevitable demise?
I think I know what changed. I grew up. I became more conscious (& conscientious), needed to do more, to achieve more, to buy more, to watch more, to read more, to cook more, to socialise more, to travel more, to relax more, to sleep more, (to blog more!), to exercise more, to watch that really cool new show that starts on Sunday…phew! My mind became truly overloaded with what I need to do, should do and with worries over what I’ll never have time to do. Our overcrowded, controlling minds are spinning into a frenzy with each and every second of each and every day, as our time on this incredible planet slips, unchecked, through our busy fingers.
We ‘grew up’, allowed our minds to take over and drive us forward, forgetting completely in the process how to live here now, be here now. We’re less conscious, less aware of each moment, of each second. It’s actually written on a post-it note I have on my office wall: ‘Be Here Now’. I stuck it up there on 1st January this year as one of three new years resolutions I set myself:
- Be here now
- Practice yoga 6 days per week
- Spend more time outside
I have by no means fully ‘ticked’ each box this year, in fact I feel that all three of my so-called new years resolutions are going to be a work-in-progress for the whole of my life. They’re big asks, tall orders, but I have managed to improve on each one of the three to some extent. The hardest taskmaster though is invariably ‘be here now’, live each second, be present, live for the moment. However we dress it up, it comes back to the same thing – how can I make 6 weeks last as long as it did during my school holidays, even if I am ‘having fun’?
It takes a relaxing of the effort, not applying greater effort. Of simply ‘being’, of not thinking about what needs to be done, and of consciously not being so conscientious. Children don’t have ‘to do’ lists, they don’t have plans of action, they don’t have to pay the electricity bill or make it to the pub by 8pm to meet some old friends for a drink. Kids just have to play one single game or have one single adventure, this one, right now, with absolute intent, absolute attention and complete concentration for the duration of this particular activity. Then suddenly they’re hungry so their absolute attention is given to that, followed by reading a story with Mummy which once again calls for one’s childhood concentration to be undivided, and bath time with Daddy where absolute attention is provided to the monumental task of…wait for it…pouring water in and out of a cup.
Children are blessed upon birth with the gift of absolute attention and true consciousness. We ‘grew up’ and our gift become lost amongst our lists of achievements and things we have to do, belongings and the need to earn enough money to buy more of them, not to mention the money required to buy experiences (and what was wrong with the free ones anyway?) There’s a book that a dear friend gave to me in Ulsan, Korea some years ago called ‘The Present’ (Spencer Johnson). It described how living in ‘the present’, now, this moment, this second, is a gift; it is ‘the present’ we were given when we received life. This ‘present’ of dual meaning is what we forgot.
So no, we cannot buy, find or achieve more seconds in our life, but perhaps we can have fun and live our lives without time necessarily flying. Perhaps we can all make a concerted effort to truly live in each and every second. Well no, lets be realistic, this is a whole new way of doing things and being present in every second of every day may well be argued an impossible task. But since 1st January this year I have made sure that for some part of every single day, often when I’m with Beatrice, I try to emulate her three-year-old ‘pro-attentive’ self and really truly live in each second, breathe each second, absorb each second and ‘be here now’.
My yoga and meditation help of course, providing their own challenges, but teaching me to savour each and every breath, to allow the mind to melt away into the background and to be more present within the inner part of me that has never changed since I was born, since I was a child. We all know that part, the unchanged part, whatever your culture or religion decides to label that place it’s basically the same inside each and every one of us. Being a little more in touch with that inner you, inner me, allowing it to come to the forefront of your presence (present!), and for the mind to sink into the background for just a moment longer…
The old yogis believed that we are born with a finite number of breaths, and that by elongating the breath through training and by being completely present in every second of every breath, we would in effect be able to elongate our life. Whether or not we choose to believe that we are indeed born with a certain number of breaths, after which we face the inevitable, the theory resonates with me. Is there a limit to how present we can be? (Enlightened beings have claimed to be so present in this moment that it’s experienced as eternity). Who knows, but we can certainly breathe longer, breathe deeper and be present with every second of the gift that is life.
I won’t give a Lego movie spoiler, but towards the end we hear a father berating his young creative son, “This is all Dad’s stuff…its all been carefully thought out…this isn’t a toy…I can make things the way they’re supposed to be”. The young boy is crestfallen because until his Dad arrived he was living in his moment, enjoying every second (probably on his school holidays!) and he’d been there for days happily creating and metamorphosing; each of his Lego-seconds was lived with absolute attention. His 6-week school holiday was lasting for an age until Dad came in and applied logic to it all, time-spinning thought and mind took over.
Of course in true ‘Hollywood style’ the father realises the error of his ways… but do we, really?
Let’s all embrace our inner child. Let’s all live for every second, make every second count, and in doing so live a more present life that allows true change to become possible, allows us to see opportunities when they present themselves, allows us to not blindly follow where society leads.
Everything is awesome & we’re missing it. Have fun, breathe longer & breathe deeply, but don’t let time fly!
My first blog created more transformation and metamorphosis than I could have anticipated.
Purely in laying that blog ‘out there’, wherever ‘there’ is, I took a piece of me and tore it wide open, laying it bare, laying it out in the public domain and in doing so I became more honest and true to myself, as well as to other people. The results of that have been palpable.
I’ve several writer friends who write many & varied literary pieces from prose to blogs, songs to poetry. At some time or other I’ve heard all of them tell about the personal nature of the pieces they write, but nobody had yet told me about the results of that on a direct personal level, once your outpourings are in the public domain. So I’m going to tell you what those results have been, so far at least, for me.
As I told you already, I had to conquer a considerable amount of fear which is why it took me so long to ‘push the button’ on my blog in the first place. So, in addressing ‘fear’, I think I must have experienced fear all my life, mainly of what people would think or say. How basic is that? How simple? It starts at school for many of us, doesn’t it? Maybe it starts before that, I’m not sure, but I first remember it at school. The fear of ‘fitting out’, needing to ‘fit-in’, the absolute, abject terrifying fear that the ‘popular kid’ might cut you down with one witty comment. It would destroy you for that moment; it could ruin your day and even your week depending on which keen observers were present to witness the exchange.
The fear that you’d be relegated to the group of kids that weren’t the cool ones; where does that come from? The need to be the same! The fact that I was devastated aged 11 that my Mum wouldn’t buy me the particular shoes or the ‘slouchy socks’ that everyone else was wearing at school. And my need as a teenager to work each weekend simply to go to the latest cool high street shop and spend my earnings in their entirety to purchase the prescribed fashion uniform for that season. Who is writing these prescriptions anyway?
Whereas now I’m very comfortable in ‘fitting out’, being different and being honest to myself, in fact I would go as far as to say I feel pleasure in bucking the trend and trying new and different experiences. And the further I head down this ‘metamorphic rabbit hole’, the less I fit in with society anywhere, home or abroad, and the more desire I feel to share this message.
The results of leaving behind my fear, being honest, and being comfortable in my skin while fitting out, became emotionally, psychologically and physically apparent one morning last week, and these observations have continued to some extent ever since. I can explain it within my personal frame of reference for life, the daily morning ritual that is my yoga practice.
Ashtanga yoga can be considered emotionally & physically akin to traversing the mountains and valleys of life, and often they reach Himalayan magnitude. Whether you feel happy, sad, energetic, flat, hormonal, or on top of the world, it doesn’t matter; every day you have to show up to continue your journey over the peaks. And there are moments of absolute beauty, flow, pleasure, joy and comfort, but there are many moments too of trial, challenge, difficulty, and sheer hard damn work! Sound like life? Yep, the yoga mat is not dissimilar to a magnifying mirror – it’s like looking at yourself in close-up every day of your life.
During the journey, you encounter peaks, plateaus and troughs, you have days when you ‘achieve’ something and, as with anything that becomes a daily practice, there are days when you even seem to go backwards. Sometimes you may have a week of peaks, things are beautiful and you are able to admire the view from the top; there is quite a view from up there, things are crystal clear! But those peaks are invariably tiny, miniscule even in comparison to the practice as a whole.
On the day I noticed a distinct absence of fear nothing else out of the ordinary was happening, nothing else felt different. I sat and meditated for about 15 minutes at the start of my practice and my mind was all over the place! I then did my pranayama (breathing practice), which felt great. Then I started my physical practice. I felt light at the beginning and almost immediately unusual things started occurring. I could reach a little further than usual, felt a little stronger, and a little more flexible. (I do have the desire to list in which poses I felt this and exactly what happened, but for the yoga-uninitiated out there I am sure it would read as a deluge of yoga-type jargon that would have you reaching for the keypad to swiftly ‘unfollow’ my tirade. So I shall refrain).
Needless to say, I had a conscious realisation that fear was wrapped up in my comparative inflexibility, in my ‘niggly’ right knee, in the hamstring that I had recently overstretched. Somehow I had a thought that I could go deeper into postures than I had ever been before, not by pushing and returning to my list maker, box ticker, planner, organiser, achiever self (ref. last blog), but through genuine, honest, fearless metamorphosis, like a solid rock melting into lava and releasing itself into a forward bend. And I did!
It felt something like this: “what on earth is happening, this is insane! I not only now have no pain in my knee, no tightness, but also the hamstring thing. Where has that gone? I’m folding forward and there is no fear!”
Not only more flexibility, I felt more strength too and more control. Through my newfound awareness that there was more fear wrapped up in the whole thing than I had realised before, I gently ‘went for it’ in a strong arm-balance posture. Once again, I could do it with integrity for the first time ever, having been working on it for many months. How can there be so many peaks in one day? This was literally unheard of! And I realised at this stage too that I’d left the fear behind, nay let it fly away, when I pressed the ‘publish’ button on my first blog.
So what do I think it all means? That in leaving behind my fear and starting my blog, by being completely honest about who I am and what I do and laying it out there for all the world to see, in doing those things I learned something about fear and myself. I allowed change to occur, I allowed myself to fully accept the metamorphic process, and in doing so the pain literally went away. Just like that.
And how does this apply to you? Leave behind your fear. Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but that terrifies you? Are you really honest with your friends, your peers, your family, with strangers, and with yourself? Can you do something in the next week that allows you to bear you soul, to face a fear, and mindfully observe yourself in the days that follow?
In the process of metamorphic change, of breaking the mould, of gently tearing open your Samskara, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities!
But it’s not a done deal. I am right now sitting outside in a park in Tokyo in the morning sun, having just finished yet another daily morning yoga practice. Today I knew I had to do a final edit to this, my second blog. It’s been a week since I first experienced the lack of fear and, for the most part, my practice has continued to feel more open and freer. But today, as fear crept back in the lead up to publishing this blog, fear also returned to my practice. The knee niggled a bit, my strength felt less, but I could still fold further and my hamstring felt wonderful. So I’ve still maintained some of it…but I know I need to press ‘publish’ again……
What do you need to do, what is required of you in order to change the pattern of your existence?
To make more evolved lifestyle decisions rather than following the norm and staying stuck in a rut, to improve health, or to enhance life in any way things must change, but many of us are following a routine and experience comfort through repetition.
My restrictive mould? I’m a list maker, box ticker, planner, organiser, achiever. I place limits on myself in order that more can be achieved in a week. I am inclined to want to achieve the most, be the best and reach new heady heights, but my clients, friends and teachers have taught me so much about these potentially destructive behaviour patterns, my yoga practice has taught me that having desire and needing to achieve can result only in more tightness and eventually injury (which it took me nearly 18 months to fully recover from in my knees), my husband has taught me that actually I’m ok just as I am, and our daughter has taught me that life is bigger than your latest achievement.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, ‘breaking the mould’ allows us to “put an end to a restrictive pattern of events or behaviour by doing things in a markedly different way”. I believe the key word here is ‘restrictive’, in that having a set pattern or series of learned habits within which you lead your life in the literal sense restricts you and limits your potential for not only achievement but in the eternal human search for joy and happiness, less pain, greater health and wellbeing.
So why am I writing this? From the need to escape my own ‘samskara’, my self-created, inhibiting, restrictive mould in order to truly live my life, to live a more balanced existence and to help my family, clients and others to envisage and create their own improved realities.
‘Samskara’ is a Sanskrit term that relates to repetitive patterns or habits of the mind and body, subconscious or conscious, which are strengthened by constant repetition and make up our conditioned behaviours and conditioned existence. The concept of samskara was once explained to me by a much-loved teacher using the metaphor of a leather gardening glove that after many years of garden labour in dirty and damp conditions had become hardened to the shape of your hand. The resultant work that is needed is to slowly soften the glove, add oil & warmth, and to massage it in ways that it is not used to in order to break the mould and allow the glove to once again be malleable and able to follow a whole new pattern of use, in order to form new habits.
Note: I will use this term samskara henceforth (and ironically within my own samskara or conditioning) as a demonstrative tool towards breaking patterns of existence
Another reason for writing this: I am terrified of blogging and of putting my thoughts ‘out there’ in the critical public domain. But here we are – let this be the first crack in my current mould.