Having had the privilege of attending the Headspace press launch at The Royal Society of Medicine back in May, I was inspired by Andy’s call to share stories, to come out and give weight and substance to the experience of mindfulness, and found this plea especially appealing. All humanity really is, someone in the audience said, is a growing collection of shared stories, and so I thought I’d share one of mine.
To focus on the breath. I never understood the breath, the breathing "thing," before December 18, 2013. Focus on the breath; draw your attention back to the breath, in and out, a constant – always there. When I first started trying to meditate, with the help of Headspace and also Finding Peace in a Frantic World, I just could not seem to focus on this part of the exercise! My breathing felt too small, too invisible and weightless, nowhere near important or tangible enough to draw my tangled, boiling thoughts away from each other and to the exercise. They bred and thrived together and were too heavy and fleshed out to be dominated by the seemingly microscopic existence of breath. Until I sat at my dad’s bedside last December, hand in hand as he took his last. A young man still at fifty eight, he looked nothing like a cancer patient, full head of hair and full strength in his solid frame still to match. We listened to his breath for over four hours, laboured but strong and determined as he ran the unconscious marathon inside to stay on this side of life. His breath was the only thing that bridged the gap, a physical force keeping him firmly rooted in our world while his mind made the journey through to the next. And then it all stopped, his breath was over and so was the journey.
This time two years ago, I would likely have instantly turned a miniature, "BS alert" hourglass over in my mind if someone began convincing me about joie de vivre or choosing happiness, and simply waited for their pretentious sounding ramble to stop. But I feel fortunate now to be able to apply a visceral, pragmatic meaning to the often throw away dictum of "life’s too short," because it really is and I feel strangely lucky to have seen it. Mindfulness meditation helped me wonderfully in the perception of my own grief, and more importantly in how to celebrate the fact that my own breathe didn’t stop that day too. I look up at the sky on the station platform, and laugh at the severity of the hustle and urgency of my commute, hundreds of people desperate to get on only to become instantly twice as desperate to arrive and get off. There is so much more time in the day than I believed there was before, and I want to experience as much of it as I can before the journey runs out for me.
I feel fortunate now to be able to apply a visceral, pragmatic meaning to the often throw away dictum of life’s too short, because it really is and I feel strangely lucky to have seen it.