When it comes to alienation, there is nothing quite like staring into a computer screen. After a few hours of double-clicking we emerge cyber-spaced out, dehydrated, physically stiff, alienated from our emotions, and disconnected from our direct sense experience.
This is from Week 2 of Life with Full Attention by Maitreyabandhu, a course book which offers to lead average person, such as myself, towards Mindfulness in eight weeks. In the first week I learned how to take a step back from everyday life, stop rushing round in circles and organise myself a bit better, so that free moments could be spent on Mindfulness rather than searching for things like my car keys.
This week we are tackling Body Awareness. “Awareness of the body has many benefits. It makes us calmer and more effective; our physical movements become more dignified and graceful; and it is an effective antidote to stress and anxiety. Body awareness makes us feel more truly alive.”
But as part of the bigger picture, Maitreyabandhu is also aiming to create mindful islands, short periods of time in our everyday lives, which will increase and eventually become joined up so that we become mindful all of the time.
The first oasis of calm attentiveness is the Mindful Walk. He says doesn’t have to be a long walk, in fact 10 minutes is the ideal length, but it has to be done everyday with the intention of becoming a habit. It’s really important that one is not distracted by externalities and that you are thinking just about your own body and its movements as you are walking.
Whilst doing your daily mindful walk, Maitreyabandhu recommends counting up to eight and down again in time with the steps. This is supposed to help to shut out all the other thoughts that crowd in as soon as you get a minute to yourself. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, as you will see from my first week of attempted mindful walking!
Remembered that I was supposed to do the Mindful Walk – a good start – so deliberately left the dog at home and went to the shops on foot. Then completely forgot to do the mindful bit once I was actually walking. If there were any thoughts going through my head they were about getting to the shops and back as quickly as possible. In other words a complete fail.
Actually started walking circuits round the local duck pond and counting my steps. After five minutes I thought I would die of boredom, but it’s true that my shoulders did relax as soon as I started the counting, and my breathing became deeper and calmer. But then my phone rang and at the same time a post-Christmas jogger suddenly appeared on the scene. There was not room on the duck pond circular for both of us. Time to give up.
The weather was atrocious. There was no way I was going to battle my way through a hurricane and make any headway with Mindfulness. As I stared out of the window at trees being buffeted around, I remembered the Body Scan. This involves lying on one’s back, knees bent and head on book, just being aware of one’s body. I decided to try this as an alternative to the Mindful Walk….and thought I would do it in bed. I woke up an hour later after a blissful sleep feeling thoroughly refreshed – although mindful of the fact that I had not practiced Mindfulness!
More storm force gales and rain prevented the Mindful Walk, so opted for the Body Scan but this time in a hot bath rather than bed. A daily soak sounds like a relatively attractive option and means I don’t have to find extra time to get clean. Mine’s a small tub, so by default the knees are bent, just as they are supposed to be for Body Scan. Immersed in warm water I closed my eyes and became aware of all the tiny sounds around me. The tap dripping. The tempest outside. My own breathing. All accompanied by a delicious sense of weightlessness. All hail the Mindful Bath … I just have to hope that Maitreyabandhu would approve.
More tempests have prevented the Mindful Walk. I still go for a dog walk, of course, but have concluded the walk I do everyday, full of squelching mud, dogs, joggers, poo-bags, foul weather and traffic are not conducive to Mindfulness. I still try to walk mindfully but it’s if all else fails there is a Mindful Bath to look forward to when I get home. The bath is now further enhanced by a semi-inflated inflatable travel pillow. This lowers one’s head into the perfect near-horizontal position rather than the more upright position dictated by the tub.
The Mindful Bath is reaching a point of perfection. Now as well as listen to the ambient noises and the sound of my own breathing, I gently focus on each part of my body as it rests lightly in the water. Feet are the starting point and then you work up to the head, focussing on each part of the body in turn.
Even if I don’t get any further than Chapter 2, Maitreyabandhu assures me that what I’ve done so far will be an achievement: ‘The body is our first port of call…. our first questions to ourselves should be: Am I getting enough exercise? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I eating healthily?… The body is something we can always come back to. Whenever we are not sure how to cultivate mindfulness, we can just come back to the body and its movements, that ‘s all we need to do.”