A Meditative Year in the Mountains

Recently I notched up 365 continuous days of meditation. I had meditated before, usually over shorter bursts of time when there was something going on in my life that required me to step aside and find a small pocket of time to help create a calm space for my mind. But in the past year I have managed to incorporate meditation as a part of my daily routine.

Mornings are usually the best time of day for me to meditate, before the demands, noises and challenges of the day are too clearly defined. It wouldn’t be true to say it is a time of complete tranquility as the mind is always at work on something. In my experience it is better to accept that thoughts will come along, invited or otherwise, and that it is easier to note or acknowledge them before returning the focus to the breath. Meditation is a small part of the day’s entirety and thoughts will reappear later if required.

As a creature of habit I tend to meditate in a couple of regular locations. When the weather permits, there is a seat under a leafy tree in my garden that is a favourite spot. There is something wonderful about opening my eyes after meditating and looking at up the sky through a green canopy that enhances the experience.

In times of upheaval, it has been helpful to meditate just before sleep, to slow down the busy mind and to bring focus back to the simplicity of breathing in, breathing out.

The benefits are many, both large and small. Knowing that a simple exercise can help to recalibrate my mind, creating a sense of clam regardless of chaos, is a comfort beyond words.

Do you have meditative moments in your day?

[Photo: lavender in bloom]


A Peaceful Moment in Katoomba

Recently I stumbled across a peaceful moment in Katoomba. Located in Civic Place, next to the council administration centre, there is a monument dedicated to peace.

Tom Coley, the sculptor, offered to donate the black granite sculpture titled ‘Peace Memorial’ to the City of Blue Mountains Council in 2009. Coley, born in England and an extensive world traveller, had lived in the Blue Mountains before moving to Tasmania. It is a beautiful piece of public art – you can touch the sculpture, feeling the texture as you take in the serenity of the woman’s expression.

At the commemoration of the statue in December 2009, Coley explained that he had tried to meditate in order to understand what peace is. The tranquility on the sculpture’s face indicates an inner calm that we could all aspire to.

Coley was later commissioned to provide the West Hobart Peace Park with a sculpture that embodies and celebrates the values of peace. You can see ‘In Blanket’ here.

The location of the statue in Civic Place, across the railway line from the main shopping and tourist areas of Katoomba, seems to add to the gravitas of the sculpture. It is located in a small grassed area with seats and tables nearby, in view of the council offices. Directly behind it is the Katoomba Court House, and across the road is a Masonic Lodge building. Whilst it isn’t ‘off the beaten track’, you do need to look for it; it isn’t something that you would usually pass by if you were visiting the mountains for a day.

This sculpture has stayed in my mind and I’m glad I came across it. I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.

Is there any public art in your town or city that moves you?

[Photo: Peace Memorial, Katoomba by Tom Coley]


We fall into old habits*

I like routines. I find comfort in habits and having things in their place. By creating structure I find I have more freedom and mindspace to think about other things.

Routines do need a bit of room for give and take as things inevitably happen. I’ve written before about morning pages, which are an enduring legacy for me from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Since January 2014 I have been writing three pages daily in A5 journals, emptying out my head, ranting when I need to, testing out ideas, plot points and thinking through work related challenges. I was surprised that I kept to it, even though I have kept a journal intermittently for years. There is now a growing collection of these journals, swollen with the ink of many pens, marching their way along the desk in my study.

The routine of writing these three pages, preferably in the morning, has saved my sanity at times. There are other days when sleep is too tempting, or I have an early start, or there is some other hurdle to sitting down and getting the words out. But if I do miss this morning session, I tend to feel less ready to deal with the day ahead. There are some days when, before sitting down, I can’t think of a single thing that would be worth writing. And yet, with the weight of a pen in my fingers, the flow begins. If I miss the morning, I usually write when I get home, knowing that I’ll feel better for spending 20 minutes doing it, and vowing that I’ll get up earlier to honour this time tomorrow.

I know that keeping this routine matters to me when I miss breakfast or coffee to get the words out before I face the work day. If I do a self-scan at some point in the day, I will recognise a restlessness if I’ve missed a part of my morning routine including daily pages, meditation or walking my dog. These activities provide structure, but all of them also give me time to think, to dawdle a bit if I need to, to look up and see something other than the challenges of work or chores or the endless to-do list that keeps spitting out tasks like a dot matrix printer in my mind.

Sometimes routine is turning up at the desk even though the well feels a little dry. Pick up a pen or poise fingers over the keyboard and see what comes out. It might be slow and sluggish at first, but by creating the framework for creativity the chance of having something to show for the admission price of turning up is greatly enhanced.

How important is a routine in your creative life?

* The opening line from ‘Laugh in their Faces‘ by The Whitlams.

[Photo: winter landscape near Cooerwull in Lithgow]

(Some) Wednesdays are for Writing

Today is my first official writing Wednesday. I have negotiated some leave and have eight Wednesdays, including today, between now and the end of the year that are just for me. These days are separate from work and family obligations, and are part of my still evolving plan to carve out more time for things that really matter in my life. Like writing.

It was not my intention when I came up with the idea that the entire day would be devoted to writing. Truly, it was an epiphany that struck me one Wednesday afternoon that life would be more enjoyable if I worked a little less.  I know what I’m like. I’m organised enough to have a few things that I want to accomplish throughout the day. I know that I will get through these tasks, particularly as some of them have deadlines attached. Having the day laid out with a schedule would not work. What I needed was a clear idea of what I wanted to get done and the space to accomplish it.

Whilst it wasn’t a work day, I stuck with what I usually do of a morning before work – my morning pages and meditation. Then the day was a rather delightful mixed bag of writing, chores and just being at home.

I have polished the piece for my writing group submission around doing some washing and picking up some of the bark and sticks and debris after the very heavy rain and high winds of the past week. I finalised the creative work which is my contribution for the Deep Red Scarlet Pen Project through Emma Kay Inks. The last writing session on my novel has been proofread and I’m all set to add to it once I finish this post. I’ve caught up on reading relating to writing and followed up on some of the links that have been waiting for my attention on my ‘when-I-have-time’ list. I also took my dog for a wander down the road in the late afternoon light, enjoying the bold wattle blossoms and the hedges of camellias in bloom, the hectares of gum trees on the other side of the road, simply being for a change rather than rushing.

For me, writing does not happen in isolation. It is integrated into various aspects of my life, and is fuelled and inspired by the extraordinary and mundane in the everyday. I’m chuffed I’ve managed to create some space to let more of it into my life.

How does writing fit into your life?

[Photo: close of up of one of the two majestic lions guarding the entrance of the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba]

Mindful in the Mountains

It was inevitable that I would start meditating after moving to the mountains. I had tinkered with it before, mainly with a lighted candle and a sense of wrestling with the many, many monkeys that live in my mind. Meditation retreats are in plentiful supply in the mountains with the solitude and stunning scenery providing a perfect backdrop and a sense of tranquility to enhance the meditation experience.

There are several meditation retreats in my village but I ended up stumbling across a form of meditation that I could fit into my everyday life. I had tried several meditation apps with varying degrees of success. Then a review of the Headspace app in The Guide (Sydney Morning Herald) at the right time got me started.

It was one of those times in life when the convergence of several external factors beyond my control meant that I was both more receptive to the idea, and it had a more profound impact on my life than it otherwise might have done. It took a little while for it to become a daily habit, but I was surprised at the impact that it had on my life in a relatively short period of time. Situations that would have previously sent me off on a rant or muttering obscenities no longer bothered me quite as much. I found that spending even a brief period of time meditating on a daily basis helped me to build resilience which had been seriously eroded.

I simply felt better.

I know that it is worth the minimal time invested for the returns that I get, in all sorts of areas of my life.

What do you do to unwind?