One Quiet Moment

Recently, I had a quiet moment. That might not sound extraordinary but it genuinely made a difference to my mindset.

It had been a busy week with the usual challenges and seemingly overwhelming amount of work to be done in a too short period of time. Best laid plans came undone at various points, requiring regular revision of priorities. Occasionally I would remind myself that I can only do what I can do – perhaps a bit trite but true. Sometimes you just can’t get it all done, and sometimes ‘it’ isn’t as important as you think.

Then I had a moment, poised between work and personal demands. A rare moment when no-one needed anything and my attention wasn’t required elsewhere. It took a while to realise the potential power of such a moment. What to do? The endless loop of to-dos in my head rolled around, but there wasn’t really time to launch into something. What if I just stopped? For a moment?

So I did. I sat in my favourite chair and just looked out the window. The sun was out and the odd cloud moved overhead. I could see blossoms appearing on trees that had until recently been bare after losing their leaves through autumn. There were bees buzzing around the blossoms, something elemental but also something that I rarely have the time to notice, to really see.

This moment of mindfulness, where my breathing slowed and I could really just appreciate what was going on around me, beyond the noise and bustle in my mind, set me up for what came next. And over the last couple of days I have thought back to this moment several times, a smile curving my lips. I need to be mindful more often.

Do you make the most of mindful moments?

[Photo: spring blossoms]

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Creative Challenges

Every now and then I like to set myself a creative challenge. I should disclose that these challenges are seldom well-thought out, but tend to be based on a suggestion picked up from elsewhere or a random thought which seems like a really good idea. From this somewhat vague beginning I’m off on a journey which may last mere moments or months, depending on the situation.

Recently I attended a workshop on taking photos with a smart phone. It is easy to take for granted the ease and speed at which such photos can be taken then mentally discarded or left to take up space in the cloud – quite a contrast to what was involved in taking and printing a photo previously. Now instant gratification of the impulse to record a moment is within our grasp, but I was interested to learn a bit more about framing a shot and to work on quality rather than quantity.

The course was informative and interactive, and also provided insight into some of the many tools available these days to tweak shots and highlight aspects of a photo. It created a heightened sense of awareness too – on a brisk walk into Blackheath at lunchtime I felt as though there were photo opportunities everywhere. And what better way to embed these skills than to take some photos. Perhaps every day for the month of May. This was decided on 30 April, the day that I completed the course.

Early on in May I was blessed with some stunning sunsets and one morning, whilst thinking about some issue at work, I passed a beautifully painted doorway that I’d not noticed before. Even in a distracted state it seems my mind was scouting about for photo opportunities. But what occurred to me on reflection was that this collection of moments is as much about what isn’t captured as it is about what can be contained in the briefest wink of time.

There were the stunning palettes of sunsets that changed incrementally with silent grandeur when I took the time to be still and admire them. And the graceful dance of autumn leaves eddying this way and that, a meandering waltz towards the earth. The bare branches reaching skywards, as if with outstretched arms waiting for a cloak of spring leaves and blossoms. Or the clarity of the night sky, and the gradual progress of the moon.

It isn’t always possible to capture a moment that seems to hum portentously, nor should it be. Often it is enough to simply experience it, for the moment to leave the lightest of impressions on our minds, something to be called upon and reimagined as required. A perpetual reminder to be present when you can, to be ready for the delights and surprises that await your attention.

[Photo: frost on leaves spotted during a morning walk]

 

Mindful Moments

Last week I wrote about routines and rhythms, and of the importance of carving out time for creativity especially when there are other demands upon my time. The post had been inspired by a podcast by Brooke McAlary and Kelly Exeter called Let It Be. In the podcast there was a discussion around the importance of rituals and routines, and how by having a rhythm to your day there was greater scope to be flexible with timeframes depending on what else was happening in your life.

Brooke McAlary has recently released a small book called Destination Simple: Everyday Rituals for a Slower Life. It is an easy read, full of simple but effective ways to live a life with meaning and mindfulness within the realities of modern living. For me it was pleasing to see that there are some things that I am already doing, along with other things that I could incorporate into my life.

Something that resonated with me was mindful moments. Whilst acknowledging that we all multi-task – it is inevitable and often necessary to get through the day – one recommendation was to pick something that you do on a regular basis, such as hanging out laundry, and just do that one thing. Pay attention to the entire process from emptying the clothes from the washing machine into a basket, taking it to the clothes line, hanging it out, feeling the sensation of the sun on the clothes. It sounds simple but I know there are days when I would start such a task with the best of intentions but other thoughts would nudge their way into my mindful state. There are times when I do pull myself up and simply focus on what I am doing, but what it also made me think about was when are the moments that I am really present?

I think that one of my most present states is when I am writing. What I am thinking of is when I am writing creatively, deep in another time or place, when all I can see, think, hear and feel is what is going on in my mind as I watch the words spill onto the page. When in the flow of writing, it is difficult to be aware of anything much else until the flow ceases. It is possibly my most mindful and creative state.

Reading back over work written in this deeper, mindful state is a pleasure on a number of levels. It is usually of a higher quality with a vibrancy that sets it apart from other writing. Perhaps I am conflating the idea of mindfulness with the deeper concentration that comes with creativity, but for me it is a state of being present, when the usual cares and concerns and worries and tasks fade into the background and it is just me and the page.

What do mindful moments look like to you?

[Photo: close up of pink blossom]

A Little Gratitude

In recent years there seems to have been a shift towards the power of gratitude in daily life, of being thankful for what you have rather than the endless pursuit of what you don’t have in your life at this time. It is a deceptively simple idea.

I have read of people using gratitude journals on a daily basis, or at least regularly, to track moments of gratitude in their life. Part of me acknowledged that this could be beneficial in various ways, but still I did nothing about it apart from being a little more mindful about the many good things in my life.

Then about a year ago a friend mentioned that various studies confirmed that one of the best things that you could do for your long-term mental health was to keep a gratitude journal. I made a mental note at the time then moved on to the next thought. It was only during November last year that it floated back up through my mind and I started to keep track of what I was grateful for. Short and sweet, three little things each day. And I’ve kept up the practice.

Off the top of my head, the main sources of gratitude in my life are my family and friends, my dog and my garden. Writing and creativity feature quite a bit too. Sometimes I am surprised at what comes to mind when I pause to think of what has brought me joy during the day. Here is a sample.

  • Watching pelicans paddle past, the almost impossibility of their gravitational pull.
  • The purple blossoms of jacaranda trees.
  • The clever reuse of old buildings as space for creative use (old dairy in Bellingen).
  • For the world having so many books of wonder.
  • For having a heart and feeling, even sad things.
  • Sunset.
  • Arriving home. Instantly better.
  • Watering the garden and finding new flowers.
  • Heavy fog on the way to work – altered perception.
  • Laughing with friends till we cry.
  • Feeling flat but writing anyway.
  • Walking with the start of a story in mind.
  • Smiling at strangers and collecting smiles in return.
  • Hearing kookaburras. Anywhere, anytime.

Do you take stock of little moments of gratitude in your life?

[Photo: a repurposed candle holder in my Mum’s garden]

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]