Sunday, 16 April 2017

Would You Just... Drop In On Yourself?

Well I didn't write anything yesterday. It was the first day of Snooker -- world championships are held in the Crucible fifty yards from my pub, our busiest and horriblest two weeks of the year -- and wiped out at 6pm I went for a drink with Straw. I had two pints, then a Coke, I was good, and it was a warm friendship chat both of us making the other crack up, and it was no-brainer worth it, but when I got home I made tea, ate tea, opened my laptop, and fell straight asleep.

But, hey, there's no use crying over spilt milk, right? I'm refreshed now, awake, and I've got a few hours to write before my close shift tonight, so all is good.

I've been thinking about the subject of my previous post, being mindful in daily life. It's so interesting, pretty much the first thing you notice when trying to be more mindful is precisely how mindless you usually are.

I'm what you'd class the neurotic type, lost in thoughts ever poking at the world, trying to make sense of it, what it's for, what we're doing, why this, how come that -- the kind of spiral thinking that can peel back the surface of reality and lead to spectacular discoveries, but just as easily descends into negativity and depression. But I think whatever your mental type, whether an obsessive planner, a hedonistic party-goer, whether chasing personal success, following a cause or a dream, whether you live for your career, your family, your weekend, your travels, the truth is that most of us spend the vast majority of our lives halfway asleep.

We race along with our heads down -- towards what? -- as the scenery flits by out of the windows, and the days come and go.

Routines, habitual behaviours, are vitally important. It would be exhausting to have to bring conscious attention to every action, every moment -- if every time you brushed your teeth felt like the first time, having to think about how to pick up the toothbrush, apply the paste, scrub each tooth. Turning behaviours into habits takes the pressure off our mental load. Conscious attention might provide the impetus, the initial push -- OK man, time to brush those damn teeth, turn off Netflix, close laptop, into the bathroom -- but as soon as the routine is taken up you're off down the neurological waterslide and the rest just happens. You don't have to be there for it.

This is good. This is necessary. But the drawback is that if you're not careful all the moments of your life can slip by on this autopilot setting, and then you look up and wonder where it all went.

Every now and again something snaps us out of the routine. A first kiss. The death of a loved one. A promotion. A sacking. Skydiving in New Zealand. Hearing music transcendent in its beauty. I think our society has a sort of tacitly agreed upon idea that the purpose of life is to seize the day by creating as many of the more positive (again defined by society) of these moments as possible, leading what would be called a "full life".

Which is fine. But let's say these moments when we're truly awake come about every, what, hundred-thousand moments? Every million moments? Every billion? And if we try really hard and spend lots of money and take all opportunities perhaps we can cut the ratio down to one in every ten thousand? One in every five-thousand?

But meanwhile all the other moments are slipping by unnoticed, too boring, too quotidian, to be worth being present for.

Yet surely it is these quotidian moments that truly make up our lives? If most of our time is spent not winning races and securing deals and jetskiing in Jamaica and buying yachts in Monte Carlo, but instead spent scratching our legs, trying to fix the glove compartment latch in traffic jams, counting our change, clearing our phlegmy throats, then isn't it worth being present for these moments?

The mindfulness practitioner Jon Kabat-Zinn has a wonderful phrase for attempting to do this. He talks about "dropping in on yourself." When you're in the shower or brushing your teeth or on the way to work, try just dropping in on yourself, asking yourself what's going on. Are you really in that shower cubicle, in that car, or are you off worrying about next week's meeting, replaying last week's embarrassing event, picturing the precise revolting sneer that you know your mouth must have contorted into yesterday as you awkwardly tried to flirt with that person you always see on your coffee run?

And if you're happy to be in this imagined past or future, then go for it. But more likely it's happening without even your knowledge, bypassing conscious choice, your brain chuntering on on its default setting.

So do me a favour over the next few days and drop in on yourself from time to time. Check the contents of your thoughts. Your emotional state. What sensations you can feel. What you can see around you. Smell. Hear. What is it like in this moment of your life, in this part of the world, right this second?

Wake up to your life, as you live it, as often as you can. You might be surprised what you find.

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