I always assumed that mindfulness would mean learning things I didn’t want to know about myself. I didn’t want to think that hard about it, just in case. Too much time to think equals time to worry about things that very often worth worrying about.
So I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot. This week has been particularly difficult, and I’ve been averaging about four hours of sleep a night – if I went to bed at all. There was this big project due this morning, and it was extraordinary in that most of it was essentially working blind. We were not given all of the information we needed to make it a success, and while my previous education gave me some advantage, it was an extremely frustrating situation both for me and my classmates. And the body needs some sleep, no matter how determined the mind is.
Anyway, the breathing exercises have been a really useful tool recently, and I’m just surprised by how effective it really was. I’m still (probably ignorantly) suspicious of the usual sort of person that advocates breathing as a solution to life’s problems, but I gave it a try. It works.
I suppose that was basically Marc Cohen’s point about being happy unless he’s well. He can’t be happy unless his environment (including the people in it) is well. He says it’s important to be present ‘in the moment’, being mentally involved in whatever one is currently doing. That’s Not My Thing. I’m a multi-tasker, and struggle with the idea of One Thing At A Time. Mindfulness is actually really difficult. I can see how it would lead to enhanced health. Not just ‘good enough’. The world is not a relaxing place, and the ability to cope with it relies heavily on mindfulness. If a person can’t achieve a state above average, then they don’t have the mental space to be more. And if one’s environment isn’t healthy, it’s an additional stress.
(I really like the First Law of Thermodynamics. I once heard it referred to as faith.)
There’s a documentary on Netflix called The Minimalists. It’s a rather judgmental take on the sheer amount of things that people will collect. I wonder if that’s an evolutionary thing, the desire to accumulate. The film goes to an extreme – very few people are truly happy owning two outfits and a sleeping bag. We like to have things, and many of those things enrich our lives, even though they may not be strictly necessary. Things like extra clothing and books and jewellery. In another category, things like umbrellas and and a second pair of shoes for when the first ones get wet – they’re useful, and they don’t have to be utilitarian. They can increase happiness and be serviceable at the same time – that’s the extra soft blanket on the sofa that means you can turn the heat down a little more to save money and energy. (I’m not quite ready to think about the real cost of that blanket yet.)
We talked about a sort of moral responsibility for anyone that can afford it. If it’s possible, spend more money for better quality. Not just longer-lasting and beautiful, not just because it’s an improvement on the carbon footprint, but also because of other people. Quakers in the 19th century often refused to wear blue because of its ties to indigo and slavery – a small sacrifice that was nothing in comparison to the infinitesimal impact it may have had on a single person’s life. We can still do that, if only in small ways. I can’t afford not to buy fast fashion, or to know where my food comes from. But I can keep my phone for another year or two, and I can mend most of my clothes (and do). I can take time and a little bit of extra gas to take old electronics to be recycled properly instead of going the easy route and throwing them away. It’s not always obvious what can be done, but I’m working on it. It’s important not to give up, neither because it’s difficult or because it has become overwhelming. Marc Cohen says that pronoia is a delusion – logically, it is – but maybe that mindset will inspire more people. The human race isn’t going to kill itself off. I don’t even think we’ll make the planet permanently uninhabitable. Humans are resilient, innovative, and brilliant. They’ll figure it out eventually.
(This is the Starship UK from a Doctor Who episode – the Scots wanted their own ship.)