Mindfulness. Easy if you’re sitting cross-legged on a beach, as the sun rises… but how about on a Friday night when a 50 minute train journey home from work spirals into 5 hrs of chaos?
After a hectic week, a curry, a film and the sofa beckon. Instead you get freezing cold platforms, inaudible and contradictory announcements, hours of delays, diversions and the frustration of not knowing when or how you’ll eventually get home.
After 2 hrs of waiting, finally sardined into a train. Not that it’s moving. People are complaining loudly on mobile phones, ‘Why are they doing this to me?’ It’s tempting to join in and wallow, getting more stressed and irate. But what if you can press pause instead?
I first stumbled upon Mindfulness in a book in a Japanese tea shop when I was just 15, and have been practising it since then. I say practising, because I’m not a saintly figure wafting barefoot through inner city chaos wearing silk robes. I have my moments. Plenty of them. But 30 something years later, mindfulness is still ridiculously useful at avoiding melt-downs at stuff you can’t change.
So, back to the train. I breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes and resist fantasising about where I should be at this minute, or how this has ruined my Friday night. Instead focus in the moment, start where you are. I’m warm, that’s a bonus. Trains are much cosier than January platforms. I have water and the Hoxton hipster next to me is reading Murikami, so we chat about his writing. A group of teenagers on the table opposite are flirting with each other. Yes they’re loud, but they’re giggling and sharing M & M’s. And did I mention the flirting? Daring and sparking off each other. I grin at one encouragingly and he smiles back, slightly shy and probably thinking I look like his mum.
Focusing attention on where we are helps ground us in the present. Engaging with it helps pause the endless stories of future, past, wrongs and ‘should’ and we can relax into the moment. This train journey is like life, we never know how long we’ve got, and we don’t always have control over it. But we can always choose to find ways to enjoy whatever is going on, when we notice that. My Nan had never heard of Buddhism, but she always taught me ‘Count your blessings’. And she made the best chips in the West Midlands.
How lucky are all of us on this train. To have homes we’re heading to. Loved ones we’re missing. To be used to such order in our worlds that these hours of travel chaos are unusual. To have the freedom of choice to be grumpy or cross about it, and the right to express it. Or we can choose acceptance of what is going on, right at this moment. That line-side fires mean trains can’t run to normal timetables. That it’s not the train companies deliberate attempt at ruining our nights.
Think of a fashionable ‘mindulness’ image, of someone calmly sitting cross legged, in what’s called Lotus position. The lotus flower is beautiful, but has roots in the mud. Where’s your mud right now? It could be an irritable boss, a poorly toddler, stroppy teenager, demanding elderly parent, or travel delays. It’s easy to react with impatience, we’re all human. But to think, press pause and respond with mindfulness can be calming and helpful to ourselves and the world around us.
My expert chip-frying Nan used to count to 10 to avoid shouting at my Grandad when he’d ‘borrowed’ her green dish sponge to make trees for his model railway. By the count of 9 they were usually giggling that if it rained, there’d be Fairy Liquid bubbles on the track.
On our train we were mostly kind to each other. Reassuring ourselves that it was ok, and we’d get home eventually. Five hours later than planned, including an hour stranded in a carpark in -3 C which really tested this whole mindfulness business; we finally did get home. Appreciating it all the more. The curry tasted just as good the next night. And I washed the plates up with a green dish sponge that could one day be a tree.