Back when men were men and ‘feeling presence’ was something Darth Vader did at Christmas, I never gave much time to mindfulness. It feels contrived even now, a step away from renouncing alcohol and travelling the world like a hobo ( . . . oh right). Yet for 3 months I’ve meditated almost every day, finding it a peaceful way to wake up before the internet barges through my door. I actually feel a bit discombobulated if I don’t, a little out of kilter. This week, the Treasury of Mindfulness, on top of Jay Shetty’s Buddhist filled Think like a Monk, talks about ‘being present’.
The authors suggest to start with slow breathing, and then begin to test the senses: note five things that you see, even transient things like children playing football in the park or sunlight dappling through trees; note four things you can feel, such as wind’s caress or t-shirt on your body (if you’re into that wearing clothes stuff); note three things you can hear, such as chirping birds; two things you can smell such as a passing woman’s perfume (don’t get weird about) or someone’s cooking; and finally whatever you can taste. I’ve tried this even cleaning my teeth, and I immediately take a breath and slow down.
As for meditation, here’s my process: first I slaughter a calf. Ok not really. Positioning myself comfortably on the couch, I start with three or four deep, slow breaths, letting thoughts flutter in and out. After several minutes the brain calms a bit, and I gradually visualise a sunrise, full and bright, breaking through dark clouds to provide a spectacular warm white light. I think the brightness may be a remnant from Wim Hof (along with the cold showers), but I feel thoroughly refreshed afterwards, like I’ve just had a spring clean in my brain. As with anything, it takes practice. Sometimes I can focus on the blinding light and feel ethereal, and sometimes it never arrives. Either way, I then stretch a little, make some tea and gradually let the world in.
Sensing my oneness (pah!) and contemplating retiring to Nepal as the whitest yogi of them all, I then haphazardly picked up Extreme Ownership by a couple of US Navy Seals. I felt like I’d opened the front door after a peaceful moonlight walk to see a terrifying werewolf raiding the fridge. I slowly backed away, turned the audiobook off and will try again later. My delicate oneness needs more time; The Force just isn’t there yet.
It’s not what you know, they said, it’s who you know. Well . . . ! In Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent Talking to Strangers, he uncovers we are rubbish at truly knowing others. Gladwell starts with relating the numerous Cuban double-agents embedded in the CIA, of which there are tonnes. And we’re not just talking in the 60’s, we’re talking at the turn of the millennium. On their eventual uncovering, colleagues and even family are stunned. These artisans of lies duped them all. For sometimes decades. The problem, it seems, is with us. We’re deluded.
We have a view that we, personally, are complex. We, after all, are different. We’re elusive. We’re an enigma wrapped up in a Rubik’s cube encased in the same tricksy plastic that scissors are packaged in. Everyone else? Oh, they’re simple, far easier to work out. How many times have we run our eyes over a person’s shoes, shorts, trousers, skirt, t-shirt, jumper, jacket or hat and thought a) they look pretty warm in all that! b) ahh I see, they’re this type of person, not realising we’re wearing exactly the same thing. This is called the illusion of asymmetric insight. In other, smaller words, we think we know more about other people than they do about us.
This is the second book of Gladwell’s that I’m enjoying this week, his break-out Outliers, examining the factors that contribute to high levels of success, is fantastic. Unfortunately, this is running in parallel with the Mark Manson’s Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu** which can be summarised through a) sweary book-titles sell millions b) we give a fu** about the wrong things c) we should question ourselves more - what we think is true today may not be true tomorrow. Ruminating on the famous Greek aphorism at Delphi, ‘know thyself’, this seems only applicable in its immediacy. It should be, ‘know thyself now . . . and now . . . and how about now?’
When combining both tomes of Gladwell and Manson, it leads to the conclusion that not only do we not know ourselves, we don’t know anyone else either! And you thought the biggest challenge today was purely it being a Monday, and now you don’t even know who you or anyone else is. If anyone would like to join me in writing my third book, ‘who the fu**ing fu** is that f**?’ you’ll be most welcome.
Writing and writing...