The Mindful Year
I wrote in earlier blogs about structuring both the day and the week around our intentions to live more mindfully.
But it will clearly be impossible to live a fully balanced life within the confines of any particular week, let alone any particular day. Yes, it is worth paying as much attention as we can to the balance of both our individual days and our weeks so as to mix work and play, rest and relaxation, creativity and task focus, contemplation and action. But many aspects of life have a longer time scale and rhythm to them and so it is good also to think about the ebb and flow of the seasons of the year as another backdrop to how we engage more mindfully with life as a whole.
Some of our religious traditions can be quite good at this with their feasts and fasts, their festivals and times of penitence, their periods of preparation and of celebration. These help us to remember that human life is not monochrome and can help to normalise the highs and lows of human experience.
But here are a few additional things which may be worth thinking about as we reflect on the flow of our year:
Nature. Perhaps the most obvious thing to suggest is to pay a bit more attention to the changing of the seasons in nature. It all happens in nature: new life small & delicate; the overflowing abundance; storms and heatwaves; ice and snow; the slow process of dying gracefully; and death itself. Absolutely everything happens before our eyes and under our feet and all we have to do is remember that we too are part of nature and so can find a deep wisdom in coming to recognise and sense the rhythms and the ebbs & flows of what we are a part of. I try to do this to some extent every day. But mainly I try to make sure I mark in some way the traditional earth festivals of solstice, equinox and the ‘cross-quarter’ days. Just to be in nature somehow and to recognise the shift – that something is changing and that the next six weeks or so will be different to the last – and to feel and experience this with nature all around me. Here is a wisdom many in society have almost forgotten.
Retreat. Some people who are keen to deepen their meditation practice or spiritual life will want to think about setting aside more than just a few hours or even a whole morning in order to do this. It is my sense that going on retreat once a year for anything from 4-8 days to an established centre which supports your own tradition of meditation is an essential – but also a wonderful – experience. Not always easy because, remember, meditation is about awareness rather than relaxation but always I come away having felt I have deepened my experience of what meditation and life itself is really all about.
Seasons of creativity. I believe we are all creative. It is just that we need to discover our particular way of being creative. When I found out that I could not draw I thought that was it for me as far as the visual arts were concerned. Then I discovered photography. It seems that I do have and eye, of sorts – just that the pencil or paint brush is not going to be my way of sharing it with others. I recently bought my first digital SLR camera – second hand through an ad on my local neighbourhood sharing site – and I am excited to get the hang of it and start being creative in this way (or restart – as I used to do quite a lot of photography when I was younger). The trouble is that I haven’t really had the time – or something! So I am wondering whether, if I don’t seem to be able to fit this in to my daily routine, I might designate a month soon where I make a concerted effort to getting going. Could this be a way of making sure creativity makes an appearance in our lives? Not keeping telling myself I will start soon – but designating a ‘creative’ month and then just going for it.
Quieter periods. All jobs seem to have busy periods during which we seem to get very little else done when loads of things build up on our ‘important but not urgent’ to-do list. There is probably not much you can do about this but I wonder whether we could recognise the other side and actually plan for the quieter periods of working life – not just as a relief but as an opportunity. Perhaps these could link with our season of creativity – or some major project we would love to get stuck into but which never seems to happen. Or perhaps we could decide to deliberately savour the spaces during such times – savour ‘being’ rather than more ‘doing’.
Withdrawal. If your life or work involves being with others a lot of the time you might want to designate a season or month in the year which deliberately has a lot of time for solitude: just not seeing so many people – staying in whenever you can if there is a choice – spending time doing whatever it is you love to do on your own, be it reading, music, being creative on your own, whatever …. And let this be a time where you withdraw for a sustained period, into your own self – a time of nurture, of quietness, a time of self-compassion, a time of listening to your own soul. There seems too little of this going on in the world – there is always something more important to be doing and we mistakenly seem to prioritise social contact over solitude. So much so that many have forgotten or have never learned how to be alone. And it is interesting to note that being alone can feel very different if you have chosen to do it. Loneliness can turn into solitude.
Well, of course, these are only a few ideas but I hope they may stimulate thoughts about the annual cycle as an opportunity to experience and live out many of the deeply enriching things which never quite seem to happen in our lives. Another way of discovering how to live life to the full.