About 3 years ago, I left my hometown in Ireland to pursue a life beyond my mundane daily experience. I had high hopes that the “world outside” was obligated to make me happy and that my sadness was simply a product of my situation and location rather than a reflection of my mind. A wise women once told me “the world owes you nothing” and how right she was. Thinking back I can’t fathom how I was so naive.
I was swept away into the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, the world moving faster than my ability to comprehend it. My inability to adjust forced me into a deep pit and before long I was rehashing the trauma that I went through when I lived at home. Visions of dead relatives, dead relationships and fading friendships haunted my thoughts. When I was able to sleep I would have nightmares, anxiety attacks, bursts of deep sadness that made me feel like the earth was crashing down around me. The world was too fast for me and the pain unrelenting. I was forced for the first time in my life to seek professional help.
On my first day she mentioned “Mindfulness”. It was the first time I had heard of it. I was completely oblivious to the practice and to be completely honest I was very sceptical. So sceptical in fact that I completely shunned the idea of just thinking about myself. How can thought make me feel better when it was thinking that got me into this mess. I walked home cursing under my breath at the idea, but after a number of days of little to no sleep I decided to look into what exactly mindfulness was and how it could possibly help me control my demons.
Mindfulness is defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations”. We live in society dominated by pace. People becoming celebrities overnight, swiping left and right to the people who attract you or don’t, scrolling through the social media feeds of hundreds of people you may never see again. It is chaos. But we are not taught how to deal with the age in which we live, there are no high school classes or introductory courses on how to stop, breath and take in the world around you. This is where mindfulness changed my life. I was unable to breath, to enjoy the world for what it was or even to be present with the people I loved, to cherish their company. I taught myself to stop. I taught myself to breath. I taught myself to pay attention to what I was thinking and more importantly, how I was feeling at that particular minute. You do not need to pay thousands of pounds or dollars for a 3 month course, and you absolutely do not need to look for your nearest college with a course on breathing. What you need is to think about how you feel. We, as a society, are falling out of love with how we feel and how we think. To be mindful, you need to work on accepting that you are an individual with your own thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes. Take the time to focus on how you move, what you see and what you hear.
After my rigorous google searching for mindfulness I decided to put my reading into practice under the illusion that it was easy and that anyone can do some thinking! Again, I was naive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that thinking about what you are doing is difficult, but to be constantly aware of yourself and your surroundings? It takes practice.
I have been a music composer and musician for just over 5 years and when I moved it was also to study music. I always used music as a way of escaping how I felt rather than a way of helping to deal with my problems. That night I attended a performance of “La Mer” by Claude Debussy, an incredibly beautiful piece of music played by the BBC Orchestra of Wales, that in my previous state, I would have completely misunderstood. I was able to listen, I was able to hear, but I was unable to completely enjoy and understand the music. I decided for this concert I would attempt to “be mindful”. I sat in the usual budget student seats and had my usual budget student beer, nothing was particularly new or “experience changing”, until the orchestra began to play. Never before have I been so deeply moved by a performance, I felt present. The orchestra played immaculately and I concentrated hard on taking in every note. A number of times my focused slipped but I tried hard to rally my attention and savour the music. It had been years since I felt such relief, like a weight had been lifted off me for a brief 2 hour window. But as I mentioned before, it is more difficult than you realise to be constantly present and within the time it took me to walk from the concert venue to my home I was “back to square one”, so to speak. But this was by no means the end, no, I was determined that I would find more moments like this, and I was equally determined that the practice of this technique would be the answer to overcoming my depression, anxiety and insomnia.
My journey into mindfulness, attention and focus was only beginning.
Published in MinfulDevMag issue #3 – Download full issue