Here we are, after almost two years, still immersed in a pandemic. This second time round over Christmas, it may feel a bit harder to find joyful activities, laugh and have fun. Being healthy, and surrounded by family or friends is our greatest blessing. But as we enter our second Christmas with restrictions, let’s focus on finding pleasure in small things. Without concerts, plays, parties, travel and restaurants, these small pleasures give us a different source of joy. They are also simple and fun ways to find focus and calm.
I am deliberately talking about ways to find focus and calm, instead of using the word “mindfulness”. This word may have become a bit loaded. For some people it has just become the latest buzz word, for others it doesn’t appeal, or its meaning has flattened. Nevertheless, the skill of being quietly observant is still very important. What I would like to achieve with this skill is gain more control over my thoughts, so worries cannot run away with me. Instead of buried in my thoughts, I would like to cultivate the ability to connect with a more objective reality. Finally, because thoughts and worries are put on halt momentarily, being focused can bring us calm, and also a sense of fun and perhaps even wonderment and bliss.
In this time of the year when we naturally turn inward to find peace and strength within, here are five ways in which we can cultivate this kind of concentration. May it bring you lots of pleasure.
While washing your hands, take the opportunity to get in touch with all your senses. What does the water feel like, and the soap? What does the foam look like, and smell like? Can you see the sparkling play between light and water? What does it sound like? We are supposed to wash our hands all the time, so why not use it to pause and really look?
Every walk is a chance to see the world anew. Looking at your surroundings will make you discover new things every time. What sounds do you hear? It is a wonderful way to get in touch with the senses and quieten the mind. Some people, like me, are more visual. I love looking around but usually don’t pay attention to what I hear. What’s your preferred sense?
You can also focus on the feeling of your feet walking, and on your breath. We are so lost in our thoughts most of the time, we have no idea what our feet are doing. If you are worried about falling, think about your feet even more, and about taking one secure step after another. Don’t even entertain those fears of falling, but think of your feet instead.
This can be done with any food, of course. So often we eat quickly, looking for the taste we recognize. We crave the sweet and salty to get the kick of recognition and pleasure. The chocolate meditation is about taking a real break, and taste something as if for the first time. It requires patience and concentration, but gives back a lot of pleasure.
Be very curious and connect with all your senses, not just taste. How does it feel between your fingers? What does it look like? What’s the sound when you break off a piece? And then there is the smell, divine! All this before you even start to really taste it: for as long as you can, let the chocolate melt in your mouth and savour the intrinsic flavours. Some basic tasting notes for chocolate are fruity, floral, nutty, caramel, spicy. Much better is to detect your own, enjoy!
Golden thread breathing
Paying attention to your breath can make you feel calmer and more focused, sometimes almost instantly. This breathing technique lengthens the exhalation, thereby triggering the relaxation response in the body and soothing the nervous system.
-Sit in a comfortable pose. You could actually do this in any position, even standing in a long supermarket queue.
-Inhale lightly through the nose. Exhale through lightly parted or softly pursed lips, imagining your breath is like a golden thread moving away from you. Follow the thread, but keep it light, without forcing the breath. Be with your breath for a little while and then you’ll feel ready to give something or someone your full attention.
A restorative rest is especially good when you are exhausted. Give yourself 15 to 30 minutes in a rest position to feel completely rejuvenated. Read about some different rest positions in this blog: https://beneyoga.co.uk/restorative-yoga/.
Have a good end of year, with lots of pleasure in small things!