I’ve never been much good at doing nothing but I know it’s good for me. Nevertheless, the older I’ve got, and the wiser (!), the more I recognise the value of mindfulness. But it’s harder than ever these days since the SmartPhone. Whereas I once would have sat in a waiting room in contemplation, it is now nigh on impossible not to reach for my phone and flick through Facebook while I wait. It is harder than ever to allow my mind to wander freely.
Then my mother asked me to sit for her portrait-drawing class. I must admit I was dreading it. I am not good at sitting in one position for long. I’m a leg-crosser and uncrosser, a fidget. I also can’t stop myself from staring at people. Still, it was only an hour or so, and I thought it might do me good.
So, this morning, I joined her at the Indoor Bowls Club and allowed myself to be positioned in a wicker chair, as you would move one of those wooden articulated artist’s dummies into position. One leg bent, one straight, one hand on the chair arm, the other on a knee, slightly to the side, with my face tipped just so. My view was of a no smoking sign on a window, just above the head of a lady with a striped top. As silence fell, and 10 grey heads bent over sketchpads, the 45 minutes ahead of me looked interminable. How was I going to pass the time?
The no smoking sign soon lost its appeal, but then I noticed the sprinkler that was turning pirhouettes on the perfect green lawn outside. The branches of the yew trees arched upwards, arms in first position and a grey pigeon darted in and out of the lilacs. Was it building a nest or feeding young? He flew exactly the same route, diagonally, over and over. It was not long before I was mesmerised.
There was no wind. A weak sun warmed the windows and I began to listen. The tea urn had been gurgling unnoticed until it went silent, which was when the clock’s tick lurched into focus. To my left a bangle, sounding silver, clanged repeatedly against the formica table-top like birdsong. Pencils switched positions in a wooden box with the call of a kookaburra. Sleeves brushed artpaper, bottoms squeaked against the plastic upholstery of discarded dining chairs. Feet shuffled. Mine could not. I tried to meditate, counting five breaths in and eight out, but with my eyes open it was impossible. Despite my narrow line of sight I kept my gaze straight. My senses became fascinated by the infinite sounds and sights that filled the poet in me with a richness of inspiration I rarely feel. Was the shadow to my left a painter who was standing up? Who wore the bangle? Was something pale and yellow moving on the green? If I were blind, would it be even better? Likewise, if I were deaf?
An itch began to the left of my mouth. I could not scratch it and so, impotent, switched my thoughts back to the pigeon until I realised the itch had moved to my eyebrow, where again I had to leave it be until it disappeared. I managed to surpress both a sneeze and a cough. Was this a metaphor for dealing with mosquito bites and anxious thoughts, best left alone to dissipate alone?
My left hand filled with pins and needles. The tension in my neck burned hot as chilli. I tried to concentrate on my ear instead and soon it was aflame and thus my neck and hand left my attention. The wind picked up. The sky went grey. The clock still ticked loudly and the ladies began to whisper and stretch their arthritic arms.
Time for coffee and a welcome walkabout. Some went out into the sunshine for cigarettes with their furry-kettle coffee and milk chocolate digestives. Some perused the second-hand book stall. Some, like me, noticed that the sprinkler had stopped and instead a chap with a mower and a mongrel took over the lawn.
Again, I was placed back in position for another half an hour. It flew so fast I hardly had time to notice a thing. I had reached the peaceful place that comes after deep relaxation.
I was handed £15, yet, frankly, I’d have paid for the lesson in mindfulness. The poet’s inspiration I had received by simply being forced to sit completely still for three-quarters of an hour was priceless. I was also given two remarkable portraits to take home.
If you too struggle with mindfulness or meditation, then maybe you too should try to sit for an art class?