Mindfulness of Nature

Loving life (even when we don’t)

Dear friends,

I’ve recently been noticing that in times when anxiety, fear, sadness, or hurt come to visit, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ‘be here’ anymore.

When these difficult mind states arise, something in me wishes the moment away and convincingly tells me that “only when this feeling is ‘solved’, can I go back to living and loving life”. Listening to this perversely compelling voice can lead us to putting life on hold until there’s a perceived sense of ‘having it together’, “feeling OK” or “feeling good” again. Does this sound familiar?

Understandably, being ‘with life’ when it’s painful, unsatisfactory, hard or shaky is incredibly hard, so it’s not surprising that our survival-trained minds are extremely well-versed in ensuring survival – sometimes at the expense of avoiding living. We can put off ‘being here’ until we are no longer scared. Until we feel motivated. Until we have the money. Until we have the time. Until we have the permission. Until we have the energy. We can also put off ‘being here’ by distracting ourselves – and oh there are so many captivating ways to do so in our modern world.

The downfall of this avoidance strategy is that life by nature feels ‘imperfect’, unsatisfactory, ungraspable, ever-changing. There’s always something that can feel “not quite right”. Moreover, the more we give into the voice that doesn’t want to ‘be with life’, the more we’re refusing the full human experience which life is asking us to embrace. It’s indeed often the case that experiences that we resist tend to persist in us until they have the space they need to dissipate, to be expressed and move through us.

I came across this quote last night: “True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection.” So what if there were another way? A way towards discovering this freedom?

What if even when things feel hard, shaky, impossible- we could play with loving and living life anyway? With going with the flow rather than against it?

Yesterday evening, I could feel anxiety and restlessness tightening my throat and chest and decided to experiment with this inquiry. I went for a wander near the Cypriot village where I’m based this week.

As I set off, I consciously asked myself “as well as this anxious tension in my body and mind, what else is there here?”. I was immediately struck by infinite touches of “life loving life” around me – sights, scents, sounds, smells. Naturally, doesn’t it seem that life loves to be alive – with all that it brings? Nature doesn’t pick and choose what to experience and what to resist. Nature welcomes all of it, just as it is.

The swifts were whistling and twirling up against the summer sky. The trees were swaying dreamily in the breeze and golden light. The cooler air felt kind and gentle after the baking daytime 40 degree heat. I walked barefoot across a stream feeling its refreshing flow. I heard the sweet, timid calls of a flock of bee-eaters. The evening felt light, airy and wispy and the magnetic ease of life around me enabled me to melt back into ‘loving life’ a little more again.

I then turned my attention – which had been somehow infused with the ease of the evening – back to the tension in my body. A gentle relief came over me as the tight sensations dissolved for a moment in some mysterious fusion of an inner and outer dance of direct sensations of aliveness.

We may feel pain, anxiety, fear and sadness. But perhaps these don’t need to be alarm calls to ‘check out’ of living and loving life but precious invitations to tune back in?

When we come out of our minds’ habitual attempts to resist our unfolding experience, and into our direct experience, is there not somewhere in the background a quiet, natural, underlying, presence which whispers something like “Whatever is going on, everything is OK, there’s no problem here”?

Our internal emotional storms and associated narratives can be incredibly compelling, and there will be times where perhaps the only momentary glimpse of this background whisper is the simple sensation of the support of the ground beneath us, the feeling of the breath in and out of the body or the soft sound of a breeze. And what if whatever we can manage in any given moment were enough?

The occasional glimpse of this quiet anchor could grow little by little into a gentle magnet calling us again and again back to aliveness – reminding us that perhaps, even when that part of us that doesn’t want to ‘be here’ can seem incredibly overwhelming, there’s always a part of us that is wholeheartedly naturally willing and able to continue living and loving life anyway?

6 thoughts on “Loving life (even when we don’t)

  1. Amita

    Thanks for this. Really helpful observations. I guess the ‘quiet anchor’ is easier to find when in a new and different place – it’s why I’m continually drawn to travel. Somehow it’s harder to find in the mundanity of the familiar. Something I’d like to cultivate…

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Thanks Amita. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to find anchoring in new places and travel can be really supportive! However, I would say that I’ve begun to discover for myself since coming back from South America in January that the feeling of the ground beneath me, the breeze, the breath, the sounds are everywhere, wherever we are, even in the mundane familiar. There have been days over the last few months where anxieties were overwhelming and all I could manage was to lie flat out on the earth in the garden for hours – feeling the sensations and support of the ground beneath me. It can be strangely comforting in its simplicity when it feels like all other anchors are not within reach. But it’s all such a challenge, and can only be an ongoing practice we can put out trust in, perhaps?

  2. Christopher Stokes

    Claire your words resonate powerfully with my own experience, and I know in my heart that my best antidote to difficult mind states is my ability to choose one thought over another. This sounds simple but, as I’ve repeatedly discovered, it’s not a quick fix but an ongoing practice which works most efficaciously when I remember to reach for it as soon as adversity strikes.

    I’m taking the liberty of offering you these words by the contemporary Australian poet Les Murray, which I quoted in a comment on your blog about three years ago:

    The Meaning of Existence

    Everything except language
    knows the meaning of existence.
    Trees, planets, rivers, time
    know nothing else. They express it
    moment by moment as the universe.

    Even this fool of a body
    lives it in part, and would
    have full dignity within it
    but for the ignorant freedom
    of my talking mind.

    I’m encouraged by the notion of nurturing our minds and bodies to have full dignity in the natural world, and I hope that you may be too. With my warmest wishes, Christopher

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Thanks Christopher! Lovely words, and yes, nurturing full dignity and perhaps trust in our natural bodies and natural world… definitely no quick fix, but certainly a worthwhile practice for ourselves, for others and for the rest of the natural world I feel.

  3. Mark Fielding

    I think we need to find joy in the mundane. A working life is by definition quite routine and we need to be able to enjoy the commute to work, the performing of repetitive tasks and the interaction with colleagues. I feel the latter is very important – we need to feel appreciated and valued.

    1. clairethompson Post author

      Thanks for your comment Mark, and I completely agree. It can feel more challenging to feel the wonder in routine as we go into “autopilot” mode quite easily. But it is always there, if we pay attention, isn’t it? And yes, feeling valued and appreciated is paramount, perhaps for ourselves towards ourselves and towards others.

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