The Peace of the Un-Captured Moment
Sometimes inspiration comes at you from unusual places. In the aftermath of a migraine, I was struggling to get my mind into gear and to think of a subject for today’s post. To distract myself, I allowed myself to stray into my emails. “When do you feel most at peace?” was the subject line of an email from a genealogy website. “Interesting question,” I thought.
So that’s my question to you lovely folk this Monday. “When do you feel most at peace?” Each person’s answer and associated memories will be myriad and unique. I’m guessing you will instantly have a mind-flash of a couple of memories then more might follow if you reach further into your memory bank.
Before I go further, I guess a good question is “How do we know we’re at peace?” Perhaps we become aware of a kind of settling, pulse rate slowing, heartbeats reducing. We might feel a sense of stillness and silence – even when we are somewhere busy or noisy. (I often go to busy places to write as paradoxically, I get a huge sense of peace when I focus on my page or screen whilst hubbub is happening around me). When our mind and our body feel in synch we’re often conscious of feeling completely present with ourselves: there is nothing else other than this. It strikes me though, that moments of peace arise when we are not searching for them or when we least expect them. And often, these moments of self-peace are just that – moments. But as fleeting as those moments are they can pack a psychological impact in a way that outlives their real time.
The poet Seumas O’Sullivan (1879-1958) recounts one such moment in his poem Lark’s Song. He takes a break from his work and among the ‘vile clamour’ of Mercer Street he hears a lark ascending and follows its path in the ‘sunlit air’. He waits till he sees it dip and disappear:
Silence. Again the street is grey;
Shut down the windows. Work-a-day.
(Due to copyright rules, read the full poem here. You have to scroll down till you see Lark’s Song)
O’Sullivan’s experience is one that many of us have: the blackbird singing at dusk, the stolen half hour to read, a break in the clouds and the sun on our face. I come in the little things, said Evelyn Underhill in her poem Immanence. Being a religious/spiritual poet, Underhill was speaking about sensing a spiritual presence in the wonders of nature. I like to think of the poem also as a description of being at peace with oneself and the world.
The Freedom of the Dropped Camera
We try so hard to be happy that we end up missing the most important parts of our lives and destroying the very peace that we are seeking.Mark Williams and Danny Penman in Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
For me, mindfulness is about being fully in those moments, taking the time to stop and notice – allowing myself the gift of this one moment’s peace. It’s also about not striving to capture the moment while I’m in it. It’s so tempting to take a photo or to try to push one’s mind to remember the details. I feel that the beauty of those moments is that they are un-trappable and that in trying to hold onto them we lose awareness of the very moment we are in. A few years ago on the first day of a holiday I dropped and broke my camera whilst enjoying a moment of peace in a temple. (Yes, the irony did not escape me!) After the first hour or so of being p’d off and of lamenting all the future moments I’d not be able to capture and share on social media, I suddenly, inexplicably felt free. Being able to abandon any hope of seeking the perfect image, of being in each moment as it arose, I was able to commit to them fully.
Now, I’m not saying that to be mindful we should drop our cameras, stop taking photos or making memories – I personally, find that photography can be a mindful activity. It’s just that, especially in this social-media focused world, it’s easy to feel that we’re not living fully if we’re not clicking, posting and seeking the ‘likes’. I believe the opposite is true. It’s only when we let go of expectation, when we release ourselves from manipulating the peaceful moment, from even thinking about it and just allowing ourselves to settle into our awareness, that we can fully be at peace in this one, totally unrepeatable moment.
A gift to yourself…
Now, I don’t speak or think in ‘cat’ but I am fairly certain that my cat in the picture above did not think about what he was doing. He chanced on a sunbeam. He stopped. He was simply being.
Today, if you find yourself flitting between tasks, constantly thinking yourself into the next thing to do, allow yourself to take three minutes to stop. Set a gentle alarm for three minutes on your phone, if you like
Find something that you can see, hear or feel easily – a sunbeam, birdsong, the garden, a view of roof tops from your office window, a plant and rest your attention on it.
Notice your breath, where you feel your breath. Don’t think about it, don’t change your breath, just notice.
If you like, you can say to yourself, I am here. I am here. There is nothing else.
And be a ‘being being’ – not analysing, not thinking, simply resting, aware of the peace in this one amazing moment.