I confess I woke up at 5 o’clock this morning worrying about bindweed. It was an awful moment last night when I saw it. All spring and early summer I have waged a quiet war against my bindweed foe, and was confident of winning. But then last night I looked out from an upstairs window and realised for the first time the full horror. The shoots and roots I had been patiently defeating were only the small advance guard; over the fence, high above in the hedgerows, it was amassing armies, leaves spreading to the horizon, their first grappling hooks beginning to descend. I swear someone was playing the soundtrack to the shower scene in The Shining as I looked and took it slowly in. I was outnumbered, outflanked, and doomed.
It had even come up in my mindfulness classes: someone had used gardening, and the gardener worrying about weeds but not enjoying the flowers, as a metaphor for living life in a particular way. I nodded sagely: I will enjoy my garden more, I said to myself, taking it rather literally, I will not worry so much about the weeds. But the practical problem is that a small garden in a rural village, with fertile soil and high rainfall, is under permanent assault: if you pay no attention to weeds, you will soon only have weeds to enjoy. After a few years of necessary neglect for other things, my poor garden is run amuck with weeds, and needs some stern attention.
But even I can see that waking at 5 o’clock in the morning is taking it far too far.
I have just started an evening course on mindfulness. This is a contination course: level 2. I took my first course in mindfulnesss two and a half years ago and the impact has been immense, and far-reaching. Returning for this course is partly to refresh what I learnt then, and to travel deeper.
How can I describe the importance of mindfulness in my life? It is hard to remember how it felt before I attended that first course. My daughter was in hospital, my family life was in chaos, I was barely in work. None of this was changed by mindfulness: at the end of that eight week course my daughter was still in hospital, it was still a battle to do something as simple as get to work, or attend a parents evening at school. But I was coping, I was making sense out my predicament, and I was starting to move forwards.
Two and a half years and a huge amount of lived experience later, I still use my mindfulness techniques every single day. I don’t always use them consciously (one reason I wanted to attend this course) but they are woven into my response to life. My family still lurches from crisis to crisis – I can’t alter that – but I don’t forget to breathe.
I can imagine that for a number of people, mindfulness is rather repellant. It can look terribly like a cult. My original course was run by buddhists at the Buddhist Centre and I know that for many people this is too unfamiliar, too alien, too weird. But although the connection to buddhism is not accidental, mindfulness is not a religion, it is not a challenge to religion. There is no need to sign up to a particular world view, to take part in religious services, or to feel reverence for particular things. It is a technique, a skill like swimming. It is as if mosques had a special relationship with swimming pools, and you had to track down an iman if you wanted to learn how to swim.