As my fingers rest upon the keys I feel my shoulders tighten and I fight a voice in my head that tells me not to write this. Like wind in a sail, the voice pushes my thoughts forward into the future. I am a boat laden with anxieties sailing on the sea of the world, constantly worried about what others may – or may not – think about me, my words, and my expressions. As i sit, something gradually changes. The wind has quietened and the sea is calming. Without this the vastness of the ocean has become a glassy millpond, and the vessel has slowed to a steady drift. Only the sea, the sky, and the boat remain. No past memory, no future ‘what-ifs’, just a boat caught in a present moment of serenity.
It is exactly this vision that has meaning. It’s the connection between the observer and the world. This connection can either be hugely complex, or devastatingly simple depending on how you see it. Ultimately, this connection, and the subsequent awareness it creates, is a way we can live our lives peacefully and with less pain. I’d like to share my experience of what has happened when I’ve focused on this connection.
The world we inhabit is currently a stormy place to sail. It is stormy because we live unconsciously. Despite our technological advances we often feel isolated and lonely. Social media creates unchecked comparison, fueled by our need to identify with the perceived value of money, status, roles, and possessions. You would think we would have evolved a deeper understanding of the suffering that we have created for ourselves by now. Yet, we seem more and more distracted. This distraction is both our collective and individual unconsciousness. We are absorbed into the unreal, the unsubstantial, all to satisfy our egos as many Psychologists and Spiritual Teachers have written about. The problem is that we just don’t realise it. We are causing ourselves pain without really stopping to observe why. One of my good friends recently commented that “so many people seem to have given up”. It’s no real surprise, but equally, it doesn’t have to be this way.
In contrast, connection with the world can come from stopping to observe ‘why’. This means connecting with the present and re-framing our existence more meaningfully to the wider world around us. In other words, it is connecting to the present moment within which we exist right now. It is important to remember that the past has gone, and the future is yet to happen meaning that neither of those things exist. Therefore, there is only what is happening right now. By focusing on right now, the seas calm and life becomes easier to navigate. Everything (generally) that is happening right now is the calmer sea that is easier for us all to sail on.
We also need to realise that we are not separate to the world. We are part of it. Knowing we are part of a bigger picture helps us to keep things in perspective. How often do we feel isolated from each other?. We feel detached from the ground, the air, and the sky. How often do we feel the world is against us? How often do we feel like boats at the mercy of the ocean’s waves? The reality is we are all made of the same fabric and that the world is just happening around us. When we stop and think about this, we bring about an ‘awareness’ that causes ‘connection’. If you’ve ever stopped in the moment to look at something of incredible natural beauty and it has resonated in a way that can’t be described using words, then you have experienced this ‘connection’. In that moment, you are aware of yourself, the world, and the connected and conscious place you take in it. At this moment you are free from the anxieties created by past or future thoughts.
It is possible for us to become more conscious, more aware, and more connected both with the world and the present, and therein find freedom, calmness, and peace. This is something we all need to work harder on because it will improve our own inner worlds as well as the world around us, bringing about compassion and love. My own experience of this has been illuminating. Let me first make it clear that I’m not suggesting that I’ve found complete ‘enlightenment’, but maybe I’ve seen something I haven’t quite been able to see before. It has, and is, taking real focus and practice. Let me try and explain.
In December 2019 I broke my foot and I had to stop all forms of exercise, something that has been very important to me. Actually, I had to stop everything. Strangely, this happened at a time of incredible work-related stress and fatigue. I was burnt out, suffering from heart palpitations and episodes of panic. Walking back from my daughter’s performance in the school nativity I was close to grinding to a halt on the curb just outside the building. Effectively I had to stop everything. I literally just had to stop. In hindsight, the timing couldn’t have been better. It was almost like there had been some divine body pushing me back into the armchair with an ethereal hand. I couldn’t have continued down the narrowing, potholed road I was travelling down. The wheels were buckled and about to come off.
During this time, I read, and thought. I paused. It was nice to be able to stop and be absorbed into something else. I had to surrender to the situation as if I had fallen into the margins of a swollen river which was impossible to swim against, and to save myself had to lie on my back with my arms crossed over my chest, allowing myself to be swept to a more restful place. I read the books of Tolle (A New Earth, 2005) and Singer (The Untethered Soul, 2007). Something was surfacing. Curiosity maybe, but also something deeper. Moments of laughter arose as the pages of the books described with complete accuracy my feelings about my entire existence. Sometimes there were tears. I found myself repeatedly saying “something is changing”. I soaked myself in the words with a real thirst, learning about consciousness, ‘oneness’ and energy. As I write this, I’m almost laughing out loud as my past self would probably have looked at me like I was going insane. But it was true, something was different.
The following events illustrate my experience. Again, I fight the voice in my head as I write this, knowing that for some this will be easy to dismiss. The weekend I was discharged from the fracture clinic, I desperately wanted to get outside and heave the fresh air into my lungs after feeling imprisoned for so long by the bricks and mortar of my house. My family and I went to our local park, and into surroundings of trees, water, trails and long grass. I could feel the coldness of the January afternoon swirl into my mouth and lungs. We didn’t walk far, just down to a small river, through a mesh of overhanging trees. There was a noticeable breeze, and the trees gently swayed in anticipation as we walked underneath them. All the time I had pages and words cascading before my eyes. As we walked, I focused on my footsteps, on the air, and on my breathing.
It was on the return to the car that it happened. I had walked a few steps ahead as my wife and daughter continued to entertain themselves in a small children’s play area covered with soft bark. I stopped, inhaled, and closed my eyes. I could feel my heartbeat. I turned around and looked up at a new waning gibbous moon shrouded in the late afternoon turquoise and smiling its brightest silver. I hadn’t noticed it before. Suddenly, an invisible hand brushed through the birch treetops to a building crescendo and a dusting of catkins. Everyone had disappeared as had any voices in my head. There was just stillness and calmness. I could feel the ground beneath my feet. A few meters away I saw a Robin land in a tree. The small bird opened his heart and sang the most beautiful song. I was rooted to the spot. A spectator. I glanced up at the moon and to the rippling treetops and back to the bird, joining them up in a constellation, a triangle. I knew that the bird wasn’t singing to me, or for me, but with everything and for everyone. I felt the calmest blanket settle over me. I felt alive. I felt the depth of the sky and the earth and my place in it. All that was happening was that moment, and I was connected to its vastness. I had experienced something.
Then it moved into memory. The bird flew away and my daughter arrived at my legs with a clatter and we walked back to the car. I talked about my experience and my wife rather nonchalantly acknowledged it as a moment of connection with the universe and as if we all have them every day. She’s right of course, and I now think we can and do.
Here’s why I think it’s important for me to share this. Firstly, we are not separate to the world, we are part of it, and we shouldn’t try to fight against it. After all, how you can you control the world? It’s an impossibility. Secondly, to know this, to know that you share a connection to something bigger, that the world is happening regardless of your thoughts, is something eternal and incredibly comforting.
What brings even more comfort is viewing existence within the present. Knowing that the voice inside your head doesn’t always tell the truth, and talks of non-existent things in the past and future, is liberating. Feeling a deep connection with everything and everyone is profound. It alleviates worry as the trivialities and anxieties of day-to-day life melt against its warmth. More than anything, it allows you to pause, and to observe the present moment as being the only thing that exists. It is therefore the only thing for you to deal with, appreciate, and grasp with real motivation. Nothing else exists and knowing this can allow you to feel happy and free. You just have to focus.
Let me conclude by giving a few day-to-day examples of how approaching life in this way has helped me. From a work perspective, I can honestly say that since December I haven’t felt one palpitation and any stress has been fleeting. How? When things have happened such as resignations, mistakes, last minute tasks, things that I used to take personally, ratcheting up the anxious voice in my head- I have stopped. I have stopped and observed. I’ve observed my thoughts as something separate and have been able to quieten them. I have woven these occurrences into a bigger perspective, that of the world, knowing that the things happening in that moment is just how the world works. It is chaotic and uncontrollable and never at your convenience. I know it isn’t me versus the world. Accepting this has helped me to dilute any worry. Sometimes, I might just look outside at the sky and its vastness and be comforted by the feeling of our absolute connection to everything. It is genuinely that simple.
Another example happened tonight. As I’m now forty-two years of age and tire easily, putting my daughter to bed can be a challenge. This is especially true when she wants to do anything other than listen, or sleep. Tonight, I had a headache and was feeling agitated. We came to read a bedtime story and I was unenthusiastic. We sat and read a story. My daughter put her arm around me, and listened. Something in my consciousness – not a voice, something more essential than that-, became aware of the warmth of her cheek on mine. It made me realise the preciousness of the moment and prompted me to focus on it. I became aware of her. Of the life within her. Her beauty. But also, that we shared a deep connection. My headache disappeared and an energy returned to the words pushing outwards from my lips. I could feel my breath in my chest. I could feel hers. I could feel our connection. The simple act of reading a bedtime story became a moment of joy, not just an action, but of real joy. All because I observed, focused, and became aware of the moment.
I’m going to continue to practice this. I feel I’m at the very beginning. I’m just breaking the surface of the water, and every now and then the sun and sounds of the sky can be heard in bursts. Without a doubt, something has changed in me and I hope it doesn’t fade. I’m actually not sure it can at this point. I’ve written this because in a world where it might be easy to give up, we shouldn’t allow ourselves to. We are missing so much. There is so much to connect to and with. Getting tangled up in unhelpful thoughts and being distracted by things that ultimately are impermanent is pointless. I wonder what could be. What kind of world there could be? I think it exists. I want to find out more and when I get there, it would be great to see you there too. I wonder what we might talk about.
Huge thank you to Ruth Northey (Cyber-psychologist) for the edits, and for generally teaching how to write like a an actual person…..