As we approach the New Year we are reminded of the opportunity of choosing new resolutions. Today I want to describe the skill of mindfulness. Some of you will already be using it regularly, but I think you will agree that it is a real gift to those who have not yet learned to use it. And of course you may have your own methodology to teach us. I am going to describe what I do: I hope it will be a good starting point.
I use it as a regular, nightly, occasion. It enables me to be alone with myself for a period of 10 to 15 minutes. It has the effect of reducing tensions (a good way to be ready for sleep) and bringing me peace. While not religious in itself, it is a valuable preparation for night prayers.
In a comfortable upright chair I start with a few moments looking at a picture I drew of my late wife’s hands. It somehow reminds me of her in a characteristic way. Perhaps mindfulness is not necessary in Heaven, but it assures me that she supports me in my efforts on earth.
I close my eyes and, for a minute or two, I look through my eyelids and the colours and shapes I can see. I do a similar action with my nose, and exploring my mouth and my ears.
Then I move down to my neck – a well known place for tension – and waggle both the top and bottom of it until it feels supple and relaxed. I stiffen and deliberately relax the muscles of my shoulders. And work down my arms to my fingers which, one by one, I feel gently in touch with my thighs.
This is followed by my deep breathing. There are three stages: the top of my chest, the middle, and the bottom. Over the years, incidentally, this exercise, common to yoga, has increased my lung capacity considerably.
Then I crunch my bottom up several times. I am told that this also strengthens the muscles of the waterworks. And, as we grow older, this is increasingly important. Women, I understand, are the more vulnerable. I then work down through thighs, legs and feet. But all the while I pause and check back that my loosened muscles have not slipped back into tension.
Following all this I move into to deep slow breathing for as long as I wish. In practice I use an oven timer to tell me when to finish. I don’t want to distract my mind with watching the clock.
There is no magic here. You may well benefit from your first occasion but you need to follow the exercise for a week or ten days before you can clearly see how it has helped you to be at peace – not only during the exercise but in your whole approach to tension. Here is an anecdote: last week I had an examination in hospital which involved putting a line down my throat, and the full length of my oesophagus. I am told that some people need a sedative for this, but I just used mindfulness, and I was fine. So, it happily turned out, was my oesophagus!