We were in sunny courtyard sipping coffee, licking crumbs of chocolate from our lips. Sun? Yes, sunshine after three months with almost none. Rather than enjoy it, my mind was elsewhere whilst my wife was obviously in the moment, relishing every minute of warmth upon her cheeks. It took me while for me to notice my blocked mind.
What preoccupied my narrow vision was the foursome on the next table. Plates of cake, seconds of coffee, refined clothes, expensive car keys between the plates, talk of where to eat lunch. Fit as fiddles and chirpy to boot, full of entitlement, lapping up being able to do whatever they wished. Subtle jealously simmered beneath my general mood and as the minutes passed, this discomfort spread. I still couldn’t see that this was so unlike myself.
I watched them tinged with distaste as this good-looking, bright and bouncy group rose, still chatting about the choice of famously expensive places to eat. How unfair. Life is a lottery. Wrongly, for I didn’t know them, I felt these people assumed they deserved what they had because they’d worked harder than most; because they’ve superior minds; because they’re from better backgrounds…. Grrr, me snarled.
On low State Pensions we don’t often go out and when we do, even for coffee and cake, we have to trim back for a while to equalise our bank balance. And there they were flouting…. Stop! This distaste isn’t me. This unusual preoccupation with the unfairness of life was spoiling where I was, ruining a special moment. How lovely this coffee, this brownie.
And then I noticed their shoes. Top quality, maybe even handmade. Ours were well kept, but old, mine having seen thirty constant years - I repaired them myself a year ago. Grr…. We too have worked really hard all our lives - we’ve been singled out (from the highest places, let it be known) as innovators, we’ve been praised for changing systems for the better, for creating astounding new approaches. Yet we’ve never been rewarded financially, despite our having helped many people across this country, even other countries. And here we are poor… Stop! Life isn’t measured by the material but by the….
I watched them stride easily up the hill chatting like birds, fit as can be, yet retired like us, probably a little older too. And so handsome. And the disgruntled beast inside me arose once more. Here I am in constant pain, pain wakes me continually, pain thwarts my every hour. It’s a bad day, I sit here worn out from a short walk along the level. And I’ve suffered for years and years. Grrr. So, so unfair. Stop!
I looked across to my wife who was smiling, loving the moment. Two people, one in heaven the other skirting hell. I finally woke, said, “The quality of our lives is determined by our attitudes,” and I told her all of the above. We agreed that we, in comparison to others, are lucky. I then began a positive exercise which I cobbled together to lift me from pain.
Constant pain depresses people because it stresses us, a mental reaction which releases cortisol and this creates a chemical reaction which dampens the brain, screws up the body and messes with our emotions, dragging our thoughts into the pit. Our thoughts clutch at other negative thoughts and together they swirl into an ever increasing whirlpool. Had I spent that past few minutes in the sun in a better state my pain would have been less. My exercise doesn’t stop the physical pain, it simply lifts my attention from it and enables me to see that life goes on beyond my mucky little puddle. It soothes the emotions, calms the thought-spin. This releases endorphins, which eventually ease the pain just a little.
Here it is. Stand or sit tall & settle into where you are (taking only a few moments). Enjoy this activity whilst suffusing yourself with kindness. Breathe in energising oxygen. Hold this living ball bright in your mind. Let it out, relaxing your remarkable being. Smile.
This is one of many research based exercises in my next book - ‘Joyful Walking’. (Hopefully available this week.)