Are you, like me, sometimes in your own little world?
Do you sometimes get so absorbed in your own experience of something, or your own thoughts, that you forget that, all around you, others are experiencing the world in their own, unique way – a way which could be completely different to yours?
A couple of days ago, I was waiting to collect my son from the train. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and, as I was waiting, I was people-watching. You know, just watching the world go by. Just noticing people. All, no doubt, in their own little worlds. And then, I saw a lady walking her dog. The dog was trotting along, a jaunty little thing, running on its little legs to keep up with its owner’s walking pace. It stopped to sniff a couple of times, but each time the lead grew a little tighter, just trotted along again to catch up, in such a way that it seemed barely perceptible to the owner that her dog was exploring the world of the pavements and the hedges with such attention. She, meanwhile, was focused ahead, looking at the blue sky, the view in front of her, raising her face to the autumn warmth.
And it was so apparent that, although they were on the same walk, their experiences were totally different. Maybe not so surprising, given that they were different species, and given the difference in their height. It may look a little strange if we walked along and bent down to sniff the pavement!
But I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens all the time, with our children, our partners, our friends. We think we have experienced something together, and we have – and yet, we will have perceived it in very different ways. Our reality is filtered – by our expectations, our memories, our mood, our likes and dislikes, or raga and dwesha to use the yogic terms. A very young child will approach a walk in a very different way to an older child, or an adult. They are more open to the moment, to the present moment in which they find themselves. They are not constrained by the weight of their former experiences, they are not motivated by time, so they are able to be in the moment, and take as long as they want. Every leaf, every stick – as every parent knows! – can be worth seeking out, and spending time with, no matter what the destination is, no matter the purpose of the walk. Each and every moment is valued equally.
As adults, we can try to enter into that world through the practice of mindfulness. We can learn a lot from watching a small child (or even a jaunty little dog!). Whilst not every 5 minute walk can take an hour – try explaining you’re late to work because you were collecting perfectly formed pine cones or stones! – we can still really see, feel, and hear our surroundings. We can register the feel of our steps on the pavement, the sound of the birds in the sky, the sensation of sun – or rain! – on our skin. We can usually spare a second of our time to notice the smells around us, maybe we pass a rose bush or a jasmine, or some freshly mown grass (one of the best smells in the world, surely!)
And sometimes we could go for a walk, just for the sake of it, just for the experience. By the sea, in the woods, in a park – it doesn’t matter. Just walking mindfully, fully experiencing all there is to experience, as freshly and directly as possible. A walk like this can shift our mood, shake us out of our preconceptions, and remind us that we are more than we think we are. Instead of letting all our opinions, our expectations, our habits and preferences enclose us, we can expand and grow when we look at the world in a new way.
And I think our homes, our workplaces – ok, the whole world! – would be better places if we stopped to remember just how much we colour our experiences through the lens of our perception. If we stopped to remember that someone else’s perception is just as valid as our own. If we stopped believing that our way is the right way or the only way. If we valued feelings and values as much as ‘facts‘. If we started accepting others, no matter what.
And starting in a small way, in our homes, we can truly change the world, as well as our own little world.