When I was younger I had a reputation for being clumsy. This bothered me a lot. It felt unfair. It’s not to say that I wasn’t clumsy, I’m quite sure I was, but the problem with a label is that it becomes a convenient way of missing reality. So that with the label of ‘clumsy’ I didn’t feel as though I had the opportunity to be a ‘normal’ amount of clumsy because the spotlight was on me and so it felt that EVERY TIME I dropped, spilled or broke something there was sighing, or shouting, or unhappiness. I didn’t feel as though I could ever use my ‘this is just the normal level of clumsy, actually’ card.
Eventually I started to berate MYSELF for my clumsiness. The internal dialogue would start up: ‘Oh God, why am I so bloody clumsy?’ ‘Fuck me, why do I always break stuff?’ ‘Oh here we go again, dropping things, Jesus I’m an idiot’. And so on and so forth. Unsurprisingly it didn’t help the situation and this negative self-talk certainly didn’t do anything to improve my mindfulness around objects. It just made me hyper aware of my own shortcomings and hyper critical. It also had a very physical counterpart – heaviness, darkness and a feeling of sharpness somehow, all lurking in my body.
30 years later.
This afternoon, I was refilling a sugar container. I veeerrryyy carefully emptied the sugar into the container and was incredibly pleased with myself for getting the remainder of the bag into the pot. Right to the top. Didn’t spill over. That’s very satisfying when the amount left in the bag is exactly the space left in the container. Great spatial awareness.
So, there I am, enjoying the satisfaction of the fullness of the pot and the emptiness of the bag, just about to screw the lid on and somehow I totally mishandled the pot and about a third of the sugar went all over the counter.
And do you know what I did?
I smiled to myself. A really genuine smile to myself about how funny it is that I was so proud of the exactitude of the measurements and how in the next moment that had all changed! So, smiling, I scooped up what I could from the counter and put it in the pot. I had to chuck quite a lot down the sink (obviously it fell into the only tiny wet patch on the counter – this also made me smile). No heaviness, no darkness, no sharpness. In fact there was a wave of golden something or other. Not quite sure, but it certainly didn’t feel cumbersome.
And in that moment I realised how my practice of meditation and mindfulness had changed my world. Just in that tiny example.
I realised that some of the habitual ways I had of speaking to myself, some of the old patterns of automatic negative thinking, some old discompassionate part of me had been transformed into a kind, gentle, and appreciative of life’s ironies, human being. I was practising compassion towards myself.
I couldn’t tell you when that change occured. I don’t know. I have noticed for some time that I am simply not bothered when I break stuff, knock it over or drop it. Or when other people do the same. It just doesn’t have the same emotional CLANG that it used to. I invariably SMILE when I do something like that. And it’s not a fake it to make it smile, it’s a beautifully gentle and loving smile. It’s making me smile just to write about it!
It would seem to me that this is a great example of the benefits of practising meditation and mindfulness. Nothing very showy or exotic. A tiny reconfiguring of my relationship with myself.
Acorns to oaks, my friends, acorns to oaks.