Writing touchy-feely stuff…
I was walking along a deserted beach with my then young son. (He’s now in his 30’s)
The day was a soft spring day…
a pale blue sky woven with white cloud in the weft and waves that barely broke as if the effort should be restrained for a more forbidding sky. The sea stretched in a satin-smooth length and the sand was scrubbed white by the previous winter’s inclement seas. Around us, seabirds swooped, dived and called.
My son had just begun school holidays and he was seven or eight – filled with the energy of the young explorer unfettered by the chains of a city existence.
He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me to a halt.
‘Stop, Mum! Look!’ He waved his arm around. ‘You’ve got to look. This is really beautiful.’ He turned in a circle. ‘We have to take it all in. The sea, the sand, the sky. Really look at it.’
At first I smiled, but the earnestness with which he spoke about his surroundings struck such a chord. I looked at my surroundings with seven year old eyes, all preconceptions gone.
It was one of the biggest lessons in mindfulness that I have had.
I stared at the softness of colour, felt the cool sand under my feet and the way it drifted granule by granule between my toes, or whispered, ‘Eek, ouch, eek, ouch’ as we stepped across its fine ivory surface. They were things I knew, had known for years, but things I had grown complacent about. It was a subtle instruction on being observant, seeing how all the senses respond to activities, to surroundings because there is such important minutae all around us.
Every time I do anything now, if I am lost in thinking of tomorrow or yesterday, I think of my son and stop, moving myself back into the present.
If I am gardening, I use my nose to smell the soil and the plants, my fingers to feel the texture of dirt granules and leaves and my eyes to soak up colour. If I am swimming, I ‘feel’ the water and my muscles working with each stroke.
If I’m kayaking, I study the layers of water to the ocean floor,
hear the waves slapping against the side of the craft.
The same if I am working in the paddocks or embroidering or cooking, touching a horse, a sheep, a dog. It’s almost always a semi-conscious endeavour, but it’s nevertheless there.
On a more emotional level, I observe happiness and grief, pain and aches, hunger and illness.
And I file all the experiences in the catalogue of my mind.
I’m a writer, and each little experience is something that my characters might experience. I must know what the bend and draw of a bow feels like, the swing of a sword, the creak of a saddle, the breathing in and out of a horse beneath my legs after a gallop, what it feels like when you lose someone you love dearly. I must know what many things feel like. Because I must ‘be’ my characters’ senses. So this is all grist to the mill.
And I owe it all to a little seven year old boy who called out to me one day, ‘Stop, Mum! Look…’