Although I am usually very good at taking time for myself and doing my yoga and meditation practice, this past month has been so packed that some of there simply hasn't been enough down time. And although physically I’ve felt ok, there’s been a part of my brain that began to feel deeply exhausted.
So finally, when I got a day off, what did I do? I went foraging.
In order to pick blackberries or apples or do any kind of foraging you have to stay quietly present. If you don’t, you will either miss what you are looking for, get scratched, stung, covered in sticky seed cases or you just won’t end up with many to take home. And it is precisely maintaining this present moment awareness, or alpha state, that is so deeply restful. It is in this state that we restore our balance from too much forward planning and calculating, from too much stimulation, from too much thinking. It is in the alpha states that we build resources that actually help us become better in all these other states that are so common in our lives, precisely by giving us a break from them. It certainly worked for me, and when I sat in meditation later that day, I could find the restorative quiet I had been so badly missing.
Two hundred years ago most people would have spent much of their waking lives doing simple things such as planting, weeding, tending animals, sewing, baking bread, chopping wood, collecting water and so on. Today we have mostly automated these processes. I am very happy that water now comes out of taps and that I don’t have to make my own clothes, but we have lost something precious in making things so easy. When at our desks, in our cars and in front of our televisions we are rarely able, for long, to remain in a state of relaxed, yet alert, present moment awareness. Instead, our minds are - necessarily - having to move rapidly from subject to subject, from past issues to future planning, figuring out or dealing with the implications of our actions and constantly recalling and learning information.
The restful and healing quality of staying present without all that much to do is, of course, key to the practice of mindfulness. It is key to the great popularity of yoga and chi gung and one of the reasons, alongside the physical, why we feel better after a class. It is also behind the love many have for gardening, running, playing music and the many other activities where you quietly participate in something repetitive, familiar and ultimately very rewarding. And in our hugely busy lives, these moments are invaluable.
So a wonderful thing to do on these autumn days is to spend an hour picking blackberries, elderberries, crabapples or whatever takes your fancy. It’s an effortless meditation practice. And as you put the crumble in the oven, blitz the smoothie in the blender, or put the jam in its jars, congratulate yourself on nourishing not just your body but also your mind.