2007 - 2020

Inner Selfie

3644309244_9f0c0884aa_zThe basement of Waterstone’s is often my refuge. On the days where I feel brave enough for a weekend venture onto Princes Street, I’m often quickly reminded why I avoid it. As a mildly anxious introvert, I have strategically staked out restorative niches across the city to be called upon in a moment of personal crisis – this is one of them. If you find yourself in non-fiction, deep in the bookstore belly (which I truly believe, is in a dark basement for a reason) amongst the usual pocket guides to Rousseau and latest George Monbiot, I’ve noticed a newcomer. An interloper, multiplying like Tribbles every time I visit: Mindfulness books. Everywhere. The Little Book of Mindfulness. The Mindfulness Pocketbook. The Little Pocket Book of Mindfulness. In fact, no less than 117 titles on the subject in stock, right now. If you’ve yet to encounter this 21st century re-brand, it’s meditation for the masses.

Once upon a time, such things were the preserve of the New Age marginale, yet the word seems to have become commonplace in cultural lexicon. It’s the millennials’ Chicken Soup for the Soul. But why the shift from out there to accepted? Have we collectively reached the tipping point? Has the world gotten so ugly that what was once the preserve of chai-supping hippies (I know, I was one) has been yoinked into the mainstream by the over-worked?
A sure-fire sign of social saturation is ‘the app test’. Take a nebulous concept, bung it in the iTunes store, and see how many people can sort your life out with one £2.99 digital package. The answer is ‘lots’. To me though, the rise of ‘spiritual tech’ and the explosion in ‘wisdompreneurs’ all seems a little antithetical to the original ethos.

But – I caved, and bought one anyway, because there are some weeks where the world feels more awful than usual. Weeks when the news exists only to pipe a constant stream of human suffering into your ears. Add to that school holidays, a full-time job, 5:30am writing, bills, deadlines, post-grad research, unexpected guests, global tragedy, internet backlash, and I’d reached the limits of my own weekly stress quotient. After a futile battle between sleep and being sucked into a giant forest harvester, I needed a quick fix. Don’t we all?

I’m no newbie to the concept of spiritual calm. I’ve spent the majority of the last eighteen years in an on/off relationship with my inner self. (For the most part, mostly wishing she’d wheesht). My wee West Coast Papa, a veteran of two coronaries before fifty, knew exactly how to bring his heart rate down through focus and mantra, and taught me his secret. This progressed to trying yoga nidra after binging on Jane Fonda videos, through to joining a Buddhist chanting class and on to guided meditation, transcendental meditation and hypnobirthing. Yet despite putting in the years, the quest for inner stillness persists. If self-improvement is a journey, I keep getting on the wrong train.

So I gave the technology a shot. You know what I learned? For a simple concept, mindfulness is really bloody hard. It’s nigh on impossible to be present, and appreciate the air against your skin, and the sound of the rain, and where your body meets the floor in a room where your cat is furiously humping the rug and your kids have spontaneously redecorated with Lego and browning apple cores. Right now, mindfulness, for all its good intentions, is another personal benchmark for me to miss. In the midst of my own shitstorm of a week, it feels like a fad that has been intentionally crafted to fatten up social media posts and make me feel inadequate. Of course, I know this isn’t true. But in a world where my patience is constantly stretched it feels like yet another thing for me to try, fail and then feel bad about. I began poisoning myself with my own ‘toxic self-criticism’ – precisely what the practice is supposed to eliminate.

In a nutshell, the tech didn’t work. If anything, the passive-aggressive reminders to stop and take stock only made me cross. Pictures of dandelions, soft music and guided breathing did nothing to centre my life. And I know why – because such a radical shift in focus can’t happen in front of a 5.5-inch screen – it has to come from me. I have to recalibrate my expectations, and stop trying to find a sticking plaster fix for my own attitudinal self-sabotage.

As a result, I’m beginning to arrive at my own slightly wonky Zen state. One that is far more realistic given that I don’t live in an Instagram photo. It starts with a mutual understanding between me and The Universe, that nobody in Scotland is really living in a higher state of being. Next, it involves laughing at how badly my well-intentioned self-help pans out. Then, it’s a gradual acceptance that I’m more Daria than Dalai Lama, and that deep down, I’d rather call for pizza than strike a posture.

For all of my early rising, hungover sun salutations and meditation, I’m no longer aiming for personal nirvana. And I think I’m okay with that. Nothing beats whizzing down a hill on a bike. Nothing makes me smile like making a bed-sheet den with my boys, on a clothes horse. I know I’ll find moments of self-care hiding in bubble baths and beer bottles and in singing to The Smiths when I feel sad. These will always work in a way that deep breaths never will. So long may the little things continue.

Comments (19)

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  1. jimbennett says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you!

  2. Alison Myles says:

    Now I don’t feel so alone

  3. John Page says:

    Thank you…….especially joyful last paragraph

    John

  4. will miller says:

    thank you.

  5. will miller says:

    nice one .thanks

  6. Jennifer Stenhouse says:

    Very well said and spot on! Thank you.

  7. kevin says:

    Wow – a talented writer.
    I enjoyed that, Vonny.

  8. Michael Marten says:

    This is rather lovely, thank you.

  9. Peter A Bell says:

    I was somewhat irked reading this as mindfulness is a concept that I have always regarded as belonging to the province of respectable social psychology rather than self-improvement quackery. That is because my understanding of the subject derives form an excellent book published in 1989 by Ellen J Langer and titled “Mindfulness”.

    This appears to be a case of a term being hi-jacked and applied to a crass over-simplification and/or grotesque distortion of the ideas the term originally represented.

    Next time Vonny Moyes is in the basement of Waterstone’s, I recommend a wee search for Langer’s book. I find that a 25th anniversary edition was published last year, so it should be readily available. If Waterstone’s can’t help, there’s always Amazon – http://goo.gl/BC6h0r

    1. jimbennett says:

      Bah……humbug!

      1. Peter A Bell says:

        My intuition tells me you haven’t read the book to which I refer.

    2. Frank says:

      Sometimes it can be difficult for a ‘concept’ to ‘belong’ to anything…

  10. Alison Lindsay says:

    It’s a big industry, dealing in many sad hopefuls with money to waste on the latest well marketed ‘label’. Thanks for putting this on the spot so succinctly. Keep looking at our imperfect extraordinary world and playing with your children. Cats do this without a course on ‘Mindfulness’.

  11. Kimberley Cadden says:

    As a Zen practitioner my experience tells me that it’s nigh on impossible to practice mindfulness, in terms of stillness within activity, without a formal daily meditation practice of the kind where deepening awareness is cultivated.

    Mindfulness, as it is understood and taught in zen, isn’t an act of the intellect, or indeed any kind of force of conditioning, but rather its a ‘just this-ness’, the mind – rather than caught in the directions of conditioning – instead is ‘awaring’ conditioning (as a famous teacher once described it) and we respond from a deeper place and embody a very different kind of activity. Gradually the stillness within activity of formal sitting and stillness within activity of the relational world is no longer anything different.

    In zen this is of course all part of the practice of realising non duality and this path is one of complete transformation not of us, but of the whole universe. It’s the most challenging path we can take and asks for everything and that is why there is a great deal of ambivalence in the wider Buddhist community when it comes to mindfulness practice, as people who don’t understand where this can go and who don’t practice with the help of teaching could find themselves in a difficult place with no way to navigate it.

    OF course in saying that there is a lot of evidence that some basic breathing techniques etc have helped people with stress and anxiety and this all seems great – grounding ourselves is a good thing. But for anyone who wants to go further than that it would be advisable to do in the knowledge that its not a process rooted in conditions and thus it isn’t a process you can control – believe me once realisation begins to take place, you can never turn back the clock – and reality isn’t comfortable.

  12. Lynsey says:

    I’ve had one of those weeks too – without the children to look after, though – so I really get it and feel the angst. There is joy in the last paragraph, especially the ‘nothing makes me smile like making a bed-sheet den with my boys, on a clothes horse’ and that kinda reminds me of the da in Anne Donovan’s Buddha Da who finds himself completely absorbed listening to the rain fall when he is meditating and is later apologetic about that, not realising that that is it. Maybe our frustrations arise from searching for this big, complex, mind-blowing thing when really, letting go of all of that, being gentle with ourselves and keeping things simple and carefree can bring so much relief. So long may the little things continue!

  13. Hugh MacLeod says:

    Dunno if you know this, but mindfulness and other forms of secular Zen has become a big deal in Silicon Valley. The perfect Godless religion for winner-take-all tech capitalism.

    Also I hear Stoicism is trendy too.

    1. Kimberley Cadden says:

      We need to remember that it isn’t real zen though – anything that isn’t about realising emptiness isn’t zen – they can call it that erroneously of course – but we would be wise to realise this is what they are doing.

    2. Kimberley Cadden says:

      (I actually should have added that real zen practice is the absolute worst practice anyone can engage in if they have a winner-takes-all attitude/purpose)

  14. Tina Fiji says:

    Thoroughly enjoyable Vonny, I feel rather normal after reading that….and that’s not normal.

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