Over the last few months, I’ve been on an unexpected journey into the world of mindfulness. I say unexpected because initially, I didn’t think mindfulness was for me. It sounded too worthy, like kale smoothies and cauliflower pizza bases. But mindfulness followed me like a puppy, wagging its credentials under my nose whenever I squandered my time on Twitter and Instagram. I ignored it at first, but when I began to notice people I respected extolling its virtues, like the brilliant Elizabeth behind Margot and Barbara, I gave in. I started reading those articles I’d been ignoring and after unpicking what mindfulness actually meant and how I could apply it to my life, I realised I’d judged it unfairly. Because in theory, mindfulness sounded pretty simple – and pretty beneficial. Notice what’s around you. Live in the moment. Enjoy life more. What’s so worthy about that?
But as simple as its sounds, mindfulness is easier said than done. The idea of focusing your awareness on the present moment is a lovely idea, but when your head’s pulsing with the deadlines you haven’t met, the washing you haven’t done, and the heartbreaking atrocities that dominate news headlines, there’s not always room left to remember to stop and notice the veins of a leaf on your walk to work.
Still, it was worth a try, right? So since February, I’ve been trying to ‘live more mindfully’. I’m not going to pretend that my life has been transformed, that I’ve swapped playing on my phone for meditation, or that I no longer wake in the middle of the night panicking about that email I forgot to send. But the very act of trying to pay attention to what’s around me has led to moments where the din is temporarily silenced. Moments where I do stop to watch the sun set on my walk home from work, eyes glued to the horizon as it sinks like lava behind a hill. Moments where I smile as I watch daffodils swaying in the wind like a troupe of cheerleaders. Moments where I look up and freeze, even if just for five seconds, mesmerised by pastel pink blossoms against a cyan sky. Yep, I’ve become that person – and I’m loving it.
Do more of what makes you happy
Inspired by these fleeting moments of serenity, I started thinking about the bigger moments in my life: how I spend my free time. Too often, I get in from work and slump on the sofa, defeated by another day in wonderland. I tell myself I’m chilling; that I need to give my brain a rest, but it’s counter-productive. The act of doing nothing actually makes me feel more stressed, guilty that I’m frittering away my precious free time. So I’ve been asking myself ‘what really makes me happy?’, and trying to do more of that. So far, so good. I’ve started sewing again and nearly finished that dress I started making two years ago. I’ve been plotting the ending of the novel I started writing during my MA in Creative Writing. I’m returning to the dozens of half-written blog posts about my 2015 travels and attempting to finish at least one of them. And I’ve started cycling again.
Cycling makes me very happy. I‘ve talked in the past about my love of cycling, which was inspired by the Tour de France fever that gripped Yorkshire in 2014. Two years later, that love has endured. Lazy Sundays have been rebranded Cycling Sundays in the Farrell-Watson household, when we pack our bikes into the car and head to the Yorkshire Dales. The moment I start pedaling on those country lanes I can feel my head empty, the week’s stresses scattering behind me as those fleeting moments of calm become hours.
Pootler, and proud
When I first wrote about my foray into cycling, I said I wasn’t a proper cyclist, and to some extent, that’s still true. To me, ‘proper cyclists’ are the lycra-clad, Strava-mad speedsters that race past me as I’m struggling up hills in my lowest gear. I don’t have a fancy pants bike, I still don’t know what a derailleur is, and upon recently discovering that my brakes were disconnected, it took me several YouTube videos and about ten exasperated phone calls with Rob (who is a lycra-clad, Strava-mad, ‘proper cyclist’) before I could figure out how the hell to connect them again.
But who cares? I may not be a ‘proper cyclist’, but I’m proud to be a pootler which, in my opinion, is the best kind of cyclist. Yep, I’m that one that takes an hour to cover the distance a proper cyclist could cover in fifteen minutes, stopping about five times on the way to take pictures of newborn lambs and daffodils.
And actually, I’d argue that us pootlers have the advantage, especially when the Dales are our backdrop. With my head up and pace steady, my focus is not on the speed of my journey, but the journey itself. On a recent cycle from Kettlewell to Halton Gill, 20 miles were completed slowly over three hours. The Strava elite would provably have seen this as a failure, but I felt like a champion. Because those ‘slow’ 20 miles gave me the chance to absorb the wonderful details that make cycling in the Dales so utterly perfect.
Details like snow-speckled slopes, reminiscent of icing sugar dusted on a freshly baked cake.
Sheep donning their rainbow Spring coats.
The wobbly footsteps of a newborn lamb.
The scribble of dry-stone walls on windswept fields.
Some of the best moments were when we stopped cycling, like enjoying lunch under the beams of a 17th century pub in Litton with this happy face.
Discovering an Honesty Box Tearoom. Yep, that’s a thing in Halton Gill.
Sitting on the banks of the River Wharfe and listening to the classic Dales’ soundtrack – rushing water, singing birds, ruffling grass.
Swooning at this beauty of a house nestled in the foothills of Littondale.
When we got back on our bikes for the last few miles, the sun was beginning to set. As we cycled, the clouds parted to let through the last of the sun’s rays, transforming the fields into a canvas splattered with a spectrum of golden greens. Those last few miles were my favourite,
Live your life with eyes wide open
The best articulation I’ve read about living mindfully was written by the wonderful folk behind Flow Magazine.
“It’s about living your life with eyes wide open. Looking at what’s happening right now. Enjoying ordinary things, small pleasures and less worry.”
When you work out what those small pleasures are to you, living mindfully becomes a doddle. Because when I’m cycling in the Dales, watching the fields rolling past me and feeling the breeze against my skin, nothing else matters.
What does mindfulness mean to you? What are your small pleasures? And what do you do to worry less and enjoy more?