Tuesday, 29 July 2014

On mindfulness, meditation and raisins

I've been meaning to practice mindfulness for years, decades actually. But I've been too busy to make time for it which seems laughable now. I first discovered meditation when I discovered buddhism about ten years ago. I did an introduction to Buddhism course at one of the Buddhist centres in Sheffield and, whilst the teachings made intuitive sense to me, I found the meditation excruciating; sitting still has never been my strong point. And so, it turns out, I gave up the bit of the philosophy that I needed the most.

I decided to start it up again recently when a friend recommended the book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman. At the same time, the local Coaching Exchange (a network of life coaches), ran a mindfulness session in Sheffield so I went along. As their introduction to the topic both the book and the session used an exercise in which you had to focus the full five senses on eating a raisin. The results were profound and led to this poem for me. It occurred to me that actually, in so many writing exercises that I've done and facilitated, I have actually been practising mindfulness all along. So much of the writing life is about paying attention, trying to find the perfect form of expression for both simple, concrete things and complex abstract emotions. It is about noticing the beauty and the horror of reality. And, as I said in my last post, it is also something that my children encourage me to do all the time as well. So, suddenly, I feel less like a novice. I hope you like the poem.

The raisin meditation

First we are invited to look.
Not just to glance.
To really look.

I take in the shrivelled skin,
try to name the particular hue of brown:
it has hints of red, shades of rust, echoes of black.
I come up with the inevitable similes and metaphors:
it is like rabbit droppings or the skin
of a sun-kissed matriarch on a Greek porch.

Then we must feel it.

I close my eyes and roll it inbetween my fingers.
It bumps along like an ill-made wheel.
It is rough and tough on the surface but
when I press the skin
it is soft at the centre.
Squeeze it hard enough and it will
ooze it's juice like tears on my fingers:
the cracks are showing now.


I put the raisin to my ear expecting only silence
but, in the stillness, when I pay attention
I can hear the tiniest of voices
longing to be heard:
I was once cool like you, it says.
I was plump and fresh and green.
But wrinkles are just the lines of life
and experience has made me sweet.

Smell me.

I bring the raisin to my nose,
breathe in deep
like I'm inhaling the bouquet of a fine wine
or the scent of a rose.
Something so small has never smelled so good,
like caramel and sugar and sunshine.

Taste me

It is the end of the journey for the raisin.
It rests on my tongue and we savour
our last moment together.
I hold it in my mouth, taste the flavour, then
chew it like toffee between my teeth,
feel solid melt into liquid.

And then I swallow
and I am swallowing not just the raisin,
but this tiny glorious moment.
And not just this moment but all the
moments that went before:
the grape, the vine,
the hands that tended the vine,
the sunshine and the rain.

In this one tiny raisin,
I taste life and, in this moment,

it tastes good.