Ever since I was a kid I wanted an MG. A red one with a black soft-top. You know, with the goggle-eyed headlamps, the cheesy front grille, and the gunslinger spoke wheels. And so last September, after forty long years, I took the plunge and bought one. From the moment you slide down into the cockpit, after successfully completing a contortionist routine rivalling Cirque du Soleil, you know you’re in for an experience. To begin with, you’re low to the ground – your pet Dachshund is peering down at you through the side window in bewilderment. In front of you the dashboard is decorated with a pleasing array of toggle switches and clicking dials and there are luxury comforts like windup windows and a map reading light (wow).
Starting her up requires patience and compassion. Remember, she is 50 years old. After several minutes of idling, accompanied by a medley of fuel pump gulps and geriatric burps and farts, she is purring like a kitten as you ease her out of the garage and onto the city streets.
Where you’re immediately confronted with speed humps resembling towering mountains, potholes the size of the Grand Canyon, and corrugated surfaces that threaten to shake loose your back molars. However, after tiptoeing through the minefields of suburbia you hit the open highway. And engage the overdrive. Turning the MG into a turbo-propelled Batmobile with flames shooting out of the rear exhaust. (That’s how I see it anyway). Instantly the guttural growl is replaced by a finely-tuned burble and all the vibrating squeaks and chirps simply fade away. Cruising along with the wind rifling your hair and the sun on your face, you are blissfully happy.
You may be asking yourself why I drive an MG with all its obvious idiosyncrasies and frailties when I could be in a contemporary vehicle packed with onboard computers, power steering, air conditioning and the like? The reason is that the MG is a time capsule that demands my full attention. And I love that. It gives me the full in-the-moment experience.
Buddhists call this mindfulness. Being mindful has many benefits. Focusing on only one thing heightens your powers of concentration allowing you to remain task-focused for longer. Also, because your attention is not being distracted by thoughts about other things you feel calmer, more at peace, and happier. You can practise mindfulness while doing any activity. When eating chew on both sides of your mouth and distinguish the individual ingredients by tastes and textures and smells. When reading, put yourself in the story – with each sentence visualize the setting, the characters, the time of day, the smells, the sounds of people talking. When listening to music, listen for and identify each of the individual instruments, hear the pauses in the music, and notice when the singer inhales. You can be mindful when patting your dog, when exercising, when showering, when washing the dishes, or even when driving your car to work in the morning. Try it right now.
When and how do you like to practise mindfulness?
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(Selected comments will appear anonymously in my upcoming book The Happiness Challenge.)