Sunday 5 October 2014

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Sit on the floor, cross your legs, close your eyes, rest your forearms on your thighs with the palms of your hands facing up and... let the app on your smartphone do the rest.

Yes, you read that right. Let an application that you downloaded prior to your meditation session tell you when it is time for you to be calmer. Should it be before or after you go to see your boss to ask her/him for a payrise? Or will it be when you are asked to come to your child’s school to talk to his/her teacher on account of an “incident” in which your little Johnny spat on a classmate’s face and called him that word that begins with “c” and has four letters? It has been the third time this term, mind you, so you will need that app badly.

We are in the middle of a boom, apparently. No, not that type of boom, the economic one on which George Osborne so smugly keeps insisting despite a long queue of unemployed people making a racket outside Westminster. I’m talking about mindfulness boom, the next step up from meditation, which was a step up from yoga, which was a step up from... what? Sorry, I lost count.

Suit is optional
The irony of modern life is that in order to maintain the standards to which we have grown so used over the years we have to stress ourselves out in the process of achieving them. The only way to de-stress, it seems, is to cough up for courses that promise us inner peace. Because these sessions cost a fortune (as well as gurus and the like) we need to raise that money somehow. Which means we need to work harder and longer hours. Which means more stress. And so the cycle continues.

I am not slagging off yoga or Pilates or meditation or the new kid on the bloc, mindfulness. As I mentioned in my last post before going off on my summer blog-break, I teach Afro-Cuban dance and have incorporated yoga techniques in the last ten years or so to my practice. But I'd be the first one to confess that I have taken the bits from yoga that match my teaching and left the philosophy bits out. In doing this I have copied unintentionally the usual western approach to spiritual practices.

From the hug-a-stranger initiative to alternative relaxation techniques the message is the same: listen to your body, be at one with the world, leave judgments out and accept yourself, your emotions and sensations. Sometimes I find all this to be a lot of baloney, to be honest. Not the act of meditation per se but the marketing side of it. Once again, a discipline which is part of a bigger system whose aim is to live a full, rich spiritual life is diluted and sold piecemeal to an audience always on the lookout for the latest fad.

The downside of this is that people become more docile and “tuned out”. Whatever danger they might pose is cancelled out. For the government this is handy especially in times when the gap between rich and poor is widening up. First it was Mother’sLittle Helper (Valium), now it is meditation.  Either way the mantra is the same: you don’t need to change the system, just relax and switch off. It will be all right. Now, hand over the cash and go back to working harder for it, will you?

You know how much I love the UK and London specifically, my home for almost twenty years. But sometimes that love is tested. One of the first traits I learnt about the British personality is that they moan a lot. And that they enjoy doing it in a sort of love/hate way. Sometimes their complaints are justified (anything that involves slagging off Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is welcomed) but many times my lovely British comrades do not really know how good they have it. Take queues, for instance. I have lost count of the number of times in which someone has said that they hate queuing or that the queue for the cinema was too long (about twenty yards long) or that they had to queue up for  a long time ( a quarter of an hour).

My fellow Brits, as a Cuban-born and bred person, I am telling you, you don’t know how lucky you are. Babies have been made in queues in Cuba, I kid you not. Fortunately we have never had a case where the future mother has spent her whole pregnancy in the same queue going from conception to labour and birth. Perhaps someone is already working on that. If only for the Guinness World Records. If it does happen, you will be the first ones to know. In the meantime, stop moaning, queues in the UK are quite well organised, with a system and everybody knows their place most of the time. Remember, if that queue makes you feel a bit tense and despondent, there's always mindfulness to help you out. Enjoy your week.

© 2014

Next Post: “Killer Opening Songs”, to be published on Wednesday 8th October at 11:59pm (GMT)


  1. Oh yes - sometimes I think that anyone who complains about public transport should be made to catch buses in India, or complains about the 'jobsworthness' of public services should be made to be a receptionist in A&E, or who complains about the price of bread should be made to grow their own food in Africa and watch as the rains don't come ...

    And as for mindfulness - I'd rather keep my money and go for a long walk!

  2. Hola Mario,
    Glad I was able to interrupt my Sunday agenda to read your blog on mindfulness. Each day I give a title to keep my focus, 'Simplicity Sunday' follows a more spontaneous 'to do list', though my list for today was written last night.

    How are you? still baring the London life I see. Hope to catch up next time I visit U.K. For now my residence still remains in Addis Ababa.....
    Buenas Dias!

  3. Oh yeah they are really trying to push the mumbo jumbo on people. I do yoga because it is good for the body to stretch out and such, the rest of it, pffft who cares.

    And yeah there are a lot of whiners everywhere.

  4. Here in Montreal, we have one of the best transportation systems in the world, so I have heard. Yet, and of course, people find reason to complain! LOL! I myself don't drive so I do use the public transit, and I like it and don't mind at all. For the most part, the drivers are friendly and helpful, and drive safely, and they are pretty punctual on the whole, considering how much traffic they go through during rush hours. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  5. Ha...yes...the British and their aversion to queuing - tell me about it!
    One of my pet hates is standing in a supermarket queue and being forced to listen to other customers complaining non-stop...makes me feel like braining them!
    I know exactly what you mean...we have it really easy here, and should learn to be grateful and chill out.
    It only takes one "serial moaner" to make everyone around them feel ill-at-ease.

    I do find meditation a like-saver, although I would never pay to learn it. If we can allow ourselves to just "switch off" occasionally, then it comes naturally!:)

    Happy Sunday :)

  6. You're so right about the stress -and the moaning. We really need to learn to focus more on what we have instead of on what we don't have.

  7. You're so right about the stress -and the moaning. We really need to learn to focus more on what we have instead of on what we don't have.

  8. Love the Gibran quote! Yes, the perspective of those in the West often doesn't take into account their many privileges.

  9. Oh what fools we are! I have the opposite problem as a retiree, too much time to fill, and not enough energy or money to fill them.

    But, I'm not complaining, only smiling at the ironies of life, killing ourselves when young instead of working less and doing more of what we enjoyed.

  10. Siempre tenemos algo en que quejarnos pues todo no sale a nuestro gusto, yo ahora estoy jubilada y cuando salgo muchas veces me molesta la multitud, todo es en relación a la necesidad y a la edad.
    Como siempre buenas reflexiones.
    Un abrazo.

  11. A bit of perspective was just what I needed this morning. Thank you.

  12. living in France makes me positively yearn for a good old British queue....Greetings from Nice

  13. The most potent relaxation method I know doesn't cost a cent.. and hopefully can't be marketed. Step out of the queue and take a walk through nature. If you're in a city.. find a park. Walk or sit and take in the birds, breeze and scents. No apps developers need apply.

  14. Brandy is my "app" of choice and complaining is my hobby.

    This post is a bit of a puzzle to me, CiL, primarily because the word "queue" is alien to me other than in a computer context. I am not sure how to react to it or respond to it. I have no sense of it in daily life and usage. If, in simplest terms, the idea is standing or waiting in lines, that is something I am usually successful at avoiding other than at some airports.

    And, in any case, stress usually rolls off me like water off a duck's back. This is because I speak/write my mind, which might not make friends but keeps stress at a distance; I exercise or engage in physical labor to exhaust myself if I am feeling mental tension; I look for new experiences, move frequently, know how to smile, know how to growl and, as others have mentioned, relish Nature.

    You know, CiL, you might be becoming too British.

  15. i tend to avoid queuing...i can barely spell the word...ha...part of the trick in managing the stress is not putting yourself in situations that stress you funny all the money that is poured into self finding peace...perhaps if we just changed a few things we might just be alright...

  16. Great post.

    You are right, we have never had it so good. I don't queue but when I did so I used to value the opportunity to talk to folk.

    I have a saying that has many times kept me sane. When something occurs that poses a worry I tell myself that I will worry about it tomorrow. As you know, tomorrow never comes.

  17. Thanks for your comments. Of course that we have problems in Britain, starting with the current government (and that's a personal opinion, by the way, which in NO way reflects my employer's views). I do think sometimes that we need to be a bit choosier when it comes to complaining otherwise it all sounds the same.

    Mindfulness is a big subject... and a big business. I'm in two minds about mindfulness, pardon the pun/repetition. I do use meditation sometimes, but little things can change our lifestyle. For instance, not to constantly check your e-mails at night when you're having family time.

    Have a nice week you all.

    Greetings from London.

  18. smiles... oh yes - the british people are very disciplined with their queues - i always thought they kinda like them... and yeah - sometimes we forget how good a life we had with enough to eat, a bed to sleep in and and and...

  19. I love yoga, from a "let's be quiet and get sweaty" perspective, and I have relations and students who build their days around meditation. So I feel all the sides of what you're saying here.

    Mostly, I work with and see so many human train wrecks that I figure any practice that gets a person through the day, clean and sober and focused, is welcome.

  20. It is funny (and sad) to hear First World whining. Good post.

  21. Ha. Well I am a first class whiner! Though often it is mainly disgust at how degraded public services have become in the states. There is such a rush to privatization, which of course also costs money and such a starvation of many public services that so disserve the poor and working class and others too that it makes me very upset.

    But I am laughing here re the meditation. I did yoga for many years very devotedly until about a year and a half ago when I moved to the country as my main residence and felt I should focus more on country exercise where I could be outside-- I actually used to do yoga outside in the summers here but I had a tick on my wrist After one session which freaked me out. But recently I went to a mindfulness meditation retreat-- vipassana-- and I think you may be a little unfair here. There was a very narcissistic double- duty side of yoga-- I still love it-- but there can be a hipness and striving to be cool. When you are just sitting there, and particularly not in a group-- that aspect can leave quite quickly. I do find it hard to make time for and yet I know it makes time in a way-- but anything that can make people self-aware I think is good. I'm not thinking of it as a means to calmness so much as self- aware. And a line is a very good place to practice for sure! I can imagine what you mean re lines in Cuba. Take care. Thanks for the fun post and your kind visits. I am on phone on train so forgive typos. K.

  22. I agree with you, there's too much marketing round things like yoga.

    Getting out into nature is for me the best way to de-stress and though i do need to buy a new pair of walking boots, there isn't much i need in way of equipment to do it.

    I experienced very long queues for transport in Malawi and often the transport itself was overcrowded and the roads rocky and potentially unsafe. I think in the UK, we just expect thngs to happen quickly and efficiently and when that doesn't happen we complain.



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