As I sat writing this latest blog for Mindwave (post-yoga nidra, breathing deep, conscious and connected, my spinal column a perfect sigmoid curve), I thought wouldn’t it be nice and satisfying if I could tie up the cornucopia of vagaries that have been flung around during my journey into mindfulness, into a nice tight package of cohesive thought that in some way helps us understand the meaning of life. No doubt Frank, no doubt.
Anyway, this week I should like to talk about socks as an aid to mindfulness.
My sister Rachel kindly interpreted the contents of my first instalment on this website as being a good example of the difficulties of being mindful when there are so many things out there to distract us. I’m sure many of us have daydreamed of those halcyon days before mobile phones and houses when our hairy ancestors gawped at the starry firmament and contemplated their existence. I’m certain it was a good deal easier back then to have one’s feet firmly planted in the present, when danger, hunger, thirst and desire presented formidable barriers to the mind being anywhere else. Today it is easy for us to take our security for granted but that mental potential still hungers and desires to grapple with matters of critical importance. Instead we become absorbed with the utterly pointless: parking, insurance, pensions, cookies, geolocation paranoia and hive appliances. We waste our attention on the inane: we tick the box knowing that we have neither read nor understood the 64 pages of terms and conditions each time our phone updates, then worry whether we should; we ignore the rapidly recited small print read to us over the phone or on the radio; we actually do try to listen when the air steward shows us for the fiftieth time how to buckle and unbuckle our seat belts because we want to be polite. We mindlessly follow search engines and satnavs, and live in our own little social media echo chambers, fantasising about downloading knowledge and skills like Neo in The Matrix, because the destination is everything, the path no longer matters. Do we care that our clothes come from sweat shops in Bangladesh, that the food we eat has been intensively farmed then pumped full of artifice to give it some semblance of what it should taste like?
Anybody could be forgiven for becoming less mindful in the modern world of distractions. For becoming less grounded. So here is a thought on grounding….
For everyone but chiropodists and reflexologists, our feet are perhaps one of the most easily forgotten anatomical elements of our bodies. Out there on the periphery they work tirelessly, carrying us around day after day, with rarely a moment’s notice or gratitude. It is perhaps this fact which makes the moment of putting on a new pair of socks such a surprisingly pleasing one. And, following on from this, I would argue that there are few other things which can focus your attention on the present as effectively as a new pair of socks. Few things that can ground you so thoroughly in the moment.
Erving Goffman, a Canadian sociologist with a gift for words, said that we all wear masks in every element of our social interaction, presenting different fronts as the occasion requires. Though, since he had a gift for words, as I said, he said it better than what I did there. I’ll quote this time, so you can see what I mean:
“In our society, defecation involves an individual in activity which is defined as inconsistent with the cleanliness and purity standards expressed in many of our performances.”
Therefore, says Professor Goffman, going to the toilet is an activity which requires privacy, which - he suggests - is why toilet doors in our society have locks on them. It is perhaps the only time when we can drop our masks in our conscious day and be that which lives underneath the mask. Now
Goffman might say that we have no true self, or that our true selves are to be found in the full spectrum of emotional masks which we carry round in our social back packs, but it could be argued that one’s true self is the self that exists when the masks fall away. Your toilet face.
Now that I think about it, I’m not entirely convinced that toilet face is totally related to mindfulness or socks, but maybe being mindful is about stripping away the masks which we’re forced to wear by the outside world.
I’m tempted to return to my initial question right now. (Is this a little form I can see in the mist?) Is it possible to look at what we’ve discussed over these three sessions as if there were some continuity of thought, some direction, some truth to be gleaned. Looking back on my first blog, and provided with a liberal supply of time and a distracted audience, one could possibly argue that I am asking the age old question, what is the meaning of life as we understand it, and just like poor old Nelson’s Column, the truth is we don’t know, however time moves us toward greater understanding. An imaginative individual could suggest that the second blog is about the role that we play in life, that our concepts of good and evil could be labels for mindful and unmindful, that being mindful can allow us to make best use of our time and move us toward greater understanding. Finally, in this third outing, an individual unconstrained by logic and sobriety could easily venture that there is no better vantage point for checking our path along this course of learning than sat on the toilet, wearing a fresh pair of socks, breathing deep, conscious and connected, with one’s spinal column a perfect sigmoid curve. Or perhaps slightly arched.
I think that I was hoping to follow some journey from an ignoble beginning to a triumphant end through the course of these missives, but as I stand at this particular juncture I am feeling that perhaps it is the journey itself which matters more than the destination.