I saw an old woman in the park today. I was on my way somewhere to somewhere. Just passing through. She was up ahead, wearing shapeless clothes too large for her, a long skirt, a thick cardigan – even though it must have been twenty-five degrees out. Three plastic supermarket bags on each arm too – filled with something, but not food, it’s never food. And she was mumbling, muttering to herself. I passed her swiftly, body relaxed, trying to stay open to the world around me – be present, which is my daily practice. Stop – slow down. Look. Breathe. I passed her and as I did I heard what she was saying.
“Hello, Squirrel,” she said. A pause. “Hello, Thrush.”
I slowed down. I looked at her. I stopped and noticed the squirrel bouncing across the grass. I couldn’t see the Thrush. I had the feeling that if I’d had the time to stay, which I didn’t because somewhere someone was waiting, but if I had I would have heard her go on to greet every living, breathing, spark of wildness and beauty in that dirty patch of urban green – one by one. “Hello, Blackbird. Hello, Seagull. Hello, Tree.”
She reminded me then of La Loba, the Wild Woman Clarissa Pinkola Estes writes about in Women Who Run With The Wolves. La Loba, the fat, hairy old woman who sings the living spirit of women from the bones of the desert. My old woman was speaking to the wild too, greeting it by name – reminding me once again that it’s vital that we take the time to notice it in our lives, to stop, to look, to breathe with it.
We deaden ourselves in so many ways, with over work, with screens and inboxes and smart phones; with rushing and busyness and things to do; with bad TV and bad food and sometimes even bad relationships – but we’re suffering for it and we need to come alive, we need a dose of wildness and beauty every day, in order to enliven us.
But it’s so easy to forget this, we’re always coming from somewhere – going somewhere, there’s always someone waiting, which is why I use a mindfulness practice I call #stoplookbreathecreate. It works like this, wherever you are, wherever you’re going – slow down – pause – Stop. Look – notice what’s around, look up, look down – listen, smell, feel, taste it too. Breathe – breathing in and out we’re just here, present in the moment. This isn’t like sitting meditation – I’m not suggesting you whip out your little cushion at the bus stop and get cross legged – what I’m talking about is a mindful pause, what I’m suggesting is making just enough space to be truly present for a moment. When we do this on a regular basis, even on our journeys to work, to the shops, to pick up our children from school – what we start to notice is the beauty that exists on every street corner.
At the moment what I’m noticing are the flowers growing everywhere in the city I live; not in gardens, but in the cracks in cement, in drainpipes, on steps, in gutters. My city is flowering, self-seeding bright scraps of wildness, and this is the first time I’ve really noticed it. One day I was doing my #stoplookbreathecreate and then there they were. And now I keep seeing them everywhere. So I stop, look, breathe and then I take a photograph of them. (You can see them on my Instagram.) Photographing them is important – the Create part of #stoplookbreathecreate is very important. Stopping, looking and breathing brings us into presence – but when we create we are connecting with our intuitive, instinctual selves, our own wild. Being creative calls something out of us, it’s a ‘singing’ that energises and enlivens in the way few things can. Creating something – anything is a crucial, transformative part of this simple little mindfulness practice. We need doses of mindfulness and creativity to stop the wild in us from dying; we need them to come alive. We need them every day.
So stop – look – breathe and photograph it on your phone as I do, or do a little doodle of it on the end of your shopping list, or write it down in your journal, or just tell someone about it. Telling stories is a creative act. So I’m telling you – I saw this old woman in the park today…