Thursday 2nd January 2014
Fred is a burley big red head of a man. He’s one of those older blokes who looks like he doesn’t have very much in the world. But he always seems to arrive at our offices with a smile and is always happy to have a bit of a natter before he heads off back into the day.
Fred is the internal courier for the organisation I work for. He usually rocks up around 11.00 am to deliver the mail and pick up anything we need delivered to another department or sent out through the mail room.
Everyone in our team will always try to make sure that Fred is welcomed and taken care of. It’s part of our team culture to look after our relationships. So today it wasn’t really too hard to get up from my desk to say hello to Fred when he arrived and have a little chat.
What was surprisingly hard was that I had to think differently. What if I knew Fred would be dead by midnight tonight and this was the last time I would see him? Now I hardly know Fred, but I have to say I felt a bit sick. It’s not a pleasant thought, even though the intention is to change lives.
So, before I started welling up and Fred thought I’d perhaps had a few too many on New Years Day, I took a breath and focussed on him. I focussed just on him and the conversation we were having, and let the hum of the office fall away. And at the same time I smiled at him. That’s all I did.
We spoke about old James Bond movies and a little about the fireworks. And for the first time I realised that Fred lives alone, and that he had spent New Years by himself; which is normally how he spends New Years. As I said, I don’t know Fred very well, but I have been saying hello to Fred almost every morning for the past three and a half years. I had no idea he lived alone. We had a giggle about the James Bond girls, then I gave him a kiss on the cheek for New Years before Fred left to get back to his busy schedule.
I don’t know if I made much of a difference for Fred, but I walked away with an odd thought. If Fred was to die tonight I would feel so much better about myself. Well that was unexpected. Wasn’t this supposed to be about Fred? But here I was feeling better about the type of person I am. Just because I stopped and really spoke with him, without thinking I needed to get back to the pile of tasks on my desk. All because I felt like I was present for once. Present for Fred.
There has been much written and spoken about ‘being present’, so you can google the topic and investigate more if you haven’t heard the term before. There are many ways you can be present, and plenty of tips on living a present life – or a life in the here and now. But here’s what I do. I breathe.
Focus on your breath. Breathe in and breathe out. You don’t need to lie down on a yoga mat and meditate for an hour. Just breathe. Breathing helps you to connect to your body, which in turn helps you to be mindful, and mindfulness means you place yourself truly in the present. Right here and right now. Not focussed on what has happened in the past, or what might be about to happen in the future. Just being here in this moment.
If I’m finding it particularly tricky to focus on my breathing, I literally tell myself to breathe in and breathe out. One of my favourite experts on mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh, a much respected Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, poet and peace activist, and author of The Miracle of Mindfulness, also suggests saying to yourself, “Breathing in. I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out. I know that I am breathing out.”
I have heard many times that when you are truly present in the here and now, you are connected to life and all it has to offer. It is the one moment you can control or influence. It is also the one moment you can be grateful for and really enjoy. Chatting with Fred today, breathing, focussed, present, wasn’t hard work. It was pretty simple really – and it had a really simple but unexpected outcome: I liked myself a bit more.
As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The real miracle is not to fly or walk on water. It’s simply to walk on this earth. Bring your mind home to your body and become alive.”