Tuesday, May 7, 2019

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR PUBLIC SPEAKING WITH MINDFULNESS

‘In the beginning was the word …’ (Jn 1:1).

Words are so important. Words are things. Words create reality. Powerful stuff! A good public speaker needs to be a good wordsmith. Without that, no one can be an effective public speaker. In order to be a good wordsmith, you must love words, love books and love reading—and be a good and well-informed reader as well.

A public speaker is a purveyor of information through the medium of performance. Yes, performance.  What is ‘performance’? Well, it refers to the act of presenting of some work (eg a play, concert, recitation, lecture, etc) as well as the completion of a task with the application of knowledge, skills and abilities. Public speaking is both an art and a skill, or rather a combination of skills including but not limited to good vocal quality, a good sense of pitch and a good sense of rhythm. With its extension in the form of debating, public speaking is one of the ‘lively arts’, together with such others as music, theatre and ballet.
 


Public speaking has always been a big part of my life. I first studied elocution with Lucille Bruntnell (late Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London, being the original dramatic interpreter of A A Milne's classic characters). Later, while still at high school, I studied voice production for speech with Sydney’s original voice and radio coach Bryson Taylorwho tutored many famous Australian broadcasters. More recently, I have been studying speech and drama at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney. I have spent years and years lecturing to thousands of university students, reading lessons in churches, delivering monologues (poems and speeches from plays), and participating in several high-level public debates. In recent times, I have been facilitating training sessions on public speaking. What's more, I still have to work on my own voice; in March 2002 I had a microlaryngoscopy and polypectomy to repair a torn, haemorrhagic left vocal fold and remove a polyp that had grown on the fold. After the operation, I had to see a speech pathologist for some time to learn to use my voice again. It wasn’t fun! And my voice is no longer as strong as it once was and I can become hoarse fairly easily.

Public speaking does not appear to come naturally to most people. Most people seem to have an aversion to public speaking. Indeed, it has been said that our three greatest fears are death, being asked for money, and speaking in public. I’ve already mentioned that public speaking is both an art and a skill. Now, as respects it being a skill, public speaking is for the most part an acquired skill. In addition to having a well-organised and tightly structured speech, and being one’s own personality, an effective public speaker has developed a number of speaking skills which collectively produce a high standard of speech. Those skills include, of course, the ability to speak well. In order to improve the quality of your speech you need to learn to breathe using your diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing gives the voice depth and conveys a sense of assurance and authority, which is extremely important for a public speaker. 

The ability to speak well also requires, among other things, good articulation (the proper use of the moveable organs of speech which form our consonants and vowels), enunciation (the art of speaking clearly so that each word is clearly heard), resonance (vibrations that create tone through and within your mouth, throat, and nasal passages) and phonation (the process by which the vocal folds produce certain sounds through quasi-periodic vibration and resonance). You must also have a certain presence. The word ‘presence’ refers to a certain charisma and charm that a speaker, actor or performer possesses that draws in an audience and commands their full attention. You must also say what the audience wants to hear. You must also be natural—and yourself—for it is only by being yourself that you will ever be original. Learn from others but don’t copy them. They are not you.



Now, where does mindfulness fit into all this? Well, mindfulness plays a vital role in public speaking. Some commentators take the view that it is perhaps the most important ingredient of the art and skill of public speaking. Anyway, it is essential that you remember to be mindfully present at all times during your speech or presentation. You will know your audience better and connect better with your audience when you are more aware of yourself. Awareness is an integral part of mindfulness. However, mindfulness is not simply awareness but awareness of awareness—that is, reflexive awareness or ‘two-dimensional awareness’. 

Mindfulness is also all about remembering. Never forget that. Remembering what? Well, mindfulness is remembering what is present, remembering to stay present in the present moment from one moment to the next, and remembering in the present moment what has already happened. In other words, mindfulness is all about keeping the present in mind, remembering to be here, and remembering to stay herenow. Mindfulness is the work of reminding yourself not just to be aware, and to say aware, but that you are aware. First and foremost, remember this—you must practise mindfulness. When it comes to public speaking—as well as actingpresence work, as well as voice work and proper breathing, is important. Say to yourself, ‘I am here … I am present … I see you and I let you see me.’ Remember those words before you start speaking—and also when you're speaking.

Now, before you start speaking, free and align your body, especially your head, neck, back, hips, legs and feet. Release tension in your body, especially your jaw, and in your mind. One way of doing that is to stretch and gently massage your shoulders, chest, neck, jaw and face. Don’t forget to free your breath with some vocal warm-ups, and breathe deeply. Deep diaphragmatic breathing is good for the voice and also helps to relax your whole body as well as your mind. 



During your speech or presentation, avoid going on auto-pilot. It is so easy for us to become hypnotised by the flow of words. So, how does one avoid going on auto-pilot? Well, there are several ways.

First, remember to maintain good eye contact with your audience. Look around your audience and gauge their reactions to your speech or presentation. It is essential that you avoid visual information overload and overkill. Research indicates that it is more difficult to process information when it is coming at us in both the written and spoken forms at the same time (eg using PowerPoint). The human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time. If you do decide to use PowerPoint, avoid death by PowerPoint. Make sure the slides don’t take over; it is so easy to overload your slides with too much information. Don’t be trendy and faddish just for the sake of it; the weight of evidence is now very much the other way. Secondly, remember to vary the vocal elements of pitch, pace, tone, volume and speed. Thirdly, remember to make good use of pause. Fourthly, remember to stay aware of your posture and your breathing at regular intervals—and make any necessary adjustments. (Note. Correct posture is really about poise which involves correct head-neck-back relationship and good core muscle support.) 

Here’s something else. Although we tend to focus most of our attention on the words of our speech or presentation, research suggests that the total impact of a communication is as follows: 7 per cent words, 38 per cent vocal noise, and 55 per cent non-verbal. The latter includes such things as our body language, the way we dress, the time allowed for our communication, the seating arrangements, and the physical environment.


The author delivering a lecture some 19 years ago.

Key elements of mindfulness practice, such as attention and observation, as well as intention, are also very important when it comes to public speaking. Those elements can be applied to all aspects of what is known as vocal progression—namely, presence work, breath work, and voice work, with the latter involving capacity, support and placement for expressive communication, phonation, resonance and articulation. 

Always keep in mind your intention. For example, your intention may be to impart knowledge and information or perhaps to entertain. Don't forget to remain attentive and observant. When it comes to public speaking, mindfulness requires an alertness of mind, which is the instinctive ability to sense the text and the structure of the work being read. The secret is to stay focused on the action of each moment as it quickly becomes the next moment, and then the moment after that, and so on. The attention of your mind moves with the flow of action, word by word, phrase by phrase, line by line, and so on throughout your speech or presentation. Never get stuck in the moment, unable to move on to the next, even if you make a mistake. Make the necessary correction, if such action be required, and move on. Life moves only in one direction. 

And while I am on the subject of mindfulness and observation, if you really want to improve your speech, start by observing others and, most of all, yourself. I love these words from P D Ouspensky (In Search of the Miraculous), who is quoting his teacher George Gurdjieff:

Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity for self-change. And in observing himself a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes, he begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening. By observing himself he throws, as it were, a ray of light onto his inner processes which have hitherto worked in complete darkness. And under the influence of this light the processes themselves begin to change.

Good public speaking takes practice—lots of it. Seek feedback from your audience and learn from your mistakes. Most importantly, don’t take yourself too seriously. Indeed, you will be a better public speaker if you don’t.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

YOU DO NOT EXIST!


Now that's a provocative title for a blog post, if ever there was one.

Well, do you exist or don’t you? ‘Of course, I do, you silly fool,’ I hear you say.

Well, it all depends on what we mean by the word ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘you’.

One of the themes—if theme be the right word—of my blog posts is what is known as self illusion. It is a teaching of Buddhism but the idea is by no means exclusively Buddhist. Indeed, when I was in rehab many years ago, the psychologist-in-charge, Jim Maclaine, taught self illusion therapy. I have been expounding its virtues ever since. Why? Well, it worked for me! It still does.

Now, when I say that self is an illusion, it is important to bear in mind what I mean by the word illusion. It simply means that the ‘thing’ in question is not what it seems. We tend to think that our sense of self (‘I’ and ‘me’) is something that is real and permanent and stable—perhaps even something that is separate and distinct from the person that each one of us is. The truth is otherwise. Our sense of self seems to be incredibly real. In a sense, it is, although it is not a ‘thing-in-itself’, so to speak. However, there is now a wealth of scientific evidence attesting to the fact—yes, fact—that the notion of an independent, coherent self is an illusion, that is, it is not what it seems.

Dr Bruce Hood
Bruce Hood, pictured left, a developmental psychologist, and Evan Thompson, pictured below, a philosopher and cognitive scientist, are just a few experts who propound the non-existence, that is, the illusion, of the so-called self. I thoroughly recommend their books The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (2011) [Hood] and Waking, Dreaming, Being (2015) [Thompson].

According to Hood, our brains generate, that is, construct, this illusion of a self—it’s a kind of a matrix—to deal with and respond to ‘a multitude of different processes and decisions that are often in conflict with each other, often occurring below our level of consciousness’. Our sense of self emerges during childhood and is built up andconsolidated thereafter. Thompson refers to an ‘enacted self’ (that is, ‘I’ as a process) and explains that we confuse the interplay of our ever-changing mind—which is a body-brain continuum of sorts—as a supposedly stable, core ‘I’ or ego. He writes:

… the mental repository is a subliminal data bank, not an ego, and it’s constantly changing process, not a substantial thing. Hence this impression that there’s a self is a mental fabrication and what the fabrication represents doesn’t exist.

The bottom line is that there is no a distinct ‘I’ or ‘me’ in charge of our thoughts, feelings and actions. In the words of Hood:

[O]ur brain creates the experience of our self as a model—a cohesive integrated character—to make sense of the multitude of experiences that assault our senses throughout a lifetime and leave lasting impressions in our memory. 

In other words, the self is an illusion created by our brain.

Now, you may ask, ‘Well, so what? Why is any of this important, assuming that it is?’

Well, let me explain, but first listen to these words of J. Krishnamurti:

The very nature of the self is to create contradiction.

Dr Evan Thompson
Krishnamurti also wrote:      

You know what I mean by the self? By that, I mean the idea, the memory, the conclusion, the experience, the various forms of namable and unnamable intentions, the conscious endeavor to be or not to be, the accumulated memory of the unconscious, the racial, the group, the individual, the clan, and the whole of it all, whether it is projected outwardly in action, or projected spiritually as virtue; the striving after all this is the self.

If you have ever struggled
with an addiction, you will know all too well that there is, for example, the ‘self that wants to drink [or smoke, etc]’ and the ‘self that doesn’t want to drink [or smoke, etc]’. The two selves—and we generate hundreds of these selves every day of our lives, some of them becoming very persistent over time—are in conflict. At any moment of the day, one of them is fighting for supremacy.

Recovery begins when you come to the realization that none of these selves are what they seem to be. Yes, the so-called ‘self’ is nothing more than an aggregate or heap of perceptions and sensations. It is, in reality, a non-self. What is real is the person that you are. A person can change. You do what is appropriate for a person in your condition. You do not try to change the self that seems to you to be the problem.

Know this. Your sense of self is a constructed narrative that your brain has created. Do not try to change your ‘self’ or the particular little self that seems to be the source of your problem (eg the ‘self that wants to drink’). Work on the person that you are. Give your pesky little self no attention. Give it no power over you—for it has no power in and of itself. You, the person that you are, have power—the power to change your life for the better.



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Saturday, March 2, 2019

WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT MINDFULNESS ANYWAY?

Mindfulness is no longer the flavour of the month. I’m not entirely sure why that is the case but, as the Bible says, ‘To everything there is a season’ (Ec 3:1).

Now, don’t get me wrong. Mindfulness is still very popular and it’s taught and practised everywhere. Anyway, to get to the point, some people say to me, ‘What’s so good about mindfulness anyway?’ Hence, this post.

Mindfulness is really nothing extraordinary. It is certainly nothing mystical or otherwordly, whatever the latter means. Mindfulness is simply living with awareness—and with the awareness of one’s awareness. How often do we get in our car and drive from place A to place B. We drive along certain roads. However, is it not the case that all too often, when we get to our destination, we have no recollection of going down Road X or Road Y. Our awareness while driving was intermittent and there was little or no actual awareness of our awareness.

Mindfulness is being grounded in the here-and-now.
Golden Jubilee Bridges over the Thames. London, United Kingdom. December 2018.
Photo taken by the author.

Mindfulness is the direct, immediate and unmediated perception of what is. By ‘direct, immediate, and unmediated’, I mean that our perception of both internal and external reality is no longer filtered (‘mediated’)—and in the process distorted—through such things as our beliefs, conditioning, analysis, interpretation, and judgment. Mindfulness helps us to not identify with, or build up a resistance to, those mental images in our brain that deflect us from the task of being and remaining in direct, immediate and unmediated contact and relationship with what is happening in us and outside of us.

Mindfulness is being grounded in the here-and-now, in what is. Mindfulness has nothing to do with ‘expanded consciousness’, so-called higher orders or levels of reality, and supposed notions of transcendence. Mindfulness is grounded firmly in everyday reality—the only reality that there is—that is, in the one order or level of reality in which we all live and move and have our be-ing-ness. I am sure you have heard of the words, the ‘eternal now’. We have our presence, our very be-ing-ness, in the eternal now. The eternal now is that ‘present’ which is forever renewing itself in and as each new moment. The regular practice of mindfulness enables us to live more fully—and, yes, more mindfully—in the eternal now.

Mindfulness is a journey in self-discovery.
Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland. December 2018.

Photo taken by the author.

To the extent that the practice of mindfulness is concerned with knowing and understanding what is, and observing (among other things) the content of one’s consciousness—that is, our thoughts, feelings, desires, and so on—the practice is a spiritual one. By ‘spiritual’, I mean non-material or non-physical. The English word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin spiritus meaning, among other things, breath, breathing, air, inspiration, character, spirit, life, vigour, and courage. Spirituality does not require or depend upon notions of ‘supernaturalism’. On the contrary, spirituality is all about the development of the mind, the emotions and the will.

Mindfulness is not a religion or even a philosophy but rather a way of being, a way of life, a journey in self-discovery, and an education. Mindfulness, being devoid of all notions of religiosity, is entirely experiential and unlike most if not all religions it is empirically based. When the Dalai Lama addressed the concluding session of the International Congress on Mindfulness in 2011, he reiterated that mindfulness is not a religious practice. He also made the point that all of us, whether religious or non-religious, needs to practise mindfulness every day. In saying that, the Dalai Lama is simply urging us to live with non-judgmental, choiceless awareness, from one moment to the next.

Of course, there are many tangible benefits in the regular practice of mindfulness. Changes in the body associated with the practice of mindfulness include but are not limited to a reduced heart rate, reduced blood pressure,  lowered cholesterol, reduced muscle tension, increased cardiovascular efficiency, improved circulation of blood and lymph, improved gastrointestinal functioning, reduced sensitivity to pain, an enhanced immune system, improved posture, and an overall relaxation of the body and sleep. Changes in the mind include an increased cortical thickness in the grey matter of the brain, a calmer, more patient, stable and steady mind, overall relaxation of the mind, an enhanced feeling of wellbeing, an improved ability to cope with and release stress, enhanced cognitive functioning and performance, improved concentration and attention to detail, faster sensory processing and increased capacity for focus and memory, increased learning and consciousness, increased openness to new ideas, greater responsiveness in the moment, reduced mental distractedness, increased verbal creativity, and delayed ageing of the brain.

Mindfulness is the choiceless awareness of what is.
Easter cactus (Hatiora gaertneri). Bilgola Plateau NSW Australia. November 2016.
Photo taken by the author.

As a spiritual practice, living mindfully makes us more aware of who we really are. By self-observation we gain invaluable insight into our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We become more directly aligned to the flow of life of which each one of us is a part. That can only be a good thing. Let me read these words from Sayadaw U Janakābhivasa, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Myanmar and a leading authority on meditation and mindfulness:

Why should we observe or watch physical and mental processes as they are? Because we want to realise their true nature. [That] leads us to the right understanding of natural processes as just natural process. ... When our body feels hot, we should observe that feeling of heat as it is. When the body feels cold, we should observe it as cold. When we feel pain, we should observe it as it is—pain. When we feel happy, we should watch that happiness as it is—as happiness. When we feel angry, we should observe that anger as it really is—as anger. When we feel sorry, we should be mindful of it as it is—as sorry. When we feel sad or disappointed, then we must be aware of our emotional state of sadness or disappointment as it is. 

In short, mindfulness is simply living naturally and realistically—and with choiceless awareness of what is … from one moment to the next. The influential Indian teacher and lecturer J. Krishnamurti spoke of 'meeting everything anew, from moment to moment, without the conditioning reaction of the past, so that there is not the cumulative effect which acts as a barrier between oneself and that which is'. That, my friends, is what living mindfully is all about. So, if you're not into mindfulness, you're not truly living from one moment to the next.


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Thursday, February 28, 2019

IS TRUTH A MATTER OF OPINION?


One question that is often asked of me — actually, it’s more of a statement — is, ‘You assert that truththat is, reality, actuality, factis what is. Surely it’s a case of what is truth for one person may not be truth for someone else? It’s a matter of opinion or belief. You have your version of truth. I have mine.’

W. S. Gilbert (1836-1911).
Photographed by Elliott & Fry in 1878.
Source: New York Public Library's
Digital Library.
Now, some people — especially subjectivists and relativists — love to say, ‘Well, I believe the sky is blue, but it is open to you or anyone else to believe that it is green or red or whatever colour you believe.’ Yes, in the words of W. S. Gilbert, pictured, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, this 'disease' of wrong thinking means:

‘And I am right, 
And you are right, 
And all is right as right can be!’ 

We are all right, none of us is wrong, we are all equally precious, we are all winners. Winners in what, I ask? A contest to determine who is the most stupid? (Sorry.)

I usually say to those who assert that truth is a matter of opinion or belief, ‘What has opinion or belief got to do with any of this?’ I can still hear the voice of my old philosophy lecturer. He would say, ‘The sky is blue. The sky does not become any bluer because you believe it to be blue. Further, the proposition — "the sky is blue" — does not become any truer because you believe it to be true.’

Let’s explore a little further the idea that we all have our own ‘version’ of truth, so truth is not something objective or ‘out there’ to behold. Well, I don’t doubt that people do in fact have their own versions of truth. However, you cannot have a version of something (i.e. truth) unless that something (truth) exists in its own right. An objective issue is always raised. Let me explain. Let’s say that truth is for Sam X, whereas truth for Sheila is not X. (She thinks truth is, say, Y.) Now, if we leave the disputants, Sam and Sheila, right out of it, we come back to a real contradiction turning on an objective issue, namely, is truth X or not?

A blue skywith a few clouds. Playa Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba.
Photo taken by the author in August 2018.
One more thing. Here’s another problem with subjectivism and relativism. If things are as one believes or thinks them to be, then that implies that each person, or in the case of cultural relativism each culture, is infallible in their judgments and opinions. In other words, they cannot err. And it would also mean that there can never be any real difference. Thus, if I think the sky is blue, and you think the sky is red, there is no disagreement or real contradiction. It is simply a case that, ‘The sky is for me blue,’ and ‘The sky is for you not blue.’ Those two propositions are not in contradiction to each other. Isn’t that wonderful? After all, we don’t want conflict or disagreement, do we? Nonsense, I say! Bring it on! I’m ready!

You may think that I am a little dogmatic about all this, but am I? Who is the one who asserts infallibility—that people cannot err in their judgments and opinions? Not the realist, but the subjectivist and the relativist of which there are far too many these days, thanks to postmodernism and what has flowed from it. If only they would think things through — logically!

That’s my rant for the day.





Friday, February 1, 2019

THE LITERARY MINDFULNESS OF T S ELIOT

‘We must be still and still moving.’
T S Eliot, ‘East Coker’ (from Four Quartets).

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (1888-1965)
Whenever I am in London—and it is quite often these days as my wife and I have a son living and working there—I usually stay in South Kensington, very close to Gloucester Road Tube station. I am familiar with the area and its hotels, shops, restaurants and churches. 

One such church, where I have attended services a couple of times, is St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road. It’s a traditional Anglo-Catholic parish—‘bells and smells’ Anglicanism, if you will, but I like it. My favourite modern poet T S Eliot, pictured, was a churchwarden there for 25 years.

I first read the poetry of T S Eliot when I was at high school. It was compulsory reading. (In June 1964 Eliot said to the American comedian Groucho Marx, whom he admired, that he [Eliot] had no wish to become compulsory reading.) Anyway, I fell in love with Eliot's poetry almost 50 years ago and I have loved it ever since. How often have I said to myself interiorly these lines from 'The Hollow Men' ...

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. …

... as well as these and other lines from ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table …

         

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

…   …       …


St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, South Kensington

T S Eliot played a key role in the transition from 19th century romantic poetry to 20th century modernist poetry. Like many writers he explored the nature of time and eternity and, in so doing, one get glimpses of the nature of mindfulness. Now, if you had mentioned the word ‘mindfulness’ to Eliot when he was alive he would probably have asked, ‘What is that? Being mindful of others?’ Be that as it may, mindfulnes
s is explored in his poetry in the context of time and eternity. Take these lines from Burnt Norton’ (No 1 of Four Quartets):

...         …       …

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

...               
Only through time time is conquered.

...         …       …

T S Eliot memorial plaque,
St Stephen's Church,
Gloucester Road, South Kensington
There is indeed a ‘still point’. It is the ‘stillness’ between the inbreath and the outbreath and between one heartbeat and the next. It is palpable and non-palpable. It is a timeless moment and yet it is also a moment of time, or rather a moment in time, as well. The still point involves no actual physical movement forward or backwards—there is just stillness. There is no past and no future but just the eternal now. Everything is contained within the eternal now. All duration—or time—is total and complete in the eternal now. There is an eternal quality about the now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the eternal now for it is nothing other than that which presents itself before us in and as the now, which embraces past, present and future. It is in the eternal now that we have our presence. Indeed, the eternal now is omnipresence and we are immersed in it. We live, move and have our be-ing-ness in the eternal now. These ideas are explored in the first few lines of ‘Burnt Norton’:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

         

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. …

English Heritage blue plaque,
3 Kensington Court Gardens,
Kensington
Mindfulness, which is the art and practice of being fully present and choicelessly aware in the eternal now, from one moment to the next, involves no words, no speech, no music and no movement. Mindfulness is stillness. There is no judgement or interpretation of the context, internal and external, of one’s moment to moment experience of life. The only movement, ever onwards, is the movement or flux of life itself. In Eliot’s words, ‘all is always now.’ So, forget the 'burnt-out ends of smoky days' ('Preludes'), the 'butt-ends of [your] days and ways" (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’)—and start living mindfully.

Life may be movement but there is always that ‘still point’ which is to be found everywhere and between one moment and the next. To use a Biblical phrase, the still point is ‘the refreshing’ (cf Is 28:12 [KJV]). Unceasing movement is tiring—even exhausting. We need to find that still point which, paradoxically, can only be found in the midst of the unceasing movement. So, get quiet, calm the body, and feel the stillness—or, as Dr Norman Vincent Peale wrote, ‘Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.’ Do you want to be calm? If so, practise calmness. Practise stillness. Practise quietness. Practise silence. You see, the very truth of your be-ing is calmness, stillness, quietness and silence. A good way to start—and finish for that matter—is to sit stil and get the body calm. If the body is calm, your mind will soon be calm. Be still.



Most have heard, sometime or other, these lines from the final stanza of ‘Little Gidding’ (No 4 of Four Quartets):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


However, the lines that follow take up once again the idea of the still point:

Through the unknown remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning:
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
…   …       …

Gloucester Road Tube station,
Gloucester Road, South Kensington
The stillness between two waves of the sea. The voice of the hidden waterfall. The source of the longest river. Powerful imagery.

Find the stillness within you—indeed, within all things. The still point is to be found everywhere because it is everywhere. Mindfulness, in my humble opinion, is the best way to find that still point. Listen. Observe. Watch. Be alert. Remain choicelessly (that is, non-judgmentally) aware. Be fully present from one moment to the next.


Notes
1.    The line, 'Every moment is a fresh beginning,' comes from Eliot's play The Cocktail Party
2.   BBC Radio 3 has aired Dear Mr Eliot: When Groucho Met Tom, a musical fantasy woven round the real-life meeting of T S Eliot and Groucho Marx in June 1964 after a three-year correspondence. 


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