The city and mindfulness


Beside my bed I have a set of prayer beads that I bought when I was in Rishikesh in northern region of India on an environmental project along the Ganges. The beads are called japa mala, and they are meant for meditation. Whenever I look at them it invokes silence, solitude and calm. It sits there as a kind of reminder, a reminder of a lifestyle I always yearn for: a more present self, a more calm self.

I have lived in cities my whole life: Toronto, Montreal, Paris and now London.  A city is the greatest challenge for any person wanting to find balance, calm, mindfulness and peace in one’s life – there is too much stimulation, too much to do to fill one’s day, and too many people to see – that often, we do not just sit, and breathe and have time for ourselves. Not to mention our constant connection to technology.

When I was working on the project in Rishikesh, travelling from Gangotri, the top of the Ganges all the way down to Varanasi, I had the chance to contemplate a lot – to wonder:  how is it that in these busy, bustling, loud, polluted, over-stimulating streets of India that meditation, yoga and the practice of mindfulness began?

Sanjay, our project leader and also a surgeon whose humanitarian work goes beyond anyone I know, spoke to me about this. He said when he was young it was common practice to teach children in schools meditation, and that when he is on the busiest bus or street he can meditate and find a calm within himself, like the waves of the ocean – to him, it is a kind of survival really.

I feel that in the West we are more and more becoming aware of the importance of our thoughts on our bodies, and the power that we have through the way we think. But I also feel there is a lot of information out there about these practices and often the question is:  well what do I do? Where should I go? And does it work?

I think the first way to circumvent the stressful environment of a city, and to find calm within one’s self is to begin with one’s self.  All you need is a room, somewhere to sit, breathe and close your eyes. That’s the beginning.

Then you can take this practice elsewhere as I have been doing. I have been practicing this on the tube, while I walk down the street, as I choose the right apple at the supermarket.  I practice breathing and letting my thoughts move through me like fluid waters. I find that when I do this, the most interesting things happen in my day: I have a conversation with a stranger, a smile makes me think of a friend I haven’t seen in a long time, or I have an idea for a new writing project.The world around me is transformed.

Even though my beads hardly move from their little position on my bedside table, they are a reminder for me to find a mindful practice that can co-exist in a busy city like London, and in doing so the world will open up around me in a way I would never have imagined.

Written by Coleen Macpherson

Photography by Dominic Eve

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  • Joan Hudson

    I like The City and Mindfulness article – I moved to the country for peace and beauty which I love. But you still take your problems/ niggles with you and although I wouldnt live anywhere else in the world now, I feel encouraged that meditation can still be done absolutely anywhere. The playfulness of my Collie dog should not put me off!