The Sound of Silence

I realise I was so tired when I last blogged that I didn’t even think of a title. Sigh. But today is all about being mindful. A whole day of it. I cannot think what a whole day will be like but Mr Mason and I duly set off, allowing just over an hour to get to the venue. Alas, the tube station is closed and myriad underground lines are not running, meaning getting to our mindfulness class is a lot more bother than we have anticipated. After 3 buses, we arrive at the aptly named Haven and stumble through the doors to find 30 or so people lying all over the floor, all in various stages of mindful relaxation. We pick our way nimbly (ha ha) through the assorted masses, trying not to step on anyone’s tail, and find ourselves a couple of chairs to begin our practice. Once the initial session is over, we are able to find ourselves a small space each on the floor where we lie cheek by jowl with our fellow students, some of whom find it easier than others to heave themselves vertical. We are told our day is to be spent in silence as far as possible which is something I had not expected. I quite like the idea although I also like the idea of chatting with my co-conspirators.

We practise being mindful whilst lying down, sitting in chairs, sitting on the floor, standing, stretching and, finally, walking. At first, we walk slowly, measuring each step carefully and concentrating on every small movement whilst simultaneously trying not to crash into each other. Gradually, we are to increase our pace whilst trying to maintain our mindfulness. The faster I go, the less mindful I feel I am as I become more and more aware of my environment. It is also quite difficult to walk with any speed as there are so many of us. After quite a bit of walking about, we break for our silent lunch. We have been asked not to read, text or look anyone in the eye during the day, all of which is really quite demanding. Once I have mindfully eaten my lunch, I feel like a fractious teenager forbidden to go to see the latest popular music combo. I wriggle around on the sofa, sighing and resting my chin on my hand. Being silent for any length of time is so difficult. Without access to books or other stimulation, I feel so bored so I attempt sleep but it does not really work. Thinking back to interesting conference stories – an injection given by the light of the patient’s mobile phone – helps a little.

After lunch – well, perhaps we should run a competition to get the answer but I think you and I both know that we do more mindfulness practice. We finish our day just before 4pm and Mr Mason and I hare out of there attempting to make our bus journeys home as swift as possible in order to let Dog out who will be positively crossing his legs by this point.

And there this blog post will end. I have something much more exciting to write about… Keep watching!

Saturday paddling

After a challenging week, Saturday arrives which means paddling. Not the roll-up-your-trousers at the seaside kind of paddling but full-on Dragon Boat paddling. Well, maybe full-on is a bit of an exaggeration. The weather is grey and rain threatens but we set off across London with our friend and her daughter. The team is set up for anyone affected by cancer and we are gradually building a good team. We are Wave Walkers and we have ambition! We have 18 people on the boat today and everyone is in good spirits. Mr Mason and I have not been for a while so we do a basic refresher with some new paddlers while everyone else gets warmed up. I am paired with a regular Raging Dragon – the professional arm of our club – and he promises to drag me out of the dock should our boat capsize. This is not something that has happened before but we always have a safety drill beforehand and number off so we each have a buddy should there be an accident.

Our coach takes us through a lot of set-up practice. We wave our paddles about to commands of “One! Two! Stroke!” Part of the problem with our group is that we all like each other a lot and spend a lot of time chatting and ribbing each other. Any comment about how well someone is doing generally meets a chorus of  “Ooooh, aren’t you clever?” type remarks.  It also helps to know your left from your right and some of the team clearly have issues with this. I mention no names but you know who you are. Suzannah. We paddle with the paddles the correct way and then paddle with them upside down so we can practice our kick – the leg movement that adds more power to our paddling. During the stroke, you also have to twist  your upper body so you are not using your arms to power the paddle – it is coming from your core and the kick. Mr Mason and I are rather challenged by the slipping one buttock off the seat whilst twisting. Well padded though I am, I feel my bottom complaining about such rough treatment. We swap sides during our training so both buttocks get the same workout. It would look plain weird to build up muscle on just one side. We are planning to enter the Vogalonga 2014. It’s a 30km paddle through the Grand Canal in Venice and it going to be a huge challenge for us as a team. None of us is very fit and we are all at different stages of recovery together with our friends and family.  We also need new members in the London area so if you like the sound of it, get in touch.

Saturday evening we go out with friends to a local noodle bar. On the way I start to feel my muscles aching but in the way you know you’ve been active rather than pulled a muscle. Having also completed my Mindfulness practice before leaving home, I am positively Zen for the evening. We have a lively and fun evening and that night I sleep like a log.

In the morning, I ache in lots of places, particularly the stomach and thighs which, I think, proves I was paddling effectively. I feel my buttocks are bruised, though, and cannot think of any way to find out other than showing them to Mr Mason. He says, after looking, I think, a tad too long that they are fine and unbruised. Clearly my natural padding worked. Paddling together with Mindfulness has given me a clear head, for once, and I feel quite energetic and enthusiastic. I certainly don’t sit down much on Sunday but that may also have something to do with the pain in my buttocks… Roll on the next training session!

Blow the wind southerly

This blog is not for the faint-hearted. Its contents will never persuade anyone to give me work – certainly not after they read this post.

Mr Mason and I like to live dangerously. Well, just sometimes. Today is week 3 of our Mindfulness course and this week we are doing Mindful stretches. It’s the kind of scene you see in a good old fashioned sit-com. Lots of people lying on blankets on the floor stretching in a variety of poses. Some are lithe and supple, some are less so and therefore the rolling around is less attractive. There is also the problem of bringing the knees up to the chest. There is a palpable ripple of anxiety that goes around the room as the less flexible of us wonder whether there will be a telltale escape of gas. Having consumed just an apple on the way to the class, I wonder if it will be me and rarely have I squeezed the requisite muscles harder so as not to embarrass myself in front of a class full of the wealthy of Fulham together with a smattering of us cancer and ex-cancer lags. Luckily, no-one lets rip which is a huge relief. It could so easily have been Mr Mason. As a teenager I went to a yoga class with a friend. We were the lithe and supple ones then and the rest of the class were – well, probably in their thirties and upwards. During a bending move, one of the older ladies let out an enormous fart and my friend and I, together with the rest of the group, laughed. The difficulty came when the rest of the group stopped their polite giggle and we were still laughing, so much so that movement became impossible and we had tears of laughter running down our faces long after everyone else had gone back to the serious business of yoga. I believe we just left the class in the end and never went back.

Passing wind can be a fraught business. I was once in the ladies toilet at the Natural History Museum with my friend L (she of the plastic bag knickers) and, once in the cubicle, she farted loudly. On emerging, she asked me whether I thought it was rude to fart in a public toilet. I think the answer has to be no. If not in a toilet, then where? On a trip to Newcastle with her once, she also let rip loudly as we were walking along. She says she cannot help it but I can’t help feeling there is a sense of merriment about her flatulence and that she is perhaps more at ease with herself than many of us are. Before we were married, Mr Mason and I were shopping when I was overcome with that terrible urge we are all aware of (apart from my friend, L, obviously) and succumbed to it silently and deadly. It was so overwhelming I moved away, my eyes watering. Mr Mason, still in the days of viewing his bride-to-be as wholesome and attractive, glared menacingly at a young man who was also shopping at the same time. When we emerged, Mr Mason asked if I had smelled the terrible aroma. I admitted I had. He went on to say he had given the perpetrator a suitably disdainful look to let him know he knew he was the source of the terrible stench. It was many years before I could admit the perpetrator was myself and that I put it down to his Mum making me eat Smash (the dehydrated potato product that, reconstituted with water, tasted like I imagine cardboard tastes). The Smash also still had lumps in. I rest my case. Mr Mason’s godfather is extremely deaf and often lets rip, possibly congratulating himself in slipping one out silently. Unfortunately for him, the rest of us are all possessed of good hearing.

That evening, as we retire, I make my way into the bedroom to hear a girl saying “Look at her! Did you ever see a woman as ugly as that?” which quite upset me until I realised Radio 4 was on and it was a programme about The Twits. Mr Mason has not smuggled a small child in with the express purpose of upsetting me. What a relief. As I root through my box of medication to find the requisite pills to take, Mr Mason takes a sudden interest. In many respects, Mr Mason and Dog are as one in that they take interest in the noise of anything vaguely crinkly eg plastic packets, biscuit packets, crisp packets. They see them as a source of treats which, in this case, is not forthcoming for Mr Mason. They also have synchronised their bladders somehow which would surely make the basis for a good study. I turn out the light and lie in the darkness, knowing that sleep will be coming for me shortly, reflecting on what an entertaining thing flatulence is and that, old as I am, I will never cease to find it funny. Happily, I just can’t grow up.

Listening to raisins

In an effort to bring peace and harmony to my troubled mind, I sign up for an 8 week course of Mindfulness. I am not sure what it will be like except it is akin to meditation and that seems the right direction for me to go in. I have probably mentioned this before in my blog but, with the state of my memory, I cannot be sure and even if I did mention it, I am sure I did not blog about the first session. Mr Mason also enrols and together we trot off to The Haven in Fulham. There are quite a few of us for the first session and I know one of the women who is leading the group so it’s nice to see a familiar face. I don’t go to The Haven very often. I know some people swear by it but I find it less friendly and not as welcoming as Maggie’s where I spent a large part of my cancer treatment just hanging out with other people. Maggie’s has a large kitchen table and kitchen area at its centre with a log burning stove for the really cold weather. This should come in handy if the expected heavy snowfall we are predicted materialises in November. But, as usual, I digress.

We take our shoes off, divest ourselves of coats and bags and sit around in a circle with our feet supported by wonderfully comfortable meditation cushions. I sit separately from Mr Mason and, for solidarity, the only other man in the group comes to sit next to him. We do introductions and a short introductory meditation and then we have a practical exercise to complete. When I see what it is I fear Mr Mason will have great difficulty with it. We are told we are to be given 3 objects which we are to study intently. The objects are raisins and first we look at them. We then choose one (and I already have a favourite) and sniff it. Then we listen to it. Now I have never listened to fruit in my life, nor any other kind of food if I am honest. Of course, there is the popping of corn, I suppose but I can’t think of any other food which makes a noise. So, we listen to our raisins and mine does make a crackling sound when it is rolled between my fingers. I cannot look at Mr Mason because I fear he will be having an apoplectic fit at being asked to listen to a raisin. Once we have listened, we put them in our mouths and roll them around. Again, I fear Mr Mason will just chew and swallow without doing the requisite rolling so I cannot glance in his direction. After rolling, we get to chew and finally swallow the raisin. All this has been done mindfully so that we pay close attention to what is happening in the moment and use all our senses when completing this exercise.

After we have finished this exercise, we discuss how it felt for each of us and I am relieved to find a great deal of humour within the group. I even confess to having a favourite raisin and no-one says this is weird. We practise a mindful body scan which is the exercise we will be practising every day. I find it challenging to keep my mind on the task but this is the same for everyone in the group and we are told that is OK, too, as long as we bring our minds back to the point we are supposed to be focusing attention on.

Once the group is finished, we all huddle into a small area to don shoes and coats en masse and then we are whisked away by the lift and out into the autumn air. I suggest to Mr Mason that we walk back to Hammersmith via North End Road market which is one of my favourites. We buy fruit, vegetables and meat and then stop for a coffee. It is a very contented day and I have the necessary energy to enjoy it. We have done our mindfulness practice, we have had our required exercise and we have bought some great food. Arriving home, Dog is ecstatic to see us, as usual. His welcome is always cheering, even as he gets under our feet and trips us up, it is impossible not to be infected by his pure joy which is perhaps the best ending to a good day.