As I compose this piece, the temperature here at home has peaked again around 30 degrees, and we seem to be having a second coming of the summer after what was quite an autumnal, dark, cool period for much of the year. But I want to just reflect on my summer, which in particular, had an important aspect that I’d like to share with you, that came about when I was lucky enough to be on holiday for a week with my family in Sardinia, just off the mainland of Italy across the Tyrrhenian Sea; not a place I previously been, but certainly somewhere I’d love to return to.
Anyway, the part I wanted to focus on involves a scene that perhaps many of you would have experienced perhaps recently, if like me, you’ve been fortunate enough to take a holiday or perhaps in reference to your past. The scene involves lying on a beach on a beautiful, warm, sunny summer’s day. A busy beach, in my case, Porto Istana, just off the Isola Tavolara as it’s called on the east coast of Northern Sardinia. And anyway, here I am, lying on a beach having been on holiday here for a few days, feeling my body to have adjusted to the heat, and having just come from a swim in the sea, which was beautifully warm and joyous.
And I lie back on the sun lounger under the umbrella provided and there’s nothing to do. All my needs are taken care of. My body is warm and drying in the sunshine and the gentle breeze. I lie back and close my eyes and I’m surrounded by a sensory world, the feeling of the water evaporating off my skin and the warmth of the sun. The support of the sun lounger underneath me, supporting my body in the places where contact is made. The various fleeting sense drifting across the beach.
The sounds, of which there were many, of families and people having their holiday, enjoying their afternoon in the sun on the beach. In this case, all of the sounds and the voices I could hear were using languages I don’t speak, predominantly Italian. And this removed, as it were for me, the storymaking or narrative-making curiosity because the sounds were simply sounds. They weren’t conveying meaning or hooking me into curiosities about what was being said or who’s saying what to whom.
And so, in that particular coming together of circumstances – physical relaxation, deep peace in the body, the breath, having exerted myself with some swimming, returning to a kind of calm rhythm, a baseline rhythm, the sounds as I just described, all around and inclusive and yet, not pulling me into any particular story – allowed me to close my eyes, and simply be. And rather than falling asleep, dozing off, or getting busy with reading a book or listening to something, I entered into something of a spontaneous kind of awareness, a spontaneous meditation you might say, in which it became clear to me, and this was a very joyous realisation. It became clear to me that no thinking was taking place.
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So in me telling you about it now, I’m introducing thoughts about it that weren’t actually there in the experience itself. The experience itself was simply open, spacious, calm, grounded, having no needs within it that weren’t already met, and having no energy of mental activity. In other words, having noticed this, and having recognised that it felt joyous and spacious and good, I had to look for a thought. It was quite an amusing activity to watch my mind, which is typically very busy looking for a thought. It was a really simple, really ordinary experience, but one that, seen in this context, strikes me as profoundly important. Perhaps at one level, it’s why we take a holiday, why we take a vacation – in order to come back to this sense of knowing oneself spaciously and clearly minus reference to thinking.
But equally, it strikes me that this insight or this realisation is always available to us. It’s often layered over with busyness, activity and habit, but nevertheless, it’s never anywhere other than here with us in the present moment. So since returning from holiday and since reentering the busy rhythms of my family and work life, I’ve tried to maintain an awareness of that level, and to almost play gently with taking 10 seconds here, 30 seconds there or a couple of minutes when possible to drop under those levels of habit and thought, and once again connect with the mind at rest, the mind at peace, the mind minus the busy activities of pattern making and thought, and problem solving, and list making, and judging, and discriminating, and so forth.
And so I wanted to share that with you as a particular jewel-like moment of my summer, and to invite your own reflections on such a thing to see whether this is an experience you can relate to and recognise. Perhaps it’s more regular in your experience, perhaps there are other things that support it, and allow it to be more present for you. For me, I think the ingredients of the warmth of the sunshine and the rest of the body were very important. The body of course, typically being often the donkey, “Brother Ass” as St. Francis of Assisi called it; the load bearing part of us that rarely gets to have the space and the lead that it also deserves and requires. But in this instance, for me, it was there as the lead part of my experience; I was deeply embodied. And that allowed the mind to let go, perhaps, and to dissolve in some sense.
One final thought, of course I had no idea really how long this particular experience lasted. My hunch is that it lingered for several minutes, perhaps five minutes, perhaps it was 10. Certainly, it was long enough to create this lasting impression that I’m now overlaying with thoughts and concepts that weren’t there in the original experience in order to share it and tell you about it. That seems to me to be a significant part of the experience, is that it doesn’t happen in clock time, it happens in something that’s more of a vertical relationship to the flow of time. It opens us out onto something; something in the order of the insights that the Buddha shares around one moment of clarity, of clear perception, of true meditation, is worth thousands of hours of the horizontal schlepping of our practice.
Whilst I’m not claiming that from my experience, it’s sort of a homoeopathic dose of that experience. So I offer that to you by way of something to reflect upon, something to relate to. And I’d be interested to hear from you if you have your own stories or thoughts or memories of such experiences or practices that you have to support and consolidate the insights that come from it. I’ll just end by saying it’s lingering effect, if I can put it that way, for me feel to have been a sort of slowing down, lowering the revs of one’s kind of typical vehicle in the world, and allowing a sense of spaciousness that has a sort of layer within it or a pantone within it of joy. Something very spacious and joyous that arises in that space, almost the opposite of an anxious feeling or a driven anxiety to take action. This had none of that about it at all. It’s simply complete in and of itself.
So as always, I wish you very well, and I’d love to hear from you. Please check out the other pages of my website at www.keithhackwood.com, and keep an eye open for future blogs and newsletters, and notifications of forthcoming recordings of courses and workshops, meditations and other events that will be coming soon.
Go very well. I hope to see you soon.