Mindfulness at our all-inclusive Turkish beach resort began at 11 o’clock. Our mindfulness teacher was a tiny, smiley, flexible-looking woman who was not much bigger than the wheeled amplifier she dragged in behind her on to the beachside ‘wellbeing’ platform. With her musical voice she led us in a few brief arm stretches and neck rolls, then asked us to lie flat on our backs and think about what we were thinking about. Our intention this morning, she said, was to bring our minds back from elsewhere in time and space to the here and now and try and keep it there. This is what mindfulness is, basically, she said.
Eight of us had turned up: four men, four women, all middle-aged. We were all hungover, I think. Seven were lying on their backs on their yoga mats in a semi-circle. In the exact centre of the wellbeing platform, however, a woman who looked like Grandma in the Giles cartoons (except she was wearing a diaphanous sarong and bling sunglasses) was lying resolutely on a sunlounger imported, presumably, from the adjacent beach. Except for his head, the bloke in front of me was a solid mosaic of tattoos and the end of his beard was knotted into tiny plaits.
To begin, the mindfulness teacher guided our thoughts with her gentle singsong voice. Where was our mind? she said. If it was elsewhere in time we should try to bring it back to the present moment. If it was elsewhere in space, likewise. It usually helps, she said, to concentrate on our breathing. Had we, for example, entitled ourselves to take our fair share of the air available? Or were we, like so many, restricting ourselves to only a modest amount? And if we stepped outside our thoughts for a moment and looked at them objectively, what was their nature? Were they perhaps recurring thoughts? Were we perhaps caught up by an obsession?
I found that mine were elsewhere in time and in space and my breathing was diffident. My thoughts were too chaotic and fragmented to be characterised as obsessional, however. In fact, the mental order and comfort of an obsession might have been a welcome change. Gradually I came to accept that air was both abundant and free, and then to recall my stray thoughts and shepherd them momentarily into the here and now.
She was going to put on some music, she said. It was composed, she informed us, by an English musician called Andrew Ford. Hearing this, I wondered whether the Turks found it curious or irksome that, besides pop and rock, the British were internationally pre-eminent even in the esoteric genre of sodding mindfulness music. (On our boat trip the day before our grizzled old boat captain had been jigging around arthritically at the wheel to Amy Winehouse singing about her boyfriend Ray.) Then I admonished myself for entertaining a thought from elsewhere in time and space, deleted it, and returned my mind to the present.
The music began with synthesised pan pipes improvised by some cheery or tipsy mystic. It was certainly restful. Under its influence my thoughts were less unruly. Less tribal, too, I noticed. For example I could contemplate with equanimity sensei Ferdinand Mount’s piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times, and my astonishment on discovering that he is a Remainer, and his frank admission, as a Remainer, that the Remain case has yet to be meaningfully articulated. And also, with equanimity, the very new thought that if the Remainer case were convincingly presented to me by somebody who wasn’t rich, and their argument wasn’t entirely about money, I could be open to changing my mind. Then I realised that this thought, too, belonged to history and I deleted it.
We lay in slatted sunlight. The temperature was perfect. The key changes of the mindfulness music were nicely judged. Wafting over us was the gentlest of breezes. I could hear the slow breathing of the Mediterranean Sea framing the myriad sounds of an-inclusive beach resort slowly coming to its senses after the night before. Close by, two waiters were contending amiably about something in Turkish. A woman skirting the perimeter of the wellbeing platform, perhaps unaware of our supine silent bodies, was chattering gaily in northern English to a companion — about her mind, oddly enough. A tap in her bathroom was leaking. ‘Drip, drip, drip,’ she said. She couldn’t get this leak out of her mind even when she was away from the room, she said. Then she laughed at her own helplessness. Someone on the beach sneezed twice passionately. The woman on the sunlounger started snoring like a man.
None of these sounds disturbed the deep peacefulness of the wellbeing platform. A key change in the music, and the introduction of a single note, played perhaps on a harp, seduced me utterly.
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