Years ago, I was walking in the Lake District with friends. We set off at a cracking pace with long strides, determined to get to the top of the hill as fast as we could. We had energy, we could see our goal – we would get there. As we swept out of the carpark we overtook an older man in a yellow raincoat walking at a much slower pace than ourselves. I remember smiling to myself and thinking that he wouldn’t get very far at that rate.
But of course, we soon ran out of steam. Puffing and panting we had to keep stopping to drink water and pretending to enjoy the view while really struggling to get our breath back. On one such stop, a familiar figure dressed in yellow appeared from behind us. He was still taking small plodding steps up the hill. He nodded in greeting as he passed and wisely said, “Small steps, pace yourselves, you’ll get there quicker in the end.” He then continued up the hill almost effortlessly.
“Ok, we can do this. Do the plod!” I said. We set off again with a completely different mentality this time, enjoyed the view on the way and finally reached the top in triumph.
I think this applies to anything new. When we decide to make a change in our lives like taking up a new hobby, diet or exercise, we set off guns blazing, expecting to be able to achieve our goals instantly. We don’t realise that each step of the journey is a reward in itself and that we will eventually reach our goal, however impossible that may seem at the time.
It’s the same with mindfulness. Many people start with good intentions but too high an expectation of what they should be achieving. They want instant results. When they sit down to meditate for the first time and can’t concentrate, they start to believe they can’t do it and get cross with themselves. But all of these little frustrations are part of learning. Like a toddler learning to walk – there will be many falls first. We can’t learn to do things immediately.
One of the keys to mindfulness is approaching it with a beginner’s mind – being open to experiences as they unfold, however difficult that experience may be. And a kind attitude towards yourself is essential. You must nurture yourself in order to grow.
So, do the plod and enjoy the journey, a mindful attitude can be applied to anything.