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The gift of taking the time to just sit

A smile broke out across my lips the other day: the answer was so simple - and I didn't have to go anywhere to find it.

I was sitting in the garden - just sitting. Not "meditating" as such - at least, not deliberately, but I think it could be described broadly as meditation.

There I was, eyes closed, relaxed, one hand resting in the other, palms open to the sky, thumbs gently resting against each other, the one supporting the other without effort, warm sunlight soaking through the pores of my skin, caressed by the soft breath of a gentle breeze. In my ears were the sounds of children at play and birds singing - one song rising above the others in my awareness. Then it passed and another took its place, then another, fading again into an awareness of the breeze kissing my cheek, and the sunlight soaking deep into the core of my being.

Thoughts came and went, but they were distant, as if spoken far away. I knew they were there like I might know there are clouds in the sky but not really pay much attention to them. Once or twice a thought would stick for a moment, ideas or realisations which grabbed my attention and I might find my mind follow the tantalising train of musings for a while - new ideas being tempting treats to the habitually information-hungry monkey mind. But I was able to let go, smiling to them: "Interesting idea... but not now."

I sat like this for a while, thoughts getting snagged every now and again on the nagging brambles of "things I need to do". The habit to be always doing is ingrained from childhood. But I would keep reminding myself that we cannot "do" anything very effectively if our tools are blunt or broken through neglect or over-use. And, in our lives, each of us is our most important tool. To live well, we must take time out for self-maintenance and repair. So today, this moment, right here, I would just sit.

With that decision made, I let go and felt myself dissolve, body and mind, into the garden. I was no longer separate. Indeed, even the notion - the illusion - of any kind of separation seemed laughably naive. Separation simply makes no sense - it defies direct experience and all logic: of course there's no separation! It's so obvious, when you stop running after the mirage.

This sense of everything being a whole and in harmony was not just physical but mental, too, as my sense of self melted into my surroundings. My very consciousness (my "soul" if you like) was also merely an arising phenomenon at a moment in time - a lifetime - like a wave in the ocean of existence, arising out of emptiness. But that realisation in no way diminished the value of this moment of individual consciousness in time and space. Indeed, it is time and space - a brief and unique expression of infinite possibilities, arising, falling, appearing and disappearing, but always within this great ocean of wonders, created out of the essence of the ocean. Never apart. Beautifully individual and collective at the same time. A harmonious whole of individual parts, or emanations of eternity dancing together. Individual notes or songs, each making up the ensemble of the universe and beyond. This is us, all of us: each one a momentary expression in a symphony of becoming.

Most of the time we're too busy to realise how small and how big we really are; always battling to protect the fleeting identity we think we are, believing that by grasping at the wave we can separate it from the ocean - but the water just trickles through our fingers or evaporates into the sky to fall back later into the ocean: eternity infinitely recycling itself. Grasping at the wave, trying to own it, separate it, simply cuts us off from life's essence and causes suffering. But all we need do is appreciate that our song, our dance, is valuable in its own right, at this moment, in this place, arising and falling, impermanent and as beautiful and brief as a butterfly. A gift until it returns to the ocean to rise again in another form, another song, another dance, similar maybe to the one before, but unique too, like the ever-changing waves of the sea.

After what seemed like both an age and a nanosecond, it felt right to return to the day-to-day activities of the wave that I identify as me: this tiny, wonderful, unique expression of eternity sitting here in the garden.

I opened my eyes... and was amazed. Long blades of grass were dancing in the scented breeze, each one shining with what seemed like its own inner light, each swaying in harmony with unmown lawn around it: individual and collective. An insect hovered above it and it too seemed part of this symphony of life as birdsong flowed through the trees and across the lawn. The sea of grass, the ocean of birdsong, the garden, the earth, the sun, the parts of these and the parts of me, from the cosmic to the sub-atomic, to the ultimate emptiness and impermanence of all. Many notes of one song, many songs weaving themselves into a harmony of sound - everything inter-related, interdependent. Life is nothing more, and nothing less, than relationships. Our bodies, our minds, even who we think we are, do not exist in themselves; they are simply the brief coming together of many parts, from atoms to experiences, and the ever-changing, ever-evolving relationships between them. That's life: wonderful, beautiful, indefinable and inexplicable.

It was such an exquisite, exhilarating, life-affirming experience, putting everything into perspective. And when I reflected on my own desperate attempts to protect the illusion that is "me" I couldn't help but smile, knowing that reality is so much more glorious than the tiny piece we grasp hold of and call "mine".

All that, from just taking a moment to sit. I felt like I had been to the furthest reaches of time and space and back, but here I was,  sitting in the garden, and only 20 minutes had passed. It reminded me of the words of William Blake ('Auguries of Innocence'):

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour."

And what makes this even better is: anyone can do it. Just sitting (or standing or lying) for 10 minutes, and simply being.

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