Staying Conscious

‘Two young fish are swimming along when they happen to meet an older fish, swimming in the other direction, who nods to them and says “Morning Boys, how’s the water?”. The pair turn to each other and say “What the hell is water?”.’ This anecdote was used by David Foster Wallace to illustrate the importance of staying aware and being present in our lives. Sometimes the most obvious details in our lives are the easiest to ignore. We often go through life without taking time to notice the world around us. Unless we make a conscious effort to stay aware of, and interact with the world around us, our experiences will remain superficial and potentially unsatisfying.

This long ‘Stay at Home’ period has challenged many of our preconceptions and with most of us facing aimless and dull days. We find ourselves craving a return to normality and the luxury of what we once saw as routine. It was a shock to the system to go from our busy, fast-paced lives to the long and slow days of a national lockdown. Only when our sense of normality is gone, do we remember all the little things that made life exciting and worth getting out of bed for.

Cooped up in a house day in and day out, many of us are struggling to know what to do with ourselves. We end up doing nothing, but as creatures of habit, it’s the same nothing every day. A few months ago, an entire day sat in bed watching TV without any looming deadlines sounded like a dream. But that dream of days doing nothing becomes a nightmare of mind-numbing boredom when it’s all we can do. It is all too easy to settle into a familiar pattern, allowing each day to come and go, sliding into a false and superficial sense of comfort where every day is the same.

As the days blur into one, I find myself routinely eating the same thing every day for breakfast.  A seemingly small thing yet it still brings me comfort as I butter a bagel and listen to my favourite podcast. Which, even in these unprecedented times, can be relied on to be published twice a week without fail. My calm and careless mornings (or as my parents like to point out, afternoons) are the opposite of my once frantic ones, rushing about before a 10am lecture, breakfast consisting of stuffing a half-toasted slice of stale bread into my mouth as I race down the street. It’s safe to say I’m not a morning person. Although oddly enough, I miss that occasional jump start to my day. Undeniably, it got me out of bed every morning.

Before lockdown it was rare to pour undivided attention into one single task, a Netflix programme or Spotify playlist usually playing in the background as I went about most of my day. After a week locked down in my childhood home, I eventually made a trip to the shed at the bottom of my garden to pull out my long-forgotten tin of watercolours. Before this, I would not have described myself as particularly artistic, but unsatisfied after binge-watching all of the latest boxsets that the internet has to offer, it’s easy to spend an entire evening trying to perfect an image of the flowers which sit wilting on my windowsill.

One of the best ways to ‘reset’, it’s said, is to do yoga. The disciplined breathing techniques and positions, of varying complexity, lead to a total refocusing of the mind. Although, my own experience somewhat defeats this ideal, as I constantly peer down at my phone to check that I’m in time with the trendy instructor who I’ve conjured up from YouTube. I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter where you find your focus. Finding an activity which suits you will yield the desired result of feeling connected to yourself and the world around you.

Connecting with ourselves is one thing- this is an age in which we are in constant contact with our peers. Interestingly, there has been a rise in the popularity of hand-written letters. There is something comforting in sending an attractively packaged monologue, with no fear of awkward silences or being left on read, never to see it again. It’s freeing to let go of something you’ve poured yourself into.

A few years ago, a series of intricate book sculptures were anonymously abandoned in Edinburgh’s most popular libraries with the note: ‘A gift in support of libraries, books, words, and ideas’. A true testament to the beauty of small gestures. It was clear that a tremendous amount of time, thought and effort had been poured into each work of art. The artist left no clue of their identity. Even after a media flurry, the artist did not come forward, they didn’t seem to need acclaim, or likes or attention. By creating something for others without expecting anything in return, they’d already gotten the satisfaction they needed.

 

[Rosalynn Davidson- she/her – @_rosadavidson]

[Photo credits: Elena Rota/flickr.com]

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