Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life.
The evening beam that smiles the clouds away,
and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.
When we take a mindful attitude towards living it can add so much to the enjoyment of our daily lives. It allows us to see, and fully appreciate the wonders that make up the world around us.
I am entranced by rainbows, and as far as I am concerned, any day in which I see a rainbow is a good day. There is something numinous about their shifting colours, their changing intensity, and their impermanence that leaves me captivated and often leaves me standing outside in the falling rain.
Yet, rainbows have no existence of their own. They are given life through the perception of the human mind.
When the eye is exposed to the refraction of the sun’s light as it passes through falling rain, the mind works magic. Although fleeting and intangible, rainbows are real. They hang in the sky for all to see and enjoy, yet have no greater solidity than the proverbial crock of gold alleged to lie at their end. When conditions are right they can be truly awe-inspiring, so it is no surprise that our ancestors regarded them as carrying messages from the gods.
As I write this, the gods clearly have a lot to say, for a complete double rainbow, with half of a third, is arching over the park behind my house.
Sunsets too, are natural phenomena that are pure perceptions of the human mind. Although we can explain both with physics and science, the only way to really understand a rainbow, or a sunset, is to see them as they are happening in their own, ever-changing, transient moments of glory.
Like snowflakes, no two are the same.
When we practice mindfulness, we can enjoy rainbows and sunsets on even the driest, or darkest of days. The same iridescent colours can be seen everywhere. The more we look, the more they are there to be seen.
- Spilt petrol catching the light on a rain-soaked road.
- Pigeons doing their best to seduce each other.
- The iridescent glow from the carapace of even the tiniest beetle.
- Stress patterns in the glass walls of the city’s skyscrapers.
- The moving spectrum cast onto the wall by the glass in our bedroom window.
Much of the time we are so busy living our important, busy lives that we forget to pause and take a moment or two to look at the world around us.
When we can be present in the moment in this way there are benefits for our physical and mental health. Making the time to be mindful of the world around us is well worth the effort. If, instead of rushing from place to place, we take the chance to slow down a little, to look around and observe, we will be well rewarded.
Being mindful only takes a moment, and if we take several moments a day it soon adds up into a beneficial habit. It can help if we set up a trigger, a reminder to ourselves to take a moment to be mindful.
One of my favourites comes from the book How to Train a Wild Elephant, This collection of mindful practices, produced by Jan Chozen Bays, includes 53 practices that have been used at Great Vow Zen monastery in the USA for many years. Each is an aid to mindfulness that both visitors, and those who live at the monastery, practice for a week at a time.
My favourite exercise involves using the transition from one space to another as a reminder to take stock of the day. Moving from outside to inside, from one room to another, even from one part of a room to another part.
Mental transitions can also be used, taking a couple of slow, deep breaths before answering the phone, or moving from one task to another.
“As we walk toward a door, our mind moves ahead to the future, toward what we will be encountering and doing on the other side. This mind movement is not obvious. It takes careful watching. It makes us go unconscious, just briefly, of what we are doing in the present. The unconscious or semi-conscious mind, however, is able to steer us through the movements of opening the door and making our way safely through.”
Rather than remaining on autopilot as we pass from one physical or mental space to another, the practice is to become aware of the change as we move from one space to another.
- How does the quality of the light alter?
- Does the temperature change?
- What happens to our perception of sound?
- How does the ground feel under our feet?
Taking a second or two to become aware of how the world changes from moment to moment, frees us up to live with greater freedom and creativity. If we are mindful in this way, we remain aware of the changes going on around us.
When we have greater awareness we can respond to the world around us in the most appropriate way, we can act to forestall events rather than just being at the mercy of our automatic responses that causes us to react without conscious thought.
If we look carefully we can find our own rainbows, the personal triggers that remind us to stop what we are doing, to pause for a moment and watch the world as it rushes past. Then we can retain our balance and continue with what we were doing with the freedom that this greater awareness brings.