Last year I had heard that there was going to be a meditation flash mob in Trafalgar Square so I went with a few friends on a sunny Summer afternoon and arrived a little before the start time. It was a typical London scene in this busy public space: tourists posing for photos by the fountains as the locals hurried past to get to their next activity, buses and traffic circling around the square and pigeons everywhere! Then as the clock struck the hour something different happened Slowly at first a circle of seated figures formed in the center of the square. Then with gentle speed the circle spread until over a hundred people were sitting in silent meditation. As we sat there people still passed by, some took photos, others asked with curiosity “What are they doing”, some laughed whilst others who hadn’t know about the event sat down and joined in the silence. After 20 minutes the sound of a bell rang around the square and the circle started to dissolve, dispersing as quickly as it had begun, melting into the crowd that once again took command of the square.
The event symbolized for me the power of meditation to bring stillness even in the busiest of situations and most unsettled times of one’s life. We didn’t shout at the passers by, telling them to be quiet and to stop and be calm. We sat, including whatever noise was there in the practice of resting attention on the flow of the breath. In the same way when we sit to meditate we learn to notice thoughts without trying to stop them or get pulled into them. Instead one learns to let thoughts go through the mind like clouds passing through a clear blue sky. This attitude of acceptance and inclusion make it possible to find peace without having to do battle with the mind.
Trying to force the mind to be quiet is impossible:try telling yourself not to think of pink elephants….hard not to see them isn’t it! Its the same if we sit and think “I mustn’t think”, our focus is on trying not to think and so we notice thoughts. Mindfulness meditation is an antidote to the need to control, perfect and understand – which may just lead to increased worry and agitation as the mind turns over a thought again and again, unable to find an answer and yet unwilling to let it go. It is not about turning off or disassociating ourselves from what is there Instead we learn to bring gentle attention to what is in our experience without needing to analyse or control it. We feel it fully, noticing how a thought effects us physically in the body and then this physical sensation is included in the meditation , often leading to the thought or worry dissolving as we continue to return our attention to the sensation of the breath every time we notice it has been pulled away. The result can be an ability to stay calm when in the midst of an angry crowd of thoughts, using the breath to find a foot hold when slipping down the mountain face of worry or anxiety.
A few minutes of mindful breathing in the midst of a busy day can create a calm space in our life that helps us to return to our work refreshed and relaxed, making creative thought more likely and nourishing oneself during the course of a demanding work schedule. So whilst may not want to sit with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square finding a few minutes each day to bring a calm, gentle and patient attention to your experience as you rest your attention on your breath may just help you to find some stillness in the midst of the crowd of thoughts and duties that so often jostle us and refuse to give us any respite.