Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The Extra Half a Second

It was one of those times where the internal prompt to just step up and say ‘thanks’ was strong. David had offered something very simple and, at the same time, brilliant the day before. A conference for people connected with boys’ schools from all around the world had just closed and as delegates were leaving to return home, there was only this moment to be able to express that gratitude.

“David, I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for your workshop, there were little corners of gold around this conference... I’m so fortunate to have chosen yours,” I say to the smiling, Deputy Headmaster from St James Independent School for Boys in the UK.

My badge is still on, so David replies, “My pleasure Bill, glad you enjoyed the presentation.”

I am wanting to connect because David had made a deep impression the day before.

Have you ever been met by an atmosphere of calm when you go into someone’s space? I felt this calm surround me on arriving at his classroom workshop. Half a world away from where David and his two fellow presenters teach... these gentlemen, our workshop presenters gifted us a one hour window into the quiet stillness that is the foundation of their school’s ethos.

The wish to connect comes from the excitement that for about a year now, your blogger has been trying to start each day with some quiet stillness, some meditation. Can’t say I’ve done it every day but I could let David know that I have had a go at this for more days than not. It was exciting to share how when a number of ‘days in a row’ were strung together, I have felt real benefits. David’s headmaster (another David) had explained the day before that his deputy had been practising stillness twice a day for over twenty years.

David is kind and affirming throughout our brief chat.

“Well done Bill, with a year under your belt you are an expert in the practice!” There’s a depth of attention and sincerity, real interest.

“Hardly an expert David”, I respond, “my sporadic efforts are not even in the shadows of your years of practice.”

“It’s not so much the comparative periods Bill but that you have stuck at it, for long enough that it must be becoming a habit,” David replies, again kindly. “Tell me, you spoke about how you have benefited from practicing stillness. What have you noticed is different?”

“Ah, that’s easy,” I say. “The benefit shows up by what I notice on the days when I haven’t started with stillness.” I explain that, “on the days when I haven’t started with those twenty minutes of quiet, I am far more likely to walk into a fairly ‘focussed’ discussion with my boy, be reactive or even lose my rag if we clash over something.”

“On the days when I have practiced the stillness, and a moment arises where my son is just ‘doing his job’ as a teenager and me, as his dad – he’s pushing and I’m holding, a boundary, I get that vital, extra ‘half-a-second’. Time seems to slow down and it feels like I get the chance to choose my reaction, in that brief moment, and, much more often than on the days I do the stillness practise, that choice turns out to be a good one.

David laughs and says, “I have two sons and three daughters, I know exactly what you mean.”

As I look back at that brief interaction, I marvel at the story that David shared about an exercise called ‘The Pause’. Twice a day, the whole school stops... teachers and students alike and they become still. Below, if you are seeing the actual blog, my recollection, is on YouTube, of what David shared with the people in that workshop.

Just so you can get it in writing (in case you can’t open the link now). Here’s what you do if you want to pause each day, indeed right now. Read the instructions that follow in full (because after step 1 you are asked to close your eyes.

Firstly, make yourself still where you sit or stand. Bring your breathing to a steady flow and now draw your concentration to three of your senses...

1. Bring your attention to your sense of sight – look around where are, notice the colours in the scene around you. Hold your head still and stretch your eyes as far as you can to the left and the right and notice what you see.

2. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your sense of touch. Notice if you can feel even the slightest breeze moving by your face, your hands. Feel the touch of your clothes on your skin. Notice your feet in your shoes or on the ground.

3. Now change and bring your attention to what you can hear. Notice the sounds closest to you, hear some sounds further away and try and detect the sound that is furthest from you.

Finally, spend a few seconds bringing your attention back to your breathing. Notice its natural flow. Feel the rise and fall of your chest. Then open your eyes and feel the refreshment... and continue with a deeper awareness into your day.

Have a try of this. If you are an adult... see how it works with you in the next stressful moment. As a young person reading this, maybe if the ‘rents’ are getting on your back, I wonder if things might go differently for you next time you have a conversation that usually would end up being tense.

David offered such a simple, yet profound, activity. Supported by many thousands of hours of his own stillness efforts, this enabled him to present a memorable moment for a workshop full of people. Each of us were given a practical action that we could take back to our corner of the planet. And where ever you are right now, this wonderful practice has reached you. May there be more David’s in our world who kindly encourage and offer something good.