Wish I Was Here

Am I here?  Are you here?  Are any of us actually here?

No, that’s not a philosophical question about the reality of this life; it’s a comment on the fact that many of us are, for much of the time, not fully present.  We are distracted.  We are talking to someone and a text arrives.  ‘I’d better get this,’ we say.  Why?  Or we are looking at a terrific view and our first thought is to take a photo and upload it to Facebook.  Why?  What could be better than just appreciating the view?  Or we are walking to work past a magnificent magnolia tree (it’s that time of year right now!) and we don’t notice it because we’re in a hurry or thinking about that meeting or phone call or email.  It’s spring, people!  But do we notice?

I first started to change my bad habits when I lived in Madrid.  It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be there forever; so I made a conscious effort to notice things: the architecture, the sky, the light, the art; everything I came across.  There is beauty everywhere, even if you live in a dump, as the film ‘American Beauty’ shows in that scene with the carrier bag.  Carrier bags are not considered to be beautiful, but they can be: look at the picture above and try to get past your feelings of disgust at the way plastic pollutes the world.  Is it not beautiful?  It flies in the wind with its own grace.  There’s beauty in everything if you want to see it.  But in order to see it you have to stop and look.

Much has been written about the desirability of doing one thing at a time.  If I was having dinner with someone who was continually on their mobile, I’d walk out: similarly to arrive at a beautiful location and just take photos is an insult to the location.

When I began to study yoga I was introduced to the idea that happiness comes from concentration.  By concentration I don’t mean a ‘Rodin’s Thinker’ style screwing up of the attention but an unbroken flow, like when you’re completely absorbed in a book or film (or person).  This, I learned, is the reason why new things make us happy – because we focus on them completely.  They absorb us.  But that soon fades and if we’re not careful we seek the next new thing, instead of learning that it’s the focus that matters, not the thing.

So in order to be happy we merely have to be present.

Are you here?

Kirk out


I’ve been thinking, as you do, about concentration.  Now, what comes to mind when you hear the word ‘concentrate’.  I mean, as an injunction not as a noun relating to some beverage or other?  Well, I’m willing to bet it’s something like this:

Isn’t it?  When we think of concentration, we think of a ‘screwing-up’ of the will; a compelling of the attention, a forcing of the mind: an attempt to jolly-well make the brain focus on one thing.  This is of course impossible.  No amount of tension and compulsion can make the mind focus: all it does is set up an equal and opposite reaction in the other direction.  What happens as soon as you say ‘concentrate!’ to yourself in that way?  The mind refuses.  No thanks, it says, I think I’ll just go for a wander – and like some aboriginal Australian gone walkabout, off it goes and there’s no bringing it back.

Incidentally, here’s a good joke in a film I once saw (can’t remember which one):

American tourist wants to take photo of Aboriginal Australian bloke on a beach.  He holds up his hand.  ‘You can’t take my photo like that!’ he says.

‘Oh, sorry!’ she says, stricken with guilt.  ‘You believe it’ll take away your soul!’

‘No, man!’ he says.  ‘You got the lens cap on!’


The mind is like Pooh in the story where Owl is telling a long, long tale of his relatives and his mind just wanders, listening to the sounds of the forest until Pooh finally falls asleep.  ‘Concentrate!’ you keep telling it, but it keeps wandering off.

In yoga we have an expression for it.  We call it ‘the monkey-mind’ because it dashes here and there, gathering and snatching at whatever it can see.  And just like a monkey – or a small child – the mind needs to be trained.  It needs to be trained with patience, and with love.  So that whenever you become aware that the mind has wandered off, instead of yanking it back again and yelling ‘concentrate!’ you just gently bring it back to where it was and carry on.  Sometime you have to do this over and over; but with time the mind becomes able to focus for longer and longer periods.

And that brings me to the yoga theory of concentration.  In yoga concentration is not a compulsion or a screwing-up of the attention.  In yoga, concentration is defined as an unbroken flow of attention from the mind to the object of concentration, like a beam of light, if you will.  When the beam is broken it can be ‘switched on’ again.  No compulsion, no punishment, just an unbroken flow.  There’s an ease and grace to it which Rodin’s Thinker entirely lacks.  He’s unhappy; he’s tense: he’s concentrating!

So in yoga we have this unbroken flow of attention which we call concentration and it leads quite seamlessly to a state wherein you are absorbed in the object of attention; in a certain sense you become one with it.  And this state is known as meditation.

Is it easy?  No.  It takes practice and dedication to develop concentration and enter a state of meditation.  But there’s a kind of ease to it; a kind of grace which we call ‘effortless effort.’  So give it a try some time: sit and focus on your breath, or just look at a magnolia tree – they are wonderful right now.  It’s about being present in the moment.  This is your life, so live it!

Kirk out



Rodin’s Dancer

I’m feeling deeply disaffected with our society at the moment: I can’t help thinking that the current appointment of the Archbish of Cant looks a lot like jobs for the old boys; also that it reflects our tendency to look to the commercial sector (let’s see what the Markets are saying…) to solve all our ills.  OK so he had an epiphany and I’m not doubting the authenticity of that, nor the reality of his faith.  He may be a very genuine person; but he’s an old-Etonian like Cameron and he had only been a Bish for a year, so he hadn’t paid his dues and it gives the impression of someone being parachuted in from outside to Sort Things Out.  In the end, I can’t help wondering how far his appointment was due to his commercial experience; his ability to engage with what we laughingly call the ‘real world’.  It’s not commerce per se that I object to, it’s our treating it as though somehow it has all the answers when clearly, it has a very limited range of responses to a very limited range of situations.

In this context, I was unreasonably depressed to find out the other day in Drama, that the gesture of ‘fist to forehead’ now evokes Bruce Forsyth more than it does Rodin’s Thinker.  It’s not that Brucie stands for commercialism exactly, but he does represent aspects of popular culture which are becoming increasingly, and remorselessly, market-led: prizing competition over art, and looks over substance.  I need not add further comment about the age gap between him and his succession of ‘helpers’ as I have ranted about this often enough before.  Anthea Redfern may have been twirly but she was at least nearer his age.

So!  Instead of listening to the radio, since everything seemed to be winding me up, I put on Deva Premal and Mitten singing the Gayatri Mantra.  I recommend this if you’re feeling stressed or cynical; it seems to reconnect you with everything and allow the whole market forces crap to recede into the stratosphere where it belongs:


On a more positive note, I am pleased to see the Prime Minister of Pakistan has signed the petition to give the Nobel Peace Prize to Mallalah Yousufzai.  So give yesterday’s video a look – it’s a tribute to her – and leave me a comment.

Kirk out