One of the (many, as regular readers will know by now) pleasures of riding a bike is the fact that it allows you to enjoy the scenery and be at one with Nature.
I have written at length about the positive value of this and how cycling is – for me – such an effective way of ‘being in the moment’. I have also written about the benefits of Mindfulness. I have been (erratically) practising Mindfulness since I did an eight session course in at the beginning of 2012 at the behest of my psychiatrist. In this edition of my blog I want to take a detour, take another look at Mindfulness and it’s possible impact on people, like myself, of the Mood Swing Tribe.
One of the defining elements of Mindful practice in regular daily activities is heightened awareness – of one’s breath, of one’s feet on the ground, of all the parts of one’s body during a Mindful Body Scan. Noticing one’s physical surroundings in all its detail is also encouraged as a way of being in the moment, of curbing the impact of what my Mindfulness teacher called ‘the monkey mind’. These practices of noticing one’s body, one’s environment, are all aimed at steadying one’s distractions, bringing a sense of perspective to the clatter – the ‘Sturm und Drang’ as the mid 18th century German philosophers had it – of daily life.
Recently I have begun to have my misgivings about all this ‘being in the moment’ stuff, though. I was reading a book by the well-known british comedienne Ruby Wax recently called ‘Sane New World’. She is certainly a high-profile, articulate advocate of Mindful practice and is not hesitant to share the considerable mental challenges she faces, and how being in the moment has help to steady her ship. It was while I was reading this book that I began to recognise some startling parallels with hypomania.
O.K., before I go on allow me to don my white coat, and affect a look of empathy and condescension while I explain what hypomania is. It is the stage of elevated mood that is the kindling for the roaring fires of full-blown mania. The type of frenzy that has some of us taking personal responsibility for the planet, the solar system…well, the whole darn universe, in fact. The type of energy from which sleep and stillness flee; in the throes of which so little and so much is done.
Hypomania is the good part. It’s where I can feel the every breath, every gasp and murmur of the wind in my ears – and it is only in my ears as I ride through the traffic in town on the way to the station in the morning, or out in the countryside for miles and miles and miles. Hypomania is the creative energy behind these very scribblings. It is the electricity I feel in every pore as my mind and body fertilise….manure most of the time; but sometimes, some exquisite times it is the white heat of clarity, understanding, of love, of, of…where was I?
Get the picture?
I think that Mindfulness for some one like me might feel good for what the doctors (but not me, I have to admit) are the wrong reasons. My psychiatrist would say that hypomania is something to treat – much in the same way that depression is something to treat. To treat means to dull for people like me. I thrive on hypomania. And Mindfulness, for me, fuels that fire.
Anne Sexton’s Last Letter to God
This is the last letter I will write
sitting at my kitchen table
with the blue coffee mug
at my elbow and the pot
roasting each bean to perfection:
in my cluttered suburban kitchen.
The sun is sharp through the blinds,
crisscrossing the kitchen’s
clean tiles with yellow and white.
I walk a knife-edge of light.
This is the last letter I will write.
I have been a witch, clothed in rags
and shreaking. I have borrowed
the wings of angels and given them back:
a poor fit, and yes, like Icarus
I had no sense and didn’t much like
falling back to earth. I have had lovers
by the dozen, some poets and others
and a faithful husband that I left
in the end. I have written painfully evocative
letters from Europe and many poems,
but this is the last letter I will write.
God is in your typewriter, the old priest said
and I wanted a father so badly, that for months
I believed him, transfixed by small miracles
and clutching my golden crucifix
on my knees by the empty bed. Lately
I have given a few well-received readings
in my high heels and my favourite red dress,
the posters that displayed me in defiant pose.
I was always dramatic with my husky voice,
my fingers curled around a cigarette
and the ending always upbeat.
I have just lunched with an old friend
saying goodbye and something
‘she couldn’t quite catch’.
Now I have locked the front door behind me,
squinting a little as autumn spills down
from the skies and the trees. Here
is a small miracle and I am walking away.
I wrap my mother’s fur coat
tightly around me, although I have
no need of its warmth today. The sun
is a cat stroking my neck, winding itself
contently around my long slender legs.
I pause by the garage door to admire
the autum leaves in their sourball colours.
A drink is in order. A double.
A toast to old friends, to those
on the other end of the phone and to those
who for one reason or another
have abandoned me. I pull the car door
closed and turn the key.
This, God, is my journey.
I have cut the lines
between us: no more tantrums.
No more poems. I am not
your daughter, your mother, your lover.
No more letters then, from me to you, God
and it amuses me to think of your
as I settle myself
comfortably into the driver’s seat.
Tracey Herd (1968 – )