We all learn, sooner or later, that one of life’s few constants is change. It’s glib and a justifiably tired cliché. But, as with all clichés, it can pay to linger on it for a while – to ask whether there’s anything useful to learn from it.
Linger has been a word on my mind recently. Or, rather, an idea, a nag, a question. A hope, I think, for that pause to draw breath and straighten out a few things. Its germination has come from thinking about architecture. Not in a significant way, but in a pretty simple context: we want to extend our house and we want to get it right. So, as one reads and watches, one starts to notice repeated words or phrases or motifs in others’ language. Since we all tend to attempt at some level to understand things in our own context, inevitably it creates the question: if adding space at home isn’t about the design or building itself, what’s it for?
But let’s step back from buildings for a moment – hey, we’re not going to be featuring on Grand Designs. There was a time when I sued to meditate by accident. It took a while for me to recognise it: whenever I rode a bike on my own the hours and sometimes days afterwards came with a feeling of completeness, of clarity of thought, of lingering within a space of calm I had created. I hadn’t set out to do that, but there’s something in the rhythm and effort (never more so than on a wet day under grey skies) that seemed to flatten out the spiky thought patterns of everyday life.
These days life’s rather different. The bike, if not gone, is dusty and unused. And the shape of my life has changed: I live it pretty much 50% in my own bed, 50% not. And, without realising, the spiky though patterns are beginning to peak. Not in any sinister way, just that a busy life gets busier and there seems little time to catch that breath.
The life I lead is divided between work in London and home in a rural village. They’re 200 miles apart. In one I am, to quote, 15 minutes from the centre of the Western world. The other involves tractors, flaky broadband and sideways rain. They’re both great, but neither seem quite to offer the opportunity to linger, to enjoy, not to worry about life to a timetable.
Except that isn’t true. The dusty doorway is cracked ajar and it’s clear that those options lie in both locations. London is work and work is lengthy and intense. But London also offers possibilities, even after the galleries are closed and all the shows have started: yoga. It’s 75 minutes and it’s just like the ride: as concentration increases, and focus is narrowed to the real estate of a small mat, so clarity creeps up and envelopes me in its translucent coat.
Home brings a contrast and, last weekend, the benefit of a solo walk. While living in the countryside means looking at it more than setting foot on it, 30 brisk minutes along the lanes and back through the fields brought a similar sensation: a dimming of the noise, the capture of a moment’s clarity and a gentle wave of contented calm.
Now, as one of life’s extroverts, I want to share this feeling, this minor breakthrough. But sometimes it’s good enough to share the outcomes of some accidental mindfulness. Those relatively short bursts of focus on what each day’s rhythm and location brings creates a conscious environment to linger and better enjoy the moment. It’s space, not place.