Like most of my writing, you should probably take this post with a grain of salt. Or not. But that’s up to you. A few of my nearest and dearest have commented in recent times how much I’ve changed in the past year. That I’m much calmer, and much more present. That I’m making decisions in a much more logical way. I feel it too.
I’m not quite sure how it started, to be honest. Yes, there have been those amazing influencers in my life. I don’t doubt their contribution for a second. But there’s something else there.
A few days ago, I was chatting with a former student of mine from a time long past. She must be approaching 30 by now. She told me that she went for a walk that day. It had been raining on and off, but she managed to get out in one of the drier periods. She was walking around the local lake, among a throng of walkers, and experienced a sudden urge to lay down on the wet grass and watch the blanket of heavy, grey clouds float past.
I find myself transported to this place, a place I know well. I imagine the sudden dampness in my clothes, briefly uncomfortable, but not entirely unpleasant. My mind’s eye looks up to the skies, with wispy clouds forming and breaking apart. Creating shapes and gradually losing form. I think of the tiny water droplets that build them. Each ice crystal formed around a minuscule speck of dust, somehow huddled together with a billion of its like, floating magically above the earth, threatening a downpour at any moment.
I guess that by now you’re probably wondering if she did it. I’m afraid I have to disappoint. She didn’t, although she wishes she had. She told me that she thought of the people walking past and wondered what they would think. She decided that this just isn’t something an adult should do.
‘Should’ is an interesting concept. Where does it come from? How do we know what we should and shouldn’t do? Well (and I’m just taking a stab here!), most of us learn basic right and wrong from an early age. We learn that we shouldn’t take things that aren’t ours. We learn that we should treat others with respect. We learn that some people have implicit authority over us. That others have explicit authority. We learn that we should evacuate in the potty and then in the toilet. That we should brush our teeth twice a day. These are all pretty reasonable. And the ‘shoulds’ continue reasonably until a certain point. Some may disagree, but from where I’m sitting, it looks a certain way.
We should take subjects that are going to lead us to a particular course. We should take that course and get that qualification so that we can get the job we should get. We should find a partner at a certain point and we should get married. We should have children and we should get into a routine. We should stay in our jobs to provide security for our family. We should work late. We should just do what society tells us to. What often our family and friends advise us.
Really? I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve made many of these (in hindsight) blind decisions before, based on what I should do. But the thing is, ‘should’ won’t always lead where I want to go. ‘Should’ won’t bring me happiness.
I have no doubt that my calmness and presence that has developed in recent times has much to do with my approach to what I should do. I have begun to question things when I receive advice about how I should feel or what I should or shouldn’t do. It’s not that I don’t respect the people providing the advice. On the contrary; this advice has come from some of the most trusted and respected people in my world. And I don’t question why they’ve given me this advice. They want me to be happy and secure. I have been told innumerable times what I need and what I should or shouldn’t do.
But at the end of the day, the only truly valuable piece of advice amongst all of that has been that I should listen to what my own heart says.
Should I have stayed in my job until the end of the year? Maybe. Should I have waited until I had another full time job before I gave notice? Who knows. Should I have taken a stronger stance in my relationship? I don’t think so. Because none of these decisions really affected anybody else directly, and they most certainly did not impact on others’ happiness or quality of life. But they impacted mine. And I questioned the advice. And I made choices that were my choices. Because only I needed to feel comfortable with them.
But you know what? I know what I will do. If I’m walking through the damp grass in the park on an overcast day, I will lay down and reflect and contemplate the clouds. And if you don’t like it, because you think adults shouldn’t do that: then you should go and get stuffed!
Mike is a former secondary teacher who has made the leap into the realm of mindfulness coaching, with his business, MyndEd, based in Melbourne, Australia. He enjoys thinking about the ups, downs, ins and outs of life and sharing these on his blog and through Instagram. Helping people to improve the quality of their lives through mindfulness and an understanding that we all go through similar experiences are his passions.