The little things

The first complete working week of the year brought with it a period of transition. Lisbon became significantly colder; our usually snug 1920s apartment began to feel distinctly chilly as outside temperatures dropped to single figures. The festive period was put to bed and having downloaded a yoga app, and contrary to expectation, I found the requisite motivation to actually get started. The new year had begun in earnest.

The passing of Christmas barely raised an eyebrow among the younger contingent and even 6 degrees at 8 a.m. was not sufficient to deter my son from his customary habit of refusing to wear a coat to school. The children were a bit too interested in the yoga element for my liking however, and begged to do it with me. I knew it wasn’t ideal, but didn’t have the heart to refuse. We bent and stretched in synergy – as perfectly as 8, 10 and 46 year-olds, possessed of varying degrees of flexibility, can – and at the end of our first session, I was pleased that our in-tandem yogic experiment hadn’t been as farcical as I’d imagined.

On day two, I noticed that a complementary mindfulness meditation session was offered after the yoga workout. It wasn’t far off bedtime and deemed it to be opportune, so we lay down to give it a go.

I’m no expert, but had read a little about mindfulness last year and had gleaned enough to understand what it is – and isn’t. I knew not to expect instant and revelatory “gratitude” the next time I encountered a green traffic light for example, but was hopeful of learning a few useful relaxation or breathing techniques. As I lay on the floor with my children, transported by tinkly music and attempting to allow “white light to reach my heart through my third eye”, I opened two of my eyes to find my son lying on top of his sister. Worse still, he was ”playfully” punching her in the ribs. At some point, someone also audibly broke wind and despite feeling a bit floaty, was still sufficiently conscious of my material self to be sure that it wasn’t me.

Despite this false start, I’m persevering with both yoga and meditation. My next few sessions were solo undertakings and consequently more focused.

Over the years, I’ve stridden purposefully, but blindly, countless times up and down the main avenue running parallel to the street I live on. This week I properly noticed the quirky artwork on the tiles, which decorates the steps which lead to the streets above. Perhaps my third eye was opening…

This weekend demanded a brief hiatus in meditative practice due to a highly anticipated visitor – my cousin. As 19 year-olds we’d globe-trotted together for 6 months, which had proven to be a voyage of discovery in many ways. On Saturday afternoon we set off together again, walking and talking, picking up an ongoing conversation that had started well over 30 years ago. Through the eyes of someone who doesn’t live here, I was reminded again of just how stunning Lisbon is. We paused en route to Terreiro do Paço*. Basking in the afternoon sun, the bitter cold was banished and forgotten. We caught a street performer’s pleasant rendition of ‘Wish You Were Here’. Our timing as we later made our way to the market for food couldn’t have been better, as it coincided with a spectacular sky as the sun set over the iconic 25 de Abril bridge. Accompanied by my lifelong friend and cousin, I sensed contentment and warmth in my core. And as far as I’m aware, no one experienced any flatulence. Was this mindfulness in action?

The hackneyed adage that the best things in life are free resonated. Although the extravagant patisserie we ordered for dessert at the market was decadent and definitely not free, it represented a symbolic crescendo to a perfect afternoon.

A line from the 1990s film ‘Point of No Return’ (a remake of the French original, ‘Nikita’) reiterated in my mind like an ear-worm later that night: “I never did mind about the little things.” My context was different from the film’s. Too task-orientated and focused on the bigger picture, as well as short of time up to now, I hadn’t really paid attention to or cared about the shards of beauty that inhabit the world around us – be it a tree in fruit on the street, a perfect blue sky on a winter’s day, or an eye-catching art installation in a concrete jungle.

As I write on a Sunday evening, I’m planning to propose another yoga workout à trois to the children later. It will probably be interrupted by questions, giggled through and imperfect. Tomorrow I can practise seriously and alone. If equilibrium is to be found, I can’t isolate myself from my family while trying to find it, that would be counterintuitive. I will engage fully and intentionally with all aspects of my life, eyes wide open – all three of them.

*Originally the commercial centre of Lisbon, an imposing and impressive square facing the estuary.

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