Lesson 7: Wherever you go, there you are
Recently, I was at a friend’s party. I’ve known most of my friends for years and years, but this one is a relatively new one. Which means that I’m not that well acquainted with her family and other friends. And so, I found myself on a Saturday night in a crowded living room surrounded by music, chatter, the sound of clinking glasses and—in particular—lots of unfamiliar faces. For a brief moment, I felt like fleeing. How I was going to save myself from this? This was going to be a night in which I would have to work hard to socialize with people I didn’t know. I stood at the doorway of the living room, feeling intensely aware of myself: how I looked, how I appeared to others (if indeed anyone had even noticed me), and of the fact that no one in this room was going to approach me, because everyone was already engaged in a nice conversation. Or at least, they seemed to be. So, it was up to me to put one foot in front of the other and step into an existing conversation. It felt uncomfortable, but I did it. I took a deep breath and walked into the party.
Of course, I know I’m not the only one who has trouble with these kinds of situations. But what I hadn’t ever realized before was that we often—be it consciously or unconsciously—also have a strong preference or dislike for a particular place in a room (in hindsight, for me, that place was the doorway, with the whole room in front of me). I became aware of this last Tuesday, during the seventh lesson in my eight-week course. The teacher had asked us to go to a place in the room where we felt uncomfortable. One person sat in front of the toilet door, another stood in the middle of the room, while another went and sat with his back to the dark kitchen. And I sat in a corner, away from everyone. Which didn’t feel good, because by doing so, I felt like I had cut myself off from everyone and didn’t want to be there. And needless to say, I didn’t like that sensation. But when we did a meditation exercise in this ‘uncomfortable place’, it proved possible for me to feel okay there, too. By calmly following my breath, I was suddenly much less troubled by this spot. It did not even matter that I was there. I even believed, quite strongly, that I may be able to feel at home there, in that sorry corner. And so, on an ordinary Tuesday night, the famous statement by mindfulness founder Jon Kabat-Zinn—a quote that I have come across so many times—was given a whole new meaning.
‘Wherever you go, there you are’: how beautiful and how true this sentence is. Because wherever you go, you always take yourself with you. Which is good news if you feel comfortable in yourself. Even when you find yourself in a place where you feel less at ease, you are in good company. Wow, how lovely and useful to always have such a good friend with you. Someone you know through and through. Yourself. And, of course, your breathing.
Alice is General Managing Editor of Flow International and the Flow Specials.