Perhaps it was the hypnogogic delirium, but I had an epiphany.
Truthfully, it was probably less epiphany and more of a reminder, that little “oh yeah” sort of moment.
Yesterday I was sitting in an airport lounge at 5am, waiting to be whisked away on my 6am flight to the tropical north to join my family and in-laws for Christmas.
For the life of me, I can’t remember why I decided to book a flight for six in the morning. I think the flight was cheap, and I thought to myself “6am … that’s not that early …”. I forgot that to allow for travel time and checking in, I had to get up at 3:30am. Not even sparrows are awake at half-past three. In fact, I’m often going to bed at that time of night, so this whole pre-dawn awakening thing was really foreign.
The fact that I was showered, dressed, and sitting at the airport compos mentis was really weird … I think I was slightly delirious.
Still, the whole predawn awakening thing was enlightening. It was a refreshing glimpse of a time of day that I normally spend hibernating. The first thing I noticed was the light. I always thought that dawn and dusk were the same but just lighting from the opposite direction, but there’s a subtle difference in the hue that gives the early morning a softer, fresher glow.
The other thing I noticed was the stillness. Everyone else in their right mind didn’t book dawn flights and were still snug in their beds, so the usual hustle and busy buzzing that usually fills the streets was absent.
The soft cool breeze on my face, in the midst of the calmed half-light was almost meditative. It was quite a change to my daily routine of sleeping until I have to drag myself (and the kids) out to our usual daytime occupations.
The stillness and beauty of my new perspective of dawn reminded me of how it’s easy to get stuck in the same pattern.
Our routines are partly a function of necessity – we have to go to work, the kids have to go to school, we have to get groceries, attend social functions, go to church on Sundays. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this repetitive normality. Still, our brain gets used to the usual patterns and it starts to filter out the same input that it gets continually exposed to, and our brains function on autopilot. This process of automation, habituation and suppression is an advantage for our brains in terms of efficiency and energy conservation, but this leaves a bit of a cognitive void which our brain fills with the internal monologue of our own confabulation. We drink our own kool-aid, as it were.
This is what people often think of as “the rut”, that existential inertia and stagnation, the first-world malaise of meaningless repetition.
The antidote to the rut is to break the pattern. When we have a change to our circumstances and we experience something new, our brain has to process things differently. More processing power is needed, which involves our working memory and our conscious stream of thought. One small step outside the comfort zone of our routine, and all of a sudden, the world can seem fresh and new again.
This process is enhanced through mindfulness. When we practice mindfulness, we fully engage in the present moment. We can appreciate the detail that we so often filter out and ignore. We can (and should) practice mindfulness at any time, but when we’re engaging in a new experience, immersing ourselves in it mindfully will only enhance it.
The perspective of dawn that I experienced yesterday helped remind me of the power of stillness in an ever-demanding world over-saturated with stimulation.
I hope that this Christmas and New Year, you can take the time to have your own ‘perspective of dawn’ as it were – step out of your comfort zone and experience something completely new, and engage with the experience fully, mindfully. I hope you gain a fresh insight that you can help propel you forward into the amazing potential that 2017 holds for us all.
From my family to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year.