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Stop and take a moment to breathe, says Andrew Hammond

What did the green grape say to the red grape? Answer: ‘Breathe, man.’

This joke never ceases to make me chuckle. Granted, I have an unsophisticated palate when it comes to humour, but there is another reason why it brings a smile to my face; I am reminded, both literally and metaphorically, to take a moment to breathe.

We all lead such busy lives it is so easy to get through an entire day without ever really noticing what you have achieved, whom you have spoken to, or even how you got to work in the first place. Our brains are so often pre-occupied with what’s coming next before what’s happening now has finished.

andrew hammond. (14583200)
andrew hammond. (14583200)

Does that sound familiar to you? Are you, like me, one of those commuters who often has no recollection of the journey home when you walk in the door of an evening? And do you then pretend to listen to your darling children’s news, nodding and smiling attentively, while your brain is still in some meeting at work that you are now chewing over? If only we didn’t do this.

I have written in the past about my growing desire to ‘be there’ in the moment. The green grape knows when he needs to breathe, but I am still a red grape. I need others to tell me when to stop, take a breath and, just perhaps, admire the view every now and again.

Not all of us work in education and so not all of us enjoy time off in August, but many readers may still manage to take time out this month to spend time with their loved ones, or in the garden, or visiting friends.

August is shore leave for many of us, before the submarine submerges again in September and we race on to Christmas without ever really pausing to breathe.

As William Henry Davies so aptly put it: “A poor life this is if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Mindfulness is very much talked about these days. Essentially, it is the art of fully attending to what you are doing as you are doing it, rather than allowing your mind to drift back to things that have happened in the past, or to speculate on things that may happen in the future. It is concerned with the here, now, living in the moment.

Why does mindfulness matter? Because calmly attending to events one-by-one, as they come to us, relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, enhances performance, develops empathy for others and maintains our positive well-being.

We talk of mindfulness as a new skill that needs to be acquired, but perhaps it is one of our most basic and innate human facets.

The problem is that the business of daily modern life draws us human beings further from the simple practice and pleasure of being human.

One theory might be because some of us don’t value ourselves enough to treat ourselves to a breather now and again.

Thinking of other people in need is a worthy practice, and thank goodness there are still people in the world who want to help others. But we cannot properly help anyone until we help ourselves, and surely that begins with ring-fencing just a few moments in our day when we can stop the multi-tasking, stop the plate-spinning, juggling, worrying and rapid communicating and just attend to the task in front of us until it is done.

Perhaps that is why, as I get older, I seem to have developed more of a liking for washing up the dishes – much to my wife’s surprise. Scrubbing, rinsing, stacking, drying and putting away does it for me. If I find my mind drifting whilst doing it, I sometimes provide a commentary: I am now clearing the leftovers into the recycle bin; I am now scrubbing the plate with a brush; I am now rinsing off the soap and stacking it next to its fellow plate in the draining rack…

Oh, what an exciting life I lead! But at least it is a life that I am slowly becoming more conscious of, and I’m remembering to breathe whilst living it.