September can be a challenging time. Many of us feel a sense of disjunction after the relative relaxation of summer -- coming back to the busyness of work or studying, perhaps after a break in the countryside or by the sea, where we settled into a different pace. I hear phrases like 'I'm getting back in gear', suggesting the need to rev up to the speed and energy of the city. Our adrenaline levels rise as we fuel ourselves with coffee and force ourselves back into our routines of commuting, meetings, and deadlines.
How can we bring some of our holiday relaxation and space into the chaos of urban life? This is the central question of my book Mindful London, which explores this challenge in the context of one of the world's great cities. For me, there are two sides to mindfulness. On the one hand, we need to take time out: to simplify, stop rushing around and make time for 'being' rather than 'doing'. We can seek out moments in quiet gardens and cafés, open spaces, peaceful churches and bookshops- and set aside time for mindfulness practices which nurture our ability to remain grounded.
But the ultimate aim of taking time out is to be able to leap back in- to be more present and aware within our daily life. We can remind ourselves to appreciate the details that make up our lives, and our city. When we walk from the station to work, can we look up and notice the architecture, or hear the birds, or watch the faces of the passers-by? Can we let our environment wake us up out of our cloud of thoughts and worries so we enjoy our lives instead of rushing through them?
More radically - can we even use the irritations of the city as opportunities to wake up and be present? For example, when we get stuck in the famous British queue - at the bus stop, post office or supermarket- we may drive ourselves crazy with frustration. Instead, we could relax a little with the fact there is nothing we can do but wait, and use this as a chance to slow down, breathe and look around.
At the traffic crossing, instead of revving ourselves up with impatience for the green man, we could appreciate how the red man gives us a chance to be still for a moment and notice the buildings, the people, the sky. Even the frequent wailing of sirens doesn't have to drive us to distraction: when they cut through our thoughts we could let the sound be a reminder to take a pause and notice where we are.
Coming back to work after a break, we may feel in our bones that there's something unnatural about the stress and pace of our big-city lives. We don't have to drop out and move to the countryside, but instead we could pay attention to our instincts and find a way to puncture our busyness with moments of greater silence and space.