Being Mindful in Marrakech


For someone who is building a library, I don’t read a great deal. I am not a great one for sitting and relaxing, nor am I as patient as I once was. As a result I have tended to eschew books in favour of getting practical stuff done, and have deferred to the Internet rather than refer to my extensive and growing collection. The former is at least satisfying, the latter is not.

A couple of weeks ago we held a “bring yourself to work week” in our office. It sounds a rather obvious thing to do, but the idea was for everyone to explore and celebrate diversity in the workplace. We had a very nice lunch, where the team prepared or purchased a dish which represented their likes or their culture. Samosas, Cornish pasties, jelly and rum-soaked fruit made an interesting but refreshing change from my normal Waitrose sandwich. Yet it was the hour long “mindfulness at work” session that made me realise how far I had gone off the rails, or rather what bad habits I led my brain into. My attention span, I now appreciate, is shot to pieces. I flit from one task to another thinking this clever and productive, when in fact it is demonstrably not. I sit in front of my computer with tens of tabs open, responding to alerts for this and that with futile vigour. When I am at work I am usually thinking of work (or wine), but when I am at home I am often still thinking of work and rarely the matter in hand. My brain is constantly distracted and I can see that this has a lot to do with much I am not happy about.

Later the same week I caught an episode of the excellent Oliver Burkeman is Busy on Radio 4, which described that for many people being constantly busy is not just a virtue but an obsession, and sometimes a means of avoiding what’s genuinely important. I recognised so much of myself in the broadcast that I can scarcely bring myself to listen to it again.

These two unexpected incidences have encouraged to me to consider where I have been going wrong. Happily this holiday in Marrakech will be a Godsend. For a start, we are in the middle of nowhere with just one or two opportunities a day to get “somewhere” if we so wish. This means I have to sit still. Secondly, there is no Internet connection in our villa, which means I cannot leap on the World Wide Web every few minutes to check something out immediately. This means I can write without interruption. I will complete this post in one sitting, something I haven’t done in a very long time. Rather than try to identify every tree, flower and bird that surrounds us in this arid spot I am simply taking time to observe and appreciate them. This means I can properly contemplate their beauty and complexity. And, so that I can really appreciate my new library when it’s completed, I am setting myself the goal of sitting quietly and reading 100 pages every day before I do anything else.

I know it will take more than a week to retrain my frazzled brain, but it’s a good place to start. Recognising the problem always is.