What is the one thing in life that scares you the most?
One of my greatest fears has always been the possibility that I might waste the little time I have been given on this planet. Few things could scare me more than the suffocating thought of my last living moments being filled with regrets, memories of missed opportunities and painful awareness of how my life could have turned out. To escape this fear, I’ve been DOING. Doing a lot, doing fast, doing non-stop. Working, reading, painting, playing piano, learning languages, yoga, dance, all kinds of doing. But in this doing I was not always BEING.
Arriving in Edinburgh I decided to DO as much as possible in the few hours I had left after a full day at work. As usual I created a packed sightseeing plan to maximize the number of experiences I could squeeze into the little time I had. But as I sat there in Ensign Ewart, I suddenly thought: “why rush?”. The live music by a local artist seemed like a much better way of taking a place all in than a fast-paced hike through the touristy bits of the city.
“No more rush” I solemnly swore to myself slowly sipping my wine. “No rush” I reminded myself the next day when I finished work and headed towards the Waverley station to catch a train to North Berwick, a little seaside town just outside Edinburgh.
When I arrived at the platform, I excitedly awaited my train. It was another hot June day in the city and the perspective of traveling away for a few hours was very appealing. I kept on looking at the notice board, counting down minutes to the departure. “6 minutes left. 5 minutes left. 4 minutes left? surely the train should be here by now? 3 minutes left. Hmm, is the train delayed? 2 minutes. 1 min…”. My counting was unexpectedly disturbed by a loud noise coming from behind me. I turned around and there it was. My train! My DEPARTING train! It turned out that in my hyperactive expectation I totally missed out the fact that the train has been standing at the platform for a good ten minutes. Unable to do anything, I let out a little laugh. I always knew I was a bit of a scatterbrain but this? This was a whole new level of not being present!
I accepted my fate with a smile, deciding that when life wants to teach you lessons, you better pay attention. I put down my phone, sat on a bench and basking in the afternoon sunshine I patiently awaited the arrival of the next service. Strangely, half an hour of doing nothing was not as bad as I thought.
Once the train arrived, I continued my experiment, investigating what will happen if I spend the journey just observing,. Doing nothing, just being present. Throughout the train ride I stared mindlessly through the window. My brain was noticing the thoughts triggered by the luscious green fields on the Scottish countryside, but just as my eyes were letting go of the beautiful sights, so was my mind leaving its little musings behind. It felt good. “Wouldn’t it be nice to always be present like this? To give the emails, phone, and all the other distractions a short break to connect with yourself rather than others? I must do a media detox sometime soon, try to go for a few days without the internet and the mobile, and see what happens”.
I always knew that God has a twisted sense of humour, but I might have underestimated the “be careful what you wish for” rule. The universe was however very determined to prove to me that our thoughts create our reality. I just managed to get to a statue of a little lighthouse in the town’s centre which I was taking a photo of when the phone swiftly slipped out of my hand, landing face-down on the pavement. I picked it up in terror, expecting to see a cracked screen. To my surprise, however, the screen was intact. Or so it seemed at least until I tried to switch it on and saw only a black background with a red line running vertically through the cover. After few attempts to resuscitate it I had to accept the reality- my phone was gone for good.
And so I walked – phoneless, camera-less, and without any directions. Using a combination of common sense and intuition I quickly found my way to the main part of this seaside resort, a short peninsula situated between the East and West Beach. As soon as I left rows of colourful condominiums with stairs leading onto sandy shore behind, I could not only see but also feel that I was truly on the coast. The damp wind kept on wrapping me in its arms, leaving its salty perfume on my skin. I took a deep breath, nothing smells as liberating as an open sea.
I passed a stone Celtic cross standing in the middle of the square that was surrounded by water. Tempted by the smells coming from the nearby restaurant I went to the Rocketeer, a tiny seafood place specializing in grilled lobster. Sitting al fresco, I enjoyed the Belhaven’s Best, smooth and delicate beer from a Scottish brewery. Once the food was ready, I took my take-away and walked to the small marina by the Harbour Trust building. I sat on a bench in the setting sun and ate the soft white meat of the clawed crustacean. Around me local families enjoyed the last rays of sunshine with their friends, families and, of course, dogs. North Berwick must have been in a different time zone than London as here people seemed to have time in abundance. Here life proceeded slowly, in harmony with nature. Just like the “Watcher”, a statue of a man watching the local birds through his bronze binoculars, residents of this town were consistently observing their surroundings.
On the train back I reflected on my afternoon. I usually have problems relaxing, switching my mind off. Yet North Berwick’s peaceful atmosphere and the openness of the sea made it easier to quieten the soul’s chatter. Unintentionally I gave myself a mindfulness lesson. Living in the present moment, noticing my surroundings, not holding on to anything. Simply observing, and letting go. Breathing in and breathing out. Like the waves slowly coming to and going away from the shore.
I came back to Edinburg and slowly strolled down the cobblestone streets. Once I got to the Royal Mile I stopped outside the Market, captivated by mesmerizing a cappella singing of Simply Soweto Encha. Five young men from South Africa used their diverse voices to sing tribal-infused gospel mixed with modern pieces. With nowhere to hurry, I sat on the pavement and allowed myself to simply enjoy the moment. Not able to take photos or videos, I felt no need to capture this memory and by having nothing to “store it”, I could really embrace it. Perhaps living is not always about doing. Perhaps sometimes simply BEING is what you are meant to remember at the end of the journey.