It's been five years since I wrote about the things I learnt in my first quarter-century. At the time, I felt that one of them was to be curious. Curious about people, curious about the world around you.
A few years later, I was listening to an episode of the Londonist Out Loud podcast, titled Look Up! This particular episode featured the Look Up London founder, Katie Wignall. She is a London tour guide, and while the episode was a great listen, it was the concept of her business that got me thinking.
Look Up London is so named because the hidden parts of the city are usually right above us, but we never think to look up. When was the last time you just walked around while looking above the shop hoardings? Up to the housing above, up to the skyline, up to the roofs. I hadn't, either.
Towards the end of 2014, I began meditating daily with the help of the Headspace app. Mindfulness was an entirely new concept to me at the start, but as time went on, I understood how to apply it. Mindfulness is, really, just awareness. In the context of meditation, it's usually being aware of your body and your thoughts. But you can be mindful in every area of your life.
When this clicked, almost overnight, I felt able to see the world differently. I was noticing the colour of the houses, the layout of the roads around my area, the markings on the road, and the street furniture. Maybe to other people, this doesn't seem that revolutionary. But to me, it was almost life-changing. I felt reinvigorated. This sense of awareness was instrumental in finding acceptance of my recently diagnosed chronic health condition.
When I heard the Londonist podcast with Katie, it sparked another change in how I viewed the world. Everything we do in our lives is usually beneath our gaze, or just in line with it. Think, how often do you really look up, just for the sake of it? Our phones, work, books, computers, roads; they are all below us. When I went outside, there was a new, undiscovered world all around me.
As a result of my condition, and now my freelance writing work, I spend a lot of time on my own. I've found other ways to manage my social time, but back in 2014, when I began meditating, I was almost house-bound and unable to socialise. I barely saw anyone except my girlfriend and our families for months. It was a very lonely time. I still am alone a lot of the time, but this mindful approach to the world has really changed things.
Imagine if every time you step outside, you are curious about what's around you. There's nearly always something new to look at, to discover, to wonder about. I may be alone, but I'm not lonely - not in the same way. I'm not trapped inside my own head, thoughts going around and around, the isolation reinforcing itself, and the darkness settling in.
I go outside, and I feel grateful to have the opportunity to learn, to experience something new, to take in the day as it is. To be aware.