I took my camera with me as I walked into work and realised how many wordy messages I pass every day: apart from all the posters and adverts trying to persuade me to buy things, I passed shop windows with instructions to ‘Create!’ and ‘Relax!’. But the word which struck me most strongly was one on a sticker which someone had plastered over lampposts, litter bins and billboards: IMMUNE. I must have seen this word twenty times on my walk into work, but chose this photo – taken as I was waiting to cross the road – because the instruction to ‘WAIT’ also seemed relevant to Lent.
I started thinking about the idea of being immune. I suppose I’ve not given this word much thought before, other than being relieved once my children had been through chicken pox and I assumed they were now immune and wouldn’t suffer a worse illness once they were older. I looked up a definition of the word and thought about the implications of being ‘protected or exempt, especially from an obligation or the effects of something.’
I am aware of a sense of guilt that I live such a privileged life and am protected from so many of the things from which many millions of others are not immune. I do not fear hunger or homelessness, drought, war or poverty. Although I sometimes fear illness and know that my family are not immune from that possibility, I also know that I have the huge privilege of living in a country with free healthcare where everything possible would be done to protect me and those I love.
So from my already privileged position – if I could will it – what kind of things might I crave to be immune from?
I would love to be immune to criticism – particularly my own self-criticism. The idea of being immune to suffering and pain also both appeal.
But as I reflected on this I realised that actually I don’t want to gain a quick dose of immunity against any of these things. I am certainly not asking for additional pain, suffering or criticism, but I don’t want to lose my ability to be affected by the reality of the world. I want to grow in my ability to be present to the world as it really is, to be able to feel and respond whole-heartedly and honestly to what I see around me, and to allow myself to be open to experience.
I suppose the point for me is that a lot of pain and suffering comes from my resistance to the world as it is. I hope for the balance, energy and spiritual wisdom to know which things just to be open to and accept and which things to fight, rail against and change. Rather than being immune – unaffected and exempt – I want a life where I am both impacted and impactful.
One of my favourite days of the year: the first day of being able to hang my washing up outside.
This morning I washed down the whirligig in my garden and hung up a load of washing. The only experience more wonderful is the one awaiting me this afternoon when I get to bring the dry washing in and breathe in the amazing scent of clean, line-dried clothes.
My conclusion after three decades of prayer and meditation? There is no better mindfulness technique, or method for living fully in the moment, than allowing yourself to be present as you hang out the washing…