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Your wellbeing: just be

Revd Chris McDermott, Lead Chaplain for the University of Sussex

‘Just be’ is a bit of a cliché nowadays. We hear it so often that words simply wash over us along with the white noise around us. ‘Just be’…

I sit for my regular practice of meditation. The singing bowl app I use to mark beginning and end of the meditation period sounds and here she comes. My cat Freya for as long as she has been in our household - 14 years this coming November - responds to the sound and comes to curl up between my knees at the base of the Burmese posture I adopt. Invariably thoughts flit through my mind; sounds in the house or outside beg for reactions and analyses (‘what was that?’); tasks needing done urgently call for attention; frissons of anxiety come and go. Attention pivots from body to breath to an itch to a recollection of something I had forgotten to some bizarre memory of an event or person that I had not thought of for decades and back to body and breath… And so it goes.

I occasionally find that I have hitched a ride with one or another distracting thing or thought then, catching myself, disembark to resume sitting, anchoring the awareness in body and breath – until the next recognition that my attention has been snared by something or other…

‘Just being’ is challenging, not only because of the habit of shifting attention and energy from one thing to another – often compulsively – but mainly because it is difficult to let go of the thought that I should be doing something, achieving something, getting to some point or other. Even in the practice of meditation, at some deep level I seem to tell myself – contrary to my conscious intentions – that this sitting should be in the service of attaining some worthwhile end. ‘Just being’, I suggest, is not the absence of this inner turmoil, but sitting with awareness of all of this internal chatter and noise. Letting it be without judgement or reaction.

Or is this ‘just being’ rap all for the birds? Well, at least this seems to be the case according to one line of Christian thought. In a classic passage from the sermon on the mount we find the words:

'Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds then. Are you not of more value than they?' (Matt 6:26ff)

Of course, birds do not have to pay for housing and food etc… This ‘just be’ really is for the birds – and perhaps my cat.

I jest with friends that Freya sits and meditates with me when in reality she just lays there; she occasionally snores, purrs, or chirrups now and then and periodically she stands up to shift her position moving in a tight circle before laying down once again at my knees. She is there without any purpose or intention to achieve something or arrive at some point. She sleeps when she sleeps; eats when she eats; fulfils whatever natural function she must when she does it.

‘Just being’ is not only for the birds but apparently for my cat as well.

But what about you and me?

Unlike ‘the birds of the air’ - and those lilies of the field’ referred to in the wider passage above - we do have legitimate cares to which we need to give attention. It would be irresponsible not to do so. But our ‘just being’ also includes those things.

Like the cat who eats when it eats and sleeps when it sleeps, in our situations it may be a case of ‘just being’ amid those things that make up our daily routines - or the unexpected things that life throws at us – as we attend each task without undue anxiety and the compulsive habit of thinking that I really should be somewhere else or also doing this or that.

We respond to the unexpected or an emergency as needs be; we attend to a task, a job, another human being as required in the course of a day. And by doing this in way that allows us to be fully present to each situation. That is our ‘just being’.

Perhaps sitting in meditation amid the inner and outer distractions without resenting them but rather just noticing that they are there without needing to compulsively react to them. Letting the dust settle – as much as it can – and spend a relatively short time ‘just being’ is just one way of nurturing a capacity to be responsibly present to the rest of life.

Letting things be what they are for us, attending to them accordingly. Occasionally taking space to sit, ‘just be’ and nurture our own capacity for presence and a purring engagement with life.

Doing it with a cat helps.

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Friday, 10 July 2020

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