by Daniel Fulton

I’m taken by the idea that our ability to be awake, to the present, to be mindful, is something that whilst coming naturally to small children, becomes increasingly difficult as the demands and complexities of modern life build up.

Adam Ford’s simple observations on this topic (adapted from ‘Galileo & the Art of Ageing Mindfully, published by Leaping Hare Press’) capture this reality for me perfectly:

“I recently stood by a window and watched my two-year old grandson playing out in the garden.

Most of the time he was running about, chasing his sister, demanding attention from his grandmother, and so forth, in continuous activity.

Now for a moment he was on his own, sitting on the lawn.

Holding in his hand a piece of Japonica fruit, watching birds fly overhead and smiling to himself.

A burst of wind stirred the trees in the garden and he looked up.

The branches of a tall eucalyptus tree swayed, waving in the heavy gust, bending towards him.

At this moment he put down his piece of fruit, hesitated a moment, and then waved back to the tree.

That, I am sure, was a mindfulness moment, wakeful and absorbed in the present, yet with no words to describe or acknowledge it.”

As we age it’s common to spend more time ‘living in the past’.

Looking backwards to happy times now past, we spend less time enjoying the present and embracing the possibility of new experiences.

There’s an interesting dichotomy at work here that I find intriguing:

The past, and our memories of the good times, play an essential role in what makes us uniquely ourselves.

However, at the same time, as we age, our tendency to lose interest in new experiences, and to retreat into the past, limits our participation in the present and closes the mind to the possibility of revitalising experiences.

Adam Ford, shows us that contemplation of the night’s sky provides an opportunity to puts things into perspective, encouraging an inner stillness that refocuses the mind on the present.

“I can then reflect, with greater strength and confidence on the brevity of life, particularly when viewed against the cosmic backdrop.

The universe is almost unimaginably ancient; our lives, even the biblical three score and ten, are mere flickers of consciousness in comparison”.

You can catch Adam discussing his thoughts on Astronomy, Ageing and Mindfulness at a free talk on Tuesday 11th April, 2pm at the Library of Birmingham.
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Article written by Daniel Fulton, Ph.D. A Neuroscientist, glial Biologist and Birmingham Fellow.

Dan works at the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham.

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