How to say ‘yes’ to being here

Nine months ago today, Scottish people voted ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question ‘should Scotland be an independent country?’. Mindfulness workshop leader and philosophy enthusiast Philip Cowell draws a parallel between Mindfulness and referendums of independence, since accepting to be here, and deciding to be part of the human race is worth voting for with every breath


Philip Cowell writes: 

A brief history of these islands (with plenty of pinches of salt)

I live on a group of islands and rocks often called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These islands, or rocks, or both I guess, belong to no-one as such (how could you own a rock I wonder?) and they’ve recently – well, over the last few hundreds of thousands of years – been lived on by loads of different rockspeople, some of whom (most actually) have since died.

I’m one of the rockspeople living today, one of the many who happened to fall out of their rocksmother on a patch of the rock. I fell out at the bottom right hand side of the rock if you’re looking down on it from above.

Living on a rock sometimes makes you think you own it. [Editor – Insert history of the British Isles.] Anyway, the long and short of it is, after lots of probably very pleasant exchanges, the rockspeople divided up the islands, and said “Hey! Let’s say we’re different (I mean, if we’re not on the same bit of the rock we must be different, right?!) but the same in many ways, so let’s work together etc etc.” And everyone said, “Yeah!”. I mean, that was about 300 years ago they said that.

And everything seemed to be alright, I mean not great, but alright, until about nine months ago when some of the rockspeople called for a rocky referendum because they weren’t sure it was OK. And I think that is completely fair enough. I mean, sometimes you just want to double check you’re doing the right thing, right?

Is independence even possible?

Is basically my question. Based on all we know about rocks and contingency, any independence referendum raises the question, Is independence even possible, even if it is desirable? Would we even know what independence looks like if we got it? How independent is independence itself?

I like the etymology of the word referendum – literally “thing brought back”, as in back to the people. I like the idea, too, that a mindfulness meditation is a kind of “thing brought back”, the body and the breath brought back to here and now, to this moment, this standing, sitting, this walking or lying down, on the rocks.

Often during meditation, the mind wanders and we’re invited by the rocksperson with the soft voice at the front to bring our attention back, with a kind curiosity, a thousand times, to our breath and the envelope of our body. We’re doing some really good breathing on these rocks.

“No man is an island entire of itself”, John Donne (he was once a rocksperson) said in one of his aptly named Meditations. In that same meditation he also likens independence to the death of a friend: “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Because I am involved in mankind…

Bring John Donne into your meditation

Because you too are involved in mankind, because (as he says in the same poem) the bell “tolls for thee”, perhaps consider this week that your deliberate act of mindfulness meditation is a kind of referendum of the heart.

As you do so, you are calling on all the trillions of cells in your body to pause, reflect, and choose. To vote. With each in breath (yes vote), and each out breath (no vote), with each in breath (no vote), and each out breath (yes vote), with each pause between the breaths (consider it your undecided voter), give voice to the Parliament of your body in this moment.

Once you have settled on the breath for a bit, let the words “dependence”, “independence” and “interdependence” settle into your scaffolding. And just sit, or stand, or walk, or lie down, on your bit of the rock, with those words, and let them wash into and over you, like the sea at your cliffs.

These are questions of consent and non-consent and your relationship to both. Nod your head or stick your thumbs up – practise the body’s way of saying yes. Shake your head or waggle your finger – the bodily noes. Feel the grammar of referendum fall through you.

Approach with kindness the question William James said was the most probing we are ever asked: Will you, or will you not have it so?

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Voting ‘yes’ to ‘being here’ today, or ‘no’ but still being here? I saw you nod! Comments invited below!