Benches come in all shapes, sizes and locations. While at first glance they may appear somewhat mundane, lacking in wonder or majesty and little more than objects in the background of our everyday eye-line. I can assure you, dear reader, this is a most unfortunate and untrue description of these facilitators of space and this humble blog will attempt to convince you of just that.
Benches have become to the author, a place of calm, like small oasis among the chaotic rushing around of daily routine. They have enabled me to participate in my own practice of meditation and bring a smile to my face each time I pass one. This was hardly what I expected to be doing with the time I was kindly bestowed but I assure you, give it a chance and bench hunting may just become your favourite hobby as well.
So, to give some background… I have for many years pursued inner truth, often in spite of the outer life I was living at the time. My journey took me, like so many other pilgrims, through the myriad of the esoteric and the spiritual into the works of ancient teachers and wisdom of non-dualism that sprang from India. The details are not essential and I will only say to any keen seekers that, to stumble upon the truth of the self is worth any turmoil that pursuit may bring.
Anyway… my most recent life direction took me (willingly and with full conviction) out of the western rat race, in opposition to the pursuit of success and away from a life lived in promise of a better tomorrow. I quit a consultancy role, moved back to my home town and took up work in the family pub, serving customers and welcoming hotel guests. The role was not traditionally a very high place to aim for but its simplicity, honest hard work and the fact that it paid enough has allowed me some space to get some good old inner exploration done.
I didn’t (as I still don’t) have any ideas about how to do this at first. I had given up on a dream I didn’t want and that very much felt like doing an awful lot of what most of the adults that raised me, would not look to kindly upon. Still, for however much my mind struggled to get used to this new ‘purposeless existence’, something far deeper and more true began stirring away.
This process took some time to transition from elation at the freedom I was experiencing to taking advantage of as much drinking, partying and socialising as I could… Into a more progressive shift towards clean living in the pursuit of a cleaner mind and more clear thought processes. Gradually, my mental health began to improve and the universe was often kind enough to give me enough ‘swift kicks up the arse’ when I panicked and tried to turn back.
The theory of ,spiritual awakening, had always rung true for me and listening to the various gurus on youtube, reading the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching and other such texts had certainly progressed the journey but there was an elephant in the room. I never really much liked practices, the kind that were taught as ways to enlightenment and as such I often avoided meditation as a practice. I knew behind meditation lay a deep and undeniable truth but could not let go of the idea that such a universal reality could not be taught or practiced.
That notion still remains with me now to some degree however a healthy dose of humility has shifted my approach. Starting when I got an app called ‘Calm’ in which a very nice sounding lady gently guided me through ten minutes of enjoyable peace and never really called it meditation. It appeared ‘Calm’ and its creators had found a way to hoodwink my ego and after a couple of weeks a stillness had grown inside me.
This stillness felt familiar and extremely welcome as it worked around all of the smaller parts of ‘me’, a concept itself which began to fade away during times of calm. The guided ten minutes started to give way to long periods of peace which one would I suppose call meditation, although my back was not always straight nor my eyes alway closed, nor my mind always still and my breathing ever perfect. Yet with these cumulative smalls actions empowered a continued inquiry that took various forms of a single question: “who am I”.
Gradually, among the gardens of peace this path also led me to places deep within my-subconscious which seemed to arise regularly. These guests were welcomed, accepted and felt in a way I had never known before, while often being rather uncomfortable experiences, there was something essential to them. Gradually these lurking shadows faded until one memory triggered an emotional reaction that kept me awake long into the night, unable as I was to surrender it. When at last I did sleep and awoke the following morning my mind was racing and something within drew me out of the bed and into multiple layers of warm clothing then outside into the cold clear morning.
My head was spinning and after a quick coffee at a local favourite I found myself wandering aimlessly around the city centre. Wherever I saw an obvious route my feet instead walked a different way, down back allies, through car parks and around urban streets. Gradually the racing mind tired and I found a bench within a small recently converted triangle of land adjacent the local canal.
Here the community have put together a public garden and provided several wooden seats for visitors to place themselves within to enjoy the surroundings. I did just that, crossed my legs and breathed using my surroundings to heighten the senses and awaken to the world around. Gradual it came it came to life and the whirling thoughts subsided, spaciousness became all there was. From this stillness my turmoil arose once again but this time it danced, I watched and it faded away, so easily did this occur that I was happy to stay there for nearly forty minutes.
Finally when instinct called upon me to get up I felt no urge to return home, to seek out the warmth and distractions of my safehouse. Instead I was led on, continuing in my random walk with no destination and only this moment as company and a mind gradually awakening once more. About ten minutes later I found another bench looking out over a path towards a small nature reserve.
This bench was quite different, more sturdy and wide, made of sawn timber and heavy set it felt just as welcoming as the first. So I sat once more and pondered until even pondering had disappeared, the mind eaten away by its own inactivity and the deep sense of being allowing me to experience what it is to be very much alive. Truly I am grateful for such space and if I am guilty of any desire it is foremost to love, respect and pursue that space.
So began my game of bench hunting, a simple pursuit of a place to sit and while not all benches are for me, I certainly enjoy seeking them out. I would recommend this activity to anyone determined enough to make it this far in the blog.
I have since found many benches, often hidden in strange places and among the most peaceful spots one is likely to find in urban areas. The future of this blog may well see an entire series on bench hunting for what better excuse is there to explore, contemplate and renew… or not who knows…
I recently visited Lytham with my family on a small weekend holiday and found myself drawn to this isolated pursuit I found four benches over the course of five hours and peace grew with each once. I have taken some photos of them below.