Interruptions and Other Tails
How do we live with interruptions - of study, work, breakfast or yoga?
I had the most phenomenally peaceful breakfast this morning. I made tea, and toast, and cut a slice of cheese to go with my homemade jam, and pottered around checking on the plants, and settled myself at the kitchen table to do Wordle. The world was quiet and I could hear a very distant burble of traffic outside, gently heralding the day. It was all incredibly civilised, and quite unrecognisable.
Because, you see, since the end of July last year my usual breakfast has looked quite different. There has been a black and white puppy underfoot, throwing her ball in my face during my morning plank, herding me between living-room and kitchen as I open the curtains. While I eat my toast, she stares fixedly at me and darts closer, then away, then closer, then away. An extended hand is at best ignored, at worst ducked. The message, could she speak, would be clear: PLAY NOW HURRY UP LIFE IS WAITING. The first croaked words of my day are invariably ‘in a minute’, or ‘just let me finish my breakfast’ or ‘I have to drink my tea’, with some accompanying plaintive endearment like darling or poppet or sweetheart, anything that just might communicate my undying love in exchange for being permitted to meet my most basic blood sugar needs.
This morning, however, a friend is visiting who likes to get up early and take the dog out. So I breakfasted alone, in peace and quiet and calm, and it occurred to me that the constant interruption of my everyday life has become so normal that having peace and quiet and calm comes as something of a shock, even to a mindfulness teacher.
No yoga practice, for example, is complete without a furry form rolling over for tummy rubs beneath my down dog, or a spiky rubber ball being thrust into some bodily crevice exposed only during a twist. Meditation itself, meanwhile, requires shifting twelve kilos of dog with mournfully protesting eyes (and accompanying shower of sand, moss, or gravel) from the necessary mat or bed, and fending off attempted nibbles at my socks until the sound of Tara Brach’s voice lulls her into sleep.
I don’t mean to say that my dog is a nightmare. It’s more that my joyful, companionable, mutually adoring life with her is nonetheless replete with interruption. Things are broken off, fragmented, discontinued. I must hold up most of my body weight – literal or figurative – with one hand while tummy-tickling with another, or answer the imperious clang of the water bowl while mentally composing a sensitive email reply. A much-anticipated conference is interrupted by puppy gastroenteritis; a lie-in, by a remonstrative yelp; a dreamy gaze out to sea, by a fur-ball barrelling between my feet.
I am not good at interruption; few of us are. Some interruptions we choose, and others come for us whether we like it or not. A puppy, an illness, the breakdown of a relationship, a pause in studies or career. When we are interrupted, feelings abound: frustration and irritation, anger or self-criticism, and that internal keening, the silent scream, that signals a lack of fulfilment, some need of heart, mind or body unmet.
A path interrupted can loom before us as if extending high and threatening into the sky, rather than unfolding at our feet. We measure where we are against where we were supposed to be, and watch as others appear to overtake. We problem-solve the gap: it’s my fault, it’s theirs; if I had only done this, or if only that had happened, instead. Interruptions make us explode or implode, as if, somehow, our rage or self-blame could make it different.
In the end, we find ourselves facing the fundamental problem: how to live an inevitably interrupted life. Because that’s the fear that gives interruptions their belly-punching sting, the whispered question that lurks in the wings of our minds: will it always be like this? The answer is yes. Life doesn’t always go to plan, because it is – wondrously; frighteningly – alive. And in being so, in many ways, it has nothing to do with you. It’s not the mistake that you made, or the deep flaw that you think you carry. It is simply life,
And the answer is also no. Because these interruptions, whichever you’re contemplating right now, will shift and change. My puppy is growing into a beautiful adult dog; she is learning to be quiet when I do yoga, and I am learning how to teach her. Life will flow
into its new season, and the frustrations of the last will ease and quieten.
In the end, the question is not how to avoid interruption, but which interrupted life you will choose. I find myself realising that with any luck, I will never have a peaceful breakfast again. And I’ll take it, happily.
Warm wishes, for your own well-interrupted life.