Mindful living – Taking time for what matters

I have many faults, some trivial, others with greater magnitude. I am not going to dwell on all of them, but will share one with you. I am a shocking gambler. I ascribe this to two things, I always lose money, the other is I have such fun doing it that I never want to stop. Like a lovely holiday or a perfect full moon, I want the enchantment to keep on going.

The money was never the primary aim – I also would have never said no if I was ever so lucky to have won, it was a risk taken. Like extreme sports and changing career in your fifties when convention decrees a less sanguine approach to life.

It all started with the Durban July. In those days a cigarette company branded it in a royal blue and the whole country hovered around radiograms or wireless radios with PM9 batteries hot-wired at the back for extra lifespan. Weeks before the race everybody had been polishing up on race jargon. Whenever the race was the topic of conversation tidbits were given serious consideration. Everyone sagely nodded about which horse would be favored in wet or dry conditions. In those days an office and family sweep were run on choosing a horse’s name from a bowl to make bets. We had a 10cent bet each.

My first experience of the hype of horse racing was in 1966, when we went to visit my father’s side of the family – I was introduced to the Durban July. My cousins were crackers when it comes to cricket and horses. There had been an outrage before we arrived. Sea Cottage who was the favorite was shot in the hock, then recovered in three weeks and by some miracle won. I was only five years old at the time, but the combination of that horse winning and all of us rooting for him to win, plus the movie “Flipper” defined a part of me. The things that shape us are strange and random…

Our last flutter as a family was when my mom drew the horse Jamaican Music. A beautiful burnished pewter color horse and one of the favourites to boot. We were in the lounge cheering our horses when Jamaican Music threw its jockey at the 200-meter mark and romped home first (rider less). The horror on my mom’s face still haunts me. By the way, two years later when we were no longer interested in the race, Jamaican Music won. I am never sure if this is a cautionary tale of the evils of betting, or a tale of the value of endurance like both of those horses. It sort of reminds me of the spider and Robert the Bruce.

The furthest I now go is a Baronné bet. The rules are simple – if challenged about trivial fact, a Google search is embarked on. The loser owes the winner a Baronné. Before you embark on a Google search, all it means is that the loser owes the winner a Bar One. The suitable mysterious accent is all for effect. Eccentricity flows strongly in our blood. Why am I bothering to tell you all of this, if I no longer gamble?

Human nature has many facets – this is one. Our super computer of a brain instantaneously gets its input from our senses and discards fortunes of it, keeping only those we need to function. In order to do that, it has one of the most effective pattern recognition systems. It manages the 125 trillion connections, more than all the computers in the world. It has a few faults in managing the teraflops of data. Every now and then it sees patterns where none existent. Taking that data at face value leads to wrong conclusions. As our teachers told us “if we assume, we make an ass of both you and me.” This leads to the anomalies in our ordered lives. Things we think cannot be explained. One of those is the so-called lucky streak gamblers have. Statistically it doesn’t stand scrutiny, but because your brain saw the hideous yellow Hawaiian shirt on a man in the casino floor and you hit a winning streak; and months later when you sit next to him you win again, it became a fact. The reality is that he is a regular at the casino, has three equally bile yellow shirts and you only noticed him and the win, because those two thoughts stood out. You now are sensitised because the brain made a false connection. Similarly when you are thinking of buying a red car, you see them everywhere. It comforts you that you are making the correct choice. In fact the amount of red cars has not changed – the pattern recognition is doing its job. It is an alert to focus on the details you consciously put it out there.  I am always interested in how this can change my life.

The first thing I learned was to live consciously and in the moment. Other people call it mindful living. Taking a moment to tune into you thought processes. Live with intent. Your friends are right when they say, “I did an affirmation and left it to the cosmos.” When we focus either through prayer, meditation or writing the thought and burn the paper on which you wrote it, what you are doing is to choose one way of thinking over another.

I choose a Barroné bet over a sterile casino bet because it means I am sharing time with people I love. Now I am trying to lessen the amount of swear words and use better more descriptive words in my vocab. I choose to notice that too much time has gone by since I phoned somebody who I care for. I am just starting my active attempt in living with paying attention to the consequences of my thoughts. If you do the same you will start noticing the positive coincidences in your life – I bet you it would be worth it.


Rev. Doctor Gereth Edwards was a practicing plastic surgeon, co-founder of the Netcare Milpark Hospital - Breast Care Centre of Excellence and the Breast Health Foundation. He then refocused his life and qualified as a minister. He writes from both a scientific and humanities view.