This morning I awoke to sounds of rainfall and birdsong- two of my favorite sounds of all. Not only did they remind me that spring has finally arrived but that I am fully alive as well. Then I considered how inspiring it is that a bird can joyfully sing despite the rain which keeps it grounded from flight.
How alike the two of us are.
Over the last few months, my thinking has taken a noticeable shift. The process began last spring or early summer when I was challenged to look at the following picture and answer the age-old question, Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
Being an optimist, you can probably guess my answer. “Half-full,” came my quick reply. Close, but no cigar.
As I studied the picture of the glass, I was encouraged to delve much deeper than simply seeing the glass as being half-full or half-empty. What about the water itself? How do I feel about that? What about its source, the sink? And now that we’re thinking about it, how do I feel about the table the glass is set upon? And the house encircling all of those things?
I’d soon come to learn this process had a name of its own: mindfulness. The dictionary defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious of something,” or even better, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.” I like that.
I started putting mindfulness into practice last summer on a family trip to the Ozark Mountains. Each morning I would rise, sit in peace on the porch overlooking the forested mountainside, drink my coffee, read my Bible, and simply be. To only exist and nothing more. In the moments of silence and solitude, time, worry, fear, my schedule, breakfast, all of my achievements, and all of my goals ceased to exist. Only the trees, birds, rain, fog, the pages in front of me, and the slowly rising sun remained (okay, so the cup of coffee might have existed, too).
Have you ever been in a moment such as that? If so, you’ll likely agree with two things:
- Mindfulness is harder than you think.
- Mindfulness can change your entire perspective on the subtleties of life.
I’ve been living on the fringes of a mindful life since last summer but the depth to which I’ve plumbed has, admittedly, been rather shallow. For the most part, I reserved my mindful thinking for each morning. After about half an hour, I’d carefully put it back into the closet where it would always await me the next day. But with the advent of quarantine, everything has changed. Suddenly, I was no longer satisfied with the shallow end of the mindfulness pool. I wanted to go deeper. See how far my lungs could be pressed. And why not? It’s not like I had anywhere to go.
And so one morning, after my daily warm-up session had expired and the fog of morning began to lift, I noticed an intriguing island in the distance. Could I make it there and back again? I decided to jump in the water and give it a try.
The island, in this case, was the next destination in the journey toward deeper mindfulness. It looked something like this:
While brushing my teeth, I decided to be completely present in the moment. What could the moment teach me? I began with the toothbrush in my hand. How nice it is that we have such things these days. It sure beats using my finger or a stick I found on the ground, right? I placed it under the water, thankful that with the turn of a knob I could summon water to my second story bathroom. And how cool is it that I can decide how hot or how cold that water is? A hundred years ago, that would have been a rare feat, indeed. And what about the toothpaste? Didn’t people use crushed bones and oyster shells in place of toothpaste in Ancient Egypt? How weird is that? What would my wife think if I tried to kiss her after putting oyster shells in my mouth, or…ugh, crushed bones? Now that I’m thinking about her, how grateful I am for my wife and how much she puts up with me.
As I began brushing my teeth, I thanked God for each one. How grateful I am that my teeth are all in tact and in good shape. I’ve never even had one cavity in my forty-one years on earth, a miracle in itself.
A dentist-recommended three minutes must have passed and I rinsed my mouth out, again grateful for the water I could summon at will. My mouth was now clean and I prayed that each word spoken that day would also be clean, pure, and worthy of being said.
I set my toothbrush aside and came back to the real world. What had just happened? Whatever it was, I was in an entirely different mood. The world seemed brighter, my stress felt lighter. I felt like a new man.
I would continue the routine over the next few days, making sure to add more moments of mindfulness as often as I could. Simple acts like getting out of bed, placing my feet on the floor, washing my hands, and pouring coffee held greater meaning.
I loved it.
As I went about my day, I began to feel more connected to everything around me. My family. My abad. My house. My friends. I found I was less agitated and more interested in others. As I walked outside to my car, a woman across the street called, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” In the moment, I was instantly drawn to her. I wanted to cross the street, join her on the porch, and introduce myself with a handshake. Instead, I called, “Thank you! How are you holding up, being stuck indoors like this?” All things considered, she was doing good.
So was I.
A week has passed since the neighborly exchange. I’m anxiously awaiting other interactions with the brand new neighbors I have yet to meet, but you know how that is at the moment.
Meanwhile, I’m still practicing mindfulness throughout my days. How easy it is to notice birds, the fluttering grass, blossoming flowers, and the way the smoke wafts upward from an incense stick while living in the moment. Or, as Bernie spoke about in this week’s Bernie on a Journey, the beauty of sunlight through her windows.
All around us, life is beautiful. The sacred can be found no matter where we turn our eyes. Even in the chaos and the unknown of the days we currently live in, we have much to be grateful for.
How good it is to pause and recognize it.
While beginning the process of mindfulness can be difficult during times like these, there’s never been a better time to start applying the practice to your life. Even one minute in the morning, afternoon, and evening can be beneficial. Need some tips? Here are a few simple suggestions to get you started:
- Spend the first five minutes of your day thinking of things and people you’re grateful for.
- If you pray before meals, don’t just thank God for the food but for the farmers and grocery store workers who helped provide it.
- As you do a routine task - such as brushing your teeth, washing your clothes, cooking dinner, or getting dressed - consider how different the process was a hundred years ago.
- As you stand at your window, pause for a moment to watch a bird, the clouds, or the details of a tree.
- As you go to sleep, think of one person who has made an impact on your life and bring to mind an occasion you spent together.