“Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing.” – Camille Pissarro
- The sight of birch leaves shimmying from my bedroom window when I open my eyes in the morning.
- The feeling of the well-loved wool slippers I brought home from Iceland years ago.
- The sound of boiling water pouring over the tea bag and into my cup.
- The soft breeze through my office windows.
- The cheerful birdsong in our backyard now that we have birdfeeders.
- The lovely weight of my dog resting his head on my feet under the table.
To quote Maria in The Sound of Music, “these are a few of my favorite things.”
These are little things that can set the stage for a smile, a feeling of contentment, a swell of gratitude if I let them. For them to touch me, though, I must be paying attention.
Distractions can keep you from noticing your favorite things
To be paying attention I cannot be:
- Distracted by my phone.
- Multitasking (at least not too much).
- Ruminating, daydreaming, worrying, or planning.
These are a just few of the things that steal me away from the present moment and the little gifts that fill it.
Mindfulness is a choice
Mindfulness practices such as yoga teach us that, with practice, we can develop the ability to choose our focus. To do this, most of us need to adjust our perspective.
We may have spent our entire lives thinking that our brains are the control center of ourselves. In reality, though, we are at our best when we (the part of us beyond our thinking mind) are controlling our brains in the same way that we control what our arms and legs do.
You wouldn’t allow your arm to flail about wildly, perhaps whacking the person next to you, would you? Why, then, are we so willing to allow out minds to flail about wildly, expending energy on things that are of no importance in this exact moment? Allowing them to steal us away from something wonderful right here and right now?
Good question, right?
How does it work?
It’s actually deceptively simple. We recognize when we’re distracted; when we’ve allowed our thoughts to pull us away from our current experience. Then we, gently and without self-judgment, return our attention to what we’re doing, feeling, experiencing right now.
It’s simple, but it’s not easy. While the trickiest part is “catching” ourselves when we have disengaged from the present moment, the hardest part for most of us is steering clear of frustration. There is no benefit to scolding yourself for being distracted. Doing so actually steals you away from even more time in the moment.
It’s OK to mess up.
It helps to decide that mindfulness is a practice. Something we’re learning. Something we’re figuring out. Practicing, as a matter of course, does not require perfection. We can mess up and try again as many times as we need when we’re practicing. There’s a whole lot of freedom in that.
While practicing yoga is a great way to practice paying attention, staying focused and choosing where you anchor your awareness, it’s not actually necessary. You can do it right here, right now in your life. (I actually mean right now. Right this very moment.)
Come on. Let’s try it.
Sit still. Let yourself fully experience this moment. What can you hear? What do you feel? What can you see? Are any of these things “a few of your favorite things”? If so, add them to your mental list.
While your list may not be set to song as beautifully as Maria’s, being aware of what brings you contentment or makes you feel grateful is a way to stay on the look-out for these little gifts.
Like any sentry worth their salt, when we’re on the look-out, we’re paying attention. And when we’re paying attention, the little things don’t slip by unnoticed. Instead, they set that stage for yet another smile.
“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn