It’s the simple things that count, and taking notice of them adds up to a life well-lived.
When I’m feeling hectic or fragmented, sad or drained, these are some of the ways I get back in the moment and get back to gratitude. They may sound silly, but don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.
1) I watch my dog breathe in his sleep.
My dog breathing in his sleep is a fascinating affair. His ribs stretch, his muzzle puffs out, the sides of his nose flare, and the black spots all over his white belly expand and retract like a bellows stoking a fire.
I can watch the cycles of his breathing for long stretches of time, and feel my blood pressure drop as I do.
If you don’t have a dog, watch your cat. If you don’t have a cat, watch the birds outside do whatever they are doing. If there are no birds, go and gaze at the movement of the wind in the trees. All of these things will transport you from your own anxious state to a more relaxed and natural rhythm.
2) I taste my food.
Obviously, I always taste my food, but I’m talking about really tasting it. The simpler the meal the better, but anything at all will do. A bowl of plain rice is good.
First I prepare the food, paying close attention. For rice, I feel the grains, I smell it cooking, I notice the action of mixing water with the rice grains, lighting the stove, stirring.
Then I sit in a quiet room by myself and eat. I savor each bite, feeling the texture of the rice, the way it changes as I chew it, and the feeling of swallowing.
If I only have time to taste one or two bites this way, it is enough. A whole bowl is heaven.
3) I listen to the sound of my clock ticking. Or my laundry machine going. Or the fire crackling.
Whatever the sound is that I choose reveals itself when I slow down and close my eyes. I tune in and hear all of the sounds around me. Then I pick one to focus on. It begins to take on new dimensions immediately. I listen as it opens and expands in my ear, and it becomes utterly absorbing. I do this for one minute up to an hour. The sound centers me and grounds me, while illuminating things that were unrecognized moments before.
4) I walk down the hall.
I start at one end and pause. I look at the floor. I feel my feet standing on the floor. And then I take a step. I feel all the muscles in my foot move and the skin move on top of the muscles. I pause again. And then I take another step. I listen to the vibration of my heart and notice the temperature of the air. Each time I take a step, I try and see, feel or hear something different. By the time I get to the end of the hall, I’m as still as an Alpine lake.
5) I hold a book.
Note, I don’t read the book, I just hold it. I feel it’s weight and look at the cover back and front. If I’ve read it before I try to remember the story in as much detail as I can. I try to remember how the story made me feel.
If I haven’t read it, I allow myself to wonder what’s inside. What magical story awaits, what insights, what characters? I think about the person who wrote it. Are they male or female? Dead or alive? When did they live?
By the time I read or re-read this book, it has worked it’s way permanently into my psyche and the experience is much more profound.
All of these things are, of course, exercises in mindfulness. You can (and should) be mindful doing anything at all. The more you get into the habit, the more the fullness of life unfolds. Mindfulness relieves stress, depression, boredom– you name it.
Combine mindfulness with gratitude and you’ve got the magic ticket.