Soft safe haven inside of a secret a sinful surrender to a fluttering chest in the tender sensation of suddenly falling those fine feather tip touches against barely exposed satin skin Tasting the salty sun-soaked waves of a poorly planned, private pleasure savoring the distorted sounds diluted vibrations that surround you and hold you underwater A place that is founded in suspended disbelief a charming moonlit waltz with willful naivete free from the burden of a fast approaching future the stillness of the open hearted hope as you first open your eyes in the morning Shaking off the certainty of decisions to be made in favor of lingering in this playful love a bit longer postponing the knowledge that strong feelings aren't always to be trusted and followed for a chance to dissolve into bubbling bliss just this once
Early morning cracks us open a plump, orange yolk perched upon the rolling expanse of open acres the symphony of dawn begins beneath a veil of cool, dissipating mist The earth awakens and unfurls in an instant with interwoven, simultaneous, upbeat bustling as hundreds of intricate beings of all sizes emerge to dutifully begin their humble daily tasks unwittingly weaving the world together for one another The swollen present swallows us completely enveloped in the electric energy currents of pulsating life rushing through creek beds and rustling vibrant leaves a soothing, faithful hum that echoes inside and out intoxicated by the sweet nectar of undulating harmony Each moment overflowing with the simple joy of right now lapping up the soft waters of where we belong indistinguishable elements of the intricate, lush landscape synchronizing ourselves to the cadence of all creation every instant ripe with it's own inherent meaning
I have to remind myself how grateful I once was for everything I now take for granted when I first got this job I thought it was better than anything I could have imagined I can't forget a higher salary doesn't replace the rare human decency I've been given the days I used to long for community have been gathered dust in distant memory How elated I was at first, to have my own home with a leafy green yard on a lonely street to be able to walk to the waters that have always carried me Somehow it seems like finding ways to suffer now will spare me a future filled with pain but present pleasures cannot be postponed and stashed away for another day I won't allow fear to rob me of the moments already filled with soft comforts and simple joy the days ahead cannot diminish the delight of where I am right now
The healing hum that reverberates through all the small, silent moments can become buried beneath the louder frequencies of frustration and forward motion The panicked pace of ungrounded grasping the breath that's stolen while being swept off your feet it can feel like dying to slow down, to surrender momentum in favor of savoring the soft rustling outside your window Finding peace can be counterintuitive stop flipping over rocks and just pause to feel the cool stone against your skin and hear the whispering stream gurgle past It's hard to accept that happiness is here when we've wasted so much time searching learning to laugh at ourselves like when we've been seeking the object that's been in our hand the whole time It's the simple things that will save us if we can sit with the fear that they won't be enough in the end they will
In Sickness & In Health
For the past week now, I’ve had a sinus infection. When I woke up feeling sick last Tuesday, I immediately tested for Covid, but it was negative. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Although I’m very grateful I’ve somehow managed to avoid Covid so far, what are the chances that someone who hasn’t been sick for ten years gets two unrelated illnesses within two months of one another during a global pandemic? What kind of ridiculous coincidence is this?
Since my symptoms felt so similar to how I felt in November, I assumed I’d be better in a few days again. I was aggravated at even that. However, now that it’s been nearly 7 days with little to no improvement, I’m starting to feel pretty silly for being upset about losing only a couple days. Apparently sinus infections last a lot longer than other colds. I’ve never had one before, so I’m at least learning a lot. I have a whole new appreciation for the people I’ve known who seem to get them all the time. I had no idea they were suffering so much. I feel even worse, because for some reason, I always naively assumed a sinus infection was less serious than a cold or flu.
The only really good thing about being sick is it makes you so much more appreciative of being healthy. It’s wild to realize I took those ten years of good health for granted so easily. Even after having quite a lot of sicknesses as a child, I hadn’t spent hardly one moment being grateful for a decade of impeccable health. And mixed within my anxious fears about how much longer I’ll feel sick and if I’ll need to end up going to the doctor’s for an antibiotic to get better is a tearful, humbling sense of gratitude. At least I can be fairly certain that I will ultimately feel better again. Now that is something to be thankful for.
There are so many people who have never known a day free from physical discomfort or illness. There are so many people every day that get sick and live with the knowledge that they won’t get better again. And despite how upset I am by the idea that I may have to go see a doctor, I’m so glad that I am able to do that if I need to. So many people don’t have access to even the most basic care. There weren’t even antibiotics a little over a hundred years ago. And soon enough, due to egregious overuse in factory farms, they will not work anymore.
So even though I’m frustrated and tired and uncomfortable, this illness has still given me something precious: perspective. It could be so much worse. It is so much worse for millions of people in this world. And one day when I get sick, I won’t have even a hope of getting better. For these reasons and many more, I am so grateful. I am so grateful for this body, for access to medical care, for medical science, and for all the countless moments free from pain and discomfort that I’ve already been able to enjoy.
Empty places are opportunities open doors like invitations leaving space for smiling faces to walk toward you Clenched fists cannot cradle delicate offerings of new joy bravely bare your blistered palms and they will be filled Growing old can be a clever exchange instead of a cumbersome, slow decline a youth being traded across decades for wisdom and warm memories Unthinkable to sacrifice this life of mine for a brand new body, fresh with dew despite the pain, it is a privilege to keep pace with the progression of time So many others have never gotten the chance to stand of the precipice of their twenty-ninth year even my regrets cannot rip from me the swelling gratitude shining light on that empty expanse still before me
the body loves me even when I don't love it this animal spirit inside is fighting tirelessly to keep me alive Intricate networks of blood vessels and veins muscles and sinews and breathing stardust cleverly conspiring to keep me safe I poison its efforts with casual harm cutting and gagging and straining its limits imperfection is not justification for punishment blinded to the enormous, exhausting efforts of a body trying its very best This quivering creature that cradles my soul only craving compassion and care the bare minimum of reciprocation for non-stop, selfless service offered in a myriad of unnoticed ways I cannot fault it for not following vanity and dangling me just above death to fit in a smaller dress it doesn't understand that desire true love is keeping me healthy The fierce physical innocence of this form continues to create blood and breath and bone to buoy me forward in this life without thanks the precious animal that is also me doesn't deserve such callous disregard The mind and the body are wards of one another it's time my mental faculties begin carrying their own weight in the ways of consistent loving-kindness for this creature doing the best it can
My True Nature
I truly believe I can choose to be happy my younger self was always so there was innocence and joy in each breath I loved everyone and the world at once my heart was full of gratitude But somewhere along the way my soul got bogged down with disillusion bitterness encroached upon my heart like blight creeping through late fall crops all of life turned sour for awhile Now I struggle with these separate shades of self I know deep down that pure love and light remain still it feels like a denial to turn toward it and away from who I've known myself to be as I've grown into the person I am today This anger and violence I've harbored for so long grip me so much tighter than childhood pleasures to let it go feels like a refusal to acknowledge my own pain to surrender to a delusion that it never existed to favor a false sense of all pervading peace My precious passion has turned to poison through years of focusing on the wrong things an all-mighty wave of indignation rises up to consume the small voice inside that pleads for the path towards gentle gratitude and humble happiness Can I really learn to reconcile these two opposing forces? Can the soft thread of unconditional love truly overcome the violent force of white knuckled hatred? I'm afraid of who I will become if I am unable to turn from my current path, led by self-righteous ego Still there is a quiet hope that stirs within that there is still time to reclaim my one life and use my precious gifts to create light instead of adding to the choking darkness that tempts me and ties my hands When I succumb to the swirling torment that tells me happiness is not my nature I will strive to remember my soul's complexity and call out for the small child that once embodied the brave wisdom of a wide open heart
When Gratitude Stops Working
It has been over six years since I started practicing daily gratitude. I have journals upon journals filled with lists of things I’m grateful for. After all of this, after so much time spent training my brain to find gratitude, how can it be that I still feel like a terminally ungrateful person?
The main issue I have with a lot of mindfulness practices is the way my clever brain figures out ways to get around them after awhile. It’s ironic that most of the “mindfulness” I have incorporated into my everyday life isn’t done very mindfully at all anymore. Whether it be meditation, journaling, or mindful eating my brain seems more adept at learning to avoid the conscious effort rather than learning to be more present like I had intended.
If you can relate to this issue, you’re probably already asking, “How can we solve this problem?” While I don’t yet have a definitive answer, one thing I’ve noticed is that of all the self-care tasks I do every day, the one that never seems to get stale is my yoga practice. The only difference between yoga and my other practices is that the yoga flows I do are ever changing and evolving. I don’t practice the same poses in the same order everyday. If I did, I’m sure that would just as easily become a mindless habit like the rest. So the only advice I can give to you and to myself is: Keep changing it up.
This isn’t the perfect solution, I know. It is frustrating to constantly have to be reimagining ways to keep yourself mindful. It would be so much nicer if we could just do a few short little identical practices everyday and reap all the benefits of a more compassionate, mindful, spiritual life. I guess the old saying that nothing worth doing is easy still rings true.
I’ve found that novelty is essential to keep me mindful, even if it is aggravating to have to always search for it. Luckily, sometimes that little tweak for my practice finds me on it’s own like it did yesterday. I stumbled upon a Podcast that referenced The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In his book, he talks about savoring little things throughout our day that “delight” us. For some reason, just this small, almost insignificant shift in perception has made a huge difference for me. It’s amazing how powerful the slightest change of framing can completely shift our perspective on something.
Replacing Gratitude with Delight
Despite sticking with my gratitude practice for so many years, I noticed almost immediately that it was not providing the mental benefits I had hoped. Sometimes it even seemed to backfire. There are a lot of days where I struggle to think of things to be grateful for. This makes me feel awful, because I know I have such an amazing life. I know I should be able to come up with dozens of things to be grateful for every day. The guilt spiral begins and I end up harming my mental health instead of helping it.
The most important part of gratitude is actually feeling it. As someone who struggles to stay grounded in my body and emotions, “grateful” is a rather vague sensation for me. There are lots of other emotions that compile this more complex feeling. It’s hard for me to just drop into a sense of gratitude on demand. However, “delight” feels a bit more tangible most days. Just the word alone makes the corners of my mouth twitch into a soft smile. Delight. Now that I can feel.
Not only am I more easily able to feel delight in my body, it also somehow feels a bit more lighthearted than gratitude. There is something very daunting and serious about being grateful. Not to mention the reverse, being ungrateful, is tied to a lot of shame. Delight, on the other hand, brings up a sense of buoyancy and silliness for some reason. Imagining being delighted makes me want to giggle and wiggle my toes in a way being grateful does not. There is a joyous, uplifting, lightness about the idea of feeling delighted. It also seems easier to pick small things in a practice about delight versus a practice about gratitude. Saying I am grateful for the way a stinkbug stopped and looked at me when I tapped the counter next to it feels strange, but to say the same scenario delighted me fits perfectly.
Putting It Into Practice
Today, instead of a gratitude list, try listing some things that delighted you. I’ll go first. Here are just a few things that brought a sense of delight into my life this morning:
- Hitting that snooze button on my alarm and snuggling back into my warm blankets with my dog for those few precious moments before getting up.
- Enjoying that first hot, black coffee.
- Feeling my house get warmer as I waited for the furnace to get going.
- Listening to music and singing as I drove to work.
- The smell of the perfectly ripe, beautiful, big apple I brought for breakfast.
Regardless of what kind of list you write, it’s helpful to be as detailed as possible. Add lots of physical descriptions, trying to incorporate as many senses into it as possible. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but smile as I wrote down my morning’s delights just now.
My favorite part about learning about this new way to practice bringing mindful moments of pleasure into your life was the idea of sharing it with others. Yesterday I asked a few other people to tell me something that delighted them about their day. It brought me just as much joy and happiness to hear about their experiences and imagine them savoring those small delights.
I hope at least some of you find this helpful. I would love to hear about any other ways you’ve found to keep a spark of novelty in your daily practices. Please, please, please leave a comment and let me know what delights you’ve had so far today!
Where Am I Trying To Go?
It’s hard to find a moment where I’m not rushing blindly into the next. As if there is some final destination that I’m frantic to reach. Without even realize it, I’ve spent half my life in fast forward. It just feels like the past and the future are somehow more tangible and quantifiable than the present moment ever can be. I’m afraid to rest here precisely because it is so fragile and fleeting. Fearful that if I live in this moment, I won’t have anything to show for it a few years from now. But focusing on an imaginary future can never serve me. The happiness I say I desire above all else, can only be found right here.
For someone who is so caught up in mental machinations, it’s extremely hard to settle into the simplicity of bodily sensation and experience. Language and logic cannot hold onto the slippery, ineffable value of being just as I am. The effort to try to make sense of everything pulls me out of every moment and places me in an artificial bubble of self-awareness, severed from the here and now unfolding before me. It feels foreign to forget myself in the soft feeling of fabric against sensitive skin. My mind has become so powerful and proficient at wrestling my other senses into stale submission. Finding myself suddenly surprised to scan my body and realize, once again, I’ve bitten my finger until its stinging and bleeding. How can I continuously be so cut off from the physical manifestation of me?
Never would I have imagined that one of my life’s greatest challenges could be participating in it. I’m much better at meticulous planning and pushing and pulling myself than planting my feet mindfully in front of me with every step. How bizarre it is to attempt to do nothing, and fail so reliably. Sitting on the bank of a river, utterly unable to keep myself from casting a line again and again. Not even noticing that I’ve been fishing, then suddenly coming back to reel my over eager hook back in for the thousandth time. Not even finishing setting my intention to be silent and settle into the stillness before realizing that damn bobber is already back on the surface of the water. The stamina of my persistence and patience needs to be built up, and that will take time. I’ve been strengthening my practice of falling into frustration these past 28 years. I must allow myself to surrender to the possibility it may take 28 years to rectify that habit.
It seemed simple and exciting when I first stumbled upon the ancient knowledge of yoga, mindfulness, and meditation and learned all that I truly desired was already mine. Little did I know that getting to a point where I was capable of granting myself permission to enjoy it would be a tremendously tedious and time-consuming trial. I must constantly remind myself that my repeatedly frustrated efforts, my failures, my relapses, my misdirections are all worth it. I want life to be easy, but I need it to be challenging so that I may learn and grow and develop into a being I can be proud of.
Every moment can be a celebration, a chance to be grateful, when I remember that I’ve already reached the destination I’ve been striving for. Every time I take a deep breath and notice the world around me is a victory. I won’t be discouraged by my many mistakes and missteps. They cannot spoil the joy contained within the rare moments where I manage to be fully present. Small successes still count. Whether I feel like I’m moving forward or backward, in the end I will always be right here. And right here is the only place I need to be.