Several times a day, my three year old son stops what he's doing and whispers excitedly, Mama, look! I turn to follow his gaze and find a Spring violet poking through the leaves on the forest floor, a dandelion blooming between the cracks of a rock, a goldfinch perching on the bird feeder. Together, we pause and pay attention to these everyday extraordinary things.
Good eye! I say, and he agrees.
I see lots of things, he says. Probably more than you.
I laugh, but I don’t doubt it. Instead, I wonder what happened to me - a person who, like my son, is generally in tune with the natural world, who has always loved the Earth with a poet's eye, who has studied its subtle, quiet beauties. I wonder what other small jewels I am missing. What bird feathers and butterfly wings and brown centipedes.
Though tempted to blame such oversight on my distance from the ground and a fading, post-forty vision, I know I really have no excuse My friend - six inches taller and a decade older - suprises me in just the same way as my son. While driving along a riverbank where I see a blur of green and brown, he might suddenly say, Muskrat! While moving through the woods, he'll call out, Grouse! To your left! Anytime and anywhere, he is likely to draw my attention to eagles and beavers, wild turkeys and wood ducks, stoneflies and rainbow trout. No creature is too small or too common. All of them are worth his pause and a closer look.
Me on the other hand. I’m often mid-sentence, mid-story, mid-analysis, mid-chatter. Seeking a laugh, seeking entertainment, seeking understanding.
Where?! I'll ask, looking wildly around.
Too late, he laughs. But go ahead. Finish your story.
My story, of course, has lost its import, its sense of immediacy. Now less real than what I just missed, it can never compare to the simple splendor. Not in that way at that moment with that generous attention, an attention that leads to more connection with the creatures and living things that live around us and with us.
"When we can see the extraordinary within the ordinary,” writes my teacher Tias Little in his book Meditations on a Dewdrop, “we can have gratitude and appreciation for the small things in life. By being at ease with the ordinary we release our grip on having to become better or different or more special than we already are."
In theory, I do have gratitude and appreciation for the small things in life. I love ordinary existence and the simple rituals of the day, living with my small, inquisitive boy in the mountains where the pace is slow and life requires patience as it unfolds. But when my son or my friend call on me to pause and notice what is happening outside of my own head, I realize just how often I’m out of tune with and unaware of the flow of life, especially when it does not feature me as its centerpiece.
Busy in my mind and distracted by thoughts of striving, accomplishing, and planning. Self-involved with stories and judgments and the analysis of my past. Attached to the drama and entertainment of my mental chatter and thinking - always thinking! - of how to improve and fix and expand. What a grip it has on me, as Tias Little describes, this desire to be different and more special than I am. It keeps me from being mindful and present, which in turn keeps me from cultivating gratitude for the everyday extraordinary experience that is happening all around me.
But lest I be too hard on myself for not noticing, lest I then get caught up in the mental drama of analyzing why I just overlooked that firefly, lest I then begin to compare myself unkindly to everyone else who must be living more mindfully than me, I remember that this whole life is a practice and that all things can be used to wake us up, bring us into greater harmony with our basic ease and spaciousness, and align us with our highest, best selves.
“There are countless times every day when we lose mindfulness and become lost in reaction or disconnected from what is happening," Sharon Salzberg writes in A Heart as Big as the World,“But as soon as we recognize that we have lost it, we can begin again. In fact, the moment we recognize that we have lost mindfulness, we have already regained it, because recognition is itself a function of awareness.”
So. the goal is not to always be in tune. To be the best observer, the most aware, or the first to spot the face of a woodchuck on the side of the road. It is simply to practice. To move through our days with an intention to be awake. Awake to our breathing. Awake to the sensations moving through our bodies. Awake to our mental chatter that draws us or repulses us or incites us to react. Awake to others and their experience, too. Along with this intention, we can attempt to accept without bias the moments when we are this aware and present and connected. We can also attempt to accept without judgment the moments when we become distracted, reactive and disconnected. Finally, we can attempt, without fanfare or drama, to return again to mindfulness. Again and again and again, this process repeating.
I think I know the answer to my own question about what happened to me and why I overlook the beauties that my son notices: it's because I'm a regular human! Not more special, not more broken, and not more or less awake than anyone else. At times I am mindful and aware. Other times I am distracted and busy. No big deal. Welcome to the human race! And the more I practice mindfulness with acceptance, the more ease I feel. When Freddi says, Mama, look! and hands me a golden dandelion and when my friend stops the car to shoo a porcupine off the road and when I put down the broom and admire the house finch at the feeder, I wake up again and I say thank you to my dandelion-teacher, thank you to my son-teacher, thank you to my friend-teacher, thank you to my finch-teacher. Gratitude grows. Ease grows. Space grows. And that makes me want to attend even more to what’s happening around me and within me.
There’s a lot to notice in these wild, blooming days of early June. And a lot to miss, too. C'est la vie. We practice remaining balanced, easeful, and steadfast in our seat, in our stance, in our gaze, in our presence. We do our yoga and we sit in meditation and we practice noticing the breath as it moves in and out of the body - simple and extraordinary - and then we practice bringing our awareness back to the breath when we lose our connection to it and we do that so when we step off our mats and are living our lives - with our children and our friends and our family and all the creatures of the world - we can see the extraordinary in the ordinary, we can become more present, more grateful, and more joyful.
Join us in your current state of distraction or presence, tension or ease, at Catskills Yoga House, where we provide for you the space to practice seeing with gentleness all that is unfolding within and without.
As always, with you in the process and the practice of waking up, I am yours in movement,
Upcoming Events, Workshops, and New Classes:
Reiki, Chant, and Stillness with Thiago de Melo
Sundays, 6-7 PM
Be guided by Reiki practitioner, healer, musician, and all-around joyous spirit Thiago de Melo during this one-of-kind weekly experience. Class involves gentle breathwork, devotional chanting, meditative silence, reiki healing, and heartfelt singing. Trust me when I say this is a beautiful, uplifting and unique practice to be added into your life, an opportunity to deepen your meditation practice and lighten up your spirit. For more on Thiago, see here.
Summer Gong Bath with Ricarda O'Conner
Saturday, June 30th * 5-6:30
$20 Pre-Reg / $25 Same Day
Kick off your Summer season with a deeply renewing bath of sound. Healer, teacher, and musician Ricarda O'Conner will guide you on a journey to reset and recalibrate your nervous system. A gong bath meditation restores the harmonic field of the body. The sound waves emanating from the gongs come in through your ears, but also move through your body, gently guiding you into deep relaxation. The gongs rebalance the body, mind and spirit, raising your vibration and returning you to your essential resonance.
For this event you will lie down on a yoga mat, close your eyes, and simply let the sound wash over you. Please bring a yoga mat and a pillow and/or a blanket and eye covering if you wish. The more comfortable your body can be, the more beneficial the experience. For more about Ricarda, please see www.ricardaoconner.com.
Gentle Community Yoga with Christie Scheele
Sundays * 12-1 PM * $12
Mat/Pilates with Jennifer Kjos
Fridays, 12:30-1:30 * $16 drop-in or class card