One recent morning I stepped right into a little pile of dry autumn leaves as I left my apartment. The sound—crackly, crispy, whispery—brought me up short and suddenly, I wasn’t thinking of where I was off to, or what I needed to do, or how things had gone since I’d gotten out of bed a few hours before. Without any warning I was right there in the moment. The audible gift of those crunchy leaves shoved me gently aware.
The air was snappy and cool—something I hadn’t felt since very early spring, eight months before. A second gift! A little breeze skittered more dried-out leaves along the covered walkway between my apartment and the others in my building. Feeling it ruffle my hair and tickle my cheek made me smile involuntarily. A third gift!
And was that just a hint of spicy wood smoke I smelled? Yes! A fourth gift! That light, spicy scent here, in the middle of crowded, car-jammed, California suburbia, where the air is usually thick and stinking with motor exhaust, is both rare and evocative. I totally love it.
That fresh emotion took me instantly to a mental image of my own home in the mountains. There, the air would be much fresher, the wood smoke scent stronger, and in addition to the sound of crunching leaves underfoot there’d be the deep susurrus of the breeze rustling high in the evergreen trees near my house. I remembered how if I closed my eyes, it sounded like the distant roar of the ocean. This unexpected memory of autumns past was the fifth gift.
I stood frozen in place, there on the mat in front of the door to the apartment I share with my elderly mother, breathing and feeling and listening. I wanted it to never end.
But after a while I gave myself a little mental shake. I had to go. Stopping to appreciate the moment was lovely, but I still had things to do. Such is life, right? But now my day had been re-wound and re-started. My soul was fresh.
I know I write a little too frequently about mindfulness. But it’s been part of my daily life for decades, a sideways gift from rheumatoid disease. Stopping myself to be aware, like the moment I describe above, saved my sanity in the early, pain-wracked days after my diagnosis. The medications available to me at the time did nothing to slow my RD’s progress or relieve the daily pain it caused. I searched continuously for ways to distract myself from it so I could somehow keep on with my life as a full-time worker, a wife, and a mom. Looking for these small gifts, each of which came with a gentle whoosh of joy, gave me a reason to keep going for another day, and another, and so it’s been for me ever since. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that what I was doing had a name.
The hardest part of being mindful—of stopping for a moment or ten to notice the now around you—is turning it into a habit. Once you do, though, it’s easy. In fact, after a while the world’s gifts will come and find you.