What you pay attention to forms your experience.
For this month, I’ve set myself a challenge I’m calling Radical Gratitude: to discover something that sparks my joy (‘scuse me, Marie Kondo), or my wonder, and especially my appreciation, and share it with readers. It strikes me as timely; here in the States, this is the month of Thanksgiving, an entire national holiday devoted to experiencing abundance and being grateful for it.
At least, that’s the ideal, and the ideal is what I’m going for here, because, why not? I reason we could all use a break from the negativity and division and general madness that storms the gates of our awareness 24/7 these days.
As I write this, it’s Saturday morning. My husband, an actor whose current performance schedule keeps him up late, is still sound asleep. My day job gets me out of bed with the chickens, so I don’t have much luck sleeping in past sunup, even on weekends. So at the moment, it’s just me and the dog in a quiet, just-past-dawn house.
Since I’ve taken up this modest practice of looking for the marvelous in the ordinary, I rarely have to look very far or wait very long. If I do, it’s a function of my own oblivion and not the world failing to deliver. This ho-hum, nothing special Saturday morning, for instance, strikes me as a lovely little miracle. Sacred time.
I could look at it in a different way. I could easily take the position that life sucks right now. I threw my back out two weeks ago and it still hurts to sit or stand or move or hold still. I awakened to the sound of the dog barfing on the carpet, for the second day in a row, and now I’m worried she needs to go to the vet, if I can get her in once their office opens. Not what I’d planned for the day.
Casting my net wider, I have two beloved family members who struggle with dire, incurable diseases, and I can’t do a damn thing about it. As for the state of the environment, the nation, and the world, I don’t need to tell you what a dismal mess we’re in. Just turn on the news.
And always, moving toward us all like a mammoth, slow-mo asteroid heading straight for Earth, these two words: climate change.
It makes no sense to deny those realities, any more than it makes sense to slap a happy face sticker on your gas gauge because you don’t like seeing that it’s on empty. But once you’ve done what you can and accepted what you can’t, keeping your focus on the sad and crazy things in life doesn’t do anything but make you sad and crazy.
Changing your focus — making a conscious decision as to where you choose to put your attention — doesn’t just improve your attitude and make you more pleasant to be around, although it certainly can do both of those things. It fundamentally changes your experience.
And your experience, my dear fellow human bean, is to a large extent your responsibility.
It’s my choice, the way I craft my experience of this quiet little morning. I can work myself into a fretful funk — fading loved ones, climate change, my aching back — if those are the things I focus on. If I do, what will be the effect? Will it help one single thing?
Since it won’t, I am free to adjust my lens. And, lo, the fireplace is burning merrily, chasing away the morning chill. The dog, her stomach settled for the moment, is curled around my feet with her head on my knee. On the hearth sits a perfect cup of coffee laced with cream. Birds, who never watch CNN, chorus busily in the branches of our Chinese pistache tree, its leaves in full autumn color. The heating pad on my lumbar spine is having a lovely effect.
It’s a perfect moment, a contented pause in the whirling of the world. One which I might have missed had I not been paying attention. I wonder how many other perfect moments have escaped my notice due to poor focus.
Nothing to be done about that. Now is now, all that I have, and all that you or anybody has. And my now, right now, is rather miraculous. It’s all a matter of focus.
And that is something for which I am deeply grateful.