When I moved to Santa Fe in my mid-twenties to write with Natalie Goldberg, author of Wild Mind, we took a walk next to the Acequia Madre that runs through the east of town.
As we walked she asked me if I knew what the Acequia Madre was. Of course I didn’t. It’s the mother community’s watercourse in Spanish colonies for irrigation.
She pointed to a tree that had seeds like white cotton floating off and coating the ground in the July heat like a dusting of snow flurries. She asked me if I knew what the tree was called. I didn’t. But finding out it was a cottonwood wasn’t surprising.
She kept pointing to things as we walked.
Her bigger point besides familiarizing me to the strange Land Of Enchantment was to write in more specific detail. Not just tree but piñon, not just bush but sage, not just bird, but roadrunner.
I remembered a teacher in 7th grade named Mr. Ward who would take points off of our essays if we used the word “thing.” (I just used it above so don’t grade me.)
“Thing” should be taken out of the English language he’d say. Figure out what you mean.
The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is famous for his quote, God hides in the details.
And Hemingway said, Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.
So what am I pointing at?
The greatest pleasures we receive in life lies in the specifics of what’s in front of us and then, carrying it with us.
Like how we pay attention to the sun although setting every night lowers its orb with a different play on light.
Or the way a person might be saying one thing but means something else entirely by a turn of the head or the way they touch us.
In 2003, Emmons & McCullough’s earliest research study for the American Psychology Association on keeping a gratitude journal stated that “counting one’s blessings” led to improved psychological and physical functioning.
Participants who recorded weekly journals, each consisting of five things they were grateful for, were more optimistic towards the upcoming week and life as a whole, spent more time exercising, and had fewer symptoms of physical illness.
Those who wrote 3 times a week had more overall gratitude, positive affect, enthusiasm, determination, and alertness. They were also more likely to help others and make progress towards their personal goals, compared to those who did not keep gratitude journals.
Gratitude comes when we’re able to pinpoint specifically what gives us joy and uplifts us.
But sometimes in our busy, hurried, stressful lives we forget to pay attention.
We forget to put our fork down between every bite and chew our food delighting in the senses.
We know we like our friends but aren’t always aware as to why or appreciating them for it. Or we take for granted the gestures of love our beloved gives us and stop prizing them.
We walk hurried to our destination without feeling the bottoms of our feet, rushing to yoga class to get relaxed but forgetting on our way there to breathe.
We fill our spaces with our ears plugged into music, TV, podcasts, talking, texting, playing with our apps, social networking, writing lists—something always something to distract us from the world passing by us.
It used to be we’d go to a coffee shop, or sit in a waiting room, or at the salon and strike up conversations with a stranger nearby. Now our heads are tilted down and our shoulders rolled, our thumbs making the connections.
So this week, let’s pay attention to what magnificence surrounds us. We don’t have to write it down—just take it IN and RECEIVE the gifts meant for us.
Wishing much upliftment in the here and now!