I’ve received many a bouquet of flowers in my life, but the one that stands out as the most romantic was a little bunch of wildflowers presented to me many years ago by my then-partner. He kissed me hello and shrugged, “I was driving over here and I saw these growing on the side of the road. They were so pretty and colorful, made me think of you, so I turned around and almost got in a wreck to pick them.” Tentative smile. [heart melts]
Mind you, this was a man who bought me the expensive bouquets on all of the appropriate days (birthday, Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and so forth), but that moment is cemented. Right here. In my memory. A bunch of wildflowers. Forever.
He could have just passed right by that patch of flowers by the roadside, but he noticed. So many times in life, in rushing from one milestone to another, we miss countless middle moments–you know, the accidental or spontaneous ones. The ones that are easy to miss. The ones that are aptly disguised as the mundane. The wildflowers.
You know it’s a middle moment when it’s difficult to impart its importance to others. You know, the story you try to tell and you end up giving up because it seems kind of silly to say it. It’s an “I guess you just had to be there” moment.
“I was walking to work and I noticed the first buds on the tree next to my work building, and my heart threatened to explode with sheer joy…. Uhm, I guess you just had to be there.”
It’s easy to see the value of enjoying these small moments, but in the hustle and bustle of daily life, how do you take the time to slow down and notice them?
Stop Despising the Mundane
Cooking dinner. Running errands. Crafting a proposal at work. Maybe even getting a workout here and there. We often rush through the daily tedium in order to get to the highlights: the big promotion or the wedding.
But the mundane is life.
Your morning commute is your life, not a means to a life, so treat it with the respect it deserves. Stop hatin’ on it so much. Life isn’t a culminating event. It’s now. So turn on the radio and groove to the music. The commute is happening anyway.
I know, I know, you’ve heard this before. But it bears repeating. If you want to slow down and start really appreciating the small moments, the best way I know is sitting in the stillness of meditation.
You can start with just 10 minutes a day. Sit and pay attention to your breath. In. Out. In. Out. Thoughts will try to butt in. Notice them and let them slip away. Pay attention to your breath. In. Out. In. Out.
Be Fully Present
Let go of the swirling monkey mind, and place your attention outside of yourself onto the reality that is in front of you, the real one, not the constructed idea of it.
In Italo Calvino’s short story “Love Far From Home,” the narrator struggles with duality. Towards the end of the story, he finally achieves his aim: to be fully in the moment, not divided between the reality and the thought of the reality. In what I consider to be one of the most apt lines in literature, he exclaims,
“There: now Mariamirella isn’t the Mariamirella in my mind, plus a real Mariamirella: she’s Mariamirella! And what we’re doing now isn’t something mental plus something real….”
At least with the people who matter most to you. Be willing to laugh until you snort, dance it up with those two left feet, or present a bunch of wildflowers just because. Put yourself out there by sharing the small moments. Risk being laughed at or misunderstood.
Downsize, But Not Indiscriminately
Stop spending precious energy and attention on people, activities and stuff that don’t add authentic value to your life.
That collection of 124 pairs of shoes is great–if you wear them all and enjoy displaying them. If they’re just another thing to dust on cleaning day, however, you’ve got yourself a strong contender for downsizing.
Same thing with friends, volunteer work, dates, and kitchen utensils. Does it add value? If yes, keep and enjoy! If not, let it go. Pairing down allows you to pay more attention to the truly valuable.
Slow down and pay attention. Start really living the middle moments, all of those wildflower moments you’ve been allowing to fall by the wayside as you zoom towards another milestone. Mundane as they may be, there are so many more of them than the climaxes of life.
Slow down, notice and bask in the mundane.
The other evening, I was chopping red and green bell peppers for fajitas, music playing in the background, and this sudden feeling of overwhelming joy….
Eh, I guess you just had to be there.
When I was pregnant with my second son, Kyle, I mourned for him. I’m so sorry, baby boy, I would murmur, that I will never be able to love you the way I love Alex (his older brother). I felt guilty for taking on another child whom I could not possibly love with a full heart. My heart was already all filled up.
Then, of course, Kyle was born and my heart didn’t just double in size; it grew to hold a love for Kyle that was as enormous as my love for Alex and yet unique. But it also grew to hold the daily bouts of brotherhood, the squabbles, the hugs, the subtle competition for who’s the favorite.
You’d think I would learn, but when I was expecting Alan, you guessed it, I mourned for him. My heart was at capacity, full to bursting. How could I possibly…? And yet my heart did what hearts do: it grew again.
Our identities are the same as our hearts. We think we know who we are, and then the unimaginable happens. It could be crisis: divorce, a death in the family, an accident. But it could also be positive: the meeting of a soulmate, a graduation, the birth of a child, the pull of a new career.
Either way, we think that we can’t possibly grow to handle this emerging version of ourselves. We’re so caught up in who we are that we can’t imagine being any other way. And yet we grow, not just double, but exponentially.
If we don’t resist.
I’ll do it when….
…I get in shape
…the kids start school
…the kids go to college
…I can afford it
…I have time
…I find the perfect man
…we pay off the loan
…I’ve researched it enough
…I get organized
…we buy a house
…my job slows down
…I get a promotion
…I get strong enough
…the stars align
Whatever “it” is, there’s always going to be another “when…” until you really make a decision.
Be decisive. Either you want it now or you don’t. If it’s important to you now, get to it now. If it’s not important to you now, stop pretending that it is and refocus your attention towards the things that will really bring you joy.
It’s time to stop making excuses. Decide and get to it.
If you’re stuck in a less than ideal situation–be it a lackluster marriage or an uninspiring job–one step you can take is to just get out of it. Leave. Rip off the bandage. This is not ideal, in that you take one of the pivotal problems with you: yourself. Scene on repeat in two or three years.
Another solution is to improve the circumstances. This tends to be incremental and can work. More date nights. A talk with your boss about that promotion you’ve been vying for. Better maybe, but this move on its own tends to be half-hearted and tends to dissipate quickly. Settling for mediocrity often ensues.
A much more unpopular path is to improve yourself. From within the rough situation, you refocus your efforts on becoming your best self. Only after spending the time to reveal and live the truth of your deepest, most authentic self, you find that the next step unfolds naturally before you. Mind you, this unveiling may take months or years; it is no quick fix. But it’s the only real next move, the only one that ever matters.
Should you stay or should you go? That was never the point anyway.
I am in awe of my mother’s faith in God. Despite the circumstances that life has inflicted upon her, she has remained committed to her Christian belief. I’m also in awe of the fervent faith that I’ve seen in friends of mine who are Buddhist, Muslim, or even those who choose to not give the divinity a name per se. Faith in the divinity is so easy to lose in a world that often seems like it’s falling apart at the seams, and those who continue to seek it out and experience it have my utmost admiration.
As I watch the role of religion in society, I’m confounded by the battle for ownership over this essence, this light, that is the divinity. The divinity (or God or the Universe or Allah or whatever you call it personally) is so much bigger, so much greater, so beyond our ability to perceive, that I wonder how brash and assuming one has to be to claim that they can name and box-in such a powerful, almighty force. When I sit to pray, does it matter what I call the recipient of that prayer?
Religions are human attempts at interpretations of something so far beyond our perception. God is powerful enough to be known in different ways to different cultures, to different people. Is the force that is the origin of all things not all-pervasive enough to allow for different interpretations? Can more than one religion be “right”?
This is not a knock on religion. In fact, this is a celebration of religions. So many people in so many cultures have recognized a force beyond their immediate perception. They’ve named it and branded it sure–it’s human to classify–but they’ve recognized it. Seeing other religions celebrating their interpretation of something so intangible should give us more hope for the future, more faith in mankind, more love for the divinity which we strive so hard to interpret with these limited senses.
Language—our reliance on words—is such a limiting factor. My English-speaking self has always been jealous of my Italian-speaking self in that the Italians have more nuanced ways to express love. I say ti amo to my lover but ti voglio bene to my mother. The more passionate ti amo has some heat behind it, while ti voglio bene literally means something along the lines of I want good for you. The subtleties of meaning belie translation. In English, we have the catch-all I love you.
If two languages are able to have such diverse nuances for one concept, how can a human being even fathom accurately interpreting the divine? Could it be that we all experience the same relationship with the divine but we simply are too limited (linguistically, emotionally, culturally) to be able to translate it in the same way? Americans certainly love passionately; they simply don’t have a word for that kind of love. Humans of all cultures certainly recognize the divinity; they simply have different linguistic and cultural interpretations of said phenomena.
Truth is that, as humans, we may not be able to name it accurately or come to any agreements in terms of interpretations. But take a minute today to recognize the divinity. Close your eyes, say a prayer, open yourself up to the unnameable. A rose, after all, is a rose is a rose. And boy, does it smell sweet.
Often at the rock climbing gym, I see parents who have brought their children to experience the thrill of climbing. The iPhone wielding mom stands to the side to capture the inevitable fumbles and squeals as the child climbs their way up the wall. Sweet family moment, ay?
But are you seeing what I’m seeing? Mom is WATCHING! This is probably the mom who drives her children–basically following them–all over town to experience tuba and soccer and rock climbing and art and…the list goes on. The experiences are priceless, sure, but I can’t get over the image of the mom standing back Snapchatting the event. I imagine the captions to say Look at my little daredevil! or Isn’t she TOO cute?
The question that’s bouncing around in my mind as I watch this is: Why isn’t mom climbing too? If I only saw this once, maybe I could explain it away–this mom has a debilitating illness or an aversion to rock climbing in particular. But this happens all the time, and the experience rings true with what I know about countless moms. I mean, I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well. Let everyone else take risks, try new things; I’ll just stand here and be a supportive, generic good-mom.
If this rings true to you as well, if you’re guilty as charged, ask yourself:
If not, then start planting the seeds now of who you want them to be, how you want them to see parenting, womanhood, adult happiness.
The best thing you can do for your child is to be boldly, unapologetically yourself. Make them run after you as you go about your wild growth.
Now, your wild growth doesn’t have to be physically daring, of course. No need to jump out of airplanes or strap on a climbing harness, unless you want to. You could take up meditation, writing, or ballet. Start your own business, paint your nails, or take up guitar. The take-away here is that you should be following your dreams, whims, and fancies at least as often as you want them to follow their own.
Before you bring up the S word (you know–selfish), think for a minute of how selfish it is to be the self-shirking mother who teaches her children–through concrete modeling–that parents have no purpose other than to support their children. And how selfish is it to not provide them a role model for risk taking, joyous living, and lifelong growth?
Mary Oliver says it so well:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one and precious life?”
You only get one life. Your children will grow up and move out one day, and you will be left with what you made of yourself over the years. What will that be? A stagnant follower of children or a wild, curious adventurer who will continue to inspire them for years to come? Your choice.
But you’ve got to start now.
There’s a concept in the marketing world called the soft launch. Soft launching is releasing a product or idea to a limited audience to decide whether it’s worth releasing into “the real world” or if the idea needs fine-tuning before going public. I love this concept—but not just for marketing.
Soft launching can easily be applied to any change that you intend to make. Trying to break out of your jeans and t-shirt rut? Soft launch the change by wearing a dress to your mom’s house for brunch. Trying to work on those social skills? Try having a conversation with the guy sitting in the seat opposite you at Jiffy Lube. Thinking of quitting your job and opening a bakery? Ask the local bakery if you can interview and shadow the owner to see if it’s even a lifestyle you’d enjoy. The fantasy of owning a bakery and the reality don’t always match.
Take whatever “hard launch” goal you have, and soft launch it. Try it out. No pressure. If it bombs, who cares? It was just a soft launch. Who cares if the guy at Jiffy Lube thinks you’re awkward? Fine-tune your strategy and try again. By the way, the time to soft launch is always right now.
If a scientist dropped into your life today to collect empirical evidence of your stated values, would she be able to find any?
Would she be scribbling wildly in her notebook and mumbling, “Yes, there’s another example”? Or would she be scratching her head and wondering if she came to the right house? “This couldn’t possibly be the woman who so strongly values emotional connection. There’s no way this woman is deeply motivated by beauty and order. Wrong house–no evidence,” she says as she stumbles away.
Everyone ponders the age-old meaning-of-life question at some point. But isn’t it just about embodying your values, manifesting the tangible evidence of the truth that lives at your core? I’m not saying that it’s easy, but I’m definitely saying that it’s, well, actually it’s pretty easy.
Dig down to your values and let ’em shine in the real world. Give that scientist lady something to scribble wildly about.
Having trouble figuring out your values? That’s the topic of my free discovery coaching session. Apply for a spot today by clicking here.
That’s when you get the brilliant idea of buying a new agenda (or virtual to-do manager or whatever). Let me tell you though, I’ve read all of the productivity books, can set up a GTD system like a boss, and know the ins and outs of Asana (awesome tool). I can tell you without the shadow of a doubt that if you’re not striking through items on your to-do list, it’s not your tool that’s to blame.
If you’re not getting through your to-do list, compare the items on your list to a list of your values.
And before you belt out a generic list of priorities–my kids! my job! my house! my fitness!–think again. Values are deeper than priorities. Your kids may be your priority, but your values are why you had children in the first place. Values are the strong why’s that get you up in the morning, that make you want to check items off lists.
Values are the core underneath all of the layers. Think about the you that is a layer deeper than the roles that you play in life.
Who are you?
Connect. Authentically. Liking a post on Facebook doesn’t count. Asking your son if he did his homework doesn’t either. You can feel when there’s a connection. A phone call to your dad to say hi. A hug and an I love you to your nephew. A genuine thank you–with eye contact–to the cashier at Target. Or connect with the divine. A sincere prayer. A meditation.
Grow. Especially in areas where you still live small. If you struggle with being vulnerable, stretch by sharing more of yourself with a friend. If you struggle with not being able to relax, force yourself to sit for 10 minutes and just breathe. Wherever you feel restricted and small, push a little every day. Also read high quality books and articles that inspire you and help you grow into who you want to be.
Bask. Every moment is an opportunity to bask, to appreciate viscerally. We often associate basking with hammocks and beaches, but a ride on the subway can be an opportunity to bask in the pages of a good book. Cooking dinner is the opportunity to turn on some music and bask in the simple joy of chopping carrots or watching the boiling bubbles in the pot of water. A walk in the neighborhood park is a chance to feel the breeze (or even the rain or the chill) on your skin. There is so much beauty in the mundane. Bask in it daily.