“It can be so easy to lose track of the present — the very moment you’re experiencing right now.
…This week, we want you to choose a moment and capture it in the medium you love best.”
I was waiting outside of my kids’ school to walk them home. It was a beautiful afternoon – admittedly a little too warm still for my taste (the Richmond, VA, area in mid-September is still hitting the mid-nineties in temp!), but the beautiful blue of the sky, set off by big, puffy white clouds more than made up for that.
I was sitting under what I’ve come to call my “waiting tree.” It’s this big tree (deciduous, but I don’t know what kind) on a little hill that slopes down to the elementary school’s side door, where my kids are released each afternoon – and it provides really nice (and appreciated!) shade for my wait.
So I was enjoying my time under the “waiting tree,” thinking idly about how much my kids have come to like this new school in the two weeks since they’ve started here,* looking forward to seeing them. They’re so cheerful after school these days! So much less stress and angst than at their old school! I love it.
It was so peaceful and shady there, my thoughts were just drifting around – and they eventually landed on a passage from this yoga/philosophy book that I’m currently skimming through. (Aptly titled, Yogalosophy. 🙂 Yogalosophy for Inner Strength, by Mandy Ingber, to be exact.)
Here’s part of the passage I was recalling:
“[S]tudies…show that connecting with the Earth by walking barefoot or lying directly on the ground reduces inflammation and has health benefits related specifically on the heart and the nervous system.”
–Yogalosophy for Inner Strength, 2016, pg. 172
I realized suddenly that I actually couldn’t remember the last time I’d walked around barefoot outside! Which struck me as kind of wrong.
So I slipped my shoes off and let the skin of my feet touch the blades of grass and the earth – consciously connecting to the natural ground. (The book talks about “rooting in” to the Earth beneath your feet.) And then I planted my feet more firmly and wiggled my toes around a little in the grass.
And you know what? It felt good! Like, really, really good. Surprisingly good. It felt soothing…calming…steadying. Uplifting and grounding at the same time. It made me feel happy!
It felt good enough, in fact, that I realized that I might very well need to make that kind of direct nature/Earth connection more often – a lot more often.**
So, I was sitting there in the shade of the waiting tree, feet pressed into the earth, toes wiggling in the grass. Feeling really good!
The sounds of school letting out were beginning to make themselves known. Traffic was picking up. But I was a little removed from that, from my perch on the little hill. And it felt nice to sit there and observe – just distant enough from the hubbub to be able to retain that peaceful feeling.
I was wearing my earbuds still, from my walk over, and music was playing. But I hadn’t been really focusing on the music. It had been pleasant background noise – like ambient sound.
Until I suddenly zoned in to it.
And maybe it was just coincidence…I don’t know! But the song I found myself really listening to was a song that completely fit the mood of the moment: relaxed, thoughtful, contemplative without being too low-energy.
It totally amplified my already solid enjoyment of the moment:
And it was about then – when I was listening to the song, watching the clouds, wriggling my toes – that it occurred to me consciously what an incredibly pleasant moment this was – and that I really wanted a record of it, to remind myself.
I pulled out my phone (as it was the only camera I had onhand), and made a few attempts to do some justice to the beautiful sky.
I don’t have a very good camera on my phone though, sadly (and that’s a pretty big understatement), so it quickly became clear that this was an impossible task. The below was the best I got – and though I edited to the best of my ability in an attempt to make the most of it, it still does not come near approaching how gorgeous the sky was in real-life that afternoon:
But on the bright side, I noticed that the reflection of the sky in my sunglasses was kind of cool!:
The reflection doesn’t do any better a job of capturing the beauty I was looking at – but still, there was something about it that made me happy!
Maybe it’s just that it amused me to realize that I could “work” my sunglasses to create an image. I hadn’t thought of that before!
I went all summer wearing those sunglasses and never noticed I could do that.
Which brings me to my takeaway for all of this:
Like the challenge (linked above) says: “It’s easy to lose track of the present.”
I’ve lost track of my present quite a lot in the last few months – and it’s not a coincidence that the these last months have been a little rough for me. Of course they have been. Mindfulness and presence are powerful antidotes to stress – really, really powerful antidotes. Just the act of consciously trying to cultivate them is helpful. And I haven’t been doing that at all. So all of the worries/concerns/stresses I’ve been dealing with have been allowed to just rage unabated.
When you lose track of your moments, you miss the forest for the trees. Actually, you miss the forest for the potholes in your path. And what a shame that is! Especially because the potholes are going to be there; their existence is not always (or even often) something you can control. But if you can manage to appreciate the beautiful canopy of forest that surrounds you – and the flowers beside the path, and the cool breeze in your face, and the dappled sunshine filtering through the leaves – it becomes so much easier to keep those potholes in perspective and to feel okay about where you are. Whereas, if you spend all of your time staring down at the ground and fretting, you’re just focusing on dirt and mud: dull, boring, ugly. What a waste that is!
I’ve spent the last couple of months forgetting about that truth. I’ve been giving quite a bit of attention to the mud.
Photography is one of the most powerful tools I have for cultivating mindfulness. (I noted that here, as well as in multiple other posts.) And I’ve found that when I do less photography, I do have more problems with losing track of my moments – and that’s because mindfulness and photography are inextricably linked for me. One helps me with the other.
The problem is that when I feel anxiety and stress, particularly when there’s a flood of things to deal with/grapple with, as there have been in the last few months, it’s not my instinct to grab my camera and go take pictures! My instinct is rather to jump in and attack the problem, to try to fix it and improve things. But oftentimes, this simply isn’t realistic or even possible. There are many things I can’t control, and many others that have to just play out, that can’t be rushed. My nature is such that I have a hard time accepting this. Patience isn’t my strong suit – and I’m a high-energy, “fix-it” kind of person – particularly when it comes to other people’s happiness (or lack thereof)…and my own. And when I hit brick walls in my attempts to “fix” things, I have a bad tendency to judge myself harshly for it – which of course just adds more anxiety and stress to the problem at hand.
I see all this in myself; I understand myself pretty well. But what to do about it is another story! I think being an energetic, creative, “idea” person, with the drive to jump in and make things happen – this looks like a decent set of characteristics on paper! And I do like all of these things about myself, and feel, largely, that these traits serve me well. But like anything else in life, there has to be balance. And that’s where I still fall short. I certainly fell way short this summer.
It occurs to me, writing this out, that maybe I should start looking at my camera more directly as the tool that it is for mitigating anxiety and stress.
In other words, when I feel anxiety, perhaps that should be a signal for me to grab my camera and go for a walk! Even if I don’t feel like it…even if what’s happening around me is nothing I want to capture necessarily and remember. I don’t have to keep the images. It’s about the act of taking them. It’s about nudging myself to a place of balance…reminding myself to stop obsessing over the potholes…to trust my feet and think instead about the beauty of the trees.
Maybe that’ll be a new project for this Fall: training myself to do that. That might possibly be one of the more powerful wellness choices I can make for myself.
*In fact, my kids LOVE their new school. They can’t get over how nice everyone is – especially the teachers, but the kids too – and how fun it is. It’s a really special place; that’s growing clearer to us the more we get to know it.
**Even before I hit this section of the book, I’d been thinking along these lines – about rooting into the earth, consciously, and into nature, etc – and particularly about how that can potentially have an effect on stress and anxiety (which I’ve been wrestling with a bit in the last few months). But reading what Mandy Ingber had to say about it, and then doing this little experiment under the “waiting tree” sold me! I have more to say about this – but this topic definitely requires a post of its own. (Soon!)