I’ve been chewing on Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness since November. It’s not the length of the book that has kept me occupied — at just 140 pages, the book is a quick read — but rather its content: mindfulness.
I know, I know, mindfulness is all the rage these days, like kale and quinoa and chia seeds (all of which I love, by the way, haha).
But I’ve been taken with the idea of enjoying each moment since realizing last year that I’m constantly thinking about the past and anticipating the future. When pressed, I could think only of a handful of moments — mostly my wedding and the births of my children — that I had truly taken the time to savor.
“If you cannot find joy in these very moments of sitting, then the future itself will only flow by as a river flows by, you will not be able to hold it back, you will be incapable of living the future when it has become the present. Joy and peace are possible in this very hour of sitting. If you cannot find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. Don’t chase after your thoughts as a shadow following its object. Don’t run after your thoughts. Find joy and peace in this very moment.”
A shift happened for me when my yoga teacher training program challenged us participants to meditate daily. The focused time of mindfulness began to trickle into other moments of life. I began to really gaze into my children’s faces in a way I hadn’t since they were infants and I felt like there was all the time in the world. I began to notice the subtle expressions and words of my students. I slowed down when cooking dinner and walking through the house (these last two changes lessened my cut fingers and stubbed toes by, like, a million percent). I won’t pretend I’m some zen master absorbing every moment in all its glory. But whereas I used to be mindful maybe a few minutes out of the day, now I might be mindful a few minutes out of every hour or two on my best days.
Hanh is helping me go further. The Miracle of Mindfulness offers several practical mindfulness exercises — perfect for people like me who chase after their own thoughts. My favorite exercises involve paying attention to subtle movements in making tea, washing dishes, or washing clothes. “Follow each step in mindfulness,” he writes. “Washing the dishes is meditation.” He’s right. If I can’t stay present when doing something as simple as washing dishes, I’m probably not going to keep my cool in stressful situations. The small moments are practice for the big ones.
A life is made up of such moments, and I want to spend fewer of mine wishing I was somewhere else doing some other thing. Mindfulness, to me, is the idea that you pay attention to each of those life moments, even the mundane ones. Thanks to Hanh, I’m finally starting to get that.