A Happy Attention Installment
During one of my recent musings (“Under My Tree”), I paused on the concept of noticing what’s around you and just reveling in moment. Today, I want to take that a step further and ruminate on gratefulness.
I took a trip to Waldameer today. For those of you unfamiliar with the Erie area, it’s a moderately-sized amusement park, complete with a separate water park, a wave pool, and frequent fireworks. It tends to fill up quickly on the weekends, and today was no exception.
So far this summer, I have been placing a lot of emphasis on staying in the moment and not worrying about the future. I trudged through a spring full of overcommitments and little time for personal reflection. I’ve been saying no to new opportunities left and right in an attempt to recharge my batteries and bring my attention back to the present. So far, it’s been working, but I still have my moments. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough each day and if I’m making the most of my summer. Even with free time, my mind can’t sit still.
Today was no exception. When you’re thrown into an environment with thousands of people riding flashing cars and beeping boats and whirling coasters, your mind can go a little haywire. Even though I had nothing planned for the rest of the day, my mind was stuck on tomorrow. You need to do a lot by 12 PM. You need to pack for the trip. You need to talk to the dog sitter. You need to write. You need to clean.
I was really trying hard to focus on the fact that a.) it was a gorgeous day, b.) I was not responsible for a classroom of students, and c.) amusement parks make me incredibly happy, but I still found my mind as active as an out of control Tilt-a-Whirl.
It’s that feeling of seeing everything around you, but feeling like everything is fuzzy. You’re so consumed by your own thoughts that you can’t focus. I don’t wear or need glasses, but when I have moments like these, it almost feels like my vision is blurry: I can’t stay focused on what’s right in front of me.
And, as anyone knows who’s attempted to grasp peace and relaxation, the harder you reach for it, the more it alludes you. It’s like hunting for a rabbit by running up to it every time: you’ll always give yourself away.
I’m not sure of the exact moment when my mind went calm, but I can remember it happening at some location in the Kiddie Park. I remember tiny boats, the pedal cars, children on shoulders. Cookies! It was the cookie shack.
Why did a display case of oversized cookies bring me mental peace? To be honest, I don’t know. I think it was the realization that summer was indeed here, and that it also ushers in a few months of summer foods: gigantic cookies, ice cream. hot dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, and more. And for a few months, it’s okay to indulge. I probably had a stupid grin on my face as I passed the chocolate chip row, but at that moment, I felt something akin to gratitude.
It sounds silly, I know. I was grateful for cookies the size of dinner plates? The answer is yes, in a strange, roundabout way. I was grateful for it being summer time, and I was grateful for my love of tantalizing summer foods. This gratitude spilled over to just having a local amusement park to go to. And to the ferris wheel, for its stunning, hazy views of Lake Erie. And the flying chairs, for their much welcomed breeze and reprieve from the heat. And my gratitude continued for a good ten minutes or so.
Gratitude is a wonderful thing to meditate on. I don’t even necessarily mean the formal type of meditation, with closed eyes and crossed legs. I just mean gratitude offers us a great exercise in bringing our attention back to the present. Do you feel the anxiety of Monday morning tapping you on the shoulder? Take a second to look around you, wherever you are (I’m currently lying in my hammock in my backyard). Let’s play a game of I Spy…but with a twist. Find something, anything, nearby that you’re grateful for. It could be the gentle breeze playing through the trees. It could be the fact that your car is working and not in bad shape. It could be your unspoiled pedicure from three days ago. Whatever it is, placing your attention on something spontaneous instantly snaps your attention back to the present.
There will always be a reason to by anxious about the future. Uncertainty, the promise of much work to come, worry about a doctor’s appointment, etc. But, you almost always can find something to be grateful about the present.
Today, I’m just grateful for a lazy summer day spent at an amusement park with years of built-in nostalgia. I’m grateful for the cookies and cream ice cream I ate under the shade of an umbrella. I’m grateful that my stomach still allows me to ride roller coasters. And, I’m grateful for finding gratitude in a row of cookies.