A couple of weeks ago, equal parts lethargic and restless, I headed out my front door. I was in search of a sunny spot to relax because, frankly, quarantine was starting to get to me.
Without a yard or porch, I opted for the small patch of grass next to my condo’s parking lot. I kicked off my shoes and let out an audible exhale as I fell back in a melodramatic display of annoyance.
My boyfriend and I had been getting on each other’s nerves all day. Every news article raised my blood pressure. I was running low on food, but I was feeling too anxious to venture into a grocery store. My job stability was decreasing by the day, and my self-care routine had all but crumbled entirely.
As I smoothed the corners of the blanket, I heard more complaints rattling inside my head. What a great view of the asphalt. What’s that smell? Gosh, maybe it’s too hot out for this. Yet, stubbornness forced me to lie still. I took a breath, closed my eyes and let a few moments pass. Slowly but surely, I felt myself release my grip on frustration, stress steadily evaporating with each exhale.
I felt myself release my grip on frustration, stress steadily evaporating with each exhale.
When I opened my eyes, I was face-to-face with a cherry blossom, a cherry blossom I noticed for the first time in this moment despite walking past it every day for, I kid you not, nearly a year. I squinted and tilted my head to the side, inspecting the ridges in the chocolate brown bark. I eyed the tangled branches, following every turn as if navigating a maze.
For the next 30 minutes, dozing in and out of a daydream, I watched a dozen bees pollinating flower buds a few feet above me. I was completely enchanted. Maybe it was the heat getting to me, but I was so struck by this moment. The chorus of complaints in my head faded out entirely. How could I not have noticed this tree? With a sting of sadness, my mind formed the question I was actually asking: What else have I been missing?
In the days following, I kept an eye out for my answer. I attempted to stay present, making a conscious effort to observe my thoughts without being swept up by them. This awareness was overwhelming at first. The stay-at-home order meant that my social calendar was wiped entirely clean, and my workload shrunk greatly. With the exception of the occasional phone call, no one expected me to be anywhere. No one was waiting on me. I was not too early or running late to anything at all. Appointments and meetings vanished, and, in their place, there was nothing but time with myself. Wow, did that terrify me.
Appointments and meetings vanished, and, in their place, there was nothing but time with myself.
For what has felt like the first time, I’ve been forced to stare my thought patterns, emotions, desires, fears and discomfort in the face without interruption. I’ve observed the natural ebb and flow of my mindset. In doing so, a crucial truth presented itself: All emotions are transient, coming and going constantly.
Acknowledging their impermanence led me to a place of contentment rather than stress about tomorrow or regret over yesterday. I could just be, accepting the sadness, anxiety or fear without judgment. I could hold its hand and say, “You won’t be here forever, but I’ll comfort you while you are.” Without the tension of pushing feelings away, my surroundings in the present moment came into focus. The little things started to bring me so much joy.
The little things started to bring me so much joy.
Joy reading, waving at my parents from the curb, walking to get the mail and petting my cat all felt blissful. I felt tangible, overflowing love in the smiling eyes of strangers, unexpected sweet treats my sister delivered to my doorstep and a birthday car parade for a colleague. In all of these instances, I felt grateful, and my heart was full. One thing became abundantly clear: The little things are actually the big things. It’s absolutely amazing how much love can fit inside of a smile, a bite of cake or a car horn.
These reflections led me to a new question: When will I give myself permission to enjoy my life? When I am established in my career? When I stick to a consistent workout routine? When I complete that passion project? No, the answer is right now.
When it comes to personal growth, we will learn, stumble, fall, grow, laugh and, then, stumble some more. This is a guarantee. Sometimes we are going to feel like crap. We are going to sob. We are going to feel completely lost.
Instead of beating ourselves up about it, we can respond with understanding and love. This allows us to breathe and softens even the hardest emotions, allowing us to take in our surroundings and experience the joy that is waiting to bloom.
How do you feel when you focus on the present moment? Are there small reminders of goodness in your world that you have been too busy to notice?
Image via Studio Grand-Père