the little things

I remembered a friend’s simple advice the other day while I was working on an art sketch in a small notebook that has become my religion.  During senior year in college, I had a moment of weakness and started to cry in the ladies’ bathroom in the center of campus during Spring Break activities.  My friend, someone who I got along with on and off, very nurturingly said to me that she always takes time to notice the little things.  That it has always been the little things that helped her along the way.  I found some grounding in what she said because I thought about how she had lost her mother at a young age and that she also grew up without a television.  I will never fully know whether these two factors had led her to pay attention to the little things and have them buttress her along the way, but they seemed appropriately associated to me.

I thought, when you lose what’s important and when you are not exposed to constant messages of having to have more to have more, it must make you wiser, calmer, and willing to pay attention to things of true value– the little things.  So over the years, I’ve put that into practice from time to time to see if it would really “work.”  In the beginning, I had to fake it.  I had to pretend that something as small as getting a cookie at the corner store was so exciting (especially as a stressed-out working adult).  There were days that I would note how “exciting” doing this tiny thing or that seemingly insignificant thing was.  Going to the store and returning a pair of shoes became a part of the list, for instance.  I made it important, because I was not only getting a task done, but I no longer had an extra pair of shoes on me that I wouldn’t wear.  I had “cleaned out the closet” and refreshed my life a bit by doing that.

Washing the dishes in the morning one day became something to note and be happy about.  The fact that I took the time to clean my environment and care for it, even if I didn’t officially own the place I was residing in at the moment.  Along the way I added some Bhuddist-inspired thoughts to the process.  I would try to wash the dishes mindfully.  I would take the time while doing them.  This undoubtedly helped my natural anxiety a bit.  In fact, all of these little things that have helped me to slow down a bit and realize that I’m alive even during mundane “tasks” have helped ease the anxiety. Slowing down and being mindful of the little things.

It has taken years to work this type of thinking, pattern, and work ethic into my system.  I still work on it everyday because it still feels somewhat like a new lifestyle to be going at things in such a fashion.  Somtimes I have to actively remember to be mindful even if in the middle of traffic when I’m in a hurry.  I think: If I’m mindful, I’ll be clearer-headed as I drive through the traffic.  I’ll make better decisions along the route, perhaps even decisions that will help me cut the time down a bit. (And no, I certainly don’t mean speeding, swearing, beeping, or careening down back-alley streets to make up for the bumper-to-bumper predicament that I can’t get out of, positive attitude or not.) I tell myself, I’ll get there when I get there.  I won’t have extra adrenaline pumping through my system when I do get to my destination so I don’t agitate the scene or myself any further (so that I come off as being ok, because I truly am ok).  And I think, if indeed I’m doing something “wrong” by just putting up with the reality of the traffic and doing my best, well… then the sky can fall on me if it wants.  I’m at least doing my best.

Self-talk and mindful practice, over and over again have helped over the years.  I’m still in daily practice of this, especially when I run into rude people while enacting those tiny tasks.  And I don’t expect perfection, I just want to have a calmer day, a happier one.  A day where the little things have value and I realize even if I just ran a bunch of errands, that series of activities were important to me and valuable on the whole to my life.  And my language about this kind of activity has changed slowly as well.  Now it’s no longer that I have just gone to the corner store to get a cookie and that is exciting.  Now it’s:  I just went to the corner store to get my favorite kind of cookie.  The “my favorite” grounds me, brings me back to me, shows me and tells me that I am that important (yeah really) to myself.  Never has the pronoun “my” felt so good as now, after years of that practice.  My, my, my.

These are tiny rituals and the attention to detail and the little things are a ritual and religion in themselves.  They help but they are not some sugar-coated advice from a self-help book or a list of affirmations that I have to cram into my head and deliriously believe.  They are actual actions, things that calm me, things that actually happen, and that I set off and enact.  Each one important in its own right… even if all I did was go to the coffee shop today, and type this.

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