Something happens at this point in the year: the winter finally releases its frigid death grip, trees sprout their first tender leaves, the world softens and warms. But it’s not just the external climate that changes: Our internal climate shifts too, softening and opening. You find yourself taking deeper breaths, stepping a little more lightly, looking up at the sky instead of hustling forward, head down. Your senses, like those first leaves, begin to unfurl opening you up to a sense of compassion and hope.
It was on a recent gorgeous spring day when I realized how lucky I am to live where the seasons change. Because no one appreciates a 65-degree day like someone who hasn’t seen above 45 in months. It has a profound affect on your mood.
And while I believe wholeheartedly that the external world cannot take full blame for our individual stress levels, it does trigger our own response—for good or ill. Most of the time we think of it as “ill” because we think of it as our enemy: unabating work hours, traffic, demanding bosses or partners (or both!). But the world out there can also have a mitigating effect on our stress, if we let it.
What happened to wonder?
This lovely post by Katherine Mackenzie-Smith on TinyBuddha.com drove this point home for me. In it, she talks about how as children we are full of wonder, and we imagine that when we’re older, and can do whatever we want, we’ll be happy. But what happens is, you get to be an adult, and while you may not have homework or teachers to answer to, you have a whole other mantle of obligations, enough to make you long for a term paper. The point being that we lose track of the beauty of everyday life because we let it go, and let it get crowded out by ever-increasing problems and issues.
Arianna Huffington defines her Third Metric in terms of several pillars, one of which is wonder. She writes in her new book Thrive,
“Wonder is not just a product of what we see—of how beautiful or mysterious or singular or incomprehensible something may be. It’s just as much a product of our state of mind, our being, the perspective from which we are looking at the world.”
Wonder doesn’t disappear on its own; we let it go. And we don’t have to. In fact, our creativity, imagination, and well-being thrives on a degree of being delighted, amused, and in awe of the world around us.
What changed Mackenzie-Smith’s life wasn’t a promotion or more money or a new title. It was the decision to be more aware of what’s around her.
That’s it. That’s the first step for any change to happen. It sounds deceivingly simple, but it is a discipline. After all, you may think you’re well aware, maybe too aware, of all the things you have to do. Awareness, you think, is giving you a headache!
Awareness is more than just has your attention. It’s the decision to put that attention where you want it. As experts in mindfulness meditation will tell you, your attention can’t be forced or restricted—you can’t just “silence” thoughts. You must allow your attention to rest in awareness.
I believe there are lots of reasons why you’re more caught up than tuned in to your life, more worried than aware. But these are three of the biggest:
1. You think it’s a waste of time. Why go have lunch down the street when you could eat here and get more done? Why go take a walk and lose thirty minutes when you could skip it and just get home earlier and hit the couch? It’s ironic but true: We think we can save time by giving ourselves less of it. But it doesn’t work that way. Despite what you’ve been told, time isn’t money and you can’t save it in a jar. You have to spend what you have as you get it, and spend it wisely. You won’t get another chance to enjoy this particular warm spring afternoon again.
2. You’re focused on the future. While a good chunk of our time is spent fussing over the future, whether it’s what will happen tomorrow and needs to happen by next week. But if you lose the present, you lose everything. You can’t be calmer, happier, more grounded today if you’re not here. Our survival instincts are always going to have us trained on the future to some degree. It’s how we live. But the most resilient and flexible and, dare I say, happy, among us are those who value this moment enough to spend some quality time in it.
3. You’re on the defense. Because of all the demands on your time, resources, and attention, you feel the need to close up the aperture of your life so that you don’t let too much in. You think that if you open the door to your brain one more inch, you’ll be washed away in a flood of stress. But that resisting stress isn’t the same as building resilience. ANd to do that, you need to open up and reach out, not clench and grip. (Read how to protect yourself against second-hand stress.)
So I encourage you to actually throw open those doors and windows. Not to ‘take on more’ but to relieve the tension that comes when you’re busy trying to hold your ground. That means seeing your week, and weekend, as something other than the time you use to get stuff done. Find opportunities to connect with friends you haven’t seen, or to read a book you’ve been wanting to lose yourself in. Or lay on your back and look up into the sky and think about nothing at all.
Wonder, calm, and delight aren’t something you plan for later. You have to make time for them now. It may just mean climbing down out of your brain for a bit and walking out into the sunlight, taking a deep breath, a stretch, and remembering what it’s like to be here in this moment, as it will only last until the next one comes along. Don’t miss it.