This morning I watched a short online video. It implored me to be grateful for the little things in life, to meet each and every thing in my life with open eyes and a sense of gratitude. The narrator was a religious man, a Brother of some description, and he said good, sensible, thoughtful things about how lucky we are to have eyes that can see beauty, to have clean water, to see this unique formation of clouds on this once-in-a-lifetime day.
Images of bright blue skies, yellow flowers in bloom, African children smiling up, mountains looming, clouds scudding, rivers rushing, a small Tibetan child in an exotic head-dress…
Where is everyday reality in that?
Everyday reality is seeing the same uncaulked basin as you brush your teeth, again. Noticing the dust returning to the corner you just swept out last week. Looking out the window and seeing rain, again. Knowing that you’re going to get wet on your way to work, and wet on the way home, in the cold, in the dark, again.
On the bus, the mountains peek out behind the old drunk with the Coke bottle glasses. The smelly man bends over and everyone can see he is wearing a thong. No. There is no gratitude there. Looking around the bus, the passengers a catalog of suffering and distress, every day, how do I feel gratitude? Especially when I see myself in them – that I am one of them, that I could be like them, that there but by the grace of God go I.
When you see a video of jaw-dropping landscapes and photos of beautiful foreign children you feel uplifted and inspired. But those children poop their pants and break Mama’s favorite cup too. And any landscape seen day after day becomes familiar, normal, just… there. At the end of the vacation you have to come home and do the laundry and sweep the floor. Real life is indigestion and toenail clippings and smelly armpits and a mess. There are moments of sublime beauty even in real life, but they can’t last forever – how would you get anything done?
So what I really want to know is how to feel content with this, here and now, when this is the #11 bus, the endless rain, the half-dead garden being overtaken by weeds. How can I stop pushing away the ugly stuff and grasping for beauty?
I know what I need to practice.
When I see people doing things that annoy me or disgust me I try remind myself of one simple thing. They, like me, want to be happy and they want to be less unhappy. We just find our happy (or less-unhappy) in different ways. I take photos and rearrange my books (again). He takes meth and yells at his wife. She lovingly caresses the pictures in the library books and grins madly.
I look for beauty in places I have trouble finding it. The crazy lady has a happy smile. The twitchy guy is still for a moment. Everyone laughs at the bus driver’s sarcasm and we feel like a community, just for a moment.
Day to day, when I’m cleaning the house, walking the dog, brushing my teeth, I know what I need to do, even when I have trouble doing it. Pay attention to this. Pay attention to the feeling of the water slowly warming up, the glint of dust in the sun, the smell of dog hair in the vacuum canister. Remember that getting things done quickly is not the only goal. Slowing down, listening to the swish of the iron, the warm smell of his green shirt as the heat reacts with the wrinkle-free coating. Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad. Drop the story line and just do what needs to be done.
I don’t go looking for majestic landscapes and doe-eyed children. Well, I do, but I don’t do it all the time. But I try to pay attention well enough that I see Mt. Rainier appear unexpectedly behind the ridge. And that little girl with no front teeth may be the most beautiful child I see all day. Looking closely, she is lovely. And she looks just like one of my coworkers.