I was walking by myself on a pristine beach in Mexico. It was early morning and the sun hadn’t quite made it’s appearance yet. Looking out to where the expansive gray-blue sky met the grayer, bluer ocean, I could feel the sand, damp and slightly chilled, compress beneath my feet as I walked.
Slowly, the earth came alive. I noticed small crabs as they scampered to the tiny holes they’d dug. I heard the gulls squawking as they came together for breakfast and a bath. The blues got brighter as the sun lit up the clouds in a way I’d seen a thousand times before but never quite like this.
And in that moment, I wasn’t thinking of anything. I was just there, awestruck by the natural beauty and by a sense of relatedness to everything around me.
Time passed. The tide of my thoughts rolled back in. And I wondered, “What if I could have more moments like that?”
Riding the subway
A few months ago, I was exiting the City Hall subway station when I noticed a disheveled-looking woman, eyes bulging in a crazed kind of way, struggling with a shopping cart full of overstuffed bundles. The elevator was broken and I saw she’d have to haul her cart up the stairs. I purposefully walked the other way. “I don’t have time to help some crazy woman.”
Then I stopped. Just that week, a colleague had introduced me to the “I Will Listen” campaign, raising awareness for mental illness. I thought how I would offer assistance If it was someone struggling with a stroller or a nicely dressed older person. Why was I walking away from this woman who needed help even more?
“Can I help you?” I said.
Another gentleman was there and together we (barely) managed to haul the incredibly heavy cart up the stairs. The woman was very appreciative. “God bless you,” she said. We all smiled big smiles and wished each other a nice day. And as I walked home, I felt a certain lightness. I’d exchanged detachment and judgment for connection and a blessing. I kept smiling. And though I’m not religious, I felt blessed.
Stuck in traffic
One Sunday evening, I was driving up the west side of Manhattan with 3 of my kids in the car. Traffic was crawling and I could feel myself getting tense. Then I noticed the sun glinting off the Hudson River and it reminded me of something Martha Beck quoted, referring to a Navajo prayer called “The Beauty Way”.
There is beauty before me, and there is beauty behind me.
There is beauty to my left, and there is beauty to my right.
There is beauty above me, and there is beauty below me.
There is beauty around me, and there is beauty within me.
I recited it in my head. (My kids are not quite ready to hear me say these things out loud.) And I thought more deeply about everything around me. The gorgeous river. My eldest son next to me and two of my daughters behind me. How lucky I was to be safe and comfortable in my car. The hundreds of individual lives and stories in the cars all around me.
I smiled. My frustration had turned into some kind of bliss.
Then just this week
Just this week, the exact opposite happened. I had several bits of good news and I should have been happy. Instead, I was focusing on something unpleasant, something that had been bothering me for a while, and I couldn’t let it go. I tried the techniques I learned to come back to the present, but I failed. I kept turning the thoughts over and over until they made for an ugly, bilious stew. After years of trying to tame the hamsters in my head, I was upset they were still roaming freely.
Then I thought back to that woman in the subway and that drive in traffic. And I realized I didn’t have to go to a faraway place to experience a glimpse of rapture or a glimpse of peace. So I kept practicing. I reminded myself that “today is not just another day in my life.”
And I smiled.