I’ve been missing the ordinary things in life, like the feel of rock, an in-person conversation with a friend, and picking up a cup of coffee while driving to the crag. Have you? I think I took these ordinary things for granted, at least to some degree, prior to this pandemic. How did that happen? Why do such ordinary things seem to increase in value when they’re taken away from us?
I think the answer lies somewhere in our ability to find the extraordinary in those seemingly ordinary things. When we have them readily available, we don’t realize how quickly we could lose them. Our attention is distracted to what we value as more important. Therefore, it seems a matter of attention to find how extraordinary such ordinary things really are.
The mental training we do is centered in attention, which is all we really can control, and have influence over. Even now, we’re in the middle of a crisis, and we have a choice in how we direct our attention. We’re doing some ordinary things now too, like drinking coffee or eating breakfast. Do we appreciate and value them? If we pay attention to these ordinary things when we’re doing them, then we’ll increase the value we perceive they give us.
Ordinary things lose value when we’re multitasking and thinking about other things we value as more important. We think we can be more productive if we think about important tasks we need to do later instead of the ordinary task we’re doing now. The desire to be productive distracts us from the current task. We even do this when we drink our coffee or eat our breakfast. We check the news, catch up on email, etc. In doing that, we don’t fully experience the taste of the coffee or the food we’re eating and diminish our appreciation for them.
We change the flow of our attention to get out of this trap. Instead of allowing our attention to be captured by the news, email, or anything else the mind wants to think about, we focus it in our senses. We feel our bodies sitting in a relaxed expanded posture, the breath coming and going, and the sounds and sights happening around us.
We drink our coffee and eat our breakfast slowly, paying attention to the smells and tastes. We immerse our attention in the sensations of the moment, turning ordinary things into extraordinary ones. When we are immersed in this way, we experience more gratitude and appreciation for the seemingly ordinary thing we’re doing.
There will be a time when we can go climbing again. We can pick up a cup of coffee, drive to the crag, and experience the feel of the rock and the company of friends. But, we must be vigilant. It’ll be all too easy to take those ordinary things for granted again. That’s less likely if we pay attention when we do them. It’ll be less likely if we pay attention–now–to the seemingly ordinary things we’re currently doing.
Practice Tip: Aware Eating
Setup: No multitasking like checking email or reading or listening to the news. Pay attention.
- Sit down with your food and put your hands in your lap for a moment.
- Close your eyes and take three slow breaths. Now, open your eyes and pay attention to how you grab your spoon or fork.
- Put a small amount of food on it and bring it to your mouth…slowly.
- Place the spoon or fork back on the table and put your hands in your lap.
- Chew slowly, paying attention to how your tongue moves the food to the teeth so it can be chewed.
- Notice the flavors.
- Notice the sensation and desire to swallow as the food gets chewed.
- NOTICE how your hand wants to reach for the spoon or fork before you’ve finished swallowing and put it back in your lap.
- Continue this way until you’ve finished eating.
- What was extraordinary about this ordinary event?