Something joyful, beautiful, pleasurable, or delicious is happening: Notice moments of sweetness.
There’s no shortage of difficult times in our world. Even the richest, healthiest, and most fortunate of us suffer in body and mind from time to time. That was true before the global chaos of 2020 and it will be true long after. When we’re feeling bad, as human beings, we have a tendency to assume things are always going to feel this way, that we’re never going to feel good again. We are hardwired to focus on the negative because that’s a part of how our species has survived. Focusing on good things hasn’t always helped us escape from tigers in the jungle, so our brains tend to spend less energy there.
As a person with an anxiety disorder and an occasional tendency towards depression, I’ve always found it annoying when people tell me to be more grateful or more positive. It’s not always realistic to do that, and when something is legitimately wrong, it needs our attention. All our feelings are valid and important. An overly optimistic worldview can cause us to bypass our vital sadness and anger.
What I have found useful, however, is a practice of noticing moments of sweetness. The key, for me, is that these moments are not intended to push aside any difficult emotions. They are simply there to be experienced when we pay attention.
My favorite story about mindfulness is the one about a man who was running from a tiger in the forest. He ran and ran until he got to the edge of a cliff. He climbed over and was able to grasp a root, suspending himself along the cliff edge. Above him, the tiger peered over, drooling with anticipation. When he looked down, another tiger waited for him at the bottom, licking her lips. He looked ahead, and saw a bright, juicy strawberry growing beside the root he was holding onto. He took the strawberry in his mouth and savored it: It was the most delicious strawberry he’d ever tasted in his life—because he knew it was his last.
It’s a bit of a horror story, perhaps, but I love it because it encapsulates so clearly the power and presence of mindfulness. At the doors of certain death, this man chose to notice what was right in front of him and enjoy the sweetness of this rare and perfect strawberry. Hopefully the difficulties we face are somewhat less dire than that, but when we look, we may be surprised to find that there are almost always strawberries on the cliff edge.
On one particularly cold and dark winter season, I was suffering through a terrible heartbreak. One morning, out for a walk with my dog, I noticed a huge, perfect maple leaf covered in frost, glittering in the sun like a diamond. I paused and absorbed the beauty of the frost-covered leaf, knowing that in a matter of minutes, the sun would shift to melt the frost and the glittery effect would disappear. It was a delicious strawberry on an emotional cliff edge. It did not negate the grief I felt or stop me from feeling it, but I also got to experience something so beautiful that I remember it very clearly now, several years later.
So as you go through your day, I invite you to stay present not only with your grief and pain, but also with those small moments of sweetness where something joyful, beautiful, pleasurable, or delicious is happening. When you start to look for them, you notice that they are actually abundant in our day-to-day lives. And when we turn our minds to moments of sweetness, they collect in our spirits and make us happier over time, even and especially when it feels like the sky is falling.
Read more from Julie Peters: Return to Pathfinding home page.