Wednesday, November 24, 2021

The Gifts of Perspective

The month of November is typically a time for expressing gratitude and thankfulness. It’s a time when pre-holiday challenges help distract folks from their own lives to think about the difficulties of others. There are charity drives, food bank donation and volunteer opportunities, and themed events like No-Shave November where those who are able to grow facial hair raise money for cancer by not shaving for the entire month. It is also, curiously, a time of creativity. The annual NaNoWriMo challenge happens in November where budding and hobbyist writers are given a word count challenge and can even upload their manuscripts for perusal by publishers. There is also the annual #PrayerADay (this link will open Facebook) where folks write a prayer every day in November, encouraged to also create accompanying visual memes and share widely on social media.

I have never participated in No-Shave November or NaNoWriMo (I know, right?), but I have volunteered at many charity events through both time and treasure over the years. I did #PrayerADay in 2018 and 2019. And the past two years have left me focused heavily inward in my home life. Like all of us, the pandemic has me in a place of isolation from many of the activities and people I normally engaged this time of year. And stuff keeps happening to encourage this separation.

I found out a friend of mine died of COVID recently. He was 33 with no underlying health conditions, and he was vaccinated. He is not the first person I have lost to the virus, and he will likely not be the last. During these times when we are supposed to be surrounded by friends and family, their empty seats at the table are loud, screaming at me to say their names and remember their lives. I have a new name to speak over the table this year as I express the gratitude in my heart for the opportunity to have loved him.

Perspective has a way of allowing us to learn from things like as time passes. When an event is new, we are close to it, like standing in front of a single tree with our noses pressed into the bark, trying to find meaning. As time passes, we can see the entire trunk, and we notice the variations in the cracks and crevices. As more time passes, we can see the roots running along the ground and the branches of leaves overheard. And then we can see the beauty of the crown, branches waving lazily in the breeze and catching the light of the sun on the leaves. Eventually, we can see the entirety of the forest, see all the different trees in our lives—tall ones, short ones, thin ones, wide ones, ones full of leaves of every color, and ones with very little leaf coverage on top. Every one of them has a name and a story of how they have touched our lives. Every one of them reminds us of times in the past, both good and not as great, that have built the foundations of who we are as we stand here today.

May the gift of perspective be with you this year as you speak the names of those who would have occupied the chairs around your table and find peace within yourself. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Purposeful Mindlessness

I lost an earring. It’s likely not an expensive earring. It’s silver intertwining loops with a fun diamond cut in the outer ring. It’s likely made of some sort of steel, since my ears don’t turn green. It’s highly likely not actual silver. And. These earrings belonged to my grandmother, of blessed memory, and I wear them when I want to feel close to her. And I lost one.

The truth is I am suffering from an increasing sense of mindlessness. Not mindlessness as nonsense or ignorance. Mindlessness as I use it here refers to an inactive state of mind where we are lost in a perspective or mindset and disengaged from what is around us. This state of mindlessness is a state of distractedness in which we are not paying attention to our surroundings. It is the opposite of mindfulness, the Be Here Now principle of being present and focused, and that is what happened with my earring. I likely lost it when I was taking my mask off in one of three places: my office, the restroom when I was wiping off my face, or the coffee counter when I was testing the salt content of my lunch before heading back to my office and lather, rinse, repeat.

The question arises: should we always strive to be in a state of mindfulness? Well, no. There is a merit to mindlessness. As we move through our days, we follow our rituals for the repetitive parts of our lives. We are not often focusing on our actions when we are brushing our teeth, and LOTS of people have had their best ideas then. Moving beyond the detailed processes of the here and now allows our minds to move past the mundane and explore possibilities. Epiphanies can come to us while folding laundry or washing dishes. The key is knowing when to pay attention and when to let go. Ironically, knowing when to Be Here Now and when to let our minds wander takes purposeful attention to our surroundings—which is just another way of being mindful!

I lost my earring because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. Being at work, I was probably thinking about monthly QA metrics, CAP checklist changes, or the stainer in histo. These are important items deserving of every ounce of attention I can give them, AND the true heart of mindfulness, of learning to Be Here Now in every here and now, relies on my ability to focus on what’s in front of me with purpose.

Sometimes, we make simple errors like putting salt in our tea or making a wrong turn on “autopilot” while lost in thought. Sometimes, we lose our grandmother’s earring. As we move into our final month of 2021, move through your days with purpose, knowing when you need to focus more closely, and when it’s okay to let your mind wander. As the saying goes, not all those who wander are lost!