Cultivating awareness can be taken as an activity pursued in solitude for no greater purpose than that of enriching ourselves, as a kind of ego-centric navel-gazing activity. However, this is certainly not the goal. As we become more “aware” and exude gratitude for a multitude of blessings that have been showered upon us, we can more adequately turn outward. Love and thanksgiving naturally overflows into the lives of those around us. There seems to be a ripple effect as the rings expand one’s sphere of influence while our natural orientation slowly morphs from being focused on ourselves and onto our family, neighbors, community, city, region, nation, and the wider world. This is my goal, anyway.
Due to my past, I find myself thrilling in the chase in a manner somewhat reminiscent of the main character in the new Netflix series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’ve only seen the first episode of this engaging comedy, but I found myself relating to Kimmy, who spent the last 15 years in an underground bunker as part of a doomsday cult. Newly liberated, her eyes repeatedly light up as she rediscovers a world that she didn’t even know existed. Everything induces excitement and hilarious childlike wonder: green grass, trees, a horse, candy, a sea of humanity to be navigated, the complexities of city life, etc. Kimmy takes nothing for granted as she becomes newly aware of the wider world. For some odd reason my own experience mirrors her take on the world in some ways. I think we should all strive to maintain a childlike wonder of the world around us. It can’t help but point us to things bigger than ourselves on this terrestrial ball and to our creator. So, I’ll continue this odd list with this understanding. This certainly isn’t comprehensive or particularly well thought out. Go ahead and come up with your own…
- Exude gratitude in every area of life while moving through the day. There is so much to be thankful for. It’s difficult to sink into depression when we exude gratitude, but it’s nearly impossible to develop gratitude if we are always racing through life. In our family it’s easy to fall into this trap. We have twins, who have always been a lot of work. At times my wife and I feel pulled along by the kids and stress while merely surviving. Over time we’ve become thankful that life is difficult. It has made us stronger and appreciative of little things that bring great joy, such as a relatively clean house that can handle people dropping in from time to time. I am thankful for the greening grass that seems to become greener every time I enter the yard. Trees are developing leaves earlier this spring than in the past few years. As I pare down possessions, I find myself grateful for the few items that bring me joy.
- Exercise outdoors while exploring. Take a hike on a trail through the woods. Run through the woods. Bike through the countryside. This makes us more fully alive in a way that treadmills can never compete with. Do this with eyes wide open and with all your senses tuned into your immediate environment. Consciously leave your heart and mind open with a sense of expectancy of what you’ll discover. You can’t help but be touched by beauty when you encounter it with such a posture. You might be surprised to encounter goodness and beauty in areas you didn’t expect it: perhaps a ditch that would ordinarily be overlooked, a passing hiker possessing a grin that spans from ear to ear, one wildflower thriving in an inhospitable environment, etc. I seem to be touched at times that I least expect it, but the key lies in being available. This is a concept that most people probably gloss over, but I suppose it has to do with being fully present in the moment.
- Spend more time doing what you love. Be thankful and expect great things while fishing, reading, writing, quilting, visiting with neighbors, drinking lemonade, walking, running, or whatever it is you do. Seize the day.
- Embrace the spiritual aspects of all of life, rather than narrowing this down to a particular day of worship. Two books point us to our maker: scripture and creation. Creation is everything around us, so I’m not just referring to the rare trip to a spectacular setting in the mountains. Once again, childlike wonder is what we should be after here. This leads to love, gratitude, awareness.
- Write letters to your friends and loved ones. Use the postal service. Email is great for quickly exchanging information, but is wholly inadequate for sharing your heart. Be vulnerable. Maintain your most cherished relationships as if life depended upon it. I assume that if you own an expensive sports car you maintain it fastidiously. Your relationships are far more valuable than any Lamborghini. Start rekindling one of those special relationships today. You can easily pick up where you left off. Leave out the page of annoying apologies explaining why you haven’t kept in touch. Seriously, they already understand. I mean they haven’t been writing, either. Guilt is a relationship killer and a real non-starter.