Practical Ways to Cultivate Awareness and Gratitude in Daily Life, Part 3

Rather uncharacteristically, I worked 100+ hours over the past 10 days without a break while painting a beautiful house and rushing to get it done before a lovely young family returned home. It seems fitting to post the conclusion to this list, begun last month (you can peruse the living intentionally category if you like), at this time. Awareness and gratitude are absolutely vital when we are overworked or busy.

kids climbing

  1. Regularly go on adventures. In what seems like a previous lifetime, I worked in a large, boring office. If you peeled the top off with a can opener it would cast the appearance of the world’s largest waffle iron. The hundreds of cubicles and low murmur of conversation were also somewhat reminiscent of a beehive. Not knowing what to do during 15-minute breaks, I learned to maximize the time by slowly walking through the woods that butted up against the parking lot. There was no trail. Only brush and unremarkable forest to step through, among, over, and beneath. It wasn’t scenic in the least, but I thrilled in this connection to the real, natural world during a day that otherwise had me glued to a computer screen for hour after hour. There was plenty of time. I had no particular place to be or destination. I wandered slowly. Observantly. Expectantly. These woods were otherwise ignored and unappreciated. I delighted in small discoveries like colorful mushrooms, wildflowers, odd growths and burls on trees, and in spying a nearby industrial junkyard from afar, in secret. Even though I never wore a watch, my internal clock always seemed to bring me back to my desk on time. Refreshed. Of course beautiful trails along ravines, rivers, and overlooks are more enjoyable, but sometimes you need to work with what you’ve got rather than wish for something better.
  1. Establish secret places where you may retreat for refuge and sanctuary. For me these places have tended to be one-room shacks in the wilderness. I have ventured back to these secret places for years, often bringing a friend, and have thrived in the stillness of these environments. I even constructed the writer’s shack that houses me at this very moment so I can experience this at will. On this cool, rainy day, the fire in the woodstove is most comforting and satisfying. Other secret places can be a secret nook along your favorite lake. Perhaps it’s a private reading area in your home. Contextualize this for yourself. For some men 18 inches of private space under a jacked up car is all they need. Figure it out and return often.
  1. Climb a tree. If you have kids this one will be easy, and no one will look at you funny. If you climb by yourself, without regard for what others think, you’ll get bonus points! John Muir, the great naturalist, was fond of climbing trees during wild thunderstorms so he could gain better perspective and really feel the wind and rain. Go ahead and make this metaphorical if you wish. Surely there’s some way for you to “climb a tree” in your life that provides an alternate perspective.
  1. Have an open mind. Don’t be so closed off to new ideas. We all need to be continually reminded of this.
  1. Observe. Every single day there are changes taking place all around you. See them. Don’t just hurry past.
  1. Opt out of the throwaway society, which leads to spiritual impoverishment and a complete lack of gratitude and awareness. Think on this. It’s true. As a child of a hoarder I experienced it daily, but I see it in others who live more “normal” lives too. How can you be grateful for anything if your general posture is to buy anything your heart desires, and toss it out with nary a thought later?
  1. Compost! Instead of disposing of fruit and veggie scraps or lawn debris, let it rot. The slow process is fascinating. It’s good for the environment, and even better for your soul. When we throw organic matter away we are being wasteful. Observe these materials for their entire life cycle, and joyfully make use of the proceeds.

chickens and compost

  1. Get to know your neighbors and local businesses. Invest in these relationships, and come to know your “place” really well.
  1. Learn to appreciate beauty in every area of life. You’ll see it in people, the natural world, animals, insects, artwork, and nearly anything. Try not to overlook what is lovely, for this can harden one’s heart and make it increasingly difficult to admire beautiful things that are all around us.
  1. Spend more quality time with your family.
  1. Wash dishes by hand, slowly, intentionally, and with care. Last summer, days after I lost my job, our dishwasher broke. My wife curled up into a ball and cried. I became the dishwasher. By and large the experience has been extremely positive. I became much more involved in the goings on in the kitchen, and it provides opportunity to connect with the family whilst tidying up together. It’s also yet another opportunity to slow down and avoid multitasking. This provides space for your brain to take a deep breath apart from all the stimuli it must process all day, which promotes creativity.

Wow. This list got long. You could easily lengthen it to a hundred items. Most of this is basic and intuitive. Adapt these to your unique lifestyle or come up with your own. You might even start out with just one. These ideas are just rough and off-the-cuff. It’s not rocket science. All of us intuitively realize these things. It’s just a matter of building some of them into daily life.

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