AT SOME POINT during the pandemic, my three-year-old daughter adopted a morning ritual of greeting the tree outside her window. We live on the third floor, so we’re at eye level with its ever-changing crown. She would squeal with delight at the first sight of buds in spring and shout, “Look mama, the leaves are dancing!” whenever it was windy. I’ve come to cherish this fleeting exchange as a welcome reminder that growth is incremental and cumulative no matter how stagnant we may feel. This simple act of noticing helps set the tone for the type of intention I aspire to maintain throughout my day.
Despite a 20-year mindfulness practice, it’s no wonder that it took a three-year-old to successfully anchor me in the elusive present moment. Her superpower is simple: she has yet to learn to worry about all that lies ahead. She is still fully absorbed in the here and now.
In “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation,” the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
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But recognizing the miraculous in the otherwise mundane is especially challenging in our current landscape. Although I’m far from having it all figured out, my saving grace has been the deep knowing that simple can be sacred. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” I love this definition because anything, even a tree outside your window, can become a gateway to presence.
Like prepping ingredients before cooking a meal, mindfulness is made easier when we set up the conditions to successfully practice. And since we’re still spending more time than ever at home, what better place to start. Here’s how to begin:
Place an object of meaning next to your alarm so that the first thing you see when you open your eyes each morning and the last thing you see when you go to bed at night signals a sense of safety. It can be a photo of a loved one, a religious statue, or a stone from your favorite beach — so long as it’ll hold your attention long enough to take a few deep breaths.
“Make Your Bed and Change Your Life” was the title of Admiral William H. McRaven’s 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, where he asserted that this simple act is the catalyst for a pattern of good behavior. What if making your bed was a ceremonious act of undoing and redoing? As we mindfully transform wrinkled disarray into a neat, smoothed-out structure, we embody a simple truth — how you do one thing is how you do everything. Consider it a gift from your present self to your future self.
How do you intend to show up for your colleagues, for your personal projects, and for yourself? Write it down on a Post-it (digital or physical) and stick it somewhere you’ll see it daily. Whenever it catches your gaze, recite your mantra silently.
As those of us in the Northern Hemisphere ready ourselves for winter, our time in nature decreases. And yet nature is the ultimate symbol for the cyclical flow of all living things, as well as a tangible reminder that this too shall pass. From fresh flowers to seasonal fruits and vegetables, display your bountiful harvest somewhere you’ll see and smell it often.
The difference between a mundane chore and a meaningful gesture lies in the perspective of the doer. Smell is a chemical sense that has a direct pathway to our limbic brain — the part of the brain that governs our moods, emotions, and motivation — so it’s one of the most effective tools for transforming our mindset. See if you can pair one of your favorite scents with one of your least favorite tasks, perhaps lighting a scented candle whenever you have to take a certain Zoom meeting or wash the dishes.
In “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” Marie Kondo writes, “Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.” Although out of sight doesn’t always mean out of mind, we’ll be far more successful in practicing non-judgmental awareness without our to-do lists strewn across the floor.
The good news is that mindfulness begets mindfulness and the more we practice, the easier it becomes. Even a few moments of presence and peaceful observation can do wonders for mitigating stress, anxiety, reactivity, insomnia, and more. Over time you may even notice a shift in your productivity, relationships, and overall satisfaction with daily life. Start small and remember that the sacred can be simple — like taking note of the changing leaves outside your window.
Jenn Tardif Writer
Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.
Jessa Carter Photographer
Jessa Carter (she/her) is a multimodal omnidisciplinary artist compelled toward the collapsing of categories, systems thinking, and collective healing. Carter’s work/play traverses ecosystem and egosystem to trace the leading lines of value, ownership, authorship, identity, time, performativity, language, and labor.