Just a Second

Photo: Newness 1

What do you see? It’s not a trick question, only an invitation to look for the small and temporary delights right at hand. Newness and beauty are present all around us.

For all that we think of lives as finite and fleeting and time, constantly racing by, I don’t think we take it so seriously when we tell someone who’s waiting for us, “just a second.” After all, so much can happen in a second or less, yes, evening in a millisecond, as we can now measure it. Races are won and lost by the tiniest increments of time. On one side of the little mark signifying a clock’s second-long increments is the Now, and before the very thought of it is completed, Now already resides on the other side of the mark.

Photo: Newness 2

Dead stems of the past give birth to lively leaflets for the season to come…

No matter how protracted the process leading up to it, one nanosecond is the last one I will spend alive, and the next one will be the first one in which I’m dead. The thought has no moral value one way or another, and not much emotional value either, since as soon as it is likely to seem fully important to me in the most urgent of terms, it’ll be all done.

The only real value for me, in practical terms, is if I invest enough thought in this very moment of being still alive to commit to being wide awake as well: deeply present, and grateful for all of the good that is in my life at every piece of time I’m granted along the way. Whether it’s thanks to honoring spiritual values in the practice of mindfulness or it’s because I’m keenly aware of those lives that, however brightly they’ve burned, were far too short, it matters little unless I take advantage of the perspective these afford me and live my own life more richly because of it. Regardless of how I choose to spend this magnificent currency of breath and sentience and health and hope, even if it’s on sitting on a park bench and holding hands with my beloved (one of the highest and best things I know how to do, to be sure), making a conscious and committed choice is well worth the effort, and following through, all the better.

Just now, the value of mindful living in the present is particularly lovely because we are on the cusp of spring here in north Texas. And if you’ve read even a few of my locale-related posts, you can appreciate just how fleeting and tenuous is the very idea of springtime and how ephemeral its joys. I would be a fool to be so encumbered by longing for things past or worrying about things yet to come that I don’t pause, however briefly, to savor the wonder of what these treasured nano-joys can bring to my existence.

Photo: Newness 3

Out of death, life. The cheery pumpkins and gourds brightening the fading allure of the autumn garden have in turn rotted, dried, and decayed—but from their secretive hearts, the burst of seed and greenery returns to begin it all again…

Foodie Tuesday: Start with Simplicity

The end of the year is a good and fine and happy thing. I would never claim to be so tough and unsentimental as to reach the end of anything without a glance backward, without a touch of wistfulness about all of the great things that have been. I’m much too thankful for my wonderfully blessed life to leave it all behind without a blink. But the obvious upside of the end of a good thing is that it is, potentially, the beginning of any terrific other thing I can imagine and am willing to work toward experiencing, knowing, or achieving.Photo: Sparkler

I’ll toast that. Something sparkly is always appropriate for inviting the most dazzling future imaginable to come and be mine. So whether it’s mineral water with a little fizz, elderflower or fruit pressé, or some refined adult bubbly beverage, I’ll drink to a magnificent future. Some delicious food is appropriate with that, not to mention a good way to slow down the drinking of the sparkling drinks in a good and healthy way. My preference for occasions like this is food that is easily prepared ahead of time, varied in flavors and textures and temperatures and all of those lovely kinds of qualities, and easy to eat without a lot of fiddling around with cutlery. Yep, a cocktail party. Kids love hors d’oeuvres or appetizers just as much as their elders do, and most of us get a special kick out of miniature stuff, too, so finger food with spritzy drinks wins!

Photo: Smultron

Well, maybe not *that* miniature. A girl could starve to death.

But a new year also begs me for a new attitude in general. One of my particular wishes for the year ahead is that, despite the many worthwhile and appealing events that guarantee a busy twelvemonth, I will live as mindfully as I can. I want to savor all the food and drink of which I partake, just as I should relish all of the events of the day to the fullest extent I can. Do less, and do it more slowly, just because I can get more out of what I do choose, from the food and drink I enjoy to the events of the day in which I enjoy them. What a thought.

For my New Year’s Eve and Day celebrations to gleam the most brightly and beautifully, perhaps a contrasting context of unhurried, uncomplicated quiet and calm will be the best setting for the jewels of newness and anticipation. I resolve to unplug sooner, more often, and for longer periods throughout the year ahead. Our recent power outage adventures were a marvelous reminder of what sweet benefits come from that one easy commitment. A single evening with the lights off, the oven, microwave and TV out of commission, the batteries of our computers run down to empty, and the bridge into town closed by the same storm that knocked out the power—that night was an unexpectedly welcome and timely reminder of what really gives me joy. Even a dinner of cold cereal was a remarkably delicious last-minute substitute for the intended hot food, when I ate it in the company of my beloved, the two of us leaning in over our bowls by amber candlelight and laughing like little kids at the campfire-casual quality of our romantic evening.Photo: Candlelight Dinner

Later, we sat on the couch, with our handful of candles occasionally flickering brightly enough to reach as far as the rain-blurred windows, and enjoyed sipping an exceptional red wine while doing nothing more plugged in than attuning ourselves to an actual, slow, lengthy, lingering, lovely—hey! Watch those minds of yours, y’all!—conversation. Heaven. An uninterrupted evening of candlelit dinner and conversation over a superb glass of wine. I’ll enjoy this New Year’s Eve with my medium-rare roast beef and baked potatoes, the dessert of freshly baked apple and brown sugar crostata (pictures to follow!), and the happy midnight toast of sparkling goodness, yes, absolutely. I look forward to many more such delights in the year yet to come. But I’ll take better advantage, too, of the day with a plate of fried eggs, a rasher of bacon, and a glass of milk, or the evening when I thought I was going to have to eat on the run and a canceled event let me stay home instead and fix up a nice, slow-simmering ragout of vegetables and mushrooms to eat with chewy, crusty peasant bread, perhaps complemented by another glass of that marvelous red wine.

Photo: Dawn's Early Light

A new day is dawning…

Slow and steady doesn’t just win the race; it is the race. Happy New Year to us all!

Nothing Wrong with Stating the Obvious

That which is ubiquitous in my life, the thing that I walk by every single day or experience every time I am in a particular, familiar setting, can become invisible to me. For good or ill, I can forget to notice anymore those things that are so close they could bite me on the nose before I paid proper attention to them. They might be so near I could change them for the better with little effort or they could, if I’m too foolish to do that, turn on me and make my life or someone else’s immeasurably worse for having been left unchanged; good things, conversely, can be so near that I could be uplifted by the mere thought of them if I only gave them a thought in passing.

I must pay better attention. My senses should be enough to remind me of all the woe and wealth that surround me at every turn, and my will should follow my convictions enough to make me respond with a hand of aid, a voice of change, or a heart full of admiration and gratitude. The vast majority of the world hasn’t nearly the kind of wealth and privilege that surrounds me in my life—materially, yes, but also in health, safety, opportunity, hope and happiness—and while there is no reason to reject what I have, it should motivate me to take a closer look around me. I ought to take constant inventory and be willing to counter the wrongs and repair those things that I can, or at the least, call upon those who are able to make positive change. And I should be glad at every sign that states the obvious good in my life. Thankfulness is a small enough part of true mindfulness, but looms large in the world of well-being.Photo: Stating the Obvious

You can Lead Me to Water…

…but I can’t guarantee I’ll be smart or committed enough to take advantage of it. I may represent the truly average human in that, though it’s hardly cause for admiration or celebration. We’re just good at being too blind, stubborn, ignorant, lazy and foolish to make proper use of whatever riches are set in our way. It’s silly enough that I can sit at the brink of a well pouring out pure, cold, sweet water and die of thirst, but that I would fail to fill a cup for any of the other thirsty people waiting for my smallest effort becomes a much more significant omission. I should be better. I could be better.graphite drawingAnd I want to be better. The first step, surely, has got to be simply paying attention. Am I so accustomed to privilege that I have acquired wealth-blindness, forgetting how rich I am, or worse yet, have succumbed to that ugly disease, Entitlement? I must teach myself to renew my awe and wonder at what is good and great in my life. Then I must remember to make wise, generous, jubilant and extravagant use of it all. A whole new year lies ahead, a whole new series of opportunities for improvement. See you at the brink.