A piece of garbage changed my life.
Okay, maybe its effect wasn’t quite that profound, but it did trigger a change in how I look at—and really see—what’s right in front of me.
I was 15 and walking to school along my usual route, head down, not really paying attention to my surroundings. It was raining and I was grumpy, preoccupied with typical teenage thoughts: Does he like me? Did I study hard enough for the test? Can I really pull off wearing horizontal stripes?
Then I noticed a gum wrapper on the ground. It was bright pink and glossy from the rain. It had crumpled in such a way that it looked like a small, delicate piece of origami. The pink of the wrapper made the grass it was lying on look deliciously green. I was struck by how utterly beautiful it was.
While I’d been playing a movie in my head—with me in the starring role—I had been completely missing moments of beauty, everywhere and in the most unexpected places.
Other thoughts fell away, including my grumpiness and irritation at the rain. Some space and delight arose in their place. I realized that my thoughts get in the way of seeing what’s around me. While I’d been playing a movie in my head—with me in the starring role—I had been completely missing moments of beauty, everywhere and in the most unexpected places.
The Universe in a Grain of Sand
I started taking the time to stop and actually look at my surroundings. I noticed dust bunnies under my bed. I saw for the first time that grass is translucent, how the golden light of the sun shines through each blade. A snowflake landed on my coat, and I saw that snowflakes aren’t just clumps but spiky and symmetrical, like the cutouts we made in grade school.
I started practicing meditation shortly after the gum-wrapper incident. To my delight, I discovered that mindfulness is a wonderful support in my quest to slow my thoughts down enough to really see the world. Yes, I do still get distracted and irritated at times. But I also have mindfulness practices I can bring out whenever I notice myself becoming too speedy to appreciate the palette of whites, browns, and grays of winter, or the way a shadow moves across a wall, or to notice when my husband needs a hug or a colleague a helping hand.
Mindfulness tools have helped me become more generous and appreciative of the beauty around us. Letting yourself be receptive to these moments of beauty has a way of opening up the way you experience the world.