Last year I created a set of guidelines for myself. They were:
1) Act out of love, not fear.
2) Ask for what I really want.
3) Do the small (big) things.
4) Choose to be generous.
5) Practice commitment.
6) Cultivate sensual experiences.
7) Allow expression.
I may write more about all of these at some point, but recently I’ve been thinking more about #3 from another perspective.
“Do the small (big) things” grew out of my realization that sometimes the hardest things for me to do were things like scheduling a dentist appointment, depositing a check, or even eating lunch. These are difficult things for me to do because they feel so pointless. I’d rather be planning my next creative project, applying for a travel grant, or having a good conversation with a friend – you know, doing something meaningful.
But small things can be huge things – especially when they add up. And it’s not just about doing the small things – it’s about noticing the small things.
Sometimes I can get so tangled in a jungle of thoughts, ideas, and feelings that I can’t see the sky. I can’t see my way forward for all the dangling brush and branches. I get a little spooked by sounds that I can’t quite identify. I’m not sure which footpath to follow. Sometimes there doesn’t appear to be a path at all.
I have a hunch that focusing on the small things might help me in this area, too.
I know that at heart I’m not really a straight-rowed garden type of woman, even though I sometimes try to be (and if we’re talking literal rather than metaphorical gardens, it’s a different story). Straight-rowed gardens can be the means to survival. And there is something very soothing about neatly ordered rows, where you know you can find carrots in one and tomatoes in another. I can do it, but really, that’s not how my brain works. My brain is full of vines and trees all leaning on one another, dependent on each other to make any sense at all. Detangling them can feel dangerous.
On the other hand, I don’t want those vines and trees to trap me into non-action.
And I want to tell better stories. I want you, my readers, to understand what I’m trying to say. In order to do that, I need to either make rows out of my thoughts, or I need to somehow demystify the jungle.
I just returned from a 2 1/2 week trip to Uganda and Turkey, and I wanted to share the story of my journey when I returned. So I took photos. Lots and lots of photos. And the wonderful thing about taking photos is that it slows you down. You have to notice what is around you, and make a conscious (even if spontaneous) choice about where to focus. As I took each shot, I had to be present. I had to notice what I was drawn to. I had to slow myself down – to see the world one shot at a time, one frame at a time, one moment (one small thing) at a time.
Upon my return to the U.S. I’ve caught myself being less present – and more tempted towards that overwhelmed-in-the-jungle feeling. But there are small things everywhere. Travel reminds us of that fact, but it’s true at home, too.
A light pattern.
The palm of a hand.
The taste of olive oil and fresh cracked pepper on ciabatta.
The snow flurries outside a window.
The sound of a friend’s voice on skype or the phone.
Branches silhouetted against telephone wires.
The tick of a clock.
A hot shower, the smell of my shampoo.
A moment of kindness in a cynical world.
At the end of this post is a video that is full of small things – one small thing after another. Together, they show a beautiful city, they show a journey, a perspective. They make me want to visit this place. Every time I watch the video, my eyes glaze over at a certain point and I find myself almost hypnotized. The images flash by and I am transported.
And every time I watch it, I realize that each shot was a moment. Each shot took time. Someone noticed something – they saw something that drew them in, and so they framed it. Only later were those moments strung together to tell a story.
This is how I want my life to be. I want to tell better stories, yes. But stories are made up of moments – moments that I can choose to frame before I even know what the story will be, just by noticing them. Moments that will, in fact, define what the story will be.
I can let those moments surprise me, and guide me. I can follow the moments through the jungle, rather than trying to immediately put them in rows.
I see, I hear, I notice. I frame. I say: Hey, that’s pretty cool. I’m going to hold onto that. Do one small thing, notice one small thing. Add it to my album of moments. Find my way through the jungle.
Really, this is what all art does. And it’s what travel makes many of us do. And it’s at the root of many spiritual practices. What I’m saying isn’t new. You might say it’s a small thing, but one that bears repeating because, at it’s heart, it’s huge.
This blog is about finding those moments, framing them, and then sharing them with you. Telling – or maybe discovering – a story, one small thing at a time.