Inspired by Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, in which she transforms her depression and anxiety into fullness and joy by devoting herself to a practice of noticing and writing down every moment of wonder, I decided to try it myself.
What would I notice inside if, all day long, I jotted down the small moments that brought a smile to my soul?
My first morning went like this:
- A warm bed on a cold autumn morning
- A striped kitten staring at me when I wake up
- A tiny brown foot pressed against a furry paw
- A 4-year old leg slung across my belly
And there, just like when I write a poem, I noticed a glimmering of joy. Not a shout-off-the-rooftops type of joy, but the subtle kind that shimmers up when you take time to notice and write down your life.
After several weeks of praising, of carrying around a little notebook and writing down the poet-moments, I realized that a path of praise trains us to become artists of life. Just like the photographer captures beauty in an image, so we can capture the miracle of being alive by seeking out and orienting our attention toward wonder.
Each moment carries something praiseworthy if only we can clear our eyes of the silt of routine and see the world with the freshness of a child. My son picks up a rock on our driveway and is entranced with the details of design and color that swirl through the stone. There are thousands of twin stones on our driveway, but to my son that singular stone captures his attention and he gives it due praise. We can do the same.
We can become poets of experience. We can choose to seek out moments of glory as a path to open our hearts, which will naturally infuse us with joy. A poet observes inner and outer life closely and transposes the observations into words. Every moment could find its way into a poem, even just five words. It's a question of intention, a commitment to witnessing life through a lens of wonder, which also means a lens of love. And it's not only the noticing but the act of writing it down that opens us to a felt experience of gratitude:
“Moving the ink across the page opens up the eyes." - Ann Voskamp
“There are eyes in pens and pencils.” - John Piper
Wonder is transposed into joy when it's witnessed. And it's amplified tenfold when it's documented.
My list has continued throughout the month. I jot down wonder in a notebook or on my iPhone, a random scrap of paper, anywhere:
42. Crystalline cloudless blue sky
43. My son saving caterpillars from the middle of the road
Noticing wonder and offering praise isn't just about focusing on what we normally think of as "good" and "beautiful." Rather, it's recognizing that there is good and beauty in everything, from a sleepless night to a poor report at work. This is a difficult concept to wrap our minds around as we're deeply conditioned to seek only the positive and comfortable aspects of life.
But finding wonder in each moment or experience is another way of saying yes to life: yes to beauty, yes to scarlet and gold leaves of autumn, yes to the light in your child's face, yes to the cat curled on your lap and yes to illness, yes to natural disasters, yes to conflict, yes to pain. It's a way of shifting out of habitual resistance and developing a practice that allows us to step into the flow of the river of our lives.
57. Argument with my husband (it does, eventually, lead to more closeness)
58. Irritation with my kids (what can I learn?)
If you're like many of my clients, a feeling of emptiness or numbness may greet you each morning. The conditioned response is to resist the emptiness through self-judgement or distraction. You reach for your computer. You check your email. You scroll through Facebook. You eat more than you need at breakfast. There are thousands of ways to distract and avoid.
But what would happen if you moved toward the emptiness with a sense of curiosity and compassion? What would happen if you became so curious about it that you were able to describe it in detail? What would happen if you drew it or danced it or wrote a poem about it? The emptiness would become the fullness. Something inside would break open and you would notice a crack in the protective shield of numbness.
You might touch pain. And as an artist of life, you would move toward that as well. There is nothing—literally no-thing—that we need to push away. It's all part of the privilege of being alive. It's the light and the shadow that only ask one thing: to be seen. It's all we really want, and it's when we can find the courage to open to the darkness and pain that we discover the pathways to joy.
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