I have been spending a lot of time out on my bike, photographing nature while the Covid-19 drama plays out on the global stage, and in a moment of clarity this week, I understood the value of the Little Things in living a happy life.
Like many people, I have spent a fair bit of my life waiting for the big things to happen. The exciting news, the next new thing, the anticipation of a great event, the social outing. Something to look forward to… and then it is over…it never seems to last long before it is simply another memory – it no longer exists except in my mind. And then… back to everyday life.
Now I’m not by nature, great at attention to detail. I think I’m probably too impatient. It was a family joke when I was a teenager. I was competent at sewing, in fact I made many of my own clothes for a while, but I wasn’t fond of hand-sewing – too slow for me, so if a hem came down, I was inclined to simply apply sellotape to hold it up. It worked ok until I washed the clothing and then ironed it. Let’s just say sellotape and a hot iron aren’t a great mix. I wanted the quick fix. The instant result.
Looking back, I can see that for a period of years, I also craved drama. Social drama. I felt alive and energised when something was going down. Something to focus on, to distract me. I married into an Italian family – plenty of drama there. I lived in my head a lot. Lots of anxiety, fear of not being perfect: I didn’t truly inhabit my body. I was very disconnected.
I saw beauty everywhere, but often it was a fleeting recognition – an acknowledgement and appreciation that lasted for an instant before I moved on. Going somewhere else. Lost in my mind. Distracted.
Years of meditation and deep spiritual work have taught me to slow down. To be more present. To be immersed in the moment. About ten years ago, I was working with clients with Autism, and I read a book called “Autism and Sensing – The Unlost Instinct” by Donna Williams. It is a stunning and eloquent account of her personal experience of living with autism. This is an excerpt from the book where she describes a chandelier:
“A chandelier would become a collective of interacting, seemingly playful sparks of colour, the image of which would trigger the associated sense of the chink-chink sound that would be made if the smooth hard (glass) pieces from which the colours emanated were touched together”.
“Recently, having moved out of this sensory I looked up at a huge over-head chandelier and remembered the drug-like addictive effect such an experience once had on me. When asked about it, I recalled experiences like it as ‘merging with God’ because I would resonate with the sensory nature of the object with such an absolute purity and loss of self that it was like an overwhelming passion into which you merge and become part of the beauty itself. It was the ultimate in belonging and ‘company’. The feeling was completely compelling and addictive and by comparison, the call of the world of interpretation seemed pale, weak, insignificant, foreign and of little reward”.
This particular post isn’t the time to comment on the neuro-typical persons perception of people with autism, and our attempts to make them “normal”. My immediate reaction to reading Donna’s description of her experience was a longing to know that experience for myself. It speaks to me of One-ness – the experience longed for by spiritual seekers the world over. Complete immersion in the moment. Total one-pointedness. Total attention. Timelessness. Aliveness.
Our senses are constantly assaulted with noise and visuals – more so than ever before in the history of mankind. Fortunately, our brain is very clever; to cope with the constant barrage, it creates filters and interpretations and labels to avoid over-whelm. On a normal day, we see the big picture and little of the detail until we direct our attention specifically and intentionally on one thing – this is when we experience the detail, and often a sense of timelessness. This attention and intention is where the power of creation lies. It is a portal to Now. It is a transcendence of self.
Watching and photographing birds, and taking macro shots of plant and insects has brought home to me an ancient truth – that it is the little things that make up the majority of the life we live, and if we can find pleasure in them, our capacity to live a joyful and happy life increases.
Photographing birds requires stillness and patience. I love the zoom on my camera, and how, when seen up close, even the seemingly ordinary and boring Pacific Black Duck, is breath-takingly beautiful. To zoom in on a flower and see its exquisite detail burst into life on the screen of my camera fills me with awe. I see colours and contrasts and perfection and beauty I have not ever noticed before. A single bush can give me an hour of wonder and delight as I photograph; the juxtaposition of light and dark, the fresh bud emerging, the flower in full bloom and an old flower dying. Moss on the branch, a new shoot, bees gathering nectar from the flowers, a wax-eye paying a fleeting visit, ants on the trunk. The warm sun on my skin, the happy hum of bees, the chatter of the birds, a gentle breeze teasing the leaves, the smell of damp earth.
I am beginning to take a baby step into Donna’s world. To immerse myself fully into the joy and wonder of the moment. To be fully embodied in sensory delight. A part of my surroundings, not just passing through with headphones on, oblivious. Life is a journey. Life is awe-inspiring, Life is full of incredible detail and beauty. Life is to be enjoyed; life is to be sensed, and lived and felt and smelt and tasted. We inhabit a body on purpose – to experience physical life in all its diversity. This is A path to joy and ultimately to God. There are many paths. This is just one.
We have eyes to see, ears to hear, hands to hold and touch – lets not waste these gifts on things that don’t inspire or uplift us.
I know I often bang on about western culture, but I think it is indisputable that somewhere, we have taken a step in the wrong direction. Instead of happiness, love and peace being what we are all striving for, (even though this is what we all long for), we’ve been brainwashed into jumping on the money, work and “accumulate more things” train which is hurtling full pelt towards destruction of the earth and our mental and physical health. The signs are evident – depression, suicide, mental illness, chronic diseases, anxiety and stress affecting more and more people.
The only way we can turn things around, is for more people to wake up. More people to wipe the sleep from their eyes and realise that underneath the hustle and bustle of frantic fast-paced driven living – we all just want to feel loved, happy and connected. And the way to that isn’t through money and possessions. (Athough there is nothing wrong with these as secondary pursuits). Clearly, the direction our culture is taking as a whole isn’t achieving that for us. Find your own way to connect with the joy, peace and love that lies behind and within the physical world – and within each of us. Its there… we have just drowned it out with noise, and covered it with busy-ness. (Busi-ness?) Each person who wakes up and makes changes with peace and joy as the objective, contributes to the overall uplifting of world-consciousness. There is no greater service to the world that is available to every person to give – be happy, know peace.
Live, love, enjoy now.