This cheeky little robin ate Hobnob crumbs right out of my son’s hand. I was astonished. My son was not. He merely stood still, his hand extended, waiting patiently. And when the bird swooped in, nabbed a crumb, and swooped off again, we were both delighted.
I’ve just added the photo to my new Pinterest board, which is called “Mindfulness: A Year of Moments.” I was inspired to do this by the piece “Get Creative with Pinterest,” by Diane Shipley, which appeared in the spring 2016t issue of Mslexia. I created the board for myself, really, as a reminder to myself to slow down and pay attention. It’s so easy to rush, isn’t it? The to-do list never gets any shorter, and the words “there-aren’t-enough-hours-in-the-day” are said, with complete accuracy, at the school gates over and over. It took me five years of parenthood to accept that this phenomenon wasn’t going to go away. To be fair, I did have the same feeling of trying to do too much before having kids, but I always dealt with it by making extremely detailed to-do lists that I tackled with efficiency. It was an effective strategy, but it no longer worked: efficiency is pretty well anti-childhood. Which is grand—but I clearly needed a new strategy.
All the rushing about, pounding up and down our stairs in search of this or that, hurrying out the door, always in a panic. I was making me make mistakes, too. I would forget important things (dates, school supplies, the names of other parents), and spend large parts of the day feeling cross and annoyed with everyone around me. This is no way to live, I thought, and I could see clearly that there were only two ways forward. I could either carry on, waiting for my kids to grow up on the assumption (possibly incorrect) that this would magically make everything better, or I could slow down. This second possibility was infinitely more appealing, not least because it didn’t involve treating life as it is right now as an inconvenient detour.
Slowing down, for me, involves two things. When that sense of panicked we’re-not-going-to-get-there-on-time-and-where-are-your-shoes-anyway? feeling kicks in (you know the one I mean!), I stop what I’m doing and breathe. Deep, slow breaths. Sometimes it takes several breaths, but the feeling of panic is always replaced by a sense of calm. A friend of mine, a psychologist who specialises in anxiety disorders, once told me that the body can’t panic if you’re breathing slowly and deeply. It forestalls our physical response to fear—a kind of trick, if you will, that you can play on your body to persuade it to relax. Once calm, I concentrate on what I’m doing, just then, rather than leaping ahead to what I’ll need to be doing in ten minutes.
This week, I’ve decided to add a new dimension to my slow-down strategy: paying attention. Whenever I see something remarkable—and most of what’s around us is pretty remarkable–I take a photo. At the end of the day, I upload them to Pinterest, which displays them as a kind of visual diary of different moments throughout my days. Just five days into this new practice, I’m already tuning in to my surroundings, to conversations, to small yet wonderful things, and to what I’ve accomplished (like making a salad—I mean, it is accomplishment, to make something delicious to eat!).
As for the robin, well, he gave my son and me a moment of pure joy, and my son knew, because he’s anti-efficiency, that standing still was the way to bring this into being. Thank you, both of you!