Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Moving Past Despair by Embracing Everyday Miracles

     by Dr. Linda Miles 


“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.” 
–Seneca


Moving Past Despair by Embracing Everyday Miracles


Do you spend too much of your life trapped in the past or the future? 


Are you able to hold the present moment before it slips through your fingers? 


Do you experience gratitude for everyday indications that you are alive and well? 




The Healing Awe of Nature


In her touching novel The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey explores universal themes of love, loss, faith, and gratitude. She tells the poignant story of a middle-aged couple, Jack and Mabel, torn by their grief after losing a baby and despairing that they’ll never have a family. In a desperate desire for a fresh start, Jack and Mabel move to Alaska. The harsh yet exquisite beauty of the raw Alaskan wilderness inspires them to cherish moments as they rediscover the magnificence and everyday miracles of life.

In one of the book’s most quiet yet memorable scenes, Mabel pauses to appreciate a moment as she expresses her gratitude for life’s “miracles.” She likens “the present” to a snowflake, given its intangibility, temporary nature, and exceptional beauty.

“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.”

The tale follows the couple’s growth and re-connection as they rediscover the beauty of the world surrounding them, illuminating a powerful and stirring message of the power of mindfulness and faith. In the beginning of the story, Mabel is preoccupied by the past and by the loss of her child; her healing begins once she becomes aware of the intoxicating landscape that surrounds her—and of the appearance of a lovely fairy-like child who appears from the woods, apparently sculpted out of snow, and who reappears and disappears like memories do.

How Mabel Did It


Mabel fights and ultimately overcomes her grief by practicing mindfulness, albeit inadvertently, and by training her brain to see, hear, and sense everyday miracles. Her path towards healing and fulfillment parallels the points of our NOW acronym.

  • Notice. As Mabel began to notice the beauty of her surroundings in the present moment, she actively opened her mind to perceive the miracles of nature and life.

  • Opportunities. Mabel seized an opportunity to strengthen her character and heal her heart by opening her mind to the possibilities of the present moment, choosing consciously not to dwell on the past or to be tormented by the uncertainty of the future.
     
  • Within. In doing so, Mabel was able to go within herself to see how her past tragedy prevented life in the present. 


“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.”
                                                                           –Charles Dickens


The Path to Mindfulness


Your brain is what constructs your reality, based on the input from your senses. Sound waves and light waves, for instance, are converted into inner images and processed as experiences. If you are preoccupied by inner images from the past or of the future, you miss the sentient present. Although you think that your brain is providing you with a vision of an objective reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Neuroscientists have shown that we mold and decipher what we see according to our personal preconceived notions.

The good news? The brain constantly rewires itself—so you have the power to reframe and reshape your reality.

Through the practice of mindfulness, we can train our brains to consciously filter in everyday miracles through our senses—such as the sight of blooming flowers, the fragrance of the ocean, or the caress of the wind. The deliberate focus on the present moment through your senses signals to your brain that it can feel safe and grounded—and this in turn helps it secrete “happiness chemicals” like dopamine and endorphins.

Your Turn


One of the easiest and most effective ways to reconnect with life is simply to take a stroll through nature. But not just any sort of stroll. Not a preoccupied, walking-but-not-really-seeing-ahead-of-me stroll. A mindful stroll. A conscious, 100%-in-the-moment stroll.

Spend some time each day enjoying a mindful walk. Let your attention drop into your senses and absorb the abundance of sensations bombarding you. As you walk, notice what you see, hear, feel, and even taste. Instead of focusing on your racing or interrupting thoughts, deliberately choose to notice your present surroundings. Gently return to the details of the now.

Raindrops... sunlight... flowers... leaves... snowflakes... the feel of the ground beneath your feet... the sensation of your arms swinging as your walk... the feeling of the fresh air against your face.

These are the little things in life, which are truly the magnificent and big things. You will find that the more grateful you are, the more you will have to be grateful for. Open up your mind to the life around you. Take time to inwardly express gratitude for the miracles of nature. By practicing this faithfully, you will master the art of attuning your senses to pay attention to the present.


“We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?”
                                                                           –The Snow Child





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