Storehouse of the Mind (written 2016)
How many blessings pass us by each day unnoticed? That's a question that mindfulness practice raises. But how many do we note and too soon forget? This second question arises for me today because of my habit of keeping a (nearly) daily gratitude journal. I've been doing this since 2000, marking the new millennium with a new habit, and I've now almost filled my 4th small, thick volume.
I don't often go back to re-read, but it was doing a little of this that got me thinking about memory. Another of those impermanent things all life is made of. My journals entries are simple lists, ranging from 3 or 4 to a dozen things, depending on the day. Sometimes each is a few words, sometimes a paragraph. And there are lots of repetitions. For the blessings of a life are often in those things we value and note for periods of time. But these things fold into time and are replaced by others and it takes this physical record to provide the deep probe that unearths those of long ago.
There are the foundational blessings of an affluent and privileged life: A home, reliable water access, electricity, vehicles, plenty of food in vast variety. Those of being a resident of planet earth: blue skies, sunshine, rain, green trees, birdsong, the surprise of a deer on our lawn or a moose in the driveway. Those that come from being encircled by loving family and good friends: phone calls, shared meals, letters and gifts, being cared for when illness visits, help provided when it's needed or asked for, laughter.
But what struck me in looking through these journals were the single, unique moments: A comic strip that touched home and let me laugh at myself and let go a little of something taken too seriously. A movie that brought me to tears or laughter and opened my heart to the wide variety of lives lived. A horse nuzzling my hand or breathing a grassy sigh against my neck. A passage in a novel that had me closing the book to reflect on some new insight. Someone taking time to help with dropped mail. A song on the radio that moved me to tears. My mother's handwriting on a recipe card cracking open my heart with longing shot through with appreciation for her love. One of my small sons bringing me lukewarm instant coffee he'd made and hugging himself with the pleasure of the accomplishment. Earth on my hands, bees buzzing and hot sun on my neck as I gardened. Teaching my sons silly songs as we worked together cleaning ditches in the spring. Missing pets found.
At the time that I wrote these entries and the hundreds more that fill these little journals, these moments were front and center in my mind and heart. The abundance that good days bring or the fleeting moments that softened days of pain or fear, loss or hurt. And now, without these written words, how many of them would come back to mind?
In mindfulness training we learn to be present but to hold the moment lightly, not clinging and wishing for this to last. But most important we are taught to notice the moments as they fly. It is important too, I think, as some teachers acknowledge, to linger deliberately in that noticing, when the flavor is pleasant and sweet. Trauma and pain often lock themselves into our memories. I don't need words on a page to remind me of time spent at the side of each of my parents in their final days and final moments. I don't need to read accountings of the deep hurt of relationships that faltered, of decisions that led to loss or pain. But the moments in each day that are sweet are many and coming day on day they tumble into the storehouse of the mind in the shining disarray of a dragon's treasure trove. How can one little jewel make itself known in the tumble of sparkle and gold?
And so, I like to linger with a sweet moment. Just breathe it in. Know its flavor. And I also value this habit of reflection, setting down the moments that gleam in each day, cataloguing the plenty that is my life.