Gifts of the Moment by Tasha Halpert

Drops caught 2 If I hadn’t been paying attention to my surroundings, I wouldn’t have noticed it. I was standing at the supermarket counter choosing some fish for the chowder I was planning to make for later in the week when I saw the lobster on the low shelf in front of me. It had already been cooked, packaged and priced. Stephen loves lobster and this week it was on sale. Since I had nothing special planned for supper I immediately thought how the lobster would make a fine treat for him. Happy to be able to provide him with this nice surprise I picked it up and put it in my wagon.

I had other groceries pick up and so I continued on my way, collecting them and checking off the items on my list. When I finally finished, I made my way to the checkout to pay for my groceries. How glad I was that just at that moment I had been aware of the lobster and seen it waiting there for me. If my mind had been wandering and my thoughts elsewhere I might easily have missed that opportunity to provide us with an extra helping of joy. Bringing someone you love a special treat constitutes a treat for the giver as well as the person receiving it, a win/win situation.

I have noticed that when I focus on where I am and what I am doing I often see things that represent a kind of gift for me. An interesting cloud formation, flowers growing by the wayside on my morning walk, the first touches of color in the trees as I drive on the highway, a snatch of song that I enjoy playing in a store as I walk in, all these and more are little presents I receive when I am aware in the moment.

However, the gifts that lie within any given point in time are only available to me when my eyes are looking around to see and notice them. If my mind is occupied with thoughts or speculations, with worries or apprehensions there is no way I can pay attention to what is around me. At that point my eyes are figuratively turned inward, paying attention to whatever I am thinking of, not looking outward at what is there. I remember once when I spoke to someone about the lovely colors of that year’s fall, she looked at me sadly and confessed that she had been so lost in her thoughts and concerns she had never noticed.

Meditating regularly has certainly helped me stay mentally focused. Observing my thoughts as I learned to do in meditation gives me the option of letting them flow as they will or of refocusing my attention on where I am and what I am doing. Sometimes it is perfectly all right to let my mind wander about. As long as I am not driving or doing something else requiring my full attention my mind can do what it pleases. Even so, I find that keeping at least some of my attention on the present moment can often pay off in gifts.

The Importance of Mental Focus

Crystals5When I began to meditate I noticed that I was much more aware of the contents of my mind. The longer I practiced meditation, the better I became at following my thoughts. This ability has grown for me over the years, and I am very grateful to be able to be aware most of the time of what I am thinking. The reason this is so important is that it enables me to monitor my mental focus.

The importance of mental focus cannot be overstated. Certain habit patterns are built into the human psyche. They are intrinsic, an inborn aspect of our consciousness. They are intended to function as a kind of safety mechanism for keeping us alive. One of these is the “fight or flight” response. As you may know, the human body is programmed to react to any perceived threat with the appropriate input for what it believes is required.

I have read statistics to the effect that much of our modern high blood pressure as well as other stressful conditions of the physical body have come about as a result of this built in response to perceived danger. This particular response was useful in the days when death in the form of an enemy or feral beast lurked behind any bush or tree. It was important when the crocodiles in the river were patrolling for breakfast. It was helpful when the early settlers of any new homeland encountered its dangers.

Now for the most part it is not only unnecessary to modern life but actually harmful. Yet in times of perceived stress our bodies continue that response. The perceived stress could be a need to get somewhere on time or to dodge someone’s criticism as a result of inadequate preparation. It is seldom a response to a true threat of death or physical harm.

One of the main ingredients of this response is that our minds have a built in tendency to notice what is wrong. This can be very helpful if, for instance, you wake up in the night and hear sounds you know are not normal, or you suddenly notice that your child is very quiet and might therefore be up to some mischief. However, as a general rule, consistently noticing what is wrong can lead to a focus upon it that prevents us from seeing what is right and good.

When I practice actively looking for all for which I am grateful, I am much less apt to be focused on what may be wrong. If there is real danger or a need to notice that something is amiss, I know I can and will. However for the most part when I focus on that for which I am grateful, I am much less focused on the negative thinking that can lead to any number of difficulties. The key to success is being mindful of the direction of my thoughts. That way I can reinforce my positive focus or change the direction of my thoughts if I need to.

Photo and Text by Tasha Halpert

Keeping My Eyes On theRoad

There is something about New England that is very special to me, and a large part of it has to do with the fall here. I grew up in a town (now) called Manchester by the Sea. Every year I anticipated the joy of the fall leaves and the crisp air that made me feel so good. A brief seven year stay in Virginia only confirmed my love of New England. I thought the weather there was much too bland. Happy to return, I have found this area to be a special place to live.

These days as I drive along Grafton’s scenic roads my eyes are drawn to the brilliant changes in the foliage. The green of summer has faded and grayed the leaves. Now the cool nights and days transform the landscape as the dusty pallor of early fall gives way to fresh reds and yellows. I can’t help ooing and ahing while I work to keep my focus on the road. I am grateful for the speed limit. It is easy to maintain it because I simply cannot drive faster and also gaze at the enthralling color.

I have loved the autumn ever since I was a young child. The smell of burning leaves–no longer common in these days of pollution control, as well as the sharp, damp smell of the brown, fallen leaves after a rain have always warmed my heart. I even enjoyed going back to school because it meant a change from being bored at home. Fall meant new things to learn and new books to read.

There are many reasons fall is my favorite season. I am grateful for the bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables that it provides. I also enjoy the crisp air, the opportunity to wear a cozy sweater and scarf. Most of all, I love it for its rich palette of color. In some mysterious fashion each fall seems the most beautiful. It seems to me that every year the previous autumn pales in comparison to the one I am entranced by now. In addition as the days grow cooler, my mind grows sharper.

This increase in mental acuity helps me to be more mindful. Being mindful is vitally important, especially at this season, because it helps keep me focused. It is all too easy to be distracted when I am driving along past the colorful autumn vistas as they unfold before me. My attention could be caught and held–dangerous when I am driving a car.

The years Stephen and I have spent meditating have had many benefits, but most especially I value the beneficial impact meditation has had on our minds. Meditation as we practice it is a way of doing exercises for the mind. The time we spend working to stay focused is like lifting weights or doing sit ups, only for mental rather than physical strength. As I drive through the autumnal glory I am grateful not only for the beauty that fills my eyes, but also for the ability I have to keep my eyes on the road.Light Through Leaves