Remember the birthday party game of long ago, before those events rivaled weddings?
Someone’s mother, perhaps ours, would bring out a small tray covered with homely and familiar household objects. We would get 20 seconds to look at the array, then it would be whisked out of sight. The game — contest, actually — was to see how many of the objects you remembered.
Those party afternoons were invariably warm, and we were keyed up and a little sweaty. But not at that moment. I will never forget the atmosphere then. It was one of the few times that a gaggle of busy, antic girls grew quiet enough to hear the distant traffic. We were swaddled in a concentration and focus that we’d created by ourselves, and it was delicious. Who needed cake? It paled in comparison to this pleasure.
I have no one to offer this diversion today. Quite the contrary. I face the menace of distractions at every turn. “Faster” is the delusion that we can outrun the list of things that need doing. If this were a 12-step moment, I’d be confessing that yesterday I imagined that I could bake a batch of granola cookies at the same time that I ran out to buy a toy for a Christmas charity, finished a book on Dante, and prepared for my final class of the semester.
I know that I’m not alone. So today, I’ve taken matters in hand.
In lieu of the birthday party game, I have created a small mindfulness altar that I will look at every time I pass through my office. It contains the following:
A wooden clothes pin. A wooden spoon. A pair of knitting needles.
Only these. They are laid out on a simple wooden cutting board, along with an acorn given to me by a friend.
These objects tell me the truth about myself. They require me to quiet down, to remember who I am when I am engaged with each of them.
I am focused, content, and productive. I am simple and slow.
When I know such moments, I shift into a deeper center. I can feel something in me unfurl and claim its freedom.
On this day, perhaps you might try a similar altar. A photo will do. A table top cleared of newspapers and magazines. My wish is that all of us reclaim a few moments of freedom from “faster,” so that we can know our inner wisdom and move in something more meaningful than circles.