I watched the movie “Soul” the other day with my family, a beautiful story that affirms “regular old living” is the miracle of life. Not, as is commonly assumed, the fulfillment and/or pursuit of one’s grand dream.
That is special too, no question, but it’s the small things that make life worth living. Because that’s what we swim in every day — ordinary grace notes.
Our modern world’s focus on “finding your passion”, “living your best life”, “hustle culture”, and so on, can be real distractions from the actual act (art?) of regular old living.
Regular old living is being present – not stuck in shame and regret about the past, or planning and anxiety about the future – but actually noticing and enjoying the tapestry of your life in the present moment.
And regular old living is collecting the many grace notes strewn across your path, even when they are small, or feel negligible or meaningless in terms of your “life’s passion”. Or when other people might not understand, like the part in the movie “Soul” where Joe empties his pockets and sees what Number 22 has been collecting all day.
Because if it moves you, it matters.
From the poet Mary Oliver:
The first part, paying attention is the hardest.
It’s so easy to just trample on grace notes, or to rush by them and not even see them, especially when we are busy trying to figure out our life’s purpose or if we’re stuck on the treadmill of perfecting and improving ourselves.
Furthermore, we become trained not to notice what our physical body experiences. Every child notices the smallest of boo-boos, yet how many times have you found a cut or bruise on your shin and had no idea what you bumped into?
Plus there is the problem of autopilot, which is when we do things by muscle memory without paying attention to information from our senses. How many times have you gotten from point A to point B without really remembering anything about the drive?
And finally, if we do actually notice a grace note, there is the problem of barely registering the thing that sent a flash of pleasure through our psyche – of brushing it off and forgetting it an instant after it was experienced.
There are so many ways to cultivate your attention and awareness. A yoga practice, a mindfulness course, committing to a regular walk without technology, daily meditation, setting an alarm every couple of hours for you to check in with yourself and pay attention to your senses – any of these things can help you connect with your body and the present moment.
But be patient with yourself. Paying attention is a skill, something that takes time to feel natural. The more you do it, however, the easier it becomes.
When something gives us that sense of grace, it’s really important to take a moment to fully experience it and name it to yourself, no matter how trivial it seems. It’s all astonishing, it’s just too easy to take for granted.
- a chord progression in a song, or lyrics that really resonate.
- watching squirrels play
- the glow of backlit tulip petals
- the eyes of your dog begging for a treat
- the way a cosy blanket feels when you pull it up over yourself
- the delight you feel at the first sip of a really good cup of coffee
- the flash of satisfaction you feel when you clean out a junk drawer.
- the beauty of the sky and the pattern of telephone cables reflected in a puddle after the rain
That’s what Mary Oliver did with her poetry — she’s just telling us over and over about the astonishing things she observes and feels in the natural world. Artists do that regularly, express their feelings in their work. Like Joe did with music in “Soul”.
“Telling about it” can also be done privately in a journal. A Grace Note Journal, however, is not the same as a Gratitude Journal. Grace Notes are small and specific and personally meaningful. They ideally include sensory words (words involving taste, sight, touch, sound, or smell).
Gratitude often plays out in vague generalizations, such as, “I’m so grateful for my family”, “I’m so grateful for my work”. Plus gratitude has been co-opted by marketers and influencers to be glossy and shiny and somewhat inauthentic.
The movie “Soul” has really inspired me to pay more attention to “regular old living”. I’ve been haphazardly tagging a few of my instagram posts with #gracenote, but I will be more intentional about it in 2021. I’d love if you do the same!
And perhaps I’ll add a “Grace Note Journal” to the collection of books I’ve created.
I’ll conclude now by encouraging you all to see “Soul” and wishing you a 2021 filled with grace notes!