Linger with the ordinary for an extraordinary new year

Enjoy this monthly mindfulness post from Dave Johnson, PhD, CNS- BC, LMFT, employee assistance specialist.

I was chatting with a good friend of mine the other day about a Christmas card she sent to my wife and me. Included in the card was a two-page word-processed year-end summary on lovely stationery. Perhaps you have read similar form letters where the writer details cool vacations on exotic islands, stories of extraordinary job promotions, prestigious graduations, births of truly beautiful children or grandchildren and a syrupy sweet brag that sometimes leaves an uncomfortable taste in your mouth. You ponder how wonderful their lives are in comparison to your own, which you feel is a bit less than spectacular. 

But when I read the detail in this particular letter it revealed a different truth. I laughed out loud as I read the note to my wife. Shortly thereafter, I picked up the phone and called my friend. She explained that when she and her husband sat at the kitchen table drinking coffee and reviewing their 2017 calendar, not much was there and everything looked ordinary. So they thought about what their daily routines actually looked like.  Both retired a few years back, so an average day for them includes walking the dogs, completing a bazillion jigsaw, crossword and Sudoku puzzles, watching the news and then – OMG! – it’s time for lunch. Flea markets, occasional comedy clubs, reading, laundry, vacuuming and a few other daily chores and doctor visits fill their calendars. Sound a bit boring? She expressed that sometimes they have inner guilt that they should be doing something beyond the ordinary. 

I think the wisdom of two ordinary retirees is a message worth visiting. As a nurse therapist and executive coach I am often consulted about the wisdom of setting new year’s resolutions and the science of compliance on how to make them “stick”.  I hear new year’s resolutions to eat healthier, exercise more, quit smoking, learn a new skillset, improve relationships … blah, blah, blah. Perhaps you’ve set one of these yourself. And although intentional health goalsetting in and of itself is not a problem, the shame and self-esteem that seems to wane doesn’t feel good six weeks into a new year when one is back to living their “ordinary” life.

And so, how about a simple suggestion to linger? Linger, not in the sense to be a bother to someone who is busy but from a personal intention to remain or stay in the place of awareness a bit longer than one has in the past and to consider the ordinary as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Perhaps simply moving the needle on witnessing our everyday mundane and lingering on the ordinary is a key to a more balanced, fulfilled sense of being.  

And so I ponder new year’s intention: 

  1. Remember to linger.  As ridiculous as that sounds, as soon as I have the awareness that my mind is no longer focused to the present reality, I can gently, and kindly call it back to being with whatever and whoever I desire to be present. Unfortunately, the high jacking of our thinking process with our harried busy lives appears to leave little space to pause or linger on anything.  Getting “to-do’s” to “done” is the goal of the endless checklist of our lives. I once heard a wise person say, “The days are often long, but the years are short.” The practice of being still and present to our ordinary gives us a place to practice.
  2. Name the ordinary This seems like a simple practice. For example, when I am teaching mindful-based eating, we explore the ordinary processes of cutting, chopping, washing, stirring, mixing, baking, lifting fork to mouth, noticing hunger and temperature, texture, color and taste of food. Did I mention savor? Naming the ordinary and pausing to be still and be present with the food helps set the intention of mindful eating. Lingering helps one come off autopilot eating and helps cultivate a healthier relationship with the food we are about to receive. Ordinary eating becomes a feast of discovery.   
  3. Notice the sway.  Moving from sitting to standing, walking to running, kneeling to sitting etc., requires an energy of intentional or automatic responses. Noticing positional changes is a great opportunity to come out of the thinking and overthinking mind and pause just a bit to come into intentional contact with our internal and external world. Recently, I was working with a group of addiction counselors and encouraging them to sway back and forth in a standing meditation. I had them recall the motion that mothers do to soothe their newborn when the gently sway back and forth to soothe and calm a fussy infant. Bringing awareness to movement and a gentle or tenderness to our everyday sway perhaps adds a bit of balance to a world that is constantly vying for our attention.
  4. Observe with eyes and heart.  My grandkids all know that when I am intentionally making eye contact or watching or noticing them I playfully take my index and middle fingers and point to my eyes and then to theirs. They smile back and repeat the gesture to me. Sometimes that eye linger provides the pause of intention that communicates that I am present and you matter to me.  This is a gentle, spirited pause to be with and stay with the moment. It says, “you and I are here together. It matters that we are here in this moment. And I notice who you are.” OK, I know that sounds a bit squishy, but I am pretty sure that the practice of lingering with the eyes of a beloved, child, or the ordinary clerk who is taking my money at the fast food store is a welcomed gesture to humanity. Be sure your eyes smile with goodness.
  5. Shower with senses.  What a great place to linger. Stop and smell the shampoo and feel the warm flow of water on a body preparing for the morning or coming to the homestretch of an ordinary or extraordinary day. Taking the opportunity to come out of the problem-solving mind and simply notice the experience of leaving behind the cells that are no longer needed and a gratitude for being in a space that is safe, warm and cleansing.
  6. Quicken with a hug. We have all done the auto hug, peck on the cheek, “luv ya!” over our shoulder. What if this act was just 30 seconds longer? To linger intentionally communicates importance to others. Quickening is palpable when we pause to notice the internal and external energy exchanged during the awakened linger of a hug, shoulder rub, foot massage, or simple pat on the back. 
  7. Linger with poetry. I must admit I was never one to read poetry until the 6th decade of life. But here we are and I now realize that some poet’s wordsmith the ordinary and create in me a portal of noticing. One such gifted individual is the poet Mary Oliver. This poem, entitled “Mindful”, from her collection, “Why I Wake Early”, captures the ordinary and helps me seek the extraordinary as an everyday intention. 



Every day
I see or I hear
that more or less

kills me
with delight,
that leaves me
like a needle

in the haystack
of light.
It is what I was born for –
to look, to listen,

to lose myself
inside this soft world –
to instruct myself
over and over

in joy,
and acclamation.
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,

the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant –
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,

the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help

but grow wise
with such teachings
as these –
the untrimmable light

of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?

~Mary Oliver

  1.  Seek resources.  Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practice has been extensively researched and proven helpful for coping with stress and change, grief, healthy eating patterns, pain, anxiety, depression and many other chronic disease and autoimmune disorders. For a free 1:1 in person or phone consultation with me or to find out more about Mindfulness & Stress Management programs, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Living at (260) 672-6500. I also provide on-site guidance for teambuilding and transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employees Assistance Programs for your company, call Business Development at (260) 373-9013.


Other resources: - Sign up for free monthly word-based mindful healing exercises from Dr. Dave and Kathy Curtis, Parkview Healing Artist.

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