Wow experiences: Little pieces of the big picture

Enjoy this monthly mindfulness post from Dave Johnson, PhD, CNS- BC, LMFT, Employee Assistance Specialist.

Do you recall a time when you taught a child to ride a bike? Or maybe even an earlier memory, when you learned to ride a bike yourself? Ponder this a bit. Do you remember the exact moment when balance and coordination occurred; When you were free of training wheels to ride though air and space? What color was the bike? What time of day was it? Who was there? What was the emotion?

Having a large family, I was blessed with frequent opportunities to watch a child’s perspective of this experience. Paul is the youngest of my six children. Even though it has been more than 20 years ago, I can still recall his first solo ride. He wanted the training wheels removed. My wife, Rosie, and I decided to give his bicycle a complete “tune-up” to transform it into a boy bike at the same time. The bike had been passed down from his four older sisters, so it sported pink handle grips and a pink seat. Rosie dropped the bicycle off at the bike shop and requested new handle grips and a seat cover. She also requested a new back tire to replace a balding one. I figured a couple days and a few bucks later that we’d all be on our way.

Later in the week, I stopped by the shop to pick up the transformed bicycle. I pulled $20 out of my wallet. The bike repairperson, smiling, presented me with a bill for $65. What you need to understand is that this bike was probably worth $10 at a garage sale, and that’s being generous. On my drive home, I dwelled on the fact that I had just dumped $65 into a $10 bike. I arrived home for Paul’s first riding lesson in less than the best of moods. “Sixty-five dollars…can you believe it…” I announced as I came through the door. “Sixty-five dollars for a $10 bike,” I bemoaned again. Rosie looked at me and in her wisdom said, “Dave, lighten up. Paul is so excited. Just enjoy him … enjoy the moment.”

So, I joined Paul outside. We began our two-wheeler lesson on the front lawn so Paul could learn to fall on soft ground. He looked like CP3-O from Star Wars. Rosie had encased him with a helmet, knee pads, wrist guards and gloves. Paul made several runs on the grass before we moved to the pavement. For the first couple times on the sidewalk, I ran beside him. Each time he was about to fall, I held his bike and helped him regain his balance. Within a few minutes, Paul was riding solo. I have a clear picture in my memory of his bright blue eyes flashing and his blonde hair flying in the wind. It was there, in that moment, that Paul experienced the magic all bike riders experience sooner or later – the moment when everything comes together. Balance takes over and the ability to ride a bike is indelibly imprinted on the brain, never to be lost. Pure exhilaration!

I experienced that moment with Paul. He included me in his moment as he looked over his shoulder and not only with his mouth, but also with his eyes and his whole body, shouted “Wow!” It was a “wow” experience for Paul. He grabbed the moment and immersed himself in it. And, because he included me, I experienced it, too. I thanked God that afternoon for the moment and for the “wow” I had just experienced.

And so I reflect and hope to remind myself of a few of those mindful lessons from that afternoon long ago. It seems like sometimes I am a slow learner. My blogs help me to live a bit more intentionally.    

  1. Look for moments when the synchronicity of life comes together and balance occurs.  Be curious and nonjudgmental. Be ready for awe in the big wows of life but also the little whews. Balance and keeping things simple in all things seems to be a recurring theme. My role is often to show up and be present. 
  2. Listen mindfully.  Mindfulness teaches me to be present for those moments in an auditory way. There have been many times when wise folks have encouraged me to pause and be present. I haven’t always listened. But I am thankful when I have come out of an attitude of frustration or anger a bit more quickly so that I don’t miss important life moments as they unfold. A nudge from an observer to stay in the moment should be received and appreciated. Lighten up when possible seems to be rarely contraindicated. 
  3. Let children teach.  Often we have a chance to experience life twice. First in our own lives and then if we are blessed with children around us, again through their whimsy and curiosity. I can’t tell you the number of times parents have asked me in counseling to help children be a bit more mindful. The truth be told, often it is the parent that needs a bit of coaching. Yes, kids have emotional lability, and they provide a wonderful opportunity for adults to practice non-reactivity to stress.  Because they have new lenses to see the world, when they capture wow moments they help to quicken the spirit of those adults who are present to notice. 
  4. Noting one’s inner narrative.  When caught in thought, it is helpful for me to notice where I am stuck or monkey minding (going over and over a situation).  Noting is the simple practice of just simply stating out loud, “thinking” or “feeling”. This technique is gentle and deliberate. Breaking down one’s habitual story line is not easily done. The first part of the journey is just recognizing how often one is in the head. Coming to one’s physical senses is the practice of mindfulness and noting is an essential component to the practice. Anchors such as spouses, friends, colleagues or counselors are sometimes helpful to re-pattern the inner dialogue not needed, overly critical, lacking self-compassion or unwarranted. 
  5. Adult life makeovers are often more expensive and much more stressful then replacing things like handle grips, seat covers and tires.  When it comes to relationships, mindfulness matters.  Investing one’s time and attention in those who are dear to us will pay a lifetime of dividends. When it comes to physical and mental health, the practice of mindfulness is critical for sure. Finding programs such as those through Parkview’s Employee Assistance as well as the Parkview Center for Healthy Living can help us regain our sense of balance when our life journey challenges us.       
  6. Life review.  Reflecting on life lessons teaches me that if I don’t learn the lesson with my first ride, I have to get up and try again or change my course. Having folks that are willing to mentor, guide, support and encourage along the way can help me to risk and regain balance. Many parts of life that are exhilarating seem connected to trust and letting go. 
  7. Practice gratitude.  Mindfulness is intentional to be present and sensory attentional. Being reflective of one’s blessings sparks a cascade of positive emotional factors that builds resilience of spirit. Choosing to recount the positive aspects of one’s life may on the surface seem superfluous, but the longer I live the more I recognize that this practice not only influences my inner wellbeing, but has a positive impact on the folks in my circle of influence. 

Other resources: (sign up for free monthly word-based mindful healing exercises) from Dr. Dave Johnson and Kathy Curtis, healing artist.

For a free 1:1 in person or phone consultation with Dr. Dave or to find out about more on Mindfulness & Stress Management programs, contact the Parkview Center for Healthy Livingat (260) 672-6500. Dr. Dave also provides on-site guidance for teambuilding and transformational leadership, among other topics. To learn more about Employee Assistance Programs for your company, call Business Development at (260) 373-9013. 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.

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