Warning: this is longer than usual – about 4 min. I am sorry.
Living well is not about ignoring our difficulties or even our grumpiness. We get important information from these facts and feelings that often help us see what needs to be done. Yet there is more to the story then solving problems. We can actively seek out the kernels of goodness each day and use our attention to see all the surprising ways we are being helped. One example is to become an armchair anthropologist and track down all the people and events that make it possible for us to enjoy a cup of hot coffee or tea, as just one example.
For instance, this morning I ordered an Americano at Wild Oats, a bakery café in the neighbourhood where I live. With even a quick overview I can see dozens of hands that helped me receive this delicious cup of coffee.
- JP – the barista, greeted me and immediately started making my coffee;
- the city ensured there was clean water;
- many growers of the beans;
- harvesters, truck drivers and pilots;
- local distributors and suppliers;
- Ottawa road crews who cleared away mountains of snow so the delivery truck could deliver the beans;
- elements of sunshine, soil and rain in the country of origin where the the coffee bean started out;
- patrons of Wild Oats who provide resources for the owners to stay open.
Within a few seconds, all of you could add to this very partial list. In truth it is almost endless.
It may seem a waste of time with no practical reason to consider such matters. Instead, just drop the $2.75 plus a tip on the counter, say thanks and go. What more is there to do? My inclination, however, is that when we notice, even once in a while, the true cost of what we buy and receive, including people and things required, we will be awestruck. And there is more. What did it take, in this moment, to have the coins in our pocket to pay for that cup of steaming hot coffee?
I bet we could list dozens and dozens of people and events in our lives that contributed to our ability to pay. Remember the person who taught us to read or gave us our first job? What about those who formally and informally taught us life skills and professional skills? It is a mind blowing experience to truly see the depth and breadth of our support and good fortune. It isn’t about being grateful for everything but it is about noticing.
I think about this trail of breadcrumbs when it comes to medicine, and the lucky era we happen to live in. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness today has more options than ever before. In my own case, there is a good chance I wouldn’t be sitting here writing these words had I been diagnosed, three years earlier than I was. Why? The drug that saved/extended my life wasn’t yet available for a case like mine.
It would be amazing to see the list of names who contributed, over the years, to the research, development and testing of the many lifesaving drugs and procedures we now use. Even though we wish we didn’t need them, where would we be without them? What about those who then fought to make them available? The list goes on.
So, here is a fun suggestion. How about a laundry list of names of people and or things that have been helpful to you in any part of your life. Perhaps trace the specific lineage of your success. Who was on your team? Sometimes it is a surprise to spot a person or circumstance that you had previously not noticed. Don’t forget everyday things like a hot shower or a laptop readily taken for granted, until a power outage strikes.
You may consider small things that make your life better, like a toothbrush. What about the vital role of the person who picks up the trash? Or those who stock the shelves in the grocery store, or take your blood in the lab? Nothing is too small or too large for your list and it may surprise you how easy this is to do, once you get in the flow.
It takes time and effort to notice all the ways we are supported. If we don’t pay attention or only notice all that is wrong, so much of our lives disappear into the background, unnoticed and unappreciated. When we pay attention to the support we receive our world expands and we have more fun.
Be assured that reflecting on these things does not take away from the effects of a terrible diagnosis and treatment. It isn’t about undermining our own effort and hard work in these daily transactions of life. It may, however, give us pause for thought as we see the bigger picture.
Possible side effects include moments of spontaneous gratitude, pure joy, a desire to live fully while we can, and an urge to give back.
Note 1: It is a constant, continuous, spectacular world we live in, and every day you see things that just knock you out if you pay attention, Robert Irwin, artist
Note 3: I notice that long-time residents of Ottawa rarely complain about the winter cold and snow. They are busy either enjoying what winter has to offer, or, they are cozily snuggled up in front of a fire. They know it is all about how you dress (took me too long to figure that out) and they direct their attention to the beauty of this season. Like right now, as I write, beautiful distinct snowflakes are falling on the pristine backyard. There are a pair of cardinals on a tree branch. The fireplace provides comfort to body and soul. I want to become more like these hale and hearty winter people with no complaints whatsoever.
Note4: People who live in Ottawa aren’t super human; they get tired, of course, driving in snow banks, with no place to park and long commutes, but they don’t complain about winter. Only mentioning, in passing, the occasional downsides of all this snow.
Note 5: I laughed out loud when I heard Alan Neal, discuss the weather during an interview, this afternoon on CBC radio, All In in a Day. He was waxing poetic about winter and all of its beauty, while turning a blind eye to the inconveniences. As I was saying in Note 3… that’s Ottawa.